There is a Light That Never Goes Out
Can you go back and fix your biggest regret?
You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby
The other day I was lying on the couch in the Man Cave, feeling sorry for myself because the San Diego Padres just lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL2020 playoffs.
My thoughts turned to some of the things I regret in my life, the missed opportunities, and the terrible decisions I made.
If only I could go back in time to fix things.
Is It Really So Strange?
Suddenly, the comedian George Carlin appeared in the bar stool chair.
"George Carlin, what the hell ...?" I asked.
"The powers that be sent me here to give you a chance to travel back in time to fix one of those regrets you're always stewing on," said George Carlin, rolling his eyes upward to indicate who the "powers that be" was.
"Are you serious?" I asked.
"Serious as November 4th," said George. Then he said:
"Let's have it. To when and where are you going back in time?"
Well I Wonder
George was dressed the same way as he was in the movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," a movie I've never seen. He wore a trench coat, his hair was slicked back, and he wore dark wraparound glasses.
"Mr. Carlin . . ."
"Call me George," he said.
"George, I have a million questions," I said.
"Look, don't belabor this, buddy. Let's get to the fun part of the story," said George.
"I know, I know. But let me ask you a few questions."
"I've never seen 'Bill and Ted,' . . .are you like an Archangel, or are you, God?' I asked.
"I'm sort of like an angel today. I'm an anthropomorphic representation of your own psyche. They said I'm as good a representation of how screwed up, cynical, and sarcastic you are, except I'm way more funny and talented, and I did a lot more drugs. They were thinking about sending Anna Nicole Smith, or Chris Farley, but they were both working on other projects."
"Is this another one of my funny life stories that Hollywood has already stolen? Like all my tales that I tell down here in San Diego that somehow seep up there to that cesspool and get watered down and put into movie scripts," I asked.
"Yeah, that's it. That's exactly right," says George sarcastically, rolling his eyes. "Jesus, you really are a buffoon. You think the whole world revolves around you? Are you really that bitter about the Dodgers? The Padres just need better pitching."
"If I go back and change events, does it change the whole course and trajectory of future events?" I asked.
"No. This is just a vanity project for you. You're gonna go back to see what would have happened if you had done the right thing and not F'd up as royally as you did the first time. But the fact you screwed up royally in real life will remain unchanged when you come back here to the couch."
"Oh my God. Is that supposed to somehow make me feel better? I already know I F'd up?"
"Look, Sunshine, the clock is ticking. If I just snap my fingers, I'll be out of this weird bric-a-brac "Fortress of Solitude" Man Cave thing you got going here."
The Boy With the Thorn In His Side
"Can I have a day to think about where I want to go back in time?" I asked
"No. You gotta decide now. Chop-chop," said George Carlin.
"I have so many regrets. Which one should I choose?" I asked George Carlin.
"Choose the regret that causes you the most pain. Get it out of your system," said George.
"Should I go back to the Rosarito Beach Hotel in Mexico to fix . . ."
"No! Not that one. Let sleeping dogs lie!" said George.
"How about Vegas? That time I wore the Elvis costume, and I got in those two car accidents on the same night?"
"No. That one actually panned out in the end if you look at the big picture. Wasn't there a lawsuit after that one, where you got some money? The money to pay for your wedding ring?"
"Yeah, I did," I admitted.
"That's a net gain," said George.
"Can I take someone with me on the trip? There's someone who needs to go back with me for this one. This is the biggest regret in his life too." I asked.
"No. But you'll see him there."
"Will Tracy know which regret I went back to fix?
"Only if you tell her," said George.
"Because she'll be pissed if she finds out I didn't go back to fix one of the stupid things I did . . . during our time together," I said.
"Better keep your mouth shut then. Let's go, you gotta decide now!" said George.
"You know what I'm gonna go back and do, don't you?"
"I've got a pretty good idea. Statistically, there's one thing you dwell on all the time. In fact, it shocked me to see how much you fixate on such a stupid and trivial . . " George caught himself, "I mean, really important event in your life."
