A few months back, I’d opened up a window on Sunday morning to keep the smell of bacon from wafting. I’d just bought my first hollow body guitar that week. My days sleeping on couches and hauling sound gear in my beat up, ’88 Ford Econoline van had long passed, and I wanted something to scratch out riffs on while I reminisced the good ol’ days of playing lead in a rock band that barely ever made it out of the garage.
It’s a beautiful instrument, with two P-90 humbuckers and one of those Bigsby knock-off tremelos—an Epiphone effigy of that same Gibson guitar that Chris Cornell used to play. On stage. With Soundgarden. There’s a dream I once had; music used to be my life. But that was almost twenty years ago. And now, Chris Cornell’s gone, and I was sour that morning because I never got to see Soundgarden live.
Before we ever booked any decent gigs, the internet came: with its free downloads, and MTV went from Unplugged and Nine Inch Nails videos, to Brittany Spears and what would later become reality TV. And the guys I played with were as broke as I was, in the middle-of-nowhere, West Virginia. And we fought all the time, and that was that.
Casualties of the digital revolution, or poor Appalachia. Or just…life.
I sat there with the window open, picking away minor scales with hints of dissonance. That’s how I like my music—melancholy, with broken, out-of-key overtones. I never could stand any of that upbeat, happy shit. People always used to cock their heads sideways, like dogs do when they’re trying to learn a new sound, whenever I’d play. I imagine they still would, if anyone ever heard me these days.
A handful of people really got into my style, even if they couldn’t figure out what I was trying to do. Maybe I play this way because it’s just…me. Maybe it still is I thought, as I sat there, strumming out my emptiness, and wondering where my life had gone. In part, I figured it was good that I live here, alone. When I play, part of me is glad that I ran all the women off, and another part of me probably plays what I do out of loneliness.
I’m playing right along, and then:
Werp-werp-werp-werp! Bweeeeow! Bweeeow!
Somebody’s car alarm must be going off, I thought. Maybe they’re an idiot who pressed the wrong button on their keyless entry. Maybe crime’s going up in the neighborhood, but that’s the kind of neighborhood this is, sometimes, and some part of me picked this place for that reason.
I stopped playing my usual, improv riffs, and started in on some of the old band stuff, and then, again:
Werp-werp-werp-werp. Bweeeeow! Bweeeow!
Only, this time, it sounded…closer? I stopped playing, and stood next to the window. And I heard it again a couple of times, with two-minute intervals in between. And it was…moving? Did some fucking moron steal a car? Or, maybe they’re like me: their car is fucked up, but they just drive it that way. Good God.
But when I heard it again, I realized: it’s a fucking bird! A bird’s doing that! Some dejected mockingbird picked up the only tune it knew how to carry—one learned from living on the outskirts of human progress.
That’s amazing! I thought. I just pictured this little guy, stuck up in the rafters of Home Depot, freaking the hell out of newlyweds and contractors. Busting out windows. Flipping the bird, with his little bird talon, at anybody who gave him any shit.
Hell, this guy’s species probably invented punk rock.
And here I was, feeling down on myself. Meanwhile, he’s out there just absolutely transforming garbage into art. He’s defying the odds, making a hell of a go at it. And it’s goddamn glorious. Carpe Diem, motherfucker! Give ’em hell!
Eat the fucking elephant!
So I smiled, sat back down, and started playing Fell on Black Days.