The Chris Cornell rat scene reveal | Field notes from the Pacific coast

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.



Categories: death, identity, Memoir, music

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. It’s so illogical and unrealistic, what we expect of our heroes. I’m reminded of rolling up a character for an RPG: your PC has more points than the average peasant, sure, but nobody gets infinite points. To become an expert in one thing, you have to put more points into that and less into something else. The game mechanics feel strikingly similar to real life: even the best humans have limited resources of skill and time. Take a man who’s an amazing writer, for instance. At some level we must realize that to produce that amazing writing, he must not only have some amount of aptitude, but also incredible dedication to this one thing, putting huge amounts of time and emotional energy into it over most of his life. The more amazing the writing is, the more likely it is that it takes up most of the writer’s resources to do that. And yet, we expect them to be great at everything else too. Literally superhuman. Like, “you’re so great at A, we expect you to be great at XYZ too,” when the opposite seems more likely to be true. We’re disappointed in them if they aren’t also supportive and engaged spouses and parents, if they can’t speak intelligently about current events, if they’re not active in the right causes, if they don’t take “just a few minutes” to be charming and kind to each and every one of their fans. And woe betide them if they ever cave in to the pressure of all that strain and freak out, drink too much, become addicted to drugs, or otherwise fail us at being perfect.

    The man in your story who declined to go backstage has a good point. Come for the music, and expect the music and nothing more. Let the rest of it be whatever it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I just have to say that’s the best comment ever. I’ll come back to it. And look forward to catching up with your writing too. Happy you came by and shares this, I could riff off it forever. Bill

      Liked by 2 people

      • Would love to hear your riff on it, please do!


      • Nobody gets infinite points, like you say. I haven’t played D&D in 25 years at least. I do remember though, I had one of the first iterations of that game…often bemoan getting rid of it, because it would be worth tons likely! Small, tan pamphlets in a nondescript, white box with red lettering. And I met a writer/illustrator in my neighborhood, here in the suburbs east of Seattle, who did illustrations for those manuals (“Brom,” you can look him up if interested).

        The hero thing, what a sociological notion right? Joseph Campbell sure dug into that. And that illogical, unrealistic set of expectations…there’s a lot to delve into there, for our own, banal happiness.

        When I found that out, or heard that I should say, from my stylist I took it as a challenge to work that “reality” into the story. But it did set me back, because I was in a strange state of mourning but selfishly wanted to use that as a trigger to do something important for myself, like to assert myself. Ah, I put too much on you though here. I like the idea of the ‘charm of making’ from that Excalibur film, the Arthur legend. We should consider that.

        Thanks for reading, and I was just thinking Joy Pixley is too cool sounding a name to be real. But you’ve made it so. It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s one thing to understand the whole hero-worship thing objectively, and another to apply that knowledge to our own heroes, especially when events conspire to connect their travails to our own struggles. And as writers, I think we’re always looking past the mundanely sordid, boring truth of things to find the mythical truths embedded deeper inside (even if we sometimes have to create them from whole cloth).

        How funny that you met someone who did those old D&D illustrations. You seem to meet an awful lot of interesting people. I lost all my old AD&D books long ago too, although I have a whole shelf of newer books, expansions, other games, monster manuals, spellbooks, etc. Great resources for my fictional world, even now.

        Since I started writing fiction for real, a surprising number of people have wondered whether my name is a pen name. It really does seem to fit with the fantasy author thing. But nope, I was just lucky that way. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Ah, then I don’t have to feel stupid when I say “hi Joy.” That’s really lovely.
        I bought a copy of Deities and Demigods a few years back, for shits and giggles as it were. I like what you say about truth there. Gosh all this is so stinking fun. Glad we met via Lynn I think. Go have a hot dog and some melon now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad we “met” too. Did you really think my name wasn’t Joy? Funny; I feel like I’m being so transparent. Also, anyone can Google me; it all checks out. 😉


      • It just sounded made up and I got some anonymous vibe from you at first (not in a bad way!). That’s good, things checking out. All the connections in the back of the entertainment system as they should. There’s only one way it works properly like that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha, funny way to put it. It’s odd; growing up I got a lot of jokes about my first name, but nobody seemed to think the full name sounded made up until pretty recently. I’m never sure what to say when people meet me and say they love my name. Um, thanks, but I had nothing to do with it?


  2. Wow, thanks for the shout-out in your intro, amigo! What a great surprise, but I have a feeling you’ve been laying the bricks for this for quite a while now.

    It’s a fascinating thing, the private lives of artists, how they probably are never what you imagine them to be, more likely racked with hangups and addictions and secret backstories. It’s what made them into artists. I did know someone back in the ’80s, though, who had a chance to hang out with Talking Heads after their concert, and he said they were really cool and down to earth. Not sure I believe that …

    Congrats on a great series. It’s been an awesome ride.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In an obtuse way you inspired me to play Fear of Music last night and that turned into observations on the Kurt Weil influences, and led to some Tom Waits for the same. Gosh, yes, I’m tired! Looking forward to connecting up with you in a couple weeks though. I’m going to read this end to end on the plane to DC and put it in a Word doc, likely do a rewrite but offline. And then see if we can work together in some capacity, even for consultation. I just want to find a way to make that happen if you’re available, so we’ll see. Happy Fourth! They say it’s your birthday. It’s my birthday too, yeah! Bill


      • Was it the Eno connection? That’d make sense …

        Sounds like a plan for your ms. I’ll make sure I’m free to help out in some way. At least a beta read with notes. Since I’m familiar with the text already it should be a breeze!

        Happy times to you, Dawn, and the girls. 🎆

        Liked by 1 person

      • Happy times to you and yours too, my friend. Again so grateful…funny, you don’t know the impact you can have on someone else and yours triggered mine, so I’m thankful for that. Yes, on Eno. It’s Led Zeppelin Tuesday here. And there’s a lot of lead to get out of it.


  3. loved the series and glad you were inspired to do it. heroes are never what you imagine them to be, like the time i met spiderman at the mall when i was 7, i asked him to shoot webs from his wrists and he couldn’t and his costume was a bit ill-fitting…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like your scene, there Beth. There’s a lot to step into when you put on that costume: you have to become more than yourself, everyone’s expectations of you, and in turn, of them. Heavy…happy you were able to check this out, meant a lot to have you as a loyal reader following. Kind of glad/sad it’s done, I’ll say. Happy Fourth! Have a bomb pop!


  4. Great finale. We can never be satisfied with our stories, like our heroes. There’s always more. And sometimes you don’t want to find out what’s lacking. Say you were published, started getting reviews; you’d soon find out. Would that change you?


    • No, definitely don’t want to find out what’s lacking. You might have heard, Woody Allen never read reviews of his work, deliberately ignored them. I mean think of that, wouldn’t it be great if you could roll like that? And why not. Now, instead, we crave the reviews so we can get some kind of credibility right? Well, I don’t know. You’re right, I am exhausted. Have you tried this Starbucks “cold brew” yet? It’s like crack, liquid crack. But costs more. Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know..the piper’s calling you to join him. Dear lady can you hear the wind blow, and did you know? Your stairway lies on the whisperin’ winds. Thanks for reading my friend.


      • What a fabulous journey. Really glad to have stumbled across your path at this time.

        John was in the studio during recording for ITCOTCK? You kidding? Shit. (italics). The VC post on that album was such a labour of love.
        Kind Crimson are amongst my favourite bands. I’m not sure I want to meet Mr Fripp, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a bizarre confluence, this and our meeting. And now this needs deeply revised, which started today. Amen, thank you Bruce for your patronage. Bill

        Liked by 1 person

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