Memoirs & McKagan

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In between the more grueling books I’m juggling, I make room spontaneously for “spot choices” – something that I am reminded of in the spur of the moment, something I would not necessarily seek out eagerly (Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, anyone?) but which might be interesting in some way. This is, as I have mentioned before, how I come to read most contemporary autobiographical memoirs. They share some background information about admired (or not) musicians or celebrities, but don’t usually set my brain ablaze. Sure, from the thoughtful writing of Carrie Brownstein and Kim Gordon, both seemingly effortlessly cool public figures, I glimpsed that seemingly universal truth that no matter how cool, aloof, nonchalant and in control we seem on the surface, there’s an insecure, wants-to-be-liked person underneath.

Even the memoirs of “regular” people (which, of course, all of these books underline: we all are regular people), such as the pleasant-enough Shrill by Lindy West and the charmingly self-deprecating All Over the Place by effusively expressive Geraldine DeRuiter (and I am dead serious here: if you don’t already read Geraldine’s Everywhereist blog, do. Also follow her on Twitter; one of my favorite Twitter feeds), forge this kind of ‘we’re all in the soup’ of humanity by sharing their everyday experiences. (Or maybe now that I look at this as a pattern, I read all of these because there is the Seattle connection to all of them but Kim Gordon.)

That said, these kinds of books are rarely ever deeply challenging, will be fast and easy to read. They may make us smile, laugh, nod in agreement and approval or even get angry or feel sympathy for the writer. These are very human books. It was in this way, in one of these palate cleansing frames of mind, that I came to read Duff McKagan’s How to Be a Man.

I don’t know how Duff McKagan ever ended up being someone on my radar, bookwise or otherwise. Somehow since junior high school in the Seattle area, he, despite my not being the Guns ‘n’ Roses ‘type’ (whatever that is), stuck out (probably being a local boy and all helped that visibility). Later, I think I was impressed by the fact that he went back to college after the heyday of GnR and worked on finding his sobriety and ways to maintain it. At another point in my life, I would not have picked up this book; in fact even if I had, I don’t think I would have taken anything away from it. But this time, having had the experiences of the last decade, I approached it differently.

But this is what I will say about it: Despite the fact that it struck me as slightly disorganized (some parts more organized than others), slightly random (although some parts were considerably slicker than others, which made me think the editing was choppy), neither of these things made the book bad. It in fact inspired the feeling and sense of sitting and listening to the guy reel off stories and opinions about his life and his experiences. Maybe that was what he was going for – the relatable (well, in tone, perhaps, not in all the activities – although let’s be clear, as Duff most certainly is – all Seattleites DO live with the ticking-clock on summer, and the damn deck/lawn/painting/housework can only be done in rain-soaked Seattle in that limited window) and conversational.

The book was entertaining and perfectly served the need I had at this exact moment:

*It flowed quickly, even if, as I stated, the editing didn’t make the content flow all the time.

*I liked the random lists of stuff, particularly the diverse variety of recommended albums and books. I would probably add more must-hear albums/artists (today I am overly influenced by the songwriting genius of Neil Finn/Crowded House and the longevity and wild creativity of Robyn Hitchcock). I would also add many books, but who wouldn’t? There are too many books in the world to be able to do justice to a must-read list, which McKagan himself acknowledges, describing his propensity for populating his personal library both in digital and paper formats:

“But a bookstore is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in what’s new. You can browse, and you can ask around, something you can’t do as well in the cocoon of e-commerce. It can be the littlest hint or clue that sends people looking for a book and thrusts their life briefly in new directions. It can be gossip you hear in line for an espresso or a movie you see on espionage. The direction of your reading can very well influence your life for a while.” –How to Be a Man

Clearly he gets what most passionate readers get:

“This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. There is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn’t be the goal. The novelist Umberto Eco famously kept what the writer Nassim Taleb called an “anti-library,” a vast collection of books he had not read, believing that one’s personal trove should contain as much of what you don’t know as possible.” –My Life with Bob, Pamela Paul

