This is the last in a series of posts I started in late May and have published daily for 37 days now. It’s inspired by a three-day solo trek on the Washington coast, with side-story memoir scenes wrapped by a few themes. I wrote each post live, pulling in stories I drafted before or wrote for the first time, for this project. You can sample in any order (it’s non-linear) or start at the beginning here, which is how I imagined the end when I began.
Thanks to everyone who’s read and commented and shared in this with me, and in particular to Kevin Brennan, author and musician, for inspiring me to do this by recently publishing his memoir, In No Particular Order.
When it was time to say goodbye Donnie and I hugged and I got in my car, he said keep writing, walked across the street for lunch. I pulled out of the parking lot and saw him again on his phone outside the restaurant, waved, then wondered as I crossed the bridge on the car ride home how I’d finish my story now, knowing what I knew about Chris Cornell.
I told Donnie about my project, that in some ways it was inspired by Chris dying—but then the mood in the salon changed, got quiet. Donnie was keeping something back, asked, could he tell me? And there was nothing good he could say about him, he had a friend who was childhood friends with Chris—and he wasn’t all that everyone said he was, he was a lot less, Donnie thought.
We rode the elevator down and talked about it, the candlelight vigils, the people coming up to Donnie with their stories crying, wanting Donnie to hear. I told him it made me sad, I wish I didn’t know: Donnie said for him, they have to be good people and real artists (both) to get his respect. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, if that was fair. I was still in the ‘protect Chris’ mindset—I was afraid there’d be some story about him that would come out, “the true story.” I didn’t want to hear it.
They were all like that Donnie said, that scene in the ’90s. Junkies, low-lifes. There was some sadness in their self-destruction I probably romanticized but knew nothing about. Those stories people told about seeing Chris play, or the first time they heard such-in-such…the loss of Chris was a loss in their own histories they mourned, a group-mourn in Seattle for a figure we thought represented us, could be the hero we wanted for ourselves.
We got outside the office and Donnie told the story of a famous writer friend he knew, a story the writer told Donnie about seeing Chet Baker play back in the ’80s: when Chet took a break halfway through, one of his handlers came over to the writer, invited him backstage to hang with Chet, to have a drink and a smoke. But the writer declined, said no thanks, I just came for the music. You were better off that way, not knowing.
And of all the stories Donnie told me in his salon I rarely wondered at their truth, but it was possible someone would reveal Donnie as otherwise too, as different than I imagined. We knew each other through these 20 minute increments every couple of months, for years now. The time he shaved my head when I got my promotion, that last job at Starbucks. The same week we bought our house, and he said your energy is flowing now man, let’s just shave your fucking head. He said it like that and I didn’t hesitate, I said yes.
And earlier this year we talked about the band King Crimson because Donnie’s friends with Robert Fripp, has met Eno, has worked with a number of musicians on that scene: each time I sit in his chair and we look in the mirror, it’s like pushing ‘shuffle’ on a deck of stories, the same with my step-dad John: pivoting off one scene into another, spinning stories like a magic trick, like those big oily bubbles you can make with a couple of wands.
Donnie was friends with Fripp, and Fripp played with Bowie on the song “Heroes.” I could meet Fripp and be just one link away from Bowie. But Fripp wouldn’t want to talk about that time, Fripp would want to talk about Fripp. Or nothing at all.
King Crimson was doing a North American tour and kicking it off in Seattle; some of them were staying with Donnie on his house boat, they would film it, do a documentary. There’d be a private concert the night before the first show, and Donnie could get me a ticket. I thought I could do that for Loren, who really liked Crimson. Or if I met Robert, I could ask if he remembered my step-dad John: John said he’d been there that night in the studio when they recorded In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969. And John and his ex-wife Mary made guitar strings, had a special line they produced for Fripp. Surely Fripp would remember John, maybe tell me something I didn’t know about him.
I sent Donnie an email and he forwarded it to Fripp, then forwarded it back to me when he got a response. There was nothing in there about Fripp remembering John or any acknowledgment, but I shouldn’t have expected it. It wasn’t an overt thing. I was fearful I would find out less about John. Or it was better left alone, untouched.
My dad acted like that after my grandfather died: he told me one time he was excited, he’d found a box of letters grand-dad wrote my grandmother when he was in the war, in Korea. Dad was excited because he thought he could learn more about his father, he didn’t know him so well. But I don’t think it amounted to much, those letters were written to my grandmother, not my dad. Probably felt like eavesdropping, like listening in on a conversation you weren’t a part of.
I wanted to write my own story, maybe my kids would read it some day. Maybe it’s the thought you can extend yourself after you’re gone, that’s why I do it. Or trying to trap these special times, to preserve them, like that’s how they’re meant to be, saved. Or others do it because they live these imagined lives, made up, they create their own truths, private as dreams, made up meanings.
In the morning when I woke it was a murder of crows in the distance somewhere I couldn’t see and when I walked down to the lake I could still hear the sound of them, their voices, that cawing sound, combined down to one.