Thirty Days of Music: #6

“day 06 – a song that reminds you of somewhere”

This takes me two places at once- one rooted in reality, and the other a million miles away into my imagination and expectations.  They couldn’t be more different.

This evokes my second apartment in Richmond, VA.  It was the bottom floor of a three-floor dilapidated building from the 1940s, a three-bedroom cave facing the alley.  We were nestled under the fire escape, with a small alley of cracked concrete and broken glass separating us from the next building over.  I had the biggest room, and also the only one with no means of heating or air conditioning.  This didn’t serve as a deterrent for the generations of cockroaches that lived and died on the margins of our existence- no matter how clean we kept it, the bottom of a building is where they thrive.  The alley cats find a home with us as well, crawling through the bottom landing under our bedrooms, and having blood-curdling catfights at all hours under our beds.  Have you ever heard a cat scream out?  It sounds like what I imagine a murder sounds like.  Between them, the homeless people that slept outside our door, and the crust punks that slept in the back door, it was a place with character, to say the least.

There was no natural light that shone through my windows, except the ambient.  No movement of air.  No quiet in such close proximity to equally-condensed neighbors.  It became my sweatbox, my own little isolation cell, and did I ever get spun up in that little place.  It’s not that it was bad, per se- but it did lead to a rather overheated and mentally precarious existence.  I had cool neighbors and roommates, adding further color to the experience.  One girl walked up the fire escape unprompted with a case of Natty Light and asked if we wanted to share in it; one roommate brought in a piano and played covers of Black Sabbath; the other roommate (nameless to protect the innocent) and I threw legendary and destructive parties within.  Another friend moved in two floors above me, and had his entire room cleaned out by a burglar, leaving only ‘Point Break’ on VHS.  It was memorable, from the shiny parts to the warts.  But it did put the zap on my head.  I drank a lot, I wrote lots of awful, solipsistic poetry, and basically dwelled further and further into my head until life managed to pull me out.

And that’s when I discovered ‘Jalamanta.’  From beginning to end, this album gave voice to the surreality I was faced with, and took me away.  It’s the kind of album you put on and just focus on, not as background music, but as foreground stimulation and experience it.  It brought me to my imaginations of the desert, that place of legend that I have always dreamed about.  All of a sudden, that hot breeze whistling through the alley wasn’t the Richmond swamp stink- it was the wind whipping through the Joshua trees of the low desert.  It was my passport out of an oppressively urban reality.

But now, I remember it all fondly.  Living there gave a color to my life that taught me a lot, and I’m grateful to have had the chance.  I’ve long believed that everyone should have to work retail or food service at least once in their life, and everyone should have to live in a shithole apartment and scrape by to make a living at least once.  I paid my dues, and now, with the benefit of distance, I can see what it really taught me.  But if I have to deal with rats and roaches again, I might be singin’ a different tune.


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