No Sleep til Sacto

55 minutes.
That’s all I’ve slept when I am awakened by voices.
I turn to see if it is Kimm, still awake, talking on his phone.
Or perhaps mumbling through a nightmare, the one where he fights off the night demon torching his balls with a blowtorch.
But he is snoring gently into his pillow in the bed next to mine.

Then another volley of conversation comes from the wall, from the room next door.
3:58 am, that’s what the clock says.

I get up to take a leak, navigating the anvil cases and 4 x 12 cabinets blocking my way.
On my return, I put my head up to the wall and listen, trying to decipher the late night conversation next door.

I can only make out the mumbling pattern of consonant and vowel, the muted trombone speak of grown ups talking to a Peanuts character.
I hear a clearing of throat, then the laughter of a woman-no, two women-and a man.
There is the flick of a Bic lighter, silence, then a cough.
Gah! I pull my head back from the wall with grim diagnosis:
Tweakers.

The night earlier was grand, the first night up North in a good goddamn while with the lads from Field Day.

It’s been years since we’ve taken this familiar route, but soon we are lulled into the old rhythms of Interstate 5.
The trip up the dustbowl spine of the state once more, the blasted landscape punctuated by the occasional signs accusing the governor of dumping almond grove water into the ocean.
Nothing much changes along the 5, save the startling appearance of another block of Amazon warehouses among the condemned cattle.
But soon the bay comes into view, and we roll down the windows to take in the salt perfumed breeze.

Ivy Room in Albany tonight, this side of the bay, saving us the humiliation of trying to cross that goddamned bridge on a Friday evening.
It’s out first meeting with the Field Day crew, though Doug and I have been email tagging for months to plan out these gigs. We hug it up, one of those virtual friendships borne of social media that somehow become real.
And though I am still confused by the Wikipedia entries of the comings and goings of Dag Nasty I recognize Peter as the chap perusing the menu of the Himalayan restaurant next door.
I approach, say hello, then we compare notes on the indignities of air travel and the departed Daghouse forum.

We get up and roll out the Fear of Life set out once again.
On the intro to Catholic Boy I try to match the muted downstrokes of the recording, but I simply cannot play that fast any more.
I surrender to a lazy up and down strumming, as if fanning a cowboy hat over a glowing ember, willing it into flame.

@Digdivi Photos

Field Day get up then, Peter and Doug joined by a couple of ferocious musicians in Shay and Kevin on guitar and drums.
They blast through the Dag hits, barely stopping to acknowledge breath or thirst, the earth’s very gravity.
It is fierce and tuneful, the crowd responds in kind, the show is over in a blink.
We are all talking and laughing then, jazzed on being out playing once again.
The bar lights are suddenly switched on , shooing us all into the night.

Field Day
@Digdivi Photo


But now the town is shut up tight, not even a 7-11 to grab some regret laden treats.
We pull into the third rate motel off the 580, one of those Expedia picks that are succinctly reviewed with triple exclamation points (Nope!!!) and it all comes back to me.
We accept that this is no place to leave stuff in the truck, and grimly start the last bonus load in of the night, stacking the gear into our cramped rooms.
As we pass the lit and darkened windows, their curtains part slightly, inmates checking out the fresh fish.
At one open door an old gent sits on an office chair, plucking at a worn acoustic between drags off the sativa packed corncob pipe lodged between his gums.
I dare a peek over his shoulder and look into his room, and see he is in for the long haul: the room is piled with WalMart groceries, stacks of black garbage bags bulging with the detritus of a previous life either failed or escaped.
A grey tabby rests upon the garbage bags shamelessly licking at her crotch, a goddess upon her throne of cumulonimbus clouds.

We load in, finally, then meet at a bank of vending machines for a late night snack.
There is microwave popcorn and honey buns, cup noodles and Doritos.
After briefly considering making a county jail style spread, we come to our senses and grab a sensible Kit Kat, head to our racks for a night of sleep.

For 55 minutes.
**********

4:30 am now, and returning to sleep is impossible.
For now I have become attuned to the rhythms of their drug addled conversation next door.
I have come to believe the two women are newly acquainted, the man older than either of them.
The ladies’ rapid fire dialogue is only occasionally interrupted by the basso profondo interjection of the man.
Then a beat of silence, then a coughing fit of laughter.
I fall into a trance, then, and it is not the talking but the rare lulls in their conversations that kill me.
It is the torture of waiting for the next whoo! to break the silence.

Around 5 am I surrender and switch on the TV.
The local PBS is rolling out old cooking shows, those late 80’s gems before the Food Network turned chefs into fucking Country music stars.
Good old Jacques Pepin demonstrates how to debone and entire chicken through its asshole.

Yan Can Cook comes on next.
Yan smiles and mugs for the cameras, shows the rotting insides of the Durian fruit before returning to the studio kitchen to slice up some stuff.
This is what we are here for, and he knows it.
Fuck the chef knife, Yan wields his trusty cleaver, and decimates all that he surveys.
He chops with ferocious downstrokes, smiling up at the camera, mugging at us-it’s so easy, dummy!-his hand a blur.
Old Yan, he juliennes everything before him save his calloused fingers.


As Yan chops away, I become aware of another sound, a matching beat to his chopping.
I mute the sound on the TV.
It is next door I am hearing, but not the rumbling dialogue that has haunted me thus far.
The drug fueled discourse has been replaced with a more urgent human expression.
There is a grunt, a singing hum, a single expression clear as a bell through the drywall: oh!
Then it is a rhythmic pulse, the tick of bedspring and and tock headboard, the panting exhalations: the unmistakable sound of fucking.
On the screen, Yan now flattens a clove of garlic with the flat of his blade.
From next door comes the answer:
Aye papi, papi! Now…now!

The fellas finally rouse me at checkout time, shaking me out of a fitful sleep that came only after daylight.
Twisted dreams where Yan had chopped down a forest of broccoli, only after the people next door ingested the last of their treasures and spent the last of their bodily fluids.

The day out there is spectacular, though, and the bay breeze is delicious after the insane So Ca heat we’ve been sucking down for 2 weeks.
We load all the gear back out to the truck, and after my final sweep of the room I purposely linger outside the room next door.
I wonder if they might open the door then, if their faces can possibly match the hideous and wonderful features I have spent the night projecting upon those distant voices.
I put an ear to the door but hear nothing, and I console myself that it is better this way.
What is it they say? We should never really meet our heroes.

*******************

It is a straight shot to Sacramento for the next show, but we cannot resist the urge to visit the city.
I mean, it’s right there!

Of course, there is the pesky thing called the Bay Bridge to navigate first, and the quick jaunt into the city takes most of the day.
But really, who cares? What are we going to do with the day anyway- Sleep?
Debone a chicken? Reproduce with diseased strangers?
Lunch is at our old beloved Parkside, being the only place we figure we can grab a bite and still keep an eye on the gear.
Our pal James meets up with us and we are soon stuffing our mouths with those famous tater tots.

