Monday, September 24, 2007

Wrecking Ball

I just drove over to see Adam, one of my closest and oldest friends. I lived with him for a little while over in San Francisco this summer and I just discovered that while I was in LA doing some initial demos and pre-production for the new album, he had moved back to Oakland.

I’m off for the month of October while Matt is in North Carolina engineering another project, and I had initially planned to go back to New York for the month, but every time I went to book a flight, went on craigslist to find a sublet, I found something pulling me back. I couldn’t solidify plans, I’d put it off, sabotage it. My heart wasn’t in it this time, and I realized that I had to stay in Oakland, that I had a few more songs to write for the album and I couldn’t be out until four AM, waking up hungover in little thin-walled apartments, in hostile environments for songwriting.

Adam is living on the edge of Lake Merritt, the manmade lake that sits in the middle of downtown, attached through an estuary to the bay. At night the lit up buildings reflect in the water, along with a chain of lights that wraps around it like pearls, illuminating a walkway that is still being walked and jogged by a scattered few in the dark hours of night. Fish jump frantically at mosquitoes and ducks and geese flutter out of shadows in the grass when you approach. For a spot in the middle of a city most well known for things like its murder rate or The Raiders or more recently the ridiculous hyphy movement, its pretty damn nice. I had forgotten how unique and special my hometown is.

I checked out his place and we took a walk along the water for a ways, talked about what the last month had held for each of us. He was there at my birthday after Treasure Island but we didn’t get a chance to connect. Adam has hung in there with me through some interesting times – He was with me getting arrested to inspire “Leave The Cameras On,” “The Sun” came from a conversation he and I had over a mid-afternoon breakfast when we lived in the same house in college, he drove back from Los Angeles with me one hazy night at 5am when we were eighteen - which somehow found its way in “Miss Rolling Eyes” – needless to say, we’re good friends and know each other well.

He asked how things have been and I told him that, though some things have made it rough recently, I’m feeling great, that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter and brighter, really its nearly within reach, but those last few steps are the most painful to take – you’re weak and broken down and tired, it takes a lot of motivation to lift each foot, but the pain feels good, you’re almost there, you can see that you've made progress, that it wont be long now. I’m so excited about the songs I’m writing, its all looking more and more hopeful.

When I left, I had a desire that I haven’t had in a long time. I followed it, and found myself driving towards where I went to high school, where there’s a road that leads up to Skyline Blvd, a street that twists and winds from hairpin turn to hairpin turn along the ridge of the Oakland Hills under the canopy of pines and redwoods. When I was just old enough to drive, I used to spend many a bored and lonesome night listening to music as I aimlessly traversed the highest points of the city, reflecting on my position in the world – I did way too much of that, and obviously still do.

We used to drive up there on the weekends, three or four of us packed in one of our folk's cars. We’d find ourselves at one of those clearings, where the trees part and there’s a turnout on the side of the road. At those spots the entire world opens up below you. Millions of lights shimmer from San Jose to San Francisco, San Leandro to San Rafael. You can see the entirety of the bay area in motion below you, can make out the lights of every bridge that crosses the bay. We would sit on the hood of the car and get high, talk about inane shit that felt deep and meaningful and satisfying. I would try to picture the land before me barren of infrastructure, of houses, of people. I would think about how long it would take to walk the fifteen-minute drive from my folk’s house to school. I would vent out all of my anxieties, all of my hopes, all my ambitions and let them collect over the city, join in with the clouds of stress and worry that fill the air above any metropolis, and leave with a clear head. Those nights always ended with that feeling that you get when you're walking away from a campfire towards a tent with a tired voice and tired bones, where the quiet and dark of the night smother you with sentimental thought.

I listened to some of the demos I recorded in the last week as I drove along up there. It really put them into a different context. It felt uncomfortably familiar, dusty memories began to cumulate at the forefront of my brain. I thought about the beater ’84 Corvette that my buddy Mike saved up for and coveted as his source of pride, the same way I treated my guitar. We used to take that thing up by Skyline High where a string of small lights line the road for maybe a mile, where all the kids would kill the headlights and maneuver between two constant parallel strings of light, the only thing penetrating the dark.

I pulled over at one of the outlooks we used to sit at and thought about the distance that time drives between a feeling and a place. I thought about how much bigger this chunk of the world was to me then, how it just keeps on closing in. I thought about how the difficulty of any moment, of any transition, of success or failure is all worth it if the end result is a new and better perspective. That’s the shit that all the people I respect are made of - tears of pain, tears of joy – It comes out in explosions, however they feel, but it takes them somewhere else, somewhere closer.

As I sat there looking out, Emmylou Harris was singing a Neil Young song on my stereo. She was singing, “Meet me at the wrecking ball, wrecking ball…”