Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sweet Child O'Mine

In 1988, during my senior year of high school, Guns N' Roses released their epic song, "Sweet Child O'Mine". It's such a great song even I like it, despite the fact that I was always more of a jangle pop fan than a hair band fan. When my friends would complain about having listened to R.E.M.'s "Reckoning" or The Smiths' "Louder Than Bombs" on continuous loop in my cassette player for days, I'd press "stop" and nine times out of ten, "Sweet Child O'Mine" was on the radio.

We'd immediately begin singing, belting it out to the best of our ability with our clove-cigarette scarred lungs, along with lead singer, Axl Rose, a guy who might have fag bashed us had we met him in person at the time.

Woa--oh-oh sweet chiiiiild o' miiiiiiiine!

We'd drive to our hangout, the park in front of the Liberty Memorial, with the windows to my 1974 Super Beetle rolled down. We had to keep the rotten egg smell of the catalytic converter from sticking to my friends' all-black clothes and my kinda hippie/kinda hausfrau homemade dresses and skirts my mom made me. I was either born a decade too late or too early to be a hippie from the sixties or a Phishhead from the nineties, so I had trouble finding my preferred style of clothing at the mall.

We also kept the windows rolled down so the horrible smell wouldn't cause our eyes to water. We wouldn't want black streaks to form on our cheeks from our Siouxsie Sioux eyeliner. Actually, I was over my black-eyeliner phase by my senior year. I had turned into what my friend Kristi called a "Pippie," or a "punk-hippie". I was basically just a weirdo who didn't fit in with any group so the effeminate boys, the butch girls, and the other artsy fartsy outcasts at school let me hang out with them. If anyone's eyeliner was smudged from my stinky car, it was one of the boys who, when asked by some unsuspecting Winstead's waitress if I was his girlfriend, he'd smile big and say, "Naw, Becky's my fag hag!" I'd shrug my shoulders and smile at the floor, feeling shyly honored to claim such an excellent term of endearment.

It was a fun time. It was also a horrible, wretched, hormonal, emotionally painful time. But those feelings would all slide away when we'd cruise along I-35N with the windows down, singing along with Axl Rose. The song so good, we didn't care that it was sung by someone who hated people like us.

Woa--oh-oh sweet chiiiiild o' miiiiiiiine!

We had legitimate reasons for fearing people like Axl Rose and his ilk, many of them fans from our school, mostly straight boys who spit on us and called us "fags" and "dykes" in the hallways, and chased us out of Godfather's Pizza and around the neighborhood in my car, all while my friends were screaming at me, "Oh. My. God. Becky! You don't have to put on the blinker every time you're gonna turn! We're trying to LOSE them!"

Some of our homophobic peers drew chalk-outlines of pretend-dead bodies and threw tomatoes on it to look like blood and wrote "homosexual slayings" on the sidewalk leading up to the entrance of our school building. They passed us letters in the hallway with horrible words and even more horrible misspellings.

"Dear Sweatheart?" my friend would say. "Gross. Who does he think I am, some sweaty jock?" And we'd giggle at their idiocy and get out of school as fast as we could when the afternoon bell rang, stopping by the liquor store to buy Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill wine, or "Strawberry Hell" as we liked to call it. My hippie/hausfrau dresses atop my large hips and breasts must have convinced the clerk that I was over 21, because they never carded me. What kind of 17 year old girl would wear dumpy dresses like that when all the popular girls were wearing lacy bodysuits and acid wash jeans?

The liquor store clerks didn't know me well enough to know. But I knew:

Somebody who wanted to hide her body. Somebody whose body had been sexually abused as a young child. Somebody who could use a two buck buzz for the night. Enough to keep the bullies at bay in her brain. Enough to pause the anxiety mix tape on endless loop in her mind.

As we'd approach our hangout in front of the World War I memorial, someone would call out, "I see the Big Dick In the Sky!" If society doesn't want gay kids milling around war memorials, why do they so often build them to look like a giant phallus?

Liberty Memorial: Kansas City, MO
image source Wikipedia

Such fun times we had there. Drunk and stupid. Silly kids talking about music and art and "film" and philosophy and sex and all the important things in the world until our bladders got too full and it was time to take a tumble down the hill to the pee tree, catching our breath from laughing so hard. We'd gossip about So-and-So breaking up. Then we'd gossip more next week when they got back together. A girl would run around one week shouting gleefully, "I'm not bi! I'm all-the-way-gay!" Then the next week she'd run around touting bi-hood once again. Some say we were confused. I say we were open. Open to the possibilities of life. On the cusp of adulthood. Figuring things out. Hearts pumping fully and hearts broken on those steps up to The Big Dick In the Sky. 

I never found love on those steps, but I did find several amazing friends. Twenty-five years have passed and I hardly ever seen my old friends, but we keep in touch on Facebook. That's where I found this awesome clip of Postmodern Jukebox covering "Sweet Child O' Mine," New Orleans style, or as they describe it:

Our friend Miche Braden returned to help us show what Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child O' Mine" would have sounded like if New Orleans blues legend Bessie Smith had recorded it back in the '20s. 

Take a look. It's amazing. I can't not-smile while watching it.

And, once again for old times, friends, here's the Guns N' Roses' version so we can think back to our own sweet childhood:

It's good to look back and remember the past. I made a discovery that helps me feel less angry toward those who have hurt me after reading the entire Rolling Stone interview with, of all people, Axl Fucking Rose. Who knew the guy who could write the lyrics to "One in a Million" could also be so pitiful and so insightful?

One In a Million

Immigrants and faggots

They make no sense to me
They come to our country
And think they'll do as they please
Like start some mini Iran,
Or spread some fuckin' disease
They talk so many goddamn ways
It's all Greek to me
Well some say I'm lazy
And others say that's just me
Some say I'm crazy
I guess I'll always be
But it's been such a long time
Since I knew right from wrong
It's all the means to an end, I
I keep it movin' along 

This part of Rose's interview especially caught me off guard:

And I remember being sexually abused by this man and watching something horrible happen to my mother when she came to ge me. I don't know all the details. But I've had the physical reactions of that happening to me. I've had problems in my legs and stuff from muscles being damaged then. And I buried it and was a man somehow, 'cause the only way to deal with it was bury the shit. I buried it then to survive -- I never accepted it. I got a lot of violent, abusive thoughts toward women out of watching my mom with this man. I was two years old, very impressionable, and saw this. I figured that's how you treat a woman. And I basically put thoughts together about how sex is power and sex leaves you powerless, and picked up a lot of distorted views that I've had to live my life with. No matter what I was trying to be, there was this other thing telling me how it was, because of what I'd seen. Homophobic? I think I've got a problem, if my dad fucked me in the ass when I was two. I think I've got a problem about it.

and this part:

One thing I want to say is, these aren't excuses. I'm not trying to get out of something. The bottom line is, each person is responsible for what they say and what they do. And I'm responsible for everything I've said and everything I've done, whether I want to be or not. So these aren't excuses. They're just facts, and they're things I'm dealing with. 

It makes me wonder, back in high school, what the bullies of my friends and I were dealing with that made them act so hatefully. And I wonder what they're dealing with now. We're all dealing with something. That's what being a grown up has taught me.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." --Ian Maclaren

That must be why Jesus said to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies. He had tapped into that energy that unites us all. He understood we're all carrying a heavy burden and we're put here on this earth to help each other carry the load.

Just remember: I can't help you carry the load if you're casting stones at me.