Rainclouds, oh, they used to chase me.

I googled myself yesterday. Not really sure why; I guess I read something online that made me think about such an activity, and on the spur of the moment I did so. It sent me to a bunch of places I expected, or could have expected, including an article I wrote for a local music magazine a couple of years ago that I'd had no idea was on the internet. It also sent me to a couple of totally random places. For example, I found the twitter account of an old friend who moved to Chicago two or three years ago. Apparently, she saw someone on the street who looked like me and was moved to post on twitter about it. And finally, the weirdest one--I found a website dedicated to a summer camp I used to attend.

The website is specifically maintained separately from the continuing official online presence of the camp, as well as the church it's associated with (the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia--an organization I definitely want nothing to do with). The introductory page says something about "parents aren't always happy about what goes on at camp", which is something I know all too well. Apparently, campers and counselors from a long time ago decided to start this site in order to maintain their memories of the camp, which are, of course, far different than a church group who maintains a summer camp would probably want to admit. The reason I found my own name is because the site contains huge lists of every camper who attended every summer session for a great deal of its 40 year history, and my name shows up several times on those lists.

The site blows my mind. A lot of the people who post on it most regularly are counselors I had back in the late 80s and early 90s. There are names and pictures scattered throughout the site that bring back memories of people I haven't thought about in over a decade. The most insane thing I found, though, was a pdf file of the 1992 "Smoke Signal", a newsletter published at the end of each year's session and mainly consisting of messages sent from campers to each other. It was something to take home by which you could remember your experience at camp. It also had contact info for everyone who'd been at camp that year. In 1992, I worked on the "Smoke Signal", and there's a spot about halfway through the issue where I handwrote Rites Of Spring lyrics and a strange message. I took a screen capture of it from that website, and here it is:

Yes, Chanco is the name of the camp, and I guess I've now given you enough information that you could probably google and locate the website all this information comes from. So if that's your kind of thing, knock yourself out. Part of me is really embarrassed at the thought, but I'm sure no one who reads this blog would look at that website and find anything but strange non sequiturs. For me, though, it's an intense and haunting reminder of what life was like when I was a kid. I first attended camp at this place when I was 10, and the last time, 1992, was when I was 16. I had some wonderful times there and some terrible times there. In the summer of 1992, I was struggling to keep myself sane, about to become a senior in high school and still feeling like an underdeveloped mutant loser because I had never kissed a girl in my life. I had painted toenails and a really unorthodox mohawk (as the screen capture suggests) because I didn't really know who I was yet but I wanted badly to declare myself to the world as someone worth paying attention to. It worked, in some ways, but it sure wasn't getting me girlfriends. And it wasn't keeping me from being profoundly depressed. Since I still struggle with depression to this day, it's weird to say that anything has changed where all that is concerned, but truthfully, a lot has. When I wrote those Rites Of Spring lyrics into the newsletter, it was because that record was busily burning itself into my brain throughout that summer. I'd discovered that the hardcore music I'd loved for a couple of years at that point could not only express anger and frustration but also alienation, loneliness, and deep emotional suffering. Rites of Spring was a lot of what was keeping me alive at that point. But it was just one of the many bands that really mattered to me at that age.

The band that is most strongly connected with that summer camp, in my mind, is the Stone Roses. The main reason for this is probably because of the dubbed Stone Roses cassette that I own to this day, which was taped for me by my friend John while at camp in summer 1992. He had a 90-minute tape full of songs that had been singles or B-sides or were otherwise not on the self-titled Stone Roses debut, at that point the only release by them available in the United States. He was casually playing this tape in his cabin one afternoon, and I bugged out. Absolutely had to have a copy. Fortunately, I had a tape with me that I was willing to erase, and even more fortunately, we were able to locate someone who could use their boombox to dub tapes. That cassette John made me is full of dropouts and weird spots, but for at least a year, it was the only way I could hear any of those songs. He dubbed it for me with a few days remaining in our camp session, and I walked around with it in my Walkman constantly after that. To this day, when I hear songs like "One Love", "Standing Here", and especially "Sally Cinnamon", I think of that summer camp. Most of the songs that were on the tape John made for me eventually came out domestically on "Turns Into Stone", and the remainder appeared on "The Complete Stone Roses" a few years later, but for me, that dubbed cassette full of dropouts is the one on which I've heard them the most.

