Lies Of The Not-So-Beautiful People

I’ve been hooked this week on the new Sixx A.M. song “Lies of the Beautiful People.” The video includes a lot of the photography that inspired the upcoming album and book, “This is Gonna Hurt.”

Note: The videos below, when you click on them, will direct you to watch on YouTube. Please do, since you have to see it to get the point of this post.

In interviews, Nikki Sixx describes his passion for photography and how he was drawn to subjects that most “normal” people would find freakish. He photographed people with a variety of deformities and other features most people would find grotesque or even humorous.

This week he released the first two parts of a documentary on the project. In part one, he describes how the projects he embarked on brought him back to things in his childhood that affect him to this day:

Part 2 focuses on a person named St. Goddess Bunny, who describes the rough life he has lived, including a lot of physical abuse.

Reviewing this material takes me back to my own past. I was never one of the beautiful people the new song describes. But my perceptions and reactions to people who were different could be just as grotesque as the song describes.

The “Lies of the Beautiful People” are also the lies of the plain, average, ugly, fat and poor people. In my case, and that of others I’ve known, it becomes about knowing you’re ugly and mis-shaped and tormenting other, similar people just so you can feel better about yourself.

It’s a subject I’ve covered before, particularly in the posts “The Bridge Rats,” “Stiffy” and “Welcome to the Outcast Club.”

I was quite a prick to a kid named Stevie Hemeon. I used to punch him in the Theodore Roosevelt School yard because he was one of the few kids I was strong enough to hit. He never deserved it. Yet he still hung with me, kind of how high school chum Aaron Lewis did later on. I did it because he seemed weaker and weirder than me.

Stiffy had a monotone voice and was freakishly thin. People were terrible to him. Including me. The name allegedly comes from him getting an erection in the shower of the boy’s locker room, but I wasn’t there and tend to doubt it.

I haven’t seen or heard from him since the day we graduated nearly 22 years ago. I often wonder where he is, what he’s doing and if he’s ok.

He was the kid everyone made fun of — brutally. And I was probably one of the biggest offenders for the first two and a half years of high school.

On the surface he took our taunts with an expressionless face. How he reacted out of view I can only imagine.

There were a lot of bullies at Northeast Regional Metro Tech (it used to be “Vocational School” and we all called it the Voke) and I was made fun of a lot. I was picked on for being fat, for my lack of skill in sports and other things real or imagined.

So what did I do after being picked on? I turned around, found the kids who were more “pathetic” than me and attacked them verbally and physically. Mostly verbal, but I remember throwing punches at some point. Some of it was the reaction to getting picked on. Most of it was from the growing chip on my shoulder over my brother’s death and other unpleasantness at 22 Lynnway in Revere.

By junior year, I had lost a lot of weight and grown my hair long. I was deeply into metal music by then and I started to make friends among some of the so-called metalheads. He had also latched onto metal as a refuge from his pain (he was also pretty religious), and we started to relate over music.

Junior and senior year I made a big effort to be nicer to him, and in the mornings before classes began I would hang out with him. Or, I should say, I let him follow me around. I was still a jerk but was trying to be nice because I was under the influence of another brother, Sean Marley.

These and other memories remind me that we have to be better — much better — to the people around us. It’s what’s inside that counts.

I’m glad Sixx is tackling this issue. He’s inspiring me yet again.

Good Anonymity Vs. Bad Anonymity

In the halls of recovery and in my daily work I deal a lot with anonymity. People hide behind it for good and bad reasons. This is where I separate the honorable folks from the cowards.

Mood music (Click the “Watch it on Youtube” link. It’s worth it):

I’ve met a lot of inspirational people who prefer to keep their identities hidden with good reason.

In the 12-Step program I embraced to overcome a blistering binge-eating addiction, anonymity is considered a vital tool of recovery. We know each other by first names and home towns, mostly. That’s so people in these meetings can share openly and let out all the pain and confusion they feel, which is an important step toward setting things right. They can do so without fear of being outed in their circle of friends and relatives and in their work places.

