The Beginnings of Things +20
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 12:00PM
The Artist Presently Known As Ed in human being human, kelli, matt zuniga, melissa mccain, mike keneally, rebirth, relationship, renewal

This is the second entry in a single story that spans over 10,000 words. Be sure to read The Endings of Things preceeding this entry.

Life would have made a lot more sense to me at the age of 19 if I'd been initiated in the Christ mystery of death and rebirth prior to some real messy times around then and for years later. Having a touchstone would have been handy. Instead, the world seemed pretty malevolent for sustained periods of time, and part of the reason for hanging on to the Melissa relationship was because for a period, that was about the only thing that brought form and meaning from chaos. So the dissolution of that relation in the span of a week hit me hard to begin with. Because Melissa's mom Marie was nice enough to mediate the breakup experience and see that I had a softer landing, I began the very next day at a life without Melissa but with some optimism and newness of vision that things might turn out okay. I'd meet new people and interesting things would happen. In other words, what died could be resurrected into a new form with a bigger meaning to it.

Melissa and I broke up on February 22, a Monday. The next day I was back at school and found myself talking to two girls in my philosophy class at Mesa. That took the edge off some, even knowing that I'd not retreated. I can't recall anything happening after that but the experience was a lift just as it was. Hitting up Subway on the way back home I saw a girl I'd had my eyes on for a while, Abbey. She and another girl or two were easy on the eyes and since I'd been somewhat regular there, I already had a bit of a chatty way with them. I told her what had happened. I don't know if I expected this to go anywhere but I asked if we might be in touch and I left my number. I think she was seeing someone anyway. The damage was done the day before. At this moment, there wasn't much to lose.

The Pig Solution

Matt Zuniga and I had a particularly juvenile evening on the first Friday after the breakup. Usually we were content to go out and play drums in isolated and semi-secure parking garages, increasingly so in the middle of the night. The Friday night just before the ill-fated ASB ball that I was supposed to attend with Melissa, we were out until 3:30 in the morning playing at a new spot that had a janitorial storage locker that we found open. We relished in the raiding of such a place. There were boxes of 4' flourescent tube lighting. We heisted the entire collection. We also opened several cans of paint and poured them out over the street. It was raining pretty mightily that night so by the time we made a return visit some time later, there was hardly a sign of paint. On this first weekend after the breakup there was a bit of boy frustration to get out so we sort of rampaged at the mall, with Matt doing his trademark antisocial grunts, charicatures of old people, some well chosen ventriloquistic obscenities, and worse. We took the bulbs we'd collected the week before and took them to a spot on the edge of the suburban buildout, near a freeway, and cast the tubes majestically down to ... well, it was really kind of pointless since none of them exploded in the way we hoped. But then we were off and running, dropping in on an adult bookstore. Call it a pent up need to be a guy. Or a pig.

The Little Black Book Was Mauve

At home I dug into the contacts book a little harder than I had since the summer before. I probably called everyone to reconnect and maybe sob with (a number of whom were high school people I really had not connected with since that era a couple years before), but the most notable contact in there was one girl friend of mine that I'd known for a couple years since 1990. We used to go to church together when I was still doing that. I don't think I'd seen her in some time, except maybe at Christmas Eve service, if anything. She was just a bit younger than Melissa by a few months but was uncannily mature for her age, and was one of those passionate color-outside-of-the-lines beings who jolts you awake. It was something I needed. I called her and we went out for some fun and talk on Saturday, just less than a week after the breakup. She was ready to go. I never expected I'd marry her one day. Yep, in some odd way, it was kind of a first date for Kelli and me. And yet not. But that one day put her on the map as a trusted friend and confidante. And more than the compassionate ear she offered, the story ahead sets up a whole set of resonsances that radiated out for a long time and really has shaped most of the life I've lived in the 20 years since the Melissa breakup. Curl up with a blanket and a nice drink, once again...

