by Ron Riekki
On Diego Garcia, I’d listen to Slayer’s Reign in Blood to drown out the B-52s and my bunkmate who was a little bit nuts. He’d chase around the chickens on base that were governmentally protected and shout that he was going to choke them if he ever caught ‘em. He never caught one. I came back to my barracks room one day to find him meditating in the dark with my CD of Sabbath’s History of a Time to Come cranked. That is the scariest CD cover I owned, but seeing him in some sort of Satanic pose in the middle of the floor was even scarier. He switched rooms shortly after that, thank God.
In boot camp, towards the end, we were allowed to buy some things that would fit into our little stupid locker. Mine, of course, was nearest to the floor so I had to get on my hands and knees to put the key into the lock. We had to keep the key around our neck at all times so we wouldn’t lose it. I always felt like a dog when I’d have to get down on the floor. I bought a Walkman and Madonna’s You Can Dance and W.A.S.P.’s The Last Command, so I’d listen to both over and over again; I didn’t have much time to pick out the CDs in the commissary as we were really rushed and they didn’t have much of a selection, but I ended up liking both of them, especially “Blind in Texas” and the “Holiday” remix. The opening to “Blind“ would get me fired up every time, especially the way Blackie Lawless screams “higher” and “fire” in the opening. We had a kid from Texas who wanted to be a SEAL, but he ended up getting mad and punching a wall so hard it broke his hand, so they medically discharged him. People were laughing about it because he kept saying how he was going to be a SEAL and he didn’t make it through the first few weeks of boot camp.
We used to rap a lot in boot camp. I knew Run-DMC lyrics so I’d be the only whitish kid who’d be going along with all the lyrics, all of us naked in the showers with one of the recruits doing a pretty good beat-box. Looking back, it was kinda weird to be naked and rapping as a group like that, but it was pretty fun.
In Rota, Spain, I had no idea about new music at home, because we didn’t have TV. At least not real TV. Just military TV. I didn’t know what music to buy, so I would count through the CDs in the Navy Exchange and buy the one-hundredth. The next time I went back, I’d start from that 100th CD spot and count another hundred. I ended up buying Nanci Griffith’s Little Love Affairs, Lyle Lovett’s Pontiac and 3rd Bass’s The Cactus Album that way. Pure luck. And they’re still some of my favorite CDs.
A strange thing:I ended up becoming friends with M.C. Serch when I got out of the military. I worked on the VH1 TV show, The (White) Rapper Show, and would drive him around. I visited him at his house in Florida and when I had a poem published in Rattle, Serch did the audio reading of the poem for their web site. If I end up becoming friends with Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith in the future too, I think I’d faint. But Nanci Griffith did do a concert in Ishpeming, Michigan, where I grew up. And that’s just amazing as hell, because nobody ever comes to Ishpeming, Michigan, to perform. But Nanci Griffith did and she was awesome.
There was a country artist who came to Spain to appear on the base when I was there and I couldn’t remember his name so I googled “Best-Selling Country Music Artists of All-Time” and guess what? The first person that came up on a top twenty list was Randy Travis at number twenty. I remember we stood off to the left side and it was in an air hanger with all the planes gone and I went with this guy who ended up getting in trouble for having a Confederate flag in his room and he was pretty weird. You might ask how he’s weird, but my answer is simply that if you own a Confederate flag and proudly display it in your barracks room, you’re pretty fucking weird. But come to think of it, almost everybody I met in the military was weird. It’s not like rich kids who’ve always gotten everything they’ve ever wanted join the military.
I knew one kid who had a security clearance who told me he used to “jack cars,” meaning steal them, not jack them up to fix them.
And I had another bunkmate who said he was a pimp. I nicknamed him Shamu because he kinda had a little bit of a whale-y face. So he was Shamu the Pimp and he also had a security clearance. I think to get a security clearance in the military you just have to be able to breathe. Shamu would get drunk on horrible cheap beer and go shoot baskets with me really late at night at the gym that was open twenty-four seven. He’d miss but he’d keep saying how he was the best shooter in the world, even when he’d miss like eight in a row.