To blow someone’s anonymity under those circumstances is a terrible thing to do. I regularly share my 12-Step experiences here, but I made a choice to take a chance and out myself. Nobody gets put at risk except for me. Thankfully, everything turned out fine and I get a ton of support from the people in my personal and professional lives.

I often write about my 12-Step experiences here, but I never name names unless I’ve gotten someone’s permission. Even with permission, I usually leave names out.

In my professional life I deal with a slightly different kind of anonymity. I often get important information from people who would get fired or jailed for talking to me, so their identities are hidden for their own safety. I allow a source their anonymity when they give a valid reason for requesting it. I recently interviewed an Iranian computer programmer who fled to Europe after the government pressured him to use his talents as part of their quest to build a cyber army. To name him would put him in real danger. Usually, though, the anonymity is usually honored because someone with valuable information would be blackballed in the industry for sharing it.

Then there’s the bad anonymity, the kind that applies to the verbal bomb throwers.

Some people like to hurl insults and question someone’s character without being called on the carpet in return. So they leave an anonymous comment on one of my sites and resort to name-calling and whining.

I’ve dealt with this sort plenty in my 17 years as a writer and editor. They usually don’t bother me. They come with the territory, and I have a pretty thick skin at this point. And more often than not, the insults are wrapped around constructive criticism I fine useful.

But I’ll admit it: My tolerance goes through the floor when someone decides to be an outright asshole.

Yesterday was one of those times. I was checking my Twitter stream and found the following tweet by someone hiding behind an anonymous profile called the InfoSecDropBox:

“OMG, I’m @BillBrenner70, I’m fucked up and have to keep telling you how fucked up I am. LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! I’M A BLOGGER!”

The profile looked like it had just been set up yesterday and, when I checked it this morning, the last tweet said “Alright, alright. Enough.”

I should correct this person on one point: I don’t consider myself a fuck-up. I used to be one, but not anymore. Oh, I still screw up in spectacular fashion on a regular basis, but that doesn’t make me a fuck-up. It makes me human. Every one of us has struggles to contend with.

I reached a point where I found my equilibrium and chose to write about how I used to be, why I’m the way I am today and where the ongoing struggles are. I do it because there’s a stigma around the kind of struggles I’ve had and I decided to take a crack at breaking them down so people who are now dealing with what I once dealt with will know it’s OK and that they can turn it around.

I knew I’d face some criticism. I knew some people would misunderstand what the blog is about. But I felt it was worth it, and it has been.

I don’t mind the bomb throwers. But when they’re too scared to show themselves, they are cowards and I can’t take them seriously.

My name is out there for people to rip away at if they choose, and that’s fine.

But if you need to be anonymous, I have to wonder:

Are you so insecure about your own character that you’re too terrified to face the people you don’t understand and ask the hard questions out in the open like a grown-up? 

Since I don’t know who you are, I have to assume so.

By the way: If you see the posts that annoy you, that can only mean you’re following me on Twitter or we’re connected on Facebook or LinkedIn.

I suggest you un-follow or un-friend me.

The solution is as simple as that.

If you insist on maintaining the connection with me anyway, despite you’re distaste for what I do, that just makes you an idiot.

How I Can Be Happy Despite Myself

I see a lot of moody people out there on Facebook and Twitter these days. Though I try not to put random complaints on my wall, my darker moods often come across in this blog. But in the big picture, I’ve found ways to be generally happy despite myself.

Mood music:

Allow me to share. But first, a couple acknowledgements:

1.) I stole this post’s title from somewhere.

2.) I readily admit that despite what I’m about to share, my reality doesn’t always match up with my words.

That said, no one who knows me can deny that I’m in a much happier place today than I was several years ago. I screw up plenty today, but I used to hate myself for screwing up. Today I may feel stupid when I fail, but I don’t hate myself. I’ve also learned that there are plenty of reasons to appreciate life even when things don’t seen to be going well in the moment.

–If I’m having a bad day at work, I remember that I’ve been in jobs I hated and that while the day may go south, I’m still lucky to have a job today that gives me the freedom to do work that makes me happy. I also know that I have a wife and children that I love coming home to.