"Okay. I'm ready. Take me back to 1986!"
This Charming Man
In an instant, I'm standing outside the San Diego State Open Air Amphitheater on a warm dusky summer evening. A big crowd of high school and college-aged kids are milling around, excited for a concert about to begin inside.
"Luis! Holy crap, look at how young you are!" I yell at my friend Luis standing by my side.
"What are you talking about?" asks Luis, looking baffled.
I run over to a car window to get a look at myself. I see my reflection in the Honda CRX.
"Oh, man! To be this young again! You Handsome Devil!" I yell at myself in the reflection.
"Hey, Fabio! Get over here!" says a familiar voice.
I look over, and it's George Carlin, standing under a canopy, behind a plastic table, working the T-shirt booth. When I run over to him, George says:
"Look, here comes your boy now. I can't believe it. You almost F'd it up again. Get over there and buy the tickets!"
"Okay, okay!" I say, running to gather up Luis. "Lu, follow me!"
Luis and I come face to face with a college kid, who looks like Robert Downey, Jr. He's wearing a fedora hat, a T-shirt featuring the band who is about to play, jeans that are tapered and rolled up at the bottom, with white socks and black wing-tipped brogue shoes.
"Dude, you're about to come offer me and my friend two tickets to this concert aren't you?" I say to Robert Downey.
"How much?" asks Luis.
"$20.00 each. I paid $17.50 face value."
"We'll take them!" I shout as I hug the repulsed scalper.
"Wait a minute Jack. That's too much. I just came here to stand outside the concert to listen to a few songs," says Luis.
Time comes to a halt. I see George Carlin, who is selling some kid a band poster. George and I make eye contact, and in slow motion, he slaps his hand to his forehead.
Classical music is booming out of the P.A. system inside the amphitheater, which only heightens my anxiety that Luis is about to blow this moment A SECOND TIME.
Snapping out of my fugue state, I turn to Luis and say
"Lu, this is one of the most important moments of our lives. If we don't buy these two concert tickets, no matter what the price, we are going to live to regret it for the rest of time- do you understand me?!"
Lu and the Robert Downey Jr. scalper's eyes widen.
"In less than twenty-four hours, Lu, for some reason we never understand, you will become the biggest most obsessed fan of this band in the United States. You start to dress like the lead singer. You buy every single T-shirt, poster, cassette, and vinyl record the band ever produces," I say.
Lu and the scalper stare at me like I'm a mental patient.
"You buy unlistenable bootleg vinyl discs, recorded under raincoats at concerts. You correspond, PRE-INTERNET, with people in Denmark, New Zealand, and across the globe, trading band memorabilia, by writing hand-written letters and using stamps. You wait weeks for the British versions of the records you already have the American versions of to arrive in the mail. You know all of the secret messages carved into the run-off grooves of the vinyl discs."
"Lu, you will wear eyeglasses and a hearing aid that you don't need, simply because you saw the lead singer doing that in a music magazine. The lead singer wore that rig for a concert or two, to was pay homage to that deaf singer from the 1950s who Dexy's Midnight Runners sang about, named Johnny Ray. You, on the other hand, will wear the glasses and fake hearing aid for the first two years of college every single day. People point and stare at you."
I'm starting to get through to Luis now. He's such an obsessive basket case, none of this seems that far-fetched to him.
"Most annoyingly, you will take on the very persona of Morrissey. You will critique everything that normal people enjoy, and you go around quoting Oscar Wilde all the time. " I tell Luis.
"Finally, you will pretend you're 'consciously abstaining from sex,' when in fact, you and I both have so little game that we couldn't get laid in a Nevada brothel even if we had a ton of Bitcoin."
"What's Bitcoin?" asks the scalper.
A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours
"San Diego, we are 'The Smiths!'" says Morrissey as he takes the stage.
My knees buckle. I almost faint.
The band launches into the song "Panic" then "I Want the One I Can't Have" then into "There is a Light that Never Goes Out."
