Tag Archives: ’20s

Free Fallin’

Free Fallin’ I will stay in the car for. Like, if I get somewhere, and this is on, I’m not getting out until it’s over. It’s the Marky Mark of songs to me; it came into my life at such an influential point that I’ll never fall out of love with it.

I can still feel what it was like to watch this video at eleven or twelve years old. There was so much I related to visually – the Vision Streetwear (I’ll never forget the ads for Vision in my sister’s YM magazines), the eighties shopping mall Tom Petty lurks in between ghosting around the youthful story that is the video narrative, the sweet sixteen party around a pool (a fantasy), and being the kind of girl who would drop in on a vert ramp with the guys (another fantasy though eventually I learned to skateboard in my late teens). I don’t know if I paid much attention to the lyrics then, though I was probably already imagining myself as a good girl “home with a broken heart”, because I got dumped twice in fifth grade and spent junior high tall and goofy, with mostly awful haircuts.

There are few late eighties time capsules as effectively poignant as this. Even though the story jumps decades, it ends on a vert ramp starring pro skater Gator Rogowski. Gator’s story is told in the excellent documentary “Stoked”. It’s unclear to me whether or not the woman he murdered, Jessica Bergsten, is in the video (the female protagonist star, Devon Kidd, thinks she is), but Gator’s girlfriend and Jessica’s best friend (as well as star of Vision ads), Brandi McClain, is.


Gator and Brandi

When I originally googled and found this blog interviewing the “good girl”, Devon Kidd (née Jenkin), I thought she was the most boring part of the story. I admit, I got turned off by her Jesus references, but on second reading I see her Jesus references are no different than my universe references (I mean except that I’m not Christian – you get the point.). She describes being inspired by the song before she was ever cast in the video and its continuing presence in her life. And, she is bleeding positivity, which can’t hurt anyone. You can actually look her up on Facebook… she was an ultimate California girl but lives in Colorado now – as I do.

I grew up mostly in suburban Boston, and “Free Fallin’” is, of course, an L.A. story lyrically. In fact, the geographical references were part of why Tom Petty’s record label originally rejected the song.   In my early twenties, the imagery I was infatuated with took on new meaning when I moved to L.A. with a guy I knew from Denver. It was September of 2000, and the idea was that we were going to live in a house in the valley together, joined within a couple months by another close friend.  Then a bunch of other stuff happened.

I quickly got a job on Santa Monica Blvd. just East of Vine. Every day I made the drive “over the hill” from Sylmar (if you’re wondering, the place where Linda Kasabian stashed the wallet in a toilet tank after the LaBianca murders). I listened to the classic rock station in the car, and at work, where I could put our hold music on the crackly speakerphone on my desk.

Every day I heard “Free Fallin’” and every day I could apply its lyrics to my own life, which of course is the hallmark of a truly great song. Sylmar wasn’t Reseda, but it was darn close. Though Craig Rosen points out in this blog that the “freeway runnin’ through the yard” line is misrepresentative of Reseda, I felt like I spent my life on freeways for my first few months in L.A. It was these confusing freeways that caused me to get fired for lateness on my second day of work at the Virgin Megastore in Burbank, a weekend job I took to get out of “roommate debt” with the guy I was living with. I blamed this financial setback on a check my former Brooklyn roommate didn’t mail me for three weeks, and my refusal to ask my parents for money at the time (this changed later on!).

Being fired was a failure of colossal proportions to me. I had never been more in a state of free fall in my sheltered young life. I slept on a pile of blankets, and then an inherited single futon mattress, and had a metal shelf as my only furniture. Mulholland Drive was just a fantasy street I might someday be able to drive on if I made it out of the valley.

If you’ve ever googled “what is Free Fallin’ about?” you’ll find that 1) people have interpreted it as much as I have and most decide it’s either about Tom Petty leaving a girl behind in Florida before he got famous, (which leads me to the question, was Tom Petty hot???), or an archetypical story of a good girl in the valley who loses her ambitious boyfriend to the hills of Hollywood and 2) Tom Petty just kind of wrote the song and it’s not necessarily about anything specific. God, you can read that “Free Fallin’” line a million ways; it is beautiful. And I enjoyed very much reading here what people think of it.

When I originally became obsessed with this song, my twenty two year old coast-to-coast free fall seemed negative. I thought I was a humongous loser by the risky nature of my existence and lack of tangible success. Hearing it now, I connect to the time when my adult life was just beginning. I seriously yearn for that kind of freedom.  This untethered existence I dream about that I can choose now but was happening to me without my choosing then – and taught me so much. My pathetic and romantic life gave me the grit I needed to grow up and become a little bit fearless. I almost wish I’d be in that situation again to shake me into some desperate ambitious pursuit. But I remember it painfully well.

