Now, where was I? It’s been a few weeks since I touched this. Eight or nine. I lost the thread, veered off course, lost track of time. If you’re reading this straight through after I’ve finished you haven’t missed a beat. I haven’t been gone. There’s no dropping off, dropping out of sight. But if you’re reading along real time, it’s been two months. I was going to tell you about “The Streetlight Song.” That was my plan. I was going to tell you more about Lana Dalton and talk about how we never got together and why, or at least, my postulations about why. But that was two sections ago. I digressed, partially because I like digression, especially when I’m working in long form. It’s not suited to the story, but it’s part of writing a novel, a memoir, any type of extended prose. I feel like I always do it. Dive in, follow the path where it takes me, even when it takes me off course. Perhaps it’s the contrarian in me. I apologize if it’s irritating. If you returned expecting to get the next direct portion of the narrative in linear time and find me skipping about to different points in my life. I promise to tell you about my first love and skip to another, tell you of one song and skip to another. It’s not fair of course. It doesn’t meet expectation. And if anything, life in prose should meet expectation. At least with fiction. Yet, sometimes I like my expectations messed with. And this isn’t fiction, though at times, it veers that way. But the roundabout way is often the only way I know of saying what I want to say. Especially during the drafting process. Later, in revision, I can change things, go back and rearrange. Then again, I might not. Life is messy and memory is messier. The paths our memories follow aren’t particularly linear. Connections often get made after the fact, in retrospect, years later. If I started again to write this from scratch, it would be a different book, which is not to say I dislike what I’ve done. I’ve enjoyed myself thoroughly. I just mean the memories I’ve accessed change as I change, alter as I age, both the events and their meaning. Still, if I’m going to reach the end—a task I find difficult anytime I push past the forty to fifty thousand word mark—I have to go with the flow, do it my way. To that end, I had to jump forward to Maggie and describe when I had love in order to go back and describe when I didn’t. Which is what I plan to do now, here.

Then, too, I hit these pockets of depression. It’s not clinical. It’s more prolonged periods of deep blue and self-doubt, mood swings. The nature of creative endeavor, I think. You spend time storing up the confidence to do something, create a work. You get into it, expend your energies, think it’s going great, but at some point, you crash. I’ve touched upon this already. The way confidence unwinds into disbelief, self-doubt. It was riding behind me the whole way. I could see it in my rear view mirror. The dark cloud of debris, snaking along, threatening to overtake me, subsume me. The cloud was rumbling, and beneath the rumbling, in a dirge, I could just make out, who the fuck cares who the fuck cares who the fuck cares who the fuck cares? So you wrote a song about a girl. Who the fuck cares? So you had a friend once, a friend who meant the world, who opened up your life and exposed you to greater things, to art. Who the fuck cares? Who do you think you are? Memoirs are written by people who’ve achieved something of note or people who’ve lived difficult unsettling lives, people who’ve overcome hurdles, obstacles, disease, abuse, war. Who the fuck are you? “The Streetlight Song” wasn’t fucking “Born to Run.” No one’s ever heard it. It wasn’t a hit. It was your entryway to writing. But what have you written that’s important? Two unpublished novels collecting dust…or, not even collecting dust. They’re files on a computer, sitting there. Awaiting your revisions. Revisions that you’re scared to make. Because if you fail to make them good. If they fail to become something, to get published, to be read, noticed, then you’re nothing. And right now, you’re resting safely in the belief that maybe, just maybe, you’ll someday become something. But time’s running out, moving quickly, lapping you. You frittered away the freedom of your twenties fucking around. You didn’t take this seriously, and now that you’re taking this seriously, you’re spread unevenly at the edges. You have to work eight hours a day, come home and take care of you kids because you don’t want to be that bastard writer who ignores them in favor of his work, and then, you have to try and write in the in between spaces. Find pockets of five minutes here, ten there. Carry around a notebook, jot phrases, lines and when you’re on a roll and feeling inspired, the occasional paragraph. You have to pretend as well as you can that this matters, keep yourself ahead of the cloud, but then it rolls in, and all I hear is who the fuck cares, who the fuck cares. This is the point where I stop. I don’t give up. I file things away. Tell myself I’ll get to it later, revise. It’ll be better when I revise. And when I revise I’ll finish. But it’s hard to get started again once I’ve stopped. The activation energy is high, and if I don’t force myself back to writing, I’ll languish. Let the project die.

