The Soundtrack of My Life – 33 – Heaven

My entrance into any kind of gay community was very limited, unfortunately. I look back and I have a lot of regret that I wasn’t able to spend a little more time in that kiddy pool while I could. On the other hand, I was also self-destructing at the time and very likely would have ended up travelling a very dark path. Like with most “missed opportunities,” I’ll never know what could have been.

Right when I started dating Travis a little establishment opened up in downtown Bakersfield that was a beacon of hope for young gay youth. The club was titled “Bam-bams” and it was an experimental 16 and up disco. There was no liquor served, just looks, attitude, and dance moves. There was a cover charge, which is why most weekend nights it was more entertaining outside of the club than in. If you happened to hand over the $5 cash, you would find an empty black-box room filled with multiple video screens and dance music. Mirrors adorned the walls, to entertain the one lone dancing queen, wearing a crop top and shorty-shorts. The first time I went in I was so disappointed. It turned out that I was one of a few f*gs in this little town. I’d make the rounds and then tote myself back out front to chit-chat with the poor kids and the young queen working the door.

“Heaven” was one of the songs I discovered at the club. I still remember the music video, and one time even asked the lone bartender/owner to play it in the mix. He gave me a thumbs up and a wink.

Every Friday or Saturday night I would tote myself and my friends to Bam-Bams (aka BSqaured). I was beginning to build a community and make new friends that quickly replaced my hetero ones. None of the connections I had made during that time are currently in my sphere. They’re not even Facebook friends. It’s almost as if they never really existed. They were just phantoms. They helped me come into myself as a gay man and through my break-up of with Travis. I also frequented this little establishment because it was just around the corner from the actual bar my tatted ex liked to haunt. If I went I had the off-chance to catching a glimpse of him.

Oh, youthful infatuation.

As I was want to do at that time, that guy was quickly replaced by my next relationship, which happened to be to my future husband. One of our first ever pictures was taken outside of Bam-Bams.

My friend Eddie had taken the photo. He did it as “side shade.” He HATED Charlie with a passion, but that was because he had wanted to date me. (Good Lord I sound conceited.) He was one of the ones who encouraged my “bad habits” at the time. Regardless of his intentions, this moment is forever with me.

The last time I went was when I had been caught making out with a dude who was not Charlie, by a couple friends of ours. They pulled into the parking spot me and this guy happened to be macking in front of. Once they got out, and I saw who it was, I tried to pull it off like nothing had happened. But we both know they had seen what I had been doing.

That night I got unbelievably wasted. Charlie picked me up on his way home from the bar down the street, and walked me back to his apartment. On the way there he found my pack of cigarettes, Camel Turkish Gold, in my pocket.

“What are these?” He said and proceeded to leave them on the lid of a trash can.

“Hey!” I had said, but he acted as though nothing had happened and ushered me further down the street. And being so drunk I quickly forgot about them.

He hated it when I smoked. And this discovery went against my previous statement that “I was quitting.”

That night I sat on the floor of his bathroom, at the edge of his toilet, puking my guts out. At one point I demanded he give me bread, as one of my friends had said it helps sober you up. He laughed and brought me a slice of sour dough.

“Not this,” I had said and threw it in the trash.

In the morning I came clean about what had happened that night. I was caught. And when I am found out I don’t lie my way out of it. I rather face the consequences than make it worse. Plus, I didn’t want him to hear it from someone else. The truth would be better delivered from me, than a casual acquaintance.

He was angry and barely spoke to me. For whatever reason he kept me around the rest of the day. We went and did his laundry at a laundromat across town, where he continued to ignore me. I didn’t know what I was doing there and all I wanted to do was leave. Little did I know he had been working out if I was worth the trouble of keeping around.

As the present can attest, he decided to not break it off. (Stupid man.)

It did however initiate my pattern of doing horrible shit and getting caught. And our subsequent knee-jerk reactions of implementing restrictions to my life to avoid any more of these cruel/stupid choices.

