a novel excerpt by Aidan Baker
([email]aidanbaker [at] hotmail [dot] com[/email])

My CD collection is like a calendar of boyfriends. It’s not very extensive, my CD collection — ergo, my love life, obviously, hasn’t been very extensive…

Every time I go over to my CD holder to put some music on, I’m confronted by this array of albums, songs, digitized sounds, that are, yes, mine, but all reminiscent of some man, some boy who used to be part of my life. Not even boyfriends, lovers, in some cases — just some guy I had a crush on.

I remember reading something recently about the brain and smell: When your brain records a smell, it records everything else along with it — a record of your surroundings, your actions, your companions. When you smell that smell again, whatever that smell may be, all the other recorded information comes flooding back along with the olfactory memory. I think it’s the same with aural memories. With music.

I’ve been listening to the radio mostly, lately. Talk radio.

Leaving work this evening I felt…I don’t know…blah. My feet ached, my head ached — not quite a headache; more a sort of sitting-there-behind-my-eyes pain, too unassertive to decide whether it was going to be a full-fledged headache or not.

Work and been…work…what else…

The apartment is empty, of course, when I return — how could I expect it to be otherwise? It’s just sometimes I find myself imagining there’ll be someone there waiting for me, some surprise…a fairy fucking godmother…

In the doorway I kick off my shoes, let my bag drop, regardless of breakables, toss of my jacket — actually strip right down to just underwear, right there in the hallway, leave my clothes in a heap on the floor. I wander into the kitchen and peer into the fridge hoping something demanding to be eaten will leap out at me. Nothing does, but I remove a bowl of leftover pasta salad because I should really have some nourishment. As an afterthought, I grab a half-empty — or half-full, depending — bottle of wine. Wander into the living room; flop onto couch; fork food into mouth; chew mechanically; difficulty swallowing; wash down lump of food with wine…

I need some company, some sound in the silent apartment, some music. Sitting there on the couch, the dish of pasta cold against my bare skin, I stare across the room at my CD rack. I want some music but I’m incapable of choosing something, choosing anything. Stases.

Sometimes it seems that I don’t really own any CD simply because I like the music. Simply for me. Demographically, I suppose I should listen to Sarah McLachlan or The Cranberries — ‘alt-fem-rock,’ or however you want to categorize it (because everything needs categorization…) — but I’m not too fond of that kind of music. It may be partially due to an old boyfriend of mine, Aaron, who was so scathing of that kind of music. He called it ‘gen-x-adult-contemporary,’ which always seemed like an oxymoron to me. Because I can never think of gen-x-ers as adults in the first place…

Maybe I should give up on music all together.

Maybe I should sit here nearly naked in the dark and get drunk(er) on wine.

Maybe I should

But they’re not all unpleasant, musical memories. Sometimes it’s nice to revel in nostalgia (sometimes). To put on U2 and remember David…or Led Zeppelin and Andy…or…

Ronny was a tech-student. I wasn’t. It was like Romeo & Juliet. Except he probably had no idea who Romeo and Juliet were. He was beautiful. He reminded me of James Dean, except Ronny really did fit the bill of rebel-without-a-clue. He always talked about buying a motorcycle — once he was old enough to get his license, once he had enough money…It would’ve been the crowning touch for his image. I wonder if he ever managed to get one. He’s probably unhappily married now, with a brood of dirty little kids giving him as much hell as he gave his folks. Doubt he remembers me. The relationship, such as it was, didn’t last very long. A month, maybe. Which, for fifteen, is long enough, I suppose.

His hands always smelt of metals, of machines, of time spent handling drill-presses and grease-guns in the technical wing of the school. The only class we had together was gym — and even then we weren’t really together since it wasn’t co-ed. I’d watch him from our side of the gymnasium as he sweated through a game of floor hockey or dodge ball or whatever. He never looked at me. Or never let on he was looking at me. Because he must have at some point, looked at me, to have realized I existed…

Other than that one hour, we never saw each other during the day. We didn’t spend our lunchhours together. I suppose because we were both a little embarrassed of each other. Of course, our respective circles of friends knew about us, but it just wasn’t’ comfortable, me hanging out with his buddies, or him with my girlfriends. I mean, they were all tech-heads and we were, well, nerds, basically.

At the end of the day, I’d wait for him at the doors of the tech-wing, standing there with my knapsack loaded with books and homework, and he’d come sauntering along empty-handed in his tight, grubby jeans and faded t-shirt and he was just so gorgeous.

“Hey, babe,” he’d grunt and I’d immediately go all gushy inside. He was so guttural. “You coming over today?” he’d ask, snaking an arm around me.

“No, I can’t today,” I’d squeak. “I’ve got music lessons.”

“Shitty,” he’d mutter and nuzzle my neck and I’d get all hot and bothered, his sweet breath melting against my skin, and my music lesson would be absolute torture because I’d still be feeling his soft breath against my neck while trying to get the accidentals correct in a descending melodic minor scale or something and my teacher would get all annoyed because I wasn’t concentrating…


“I don’t have to be home till dinner.”

