Saturday was the day, the day I buried my dreams.
The day before Saturday was spent in what I consider my version of poised meditation. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, aside from the fact that it was a Friday evening, and I wasn’t about the town. Not that particular Friday. I was being responsible.
I was calmly reposed for the night; I had an important event to attend that Saturday.
My band, Word Virus, had been practicing relentlessly for the last few months in preparation for our first show at The Purple Glass nightclub. During that stretch of time, I had neglected many aspects of my life not involving the band.
I was skipping class regularly. I was drinking and smoking savagely, following my misconception at the time that it “stimulated my musical creativity.” My only friends had become the members of my band, who were, to be frank, less than savory individuals. All were hopelessly addicted to substances of all sorts. Which, by association, led me to become interested in these same substances.
In addition, my room was in such disarray with half-eaten boxes of pizza, empty beer cans, and dirty clothes that it was starting to resemble war-torn Russia. I saw these as temporary and necessary acts of dedication in order to become a respected and hyped musician.
My band mates and I had managed to crank out a decent set list of about 8 songs. Three were upbeat and dance-worthy, two were love-stricken and melancholy, and three were cover songs.
Through acts of debauchery spanning from drug dealing to theft, one act of prostitution, and even brief employment at Gold Star Chili’s, we had been able to afford the equipment we needed. Finally, we possessed the painfully loud amps, glossy guitars, abrasively tuned drums, and cool hairstyles we desired. We were all but ready to share our quirky indie punk with the masses of Cincinnati, Ohio.
We called up several venues and nightclubs, and received the same unfortunate response from them all.
“Send us a press package with a few recordings and shows you’ve played.”
At the time, we were out of drugs, out of stores in the nearby area to rob, the one band member who had briefly dabbled in prostitution had since sworn it off, and our guitarist had recently been fired from Gold Star Chili’s when his manager discovered him in the back where the chili is cooked, snorting cocaine off of the meat-cutting table.
Naturally, we had no money left to afford studio time, and in fact didn’t even have enough money to purchase cheap home-studio equipment. And since we had yet to play any shows, we needed to find a venue so desperate for acts that they would allow a completely new band to perform.
I found the perfect venue to meet our low standards while taking a stroll through Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood I usually avoided. I was there on a task, which was to pick up some forged prescription-pads from a guy named Rodrick, who came highly recommended from friends for his authenticity and his antipathy to guns, which was a calming notion within the crime world. He was also indebted to my one of my close friends, who conveniently was indebted to me for an incident with an adrenaline shot. Thus, no money was required for the transaction on my end.
While meandering my way down Red Street towards the address I had been provided, I found the venue.
The Purple Glass nightclub was sandwiched between a Middle-Eastern market and an abandoned building covered in caution tape.
I had just called Rodrick and informed him of my approaching arrival when I passed it.
The sign was old, and the neon-purple fluorescent sign displayed the clubs name. The building itself was painted dreary white, with large windows on each side of the door. Both windows proudly displayed bullet-holes, which had awkwardly been patched with duct tape.
Taken by its charm, I approached it. It was closed. I did however find a phone number on the door, which I presumed to be the number of venue. Programming it into my phone, I decided to call it later on.
I did my business quickly with Rodrick. He turned out to be a genuinely decent fellow, and we discussed mutual interests for a moment before the exchange was made. I hastily thanked him and exited his squalid apartment. I then made a quick trip to the pharmacy for some drugs, and then took out my phone and called the venue.
I left a cordial message detailing my bands interest in performing at the venue. To my surprise, moments after hanging up the phone, I received a call from the owner and proprietor of the venue, Big Mike. His voice was high-pitched, and he had somewhat of a lisp. He was very receptive to the idea, and we set a date for my band to perform the following Saturday, April 25th. I thanked him, hung up, and then giddily called up my band mates to inform them of the news.
To my chagrin, they all seemed blasé. They were willing to play the show, but showed a disappointing lack of excitement towards it. The only enthusiasm in their voices came when I also mentioned my newfound acquisition of various opiates and anti-anxiety medications. I sighed, but didn’t let their lack of pep dim my overwhelming eagerness.
The week preceding the show was spent apathetically practicing material we had already practiced a preposterous amount of times before. We all were bored with the whole concept of practicing; we wanted to perform. Our boredom led us to more depravity. We spent little time practicing, and a lot of time at the strip club.
