Chapter 1 | Here’s to the Nineties
There was a radio on in the corner, nothing but the classics. I could hear the nonsense going on behind me—cackled laughter and Robert De Niro’s voice, as Goodfellas played. The air smelled of day-old hotdogs, Stone’s peppermint deodorant, and this morning’s coffee. My failed attempt to mask that sickly sweet aroma with cigarettes and incense will forever haunt me until we reach homestead.
I sat quietly, watching River toss a clementine in the air, over and over again. The flick of his wrist as it bounced up and down, distracting. I reached up, catching it for myself. His eyes shot to mine from across the table, daring me to peel it. There was a hole in the Oregon road, and we were momentarily sidetracked. “Shit.” I heard Eddie say. He sat next to me, cursing as my hot tea went pouring into his lap. I reached for my mug, and he jumped up, biting his lip through the discomfort.
“Ah, I’m sorry.” I slid out of the booth, grabbing him a towel. River leaned over the table, drying everything off, and smiled sneakily, snatching his clementine back.
“Don’t worry about it.” He wrung out the bottom of his shirt, his shoulder brushing against mine as he turned slightly toward me. “What was it you were saying last night, after the show? Something about the, the man on fire?” He brushed his fingers across his lip, suddenly taken over by an old conversation.
“The burning man.” I corrected.
“The burning man.” He repeated, furrowing his brow as he looked off in thought. “I really liked that.” He sat back down, worry free of the green tea that had undoubtedly soaked into his shorts. And then his fingers hit the typewriter, and he shut everything else out.
It was only then I realized River had disappeared, I figured he’d headed to the back to sleep like everyone else. My bones ached and my ears were still ringing from all the noise last night. I wondered when it would go away.
“It was worth it, though, right?” Eddie looked to me, his hands never leaving the typewriter. I eyed him curiously, half-amused, and watched the hint of a smile appear and vanish just as quickly on his lips. He then looked back down, leaving a wake of mystery in the silence. And so I let him be.
I turned on my heel, facing that small Sony television and that mustard yellow wrap-around sofa that Dave loved so much. “It’s got style,” he’ll say. “It’s comfy from every angle, what couch can you say that about?” And because of that, the rest of them wouldn’t touch it.
Tyler sat near Stone, a guitar in hand. He wasn’t playing it, he was just one of those people who always had one in hand. I fell back into the sofa, listening to him mumble about how Keanu had fucked up his strings. He was always getting screwed over, and it was bound to set him off one day. He was also one-fourth of Running Knees, the small Olympia band him, River, and Keanu had formed in the summer of 1990. Eric, their eccentric drummer, made it into the band just a year ago, and he was a little darker than the rest of them. A little more… deranged.
Just then, Jeff walked out, his hair wrapped in a scarf. He rubbed his eyes, smiling when he saw me. “Mike won’t stop snoring.”
I smiled back.
“Hey, toss me a soda.” Stone said, waving his hand airily to get his attention.
I felt something under my shoulder. River’s clementine.
With my fingertips, I dug into it, peeling away at its orange shell. I felt my eyes grow heavy, the lack of sleep catching up to me, but my schedule was far too messed up to really do anything about it. I inhaled, smelling a freshly lit cigarette in the distance, and focused in on Ray Liotta’s voice, “Jimmy was the kind of guy that rooted for bad guys in the movies.”
My skin was hot. The July sun was out to cause some damage. I sat on the porch steps of River’s house, staring off and unwittingly admiring the tall evergreens and Western Hemlocks. There was an old trampoline; he slept on that more than his own bed. There were boxers and tube socks hanging from the clothesline not too far off, and if you walked around the side of the house, there was an off-white porcelain toilet, just hanging out—and that’s where he grew rosemary and baby’s breath, thyme and mint. He lived near the heart of Seattle, not too far but not close enough to touch him. He was incredibly private, and enjoyed the ten-minute drive into city.
Tomorrow was their last concert before the tour was officially over—City Hall with the lost boys. Today was supposed to be their day off, but instead they all had to do a shoot for Kick magazine, and I know River was dreading this. He hated mediocre questions, he hated staged photos, but more than that he hated the attention. “Everything south of Washington in this business is fucking malefic.” He’d say. “Demons, they’re everywhere.”
“Did I hear Keanu?” River stuck his head out the screen door, his dirty blonde locks falling out from behind his ear. He looked past me, scanning the front yard, listening for what he thought he’d heard.
“Nope.” I stood, opening the door just enough to slide past him, his teal corduroy cutoffs grazing my legs.
