Born to Run (2016)
BORN TO RUN
Matt and I crawl through near-impenetrable smog, gridlocked traffic, onto an exit ramp off the LA freeway and head east. At Laurel Canyon, we wind our way through the Hollywood Hills to my small cottage. Ten days out of Jersey we step out of the dusty XL and stand amid butterflies and bougainvillea at the wooden door of the first home I’ve ever owned. It might as well be Hearst Castle. My modest new digs, previously home to Charlie Chan’s Sidney Toler, induce torrents of self-loathing in Doug Springsteen’s “number one son” and I want out … now. Once inside, I immediately start thinking about leaving. Where am I going? Anywhere, as long as it’s away from this lovely little home that seems to be asking me for something I find so primally disturbing I cannot submit or surrender to it. It wants me to stay … and I don’t stay, for this little house or for anyone. That’s for everyone else. I go. The only thing that stops me is I know if I get in the car and make that long trip back east, once my toes tickle the Atlantic, I’ll be driven to turn around and return here, in a never-ending cycle of wheel-spinning madness. With nowhere to go I am locked down inside my own miniature West Coast death row. I flop onto the couch I’ve recently purchased (along with every other stick of furniture in this joint in a two-hour spending spree at the local mall), existentially spent, my emotional well of tricks dry. There is no tour to hide behind, no music to “save” me. I’m face up against the wall I’ve been inching toward for a long time.
Matt is privy to none of this. My road lieutenant is in the next room, clankily lifting my home weights, awaiting orders that ain’t coming. I return to my bedroom overlooking the foggy LA basin, stare out the window, and I phone Mr. Landau.
I’ve broached these subjects in several long semianalytical conversations with Jon in the past. He gets the drift. It’s dark and getting darker. My well of emotion is no longer being channeled and safely pipelined to the surface. There’s been an “event,” and my depression is spewing like an oil spill all over the beautiful turquoise-green gulf of my carefully planned and controlled existence. Its black sludge is threatening to smother every last living part of me. Jon advises, “You need professional help.” At my request he makes a call, I get a number and two days later I drive fifteen minutes west to a residential home/office in a suburb of Los Angeles. I walk in; look into the eyes of a kindly, white-haired, mustached complete stranger; sit down; and burst into tears.
Now, We Begin
I started talking, and it helped. Immediately, over the next few weeks, I regained some equilibrium; I felt myself steadying, righting myself. I’d danced and driven my way, all on my own (sans drugs or alcohol), to the brink of my big black sea, but I hadn’t jumped in. By the grace of God and the light of friends, I wouldn’t live and die there … I hoped.
So began thirty years of one of the biggest adventures of my life, canvassing the squirrely terrain inside my own head for signs of life. Life—not a song, not a performance, not a story, but a life. I worked hard, dedicatedly, and I began to learn things. I began to map a previously unknown internal world. A world that, when it showed its weight and mass, its ability to hide in plain sight and its sway over my behavior, stunned me. There was a lot of sadness, at what had happened, at what had been done and what I’d done to myself. But there was good news also: how resilient I’d been, how I’d turned so much of it into music, love and smiles. I’d mostly beaten the hell out of myself and my loved ones, the usual victims. However, I understood what had recently drawn me so far down had also rallied to my defense as a child, had covered my heart and provided shelter when I needed it. For that, I was thankful, but now, those wayward blessings were standing squarely between me and a home and life I needed. The question was, could I tolerate those things? I needed to find out.
I am standing on a rise behind my old farmhouse, the farmhouse where I wrote Darkness on the Edge of Town and lived during the late seventies. If you were standing there today, the ruddy soil would seem to have ceased growing its feed corn and soy and spontaneously sprouted McMansions. But in my dream, I look out over blue skies, green trees and falling farm fields to a distant black stand of woods. A child, perhaps six or seven, is standing at forest’s edge. It’s me. He doesn’t move. He waits, just showing himself. There’s a pause, then my boy raises his head, finds his thirty-two-year-old self in the distance, watches, then smiles. It’s a smile I know from the many faded black-and-white Polaroids in our family album.
In my dream, I am young and unburdened by the original sins of my tribe. I am not my father’s, not my mother’s, nor my grandmother’s or grandfather’s. I am simply me; I am my own. It’s a sad dream. I have often brought the weight down, hard, on this little boy. I’ve taken over my father’s cruelest work and often done it too well. To do it well, you must mistake and distort your child, your most beloved treasure, into being something he is not, a competitor in the household. Then, when his eyes gaze up, past the garrison belt, beyond the buttons on the olive work shirt, up, until they meet the eyes that hold the answer to “Who am I?,” that answer comes clear and devastatingly hard, and is silently packed away and carried, until its weight overwhelms.
From my bluff at the rear of my farmhouse, I receive a small wave from my younger self and a smile that signals, “It’s okay …” The smile is followed by a soft turn and an unfearful walk back into the trees. I wake. The dream repeats itself many years later, but this time, the boy who steps forward from the trees is in his late teens or early twenties; the wave and the smile are the same. “I’m okay …” Then years after, the dream comes again, but this time, I’m greeted by my forty-year-old adult self, staring from that distance back into my eyes. These images of my youth came to me in my dreams, having passed through my crucible, returning to say, “We’re okay. We lived, now it’s your turn” … to live.
We’re all honorary citizens of that primal forest, and our burdens and weaknesses always remain. They are an ineradicable part of ourselves, they are our humanity. But when we bring light, the day becomes ours and their power to determine our future is diminished. This is the way it works. The trick is, you can only brighten the forest from beneath the canopy of its trees … from within. To bring the light, you must first make your way through the bramble-filled darkness. Safe travels.
What’s Up, Doc?
In this way, I slowly acquired the skills that would eventually lead to a life of my own. That was still many tears, mistakes, heartbreaks away and often remains a struggle to this day. The price I paid for the time lost was just that. Time lost. You can blow your fortune, should you be lucky enough to obtain one, and make it back, damage your reputation and, with effort and dedication, often restore it. But time … time lost is gone for good.
I had my winter in California, then returned to New Jersey. I was referred to a Dr. Wayne Myers, an avuncular, soft-spoken man with an easy smile, in New York City. And over many meetings and long-distance phone calls during the next twenty-five years Doc Myers and I would fight many demons together until his passing in 2008. When I was in town, we would sit face-to-face, with me staring into his understanding eyes patiently, painstakingly putting together a pretty good string of wins, along with some nagging defeats. We successfully slowed down that treadmill I’d been running on while never getting it to completely stop. In Doc Myers’s office, I got a head start on my new odyssey; his knowledge, along with his compassionate heart, guided me to the strength and freedom I needed to love things and be loved.
In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back. The results of my work with Dr. Myers and my debt to him are at the heart of this book.