A Note From the Author
When I turned fifty, I wrote a song about my life so far, to see if I could
fit it into a three-minute pop tune.
My Depression Born in the Southern Land where a man is a man Don’t remember too much, warm mama, cold touch Postwar baby boom, fifty kids in one room All white future bright but living in a womb Got a TV receiver Jerry Mathers as the Beaver No blacks, no queers, no sex. Mouseketeers Daddy kept moving round, I can’t settle down Always the lost new kid in town Mannlicher lock and loaded, JFK’s head exploded Dark figure at the fence, end of my innocence Hormones hit me, chew up, spit me Get stoned, get plastered, always was a moody bastard Guitar fool, kicked out of high school Joined a band, Vietnam, Mama-san, killed a man Daddy gets real sick it’s too intense I can’t stick it Buy myself a ticket to the U.S.A. Oh my God, it’s my life. What am I doing kicking at the foundation? That’s right, my life. Better start thinking ’bout my destinationHollywood sex-rat, been there, done that Jaded afraid I’d never get a turn at bat Last in a long line, finally hit the big time Gold mine, feeding time, money/fame, I get mine Use it, abuse it, Daddy dies, I lose it Get a wife get a son, beget another one. Head said “God’s dead,” motorcycle body shred Midlife crisis rears its ugly head Prozac, lithium, could never get enough of ’em Last wills, shrink’s bills, sleeping pills, sex kills Edge of sanity, my infidelity Looking in the mirror and thinking how it used to be Don’t like the skin I’m in, caught in a tailspin Honest-to-God vision, spiritual transmission Climb aboard the life raft, looking back I have to laugh Take a breath, don’t know if I’m ready for the second half Oh my God, it’s my life. What am I doing kicking at the foundation? That’s right, my life. Better start looking at my destination My life, my depression, my sin, my confession, my curse, my obsession, my school, my lesson.
For anyone with a short attention span, that should cover the major details of my life, so you can put this book back on the bookstore shelf. For those of you who want to hear the deeper cut, many thanks and read on . . . —RS PrologueA Swingin' Teenager
So here I am, seventeen years of age, feeling as ugly as the ass end of
a female baboon at mating season, unloved, very much in need of a
good caressing by some attentive young woman and, right now, swinging
by my neck at the end of a very thick twine rope like some pathetic
B-Western movie bad guy. I’m thinking to myself as I lose consciousness,
“Wow, somehow I thought it would all end so differently.”
Thank God I haven’t succeeded at a lot of the things I’ve tried, like
this suicide attempt for instance. But thank God I have
Because in a furious flash-forward, of the type that can only
happen in the movies or in this book, I am thirty-one years old and
standing onstage with a very expensive guitar strapped around my very
expensive suit, playing a rock-and-roll song that I wrote. The audience
of this sold-out show is clamoring for more. A bevy of young girls is
waiting backstage for me, and there’s a middle-aged bald guy standing
on the side of the stage, smiling at his healthy profit, ready to hand me a
big, fat check when I’m done.
Wait . . . Wait, wait, wait, wait! Just a second here . . . So if I’d succeeded
in offing myself back in my teenage years of staggering angst, I
would have missed all this? Evidence, I think, that when we are at our
lowest and ready to give in and go belly-up forever and for always, we
should take a step back and say, “Is this the absolute best
move I can
make right now?” And then give ourselves an extra year or two or three.
I am walking, breathing, living proof that, considering how depressed
and full of self-loathing and self-pity I am right now, swinging
by my skinny, teenage neck three feet off the ground, thinking that I am
worthy of not much more than the gig of pre-chewing hay for a horse
with bad teeth, good things can still happen. It’s just the law of averages,
and the law is on our side, losers. Yay us! So to those who are at
the bottom of the emotional heap—and it’s crowded down here—there
is still reason for hope! Not that the teenage idiot I was (who is, by the
way, still swinging freely from a crossbeam and turning a lovely shade of
blue) would have believed that dopey, feel-good phrase anyway.
Although by nature I tend to gravitate toward the bleaker side of
things, I have been open to and have received signs throughout my life
that have given me hope when I’d thought there was none. A part of me
believes that these signs are directives from the gods. I’ve stayed surprisingly
receptive to them, even though part of me thinks I’m full of shit to
take them as any kind of actual, meaningful omens.
Another furious flash-forward—damn it, I wish there were cool
sound effects in this book . . . whooooosh!—it’s 1979. I’m living in
Glendale, California, with a girl named Diana. Playing guitar in a house
band at a local restaurant bar. This is not where I’d hoped to be in my
music career by the age of twenty-nine, but then again I also thought I’d
be dead by now, “strung up,” as it were, by the neck, so it’s just as well
that not all my expectations are met. One night there’s a party at someone’s
house in Glendale after my bar gig, and I go there by myself while
my girlfriend waits at home.
A tarot card reader is in attendance. I love these people. They let us
pretend to possible bright futures, even when we have none, and right
now, I have none. At least not any future I’d want to celebrate. So I pull
up a chair and shuffle her cards. Bad disco music is playing in the background
and I think to myself, “Is there good
disco music?” She deals my
hand. The Emperor. The Two of Swords. The Hanged Man. The Star.
She looks up from the array of archaic cards and locks eyes with me
from across the table. She wants me. Wait . . . no, that’s not it.
“That’s the most incredible card spread I’ve ever seen,” she whispers
“Yeah?” That’s pretty much it from me.
“Something big is going to happen in your life . . . and soon,” she
answers as if definitively.
“Could you be more specific?” I ask. I want dates. Names. Exact
amounts of cash. Truly, you can never nail these people down.
“Something . . . really . . . amazing,” she replies.
It will have to do. And it does.
As a seeker of encouragement and affirmation all my young life, I’ve
become accustomed to positive if self-servingly vague prophesies from a
range of “experts”: numerologists, astrologers, phrenologists (I do have
a shitload of bumps on my head, so phrenologists have a party when I
show up for a reading), tasseographists (look it up), and just plain seers.
A year before the encounter with my disco tarot card reader, I’d gone to
see a young Romanian with a brain tumor. It was widely believed that
the unwelcome “visitor” in this man’s head had given him a special view
of the future. Everyone in my acting class had consulted this guy, desperate
to hear him say, “Yes, I see you in major motion pictures. You are
successful . . . wealthy . . . deeply, deeply loved . . . and your likeness is
being carved into Mount Rushmore along with those four old dead guys
because you are just so
Honestly, I think that we’re all—every one of us—constantly and
hungrily searching for signs that we are singular, unique, chosen. And
that an equally singular, unique, choice future awaits us. Actors are
the neediest bastards in this way; don’t ever let us pretend otherwise.
Maybe we artist-performers need this kind of affirmation more than
most, hence our career choice. I know that a strong, defining element
of my character is the five-year-old inside me jumping up and down,
demanding, “Hey, Poopypants, look at ME!!!” This need to be noticed
and thought of as “special” has, to a large degree, charted my unholy
course through adulthood. Dammit.
So when it’s finally my turn to see the brain tumor guy, this futureseeing
Romanian looks at me and says, “I see gold around you—here.”
He motions to my throat. I think, “Does he see bling? Am I going to be
a pimp?” But he continues, “It&...