Monday, November 28, 2011 at 12:25 p.m.
Days of no consequence. Minneapolis edged November. My turmoil was a batholith hidden deep within. The new record was closer to "The Red Bedroom" than anything I'd written in 10 years. Brad was forced to cancel our mix session in Kentucky, so tracking it round Minneapolis would be a new change. I would need to find a grand piano. I began making calls. On Saturday night, I spun top 40 and guilty pleasures at Club Jager. I missed her, and without ground to stand on, did the irony of "Jenny from the Block" have any bearing on real life?
At bar close, I scraped up my cash, high fived the bouncer, and sped home. Half of our furniture was already sold. I was testing some new speakers in my studio. "If I Close My Eyes Forever" by Ozzy Osborne and Lita Ford rang out into the nothing. I stared into the stained glass archway above the hall. Ozzy sang, "Close your eyes. Close your eyes. Close your eyes." I shut off the basement lights and stood in the darkness. It was warm next to the furnace, like a living creature. The air ducts whirred like the ringing after a rock show, "If I close my eyes forever, will it all remain the same?" The great escape. The existentialist's choice. Lita chimed in, "Close your eyes. Close your eyes. Close your eyes." I tripped gracelessly into my unmade mattress on the floor as the black hole whirred around me, and blacked out in the bleakness. The cold medicine stayed boxed up in a drawer in the corner. Ghosts stood around me.
The video for "Minneapolis"
was launched the following Monday. I picked up a very rare and expensive microphone amp to record vocals. I put it on a laundry hamper and ate a cookie. An email from a fan: "Really like the blog. Hope you feel better soon. xx." It was now 2 p.m. I gathered some old books. Karamazov, Quixote, Zarathustra--keeps. Demian, Camus, Larkin--giveaways. Anton Szandor LeVey--garbage can. The church basement had become a cluttered din. After dinner, Joel Dodson and I tracked piano on a small grand at NoWare studios downtown. Earlier that June, I recorded piano for Electric Six's song "Psychic Visions" on the stage piano. Now, my beast-album was more alive with every note. But after all that piano in one day, I couldn't hear straight when we were done. On the drive back, I pretended that she was still there to sleep next to and tell about it. But it was no sense; my nights were now a loathsome sea. I would wake up and mix for a while, then sleep for two or three hours. It had been nearly a week of waiting to track vocals and still the gear was working against itself. D/R assured me that the only way to truly be free of the problem was simply to let go. "That's how Buddha does it, that's how Jesus does it. Did it. Err, whatever -- main thing is, Mallman, you've got to submit to the universe and stop feeling this frustration within." He said I was fighting the darkness with more darkness. After nine hours of banging my head, I submitted to the universe, and simply started singing. A few shots of absinthe, and I was nearly through the first song. Ten takes and I was a wet dog. So I took a jacuzzi. It was good for business.
A text message: "How are you, Mark?" My reply: "I am dead inside." Miss J told me once of her divorce. She'd found herself in a suburban utopia and couldn't figure out why she felt so dark inside. She said, "Out in the malls, I saw calm all around, but felt chaos within. By leaving my 'perfect' life, I exchanged those feelings. I simply accepted the chaos around me, I felt peace within. My life might seem unconventional, but I'm happier than ever, albeit alone." The city was a great wall of coffee shops and car alarms. At noon I lobbied for pancakes. Celebrity realtors grinned on bus stop benches. The bum who sits on a bucket by the interstate ramp had been intruded by a fashionably homeless punk. I wanted to throw cans at him. The video game store went out of business, but that wasn't symbolic of total nihilism. It was symbolic of bad business. Speaking of which, some bad business might have been what I needed about then. That night, Ryan Olson invited me over for tacos. We listened to mixes on the way to the grocery store. I said that songs come from the Greeks and music is tribal. He said he hates almost everything from the '90s. I asked him about Squarepusher, and he made an exception. For dessert Adam Hurlburt put cherry pie and ice cream in a tortilla with Oreo cookies. It was delicious. When I got back to my ghosts, I focused on digging deeper into the record. There was a bell sound repeating in my head, so I looped that and bathed it in wah wah effects. I reversed some violins and dropped them in two octaves below. The weekend passed, and I poured gin and soda in white leather. Instead of the same old hipster claustrophobia downtown, I tried new phobias. There was an equally bland Chinese joint and a nightclub with the same starved dancers. I lost my breath singing "Born to Run" at the karaoke bar. For onlookers, it may have been a living hell, but it was good for business.
On the Thursday with fresh ice just slushing on 2nd and Humboldt N., I watched the Basilica from the front window. No bells rang; our whole big 5,000-square-foot church building was empty. The sold sign swung, broken in the November chill. Wilson Webb texted me from LA, "When you leaving for the coast, Mallman?" "Friday for Hollywoodland. I'm doing my best not to think about it. I might call the album 'Hanging at the Disco Ball.'" He replied with a photo of a sidewalk graffiti that read "Lennon Saves." I texted back, "Then he shoulda saved himself."
