Distancing #46: Don’t Worry About Me - Believer Magazine
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Distancing #46: Don’t Worry About Me

by Rufo Quintavalle
September 7th, 2020

Two phrases I never thought I would find myself uttering: negative oil prices and daily workout routine. But these are unusual times. So while some are busy scouring the earth for caverns in which to stock their unsellable crude, I find myself dusting down my sport shorts, turning on my headphones, and getting hot and sweaty for an hour each morning. More often than not, the album I listen to while doing so is Joey Ramone’s Don’t Worry About Me, recorded while he was dying of lymphoma and released posthumously in 2002. It’s a roaring, life-affirming album that features a cameo by Captain Sensible from The Damned and opens with an in-your-face cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” I like to think the oil men are listening to it too, rolling down their windows and singing along.

I bought Don’t Worry About Me in Iowa City, at the record shop whose name I can’t remember, a few doors down from Prairie Lights and the Dublin Underground. If memory serves—and for now it has mostly served—I also bought a David Bowie album, but if so it seems to have gotten lost somewhere over the Atlantic. A few days later I was with my friend Dave in the other record store, the Record Collector, the one that sold secondhand stuff, and who should walk in but Captain Sensible himself. I didn’t recognize him, but Dave did, and loudly asked the store owner if he knew whether the Damned concert that night was sold out and, if so, whether anyone was reselling tickets. It was a cheap ploy designed to get us on the guest list. It failed. Captain Sensible pretended not to hear us, the owner of the store died of embarrassment, and then we all got back on with our lives.

“Sitting in my hospital bed. It really sucks. I want life.” Unlike Joey I’m not actually dying, or at any rate I’m dying at more or less the same speed I was before the lockdown started. Nevertheless, those words speak to me right now. And as I listen today, sweat running down my nose, I’m transported back to that one Iowan afternoon. 

And from there other worlds open up: a mythical Manhattan that had always fascinated me but which I was too young, square, and British to experience firsthand; a London scene which was less mythical to me—the grass is always greener—but whose absence I always felt growing up. It seemed all but impossible to reconcile the genteel neighborhood where I was raised with what had happened there a decade or two before. If I walked down the road and turned right I was in front of the shop where Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren had sold their bondage gear. It was still—and so far as I know still is—a Vivienne Westwood Store, but it was no longer called SEX, and its days of rubber and leather were far behind it. If I walked the other way I got to the Chelsea Drug Store, which had become a McDonald’s. There was an overpowering sense of having missed the party, in short, and it wasn’t until I moved to the Midwest that was I able to join the dots, in large parts thanks to Dave, who played Virgil to my Dante and led me down into the New York where he had hung out as a young man, and then to a London neither of us had known.

So there we were in the Record Collector—me, Virgil, and Captain Sensible—there I was as a kid in London, and here I am in Paris, listening to Joey Ramone with a sweaty nose, thinking about New York. “Nothing lasts forever,” Joey sings on another track, channeling his inner Heraclitus, “and nothing ever stays the same.” I take solace in that. The best, like the worst, is always yet to come.

— Rufo Quintavalle
Paris, day 49

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