Sean Madigan Hoen first came onto our radar over a decade ago, given his involvement in a number of Michigan-based hardcore bands. These days, he’s receiving acclaim for his memoir Songs Only You Know, due out next month on Soho Press. Jaimy Gordon had this to say about it: “If there is ruefulness, now, for the way he treated his body, his girlfriends, and his family, he wisely reprises in his book, in neon detail, the fever that once placed him in the same drunken boat with Iggy Pop, Rimbaud and Artaud.” We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Songs Only You Know below.
Caitlin had been more or less right about my life at the upper flat, stupidity being a frequently occasioned thing, bending now and then toward trouble. One morning, not long before the sun rose, Andrew and I found ourselves standing in the beer and wine aisle of Farmer Jack grocery. It must have been the stillness there, Muzak echoing through aisles of cereal boxes and soup cans—suddenly I knew we were shit out of luck.
“Wait,” I said. “It’s gotta be three a.m.” Long past Michigan’s cutoff time.
A case of High Life was nestled beneath my arm.
“Four,” Andrew said, holding up his wristwatch as if he’d known all the while.
This was his slow season, no lawns to mow and little electrical work, allowing him full-bore pursual of his self-education in quantum physics and solar energy, studies that were often aided by drink. The coolers rattled. Shelves of wine bottles stretched away from us—fifteen feet or so of gleaming reds and greens.
Andrew was pacing. It was like he was walking in a hall of colored glass. “Imagine that,” he said. “Time disappeared.”
For weeks, we’d been celebrating my new residency in the upper flat with beer and records and a whole lot of nothing much. Earlier that evening, we’d had an impassioned debate over natural selection, nature and nurture, and other mysteries about which we knew only catchphrases, interrupted only by the discovery that we’d run out of spirits.
Will remained at the flat, a mere two hundred yards across Michigan Avenue. A weeknight. Hugging the box of beer forced me to consider the fact I had to be at the rug shop in a matter of hours.
“What now?” I said.
Andrew walked to the end of the aisle. He wore a flannel jacket and work boots. Will had buzzed his dark blond hair right down to his thick, hearty skull.
“Now is now,” he said.
With a gentle palm, he dusted the wine bottles, hearing them clack together like loose teeth. He paused, teasing a bottle neck with a finger, smiling, fingering the glass neck a bit harder, until the bottle tipped from the rack, falling end over end toward the floor. As the glass shattered, I knew we were in for something. Andrew moved down the racks with a creeping fascination as one after another the bottles crashed, spilling purple through the aisle.
Moments like that: I guess you could say we lived for them. I was sure I heard a commotion coming our way.
What happened next wasn’t a decision, exactly. I asked myself if I had the nerve to bust for the exit, and the answer arrived with a jolt to my thighs, igniting a flurry of strides. My arms cradled the chilled box. I heard Andrew chuckling behind me. As we passed the checkout station, an employee cried, “Hit the doors! The doors!”
Andrew dashed past me with a gingerly step. He’d been able to leap backyard fences with barely a running start; I’d seen him scale brick buildings—they wouldn’t catch him. The automated doors had closed tight, unresponsive to our jailbreak approach. Evidently they hadn’t locked, because Andrew wrenched them apart, holding them open long enough for me to get a leg through and squeeze myself into the night.
Andrew ran alongside the building’s facade with the awful idea of taking cover in the woods behind.
“Aye,” I said, but it was every man for himself.
I booked ass across the parking lot, cradling the beer, heading for the upper flat, which sat in plain view beyond the avenue. Halfway across the asphalt expanse, I heard the huff and puff of the vigilante gaining on me, steps away from tackling me to the pavement. A voice behind, motoring, “Mo-fucker, mo-fucker, mo-fucker.”
Sacrificing our booty was my only chance. I whirled, tossing the box of beer. It skidded across the blacktop, wide of a husky, bug-eyed employee coming at me with pumping forearms and a face reddened with a need for cruel justice. I saw all this in the space between heartbeats; then fear carried me into a frantic sprint. Running with a singleness of purpose, I opened each stride a little wider, knowing that you never, ever look back until you’re certain you’ve escaped.
Will was sitting on the couch, lost in music, as I barged through the door.
“Andrew,” I said. “He started breaking bottles.”
“Yeah?” Will looked as though I’d spoiled a meal he was in the midst of blessing. There was free jazz playing, or one of his psycho-ambient records. His hair was slicked with royal jelly, the latest sleaze he was working. “You never know with Andy,” he said, and Will was one of the only people who could shorten Andrew’s name and get away with it. Andy Dandy—fighting words.
“Andy, Andy,” he said, and went to bed.
I was spooked the way people get when they’ve been bedeviled by a horror flick and cannot rest until they’ve checked the locks, bolted the windows. I switched off the lights and lay on the couch, listening for Andrew’s return or a phone call. Jail, I imagined. Bail money. This was life in the upper flat. How it would be from here on, and I was okay with that.
A half hour passed before Andrew’s steps sounded in the stairwell.
I met him at the door.
In his hand was a cup of coffee, steady as could be.
“I ran out back, down by the river,” he said. “A rent-a-cop was on me, but he wasn’t going into the trees.” He sipped from his Styrofoam cup. “I would have turned his lights out.”
“Where’d you get that?”
“It’s decaf,” he said. “Here, you take it.”
He wasn’t breathing heavily, not a bit. Andrew was dead-pan serene, always. Even when he’d snap, come undone, which wasn’t often, he’d move swiftly and methodically. Only his eyes would go feral, as if he’d stared into an eclipse and seen the end of all of us. You’d have to shake him out of it—after the fight or fire or whatever. Sometimes he’d get that way talking about the solar panels he was saving for. The sun’s energy, quantum what have you. It was a good thing the guard hadn’t found him.
“I threw the beer at the other guy,” I said. “He almost got me.”
“No,” Andrew said, scanning the room like there were ener-gies yet to be detected, as though I were an impartial presence.
I never liked it when he did that. “No,” he said. “No, he didn’t. You would have done what you had to.”