Friday was the one exception. On that Friday, I stayed at home, alone. I hadn’t spent a night without my band mates or a prostitute in months.
That day, I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I ate a carefully prepared meal of pasta with broccoli, drank a glass of milk, and then made myself a pot of chamomile tea. This turned out to be a refreshing pattern change from my normal diet of pizza, whiskey, and marijuana.
I awoke on Saturday feeling healthy. I felt as healthy as I had when I had played soccer in high school. I made myself a pot of coffee, and ate a breakfast consisting of a clementine, a bagel, and sausage.
I spent the afternoon reading a book buried beneath a mountain range of dirty jeans.
The book was On the Road by Jack Kerouac, one of my favorites from high school. It was the reason I first began drinking excessively.
As it did in high school, reading the book gave me the urge to free myself from inhibition and live. Which at the time translated to being with my band mates and drinking.
I proceeded to call them. They were already together, drinking. We decided to meet up at our friend Salim’s house. I packed my bass guitar and amp into my beaten up Honda Accord, grabbed a bottle of Tullamore Dew whiskey and the pills I had remaining.
Just before leaving, I glanced once more at On the Road, thinking of Jack Kerouac and his wild misadventures. I convinced myself that I would one day document my depraved existence; only it would be through indie music as opposed to literature. Leaving this thought, I closed my door and left.
The hours immediately prior to the concert were spent listening to Salim’s deafening trip-hop albums, drinking away his fridge, and frantically eating as many drugs as were in sight and available.
We arrived at the show 40 minutes before our performance, and by this time we were all crapulous. Big Mike didn’t seem to care, and we moved our equipment inside. Then we sat down at the bar to free cans of Miller Lite, provided by a Big Mike, who smiled at us and batted his eyes. We watched the band performing before us, a two-piece punk band we all agreed to hate. When they were finished, Big Mike signaled that it was our turn. We went backstage. The actuality and immediacy of the situation then struck me.
My Doc Marten boots were feeling heavier than usual. The bottoms of my feet were playing the role of the primordial titan Atlas, desperately trying to support the oppressive gravitational weight of my body.
My pitch-black skinny jeans, which I normally wore with dignity, now made me feel homely, as if I had Marfan’s Syndrome.
My shirt, which read “Shake It,” a record store in Northside that I frequented, felt far too saggy.
Even my Danelectro bass guitar, which had long been a cornerstone of unfaltering perfection in my life, felt clumsy, like I didn’t deserve to be seen playing it. My thoughts were overwhelmingly negative.
Why did I drink 8 dark craft beers an hour before my first performance?
Snorting 3 Klonopins? Was that wise?
I am high as a fucking kite, how am I going to go on stage right now? After a moment, it became clear these questions would remain unanswered, at least for the time being.
And still, despite all of these self-inflicted inhibitions, I stepped onto the stage alongside my band mates.
The lighting was bright, with obnoxious rays permeating my eyes. It was in fact so bright, that I had to lift my left arm to my eyes in an attempt to block it. Following that, I squinted, cleared my throat several times in the most off-putting fashion, gazed into the crowd, approached the mic and spoke two words;
“We’re called Word Virus, and we hope you have a good time tonight. Feel free to come closer to the stage. We don’t bite,” I said, and guffawed as I looked nervously towards the floor.
Silence. In fact, even more silent silence, if that is even possible.
I took a moment to examine the crowd, (if you can call it that.) A crowd, as defined, is a large group of people; there couldn’t have been more than 10 at the show.
A few mohawked punk-looking motherfuckers who reminded me of snarling hyenas, a horn-rimmed hipster with a grey hoodie and tan corduroys, and a couple holding hands and appearing, based on their bewildered facial expressions, to be lost and at their first concert.
Realizing that I had taken almost an entire two minutes to digest the audience, I snapped back to life and then looked at my band-mates, cueing us to start our first song.
We began with our quietest song, “Plastic Outfit.” This is a song that I had spent almost an entire year writing, and I was eager to impress the audience with it. It was caustic, lyrically, and it was my social critique of women who took solace in material things; make-up, nice clothes, fancy parties.
