Neon Knights is a fragmented cumming of age memoir and a guided tour of the heroes, villains, back-alleys and basements of nowheresville suburbia. From a close encounter with a trench-coat pedophile in a McDonald’s PlayLand, through a B-movie-scarred early development, to sexual misadventures in crowded movie theatres, hardcore shows, family vacations to mutant hooker-infested hotels, and chemically-assisted nocturnal journeys through the darker corners of suburban legend, Neon Knights is a portrait of suburban adolescence told through a mixture of memories, fantasies and hallucinations.
Neon Knights is available HERE!
and HERE!, along with the book Electric Dreams:
The two main things I remember about that trip are the hooker and Hemispheres. Every memory needs a soundtrack and that was this one’s. It’s funny how most of the time the last album you were listening to at some crucial moment in your life seems even more important than whatever it was that actually happened. Some of us can chart every major development in our lives through the music that occupied our headphones through it, and at this point I was in total stoner prog phase: Rush, Floyd, Zeppelin, King Crimson. I was still skating and spouting the joys of hardcore but my mind was on other trips altogether. Maybe too many three chord ragers and shouted slogans had burned me out, maybe it was the drugs I was getting into, or maybe it was pure teenage escapism. Something about fantastical songs about space wizards and magic and shit was just what I needed. Hour long musical worlds you could just fall into and forget everything else. I used to listen to songs about relationship troubles and wish I had a girlfriend to have relationship troubles with. Now that I did I didn’t want to hear about it any more. Robots, wizards, and intergalactic operas, on the other hand. It was some hokey shit, for sure, but how far from Maiden’s cartoon Lovecraft obsession or the Misfits is it, really? You couldn’t deny these guys’ chops, and all those rambling guitars, sci-fi synths and elvish vocals were the perfect soundtrack for a kid to expand his consciousness to, regardless of what decade it was.
I was experimenting with the usual plants and chemicals at that time, but they weren’t even really necessary. That semi-sleep mode you fall into after about twenty minutes of headphoned procrastination probably does the trick better than any outside assistance, in my experience at least. That state where you’re just conscious enough to still register what you’re listening to, but asleep on all other counts, opens up a whole middle reality that’s entirely separate from dream. I used to go there almost daily, on trains that included Meddle, Red, Relayer, Brain Salad Surgery, Physical Graffiti… Brain Salad Surgery even had Giger artwork, how could this Aliens fiend say no?
I scored most of these forgotten gems on burned CD-R from an old rocker of a teacher at my high school who had no idea about the damage he was doing. He actually gave me a much wider musical education than I deserved. Raised on rock lists and retrospectives, I wanted the obvious choices, I wanted Dark Side Of The Moon, I got Soundtrack to More, I wanted IV, I got Physical Graffiti, and was much the better for it.
Once again subject to forces outside of my control, I wanted 2112 but CD store availability dictated I got Hemispheres. Now that every ten year old and their kid has an iPod you can take ten thousand albums with you wherever you go, but back in the days of Discmans the choice of what album would accompany you on each trip in the car was a serious one, and never more so than when that happened to be a ten hour road trip otherwise filled with family road trip conversation. The pre-departure coin flip between this album and that album, weighing up quality, newness, length, and a million other factors, was by far the most important part of trip preparation, trailed far behind by things like packing clothes, underwear, toiletries, etc. Hemispheres’ thirty six minute run time meant that I would have to listen to it thirty two times over on that return road trip, excluding rest stops, forced periods of conversation, and the vacation itself, but it was new and I wanted to jump in. Maybe it could help me get to that mystical middle world a few times in the car.
Anything would be better than ten hours of reality. As it was I’d never been further than an hour or two in the car away from home with my family, and only ever on day trips, and I was perfectly happy to keep it that way. By that point our family vacation history consisted solely of weekly excursions to the local shopping mall, and occasional “special days out” where I’d be treated to a visit to some other, slightly more exotic shopping mall a few hours away. If ever there was a job opening going for shopping mall tour guide in my home state I would be a shoo-in.
Naturally, alongside every other thing about me, other kids thought my lack of vacation experience was cruel and unusual, as they themselves spent every summer on some foreign tropical island and every winter on some snowy slopes. I didn’t really care. Faced with ten plus hours in a car or plane with my parents and two weeks more, tropical getaway or no, wouldn’t seem so appealing to any of them either. Maybe it got to my parents though, because for whatever reason this summer they decided to treat my brother and I to our own sunny sub-tropical getaway, which was kind of odd seeing as neither of us could swim.
None of that mattered when we finally arrived, because only the gamest disease-seeker would willingly put their body in the muck that awaited us. It was like the classic pulling away of the tourist shot to reveal that three decades and as many ice ages, nuclear meltdowns, zombie apocalypses and biblical raptures had occurred since the photos we’d seen had been taken. The world had ended here multiple times over, and it was like each rapture God had scraped a little closer to the bottom of the barrel when he sucked the saved up to heaven, and now it was literally just the worst of the worst left down below. It looked like most of these people’s teeth had been good God-fearing Christians as well because they were gone too. To be fair, there were palm trees and other tropical plants, they were just kind of littered like debris all over the ground. Had there actually been a hurricane here just before we arrived? I would have actually believed that to be the case if everyone wasn’t acting so casual about the whole mess.