We drive through North Beach then, and look longingly up at the top story of Vesuvios.
There’s no way we can leave the gear out here on the streets of San Francisco though, so we drive on.
We pass City Lights and I make a small discrete sign of the cross over my chest.

After dropping gear at the Colonial in Sacramento, we check into a Motel 6.
Cheap but corporate, a couple steps up from last night’s circus.
This one has a gate around it, parking passes to be displayed on the dash, not two but three warnings not to hang around outside the rooms late night smoking: The cops will be called,
The room is sparse but clean and we have the luxury of an hour and a half before doors.
I try to nap, but now I am maddened once again, for the room is too quiet.
On the TV England is saying farewell to the Queen on every station, but I can find no one destroying vegetables.
I put my head to the drywall and listen.
I hear only the hum of water coursing through plumbing and suddenly I’ve never felt so alone.
I cup my hands to my mouth and whisper into the wall then, hoping someone-anyone– will hear:
Aye? Papi?

****************************

It’s a jolly crew at the Colonial Cafe tonight, and we are humbled to run into old and new fans.
These people who have waited out these last few insane years to come on back out to the clubs.
Third song up is You Make Me Feel Cheap, and our old mate Chris Shary jumps up on stage to sing it with me.
He does his wild Saint Vitus dance then, stomping the stage with raised knees , reaching wildly above his head as if gathering the last fireflies of the summer.

Robert Taylor photos
Robert Taylor Photos

It is Saturday night, and I get to stand on a stage with a guitar in hand once again.
We play Catholic Boy, and I urge my wrist down upon the strings, harder and faster, conjuring the carefree downstrokes of my past.
My wrist blurs, as if holding an 8 inch cleaver and making it sing upon the cutting board.

And when I turn to the microphone, it is not verse or chorus that comes from my mouth, but a more primal sound.
Ugh, I sing. Aye.
Wordlessly pleading, as if urging an amphetemined lover to climax, at last, so we can finally go to sleep.

Fear and Life at Alex’s Bar

Edward Colver photo

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.
Fuck.

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.

Brian Walsby art

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.

Happy tenth Dead Rockers!

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.

Live shots: Albert Licano @jerryskid1 photos

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.
Hydrate.
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.

Escape from Manzanar

My Grandmother, Bachan, answered the knocking, only to find it wasn’t knuckles upon door she heard, but a 11 x 17 placard being nailed into the clapboard siding of their Delano home.
INSTRUCTIONS To ALL MEMBERS OF JAPANESE ANCESTORY it began, the print scrolling smaller as it continued down, the words shrinking as their intentions grew more evil.
Bachan stood on tip toe and looked closely at the words, her nose almost touching the paper.
Sounding out each English word aloud in whisper, she thinks she is surely misunderstanding the instructions of eviction.
By the time my teenaged Mom came out to the porch and read it for her, their life was already slipping away.
.

I ride through the historic main gate, stop at the small guard station where a ranger hands me a map of the grounds.
He takes a look at the Pirelli big block tires on the Honda and, grinning, points to one of the multiple signs reminding visitors to Not Go Off Road.
The skies are darkened by fire smoke, the sun reddened as if blushing in embarrassment.  
The atmosphere is heavy and hellish, but feels somehow fitting as I start riding along the paved trails.
Good, I think.
I would hate to see this place on a beautiful day.

It is, shamefully, my first visit to this place.
Long ago, we recorded a song titled Manzanar, a rough 130 second song about Japanese internment.
People sometimes tag me or the band in photos of the place.
A quick stop off Highway 395, maybe on their way to or from a weekend of skiing the fine powders at Mammoth.
They take a moment out of their hilarious vacations for a somber look into America’s shadow.
#CH3 yo!, they might tag under a photo of them posing by the gates.
Or, ….in fact in your own back yard! captioning a selfie in front of the barracks, a nod to one of the lyrics.
In the comments, people chime in that they first learned of the place and that chapter of history from the song.
It’s humbling and appreciated, and I can sometimes convince myself that I wrote those words as 19 year old to teach my fellow punks of our true capacity for brutality, and not just because I needed a three syllable title to match Kimm’s bitchin’ riff.

They were told to take only what they could carry, leaving behind their furniture and home, report to a bus station.
Go somewhere else.
Bachan fretted over the weight of the tetsubin, if she could bring her bowls and cups. Mom assured her they would carry the iron teapot for her, though the lacquered rice bowls would have to stay.
Grandpa took a lantern with him to the vineyards that night, his Japanese ceremonial swords bundled in burlap like a tragically deceased infant in a burial shroud.

He dug a hole, then dropped the swords into the Earth, taking stock of the grave from every vantage in the futile hope he would someday be back to retrieve them.
He smoothed the dirt beside the grapevines he had tended just that morning but would never see harvested, their fruit still green and bitter.

The visitor center is closed, but the few restored buildings and exhibits open.
The barracks impressively present camp life of the day.
There are large photo walls and plaques filled with paragraphs of history.

But I am drawn to the still tableau of daily life here.
A matchbox sits on a shelf of bare wall stud. A blanket hangs over a clothesline, the only privacy afforded between whole families.
There, a long handled mochi mallet sits in its tub, and I imagine the rhythmic pounding on New Years Eve, making rice cakes for the traditional New Years feast.
The wind howling through cracks in tar paper, the grim smiles trying to insist holiday and tradition upon life while being held prisoner in their own homeland.

I ride around the compound and stop at each of the exhibits.
The floors are clean, the beds all made. It seems almost quaint, like a rustic resort, and I imagine if they put up string lights and sold hard cider the place could be a hot hipster glampsite.

But it is beyond the immaculately presented buildings, just past the landscaped walks of raked gravel that the moaning past seems to truly exist.
It is there, on the naked concrete slabs that still dot the grounds.
Cracked foundations, the bones of their buildings long since crumbled.
These outnumber the restored buildings, and they lay flat against the desert dust, unremarkable markers of lives shattered and held.
In the graveyard in the dusty back field, the cemetery obelisk shrine stands white against Mount Whitney, barely visible from ash-heavy winds.  


There are some interactive exhibits in the barracks, handsets you hold to your ear while looking through a photo album or diary.
When you push a button you hear a voice: a past resident telling of their experience here.  
I listen as a woman tells of arriving at the camp as a young teen. It was cold.
The muslin blanket she is handed so loosely woven she could peer through it at the weak winter sun.  

