WORDS BY ELIZABETH BARKER/DRAWING BY JEN MAY
A line from Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore, which is a beautiful book you should absolutely read if you haven't already:
"It is unacceptable, all the stunned and anxious missing a person is asked to endure in life. It's not to be endured, not really."
This Saturday it'll be fall and in early fall it's good to listen to Moon Pix by Cat Power and sort of sink into its sultry melancholy and embrace the impending loss of light -- it'll make you feel really deep. Moon Pix is a deep record and it stirs up deep feelings, like feelings about missing people, especially people you used to love. When I listen to it, I feel like I miss everyone I've ever met. These are the people it makes me miss the most:
i. THE BOY FROM "AMERICAN FLAG."
My first L.A. man was a drummer and I liked to listen to "American Flag" and think of him, changing the "her" to "his" and the "she" to "he" ("My new friend plays drums all the time/his magic heart feels everything/He plays the difficult parts and I play difficult"). I actually never played difficult, I faked my way through being easy about everything. We lived in the same building and I'd see him all the time and always want to be near him, touching him, probably because of oxytocin -- being easy turned out to be really hard. But I was 25 and in a new town and I wanted to have a gorgeous adventure with this wild boy nine years older than me. I listened to "American Flag" and liked the idea of him being the friend in the song, and I decided he was going to be my friend forever no matter what.
My friend was from Massachusetts too, he grew up in a fishing town way up north. He was totally classic about believing in rock-and-roll and that's what I adored most about him. The first night we met, he made a really chill/genuine Stiv Bators reference and looked so good rolling a joint on an AC/DC record cover, wearing a wifebeater and jeans and shitkicker black boots. He had the ragged-est, raspiest, most ripped-up voice and there was this one t-shirt that showed off his drummer arms so perfect, it was deep-purple and the sleeves were kinda too short and no other man in the world could ever pull that off. One time I was giving him a ride home and we were listening to "Black Math" and he was reading a music magazine he'd picked up off the floor of my car. I made a wrong turn and I apologized and he said, "Fuck it, man, let's go to Venice," still flipping through the magazine, not looking up. He looked good then too, so I-don't-give-a-fuck. He looked best clamping a cigarette between his teeth while pulling his hair away from his face, grabbing his dirty curls up in his fist and narrowing his eyes at whatever I was saying, his "thinking hard" expression. He had really pretty eyes, blue-blue-blue. We had the same eyes and the same hair texture. We were both really passionate about radio, and about soy mocha lattes with too much whipped cream.
So it went on a while and eventually got pretty dumb; he liked somebody else and I didn't like anybody else, until one day I did. This boy came along, The Boy Of All Boys, who neither believed in rock-and-roll nor had amazing hair. The first night the new boy broke my heart, I was being all dramatic about it so that everyone would pay attention to me and so that my friend from "American Flag" would know that I'd moved on -- I wanted him to have that relief, but mostly I just wanted him to be jealous. We had this couch that we set up in the parking lot behind our building, for hanging out and drinking; it was disgusting and moldy and rained-on and probably had lots of things living inside it. I was lying on that couch, curled up like a sad baby, using my hands as a pillow, and the boy from "American Flag" was sitting on the couch arm and trying to make me feel better. At one point he leaned over and touched his big bony hand to my forehead like he was checking for a fever, then said something about how I was the first person he'd met in a really long time who really loved the hell out of rock-and-roll. It was non sequitur but I cherished it, I loved it so much, it meant so much to me and it still does.
My "American Flag" friend doesn't live in my town anymore, and that's mostly all right with me.
ii. THE GIRL FROM "METAL HEART."
I've been rereading this book
by Alice Hoffman. I read it for the first time when I was a teenager, and then again right before I moved to Los Angeles. It's about a dreamy girl who's a little dark-hearted but not in a malignant way; her name's Teresa and she's got some sickness where sometimes she sleeps for days and everything smells like roses. She's in love with her older brother Silver, this mean long-haired man who's got guns and is a criminal but you fall for him, there's something sensitive about him, he's so lost and hopeless. They sleep together for the first time by a river really early in the morning when he's drunk and she's a kid and it's really, really hot out. The book's kind of trash but it's the loveliest trash, which is exactly the kind of book I want and love to write.
When I read White Horses when I was 25, I made "Metal Heart" Teresa's song for Silver. When I hear it now, it still makes me ache for them, and still makes me wish that they could be together forever.
iii. ALL THE KIDS IN "COLORS AND THE KIDS."
"Colors and the Kids" makes you want to save every kid that's ever been born, especially the kids you used to know when you were a kid too. When I hear it I see all my big cousins running around the woods near the lake when we were little and there's a softness to the light, a Polaroid-y glow and fuzziness. I never see that side of the family anymore so in my head they all look like they did when they were kids and teenagers. They'll probably always look like that; they'll probably never really be in my life again. The truth of life is there's no way to hold onto everybody: some people just get lost, and it's not even tragic, because when they're lost and you're a romantic, you get to preserve them all at their most beautiful. I'm not quite sure that I care whether or not that sounds cold.
iv. ALL THE BOYS IN "CROSS BONES STYLE."
I sort of ripped off the sentiment in those last two sentences from this paragraph from Evening by Susan Minot:
which I've been thinking about a lot lately, along with the line from "Accidents Will Happen" by Elvis Costello that goes "There's so many people to see, so many people you can check up on and add to your collection." Last week was something I'm nicknaming "My Big Fat Accidental High Fidelity Week," and it was wonderful and restorative. Everything ends badly, for the most part, but once enough time passes and the hurt mends, you can just blur that ending into something beautiful and love everybody again in a quiet and goofy sort of way.
"Cross Bones Style" is things ending but it's also things beginning, things that will one day have their own ending too. I think it'll probably mean a lot to me forever, because I can't think of any other song in the world that's makes regret seem so glorious and pure.