Within a year of my time in the valley I was living much closer to the LaBianca’s house than the Spahn ranch (another Manson reference!), in the maid’s quarters of an old mansion in Los Feliz. There had been several stops between, but I did settle here for several months. I was driving an actress to set and picking her up on Mulholland Drive. I did manage to get drunk with George Clooney, spill a drink on the B-list actress sitting next to him, and throw up in my friend’s bathtub all night. I can see now that I was luckier than many in my L.A. trials, as in many other aspects of my young post-college life. I got a job, made it to a prominent music video and commercial production company, and when that company went out of business, began my most successful year of the two I lived in L.A. as a freelance production assistant, and finally was able to buy new clothes again.

But, this luck was not without painful steps along the way in all aspects of my life. I was told, as a young entertainment professional, that in L.A. you’re always looking for a “job, a boyfriend, or an apartment”. Yup.  Frequently I was getting screwed by all three at once.

I don’t move as often as I used to, but things haven’t changed that much.  Thank god for perfect songs to remind me why I love not being in control.


Polaroid circa 2001, Los Angeles, when I only wore Sauconys, Dr. Scholl’s, and clothes from the thrift store.  And that amazing vintage Lee jacket.  (DAMN IT why did I get rid of that?)

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Bakers Get All the Girls or “A Tale of Twentysomethings from Pre-Smartphone Detroit”

I read this NY Times article today:


and was reminded about a post I’ve been wanting to write.  I think it’s obvious I enjoy nostalgia.  Sometimes when my own life is happening I can’t believe it, and those are the memories I retreat into years later when I want to retaste what it felt like for things to be really new.

In 2003, I was a new Detroiter.  A transplant from Los Angeles that really blew everyone’s mind.  For example: “you moved here from L.A.?”  Now they’re starting to understand after the storm of post-2008 Detroit media about how cool it actually is, ruin porn and all.  The film incentive took effect just as I moved away in 2008, and all my friends were seeing Ryan Gosling at karaoke.  SO unfair.

My dark years in Los Angeles had almost turned me into so many things I didn’t want to, or wasn’t ready to be.  First, the wife of a tough guy, and second, a woman who only had her career and whose biggest accomplishment was owning a Jag (for the record I’d never buy a Jag, but I’m speaking from observation).

I knew what I wanted to be.  Truly – I wanted to be a rock star.  But I’d take the next best thing: being friends with rock stars.  I wanted to party.  I wanted to pretend I was living in certain parts of “Please Kill Me”, specifically in 1975-1978 New York.  So, I did the obvious thing and moved to Detroit, where I could pretend, with much cheaper rent than where I was living in L.A., or where I’d come from in the modern era New York.


If you read this book there’s a stronger than average chance we could be friends.

The epicenter of what I was looking for, at age twenty five, was at the Magic Stick.


My roommate bartended there, which felt like a huge gift from the universe.  I got to go to many shows free… and I did, alone at first, while I tried to gather friends from my jobs and my solo excursions.  After the Electric Six show on New Year’s Eve, Jack White was holding hands with Marcie from the Von Bondies as the room emptied.  This was a huge deal in “Fell in Love with a Girl” legos video Detroit (for me).

I don’t remember exactly how I met the Modern Dancer, but I know it was in front of the Magic Stick.

I don’t remember if he took my number or gave me his, or exactly what our first date was.

I remember these things.

1) The Blackout of 2003.  My roommate and I were driving around the corner from our house, probably on our way to go someplace we could shower.  The Modern Dancer (“The MD” for short) drove by with a beautiful black woman in his car.  I was deflated.  I think at this point he just hadn’t called me or something, we hadn’t even had a date.  But I was 25, inexperienced, and obsessive.

2) One date, we sat in the backyard of the Old Miami, a notable Cass Corridor dive bar, with the MD’s friend.  The MD was discussing his DUI.  He was 26.  I can’t remember if this was the night that the friend hit on me or not.  But that happened too.  I was so confused by that.  ”I’m kind of seeing someone,” I said, hoping he’d figure out what I meant.  Later the whole scenario made more sense.

3) Vivid memories of this night… I’m hanging out with the Modern Dancer. I don’t remember what we did except for going to a party at the house across the street from me (the MD and I lived blocks from each other, where everyone lived, in Woodbridge).  I was wearing the navy blue mesh skirt to my Rocawear basketball cheerleader outfit (yes, you read that correctly), a white tank top, and Adidas Top Tens.