"Jesus Christ!" I say to Luis, putting a fist up to my eye, embarrassed.
"Johnny Marr is the greatest guitar player in the history of the world," says Luis,
Lu is right. Johnny is a virtuoso, and every note he plays makes me wanna scream and faint like one of those girls in a Beatlemania documentary.
I see in Lu's eyes he's become radicalized. He's started his journey into The Smiths psychosis. It's gonna be about eight years til he gets deprogrammed and we see him on the other side. I can almost sympathize with his plight from this perspective.
"These seats suck," I said to Luis, squinting my eyes to see the stage from the second-to-last row that we're seated in.
"We gotta get closer to the stage. If Tracy were here, she'd walk us right to the front. Shit, she'd get us backstage!" I yelled at Luis over the music.
"Who's Tracy?!" yelled Luis.
Just then, George Carlin appeared at the end of the row, wearing a yellow security windbreaker. He beckoned us with his finger to come with him. We did.
"Whattya gonna stay up here the whole time?" said George.
I looked at him meekly.
"You gotta at least try to get close to the stage. You'll regret it the rest of your life!" shouted George.
Shoplifters of the World Unite
We followed George Carlin down the long flight of amphitheater stairs, right up close to the stage. When the Smiths start playing "How Soon Is Now?" the place erupts. The fans go batshit crazy.
George Carlin grabbed Luis and me by the scruff of our necks and pushed us to the front row, right at the foot of the stage yelling,
We tumbled right into a real douchebag-looking guy, surrounded by a bunch of bimbos. He looked like Donald Trump, but he was the local 80's San Diego version.
"We're getting close to the stage. We love The Smiths," said Luis.
"No you're not! Where's security?" said S.D. Donald, looking around over the crowd.
Damn, S.D. Donald is really tall, I thought to myself. Really tall. What the hell is a douchebag businessman like him doing at a Smiths concert anyway?
"Security! Security!" shouted the Donald, pointing down at me and Luis.
The Donald is dressed in a big 80's double-breasted business suit. His tie is tied way too long, hiding his fat belly. Donnie whips out an enormous 80's style mobile phone, and, squinting, he starts dialing a number.
"You know how much I paid for these tickets you assholes? One-hundred, twenty-five bucks each! Beat it!" said the S.D. Donald.
"Hold on! Hold on, Sir!" I shouted. I had an idea.
The music was absolutely pulsing from the stage. The whole crowd was hugging and singing the words to "How Soon Is Now?"
I reached in my pocket to pull out my iPhone.
"Excuse me while I whip this out!" I yelled at the Donald, with my phone illuminating his and my faces.
"Oh, No! The kid's got some kind of a gun!" screamed one of S.D. Donald's dumb girlfriends.
The crowd around us went into a panic and started scrambling to get away from me.
Paint a Vulgar Picture
S.D. Donnie didn't move an inch. He just stood there scowling at me.
"It's a phone! It's only a phone!" I shouted. "Look, check it out!" I took a "selfie" with me and S.D. Donald, then I showed him our picture on the screen.
"Where the hell did you get that thing, kid?!" shouted the Donald.
"I'm from the future! The year 2020. You invest in the stock market?" I shouted over the music.
"I sure do. OK great. What's the name of the company?"
"What is it?!" shouted the Donald, bending, and cupping his ear.
"Palm Pilot! Invest every penny you got!" I shout.
That's when the music stopped, and I felt the big arm around my neck.
Five or six security guards tackled Luis and me to the ground, putting us in chokeholds. I shoved the phone back into the deep pocket of my B.U.M Equipment pants.
The lights of the amphitheater came up.
"Stop! Relent! Stand down Philistines! You brutes!" shouted Morrissey into the microphone.
The security guards looked up, confused and disgusted at Morrissey on the stage.
"Unhand those gentle supplicants! Bring the buggards to the stage!" said Morrissey.
George Carlin appeared in his security windbreaker again.
