In the Shadow of Death: The Night a Rock Band Changed My Life

JUNE 5 as my RE-BIRTHDAY, COURTESY OF THE WGB

It happened June 5, 2015.

The world changed.
I changed.
Consciousness shifted.
The unconscious roared closer to the surface than ever before;
Faded back;
Then raged upward again,
Breaking the surface;

Thrust,
Plates,
Seismic shift.
There it remains,
A new mountain,
Born of ash and fire,
For all to see,
Not least myself.

Earthquake? Tsunami?

There’s still no place I’d rather be

Than here,
Where I am now,
Where I landed on,
June 5,
2015.

It’s a beautiful place…

Not unlike Seattle.

Aftershocks.

The aftershocks continue,
To this day.

That night, the enigmatic scheme,
Of the cosmos;
Came into focus,
Clearer than it’s ever been,
If only for a,
Fleeting;
Glorious;
Nanosecond,
Of,
Clarity,
Reverie.

My heart awoke.

Opened,
And,
Found an old friend,
As someone new.

Music as commodity..

Casual dalliance;

A simple prop to occupy my time…

No;
Not anymore.
Not after this
Transformation:
In a mere 45 minutes.
Vital.
Vitally important.
Vitally important again.
As necessary as food, water, shelter, blood in your veins,
Air in your lungs,
Light,
Bouncing,
Into your eyes.
Shadows,
Hiding.

It wasn’t a thing.
It wasn’t background noise.
It wasn’t a soundtrack,
Some casual thing,
Some summertime fling.

It was an entity.

Alive.

A friend,

A very good one.

The way it should be.

A lover?
Love.
Love?
Can’t say.
Don’t know.
Don’t care.

My cynicism dissipated in a cloud of sparks, smoke, and dust.
The mountain,
Rose higher and higher.
It keeps getting higher.
It will never get high enough.
I keep climbing.
Still climbing.
Climbing.

The lumbering train cars of my normal existence;
My life as an office drone,
My life of security;
My life of dullness;
My life in the lower rungs of the middle-class;
Quiet desperation;
My life of stress, worry, fear;
Anger,
Frustration,
Hate,
Resentment,
Resignation,
Surrender,
Waiting to die;
Just get through it,
Without anything troublesome happening…
Hanging on to shreds of control…
Small…
Stay small…

…Derailed…

Cars piled atop one another,
Shredded metal,
Everywhere.
I was thrown clear of the wreckage.

Hurtling through space,
I felt peaceful,
Buoyant,
Exuberant,
Liberated,
Paris ’44,
Le Fin de Vichy,
Knowing,
My feet would land upon a familiar path I knew very well some time ago,
When I was young,
Much younger,
On so many levels.
For two decades, it was a path I’d never think of again,
Much less trod;
Grueling inclines;
Treacherous descents;
Nary a smooth, level surface to be found.

But here I am.

Rocked by the proverbial HURRICANE.

Why did I ever leave this path,
So familiar,
Still so different?

That night,
Was quasi-religious.
No.
That’s not right.
No.
Not at all.
It wasn’t quasi-religious,
It was RELIGIOUS.
Pure and simple…

The original definition of religion being to re-tie:
To tie again;
To tether;
To fasten;
To bind.
I was fit to be tied;
Tied again,
To music.
We were bound.
I loved it.
Joy.
Rebirth.
More joy.
Joie de vie.

Born again music fanatic.

Joie de musique.
Yes,
Believe it;
Religion,
Is nothing but bondage;
Dominant;
Submissive;
S&M;
And all points in between.
Spectrum.

I’m no theologist, but think about it.

The very basis of Christianity:
Nailed.
Hands,
AND
Feet!
Cross.
Via Dolorosa.
Humiliation.
Whips.
Chains.
Thorns wrapped around the head,
As mocking crown,
Mingling blood, sweat, tears, agony.
King of Jews!
They cried.
Laughter.
Heavy burdens.
Cross to bear.
Mercilessness.
Release.
Transcendence.
It’s kind of what,
Ted Cruz,
Wants to do to the poor,
Women,
LBGT,
Anyone to the slightest left of his left hand,
Anyone with half a brain,
Anyone not drinking his downmarket Jonestown kool-aid,
Without the release and transcendence,
Of course.

Ted Cruz is a sadist,
A Sado-Religionist,
Of the severest form.
Civilization shudders,
At the merest thought of,
He and his co-religionists.

Little did I know I was a Zoastrian following an odd,
Vibrant star,
Leading to the manger,
Where, well,
Something beyond description;
Something beyond comprehension,
Awaited.
Not until sometime later,
Much later,
Did I realize this.
Hindsight is 20/20.

TRAGEDY ON THE ROAD TO BETHLEHEM

It is June 5, 2015.

