'I Never Liked My Name' an essay by Zane Campbell

I never liked my name: Zane Ronda Campbell. Ronda was a girl’s name. When I was in elementary school the Beach Boys had a hit called, ‘Help Me, Rhonda’. I lived in fear that the other students would find out my middle name and tease me endlessly.

Elementary school was stressful enough without that. Luckily they never found out. That’s when I first suspected that I had a guardian angel.

Unfortunately, teasing about my first name was unavoidable. I was born in 1958 and back then nobody was named Zane. Too many times I heard: “Like In-Zane?” “Are you InZane?” “Zane is Zany!” The least annoying comment was: “You mean like Zane Grey, the western author?” No, my mother said. Not only did she not name me after Zane Grey, but she hated the whole idea of naming children after famous people. She named me after her brother, Zane Brooks.

Ironically, she had every book by Zane Grey ever written. I hated being called InZane and Zany so much I made a vow never to read a book by Zane Grey and never did. I also vowed to never visit Zanesville, Ohio. In old Italian theater, the clown would make fun of the serious actor and the “zany” would make fun of the clown. In this historical light, my name was more apropos than I ever knew. Mocking was never enough; I wanted to mock the mockers.

My mother and father were both hillbillies from the mountains of North Carolina. They both played guitar and sang country songs and they both had relatives who had made records, starting in the 1920s. So I always heard country music growing up, live and on recordings and on the radio. My father’s brother and sister, Alex Campbell and Ola Belle, were on the radio on W.A.S.A. Havre de Grace, Maryland, and as a 7- or 8-year-old, I thought it was strange that my aunt and uncle were singing and playing and talking on the radio. I knew there was something unique about that and that not everybody had that experience. I couldn’t say I liked country music because I didn’t know there was any other kind.

When the Beatles came out they were forbidden in our house and to hear them we had to listen out the back window to the music coming from the trailer of the white trash who lived behind us. I think they even had a Beatle wig back there.

Imagine—hillbillies looking down on other people’s music! Yes, it was culturally inferior with dumb lyrics, if “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” could even be considered “lyrics”. I don’t even know if I liked them or not (the lyrics were dumb) but I liked the idea of something that was forbidden.

There was something else that was forbidden in our house by my Southern Baptist-strict mother, but that my father doled out when he was in one of those suspicious moods she disapproved of. Like the Beatles, it was a record—the Lucifer record! My brothers and sisters and I loved the Lucifer record. Ostensibly, it was a recording of an exorcism performed by a raving southern preacher. Lucifer was in this possessed woman and goddamn if the preacher wasn’t going to get him out, as she howled in agony, or was it ecstasy? We didn’t know, but as little kids we loved it and couldn’t get enough! My mother hated it and wanted to destroy the record but my father kept hiding it. This was in the early 1960s and my mother didn’t find it and destroy it until the late 1980s when my father was too sick to protect Lucifer anymore.

It broke our hearts, even as young adults. She threw it down a crack in the wall on the second floor of a little house on our property. It fell within the wall all the way down to the bottom of the first floor. Later, the whole house was destroyed and our beloved Lucifer was gone.

The seed of the Lucifer record was planted in me at an early age and I not only loved forbidden records, I wanted to make them. The Lucifer record would be a big influence on my own recordings.

As long as I could remember, my father had a grocery store. It was a country store like his father’s down in North Carolina before the depression. It sold everything from food to work clothes, ice for the summer people who came for boating the bay, bullets, nails, Kotex; and served as a pawn shop: Guitars, fiddles, banjos, rifles, and pistols passed through. We pumped gas, had a couple soda machines (Coke and R.C. Cola), fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, paper goods—everything a little country store would have and we were the only local store that was open every day of the year (halfa day Christmas), 9-5. My father was always in the store and all of us kids had to work here. I hated it. I was naturally lazy and too good to work. The only thing I liked is that my mother and father let me draw in the slow times. One cartoon that survives from around 1968 is Colonel Cannibal’s Bucket of Arms, depicting a man eating a Kentucky Fried arm saying: “It’s finger lickin good!”

These “sick” cartoons were influenced by the underground cartoonists of the 1960s and, of course, Mad Magazine. Another cartoon character I came up with was Henry Hate. Henry hated everyone and everything. In one cartoon he is seen ripping a Christmas caroler in half, an innocent little boy, but that was just the first, not the worst, of his crimes.