“That shithead.” He mumbled, following behind. I heard his lighter, and then the burn of a cigarette. “He was supposed to be here by now.”
I stopped in the kitchen, water running from the sink as I filled up a mason jar. There was a lot of wood in his house; wood paneled walls, tall ceilings with wooden beams, and if you couldn’t guess—aged wooden floor. He liked the warmth. He liked the natural feel of it all. I was sure it’d been built in the seventies; you could feel the swingers’ ghosts dancing about in late summer nights.
River stood with his hip against the counter, arms crossed. “Are you sticking around?”
He nodded, parting his lips to say something, but his eyes darted to the front door. The awful roaring of Tyler’s truck rushed into the driveway, and I watched River cringe at the sound.
Keanu and Tyler burst in, singing Spirit in the Sky, arms draped over shoulders, putting on a show. Eric trailed in behind, playing air drums. River rolled his eyes.
“Kick is in the yard, so is whatshisname from MTV. Let’s go my broheme.” Keanu moved to the invisible music in his head, dancing over to me. “And you, Jules.” He took my jar of water, taking a sip before spitting it back in the jar. “What is that? Tap water? I hate tap.”
Thank you, Keanu.
“All right. Let’s do this damn thing.” River flicked his cigarette in the sink, shrugging into his jacket.
Two hours later, I sat in the grass, ice-cold lemonade in hand, watching River near death, growing weary of everyone. Lovely boy thought they’d be a small town band forever, thought his voice wasn’t half as great as they were all making it out to be. “But Layne—Layne’s got a great voice.” He’d say, switching the subject. He’d smile, embarrassed, and Keanu would understand, changing the interview’s direction from there.
“How was it touring with Pearl Jam?” MTV guy asked, a camera in their faces. I looked to Keanu, his eyes already on mine. He gave me that River-looks-miserable-I-know look.
Eric sat on the bottom step, picking grass and letting it escape from his grasp. “Well,” he began, licking his lips, “It was our first tour, so that in itself was—”
“Pretty fucking awesome.” Tyler grinned, his dimples on display. He bathed in the ecstasy of it all.
“It was wicked, we really like those guys.” River half-smiled, running his hand through his hair. Nervous tick.
“And your new single came out a couple days ago—you guys should be proud, it just reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. I listened to it last night, sounds like it’s got a lot of meaning—”
“It doesn’t.” Eric whispered.
“What’s it about, Keanu?” MTV guy asked.
“Um,” he stifled a laugh, looking to Tyler, “You know, it could be about a lot of things.” He dragged his fingers along his stubble.
“It’s titled “Stone,” what is that in reference to?”
“We actually lost a bet to Stone Gossard, and this was our debt. So, you’re welcome, Stone,” River said, looking straight into the camera, “You’ve got a shitty number one hit named after you.”
I had on a shapeless, oversized sweater, and black tights with a horrid hole I’d never be able to fix, but God help me if I lost them. The cold front stung my cheeks, my neck, and the crevices between my knuckles. I shivered through it all.
I saw the headlights and the sound of the tires hit the driveway; poker night begins. Escaping the red Toyota Corolla, Stone nearly fell out of the driver’s seat. I watched Eddie step out, a folder tucked under his arm and a cigarette in his mouth.
“Hey, Jules.” His hands were dug deep in his Sonics windbreaker, jogging quickly up the steps.
“Stone,” I tilted my head, smiling. He brushed past me, pulling on a strand of my hair.
“Hey, Chief.” Eddie walked up the steps, wearing that brown corduroy jacket, his hair swept up in a baseball cap.
“It’s nine o’clock at night.”
“And so it is.” I pressed my lips into a thin line.
“You’ve been out in the cold for too long.” He grabbed the door, catching it before it slammed shut.
“Where’s Beth?” I asked curiously, shuffling out of my moccasins.
“California.” He replied, his underlying tone admonishing further conversation.
Over the course of the last five months or so, I’d sort of gone out of my way to keep my distance from Eddie. Not because I didn’t like him, but he was intimidatingly reserved, more so than River. And I remember how long it took to earn River’s trust and friendship those years ago, it wasn’t really something I was keen on doing again. But Eddie was older, he was this quiet genius, this overly appreciative soul—it’s been five months and I think he’s finally warmed to me, gotten used to me, and so he calls me Chief, and appreciates my two cents. Eddie Vedder, everyone.
