Friday, August 6, 2010

regarding my cousin.

Michael Pelone overdosed today.

Michael was my cousin, just a year younger than me, and when we were kids he was my unofficial brother. Once he moved to Blue Bell, my hometown, we were inseparable. It’s funny the ways we complemented each other. He was extroverted and brave, I was quiet and awkward. He had an SNES; I rocked a Sega Genesis. He was allowed to watch forbidden entertainment like Beavis & Butthead and Wayne’s World and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He listened to Nirvana and Green Day when I was bumping the Batman Forever soundtrack and TLC. He was in, every sense, cooler than me (I can even admit now that SNES was better than Genesis. Super Mario World is so much more imaginative and involved than Sonic the Hedgehog 2).

By our teens, Michael and I had entered different spheres. I attended La Salle College High School, a private all-male school. Michael tried a similar route with Roman Catholic High School, but it just didn’t work out for him. He switched to a public school and fostered a deep love of blink-182 and The Get Up Kids. I was nursing an appreciation for pop-punk and emo as well, although my bands of choice were New Found Glory and Jawbreaker.

In our late teens, we reconnected when Mike asked me to join his new band. Our music tastes were pretty similar (Springsteen, Weezer, and so on) and initial practices seemed promising, so I officially joined Emergency & I, an emo/rock group that borrowed its name from a Dismemberment Plan album despite sounding nothing like Dismemberment Plan. I played drums and Michael sang and played guitar.

The Lansdale music scene was once a vibrant mecca. National touring acts like Paramore, The Ataris, and Crime in Stereo have passed through. The local bands were great too – I still spin tunes from acts like Cetus, Prevail, and The Premier. Mike booked them all. He was never the best singer or guitar player, but he had an eye for talent and helped bring great bands to the suburbs.

Mike could be difficult to work with. He’d make us practice the same song for hours on end only to abandon it altogether next practice. E&I probably wrote two albums of music, but most of it died in the embryonic stage or was retired from our live set as Mike saw fit. He just never felt comfortable with our sound… or with his life. Mike switched colleges three or four times before he even started attending school. His stint at West Chester University lasted maybe five weeks before he overdosed on cocaine and dropped out to pursue rehab.

One of the things I learned through dealing with Michael in the years since 2005 is that you can’t force a junkie to get clean. He or she has to want to do it. But Mike could never commit to sobriety or anything else for long, and it made being his friend really hard. E&I broke up specifically because Mike hit a point where he was stifling the band creatively, because he was a fuck-up, and because he stole from the band fund to score more drugs. I hated him for a few years after E&I’s dissolution. And he certainly didn’t reach out to me – I was straight edge. I had the reputation of being the “good kid.” When he first got out of rehab, I told him I’d never help him get drugs and that if I caught him using I’d kill him. It wasn’t elegant or productive, and I never even followed up on my threat. I’d occasionally bump into Michael at concerts, clearly high, and we’d make stunted chit-chat until I could find a way to get away.

Last week I reconnected with Mike, however fleetingly. I was staying at his parents’ house to take care of their pets. Mike had long since been kicked out for stealing and using, but he was allowed to spend the night so he could attend a court date in Norristown the following day. We watched Transsiberian starring Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson, and Ben Kingsley. We talked about music, about the Gaslight Anthem show he just attended, about how good the new Arcade Fire record allegedly sounded. He got titles wrong. He had forgotten what school I attended and how long I had been dating my girlfriend. Little details that showed his brain had maybe faded. And his eyes burned. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way his face had changed. He was leaner, a little dirtier. And his face was harder, like everything he said and heard was of the utmost important, like he couldn’t miss anything. It reminded me of Dean Moriarty in On the Road, near the end when his mind started to fall apart but he was still mad to talk.

Last night we talked online about The Mountain Goats and Arcade Fire. Today he’s gone. His last status update on Facebook was “Hey Ray, I never went down. You never got me down, Ray.” It’s a quote from Raging Bull; as of this writing it had been posted 20 hours ago. I’m going to analyze those lines for the rest of my life and try to find a hidden meaning, like he knew he was going out on his own, like today was significant. Or maybe he put it up there because Mike was a big Scorsese fan. I’m never going to know. All I have left behind are fragments, like this essay he wrote for my blog. It’s about The Get Up Kids, but also his desire to stay clean.

There are a handful of records that will always remind me of Mike. Bear vs. Shark’s Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands… was the last record Mike and I listened to together. I put it on again today. TGUK’s discography will always bring back his ghost, especially the first two albums. Green Day. Springsteen. The Promise Ring. I listened to The Cure’s Pornography, a record about drug addiction and despair, for the first time when Mike got out of his first stint in rehab. I listened to it on my roof as the sun came up, delirious and despondent from lack of sleep. It’s always reminded me of his demons, and now it’ll always be that way.

I want to hope that Michael achieved some sort of peace today. But he was never particularly religious and neither am I. All I know is he’s gone and nothing I say or do will make that fact easier or better or refutable. I’m always going to be mad at myself for not being able to help him more, and I’m always going to hate him, in the way that we sometimes do hate our loved ones, for falling behind. I’ve heard a lot of explanations today – The last five years have been a rollercoaster! We were all waiting for this to happen! – but that doesn’t change the situation.

All I have left are some songs and mixed memories. Fuck.

And I’ll take what is given to me
And I’ll realize I'm not going home
And after a while, when all of your currency’s gone
And after a while, when all your mistakes have been made

You’ve tasted the carbon dioxide.

Check out E&I’s “Hospital Song” here. Mike wrote it about wanting to get clean.


Adam McGrath said...

Really sorry to hear that, Joe.

Anthony said...

Thank you so much for the tribute, Joe. He's at peace now.

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