(7) nelson, "(can't live without your) love and affection"
(2) van halen, "panama"
and will play on in the sweet 16
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/13.
joe bonomo on van halen's "panama"
After Van Halen finished recording “Everybody Wants Some!!” during the 1980 sessions for Women and Children First, the band should have looked at each other, collectively shrugged, nodded, and as the dust settled in the studio, muttered, Yeah, so we’re breaking up now. We’re never gonna top that. From its primordial, crawling-from-the-ooze opening, “Everybody Wants Some!!” sounds like the very birth and cry of The Rock And Roll Song. So simple and elemental is the song’s pre-verbal rumble, so perfect is its humor, winking earnestness, strutting, mock-heroic, man-on-the-make spectacle, gigantic, hooky guitar riffs, throbbing drums, and universal sing-along chorus that, in it, Van Halen perfected themselves, and arguably rock and roll, too. Why the hell continue to write? Play a last enormous pay-per-view gig somewhere, end with this tune, and call it a career.
Of course had Van Halen indulged my little alternate-history, we wouldn’t have had the epic “Mean Street” or “Unchained” from Fair Warning, “Top Jimmy” or “Hot for Teacher” from 1984, and whatever your post-1980, David Lee Roth-era Van Halen favorites are. And we wouldn’t have had “Panama,” maybe Van Halen’s greatest rock and roll song—certainly one of the great rock and roll songs of the 1980s—a sonic statement-of-purpose from a larger-than-life band, and another one that was pretty damn hard to top. Roth would split in 1985, taking with him his grab bag of swagger, self-importance, hilarity, sparkly scarves, insecurities, and intuitive grasp of spectacle. The band was never the same again.
I courted my wife with mix-tapes and cheap drinks, not with a cool car. Never a gear head or big auto guy, I drove a POS Ford Taurus, the 2 liter engine of which whined mournfully as it bravely ascended the hills of Athens County, in Ohio, where we met. The engine never sounded particularly sexy; it sounded needy. But it got us around. (I did manage once, when we were parked, to get both front seats to lean back simultaneously with teen-sex-movie panache, but that was mostly luck.)
Though I didn’t fantasize about cars or car culture, like anyone else I bought into the myth. I marveled at the Duke Boys’ General Lee Dodge Charger stock car as it leaped over swamps, gators, and hapless cops. I can still feel the vividness of the tough that some kid behind me muttered in the movie theater, where we sat in the dark watching Smokey and the Bandit, as the Bandit’s Trans Am sexily slithered into view. (I took note of Sally Field’s evolving reactions to the car, and to its driver.) I goofed on Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Kustom Kulture cars that I’d see on the “Weirdo” t-shirts worn by the public school kids, or in the back of comic books. The zany cartoonishness of Rat Fink and Roth’s other hot rod characters was more my speed. I drove a boat-sized Grand Torino station wagon to high school toga parties. I read Musician magazine, not Car and Driver. I left cool cars to cooler guys. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t get off on a car song. I loved Chuck Berry. I loved the Beach Boys. I understood the dirty jokes in “Drive My Car.” Soon I’d hear the Modern Lovers’ stirring “Roadrunner” for the first time and feel the pavement beneath me move.
“Panama” is about a car and a girl, but it’s mostly about the feel of the roar and the heat of combustion. It’s really a song about an engine, how it motors the mind and the body and can elevate us off the ground. The back story: while in Las Vegas attending a drag race, Roth had seen a car called “Panama Express.” Aware that his band had never written a car song, or having had it pointed out to him—he changes the story—he worked up some lyrics. (Roth later named one of his own cars “Panama” and mounted its bumper and hood in his front foyer. The lyrics may or may not also be about a stripper he knew.) The words’ imagery and tone are well-worn: fast car + fast girl x sex = checkered flag! But Roth’s best lyrics are typically clever, and funny, too. The car (or is it the girl?) is a “model citizen” with “zero discipline.” She’ll take off around the corner, but he'll catch her. One of Roth’s best lines, “Got an on-ramp comin' through my bedroom,” makes the smut so absurdly clear that by the time we reach the band’s trademark breakdown after the guitar solo—you know the one—
Yeah, we're runnin' a little bit hot tonight
I can barely see the road from the heat comin' off of it
Ah, you reach down, between my legs
Ease the seat back…
—it feels redundant. But who the hell cares? As with all peak-era Van Halen breakdowns—think “I’ve been to the edge…” (from “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”), “I like the way the line runs up the back of your stocking…” (“Everybody Wants Some!!”), “One break, coming up!” (“Unchained”), and the schoolboy comic opera of “Hot for Teacher”—the monologues are delivered by a young, lucky guy, poised between just right and too much. Roth’s stage- and studio-patter are fun because the guy who’s doing it is funny and he’s having fun. She's blinding. He’s flying. Got the feeling, power steering, pistons popping, ain’t no stopping now! and we’re at the final chorus. The song stops on a dime, as all well-made cars do.