The Shifting Sands of Confidence

I'd seen my grandmother every weekend for all the time I went out with Melissa since I was coming and going to pick up the car. I might have seen her more often if I had other reasons, like practicing piano or doing other errands and chores to earn the use of the car. But all during the Melissa era, the relationship that she and I had was not as close as when I had no girlfriend, and therefore, no secrets to keep about my emerging intimate life with a girl. That kind of talk of course is kind of awkward with people anyway, but since I already knew her to be rather conservative but not totally close minded, I did keep hushed and would limit the talk about Melissa to discussion of the places we went or other developments of a pretty benign nature. But in that breakup week, I did not seek counsel with her. I didn't even tell her. Even a week and more later, I hadn't told her. The mantle of trust in my emotional life was starting to be transferred away from her as I rather foolishly thought I'd go it alone or limit myself to some friends and peers, few of which had the depth of perspective I'd need while maneuvering the minefield of life. At about the same time, calling upon my pastor Jerry happened less and less. The departure of our associate pastor Judy in 1993 also eroded my relationship with the church and folks constellated around it. I became unchurched. The road to any real faith was now beginning because I had outgrown the version of religion that gives the answers and the storybook versions of how things went. (I hasten to add that my church was anything but shallow theologically. But youth materials are geared toward, well... youth, and that is just foundational. Life itself build faith.)

Kelli Parrish was one notable exception. For several years she and her sweet mother Kay were about the only connection to the church congregation that a few years before had been a huge part of my life. There wasn't too much else, but as I found, friendship with Kelli kept me abreast of developments—and disintegrations—within the church. She was my lifeline to the church and even to a bit of spirituality for years to come. She and Kay were always ready friends of mine, and even though time might pass in larger or smaller blocks, the same spirit was always there. But let's not get too far ahead. There's that one Saturday at the end of February 1993, to start with.

Moving Violations

Until I refreshed my memory with my journal from then, I'd forgotten the part about not having been to her new house prior to spending that Saturday night with her. She lived in a place that came to be known as the "Treehouse" —a spot on the edge of the Mission Hills community of San Diego, overlooking the airport. (It's actually just a mile or so from my church now. In fact, for a time, she went there as a pew sitter herself.) Her place was up an insanely steep hill that juts off another road that itself is barely wide enough to park one lane of cars and let two other cars pass. Her street name did not appear to be anything more than a nebulous driveway up a crazy hill. That's what it looked like once I even found the first street after getting turned around in the odd combinations of dead end streets, one way streets, and other navigational oddness that defines that area. Her directions sounded clear enough. But in the downpour, everything got way more difficult. It took me 45 minutes to do what should have taken 20.

Finally I arrived at the Treehouse, a 2.5 story duplex up that nasty hill. It was indeed a sight, the balcony having a nice view of the harbor and airport and a bit of downtown. It was a place I'd get to know in the coming years. Often I'd been made to feel quite welcome there. For this first visit, we made small talk and headed out in the Ford Escort, not really knowing where we'd go. It was odd. She wasn't my date. No, at that point and for years to come, Kelli was kind of like a kid sister to me, and a church sister at that. This wasn't a date, and it would be years before our first movement toward our present relationship was made, and years more before we embraced it and went full on. But she was sometimes loud and outrageous. Colorful. Opinionated. Bold. Free spirited. Interesting. Too much for me. And she had lived a life or two by the time this night happened. Everything she was stood in stark opposition to Melissa.

My journal mentioned going to a number of places but didn't name any. Those details are lost to history, but let's set one thing down right here. Melissa lived in a newer suburb than I did, about ten miles northeast of where I was. Mira Mesa was (and still is) a place that I tolerated. It's technically not all so different than Clairemont where I lived but it feels different, maybe a bit stuffier. Really it might just be that it is just newer and with different particulars of merchants and street names. Oh, and maybe the considerable population of Filipinos that earned it a nickname of Manila Mesa. A point to make is that almost the entire relationship with Melissa was conducted in the suburbs, whether it was at her house or mine, or the parks we frequented, or the malls. Kelli on the other hand was far more urban and bohemian. This one rampaging night on the town was all in San Diego's more seasoned, older, and eclectic neighborhoods, or in downtown, about ten miles south of where I lived. Oh, she'd lived in many places, and she herself was in Clairemont not too long before this. In fact, she used to be on my bike route home from school and I dropped in on her a few times there. But her spirit is far more urban and alive with the stuff of arts and poetry and music arising from underground and repressed populations. Kelli herself was culture shock to me. The things she continues to introduce me to today still has that effect!

But that night we serviced some more immediate needs. The evidence shows we ate ourselves silly on pizza and gyros sandwiches after hitting up a few places. We got downtown while it was storming rain. If I hadn't run enough stop signs and lights just finding her house, I certainly met my quota while we went around looking for things we had vague inclinations to find but seemingly couldn't. She had just finished a first day of driving instruction and here I was showing her all the ways to NOT operate on the road! It was hilarious. With the big news of the period being the Melissa story, I'm sure we covered that in enough detail. Eventually we escaped downtown and its inside-out network of one way streets and all those damned red lights. We stopped for some time at Old Town a few miles away, and parked at the lot at the Presidio. That's the part I remember best, even if now it's more an impression on my heart that this time together was really the time that put Kelli on the map for me as a person I could really open up to and trust, and that was also hungering for a similar connection. With Melissa, I always felt like it took a lot of prying and coaxing to get a substantial exchange that communicated life's deep truths. By comparison, this was cake.