"You heard Morrissey- get these two buffoons backstage now. Otherwise, we'll have a riot on our hands. Chop-chop!"
The Donald was on his huge 80's mobile phone. The bimbo girlfriends stood next to him, flirting with the security guards.
"I want 500,000 shares of Palm Pilot tomorrow morning, you hear me? 'A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING' it's a good thing. Just do it."
Steve West, the British D.J. from the New Wave radio station 91X, came up to the microphone.
"Alrighty! Now, now! It's been a right proper cock-up hasn't it?! A real wobbly!
We're gonna take a short break so you mingers can get your heads together. Hunky-Dory, - eh?! That's right, Lads- ta!
The Smiths will be back soon. 'How Soon Is Now?' I can't tell you." Steve West chuckled at his own terrible joke.
"Listen, there'll be no more kerfuffles, or the boys are going home- do you understand?! Cheers- ta!"
The audience looked at him, totally confused.
I wasn't sure what he meant either with those crazy British slang words.
But everyone grunted, "Yes."
The security guards pushed us to the side entrance of the stage. The kids in the audience shot daggers with their eyes at Lu and me. We had ruined the song, and now we were going backstage.
The pungent smell of marijuana filled the air. At the last minute, I saw the face of the handsome scalper who sold us those shitty seats. I met his eyes, but he was so stoned, I don't even think he remembered who I was.
"Bring 'em up here, boys!" said George Carlin, who was holding the backstage door open. George was now wearing a dungaree jeans outfit, with a crocheted Rastafarian tam on his head. He had transformed into a backstage roadie.
Luis and I stumbled as the security guards pushed us hard through the backstage door. Then George and two other roadies dragged us to a hallway, where, in all their staggering genius stood The Smiths. Johnny Marr's guitar parts from the records were so complex now, they needed two guitarists on stage, so they brought Craig Gannon from the band Aztec Camera. That's like being invited to join The Beatles.
I got so nervous, I nearly pissed my pants. Morrissey said:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom . . . Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you two tossers, because you're here somehow"
Now that's some cool Samuel L. Jackson "Pulp Fiction" shit right there, I thought to myself.
The silence was painful.
"Luis loves you, Morrissey. And I do too," I said, regretting the words instantly.
"Call me Steven," said Morrissey.
Luis and Morrissey walked away and sat in two metal folding chairs in the corner, talking quietly face to face. The rest of the group broke off too.
George Carlin leaned against a rigging cabinet smoking a joint with Andy Rourke, the bassist, and Mike Joyce, the drummer.
Stretch Out and Wait
I run after Johnny Marr who's gone off to find his wife, Angie. Johnny grabs a beer, lights up a cigarette, and then we all three sat down. I started telling Johnny about my guitar playing, and I gave him some tips and tricks that I'd picked up along the way.
"Johnny, can you explain to me how you get your tone on "Some Girls are Bigger Than Others," that's one I've kind of struggled with," I asked Johnny, pretending like it was even remotely possible for me to play.
"Sure, why not?" said Johnny picking up his Fender Jaguar.
Then Johnny explained his tone settings and showed me the riff. Everything was going really good, and I was saying "Yeah, yeah," you can hear me on the video. I was nodding my head while he talked, but when we got to (1:11) suddenly I got light-headed, the room spun, and I was out cold. [The nice video player does not show up on the mobile version of the story sometimes- so please click the underlined link, thanks].
Next thing I remember, I was coming to on the floor staring at the ceiling, with George Carlin, Johnny, and Angie, fanning me with towels.
"That's so beautiful Johnny. How can you be so talented when you're only in your twenties?" I asked him.
"Lot's of hours sitting alone in me room there, Jack-O," said Johnny. "Right Angie baby?"
"Don't I know it," said Angie.
"So, Jackie, what's the story here? Why did you cack up our concert here in sunny San Diego? What's all the fighting about?" asked Johnny.
