Life on the Other Side of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
Back in the punk rock days of early 80s Boston, there was always a reason to go out. There were shows, parties, and after-parties, and if nothing else was going on, we could always hang out at the Rat. For me, every night started there. It was where I worked.
My friends and I were champions of indiscretion; we were delinquent most nights, and wrecked most mornings. The hangovers were bad but the cringies — the self-loathing, shame, and contrition that came with remembering the transgressions of the night before — were worse. There was Tylenol and hair-of-the-dog to help with the hangovers, but the only cure for the cringies was the knowledge that the worse the cringie, the better the story, and by the time evening rolled around, we’d be back at the Rat telling tales. But, since the majority of my stories involved black out drinking and substances galore, my recall was shaky, and thus I embellished liberally.
I was doing lines on a tray table on a flight to New York, but the story was better when I added that I sang “Waitress in the Sky” to the flight attendant who told me to cut the shit and to put my goddamn tray table up. I didn’t get dragged out of the Garden because I kicked a security guard; I was escorted to the street after I called him an asshole. I didn’t say that I destroyed all evidence of drug use on the tour bus I was hanging on because a mounted cop turned up outside — I said it was because he and his horse came on board, and that in itself became a story down the road when I recounted how I was so fucked up that I thought it had really happened. I even embellished by omission: I talked about how my friend Nicki and I were arrested at a Neil Young concert and I flushed an eightball down the toilet, but I rarely told anyone that the arresting officers turned out to be roadies costumed up for a part in Neil’s show. (The crew guy who put them up to it found it far less entertaining when he discovered that I was no longer in possession of any drugs, a good portion of which were his.)
There were sometimes G-rated stories that didn’t require embellishment and remained worthy of telling nonetheless. REM played at the Rat when they were otherwise playing arenas – a secret show that I told everyone about — and Michael and Bill climbed on a ledge outside of the upstairs office and serenaded the crowd on the street below as they waited in line for a never-gonna-happen chance to get in. Metallica played during a snowstorm to an audience of 20 and did a full set anyway, and at a show in Providence, the Dream Syndicate played three songs to a full house, one of which was a 45-minute version of “All Along the Watchtower.” If I leave out the part about getting high with him or passing out a few hours later, talking about how John Cale dedicated a song to me would be a heart-warming tale suitable for all audiences.
Those kinder gentler stories, though, were the exception to the rule. In 1985, a morning-after wince wouldn’t go away. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but it began with a New Order show, middled with drunk-dialing Peter Hook, and ended with coming to crumpled up outside my office door. I couldn’t neutralize my self-hatred or embellish the experience until it was funny, and a week later, I checked into rehab #1. 30 days after that I was back at the Rat getting loaded, and while I still loved listening to the stories, I stopped telling them. By then, the goings-on due to my inability to keep my drug use under control brought on a new kind of cringie that wouldn’t abate.
It took a while, but I finally got sober again. I thought the anguish of retrospect would go away, but that’s not what happened. It got worse; without substances to blame, I had to deal with the knowledge that I did the shit I did because I am who I am. I couldn’t manage the feelings, so instead I shopped, gambled, slept around, ate and didn’t eat. None of that worked, though, and after eight years clean, I started to get high again. Not surprisingly, that didn’t work either. I again woke up miserable, and also unsurprisingly, I kept that five-year story to myself.
I went back to rehab in 2011, and I’ve been clean ever since. I seldom hang out with rock stars now, and it’s been a while since I’ve been to an emergency room or encountered the police. I still do stupid shit, though, and I still get the cringies, but I no longer need to mute them. I’ve finally accepted myself for the person I am, and as a result, my life is much better. Or it sounds like it is, anyway — I may have changed, but I still tell stories, and I’ll always be an embellisher.