Austin, Texas,
USA;
EEU.

The road to Bethlehem is a street called Red River.

The name is a macabre coincidence.

Red River.

Consider what had happened on Red River Street less than 15 months before at the very corner where this story makes its home, 

Dancing beneath,
A blue sky,
Concrete,
and
Steel,
Cars,
And,
Bicycles,
Streaming and Screaming,
In the Canyons,
Of what was once a gentle, rolling valley,
A wide expense of warehouses,
Dive bars,
BBQ joints.

Before it was gentrified,
Polished,
Slathered in artisanal olive oil…
Heated…
Dunked…
Into a morass of skinny jeans, trucker hats, irony,
And all that other vomitous shit,
You’re supposed to hate…
Gentrifried.

The corner of 9th and Red River…

It was a cataclysmic event of the most wretched proportions.

It happened March 13, 2014.

It took the lives of four pilgrims.
They only wanted music;
A music festival;
South by Southwest,
To be exact.

Perhaps they sought divinity,
Some sort transcendent experience.
Sadly,
They got transcendence,
The ultimate version thereof;
Certainly not the kind they had bargained for.
Souls;
21 grams;
Departing bleeding flesh;
Broken bones;
Mangled limbs;
Rising from this sphere.

Did they have any idea what happened?

The catalyst of their fate?

Did they know it was,
A drunk driver skipping around a barricade;
Fleeing police;
Austin Police;
APD;
Barreling through a throng of,
Festival-goers,
Music fans,
Overflowing,
The banks,
The curbs,
Of,
Red River?

Probably not.

They did not know what hit them.

X (the band) marked the spot,
Without intending it.
They played-on inside the Mohawk,
Most everyone inside,
Oblivious,
To the tragedy just outside its walls.

Four dead in Austin town.

Dozens more injured.
Many of them will never walk again.
None of them will be the same.
The drunk driver,
A rapper from Killeen, Texas;
Military town,
Fort Hood,
Strip Clubs,
Liquor Stores,
Pawn Shops,
A veritable cornucopia of the GDP,
Guns,
Drugs,
Pornography,
As far as the eye can see;
Named Rashad Charjuan Owens,
Who himself was performing at the festival,
Was ultimately found guilty of capital murder –
CAPITAL MURDER,
By a Travis County jury,
And,
Sentenced to LIFE IN PRISON,
Without ,
PAROLE.

Tragic day in March 2014.
Mohawk as silent witness.

FRIDAY,
June 5, 2015,
The opposite end of the spectrum:
Epochal,
Felicitous,
A new beginning.
Birth,
Or rather,
Re-birth;
The Mohawk as manger.

COURTNEY BARNETT as the SOB; SWTM; MOZCAPADES; THE DOUBLE-DECKER BUS OF GENTRIFICATION; STORMS; DARREN HANLON

I am there to see Courtney Barnett, to pay homage to the rising star.

She is the SOB,
The Star of Bethlehem.
If only I were wise.
I don’t want to be there,
To be here,
In this accidental manger.
I am tired.
Terribly tired.
Exhausted.
Running on fumes.
Office drone.
So tired on a Friday,
The end of the week.
Another shitty week of,
Eating shit…
But the gnostic-angel:
Nina –
She who tolerates me, SWTM, for short-
a.k.a.
Me girlfriend, novia, copine, petite amie, jefita –
So badly wants to see her Australian hero.
The tickets were an anniversary present I’d purchased.
We had now been entwined for seven circles around the sun,
A record for us both despite having ridden roughshod more than five decades upon,
This spinning blue nomad of an orb.
In acknowledgement of my outrageously good fortune,
I somehow oblige myself to accompany her to the gig.

Really, what am I supposed to do?

SWTM cannot stop singing,
History Eraser”,
Avant Gardener”,
During the days leading up.

I never got the promised Triffids song.

I admire Barnett, too.
But it’s way past my bedtime.
Fucking Friday…
I need a weekend,
But…
Seven orbits of the sun…
I was far more fortunate than I had a right to be.
Lucky SOB.
I stayed.
I stayed for SWTM.
She is a light that never goes out.

I think back to March 2014.

There was at least one couple among the victims.

Were they ecstatically happy to be with one another at the moment?

Take me out tonight
Where there’s music and there’s people
Who are young and alive…

Were they ensconced in this verse,
Only to be,
Abruptly,
Thrown into the chorus?

Such thoughts did not help my mood one bit.
I stood there feeling,
Death,
All,
Around.

I wanted to leave.
No.
I wanted to flee.
I stayed for SWTM.

The light.

