Thursday, April 9, 2009

Five Things I’d Like to Experience Again for the First Time

The idea here is to for me to search my mind for experiences that helped sculpt me as a person, be they culturally or personally significant, important on a global scale, or just neat. It’s important to note that I’m not writing these with the idea of going back to change or somehow alter the experience but relive them for exactly what they were, in and of themselves. I’m also going to admit the obvious ones; my daughter’s birth, losing my virginity (which are clearly different experiences for women) and enlisting in the Navy.

Since this is about experiences it’s only fitting that the first entry here regards the Jimi Hendrix Experience: Hearing the opening wah-wah cry of Jimi Hendrix and his Fender Stratocaster in the cloud of electric fury that begins Voodoo Child (Slight Return) would be an experience I’d need to relieve. I heard the track on Experience Hendrix, a 20-song primer for the uninitiated and old heads seeking to relieve the ‘60s. I was in my basement bedroom having just turned 14 and I was the new owner of this “best of” collection ordered from Columbia House (and never paid for…) This song and this moment demand inclusion because that single moment forever changed the landscape of my ears. Nothing in the world of music was the same again after that moment.


Jimi came in leaning on his wah-wah and working his strings as the sound grew and spiraled up as if he was speaking some ancient electric language. He was performing an arcane ritual for old gods. He started wielding his axe like a sonic paintbrush and Mitch Mitchell’s big thumbing kick drum started in. His fingers were all over the place and then came the metaphysical lyrics about standing up next to a mountain and chopping it down with the edge of his hand. In Jimi’s mind he had no physical limitations with his guitar in his hands. I was privy to the pure possibility of utterly unshackled passion and over the course of those five minutes and 11 seconds my previous artistic view was irreconcilably bent and distorted in all the right ways.

Experience Two: I want to see my very first Navy paycheck again. I want to go back to the summer of 1998 and see just how little I was making and just how well I was actually doing. This would provide a lot of experience as well – getting to see how hard I worked for the $355.68 I earned every two weeks and again, getting to remember that I really wasn’t doing all that badly.

I was getting by, man. I was making it in my own way doing a job that would teach me all the intangible things I love the Navy for: the camaraderie, the laughs, the sense that we had all the power and glory of potential in our corner and there was nothing that would ever let the wave break. We would ride it for years, the sun would never go down, it would always be summer and we would always be young. My hands hurt from all the line. I didn’t own a uniform that didn’t have paint on it. I could work for days on end, sleep for like a baby for six hours and do it again. I was so very much alive. Would you pay $350 for that?

Experience Three:
Looking at a Playboy for the very first time as an adolescent boy did unforgettable things to me. This is different from losing my virginity for admittedly obvious reasons but in many ways is no less significant and in some ways is much more so. I’m certain this was the first time I realized I was a sexual being and the first time I looked at a woman from a sexual viewpoint. This is to say that my view of the feminine now included their sexuality and that realization preceded my idea of what making love was. It would be years (and many, many lies and exaggerations to other male classmates, because teenage boys are imbeciles) before I was emotionally capable of making love to a woman and all that was, to be sure, shaped by the image of that woman. Every first kiss, every moment of longing, was, to some degree, a byproduct of opening the door to my own sexuality. Understanding that our sexuality and that its role in our lives is omnipresent was a milestone for me personally and is still an ongoing adventure, albeit the most enjoyable one I’ve ever taken.

Experience Four:
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…”


I can’t remember how or why I stumbled upon Allen Ginsberg’s Howl though I suspect it was a Six Degrees sort of thing wherein I found it because it was mentioned in something I thought was the greatest thing in human history at the time. One thing lead to another and before too long I read the above lines. The existential vertigo came soon after when my head swirled as if dipped in a desultory vortex and I ran off screaming, high as a cosmonaut muttering inane gibberish and violently shoving copies of Howl into bystanders’ faces. And finally, FINALLY, at long, long last someone had mashed the exact vault-tumbler combination of words and phrases together and my brain went KA-BLOOIE!!! And the remnants had to be scrapped off the ceiling of my mother’s kitchen. It was then I realized how incendiary, sexy, provocative, profound, rebellious, outrageous, hysterical and astonishingly beautiful words could be. Ex-junkies often discuss the allure of that first high, and how the go down the rabbit hole forever chasing the inimitable feeling of that first hit. I suspect I know how they feel.

Experience Five:
March 18-19, 1999


That was singularly the best night of sleep I ever had. That was the first and last time I woke up and felt completely rested and genuinely filled with excitement for the new day. It was perfect in all ways. I fear I will never again be able to sleep like that. I’m going to keep the details of that night to myself but in an effort to eliminate any sexual undertones I will disclose that I was completely alone. I was not lonely and there is a difference.

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