"Sally Cinnamon" is probably the single Stone Roses song whose fame is most out of sync with its quality. This is an outstanding three minute pop song, full of the psychedelic atmosphere that John Squire was always so good at creating with his guitar lines. Drummer Reni and bassist Mani were a singularly funky rhythm section, especially for a couple guys from Manchester, England, and they added a lot to the Stone Roses' sound, but for me, John Squire's guitar playing has always been what makes The Stone Roses. The jangling verses and choruses on this song, and the much more distorted leads, which twist and turn around Ian Brown's vocal lines, are all perfect. And speaking of Ian Brown, I'm not sure what it is about his voice that makes him sound perennially flat and off-key in live recordings, but whether it's just a function of his being drunk/high/unable to hear himself in a live setting or whether it's just how he sounds at all times, it's something that was never allowed to sneak into the studio recordings of his vocals. Thank god for that; it sounds terrible on pretty much every live recording I've ever heard. Considering that the Stone Roses did all of their recording before autotune, I think it's probably just a problem he has live anyway. Whatever, that's not the point I was going to make here. Ian's vocals and lyrics are sometimes only serviceable, and although I can generally ignore that and just concentrate on Squire's guitar playing, "Sally Cinnamon" stands out in the Stone Roses' recording career because I don't have to do that here. The lyrics are kind of cliche once you write them down, and honestly, they're the sort of sappy-love-song lyrics that have nothing to say about my current life. But as a teenager, they described an idyll I desperately hoped to find--an idyll, by the way, that I probably built up too much. This would certainly explain the troubles I've had in relationships over the years. Anyway, I still am impressed with one part of the song--after a false ending 4/5 of the way through the song, there's another verse hidden at the end. This verse adds another layer to the cliche sappy-love-song lyrics and improves the lyrical quality by a good bit. "Then I put the letter back in the place where it was found," Ian sings. "In the pocket of a jacket on a train in town." Previously, the chorus has been "Sent to me from heaven--Sally Cinnamon, you're my world." On this last verse, Ian changes it to "Sent to her from heaven--Sally Cinnamon, you're her world." In reality, this sappy love song he's been singing the whole time has been a found love letter in the pocket of a forgotten coat on a train. One assumes that the sincerity of the sentiment has touched him, but it's not something he's feeling himself. Maybe this is why I always related to this song so much--that feeling wasn't mine either. In fact, all these years later, it still isn't, and maybe it never will be. But it is touching to see it in anyone, and that's something that "Sally Cinnamon" captures very well.

"Standing Here" is another love song, and it doesn't do nearly as much to rescue its lyrics from the realm of cliche. However, I still think it's great, and this time it is entirely because of John Squire's guitar. The noisy, ringing notes that feedback over the opening intro soon bring in a song on which Reni plays an incredibly complicated rhythm and Squire lays down intertwining layers of single-note guitar melodies. The one lower in the mix is also less distorted and more conventionally melodic, but it is joined much of the time by an overdriven, more psychedelic lead guitar that gives the entire song a sharpness that isn't present in a lot of the Stone Roses' more poppy material. "Standing Here" also has the sort of drawn-out, hypnotic ending that is present on several of the Stone Roses' songs, which are quite often their best ones. The drawn-out ending on "Standing Here" is not the sort of psychedelic instrumental breakdown that ends a song like "Fool's Gold" or "One Love"; instead it is quiet and subdued, featuring near-whispered vocals by Ian Brown and a lead guitar line that is less distorted and more melodic by a good bit than the one that laces throughout the main section of the song. Eventually, it all fades out, but as it does so, it gives the impression of the sort of jam that could go on much longer than it does.

When I got the tape home from camp, I filled the 9 or so minutes of blank space at the end of side two with the 8 minute ending track from the Stone Roses' self-titled debut, which, in addition to being my favorite song from said self-titled album, also fit perfectly into the alloted blank space. "I Am The Resurrection" had been just as important of a song for me in the summer of 1991 as "Sally Cinnamon", and really, the entire dubbed tape John had made me, became in the summer of 1992. I'd purchased my cassette copy of "The Stone Roses" only a few weeks before leaving for camp, and hadn't really gotten to know it before leaving. When I got to camp that summer, I found that the combination of melodic British pop and hypnotic, introspective psychedelia that was contained on "The Stone Roses" was a perfect soundtrack for summer camp. I had started attending that camp while living near Richmond, Virginia, and by the early 90s was still attending it while living in the mountainous rural areas of the western part of the state, but most of the attendees in any given year came from the Hampton Roads/tidewater district of Virginia. Therefore, a lot of the campers that I met in any given year fancied themselves surfer dudes and had a completely different fashion sense and personality type than anyone I was used to. Quite often, such a thing was alienating in the extreme, but sometimes it also seemed really cool to me--every bit as cool as those campers thought they themselves were.

"I Am The Resurrection" features lyrics that I don't think I ever related at the time to my own conflicted feelings about the other campers at camp. They were way cooler than me, they were always judging me, they made me hate them, they made me hate myself. Looking back, I think maybe I was a lot more real and sincere than a lot of them, and being real and being sincere of course put me in line for a lot of abuse. That's just kind of how the world works, I suppose. Anyway. "Down down, you bring me down. I hear you knocking at my door and I can't sleep at night." These lyrics over what is undoubtedly the catchiest song the Stone Roses ever wrote. I could relate, even though I wasn't sure exactly who I saw these frustrated sentiments directed at in my own life. "Don't waste your words, I don't need anything from you. I don't care where you've been or what you plan to do." And then, after the final chorus, these words flowed into an uplifting final bridge; "I am the resurrection, and I am the life," Ian sang, stealing a lyric from a well-known Christmas song. "I couldn't ever bring myself to hate you as I'd like." He's told interviewers that this song's lyrics were written to protest unthinking Christianity, which makes it doubly ironic that I fell in love with this song at a church camp. It always meant something much more personal than that to me, though, and I guess I've already articulated it as best I can.