"Johnny, I'm here from the future. From the year 2020. George Carlin is an angel who visited me to let me come back in time to fix one of the biggest regrets of my life."
"See, in real life, I blew it and passed up the opportunity to buy a ticket for this show. My friend Luis screwed up even worse. Within like 24 hours of this concert, for some unexplainable reason, he becomes the biggest Smiths fan in the world, and we had to stop him from committing suicide whenever he thought about missing this show."
Johnny and Angie stared at me. Then they both burst out laughing and clapping their hands.
"Oh, Jack-Man! What did you smoke tonight, Son?" said Johnny, looking at Angie grinning.
"Check this out," I said as I whipped out my iPhone.
"Oh wow!" said Angie as the phone lit up.
I did the selfie-trick with Johnny and Angie.
"Top gear!" Brilliant! You must be joking!" said Johnny. "Real Star Trek stuff, that!"
"Can I see it?" Angie said.
"Yeah, flip through all the screens," I said.
"So wait a sec. You're from the future? You know everything that's gonna happen from now to 2020?" asked Johnny.
"Yep," I said.
"And if you tell us, will that affect the future?' asked Johnny. "I love science fiction! I've read all them science fiction books y'know!"
"No. George Carlin says even if I tell you everything that happens tonight, you won't remember any of it when my little trip back in time is over."
Johnny looked at Angie and then back at me.
"Tell us everything!" they both said.
This Night Has Opened My Eyes
I told Johnny and Angie everything that happened between 1986 and 2020.
"And the election is on November 3rd, in like three weeks, and they don't have a cure for the Coronavirus, and Keith Richards is still alive," I said, exhausted.
"I can't believe Manchester City wins the Premier League," said Angie. Johnny shook his head in astonishment too.
"And I can't believe the Bruce Jenner thing," said Johnny.
Outside, the crowd was going berserk for The Smiths return to the stage.
"Jack, everything you told us was so amazing, but you didn't tell us what happens to The Smiths," said Johnny.
"Oh, yeah. Well, Johnny, you stop drinking and smoking. And you become vegetarian, and run lots of marathons," I said.
"Really? Cheers, Jack, cheers," Johnny said, clinking his beer with mine.
"Yeah, and you and Angie stay married the whole time- real high school sweethearts!" I said, trying to avoid saying more.
They looked at each other and cuddled.
"What about me and Morrissey, Jack?" asked Johnny sheepishly.
"Johnny, before I tell you that . . . can I play "Please Please Please Let Me Get I Want" on guitar for you and Angie?" I asked. "It's a short song, and one of the only Smiths songs I can play."
"You play guitar do ya, you chancer? Yeah sure, here play this one," said Johnny.
"Johnny, do you have a left-handed guitar I could play?" I asked, embarrassed.
"Jack, nobody plays left-handed guitar," said Johnny
George Carlin presented me with a left-handed guitar.
"Thanks, George," I said.
Sadly, I can only show you the end of my performance as the video (my talent) is too big for the blog website to handle. You'll just have to use your imagination how good the rest of it was [Please click on the link if the video player does not appear:
"Johnny, that song really meant a lot to me and Luis when we were in high school. Y'know like when we had a lot of disappointments, like crushes, and missing this concert and stuff."
"Cool, man. That's cool. Thanks for sharing that, Jack," said Johnny.
Bigmouth Strikes Again
Luis and I walked with The Smiths to the stage and stood by before the curtain opened. That's when Johnny couldn't hold back anymore. Johnny got up in Morrissey's face.
"You fuckin' prat! Do you realize you become a right-wing fascist in your fat old age?!" shouted Johnny.
Poor Morrissey was in shock, having no idea what Johnny was talking about.
"What are you on about?" said Morrissey. "You don't actually believe a word he says, do you?" pointing at me.
"Did you hear the barmy story he's got about Bruce Jenner?!' shouted Morrissey at Johnny.
Luis and I watched the rest of the show right from the side of the stage. When the band played their final song, Luis and I ran out and joined the other crazy fans who made it past security up onto the stage. We picked up and played a tambourine and maracas.
