"My Life as a Rock Star" By Jaan Landheer
- The Show -
As I sit in my dorm room going over some last guitar riffs before my show, I hear the opening band playing through the window. The bass is so loud my windows vibrate, and the horns are a pleasant surprise. I know I’m on next, so I rush to assemble my outfit.
I want to be cutting edge. My performance needs to exude eccentricity.
Everything needs to be perfectly organized. I go over my props. I put a bunch of belts on my pants and attach a baseball glove, to exhibit my American influence. I take my scissors and cut out the eyes of a photograph of my mom and paste it on my snowboarding helmet and I write SC on my face with a black marker, for Santa Cruz. I go over how each prop will work in my show and slide the strap of my Mexican Fender Strat over my shoulder. I trace my hand over the neck of the guitar that broke when I accidentally backed over it with my car last year. I fill my pockets with burned CDs of my favorite artists to throw at the crowd so they know my roots, and stride off to the amphitheatre.
On my way down the stairs, I run into Amy.
“Jaan, where are you going?” she asks, laughing. “I love it, but I want to know you’re okay.”
“Yeah, I’m great, a little anxious for my big night. So are you coming to my show?” I ask. “It’s at the amphitheater at ten.” She looks at me longer than comfortable.
“Bring a candle. I gotta go!” I break the stare to follow the direction of the faint music in the distance.
As I walk outside, I notice a man in black following me on my right. Where the fuck did he come from? I pick up the pace and he moves faster towards me. On my left side another man in black gains on me. They don’t say anything, but continue to follow.
Is this the CIA? They must have heard my show would have controversial music. Maybe they saw me playing at the worker’s protest. Are they trying to silence me? I’m thinking it’s time to escape.
I throw my guitar strap off my shoulder and run. The two men follow in pursuit. I run through a familiar path of redwoods I’ve taken to class, but get lost when I reach a maze of white buildings. The two men corner me in a parking lot with their hands out like they are ready to tackle me.
“Stop!” The bigger one approaches me, while the other one mumbles something into his walkie-talkie. I whip out my scissors.
“Stay the fuck away from me!” I warn the possible CIA agents.
“Alright, take it easy,” says the bigger one as he looks at his partner.
They keep glancing at each other, as if waiting to get the “kill on sight” message from their executive agent boss. I think I can take them on foot though. I start running full speed, yelling for help as I pass through the clustered colleges. The CDs in my pockets are weighing me down along with my belts and glove, so I strip off my pants.
I run into a crowded dance and make my way inside to try and blend in. I don’t really mind being in my boxers since they are a tasteful design of Christmas ornaments and the front button is safely secured from exposure. They could pass as shorts, but all the same, a group of girls look at me blankly as if they shouldn’t have to point out that I don’t have pants on. I smile back at them.
There are two DJs playing, and a large dance circle forms with people break-dancing in the middle. I figure I can lose the agents if I start dancing like everyone else. I start getting into the house beats with thumping bass, even though I’m sober, but then I see the two agents in front of me. They both grab an arm before I can run in the crowd. I decide I can lose them if I pretend I’m drunk.
“I need to puke,” I say, dragging my legs as they try to hold me upright. They escort me to the toilet and I make heaving noises when the door is closed. Then I roll under the stall and run out of the bathroom.
“Stop him!” the agents yell. I see a police car followed by a fire-engine pull up outside the dance. Shit, they’re all in on it! Just as I think I’ve escaped, a group of students tackle me to the ground. I’m handcuffed as hundreds of people from the dance flock to see what’s going on.
“This is a violation of my rights!” I start yelling to the crowd, anything for the people to know I am being illegally persecuted for my musical creativity. “This is a violation of my first amendment!” I start cussing at the firemen and police. Just because my music is controversial doesn’t mean they can shut me up.
I figure the government won’t be able to prosecute me as an eminent and present danger to the government if I say I am on drugs, so I keep yelling, pretending I’m high.
“I’m on mushrooms and ecstasy! I just did coke and heroin!” I say.