Suddenly, it is my own mother I am hearing, those stories she told of her own first night so far from home.  
They were sent down to Camp Jerome, down in the swamps of Arkansas for the duration of the war, an even worse fate than being at least still in California, I always thought.
When she would tell us stories of camp dances and group dinners at long tables, and it sounded fun to us children.
But now I think of it from a Father’s perspective.
Her parents, Grandpa and Bachan, surviving the indignities of each day.
The good natured cheer they tried to bring to their family in prison, the underlying rage that had to boil, hidden just beneath an expected serene Japanese façade.  
I have to hang up, for I can’t think of my mother, and her mother, come back to me in this way.

The night before they were to report to the bus my mother lay awake.
She sat at the sound of muffled voices outside, then raised a corner of the window shade by her bed.
Out in the street were two battered trucks, men standing in a tight circle.
Smoking, spitting.
The glowing red tips of their inhaled cigarettes floating like fireflies, their weathered faces illuminated briefly by match strike.
Mom said it was the Okies, waiting to come in when they left.
To squat in the vacated home, go through the closets and sniff at the strange pantry.
Shreds of dried seaweed are tasted then spit onto Grandma’s immaculate kitchen floor.

By the time Mom and her family were riding the bus to Santa Anita racetrack, the house is already cleared of clothes and hardware.
When they finally lay down to sleep in a horse stable that night, sharing with another family the space usually reserved for one thoroughbred gelding, dusty overalls sit upon their couch back in Delano.
Everclear alcohol splashed into Bachan’s prized lacquered tea cups, the fine paint already weeping.

But my Mom, telling the story again after we pestered her to relive it again, she never really blamed those poor white people coming in and taking their things.
They were just another tribe fucked over and set to wander, though saved the indignity of barbed wire by color of skin and crease of eyelid

In each of the halls I am joined by a few other visitors.
Everyone is masked and quiet, taking in the exhibits with hands clasped behind their backs or hands cupping their chins in thought, all in silent reverence.
Suddenly all I want, now, is sound.
Yelling or even laughter.
A roaring humbucker pickup buzzing through 100 watts of tube amplifier, an open E chord struck with windmilled fury.
Anything to break this spell of stillness, to shatter it all and to name this place for what it really was.

Leaving, I go off pavement and take the back fire road behind the cemetery.
I switch off the traction control and ABS, and paddle down to first and fucking gun it.  
The back end swings sideways with loss of traction then suddenly hooks up, and I go through the gears short shifting, getting the hell out of there.
When I look in my side view, I do not see the expected ranger truck chasing me, no lights or siren.
No one cares that I am gone.
I see only dust.
Dust rising, rising like earthbound spirits finally freed.

In Search of Internal Combustion at the HoeDown

We get to the Port damn early, pulling into the backstage parking lot before the morning mist has yet to lift from the harbor.
A huge tanker chugs past, like a block long condominium set adrift by a jolting shrug of the San Andreas fault.
I pause a moment, guitar case in hand, as we unload.
I squint up at the stacks of containers moving past, then down to the waterline where the filthy port water is churned turquoise by the prow of the ship.
Propelled forward by submerged violence, I wonder at the sheer horsepower generated within that steel hull.
The miracle of fuel re-imagined as power, the massive screws twisting endlessly in battle against distance and time.

Nick got there even earlier, and has already staked out a prime spot near the stage.
We have room for not only our pop-up and merch table, but also for Nick’s straight axle gasser, Dethtrap.


It gives our staked space the cool feeling of being back in the pits, of those 1970’s evenings out at Ascot or Orange County International Raceway, where we would race under the lights on the tight MX track while just beyond a chain link fence the garage built cars smoked their tires.
The night air perfumed with the acrid sweet funk of melting rubber.

We’ve pulled an early set time, but that’s okay.
It’s just a thrill to be back here at a festival, though Tucker went through hell pulling this one off.
Through re schedules and band changes, the fest remained a torn flag on the horizon, a beacon to end this nutso Summer.
There is still the delicious vibe of chaos going on.
But the bands are indeed piling in and the stages have been set, and it looks like against all odds this thing is going to launch.
We get up there and do the thing:




We play alright, though it it is always interesting to air our setlist under the midday sun.
Forty year old songs of longing and desperation, nocturnal as raccoons.
Perhaps they are better suited to the late nights in sweaty nightclubs?

I wander the festival grounds, the vast space starting to fill in with all the people who have sensibly arrived after our set.
People come up and apologize for missing us, ask how it was.
I assure them it’s all good, though a shame they have missed one of our all time great performances.
We walk away from each other, each reassured by the white lie, faces intact.

Casey

Familiar faces everywhere, there is a sense of relief in the air.
The lines snaking up to the food trucks start growing long, the port a potties start reeking with their astonishing stench. By god, it is a music festival after all!

Farrell with PR Karaoke


Back at the merch stand we huddle beneath the pop up, watch as Paul grumpily rejects another potential customer.
We don’t have that one in that size he repeats yet again.
But most people stop by not to look at our meager selection of T shirts, but at the car.
Nick stands by Dethtrap like a proud papa, pulling the pins to tilt forward the hood again and again to show off his build.
A mild ’61 Dart repowered and rebuilt to 357 cubic inches of primitive power, 500 horsepower atop a 2900 pound car.
It is Southern California.
As people stop and look at the car, the sight of it seems to conjure sweet memories of their own late nights in the garage.
Huddled over engines or flat backed underneath: a pal’s reassuring hands gripped upon their ankles to pull them out on the dolly, a four speed transmission cradled heavy upon chest, precious as an unexploded ordnance.


My brother JB comes by and I watch as he and Nick talk, and I know he is telling the story of his own ’72 Nova that he built and rebuilt, the most notable marker of his high school life.

Love Canal


And those memories are mine as well.
The nights pestering him for a look by shop light at the hulking big block, until he would finally send me to a corner of the garage with valve seating compound and a suction tipped wand to grind down the valve seats on a cracked head.
I haven’t thought of such things in decades, but I am instantly back in that Cerritos garage, long before we had the notion to egg carton the walls and turn up the amps.
I smell the upturned hubcaps filled with gasoline to soak dirty parts, hear the clatter of tools dropped out of reach and the string of cuss words that followed.

Untouchables!

The three stages go non stop and the crowd sweeps back and forth with each changeover.
Every set seems a victory against the threat of a shutdown, under broken security lines or viral load.
The day gains terrific momentum, like pistons unleashed of gravity, sending propulsion to crankshaft with each miraculous ballet of intake and compression, ignition and exhaust.

The HoeDown lineup features several acts that tend toward rockabilly and sleaze rock, their mirrored audience looking like a generation longing for the days of leaded fuel and cigarette machines at full service gas stations.
Pinup dreamboats that look like they should be perched atop the classic rods and the greasy haired rockers who look like they should be underneath in the grease pit.

