Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Heaven Ghetto

I have a good old friend I haven't been in touch with for years, besides the occasional warm, funny Facebook comment once or twice a year.  I am always collecting people's stories though and I remember that years ago she'd been very sad when a good friend of hers, it'd been a little bit of a romantic friendship, was hit by a car and killed when he was bicycling home from a bar one night.  The song she associated with him, with his sort of tragic fatalistic humor and then the sad way he died, was Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory."  This is one of the coolest songs.  It's poignant and fatalistic itself and it's by the Born to Lose Johnny Thunders, the tough, sexy, feminine/masculine rock god Johnny Thunders, one of the coolest musicians ever.  Listening to that song with her when I was visiting shortly after her friend's death – there was something almost cinematic about this kind of grief.  It was like, this man who was run over on his bike … he'd gone out in a blaze of glory.  He was a tragic figure, a charmer who was also self-defeatingly drunk too often -- he engaged in that courtship with danger that made him so appealing and pseudo-heroic to his friends but that wouldn't/couldn't end well.

It doesn't pay to try all the smart boys know why
It doesn't mean I didn't try
I'll just never know why
It isn't 'cause I'm all alone
Oh, baby, you're not home
And when I'm home Big deal, I'm still alone

You can't put your arms around a memory

Don't try, don't try


 My own "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" is two of the posthumous singles by 2Pac, "I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto" and "I Ain't Mad at Cha."

I was going to high school in Los Angeles, in the 1990's.  I was riot grrrl style punk, meaning no Mohawk or Misfits t-shirt, but instead hairy legs and armpits, tiaras and vintage dresses with lots of holes in them.  Most of my friends we grown ups between age 25-28 who helped drive my teenage riot grrrl band to our shows, recorded my songs, invited me to their grown up parties and felt faintly like my mentors.  I did also have a high school life, but this part of my life is full of puppy dog tails and other carnage.  The realities a young person has to keep under their hat just because they don't even have the words to voice the ugliness or any reason to trust in the adults who should protect them, oh god, so many of the things that happened in my high school, a blue ribbon school with accolades, was disgusting.  And sort of felt commonplace at the same time.  I can only imagine how much that's been amplified now, when teenagers seem to be filming gang rapes they participate in and posting them to their Facebook pages as boasts, etc.  Uh, let's just agree that high school is hard.  It all seemed so commonplace too.  Once I found out a sweet 13 year old was "dating" a 28 year old school security guard on our campus.  I found out about this because he'd been making a play for me too, and I'd had a crush on him that devolved into realizing he was a child predator, and then I tried to find out who else he was dating, to warn them against him.  The 13 year old (she may have been as young as 11, actually – my highschool was also a Junior High) really thought she was his girlfriend though, and felt bad about giving him blue balls when she didn't give him sex, and let him force himself on her to keep him happy, etc. Guess what?  Her bitch guidance counselor knew about this and to her, the girl was just someone silly she put up with and chided now and again.  Guess what else?  This security guard had a molestation history elsewhere (the summer camp he worked at).  I tried to 1) befriend this girl and convince her to stay away from him, and 2) get this guy in trouble, but guess what else? He was the son of some bigwig on the school board so, basically, fuck.  Another pitfall of being a teenager girl, I guess – the possibility of being raped by the school security guard and having no recourse against him. 

This information was meant to give you an idea of the lens through which I saw high school.  My real social life lay with the grown-up artists and musicians of my fair city, and in high school, I felt like an outsider and a protector of other girls, but not like a girl myself.  Except with Jameson Dowd.  I felt like a girl with him.  He was one of the most popular boys in our school, and part of the appeal, at least to me, was how smart he was, how into the Beats, and how he had that self-defeating urge to act dumb, mouth off to the teachers who tried to help him, and to walk around stoned with a bemused smile on his face.  Everyone around us labored under the delusion that high school would last forever.  Me and him knew it was just 4 years of our lives.  We saw ourselves in context.  And when there was nobody around, when by some happy coincidence we'd both ditched our classes in favor of the arts room and sat at a corner table drawing and exchanging sarcastic flirtations, I could have gladly spent the whole day there with him.  He was blue eyed, suspicious, bound and determined to kill off all boredom and angst with weed.  His smile was sly.  Time stood still.  This was my crush.  In a way, we belonged to each other.  We were both in on the same secret of horribleness and the coolness that protected us from harm as well as kindness.

