Been rediscovering the Spin Doctors. Yeah, I just said that. In 1994 I was suffering one of the worst summers of my college career; had two jobs and a class that kept my schedule so full I had only 48 hours to myself each week from Friday at midnight until Sunday at midnight. Bedraggled and worked almost to death.
One of the few bright spots during that stretch (thankfully including the companionship of my buddy Tom A. down the hall) was the Spin Doctors’ “Turn It Upside Down“. Looking past the pop-funk radio hits on the early half of the album, the tracks “Bags of Dirt”, “Someday All This Will Be Road” (which I still quote to this day), and “Beasts In the Woods” were there to give me some manner of sanity and a handful of poignant thoughts to keep me going through this time. The pop hits were there to give me some manner of connection with other friends who also got into the album, which I really needed. As I sit at my desk now on a late night burning the lights, I’m drawing parallels to that time (granted, I’m not working right now, but I’m still up late at night trying to maximize my time), and notes of this album waft up through the memories and I have no greater desire than to listen.
I have an odd sort of love for the Spin Doctors; this album, being their second, stuck with me the most. I picked up “Pocket Full of Kryptonite“, their first album, a year later but got less out of it (although more out of its latter half with songs like “Shinbone Alley/Hard to Exist”, among others). “Turn It Upside Down” was the first time I saw a band include a bit in their liner notes suggesting listeners join their email list; upon seeing that, and having an account on the university VAX with an email address, how could I resist? They had a very active list moderated by a mailer at The WELL (a huge online electronic community for 1994), and that really added to the connection I got with the band and their fans. Had an inside line to what they were doing and the internal politics and side projects as well as getting involved in conversations with other fans. Big brave new world, that.
Sometimes I miss that sort of connection, the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. Seems silly to find that feeling among the fanbase of a group of traveling musicians, but there it was. It was new. New — I think that’s it. Newness, strange alien territory, before the marketeers invaded, before the PR firms got in between the musicians and their fans. We were still figuring it out then.
“Biscuit head, double-decker biscuit head.” Silly, but there it is. A shared joke among those who needed to laugh.
Taking a lesson during these breezy times.
When the wind is great, be like the oak, the spruce, the maple: bend with the wind, or you will break. Integrity is for simpletons. After the destruction, the people come to mourn the fallen, then chop it up for use as fuel and furniture for the building of their own lives.
Flexibility is paramount. It is the hallmark of a stronger intellect. It comes with a higher continued cost than single-minded determination, but the benefit is continued existence and growth in the changing face of the weather.
The greatest treasure is hope.
The greatest treason is false hope.
The greatest tragedy is no hope at all.
It started out on the trajectory of being a normal Tuesday. Stan clocked in at his job at the photomat, put on his smock, mixed up the morning’s chemistry, pulled the rolls of undeveloped film and job tickets from the basket. Birthday parties, vacations at Yosemite, smiles in front yards. Then a cold gaze struck like lightning; Stan, frozen, laid eyes on the porcine face of the Alien, locked into the stare, the glossy print a two-way window, a one-way door. The Alien the sentry, standing guard, gaging Stan’s soul, evaluating the weight of Stan’s anima, judging Stan’s fate with regards to crossing over the rubicon to the place for women only. Denied. “All men are pigs, all men are pigs.” The second shift replacement found Stan curled in the corner of the lab, trembling hands clutching his face, a wilted phallus of gray, smoken ash jutting from between yellowed fingers, breaths broken by stuttered sobbing. “Pigs. Pigs.” Waylaid on the border between here and neverwhere, Stan never came back.
(Thanks, and blame, to Josh Hultberg for posting this image to his Facebook stream; when I went to comment, this vignette came out.)
Several screwdrivers later is not the time to reflect on inflection points in your life.
One wrong mental turn, and I’m back in ’94~’95 thinking about all those times my academic advisors and professors tried to steer me right, before they held up their palms. Back when the murk of having my head down in it was cleared away, and suddenly I saw my way to bigger life beyond my lessons. To a manicured consciousness. To a poetic intellect. To a controlled lifestyle. To dropping the shackles of my adolescence and taking my destiny. To a real effect on my own life.
I could’ve wowed them, but I didn’t; I had my young notions of dignity, of standing with a raised fist in my heart, and that really didn’t get me far. My profs tried to get the best out of me; they saw it. But I held it back from them. Decided real life was more important. Decided floating on with friends was more important. It seemed so clear then. Really, it was me being a stupid 20-something with big ideas of being a grown-up. Throwing myself into fascinations without committing to them and addictive behaviors before I understood they were controlling me. What a dumbass.
Grant me the serenity and steadfastness to mend my ways and redirect my path to greatness. Even if it means relearning the lessons they handed me. Even if it means figuring it out for myself and then making it happen.