Suoersuckers
Throwrag

Back in the pits, another crowd has gathered around the gasser.
Marshall, my old pal who spent his career as a Ford mechanic, comes by and looks it over grimly, like a man who’d be happy to never peer at another greasy motor in his retired life.  
But then Nick opens the hood and Marshall grins, and he goes, aw jeez, what have you done here….and then they are both pointing and talking.

An old punker stops in front of the car.
In typical uniform, short pants and Vans, a faded Suicidal Tendencies Tshirt washed thin through the years and stretched tight over expanded waistline.
He holds hands with a young boy, and though I first assume it his son, I do a quick calculation and realize he is my age, and therefore that is a grandson.

His eyes come alive with memories of past cars, the sweet torture of working part time jobs and counting a pile of soft bills weekly until he could buy his own ride
And then, in the time honored tradition of So Ca Speed, he starts customizing.
We take what we love and then immediately want to change it.
Faster, and louder.

The boy squints at the gleaming motorwork and tilts his head in wonder.
He has looked under a hood but once, that at his Mom’s Mercedes E Class wagon.
He discovered only a bland sheath of plastic cowling covering a small city of computers and injectors.
He knows only of the sewing machine efficiency of vehicles, bland couches that transport him to soccer practice, silent as a block in solitary.

PopPop points at the motor excitedly, relieved to finally show his grandson these things, to be able to explain how the gas goes from there, and mixes with the air here, and explodes there, and exhaust comes out there.


“That?” he asks in response to his grandson’s whispered question.
He squats until his face is level with the child’s.
They both point to the chrome contraption crowning the motor.
“That’s a carburetor,” he says, as if showing his grandson the last of a near extinct seabird.


And later this night, he will hold his grandson upon his shoulder as the pit rages for Suicidal, and the boy will look wide eyed at the sweet violence, pure as the blue spark that ignites gasoline and propels us onward.

Awesome concert photos by Ron Lyon @Ronlyonphoto

My Dinner with Keith Morris

I lay up my second shot on the 18th, total chickenshit move.
But between me and the green, now just 145 yards distant, lies a kidney shaped pond of water framed by cattails.
What is it about fucking Water?
I am suddenly terrified of the shimmering pool as if I am a green skinned sorceress surrounded by winged monkeys.
Oh, if it was just terra firma between me and that white flag, I would casually pull the 7 iron and give it a firm but easy swing, confident of ending up somewhere within two putts to end the day.
But this innocent water feature seems to have a gravitational pull of a Death Star, sucking balls out of the sky to claim yet another victim for its murky depths.
I end up grabbing a a five hybrid and swap out the Pro V1 for a scuffed range ball, acts of desperation that can only ensure failure.
And of course-of course!-I take the worst swing of the day, arms disconnected, already looking up before I even make the downswing. The ball shanks 45 degrees off the face of the club, spinning maybe 75 yards before skipping off the surface of the pond twice.
The tiny splash it makes before disappearing into the green water echoes like the bitter laugh of a cruel stepfather.


I’ve disrupted a couple of Canadian Geese lounging in the cattails. They honk in protest before taking flight, disgusted by the bad play.
And suddenly I am alone in the desert, on the walk of shame to the drop area, and its fucking hot.
I wonder at the importance I’ve assigned to hitting a tiny ball around the yellowing fairways in the midday heat, at the silliness of wearing a collared shirt-tucked in– per clubhouse rules.
Punk rocker? Me?

The carnival lights of Pappy and Harriets sparkle in the desert night.
We all clutch our vaccination cards and smartphone rendered tickets in either hand like unholstered Colts as we walk down the dusty ghost town street of Pioneertown.
We are masked as outlaws, bandanas replaced by N95s.
Heading for our fated showdown with the motherfuckin’ CircleJerks!


When they announced the dates to their comeback tour–what, for the third goddamned time?–we pledged to be there for night one.
For who knows what disaster or plagues those rascal Gods have planned for us in the near future.
We may be shuttered yet again by another variant of virus, or chased to the hills by anti vax zombies, who the hell knows?
Band tours are announced, rescheduled, then cancelled.
But it seemed as though it just might happen, this wonderful gig, though if we were all told to turn and evacuate at the last minute it would not surprise me.
But as we finally pass security and get into the gates I see Arab standing stage left and a dozen familiar faces, smiles unmasked, that I allow myself to believe we are going to see the Jerks play once again!

Negative Approach kicks off and the night is suddenly filled with with purging rage.
John Brannon up there shouting like the world’s most pissed off guy who has finally reached a human voice on the customer service line, his eyebrows inverted like two crows diving for the same roadkill.

Kimm and I wander around the crowd between bands, but we go only a few yards before we are stopped by an old friend or a fan of the band wanting a photo with us.
They see us standing together and take a startled second look, like children running into their third grade teacher in the supermarket.
It becomes apparent when we are together we become a different and altogether logical entity, like Bert and Ernie or weiner and bun.
His spiky blonde head, my tragic gigantism, together we equal those dudes from that old band.


We chat with a few more kids who tell us how their parents used to like us, then we decide to separate and walk to different corners of the corral.

As I wait for the band to come on, I am surprised by just how much I really want to see the Jerks play again.
They always seemed The Stones compared to Black Flag’s Beatles, or maybe they were beyond all comparison…. The Who?
A band that always embraced the ragged edge in urgent blasts of sound, The Circle Jerks remained the true standard bearers of So Ca hardcore, never wavering from the path of good old honest punk, man.

And out front, always Keith Morris.
He saunters onstage and welcomes the crowd in his nasally drawl, sounding like your favorite uncle who always asks about your love life as he slips a twenty in your shirt pocket.
Approachable to a fault, Keith has always been there for a chat, often helping our own band out with touring logistics or a gifted opening slot.
Between his three mega bands and countless offshoots of bug killing monikered projects, he is there in the darkened back of the club, a fan when not on stage.
He has become our own punk rock Bill Murray, a beloved elder statesman.


But then the band kicks in and he becomes the snarling frontman of our youth, belting out song after song in the same bark and meter. A sound that conjures up the wild hot nights of the 1980s, transposed to voice the rage of this fucking world and its horrors.
A dust cloud rises from the desert floor, and though the venue is all outdoor the temperature of the Earth is suddenly hotter.
People raise their goddamned phones, naturally, that natural reaction nowadays to prove they were there.
But my faith in mankind is restored when kids start climbing atop each other’s shoulders, launching their bodies across raised hands.
Iphones and drinks go flying, dust becomes mud.
People start pocketing their precious electronics against the mounting mayhem and have to just watch and listen, be in the moment of this night.
Beautiful.

It’s Greg Hetson up there next to Keith, those familiar tight kneed jumps, and all is right in the world.
Joey Castillo on the drums is a monster, and good old Zander holding down the bottom, I am starstruck once again that Joe Strummer had this guy on speed dial.
Song after song is played, and when Keith announces they are only half way through twenty seven fucking songs on their set list I am forced to find a cup of water and a seat.

