JIM'S A PUNK ROCK LOSER
Jim's a punk rock loser. He left town now so I don't mind sharing the truth with you. Before he hits it big with some bullshit hardcore band or a deal with Epitaph records or wherever he thinks he's headed, you should know he was my neighbor and my friend, and for most of my life, just some kid who lived down the block from me, I guess.
He was fifteen and I was fifteen and it was the spring of our freshman year at Evergreen High. This girl we knew, Sheryl Landry, shot herself in the arm with her father's revolver and the bullet ricocheted off the bone in her arm and ended up in the center of her heart and Jim wrote somewhere near thirty-two songs about it on guitar and I bought my older brother's drums off of him, because he was a senior now and chasing tail, and that was about when we started to become punk rock. We became punk rock over night. We were nobodies at the end of our freshman year at Evergreen High and we were hanging out in my basement and then Sheryl shot herself and the next day, Jim shaved his head with my dad's straight razor and then he shaved mine and we were in our underwear, our tighty-whities and bleeding from the nicks on our heads and the next day at school, we became punk rock celebrities.
We showed up at school and right after second period at Evergreen High, I was called down to Mr. Gregor, the soft-hearted guidance counselor who explained everything in terms of some metaphorical football game I could never follow. He looked at me and then asked, "Is everything OK with the home team?"
"Everything's swell," I said, even though my mom and dad hadn't slept in the same bed in over ten tears. "Everything's swell, man." He nodded, made some notes in my file, and let me go. When I strode out of the counselor's office, smiling, the fluorescent hallway lights bounced with radiation off my bald head. Some girl, Missy Millossi, some rich bitch junior who drove a brand new red convertible to school was staring at me, so I stopped and snarled at her until she ran off with her friends, calling me a creep. "You should of seen the way he looked at me," she probably told her football boyfriend later, her face all red and nervous. "The guy practically raped me." By the next day, people began to say very strange things about me and Jim. Someone called us Nazis. Someone us called us Satanic. We didn't care. There were no girls at our school who would talk to us and now we could blame something for it. It didn't matter, we were beyond those squares. We were talking about getting this band together and it looked like it might happen finally.
The band we had, in our minds, was called the Morlocks, the name we got from the Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, and we didn't know any songs and we didn't have a bass player or any real equipment but it was still a band, because when I look back at it now, a band isn't anything but an idea, good or bad, and once you get the idea, it's only a matter of time before it either happens or it doesn't. Jim had an idea and it was the Morlocks and he wrote the name MORLOCKS very satanic-looking all over every one of his Trapper-keepers and on the white rubber tops of his Chuck Taylors. By June, when school ended, we had found a bass player, Brian Price, a junior who was like over six-feet tall and kind of socially retarded because he had been home-schooled mostly, but he said we could practice in his parent's garage and so we did. Also, at that time, I had a crush on a punk rock girl from school, another freshman, named Esme, and shit, I don't know if that was her real name or not but it was hot, and she had her hair cut in a Chelsea, you know, with the long bangs but the rest of her hair shaved and more than anything in the world, I wanted to feel her up and I thought the only way to a woman's heart like that is by being a somebody, and so I decided this band was going make me a somebody.
We were at Marie Edward's party, at the end of freshman year, the very beginning of summer. Mark it down in the books, it might become a night to remember if Jim does anything. It was Jim and me and some other high schoolies at the party, and he was talking shit about our band, the band that hadn't ever played a show yet, even though Jim would go on about how we were fine-tuning some new material, and this girl Esme came up, a single strand of blue hair hanging along her forehead and she said, "You're in Jim's band, right?" I nodded and she said, "You guys don't play anywhere, do you?"
"Not yet," I said.
"That's cool," she said and I thought, Yes, yes, it is cool, because I don't know what the hell's going happen if we ever get a show because we are lousy, really, worse than lousy. Then she said, "How would like to play my birthday party?"
Then that was it. Two weeks later we played Esme's party. We knew seven songs, three of them by the Ramones, the rest were songs Jim had written about Sheryl Landry shooting herself, songs with subtle titles like, "Ricochet Baby" and "I Wanna be your Bullet". We set our gear up in the basement which was completely engulfed in wood paneling. There were balloons and crepe paper hung all over the place because as it turned out, Esme, whose real name was Gladys, had parents who still thought she was like seven or eight and even bought her a pink heart birthday cake and it is pretty hard to appear punk rock when your parents walk in on you and your friends with sixteen candles on a pink frosted heart-shaped cake, all the while they're singing and you're dying the slowest kind of death, which is the death of the fake you, which, because of all the laborious posturing and work, is always more painful. Well, Esme started shouting at her folks about not being a kid anymore and her folks got their feelings hurt and her dad told everyone to leave and we hadn't even played yet, but we had looked ready, and in terms of the punk rock facade, like our shaved heads and Esme's single strand of blue hair, appearance is everything. Someone told someone else we had rocked at the party and we became the best band at our high school without ever playing.
