The Downward Spiral At Twenty-Five.

The Downward Spiral cover
The album cover that graced countless adolescent CD collections in 1994. 

Happy 25th birthday to an album that defined my adolescence and gave voice to my tween angst. I bought this record the day it came out in 1994. My father had died very suddenly just under two months prior, and it was the coldest and snowiest winter Pennsylvania had seen in something like 50 years. The snow kept falling, making a mess of the roads in the rural town where my mother and I lived; cancelling school for days at a time. We lived in a small housing development at the edge of town, and I didn’t have a lot of friends.  I found myself alone in the house a lot with my mother spiraling into an abyss of grief from which she would never really crawl out of.  I would hang out in my room for countless hours, listening to this album.

I was a lonely and weird kid with not a lot of social skills (this hasn’t necessarily changed) and cheesy and cliché as it sounds, while I had not yet lived enough to fully understand some of the themes and concepts Trent Reznor was exploring in this record, this album did keep me company during a pivotal period when so much of my young life was defined by chaos and isolation. I will always be grateful for that company. I know I’m not alone in this gratitude, considering just how many copies this record has sold.  As an adult, I would argue that this speaks more to the loneliness and isolation that we collectively feel as a culture, but at 13 years old I didn’t really quite grasp such concepts.  I just knew that I was hurting and lonely a lot, and this record gave voice to that hurt.

I played this album heavily for a few years, all the while immersing myself more fully into the punk and goth subcultures, searching out more obscure bands and ways of being. This record served as a starting point for that immersion though. Everyone talks about the band or record that introduced them to the underground, that made them want to dive in and see what else was down there.  For a lot of people my age, it was Nirvana.  For me, it was Nine Inch Nails.  There was just something so much more honest and real about this band for me, much less silly.  Where Kurt Cobain used clumsy metaphors and thinly veiled references to express alienation and pain, Trent Reznor just bluntly put it out there for the world to take or leave.  A year later, I would come to associate this mode of expression with punk and hardcore when hearing Black Flag for the first time hit me like a ton of bricks.  I see now how The Downward Spiral primed me for the world of punk rock.

Despite moving on, I remained a quiet fan. I listened to the new records with a polite detachment; more connected to nostalgia than anything else, connecting with a song here and there, but nothing quite recaptured the significance of this record.  It remains a time and place piece for me.  Had I not come across this album when I did, and where I did, I think my entire life would be very different.  I’m not always sure if this a good thing or bad thing.

Revisiting this record as a maladjusted adult, I still wince at the rawness and vulnerability of this album – documenting your own descent into self-hating annihilation with but the faintest glimmer of hope for crawling back out at the end of the record. There is a subversive power to all that vulnerability and transparency.  I see the influence in my own life and art (ha!) of just sitting with naked pain and transforming it into something so ugly and beautiful all at once.

 

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The Downward Spiral At Twenty-Five.

Diagram of a busted mouth.

Fig. 1

Sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office
Steel toes tap together in nervousness
Dressed in bravest black, winter 1996
Drill bits scrape the mess
Growing in my mouth for the first
(of many) times in my young life
Stare out the window
Catch a lone small town
Punk rocker on their
Way somewhere else in the snow
Footprints sunk into the white
Show where they been
But offer no hint
Of where we’re going.

Fig. 2

First dentist trip in three
And a half years
Mental illness met poverty
Long enough for fifteen cavities
To carve their way in
To a mouth well on
Its way towards rotting
Digging in for the duration
As childhood ends
Sugar coated swath cut
Through enamel and dentine and pulp
Floss and rinse and dig
And brush and drill
Scrape plaque away
With a mad desperation
But never reach the
Source of the rot.

Fig. 3

Sipping black coffee
Burning belly filled:
One part all hell
Ready to break loose at any moment
One part bag of peanut butter pretzels for breakfeast
Bought with food stamps and pocket change
Basking in the glow of
Spring’s latest lover
One morning in the sun
Spinning
Blissed out on three hours
Of sleep weighing down
Eyelids pried open
By caffeine and lovesickness
Frantic need for connection
To fill every hour with
The sweetness and agony
Of feeling it all
Feel a sickening snap
Cracking in the back of my mouth
Reach a finger still warm from last
Night’s lust in and wriggle part of a molar out
Shrug like you can’t win ‘em all
Put the blackened tooth chip
In my pocket, like a keepsake.