I should say right here: I don’t mean this to be a pity party. I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m simply trying to contextualize my fits and starts. This is just charting the struggle I go through to get words down on the page. I recognize the context of a broader world beyond my own story, beyond my personal experience, and I sometimes wish I could write to that. Our current world might be crumbling at the seams. A buffoon being taking seriously as a presidential candidate, unchecked wars raging everywhere, unarmed black men being killed by police at a staggering rate, the gap between the haves and have-nots growing wider every day, rampage shootings, Russia moving nuclear arms right up to the Polish Border. I pick my head up and look around, and if I let it all in without a filter, I can hardly function. I can’t speak to these matters, I have no authority. I have a friend who addresses such things in her writing, it’s where her fire comes from. She’s moved to pick up the pen and fight back. But I’m not, which doesn’t mean I don’t care. It simply means I don’t know how to process them, how to put them on the page, why anything I’d have to say should matter. There are other people who can convey injustices better than me. My purview is smaller. I rest in what I know, even if I’ve argued for years that one shouldn’t confine one’s writing to only that. For years, I resisted that tired and worn workshop adage, and yet I’ve come back to it. I’ve given in. I know my life. I know what I’ve felt. Which might mean I navel gaze. But this is the life I’ve led. And I’d like to pick it up and finish what I’ve started. Even if it all amounts to nothing. Even if no one cares.



I’m looking at names: Bornfriend, Umfer, Fisher, Bermal. Sifting through my report cards, trying to summon those years back. Trying to get back the thread, the structure of my days. Dr. Bermal, shiny pate, charming, demanding, high expectations, respectful. His class was late in the day. I’d somehow fallen into Honors Chemistry. It was, of course, the natural progression of Honors Biology from sophomore to junior years, but I had no business being there. Over the years, I’ve developed a layman’s interest in science, but it wasn’t there yet. Still, I understood the concepts fine, but I never liked doing projects, lab work, experiments, the science fair, and I think Bermal knew. I did as much of the work as I need to to pull down Bs but didn’t extend myself beyond this, and Bermal pushed me along. We met at the end of the year and he asked if I wanted to take Honors Physics my senior year, but I declined. That level of science wasn’t for me. Umfer, too, I liked very much. He taught me three years, sophomore through senior, French III-V. He was full of bad puns, which endeared him to those who liked bad puns, and I’m one of those. Fisher was an odd duck. Lamb chop Civil War-style sideburns. A penchant for traveling around the country and photographing the graves of famous historical figures and showing them to us in slide shows. I can’t say that I liked or disliked him, but I sat and I learned and I studied the subjects he taught. Then there was Mrs. Bornfriend. She set me on my way, helped me realize the path. Before then, I’d read and loved books, but as I entered junior year, the fog of depression I’d spent my whole sophomore year in had cleared. And I’d entered the honors track for English. This was the year of the SAT, the year of choosing a college, the year of studying hard, the one we were told mattered most. This was the year of another first period gym glass, the year of Clive Drummond and his saline smelling hands in self defense. This was the year I started to feel like I had the hang of high school, the year when I felt like I had friends, or if not friends, at least acquaintances. I felt that people liked me, that they respected me. I wasn’t part of a group or click. My only regular friend at school was Lex. The others, Sonny Ford and Drew Shiff, went elsewhere. And yet, I bounced between  clicks. Goofing off, making jokes. Getting along with most of the other kids pretty well. My sense of humor, which had disappeared between eighth grade and now, seemed to reappear. I played on the baseball team, pitching and manning right field. I ran cross country.