In reality he should have ended it with me. I was mess at the time and didn’t, even remotely, have my shit together. It didn’t occur to me until doing this project, just how fucked up I was. In the span of a year I was dumped 3 times, by 3 different guys. That’s bonkers. I was newly out and discovering who I was as a gay man, and that wasn’t the most simple of tasks as I was coming from a very, very religious background/upbrining.

If he hadn’t stuck with me, I am genuinely curious how I would have ended up. More than likely I would have contracted HIV, because my sex education focused more on the “don’t do it” than the “USE A GODDAMN CONDOM!”

I don’t think I would have abused recreational drugs. That was the one thing about Christian school that had stuck. I would however, have been a raging alcoholic. And most likely would have jumped from one job to the next without ever having any ambition to go back to school or start an “adult” career.

But this is all speculation. None of this could have happened. I could have moved away and started an entirely different life. Who fucking knows. All I can say with certainty is that I wouldn’t be where I am now.

The Soundtrack of My Life – 32 – I Will Talk And Hollywood Will Listen

Man, I can already see this post going south and I have barely written a word. I will warn you in advance this is going to get pretty bleak. Just because the subject matter is bittersweet. So, if you don’t want to dive into your weekend with a rain cloud I suggest finding some other worthwhile reading material. It certainly isn’t here.

I had debated on what song to use for this topic. Originally, the one included, was what brought up the discussion, but when I started to outline ideas in my head there was another that was more topical. My back-up song was “Dying in LA.” That one seemed to embody more of the overall tone of the post, but the song is a real downer. Which is probably why I love it so much. I do love to bum myself out. While I will not include it in the post, I do recommend giving it a listen. The symmetry of the lyrics is so well done. It’s truly a masterpiece in song writing.

Robbie’s songs, written with Guy Chambers, always hit a nerve with me. In a good way. Their collaborations are always top of my list, and rarely, if ever, do I dislike a single track. I was bummed when they stopped working together. Robbie’s hits got few and far between for me. They lacked something extra. They were missing the Guy sound that I thoroughly enjoy. Even now, the albums he completed with Guy I listen to from beginning to end, no skips. Later releases don’t come with that level of dedication.

I was ecstatic to learn that the two wrote a musical together based on the book of the same name “The Boy in the Dress.” Unfortunately it debuted right before Covid and I’m afraid that may have destroyed it’s chances of being notable. I still haven’t given the soundtrack a listen, but that is because I have this weird hang-up with listening to musicals without the context of the story or scenes to attach the musical numbers to. It’s dumb, I know, but I can’t enjoy the songs without some perspective. And unlike an old friend of mine, I don’t seek out the source material and research the shit out of it to put everything together. I have other unimportant bullshit to waste my time on.

It’s funny to me that the two wrote a musical together, because I actually had written my own “musical” (in the vein of Mamma Mia) using Robbie Williams songs. This song was the opening number. I had an outline of the track list in my head, but it has been years and the one I had jotted down has gotten lost in the shuffle. Plus, I had a problem with the final act and how I wanted it to end. The primary issue with using pop songs for musical numbers/narrative is that not every point of the story is available in a pop stars catalog. Which is why Mamma Mia works and doesn’t. Some songs involve a real heavy-duty “suspension of disbelief” to have the songs make sense in the content of the story.

At one point I wanted to talk and Hollywood listen. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be an actor. I would put on my own little plays, and even now I entertain myself (and my polycule) doing little skits about random things. Some of my spur of the moment characters are memorable enough to be inside jokes.

I use to do a lot of community theatre and at one point I did a few shows in Hollywood. I even made an effort to do “actor platforms” and have my headshots taken. All of this in an effort to win myself an agent. But the cruel fact of the “fame chase” crashed upon me: I was just another face in a sea of 20-something white males trying to make it. What made me so special? I may have had the actual skill, but like my husband likes to point out, “anyone can act.” And I wasn’t the most attractive person trying to accomplish the same goal.

After a very brief stint trying to “make it” I decided to do other things. Unless I was willing to move to LA, the possibility of chasing that dream was pointless. So, as with most “heart desires” I had to let it go.