–If I’m stuck in bed with a migraine or the flu, I can take comfort in knowing it could be — and has been — so much worse.

–If I’m feeling depressed — and my OCD ensures that I will from time to time — I can take comfort in knowing it doesn’t cripple me like it used to and I can still get through the day, live my life and see the mood for what it is — part of a chronic condition.

–If I’m feeling down about relationships that are on ice, I can take joy in knowing that there’s never a point of no return, especially when you’re willing to make amends and accept forgiveness.

–When I think I’m having the shittiest year ever, I stop and remember that most years are a mix of good and bad and that gives me the perspective to cool off my emotions. 

–When something really bad happens, I know that people are always going to show up to help, and that it’s an extension of God’s Grace in my life.

–When I’m angry about something, I can always put on headphones and let some ferocious metal music squeeze the aggression out of me.

–If I’m frustrated with my program of recovery from addiction, I just remember how I felt when I was in the grip of the disease and the frustration becomes a lot smaller.

–If I feel like people around me are acting like idiots, I can recognize that they may just be having a bad day themselves and that it’s always better to watch an idiot than be one.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Change Is Pain, But Not Impossible

Last night’s 12-Step meeting reminded me of just how hard real change is. I used to measure change by who won the next election. I’ve realized that the only real change that matters is within myself. Naturally, it’s the hardest, most brutal kind of change to achieve.

Mood music:

Last night’s AA Big Book reading focused on steps 8, 9 and 10:

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

The first few steps were much easier for me. Admitting I was powerless over my addiction was a piece of cake. I was so desperate by then that the admission was the reason I walked into an OA meeting. It takes desperation to walk into a room full of people you’re certain are crazy fanatical freaks. That’s exactly how they came across. Then I realized I was just like them and was in just the right place. Nearly three years in, I’ve determined that we’re not crazy and we’re not freaks. We’re just TRYING to be honest with ourselves and those around us. It makes us uncomfortable and edgy because it’s much more natural for an addict to lie. People like us are weird and often intolerable.

Acknowledging a higher power was easy enough, because I’ve always believed in God. But this step brought me closer to realizing my relationship with God was all wrong. It was transactional in nature: “Please God, give me this or help me avoid that and I’ll be good…” Because of OCD that was raging out of control, I tried to control everything. I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to “Let go and let God.” Once I got to that point it got easier, though I still struggle with a bloated ego and smoldering will.

Still, that stuff is easy compared to steps 8-10. To go to people you’ve wronged is as hard as it gets. You come face to face with your shame and it’s like you’re standing naked in front of people who have every reason to throw eggs and nails at you. At least that’s how it feels in the beginning.

Step 9 has been especially vexing. There are some folks I can’t make amends with yet, though Lord knows I’ve tried.

I feel especially pained about my inability to heal the rift with my mother and various people on that side of the family. But it’s complicated. Very complicated. I’ve forgiven her for many things, but our relationship is like a jigsaw puzzle with a lot of missing pieces. Those pieces have a lot to do with boundaries and OCD triggers. It’s as much my fault as it is hers. But right now this is how it must be.

I wish I could make amends with the Marley family, but I can’t until they’re willing to accept that from me. I stabbed them in the gut pretty hard, so I’m not sure of what will happen there.

But there have been some unexpected gifts along the way.

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve been able to reconnect with people deep in my past and, while the need to make amends doesn’t always apply and the relationships can never be what they were, all have helped me heal. There’s Joy, Sean’s widow. She’s remarried with kids and has done a remarkable job of pushing on with her life. She dropped out of my world for nearly 14 years — right after Sean’s death — until recently. The contents of our exchange are private, but this much I can tell you: I was wrong all these years when I assumed  she hated my guts and wanted nothing more to do with me. I thought my old friend Dan Waters hated my guts too. But here we are, back in touch.

Miracles happen when you get out of your own way. But it sure can hurt like a bitch.

I’ve also half-assed these steps up to this point. There’s a much more rigorous process involved. You’re supposed to make a list and only approach certain people you’ve wronged after talking to your step-study sponsor. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way. I just started the Big Book study in January, so I have a long way to go.

