Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs - Dave Holmes

To Dad, Mom, Dan, and Steve, for messing me up the exact right amount.

Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings,

About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings,

And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering,

They help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.

—FRANK TURNER, “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous”

Of all the epic stories, both factual and fictional, that we have passed down through history, I identify most strongly with the journey of the Bee Girl in Blind Melon’s “No Rain” video. If you didn’t happen to spend your life in front of a television in 1992, here’s the situation: a plucky, bespectacled girl, maybe nine years old, has dressed up in a cheap bumblebee costume that looks like it was made by a parent in a great big hurry—and all she wants to do is dance. Throughout the video, Bee Girl tap-dances her little heart out, giving everything she’s got to everyone she meets, and over and over she’s met with stone faces. Move it along, the people of the town seem to tell her as the song shambles on. Nobody is interested, but does she give up? No, she does not. I’ve got spirit yes I do, I’ve got spirit, how about…you? she wonders. Are you my people? Do I belong here? No, no, and no.

And then, as the song reaches its post-Nevermind, pre–Rusted Root, Woodstock ’94–bound crescendo, Bee Girl approaches the wrought-iron gate of a peaceful pasture, and with a look of pure amazement and joy swings the gate open to reveal a whole field of frolicking bee-people. Bee-people young and old, black and white, each united by their unfortunate costumes and love of dance. She is home. She has found her people. There you are, you imagine her saying with a sigh.

I remember seeing this video for the first time in college—miserable, half-drunk on Keystone Light, a Camel Light smoldering my mouth, about to desperately tap-dance my way through another social interaction—and saying out loud: “I fucking get you, Bee Girl.”

My name’s Dave Holmes, and I have spent most of my life being the odd man out. In retrospect the only bad thing about that is how much time I spent thinking it was a bad thing.

I hunted high and low for my place in this world. I changed myself around every which way to make myself normal. I tried to be each of the five archetypes from The Breakfast Club, all four of the Facts of Life girls, every one of the emotions inside Herman’s Head. I tore it up, you guys. It didn’t work, exactly, but if my unquenchable thirst for acceptance sent me on a long series of wrong turns, I’m exactly where I want to be now. I’m not going to tell you that I found my field of frolicking bee-people inside me, because then I would have to close my laptop, fill my pockets with stones, and walk into the ocean. But if you find you’re reaching that conclusion on your own, I’m not going to stand in your way.

I did a lot of embarrassing things and put myself through a lot of useless trouble on the road to accepting myself, and it would have been a much more painful experience had I not had access to the most powerful stimulant known to humankind: the music and popular culture of the last forty years. I came of age in the time of the Monoculture, when we were all watching the same three networks and listening to the same Top 40 radio stations. My identity was formed in the eras of Thriller, The Cosby Show, and Nirvana—all those stories ended well, right?—and when I felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world, they were there for me. I had intense love affairs with albums. I saw movies so many times I could direct them from memory. I spent so much time in front of MTV it finally gave up and invited me in.

In my younger days, my preferred method of communication was a mixtape (and then a mix-CD, and then, ever so briefly, a mix-MiniDisc). I could tell people I liked them, or that I wanted them to like me, or that I was breaking up with them, or that I understood they were breaking up with me (but if they could just understand how I felt, maybe they’d change their minds) in ninety minutes of music. It’s the