DIARY OF A FADING ROCKSTAR – Episode II: The Doors of Self-Deception

Written By: Erik Rader

Every time I find myself watching Oliver Stone’s psychedelic hagiography of Jim Morrison (The Doors, 1991), in between fits of giggling at its sometimes stunning flights of pretentiousness (Who is the bald naked man on a white horse that only Jim sees? Why do the spirits of Indian Ghost Dancers appear on stage with him? How does he manage to pick up hot hippie chicks by intoning stoned Rimbaud-isms with glassy, unfocused eyes?) I am given pause to consider the narrative of my own life.

I used to have this Jungian shrink who explained that we lead singers, in playing out the role of Dionysus onstage, are trapped in a role of “Puer Aeturnus” or Eternal Childhood. Particularly those of us crossing over into the bleak, gray country known as Middle Age are often to be found poring over old demo tapes and dog-eared press packet photos, wondering what would have happened if we had “made it” back then.

Come on, you know this is you I’m talking about!

The pivotal, climactic moment of “The Doors” is not, however, the night they got signed by an Elektra Records executive who claims to have been “blown away” by a raucous, outrage-laden performance at LA’s venerable Whiskey night club (Jim, literally crawling the walls on acid, responds to the record company wonk’s pallid invitation with a typically mercurial “Why not?”) but rather the moment at which Jim crosses over into the Other Realm while performing, screams that he wants to fuck his mother (and pantomimes it pretty convincingly, complete with bestial grunts) and then is spontaneously “ridden by the gods” as they say in the ancient religion of the Yoruba people.

Val Kilmer quite convincingly channels Jim channeling the ancestors of the Native Americans who haunt his dreams, ostensibly because once as a child he saw one of them lying bloodied and mortally wounded on the roadside after a car accident. This formative experience, along with a seemingly bottomless appetite for ingesting peyote, inspires him to such impulsive gestures as jumping onto the hood of a car in the middle of midday traffic and shouting in a thunderous voice like Christ amongst the moneychangers: “Who among you is really alive??”

If you have ever been on a stage of any size for any reason, then you are familiar with the feeling to some degree. You remember, however fleetingly, an uncanny sensation of being plugged into something big, shaggy, horrid, wonderful, a primitive “collective soul” if you will. Sometimes The Big Shaggy reaches up onto the stage and tries to tear you apart a la Orpheus and the Bacchantae, or like the teenage girls in the front row who tore apart one of my favorite shirts, eliciting a stern emo-femboy lecture.

Then it leaves you, in the middle of a tour, in a rehearsal space hopelessly unable to produce lyrics that fit with your band’s sudden fascination with the musical stylings of Joe Walsh, or unwilling to acquire one more in a series of increasingly exotic percussion instruments to play with behind the increasingly lengthy solos. (Weren’t punk solos supposed to be limited to eight seconds? Hold on, I’ve got the Policies and Procedures Manual lying around here somewhere.) It leaves you – the Big Shaggy, the Voice in the Wind, the Shadows and Tall Trees, or Whatever It Was – and at barely the age of a college junior, your raison d’être has become one more pathetically over-recycled anecdote for the therapist’s couch, overwrought party conversation, or the blog.

As ridiculous and hackneyed as it may sound to the layman, even the most cynical post-rockist, indie hipster, intellectual, with a hatred of the conventional stronger than ten thousand espressos, will, in the deepest most shame-darkened chamber of his fetid heart, harbor at least a hemidemisemiquaver of resonance with the notion of rock musician as shaman. All it takes is one taste. One. One sip of Bill Graham’s New Year’s Moet Chandon, one sip from an ice cold can of Coke during sound check looking up into the light rig of a ten thousand seat amphitheater, one sip from the ruby lips of a braless teenager wearing your band’s T-shirt. One glance into a sea of darkness dimly illuminated by a galaxy of cigarette lighters. One toke from the proffered backstage spliff of a real-life honest-to-Jah Rastafarian shaman/musician who gives you the inimitably cool musician-to-musician microscopic nod as you walk offstage drenched in sweat from your opener to his headliner.

You start to believe your own mythology. That you were on the path to some kind of Destiny with a capital ‘D’. That for some unknowable reason the Universe intended this for you – this, rather than graduate school or the seminary or a job working for your mom or dad’s company. Or the Army. That in some deeply profound yet unprovable way, it was a critical part of the deep, mitochondrial blueprint of human history that you go this way instead of that way. And it’s the main reason you haven’t been able to hold down a real job since – oh hell, since the day you first tried to. The main reason you sleep alone on the couch most nights. The reason you lie awake far into the night making playlist after playlist for yourself. “This is the absolutely key combination of songs that made me want to write my own! No, this is!” And so on.

It doesn’t matter how many therapists, intervention committees, friends, relatives, or lovers tell us to get over it, let it go, move on, grow up – you still remember the seasoned (not to mention pickled) record producer who pulled you aside and said “Listen. I hear a lot of singers, many of whom are good. You, though, you’re the real thing. You have something that most people will try a whole lifetime to find but never do. Don’t waste it.”

And then you wonder if you have it in you to write one more handful of songs, place one more “MUSICIANS WANTED” ad (and trust me, it’s easier to write a heroic epic backwards and upside down than it is to write a good ad), in between your job that doesn’t pay enough to feed your family and your soul-crushing search for one that does. You wonder if you can stand the rejection, the indifference, the brush-offs, the ridicule, the flakiness, the misinterpretation, the ones who not only want to pledge their allegiance to the band for life but want to be your best friend but oh dear god they play horribly, sing worse, write complete garbage and their rehearsal space in the self-storage facility smells like…like…like someone went in one night and never came out. And are you next??

Some people refer to it as High School Quarterback Syndrome. Homecoming weekend senior year….that incredible touchdown….making it with the homecoming queen….and a Summer that felt like it would never end….and part of you thinks that if you cling to it hard enough, it didn’t, it won’t. Like when you were a kid, and had a dream about the most fantastic, beautiful, magical toy ever imagined; you grabbed the toy just before waking up and clutched it so tight your hands bled, saying to yourself “This time I’ll bring it with me!” And yet once again when you wake up your hands are empty.

Stop telling yourself to get over it, let it go, move on, grow up. Rather, embrace it and hold it close up against your heart, the pain, like a stone you found on the side of a mountain – this knowledge that you will always want something you will never have. And then make something new that you didn’t even know you wanted. And tell the Universe where it can stick its destiny. You’re going to create your own. And the naked bald guy – whoever the hell he is – can fuck off on the white horse he rode in on.

Erik Rader was, like, this close to being a totally famous rockstar in the mid-1980’s. He and his family live in Seattle, with more almost-famous people per capita than any other city besides Los Angeles.

Check Out The Other Articles In This Series:
Episode I
Episode III


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