Where are we going, Jim Morrison?
The Doors close in an hour.
Which way does your beer point tonight?
About a month before I moved back to Southern California after living in Santa Cruz for five ridiculous years, I experienced an unexpected life-affirming moment while shopping in a local hippy-dippy grocery store.
At that time, my favorite brand of Kombucha was being re-examined by the FDA (go ahead, laugh), and I was desperate to find a worthy substitute. As I scoured the tea aisle for possible contenders, I heard “Riders on the Storm” come on over the speakers. I was beyond delighted that someone had the good sense to spin a Jim Jam on a hot summer’s day, so I dropped my shopping basket and danced by myself in the aisle. After a few minutes, the hippy-dippy grocery store suddenly looked a lot different. Everything seemed special: the Kombucha drought, the rows of Guayaki Yerba Mate promising health and vitality, the sound of a seven-minute-long Doors song about “a killer on the road” oozing through the store while happy families shopped for baby bok-choy and slabs of seasoned tempeh; the realization that this was a good moment, which is all a person can really hope for.
Harmonious coincidences like these make me wonder how difficult it must be to be a [good] music supervisor. The Graduate, for example, is an undeniably great bit of movie-making, but can you imagine it without “The Sound of Silence”? Or Harold and Maude without Cat Stevens’ silky baritone? And would Uma Thurman’s overdose in Pulp Fiction be as jarring if it weren’t preceded by her dance to Urge Overkill’s cover of “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”?
When a music supervisor’s work is done, he has helped transform a few measly minutes of film into something deeply moving. When moments like this happen in real life completely by accident, it is important to listen. Dancing to “Riders on the Storm” in the hippy-dippy grocery store reminded me that my time in Santa Cruz was limited, and that I should get to work enjoying myself. I also felt reassured that the previous five ridiculous years of my life hadn’t been a waste — there had been plenty of moments of epic triumph, personal growth, and dancing in the aisles. There was no reason to feel that I was returning to Southern California because it was time to start over; it was time to continue. As Maude would say, it was time to, “Go and love some more.”
I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I mean,
Who the Hell really knows?
It has now been about a year since my one-woman dance party, and while I do miss my Santa Cruz beach shack (and the enchiladas at Taqueria Las Palmas and the Hemp Ale at The Poet & The Patriot and the psychic cats on Pacific Avenue…), my suburban situation isn’t so bad. There have been some great times and some not so-great times, and, in the grand scheme of things, I can’t complain. Sadly, the last few months have been of the not-so-great variety.
Fuck that. They’ve been shitty.
The shitty time started in March when I had a terrible panic attack while I was getting a haircut. Now, I had experienced panic prior to this incident. In the past, I had been able to link panic attacks to specific events in my life — I experienced them pretty frequently right before graduating from college, for example — but I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I freaked out during my haircut. Sure, I would rather not have had to trim my wild mane, but it was nothing to panic about.
Days later I had another attack while lounging — yes, lounging — with some of my best friends, drinking beer and watching On The Waterfront. It was a Sunday afternoon, we were all wearing bathrobes, and we had just finished feasting on some seriously sexy food. Even in this downright Dionysian situation, my body still found a way to go into adrenal overdrive.
Things became scary when I started panicking in cars pretty regularly. No matter where I was going or whether I was the driver or the passenger, I inevitably felt like jumping out of my skin. Again, I had definitely felt panicked on the road before — most people who have driven on the 405-S in rush hour traffic have probably had nerve-related episodes — but panicking while riding shotgun on the way to the damn mall that’s a whole ten minutes away from my house… that was something new.
When I could no longer get through a whole day of work without having to go hide in the back room and steady myself against the Xerox machine, I figured it was time to get some help.
There’s a Callas on the road,
Her brain is squirmin’ like a toad…
I’ll spare you the details about the drug peddling doctors and the brief, yet powerful feelings of total despair. In short, I eventually got help from someone who doesn’t deserve to be reported to the Board of Behavioral Sciences, and, after a few months, the panic waned significantly. Despite my noticeable improvement, however, the thought of “When will the next attack hit?” was always present in my mind.
Worse than all of that, I couldn’t write. No matter how hard I tried to sit down and scribble something halfway intelligent, my writing was mostly limited to what Allen Ginsberg referred to as “unpublishable private literature.” Of course, his “unpublishable” scrawl was about drunken nights in Chinatown and wild sex with Neal Cassady, IE: The Good Life. My Top-Secret “unpublishable” portfolio of recent scribblings is so boring it doesn’t even deserve to be sacrificially burned.
And they brought me their comfort,
And later they brought me this song
O, I hope you run into them
You, who’ve been scribbling so long…
One evening not too long ago, I was feeling exceptionally down. Utterly defeated. Morrissey defeated. I was a twenty-something year old celibate nail-biter who couldn’t even write in her own diary. Work sucked, panic sucked — I felt trapped and lonely and boring and I just wanted to go to bed. Before hitting the sack I took a quick look at my facebook (Duh), and I saw that my friend Zach was going to be hosting his last radio show on KZSC Santa Cruz that night. Out of respect for Zach, KZSC, and Santa Cruz as a whole, I decided to tune in to the web stream for at least a little while. At first, hearing Zach read the corny Underwriting Announcements and play the corny Public Service Announcements just made me miss my KZSC radio show, which didn’t help my mood. As I contemplated turning out the light, Zach, that beautiful, bloody bastard, put on a tune called “Last Song” by an artist named Jason Webley.