I worry about bands going out on tour, amidst viral threat, expected to rage on cue as if they were teens.
Keith and Brannon both, having to get out there and pour out their souls and shred their throats nightly.
And while it may seem silly, all of us elder gents shouting above the guitar and drum, it only takes that first song to remind us of the value, a reminder that we shall import our meaning to the experience.
Whether confessing to a rage that somehow still burns at 60, or trying to get a small ball to disappear into a hole

The band plays Wild in the Street mid set, the crowd goes fucking wild.
It is epiphanically charged moment, the punk rock ethos suddenly clear as the stars hanging crystalline above the upraised arms of the Joshua trees.
That shared thing that allows us to wear a black and red sock to work, to get horrendous but cheap haircuts.
We wear Black Flag T shirts to the supermarket and buy the ugly fruit.
Because we know the fruit still tastes just as sweet and it’s only hair, it will grow back, and, hey! The fuck you looking at?
Because it’s not that we don’t care,.
We just don’t care what you think.

The next day I’m still in the desert, back on the course.
After the clubhouse turn I ditch the Travis Matthew polo and put on my sleeveless No Values T shirt.
The course is deserted again in the midday heat, and I crank my phone speaker volume.
Spotify choosing Circle Jerks songs off some algorithm they suppose will appease me.

I am now on the 18th tee, and I barely notice the pond standing between me and the flag.
I see only a mild lawn that I will own like a bitch, the water feature as inconsequential as a puddle of spilled Pabst in the desert dust.
From the cupholder in the cart, Keith sings I Wanna Destroy You, and I can’t help but laugh, a maniacal, knowing cackle that sends the geese into flight.


The ball launches pure off the face of my driver, and it disappears into a white expanse of sky.
I turn away, not even caring to track its flight, because I destroyed that thing.
Punk rocker, me.

Our Last Gig: Commissary Costa Mesa

I stand at the bar waiting for a Red Bull.
It’s past ten o’clock, you see, and I am unused to being up so late.

I stifle a yawn and try to snap back into nightclub mode, for we still have a set to play.
For the past glorious 18 months I would usually be tucked in bed by this ungodly hour, playing Golf Clash on my Ipad until it slips, finally, from my loosened grip.
Another day ends with a sigh and snore even before the tablet clatters to the ground..

The Daughter is suddenly at my elbow.
She has has migrated toward Dad With His Wallet Out, opportunistic as a hyena sidling up to a lioness chewing on the haunch of a downed wildebeest.
I sigh, ask the bartender to hold up, and ask what she’d like.

She is apparently fetching a round for her crew as well, and she recites an order of highballs and fruity seltzers that sounds like an incantation to summon fallen Indian warriors:
White Claw, Moscow Mule, Seabreeze, Ice Pick……Geronimo!
The bar space before me is suddenly cluttered with slim cans and cocktails concocted from cinnamon whiskey and fluorescent mixers.
I slide two twenties across the bar, and when the bartender looks down at my cash dubiously, surrender two more bills.


The Daughter has already danced back into the darkened depths of the club with her arms filled with drink, while I shell out my last cash for a suitable tip.
But I smile, for I am, at least for a single shining moment, a useful Dad.

Spider is up on stage, and it’s good to see our old pals once again.
The room is ruled by youngsters, dancing out of sheer joy and pent up energy.
Elbows fly, legs pump.
The club adopts the giddy vibe of a dog park, the butt sniffing attendees going crazy and off -leash.


It’s our old bandmate Alf up there on drums, slamming the skins and having a blast.
He plays with a renewed energy, and I have to admit it is bittersweet.
Like seeing an old flame now thirty pounds lighter and remarried, happily moved on from a hilarious yet doomed relationship.

It occurs to me that Alfie was the first to be a Father, though he is years younger than me or Kimm.
He started a family admirably young, and now counts Grandkids among his audience while he sips bronzed beers during his Sunday patio sessions.

I wander to the cordoned off backstage area, where Nick huddles with the other drummers.
They warm up their wrists and complain about singers.
Steven from Shattered Faith catches us up on his rockstar twins from The Garden, and their plans to play at vast halls on their upcoming Fall tour.
I wonder aloud if they perhaps need some aging punk rockers to open the show, or maybe even sell merch.
No response.

Bobby shows me photos of his own grandkids on his phone, unable to resist gushing while he talks of their crawling adventures.
Punk rockers reduced to big old softies, I tell ya.

I wonder about my own legacy.
“Now here’s a record your great grandpa made, waaaay back in the 1980’s,” I imagine a future offspring saying.
A toddler chews on the corner of a faded 12″ EP sleeve, my photo on the back: a long dead numbskull grin searches for a trace of dignity in the future
“Oh, here we go. Here’s a song grandpa wrote, it’s called Wetspots. It’s about pre cum.”

The Shattered boys hit the stage, and it is always wonderfully jarring to see Branden up there stage right.
He appears as if a hologram from their younger selves amongst their graying heads.
His slim Thunderesque guitar posing is a cruel reminder of what we all once were.
But he stands next to Pop, and Spencer looks over at him with fatherly pride.

As Anthony tunes his bass backstage, he eyes the cans of Modelo floating in the melting ice water.
I can tell he is tempted to grab a couple for stage, then hide the rest under seat cushions for after the show.
Usual backstage etiquette.


But tomorrow he and Amy will be hosting a party for baby Nova’s first birthday, so he grabs a Monster instead.
After taking a sip he makes a face as if he has just tasted the tears of a sad, sad clown.
It will be our first time meeting his kiddo as well, having watched her grow up these past twelve months by cell phone photos and emailed video clips, isolated safely while the world went about it’s deadly viral business.

I will watch his baby destroy a birthday cake with her bare hands, have her first astonishing taste of sugared icing.
And the world, it will suddenly open up to her, with all its sweet joys and bitter consequences.
I resist reminding Anthony that soon he will be Dad With Wallet, but by the time his daughter is drinking age a round of drinks will cost the same as a 12 volt Lithium car battery.
And he will pay it, and gladly, if just for the chance to stand next to his Daughter for a moment before she disappears into the night.

We play and it is one of those nights.

The bass drumhead breaks, I forget half the words to forty year old songs.
We are off by just that much, a millisecond of groove lost after the long layoff.
But Who cares? seems to be the theme of the night, as people are happy to just be out and together.
During our third attempt to play You Lie I look over and Alf is up onstage again with us, shouting along to the chorus.
He conducts us successfully to the end of it, and I hug him in grateful relief.

When we play Make Me Feel Cheap we bring up Max, Kimm’s son to join us onstage.
He stands next to Pop, and the eyes get a little weepy out there on the dancefloor.
Max, the spitting fucking image of Kimm at that age, straps on Kimm’s Gold Top and joins in with ease.
The crowd loves it, senses how much we love it, and we keep him up there for the set closer of Got a Gun.