“Cool. C’mon,” and he’d wrap his calloused fingers around my sweaty hand and lead me breathless back to his house. His dad was hardly ever around and his mother seemed to work constantly. His younger sisters he’d just scowl at and tell them not to bug us lest he decapitate their barbie dolls. We’d go down to his room in the basement and make out while Metallica blasted from his dinky tape player. He made a tape for me of his favourite tunes, which I wore out listening to after he dumped me. In a fit of nostalgia, several years later, I gave in and bought one of their albums.

Metallica formed in 1981 in San Francisco and released their first album, Kill ‘Em All, in 1983. The album revolutionized heavy metal, paring away the sonic clich�s, focusing on velocity and power, giving birth to ‘speed metal’: really fast guitar and drums, jarring stop/starts, rapid time changes. Rhythm over melody. Good music for venting aggression. Perfect for adolescents…

Metallica have achieved mainstream commercial success in recent years — not without alienating much of their established fanbase — having pursued a more ‘alternative’ direction in both their music and their image (they cut off all their hair (long locks being Samsonesquely prized in the metal scene) and pierced their lips and various other body parts). I doubt Ronny would still like them. I remember him saying they’d lost it after their original bass player, Cliff Burton, died in 1986 in a bus crash while they were on tour in Sweden. Ronny never thought much of Burton’s replacement, Jason Newstead.

There were several Metallica posters, all pre-Newstead, on Ronny’s walls. This was the extent of the decoration in his bedroom. The dirty clothes, clean clothes, car magazines, music magazines, dishes, half-buried school books, and other unidentifiable debris layering the floor could hardly be considered decoration. There was only a single, small window looking out onto the alleyway between his and the neighbour’s house. It was always dim in his bedroom. It smelled of boy.

While James Hetfield howled through ‘Blitzkrieg’ or ‘Am I Evil’, Ronny and I would make out until our lips were bruised and tender and our necks were red and inflamed with hickeys. I let Ronny go so far as to removed my shirt and bra — he liked sucking my nipples; I got hickeys there, too — and I let him touch me through my pants, but it never went any further than that. I’m not entirely sure what it was held me back. We were only fifteen. He never really pressured me, though, which, particularly in retrospect, puzzles me. Maybe Ronny was as virginal, as nervous about it, as I was. However much he tried to project otherwise. Sometimes I regret that I didn’t let him, make him go further…

Why do people feel the need to screw to soft, gentle music? Make-out music? Why is Barry White so successful? I lost my virginity to Miles Davis and, sure, his music can be pretty intense, but sometimes I wish I’d lost my virginity to something like Metallica.

Of course, I mean I lost my virginity when a Miles Davis album was playing.

A friend of mine once told me about someone she knew who lost her virginity, in the back of a van, to the singer of the thrash metal band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. I suppose it’s not something she’s likely to forget…

Mark was a jazz fan. He liked to think he was a jazz musician too — he played the alto saxophone — but he wasn’t really that good. Competent, but competency doesn’t get you far in the jazz-world. I guess he was aware of it and compensated by garnering all the jazz trivia he could. He could name any song from the first few notes, tell you who was playing what, when and where and by whom it was recorded, and pretty much anything else you could think to ask about a tune, including what the musicians had for lunch after the session.

I thought Mark was cool. Very jazzy-cool, cool-jazz. His passion intrigued me. I met him in first-year university when I was desperately trying to lose my virginity. I don’t know quite how I ended up escaping high school intact — my inexperience nagged at me. I know some people think all a woman has to do is bend over to find someone to fuck her, but there has to be something there, some attraction, some connection.

We were in a jazz history course together. I don’t know why Mark was taking a jazz history course since he already knew everything. We listened to Thelonious Monk one day. He hadn’t exactly been well-received by the class, most of the class cringing and covering their ears.

When the class ended and people started filtering out, griping about how awful Monk’s music was, Mark stayed sitting, watching the other students leave with an expression of disbelief, perhaps even horror, on his face.

“What’s wrong with all these people?” he asked, as he got to his feet, shaking his head. Presumably the query was rhetorical, but I replied anyway;

“It is pretty discordant.”

“But that’s the beauty of his music. His melodic, his rhythmic discordance.”

“Rhythmic discordance?”

“Yeah. That’s how I think of it. Rhythmic discordance. And then there’s the whole issue as to whether he’s doing it intentionally. Or can he not help playing out of time? He’s fascinating. Why can’t they see that?”

He picked up speed as we left the classroom, ranting and gesticulating as we strolled through the halls of the music building. He despaired at peoples’ closed minds and how nobody really listened to music anymore.

Outside, on the steps, he paused and asked me, as if just suddenly realizing I might have an opinion; “What did you think of Monk?”

“I liked him,” I answered quickly.

Mark smiled, as if in relief.

I added; “But then I know next to nothing about jazz.”

He took the bait: “Well, let me teach you.”

He did teach me. How to distinguish styles, recognize players, tell whether something was improvised, tell whether someone was playing a fleugelhorn or a trumpet…Reams of trivia. I could name, for instance, all the players on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderly (alto sax), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Wyn Kelly (piano), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and James Cobb(drums)), the so-called definitive album of the ‘cool jazz’ genre, which was playing when I finally managed to get Mark interested in what I had to offer that a stereo system couldn’t.

