Let's Cock The Hammer On Another


I know ghosts. I've had something following me around since about age six. I'm sure sometimes it's called paranoia, and sometimes it's that weird thing your nerve endings do when the air currants shift around your body, but mostly it's a ghost. A cold shaft of air from nowhere, a chair moving, a bump, a voice.

They could be long-dead relatives - there's a family story about a spectacular car crash on a mountain in the Philippines that took out five of my teenage cousins, and if we stay the way we were in the afterlife, I bet those guys are gossiping about the living because they are bored out of their minds. We're a talkative people. I'm pretty sure I make a good soap opera while they laze away the decades of eternity.

I used to have a stepsister, when my father was married to her mother, and she knew ghosts too. She brought it up on the occasion of her Amish friend Mandy coming to stay. Mandy's family was a weird group - the mother seemed a little too clean to be as much of a poor dirt farmer as everyone said she was. The kids were all very familiar with specific swear words that could make even my party-friendly parental authority flinch. I was convinced they were not really Amish, but a band of grifters, and I still think the whole lot of them were responsible for a slew of garage break-ins in the neighborhood that my father and his wife's family were living in that summer.

Mandy liked walking with my ex-stepsister and me up to the roller rink parking lot, where Sissy would pretend to smoke cigarettes, Mandy would pretend she didn't know how to smoke but could blow rings like French prostitute servicing the B Squad behind enemy lines, and I would just smoke, for real. We were all in junior high school and into witchcraft, or the semblance of it.

Sissy told us both, at the end of the four poster bed on a hot summer sleepover night. "My dead grandfather came to me in the night. He was winding yarn around his arms and asked me to play Cat's Cradle." We were impressed and alternatively disgusted. Mandy said ghosts were cool, so Sissy thought she was cool, but I knew better. They were both dorks and while ghosts are certainly exciting, the entire affair had an air of child molestation that I wanted no part of. Later that summer I met my first boyfriend, a devastatingly beautiful and devastatingly abusive motherfucker, and I really never hung out with either of them again. My own ghosts came quickly through the next few years, then backed off when I scared them by scaring myself. Now they seem to be offering free advice all of the time.

I'm mostly listening lately to Warren Zevon's 1978 album Excitable Boy. Here's what Paul Nelson wrote in Rolling Stone when it came out: "Warren Zevon's Excitable Boy is the best American rock & roll album since Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run (1975), Neil Young's Zuma (1976) and Jackson Browne's The Pretender (1976). If there's not enough firepower in that statement, let's cock the hammer on another. Thus far, the Seventies have introduced three major American rock & roll artists - Browne in 1972, Springsteen in 1973 and Zevon -- and I have every confidence the music of all three will be even better in the future."

I reconnected with this album one Sunday afternoon while sorting through my friend's vinyl collection. Trying to reunite all the loose albums with their dust sleeves and covers, I felt something push me into the stacks. I had Side A on the turntable, playing probably the most famous song on the Zevon record, "Werewolves of London". When I backed up, the player skipped over two songs directly to the last one on that side "Accidently Like a Martyr". I felt a hand on my shoulder pat a little, then disappear.


- Salem Collo-Julin