I suppose this is where the reinvention happens. Both to myself and the character I’m representing myself as in this. I discovered that beyond just liking books, I understood them. I could write about them. That I had some insights. The class was structured as a survey of American Literature. We read Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Benjamin Franklin’s short satirical works, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Letters from the Earth, the ubiquitous eleventh grade experience of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (in conjunction with Hawthorne) and Death of a Salesman. We had to select a single author from a fairly comprehensive list of American authors to do an individual report on. We had to read two of their books and present a paper on that author’s unique style. And since Faith sat in front of me or next to me or wherever she had to sit to select before me. And since Faith had chosen Jack Kerouac already, an author I had a burgeoning adolescent interest in since he’d been mentioned in passing in an episode of Quantum Leap, I chose Joseph Heller and was introduced to the dark anti-war humor of Catch 22. I point to the experience of this year, combined with Mrs. Bintner’s senior year Honors English class, as setting me on a course to study literature in college. But there were two other effects from this class that were no less profound yet more subtle. The first was that the readings that year had begun to get me thinking of lyrics in terms of literature, in terms of telling stories; it helped me to start writing my own work. The second was that this was the only class I shared with Lana Dalton, and she sat in the seat right next to me up until the day she disappeared.

Again, this is a place where I balk. Where I wonder how to navigate. I’m using fake names, but some of you know who she is, and the reasons she disappeared, though not completely clandestine, are hers, her own affair. This isn’t a case, like with Lex and Elisa, where I was present and their actions affected me in a way I can lay claim to since they were my friends, even if I wasn’t involved directly. With Lana, she was never my friend or girlfriend. I’d merely watched from afar and yearned. I’d entered the year with newfound confidence. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the hormones that had gone awry the previous year of puberty had leveled out. But I assumed that this would be the year I’d win her, or at least make a valiant attempt to let her know what I felt for her. This was how I thought, how I was thinking: why wouldn’t she like me? I had something to offer, right? I’d be kind to her, caring. I just had to show it, to speak. And still, I sat there, day after day, tongue-tied, mute. Every day I woke and told myself I’d do it today, I’d speak to her, and every day, I didn’t. I glanced at her surreptitiously, then glanced away. As if I could somehow communicate what I felt in glances.

Then, she was gone.

The absence of a day pained me in ways that were sweet. I turned to the right and her chair was empty, and I longed for her presence. If she wasn’t there, the day was wasted. Coming to school to see her was all I really cared for. The reason I got up and got dressed and got out in the morning. I felt the empty space she should have occupied keenly. But I always expected her back, and she obliged. She showed up. Absent a day, two. A cold? A doctor’s appointment? A mental health day? I never knew. But this time it verged on a week. She was gone two, then three days, then four. What was she down with, flu? Something worse? I couldn’t ask. I hadn’t told anyone how I felt. Not even Faith, who was most likely to know what happened. And I worried if I asked, I’d be telling everyone. I love this girl. And I couldn’t let myself be vulnerable. So I stayed silent. I watched for Lana’s sister and sometimes lingered nearby, listening, hoping for a clue. But she never gave one out. She, too, had disappeared for an extended stretch of time freshman year, and when she returned she used a walker. Chronic fatigue, I’d heard, but I’d never bothered asking to corroborate or confirm. Was this the same thing? Was she down with something severe? I wondered how many other people had noticed, how many knew what I’d been dying to know. What had happened to Lana, where was she?