I'd moved into the church basement four years earlier. The narrative of my time served would be a novel unto itself that ended with a bottle of expensive scotch. Troy and I stood in the main chapel under a six-foot movie screen. No furniture. No curtains but the night. "I never knew how destroyed this carpet was until the lights came up full. Have we ever had the lights up full?" I said. "You know what, Troy? We had a really good damn time." There is this idea of absolving oneself through exhaustion, and I believe that's what we were feeling -- absolution from partying. Andy Warhol says, in his party book, to leave before the party is over. To be truly absolved is to know all sides of the thing. On the converse side, Miss A called me drunk from a Florida grocery store. She said "Mark, I am having lunch with a billionaire tomorrow. I am traveling the world and realizing it's all about partying. It's all about partying." Tony Robbins says relationships equal success, it's good for business. "But Tony, the church basement absolved me from success then. Cause I think I wanna be low-key for a good couple years and just watch films." I hung a hoodie on half the window upstairs where a shade used to be.
Moving out is some heavy, emotional bullshit. I started packing things, but decided a landfill would be a better option. A mess of broken keyboards sat half in pieces. When you've built a career on destroying things, eventually everything becomes destroyed. In a box for the Salvation Army, I put a Super-8 projector, a white chord organ, and the Journal Entries of Kurt Cobain. The older you get, the more journal entries you have of your own, sorry Kurt. How many years of sentimental items can one fit into a three-foot box? "What do I do with this birthday card she wrote me?" Ironic cassettes: trash or vintage? I'd been saving my boots ever since I saw Springsteen's in the Hard Rock Casino. 1999 - 2002 Red Bedroom era boots, 2002 - 2005 Mr. Serious boots, etc. The lyrics to Marathon 1, 2, and 3 - all increasing in volume by threes. This mass of sentimental assets was pressuring my "live lightly law." I've never moved with more than I could fit into one vehicle. The love letters, dusty photos, and tear-stained movie tickets would all come along. But it was this crap, these career items, that I didn't know how to dispose of. A "Guided by Voices with Mark Mallman" banner from how many years back? eBay? Twitter contest? Time capsule? It felt like I was preparing for a suicide I wasn't aware I would even commit. Bad thoughts.
I switched off the Joy Division and focused on the forced basement air white noise. There was a photo from 2007, slow dancing to white noise with Miss S. It had begun to snow. Downtown, misguided heels and zebra miniskirts scampered across First Avenue with bull-headed jocks in matching sweatsuits. I shoveled up more dirt about the unringing phone. Lies. The problem with wearing rose-colored glasses is the inability to see red flags. Backstabbed. Double crossed. Yet I couldn't throw even a simple thank you card away. Even dead ends have soft leftovers. No matter how deep these cuts which rumor spilled open, my sentiment was overpowering. It was too late for affection, and too soon for sentiment. I went to a rock show to get into some bad business. Friday night, the Hold Steady closed a VIP event with "Killer Parties." Craig Finn sang, "If she says we partied then I'm pretty sure we partied. I really don't remember. I remember we departed from our bodies." I sent him a text message from the crowd: "Inspirational."
A slow guillotine benefits nobody. All that was left was my mattress by the dumpster, and a stack of Rolling Stone magazines 1986 - 1989 in a box in the bathroom. I sat the keys on the half wall, and got in the van with everything I owned in the world. The line between freedom and homeless was blurred. I shut the garage door for the very last time and hit the ignition. I now had one key and not even a keyring. Traffic on the freeway moved alongside me like we were all driving away together. And once again I was thinking about that poet from my childhood, "Even with you and you and you in my arms, I am alone." I could have listened to Tom Waits' "Swordfish Trombones" for five hours straight. The only thing certain was what I was putting behind me. I arrived in Waukesha, Wisconsin at 4 p.m. Thanksgiving base camp. What fool never said "It's good to be home?" My father was cleaning out the garage to make room for his car. "Winter is coming, maybe not today. It's coming for us all, Marky." We played cards around the kitchen over a box of white zinfandel. I set up a makeshift studio in the basement and worked on the Hollywood job. In this old office sat my brother's acoustic guitar case painted like a giant tongue, model sailboats, a tiny pinball machine called "Happi Time" from the 1960s, yearbooks, and an old digital clock that ran on potatoes. Such was childhood. Upstairs we waxed summer jobs and assembly lines. After dessert, my Dad said, "You'll only need six friends in your whole lifetime, Mark." He paused. "For pallbearers." I closed my eyes, but not forever. It wouldn't remain the same. Closure.