My musical obsessions began in high school and are forever linked to my two best friends, Tom and Justin. We were a band, which is what all friends are in high school almost by definition, but we took it one step further and actually created music.
I was already an obsessive creative documentarian and I saw no reason to write and practice songs without recording them. We used a boom box and cassette tapes. We pressed record and performed. I still have these recordings and finally digitized them to give Tom on his wedding day. My girlfriend says I sound like Alvin of the Chipmunks singing The Ramones.
Collectively we also became fans and part of the punk movement that was happening all over the country. Tom was the first to be into this type of music. I remember he had a mohawk in Junior High and this caused a shockwave to pass through the administration. I was still listening to my parents' Beatles records, show tunes, and old folk albums. Tom played me Minor Threat and I flipped my lid. Justin was more of a classic rock guy, idolizing Bruce Springsteen to the point that he once drunkenly held court on New Year's Eve and admitted that he actually wanted to be the Boss.
This mix of styles came out in our music.
I'm one of those lucky few who can honestly say that their upbringing was not full of chaos and pain. My parents met at a sock hop when they were 16 and are still so in love that you can almost hear Bill Haley and the Comets playing every time they enter the room. I have three sisters who I am extremely close with and I have a large extended family of cousins who function as siblings/fountains of fun. Don't worry, this isn't one of those "in spite of all the advantages I still dreamt of doing myself in" essays.
But it is a story about how suicide made an artist out of me.
I'd gotten to high school dreaming only of playing left field for the Boston Red Sox. Oh, I dabbled in school plays, but I was basically a sensitive jock. I played soccer, ran track, and chased girls. I flirted with the underground by getting into the DIY punk scene in the early '80's, and I smoked dope and played hacky-sack, but I was not driven to bouts of self-expression.
My two best buddies and I were anti-social butterflies, and we occasionally holed up in someone's bedroom and played covers of Run DMC or The Clash. Puberty made life intense in the way that film noir was intense...you squirmed in your seat but everything was pretty damn sexy.
A casual acquaintance wandered off behind the local hospital, sat against a mound of construction dirt, and ended his life with a gunshot. He'd been popular, good-looking, affable, you name it. He'd briefly worked at the fruit market where I drove a van around town delivering vegetables and I liked him. He also once hung out with me and my "band" while we butchered a Marshall Crenshaw song for hours.
Word spread like wildfire. The toga dance that was scheduled for that evening was in jeopardy until the school decided that it would be better for everyone to have a place where they could get together. I vividly remember putting my head on a cute girl's bare shoulder and knowing that nothing would ever be the same.
I'll leave the ruminations about why, how could this, etc. for those who faced this terrible tragedy with people much closer to them than I was to Mark. Since I know that their pain far outweighs mine, I can only say how much that scares me. I was demolished.
The funeral is a blur. Fittingly it rained and I remember walking from the funeral back to Tom's house enjoying the fact that my suit jacket was being ruined. That seemed more than appropriate to me.
Shortly after that, my two buddies and I stopped playing covers and started writing songs. They were the guitar players and I was the singer so it fell to me to write lyrics. Once I started I couldn't stop. We wrote two albums worth of material in as many months and I had reams of lyrics to spare.
That was 20 years ago and I haven't stopped. As I prepared to return for my 20 Year Reunion this August, I'd written thousands of poems and hundreds of songs. I don't pretend that sheer volume counts for anything; my point is simply that the event transformed me into a writer, for good or bad.
I've been in a series of bands since that first one over 20 years ago. Bands called One Man Out, The Mahoneys, The Altar Egos, baby monolith, Coyote, The BOMS, New Mischief. But none will ever mean as much to me as the first. Just me and my buddies telling each other how we felt.
Our name came from something a teacher said in the class Justin and Tom shared that dealt with civics/US history/politics. Mr. Laffey was a Boston College intellectual who'd played linebacker back when helmets were leather. He talked about the conflict between generations and classes.
He said there was a clash between the old and the 'fecund' youth. And voila. We were, and still are decades later, Fecund Youth.