I think that we both had stories about divorced parents that kept us going for a while, and the lives we've led in the shadow of those broken relations. Indeed. Is there any way we would have known that early trusting time, peppered with some of the hilarity we experienced while running red lights would have paved the way for us to be married? Nope. We were just really kicking off a friendship then, sitting in the car on the side of the hill overlooking town, with rain pouring down around midnight on a cold February night.

We hit up Gelato Vero, a coffee shop at India and Washington, essentially across the street from her house (as the crow flies) but some distance away if you actually use the road. It was 12:20 am by the time we got there. That was pretty astounding since the 16 year old I was out with two weeks before had to be home by 10 and I had to be on my way by 11. Gelato Vero makes some kick ass gelato Italian ice cream. If I had any that night, it was probably the first I ever had. Already, Kelli was leading me into new areas of life. We retired to the Treehouse and watched Saturday Night Live. I suppose I went home at 1 am. Or later. What a time.

Serendipty is Her Forte

I don't recall exactly what day this part happened but real shortly after the Monday of Doom on the 22nd I happened into Kelli at Mesa College at the music department. I had taken the Basic Musicianship class because she herself had taken it a semester or two before and that got my interest up. Recall she was 16 at that time, so she was at Mesa not as a full fledged post-high school graduate but instead taking college classes there because it was possible, but also because her alternative high school was just next door. That day at the music department, she was talking to some guy named Josh. She introduced me as a drummer. Josh was a guitarist who could barely contain himself at the prospect of getting a drummer to help he and his other guitar buddy in their progressive hard rock band Forte. (I don't recall any of the material but I think they were into Queensryche or something.) I said I'd be interested especially if he could give me some demo of their stuff first so I could prepare. I might have to cover my early 1993 music activities in another post, but suffice to say that in that first week after Melissa, the stuff of new adventure was already taking form. And Kelli was right there in the middle of it.

But the Forte thing was small potatoes compared to what happened next while under Kelli's influence. Just a flash in the pan. I was just barely kicking tires and running my hand over the vehicle that was going to take me for the ride of my life.

But it Does Mean Beans!

It was just under two weeks after the Weekend of Doom with Melissa and one week after the Moving Violations tour with Kelli when it became time to do something to fill the new weekend-long void. Kelli suggested I go to a coffee shop with her to see a band she and Kay liked. They love acoustic music, folk music, protest music. The part about "coffee shop" threw me. Being so sheltered and suburban as I was, I was barely aware of what she could be talking about if it wasn't one of those kinds of Denny's-like greasy spoon places from the Ike's 50s and LBJ's 60s. You know...the places with glass and rock walls and odd diamond shaped roof panels that look kind of Jetsonlike, a cocky waitress with overdone makeup, and truckers with buttcrack issues? Oh! No, that's not what Kelli was getting at? Since I didn't drink coffee then and only now have adopted enough tolerance for coffee that I drink it about two days a month to kick my ass into gear for early morning work route driving to LA, I was clueless about the fair trade selling, earthy and colorful, free-thought-inducing bohemian dens she had in mind. The only coffee I knew about was gross stuff my old man drank: that freeze dried crystal crap that Folger's sells. I never drank it except to taste it once and that broke me of the habit immediately. Coffee was an adult drink. What did Kelli want with the stuff? Man, I was in for something new. Coffee? Coffee shops? Music in a coffee shop? I guess you'd be more likely to find music there. I doubt I ever saw live music at one of the Jetson types of coffee shops. That's why I was not really on the ball with her pitch. But she had an idea that might improve my life so I went along.

