November ’94 and I swear to Novoselic that this rain’s getting me down. It’s not the fact that our play has gone to hell thanks to the main actress being a rampant riot grrrl too drunk to remember L7 or Helium‘s lyrics on cue for the final act. No. It’s not the fact that MTV won’t show the new Juliana Hatfield video uncensored (‘Fleur de lys’). It’s this stupid rain.
4 pm, a whole hour to go before the drama class and I see how the cars in the parking lot are getting pummeled by hailstones, almost sounding like the rattling of a Rat pedal transformigrifying chords into these sounds we want to dress in flannel and acid-wash jeans.
Ruth startles me by touching my shoulder. I just don’t like physical contact. “You’re better off Dating Yourself, mister” she says and winks. “Fine, there” I say, giving her a ticket for Saturday’s Implosion Aurora show at the Rodeo Santa Fe. She smiles and she asks if it’s okay to talk.
“C’mon, ‘Math Magician’, don’t make me ooh ooh ooh you into a conversation, it’s so lamestain“. I agree and we run towards the car, as fast as a cannonball rolling on a flat surface and down some stairs. We get into her Taurus and the rain increases, like a drum kit being well worked over. She puts in a tape and I wonder who the band is. They do sound a bit like Queazy, but I don’t think Ruth likes them Vancouver legends as much as I do. I do stay late at night, taping off the stuff from Alternative Nation, you see.
She wants to talk about her boyfriend. Again. I wonder why he keeps up with a guy who should be as sturdy as balsa wood, but he just ‘Splinters’ every single time they have a disagreement. You can hear the angst on her voice and I just want her to explode in a guttural, almost bass-like solo. But she won’t. As long as she doesn’t join the ’27 Club’, she should be alright. It just that she sounds so gloomy and despondent, almost like she’s ready to fall on these black days. I wish I had a guitar so I could make a crescendo-heavy atmosphere to lift her spirits, have her soar to heights hitherto unknown.
But, no, I think I’m as useless as ‘Lemon & Corduroy’, and for all my ideas in my head, only a superb idea for a bassline can come up in my head. If someone took this bassline and made a song out of it, it would be a million times better than what I have in my head.
No, wait, that’s just my mind stealing from the song we are listening to right now. Ruth starts the Taurus and winks. Off we go, swerving a bit through the gates outside. She always relaxes herself by driving and I’m happy to go along the ride, with the sweet sounds of a trippy, phased out guitar soothing my natural nervousness. I like looking at the rearview mirror, because I see things so much clearer.
Whoa! We almost run over a ‘Dog’, but she deftly avoids disaster. It’s a quick drive, it feels like it just took a minute or so to get here. We go to a drive-in. Not my choice but she seems to be happy to get some junk food. She buys mine too. Free meal, uh?
We are parked in a street near high school. It still is raining and she’s taken a few bites. I quip ‘May I take your disorder?’ and she smiles, faintly. She turns the volume dial up and the crunchy distortion paired with a fierce voice makes the car tremble harder than the rain outside’s rather limp effect. This is heavy, not Hole heavy, but Helium heavy, which is always better in my book. I’m more Mary Timony than Courtney Love.
The meal is finished and she takes out a little can of ‘Spray’ from the glove compartment. As she discharges it around, the aromas become soothing, almost otherworldly. The female vocals on the radio are now quite relaxed, with a wistful tone that contrasts heavily with the distorted chords that drone. I’m really enjoying this band. I must ask her who they are!
Ruth mentions that her brother has a new band, called ‘Captain Chunk’. I ask what’s their sound and she describes them as being slightly psychedelic, but still quite happy to be called grunge, with enough of an experimental sound to be set apart from the rest of the stuff out there. I want to believe her, but I would need to hear it! She promises to tape me some stuff over, promising it comes with enough trippy flanger stuff to please a gearhead like me.
She might be sulking a bit about her boyfriend. She wishes she had ‘Amnesia’, but I tell her not, as memories, good or bad, are what truly identify her, not the grubby clothes we wear or the person she is with. She grabs my hand the moment the song starts to get real loud and for a moment there, I think of doing something really decisive in my life, but I don’t. I might not be a ‘Flirty McFlirterson’, as my mother calls me. I just want to play loud guitar and describe my life, which as boring ass as it might be, it’s my life and there’s some real fun moments there, so “let’s go out tonight!” and all that would be the lyrics that would please me.
Yeah, sorry, I went on a tangent there because she kissed me. It’s not one of those things you plan, but, hey… Ruth drives back to school in silence and a feeling of dread builds slowly in me. I could feel a wah wah effect churning in my stomach and a fire building up inside. I hate drive-in food so much! We make it to school and when she parks, my door opens violently. It’s her boyfriend! The guy pulls me out and drops me to the floor. He might be a ‘Tiny Little Man’ but he’s truly kicking my ass. I can’t manage to stand up and he’s kicking and punching me around and I can hear Ruth‘s desperate pleas and screams, but they all are being drowned in this flurry of raindrops, hailstones and punches. I start to fade out while I hear a guitar in the distance. He gets in the car with her and they drive away.
I stagger back to the cafeteria’s toilets. This place is a ghost town at this time of day and as I wipe the dirt and blood from my face, I sort of smile. Being defeated and cynical is the quintessential “grunge” feeling and the best way to convey this is through music. This would make for a crackin’ collection of songs, all masterfully put together with lots of effects and rough guitars and bass bashing it out with drums. Yes. That’s how I will get over this. I’ll make an album and I’ll crown it with a song called ‘Wasted High’, in memory of these days when a genre helped me cope with terrible weather, bad relationships and a dreadful routine.
Words: Sam J. Valdes Lopez. (For Ruth Flores.)