Where I Lived: 4

I Am My Own Stalker

Night. The Wolf Hour. I wake from a nightmare—stabbed in the heart from behind by an invisible assailant. Is it me? Am I murdering myself? Is it my shadow—my own bag of darkness?

I sit up straight in bed. Sweating. Breathing hard. I don’t think I screamed when the knife entered my heart. Wailing and shrieking can halt abruptly in dreamland. Now wide awake, I begin the return passage from my nocturnal descent into Hades.

I resume self-analysis each time this katabasis occurs. I’m being stalked by archetypes—nothing personal— simply more communications from the subterranean places in my psyche. My own myths are mashed up with the ancient stories. I can’t tell the difference, not when I’m asleep. The similarity is ambiguous, outlandish, unnerving. I’m not meant to be Odysseus every goddamned night. No one is waiting for me to come home from endless war. No minor goddess has turned my friends into pigs—my friends are better behaved than Odysseus’s minions. Perhaps somewhere, someone is weaving my funeral shroud, but I doubt it.

The balcony door is open. The light from the quadrangle below my second-floor room of De LaSalle Hall illumes the slender, sheer curtains hanging over the threshold. The only sound is my roommate breathing as he sleeps in his own bed. I remain as quiet as I can. He is a premed student. He has a biology exam scheduled tomorrow morning. I don’t want to disturb him. He was kind enough to snooze elsewhere a couple of nights ago when a friend slept with me. I owe him the favor of silence.

You could be my cavalier servente, Donna whispers during the hushed hours of that recent evening. My Italian studies from my freshman year have worn off, yet I knew what she meant—lover, suitor. The remembrance lingers. Light from the quadrangle also passes gently through the drapes that night. I know in my heart that she will never be my Penelope, but my mind gives credence to the prospect from time to time.

My brain wants to believe in a lot of things that never come true—that are not factual—legends, fables, and fairytales. Even objective events are comprised of fantasy elements, so it seems, and I think—is there really any difference?

I realize I’m talking to myself again, the thoughts bursting artlessly from the volatile neurons in my cerebral cortex. Random words tumble in my head like sinister mantras as I discard my nightmare and leave it behind. The alarm clock face glowers: 3 AM. I remain awake. I pull the covers over my head and read by flashlight. Maybe there will be a rosy fingered dawn, but I really don’t give a shit.

The last days of my senior year are floating around my face like gnats. There are not many hours left to me at my nurturing mother of studies, my alma mater—St. Mary’s College. Four years gone by. I have no idea what to do next. At this moment what I know is this: Donna, my friends, and my beloved mentors and teachers, will be far removed for many months, perhaps years, maybe forever, and like that fucking Ithacan I’ll be trying to find my way home. He was delayed because of his own hubris. I’m not sure where home is anymore. He also had assistance, but Athena isn’t my type, nor the other way round, so I’m on my own.

My four years of undergraduate lotus eating start and end with Pink Floyd. Bookend performances bordering either side of that chapter in my book of days.

October 1971, Winterland Ballroom, Post and Steiner, San Francisco

The music changes again—we slip deeper into the submarine sea. While the keyboards create a backdrop of soft whispers and moans, the guitar mimics the sound of crying seagulls gliding on a canvas of air. The cries cease, and for a few moments we are suspended, as if we are in a roller coaster that has climbed to the top of a peak, anticipating the proper moment to race down the other side. The music keeps us in suspense at that moment of hesitation as a chromatic chord pattern begins a repetitive loop, not resolving, holding the ride in stasis. Then the guitar rings out with a flourish, and we slide down the steep side of where we had been poised. At the bottom we rest and a solemn guitar solo guides the music to a lingering, slow fade.

The audience is silent. We are unable to immediately break the enchantment that has been cast upon us. Within moments loud cheers and applause break out. “That was ‘Echoes’ which is on our new album, Meddle. Thank you and goodnight.” The house lights come on and I blink in the incandescence of what seems like unexpected daylight. The audience cheers and demands an encore—I amble closer to the center of the stage.

A few minutes pass. Pink Floyd comes out on stage again and the house lights dim. Vibrant noises erupt—an opening section of wild, senseless sounds. No melody, no rhythm, no harmony, only extravagant squeals, squawks and thumps. I hear voices yelling within all the commotion. The effect is frightening and uncomfortable. It grows to a climax. There is no music to hang onto and I am lost until a drum pattern emerges and begins to loop. It’s a rational sequence of rhythm that I can grasp, but the noises continue over the insistent percussion.

Roger Waters stands on the edge of the stage directly in front of me and beats on a pair of cymbals mounted on stands, one on either side of him, his face filled with fury as if he is losing his mind. I close my eyes. I can’t stand looking at him. Someone is beating the huge orchestral gong next to the drum kit. My mind is urging me to head out of the crowd, but instead I keep my eyes closed and concentrate on the drum loop.

Before the end of that final semester, Donna and I travel to Daly City for another Pink Floyd show. We drive over the Bay Bridge in her yellow Triumph TR4. I fill the gas tank after she picks me up at the campus, paying for the fuel with Dad’s credit card, which I have never used. “Only for difficulties,” he had said. I consider last minute tickets and an opportunity to see Pink Floyd as a necessity resembling an emergency, so I use the card. I check the oil in Donna’s wheezing beater of an English sportscar. I add a quart. The engine stops clattering like a sewing machine.

