At age 26, you run out of markers. Your adolescence is just first after first after first: first wet dream, first period, first guilty masturbation, first fight, first drunk, first boob touch, first weird homoerotic dream, first crotch warmth detected through jeans, first high, first shoplifting, first lay, first heartbreak, first blackout. So, too, with rock ‘n roll–emblematic, iconic first after first: Look What the Cat Dragged in, Appetite for Destruction, London Calling, And Justice For All, Out of Step, The Real Thing, Nothing’s Shocking, Sticky Fingers, Nevermind, Highway 61 Revisited, Surfer Rosa, In the Flat Field, Revolution Girl Style Now, Extra Width. This is, of course, a revisionist history, as all history is revisionist, because genocide may be easier to explain than an affinity for the Steve Miller Band and House of Pain.
But by the time you turn 26, you’ve run out of firsts. You’ve been living in a black hoodie and jeans for ten years now, you’re past all the good birthdays, and you look forward to each new PJ Harvey or Dinosaur Jr or Nick Cave record the same way you look forward to your next infantilizing breakup, like you look forward to ravers or rednecks inventing a new drug, the same way you look forward to May in that slushy, interminable Bushwick March: it’s not going to be mind-blowing, it’s not going to be devastating or overpowering in its newness, just the next in a series, not great but good, or at least better than the last one which, by now, you are incredibly sick of.
This vast wasteland of being twenty-six will last five or ten or even twenty years. A long, meaningless, undifferentiated string of years, lazily uncoiling like a spool of fishing line knocked, unnoticed, off the side of a small wooden boat. Sure, at some later juncture, the loss of that spool will not just be noticed but acutely missed–Wait, I could have sworn I had more… shit. Dude, we might be fucked. But in the moment, that decade of being twenty-six will tumble into the vast ocean with not even a splash, just a tiny bloop, then disappear under the waves forever.
Sometimes, during that Sargasso of immature twenty-sixness, a record will circle you like a wary lover. You catch a glimpse of the record at Asterisk, nearly falling down the stairs in 4-inch heels and Alice Cooper Mascara. You make eye contact but don’t speak. The next time you see her at Dark Room on a Monday night, she looks worn, so much white foundation she looks almost blue. You talk for a second and you try to make a joke but you’re too drunk and she gives you a look, then spins on her stool to talk to her friend/drug dealer/driver. A full two years later, you encounter her alone in a booth at Kellogg’s Diner in that precarious window after Saturday last call before Sunday sunrise. She looks softer, her cheeks less gouged out, but it’s impossible to tell if her face is swollen from tears, or bruised, or just that she’s been eating for the first time in years.
Now, finally, it’s your time. The time for both of you, together. Not because you’re both desperate-to-unhinged, not because each of you has mercilessly fucked your way through every other potential mate from Crown Heights to Astoria, but because finally, everything–the flickering fluorescent lights, the murmuring busboys, the cold eggs on the table between you–well, it means something. You will each fall into the other, and together you will spin a mucus-y cocoon of insecurity and passive aggression and weird sex and Vicodin and cigarette ashes in coffee cups–you know, that thing that, in this city of radically diminished expectations, that thing we call ‘love.’
It was in this manner that I fell in love with a record–Bubblegum by Mark Lanegan.
I’d been aware of Mark Lanegan since ’92 as the singer of the Screaming Trees from that song from the Singles soundtrack–yes, fuck you, I remember that and I will force you to remember our collective folly. I’m not going to tell you about his life–the trouble with the law, the tractor accident, the heroin. I’m not going to defile Mark Lanegan by telling you he sounds like the bastard son of artist X and artist Y under the influence of substance Z. I’ve heard Mark Lanegan compared to Tom Waits and Josh Homme, two artists I feel should quit music to pursue acting in a series of family comedy films with the same urgency that I feel Ice Cube should return to making records. I can tell you that I don’t want Mark Lanegan to become an actor. I can tell you that I want him to continue making records like Bubblegum.
When I was 27, Tony the Neck told me Bubblegum was a necessary record. But he was a couple hours into tattooing me in his kitchen and he had brought the ink down right onto my nipple and I was in so much pain that the importance of Bubblegum didn’t register. When I next saw Tony the Neck, he was back in LA, and I was living out of my van. He told me again about Bubblegum, about how he had been banging coke and listening to “Methamphetamine Blues” on repeat, so high his vision was whiting out. This record sounded like something I could really use.
Still, it was three years later when I finally picked it up, a dark time for me. I was living in the last dying breath of Greenpoint, working a construction gig out in Queens, which felt a lot like admitting defeat. But there were two good things in my life: Bubblegum, and a potent pink painkiller that cut up so nicely, it was almost like it had been designed by scientists in lab coats for the express purpose of being snorted off a CD case with a rolled-up Post-it note. They were two secrets, secrets which, together, didn’t add but multiplied in power. When I got high and listened to Mark Lanegan sing “when I’m bombed” and milk that last work till it was nearly four syllables, like when P.W. Long says “gun,” well, that was everything. It was a dark time, but those two secrets made it so I was okay.
You may respect someone, you may admire them, you may be attracted to them, you may wish for great things for them, you may want to fuck them so bad it feels like you are afflicted with an illness. None of this equates to love. One telltale sign of true love is pestering your friends about the merits of the object of your affection, affection they will never share, merits they can never comprehend: “Wait, really, her? Dude, she looks like Lydia from the Beetlejuice cartoon.” There will be bitter sexual jealousy. I recall a friend telling me about walking into Motor City in the late 90’s with his new girl. Her ex walked by, scowled at her and growled “no one will ever eat your pussy like I could.” Lastly, love requires some straight-up irrational insanity. I was drunk at dinner with a girlfriend and her parents one night and I sank into a jealous sulk, silently fuming at how unfair it was that they had known her longer than I had.
This is the jerk I became with Bubblegum. I pushed it on my friends, ranting drunkenly about its perfection. I envied bitterly Mark Lanegan’s tractor accident, imagined in erotic detail those huge tires crushing my own legs. Bubblegum, no one will ever eat your pussy like I could!
There’s a new Mark Lanegan record out but I haven’t listened to it. When I was twenty, I drank a lot of wine. You know, Carlo Rossi, jug wine with the metal cap. One of my roommates suggested that I should take a class about wine or at least read a book—you know, if I was so passionate about wine, why not learn something about it? Must I explain to you how fucking idiotic this is? I have found something that makes me happy. Why would I go about the dull business of learning when that effort could jeopardize this fragile, narrow pleasure I have found. If Bubblegum is composed mostly of grain alcohol and purple food coloring, I don’t want to know about it.
I am not entirely selfish, so I will tell you that you should listen to Bubblegum. I’m not going to tell you what it sounds like. If you want to know Bubblegum as I have known Bubblegum, just turn on the instant porn machine in your closet of a bedroom or the instant porn machine in your pocket. Then you can tell me what it sounds like. I will tell you what it felt like. Listening to Bubblegum felt like being in love. Listening to Bubblegum felt like being loved. Pitchfork gave it a 7.2.