We let the final chord of I Wanna Know Why ring out, vamping it out with a storm of crash cymbals and dissonant guitar leads.
We turn to each other, shrug, then bring it to a dead stop.
Like putting down a wounded animal with a merciful bullet to the skull.
Time! I call out as Kimm checks the timer on his cell.
“Thirty three and ten,” Kimm says, holding up his Iphone.
Anthony opens the studio door, and even this humid heatwave night tastes delicious compared to the County Jail stank of the rehearsal room.
We stumble into the parking lot, gasping for air like stranded mudskippers, our clothes soaked as if we’d just been rescued from a shipwreck.
We’ve been trying to relearn the Fear of Life album, both sides in order: no stops, two and half seconds between songs.
23 minutes, 35 seconds, that’s what they tell us the original playing time is of this record, yet we still can’t get it under thirty minutes.
Perhaps it is our constant goof ups, or the wheezing I do between songs, hands on knees, cursing that nineteen year old dick who had to write so many fucking words, and shouted them way too fast.
The record is 41 years old.
But of course that pesky little worldwide pandemic put a damper on a proper 40th anniversary, so the plan is to commemorate it now, asterisked by Covid like a home run record smudged by steroid use.
We find ourselves in a race against our younger selves now.
Trying to compete with those determined and beer drunk children.
Them; They: they wrote those first ten songs on the shag carpet of their bedroom floors, innocent of every thrill and heartbreak that lay ahead of them.
Most of the songs come back easily enough.
Hell, we’ve played Catholic Boy and Manzanar almost every set for fucking four decades.
But we take a moment to listen to the original tracks, Nick holding his YouTube loaded phone up to prove we are playing one too fast, the other too slow.
I try to match the impossible downstrokes, only to awaken insidious roots of arthritis climbing through my wrist.
We get to Double Standard Boys, and realize we have never played this track live.
After failing to identify a proper key we resort once again to the internet.
Sure enough, there is a tutorial on how to play the song.
That our teacher is wearing a Duck head means nothing; I am just grateful he keeps his pants on and the clip doesn’t dissolve into some bizarre furry Only Fans episode.
When I pull up to Alex’s it is packing.
Surprising, as we are in the middle of a suffocating tropical heat wave.
Hot, that’s all anyone can yap about the past week, the news anchors giving us handy little tips on How to Stay Cool:
Stay indoors, hydrate, save electricity by masturbating to old Penthouse magazines.
Fuck that brother, these people are here to drink beer and howl along to punk rock.
Dance while the wounded planet tries to shake us loose by turning up the heat.
It’s a matinee show, my favorite thing lately.
We can play and be done before the sun surrenders to the horizon, be home and showered before the first dragon appears on the latest awful Game of Thrones prequel.
The big top tent remains outside of Alex’s, one sweet benefit of those virus years.
Everyone is smiling, damn glad to be out among friends, even in the thick heat.
Tacos grilling, ukulele music going, Decry heating things up inside.
When I pull the Rickenbacker out of its case the neck already feels gummed, the strings corroded with dried sweat from the practice sessions.
As I tune up I try to remember the lyrics, those words four decades old.
Verses all mixed up in my head, along with the grocery list for the week and passwords for a dozen websites, my locker combination from Faye Ross Junior High.
I consider the limited capacity under my graying hair, the countless motocross crashes and drunken stunts that resulted in only head injury and skinned palms.
I ask you: a teleprompter in a punk rock band–would it really be so bad?
Out of Control, that’s an easy enough opener, though a song we’ve relegated to the minors for the past few years.
A pedestrian rocker in a standard 12 bar costume, it’s a song that we’ve played with an eyeroll and a groan, nobody’s favorite
But this time it seems different–we play it with a renewed focus, in context of the whole.
Kimm and Ant bark the answer lines, Nick pounds out the backbeat with urgency.
We finish it and roll into Accident, and now people in the room come forward.
It seems to call to some past memory, of being a teenager and sitting on a couch while vinyl spins on a turntable across the room. Friends and music, together.
A lyric sheet is held on lap, an album sleeve is covered with seeds and stems on a cluttered coffee table.
We roll into Make Me Feel Cheap then, and I can see people smiling, nodding their silver and balding heads.
Household pets, all of us, yet aware of our wild ancestors who howled at the moon and feasted on sweet human flesh: it’s still there.
Fear of Life follows Wetspots, that pesky little ode to precum.
We’ve finished side one, and we’re ahead of schedule.
We’ve been playing the songs too fast perhaps, driven on by adrenaline and sheer momentum.
Breathe, I remind myself.
Enjoy this fucking thing.
I squint down at the setlist at my feet, then have to crouch down to make out the blurred print.
Life Goes On, that’s the song that starts Side Two.
I am back at Brian Elliot’s studio, a teen in OP shorts, listening to the playbacks and witnessing the lost art that was called song sequencing.
Jay Lansford sliding the candy colored faders, Robbie Fields pinching the bridge of his nose as he listens.
Posh turns back from the board and grins at me, cleverly answering the previous track’s cocking gun and final tragic denouement with this hopeful pop song.
Manzanar next, and we kill it: we’ve found a pocket that’s been lost for years.
Strength in Numbers then, a song that has got astonishing online plays due solely to an eight second background play on Netflix’ Stranger Things.
And though I have to question that doomed hesher Billy having the good taste to blast the track between his Scorpions mixtapes, we’ll take it.
And now it’s time to play Double Standard, and before we count off I turn back to Nick and nod.
He clocks my pleading eyes: play it slow please.
We get through it alright, all the lyrics remembered if not slurred and blurred.
But before I can catch a breath we are into You Lie, and the whole thing is almost done.
Only I Wanna Know Why is left to play.
And the room is on our side, all of us in another day, of phone numbers known by heart, clove cigarettes shared in the alley, black beauties sniffed out of the pocket betwixt forefinger and thumb.
We finish, ten songs done, an album of our youth revisited.
I turn to Kimm, raise an eyebrow and point to his wristwatch, but it doesn’t matter.
We are no longer in a race with the past, but have somehow conjured it up in a thirty minute visit.
Like a brief conversation with the ghost of friend gone too soon.
One thought on “Fear and Life at Alex’s Bar”
Thanks! Always a good read.