I know now, of course, why I never spoke to her. It couldn’t be cleared. It wasn’t simply adolescent fright, uncertainty, the fear of rejection I outlined in an earlier chapter. I can’t deny that these played a part. But the real reason, the fundamental reason, is the same reason I’m often hesitant to write, afraid to speak through my hands and put word on a page. I had convinced myself that we were meant to be, that we were recipients of destiny, that a great and passionate love awaited us in the future, that we were perfection, and as long as I didn’t speak, I couldn’t damage this perfection. What I feared most was that the instant I opened my mouth and she said no, declined, had no interest, it would shatter this dream. But I couldn’t put this to words. I only felt it. Between Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, The Smashing Pumpkins released a b-sides/outtakes collection that had a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” on it, and I listened to this over and over. I’d never heard Stevie Nicks singing it. But I heard the line, “I’ve been afraid of changing ’cause I built my life around you,” and I felt it. This was what it meant, regardless of whether or not I’d built it all up in my imagination and it had no founding in fact.

I started to walk alone more and more at night. Whenever I walked my thoughts became clear. I understood myself better. I carried with me a few sheets of notebook paper and a pen to jot down ideas, lines, phrases. I’d stop at certain destinations along the way. I’d head over the Lex’s knowing he wouldn’t be there, knowing that he was with Nora now, that he spent all his nights with her. I didn’t mind. I was walking there to pass Lana’s. To see if she was there, though I never saw her or her sister, just the cars parked out front, just the porch light on. I’d go nine miles in a circuit on Friday and Saturday nights. The night felt blue and soft on my skin. I had so much energy coiled inside me. In the winter, I layered and braved the cold and went out and walked. When she comes back I’ll say it, I’ll do it, I’ll speak, I thought. I’ll find a way to tell her how I feel. I was afraid I’d missed my chance. What had happened to her?

If I knocked for Lex and he wasn’t home, I went on. I walked back down to Greenwood and into Jenkintown. I wandered the sides streets and found my way to Old York Road. The cars rushed past and their sound and the passing headlights proved hypnotic. My feet marched on. A steady pace. My strides were long, my gait a bit awkward, my arms swaying side-to-side. A tendency I tried to inhibit when others were around, since Tony P and Sonny Ford had made fun of it. But I didn’t care now. There was no one around. Just the passing cars and me. The shops. A few pedestrians that I didn’t know. Sometimes I’d head down to Strawberries music and buy a movie or CD. Now that I worked at Rydal Park two or three nights a week, I had the money for it. My collection grew. I started to put together a mix of songs that said everything I couldn’t say to her. I’d give it to her, I thought. When I told her how I felt. It would augment my words. Convey emotion through sound. Mixing the stuff I liked with the stuff she liked to show we could mesh. Pretty Good Year, Tonight Tonight, Closedown, Good Feeling, Country Feedback, Fake Plastic Trees, Stumbleine, Mother, and Only in Dreams. And although I planned to give this to her, it still wasn’t good enough. Any fool could make a mix tape. I had to make a more grandiose gesture, I had to write her a song.

The closest I ever felt to her was on these walks. I imagined she was there with me. I imagined we talked. I wanted her there, near. I didn’t want to be alone, but I only wanted her by my side. I kept looking back to our younger years, only a few years back, and things seemed simpler than. I lopped off the rough edges of those years. I hated that things had changed. I hated the way they’d changed. The way I’d let go of people I’d cared for, Elisa, Lana. I hadn’t maintained those friendships. I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Toward the end of the night, having wandered about, I’d gravitate toward Sonny Ford’s. The group of friends we’d had had been whittled down. Rick was gone, so was Tony P. There’d been no falling it. They’d simply discovered other friends they had more in common with. So Drew and I and Lex and Sonny would sit and watch TV and my friends would smoke weed. And I’d stop by for a minute and get back up and go outside and walk some more. Just to feel that I was free. Something was happening somewhere, I felt. Something better than here. The good things were never happening where I was at. It was all boredom, yearning. I couldn’t help but think that she felt this too. That it was part of the reason she was gone. This lack of control, our teenage inability to affect the direction our lives were headed. I thought that if we were together, we could withstand this, that I could save her and she could save me.