With Max up there I have an unnerving sensation in my periphery, that jeweled corner to my left, where for the past forty years I have felt the reassuring presence of Kimm next to me on stage.
I see him as a young man, and imagine that I am young once again as well.

But we get to the final choruses, and I find that I am winded.
Out of practice, out of shape, I croak along to the final shouts, then finally just step back from the microphone.
And it does not matter.
The song blasts on, and young Max steps up to the mic and sings my part.
I watch as the pit boils and the crowd yells, while a new generation carries on.

The OC Fair

Arab meets us at Gate 4 in his golf cart, points us into a parking spot 10 meters from the back entrance to the fair. As a favor among old punk rockers, he has allowed us a space in the crew lot.
I watch as he pulls the barricade shut behind us, disappointing a line of cars that have slowed in hopes of joining us here among the tour buses and amphitheater staff cars.
Arab waves them on, sending them to the back recesses of the parking lot, miles from the entrance.
And at my age, this parking space thrills me.
I am tempted to spend the evening in Kimm’s Yukon, isolated and safe from the teeming crowds, cracking the window only to hear Cheap Trick play Surrender in the distance.


Beyond me the lights of the fair rides sparkle in the twilight.
There is the shriek of children pitching down the banked curve of rollercoaster, there is the smell of meat smoking over open flame.
Ghastly concoctions are deep fried in oil and sprinkled with powdered sugar, ingested in the name of Summer, of being goddamned alive and once again at the OC Fair.

It is ritual, this walking tour of Americana nestled within the confines of Orange County.
It is the one month of the year, in the dead doldrums of Summer, that we can drop our cynical armor and march, like mesmerized chickens, toward the bright lights.
We imagine the thrill of the circus come to town, a brief escape from brutal and honest work in the fields.
We can pretend to be the earnest and the good, washed shiny and clutching at our nickels.
Toward the exhibit halls packed with hopeful baked goods and artsy craftsy photographs, past the pens filled with prized chickens and sheep, the best of the county offered to be judged.


It is my second visit to this year’s fair, having gone to see X play a couple weeks back.


I make a beeline for the Centennial Farm to check on the piglets, and am shocked to see how fat the little fuckers have gotten in my absence.
Truffles, a slutty Yorkshire sow lays defeated in the sawdust, eleven greedy children nursing on her chafed teats.
They eat like, well, pigs.
It reminds me to join in their gluttony, and we traipse off toward the food stands.

Oh, the food!
they say, your coworkers when you tell them you are knocking off early to go to the fair.
They list their top five favorites and allow you to leave only after you promise to eat one of each for them.
But let’s be honest here; the food is pretty crappy and crazily overpriced.
It is this setting, after all, that makes the food come alive.
Eating on shared benches with open mouthed strangers, the air wafted with goat shit from the nearby 4H exhibits.

We eat corn barbecued black at five dollars an ear.
Pork chops are sold, but with a carnival twist of being on a stick, forcing us to lap with extended tongue as if upon pork lollipops.
Sausages that have been cooking for five hours straight are sold to us for fourteen dollars.
They are oversized, and this being the Fair, each sausage is also wrapped in bacon.
The meat is vicious, dried out and bland, but eating it here on a picnic bench under the purple sky it is delicious.

For dessert there are ungodly treats battered and fried, combinations dreamed up by either madmen or stoned Junior High school children.
Oreo cookies are not only deep fried but again wrapped in bacon, dipped in chocolate, powdered with sugar.
They are served, naturally, on a stick.

I take a bite and it is America, obscene and victorious.

We stumble to our seats in the amphitheater, dazed by the smoked meats and fried sugar, herded into a sold out 8000 seat arena with not a mask in sight.
There is a passable Blue Oyster Cult tribute act on stage, and it take a couple songs to understand that, no, that is Blue Oyster Cult playing.
Two surviving old guys joined by a couple new young guys, a lineup that makes me feel for some reason familiarly queasy.
But god bless ’em, they roll into the set closer of Reaper without a mention of Will Ferrell or doing a cowbell schtick, and then it is intermission.

A beach ball floats over the crowd now, people return to their seats double fisting beers.
We will have a normal Summer, the scene says. Even if it goddamned kills us.
Outside the amphitheater there are roars of terrible hydraulics, another set of hardy riders launched skyward on some insane ride, anything to escape the grim realties of our Earthbound existence.
They are, for at least a single moment, weightless.

A stranger next to be fist bumps me, yells Cheap Trick, whooo! into the night sky.
I try not to think of the odds of airborne virus in this place, the random gift of disease raining down as casually as a beach ball swatted from one filthy hand to the next.

But the people here are happy, thrilled to be out, and I am ashamed of sitting among them with such thoughts.
It is a Summer evening amidst the lights, and for the moment anyway, we can all pretend everything is quite fine, or soon will be.
Cheap Trick come on, the familiar strum of Hello There ringing out and the crowd goes fucking wild.
And though I usually refuse to stand during these things, I am on my feet with the rest of the crowd, shouting Hello There right back to Robin and Rick.


They are joined tonight by not only Rick’s kid on drums, but Robin’s son on bass, who nails each of those pure sweet high notes of his Pop.
Ah, I think.
They have cracked the problem of longevity by simply handing down their setlist to the next generation, able to book shows into the next century with their legacy upheld.

The show ends right at ten.
The curfew imposed by the same neighbors who make the jets take off at crazy angles from nearby John Wayne airport, settling you back into your economy seat of Frontier airlines with palpable G force, your balls squeezed tight as on any badly maintained carnival ride.

As we file out we take one last look at the livestock, check in on the piglets who amazingly have seemed to grow even fatter since we arrived earlier today.
One spotted little fellow roots up close to my Conversed foot, and I dare to reach through the slats and stroke him behind his pointy ear.
He snuffles with glee, and looks up at me with canine affection, and all is right in this world.

Next year, god willing, we will return yet again to the fairgrounds.
Returned to the ritual, the memory of tonight’s heartburn and inevitable nausea long forgotten.
We’ll walk through the same Halls of Products, eat the same salty food, perhaps try the latest deep fried combinaton of chocolate and bacon on a dare.
And we will return to the pens once more, and seek out our porcine friends.
Be they now exhausted mothers themselves, with greedy piglets nursing in a row.
Or perhaps they will be nourishing us further down the midway, gloriously smoked or deep fried.
Impaled in their blue ribbon glory, America on a stick.






Our Last Gig: Vaxxed and Unmasked

Kimm and I head into the club as The Berzerkers start their set.
It is dark and packed, and it all comes back to us in an instant.
That throbbing visceral pulse of bass beneath shrieks of drunken joy, the air thick with humidity, dancing bodies sweating in close proximity.
It all feels so distant yet immediately familiar, like the bitter arguments of parents heard through the drywall of a childhood bedroom.