In Keanu’s basement, there’s a pool table, darts, an old jukebox he’s had since ninth grade, and in the corner of the dark room, there’s a huge wrap around booth. Worn brown leather, there’s old foam exposed in random areas, but he loves it. We all sat together; River, Tyler, Keanu, Eddie, and Stone—the magic five—they all got along brilliantly, their artistry never lingering too far, their thoughts and ideals hailed.
Keanu hosted poker night spontaneously, at least twice a month, and he usually won every time. Go figure. I looked across the table; Keanu wore his infamous leather jacket, the one River wished he could pull off.
“Ah, fuck you.” Stone laughed, losing his favorite fedora to Keanu’s hand. “You better wear the fuck out of that.”
“I shall do her justice.” Keanu nodded drunkenly, tossing it on his head.
“Has anyone heard from Darren?” Tyler didn’t look up from his hand, but he had the worst poker face. He really shouldn’t play.
“He’s in Rhode Island.” River concentrated. “Rehab.”
“Ah, no,” Keanu sighed, laying out his cards. “Rehab’s for quitters.”
Tyler shook his head, puffing on a cigar. He had jet-black hair, much like Keanu, and the prettiest baby blues—his eyes were out of this world—and for that reason, along with his insanely beautiful smile, he was known as Pretty Boy. Tyler ‘Pretty Boy’ Harvey.
I straightened my posture, and out of the corner of my eye, watched River do the same. He did that sometimes—fed off people. He cleared his throat, unaware of what he’d just done, and laughed at something Stone said.
Eddie sat in the corner, observing everyone else. And then, his blue eyes fell on mine and it took us both a couple of seconds to realize we were staring at one another. Instantaneous smirks, our shyness had to be our faults. We reacted the same, and that in turn only made me laugh almost awkwardly and stand myself up from the table.
“Will you make some popcorn? Please and thank you. Jules?” River asked as I walked up the steps.
There were so many people, so many dreads and ponytails, Pearl Jam shirts and combat boots. The sun was out and the heat was too much, but I embraced this Saturday outside City Hall with overalls and crimson lips.
I’d met an arresting blonde soul today. “I’m Layne, Layne Staley.” He smiled, and I caught sight of his small hoop earrings, and those black beads in his hair. “Jules, Jules Dehaan.” I shook his hand. “It’s real nice to meet you, Jules.”
And there was something about him…
From the side of the stage, the view was great, but still, nothing beats the view from the crowd. Nothing beats that feeling.
I stood with Chris, who stood with his arms crossed, his eyes focused—his entire being focused on the music. Both Pearl Jam and Running Knees were on at once, performing one of the most remarkable mash-ups of two of their songs. I didn’t know when they’d decided to do it, I figured it was one of those random River ideas, one of those things he’d bring up to Eddie before a show and they’d just wing it for the hell of it.
I couldn’t watch Eddie climbing all over the stage, made me wince when he’d jump from one thing to the next. Just then, Chris leaned down toward me, “How long has Phoenix been playing?”
“On and off for fourteen years,” I said, watching Chris’ gaze on River. He was playing with his back against the crowd when he wasn’t at the microphone, staring at the speakers. I smiled, looking back to Chris. I knew exactly what he was thinking. “He has Chromesthesia.”
His brows rose, giving me his full attention. “That’s a form of synesthesia, right? He can see the music?”
“Yeah,” I pointed toward the speaker, “He’s seeing a bunch of colors float around right now.”
“That’s insane.” He paused, his head in the music once again. “I saw them perform when you guys were down in LA, and just thought he was a little off—shy like Ed.”
I smiled again. “He’s one of the best.”
I watched Eddie jump to the stage; his brown locks glistened with well-deserved sweat. He picked up River, throwing him over his shoulder. River laughed, but sang through it all, upside down in a tortured melody.
I walked alongside Eddie. He spoke, his hands moving, speaking for him. “There has to be more to that burning man, you know? I can’t touch it. I just don’t know how to touch it.” I watched the years fall from his face, trying to reach inside to mirror the emotions from another time. Emotions from a time he thought would help him with this song.
I tried to focus in on his voice, but there was too much shouting; fans on the City Hall grounds, trying to get their piece of Pearl Jam and Running Knees, trying to get their little slice of what would be two legendary bands from the Pacific Northwest. I breathed in, shaking all the unnecessary thoughts from my mind. “Maybe you need to walk away from it for a while?”
“I should, but I won’t.” An absolute answer. He mumbled hushed words under his breath, turning his head toward this incessant shout—this guy was hell-bent on Eddie knowing he thought he was a fag. I cringed inwardly, looking away.
