The Seven Gables

“What other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one’s self!”

― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables

1.

When I was nine years old, I had a dream that I couldn’t wake up from. My parents buckled me into our used minivan and drove me to the hospital. I screamed so loudly, and for so long, that by the time we pulled into the Emergency room turnaround, I had ruptured my vocal chords. The injury took eight months to fully heal and gave me my trademark baritone. I honestly don’t think the band would be doing as well without it, but that could just be my ego.

A specialist I saw four times a year, Dr. Bachman, had me categorize my night terrors in a dream journal. He gave me a three-letter code. “C’s,” were dreams that I could immediately convey to my parents upon waking. “B’s” were dreams that I could eventually work my way up to revealing over time. And “A’s,” were the dreams I was never able to speak of, to anyone. Strangely, I often dreamt of self-diagnosis. You see I knew I was afflicted, but I didn’t know how specifically. Dreams are a mystery to us all. I would find myself dreaming that I had cancer of the soul or that I was linguistically schizophrenic and always said “you” when I meant “me” or “her” or “him” or “dog.” I guess I wanted to get some clue as to what it was about me that was abnormal… what it was that so clearly frightened my parents. The dream about No-Nana, the one where I hurt myself from screaming, it was classified as an “A+”. I would have never willingly mentioned it to my parents, but through the coaxing of drugs, the doctors were able to get some details from me. It is a sensation I remember distinctly from childhood, knowing how badly I was scaring my parents. On the occasion of the dream about No-Nana, I knew that the doctors were scared too.

I had that dream on my mind the night we played the Pageant in St. Louis. It was during a Mardi Gras week celebration, and we headlined. It was the peak of our tour and we had been looking forward to the show for months. People in the Midwest know this… St. Louis can party. And during Mardi Gras? Fuck. We sold the show out, although surprisingly, we had sold out nearly the whole damn tour. In a rock band, even if people tell you things are going well, you never expect to make money off a tour. We had been in the black on the last two by quite a bit. This third one though, our first as a headliner, was shaping up to be the best yet. Life on the road was a dream of another kind, one I traced back to the moment I received a taped cassette version of “London Calling” as a Kris Kringle present from Nick Boskin in the fourth grade. Or perhaps even before that, when my Dad made me sit down and listen to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and the venue was nameless and the crowd wore deaf ears, but his expression told me that it was important. Anyway, the sold-out Mardi Gras show should have been, by nature, excessively celebratory, but a subtle distortion hung about my evening like smoke. There was one small feature of the evening, so desolate in its specificity that, despite the triumph of the occasion, I could think of little else afterward. I just sat in Denny’s, drank whiskey from my flask, and thought about this lady. The waitress must have asked me a half-dozen times if I was sure I wasn’t hungry. The thought of food repulsed me… how could I eat, when that lady was out there, just standing, with her back turned?

A lady in the audience had kept her back to the stage. She faced the opposite direction for the entire two-hour show. She had silver hair. I fixated on her, and to some extent, deprived myself of the atmospheric joy of our rock’n-roll bonfire. Seemingly randomly, it occurred to me, during the bridge of our third number, that I did not own a Bible. For some reason, that bothered me the whole damn show too. Billups and the Breakups, that was us, playing a sold-out fucking show, at a major venue, on the largest party day of the year, yet I couldn’t enjoy it because some crazy old lady had her back to the stage the whole time. Up there on stage, all sweat and earth and moon and planets and comets and tails blazing, I knew I was living my dreams. I knew I was drinking whiskey and doing coke. And also rock’n-roll, I knew I was doing that too, but what I was focused on, during the show and even after, when the boys said they were starving and had to go to Denny’s, was the unwatching back of the silver-haired woman and the fact that I didn’t own a goddamn Bible. The end was near. Who fucking needed pancakes? It pissed me off. And unsettled me.

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Keep the lights on when you read the rest of this disturbing tale in SN9: Fat Tuesday, hitting bookstores February 28th!

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