One thing I liked about the store was the social scene. All these odd, colorful characters would hang out there for hours like it was a bar without the booze, although many were no strangers to alcohol consumption. This was back when you could say anything, and they said a lot of funny things you didn’t hear in polite company. This was a group of men who would rather go to the store—hang out for hours talking politics, sports, and current events—than the bar. They all seemed to smoke, dip snuff, or chew tobacco. Some did all three. As a child I contributed more than my share in the promotion of lung cancer by selling thousands of packs of cigarettes. I knew it was killing them because some of them called cigarettes “cancer sticks.” I didn’t care because back then they told us that overpopulation was destroying the world, so, if I helped by killing off a few by selling them cigarettes, it was a good thing. I saw more than a few of my customers die of cancer and it gave me a warm feeling, a feeling of accomplishment, like I had helped to save the world.

~~~

The first time I ever got drunk, I had a collision with a police car in front of my house—my drinking went downhill after that. I was driving with David Lockard, a local ne’er-do-well and my only friend. We were both 18. Instead of going to school that day, we decided to get drunk and drive 115 miles to Ocean City, Maryland. It was a poor decision, and turned out to be the wrong one. We made it there, I think, and had returned and were driving past my house hoping not to be spotted and playing it cool. As I passed a joint to David, he screamed “Look out!” I looked back to the road just in time to see myself crashing into the back of a police car. The impact knocked him off the road into the lawn of the house directly opposite the mayor’s house. This alerted the mayor’s wife, who later claimed to have “seen the whole thing.”

Now, my house was next door to the mayor’s house and my father was home. He also heard the collision, as did everyone else in the neighborhood. All the neighborhood children gathered around the accident site. No one was injured but my front end was dented in and my radiator was spewing water, a sprinkler for the lawn where the cop car now sat, its back bumper only slightly dented. The town cop was new on the force and looked vaguely familiar (I’d seen him every week for years in my father’s grocery store; that’s some indication of my degree of inebriation). I was 24 beers drunk, pot-stoned, and barefoot, but I knew I could talk my way out of this. Fortunately I didn’t have to. The first thing the rookie cop said to me was, “You’re Mr. Campbell’s son, aren’t you?” He knew I was; he’d seen me every week for years in my father’s store. “Yes,” I replied, carefully weighing my options. “I’m going to say your brakes failed,” he said, “and just give you a repair ticket.”

I was trying to look casual, leaning against the car because I was too drunk to stand up. Beer cans were all over the floor of the car, pot smoke was rolling out the windows, and David Lockard looked drunker than I was, awkwardly trying to hide something. The cop threw me off with “the brakes failed” theory and I figured he was either the worst cop or he was trying to let me off for some reason. Or did he really think my brakes had failed? Was I so drunk I said my brakes failed and forgot? No, my brakes had failed because I had failed to apply them. He must have known I was drunk because I had to smell like a meltdown at a brewery. Why was he letting me off? I found out later that he owed my father money from his tab at our grocery store when he was unemployed, before he got the cop gig. There was no way he was going to accuse me of drunk driving, especially in front of my father, who just showed up in a bad mood, shaking like a leaf with Parkinson’s Disease. He was not pleased with me, as usual.

I remember feeling so sorry for him, standing there shaking, wide-eyed horror of death in his eyes mixed with a new level of anger at me. It was almost sobering, but that was chemically impossible. How could I be putting him through this in his declining years, sick, 64 years old, and having to deal with me, his third alcoholic son? All three of his sons had now had alcohol-related automobile accidents. My two brothers collaborated on totaling a Volvo, rolling it multiple times. No easy feat, totalling a Volvo. My father had alcohol-related car accidents himself. Once he came home drunk with no pants, crying. He knew about alcoholism.

My father made a statement to the cop that was couched in a question: “You’re going to let the boy off...Aren’t you?” The cop must have owed him a considerable amount of money, because he just said, “Yes, Mr. Campbell. His brakes failed.” My father thanked him and asked me for the keys to drive the car up our driveway, a few yards away, if it would make it that far. I offered to do that for him, but he ominously informed me that I “wasn’t driving anywhere!” He drove the car up the driveway and I was left with the cop, David Lockard, and the handful of unruly neighborhood children dancing all around, reveling in the excitement of the tragedy.

The last thing my father said to me that day was: “You can’t drink.” And then he said something I’ll never forget. He told me how my grandfather died, a story I’d never heard before. “Your grandfather was burned alive the last time he got drunk. I was the one that had to identify his body and the only way was his glasses and his snuff box.”

Zane Campbell’s work is on display at AVAM’s YUMMM!” now.

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