Famously, during the recording of “Panama” the guys drove Eddie Van Halen’s ‘72 Lamborghini Miura S to 5150 Studios in Studio City and miked the exhaust pipes as Eddie revved the engine. On the recording, the band’s grins are virtually audible; in rock and roll, all teenagers’ late-night fantasies come true. Yet, as taped and mixed for the song’s breakdown, the gunned Lamborghini somehow sounds less like a motor than Eddie’s playing does; his astonishing guitar work turns a stock lyric into a sports car. With bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen having built the chassis and engine block, Eddie creates a combustion chamber. (At the Roland site, Josh Munday does a helpful job of explaining how Eddie obtains his tone, via a humbucking pickup, a Marshall Plexi amplifier cranked to its loudest levels, and effects.)
Among the many great archeological artifacts online is the isolated guitar or vocal track, usually reverse-engineered from master recordings. There are tons of these online, and listening to them allows you both to geekily imagine that you’re in the studio mixing (or playing) and to marvel at how a song is built from the foundation up. There are several of Eddie’s isolated tracks online. Listen to “Panama.” Eddie’s a longtime admirer of the sadly-departed Malcolm Young, rhythm guitarist in AC/DC, and as everyone knows, there was a surreally thin line between literally and figuratively in the engine that was the AC/DC rhythm section: you don’t need hallucinogenic drugs to envision Malcolm’s right and left hands as gears or pistons. The engine that Eddie builds for “Panama” is just plain wacky, as high-energy and funky as his red and black-and-white striped “Frankenstrat” Fender Stratocaster, which he infamously jerry-rigged early in the band’s history by ham fisting the double-coil pickup of one manufacturer’s guitar onto the body of another manufacturer’s guitar. Eddie wanted a guitar that felt like a Strat but sounded like a Gibson. The thing looks like demented craft project: some paraffin wax; a piece of vinyl shaped into a pick guard; three screws for five mounting holes; some double-sided masking tape; a quarter jammed in as a shim; red Schwinn bicycle paint. Read all about the mad science here.
A self-described “tone chaser,” Eddie takes his guitar to exhilarating places in “Panama,” as he does in his best work in the band. Isolated, his playing assumes dimensional shape—raw, rousing chords in the intro and chorus, lidded-cool idling during the verses and the breakdown, and swooping, diving leads and fret board tapping in the solo. I marvel every time I listen: his playing has so much personality that it’s a band in itself. Eddie’s rightfully lauded as a mold-breaking lead player yet, as the only guitarist in Van Halen, he’s also the rhythm player. What’s remarkable is how he alternates—morphs, really—between lead and rhythm in any given song. He was hardly the first to pull off this style—there’s a reason why Eddie is spoken in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page—yet coupled with an outrageous frontman, the giddiness of the songs, the blend of raw rock riffing and pop hooks, and the mass, international commercial successes of his band, it sounded, looked, and felt as if Eddie was doing something new. To my ears, his rhythm/lead tandem playing on “Panama” is especially outrageous. I listen to the isolated track, close my eyes, and (this would feel likely even if I didn’t know the origin of the song’s lyrics) I see churning gears, I smell gasoline and oil, feel heat, thrumming, throttling, elevation. Above all I feel speed. This guy’s telling a story with a beat-up, cobbled-together guitar. Indulge me: he’s writing the imaginary theme song to an imaginary documentary. The History of Gasoline Propulsion, or, How an Engine Works!
