But Always There Has Been Pearl Jam

I’m sitting at the table in my garden apartment in the airbnb in Chicago. Snow has fallen on the ground. Freezing air has settled into the city. My two-day writing journey is underway.

It’s early in the morning. I’m sipping coffee, making notes, and preparing to fix Part One of The Summer of Run. I’ve been fixing it for some time. That’s just my process. I have to dump a great deal of shit on the page to figure out where to plant the seeds.

When it’s time for me to write, I need silence. No music. No talking. No…anything. I need my mind clear, and my thoughts focused.

But that’s not where I am today. Today, I’m creating. I’m painting in my head. I’m building the stories around the spine of the narrative, the thing that makes the story…a story. To do that, I need sound. I need music.

I need Pearl Jam.

My first writing job in 1994 was with the alt-weekly Cincinnati CityBeat. I wrote straight news. I reported on City Hall. I wrote a column called “The Burning Question” where the news team would come up with one question for a local politician or public figure, and then ask them. I loved the column. I loved when I got cussed out. Or when somebody would get so enranged they’d hang up.

But that was journalism as sport. What I loved was features. I had the chance to write short and long features. I wrote about a biker who ran a small church for prostitutes and homeless people. A group of graffiti artists who tagged the city’s sewers (and had a police task for set up to stop them). A bike club that raised money for children and hospitals.

I’d spend weeks running around the city, interviewing people, spending time with them, getting to know them. But I’d never write a thing. Instead, I’d just collect bits and scraps and pieces of notes.

Then when it was time: I would start my ritual.

I’d sit at the bar assembling my notes on bar napkins, numbering them as got drunk, and then dropping them in a manila envelope. I’d construct the bones of the narrative while I got drunk and in between games of pool.

The next night, I’d go home, open a bottle of Jameson, turn off the lights in my room, pull out the napkins, crank up Merkinball, and write until the story was done.

On more than one occasion, I would get up in the morning without recollection of whether I’d submitted the story. I’d slide on my torn jeans, tie my flannel overshirt around my waist, slip on my black dockers, my black leather jacket, and wander into the office to ask the editor if he’d received my email.

I continued that routine — more of less — for the next two decades of my life. The booze came and went. The drugs came and went. My relationships came and went.

But always there’s been Pearl Jam, the soundtrack for my writing. The mood behind my creativity.