One of my favorite bands played in Vancouver last night. I’ve had tickets for the show since the day they went on sale 6 months ago. I was so excited about it, but as the date grew closer that excitement gradually turned into fear. I didn’t go.
Maybe I let the anxiety win. Maybe I’m feeling sorry for myself. Maybe both, but that’s where I am right now, in my head, one way or another. I was going to write about the band – Quicksand (for anyone who didn’t get the title reference, and naturally Gorilla Biscuits before them) and what they meant to me, the impact they had on my life and moments/memories they will forever be attached to. But as I thought about it, the band itself is kind of irrelevant in this whole story. Mostly. It’s more a me thing.
This tour was the 30th anniversary of the release of the first album. I tried to remember the last time I saw them play, I’ve seen them so many times, all these years later the shows kind of blend together in my mind. The feeling anyway. Packed in a crowd, surrounded by friends, all of us singing along to every word. This is something about growing up in the hardcore/punk that there’s no way to explain to people who didn’t experience it. As kids we didn’t fit in. We were outcasts and rejected by most similar aged peer groups, but it didn’t matter because with punk we had each other. Friends became family and you knew, no matter what, that they were there for you. It was the Cheers thing – a place where everyone knew your name and was always glad you came. Oddly important is that a lot of these situations were incredibly violent, but that’s probably a story for another time. The point is that we all gladly opted into a dangerous situation because it felt like home, the only feeling of home some of us had ever really had. It was a scary place, but it was our scary place.
This was my whole life. The music, the message, the people. Almost 40 years later and I’m still in touch with many of those people today, the bonds run that deep. In Florida and in Chicago when I’d go to shows I knew everyone. Literally. Every single person in attendance and in the bands and working the venues. I knew them all. We had grown up together. I moved to Los Angeles at 26 and didn’t really know many people in town, didn’t know what bands were around or where they might be playing. I remember several times that first few years feeling an overwhelming sense of disappointment when I’d hear, usually a few days later, that a band who I knew had been playing in town and I’d missed it. I felt like this hugely important part of my life was slipping away.
I eventually figured it out and started going to shows again but it was different. I didn’t know everyone anymore. I knew some people and that was great, but most of the people were strangers to me. It was weird because this thing, this place that had always been my briar patch didn’t quite fit anymore. It was like a favorite shirt that shrunk in the wash. So I’d go, and enjoy it, but also have this sinking sick feeling. And I went less often because of it.
That was multiplied by a million when I moved to Japan. The only way I could square it was when I knew the band or someone in the band and could go with them, so I felt a part of it somehow. I’d take pictures and hang out before or after the show with them and it was a wonderful way to feel like I still had some connection to this thing I loved. This thing that made me. But I’d also look at the audience, recognize what they were experiencing and at the same time know that I couldn’t experience it with them. If I was in the crowd rather than on stage, I’d feel surrounded by strangers rather than friends. I would always be an outsider. That was a hard one to reconcile let me tell you.
(Terror, Tokyo, 2019)
Over the last many years there’s been a handful of shows that I’ve bought tickets for and gone to on my own, alone. The last Murder City Devils show in Los Angeles stands out in my head as an example. I went. I danced. I screamed my heart out. I even broke a rib when some dude hit me at just the wrong angle. I loved every second of it. I also left feeling depressed and lonely. I didn’t know anyone there. I wasn’t going out after the show for food with anyone. I remember thinking about it as I drove home, weirdly that hurt more than my ribs.
So I’ve lived in Vancouver for over 3 years now and I’ve never been to a single show here. I barely know anyone in this whole city. 100% of my friend circle is online, in other places, far away. Friends I’ve known forever and love like family, and friends I’ve only just met through various shared interests. All impossibly distant.
And also, a lot of them are still together. Not all, some have drifted away to other lives and others didn’t survive this long. And sure some of this can be chalked up to social media posturing but I see my friends, people I love, hanging out together and having a great time. I buy records from various bands and see that my friends are doing guest spots, singing or playing on songs. I hear their voices and it makes me smile. And simultaneously bums me out. To be clear I don’t regret my choices or the direction I’ve gone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the routes I didn’t take. And given the chance I wouldn’t do anything differently, so this isn’t a wallowing “gosh I wish I had a do over” or some bullshit like that. It’s just an observation of melancholy. I’ll avoid the infinite sadness joke.
So last night, as much as I love this band and these songs, I knew going would have been depressing. I would be a stranger. It would be a room full of people that I should have connections with, but don’t. The band on stage would be a friends of friends, but not friends. Know what I mean? In a different situation completely approachable with countless stories and friendships to share. But here, entirely out of reach. And a harsh reminder that I’m not a part of this thing I love anymore. That I’m now an outsider.
Of course not going is depressing too. So it’s not like I avoided that by not going.
I talk about punk rock and how we made our own world all the time, it’s an important part of my origin story and I apply the lessons and learnings from that to almost everything I do to this day. And there’s no simple narrative here, that world still exists but is also different. We aren’t kids anymore, and a bunch of old guys sitting around talking about their glory days gets obnoxious real quick. Nostalgia has it’s place, but it can’t be everything. You (and I mean me) still need to look ahead, to what is next, not just what came before. I think about this often when I’m playing guitar alone in my bedroom because I’m an almost 50 year old who still does that. But I’m not playing old cover songs, partially because I don’t know how, I’m trying to do something new. And that helps.
I think of myself as a community person, and there are all these communities I used to spend time in, and for one reason or another I don’t anymore. Mostly because I’m no longer physically near them, and I wonder how the next generation of people who grew up with friends online rather than in person will view things kind of thing. I often think about how when asked about why he left the Bujinkan, an old martial arts instructor of mine Charles Daniel replied “Who says I left? Maybe I just graduated.” I don’t know that I agree someone could ever “graduate” but I also liked that way of thinking, he was still doing “stuff” it was just different “stuff” and he brought with him everything he learned up to that point, the old stuff forever informing the new stuff.
So in the end I didn’t do something that I knew I’d enjoy because I knew it would also make me feel bad, and the next day I find myself wishing I had but also knowing why I didn’t. Sometimes everything makes sense, more often it doesn’t.