Berzerk!

We are both wearing masks, though we quickly abandon them, as no one in the entire club wears them.
It is less a sign of confidence than we don’t want to be confused as Anti-Vaxxers, or perhaps some other cowardly cult that believes in things such as witch burning or the flatness of the planet.
No, we have come cautiously to this first night back, tentative as monkeys first encountering open flame.
We’ve spent the ride down to San Diego hyperventilating, the truck cabin air perfumed with hand sanitizer.

Oh, we’d been offered some earlier gigs, sure.
Thought of doing one of those streaming shows, those odd sets that are performed on a sterile soundstage, rendering the band tame as a 3 a.m. dog act on the Jerry Lewis telethon.
A drive in show? A fucking podcast?
All of these things seemed just desperate half measures, the rationing of Punk Rock while the atmosphere still teemed with deadly microbe, each of us huddled in our caves around the reassuring glow of Netflix while we waited for GrubHub to make with the Pollo Loco.
We got vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, wore masks until told we were safe, lowered them before putting them back on again.

But it was our old pal Arab who persuaded us to finally make a date with the stage once again, a night to celebrate the astounding Hostage Records compilation album we were invited to join, as well as a benefit for the venerable Casbah club and its staff.

We prepared for the gig grimly, as if for battle.
Taking out the gear stored over the past 16 months since our last gig.
I found the strings on the Rickenbacker corroded to rust, had to consult YouTube to remind myself how to restring the wonky tailpiece.
When I unpacked gig bags left untouched since the Viper room, I found a sweaty T shirt that had moldered into a wad of gray, like a hairball coughed up by a shuddering jungle cat.
We practiced, and during breaks we rushed out to gulp at the sweet night air, so out of shape were we to yelling lyrics over roaring guitars.

Ant flexes his sore digits, his fingerpads unused to the cruel thickness of bass string.
His hands now familiar only to the keyboard tapping of home office and the gentle head cradling of infant Nova.
Nick searches his phone for clues to these songs unplayed for so long, somehow keeping them separate from the setlists of Lower Class Brats or Final Conflict in that file cabinet brain of his.
Kimm and I, we just ask each other the same question yet again: Are we really ready to do this?


The Berzerkers wrap up a quick set, the HB crew killing it with their melodic take on frantic Punk Roll.
Familiar faces start floating up to say hello, and I instinctively back away.
I have become enamored of the 6 foot radius clause, have begun to think it shall remain my own personal no fly zone for the remainder of my days.
But the people come in closer, 2 meters then one, and suddenly I am in within spitting distance of these old pals I have not seen in so long.
I hold out a fist, the expression of combat now turned safe greeting, but it is ignored as my hand is grasped in sweaty handshake.
What’s more, that hand is pulled in body tight, and I am suddenly wrapped in a bro hug, body to body with another living human, the thing we have been taught to regard as a Hefty garbage bag full of germs intent on your destruction.
But I somehow survive the hug, and we pull back amazed, amazed at a night out among friends, each of us wearing a smile that even an N95 mask could not hide.


Love Canal goes on next, Bosco playing guitar as well as singing tonight, Arab serenely holding court over the rowdy night that he arranged.
The band is tight and hot as the dancefloor mutates into pit. I am pushed against the back wall by a windmill-armed skanker, someone throws a can into the lights, sending a spray of fruity seltzer down my shirt.
And suddenly all thought of airborne toxicity vanishes from my thought.
Oh yeah, I think. This is a gig!
The soundman asks the guitars to turn down, someone is hustled the back door, his collar collected in the bouncer’s meaty paw.
These things, the Déjà vu details of a thousand nights before; the smell and sights, the noise and filth.
By God, I’ve missed it.
And I just know if I go into the bathroom, the toilet will be overflowing with piss and unspeakable flotsam.
And it feels alright, ya know?

Love Canal

It is our time to set up on the stage, and I surprise myself by being nervous.
We are here to play a set of songs rehearsed to instinct, some of the tracks dating back forty fucking years.
We have replayed this scene so many times, the hectic exchange of gear on and off stage, the quick hellos between guys rolling and unspooling guitar cables. We will tune and line check, squint down at a printout of a setlist and do it all once again.
But it seems new, and we have to pause while arranging the backline at one point, not able to remember if my amp usually sits stage right, or was it left? (It’s right.)
The soundman cuts the house, and the crowd comes in from the smoking patio. I turn to face them and suddenly realize I am not nervous, but excited.
Honored, really, to get to do this once again, to play for these people who have come out to join us.
And I tell myself to remember this, in the futile hope that I will never take it for granted again.

Bain Photo

We play and it is over too quick.
The crowd was great, drunk and happy.
As if they are immune.
Immune to any more bad news.
To the new variants, to the warnings of another drought, to a Western sun bloodied by firesmoke.
For all we know we may go back once again, back to a lockdown.
But for one night at least, we are given the chance to see friends, play some songs, remember what it was like—how it should be.

A guy comes by just as we finish loading.
He introduces himself and says great set, asks if we might take a photo together.
As we say good bye, he holds up a fist, expecting that very least of human contact, knuckle to knuckle.
But I surprise us both by grasping at his hand and then pulling him in, and giving a total stranger a hug.

Riding the Rails I

The 12:27 Blackpool North to Leeds.Train

We face backward, the scenery fading away from view.
As if we are rewinding an old 8 mm movie or falling back in time, reviewing our barely visible youth on the horizon.

Ant comes back from the bar car, cheese and onion sandwich and a Strongbow.  He tries to nudge Nick to let him back in the window seat, but Nicky just shifts in his nap and spreads out further.  Anthony shrugs at me and takes the empty row across the aisle.

Kimm taps on his keyboard to my right, Beanie is a few rows up, head visibly bobbing to whatever the earbuds feed his head.  I put on my own headphones now and Bluetooth the phone, shuffle songs by The Beautiful South.

I look behind to an empty row and tilt the seat back, a luxury I never claim on a plane.
I refuse to ever tilt the seat back a single degree in hilarious battle: a passive aggressive show of respect to my fellow man, a courtesy that is never rewarded back to me.
A 3 foot tall child inevitably gets the seat in front of me, his evil little legs unable to even reach the stained carpet.
As we reach cruising altitude, he proceeds to launch the seat back into my knees, the audible crunch of patella like a framed photograph destroyed beneath the boot of a jealous lover.

As the lilting strains of Bell Bottomed Tear come on, I slip on the Wayfarers.  Take a sip of Earl Grey and watch the  hills moving away from me.  Their green is deepened by the clouds above, an emerald carpet punctuated only by dots of sheep.

Fuck, I love a train ride.