In my mind, I had pictured harsh and cranky music critics listening deeply to the song, absorbing its meaning to the core, finally really letting themselves enjoy a song, which they hadn’t done in so long, and applauding vociferously. They were overjoyed that a musical artist other than Deerhunter had finally come up with something decent.
Of course, as so often is the case in fantasies of mine, the polar opposite reaction is what was garnered. After the song was played, I examined the crowd once more.
I noticed that the hipster with the horn-rimmed glasses was now sitting down, playing some attention-heavy game on his iPhone.
The couple, who I was still convinced were attending their first concert, were deep in conversation, already bored with the idea of being at a concert and rather, continuing a conversation about their upcoming trip to wine country.
The most daunting to my self-esteem, however, was the group of mohawked punk-rockers. This group had been to many shows. They had seen Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, Neutral Milk Hotel, and god damn Radiohead live in concert, and they couldn’t believe that I was allowed to stand up on this stage and perform. I could see and feel the odium upon their faces. I prayed they didn’t have any tomatoes.
Still, I thought maybe the first song just didn’t tide over well. I thought maybe if we performed one of our more upbeat songs, “Helena Boneham Carter,” a veritable punk-rock anthem in my eyes, the crowd’s opinion would turn.
However, things progressively got worse. This particular song required a fair deal of consistently fast drumming, and Peters Raldin, our drummer, was clearly drunker than his limit; his movements were slow, leaving the song perpetually out-of-time.
Since nothing was more frustrating than a fucked-up tempo in the eyes of our bassist, Reggie Pendleton, he began to lose interest, and at one point began to play the bass riff to “Pressure” by Queen, completely ignoring everyone.
This lead to a chain reaction which ultimately led to the song sounding like 10 year olds being insisted by their parents to pick up instruments for the first time and attempt to play “London Calling” by The Clash.
On the upside, the song was apparently so horrible that the Mohawk brigade proceeded to leave, likely to go smoke Camel filters and read each others shitty post-punk poetry.
A portly late 40’s fellow, bald save for a small “George Costanza” hairline, replaced them in the audience. He had clearly had lost his way while leaving the local pub and had ended up here. He looked confused, but not entirely upset or unreceptive. I saw him as my last glimmering chance.
I looked upon my band mates, begging desperately with my eyes for them to step it up. They looked back at me, or at least tried, because by-and-large they were too drunk for their eyes to allow them focus on one particular image, like a floundering singer.
I turned away, and cued the band to play our rhythmic and free-flowing jam song. At first, it sounded wonderful.
Even the couple and the hipster began to sway their heads, almost against their will. I was sure that our performance was redeemed.
Unfortunately, as fate would allow it, during the middle of the song, my internal self underwent an ill-timed transformation. The excessive alcohol that I had consumed, mixed with the anti-anxiety medication I’d ingested, had begun to swirl around and take up painful residency in my stomach.
I needed to puke, and I needed to puke immediately. I tried for as long as I could, but puke was coming. I turned and planted my foot, about to run for the restroom, when it came shoveling out of my mouth.
The soundman quickly turned off the mixer and switched the house lights on, which I’m sure painted me in the most unflattering fashion. The couple couldn’t contain their disgust, and they left. The hipster, now finally interested, approached the stage and snapped a few Instagram photos of me. For weeks following, due to this hipster’s apparently worldwide online influence, I was subjected to seeing the pictures posted on every social media avenue, from Tumblr to Twitter to Facebook to Flickr, and I think the bastard even posted them on Myspace.
The drunk, who clearly had dissolved all inhibitions at this point, came on the stage and patted me on the back.
As I stood leaning down, staring at the abrupt end to my dreams in the form of chunky green vomit, he said to me, “At least you’ve got a family.”
To those old folks who say that “music died with the Beatles” or something to that degree, I say to you this; quality music has not missed a beat since your generation. In fact, it’s improving. Hear me out. I do understand the origin of your complaints with modern music.
Bob Dylan, The Clash, The Stones, Bruce Springsteen.. etc (any band that your dad has been trying to get you to listen to since you were 5), are all amazing artists and deserve every bit of eternal praise they have received. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is fair to call them the “greatest artists of all time”. But that’s only how it stands now.
Let’s take a look back into history, and by history I mean the 20th century, because Beethoven and Bach and all those diseased pianists are not going to be included in this argument. I digress.