An unavoidable part of growing up is letting go of our fantasies. As time goes on, it becomes apparent that we only have so much time to dedicate any focus for it to be worthwhile. Unless you want to be shit at a lot of different things, I wouldn’t suggest that. But maybe you are a unicorn who can actually dedicate all their energy into everything. I’d rather strive for excellence with a few things than mediocrity in a number of unrelated efforts.

Maybe some day I will return to get back into acting, but it is not likely. Especially with how things in the world are going. By the time I can dedicate any kind of attention, the world will look like a very different place.

The Soundtrack of My Life – 31 – Closer To Myself

One of my favorite past-times is looking back at who I once was. The beauty of life is there. It shows that no matter what, we are never a fixed point. We move on, grow, change, and become someone almost entirely unrecognizable to the person we once were. In some cases, that person would hate who you’ve become. They would have seen your existence as an absolute failure for the effort they, at the time, invested every ounce of energy into not becoming.

Another lifetime ago I was a very, very devout Christian. Of course that would occur when I was cultivated to be such a child. I went to Christian school from pre-k to 8th grade. And the only reason I ever, ever left religious education was because the local faith based high school priced my parents out. They couldn’t afford the exorbitant tuition. So much for spreading the word of God, right? That’s how you do it. You make it where only the rich can attend.

When I transferred to public school I made my faith my entire identity. From the day I started until the summer after my freshman year, I wore this hideous teal hat, embroidered with a “Jesus fish.” I swore that if I made it to Hollywood (as was my want at the time) and won some sort of acting award I would wear that ratty old hat to show that christ provides. Good lord, I was insufferable.

I was also the worst kind, I was a biblical literalist. I believed that what happened in the Bible absolutely occurred in the timeframe in which was outlined in this ancient text. And the verse I believed, with such a flaming ball of hatred, was the sin of homosexuality.

What makes that so problematic is… well… I am a big ol’ nelly queen.

I remember the rage I felt about any kind of queer representation. I vividly remember, saying out loud, that I wish that all “fags” would be killed; or given their own island where they would die out, because they can’t procreate. Which… in hindsight does actually sound kind of awesome. A gay space with no heteros to ruin our fun? Where do I sign up? And, die out? That doesn’t make any sense. Gay people aren’t just born to gay people… if that was the case… there would be no gay people.

My religious story sounds all too familiar. I will not offer you any new detail that hasn’t been said by countless others before or after me. Faith has become a burden. A costume we all don to “fit in” with the rest. For us to “feel worth.” I tried so hard to be a good Christian. I didn’t want to disappoint myself, my parents, or “my god.” I wrote allegorical stories, I listened to faith based music, and I tried to surround myself with others “like me.” Problem was, I was not like them and never could be.

I would pray every night that god would take away my gay feelings. There were a couple times that I pleaded so much that I cried. Yet, here I am. Sometimes I wonder if I just didn’t want it enough, pray as hard as I could. Then I remind myself that I don’t believe in any powerful deity and those antiquated thoughts leave my mind.

Religion has it’s hooks in me until I die, I’m afraid. I was immersed in it from the moment I could talk. It was the only perspective of the world I was offered and I bought into it because it was what my parents shared with me. And how could they be wrong? They knew everything. And it wasn’t just them, it was my teachers and my peers. All of them going along with this bull shit with zero questions. They just believed for the sake of it, and deliberately searching for “god” in everything they did. The thing about looking through rose colored glasses at the world is you’re always seeing red. So, even now, the faith bubbles up in my brain and I have to talk it through. I ask it questions, because there is nothing “belief” hates more than any kind of inquiring thought.

I do think that faith can do good things, but it doesn’t. It has become too consumed with maintaining power. It’s lost any sense of message, except to hold others down and lift up just a select few.

My loss of faith officially occurred after my mother’s diagnosis. It had been on life support at the back of my thoughts since my early twenties. But when I heard what my mother was about to endure any notion that there was “a higher power in charge of everything” was eliminated. Because how could a “loving god” strike down one of his most devout with such a horrible disease? To teach her a lesson? For what? Believing? Is it a test of her faith? That seems like a pyshopathic god to me. That’s like me sticking out a leg to trip someone, offering them a hand to pick them back up and saying “Now, tell me how awesome I am that I picked you up.”