By the way, I didn’t stay for much of Randy Travis because I was working long hard-as-hell shifts, but you really got the sense from the stage that he was authentically a nice guy. I liked that. You just knew that Randy Travis would never put up a Confederate flag in his barracks room. He’d put up a photo of his wife and kids and he’d say hi to his bunkmate when he walked in.
I wish I could be on a stage and people would think, “What a nice guy that guy is.”
Right before I joined the military, I saw Full Metal Jacket. You’d think that movie would make me not join the military, but it actually made me want to go in. I wanted to see if it was really that crazy. And guess what? It is. During Desert Storm, we had a guy who got caught masturbating while reading passages out loud from the Bible. He got sent to the Philippines for a psych eval and he actually passed it. It made me wonder what you’d have to do to flunk a psych eval in the military. Especially during war. I think it’d be impossible.
I still listen to the soundtrack of Full Metal Jacket. “Leonard” is one of the creepiest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It really sounds like the military to me.
I did cryptography when I was stationed on Diego and they’d play cover music in case anyone ever bugged the room so that it would make it hard to overhear conversations. So the music was kinda loud. And some people got caught sneaking CDs into the building, because we quickly got sick of the music the command was playing. We wanted some hip-hop and metal and stuff like that. I’ll admit, I did bring in a Mötley Crüe CD. Okay, I’ll even admit more. My CD got caught in the CD player and we couldn’t get it out. The command found out we were bringing CDs in, so they closed up the CD player and just kept one CD playing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and that CD was Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. I love Michael Jackson to this day, but unfortunately I can have some pretty negative flashbacks if I hear the notes to “Miss You Much” or “Escapade.” The sheer repetition was just maddening. I apologize to Janet Jackson. It’s not her fault. But thank God they didn’t do that with Michael because if a song like “Man in the Mirror” ever got ruined for me, I’d be pissed off.
When I was stationed in California, there was this one kid who said he played for the Navy rugby team. I think he did too, because he’d get off from shift to go to practice. One day he took me to his barracks room and played me a CD and said it was his old band. I listened to it and it was pretty good. Anyway, years went by and I was out of the military and YouTube had been invented and somehow I stumbled upon the song that he played me. I looked up the band on the internet, and it was some band from England, where I know that guy never lived. He’d made the whole thing up. I don’t know why he did that. It was like he just had the urge to lie out of nowhere. I wonder now if he actually did play for the Navy rugby team. Or if there even is a Navy rugby team.
When I was in C-school, my roommate was a Billy Idol addict. The CD Charmed Life had just come out and so he’d play “Cradle of Love” in his used convertible he’d somehow managed to buy. I think it was a convertible. In my memory it was. And I remember he’d play an actual tape. He’d rewind it and play the song over and we’d be driving along in Pensacola with the beach air and I just felt free. After awhile I got sick of that song too, but I never got sick of the beach. It’s still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been—Pensacola Beach.
In boot camp, in the chow hall I’d hear Bill Medley’s and Jennifer Warnes’ “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” That song will always be a boot camp song to me. I remember it would play over really shitty speakers.
When I went to A-school, it was INXS’ “Devil Inside” and David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise” that were always on MTV. My grandmother had a relative who lived in Pensacola so I went to their house to stay the first time that I was allowed to leave the base for the weekend and the INXS video came on and my grandma said, “What is this horrible thing? Is he singing about the ‘devil inside’? Is that what he’s saying? Turn this off before the devil comes into the house.” But I kept arguing with her until the song was over. I wanted to hear it. It was all new to me.
The very first song I heard when I got out of boot camp was George Michael’s “Father Figure.” That song will forever be a symbol of freedom for me. I had pneumonia really badly in boot camp. The company commander wouldn’t let me go to the base hospital so it just progressed until I had lost fifty pounds. By the end I couldn’t even listen to W.A.S.P. anymore because my headaches were so intense. I’d just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling and hallucinate. When I got to Pensacola for A-school, I realized I was going to live. For awhile anyway. I didn’t know Desert Storm was coming up ahead. Music doesn’t warn you. It just glides you through what you’re doing.