Song Of The Day 2/25/2017: Squeeze – “I Learnt How to Pray”

The Final 33

The Rancid Years: Intro

I knew back in 1945 when I started planning this feature that I wasn’t going to enjoy writing about this particular era of my oft-called life. Personally I am not a fan of the man I was between the ages of eighteen and twenty.

On the other hand, I think that might be how it’s supposed to work. You’re cut free from the rigors of childhood and high school. If you know exactly what you’re going to do with your life after you get out of high school, and I suspect most of us did not, then you either have a detailed plan of what to do next or a general idea that you’ll fill out with a bit of foresight.

If you don’t have a clue what you’re going to do, you’re likely to just throw a spaghetti strand at the refrigerator, and if it doesn’t stick you’ll just throw the whole pot and eat off the floor. This may be a personal opinion not backed up by science, which I understand is the approach our federal government is taking, so I feel enabled to embrace it.

I had a few things that I wanted to get away from. Sacramento. The last vestiges the guys in Brooklyn left behind. Oppressive summer heat. Strip malls. But I had no idea about what I wanted to replace it with.

Well, that’s not true, I wanted to replace it with a dedication to music, but I wasn’t optimistic about that. There was too much of a luck quotient involved for that to happen. Although I was a very good performer, I didn’t think I’d nailed it as a creator.

I did not realize until fairly recently that insecurity never goes away, and the point is to work through it, like it was an in-box.

The ways I dealt with my insecurity between the ages of eighteen and twenty were particularly ill-chosen. And although I grew from it, and had some extended periods of constructive activity afterwards, I’ve never really excused or forgiven myself for who I was during that time.

I mean, nobody died. I didn’t have a drug habit. I didn’t embezzle anyone, or increase the price of heart medication to $7,000 a pill or anything.

I was just an idiot who took a lot of things and didn’t give much of it back.

I remember reading an interview with Richard Thompson where he claimed that in Japanese society there was an accepted tradition that between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, males were allowed to go absolutely crazy and screw around all they wanted. Then when they were done they were expected to buckle down and become part of the work tradition.

I haven’t seen anything that confirms Thompson’s account of that specific practice, but in America I think we have much the same thing if we don’t go to college. I just think it lasts a bit longer here, until we’re thirty-five.

A Sketch of Pre-Douche S.F.

I got accepted at San Francisco State University out of high school. The Gators. Because of the Golden Gate Bridge, you see.

Nobody in the UC system would have me because of my uninspiring 3.03 GPA, but I was more interested in living in San Francisco anyway. As a Sacramentan of a certain era I romanticized San Francisco like most of the kids my age. It was the most city-like city on the West Coast (still is). You didn’t need a car. There was theater. People made better jokes. We heard they were passing out free hemp socks on the corner of Haight and Masonic. There was no reason not to be there.

SF State also has a beautiful campus. Well, the surroundings are beautiful. It’s in the southwest corner of the city, in one of the areas no other San Franciscan ever thinks about twice. Just south of the Stonestown Galleria, near some trees and water.

I was going to live in the dorms, because of the notable expense of living in San Francisco. It’s always been expensive to live there. The unaffordability of Seattle is still kind of a recent thing, but it’s always been part of San Francisco’s makeup.

My parents and I drove down to SF State to have a look at the dorms in full swing. It was a raucous, active place, but I don’t recall anything that was unseemly or decrepit happening. My mom still cried, though. This wasn’t the existence she would have picked for me. As it turned out, I didn’t pick it for myself either.

Ward of the State

Fun fact: Did you know I started my college career as a film major? It’s true.

I love the movies—although since Hank came along my viewership has dropped substantially—but never had any experience with a camera. I didn’t even have that many books on the subject of filmmaking. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about auteurs of cinema.

It was just a creative outlet. I was looking for a major that was in line with my generalized ambitions to create something. Film seemed like it was something respectable. I don’t know why I didn’t choose music or journalism, since that’s what I wound up doing most in the future. Or even communications. Film just came out of nowhere. After seeing what a lot of my friends can and have done in visual arts, I haven’t a clue why I thought I was suited for it at any point. But I could be undervaluing myself again.

So in September I moved to Mary Ward Hall. (Hans Johnson came with me for the day.) My roommate was another film major named Justin. I remember he was a big Green on Red fan and we didn’t have anything to talk about.

I only remember two of the classes I signed up for my first semester at SF State: a comparative class on William Blake and T.S. Eliot, and “The Art of Comedy.”

I made a few acquaintances quickly at the dorms, but besides Justin I only remember one’s name—Lynn. She was an earthy girl who ate chocolate chip cookie dough straight from the Pillsbury package. For some reason the powers that be in the dorm—in other words, the guys who’d been there two years already—decided my nickname was “Greenberg.” If I had stayed, that was to be my Delta House nickname. They never explained why, but I’ve always thought it had something to do with my affection for blazers at the time.

 I had friends who had just moved to the City as well. I saw them as much as I could. I had a bicycle to get around. One day, though, I was riding it somewhere around West Portal Station and it fell apart. Just literally broke as I was riding it. The frame collapsed and the wheels buckled. I wasn’t hurt, but I couldn’t figure out how it happened. Maybe some practical jokers had loosened the screws in the middle of the night or something.

I went deeper into San Francisco as much as I could. Once I went to Tower Records on Columbus to pick up Squeeze’s album Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti on cassette. They had just reformed and I was quite excited, but when I started playing it I heard Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest doing their “I hate it when that happens” routine from Saturday Night Live. Somebody at A&M Records’ manufacturing plant had accidentally put the tape for Crystal’s album Mahvelous! inside the case for the Squeeze album.

For some reason I took all these unfortunate events—along with my mild culture shock in the dorms, and growing antipathy about education in the first place—as a sign that I wasn’t ready to start college, or start living in San Francisco. Looking back I wonder if just holding out another week or two would have changed the trajectory of the future. But you know, I wonder that about everything.

So I moved back to Orangevale, under the agreement that if I didn’t go to school, I’d have to get a job. That was how I broke into journalism. Well, that’s how I broke into the coffee room in a place where journalism was happening.

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