Embracing the idea that there is no reason for what happens, that life is chaotic and meaningless has actually brought me so much peace. Without any meaning, we get to give life the one we want. We are only guaranteed today. So, I will live it the best way I can for the reason I want.

Letting go of faith has brought me closer to myself.

I gotta say, this song does rock. Despite it being a Christian tune. The fact that it was included in the movie “Never Been Kissed” astounds me to this day. The message in the lyrics is finding a version closer to her true self through faith. They included it in a moment where the main character of the film finds herself through her own self-discovery and failure. They may be similar ideas, however the shared space is very thin when considering the broader implications of the actual song.

I also don’t think god brings us closer to who we are, but separates us from our true identity. It tells us to fear and hate anything that doesn’t fit into the crucifix shaped box. And being such an odd configuration, doesn’t allow for too much.

The Soundtrack of My Life – 30 – Heads Carolina, Tails California

Country music will always have my heart. It was the first “non-child,” secular music I first encountered and I fell in love with it the moment I heard that steel guitar. (Still one of my favorite sounds.) It’s funny, because neither of my parents were fans of “western” (what they called it) music. My dad was 60’s and 70’s pop rock and my mom wasn’t one to listen to the radio. Apart from them meeting for the first time in a country-western bar they didn’t have any attachment to the genre.

My father would wonder “Where did you get this love from?” He didn’t remember having set the station on my brand new radio to KFRG, before going outside to work in the yard. It was the first radio station it had been set to and it never strayed from it until we moved.

A lot of my birthday gifts were music related. The following year my parents gifted me a walk-man and two cassette tapes: Billy Ray Cyrus (for of course “Achey Breaky Heart”) and Alan Jackson. Apart from that one song I did not enjoy Billy Ray. I was, however, in love with Alan Jackson. I wrote that tape out. That man had the hits!

For my 11th birthday my parents bought me my first CD player stereo. Accompanying it were two discs by Tim McGraw and Jo Dee Messina.

“Heads Carolina, Tails California” was my favorite at the time. There was one moment when I had been listening to the radio at midnight, bedroom window open, and when this tune came on I started singing. A little too loud it would seem, I thought I was being quiet, but both my parents and the neighbors woke up very, very irritated.

I love the idea of the song: getting away, leaving everything up to chance. Maybe then they could outrun their bad luck with the spontaneity of their decision. It spoke to me at 11. I wasn’t happy living in Bakersfield. I felt so out of place. I never fit in. Most of the kids I started going to school with had been friends since kindergarten and here I was this chubby, quirky kid who used to be the smartest one in the class at his old school.

Most of all though, the idea of aimlessly traveling touched a deep nerve.

I have always loved road trips. I got to listen to music, play video games, and watch the landscape change around me. My family’s habit was getting up at the crack of dawn, grab some McDonald’s, and hit the road. That way it gave us more evening time at our end destination.

My husband is not like that at all. He wants to wake up at a “reasonable” hour (aka 11) and lackadaisically pack the car and head out. Any sense of urgency does not exist in his frame. And that BUGS!

Regardless, we have made our two very different ways of doing things work. Primarily I have just given in because fighting him on it is impossible. He will control the situation no matter what I try to do. Even now, where the brother-husband and I have to do everything, this bitch will find a way to make sure we leave on his schedule. It’s truly remarkable.

This October the three of us will be embarking on a road trip to Boston, looping down to Orlando and then on to Vegas for the MTG 30 event. We will make an overnight stop in North Carolina to visit an old friend and a sort-a-kinda-cousin. (Hard to explain.)

It was intended to be a trip for just the two of us, to give the B-H a break from me and Charlie. However, when the husband brought it up that he requires a lot of help and attention he suggested it would be a good idea if he came along. And he isn’t wrong. The vast majority of the trip would be spent on his general care. We are at the point now where there is nothing he can do without assistance.

I am really looking forward to our trip. The open road calls to me. It’s just a bummer we have to have a schedule and not let our own whims and sense of adventure dictate the route. I guess I’ll leave that to the fantasy of the song.