I stood among the densely packed crowd, sweating madly. I wore a dress shirt and lightweight jacket, Texas flag pin on my lapel as a reminder where we were lest one forget and fall into some feckless fantasy of Austin as the Emerald City in the land of Oz.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road…

Despite the stories we told ourselves to bolster our obnoxious civic narcissism, the city was besieged on all sides by the Barbarians –

Venture capitalists,
Rentier capitalists,
Tech dweebs,

The ever-dreaded Californians,

Bankers,
Lawyers,
Hipsters with more dollars than sense,
The 1%,
You name it.

RENT.
RENT CAPITALISM.
OWNERSHIP,
WEALTH,
ACCUMULATION,
OF,
WEALTH…

No matter how much the walls had been fortified over the decades by,
Musicians,
Artists,
Exhibitionists of all stripes,
Political outliers,
And so many other freaks and geeks,
Who had forged the city’s hard-earned reputation
As a shining crazy diamond in the roughest of roughs,
The walls were weakening with each passing day.
I looked up through the open roof and saw condos,
Nothing but condos,
Evidence of the ever-widening cracks.

It’s not my home, it’s their home…

I was suffocating, if not physically,
Then otherwise…
Spiritually?
Emotionally…?

I had been anticipating the collapse of the walls for years.
Now I could feel it;
Smell it;
Taste it;
On the Verge.
My soul was about to be crushed.

I was ready.

I held the Angel Nina,
SWTM,
Against me as tight as I could,
Holding on for dear life.

To die by your side…

I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I was surely in hell.
What circle is this?

I kept downing cold water from 5 gallon dispensers placed at various courtesy stations around the venue, a necessity this time of year. Letting your clientèle pass out from heat exhaustion is not good business practice.

Why was I wearing a jacket and dress shirt,
Now soaked in sweat,
In June in Austin?

I kept thinking that the quasi-tropical Gulf Coast breeze is sticky but tolerable if only you were dressed right for it, as in you weren’t wearing a jacket.

But, yes. I know.
The anniversary.
Seven circles.

The light.
It never goes out.

Yet summer’s misery had yet to truly take hold.
Storms had raged all week,
Keeping the worst of the cauldron’s wrath at bay.
It was oddly clear and calm this night.
In hindsight,
I can see the change in weather as a portent of the of the psychic coup,
About to knock down the door and,
Blast,
All heretofore notions of sanity to,
So many,
Bits,
And,
Shards…

Mental shrapnel…

Mild night or not, it was still Austin in June,
A Friday night,
After yet another hideous week in the white collar salt mines.

The Headmaster’s Ritual…

I wanna go home…
I don’t want to stay…

But I stayed.
I endured.
I would ignore the double-decker bus careening right at us,
The military two-step…
for now.

The first opener for Ms. Barnett was fun enough, a warm and personable Aussie folkie named Darren Hanlon. Funny, I found out only the next day that he was a friend of a friend here in Austin. I wound up communicating with him by Facebook over the next 12 hours regarding where he could go for a swim – being the Piscean aqua beast I am – since the storms had damaged and prompted the closing of the beloved Barton Springs and Deep Eddy pools.

He wound up at the Y on Lady Bird Lake.

Australians swim for free there.

REVELATION ON RED RIVER STREET: THE WGB APPEARS ONSTAGE; A GOSSAMER FOLD IN TIME

Hanlon exited the stage.
Good, just two more bands, then I could hit the sweet, sweet pillow.
Come on, come on. Let’s get this over with.
Maybe I could try to sleep standing up.

But the next act changed everything.

Any remnants of the pall of death and depression that may have remained after Hanlon’s set,
Were instantly vanquished.
It wasn’t just the night that had changed.
It wasn’t just my bad attitude and heated desire to rush home,
Plop my gray head upon the pillow,
That had been,
Obliterated,
In a glorious,
Oppenheimer Opera,
Of psychic fission,
Now falling, falling,
Falling from the sky as so much nuclear winter.
The afterlife.

I mean everything changed.

It was a new calendar:
Second one, minute one, hour one, day one.
Sunrise.
SWTM looked back at me,
Then looked back at the band.
We looked at each other.
I could see a spark of recognition in her eyes.
We could feel something.
It was epic,
Throwing us through a two-way time warp of both past and future.
Yet there was no linearity.
It was multi-dimensional.

A Warp.

Trans-dimensional,
Trans-linear,
Transitory,
Trans-cerebral,
Trans-poetic,
Trans-migrational,
Transport,
To,
Enlightenment,
Traveling all directions of time and space at once.

