Life, Death, and then more Life

“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather,”

said Bill Hicks, years ago. Bill Hicks is one of those comedians that will live forever. He is one of my favorites, for a number of reasons. He was genuinely himself, and wasn’t really afraid to be. He was born in Alabama and then lived elsewhere, which is the dream for a certain kind of Alabamian. The dreamer. The big fish. Is it true- that life is but a dream?

I think comedians are like magicians. The observant odd fellows who permiss themselves to explore elsewhere. It can be dangerous. Or worse, confusing. Will I get it? Is this funny or no? “What does it matter?” oh, the frequency of this being spoken in the Hicks household, in my household… I, too, didn’t understand this or that, but I especially couldn’t understand why some people just refused to have any sense of humor. About… anything at all. I guess it’s no one’s business. Some people just get it and some don’t. Simple, right?

I recently read Tom Scharpling’s (I give five stars) memoir, It Never Ends. In it, he describes many things relating to his struggles- specifically, his near-crippling depressive state and the suicide attempt as a teenager which resulted in electroshock therapy and half lifetime of suppressing associated feelings of humiliation being Tom Guiliano. He may still be playing hide and seek with his former self while simultaneously embracing his assumed role (newly adopted life) as the creative, hilarious, and loveable Mr. Tom Scharpling.

Tom Scharpling is my damn hero. And after getting to know pre-Tom as Scharpling, I say Tom Giuliano is also my hero. Giuliano was the inventor of Scharpling, after all. What a gift.

I actually discovered Tom while watching the best episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, called The Shaving, which was aired on Adult Swim (one of the best things to come out of Atlanta) in 2003. Tom voiced a mild mannered lunatic (onion?) named Willie Nelson. It is super incredible to have this sentimental attachment to this character, particularly because he mentions Willie Nelson (the actual WN) in his book, describing a highlight of his career as Mr. Nelson reads a line that Mr. Scharpling wrote for the Emmy award winning show Monk. Side note: he was one of two writers who contributed to this show from beginning to end, which is an incredible accomplishment for any job- but I imagine especially for a writer. And dang- Mr. Scharpling has many, many layers so the four legged onion named Willie Nelson character now makes perfect sense.

I later bought this season of Aqua Teen on DVD and I used to spend hours binge watching these episodes, The Shaving being my all time favorite- and Willie Nelson (the monster who feeds on human blood who simultaneously wants no part of killing to be scary) my favorite character. I wondered, and immediately thereafter, researched (like everyone does) who was behind the character, voicing it to life perfectly. Tom was. So I read more and more about Mr. Scharpling and that is when I discovered The Best Show. It was in its toddler phase at that point, or maybe in middle school- I can’t remember- but when I found out his comedy partner was also the drummer of Superchunk, I remember feeling like I found a key to this long lost magical box of goodies that I’d been missing since Kindergarten. I opened the box and so many amazing pieces of the puzzle appeared and it started making a lot of things in my life naturally gravitate together.

Later still, I discovered Kurt Vile, partly in thanks to Tom, but also because based on the shit I listen to, my Youtube suggestions aligned me with Vile and I probably credit him and Tom with getting me through the shitstorm that was my personal life beginning at age 30.

I’m 35 now and all I can say is, yet again, Tom Scharpling has given me (and I realize others as well) a gift. His personal journey is not only gut wrenching- it is gut mending, too. He rose from the grave, so to speak. This gives losers like me a ray of hope that one day, too, shall I be free from the constant bullshit that is in my head.

