Morrissey Nailed It
Photo Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons: https://tinyurl.com/2zj4pnp6
There is a short segment of a song from the mid-80s that captures and expresses the incredible loneliness that my alcoholism led me to suffer.
Whenever I hear it, it takes me back - right there.
I actually love hearing it because it’s a great song, and I have a lot of distance from those profound feelings I had back then. And it’s a stark reminder of where I never want to return.
The song is “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths. The lyrics are by Morrissey and the music is by Johnny Marr.
I worked during the mid-80s as a bartender, for a year at New York’s famous Russian Tea Room, then I moved on to work at Cafe 58, a French bistro, for a few years. I did some shows, had a regular theatre training ground/workshop that was fulfilling, and I went to ballgames and clubs and concerts and shows and hung out with friends.
Despite these seemingly OK external aspects of my life, I was moving toward the bottom that I would hit in 1989. I still had a few embers burning, but the good times were getting fewer and fewer and farther and farther apart.
I was supremely lonely, primarily for a relationship with a woman, but also for connection with friends, and for creative fulfillment and involvement with artistic colleagues.
That’s my rational brain looking back on it and trying to explain. But the irrational, alcoholic disconnect was deeper, and it was visceral. It was likely more about disconnection from self, from hope, and from a spiritual connection.
In any case, I’ve never felt loneliness like I felt during those years. There were times when it was unbearable. There was an ache and a longing that I’d never experienced before or since. It’s not easy to describe the depth of my empty feeling.
I’ve been lonely in sobriety. In my early sober years, as I worked to heal and to build a foundation on which to base a life, I often felt very alone. But it was nothing compared to what I experienced during the latter part of my drinking days.
I went to clubs in the ’80s. Area, The Pyramid Club, The Limelight, Studio 54 (very played out but still kicking). The after-hours club Save the Robots. But my go-to was Danceteria.
For a few years, Danceteria was in a building on 21st Street just off of 6th Avenue in Chelsea.
There was an elevator with 4 floors, and a different scene happening on each floor.
I never fit the club scene. I was hip enough to get the velvet ropes opened for me by the ridiculous doormen who ruled the roost. And I had a few friends who had some cache at the clubs. They were known a bit, recognized, all too fabulous for me to care much about. But they were OK company to enter a club with.
As I got worse, and things got darker for me, I would go to Danceteria on my own. I remember riding the elevator endlessly, getting off at each floor, and trying to find…what, I don’t exactly know. Not finding it, I’d get on the elevator and get off on a different floor. I’d feel pathetic once again, and get back on the elevator.
I distinctly remember this cycle: I’d be sitting at a bar, knocking back drinks, and I’d be fixated on a particular woman that I’d want to ask to dance. I’d tell myself, “Just one more drink and you’ll be good to go.” And I’d have another drink. Then I’d feel I needed one more to get up the courage. This would go on for many drinks, and suddenly I’d know I was too drunk to make any move.
So, I’d finish the job of getting completely fucked up and leaving the club, once again, having not spoken to anyone or even danced for a moment.
I never really caught on to the fact that it was called Danceteria.
I’d walk home, smoking cigarettes along the way, and then drink until I passed out.
And at some point between coming home and going out the next time, I’d be visited by the loneliness.
What did I want from whichever woman I was fixated on? Dancing, flirting, kissing, sex, love, romance, the end to all of my problems, a bright future with her, inner peace, deep connection and purpose, loyalty, trust, faith, marriage, freedom, financial security, and to be at peace and one with the universe and creation and to know my place in the cosmos and to appreciate it and thrive in it.
It was all wrapped up in my self-loathing as I took drink after drink, thinking that somehow the alcohol was the key to me finding happiness and fulfillment.
I was wrong.
This is the section of “How Soon Is Now?” That hits me hard:
"There's a club if you'd like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you
So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry and you want to die"
It’s amazing how four lines can sum up an experience like I repeatedly had during those years.
The Smiths were one of the great bands of the era, and I was a huge fan of their post-punk brand of rock & roll.
“How Soon Is Now?” has come to be considered emblematic of The Smiths, one of their great songs and anthem that defines them. However, it was originally released as a B-side on a single, and went on to have a spotty and checkered pathway to becoming a beloved and well-known track following further releases of it, later as an A-side, and then an unauthorized video was released that helped it along.
There’s a famous couplet from it, and it compassionately sums up what I struggled with in the mid-80s, as well as being a truth for all of us:
"I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does"
I’m happy to say that all of that, thanks to being sober since ’89, is behind me now.
I have love and a lot of happiness, a beautiful marriage, family, friends, work…many good things.
I've learned that, for me, there are no answers at the bottom of a drink.
As always, being sober is the key to everything good in my life.