Nothing made sense,
But everything did.
Was this how the universe began?
Big bang?
The beginning?
The End?
All at once?
Yes.
No.
Yes and No.
But,
Yes, it was,
The end of something that should have ended long ago,
Or,
Perhaps never started.
A sudden bolt of lightning erased 20-plus years,
Wandering in the desert:
Melodic indie guitar;
Flat,
Deadpan,
Vocals,
That somehow belied all laws,
Of sight, sound and space to dance upon the brain as bright, buoyant and,
Most importantly,
Kick-your-ass-powerful;
A fevered punk spirit;
Songs with a Jungian flair that hit above and below the line of consciousness.
We’d heard it all before;
Or so we thought.
But not “this”.
This was not just a new generation,
Or,
Just another reiteration.
This was divination;
Cosmological radio station;
DJ Holy Tre comin’ at ya.

The only thing that could make the moment more hallowed,
Was for a plethora of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to fall into my hands,
To bestow upon the band.
It was unreal.
We were enraptured.
It was as though the cosmic dust had granted us this group,
This shimmering gang of four,
For just this gossamer fold in time;
And we had to grab every molecule before it dissipated,
Gone forever.
How could these four humans conjure this?
Were these really human?
I’ve fallen for bands upon first hearing before:

The Smiths,

Husker Du,

REM,

Meat Puppets,

the Minutemen,

Maybe some others.
Rolling Stones.

But this wasn’t love.
I still don’t know what it was, or is.
A message from infinity?
Quantum communication?
A tear in the partition between worlds,
Universes?
Dimensions?
String theory alive?
New Messiahs?
I could not believe I was experiencing whatever it was at such an advanced age.
I’m too old for this!
What the hell?
The band exited,
Stage right,
All too soon,
Dragging drums, amps, and guitars behind them.
There was the drummer’s damn Texas bucket hat in there, too.
SWTM and I just looked at each other.

Who were they?
What were they?
We wanted more.
They were,
The are,
Called Chastity Belt.
Chazzy B.

To mix some more metaphors: the light of music had been turned back on.
I thought that bulb had long been dead.
The next day I bought both their albums on Amazon.

Time to Go Home.

No Regerts.

I’ve been hooked since.

Chazzy B are the be all,
End all,
Of the current rock stock;
A phenomenon of space, time, and zeitgeist;
That happens maybe once a generation.
They are mad defiant Rolling Stones,
Meet,
Kickass,
Buffy the Vampire Slayer;
Meet,
Introspective,
Angela Chase,
My So-Called Life;
Sprinkled,
With a healthy dose of,
Skins,
To keep the sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll party going 24/7;
Broad City;
Feminism;
Humor…
Leave it to Beaver
The Honeymooners
Godard’s Le Weekend,
As written by Douglas Sirk,
And directed by Sam Peckinpah.
It keeps going… and going.

Ever ready and everywhere.

I thought they were the future,
They are really the present.

Chazzy B,
Are,
The WGB.
The World’s Greatest Band.

POST- SCRIPT:

WHERE AM I NOW?

I’m a crazy old guy…

June 5 made me rethink everything I was doing, the direction of my life, which, was sans doubt, in a downward trajectory. I quit my office drone job in October 2015, was unemployed for about six months, and recently took another job. The pay is less than one half the previous job. I’m barely scraping by, but I don’t care. I can’t say I’ve ever been happier.

I’ve been writing about music again. Maybe too much.

I did a lot of it from about 1989-1996 before I got fed up with it after seeing way too much of the sausage-making side of things. I’m taking a different approach now. I’m only concentrating on bands that I actually like. No more slagging. That’s no way to treat creative people, or anyone for that matter.

I’ve also gone into debt for a nice DSLR camera and have been photographing bands, too. So far this year, I’ve photographed Childbirth (The other band Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt plays in), Lisa Prank, CHVRCHES, Protomartyr, Pony Time, and some local bands in Austin. I also did a rambling article/interview on Childbirth for monsterfresh.com, an awesome long-form site based in Seattle. It was awesome meeting Shapiro, Bree McKenna (also of TacocaT), and Stacy Peck (also of Pony Time). They were three very kind, considerate, thoughtful, and incredibly intelligent people who imparted a lot of valuable information regarding feminism, gender fluidity, and trangenderism as well as some good stories about their band and themselves. I saw Stacy Peck a couple of weeks ago when Pony Time played in Austin. It was really good to see her again. Poor Stacy was feeling a bit under the weather, but it didn’t adversely affect her drumming one iota. If she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known she was sick. I hope that Nyquil night in Tucson helped her get better.

Happy June 5: My Re-Birthday; Chastity Belt Day, in honor of the WGB, the World’s Greatest Band.

Oh yeah. Chazzy Belt, thank you so much!!! Please return to our humble Texas ‘burg soon. Keep rockin’!!!

Cheers!

Chastity Belt; from the band's facebook page
Chastity Belt; The WGB; photo from the band’s facebook page.

 

 

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