I thought that maybe this birthday would come and go without much hubbub, or ado, or paralyzing thoughts about existence. Here I am in the late afternoon, listening to the ambient chill station on Spotify, still sipping this morning's room temp coffee from a mason jar. It's just me and Bijou, the portly brown and black striped cat that resides with my brother Josh and his girlfriend Sami. She's as weird as any cat you're likely to meet. Punches me in the face when she's hungry in the morning, loves a strong back slap, and opens doors when she's not feeling lazy and yowling for you to come do it. I've been here for about a week, in the heat and solitude of Highland Park, just northeast of downtown Los Angeles. A separate family of feral cats looks in from the rear patio through the sliding door from time to time, a fresh litter of wobbly black kittens and a chorus of tiny mews alert me to when they are around. New life, always so incredible to see. I managed to scoop one up yesterday, much to it's mom and dad's behest, and that was about it for me, I almost owned a cat.
37 has been trying. Feeling around for handholds, hanging on with both hands through the corners, keeping my head above water.. any struggle analogy will do. People are scared. People are angry. People are divided. And all in all it's actually really difficult to tell if it's just always been like this or if this is some sort of rough patch of growing pains, or worst case, the start of a new normal. Maybe we are moving too fast. Sure, I've had the thought. Even if that's true, which I'm not convinced it is, the thought of attempting to slow things down would be like trying to stop a jet from taking off by holding the wing with one hand and a balloon tied to a fence with the other. And so, this feeling of helplessness creeps around. The trick, of course, is to go your own way. To admit to yourself that you alone control your own actions and thoughts. So simple in theory, really is. And I know exactly what it feels like to succeed in putting that particular fear and anxiety aside for a spell. Birds sing, bells ring, etc.. The real battle is sustaining. Keeping my body from breaking down. I joined a gym. 24 Hour Fitness, so that I can go whenever I want. I have indeed gone in the middle of the night, and it was fantastic. So much space for activities. No sweaty seats. I made an investment in maintaining my body, and in doing so I hope that it will help to maintain my brain as well.
When I was 20, I made a decision. It hit me in the moments after one of my early gigs after starting a band in college, called Shades of Day. I had been writing songs for a few years, starting to sing them at open mics, and I was enjoying the process of creation. The gig was in the bar section of some pizza place, and it wasn't much as a venue to make a fuss over. But we rocked that fucker, hard and then we ate pizza and laughed, all of us were smiles. The performance adrenaline lasted for weeks after those early shows. Walking back to my apartment that night, I made the decision. I was going to make music my life, my priority. It was that "click" moment. All heart and no plan to speak of... but as I've gone along, the signs that I've identified as signs haven't done me too wrong yet. I carry on, sometimes in the dark. There are some beautiful rewards along the way too. Incredible, thrilling, even terrifying moments on stage, spanning 47 states and 10 countries, meeting so many weird and wonderful people along the way. The high of playing live music has proved no true equal for many years.
And then suddenly, something unexpected, tragic, confusing, maddening.. One of my heroes took his own life. Not in some drug fueled haze in angsty twenties, not in a thirty something questioning of life choices, not in a forty something can't pay the bills and everything's gone moment.. but in his early fifties, not destitute, with so many beautiful successes under his belt, so many hardships conquered, so many people behind him, so many hearts with him, and seemingly so much yet to live for. A man who awed effortlessly with his otherworldly voice, who appeared wise, thoughtful, deep, real, steady. When the news spread, so did a bit of darkness in me. Maybe I hadn't seen it coming, or maybe I just hadn't acknowledged it growing there, but there it was. Dark as a dungeon, heavy as a mountain, and as welcome as a train to the chest.
In the days and weeks after, I came to terms with it. I accepted it as fact, I even understood in many ways. That's what haunted me the most, it turns out. Chris Cornell seemed to have everything that I would want in a life, a music career. In many ways, I've fashioned after him. Looking up to him as a guiding light. On road trips and in any time alone in the car I would howl along to his records from Soundgarden to Audioslave to Euphoria Morning. He showed me how to open my voice. I felt that pain, I felt that emotion, and I channeled it right along with him, subbing in my own challenges and unwell memories. I felt a deep connection with him thanks to those moments. I never did get to meet him, but I always thought that I would. It felt like fate in a way, and I never doubted. Only a matter of time. In some fucked up way, that was some of my motivation to keep the faith. To be in the room with one of your heroes is something that likely drives more of us than I know. To earn the respect of the people you look up to.
Chris's death shook me. It's made me question my path, my choices. It's made me take stock of my blessings, and take a hard look at some my mental roadblocks. If that could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. Then, maddeningly, it did. Chester followed Chris. Just like that, two giant voices were gone, by their own choice. It was, and is, unbelievable. In their wake, so many more questions for the music world, for fans of rock, for young musicians, for anyone and everyone who had been touched by them in some way.
Here I am, barely a few years younger than both of them, and still very much trying to find my way. So, for my 38th birthday, I'm making time to appreciate my accomplishments so far. I want to tell my 38 year old self that I'm proud of him, and show him that no matter how strange and discouraging it feels out there beyond his phone or computer screen on any given day, there are damn good reasons to not give up on that 20 year old kid with the dumb grin and the big dreams, and that he's right where he needs to be.
I picked out some images from the last year that helped tell the more real story behind the few posts to various social media. Some friend's shots of me that reminded me of good days, some images I've liked for whatever reason but not posted, things that made me smile when I looked at them. Figure this whole blog is a deep dive, so you might enjoy this since you're here. This is 38. Bring it.