Van Halen’s rhythm section is solid; with Roth and Eddie up front, there’s little room for more flash. Yet, Alex and Anthony are capable of surprise. In the full band version, listen to the four-bar bridge into the chorus: Roth has just bragged that she’s coming home with him but he’s worried that he’ll lose her in the turn ahead. “I'll get her!” he yelps, as Alex, Anthony, and Eddie steer the song through a tight S-curve, the passengers airborne and guffawing in the back seat. It's maybe my favorite moment in the song (and that’s saying something, given the righteous chorus) because I can’t hear it without seeing—feeling—a car careening down a road toward the head-on damage of a hairpin turn and, for a frightening but elating second, lifting off the ground en route. Amusement park fear and the fun of all that. Ohmygod we’re gonna tip over! Whoa-oh! Nope! “Panama!”
The iconography’s indelible: Roth aloft via a wire rig, swung to and fro across the stage, wearing shades, pantomiming swimming while holding a boom box; Anthony, too, flying about the stage, laughing and dearly clutching his trademark custom Jack Daniels bass; Alex pounding his drums and peering through stockinged female legs; Eddie blowing smoke rings at a piano when he isn’t clutching his Frankenstrat, darting about the stage and sliding on his knees like a first grader in Rock God School. Everything in the “Panama” video, co-directed by Roth and Peter Angelus, is 80s bright, hair-sprayed. The concert scenes show a loud band on the top of the world having a blast in front of a worshipful crowd. Partly filmed during a sound check and show at the Providence Civic Arena (now The Dunkin' Donuts Center) in Rhode Island on March 17 or 18, 1984, the shoot captures the band a third of the way into their mammoth, 101-date 1984 tour through U.S. and Canada, and they’re loose, well-oiled, and on fine silly/hokey form (despite the toxic differences between certain members).
Writing for The Awl, screenwriter and producer Stephen Falk (You're the Worst, Orange Is the New Black) nails the appeal of the video for a particular audience: “For a 12-year-old boy, this video had it all: a cool airplane, jumping, kicking, spandex, karate, cops, chest hair, head hair, hot chicks, motorcycles, booze, screaming fans, rhythm gymnastics. It was the perfect music video for the confused sexuality of puberty,” adding, “To me, Eddie and David were what I hoped an adult male friendship could be: driving around in an awesome car, drinking, acting like goofs, but also leaning on each other tenderly while singing. Aside from epitomizing the androgynous frat boy bonding of the best hair bands, Van Halen spoke to the pure dumb fun of being a guy. No one wanted Van Halen to think.” Repeatedly watching the video on VCR with his buddy, Falk felt as if he were “let in on what this at-the-time unknown, scary void of impending adulthood and sexuality and being a man was all about.”
I’ve never been crazy about the video—it’s awfully corny—but that has to do with my general shunning of most mainstream popular culture when I was in my late-teens and 20s, which I semi-regret now. I’m an admitted fameist (I might need help) and the “Panama” video is a vivid lesson in showy excess: the mile-long stage, the props, the light show, the over the top theatrics, etc., reminded me then that I’d never see Van Halen playing “Panama” in a small packed club or an intimate theatre. They seemed so far away, so world-wide, that I could barely imagine them. Roth left Van Halen in ’85. The subsequent dull blur: Van Hagar; the Wilderness Years; rehab; infighting; public posturing; silly, on-again/off-again reunions. And then a surprise: 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth, a Roth-led Van Halen (minus Anthony) revisiting and filling out some early demos and half-finished songs. The thing smokes, and, a little like R.E.M.’s Accelerate, if you’re of a certain age and can look past the nostalgia, the songs remind you of how great Van Halen once was back when they seemed ahead of the pack, gunning it for the finish, grinning all the way. “Panama” is one of the emblematic tracks from that careening, downhill era.
Joe Bonomo's most recent book is Field Recordings from the Inside, a collection of essays. He's the music columnist at The Normal School and teaches at Northern Illinois University. Visit him at No Such Thing As Was and Twitter. Here he is hard at work during his college radio show. He could very well be cuing up "Panama" but it could just as well be the Olympic Sideburns, the Milkshakes, or the Troggs.
JONI TEVIS ON NELSON'S "(CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT YOUR) LOVE AND AFFECTION"
Begin in black and white, two brothers fooling around with guitars in a plain room. One’s distracted, daydreaming about the girl on the magazine cover. Okay. This one’s for her.And we fade into Technicolor, a bigger room with furnishings lavish and eccentric. Persian rug on the floor, silks in pink and orange and poppy red draped from the ceiling. Here she comes. Mmm, just like an angel.