*On addiction and sobriety, he didn’t have anything new to say that I haven’t heard or read from recovering addicts or specialists in this field. But it’s nevertheless key to see some of the resounding themes: resentment and regret; again, some of this same lack of self-esteem and assurance that the other memoirists listed above have expressed, e.g. learning to like and trust oneself; that, as cliche as it sounds, it’s a one-day-at-a-time process. And sometimes the things that pull you through are unexpected and maybe even the smallest things that then go on to have ripple effects. In his case it was his ‘latching onto’ Jim Rome’s radio show, and when he appeared on the show as a guest, this prompted other listeners to take steps to regain control of their own lives. This too could sound cliche, but the kinship of addicts, and the power of these small sparks to inspire, is the same kind of things I have seen in trying to understand and connect with recovering alcoholics in my own life:

“This life is crazy. It’s the little things that can be absolute game changers.” –How to Be a Man

*Seahawks, Seattle sports and the constant, indefatigable cheering for the (hometown) underdog. Need I say more?

*Seattle. Yes, Seattle. (Do I sound all homesick? I swear I’m not! I left so long ago for a reason!) That place that suddenly became visible in the 1990s, from which its veil was slightly lifted with the mania that surrounded Twin Peaks during its first go-around (even though this was not technically Seattle, you’d still have to go to Seattle to get to the real-world equivalent of Twin Peaks). It is hard to believe now that Seattle was ever this unheard-of place that McKagan describes.

But true story: in junior high, I had a pen pal in California (this was 1989) who phoned me once and asked not only what time it was in Seattle (says more about his ignorance of time zones and geography than Seattle’s invisibility). He seemed surprised to learn that I had ever heard of Depeche Mode and even that I had a phone. If I recall, it was the same year that Time magazine covered the insular nature of Washington state and its ire at “rich Californians” showing up to scoop up all the land. Hmm. (I did go back to see if I could find that issue of Time, and it was, as a side note, interesting to see the cover stories – Donald Trump on the cover in Jan 1989, taunting readers that we would all be “green with envy” about his wealth – or a headline: “The New USSR?” – or Kevin Costner, just releasing Field of Dreams, or Pete Rose, just being tossed for life from baseball. Oh, hilariously, there was a cover featuring the Rolling Stones, including a headline about “aging rockers”… and we thought they were aged then?)

Back to the point. Seattle was on no one’s radar. Not in any appreciable way, at least. Not until Nirvana came along:

“I used to brag to anyone who would listen that these guys were from “my town” and that soon the rest of the world would realize that people didn’t live in tepees in Seattle!” –How to Be a Man

While McKagan framed the singular Seattle “way” within the lens of sports (and a bit in music), it is on the whole accurate about the city’s attitude and evolution.

It is a place of some stoicism, insularity and a bit of an outsider’s “fuck ’em” attitude. Claire Dederer posits in her own sort of memoir, Love & Trouble:

“Seattle is not a big city for crying. Seattle, in fact, is famously emotionally stoppered. There are many theories as to why this is the case; some say it’s because of our dominant genetic and cultural heritages: Norwegian and Japanese. Whatever the reason, Seattle is a place where you are not supposed to emote. You are supposed to endure. In Seattle, where rain and traffic are two snakes twining, choking the body of the city, forbearance is an art. We don’t cry, we just put on more Gore-Tex or maybe use the driving time of our commute to listen to a self-improvement book on tape. Though “driving” is a strong word for what happens when you get into a car in Seattle. And yet suddenly there were these crying hot spots.”

“When you visit other cities, get asked about Seattle. The people you meet want to move there. No one used to move to Seattle except aeronautical engineers and, like, rabid fishing enthusiasts. No one used to know where Seattle even was. They thought maybe it was in Oregon.”

And this obscurity from which Seattle was lifted has made it a too-hot, too-desirable place, in which most mere mortals cannot afford to live.

