Infomercials For Myself


If There’s A Rock ‘N’ Roll Heaven, Could You
Hook Me Up With A Plus-One?

As this is my first piece for the first issue of this brand-new publication, it seems manifestly appropriate that I start off dead.

There was nothing left for me, simply - the passion, the desire, the ardor I had spent my most important years cultivating exposed itself to me as a sham, a fraud, a cheap cardboard set in front of a cheaply rendered matte painting of what I imagined the universe to be. The infinite turned out to be a bunch of small appliance bulbs in a cheap acrylic firmament. I was a stray hair or a speck of dust trapped in a sofa-sized universe. Everything was chintz, camp, a consignment shop aesthetic hewn from the gaudiest laminated plastic, as ephemeral as it was non-biodegradable. Stripped of all protective irony, all my junkstore treasures have ceased to resonate and are now just trash. All the stuff that spoke to my soul when I was still pretty sure I had one is mere nostalgia-fodder, a means to luxuriate in fond recollections of times and places and people I couldn’t stand at the time - really all I felt when I slipped on that Squirrel Bait EP or those Cocteau Twins twelve-inches or replay those mix tapes I made for other people but kept for myself is the memory of how much better that music made me feel in the face of all the self-loathing, the perceived social leprosy, the disappointment when the elaborate fantasy vistas the music painted for me, the boundless rolling fields of unending potential, gave way to the speed bumps and potholes and occasional flowers growing from the cracks of reality. A reality that most people, I presumed, had made their peace with by now, had either struck out onto or steered definitively away from - half my friends following their dreams of wealth and happy infamy, the other half acquiescing to the simple nobility of workaday existence, and me… maybe not quite persona non grata, but pretty consistently snickered at in either territory. And when the old jangles and twangs of dazes gone by stopped signifying in even that meager, minor-key manner - well, you tell me: what would you do if the one thing you could always count on to provide you real and lasting sustenance suddenly stopped working? I know what I did.

It's all a bit of a blur, though - the visit to the local Shop 'n' Snuff, the purchase of the jumbo box of heavy-duty plastic asphyxiation bags (too many, of course - it was the mass suicide-sized package - but the pained grin and thumbs up from Jerzy Kozinski on the front of the box swayed me, a celebrity whore to the end), the careful selection of soundtrack (Brian Eno's Music for Self-Murder) and bathroom ambience (bathtub drawn to 75 degrees F, monk-with-gas-can-shaped candles at every corner of the room, three sticks of nightshade-scented incense) - all stand out with unsteady clarity, though I also seem to remember cursingly abandoning the heavy preparation and simply jumping out the window (first weighting my pockets with whatever I could sweep off my euphemistically-christened "work desk" and tying paint-filled water balloons around my neck, so it would function both as horrific tragedy and hilarious prank). Either way, that was that. Or so I thought.

Next thing I knew, I was floating down a long, dark corridor - to be honest, given the smell, it was more like a long, dark humidor. I was overwhelmed with a strange sense of serenity, more peaceful than anything I had felt before. Then the endorphins wore off and I felt frankly stupid gliding two inches off the ground - all these years spent speculating about the afterlife and it turns out it’s a Spike Lee tracking shot. Swell.

Individual drawls, slurs and cadences began to distinguish themselves, even as the words themselves remained indistinct. Geez - now I’m in a Robert Altman afterworld. Maybe God’s telling me I should’ve done more film criticism.

After a few moments, I became dimly aware of a hazy pinpoint of light off in the distance, growing ever larger as I drifted closer, and with it a beckoning babble of voices, calling one or more of my names and saying other things I couldn’t quite make out in the overlapping din. The voices grew more layered and attained a depth of field I had never before experienced. Individual drawls, slurs and cadences began to distinguish themselves, even as the words themselves remained indistinct. Geez - now I’m in a Robert Altman afterworld. Maybe God’s telling me I should’ve done more film criticism.
The pinpoint grew into a cataract of pure white light, bathing me in a tingling glow that sluiced into my pores, cleansing me from within like a billion scrubbing bubbles shining my mortal soul to a fine gleam, clean enough to see my true self in. (Hmm, not only am I in a 35-millimeter dream state, but it’s breaking for commercials as well. Apparently, I can’t afford cable heaven.) I was blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night... hey! so that’s what the words to that song are! The initial flash began finally to recede, and spectral silhouettes made themselves manifest, surrounding me, gesturing to me, drawing me closer... though from what I could see, they didn’t bother to get up out of their supine positions to do so. And at last I was able to decipher what they said, in crystalline voices just a little hoarse from lack of sleep:

“Got any Desoxyn?”

“Obetrols?”

“How about Romilar?”

“Uhh...” I felt around in my pockets. “I have four Vivarin.”

The figures groaned. One, whose burgeoning potbelly and drooping, Rob-Reiner-circa-’74 mustache had swum into focus, sighed heavily and shrugged. “Gimme two.” He grabbed them from my outstretched hand, dry-swallowed and shuddered. “Well, that’s something. This fucking place. Not a drop of booze anywhere to be found and nothing good to boot up, not that I could if I could anymore. The only clean place to get a hit these days is my wings, and these fuckin’ new ones we got ‘cause of the budget cuts are so shoddy and paper-thin, the goddamn veins are like No. 6 thin spaghetti. So... you take what you can get, I guess. I was shooting cloud for a while.”