Early 20th century saw the introduction of the radio, which transcended music as we know it. All of sudden, a musical group could play the songs they wrote into a few silver microphones, and all of the sudden people who were not physically watching the performance could hear it. (Once again, I’m omitting what I would consider ancient history, i.e the phonograph or some bullshit like that).
During the time of radio came the big band era, which we’ll skip because it is extremely boring. (Sorry if within this post I am sounding callous, I just have a very specific point to make and anything that interferes, including but not limited to; phonographs, Beethoven and Bach, big band music, ancient tribal drumming, Pavarotti… just seems pointless to address in any manner other than a sardonic one).
After that, you had the blues era, which totally fucking ruled. Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for a chance to play guitar (fucking tight), Skip James crooning mournfully about the depression, and everyone smoked cigarettes and could play guitar and sing with a raspy voice. Times were really good then, musically speaking.
Following that, you had to 50’s and shit. With Buddy Holly and his horn-rimmed glasses, Elvis Presley’s pompadour, Little Richard being….little, this was also an essential period of time for one reason, and no it is not James Dean’s blue jeans; it’s the introduction of rock n’ roll. Rock n’ roll changed everything. Plugging a guitar into an amp, singing about banging chicks, and slicking back your hair. That’s how it started.
Since rock n’ roll had just been introduced, of course the 60’s were going to be tight. Long haired peace-mongers smoking enough weed to essentially get the entire world ripped really did a number on the music world. This is when many artists that are revered today got their beginning. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and all those drug-addled songwriters who made being incredibly stoned sound so good.
In the 70’s, things kind of took a turn for the worst. People were putting down the marijuana nuggets and picking up the bellbottom jeans. The 1970’s saw the creation of disco, which was so bad that it actually hurts to listen to. However, this era did also see the entrance of Led Zeppelin, The Clash and Pink Floyd, who made the decade at least a little more livable.
The 80’s. Do I even need to say anything? All the aforementioned artists were still making their awesome music, but other than that who the fuck do I need to mention… Billy Idol? Depeche Mode? No thanks. Joy Division’s singer was a monotone Dracula impersonator, and the only other artists I can think of from that era are now child molesters or suspected child molesters.
After the decade long respite from good music that was the 1980’s, the 1990’s resurged with a bunch of badass musicians. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Aside from Nirvana, all of these bands remain relevant even in the current music scene.
That brings us to the 21st century. For all you old folks, (who aren’t reading this anyway because let’s face it nobody who is old has a fucking tumblr), this is where you decide that enough good music has been made and now music sucks. And in a lot of ways, you’re right.
The popular artists, as in those who make the most money and are listened to by the widest audiences, do suck. This article is not about why Lil Wayne is good, or why Maroon 5 is totally underrated, or some shit like that. I hate almost everything that is on the radio. (That one Rihanna song talking about her being bad is pretty cool).
But, with that in mind, a humungous chunk of music today is exceptional. It’s an amalgamation of every decent musical genre ever conjured, and delivered to us in a clean, crisp, Mp3. Musicians today utilize far more genres than past artists ever did. And why? Because they listened to everything from the past. They learned from it. They didn’t steal the sound, they just acquired tastes for it and were influenced by it. The best musicians today have taken aspects from past great musicians, and even improved upon them in many ways. We have access to so many genres and subgenres and sub-subgenres in today’s music world. Have you ever heard of chillwave indierock hipcore? No you haven’t and it’s probably not very good, but my point is that musicians now can combine so many different elements, which inevitably creates more eclectic and pleasing music.
My final point is that the art of songwriting is not gone. It has just evolved into something different, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If you think it is, listen to any song by any of these artists, you may change your mind. (I know it’s lazy to end like this, but I’m getting really fucking tired).
Tallest Man on Earth, The Black Keys, Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, Beirut, Bloc Party, Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, Broken Bells, Caribou, Cold War Kids, Crystal Castles, Dangermouse, Death Cab For Cutie, The Postal Service, The Decemberists, Gorillaz, Heartless Bastards, Kurt Vile, MGMT, Modest Mouse, Mumford and Sons, The National, Okkervil River, Panda Bear, The Shins, The Strokes, Titus Andronicus, Vampire Weekend, The White Stripes.
Hell, listen to Kanye West, he’s basically the modern day Bob Dylan, right? >:)
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