The camera pans up through grasses, seedheads, wisps of smoke. Two singers, three guitarists, a drummer, and a white grand piano that nobody plays. You work ten years to get your big break and it all comes down to a bored teenager holding the remote control. You’ve got a split second to catch her eye.
Let’s talk about the clothes for a second. Specifically, 1:32. One brother wears a denim jacket in a pale wash with striped lapels, and blue jeans, also very pale, and very tight. So tight. These jeans are a legitimate avenue of inquiry. Back then Levi’s manufactured their jeans in Southern textile mills, which matters, because the acrobatics demanded by this shoot will require durable denim. Over these impressive jeans, he wears crimson above-the-knee boots in suede, or maybe velvet.—Wait! I think those are spats! A woman twirls past in a bikini, yellow on her front and pink behind. Move it, bikini lady! I need to see if those are spats.
He looks great. I can’t lie. They both do. The denim jacket the other brother wears is a deeper indigo, and the top button of his white shirt is undone. His jeans—pale but not as pale as his brother’s, and tight, but ditto not as tight—are ripped at the knees, and the fringe of their rip echoes the fringe on his jacket. His pointy-toe boots are black. How can you smile while singing?
The year is 1990. Nelson Mandela, released from prison, goes on a tour of the United States, to great acclaim. Germany reunifies. Jim Henson and Sammy Davis, Jr., die on the same day. The first Gulf War begins, the number of librarians in the United States peaks, the Chunnel is completed, and on June 26, when the mercury in Phoenix hits 122 degrees, Nelson releases their first album, After the Rain.
This video, for “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection,” is the first video the brothers have ever made, and their label hires a bigtime director to shoot. There’s a lot to see. Two staircases that lead nowhere, a TV screen showing a giant blue eyeball, shafts of light sluicing down from spot bulbs overhead. It is a bright bubble of a scene, “Alice in Wonderland,” said Gunnar on the phone recently when we (thrillingly!) discussed this. Nine big speakers at least. Footage sped up and slowed down to emphasize the joy and ridiculousness of all our movements. This is the world, the video says, and the plants are artificial and the girl lip synchs and the wind blowing their fabulous white-gold hair comes from a fan offstage, but the joy is real. Oh yeah. Filmed in a windowless hangar, so the heat and smog outside, the crushed paper cup from Burger King skipping along in the gritty exhaust thrown out by the city bus with a page of classified ads clinging to its mesh intake, none of that can intrude on this world. Which makes this a perfect teenage song, a hermetic daydream where the atmosphere is lust of a kind that admits no actual bodied life. At the end of the video, snow falls upward, and linked halos of light float over the brothers.
And it works. Their playing to the camera, their hijinks on the Stairs to Nowhere. Said Gunnar, “It snapped, it popped, it floated from the radio for a reason.” This song, their debut single, hits #1, and After the Rain goes double platinum, which means it sells two million copies. To put that into perspective, in 1990 two million people lived in Detroit and Dallas put together. A copy of this album for every man, woman, and child in those towns. Two million copies, friends. One of those copies belonged to me.
Back then I was a freshman at Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina. I babysat for pocket money, $1.50 per hour per kid, work I did not enjoy. I played French horn in the school band. I went to prom with Steve, who I’m pretty sure was gay, but this didn’t dawn on me until years later. In English class, we read a one-page synopsis of The Scarlet Letter. In French class, the boys annoyed Dr. Chivers by poking a hole in Mont Blanc on his big rubberized topo map of France. Wrote Bruce Britt in the LA Daily News in 1991, “The duo’s hummable first single, ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection’ is so potently romantic it brings dormant prom-night memories rushing back.”
It doesn’t feel like heavy metal, in part because it’s so sunny. “What we grew up listening to wasn’t blues,” said Gunnar. “It’s pretty easy to make a rock song sound tough when your DNA is the blues. But when your DNA is folk, it’s harder.” How do we trawl the ocean floor to remember who we used to be? After the Rain was one of the first albums I chose for myself; I got it through the Columbia Record Club, where you could get twelve tapes for the price of one.