One night I took out my pen and scribbled a line: “Life will change, but you could remain, here with me…” There were other notes on the page, from the distance of time, embarrassing to read: “You may be the only one who understands, but I can’t reach you. ‘Cause I don’t know how.” I started to arrange them. Most lyrics don’t work when separated from the music, but while I was writing I heard the music. I had a riff I’d been toying with at home. It was derivative, but it wasn’t lifted straight from the source, as I’d done with “Fake Plastic Trees.” I had the rhythm of “1979,” but was different enough that I was willing to call it my own. For the opening, I invoked these nights, “The streetlights are…shining down on me, again/you may be the only one who understands/but I can’t reach you/’cause I don’t know how/please save me…”

It wasn’t Dylan or Elvis Costello or even Ryan Adams for that matter. In fact, it was melodramatic, unrefined, a bit too sincere. But most rock songs are. And this was the first time I’d put what I felt into words and music in a way I was proud of. The song said exactly what I wished to say in a manner that was entirely my own. When I finished writing, I had two verses, a chorus, and a bridge, and I rushed to Lex to play it for him.

“It sounds like ‘1979,’” he said.

It pissed me off that he wasn’t excited, that he didn’t see it as the breakthrough we were looking for, that its genius wasn’t immediately apparent to him. But this was how we worked. This was Lex. He held me to a standard. He held me accountable. I had to prove myself.

“But it’s not,” I said.

I could play “1979,” and I played it for him.

“See? The structure of chords are different, notes are different. The only thing that’s the same is the rhythm.”

It must have been winter, heading into the early spring. Lex had just started to play the drums and had a kit tucked back into the corner of his bedroom. He would put pads on the drum heads late at night or use brushes and we’d play until his  parents told us to stop. We worked on the song, deciding on a tempo, working out where the changes would come, how we’d move from verse to chorus to bridge. We hadn’t made the talent show, but we wanted to play the battle of the bands show that was coming up. Whatever Lex’s reservations were, we needed songs to play there. We had one, so in saying “The Streetlight Song” was the first I’d written I’m dissembling ever so slightly.  The week after Lex had purchased his drum kit, we jammed and put together a sort of pseudo-funk rock song called “Groove.” It was pretty typical white boy posturing from a decade that gave us G. Love and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I slid back and forth on the fret board between two seventh chords for the verse, and switched to another seventh for the chorus. His drum beat, since he’d just learned, was fairly standard. And over this, I sang, “Groove it on now, grove it on down with me.” And it worked. The song was good. Everyone we played it for, mostly friends and Lex’s family, liked it. We often used it for auditions, since it was catchy. But it wasn’t personal. And I wanted to write personal songs.

The show was soon enough that we knew we’d have to play covers to have a full set, but we also needed to find a bassist. The show was such a small thing, such a minor thing to want, but I wanted it badly. It wasn’t just to prove to people that I had talent, that I could do something special, though I’ll admit this played a part in it. But mostly, it had to do with the fact that Lana still hadn’t appeared in English class, in school. I had no reason to hope she’d come to the concert, yet I clung to the idea she’d be there. That maybe, whatever kept her away from class–and I still didn’t know what that was–wouldn’t keep her from attending a show where I had a song for her, a song I wanted her to hear. But Lex and I couldn’t do it as a two piece. So I asked Susan Osmond to play bass for us.