The guy was definitely starting to look familiar. I kept talking until I could get a bead on him. “What’s cloud? Some cool new street drug?”
“Naw, man,” he guffawed mirthlessly, “you’re standing on it! Took me ten years to figure it out, see, but this stuff -” he snatched up a fistful of etherea - “is substantial.” It snaked between his fingers. “Not in this form, of course; you’ve gotta heat it up and distill it into a liquid, but it’s a real kick! I don’t know what you’d call it -”

“Water?”

His face drooped. “Shit. You’re right.” He slumped again. “Well, doesn’t matter - I gave it up years ago anyway. Death is a time for moderation.”

That’s when it struck me, when the totality of his slouch, his stomach, his sitcom-Zapata ‘stache and his predilection for chemicals all came together and caromed the medicine ball of epiphany off my forehead. “Wait... are you Lester Bangs?”

“You’re darn tootin’, Chester. Maybe you know some o’ my pals, too. That one over there with the holes cut into his shroud and the black plastic halo is Peter Laughner and that blonde kid laying face down over there, that’s Brian Jones. Howdy-do. Welcome to Cloud 149.”
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed. (The others laughed - “Good one,” they said.) “Is this what I think it is? Is this Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven?”

“Used to be, ‘til we got kicked out of the main area for disrespect to dead musicians. Took our laminates, everything. Fuckin’ Morrison’s got no sense of humor. This is Rock ‘n’ Roll Critics Heaven now. We’ve been exiled, though some of the cooler guys, like Brian, come by and hang out now and then. Not too crowded these days, though. Bill Graham corralled most of the halfway-decent ones for this exclusive club he’s opened up on the other side of Heaven-”

“The Fillmore North,” Laughner grumbled. “Which we’ve been barred from, too. Dress code, can you believe it? Some of those stiffs have turned out to be real stiffs. And you wanna talk to anyone interesting, you haveta go through some of the rudest dead publicists I’ve ever met.”

“So you still write? Even now?”

“What the hell else is there to do?” Bangs groaned. “Ralph J. Gleason’s got a pretty good rock mag going - Fallen Stone. (Or he did, anyway, ‘fore he tossed the reins to Robert Palmer and went back to his necro-jazz rag, Deadbeat.) Usedta be all about harpists and seraphic choirs before we muscled our way in. ‘Course we hardly write for ‘em anymore. The scene’s gotten so fucking insular, and truth is, practically nobody’s as good as they used to be. You bios make me laugh - that’s what we call the living up here, ‘bios,’ little rock-crit double-entendre - with all your blather ‘bout how much great music you’ve been deprived of when so-and-so died. Well, guess what? God had his plan, I guess, ‘cause they all suck now. You should hear the shit Hendrix has been spewing out -him and Morrison. Christ, man, it’s like Mantovani meets McKuen. John Denver fucking laughs at those guys. David Byrne was right - nothing ever happens up here.”

“Ain’t it fun,” Laughner drawled.

“It’s much worse than Earth. Death really kills your ambition. There’s no incentive to do anything ‘round here. At least in Hell, you get to work. And when you’re not putting your nose to the grindstone -”

“Literally,” Laughner interjected –

“You’ve got your basic ironic mortal anguish to contend with for eternity. Least that’s what Darby says. And he should know.”
Laughner shuddered, his wings trembling and dropping feathers on the sleeping(?) floating Stone. “Yeah. Karen Carpenter. Cruel and unusual.”

“I believe that’s what they’re calling their new duet act, yes,” Bangs chuckled. “But Hell, at least ironic mortal anguish is infinitely replicable agony. It doesn’t get boring. ‘Less of course, that’s the irony. Sorry. I just know how much you young bastards are into that shit. Aren’t you?”

“I don’t know,” I said, almost relaxed enough to quip. “You’ll have to ask the younger bastards about that.”

“That’s the sign of a flabby-minded wayward generation. You have enough free time to be ironic, clever - or at least your crude, dumbed-down approximation of the same. Back when we were young and, well, breathing, we didn’t have the time for such piffery. We had shit we wanted to tear down, man. There was a war out there, brother. There were riots in the streets and fucking in the air, there were Bibles to burn and Joan Baez albums to break...”

Laughner slapped his forehead (getting a mild case of wingburn in the process). “Jesus, Lester, I sincerely hope no more of the MC5 die anytime soon. Hey, kid, when you get back, tell Wayne Kramer and John Sinclair to eat their macrobiotic vegetables, else Les here might go off the deep end.”

“Well, to be honest, Lester, I might not use the same terminology but I understand where you’re coming from. The stuff that moved me when I was a sprout seems to have been relegated to some kind of ghetto lately. I actually found myself muttering under my breath about ‘those damned kids’ the other day.”

“Would that they were damned,” Lester sniffed. “The way those fucking Columbine kids keep slouching around up here with their jaws hanging down, hell, I’d’ve shot ‘em.”

Continued on page 2: "The only thing more boring than a rock star is a dead rock star." >>