So… bottom line, I don’t know if I would recommend that anyone read McKagan’s book. I will, though, be giving a copy to one person who will be able to relate, and I think in that way it will help him. And perhaps that is the most one can hope for: reaching one person, especially when they need to hear your particular message, one day at a time.

We got so far and then there was nothing

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The slight heartbreak of little things piling up has hit me tonight. Already feeling a twinge of melancholy, the evening turned into a platform of little blooms of grief.

My friend’s poor cat passed away this evening. It was not unexpected, but the loss of a beloved pet – lovely, non-judgmental pets – always breaks my heart a bit.

Of course, understated but never underrated actor Philip Seymour Hoffman also passed away, and it just seemed so deflating. Such a waste. I often wonder about people blessed and cursed with so much talent. I discussed drug abuse with someone earlier, and he said something about famous people and their drug habits, but it struck me (without having any knowledge on the subject) that many of the most talented people probably already struggled with addiction issues before they ever dreamt of becoming “famous”. There is, I like to imagine, something so intense about embodying that kind of talent and losing oneself in one’s performances, that the temptation to lose oneself in drugs or some “altered state” is too great.

Eventually I succumbed to a discussion on the fucked-up things that happen to us as children and our helplessness about it and how those things influence (but hopefully don’t control) us.

Meanwhile I reflect on my own little, private issues and how I cannot bring myself to be open about them, even when there is something optimistic about them.

Now I am just hoping the Seattle Seahawks will not destroy the only good thing that can come of this day.

Where is my Firewall?

Seahawks + Dodging Deer = Another Commute

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This morning/middle of the night made for an awful commute. During the first third of the drive, the roads were clear, but every kilometer or so, I encountered big groups of deer playing in the road. I must have seen 100 deer in about 100 kilometers. I also saw a rabbit, which I have never seen around here, and two foxes. This winter, strangely, has been mostly devoid of moose. It occurred to me that my driving amounted to little more than dodging deer, which would not be a bad name for a video game. I got to use the whole road, just as the Seattle-based 1990s comedy sketch show, Almost Live encouraged Ballard drivers to do. You pay taxes on the whole thing – randomly weave all over the road!

On the second third of the road, most of it was covered with ice that had been covered over by snow. So many cars were off the road and so many tow trucks were pulling the cars out. The whole thing made me not only not want to drive but made me think seriously about the merits of living somewhere warmer – Hawai’i once more? Australia (perhaps much too warm)? Uruguay?

Thanks to the middle-of-night driving, I did not get to see my Seattle Seahawks win against the San Francisco 49s in their playoff game. It sounds like the Seahawks did not play at their best in the first half, so I know I would just have been getting angry and sick watching it anyway. By the time I was done driving the first two-thirds of the seemingly interminable three-hour commute and stopped off at a petrol station in Uddevalla, the Seahawks had claimed their place in the Super Bowl (versus the Denver Broncos). All kinds of mentions of it are going around the internet already – but it seems funny that the two places in the entire US to pass laws making recreational marijuana legal are the two places that send their football teams to the Super Bowl.

American Football – Go Seahawks – No Saints!

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In any other game or season, I would cheer for the New Orleans Saints. But when it comes down to it, I have to cheer for the “home team” (one of my homes anyway) – the Seattle Seahawks! Normally Seattle teams suck, so it’s a futile exercise in cheering endlessly for the underdog throughout the existence of our teams (until they are taken away from us, like the Sonics). It’s heartbreaking but expected. When one of our teams does something, it’s like we cannot actually believe it’s happening – and even as it’s happening, it is like we cannot have real faith that the success will continue. I always expect our teams to lose it.

Tonight I am watching the Saints-Seahawks game and despite the Seahawks’ season-long success, I am still sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop. Normally I would not bother watching, but I managed to find a stream that works (I don’t have a tv). It’s fun to see how Seattle managed to put on one of its typical January weather “shows” (crazy wind and rain).