Susan played guitar and had started her own band, but that had fizzled out. So we asked her to come and play bass for us. Lex had asked, I think. She liked Lex a lot while she and I bore each other a grudging respect. She projected artsiness in a way I was both critical of and admired. She was known to be creative. She liked theater. We’d all had to write plays for Mrs. Bornfriend’s English class, and hers was one of the best, and during our senior year, she’d broken off from the school play and staged her own production of Six Degrees of Separation in the little theater as an alternative. I couldn’t deny her great talents, but I didn’t like the posturing, the flannel button downs with cut off sleeves worn over thermal shirts that seemed her way of announcing to the world, look at me, I’m an artist. Lex and I had also picked up a second guitarist by a strange twist of luck. Drew Schiff had broken up with his girlfriend Mary, but they’d remained friends, and Mary’s new boyfriend was a guitarist named Pete. She had told him about me and Lex, and he’d expressed an interest in jamming with us. The first time we’d played together, Pete came over and Lex and I were in the midst of rehearsing “Johnny B. Goode,” which we planned to play as our set’s final number. I loved to play that song. Whenever we played it, I was all over the room, diving onto the bed, twisting about, leaping over the amps and up onto chairs, kicking around the clothes on his floor.

“Is that guy on drugs?” Pete had asked when I left to go to work.

“No, he doesn’t do anything,” Lex had said.

“Maybe he should…”

But Pete had liked playing with us, and he agreed to play in the show, so we now had a four piece. But creative problems between me and Susan soon became evident. We were kicking around the idea of covering Sonic Youth’s “Wish Fulfillment” during one of the first sessions where we played together. We’d shown Pete and Susan “Groove” and played that for a bit, and while we wanted Susan to anchor the song with a low steady bass line, she improvised and added a long string of melodic notes high on the fret board, as though playing a guitar solo. I stopped the song mid-way through.

“I think we were thinking more of a driving bass line, like something like…” and I played the bass line I was looking for on my guitar.

“Oh, okay,” she said. And when we started to play, she did it for the first verse, but then moved her hand back to the top of the fret board. I looked at Lex and we stopped. It’s more than likely my irritation was evident by now. I’ve never been able to hide it on my face. But I tried to explain.

“So…we’re looking for like, a bass line, the bass has to be steady, sort of tied to the drums. It’s like…the rhythm section. You’re kind of playing the bass like it’s a guitar.”


We decided to move on to “Wish Fulfillment.” This was our concession to Susan. Her band had broken up. I’m not sure why, but Lex and I had agreed that, as part of the lure to get her to come play with us, we’d let her sing one of the songs, and the three of us, Lex and Susan and I, had agreed on this. I’d sat down with the Sonic Youth CD and learned it by ear and taught it to Pete. And though Lex wasn’t a fan of the way I sang–over the years, he often pushed for us to find an actual singer regardless of how this wounded my pride–when he heard Susan then, he thought she sounded like a little girl, high and nasally, and he didn’t like it at all. Then, too, we couldn’t recreate the background feedback Sonic Youth excels at and the song came off flat. I was growing uneasy. We had a month left to get it together and this wasn’t at all what I’d envisioned. I couldn’t have looked happy as I packed my things to leave the session.

After I was gone, Susan turned to the others and said, “Can we talk about, Jay?” but Lex shot this down.

I was upset when he told me later.

“What the fuck? It’s our band! We invited her to play with us? Does she think she can just come in and take it over?”

When I say I found Susan pretentious, it conceals a strong sense of the jealousy I felt at the time. This points to the reasons we couldn’t exist in a band together. In so many facets of character, we were similar. She presented herself as artsy, but that’s because she was. She had a creative temperament.  And people recognized it. I wanted others to see this in me, but I couldn’t bring myself to campaign for it, not openly. Both of us had strong visions for where we wanted to take our creative efforts. We wanted to lead and make something amazing and be recognized for it, and this led to our butting heads. She’d simply miscalculated here. She’d asked my best friend to side with her, and he wouldn’t. Of course, Pete stayed out of it. He acted more as a hired gun. But he seemed to get what we were doing. He added guitar fills, played a solo on “Groove” that Lex and I both loved. We had similar influences. And yet, with Susan we faced a tough decision. Would we endure it and try to work with her? Or cut her loose? We only had three weeks left to rehearse. Did we know of any other bassists? It’s probably embarrassing to confess, I still have dreams, when confronted with anxiety, where I show up to play a show and we don’t have any songs to play and the band is unrehearsed but we have to perform anyway. It has to go back to this. My dream of playing for Lana was crumbling.