I mostly listened to hip hop at this point in my existence.  I just got rid of those Adidas a few months ago (they always pinched my toes).  We got stoned, and the girl that lived at the house suddenly fainted.  All the stoners panicked.  The Modern Dancer said “I have some gauze at my house!”, jumped in his Escort wagon, and rushed the few blocks to his place.  Unsure of what to do in a houseful of strangers on their way to the emergency room, I walked across the street and back home.  Eventually, the MD showed up on my doorstep.  My neighbor, who had promised me a turkey burger hours before when it was close to dinner time, showed up after midnight on my porch where The Modern Dancer and I sat talking.  ”Oh my god, I cannot eat that right now, I am way too high” I said.  What I meant was “I already ate, it’s not dinner time, and I am about to get it on, pothead style, with this flexible guy on my porch.”  She seemed very offended.

4) Big, important point about The Modern Dancer.  He did not have a cell phone.  I had a cell phone with an 810 area code, as name checked by Marshall Mathers in “8 Mile”…

“and I can’t even say I’m from Motown, cause I’m back in the 810 now!”

The Modern Dancer did not have a long distance plan.  He could not economically call me.  Therefore, he would show up at my house on Tuesday nights.  It happened on Tuesday… frequently, once we slept together.  Though we only slept together a handful of times over the three months we dated.  I asked a friend what she thought of it.  ”You’re the Tuesday night girl!” was the resounding response.

5) Everyone I knew in Detroit – and these were all new friends, mostly my neighbors, but as I mentioned everyone was connected – would say, “Oh, you don’t want to date that guy!” when I mentioned the MD.  ”Why, why?” I’d ask desperately, but no one would give me a straight answer, until finally one of my neighbors said something like “I’ve heard he’s a player.”  I found this really difficult to believe with our sad record of having sex, even though another friend suggested the MD had had sex with someone else besides me in the same day, ruining him for me on several occasions.  This began my attempt to go out every night in an effort to catch him with another girl.  No luck.

6) The Modern Dancer worked at one of our neighborhood’s hot spots – an organic bakery in the Cass Corridor.  A friend of mine was dating a somewhat notable graffiti artist (who ended up in jail, causing her an extremely high phone bill and a lot of stress).  I told him about the MD on my townhouse duplex porch.  ”Oh, bakers get all the girls, he said.”

7) It finally came down to a night we were out and another girl showed up.   She was overly touchy with the MD, and I believe we were hanging out with her ex-boyfriend also.  I don’t remember if I specifically asked him about her, or about other girls, but I got it out of him that night.  I stood naked in my bedroom telling him “you knew I wasn’t that kind of girl!  I’m a one man woman!”  A few weeks before he’d asked me, “hey girl from around the way, how around-the-way are you?” and, thinking I understood this question as a listener of junior high era LL Cool J, I’d explained my stance.  When I asked him the same question, his response was something like “I’m not nearly as skeezy as I used to be”, which I took to mean we were exclusive.  So this relationship was pretty much my education on dating in your twenties, after the two serious relationships of late college and early graduation.

Even after we “broke up”, I had some interludes with the MD.  I’m not sure how we ended up being friends, but I went to the sauna with him on more than one occasion.  He’d show up… it was probably Tuesday, and I’d go get naked in a sauna with him.  ”I covered my nuts so you’re not uncomfortable” stands out in my mind.  My ’20s were so romantic!

We may have made out after one of these sauna occasions.  I know there were other sleepovers, though I don’t think we ever had sex again.  In fact, I strongly remember a sleepover when we definitey did NOT have sex.  Like REALLY didn’t have sex, if you know what I mean.  I was also dating a 22 year old white rapper at the time, so I was learning.  That seemed like a huge age difference then; I was turning 26.  I do remember, when I was dating the MD, that he gave me a ridiculously awesome massage and I fell asleep until the next afternoon.  So that was my fault that time.

Anyway, even after the “kind of” lying and the sleeping with other girls around sleeping with me, I still have fond feelings for the MD.  Romance with him had a delightful element of surprise.  I was trying to track him down.  I remember the humiliating moment when I realized his phone had caller ID (oh the times I’d called without leaving a message… in a row), but even in a small community, I had no way to interstalk him in 2003.  There was an article in the Metro Times about one of his performances.  That was the only way I could see a picture of him when I was thinking about him.  No yearbooks.  No Facebooks.  The MD rejected “Friendster”.

Eventually, I knew more people and got to the point of being embarrassed about this guy I’d been completely enamored with.  Apparently I had become really cool.  A few years later, I finally saw him dance.

Then I was really over it.

When I think back to my 25 year old self, I was so inept at everything other than chasing boys and social climbing that I don’t know how I managed to pay my rent or prevent from dying.  I love having money and loving myself, but I miss those times.  Especially land lines and the mystery of waiting for someone you knew was out there to show up.  God, it was miserable.  But so much more exciting than a text.


Striking a pose in an empty dance club in 2003.

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