In Which I Return To The Scene of My August Childhood

The tracks recorded by The Verve below are from the second Voyager sessions, and include several b-sides from their EP and first album, A Storm in Heaven. This is the last entry in our series on Childhood.

My Childhood

by Alex Carnevale

I was first aware of myself at the age of eight. I took a measure of who I was, what I had done to that point. It could have been summed up in a sentence, and the fact of that disgusted me. This sacrifice represented eight years. I would not be prepared to make another of that kind.

By the time I was nine I had read the dictionary several times. My reasoning was that I should probably know a bit of everything, before digging into the more important parts. For my children, I will know to provide a more economical briefing. In fact it was several years more before I really knew anything about oral sex.

The day that came to my attention, John Jordan and some other people were in the cafeteria. He’d looked it up in a science encyclopedia. The editor must have been playing a joke. With the mouth. There was no pleasure derived from ignorance that I was in a position to afford myself. The next month, I read Hume for the first time. He was very boring.

I have a younger brother. I remember saying to my parents, “When will he be old enough for me to play with him?” He never has been.

“Lord I Guess I’ll Never Know” — The Verve

“South Pacific” — The Verve

By the age of 11, I was already the most knowledgeable person on almost every subject. When I was dragged along to parties I mocked the pretensions of the party’s hosts to the other children. “Your parents are turgid morons,” I told them. We also played the slap game. I was great at that as well.

My preteen years were tough. My parents told me that I was a difficult child. “Suddenly you possessed yourself.” I’d had a seizure in first grade. My mother turned to natural remedies. The herbalist told me, “When I was a child, I believed I had a finite amount of words allotted to me. Wasn’t that silly?”

In those years, I frequently feuded with neighborhood children. One of them stole my N64 copy of Goldeneye. Another hated me for some other, more interesting reason. In a wholly unplanned encounter, I broke his forehead open with a hockey stick. When I spoke to my father of these troubles, he said, “It’s because we’re Italian.”

My father had a quite different childhood. He was not privileged, as I am. When he was 19, he stood on a corner with his friend, who playfully jumped into the road, right into the path of an oncoming truck. “I can see him now,” my father told me. “Stepping out into the street.” I thought on the moral of this story for some time. Shortly after the events of the Oklahoma City bombing, I realized the lesson I took from that story—for those that die, there is no such thing as death.

As my mother is Jewish, she made it her business to come into my elementary school and teach the children the story of Hannukah. She did not know it particularly well herself but there were books one could purchase. This was her life, what she did with it. I was more than incidental, but my concerns at that point largely revolved around reruns of Saved by the Bell and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There will be no other children like this in the world now that we are inside of the internet.

I remember the day I learned of the Holocaust. I must have been around nine. “What has been kept from me?” I thought. I wept. I read Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I have to be honest, I felt a little better.

Somewhere in there I found a desire to learn about the years before I knew I was myself. My parents told me, “You were born in Memphis, on a navy base.” I said, “Please continue.” My mother said, “You knew the names of all the cars and dinosaurs by the time you were three.” “Go on,” I said.

“Already There” — The Verve

At 12, my parents thought it would be best if I took a standardized test which admitted me to the gifted program at school.

Our main activity was word problems. Michael had eight of something. He was going to the market. He could buy a certain number of oranges, pears, date x number of debutantes, drive the ship to the end of the word. He could probably do anything he wanted.

The old ladies who taught the class made us all read Michael Crichton’s Sphere aloud, chapter by chapter. At the end, nobody really knew what happened.

Other times we just did crossword puzzles. This was not exactly New Criticism. I read all of Vonnegut on a whim. Those were the days. Before the important writers had not been read. Say it—that we are still in those days.

I wonder often what I could teach a clone of myself. What I could accomplish by raising it from birth. I would protect myself intensely. I would never shout at myself. If I were in a car accident (this would be much later) there would be no hard feelings towards anyone.

My first year at summer camp was disturbing. I discovered that I could occupy myself quite easily with far less stimulation than other children. Sadly, this trend continues its long progression in the opposite direction. I was only 11, the youngest camper in the company. I ate nothing but Kudos the entire summer.

The next summer, I lived with 11 Asian-American students. There was only one program about literature on this campus. The rest were math and engineering. If I was to describe their friendship and camaraderie—they weren’t yet nerds, but damned if they weren’t jolly.

“Counting Song” — The Verve

I did eventually make some friends in the neighborhood. I found myself saying things like, “Kant would like that joke,” or “Your sister looks like Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror.” I sounded like an asshole. Eventually I learned to speak their more difficult language. I found myself saying things like, “That stereo is dope,” and “My dick looks like a fractal.” Some things about yourself you can’t change.

Jurassic Park scared the shit out of me.

In sixth grade, we were moved to the combined middle school. The kids were rougher, trashier, more likely to mispronounce my name. For the most part, we stuck to our own. I did not realize how truly alienated I was. It was as if no matter how close I got to what was going on, I was always on the outside. This is a feeling that has never really gone away, no matter how directly I wish to jump into the fray of events. I still didn’t understand that there was no such thing as a mistake, or that my mistakes didn’t count.

After my first year of public middle school, my parents suggested I move to a private school. I consented.

The next summer everyone I knew was suddenly reading On the Road, brainstorming epic dramas that ended in shootouts, penning the most magnificent of essays. In that third year away from home, I completed a full length play on the subject of gambling. Although my sense of gambling was largely derived from television, the play was still not terrible. I think that was the only time in my life when I could have run a television network, or headed a multimedia company. I was as smart as I would ever be.

When I discovered girls, I quickly became attached. We lamented that we had not thought of this interest in women sooner. I remember talking to my friend on the street, saying, “I think you were into girls in March. For me it was more April.” This was glorious, especially when the girls in question had months for names.

The following summer, my thirteenth year, I went to the arts camp.

All of my friends were bisexual, and all had trauma in their pasts. I was in thrall—to tell of this trauma, to make it seem as if all else paled in comparison. We read Donald Barthelme’s The School, I was the only one who knew it was a satire. These were trying times. One Friday they took us to the Nuyorican Poets Café. We saw a musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with Hispanic actors. In hindsight, this was highly amusing. On a school trip that year, we went to see Amiri Baraka’s play The Dutchman. “What did you think?” my English teacher asked me. “Baraka’s an anti-Semite,” I said.

Dances were the main elements of our social calendar. To be permitted to press against each other. This was a rare happening. I had no idea why. Once a girl who was all-state in field hockey touched my umbrella. The night before one of them left for another life in North Carolina, she said, “The first time we do anything, we do it wrong.” She dressed like a bum for Halloween. Oasis was the greatest band in history. Girls were the sayers, we were the figurines. A new thing, to own or be owned. Without control.

“Grace” — Supergrass

With all these new feelings presenting themselves, it was fortunate that the Blind Melon song “No Rain” was able to encapsulate most of them. I wrote a constitution for a new school government, and was voted president. I fell in love with the wrong person. There were words for what I felt, much too many of them. I wanted to kill myself. I thought, “this is suffering.” I did not know any better.

Alex Carnevale is the author of this recording.

A groundbreaking series on what we remember, where we remember it, and who we are.

Part One (John Gruen)

Part Two (Will Hubbard)

Part Three (Lucas Stangl)

Part Four (Daniel Murray)

Part Five (Danish Aziz)

Part Six (Elisabeth Reinkordt)

Part Seven (Rachael Bedard)

Part Eight (Bill Barnwell)

Part Nine (Karina Wolf)

This is Part Ten. Thanks for reading.

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