The song is a tour de force, musically speaking. As I've said, it's undoubtedly the catchiest song the Stone Roses ever wrote. The poppy, jangly verses at times remind me of The Byrds, though they aren't as folk-influenced as anything the Byrds ever did. I would say that The Stone Roses replace the folk influences that appeared in the music of the Byrds with influences from the melodic guitar-based Britishisms of The Smiths, another Manchester band whose influence The Stone Roses couldn't have avoided. That being said, there's a different texture to "I Am The Resurrection", one that comes from the sort of late 60s English psychedelia that featured on the second Nuggets box. I wouldn't have known this at the time, but hearing the song now, I can't imagine that John Squire didn't have records by The Move, The Pretty Things, and the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd in his collection.

But there's something else to "I Am The Resurrection" that was a completely new idea in the late 80s. The extended psychedelic breakdown was certainly nothing new in and of itself, and plenty of bands had done this sort of thing plenty of times decades before The Stone Roses ever attempted it. What separates the lengthy ending section of "I Am The Resurrection" from anything that came before, though, is the way the Stone Roses incorporated the rave culture, which was dominating the underground music scene in Manchester at the time, into their psychedelic pop-rock music. As the lengthy breakdown in "I Am The Resurrection" begins, we hear chiming bells in the background of what is otherwise a pretty standard rave-up solo. Along about 4:30 into the song, though, the backing musicians drop out and John Squire plays a riff that leads the entire band into a completely different key. When the rhythm section comes back in, bass and drums are joined by bongos, ambient echoes that might be guitar feedback, and the aforementioned ringing bells, which drive the song's groove into a pounding dance beat. This beat begins heavily, but only swells to a higher and higher crescendo as it goes, growing and growing in intensity until... the whole thing stops. It sounds like the end of the song, but after an 8-beat pause, the guitar and drums come back in, introducing another phase of the song with a thematic riff before plunging directly back into the pounding, pulsing beat. This time through, things seem a bit more ambient, and the song's intensity decreases rather than increases, eventually resulting in a takeover by the ambient feedback noises, which usher the song out on a bed of softly shaking percussion. The intricate construction of this section of the song is fascinating, and makes plain that, despite the Stone Roses' firm grounding in pop and rock music, they were listening to what was going on in the rave clubs that dominated their town at the time.

When I hear these songs now, I often zone out and think of walking down paths through forests. I see faces in my mind of people I haven't known since I was half of my current age. I remember various experiences that now blur together in my mind, which I realized upon looking at the website that started this whole train of thought in the first place. There were huge chunks of my summer camp experience that my mind had muddled and blurred together, sometimes resulting in a memory that featured conflicting details. I remembered events happening in a certain order, then in turn remembered that some of the people I visualized being present for some of these events couldn't have been there. Slowly I unraveled details in my mind and came to the conclusion that some of the camp sessions I remembered were actually multiple years that had blurred together in my mind. My having stayed in the same cabin with completely different cabinmates in the years 1990 and 1991, then in a different cabin on the other side of camp in 1992 but with the same cabinmate I'd had in 1991, were some of the details that made specific memories hard to unravel. And that was just the beginning of the confusion. It's easy to think that you remember everything that happened in your life pretty distinctly and pretty well until you start analyzing it in detail and comparing your memories to factual evidence of what happened at the time. This sort of thing reminds you of all that you don't remember.

And maybe, just maybe, a lot of things you don't want to remember. The fact that I'm not sure whether I want to become a member of this website that is nonetheless totally fascinating to me is a good clue of my own ambivalence about this time in my life. I can't help but think that, no matter how good a time I remember having at that point in my life, the truth is actually quite embarrassing. I can't help but wonder what the friends I had then might have thought of me, or how lame I'd seem to them now. I don't know if I want to re-establish contact with anyone who only knew me at some of the most painful times of my life. And I definitely am not sure that I want to add memories that I have to the site's archive of things that went on at the camp. I know I have plenty of stories to tell, and I know that a lot of them are so personal that they'd be a window into an experience of that camp that no one else had. But I don't know if I want anyone to know how I felt at the time, and what I was going through. I just can't imagine talking about experiences from that point in my life without opening doors to embarrassing memories, doors that might be better left closed.

The Stone Roses - Sally Cinnamon
The Stone Roses - Standing Here
The Stone Roses - I Am The Resurrection

I have a feeling that this entry is incoherent and poorly constructed, and if so, I apologize. Not everything I post on this blog comes out in a complete, finished form, and sometimes I think that the things I'm posting are too delicate, too ephemeral, that if I really worked hard on fitting them together and making them coherent and well-organized, that I'd give up on writing them long before I finished the work necessary. This is one of those entries. The subject of this post won't bear too much thought without my embarrassment reaching critical mass. As embarrassed as I am by its half-finished form, I know that if I tried to finish it, I'd be too embarrassed to post it at all. So I'm afraid this is the best I can do, this time. Hope that's OK with everyone reading this... assuming anyone actually is.



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