I guess I got a little fixated with Mark, fixated with the idea that he’d be ‘the one’. I certainly liked him and I think he did like me. We had good conversations and enjoyed doing things together — except sex; there just wasn’t really any physical chemistry between us. I guess I wasn’t what he wanted. Maybe he didn’t find me sexually attractive. Maybe he didn’t find girls sexually attractive — in which case, I might’ve turned him off women completely.

Not that I raped him. I wouldn’t be capable of it — physically or mentally. But I guess I did force him into something he didn’t really want to do. And once in, I think he just wanted to get out, so the whole experience was over before I knew it — before I could get anything out of it besides discomfort. He came — he did ejaculate — inside me, that I know, even if only because the condom was full of semen when he pulled it off. And once he had it off, he got his clothes on and was out of my room pretty quickly.

You’d think I wouldn’t be able to stand listening to Miles anymore.

Formed in 1980 in Amsterdam by two ex-pat Brits, Edward Ka-Spel and Phil Knights (aka ‘The Silver Man’), this prolific, variously membered ensemble produces spacey, gloomy, psychedelic pop music with a classical sensibility, a convoluted mythology, found-sound sampling, and stylistic hybridization and experimentation. Ka-Spel’s lyrics — focused on doom, gloom, violence, apocalypse — are poetic, disturbing, surreal.

The Pink Dots were one of Aaron’s favourite groups. He gave me The Golden Age for my birthday — that album specifically because there’s a song on it called ‘Lisa’s Separation’:

“She covered up the mirror, hid his photo in the drawer. The sketches that he made for her were ripped up and rolling across the floor. All memories and promises and plans they’d made were scratched or burned as Lisa laid her head down for the night. There’s no escape, there’s no remission…”*

Lyrically, The Golden Age is something of a concept drama about a psychopath stalking his former lover, a model or an actress who taunts him: “she teases from the T.V. — spreads her legs in magazines. She steams his collar, she dust his shelf, she cuts his hair. She’s never there…” (from the song ‘Maniac’). It’s an interesting album, quite creepy, eerie…

Aaron used to write poems that he said were about me. He fancied himself a ‘conceptual artist’. I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that. He did a little bit of everything; some writing, some painting, some music. I met him in a Russian Literature class. “The Russians have soul,” he said. “Everyone else is just so full of shit.” My father loathed him — not that he said so, in so many words — it was the lack of words that really indicated his dislike. I took Aaron home for Thanksgiving one year, I’m not entirely sure why; to prove I could snare an interesting man? He wasn’t of course the ideal nice young man that my mother was always inquiring after.

I did like him. I’d be kidding myself if I said it was really, truly, true love. I think. The sex was good; we did it at the drop of a hat. Picking his brain was fruitful, if only because he’d come up with something so skewed it could almost be considered profound.

“You need to broaden your cultural horizons,” he told me, on my birthday, as I tore the wrapping paper from The Golden Age.

“Thank you,” I said, in all sincerity, slipping off my chair and onto his lap.

“Hang on; there’s more,” and he produced an envelope within which I found tickets to a Pink Dots’ show.

The concert was unlike anything I’d ever been to before. I felt so conspicuously normal; normal clothes, normal hair, normal self…I don’t know if I’d ever seen so many different colours of hair before. The Dots attracted a diverse crowd. There were a few people dressed like me, who could have passed for normal (and they didn’t seem too worried about fitting in). The majority seemed to be gothic types; dyed black hair, billowy black clothes, white pancake makeup — vampire chic — though within that majority, was a minority of people dressed pretty much the same, only colourful; Aaron referred to them as ‘fairy-goths’. I noticed his eyes kept straying to one such woman with rainbow coloured dreadlocks — she was encased in skin-tight leather, nothing left to the imagination, curves accentuated, flaunted…

The opening act was a sword-swallower. He started with a couple small knives — held for him by a lithe, be-pierced, bejewelled assistant — and progressed through to a blade that must have been three feet in length. It seemed to me that I could almost see the shape of it within him, the imprint of it through his bare torso. I remember wanting to touch him, trace that sword shape through his skin, see if I could feel the metal within.

For his finale, he swallowed a light-sabre — a device he had rigged up to glow like the swords in Star Wars: The club lights dimmed and the shaft cast a neon blue light across the faces of the crowd, the sweaty skin of the sword-swallower…I hoped, as the man leaned back his head and the tip of the sabre disappeared into his mouth, that it would light him up from the inside — like fingers in a flashlight — blue glowing through his torso…his flesh…but it didn’t…the club just went dark…

Aaron and I made plans for when we finished school. We were to graduate at the same time. I was going to do a couple more courses afterwards, business courses, to supplement my Liberal Arts degree, and go about securing myself a job. He was going out west for a summer job, then planned to come back east and be creative, do his art. He said he wanted to be with me, he wanted us to be together. I guess I wanted it too.

Graduation came and went and we had a bittersweet evening of goodbyes and tender sex, then he went out west. I never heard from him since.

*Play It Again Sam Records USA/Wax Trax Records, Chicago, IL: 1988.

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