Eddie didn’t react. I wondered if it bothered him, and when I turned back to him, he shook his head. “They love you or they hate you. There’s nothing in between. I honestly don’t give a fuck either way. I’ve grown to love the hate more anyway.”
We stopped in front of a small trailer, one they’d all rented for the day, one that was bound to have a beer-soaked carpet and peeling off-white wallpaper. Mike, Chris, and River stumbled out of the trailer, talking obnoxiously.
“Where’s Eddie Vedder?!” We heard a fan shout.
“I’m Eddie fucking Vedder.” River raised his hand, walking away.
My fingers moved to my neck, keeping busy with the few necklaces I wore. I skimmed my thumb over a stone, “I’ve got an idea.”
Eddie raised a brow. I untied the hemp string from the nape of my neck, motioning for his. He hesitated, but then let me tie it around his.
“Turquoise.” He repeated with bemused eyes.
“The stone is a throat chakra. Good for writer’s block.”
Soon he smiled wide, his fingers reaching for the stone. “Turquoise.” He nodded, amused.
At some point during the day, I’d wandered off, paying no mind as to where I was going. Which was probably my first mistake. Not too far from where the trailer was, there was a small concession stand where I’d set my sights on a fat funnel cake and Root beer. But the concert crowd had migrated to the food and I was bound to wait longer than I wanted. The fried stupefaction invaded my senses, my mouth watered.
There were three guys next to me, and at first they were staring off in some sort of trance, but then I realized they were drunk. When they neared me, I thought maybe this wouldn’t end well, because they began speaking to me as if I should know them, but I couldn’t make out too much of what they were saying really.
“What’s your name?” One asked.
“Are you with the band? Groupie, right? You are, aren’t you?” Short one asked, grinning incredulously. Yeah, sure, I told him, moving away.
I don’t remember when it happened, but one of them wrapped his hand around my arm. I shuddered, beginning to pull away, but his grip tightened and that’s when—
“HEY, hey, get the fuck off of her—” River shoved his way through, and then I saw Keanu’s fist connect with someone’s face. I felt someone else grab me from behind, and watched Tyler’s arm swing around the guy’s neck, pulling him down into a chokehold.
I blinked about the situation, absurdly taken aback by the sequence of events. Everything began to spread like wildfire. It wasn’t just them, it was a growing crowd of drunken men fighting, and my heart seemed to palpitate, but I couldn’t help but find the poetry in the sickly sweet scent of funnel cakes and cotton candy comingling with the punk rock-fueled bodies of inebriated men. I would write this down later, yes.
“What the fuck is going on?” I heard Chris’ voice not too far off, his towering figure drawing in close as he began peeling guys off each other.
Someone grabbed my wrist, pulling me away from it all. “You okay?” Layne half-smiled, his eyes concerned. I nodded, watching the fight begin to disperse. “You smell like Patchouli, my lady smells like it, too.” He smiled, a harmless distraction. I smiled.
“Jules?” River’s voice rang from behind. “Jules, are you okay?” He wiped the blood from his lip, turning away briefly as Tyler and Keanu walked away from it all. “You okay?”
I sighed. “River, I’m fine.”
“Yeah?” He breathed out harshly, still catching his breath.
“Yeah.” I promised.
“Let’s get outta here.” He threw his hand over my shoulder, thanking Layne for performing, and rounded up the rest of the lost boys, as if nothing had ever happened. Bloody knuckles and all.
All I wanted was a fucking funnel cake.
When the dust settled and the sun went down, we all thrived on the evergreens and a blazing fire in River’s backyard. Jeff was beyond amazed by the baby’s breath growing in the porcelain toilet, and Tyler and Eric couldn’t leave the tequila alone. I’d been standing in the kitchen, prepping s’mores with Dave when I heard rapping on the window in front of me. Eddie and Stone waved to us, their breath making widening circles with its heat. Stone traced a heart in his, and Eddie traced a peace sign, dropping his head in defeat when he realized it was upside-down. I laughed, I laughed harder that night than I had in a long time.
It was July of 1992. It was the beginning of everything. These Seattle nights were mine for the taking. River danced with Stone in the distance, laughing hysterically as they tripped over their feet. The rest of us sat by the fire, huddled in our thick flannels and heavy leather jackets, worn in boots and fingerless gloves. Eddie handed me a jar of Keanu’s apple pie moonshine, tucking a long lock behind his ear. “Here’s to the nineties.”