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Posted on June 7th, 2016

The Geography of My Mind – Youth

Until very recently, my bedroom at my parent’s house was just as I left it the day I moved out for college. Over the years I put a number of things on the wall going back to my grade school days, seemingly, and it doesn’t seem I removed any decorations before putting up others. There were a lot of music posters up showcasing the diverse interests of my youth: Guns n’ Roses, Weezer, Nine inch Nails, Liz Phair, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. The tickets from the first concerts I went to were on my tackboard: The Beach Boys, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, Material Issue and Smashing Pumpkins. I used to think I was going to be an extreme skier (keep in mind I grew up in Illinois and maybe skied in Colorado a total of 15 days in high school), so I had cut out pictures from ski magazines that I subscribed to. For a time I collected comic books so there were posters of Wolverine, Spiderman and other superheroes. Other random things covered the spots that were left: notes my mom would leave me before she would go to work were all posted to the back of my door. I had a poster of Cindy Crawford in cutoff Lee jean shorts. When I was in grade school I was a big baseball fan; Jose Canseco was my favorite player. A poster of him was next to Cindy. I also had a large cutout of Chief Illiniwek, the former University of Illinois symbol. On the floor and the dresser, the bookcase and the desk, things were strewn about, almost resembling a hoarder. An old skateboard, a picture of my graduating high school class, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels, a full bottle of Moosehead beer. Stacks of old magazines I’ll never read again were in the corner: Playboy, Maxim, old skateboard and rave ‘zines. Two boxes of comic books sat at the end of my bed. Under it were a number of boxes with a hodgepodge of things. It was always comforting to see these things when I would return home, but it was also curious. Not that my folks left it all there, that was endearing, but because so much of it was evidence of the “me” of the past, not the “me” of now. That isn’t to say that some things there didn’t speak to my current sense of self; in fact, much of it did. That will be the focus going forward, after this one sidenote.

I said all that was there until very recently. Well, my folks decided to paint the whole house which included my room. That meant all the stuff had to come off the walls and none of it was going to go back up. My dad is actually quite the historian and archivist, so he did it all with tender loving care. He bought some of those big artist portfolio cases and put everything safely in order, leaving notes about where they had been in the room. I don’t think any of my friends had set foot in that room since the summer after high school, but I had a friend from grad school who moved to town and she stopped by to say hello to my folks so my dad gave her the tour. She kidded me a lot about what she saw, but I think she found it very sweet and insightful. So now when I go back to my room there are still some clutters on the floor, but everything is much more organized. It all had to be moved out to be painted, so when they put it back in they did so in a much more aesthetically pleasing fashion. My mom keeps trying to get me to cut loose of some of the stuff, but at the same time she keeps buying other things for me with the intent that I’ll take them to my new home. I never do. I have enough stuff. So the clutter rebuilds anew. My room is different there now, without all the stuff on the walls. It’s not like I spent a lot of time admiring it. Whenever I’m home the only time I’m in my old room is when I’m asleep. It’s just that now there is one less thread connecting me to my youth…

All those posters and old ticket stubs signal that music was pretty important to me from an early age. I remember the first 45 I bought (yes, that’s right), it was Genesis’ Invisible Touch. My older brother took me to the local record shop (god, I miss those). I remember liking the song, but I think he just wanted to save his money so he duped me into buying it so he could reap the pleasure without having to pay for it. I was brought up on the original era of MTV (and I’m happy to hear they are going to go back to the old format of ACTUALLY PLAYING MUSIC soon, at least in part). Many afternoons I would spend watching videos in front of the tube, leading me to go buy albums, and more often, cassette singles (yes, that’s right). Some of that music I bought back then is embarrassing now. A guilty pleasure in retrospect, I guess. I mean, Firehouse’s Don’t Treat Me Bad, Wilson Phillips’ Hold On and Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine? Shiver. But still, some of the stuff I bought back then and loved is still great today. Guns n’ Roses being the most significant to my personal history.

I never got to see Guns n’ Roses. I was too young when they were playing in their heyday and they never came anywhere near us. They broke up while I was still in high school, and admittedly they took a backseat to other bands for a while after that. But they always had some magnetic draw over me. I still fondly recall the videos for Paradise City, Estranged, Don’t Cry, November Rain, Sweet Child O’ Mine and Welcome to the Jungle. I remember buying the albums Appetite for Destruction and Lies, and dubbing the Use Your Illusion I & II albums from a friend. I had a poster in my room of the Gunners that was modeled after their transformational first album. It had the band sitting in the foreground with Slash barely sober enough to sit upright. Above them were four of the same images of what was supposed be the cover of Appetite but which inevitably got pulled by the record label (the so-called robot rape scene; I wonder how my mom let me have that in my room. A different time, I guess…). This poster was 3’x4’ and covered a good section of my wall. I eventually gave it to a friend in college and it didn’t get treated so hotly. It made it out though to get framed with all its many crumples and tears. In some ways it is even more rock n’ roll now. It’s out in southern California, just miles from the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Strip where the band spent a lot of time in the 80s. So maybe that is very fitting.

I saw the “new” version of Guns n Roses in 2006, but Axl Rose was the only original member. I remember enjoying myself at the show, but being that I never saw them again for 10 years must indicate that it wasn’t that awesome. I think I wanted to see the real thing, the original lineup. I wanted to be transplanted back to my youth. When I lived in SoCal back in 2003, I spent a lot of time at the Rainbow and my love of GNR was rekindled. After the failed experiment in 2006, my love didn’t go away, I was just left longing for a reunion. Fast forward to 2016.

When I heard that GNR would be reuniting (in part) for Coachella, my first thought was that I needed to be there. While there were rumors that the band might do some other shows, I knew that Axl and his relationship with other members had been so volatile for 20 years that they could theoretically breakup after the first song. Coachella is an expensive affair and thankfully they announced some “warmup” shows in Las Vegas. I made sure I had a ticket for that first night (only partially spoiled by them playing to a private party the week earlier in Los Angeles) and prepared myself for what I had dreamed about for quite some time. There were only three of the five original members, but naively, or at least indifferently, I felt that was good enough. I mean Slash and Axl is who I really wanted to see together anyhow. Throwing Duff in also added a little more sweetness to the mix.

As I’ve written elsewhere, anticipation is often the mother of ruination. But fortunately that would not be the case on this night. The band came on at midnight and ripped through an amazing set. Sure, Axl was hobbled by a broken foot and couldn’t charge around the stage like the 80s, and they played some songs off of the Chinese Democracy album which was really an Axl solo project, but other than that, I was a kid again. I screamed the word to every song with one of my buddies. I never loved rock n’ roll more than I did that night. And I’m not sure that moment can be recaptured. GNR is set to play 25 dates this summer. None of them will be anywhere near me, so it is doubtful that I could go anyways. But I’m curious if that second time would be as amazing as the first. Maybe, I hope it would be, but lightning and lust was captured in a bottle this past April in Las Vegas. I lived six years of my youth in just under 2.5 hours, and it was awesome.

Marco Esquandoles
I’m a mean machine, drinking gasoline, and honey you can make my motor hum

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