Gunnar and Matthew Nelson are the twin sons of Kristin Harmon and Rick Nelson. Growing up, thanks to my mom, I knew Rick Nelson’s Greatest Hits by heart. “Travelin’ Man,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Poor Little Fool,” “It’s Late,” “You Are the Only One.” Speaking their names puts me back in my parents’ car, driving home from town on a summer night, but since we had this album in vinyl we couldn’t have listened to it there. I must have had the songs running a loop through my head. Well, they were catchy.
And of all Rick Nelson’s songs, “Garden Party” is my favorite. Released when he was 32 years old, in some ways it’s a commentary on his childhood fame as the younger son on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet with his parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, as well as his stint as a teen idol, a term originally coined to describe him. The intensity of his fans’ adulation might be best illustrated by this quote from a May 1960 interview: “Perhaps the most embarrassing moment in my career was when six girls tried to fling themselves under my car, and shouted to me to run over them,” Rick Nelson said. “That sort of thing can be very frightening!”
“Garden Party” marked an artistic shift for Rick, and I asked Gunnar about it. “He’d always wanted to play at Madison Square Garden,” he said. It seemed his dream had come true when a promoter contacted him about doing a show there, but the audience had more of a throwback in mind. “So he gets there and it’s 22,000 poodle skirts and saddle shoes. He could feel the unease building,” Gunnar said. “When you’re on TV it tends to burn you into people’s minds at a certain time.” Those TV characters, he said, “gave you comfort. You could rely on that. But he’s doing his own thing.”
Together, over the phone in my office, we repeat the lines:
I said hello to “Mary Lou,” she belongs to me
When I sang a song about a honky tonk, it was time to leave.
Which is about Rick singing a cover of the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” and the audience booing him off the stage, a significant distance from fans begging you to run over them with your car. That gets me thinking about artistic reinvention, about the clash between creation and commerce. We won’t allow famous people to age; it’s something we can’t forgive. We say, rock or country, which is it, stay in your lane. We sing along. We say, I had your poster on my wall. We ink your doodles on our forearms, our shoulders, as once we drew them on the cardboard covers of our notebooks during Algebra II.
We think we know you. We think you owe us something. On New Year’s Eve in 1985, Rick Nelson’s plane crashed in a cow pasture northeast of Dallas, killing him. The twins were 18 years old. He was 45. I remember how stunned we were when we heard the news, and even now, all these years later, it grieves me to write the words.
BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS
Let’s watch the video again. I know it will help me feel better. By 1:43, there’s been a costume change, and THE DUSTER appears. New clothes! But the same guitars, which helps you tell them apart. Gunnar: Slightly darker jeans than before, but THE DUSTER is the main event, and it’s amazing, cut close to the body and sewn from a rose brocade figured with flowers and lined with velvet. Matthew wears skintight black leather pants, or possibly chaps, with lace-up detailing on the sides of thighs, along with a long-sleeved tie-dye shirt.
By comparison, the dress their crush wears is a snooze. Sleeveless ivory, sequined, sweetheart neckline, fringe. And she’s serious in her dark lipstick. She doesn’t get to shred on the guitar like the guys in the band do, although at one point she stands in a golden chiffon shift like Winged Mercury carved on a ship’s prow. She’s the muse, the imagined listener who inspires the writing of the song. The audience of one.
I ask Gunnar about the clothes in the video, and what he says warrants a block quote:
We went to Western Costume and pulled some things, old military uniforms. We’d been reading Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey. There was a theme to what we were pulling. We took it to (costume designer) Diane Estelle. We took half of our publishing advance and self-financed the costumes. Everyone had a look. We had a band meeting, and we asked everyone, what would you like to see in your stage costume? Symbols—like the bird flying through the cloud, for “After the Rain”—all the symbols are in white in the liner of the pale blue duster. If you freeze-frame the video, you can see them. People all around the country have tattoos of those symbols.
And I love the attention paid to the artifice of the video, how the film speeds up and slows down so you notice the filmed quality of it. “Visually it was stunning,” said Gunnar, “but it was also very funny.” There’s a moment when everything slows down around them, but the brothers keep singing at the normal rate of the music. For that, they had to learn to play the music at twice the speed so they would look natural when the rest of the scene was slowed. In order for the bird to fly backward and the snow to fall up at the end of the video, he said, “we had to learn that music backwards.” So that the filmmaker could reverse the film and make the bird fly up while the brothers played in what looked like a natural way.
“The whole philosophy of the trip,” Gunnar said, “is that nothing is left to chance.”
