How I Fell in Love with Sparks, & Myself (Again?)
The day after my grandfather died, I dyed my hair black. I told everyone I dyed my hair black because I believe in that excellent tradition of mourning, which I do––death is the only bad thing that happens to life, loss is unbearable, and I believe that in the wake of such loss, we are all entitled to spend a period of as “not ourselves.” Wearing black is the only coherent way of communicating that ego-coma to the world, and I think it’s important. People shouldn’t take us for what we are when we’re in that, because we’re not.
My mother wore black for the rest of the year.
I dyed my hair black because I wanted to do all the worst things a person who isn’t a psychopath could possibly do––freebase low-quality heroin and cut up my arms with a rusted-over Olfa knife; ash cigarettes into children’s mouths; call my best friend a cunt and mean it––but I couldn’t do them, because I loved my grandfather too much. So I did the only rebellious thing I could think to do that didn’t hurt anyone:
I dyed my hair black, as if I were thirteen again, and I walked to the post office.
I spend a lot of my time thinking about the word “best” vis-à-vis the word “favorite,” i.e. “the best band” as opposed to “my favorite band”; e.g. “The Beatles are the best band, but Sparks are my favorite.” My mother’s parents have always been my favorite people, and I think I spent my entire life waiting for one of them to die, and this might be an awful thing that I’m about to say, but I think in a way I kind of wanted it, because I knew that when it happened, it would be the worst thing that ever happened to me. And I guess what I thought I wanted was what I gave myself: an excuse to be bad.
Dyeing my hair black was maybe the only one thing I did that entire month of November that didn’t hurt anyone. I called in sick to work for the entire rest of that week and cried. I cried so hard that when I think back to that November I think mostly of what happens to your spit when you cry that hard, which is that it becomes very thick, and you’re constantly drooling it all over yourself, but you don’t care, and you don’t eat, and you don’t sleep, and you don’t care enough to go out and buy more black clothes, and you don’t care enough to do your laundry, so you just wear whatever, but your hair’s black and your mouth’s black, and when you speak what you give to the world is a mouthful of toxic black hair dye to their faces, and nothing anyone says can ever be right, and nobody can help you, and I’m not saying that it wasn’t genuine––oh my God, it was genuine. But what I’m trying to say might be another awful thing to you, which is that I liked it.
You have no idea how big the world can be. I met a friend for drinks the other night and he told me it’s possible you can slow time down. All you have to do is start thinking about time in a different way, you just have to feel it, I checked it out and it was true so I did it. You can make it so you live so much longer that way.
It’s the second day of December. It’s my grandmother’s birthday. I have the day off, and before today Sparks were but a glimmer, a tiny ruby in the corner of my eye, a diamond in the place of all that watery pink stuff. I used to mix them up with a band named The Tubes: one of them put out single named “White Punks on Dope,” the other released an album that had a picture of two Japanese chicks with powder all over their faces on the cover. The Japanese chicks powder band are acknowledged as being the better of the two; they’re the band I want to hear. They’re Sparks. Today’s the kind of a day where “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” makes a lot of heavy sense, and I want the rest of my life to be soundtracked by a band I’ve never heard before. I choose to begin with the album you’re meant to begin with, Kimono My House––the famous one, the Japanese chicks one––and I choose to begin a the song called “Falling In Love With Myself Again,” because it’s the song with the coolest title.
It begins with a battle cry, a call to arms.
(THREE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS) I had a nice night with him that night. It was, I’d say, our best night. I don’t think we were on the beanbag chair but maybe. I mean I know we weren’t on the beanbag chair but I wish we’d been. We were on the couch in his kitchen, which is what happens when you date a twenty-one-year-old: there are couches in kitchens, and the bottle of cheap champagne you drank at his Hallowe’en party a year and three months ago is still holding down the fort over at the glass recyclables graveyard in the corner. And there are beanbag chairs. It’s the kind of thing I wished I could’ve had when I was twenty-one but couldn’t find him, because back then all the twenty-one year old dudes I would’ve wanted to sleep with were busy fucking twenty-six-year-olds, so I dated all the twenty-six-year-old dudes my twenty-six-year-old self can’t pin down because they’re disgustingly dating children. As am I.
I insisted we listen to Sparks; it was time for me to go but I was pushing it, we kept saying “We need to quit while we’re ahead”––we were worried one of us might say the wrong thing and fuck it up. Which I did. But it didn’t come from any terrible place, I just wanted him to hear Sparks. The best thing about dating a dude born in the nineties is that they own every Mac appliance on the market, so you can be sitting on any kooky furniture anywhere in his whole place and there’s always one iSomething in the vicinity, lying around as if it were a bank statement, to check Youtube on. I tried to find the video of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” where Russell Mael is wearing a winter scarf and matching Fair Isle sweater, but it must have been deleted off Youtube, so we settled for the one from German TV where he’s wearing no shirt and a plaid jacket with white palazzo pants. My twenty-one-year-old didn’t like it, and I asked him “WHY????”––aghast––he told me Russell Mael doesn’t have enough “swag.”