On March 5th I accompanied Kelli and Kay to Beans, ironically located in the shadow of University Town(e) Center, a major mall that us suburban rats would like to be seen at, and indeed, where Melissa and I launched into our relationship in June '92. Beans was just down the hill in a smaller strip mall, tucked into a corner. It's proximity to UCSD would have clinched it a smart and progressive crowd—all of which would have pretty much scared me then. It was high ceilinged, colorfully painted and inviting as those places tend to be. Art was on the walls. Since the entire area surrounding UTC was rather new, Beans too was new, and perhaps newer than the rest of things. Beans was a place I'd just drive past. But it became the stage (literally) for a huge new act in my life. My notes only indicate that I went there a number of times during that month and into April, always on weekend nights. I don't have but a couple notes indicating exactly who played one night or the next. But the band Kelli wanted me to see was Rekless Abandon, a duo with an incredibly imaginitive and sensitive acoustic guitar player named Paul Abbott and an equally incredibly dynamic and emotive singer, Randi Driscoll. Because I was deep into my progressive rock music and was only distracted by Melissa's gravitation to sappy soft rock, Rekless Abandon was foreign to me. First off, where was the band? It's just a dude and a chick strumming and singing! The drummer in me was unimpressed. But all this got me out of the house. There were a couple other musicians I recall seeing there. At first I was more impressed with a fellow named Dominick Giovanellio, a solo guitarist/singer who had some songs that I recall were tinged with some humor and wit. Another night I might have seen—and sat in with on drums—the Ray Iverson Quartet, a traditional jazz combo that I really had no business sitting in with, but they were gracious enough to let me do it twice. There was a blues band that I saw a couple times. Or maybe that was just their name?

He Played with Frank Zappa

But by far there is more at stake by returning to Rekless Abandon. They had a tape that I eventually got, and then another once it came out later in the year. Kelli and Kay had seen Paul and Randi play several times and were on first name basis with them. They even had them play a house party at the Treehouse. I was along at Beans and got to meet Paul somewhat. Enough anyway that after I'd seen the following spectacle at least twice I had to ask Paul what the hell I just saw. The thing is, while I remember certain things and certain impressions, since I was not steeped in the history of Rekless Abandon and did not yet have an inkling of how the San Diego music scene was networked, even now I don't have all the facts about the story I am about to tell. Yet I am certain I have asked people who were there those nights and who made it happen. Here goes.

At the end of their set, Paul and Randi did a boisterous song with a fierce chorus that I'm pretty sure went "Freaks! Freaks! Mother Fuckers!" repeatedly. That was obviously a crowd favorite as it got patrons into singing it too. But the curious thing was that they invited a bespectacled, long black hair flowin', trenchcoat and purple knit cap wearin' (or was it the purple and green pork pie hat?) guy up to the stage to sing that refrain in full vigor. Was it random? Could I get called up if I shouted and waved most enthusiastically? Once I saw it in two performances I knew there was something. He wasn't just another guy in the crowd. At the set break, this trenchcoat dude garnered some adoration and attention, even at a rather isolated coffee shop. Who was he? I had to ask Paul.

"Oh, that's Mike. He's a friend of ours. He's played with Frank Zappa..."

That got my attention. Not even so much because I was a fan. I wasn't a fan, and even now I'd be slow to call myself a fan of Zappa. Back then I had not one Zappa recording, but this sped up the process so that I had one by about June. It turned out that I started tentatively picking up some Zappa from the used CD shops. During the summer I was crafting some drum/vocal ode to Zappa for Rhythmic Catharsis. In early November I went to a Terry Bozzio drum clinic. 1993 was the year of getting into Zappa. It proved to be an oddly fated year for that.

The stuff I was doing with Rhythmic Catharsis was intuitively attempting to appropriate the dirty humor part of what Zappa did but never in a million years could I ever compose anything even as musical as his farts! Later in the year I crossed paths with Mike again at another Rekless Abandon show at another coffee shop, Rumors in Ocean Beach. It seems Mike was there to watch but had somehow become their soundman for the night. I was there with some new bandmates from New Electron Symphony, and Ian, the NES bandleader who surely would enjoy Zappa but did not know Mike, was really bugged at the sound that night. By that time in late November 1993, I'd gathered enough knowledge to wonder about Zappa, his studio, and his methods. At break time, I went outside and listened in on some open conversation and then proceeded to put my foot in my mouth. I hereby met Mike Keneally.

How's that Foot Taste?

Almost verbatim from my journal from December 7, I wrote, picking up on Paul's first mentioning of Mike's claim to fame...

He looked a little young [for having played with FZ who was in his 50s. Mike was 31]. Well, about two weeks ago I saw Rekless Abandon at Rumors, only about a week before I played there with NES. I saw Paul's friend again and talked to him. Sure enough, he played with Zappa in the last touring band in 1988. Since then he has played with (and still does) Frank's sons Dweezil and Ahmet. If that's so he's also been playing in a band [Z] which as seen the likes of Chad Wackerman, Doane Perry, and several others. The best in the biz. And the album he played on is one which also has Sting guesting on it! He told me a little more about Frank's studio and his history with Frank's band, and his solo stuff. I asked if Frank was still active in music. He said no. Frank is very very sick.