Fig. 4

Oh, good. You’re awake.
Do you remember where you are?
You were crossing the street
When you walked into the path of an oncoming car
The good news is your spine isn’t broken
You are bleeding internally
But your organs did not rupture
And your shoulder will heal
And even retain most of its mobility
The bad news is what’s left
Of three of your teeth
Have to come out now
The force of the pavement
Rushing up to reshape your face
Left your teeth shattered
Rammed the remaining roots
Back into your jaw
You are in shock
And heavily sedated
You probably won’t
Even remember this
Or feel it.

Fig. 5

It becomes an identity
A way to laugh at the pain
Taking a mouth full of
Broken teeth as my name
Example:
The words
“busted teeth, broken heart”
Inked forever into my skin
Or it’s a cute party trick
Like the time I decided
To spit my new set
Of fake plastic teeth
Out of a mouth, healed
But still fresh enough with phantom pains
That come when the weather changes
Into my best friend’s
Glass of wine at
A fancy restaurant
Oh sorry. You were drinking that?
I guess I’ll just finish it.

Fig. 6

The nerve pain wakes me
Up one morning in summer
Shooting through my jaw
I call out of work
And spend the day at home
Part of it on the phone
With the same best friend
Seven summers later
Holding an icepack to
The side of my head
“I’m paying the price now
For never quite taking care
For always living with
A low intensity self-loathing.”

Fig. 7

Floss and feel
The very last piece
Of my very first root canal
Come loose from its molar mooring
Spit silver and blood and mercury
Into the sink
Pick up the piece
Bury it in an
Unmarked backyard grave
“Here lies my last self-destruction”

Fig. 8

A piece of my broken tooth hurts
So I do what any person would do
Reach into my mouth
Wiggle the last shard back and forth
With a single-minded determination
And pull it out on my gums
Throw it in the trash
Without ceremony
Or reverence
Having long since
Grown used to this
Saltwater. Rinse. Repeat
The hole closes up.

Fig. 9

You used to do meth, right?
No, why?
I don’t know. I just thought you did.
Did you think I used to do meth
Because I’m missing my three front teeth?
No! I swear! I just thought you used to do meth
Like, I thought you said something about it once
Fact: I’ve never done meth.

Fig. 10

I hate it when my friends
Call me “Creepteeth”
Except maybe I bestowed
That nickname on myself
Making an identity
Out of pain again
Or as a way to make peace with a
Self-conscious smile
I can’t remember now.
I just always knew something
About standing in the shadow
Of so much beauty
I could never ever know

Fig. 11

Morning routine of brushing
Serves as a reminder
Of roads to ruin raced
I have long since
Gotten used to the taste
Sour mouth, brown spit
Washed down the sink
Followed by the reprieve
Of toothpaste and blood-spit
Swirling down the drain.

Fig. 12

A dissolute pain
As company for
The past 8 days
With yesterday spent
Entirely within the confines
Of a borrowed twin bed
This isn’t even my room
And I’m tethered to it
Anyway
Every time I move
Nausea rushes in
Making the world
Sickeningly spin and spin…

Fig. 13

Not a single shred
Of solace to seek
Beneath a gray sky
Sighing with rain
While hours crawl
Into another lost day
Shuffled through in
A nauseated narcotic daze.

Fig. 14

I write from my sickbed
Good reasons to
Just stop feeling
Anything at all
The numb warmth
Creeps through my limbs
Like crawling skin
Filling the void
Ever writhing within
This tired body
Spreading outwards
Beneath my skin
I get why people get addicted
To this shit
There is an elusive beauty
Found within numbness
And I hate it all the same
Just like I hate that
Someone somewhere out there
Learned they could line their pockets
And the pockets of their children
And their children’s children
Selling the cure for pain
Then selling the cure
For addiction
Or the punishment
For those deemed unworthy
Or unable to afford
The cure
Somewhere
Someone owns all of this
And I wonder what it would
Be like to rip his throat
(Yeah, I’m making an assumption here)
Out with my jagged teeth
But then again
The thought of strange blood
And bacteria in my mouth
Fills me with an unquiet revulsion.

Fig. 15

I write a litany to numbness
To later be forgotten
In an overpriced notebook
That I paid $20 for
Instead of stealing
Somewhere along the
Road that always led nowhere.

Fig. 16

I listen to a tinny
Clash bootleg and feel
My spirits wanting
To soar like so many songs
Long since sent into unsuspecting airwaves
I write my way down
Every road back home
And write down reasons
To convince this body
To keep breathing
And greet another day
As a blessing
On the outside
Where the beautiful
People are ugly too
I want to live long and strong
With that invincible
Heartbeat as the backdrop
Sometimes I just think
That a set of invincible teeth
Would also be just the kind
Of company I would like to keep.

