They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes you’ve got no place left to go. Which, without further elaboration, explains how I’ve come to find myself living with my parents deep in the forested foothills east of Redding. It has been three decades since I last lived with them.
I first moved to Redding in 1978, the day after graduating from high school in Grand Coulee Dam, WA. Even though just 40,000 people lived here back then, Redding was a big city compared to the small rural towns I’d been raised in. Best of all, it was in California, which held a mystical status for out-of-state teens back in those days.
That summer, I hung out at the “cruise” on the downtown mall, chased girls at the underage disco and basked in the sun on the shores of Whiskeytown Lake. It was everything California had been purported to be. But then, as now, there weren’t many decent jobs in Redding for someone possessing a mere high school diploma. I worked at a Burger King on Hilltop Drive for about a week before joining the U.S. Navy.
I returned to Redding in 1983 to attend Shasta Community College. Having been stationed in Seattle and San Francisco, Redding was no longer the big city it had once seemed to me. Redding was a place from which to escape. I had become obsessed with punk rock during my Navy stint and soon formed a band with some like-minded musicians at the college, all of whom, like me, were keen to get out of Redding as soon as possible.
We called ourselves the Deadbeats and featured Jesse Wiedell and me on guitars, Mike Roach on bass and Chris Adey on drums. There was virtually no place for a punk band to play in Redding back then. We played one gig at the VFW hall, another at an abandoned mine, the rest in various garages. The band fell apart as one by one its members departed for the big city. I moved to San Francisco in 1984, and Jesse and Mike followed me not long afterward.
Chris, who was much younger than the rest of us, was left behind in Redding. I lost touch with him, but through the grapevine I heard he eventually moved to Huntington Beach in Southern California.
I worked as a machinist in the San Francisco shipyards until the end of the 1980s, when the work dried up. I had some success with writing in the past, so I decided to pursue a journalism degree, which I eventually earned in 1992. I’ve been a journalist since then, a period of intense economic turmoil in the news industry that has resulted in utter collapse of journalism in the United States. When it comes to picking careers, I’m 0-for-2.
In part, it’s the caving of the journalism industry that has brought me back to Redding, but at least I am not home alone. In addition to my parents and my girlfriend, it turns out Chris Adey, my old drummer, moved back to Redding six years ago. You might even know him. He’s the guy who runs the hot dog stand in the parking lot across from Shasta Medical Center. He also has a landscaping business and books the punk rock bands at Bombay’s.
Through the miracle of Facebook, Chris, Jesse (who lives in Eureka) and I arranged to get the old band together over the holidays. When we met as Chris’ house, we didn’t spend much time catching up before Jesse and I plugged in the guitars and Chris began pounding away on the drums. I could remember only half of the songs, but nevertheless it felt like we’d just played the day before. The weirdest thing about getting together after 30 years was that it didn’t seem weird at all.
It was like nothing had changed.
Likewise, there are plenty of things that haven’t changed in Redding during the intervening years. The population has more than doubled, but the economy feels just as depressed now as it did in 1978. It’s still tough for a high school graduate to get a decent job. That’s why Chris works three gigs. I still can’t figure out what people do here to make a living.
Redding remains the place to be if you love the outdoors. It’s like Tahoe without the tourists. Yet some young people continue to see Redding as a town to escape from. I Googled Bombay’s, the bar where Chris books the punk bands, and discovered via Yelp that these so-called millennials complain just as bitterly about the lack of nightlife in Redding as we did way back when.
But I think that criticism is no longer fully warranted after recently attending one of Chris’ shows at Bombay’s. Chris’ band from Huntington Beach, Don’t Care, was second on the bill, and I can guarantee you that the two guitar players, with foot-high neon-hued mohawks, would have been run out of town on rails back in the early ’80s. The headlining band, D.I., was unbelievably awesome, but wouldn’t have been given the time of day back then. The beer-soaked 20-30-40-something punks slam-dancing in the pit would have been thrown out on their ears.
So some things have changed.
Myself, I’ve come full circle. When I first moved here in 1978, Redding seemed like a big city to me. Now that I’m living out here deep in the woods, in relative isolation, it seems like a big city once again. A trip into town is an affair to be celebrated. The hustle and bustle of the cars motoring to and from the big box stores flanking the freeways is exhilarating. I should write an essay in praise of traffic jams.
One meaning of the phrase “you can’t go home again” is that you can’t return home and expect things to conform to your new-found big city sensibilities. Nor can you expect things to conform to your idyllic memories from the past. There’s no need to lament this state of affairs. You can’t always get what you want, but if you get together with your old bandmates, you might just get what you need.
I know I did.