Who would have known that Frank died a week later on December 4th?

Strangely, I turned on the news today at 4 pm, something I never do. As I watched, a clip came in just before the commercial: something about the "late Frank Zappa." The LATE Frank Zappa?

Man. I felt so bad for asking such trivial shit of Mike just a week before his hero and mentor died.

I don't think I saw Mike for some time, but I did later hear his name in September 1994 when I went to a digital studio to do finish work on the Slaves By Trade recording that was new then. Joe Statt, the engineer, said Mike Keneally had been there recently with a whole mess of DAT tapes that he composited into his new album, Boil That Dust Speck. That Keneally name kept coming up. Was there a message in it? I found out when I saw my first Mike Keneally show in December of 1994—a year after the foot-in-mouth incident. And that was like losing my virginity all over again. But better!

Now, Where Were We?

Okay, so you saw I started this entry on one topic and then hovered for a while on Kelli talk, and then got to Keneally. Exactly. When I think of how all this stuff unfolded from that breakup with my first girlfriend (who as I said in the previous entry was someone who had her eye on me for some time prior to our dating, and whose parents were friends with mine before I was born...the story goes backwards and forwards), my mind is always blown. But this whole post is also a very diffuse thank you to Kelli who of course is my dear wife now. But even that was years in the future and was dotted with many stops and starts along the way. But the grand point that I have to make is how she's been accomplice to reshaping my life at some interesting times when I've felt, well, dead in my soul, defeated, lost. Kelli has often been responsible for sparking a new me into existence, for a rebirth of my spirit. And that's the honest truth.

The story of Kelli in my life is in some ways parallel (up to a point) with Melissa. But then there was an incredible divergence. Analogous to the prenatal history of Melissa's folks being party buddies with mine is the fact that before Kelli was born, Kay was at the same church as the one my grandmother helped found. Kay was my Sunday School teacher for a while when I was about 5-8 and Kelli and I used to have some play experience together. In both cases I was about three years older and had childhood experiences with Kelli and Melissa, even a few miles apart in town, mostly around Clairemont for a while. Kelli moved to Florida. Melissa to Mira Mesa. Both arrived back on the scene for me within about six months during the summer leading to or within my senior year in high school. To be honest, I didn't imagine a relationship with either until somehow circumstances seemed right according to the great mysteries and machinations of the universe. Back then, while I had made myself comfortable with Melissa because she was present and willing to be in a relationship, but I was really holding out for Shelby for no particularly tangible reason. Interestingly, it took until that imaginary relationship collapsed in 2000 before the way was clear to be open to Kelli. 

And that's about where the similarities end. I'm certain I got the better partner in the end. But try telling that to the tortured 19 year old for whom the world seemed to come to an end until Kelli, still pretty young but already wise beyond her years, was just a friend who was willing to connect at a substantial level that I didn't feel was possible with other people in general but certainly with Melissa. It's kind of odd how one had shallow roots and the other deeper roots. Melissa always (even now, from what I can see when I do a quick web search) seemed to be into stuff I'd never be interested in. Kelli was like an oasis the way she kept the light on for me, a living connection to matters of faith and spirituality, allowing life to be complex and messy because she too knew that was a major pattern. In one way it was good that the whole Melissa chapter was done by the time I was 21 (we had a short fling the following year), and good also that Kelli finally made sense to me in time to turn 30 (28, really). The years in between had a considerable darkness lurking that really set me up to recognize what Kelli meant after so many years of church youth groups, casual friendship, collaborating on a CD, and a bit of pre-dating foolin' around. Ultimately, as the story goes elsewhere on this blog, the summer of 2001, with two tragedies hitting us (9/11 and the murder of one of our church buddies, Daniel, a month before), we found ourselves cashing in our relationship capital and recognizing we needed to be closer if the world around us was going to keep descending into utter madness. And then closer still. It's quite a story. But now you just read one big chunk that hitherto had barely been mentioned.

And of course volumes could be written about how things worked out after I saw Keneally play in December 1994. The effect he had on my creativity was immense. Following leads opened up by interacting with him has taken me down many avenues. There are even a few interesting bits concerning how the Keneally and Kelli worlds have interacted. That is another entry altogether.

Taken together, it's all the story of my life. The greatest story ever told, man...

Article originally appeared on The Artist Presently Known As Ed in word, image, and sound (http://tapkae.com/).
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