Negative Zone

Music, Books, Time Travel, and other ramblings...

Category: Rambling


My wife and I took a trip last week to the state of my birth, where I spent my formative years as they say.  It had probably been anywhere from eight to ten years since I had been back, which is crazy.

We spent a day in Harvard Square, which is always fun.  The area seemed a little quieter than I remember, not a lot of buskers out there like I remember from years ago.  Maybe it’s still early in the year for all that, I’m not sure.  We walked through The Charles Hotel, which had always been a favorite of mine as a young kid starting out in the hotel world.  We ate at Legal Sea Foods, which was an amazing experience just for the fact that I could share food with my wife (celiac) – they have great gluten free options and seem to take allergies seriously.

We spent a day in Salem, a place I had never been before.  Wouldn’t mind spending more time there, it seemed like the town was just coming out of hibernation and not everything was open.  We want to plan a return trip, maybe spend a few days at the Hawthorne Hotel.  I’m definitely one of those people who love historical sites and annoy others by spending too much time reading historical markers and signs.  We didn’t get a chance to visit or tour anything, and I would like to see inside the House of Seven Gables.  Although, to be quite honest, I haven’t read any Hawthorne yet.  Maybe I can read a book of his while staying in Salem and get the full effect.

We got to see a Red Sox game, and was excited to bring my wife to Fenway Park for her first time.  The Sox beat the Royals 10-6 and we got to see Xander Bogaerts hit a grand slam.  Well, I got to see it…she was wandering around the park looking for a warm sweatshirt to buy due to the chill in the air and constant rain drizzling down.  It was a great night though, we got to get some food at The Blue Diner…sorry, the South Street Diner (not sure when they changed the name) and then capped it off for drinks at MJ O’Connor’s, an Irish pub at the Park Plaza hotel.  I forgot how filling Guinness is.

The best and worst part of the trip was seeing my 93 year old grandmother.  Best because my wife was thoughtful enough to have us stop and buy gifts and a plant for her before we went, something I wouldn’t have thought to do because I’m stupid, but it brought a smile to my grandmother’s face and she was obviously very happy to get some presents.  Worst due to the fact that my grandmother obviously didn’t recognize me, and that was pretty difficult to see.  There was a moment when we were sitting there while she ate her dinner, and she looked over at me and squinted her eyes as if she thought she knew me; she smiled and nodded and then went back to her food.  I’m sure I was projecting.  Overall I’m very glad we went.  I had wanted so much for my wife to meet my grandmother.   Also, if it wasn’t for my wife being there, my grandmother would have never been introduced to Snapchat.  That was too much fun.

The whole trip definitely made me feel nostalgic for Boston; I still miss it and I think of it as “home”.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love where we live now; I really have come to love Northern Wisconsin.   It’s beautiful up here, not to mention quiet and peaceful.  I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a remote area, where you can’t see your neighbors from your house.  It’s pretty amazing.  But sometimes you just miss having a Dunkin’ Donuts on every block.

Amanda Palmer & Alternate Realities

It’s always interesting to look back at life choices and decisions, both big and small, that map out the course of your life.  I’m going to be 43 years old this year and sometimes I wonder how I’m where I am, how I made it this long in life, and how after everything I’m happier now than I ever was before.

A lot of times my mind reverts back to how life would be if I hadn’t been raised in an ultra strict “religion”.  In school, I wasn’t supposed to hang out with the other kids because they weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses like me.   I still did find a few friends, thankfully my parents looked the other way on that one as long as I was behaving.  The friends I found were more of the computer geek persuasion, they were non threatening and I think that’s all my sheltered brain could handle.  Don’t get me wrong, most of them were really good people and I enjoyed their company.  But I wonder who I would have hung out with had I been a little more free thinking.  I always felt drawn to the mysterious, weird, artsy, musical, alternative, different, or some amalgam of all of that.

I grew up in Waltham, MA and went to high school in Newton, MA.  Newton North definitely had a few alternative type kids (whatever the hell that means), and I wonder how my life would have turned out if I had befriended them instead.  Some cooler music and some more interesting fun would have been in store, I suppose.  Who knows.

I heard The Dresden Dolls in the 2000’s while I was still in the religion.  For some reason I keep coming back to them when I remember the mental gymnastics I was going through at the time in order to avoid sinking into crippling depression instead of the general unhappiness and uneasiness I enjoyed.  Dresden Dolls’ music was fascinating to me, I really felt drawn to it yet I was very scared of it.

I’m not sure where I heard this, or got the idea in my head, but I thought the band had some sort of occult ties and was part of that growing list of music I couldn’t listen to as a good little religious boy.  I feel like someone said something to me about them in a negative light, but I can’t remember for sure.  Maybe it was the phrase “dark cabaret”, because we all know dark = Satan, right?  Anyway, I didn’t listen to them and in fact told myself and others I didn’t like the band.  “Something about them doesn’t sit right”, and all that.

