This could get me in trouble, but I’m going to start posting chunks of a memoir. I’ve been asked what it’s about and I don’t know what to say. Very loosely it is about songwriting. But it would be hard to write about the method and not the purpose. You’ll see that I’m not really explaining stories behind songs. I assumed that would happen. For about 70,000 words I tried, very tiredly, and was reminded that I already had the songs.
Posting this could get me in trouble because I don’t know where to go if I start. Of the 70,000 words, I’ve begun a rewrite that is about 3,900. That’s a good week of blogging for me, and PRECISELY the reason why the book is not developing. I have to pick. So knowing that I’ve only got a four day head start, here’s the first chapter for today.
Of course this is a draft, and your feedback is welcome. And if you think it’s any good, help me spread the word.
There is a bike standing in the grass with a cable locked through the back wheel. It’s the kind of bike someone would steal only if they were running late, or maybe being chased. The seat is rotted away and yellow foam is lashed down with less than enough duct tape. The bike is red.
I’m in painter’s clothes, out front of an old Folk Victorian Four Square house. On the front porch stand ten columns supporting a balcony with white railing and corner boxes. More columns spire into a third level, a gable of wooden shakes. There is enough paint work here to last for weeks, and songwriting is a trade that lends itself easily to others. Ashley is home now, expecting a baby, and probably asleep or Googling whether or not she can eat something.
All the new paint was stolen off the porch this morning. It was carried off in a child’s plastic wagon, also stolen by the perpetrator. The wagon’s prior contents are strewn across the lawn: trucks, buckets, and blocks. A new order of paint and a police report are underway and I endure the recounting of the story to many an indignant neighbor. Waiting, I begin a side project given to me by the lady of the house. Reassembling her 1989 Volkswagon Vanagon. The interior had been deconstructed to the hull and the pieces stacked around the basement. An air conditioner leak had been suspected, maybe even fixed.
The massive, white house stands very stoically. The yard is strewn with maroon van benches and floor carpets, side panels and a tan plastic air conditioner which hangs on the ceiling and looks like a shuttle. Children’s toys rest in the grass and are fingerprinted by the police as ladies talk on the porch with babies on their hips. My legs dangle out the back door of the boxy van onto the sidewalk as I fiddle at something overhead with a ratchet. It’s another windy September day in Old North Knoxville.
Across the street is a Volvo stationwagon with a “For Sale” sign in the window. I’d noticed it yesterday, a 2000 year model asking $3000 or best offer. Over my kneecaps, I raise my chin between my shoulders and see another painter opening the Volvo’s hatch door.
“How’s it run?” I ask, sitting up in the back of the van.
He looked up at me, noting my painter’s paints and a t shirt turned inside out. I had a crescent wrench in one hand and a piece of German ingenuity in the other.
“Runs fine,” he said. “Great little car.” He was slowing down. “ Clean.” And then he put his hands in his pockets.
“I’ll be honest with you though. It’s my 8th or 9th Volvo and I think I’m through with them.”
“They always got the same problem. The transmission leaks and an axle breaks. It loses two quarts’ a oil a month and I can’t ever park it in anybody’s driveway. Maybe I just need to get a pickup.”
I nodded again.
He went on to talk about how his ex wife got his very favorite Volvo, also mentioning how she probably deserved it, and he delivered what I reckoned to be the most interesting sales pitch I’d ever heard. And whether or not he meant it, I took it as a complement. The yuppies, trendy, with little dogs, who take lots of jogs, they’re the ones who get the other Volvo wagon pitch. I suppose I was not a man to be lied to about a car. We spoke as likened outsiders, both invited on this street to do our jobs and soon to be elsewhere on another. But I could hit a baseball to my house and the station wagon would be nice with the baby. Better than a bike. And we have a little dog, too.
I walked back to the empty van and its wreckage in the lawn. I pressed the rear AC unit up into the ceiling, crammed the wires and cords inside, and held it with my shoulders in a deep squat. I reached blindly overhead into the speaker hole as I tried to thread the first screw. It misaligned by the smallest angle and my entire body burned as I held the awkward posture, knees to my chest. I was going by feel, on intuition based on past assemblies, submitting to whatever angle the German maker had once fancied. After a period of a million indiscernible negotiations from toes to fingertip, the screw caught. I tightened it by hand and he second screw came easier than the first. The benches and panels made sense after that, and last of all the carpets returned the van to a worn, although finished appearance.
I was a little bit sad to slam the door shut and finish my day as a Volkswagon mechanic. The man in the Volvo was gone. My sundries and brushes were still in the backpack. There was still no paint, and I unlocked the bicycle and pedaled home.
No time to waste, I had sort of a gig.