Years later Friendster existed and I looked him up on it but no Jameson Dowd.  Then Myspace was the big thing and I looked him up unsuccessfully again.  He also wasn't on Facebook.  But one day I was emailing with someone else from our old school who casually mentioned Jameson Dowd's recent death to me.

Of course he would be dead at 30.  How else could it have gone?  He hadn't stayed at my high school but had instead moved on to the much cooler but too drug-culture arts school LACHSA.  He was also self-defeating.  He always kept the beautifully written essay he'd been about to turn in in his backpack at the last minute, and lied instead: "I forgot to do it."  He was just that kind of debonair aspiring loser.  So of course he was dead at 30.

In addition to the Beatles he'd loved so much, he and his circle of friends also loved 2Pac Shakur.  They were sheltered teens who for some reason felt a kinship with the autobiographical hero in 2Pac's songs about impending death and living a fucked up life to the fullest in the meantime.  Somehow, this spoke to them.  I guess they were all just fatalists.
I went to the memorial service, held at the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  I cried.  I spoke a bit, saying that when everyone else, even many of his friends, teased me horribly for being ugly and weird (his sweet sad mom chimed in to say I was beautiful), he was always my friend.  I didn't tell anyone that once when we'd been flirting more than usual, his friend JH told me that he thought Jameson liked me and asked if I wanted him to tell him I liked him, to see what developed.  It was too much for me.  Instead I told JH that I sort of liked him and asked if he wanted to hang out sometime, and he was dumbstruck by this weird, dumb move of mine, replying with 'uh maybe.  Maybe we can hang out sometime.  I'll give you a call."  I'd never been on a date, and I never would, for years.  JH never called because he didn't like me.  And I didn't like him.  I'd just been too scared to at the prospect of getting to have Jameson maybe.  I was a militant riot grrrl.  I was in a well known band with a popular zine.  I made myself look ugly on purpose.  Tenderness from someone wasn't a bullet point on my to-do list.  So I'd screwed up my chance.  It was better that way, really.  It felt special going through high school untouched.

Anyway, the memorial service was sad, as can be expected.  His dad had died the year before, so now his mom was all alone.  I would never again get to think 'maybe me and jameson will be friends someday.'  The saddest thing was to find out that he had lived literally two blocks down from my place.  I hear he was lonely there.  There, in that building so close to mine, he'd snorted the last lines of cocaine that gave him his heart attack.  I could have run into him but I didn't and he died alone on a couch in his living room, Hollywood CA, where dreams are made.

His best friend, another fatalistic 2Pac fan but with no charisma, died a year or so later, a fatal asthma attack.  He'd loved Jameson.

Now there are 2 2Pac songs I hear that I turn up as loud as my ears can stand it and cry and sing and roll down the windows and let the implications of wasted, finished life wash over me.    I cry and sing to "I wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto (one of 2Pac's posthumous singles):  

And for the first time everybody let go, And the streets is death row, I wonder if Heaven got a ghetto.

Of course, it's ridiculous in a sense for middle class white boys to relate to music like this.  I feel as though Jameson and his friend were drawn to the hopelessness though, and almost as if they wanted to die young, like some mythical gangster, like 2Pac.  I feel like they knew. 
The other song that gets to me is "I Ain't Mad at Cha."  I'm printing these lyrics in their entirety because I find the storyline compelling.  It's like the story of 2Pac's life, and it's sentimental.  When I hear this song, I imagine Jameson listening to it as a teen and being drawn to the storyline and the sentiment, of a man who has moved on from his childhood friends and home and doesn't really belong in either his new life or the life he grew up in – he's stuck in a lonesome limbo, but he appreciates the endeavors of those he used to be close to, even when he's aware that he's being judged by these people.  See, it's too late to belong with is old friends again.  It's almost like he's dead already and letting people know he carried no grudges to the grave.  This was another posthumous single. 

I hated this songs when I was a teenager and spent my stolen ditch moments with Jameson.  Now I'm a good deal older.  Jameson is dead, and so is his best friend.  2Pac is dead.  I feel like these 3 were in love with the sense of foreboding.

If only I'd run into him in our old neighborhood, and I couldn't have stopped him from doing the drugs that killed him, but it would have been nice to see him one last time.  There was something special about him.  Everyone knew it.

