Friday, May 30, 2014

Song Of The Day - Jeremy

One of my favorite authors is Nick Hornby and one of his brilliant pieces of work is a collection of essays called, "Songbook." Hornby picks favorite tracks and writes about them in a brilliant, funny and sometimes incredibly poignant way. The stories go off in various directions with the only rule seemingly being that at the beginning of his thought process is that particular song. Cool idea. So in the best tradition of mediocre non-writers stealing the ideas of far superior writers I thought it would be cool to do this sometimes. So with apologies to Nick Hornby...

It would seem to totally destroy any indie cred that I think I have by starting this idea with the biggest hit from one of the most popular bands of the last 25 years. Or at the very least just fall in to the stereotype of the white Gen-Xer that I am. So be it.

Pearl Jam's Ten was released the month I turned 21. I think I first became aware of them from the video for "Evenflow" which was a song that blew my mind away and I was an instant fan. But hearing "Jeremy" the first time, well, that was a revelation. Still roiling with teen angst at 21 it was a song that seemed written for me, not that I'm unique in feeling that way about that song.

What was scary was how much I related to Jeremy. I really do believe that if not for just a few minor deviations in my life I could have found myself splattering my brains all over the wall in front of a classroom full of my fellow high school students. I think what maybe stopped me the most was not wanting to give those fuckwads the satisfaction.

My most vivid memory of the song, the thing I think about the most whenever I hear it today, comes from a few years later - in 1994, during my last semester of college.

I was a theatre major approaching graduation. My degree would be in directing but I was also an actor. A mediocre actor to be sure, but I sometimes nailed it and was actually really good with the exact right role, such as Lee Harvey Oswald in Sondheim's Assassins. My final role in college would be that of the troubled teen Hank in Marvin's Room, a part scarily tailor made for me, at least in my mind.

When you study theatre in college you end up being encouraged to explore your craft in various ways. You inevitably will have a stage movement teacher who tells you to find your "animal essence." As in, "If Hank were an animal, what animal would he be?" You get the idea.

I could never get in to the whole animal character thing, though I don't dismiss it - I knew some great actors who swore by it. But what I almost always did have - music geek that I was even then - was a song for my character. And Hank's song was "Jeremy."

I had been struggling with the character during rehearsals, as one will do when taking on such a meaty role. One beautiful spring day I took off from my off-campus apartment and walked by myself with my CD Walkman. I set out that day to walk around as a 17-year-old (I was 23 by this time) and just get in the mind of Hank.

I was listening to Ten that day, of course. Over and over. This was before the days of being able to make mix CDs on your computer (and before I even had a computer or even knew what email was) so what you had in your CD Walkman was going to be an album.

As I walked around Macomb, IL trying to find my inner teenager I came across a pink golf ball on the grass somewhere. No shit, a pink golf ball. Who uses pink golf balls? It made me think about my late friend Lori and I was finding myself heading in the direction of the cemetery where she was buried.

Lori was a freshman theatre major the previous year but she was not like any other freshman. Lori grew up in town and had been involved in the theatre program from a young age, when I met her several years earlier she worked part time in the costume shop. About a year before this walkabout she was killed when she swerved in front of an oncoming semi on a road outside of town.

Lori's favorite color was pink. Finding the golf ball made me think about going to her grave. I had been at her funeral the year before and was not able to hold it together. My grief was too much and I was a basket case, so I didn't go to the burial afterwards.

I found her spot at the cemetery and sat at her gravestone. There was a metal frame on her headstone with a hinge at the top. I lifted it to find a picture of a smiling, happy Lori looking at me. I lost my shit once again, with Jeremy playing in my ear.

I left the pink golf ball at her grave that day. A gift for the sunniest, happy person I ever knew. Cruelly taken from us well before her time.

Pearl Jam wailing in my ear, I walked back to my off-campus apartment knowing I was ready to play what would be the greatest role of my life.