“What about Gabe?” Lex suggested. Gabe had been the guitarist in Susan’s band. “You think he’d play with us?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “If we kick her out and ask him, it’s like stabbing her in the back.”

“Just leave it to me.”

Though of course when he told Susan she was out, her first words were, “It’s Jay, isn’t it? Is he making you do this?” As if I’d ever been able to convince Lex to do something he didn’t want to do. Most of the time, it worked the other way around. I’m not sure what he said to her, but she acquiesced and gave us permission to ask Gabe, which ultimately fell to me. I bowled on an intramural bowling team with Gabe and a few other guys, two of whom we’d invite to play with us the following year, and when I asked him, Gabe was into it. We had three weeks left to rehearse, which meant maybe six to eight sessions if we jammed both Saturday and Sunday and once during the week. Of course, Lex and I played when Pete and Gabe weren’t there, made decisions, worked out the structures of both “Groove” and “The Streetlight Song.” For covers, we decided to go with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band/With a Little Help from My Friends” as our opener. Sandwich “The Streetlight Song” between that and The Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Play “Groove” and finish off the set with “Johnny B. Goode.”

From the outset Gabe fit with our aesthetic better than Susan had. Not that we’d had enough time to develop much of an aesthetic. Lex like to play loud, bombastic. He hit his drums hard, and played on a battered kit when he couldn’t afford to replace the heads. I was impressed with how quickly he’d come along. His beats anchored our playing, and Gabe understood that the bass was meant to augment our rhythm and not work as a third guitar. I taught him the chord structures of the covers and he used the root notes to make his bass lines. We did the best we could, given time constraints, and I had a meltdown or two in the weeks leading up to the show. A week before, there was meeting in Mr. Stamm’s classroom to draw lots and decide on the order of the bands. He placed a few slips of paper in basket or bowl–I can’t remember which–and we drew lots. I reached in a plucked a slip of paper with a “1” on it.

“What’s this mean?” I said. “Do we get first choice?”

“No, it means your band goes on first.”

Lex was upset by this. I was indifferent.

“We’re not going to win if we play first,” he said. I hadn’t thought of winning, I was so focused on Lana. But I wouldn’t have minded if we won. To my mind, despite only three weeks of rehearsal, based on no evidence or achievement but based solely on my expectations of our potential, we were the best band. I had nothing to prove on that account. We were up against a pop punk outfit and a group of Dave Matthews wannabes. I didn’t have a lot of respect for their sources of inspiration, the depth of their knowledge of music. And so I didn’t necessarily see them as competition the way Lex did. But Lex was more competitive than me. Competition was in me, he could bring it out, but it wasn’t a natural mode to me in the way it was to him. It came out for me only when my pride had been insulted. When someone doubted me. When he doubted me. Regardless of whether or not we won, our band had worth, what we were doing had worth.

I’m not sure why I never once doubted this. Maybe I did and I just don’t remember. Maybe it was Lex’s belief in us compounding on my own belief in us. Maybe developing artists need to believe in their potential regardless of any evidence to the contrary or they’ll never develop, they’ll give up right away because the recognition that mastery takes work, years of effort toward that achievement, is daunting. If you can’t see yourself as one day achieving, you’d give up straight off. Or maybe adopt the dilettante’s attitude, “I’m just doing this for fun.” But we weren’t. I was doing it at this juncture to win love. To capture a girl’s attention. And that was all I cared about. My only concern with going on first was that she might be late and miss us. I never entertained the possibility that she wouldn’t be there. Though the possibility arose that I might not. I played on the baseball team and we had a game in Doylestown the night of the show. My dad came to pick me up right after and whisk me back to the school where they’d set up a series of risers in the cafeteria for the bands to play on.