Imagine if, while floating in the pool the day after sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin Braddock actually heard “The Sound of Silence” playing somewhere in the distance. It would have blown his mind, right? Well, I wasn’t in the pool and I hadn’t slept with Mrs. Robinson, but dammit, when I heard “Last Song,” I literally felt something inside me shift. Or stretch. Or break. Regardless, I felt profoundly healed. Did I think Jason Webley was singing directly to me? No. I’m not deranged. All the same, the song’s message of hope told through images of imminent apocalypse and waking up in alleys was exactly what I needed to hear that night.
And he shows you where to look
Among the urine, alcohol, trash and gasoline
And the flowers…
In search of Jason Webley’s discography, I visited his website. The first thing I discovered was that he’s been around for over a decade, which made me feel like a total dork. Where the fuck had I been? I clicked the “Concerts” tab to see if he was going to be touring at all in the near future. What did I find? He was on tour, all right; almost smack dab in the middle of his farewell tour. There were no L.A. dates on his website, but there was a show in San Jose on the schedule. My first thought was, “San Jose? Right by Santa Cruz? Road trip time!” Sure enough, my second thought was, “How the fuck am I going to get there if I can’t drive more than a few minutes without panicking?” For a moment I considered flying, but then I wondered how panicking in an airplane would be better than panicking in a car…
I decided that there was no way I was going to miss the show. I was going to get myself there, panic be damned. I would spend a few nights in Santa Cruz with some of my favorite people in the world, and then I would see Jason Webley perform in a small art gallery in downtown San Jose. Who was I to forbid myself from doing all that?
If I go there will be trouble,
And if I stay…
So, what happened? Well, I spent a few nights in Santa Cruz with some of my favorite people in the world, and then I saw Jason Webley perform in a small art gallery in downtown San Jose. T’was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I know I should probably say more about the show, but, true to the nature of the writing beast, I am suddenly at a loss for words. I’m hesitant to dissect the evening as if I’m trying to convince people that he’s worth checking out. I also don’t want to make any grand assumptions about his artistic intentions — who am I to say what his songs are about, or to draw parallels between him and other performers? All I know is that the show was well worth the trip. I loved every minute of it.
There was an interesting moment — kind of freaky, really, but in a great way — where he took a break from singing and just talked. He thanked us for our support, he thanked the gallery owners for letting him play, and then he talked about his upcoming hiatus. He reflected on how blessed his past 10+ years have been, and then — oh, then — he talked about how some people in the audience may have recently had their “lives turned inside out,” and how neat it was that we were all together “bearing witness to that.”
I kind of got chills. I kind of felt exposed. It kind of felt great. Of all things for him to say, right? And then, Jason Webley, the ever-brilliant music supervisor, played “Last Song.”
(I’m aware that I keep writing his full name. I wouldn’t say, “Cohen,” I’d say, “Leonard Cohen.” I wouldn’t say “Reed,” I’d say, “Lou Reed.” I wouldn’t say “Smith,” I’d say “Patti Smith.” And so on. And so on.)
Yes, I got to meet him. Yes, I got a picture. Yes, I was terrified I would say something that would make me sound stupid, and yes, I’m sure my terror was obvious. He asked me if I had ever been to one of his shows before, and when I told him I hadn’t, I somehow managed to mention that I had driven up from L.A. He paused, and then said, “You drove all the way from L.A. to come to the show?” I managed to nod and utter a nervous, “Yeah.” Inside, though, I was beaming with pride. I drove all the way from L.A. for the show, and I had no guarantee I wouldn’t end up hyperventilating on the side of the highway. Go Steff.
I’m not the kind of person who chalks everything up to fate or destiny or God’s Great Plan. I do, however, think that moments of eerie accidental profundity should not be ignored. No, I don’t think that I was “meant” to find out about Jason Webley in order to take a roadie to Santa Cruz and prove to myself that I had the strength to fight this whole panic thing, but that is what happened. In my opinion, the idea that it happened completely by accident is truly awesome. If I hadn’t decided to look at my facebook one bummer night before going to bed, I wouldn’t have heard “Last Song,” and I wouldn’t have gone to Jason Webley’s website, and I wouldn’t have read that this was his farewell tour. More importantly, I wouldn’t have found an excuse to get in the car and see what happened. Low and behold, what happened? Nothing. Nothing, except I had an excellent fucking weekend.
(By the way, in case you were wondering, Jason Webley has more than one great song. For sure.)
Bravo, Jason Webley. Bravo, Zach. Bravo, hippy-dippy grocery store employee who wanted to hear “Riders on the Storm.” Keep doing what you’re doing and continue to accidentally provide killer driving music and poignant road signs to weary travelers everywhere.
And Allen, “unpublishable private literature”? Maybe not.