I Ain't Mad at Cha
Change, shit
I guess change is good for any of us
Whatever it take for any of y'all niggaz to get up out the hood
Shit, I'm wit cha, I ain't mad at cha
Got nuttin but love for ya, do your thing boy

Yeah, all the homies that I ain't talk to in a while
I'ma send this one out for y'all, knahmean?
Cause I ain't mad at cha
Heard y'all tearin up shit out there, kickin up dust
[Danny Boy] I ain't...
Givin a motherfucker, heheheheheh
Yeah, niggaz
[Danny Boy] ...mad at cha
Cause I ain't mad at cha

[Verse One: 2Pac]

Now we was once two niggaz of the same kind
Quick to holla at a hoochie with the same line
You was just a little smaller but you still roller
Got stretched to Y.A. and hit the hood swoll
Member when you had a jheri curl didn't quite learn
On the block, witcha glock, trippin off sherm
Collect calls to the till, sayin how ya changed
Oh you a Muslim now, no more dope game
Heard you might be comin home, just got bail
Wanna go to the Mosque, don't wanna chase tail
I seems I lost my little homie he's a changed man
Hit the pen and now no sinnin is the game plan
When I talk about money all you see is the struggle
When I tell you I'm livin large you tell me it's trouble
Congratulation on the weddin, I hope your wife know
She got a playa for life, and that's no bullshitin
I know we grew apart, you probably don't remember
I used to fiend for your sister, but never went up in her
And I can see us after school, we'd BOMB
on the first motherfucker with the wrong shit on
Now the whole shit's changed, and we don't even kick it
Got a big money scheme, and you ain't even with it
Hmm, knew in my heart you was the same motherfucker bad
Go toe to toe when it's time for roll you got a brother's back
And I can't even trip, cause I'm just laughin at cha
You tryin hard to maintain, then go ahead
cause I ain't mad at cha
(Hmm, I ain't mad at cha)

[Chorus: Danny Boy]

I ain't, mad, at cha [2Pac:] (I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad, at cha

[Verse Two: 2Pac]

We used to be like distant cousins, fightin, playin dozens
Whole neighborhood buzzin, knowin, that we wasn't
Used to catch us on the roof or behind the stairs
I'm gettin blitzed and I reminsce on all the times we shared
Besides bumpin n grindin wasn't nothin on our mind
In time we learned to live a life of crime
Rewind us back, to a time was much too young to know
I caught a felony lovin the way the guns blow
And even though we seperated, you said that you'd wait
Don't give nobody no coochie while I be locked up state
I kiss my Mama goodbye, and wipe the tears from her lonely eyes
Said I'll return but I gotta fight the fate's arrived
Don't shed a tear, cause Mama I ain't happy here
I'm through trial, no more smiles, for a couple years
They got me goin mad, I'm knockin busters on they backs
in my cell, thinkin, "Hell, I know one day I'll be back"
As soon as I touch down
I told my girl I'll be there, so prepare, to get fucked down
The homies wanna kick it, but I'm just laughin at cha
Cause youse a down ass bitch, and I ain't mad at cha

[Chorus: Danny Boy]

I ain't, mad, at cha [2Pac:] (I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad, at cha [2Pac:] (A true down ass bitch, and I ain't mad at cha)

[Verse Three: 2Pac]

Well guess who's movin up, this nigga's ballin now
Bitches be callin to get it, hookers keep fallin down
He went from nuttin to lots, ten carots to rock
Went from a nobody nigga to the big, man on the block
He's Mister local celebrity, addicted to move a key
Most hated by enemy, escape in the Luxury
See, first you was our nigga but you made it, so the choice is made
Now we gotta slay you why you faded, in the younger days
So full of pain while the weapons blaze
Gettin so high off that bomb hopin we make it, to the better days
Cause crime pays, and in time, you'll find a rhyme'll blaze
You'll feel the fire from the niggaz in my younger days
So many changed on me, so many tried to plot
That I keep a glock beside my head, when will it stop?
Til God return me to my essence
Cause even as a adolescents, I refuse to be a convalescent
So many questions, and they ask me if I'm still down
I moved up out of the ghetto, so I ain't real now?
They got so much to say, but I'm just laughin at cha
You niggaz just don't know, but I ain't mad at cha

[Chorus: Danny Boy]

I ain't, mad at cha [2Pac:] (and I ain't mad at cha)
Iiiiiiiii ain't mad [2Pac:] (hell nah I ain't mad at cha) at cha
I ain't, mad at mha [2Pac:] (and I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad at cha [2Pac:] (I ain't mad at cha)
I ain't, mad at cha, noooo
I ain't mad at chaaaaahhhhhhhh

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