I have video recording of our performance, and I watch it and feel a tenderness. But there was no reason to think that we were the best band. But what we lacked in skill, we more than made up for in enthusiasm. We gave a stiff but decent performance for a band that had just formed and only had three weeks to practice. One of the problems in rehearsing was that we didn’t have a PA system. Only a microphone hooked into a guitar amp, and if we turned it up too loud, we got feedback, so I had to scream to be heard. So I hadn’t prepared to sing so much as shout. The video is tinged in a blue hue, recorded by my dad on a camcorder. The sound quality reflects this. But Lex was right about my voice, at least as I used it then. My influences, the people I most wanted to sound like, all had ranges beyond mine–Thom Yorke, Bono, Jeff Buckley. Who the hell could ever sound like Jeff Buckley? I watch and certain things I like. My solos on “Johnny B. Goode” are still pretty impressive to me (funny, as I write this, it’s Chuck Berry’s 90th birthday). We were hemmed in by the stage setup so I couldn’t bring the same range of movement and energy to it that we did in Lex’s room, but the charge in our sound is still there. I remember glancing back at Lex while playing and seeing he wouldn’t hold out much longer. He’d only been drumming for two months and drummers need to build up certain muscles he was still building. So I went and brought the song to an end.

My voice is shot for most of the performance. I took the screaming thing a little too far. I brought a whole lot of raunch to “Sgt. Pepper.” And by the time we reached “A Little Help,” I couldn’t find the key. My throat was raw, my delivery a dull monotone. It’s embarrassing for me to watch. These days, I know that my voice is deeper than that. That I should have brought it down to baritone. This is the only recording that exists of “The Streetlight Song.” I watch it and waver. I’d like to share it. But there’s also part of me that knows I could sing it better now and would like to rerecord it. Over the years, I developed the ability to sit down and play my songs and sing them for people in a way that moves them. I haven’t lost this ability even though I’m not a musician anymore. But the emotions from back then wouldn’t be there. I don’t feel it the way I felt it then. The song was written for Lana. We dropped it from out sets the next year, even though my feelings for Lana hadn’t faded. I’m not sure why I expected her to be there. She hadn’t returned to school and she didn’t show up for this. And even if she did, how would she have known the song was meant for her? It’s not like I would have approached her afterward and told her, “That song was for you.” Even if she heard it and knew, would she have felt flattered? Or would the song have embarrassed her? Did I really expect she would just fall in love with me if she saw me play? I’m not sure what I expected. The point was to get up there and play. And we’d done it, for better or worse. I was proud of it at the time. I still am. I was going to be creative my whole life. I was going to make things. And this was a start. This was the first time I’d put something I made in front of people. It wasn’t perfect. But I thought it was good. We’d done our best. And people were complimentary, which gave me confidence. Adversity came later, more with writing, rejection. But I learned that this too was part of putting your work out there.

But Lana hadn’t shown, and I still didn’t have any answers. I’d been trying to play it smooth. I’d refused to reveal to anyone that I liked her, that I felt what I felt. But I was getting desperate. And a few days after the show, I mustered the courage. I approached Faith after English class.

“What happened to Lana?” I asked. “Where has she been?”

And Faith, having known all this time, told me.

The Streetlight Song

The streetlights are shining down on me, again
You may be the only one who understands,
But I can’t reach you, ’cause I don’t know how
Please save me…

Life will change
But you could remain
Here with me
I need someone who will help to light my way
Will you?

The moonlight has trapped me here again
Going down these streets I know so well, but still
I need someone who will help me find my way, will you
Please save me…

Life will change
But you could remain
Here with me
I need someone who will help to light my way
Will you?

Help to light my way
Through these fading long hard days
cause it’s so hard to see
Who I’m supposed to be
and it’s so hard to tell you
What you mean to me

I’ve been staring up at the stars all night
Trying to make some sense out of this all, my life
But still, I need your help to find my way
Will you
Please save me

Life will change
But you could remain
Here with me
I need someone who will help to light my way
Will you?