AUGUST MIX by Jim Ruland
Electric Lit relies on contributions from our readers to help make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. Please support our work by becoming a member today, or making a one-time donation here.
Forest of Fortune is dedicated to J.J. Orsborn and so is this playlist. Play it loud.
1. “Black Car” The Spits
I met J.J. at a punk rock show in Ocean Beach shortly after I moved to San Diego. The Stitches and Broken Bottles were playing with a local band whose name I can’t remember. After the show, J.J. shouted at me through the window of his black Lincoln Continental as he roared out of the parking lot. “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us!” I remember typing it into my phone. I didn’t realize it was a quote from Charles Bukowski.
2. “Gothic Chicks” Broken Bottles
A couple years later, Broken Bottles singer Jess the Mess died after a drug overdose.
3. “I Get Nervous” Lost Sounds
I didn’t know many people in San Diego. I’d recently started a new job at an Indian casino and I hated it. There was an incredible amount of negative energy swirling around that place. That seems obvious now but it wasn’t then.
4. “I Am the Cancer” Smogtown
I countered the bad vibrations at the casino with bad decisions at the bar. I drank after work, during my lunch break, on the job. Maintenance drinking. At the punk rock show is where I really ripped it up. It seemed like J.J. was at every show. He had this laugh that you could hear over all the chaos and confusion. If J.J. was laughing, everything was good. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Everyone loved him.
5. “Lennox Loner” Smut Peddlers
When “Blood Visions” came out, I went to see Jay Reatard with J.J. at Bar Pink. He’d driven up to Anaheim the night before to see Jay play at The Doll Hut, but the show got canceled when Jay got into a scuffle with some dickhead in the audience. J.J. was back for more the next night. He was indomitable that way. When he got hit and run while riding his skateboard, the doctors told him he might never walk or talk again. But here he was at the bar, laughing his laugh, making Death tremble.
6. “Oh It’s Such a Shame” Jay Reatard
Jay Reatard died from a drug overdose a little over a year later.
7. “Voltron” Swing Ding Amigos
There are some songs that make you want to put as many drugs into your body as possible. This is one of those songs.
8. “Fuck You This Place Is Dead Anyway” Tiltwheel
J.J. came over to my house for a St. Patrick’s Day party. He showed up with a pint bottle of Jim Beam, which I immediately confiscated, and forced him to drink Irish whiskey instead. I remember asking him about an Irish bar close to where he lived. “It’s horrible,” he said. “We should go there.” We never did.
9. “(I’m) Stranded” The Saints
J.J. overdosed less than a year later. This was one of his favorite songs.
10. “This Dimension” Clorox Girls
A couple weeks before J.J. died, he called and left a message. He was standing outside a bar and saw me drive by. He told me to turn around and come have a beer with him. Maybe more. You never know. And then that laugh. I didn’t take the call, didn’t turn around, and now I’ll never know.
Photo by Jason Gutierrez
11. “Better Off Dead” The Stitches
I wish you could have seen how many people were at his funeral.
12. “Black Hats” Fucked Up
There was a barbecue before J.J.’s benefit show. Everyone brought something to put on the grill and the host dutifully cooked it up. We were all so gacked to the gills on whiskey, cocaine and grief that nobody could eat. The meat kept piling up. Hot dogs, chicken, steak. Slabs of charred meat. I only remember bits and pieces of that weekend — a late night score, being asked to leave a country western bar early in the morning, a not-so-super Super Bowl in a Mexican restaurant — but I remember the meat, a grotesque tribute to our dead friend. I haven’t taken a drink since.
13. “Like Eye Contact in an Elevator” Dillinger Four
This is the record I mourned J.J. to. I listened to it over and over again during the long drives to and from the casino. The lyric “paralyzed from the neck up” describes how I felt 24/7. This one still gets me. They all get me.
14. “I Don’t Wanna Be a Rich” Guilty Razors
J.J. knew his punk rock. He used to sing the intro to this song in a mincing falsetto and I never knew what the fuck he was going on about. After he died, a friend made a compilation CD for me, and this song was on it. The first time I heard the intro it was like I’d finally gotten a joke that had been years in the telling.
15. “I Can’t Dream” Wavves
Oxford American hired me to write about Jay Reatard. The magazine rejected my pitch when Jay was alive but now that he was dead they wanted the story. I went to Memphis in the middle of August to talk to people who knew Jay. I didn’t rent a car. I wanted to walk where Jay walked, eat where Jay ate. The temperature didn’t drop below 100 degrees the whole time I was there. I went a little delirious in the heat. I walked up and down the street Jay lived on and made audio recordings of the cicadas. I came to an overpass and saw a pile of clothes stacked neatly on the edge. My shirt. My shoes. But it was all a mirage. I wasn’t researching Jay Reatard. I was haunting him.
16. “Total Destruction” Lost Sounds
The magazine killed the piece. I don’t blame them. They asked for a story about Jay Reatard and I gave them one about J.J.
17. “Your Soul” Mind Spiders
I had a beautiful dream. I was at a party with J.J. Some kind of picnic. He gave me a present. I could tell he’d wrapped it himself. I opened it up and found a bottle of booze inside. That’s not for you, he said, and took the bottle away from me. I woke up alone in a hotel room far from home and burst into tears.
18. “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” Jay Reatard
Jay Reatard sang that nothing could save him, but I know J.J. saved me. Looking for meaning in the death of a loved one is a fool’s journey. You have to make your own meaning. J.J. is no longer with us but I’m still here. He didn’t die so I could live. Fuck no. That’s not what I’m saying, but as long as I stay sober, no one can call J.J.’s death meaningless. I put that on me and I wear it every day. I owe him so much. My marriage. My driver’s license. My art. I never could have finished this book without the gifts he has given me. I’m not afraid anymore. My secrets have all been shattered. I’m living the shit out of this life, laughing and crying and making Death tremble to take me.