I could not dignify his use of the word “swag” by arguing either for or against Russell Mael having it. I walked home in some cute fat snow listening to the Sparks song “Roger” on headphones, Russell Mael interrogating me with Has she got the balance for you? Has she got the balance for you? Has she got the balance for you? (which I think is such an ingenious question to ask oneself when feeling iffy about a love interest), and I decided that she hadn’t. And I don’t mean to say anything particularly damning against the dude in question––he’s a wonderful human, and I’d like to state for the record that that was the only time I’ve ever heard him say swag (thank God). All I mean to say is that on that night, in the snow with Roger, I decided, definitively, that I will never love a man who doesn’t love Sparks. I try not to think too hard in terms of ‘dealbreakers’––that’s trashy––but it’s just so obvious: if you are capable of listening to Sparks without hearing the weirdness of yourself reflected in the weirdness of their music, you are necessarily incapable of loving me.
Sparks is brothers, two brothers, and their music is made inside an insular cove of inside jokes and brotherdom. Growing up as an only child, I wished to be an orphan and a twin, the whole world existing only as the two of us; it was just you and me and the whole world ended is the sentence I’m addicted to writing about it. And is writing my twin or only confirmation of my singularity, or is music my twin? And so where is this thing going except for the direction I slung it in. I’ve painted myself into the corner of “It’s a story about how I listened to a song called ‘Falling In Love With Myself Again’ and, in doing so, I fell in love with myself again!”––
It felt like that happened, but it didn’t. The “again” in the phrasing implies that I’d fallen out of love with myself to begin with, which I never did, though it felt like it. The grandiosity of my grandfather’s death ripped me out of my own insular cove of self-involvedness; it became more compelling for me to contemplate the peculiarity of the man whose lap I once sat on being gone, officially gone, than it did to think about myself and my little love affairs, which threw me off my game. I’ve spent my entire life making affordances for other peoples’ insecurities, their self-loathing weighed down by qualifiers like “I know it’s weird that” or “Is it lame if,” not so you’ll tell them something’s weird or lame, but rather so you’ll tell them anything, proving (to them) that they exist. Insecurity is a symptom of egomania, the obsessive desire to connect the self to the world surrounding it. Self-celebration, I think, is the inner light.
The fear of not existing which manifests itself as insecurity in all the sad sacks I just trash-talked reveals itself as an at times crippling fear of death in me. It was not a fear I’d ever asked to face, and when asked to face it, I couldn’t. They say you’re supposed to meditate because it’s kind of like dying but isn’t, but find me one artist in the world who has every successfully meditated. I mean, I’m sure there have been thousands, but thousands over the entire course of human history? Rounds down to obviously nothing.
It’s not necessary. Writing, engaging with writing, engaging with art, is more than just confirmation of my singularity; it’s more than just my twin. We’re alone together, alone with everybody, and we’re never alone. I’ve never once felt alone while I was alone, unless I was watching TV.
There’s a Sparks song, “Whippings & Apologies,” it’s my favorite song. The lyrics go And it’s me that she hates and they go She has holy water running through her veins and I’ve never once related them to any relationship I’ve ever been a part of, some wild thing in which I’ve whipped or been whipped and one of the two parties apologized. I don’t remember hearing that song for the first time and I don’t remember when I started liking it, loving it, or when it became my favorite. I love it because it’s got guitars and I love guitars, and they’re amazing guitars, and it never makes me feel anything except for that I love Sparks, love guitars, and if ever I’ve cried while hearing it I’ve only cried because I love guitars. It’s neither meditation nor dying but it’s both. I try to imagine things that dying could be to make it less terrifying, and so I imagine this song.
Religiously-motivated death-paradigms are inappropriate because they sell death as being something better than being alive, which ridicules life, and is purposeless. We’re all open-handed in this situation, I mean like a cartoon character looking dumb-eyed at the reader, his palms held up to the sky. We have no idea, so whatever we do, it better benefit ourselves right now because it’s not worth fucking life over in the name of having a nicer death experience maybe. I’m a big believer in burning the candle at both ends.
I don’t know where Papa is but I want it to be good. I’m thinking maybe death is something neither scary nor non-scary; it’s just something different, something weird. And I’m thinking about the guitars, how different transcending into and inside of them is from every other element of my life, and I’m imagining this thing from my childhood, when I used to freak out about death as a child: I imagined an apocalyptic Mad Max-ish landscape, a bold night sky hanging over a desert, the ground splitting in two, a very straightforward scraggle: the line on the monitor of your heartbeat, a child-rendered mountainscape in crayon. To fall into that chasm meant death and only death, only the color black, an eternal falling, with no thoughts and no person and nothing but not even yourself and that forever, and now I’m imagining that same chasm, only with Sparks.
But not even Sparks. Just those guitars from that one song, but not even those guitars. The real Sparks guitars are one one-millionth of what the death-guitars would sound like, those crazy death-guitars shining so crazy-hard you can’t even know to think to feel it. All that music ever did was distract me from crying and missing him but I don’t even care anymore I just want to carry on and know it:
Death is the best guitars.
Art by Jen May.