We pulled in to our hotel, which unsurprisingly was flashing “Vacancy”, much like the clerk who showed us to our noisy main street-adjacent rooms. I’m sure my father would have just piled us back into the car and driven on through to the next town if my parents hadn’t already booked our room over the phone, but there was no way they were losing their already paid accommodation, even if the ocean was frothing and fizzing like some radioactive swamp and our hotel’s “beachfront” status looked like it had been won when the previous coastline had been bombed into oblivion.
None of us set foot in the ocean for the duration of the trip, and the hotel pool was even worse. While the beach looked positively nuclear the swimming pool was in dire need of a radioactive cleansing. Unsurprisingly we ended up spending most of our time at the local shopping mall, but it was a pale imitation of the fluorescent wonderlands I was used to. It didn’t even have a record store.
Looked like I was stuck with Rush for the duration of the trip. Could’ve been worse. Luckily I had some weed hidden inside a rolled up pair of socks in my bag, which I retrieved as soon as my parents and my brother and I retreated to our two separate rooms on the first night. No sooner had my brother and I made it to our room than we were leaving it again, parting ways with a casually conspiratorial nod and a “See you later.”
While he disappeared into the night to do god knows what I took my weed and my Discman and headed down to the hotel pool to see if some burnt herbal offerings would be enough to conjure a creature from that black lagoon. I was halfway through track one and three quarters on the way to blissful oblivion when a noise and flash of movement startled me and I realised my creature conjuring had actually worked. I’d never seen a hooker before but I knew straight away that this was one. From the high heeled hobble and the clothes that were paradoxically several shades too cheap for someone who wasn’t doing it for money. She was standing over by a parked car, doing that classic ass-out lean in to the driver’s side window that just screamed for a passing patrol car to haul her in for solicitation. Maybe it was her way of lining up business for later in the night. She straightened up and sauntered around to the other side of the car, opened the door, got inside, and disappeared beneath the windshield’s horizon.
Finding myself drawn by a heretofore undiscovered and not entirely welcome voyeuristic curiosity, I drew myself up and edged stealthily to a better view of the parked car. Joint long burned out, standing in the shadow of the hotel’s facade, I could see through the car’s side window as the hooker went at it while in my ears Geddy Lee whispered about becoming a disembodied spirit and passing into Olympus over an ominous soundtrack of droning synthesizer and sci-fi sounds. It was totally the wrong music for the scene, but I was too stoned to realise I could actually turn it off and for a few minutes I forgot it was actually just music coming from my headphones and not the omnipresent soundtrack to the universe. It gave the whole scene a grand otherworldly intensity, like this thirty dollar parking lot blow job was of grave intergalactic importance. If pornos started ditching the cheesy seventies funk for some epic orchestral accompaniment they might be on to something.
“I see the gods in battle rage on high, thunderbolts across the sky, I cannot move, I cannot hide, I feel a silent scream inside…“
The John climaxed at the same time as the song, unloading into the hooker’s mouth as the band came crashing back in with a sudden force that took me by complete surprise and scared the absolute shit out of me.
“Then all at once the chaos ceased, a stillness fell, a silent peace…“
By the time I came back to earth the John had driven off and the hooker had likewise disappeared back into the night. I relit my joint and took a few drags and like a genie from a rubbed off lamp she reappeared right beside me.
“Can I get a puff?” she asked, in a gravelly, throaty, and unmistakably masculine drawl. Scared out of my skin for the second time in as many minutes, I fumbled and choked and failed miserably at not staring at her very prominent Adam’s Apple.
She chuckled. “Don’t worry kid, I don’t bite.” True to her word, she flashed me a gaping, toothless grin. “Um, yeah, sure,” I passed the joint over and she took a long pull, then offered it back, but my hand was crippled by the memory of her mouth’s previous resident.
“Uh, I’m good, thanks.” She nodded knowingly. “So, you enjoy the show?”
She laughed again. “Don’t worry, kid, I don’t care. So, you want some help with that? For the weed,” she said, motioning at my crotch.
I looked down at my jeans to discover, to my own horror, a raging hard-on. I didn’t really consider it, but I did take a few seconds to politely decline. My mind was full of that toothless smile, and as high as I was, I wasn’t that fucked.
“Suit yourself,” she said, not unfriendly, and once again dissolved into the steamy summer night.
The next day my parents gave up on the teeth pulling of trying to find any semblance of a fun family vacation in this nuclear hellhole, and we packed up shop and hit the road again in the direction of home. I braced myself for another ten hours of backseat boredom, made twice as bad by its lack of musical accompaniment. I couldn’t listen to Hemispheres anymore without having Vietnam flashbacks to violent front seat orgasms and that terrifying toothless grin.