Monday, August 28, 2006

Shakey and the Stooges

A coworker relocated to Israel today. This in itself is no big deal: he’s Israeli-born, Israeli-educated, and Israeli-commando trained. But tucked under his arm as he boarded the plane and it began its long flight to the Middle East, was my copy of Jimmy McDonough’s epic Neil Young biography, Shakey. Or so I imagine.

Around the office I have become known as the Guy Who Listens to Crazy Bongo Music. The guy who disappears once a year to follow a concert around the country. The guy who gets angry when someone thinks that Mission of Burma is an online video game. The guy who knows that the Holy Modal Rounders were not a religious cult. It’s not as glamorous as being The Fresh From College Stud Who Gets The Women, but it’s far better than being The Guy Who Only Eats Dairy, or The Guy Who Blasts Vicious Farts In His Cubicle, or The Guy Who Sniffs His Snot Back Up His Nose All Day Instead Of Buying A Box Of Kleenex.

I’ve since developed a dedicated interoffice network of a few brave souls who occasionally stop by to grab some tunes they’d never hear on the radio or be inclined to listen to otherwise. Think of me as a corporate office version of Red from The Shawshank Redemption.

So when this particular coworker, who is significantly older and balder than me, stopped by my prison cell-sized cubicle and asked what I was listening to, I hesitatingly removed my headphones, paused the iPod, and told him I was rupturing my eardrums to Funhouse by the Stooges.

I readied myself for the usual, and obvious, comment: a smartass crack about not knowing the Three Stooges played music, followed by a shrill impression of one of Curly’s famous ticks, mannerisms, or spasms. Or one of Moe’s two-fingered gouges to the eyes.

But this coworker’s response was different. He claimed that Funhouse was his favorite album from the 1970s, and that he had seen the Stooges in concert in Cleveland throughout the early 1970s. At first I was skeptical; like the Sex Pistols or Velvet Underground, many music fans of a certain age claim to have seen Iggy Pop in his barking, howling, yelping, peanut butter-smearing prime. But as he described how he worked in Cleveland immediately after college graduation in 1968, and soon became caught up in the local music scene, I could tell that he was not bullshitting. He even later showed me his ticket stub from the now-infamous Metallic K.O. show. A true badge of instant respect.

At first the image of an Israeli-born observant Jew tuning in to the abject filth and gutter-prowling violence of the Stooges was hard to reconcile with the suit-wearing project manager sitting in my cubicle. But as he continued to talk about his exploits in the early 1970s, including how he followed Neil Young’s solo acoustic tour around the country with various chemical aids, it became obvious that I was in the presence of a True Sick Muso who had Lived It.

Eventually our conversation turned to McDonough’s Young biography, which I had just recently purchased and finished reading, and which now sat atop a pile of discarded papers in the corner of my messy cubicle. I didn’t think twice when he asked to borrow it. I only gladly offered it, with the comment No hurry at all. Take as much time as you need.

And that is where the trouble began. Among this small circle that I loan my music collection to, there is only one rule. And although it is an unwritten rule, it forms the basis, the fabric, the very foundation of all that is sacred in my music lending system: I do not care when you return the item back to me. Just return it. And if you liked it a lot, support the artist (or the artist’s greedy major label conglomerate) by buying your own copy.

As the weeks passed by and turned into months, and as The Guy Who Sniffs His Snot Back Up His Nose All Day still refused to buy a box of Kleenex, this coworker would occasionally stop by to say he was enjoying the biography. Winter: It is a great biography, I heartily agreed. Neil sure was a heartless bastard at times. Hold on to it as long as you need. No hurry at all. I know you’re good for it. Spring: No man, no hurry at all. It’s all good. Summer: Yeah, Re-ac-tor still is a pile of junk. No, don’t worry about it. Whenever is fine. No rush. I have plenty of other stuff to read.

Which brings me to this morning. As I settled at my desk with my 80 ounces of caffeine madness and began to separate the work-related emails from spam emails offering to consolidate my debt from a Christian perspective while enlarging my penis, I noticed an email entitled “Farewell” from this coworker. Seems he had relocated to a farming commune in his home country, as a complete change from the corporate lifestyle. Without any contact information. I stopped by his office to see if I could find him before he left, but his office was empty, and the book was nowhere to be seen.

With the awful realization of someone burned by a smooth world-class criminal, I didn’t know whether to feel cheated or impressed. The book was gone, but it was in good hands. I wasn’t particularly angry; I could very easily swipe another copy from my brother and then pin it on one of his careless artist friends. I wasn’t even really surprised; after about nine months of not asking for the book back, I could probably assume some common law statute had kicked in and the book was now legally his. Still, I slowly walked back into my cubicle feeling a little bit like a complete stooge.

And not the Iggy Pop variety either.

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