It’s funny how, when we’re still in the grip of our addictions, we dream of the day when we’ll be clean. There’s a false expectation that all will be right with the world. But that’s never the case.

I’ve heard from a lot of addicts in recovery who say some of their worst moments as a human being came AFTER they got sober. 

That has definitely been the case for me. I’d like to think I’m a better man than I used to be, but I still screw up today. And when I do, the results are a spectacular mess.

But while I’m far from done with this stuff, I can already say I’m happier than I used to be.

Change is hard and painful, but when you can move closer to it despite that, the results are beyond comprehension.

I guess the old cliche — no pain, no gain — is true.

Sean and Duncan Discover The Pixies — And More

I’m in the long car line in front of the kids’ school this morning. Stuck in park, I put in The Pixies Greatest Hits. The intro to “The Bone Machine” fills the car and I start drumming on the steering wheel.

Mood music:

“Dad, how did you get so good?” Sean asks. I’m not very good, but to an almost 10-year-old it doesn’t take much to impress.

“I dunno. I guess it comes with listening to so much music all the time,” I tell him.

“Were you ever in a band?” Duncan asks. Yes I was, I tell him.

Both want to know what I did in said band. “I was the singer,” I tell them.

“Wooooow,” they say in unison.

“Can I tell my friends you were in a band?” Duncan asks. I tell him to knock himself out.

Sean notes that The Pixies’ Black Francis (or Frank Black, depending on what year it is) sounds “Mad.” Black Francis’s vocal style involves mainly screaming, which I personally find soothing.

“Were you mad when you were a singer?” Duncan asks.

“A little,” I tell him.

If they only knew how angry I was.

But the music that came out of that period served a purpose. I opted against the musician’s lifestyle. But it took my writing to the next level.

I enjoy it more now, because I’m not “mad” anymore.

But like Black Frances, I still enjoy a good scream once in awhile.

The Saugus, Mass. Crowd

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the circle of friends I used to hang out with in Saugus, Mass., the town next to my home turf of Revere.

Mood music:

I’ve recently been back in touch with some of the friends from those days, and it reminds me of a few regrets I’ve carried over the years.

Saugus was as much a home to me as Revere for the simple reason that my father’s business was there and I spent as much time there as I did at home. Even today, when I take Sean and Duncan to visit their grandparents, it’s usually at the Saugus building.

I also had a lot of friends there because I went to a regional vocational high school and Revere and Saugus were two of the places that made up its student body. One of my best friends at the time was Aaron Lewis. There’s my first regret. Not that we were practically inseparable, but that I treated him like shit much of the time.

I met Aaron in 1985, my freshman year of high school. He was the kid with really bad acne. But nothing ever seemed to bother him. I’m sure a lot of things bothered him, but he was very good at hiding his feelings.

That made him the perfect target for a creep like me.

Don’t get me wrong. He was a true friend. One of my best friends. We shared a love of heavy metal. We both got picked on, though unlike me, he didn’t take it out on other, weaker classmates.

We hung out constantly. He practically lived in my Revere basement at times. I let him borrow my car regularly. And if I drank, that was OK, because he almost never drank. He could be the driver. Except for the time I encouraged him to drink a bottle of vodka. He had just eaten a bag of McDonald’s and I told him I was sick of him trying to get buzzed off of wine coolers. This night, I told him, he was going to do it right. He got smashed, and proceeded to puke all over my basement — on the bed, the carpets, the couch, the dresser. That was some strange vomit. It looked like brown confetti.

I sat on the floor, drunk myself, writing in my journal. I wrote about how drunk Aaron was and prayed to God that he wouldn’t die.

He was the perfect counterweight to Sean Marley. Marley was essentially my older brother and I spent a lot of time trying to earn his approval. I didn’t have to do that with Aaron. He didn’t criticize. He didn’t judge. He just took all my mood swings on the chin.

I would sling verbal bombs at him and he’d take it. I would slap him on the back of the neck and he’d take it. I was such a jerk. And he took it. That’s a true friend. Times have changed.

