Sunday, April 23, 2006

Free Association

Had one hell of a time getting to sleep last night, and rather than my subconscious turning to more serious subjects, it took me on an odd little tour: thinking back on odd associations, unrelated ephemera that have become inextricably linked to epochs or events in my life.

For example: one of the three times I've been seriously ill in my life came during junior high, when I came down with some hellacious illness right at the end of the school year. I woke up ill the morning after I'd read one of the old "Beeline Books" series of literary porno ("The Eager Sexhibitionist," if you must know) -- and for a long time afterwards, I associated porn with sickness. Andrea Dworkin would have approved.

Some others: getting my wisdom teeth out is forever tied to the Hawkman superhero -- the old Joe Kubert comics were about all I could handle reading while I was doped up. (It's also tied to the unwise decision to drive to Tucson's PDQ Records after taking a few Tylenol With Codeine -- I have a vague memory of driving about 10 miles an hour along one of Tucson's busiest roads, more efficient drivers blowing past me in a blur of loud horns and middle fingers, me rewarding them with a beatific and mindless smile)

Much of it is music. When driving up to Phoenix once during college, in failed pursuit of a cute girl, I listened to Ministry's "Psalm 69" album over and over and over and over and over. No wonder my effort was doomed. Government Issue's "Crash" album is the eternal soundtrack to a longer college road trip, grumpy and alone across much of the American Midwest. In my memory, my last bout of living in Boulder consisted of nothing but Uncle Tupelo's first two albums, the Old 97s' first three, and the occasional 5 a.m. play of Steve Earle's "I Feel Alright" or a Townes Van Zandt collection. A road trip to Chicago and Ohio is set to Social Distortion and Terry Allen. My first year in Tucson: Hüsker Dü's "Candy Apple Grey" (I had an unfailing ability to hear a band's worst album first). An angst-ridden period of being 15: opposite ends of the spectrum, a strange blend of Black Flag's "The First Four Years" combined with Edie Brickell's "What I Am" and Martika's "Toy Soldiers." If I made a mix tape to capture the essence of that self-pitying 1988, no one would ever speak to me again.

The most vivid, though, is another of the serious bouts of illness, during my senior year of high school. I came down with something called "Valley Fever," apparently unique to the American Southwest, and apparently only striking people who wear Turning Point t-shirts incessantly. I was out of school for much of a month, often in a haze, losing 30 pounds ... and the whole thing, to this day, is tied in to Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and the Embrace album. (I'd just read "C&P" and I'd just been introduced to Embrace) Rather unexpectedly, that's not a really bad association for me. Yeah, I was horribly ill (and it had long-term consequences -- enough scars on my lungs that new doctors are shocked when they see my x-ray), but I think of reading "Crime and Punishment" and listening to Embrace and it all seems innocent and pleasant to me. I recently dug out the Embrace album for the first time in years, and was shocked at how well it holds up -- as overwrought as it is, it still seems pretty brilliant to me. Though maybe that's just because I listened to it over and over as a high school senior. The mind works in funny ways.

An aside: that same illness prompted one of the most terrifying fever dreams I've ever had, one that still sticks with me -- in it, I was lying in bed, late afternoon Tucson sun bathing the room in sepia, and my brother appearing in the shadows at the doorway. The shadows split a bit -- enough for me to realize he didn't have a face, right as he started running, with a loping gait, toward me. I woke up screaming.

But anyway: anyone else have similar odd associations? C'mon, I've copped to reading Beeline Books and listening to Ministry in younger days -- nothing else can be as embarrassing.

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