I’ve mentioned my own suicide attempt when I was a teenager. And even before that, I wrote my own obituary at age 12. (I was a famous journalist loved by thousands who died by drowning in the Gulf of Mexico, BY THE WAY.) I don’t recall writing this (which is even crazier if you think about it- especially when you consider I DO remember writing a fourth grade essay contest detailing why I would be the best Vice Principal there ever was*), but MY GRANDMOTHER FOUND IT and GAVE IT TO ME twenty years later. I couldn’t help but laugh. But after the suicide attempt, no one was laughing then. My dad had no clue what to do for his fifteen year old daughter who had just endured abandonment from the Almighty Iron Woman that was my mom. My mom was in L.A. at the time- and honestly, I couldn’t say if she was even aware that it had happened. She still may not know. My dad called Doc at the ER (an actual ER Physician we went to church with at the time) for advice and he then instructed me to jam my finger down my throat to induce vomiting (“or else they’re going to make you drink tar at the ER, your choice”). So I gave myself the finger. *I won the contest and was awarded by being Vice Principal for an entire day which means I sat in the Principal’s office all day chowing down some Oreos, MISSING DOMINATING A GAME OF WAR BALL WITH MY FUCKING FRIENDS

I have also mentioned that my baby daddy gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received regarding harmful thoughts: just add something nice. The simplicity of the sage he brushed against me stuck and, over time, rooted in the central command center of my psyche. (Coming from a guy whose name would appear on my phone which would result in physical tremors. Another obstacle I have overcome.) And so, the mindset blossomed into an action that took a lot of practice, and it has taken me years to not only find that balance word that has been BEATEN INCESSANTLY in self help sections, but work towards tipping the fragmented imagined scale the other way and grow the flowers in my garden head and actually find some REAL MEANING in my existence. What a difference!

I grew up listening to the radio, and my family’s abundance of musicians and artists meant I was destined to grow up either back stage or on stage or directly in front of the stage. Only in recent years (thanks to my 50% hearing loss- which I will soon be having fixed) do I enjoy a concert from a greater distance. I think the straw that broke my back was Helms Alee at Bottletree in Birmingham (one of the last performances at Bottletree- RIP) when I was standing directly in front of the stage, headbanging until I felt my two beers and whatever food I’d ordered start making me nauseated. All I remember after that was making my final exit out of Bottletree (forever) with a hefty load of barf pouring from my mouth directly in front of the entrance and the workers looking completely stunned. My friends literally carried my ass to the backseat of the car, where I curled up into a ball and I don’t remember anything after that.

So back to the radio- I have a deep appreciation for DJ’s and the knowledge their minds contain about music. I, like Tom, grew up listening to various DJ’s and reading music magazines and listening to my cool family members discuss the superior underground scene around a Scrabble board during the better majority of my childhood. In short, I love digging for good music. I appreciate good music. When I was a child, we listened to 107.7 the X, which was an alt rock station out of Birmingham, Alabama. I listened to the morning DJ’s on the way to school, and by late middle school, was ditching class and faking sick to listen to the entirety of the show. One particular experience I’ll only forget as I enter mid-stages of dementia, was when I was about fourteen years old and got to talk to SPACE GHOST LIVE ON THE AIR FOR A SOLID FIVE MINUTES. So rad. I also distinctly remember Tuttle and Kline (who are now country station DJ’s in TX last time I checked- gross), scolding me for skipping school just to call in to their show for the tenth time within that six weeks grading period. Did I fail? Not because of my grades. I was a straight A student being told I had to either do night or summer school simply because of my unexcused absences. And I didn’t care.

Another DJ I called a lot was the late night DJ who shall remain nameless. The reason is because when I was seventeen years old, this FORTY-SOMETHING YEAR OLD MAN DROVE AN HOUR NORTH TO MEET ME AND ATTEMPTED TO LURE ME INTO HIS VEHICLE. (It didn’t happen. He had the face of radio- ugly.) So, yeah. That experience was definitely icky, and it wasn’t long after that, The X was X’D and I let radio go and instead got back to my own mixes.