Aaron got married, moved to California and has a growing family. He’s doing some wonderful things with his life, as is his former girlfriend, Sharon. Those two were always together. The night before Sharon’s high school graduation I let them borrow my car. The next morning Sharon’s father called looking for her. “She’s not here,” I said. Silence, then his response: “They said they were staying with you for the night.” Busted. I don’t think he stayed angry for long, though. I remember her dad being a big guy with a big heart.

There was the Jones family, with whom we’d hang out for days on end. Jeff Jones (he goes by Geoff Wolfe today) was my fellow Doors freak, and I remember many pleasant afternoon’s and evenings in their back yard. I was there for July 4 1991, which I remember because someone slammed into my car and took off that night. The car, a 1981 Mercury Marquis, never ran right again. I got pretty smashed that night.

There was Bob Biondo, a kid who must have weighed in excess of 400 pounds. He had long, curly hair and always wore a cap and trench coat to hide his girth. He supplied me with a lot of weed and cigarettes and he was another mainstay in the Revere basement.

At some point in the early 90s I decided I was getting too grown up to hang around with these people. So I stopped coming around.

I moved to Lynnfield and made sure Biondo didn’t know where I lived. I simply stopped calling the Jones house.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was beginning a deep slide into depression and addiction. I cut myself off from a lot of people and started to isolate myself.

My weight swelled to 280 and I didn’t want to be seen by old friends. I was too ashamed. So I binged some more to numb my feelings.

I’ve recently been back in touch with the Jones family, thanks to Facebook. I plan to keep the line of communication going. 

Biondo died of a heart attack on Valentine’s Day 2009. I had just gotten married and was working with special-needs people. I always assumed he drifted into an adulthood of waste. I always figured he’d die young because of the weight, and I was right. But I was wrong about the man he had become.

Part of me wishes I’d kept in touch with him over the years. It wouldn’t have changed the course of his life, but as it turns out he didn’t need my help.

You can’t change the things you’ve done in the past. But you can make amends.

I’m glad there are enough people left in Saugus for me to make amends to.

We Were Cool Kids

I’m not sure how it started. I guess I was just looking for some old background music while I worked. Next thing you know, I’m listening to this:

That’s right. Kix.

Those of you who are familiar with this band will think of songs like “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and “Blow My Fuse.” Those came off the one platinum album they were able to muster in the late 1980s. Once they went platinum, I started to lose interest.

Here’s the thing: When you’re a metal-head outcast like I was (or aspired to be, anyway), you cling to the bands few people know about. It makes you feel like you’re part of a secret society where the rest of the more popular kids don’t belong. I makes you feel COOL.

I have Sean Marley and Dan Waters to blame for this mindset. They always pushed the more obscure bands on me, and when I’d express my excitement over the latest album from Motley Crue or Def Leppard, both would look at me like parents who just caught their kid setting fire to the dining room furniture. Sean turned me on to Motley Crue, too, but once the “Theater of Pain” album came out he was all done with them.

I remember when Motley’s “Dr. Feelgood” album came out. I wanted Sean to like it so badly. I kept telling him it was a return to the band’s roots. I brought the cassette to his house and we sat there listening carefully to each track. He seemed to like what he was hearing.

Then, somewhere in the middle of the song “Sticky Sweet” he got a pained look in his eyes, like he was about to pass gas. He looked at me and lamented: “Man, I hate Vince’s singing now. It’s awful.”

I was crushed. I had failed to lure him back from the dark side.

Since I was always trying to be more like him, I dove head first into the pile of cassettes he was collecting: Ministry’s “Land of Rape and Honey,” Nine Inch Nails, which was still an underground act at that point, and Skinny Puppy. Sean and Dan were pathetically in love with Skinny Puppy. It was all they’d talk about. I didn’t quite understand that one. I still get bored if Skinny Puppy is playing.

But Kix. There was a band I could sink my teeth into. Before the “Blow My Fuse” album made them somewhat famous, they were releasing killer albums like “Midnight Dynamite,” “Cool Kids” and their 1981 self-titled album.