“Get in the car,” says Officer Ruiz, according to his nametag, as he forcefully puts his hand on the top of my head and pushes me into the patrol car. I see if I can get some clues to the conspiracy of who turned me in by provoking him, so I cuss him out.
He just stares into the distance like I don’t even exist as he drives me to the station. On the way out, Ruiz tightens the cuffs as he grabs me by the arms and takes me into Juvenile Hall.
When I get to the Hall they get my fingerprints and take me to a room with sterile white brick walls and thin green cushions for seats. I start rapping, warming up in case I get to play my show tonight.
I meet a guy who looks like a bodyguard, wide shoulders and a bald head. He comes into the room with some slices of pepperoni pizza on a plate. I ask him if he’s working for the show tonight at the Quarry amphitheater. He says later, and hands me the pizza.
He comes back an hour later and takes me to a shower. I notice the tattoo of a split heart on his neck, but I don’t think it’s a good time to ask about it. He hands me a towel and tells me to get in. I put on some new clothes he’s laid out; I don’t know what happened to mine. They’re replaced by grayish sweats and a matching button t-shirt. This wouldn’t be my first choice to perform in. My bodyguard takes me to a cell.
I’m housed in a gray cinderblock cell with a small speaker, a mix of blood and spit on the corner of the wall, and a dirty toilet three feet away from the bed. I spend the whole night rapping into the little speakerphone. If they’re gonna lock me up, they’re gonna know what’s on my mind.
All are born free but everywhere we’re in chains
by the corporate institutions and the capital gains
The present we live in is a vision of the past
Every day is the same and they won’t less us progress!
The daylight spreads in bright yellow bands across my bed from the barred window. I’m led out of the cell to the front desk and I see my mom and dad. My mom hugs me.
“Are you alright, Jaan?” she asks. Her eyes are puffy from driving through the night.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” I tell my dad. He finishes filling out the paperwork and looks at me hard.
My parents don’t understand the stakes. These CIA operatives are everywhere. They’re trying to hunt me down. My mom cries every time she looks at me. She doesn’t know what’s going on and I can tell she thinks I’m crazy.
I speak a gibberish language to my mom, and I try to get my dad to listen to what I’m saying. He’s closer to understanding, as I think he may have dealt with the CIA when he was traveling through the south in the 60’s during the civil rights movement.
I get in the car and find my old Gameboy on the floor. I look closer to be sure it doesn’t have a spy detector. I throw it out the window and watch it break, just to be safe.
“What are you doing Jaan?!” my dad shouts, angry and scared. At this point my mom locks all the doors.
“What the fuck? Are you guys afraid I’m going to jump out?” I unlock my door and open it just to test her. My mom’s face is strained with tension. I’ve never seen her look at me in fear.
“I’m not gonna do anything, so stop worrying, we gotta go!” I say. I have a hunch the CIA is still tracking us. Mom turns back around the way we came, and I know something is wrong. Could she be in on it too? Dad looks confused.
“He’s not safe in the car,” I hear Mom whisper to him.
They drive me back to the Hall and an ambulance arrives. The medics strap me on a gurney and I’m taken to Dominican Hospital. I think they secretly transported me here. I don’t ask too many questions. I don’t want to know what they’re going to do to me. The doctors in white ask what I did and I say I don’t know why I’m here.
Dr. Mallay asks if I’ve done any drugs, and I say mushrooms, ecstasy, crack, everything, you name it. He says he needs a urine sample and I notice my arms and legs are strapped to my bedpost with leather restraints, buckled up tight. He gives me an open container and frees the strap on my right arm. Then he closes the curtain for me to relieve myself.
“Well, you were negative for everything, except marijuana,” says Dr. Mallay. “How much have you been smoking recently? When was the last time? Have you been drinking excessively?”
When I’m sure no one else is looking, I motion for the doctor to bend down towards my bed.
“Look, I just defended myself,” I whisper. “They attacked me and I didn’t know who they were.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” he says, “but I want to know about how you’re feeling now. I think you might be having a psychotic episode.” He scribbles something in my charts.