I’ve been making mixes for-eh-ver. Whether on cassette, cd, mp3, or Youtube Music Premium (shut up), I THOROUGHLY enjoy curating playlists. Our local indie station, Live 95.5 got wind of me thanks in part to my friend Sandy, a Certified Health Coach, who would help instruct a laughter yoga class that we led for an assisted living facility in town- which was actually a great time. I would sometimes guest on her show, called Pathchangers: Habits of Health, and contributed bits relating to mental health. Our friend- ironically also named Tom* (who owns a music/recording equipment store and also founded K-99 Rocks, a small but effective Birmingham rock radio station that hosts and records local live shows)- would also appear and provide sound, practical (and incredibly helpful to me) money advice. It was a well rounded, health goals oriented show, and I’m very proud to have been a part of it. *all the good ones are

The station’s owners, Jay and Melissa, became friendly with me and I mentioned my love of music and creating playlists and told them if they ever needed assistance with their station, I’d love to help. Tom also invited me to guest DJ on K-99 Rocks, and he showed me how to navigate his program, but I just didn’t have the time to do what he was looking for. So yeah, I volunteered time, “talent”, energy, whatever for Live 95.5 fm, and came up with some ideas which later developed into my own radio show. Oh. What was it called?

My Radio Show. It was called My Radio Show. So, partly because I could care less to have a catchy name and wasn’t getting paid for being a creative genius and didn’t want to put TOO much thought into it, and also partly because of my friend Tom Scharpling (only friends of Tom will understand) and the inspiration he has lent me (and others as well) over the years. I worked hard on my show, though, using equipment and software I’d never used before- learning it all very quickly. And working from my own home- the house on the hill- on my own time. I was laser focused the minute I started until the minute I finished. And when it aired, I made time to listen intently without interruption, critiquing myself and usually being satisfied afterwards. I know probably five people, tops, would regular-ish-ly tune in. But it was something that I created and was- am- proud of.

The evil pandemic began in my neck of the woods around the same time I began My Radio Show. Concert tickets were refunded (maybe one day I’ll write about the Band of Horses fiasco), and frowns ensued, so My Radio Show was definitely something I was holding on to for a piece of normalcy and a tinge of sanity. It kept me from drowning in sorrow over the fact that my daughter and I were going yet another year without seeing one single concert together- when I’d been to a billion. It was all I ever wanted- to have this incredibly magical concert experience with my child. We currently have tickets to numerous shows but one has already been post-poned to next year and I have found myself biting my nails again… which is definitely a good idea, because… Covid.

So I worked on My Radio Show for a year and a half, and last Sunday I announced that I was airing the final episode. I came to the conclusion that I was finished with this project for a few reasons. One, I wasn’t getting paid. Yeah, I volunteered for it, and I never expected to get paid- but when you find yourself volunteering, and then other things come up, a non-paying gig is hard to commit to. I just didn’t want to be committed to something that wasn’t going to keep me afloat. I had to carve time out for other things that were actually working for me. This blog is another example of a non-paying hobby. And, like the radio show, it is something I truly enjoy. I’ve loved writing ever since I possessed the ability. In fact, I used to win awards in school and attend Writers’ Conferences and publish poetry as young as age 15. But this is not something that has a regularly scheduled timeslot attached. I can come and go as I please- and based on the timestamps of my previous posts- it’s pretty obvious I do this whenever the fuck I feel like it. And I’ll likely crawl back to Jay while shoveling coal in my mouth to visibly appear as desperate as I may someday feel. But until then, I’m good and yes, I know the invitation is open so I don’t have to succumb to that dramatic low in order to revive my local indie radio dj pipe dream.

So what is the point of this post? I just wanted to write. Tom Scharpling just wanted to write, too, and eventually, he made a real name for himself- LITERALLY! I often wonder with an embarrassing last name like the one on my Birth Certificate, if I shouldn’t change mine as well. Maybe I, too, could develop a new persona and my own confident character that, like Tom, steamrolls chumps. Maybe that’s why I like what I like. As mentioned in his book in his run-in with a fellow King Crimson fan who spied his KC tee…

you either get it or you don’t.

My favorite line from his book goes like this and can be found on page 215, referencing fried Oreos and Twinkies on the New Jersey Boardwalk:
“They are as common as a pair of horn-rimmed glasses at a Wilco concert or a misspelled tattoo at a Tool show.” Mr. Scharpling, thank you. Everything in my life- both good and terrible- makes perfect sense.

Tom is right about so many things, but the key takeaway from the book he wrote is this: you are not your trauma.