It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone having sex.
It was Summer 1994. I had my first “real” job working in the Osco side of a Jewel-Osco (purchased by Albertsons) the previous winter. I stocked the manilla shelves for 5 months. It was enough to save $900 before quitting. I was 16 and I wanted to get away from the flats of Illinois. $900 bought me a round trip ticket to Colorado for the summer.
I volunteered to build part of the Colorado Trail with a crew on a ridge as high as 13,800′ between Breckenridge & Copper Mountain. People came from around the country. We lived in tents next to a stream and hiked miles up the Wheeler Gulch access every morning in the bitter cold. Once on top we’d Pulaski, adze, and rock bar our way across the mountain carving out part of what became a 380+ mile state gem and one of the most beautiful trails anywhere in the world.
I wore jeans that were so torn they were held together with safety pins. Under my shell I’d wear a t shirt with a flannel over it. As we’d walk up i’d sing lyrics to Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden softly to kill time and distract me from the high altitude of the Rockies.
Before and after the trip I had a room at a Copper Mountain hotel so I could shower and clean up for a couple days with a comfortable bed before boarding my flight back. Since we didn’t have cable at home I watched Mtv as if it were the only channel ever broadcast. The smell of blue spruce and lodgepole pines wafting in the window from the heat of July, the songs on repeat: No Excuses, Heart Shaped Box, Even Flow, and Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun.
I remember it like yesterday. I can see the wallpaper in the room and the typical light yellow polyurethaned pine furnishings. Around midnight there were sounds coming from the room behind the wall. When I figured out what it was I couldn’t believe it. I turned the volume down to listen for a minute, then turned it back up to drown out their creaking bed. I was too naive to respond outside of shock and disbelief.
“Black hole sun
Won’t you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
Won’t you come (won’t you come)”
I didn’t realize the irony of the chorus at the time but that night capped the end of life-changing weeks in Colorado. My destination became the mountains. My soundtrack was from Seattle.
I dropped out of high school and went to college that fall. I spent winter break in Seattle, Washington. My brother was filming the tv show Northern Exposure. I drove his Pathfinder around the city when I got tired of the 18 hour days on set. I wore flannel and band t shirts. I had my first espresso from a coffee cart at Snoqualmie Falls. I climbed in a gym for the first time. I blared grunge all day and wished I was savvy enough to go meet the people from Sub Pop. I made friends that would last to this day.
It’s funny the memories that happen when you hear music. 1994 was the year my life turned in a direction that took me places i’d never imagined going. If there were ever a genre that became an anthem for a generation, Grunge was it for GenX.
“How would I know
That this could be my fate?
How would I know
That this could be my fate? Yeah”
Soon after, I got caught up in the Phish era. Flannel shirts became patchwork pants. I rolled my hair into dreadlocks, and climbed nonstop out of my Volkswagen Westfalia across the West Coast. Jam bands became my soundtrack. Climbing became my purpose.
20 years later, in 2014, I’d be staying up all night in the Detroit MGM sweating a deal that was falling through in the early stages of a company I had just started. I’d get Starbucks at 12:30 am with a friend, and the billionaire who could change my company’s fate with the stroke of a pen. If I knew what would happen there this week I’d have burned it down. (We got the deal.)
Every time I hear a bar from a song released in 1994 it takes me to those trails and that hotel room at Copper Mountain. The summer when my eyes started to open and my life became my own. Passion following purpose.
I wouldn’t have chosen my life’s direction any other way. You were part of my youth and I’ll miss the chance to seeing you play, every day.