Sure, some of their music veered dangerously close to bubble-gum pop, but they were obscure. They were therefore mine. Sean was nuts about Kix, and it rubbed off on me in a big way.

After the “Blow My Fuse” album, I pretty much forgot about them. This week was the first time I listened to them in more than 20 years.

And I haven’t been able to stop.

Am I being pathetically nostalgic? Perhaps. But I had forgotten how good their double-barreled, layered guitar sound was.

Sean turned me on to other bands that people knew of, but not nearly as well as bands like Kiss or Led Zeppelin.

One band was Riot. Not Quiet Riot. They are (or were) two separate bands.

The other was Thin Lizzy. I never lost my love affair with that band, and I still listen to them all the time. 

My kids have even gotten hooked on Thin Lizzy. When we’re in the car, Sean (we named him for Sean Marley) always asks me to put “Jailbreak” on. Not bad for an almost 10-year-old. Duncan always sways his head back and forth in approval.

The man my oldest son got his name from would be proud of me for pulling that one off.

Let’s see if he takes a liking to Kix.

Why Does God Let This Happen?

I know some people who hate God right now. One lost a child to illness. Several have simply had a bad run of luck in recent years. They can’t understand why an all-loving God lets bad things happen to them.

Mood music:

I used to be there.

When my brother died, when my parents divorced, when my friend Sean Marley committed suicide. In the aftermath of those events, I wasn’t on speaking terms with God. At other points in my life, like my struggle to contain OCD and addictive behavior, I was talking to God, but nothing coming from my mouth was making much sense. I was rattling off prayers designed to make my life safer and more comfortable.

My relationship with God has gone through changes in recent years. I no longer pray for the safety of everyone I know. I just pray we’ll all have the wisdom to live our lives the way we’re supposed to for whatever length of time we’re going to be around. I’ve come to see life’s body blows not as a punishment but as situations we’re supposed to work through to come out stronger.

I bring this up because it was the dominant theme of last night’s R.C.I.A. (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) class, which I’m helping to teach this year.

One of the students mentioned the recent disasters in Japan and asked how God could let it happen. She also mentioned how the death of children can be an especially bitter pill to swallow.  I think we’re all with her on that one. I don’t ever want to experience that. I have friends who have been through that, and I honestly don’t know how they get up the strength to get out of bed in the morning and carry on.

My friend Peter Richardson, who has been running R.C.I.A. for several years, mentioned the greater good — how there’s a bigger plan that’s simply beyond the comprehension of mortal human beings. He noted how there’s something greater in the next life that’s simply impossible to grasp while we’re still chained to this world.

Some of you will say that’s just so much bullshit. But that’s what Faith is — the belief that there’s something much bigger in store, even if we can’t see tangible proof of it. Faith is a hard thing because we’re so rooted in our everyday chaos and hunger for things (technology, pleasure, money). It’s enough to make the brain spin off its stem and break apart.

Whatever the case may be, somewhere along the way I chose to believe. To those who think I’m crazy and living a pipe dream, I respect your opinion but don’t really care if you think I’m crazy. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

To those who ask why it’s worth having faith when there’s always the chance that there’s really nothing there after death, I ask, what’s the alternative? Even if there’s nothing on the other side, I’d still rather live by beliefs that include treating those around me right and striving for good. I’d still rather strive for a clean soul, though I admittedly have a lot of work to do on that one. If there’s nothing on the other side, at least I’ll have taken a shot at being a better person.

But as I’ve said, I do believe.

As part of that, there’s something else I believe: The bad things we go through — and we all go through the bad — is a test. I don’t think certain things are deliberately planned out, like a natural disaster, the death of a loved one or the break-up of a relationship. But I do think we’re tasked with coming out of these things as better people who can come through when others need our help later on. That’s what Mister Rogers was talking about right after 9-11 when he suggested children always watch for the helpers in the face of disaster.

In the movie “Pearl Harbor,” there’s a scene where FDR meets with his military advisors and expresses his desire to strike back at Japan. His advisors give him all the reasons why it can’t be done. Then he mentions the polio that left him in a wheelchair and how he’s spent every hour of his life wondering why God put him in the chair.