“Okay,” I say in monotone. Maybe I can at least avoid Juvenile Hall time in a loony hospital for a few weeks. I could say I did some drugs but I’ve cleaned up and I’m ready for the life God planned me to have.
I’m taken to a juvenile psychiatric ward in L.A. and I’m put in a room with a kid named Jeremy. He keeps opening and closing our door, but the high dose of Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication the doctors give me, keeps it from bothering me too much.
“Are you waiting for someone?” I ask sincerely. He looks at me embarrassed and combs his black hair in front of his eyes with his fingers, then starts re-folding his clothes.
We have scheduled activity hours every day: movies, arts and crafts, outside time. Everything is organized: breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, dinner at 5, meds at 8, lights out at 10. I guess I should feel lucky I’m making candles and pottery instead of being in Juvie or kicked out of school for good.
After five days in the hospital, the doctors come up with a bipolar diagnosis and start giving me lithium, a mood stabilizer, and Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic. I don’t need these drugs. This was just a mistake. I’m not bipolar, it’s bullshit. The meds make me hungry all the time and when I’m up, I feel like I’m asleep.
A week later, I’m discharged and my parents pick me up and take me back home to Santa Barbara. I write, listen to music, and play guitar all day. My friends have all left for college by now. I need to get out of here.
I step out of the shower and put on some Outkast full-blast. I spread out images on my desk for a new collage. I make about five collages a day, cutting from my grandma’s lifetime collection of National Geographic. I wish I was deep-sea diving for giant squid like in the photos, instead of being stuck here. In the hospital we weren’t even allowed to have scissors, so I ripped magazines and used tape to make collages. I also incorporated things such as food wrappers or menus.
Dad knocks on my door.
“Jaan, what are you doing?”
“I’m just listening to music,” I say in my boxers with my Anarchy shades on. I’m so sick of people on my case.
“It’s 3:30 in the morning,” says Dad with hard eyes.
“OK, I’ll turn it down.” I start putting on my jeans and Mom walks in my room.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“I just needed a shower,” I say.
“You need to go to bed. It’s too late for you to be up.” Ever since I was
branded with the bipolar label, it’s like I’m back in grade school. Everything I do is monitored.
My mom drives me to my psychologist the next morning, Dr. Spenser. He’s the only doctor I choose to see, and not coincidentally, the only one who agrees with me that I’m not bipolar.
I prop my feet on Dr. Spenser’s footrest and lie back in the leather chair, crunching on some of his M&M’s.
“I’m just sick of people organizing my life,” I tell him. “I stopped taking most of my meds, except for lithium, because I get my blood tested every week. I keep thinking of that “Lithium” song by Nirvana:
I’m so happy
cuz today I found my friends
They’re in my head
I don’t even know how lithium works, and how it affects a “normal” brain. Can lithium drive you crazy?”
“You don’t think the medication helps?” he asks satirically. “It might help you feel less…attached.” Dr. Spenser sits upright and looks at me with sincerity. “Look Jaan, now we’ve been talking about how your actions came from feelings you can control, rather than a chemical imbalance. Did the ‘anti-psychotic’ meds help your anger in the hospital?”
“No, I just felt stupid.”
“You know where I stand. If you party, don’t eat and don’t sleep for a few weeks, most people would become delusional. You just need to take care of yourself, think of what’s in your best interest, and learn to manage your feelings.”
“I have a psychiatrist I have to see once a week now. I wear my sunglasses at our meetings so he can’t see if I’m lying. If he thinks I’m not taking the meds, he gets a blood test and tells my parents I can’t drive for another week. If I zone out, he talks to me like a kid. Jaan, are you somewhere else now? What were you thinking about?”
“I can see how that would be frustrating. You have reason to be angry, Jaan. Unfortunately, if you want to go back to UC Santa Cruz, you might have to just put up with the psychiatrist now and prove that you can take care of yourself.”