Rock & Roll Isn’t Dead, But I Was

Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief,
All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief

– from “The Fly” by U2
The car business was a bad decision 
and within a couple of years of getting 
sucked into that, it was killing my spirit, 
my weekends and my liver, and what little 
writing I was doing was anemic. So it was 
time to stop whoring out metal and glass
and what was left of my character and
'cuff myself to a typewriter, which I did.
It was the best move I could've made.

But after six or seven weeks of typing, 
the bills were piling up and they were
all past due. The notices were coming.
Then the phone calls started. Pretty soon
the bills were looking less like envelopes
and more like mean and filthy scavengers
crawling inside my mailbox, waiting for
the checks to be signed. But damned

if I was going to feed those parasites 
chunks of fresh currency I was stashing away
for my permanent escape from this antiseptic 
land of acetylene air, quarantined beaches
and Better Living With Breast Enhancements, 
so I looked for something else to use…

There was a record store across town
that bought used music. Their policy was
two to three dollars per item, and though I'd 
paid twelve to fifteen when they were new—
at the same store—I decided to unload
a library of relics from my functional
adolescence: over two hundred and fifty
compact discs filled with countless hours 
of dreams and madness, sometimes ending 
in feats I wouldn't have dared to emulate:

Jim Morrison turning cold in a bathtub in Paris;
Kurt Cobain face-down on the kitchen floor,
missing his face; the tortured epileptic Ian Curtis 
hanging himself with a clothesline; Syd Barrett 
a multicolored mass of tangled wires frayed at the ends—
how I had embraced the chords of their undoing! 

But at what cost? And to what end? “No,” 
I mused to myself, “it's time to plant brighter 
colors in the garden, not to 'reserve a plot 
for weeds' and allow the dead to bury

the living.” And these ghosts who staged 
fashionable exits from the horror of their own 
vacuous stardom, these bored, addled souls,
these electrified idiots in clear plastic 
cases, alphabetized and merchandized in 
every corner of this Daydream Nation—

I sold them off and many others, others 
not so tragically gifted (and some not gifted 
at all, to be honest); I stacked them up on the 
counter and laughed, “This is the end, alright—
goodbye, you dirty blue balloons and suicides, 
you dry-heaved bile, you shattered hallucinations
and stomachs pumped a minute too late… 
you market-friendly attention whores!”

And with one eye on the register and the 
other one on me, the clerk counted out 
the cash after we haggled back and forth
on the price, the cheap bastard. Then I stuffed
the cash in my pocket and walked out…

“And fuck your MTV!...” slagging off a box 
filled to the top with angels, devils, divas, gods, 
boxcar heroes with basement tapes… “Fuck your 
contractual obligations, your spandex delusions, your 

canned anarchy and your… you ought to be slapped 
out of your hysterics like a spin cycle out of balance...”

But actually, I ended up keeping quite a few.
Left behind on a dusty shelf was a young,
loud and snotty lot; a shockingly ambitious
Dublin quartet; a lonely, yodeling Manchester
bard; Liverpool's favorite sons, the Beatles
and the Bunnymen; Stones and Ramones
and lost astronauts; the mastery of decades
and centuries past; and music I have shared 
in my love that is more than music, with a 
verve too soulful and elegant to call a price.

And I couldn't sell Radiohead. I mean, come on. 
Radiohead? And since I felt like a Failure anyway...  

But I managed to feed most of the scavengers, 
at least for another week or two. And soon I'd be 
writing colorful poems on the other side of the 
country, and letting the parasites rot in the mailbox—
or so I thought, but that was a different story. 

And if it wasn't for the music I kept, I could've 
paid the other bills too. Taste prevented me. 
And reverence. And wonder. And wild thoughts 
as I carried that box of CDs to the car and rather 
regretfully drove them to the store: Ludwig 

suddenly bursting into my house and thrashing 
my knuckles with his baton; Sergei making me 
practice the “3” until the keys are smeared with 
blood; Lady Day slumped on the floor with all the 
day gone from her eyes, singing her last ballad; 

Bird perched on my bedpost with a saxophone
lullaby and a hot dose of heroin; then Muddy
dragging my comatose body down to the
Mississippi mire and laughing, “Bawgin with 
the alligatas, punk! Sneakin cross town an 
sellin us off fu fifteen cents on the DOLLA!”

As for Jim, Kurt, Ian and Syd, I wasn't that 
stupid: I still had a stack of those ghosts on vinyl, 
so I figured I was probably safe for a while.
2001
A version of this poem originally appeared in Issue #6 of In-flight Literary Magazine 
published in January 2016 by the Paper Plane Pilots. Tell 'em I sent you.
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8 thoughts on “Rock & Roll Isn’t Dead, But I Was

    • Yes, and also “since I felt like a Failure anyway…” which contradicts the narrator’s earlier claim, “goodbye, you dirty blue balloons…” But yeah, Failure. One of my favorite bands since the late 90s. I got to see them in San Diego last year during their reunion tour and meet them after the show. Really nice guys, and they killed it on stage of course.

      The poem is really about the narrator trying to rationalize selling off his prized music collection in order to pay a few bills and avoid having to go back to the moral and spiritual suicide of selling cars, which was more or less true at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

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