From there, we had the dumb idea that if we never turned down a show we'd become famous somehow. I don't know what the causative relationship is there, but there had to be one, because Jim was very earnest about it, but we ended up playing shows all over and they were all bad shows mostly. Mostly we played parties in people's basements where the kids would leave or worse, we were totally ignored and Jim would scream, "Pussies!" at them and whoever hadn't left, would leave. But we played shows. Mostly in kid's backyard when their parents weren't home. We played a metal club, "The Thirsty Whale", when we were sixteen and we weren't allowed to play there again because we weren't a hair band and Jim stood on the monitors that said, "Do NOT STAND ON TOP OF THIS".
What really happened then was this: A few weeks ago, we played at Jim's uncle's 50th birthday party. Jim insisted on playing it. Don't ask me why. Jim's uncle had offered him like a hundred bucks for us to play. His uncle was a kind of southside lunatic that hung out in all the Irish bars. Everyone in the neighborhood and all his relatives knew him as "Fun-boy." Well, the party was at a VFW hall and Jim's family was all there and we set up and started playing, Jim howling some song about Sheryl Landry, where he says the swell line: "I wish I knew what you were gonna do/I might have gone and blown my brains out too" when his uncle, Fun-boy, who at this time is completely drunk, knocks Jim aside, grabs the mike and yells, "Jimmmy....Jimmmmy...JIMMMMMMMY is my baby nephew. Jim is my baby." Well, Jim gets pissed that no one is taking us seriously and how can you blame them? There's Jim's grandma, his aunt, his mom and dad, his little cousins, all gathered around this table with like fried chicken and a plate of melon balls, and all the little cousins are crying and then there's us: Jim singing his heart out, Brian Price the social mutant, facing the exact opposite direction of the family and me, who, if I forgot to mention, has a big hickey on my neck, a gift from Gladys who made me promise never to tell anyone her real name. Well, Jim throws down his guitar, kicks over the mike stand, which is all duct-taped together and falls apart if you look at it the wrong way, and then he storms out into the parking lot. It's late now, like maybe 10:00 and he is sitting by his parent's yellow Cougar, a car I've kind of admired because I thought "The Cougars" would be a good name for a band, well, there's Jim with his arms crossed and smoking. I go up to him and ask, "What? What's your problem, man?"
"We're not punk rock," he frowns. "We're a goddamn joke."
"So what? Who the fuck cares?" I say.
"Forget it, man," he says and then he looks up at me. "It doesn't even matter now anyway."
"Why?" I ask.
"My dad's moving out next week. He got a job in California and he asked me if I'd go out there with him."
"Well, shit. You're just gonna take off like that?" I say.
"Why not?" he says and then he looks at me again. "You guys don't give a fuck. I mean, shit, you're the reason nothing's happening. You know? You're the reason."
"What?" I ask.
"You don't got it in you, man. You two guys don't got it in you."
"It's cause I just don't care, man. I ain't gonna let something like playing some stupid old people's party upset me," I say.
"And that's the problem, man. That's the fucking problem." He was right. I didn't have it in me. I didn't ever want to be punk rock. Kids at my high school who called themselves punk rock were assholes. They were the biggest phonies on the planet. They thought they were revolting against something even though they all had the same dumb-ass kind of purple hair. They were just like the preps and the jocks. I didn't ever want to be punk rock. I just wanted to be around Jim. He had a lot of good ideas and stupid or not, it made you feel good to be around someone that was always working on something. He had an idea and a dream and when you're fifteen and don't have a dream of your own yet, it's kind of comforting. So anyway, the point is Jim's punk rock. For real. I'm not. I hope to God he'll never change, for real. If he does, I hope I never see him again and I mean it.
Joe Meno is author of the novel Tender as Hellfire-St. Martin's, 1999- and his fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Triquarterly, F magazine, and Chicago Arts and Communications Magazine. Contact Joe with e-mail: Zkoren@aol.com
For more from Joe see his work in a serial noir piece titled The Secret Hand at