And the stations.
In this day where banks are reduced to storefront ATM cages and churches pop up in abandoned industrial tilt ups, you can count on the train station still catching your eye on the horizon.
A spire or clock still standing defiant amidst the cranes that seem to infest every city, like a congregation of giant robot mantises just waiting to bend down for another bite.

Still lovely on the outside in granite and gilt, guarded by patinated gargoyles or saints.
And though usually garish inside with the tattoo of modern commerce, you can just squint past the Subway and Boots signage and see its stately history.

The small stations in the countryside, outposts of connection placed among outrageous green. 
Here, a pause in the journey, a garbled announcement on the PA system reads off a list of towns undecipherable. 
We stand, sit, and stand again, ask each other if this is where we transfer.  We put the guitars back in the racks and sit back down, only to repeat this comedy routine at the next stop.

Perhaps the best part of train travel is the absence of airport torture.
The lack of the TSA queue–or any of the overbearing corralling of the airport- makes us feel like we are finally grown ups, held accountable for our own scheduling.
Third graders finally allowed to walk to school by themselves.

The split-flap board scrolls yet again, and you gather up bags and rush toward your track with a delicious tinge of espionage.

Find the proper car class and simply get on,  grab a seat.
See? You did it all by yourself.

Who’s a big boy? You are!

Helsinki
Central Station Helsinki

Doors hiss shut and there is that exquisite moment of lag between pause and motion.
You move away, slowly, the high ceilings of the station finally surrendering to the gray skies above.

You can’t help but be reminded of black and white cinematic images, the bellowing steam giving way to a couple kissing farewell.
Pearls and overcoats, a final look back before handing a porter her bag.
There is a wave through an open window, and then distance between the two lovers.
Each now considering their new lives without the other.

Riding the Rails II

I’ve dozed, and jolt awake when we pull into New Pudsey station.

The car is crowded now, and I’m grateful my gangly legs and naptime drooling has kept the seat next to me vacant. I take out my phone, start a new playlist, shake my head to wake up and look about.

Beanie is in a seat across the aisle and one up from me.
He’s wearing all red today.
Pants, shirt, jacket. Socks. Everything.
The costume is tight on his thin frame, making him look like a villain from the DC comics universe, intent on kidnapping then eventually being destroyed by Batman.

Good natured to a fault, we like having Beanie along for the ride.
When we all get in that pissy mid tour mood, you can always count on Beanie to lighten up the room.
Backstage and grumpy, staring at our phones, he barges in and tells us we have to come look at the full moon hanging above Milan.

He hustles the merch, often shilling leftover shirts in the wrong sizes to fans who walk away broke and puzzled, wearing XXXL Indian Summer shirts like mumus.
And they were looking for Naked Aggression merch in the first place.

He’s squished against the window beside a large fellow, but cheerfully nodding to the frantic beats coming through his headphones, watching the green hills roll by.

He turns to his seatmate to point out a squirrel or maybe an outhouse, immediately spills a half can of Scrumpys Cider between the seats.
The big man half jumps up away from the spill, then nods to the aisle.
“Go on, go through then,” he says.
In his coarse northern accent it comes out gah froo den.

Beanie gets up to fetch some paper towels, and I am tempted to offer the guy my seat,  lest he break Beanie in half.  His forearms are thick as unsplit cords, covered in blurry mirrored lions.
Tattoos of the miserable football club that will let him down yet again this year.

But in a moment Beanie is back, paper towels and a new can of cider for each of them.
I watch them chat a bit then touch cans in toast. Soon Beanie has his phone out and is showing the chap photos of his dear departed Mackie.
The two of them now laughing at a video of the Terrier mounting then destroying another pillow.

People shut off their Ipads, finally break their gaze at the phones in their laps and just stare out the window at the land going by.
I watch them watching, see them taking in this rare moment of quiet without, alone with the scenery and their thoughts.

When they touch their phones again, it’s not to check their useless Instagram feed but to snap a photo.
Lamb noshing on turf; Cathedral spire lording over a thicket of Alders.
They picture themselves back home, Happy Hour at LoConda Verde, pulling out their phones and showing these shots to friends.
Knowing they can never put this into words.

Hell. The only time you see photos taken on a flight is when the passengers are collectively recording an Air Marshal dragging an overbooked passenger down the aisle, screaming and bleeding as he clutches at their ankles.

Now I take in all my fellow passengers, spying openly.
I gift them personalities and lives befitting my perception from this rear seat.

This guy, man on his way to break it off with his mistress: he twists the gold band around his finger clockwise as if shutting off a faucet.
The old woman crocheting on the aisle? Wearing a discreet half kilo of brown heroin tight against her pantyhosed thigh.

Here we have a young Vicar returning to his flock after a cleansing weekend in Ibiza, no secret save the bejeweld butt plug that twinkles just inside his boxer briefs.
That bored Bulgarian teen taps on a labeled ice chest, delivering a sparkling cornea to St. James.
A cloudy eyed widower waits to look upon his son one last time.

And what of us, our group?
Members of a third rated Cirque troop, heading to a muddy field just outside of town.
Me, I throw knives at a leotarded gal named Isla.

People are starting to gather their things, make their way to the doors as the countryside gives way to the gravel and concrete of the city.
I watch a young woman, maybe drinking age, get up.
She’s dressed defiantly, Doc Martins and torn tights, a rainbow tie dyed MDC shirt leading up to her harsh angular haircut. She got on in Manchester with some of the other people returning from Pride weekend. She pulls a black backpack off the rack, walks past me and waits for the train to stop, the door to slide open.

I’m writing this in the future. These people, that train ride, all in my past.
Just waiting for a miserable year to finally release its claws and slip back to hell.

To ride on a train again.
Through a foreign country, surrounded by strangers, sharing the same harmless air.

I would even welcome the brat behind me a whole 12 hour Trans Atlantic flight.
Kicking at my Upper Economy seat since Heathrow, yet I vow to smile at the kid as he hangs over my headrest and stares at me upside down for the whole approach into LAX.

Please Lord.
I will gladly take the middle seat between the Herbalife sales lady and the silent farter.
Just let me go, let me wander once again. I’ll be better.

Leeds station, the others trot off with guitars in one hand, wheeling luggage behind. Beanie balances a cardboard box of the merch on his head, walks his way through the train station with the practiced gait of a Mumbai porter.

I take a moment, use the excuse of kneeling to lace a Converse.
I see the girl who got off the train first.

A man and woman come to her.
She brings a hand to her mouth, then hugs her mother.
The girl raises her head to look at her dad over her mum’s shoulder.
The dad wipes a tear from his eye with a thick thumb, then envelops them both.

I finally have to look away.
I am intruding on something real, in the middle of the station, in the shadow of the Northern Line.
I cannot resist and look back again.

They start shuffling sideways, laughing now as they try to walk while still hugging.
Trying to travel, without letting go of each other.