This is my third experience of a Pink Floyd live show—The Wish You Were Here Tour. The album won’t be released until the following September 1975, four months after I graduate, when I’m living at home making desperate plans to return to the Bay Area. Thus, on April 12, as we walk through the livestock-fragranced halls of the Cow Palace to our nosebleed seats, far from the stage, I don’t appreciate the synchronicity of the LP’s title, or the magnificence of the universally treasured song it becomes. There’s also another irony—the first two songs in the set, “Raving and Drooling” and “You Gotta be Crazy,” are later retitled “Sheep” and “Dogs.” The absurdity cycle is completed when those two songs are released in 1977 on an underwhelming album—Animals. Tonight, the audience is teeming with human beasts, and I don’t need those elongated, strident tracks to alert me to that circumstance.

The experience is totally unlike the Winterland presentation. Back then only a few hundred people sat on the floor of an aging ice-skating venue. Tonight, it’s a sold-out show for 16,500 space cadets, presented in a cement hulk designed for rodeos and auctions. The gentle glow of hashish and mystical entheogenic hallucinogens dispersed through a rapt throng of attentive listeners in 1971 has been replaced by a raucous mob of alcohol fueled nitwits tossing fireworks into the air haphazardly during the music. The band of serious English musicians, then virtually unknown in America before the release of Dark Side of the Moon, has evolved into a harried group of famous infighting individuals fronting an enormous stage and special effects spectacle. This is the third concert in a tour that consists of 29 shows, and I sense they are already exhausted and weary of their unexpected success—as well as making gobs of money for cocaine-addled record executives.  

That show at Winterland is my first rock concert. I know nothing about the band. After Pink Floyd play “A Saucerful of Secrets” I think that there is nothing but possibilities of enlightenment for me during the next four years, despite Roger Water’s menacing face hanging above me like a demon as I belly up to the stage. There’s no doubt that I was forever altered during “Echoes.”

In 1975 the Cow Palace performance is a vacuous spectacle. At the end of “On the Run” a fake airplane suspended from a wire directly above us, discharges pyrotechnics from its tail, flies rapidly above the audience, over the stage, and vanishes in an explosion of light and madness backstage behind the band. It’s symbolic of the grief I am feeling about finishing my four-year trip through higher education, and the end of the transitory installment of erotic ecstasy that transpired in my life that final Spring. The crowd roars its approval of the special effect, but I’m not sure they would understand my metaphor.

Forty-six years later my brain still has faith in all that happened to me then, awake or asleep, even though the encounters of that young man have become personal folklore—the rootstocks and rhizomes of a seasoned amateur mystic, or at least a youngish-looking retired geezer. I remember so many elements of those days: that dream, one of many metaphorical stabs of the knife—Donna’s supple voice speaking to me in my own bed as we held one another—the fresh journal I began after graduation, written in green ink bewailing my loneliness—my father excoriating me for putting a tank of non-emergency gas on his credit card—and the eerie absence of my cherished friends.

“Oh, how I wish you were here.” When I finally comprehend the song it practically kills me.

In 2018 while I prepare to depart California in an attempt to control the continual spontaneous appearances of the reverse-memory telescope and the unexpected recall of recollections, I drive to a financial appointment near College Avenue in Berkeley. On Tunnel Road the timeline demands my attention—and I remember: that night on the way to Winterland, near the Claremont Hotel, the friend who sells me the ticket and gives me a lift, picks up a date at an apartment building not far from where I’m going now. I recollect shopping in the Elmwood district at Sweet Dreams with my wife, buying stocking stuffers for the kids just before Christmas—and further back—arguing with her vehemently about the merit of Bergman’s film Cries and Whispers after viewing it at the Elmwood Theatre. (He’s a hack! she says, just to piss me off. Yes, she knew how to pull my chain.)

On and on—the telescope reveals everything in the underworld deep-time passageway while sneaking up behind me—murdering me with the power of remembrance. It demands that I live in my past. I don’t want to stay there.

I left the college utopia in 1975. I left the Oxnard home in 1976. I leave my Bay Area home, and California, in 2018 for the Pacific Northwest.

Now I exist in a cerebral river slowly drifting downstream. A lazy river like the Ohio in Pittsburgh, formed by the Monongahela and Allegheny. Rivers of gentle power like the Columbia, not far from this house where I write. My memories are like those rivers—my childhood and adulthood have merged into one moving stream. There is no tension of memory anymore. No more sudden dream-death. I move from shore to shore and crest to crest and tide to tide, sampling my life from pools of water, and examining the specimens with poetic license. Through the impulsive ascendence of gratitude and the willing descent of grace, bonds are reforged with the living and the deceased.

Grief for the good times as well as the bad—that’s the price I pay for my travels on this waterway, my coin to Charon. It’s an equitable fee, all things considered, though I still sleep warily, and like the Ithacan, I return safe and sound each morning. One day I will hand over the last change that remains in my pocket. In the meantime—River. Water. Spirit. Written words, then and now, are my testimony.

Allow the art you make of your life to beguile the Moon to wander to your bedside and start to talk.

Martin Shaw, A Branch from the Lightning Tree

Notes on the text:

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