Something about them, though.  Something about them really drew me in, as did Amanda Palmer (one half of the duo along with Brian Viglione).  Once I left the religion, I didn’t go crazy with drugs and orgies and all that other fun stuff some people do.  But I did start doing other things I used to have restrictions on.  I started examining those things I used to think were bad, and figure out if I really didn’t like it or if I had conditioned myself to avoid these things because of the religion.  I started reading books I’d avoided, watching movies I wouldn’t have seen before, and listening to bands I had previously condemned.  Like The Dresden Dolls.

I realized that Amanda Palmer had grown up a few miles away from me and was just a year younger than me.  How insane, I thought.  I started imagining a life where I met her while I was in high school.  I’d still be awkward and nerdy, but in this alternate reality I would be open about the things I was drawn to.  I would be friends with the art & drama & musical kids, and go hang out with amazingly weird and interesting people, walk around Harvard Square and enjoy the strange.  I would meet Amanda and we would be great friends, we would talk about life and love and sadness and music.  I would be a more confident person, have more self respect, have friends that didn’t decide to never speak to me again because I chose to leave my parent’s religion.  I would have gone to college (because in my real life you’re a bad person if you want to get secondary education) and have a degree but at the very least had that life experience.  Eventually, I’d even get to hang out with Neil Gaiman – another person I avoided in my original reality because he wrote about gods and demons and fantastic things that would probably have turned me to the dark side.  I would have started writing as a young man, I would have…I would have…I would have…

It can be a fun activity to think of your alternate realities, but it can also sink you into an endless loop of looking back at the past and feeling sorry for yourself instead of living life now.

If I had lived that alternate reality, I would probably be a very different person.  I am sure I wouldn’t have met my amazing wife.  My wife inspires and encourages me to take everything I went through, all the good and bad and shameful and wonderful things, and use them to make my dreams come true.  I want to use all the happiness and pain and be creative, to leave something in the world that says I made some sort of contribution and made someone happy.

My past is my past, and I can’t change it.  I can use it, though.  And I can make sure my next 40-something years builds and improves upon my last 40-something.  I’m sure we would have been great friends, Amanda…but I’ll stick with the life I have.

Chicago, and Changing Who You Are

I believe my love of music comes from my dad.  Looking at his stacks of albums, staring at the album covers, they seemed like such an adult mystery to me as a child.  I clearly remember being mesmerized by Kate Bush album covers, but that’s for another post.

Chicago is one of my father’s favorite bands, and so I listened to them a lot as a young kid.  70’s Chicago though, not what they became in the years in which I grew up.

“Make Me Smile” was released on the Chicago II album in 1970, and I believe it encompasses the spirit of Chicago in the beginning.  Amazing vocals by Terry Kath, a founding member of the band and lead guitarist.  This is what I think of when I think of the band.  In January 1978, Kath was fooling around with some guns.  Not realizing there was a round in the chamber of his 9-mm, he died when he rested the gun against his temple and pulled the trigger.

The band, after wanting to disband, stayed together.  Now I don’t know the actual history of Chicago and what kind of internal politics were at play, but my perception is that the music shifted at that point.  Again, I’m no historian on the band of music in general, but the first album after Kath’s death was the first Chicago album not to be numbered (previous albums were Chicago II, Chicago III, Chicago IV, you get the drift). The music was…disco? Pop? Different.  And just look at what may be one of the goofiest album covers of all time.

Look at that smug Peter Cetera’s face looking like “yeah, I’m taking this band over!”  I’m kidding!

Most people know Chicago as releasing music like the following:

I forgot about that video…aww, 80’s punk love.  Music is completely different in the 1980’s as compared to the previous decade.  Sounded to me like a different band.


So what about people? How often does something “die” within us that we completely change who we are?  Or is it that this new person was buried deep down within us since we were born, and something changed to where we were finally comfortable allowing it to surface?  I know it’s popular to say “People don’t change”, but is that really accurate?

I’m not talking about a movie or novel where the villain in the beginning turns out to be a hero, but in real life how often does this happen?

From my experience in seeing people grow up in a strict religious environment, and then escaping said environment, I can say I’ve see people change completely.  But is this really a change?  I feel like it’s more of the case where a person’s inner self was so buried, so hidden even from themselves, and when they finally realize it’s safe to be who you are it seems as if they have become a different person.  Really, how they previously acted was not a true representation.

In a minor way we change.  Someone who hated green beans at the age of 10 now loves a good green bean casserole at the age of 30.  Another person hated opera at the age of 21 but now weeps while listening to Un bel di vedremo.  Is this changing who we are at the core though? Isn’t this just the refining of tastes and growing as a human?

What about a person who has a wonderful family life, grows up as a kind and caring person, but in their later years show themselves to be bitter and angry and full of rage.  Did they always hate people, or did something happen to them to kill the joy they had in life and replace it with fear?

I really don’t know.  I don’t even know why I’m thinking about these things.  We are, we act, we live.  Sometimes we start off as 1970’s Chicago, and become 1980’s Chicago.  Go listen to some music and think about who you were and who you are.

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