Too dramatic? Maybe. This was a product of Hollywood and the scene was probably only loosely based on what really happened.

Still, I can totally picture FDR saying those things. He did say them at various times of his presidency.

His faith helped him deal with some of the biggest challenges mankind had faced up to that point. In that war and wars since then, faith has helped a lot of people push forward with the tasks that terrified them.

They chose to believe despite all the terrible things that happen around here.

So do I.

The OCD Fidget, Caught on Video

I went back and forth with myself on whether I should do this. Sure, I’ve made this blog about exposing my quirks so the masses can get a better understanding of disorders like OCD. But did I really want to show a video of me showing the signs in a work setting?

Well, yeah. Not because I want you to see me as a freak or feel sorry for me, but because there’s something for you to learn in all this.

Mood music:

I recently wrote about some of these quirks, most notably my need to put the feet up on the desk when I work. It keeps me still. When I sit like a normal person my legs start to bounce up and down as if I had a couple bass drum pedals strapped on. The feet on the desk started with a crippling back problem several years ago. I found that was the only way I could get comfortable. The back pain is long gone, but I still can’t seem to sit normally. In work meetings it would obviously be rude of me to put my feet on the table, so I sit with the feet on the ground.

I’ve also written about the windmill hands. Those who know me well have seen it at one time or another, usually when I’m sitting at a desk engaged in a project. My face gets slightly contorted and I start shaking my hands around like they’re on fire.

I call it my Windmill Hand Syndrome.

When I’m doing it, I don’t realize it, though I just noticed myself doing it just now. It tends to happen when I’m sketching or writing. Sometimes it happens when I’m editing.

So in the following video, recorded when I participated in a panel discussion at last month’s RSA security conference in San Francisco, the stuff I’ve written about is on full display. I tug at my shirt a lot. My head bounces back and forth. I have to shift positions after a few minutes.

If you were there, you probably didn’t notice it, and when it was my turn to speak, the words came out in a coherent fashion, so it’s all good, really.

Usually when I do a speaking gig I stand up and pace around a bit so the fidgeting doesn’t happen. I simply feel more in control when I’m in motion.

At the Fortinet event I was sitting in a chair that didn’t allow for putting the feet up. Doing so in front of an audience would be rude, anyway. I also spent a lot of time being quiet as other panelists made their points. When that happens, the itch starts, then the fidgeting. It’s the same when I’m in a long business meeting. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not because I think someone is saying something stupid or blathering on for too long. It’s simply my inability to sit perfectly still for more than a couple minutes.

I have no complaints. If looking like a restless knucklehead is the worst that happens after some of the deeper, more painful OCD incidents I’ve lived through, it’s all gravy.

View this more as a scientific case study. Next time you see someone do weird things with their head, mouth, nose or limbs in public, you’ll be less inclined to stop and look in puzzlement.

Boston Rock: A History of Survival

My friends from the local band Pop Gun have finally put some performance video online. Listening to it takes me to a happy place, when life was tough but Boston-based rock kept me sane and strong.

Mood music 1: Two Pop Guns songs from their Jan. 15 2011 performance at the Joe Zippo benefit.

Boston has always been fertile ground for rock n roll. The obvious comes in the form of Aerosmith, The Cars and Godsmack (the latter actually has roots in my home turf — the Merrimack Valley). But the lesser-known bands really gave me the shot of coping power I needed whenever the chips were down, which was quite a bit in my 20s. I have a special liking for Pop Gun because friends are in that band. I’m also a big fan of The Neighborhoods, who headlined the Joe Zippo benefit from which the Pop Gun footage was recorded. I listen to this song, think of how they never made it big like Aerosmith and wonder just what the hell is wrong with people:

Not that I have a problem with Aerosmith. I especially love this little number:

Back when Pop Gun was still a relatively new band and it was looking like The Neighborhoods just might make it big, I was working at a wonderful little hole in the wall called Rockit Records in Saugus, Mass.

