“I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house, I don’t know why he’s called Gerald, He’s getting old, but he’s a mouse.” He kept repeating over and over again, getting less and less coherent each time, occasionally forgetting words, or swapping in new ones that may or may not have fit. Talk singing, not slurring his speech, but not making sense either, no discernible tune. His red polo shirt was not tucked in, no name tag, reddish blond hair not combed or washed, he was not wearing the required all black shoes.
“I think you should go home Ryan.” Said Henry, the obviously closeted Staples manager, mid thirties, poor knock off of a JFK haircut. All before Ryan even had a chance to get out his box cutter and start shelving the merchandise.
“Forever…?” Ryan asked, sounding increasingly more delirious.
“No, just for today Ryan.” Said Henry, without any of the frustration that a retail manager would presumably have, when one of his employees shows up for a shift obviously stoned. I don’t know exactly when this was during my Junior year of high school. But it must have been somewhere towards the end, because I recommended Ryan, my best friend at the time, for the job, somewhere in the later half of my 6 months of employment at the local Staples. My first real job, with a W2, a punch in clock, a cash register, a uniform.
This scene replays in my mind so easily because Gerald bothered me for awhile. Who was Gerald? Is he actually old? Was that from a song, or just rambling? Since when does Ryan hang out with mice? I never got around to asking him about it, probably because I assumed that he wouldn’t remember what he said, just that he was sent home. Or that the stoned rambling of a suburban teenager doesn’t mean anything. But who’s to say? I’ve never smoked. There was something to the simple notion of this mouse, something that stuck with me. Later that year Ryan and his family moved to the Midwest, and out of my life since.
I thought I missed my answer, until the summer after college when I bought some music at the tag sale of a downstairs neighbor I never knew. I didn’t count them, but I would have to guess that there were close to 300 cassette tapes in the collection. Most of them were hand made, hand labeled, hand written. Years of work. He offered me ten dollars, and I gladly accepted. His wife was not pleased, but he could tell that I was a fan, he could see it in my face. Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Beefheart, Yo La Tengo, Superchunk, 13th Floor Elevators, GBV, classic Flaming Lips, Miles when he got psychedelic, Pavement, Beck, R.E.M. when they were great, the Jesus and Mary Chain, early Sub Pop Compilations. It was a who’s who of the formative years of indie, and all the classic psychedelic stuff that I was missing.
Psychedelic had always been a point for me. I was straight edge for basically all of High School. Worshiping at the alter of Dischord, and lots more embarrassing punk rock things that I don’t care to mention. Think Warped Tour. As vain and silly and predictable as it was: crusty Dreadlocks, safety pin through my ear, band t-shirts, unnecessary patches, duct tape on my Chucks, it was my rebellion. Yes dad shaved off his early 70s hair, and bought a leather jacket at a flea market outside USC in 1978. Yes he saw the Germs. But this was my rebellion because that hair has since grown back. Because of classic rock radio playlists filled with Santana. Because of Dave Mathews band and suburban trustafarians in khaki cargo shorts and hemp necklaces.
It took me until my third year of college to come to terms my roots. I partly blame Freaks and Geeks, for the episode where Lindsey blows off math camp to follow the Dead. I also blame the sale on LPs at the local record store that allowed me to buy ‘Working Man’s Dead’ and ‘American Beauty’ for less than 5 bucks each. Blaming other people, other sources is easy, but I always knew that this was there. Somewhere way down, I was waiting for it, for a way that it could be okay. It came slow. I used to play both of those records softly when I first got them. So my house mates wouldn’t hear, wouldn’t suspect anything. When I was driving myself in my red Subaru station wagon, with all the windows down. That’s when I didn’t have to be ashamed. When I could sing along. I mean, there are limits, I’ve only made it through my inherited and heavily worn LP copy of ‘Europe 72’ once. But put on any of the in-studio classics like ‘Box of Rain’ or ‘Uncle John’s band’ and I know all the words.
It took me a really long time to get through all 300 tapes, because I pretty much only listened to them in that red Subaru station wagon. The year after I graduated I was working cleaning rooms at a bed and breakfast. Commuting and listening to a new tape for me, Pink Floyd on side A, and Hawkwind on side B. I could excuse the Hawkind because of a college professor I had. He wore a different band shirt everyday, had grey hair longer than my dad, almost all the way down his back. Could talk you ear off about Lemmy, and not about the mole on his face or his sideburns, but about his importance as a musician, his role in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The 16 year old inside of me squirmed at the thought of Pink Floyd. I could hear the cash register sound from ‘Money,’ and remember a long boring night where I was nowhere near high enough to believe that Dark Side of the Oz actually works. But I gave it a chance, and I have to say that I was pleased, not overwhelmed at first. But I could see the appeal of Syd Barrett. Understand those articles that I’d read defending the legacy of the early incarnation of the group. I could see where the Television Personalities were coming from. This was ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn,’ not ‘Darkside of the Moon.’ There was no lazer light show. No flying monkeys. Just the sound of overwhelming influence. I could hear so many of my heroes in this, that made it okay, made me more comfortable even though I was alone. And then I got to ‘Bike,’ the last song on the album. About a minute or so in, I almost hit a tree. Almost ran a light, and hit a tree.
“I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house/ I don’t know why I call him Gerald/ He’s getting rather old, but he’s a good mouse.” Sings Barret in one of the last verses. That day at Staples came back clearer than ever. I thought of Ryan; the same guy who really got me into punk rock, who had a hardcore band, even a spiked Mohawk for awhile, getting stoned while listening to Pink Floyd. It was okay. Everything that I had worried about, been insecure about. I almost wore out the same tape the year I lived in Chicago. It lived in my Walkman for months at a time. Carrying me on other commutes, or trips to nowhere. Bike rides to the other side of town in inches of snow. Every time I found something new, a riff that drew me in, a lyric, the way Barrett sometimes totally misses notes. It was all there and I was afraid to find it for so long.