I Know It's Over
When the show was over, we said goodbye to the band, and they zoomed off in the limo-bus. I took a bunch of photos with my iPhone, but it was sad to think the photos would probably disappear later.
"Alright 'Gulliver's Travels,' it's time to say your goodbyes," said George Carlin, who was now back in his "Bill and Ted" outfit.
"Okay, man. I'll say goodbye to Luis."
I walked over to Luis, who was standing where the bus had left.
"Hey Lu, was this the best night ever or what?" I asked him.
"Yeah. I'm so glad we bought tickets. We would've regretted it for the rest of our lives," said Luis.
"You know what dude? If we missed this concert, we'd have gotten through it together. We'd have spent hundreds of hours listening to The Smiths, imagining we saw them at this concert. And that wouldn't have been so bad would it?" I asked.
"Dude, are you kidding me, tonight was epic," said Luis.
"I know. You're right. I played guitar for Johnny Marr and his wife, and they clapped politely. Who's ever gonna believe that?"
"Morrissey told me I should be celibate for a few years, and wear fake eyeglasses and a hearing aid in my ear," said Luis.
"Why did he say to do that?" I asked.
"I don't know. But I think I'm actually gonna do it," said Luis.
I know you are, buddy, I thought to myself. Even at school.
"Hey Lu, it was really great seeing ya here tonight. I wish I could just stay here and do everything we did in high school and college all over again. Most things I wouldn't change at all, really," I said.
Luis gave me a curious look. Then he said:
"Oh yeah. Morrissey told me something else too. He said he couldn't believe that of all the things in the world, you chose this concert. He said it made him proud for what The Smiths achieved with their music and the connection they made with their fans- with us."
"Really? He said that? Geez, Morrissey is such a difficult bastard, it's hard to imagine him giving us a sort of compliment like that," I said.
Luis and I took it all in for a moment.
"Hey Lu, you never even asked me how I knew how to play guitar," I said.
"Yeah, what the hell? You learn how to play guitar in the future?" asked Luis.
"Yeah. Actually, you play guitar first, and I get jealous, then I learn how to play," I said.
"Hmm." Luis thought about it. "Do we form a band?"
"No. You're too difficult to work with - like Morrissey. You lose interest anyway, and you start exercising, just as obsessively as you followed The Smiths. You become like a super fit Ironman." I explained.
"That's rad," said Luis.
"Hey, Lu. You just go ahead and drive your Volkswagen Fox home, I'll get a ride home with our new friend George Carlin here, okay?" I said.
"Later dude," said Luis, and we did our soul brother handshake that we always did, cupping our hands to make a real loud "pop" sound when our hands clasped.
With a whoosh, I was back in the Man Cave, lying on my couch. George Carlin was on the barstool.
"Well? You feel like you got it out of your system? No more regrets?" asked George.
"Yeah man, that was a blast," I said. "Thanks for all your help George."
"Whattaya think the lesson is, 'Sunshine?'" said George Carlin.
I thought for a few seconds.
"That anytime I need to, I can go back in time in my imagination, and rewrite my life any way I want."
"That's a start," said George. "Kinda shallow and narcissistic, but a start."
"And if I hurt someone, and that's my regret, whether they are dead or alive, I can write them a letter, and as long as I'm sincere and honest, I can probably make things better," I said.
"You know, sometimes a well-timed, sincere letter can do just the trick," said George.
You've Got Everything Now
"Here, someone asked me to give you this," said George, standing up from the bar chair.
He threw me a piece of paper folded into a square. Then George snapped his fingers and disappeared.
I unfolded the paper. A guitar pick with the initials "JM" fell out on my lap.
On the paper, were the lyrics, written in Morrissey's handwriting, to "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want"
Beneath the song it said:
"Luis and Jack . . .
'Non, Je ne regrette rien!"
signed Morrissey and Johnny Marr-SDSU 1986.
© Copyright Jack Clune 2020