I’ve mentioned before how Metal music as one of my most important coping tools for OCD and related disorders. Though I was still many years away from a diagnosis, the year I worked in that cramped little dive was one of the best therapy sessions ever. It was a particularly perfect place to get exposed to some of the best Boston bands at the time.

When I was an angst-filled teenager bent on self-absorbed periods of depression — and before I became an angst-filled grownup bent on self-absorbed periods of depression — it was a place where I could escape.

Located off of Route 1 northbound, Rockit Records was literally a hole in the wall, not much bigger than a walk-in closet. It later expanded in size, but even then it seemed small. But the sounds booming from speakers above were always big.

It was the perfect safe house.

Here’s an ad for the store from the early days:

And in this picture, on the left, is Al Quint, my former boss:

To this day, I’m grateful as hell for Al Quint for helping me get in there.

Al is still going strong, producing the Sonic Overload radio show and publishing his Suburban Voice magazine in blog form.

The store was crammed with cassettes, vinyl and eventually CDs. You could sell and buy used music. You could buy all the hard-to-get metal fanzines.

True story: On Aug. 3, 1987, I was the first kid in the store to buy Def Leppard’s just-released and long-awaited “Hysteria” album. The band was already spinning in a downward spiral toward candy-coated pop. I just didn’t realize it at the time. And in those days, I was a BIG Def Leppard fan.

A year later, I believe I was the second or third kid to buy Metallica’s “And Justice for All” album.

In 1992, just as I was transfering from North Shore Community College to Salem State College, a job opening became available and I applied on the spot. I thought the place was so cool at the time that  such a job was beyond my reach. No way they’d hire me. I wasn’t covered in tattoos or wearing nose and ear piercings. All I had going for me was the long hair, I thought.

But they called me in, and Al confirmed to the owner that I was a longtime shopper. They hired me, and I worked there for the next year, until new owners took over and I had decided to get too serious about my journalistic studies to work a retail job.

It was a tough year in a lot of ways. A family member was beginning to sink into some serious clinical depression and a suicide watch was on. I had turned North Shore Community College into a refuge of sorts, hiding for hours in the smoking room of the Lynn campus instead of facing my demons at home. I was uneasy about transferring to Salem State, though it turned out to be the best decision I could have made.

So for a year I manned the register as all my old school friends came in to shop. We smoked cigarettes at the front door and sometimes smoked other things out the back door. If we wanted a pack of smokes or something to eat and were short on cash, we borrowed from the register, putting index cards in place of the missing cash with such notes as “Bill borrowed $5, will return Thursday.”

I’m still not sure how we got away with that. It was a different time, I guess.

There was an Italian buffet restaurant across the parking lot called Augustine’s. The food wasn’t very good, but for a binge eater like me it was perfect.

If we liked the music that came in we would play it constantly. House of Pain was in the CD drive a lot. So was the Henry Rollins Band. Sometimes we’d get in promos for not-yet-released albums. If the staff didn’t like what they heard, the CD would quickly be converted into a Frisbee we’d whip across the store. One of the Poison albums suffered this fate.

I’m not sure if Al or the owner knew this was happening, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew and tolerated it.

The owner eventually sold the place and that essentially meant I was out of the job. I wasn’t exactly in the new owner’s good graces. But by then, it was time for me to move on. 

There’s now a Subway sandwich shop where Rockit Records once stood. A pity, really. But a lot of music stores suffered the same fate as the iTunes age dawned.

For me, it served its purpose. A jewel of an escape closet from a world of hurt.

It was also a great place to hook into the Boston music scene. I remember going through the used CDs and cassettes making sure everything was in alphabetical order as Letters to Cleo, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Tracy Bonham, Slapshot and Sam Black Church poured from the speakers.

Many of these bands don’t fit the mold of many of the heavy metal songs I’ve shared on here. But they spoke to me all the same, though my wife was always a much bigger Bosstones fan than I ever was.

I survived on music. I never grew proficient at playing guitar, bass or drums and as singer of Skeptic Slang I was only so-so. But the music shaped me as a writer and carried me through the bad stuff.

Whoever said God has no use for rock ‘n roll in His Kingdom was wrong.