“Ecstasy” comes from the Greek “ekstasis,” which means “standing outside of oneself.” I mention this because if you still the video at 1:28 you see the drummer, Bobby Rock, in a state of complete ecstasy, head thrown back, mouth open, eyes half-shut, mane of dark hair flung behind him, arms half-bent and raised with sticks in each hand, biceps swollen—he’s wearing a red muscle tee so you can see what you’re dealing with here—and the shirt is very revealing, weirdly this feels more revealing than the woman jete’ing past in her bikini, maybe because we’re more inured to seeing women scantily clad? Or maybe because he just looks more mammalian. You can see a lot of dark chest hair, and the fringe that hangs down behind his arm looks like a swatch of armpit hair, though it probably isn’t. Around his neck he wears a gold chain, and the force of his drumming has slung it aside.
Look at his mouth. Half-open, lips curved in in a faint smile. He’s not playing to the camera—he just loves this fill. This shot lasts for a fraction of a second but it’s enough. The smooth alabaster of his enormous biceps, the attitude of surrender in his raised arms. He’d be doing this if nobody were watching; it’s a gig, but he’s playing this music for himself. We don’t often see ourselves in a moment of unguarded release, which is why it’s so striking to see him here, naked in a way, taken, joyous.
And of course I think of Bernini’s sculpture St. Teresa in Ecstasy, completed in 1652, in which the saint’s mouth hangs open and her eyes flutter shut, overcome by the power of God’s love, personified by a minxy cherub holding a fistful of golden arrows. Arrows that gleam like the cymbals of hammered brass in Bobby Rock’s drum kit, arrows brilliant as the sheets of white-bright hair the brothers toss, so smooth and straight I wonder if they ironed them. The cast of St. Teresa’s face is more serious, yes, but erase the body hair (just a detail anyway) and the expression is the same.
Note the theatricality of both video and sculpture—shafts of light, white dove flying toward the rafters, theater-curtain velvet lining those fabulous dusters. But the best part of the link is the ferocity of desire, whether for Cindy Crawford or the divine. Said St. Teresa in her Autobiography: “The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”
Let’s talk about inheritance, debt. Let’s talk about Buddy Holly. You don’t like crazy music. You don’t like rockin’ bands. You’re so square. But I don’t care. All six of the band members gather in a tight cluster next to the grassy pond: Matthew Nelson, Gunnar Nelson, Joey Cathcart, Brett Garsed, Paul Mirkovich, Bobby Rock air-drumming with his sticks. By the last chorus The Girl’s smiling, hair pulled up in a side pony as she lip synchs “Baby!”
ONE THING THAT I KNOW FOR SURE
It is 1990. As Nelson and Winnie Mandela wave to the crowd in Boston, in DC, in New York. The day the song hits number one, the twins turn 22, having endured family-shattering tragedy, and despite that writing this glad, yearning song. There is grief and pain in life, and sometimes too there is relief. Said Gunnar, “When I have done my best as an artist, it’s been living that philosophy—‘you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.’” Said Gunnar, “’Love and Affection’ would not have existed if ‘Garden Party’ had not come first.”
And under the mucky seabed, under the heavy water, the great earthmovers slowly approach each other. And Checkpoint Charlie becomes a museum I will visit in 1998, and where in the gift shop you can buy pens that write with disappearing ink. The twirling bikini girl’s name is Judie Aronson, and on her Twitter bio she describes herself as “One of the lucky ones.” Bobby Rock, currently on tour with Lita Ford, likes to post articles about weight-lifting routines for drummers, and pictures from the vantage point of his drum kit—arena empty at sound check, flashy with lights during the show. When my husband and I made a deed change on our house not long ago, the contract read “five dollars, plus love and affection.” “Love us or hate us, you’re gonna know who we are,” Gunnar said. “We didn’t want to be Bon Jovi. We didn’t want to be Skid Row. We didn’t want to be Warrant. We wanted to be us.” Begins one translation of the Odyssey, “Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel.” “What is creation, anyway?” writes novelist Miguel de Unamuno. “Go as far as you possibly can,” Gunnar told me on the phone. “Dare to go there. Dare to be stupid. It is fucking liberating.”
Joni Tevis is the author of two books of essays, most recently The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse. Her essays have appeared in Orion, Oxford American, Poets & Writers, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. She teaches at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.