Monday, November 14, 2011

Torn and Frayed

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

If you were to ask me today... Torn and Frayed is my favorite song off of the Rolling Stones' double album Exile on Main Street.

I know that might come as a surprise to some of my friends because let's face it both Loving Cup and Tumbling Dice are more popular songs from Exile. Plus, at one time or another, both would have been appropriate songs for the soundtrack of my life. It's safe to say that ten years ago, Loving Cup perfectly summed up my nomadic lifestyle seeking out the all-night buzz. Five years ago when I was living in Las Vegas, you could easily point to Tumbling Dice as my personal anthem. I'm really dig both songs, particularly Tumbling Dice, which I listened to nonstop while it played on repeat as I wrote/edited/re-wrote the last chapter of Lost Vegas.

But there's something about Torn and Frayed right *now* that sends a chill up my spine and causes goosebumps. Just listening to the song and visualizing the lyrics sends me into a seizure of emotions -- both pleasant and painful.
Torn and Frayed

Hey let him follow you down,
Way underground wind and he's bound.
Bound to follow you down,
Just a dead beat right off the street.
Bound to follow you down.
Well the ballrooms and smelly bordellos
And dressing rooms filled with parasites.
On stage the band has got problems,
They're a bag of nerves on first nights.
He ain't tied down to no home town,
Yeah, and he thought he was wreckless.
You think he's bad, he thinks you're mad,
Yeah, and the guitar player gets restless.

And his coat is torn and frayed,
It's seen much better days.
Just as long as the guitar plays
Let it steal your heart away,
Let it steal your heart away.

Joe's got a cough, sounds kind a rough,
Yeah, and the codeine to fix it.
Doctor prescribes, drug store supplies,
Who's gonna help him to kick it

Well his coat is torn and frayed,
It`s seen much better days.
Just as long as the guitar plays
Let it steal your heart away,
Let it steal your heart away.

The song itself was written by Mick Jagger circa 1971 about Keith Richards' flirtation with the dark side of heroin. Two decades ago, I honestly thought the haunting lyric was "his arm is torn and frayed"... meaning Keith's arm. The "torn and frayed" title represented the pin-cushion nature of a junkie's arm, riddled with holes from hypodermic needles, and with each prick a little bit of his soul gets released into the cosmos, never to return. Pretty heavy stuff, eh?

It wasn't until the late 90s when I was bored and wandering around a book store in Austin, TX that I stumbled across an anthology of Rolling Stones lyrics. I flipped the pages and noticed I was totally wrong. The correct lyric is... "His coat is torn and frayed."

I had been wrong about the "his arm is torn and frayed" for almost a decade, yet the song still resonated with me, because I knew the ragged "coat" was just a piece of symbolism of the body/soul of the rigorous life of an intrepid rock star always on the move. I'm sure we're all surprised that Keith Richards hasn't died yet -- considering how much junk he shot into his veins and God knows what he ate/snorted/shot/inserted in the last fifty years. He's fucking Rambo meets King Kong meet Count Dracula. He's the Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan off junkies. He may even be a legit vampire, because I really don't know how he's managed to stay afloat over the last few decades.

Anyway, music has this weird thing about invoking an emotional response -- especially when you least expect it. I spent most of this morning contemplating about the last seven or so years of my life, most of which was dedicated to the poker world in some form or another -- living in Vegas for months at a time, holed up in unventilated hotel rooms fighting off maids that can't read the "DO NOT DISTURB" sign, and running through international airports trying to catch a connection to an exotic locale, where I'd pen stories about degenerate gamblers playing cards.

It's poetic in a tumultuous, junkified way that I heard Torn and Frayed pop up on my iPod during today's morning writing session. I halted everything I was doing and listened. Sometimes, the flow of memories can be stopped and plugged up -- like a dam inside your brain -- but oftentimes, those memories are so powerful that the dam shatters, and you're mind is flooded by a raging river of emotions. That's why so many people are fried on anti-depressants -- to keep the flood waters away. Alas, once the dam bursts, you can't control where the flow takes you until the waters recede. During that ride, you're swept up and away in a maelstrom of emotional memories.

During this morning's flood, the lyrics to Torn and Frayed symbolized the struggles (both good and bad, but mostly bad) that I incurred over the last seven years -- whether I initiated them or not. As much as I fought to control my destiny (I know, I know... how foolish to think I can do that), many situations occurred that I had zero influence over like the politicized nature of the online poker industry and the immorality of many of my colleagues. I failed to control how I reacted to those situations. Sometimes I got lucky. Other times things got ugly.

In short, Torn and Frayed reminded me that I spent most of the last seven years chasing a ghost while floating around a circus-like atmosphere, completely restless and never knowing when it was going to end. When I wanted it to stop, I couldn't get off the rambunctious ride, and then add a substance abuse issue to the equation, and you have a recipe for dismal disaster. When I finally thought I escaped the menacing dark side for good, the entire circus showed up on my doorstep and sucked me back in. I can think of three separate instances when I got swept away and sucked back into the echo chamber.

The circus is more dangerous than you think, because after a while, the absurd becomes the norm, and you're entire perspective on life becomes tweaked. It takes me a few weeks, or even months to remind myself that a different set of rules applies to life inside the bubble, and outside.

I still can't figure out how I evaded utter destruction, and I have to re-read Lost Vegas to figure out what I did to escape the first couple of times. I have emotional scars and battle wounds, but I've done what I can to push away the negative aspects of the seven-year sojourn and hone in on the warmth of pleasant times -- good people, fuzzy memories.

Alas, a song like Torn and Frayed shakes everything up and during the four plus minutes the song plays, as each lyric sung by Mick Jagger forces me to deal with the reality of the last seven years from the parasites, to junkies, crooked doctors, the never-ending party, constantly being on the move, and the restless nature of stifled creativity.

It's time to get a new coat, eh?

Before I go, here's Phish performing Torn and Frayed a couple of Halloweens ago at Festival 8...

1 comment:

  1. What a great piece, Pauly... It's a gift to be able to draw solace, relevance, guidance, and perspective from music. I've been the same way my whole life... it's amazing that at times, the Rolling Stones, or the Dead, or Bob Dylan, or Little Feat understood what was going on in my life when no one else did.
    Lyrics and music are a gift... our lives are a screenplay, and our music is the soundtrack. Dead Flowers... Ripple.... When I Paint My Masterpiece... Roll 'um Easy... Castles in The Sand... A Day in The Life....
    Music can save your soul, or provide you with travelling music as you go to hell in a bucket.
    Someday, Pauly, when Lost Vegas or Jack Tripper make it to the big screen, you're going to have a killer soundtrack. Put my name down for copy #1...