“Too weird to live, too rare to die”

Buckle up. I’ve been reminiscing about the good old days quite a bit lately.

Writing does that to me. Moving probably doesn’t help either. And trying to fill in the gaps with the Muse has been a big part of that as well.

It’s been an interesting saga, these last 14 years. I tell these stories, these snippets of my life that happened and even I have a hard time believing them. I can’t imagine what those around me must think. I’ve come to understand, in a visceral sense, how Neal Cassidy must have felt. Always around it. Always driving the bus. And always just on the outside.

It’s a lonely place there. Not quite part of the actual world that’s told in On the Road, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Hell’s Angels and the other books where he appeared. And not quite believable to those who weren’t there.

The infamously almost famous.

Somehow I wonder if that’s why I write. If that’s why I am so hell-bent upon writing the stories of my life. To prove to myself that they happened. As if writing them down makes them somehow more real. Less legend. Less myth.

Which my stories must surely be now. Mythological tales. When I tell the stories, I’m invariably asked by my students — even those colleagues who believe the stories — why I would ever stop. Few of them believe me. (I know this because every once in awhile, they will do a little research and track me down with a “oh shit” conversation.) Why would leave and come back to Kentucky. Or move to Indiana. To the questioners, the people who dream as I did once of something larger, my answers are hollow.

They are to me at times too, although less so these days. Mostly.

But it’s hard not to remember these stories, to tell these stories, without a bit of melancholy, knowing these days are gone:

  • The first story I ever wrote, in Louisville, I met Jim Carroll and Hunter S. Thompson. Carroll invited me up to his room to watch an interview with PBS. At 3 in the morning. He had a briefcase. What was inside is still a mystery.
  • Years later, while writing a story about the World’s Longest Outdoor Sale, while dabbling in things that are best not written about, I faxed a series of bizarre requests to Thompson.
  • I once had a job interview that consisted of me moving office equipment out of the office before the sheriff’s could bolt the doors.
  • William Gibson told me that he didn’t use email because he didn’t trust it.
  • My third day at Wired, I showed up with swollen hands from a fight the night before; the only fight I’ve been in where I was entirely justified. My editor asked me what happened. I said, “You don’t want to know who you just hired.”
  • After the final Napster trial, I got drunk with the entire recording industry’s legal team; I berated them all for destroying the fabric of the Internet.
  • I nearly came to blows with Liquid Audio CEO Gerry Kirby after the first Future of Music Coalition summit because I publicly mocked his assertion that digital rights management (DRM) was good for consumers; I was still hung-over from the previous nights party. This was written about by other reporters. Despite all of that, I was also right.
  • I once had a sword fight in the middle of the street in Austin, somewhere around 4 am. I also found out that you can quite easily pierce furniture with a blade.
  • I can tell you definitively that random gun fire does not rouse the cops in Texas. I will not tell you how I know this.
  • I have spent, on several occasions, days hanging out with bikers; on one such occasion, my photographer threw up on a Jehovah’s Witness. A few days later, I threw all of our stuff out of the hotel room and convinced said photographer we had to flee. Immediately.
  • I met Jimi Hendrick’s parents in Seattle while on my way to see Jim Carroll, several years after our first meeting; I did this when I walked through an interview with them on the anniversary of their son’s death. I got sidetracked and hung out with one of the MC5s. I was in no condition to do any of that.
  • Jim Rose and I, on my first freelance assignment, spent a large part of the interview discussing which one of us was still the drunkest.
  • I once told the CEO of Ticketmaster he was “full of shit” for claiming they worked for consumers during my time at Wired and then went to an acquisition party the company threw; I was thrown out. I was also correct.
  • You can be knocked out by a head butt.

More than melancholy, though, it’s weird to start committing all of this to paper, committing all of it to circles outside of my writers. Out of context it’s bizarre. Hell, it’s probably bizarre when it’s in context.

The thing that I can’t explain, though, is there was a controlled burn to the insanity. Not that I knew where it was going to end (although I knew where it might). Not that I didn’t do awful things along the way that, if I could, I would take back in a second.

But there was a plan.

I have always tried to understand writing viscerally. When I went through my Hawthorne phase, I filled my apartment with black lights so that there were weird lights and shadows everywhere. I took pictures using only black-and-white film. When I discovered Fitzgerald, I began to dabble in the decadence of places I didn’t fit in, which included showing up to a wedding in ripped jeans, a do-rag, biker books and a leather jacket. When I moved to Thompson and Kesey and Robbins, I went dove headlong into the wild existence of life on the fringes. With David Foster Wallace, I’ve spent very public time in the very dark places.

The waves of my life are laid out on my bookshelves.

It’s life as writer. Which for me is the only way I know how to understand writing. To understand the words. To understand the rawness of what exists underneath those words.

From the outside, I can only imagine how it looks. I have never been on the outside of it. I’ve always been on the bus. Driving to Woody Creek. Through the darkened forest, broken by the wisps of sunlight glinting off my glasses. Thinking. Always thinking. And looking for Daisy.

Until now. The last 15 months. Sober and terrified that there was nothing underneath the stories. But I found something, which for most people would seem inconsequential. For me, it’s meant everything.

Sitting in the cafes, working on my books, finding — after all these years — my own voice in my words. I look back on that other life, that decade of searching. And I wonder if I would have found that voice without it all. Or whether I just lost 10 years of searching.

I honestly don’t know. But as I sit here in Indiana, watching the sun go down while I write, I get the sense that the isolation is good for me. There are no expectations in solitude. The truth is as it was. The events happened as I remember them.

And there’s nobody that I need to convince that they did. No naysayers who survive by trying to discount everything around them instead of searching on their own.

And when I got there, to that place of solitude, my voice was waiting.