Diagram of a busted mouth.

An epilogue.

It was snowing when I walked to the 4th Avenue Bridge to throw the last of your things into the Sound.  It felt like it was finally time tonight.  It never snows in Olympia.  I love the snow.  I think I especially love the snow tonight because seeing Olympia covered in snow and stillness it the closest I’ll ever come to seeing a city I both hate and love buried.  Sometimes I lie in bed and stare out the window at the lights of downtown.  As I fall asleep, I dream of this city meeting its doom.

Walking up to the bridge, I thought about how much I love snow.  I thought about how much I always wanted to weather a storm like this with you.  We talked about it once, three winters ago now, when we tried to reconnect the second time.  That day when it wouldn’t stop raining here, and the snow just kept falling in buckets there, blanketing the city we first encountered one another in in silent white.  I picked up my phone in the black of another sleepless night to check the time and you had called.  I knew you were going to be there.  Tonight I wonder if we have just been weathering a storm all along.

I have carried some of your things with me to each room I have called home in this city.  That’s pieces of you in seven rooms across five years.  I just counted.  I realized I was always carrying a piece of our ghosts with me, not letting go, not letting them rest, haunting myself with images of the people we once were.  Haven empathized with me once this September.  The sun was setting on a perfect day at the end of summer, and we had just decided our term of endearment for one another would be “Brutalheart”.  As in “Sweet dreams, Brutalheart”.   “Walk safe getting home, Brutalheart”. Brutalheart.  The nickname makes sense.  Feeling seen is a rarity in the world, and I guess it’s nice to have a friend I’m matched in in both severity and the fiercest tenderness.  It took Haven and I almost three years to warm up to each other.  After we became friends, everyone around us simply said: “You two should have done this years ago.”

“I’ve been where you are.  I just tell anyone I date on the rare occasions that I do so that they are going to have company with the love I can’t un-love”.

“When was the last time you loved anyone?”

“Ten years now.”

“Fuck.”

I wonder what I’m in for, and I’m also content with it.

Pieces of you gone:

One flowing black winter scarf.  You had one like it the second winter we were friends, before we fell in love.  That dark and terrible post-dead friend, post-breaking up with our shitty partners, sitting on the dirty floor of the kitchen in my haunted apartment eating BLTs because that was what I had in the fridge and you had forgotten how to feed yourself..  I have always been glad our first kiss wasn’t in that apartment.  I liked your scarf and stole it for a few weeks.  You bought me my own for my 32nd birthday, right before drugs and trauma and madness took me down for a while.  I brought it with me to Washington.

I looked forward to wearing that scarf every fall.  I would wrap it around my head and cover most of my face with it when I walked through the world.  I wore it like armor.  I left it in a friend’s car for a few weeks after a trip to Seattle once.  I texted them as soon as I realized it was missing, and made them promise to keep it safe until I could get it back.  Almost every person I have dated since you has been fixated on that scarf.  One person always asked to wear it.  I never acquiesced.  Another person strangely bought me a very similar scarf for a different birthday.  It felt like a cheap and creepy move, like she knew she knew how much I wasn’t over it and just wanted to erase you.  I never wore her scarf.  Instead, I walked downtown and gave it to a person living on the street who said they were cold.  I kept your scarf.  I loved your scarf.  Sometimes I would fall asleep in my room reading with it still wrapped loosely around my neck, like an embrace.

One handmade, leatherbound journal with the inscription:

“Sascha,
Be bold, be wise, and never give up.  You are what you make yourself.  I love you ever fiercely.”

I wrote part of a poem about how our blood mingling one night that summer felt, and could never bring myself to write another page in it.  It was such a beautiful gift, and you and I always loved writing together.  Just like I always loved watching you sculpt.  I loved keeping you company in your studio, scribbling furiously in my journal, always stumbling over words and trying to stay on task.  We parted ways so cataclysmically barely a month after you mailed me that journal.  Since then it has occupied shelf space and altar space, taunting and haunting me with my failures of softness.  I bought lesser fake leatherette journals cheap and on sale at Ross and filled those while yours gathered dust.

One fuzzy green blanket.  We slept on that blanket the summer we fell in love, back when I was so sick and so crazy I was sure I was going to die.  I would lie in your bed and cry my eyes dry, watching my demons dance across the ceiling.  You would press your forehead to mine and whisper, “Baby, you just have to breathe” like you were trying to breathe the life I was so terrified of losing back into my lungs.  Some nights you would lie awake waiting for me to fall asleep first, because I was so scared of  death coming for me while I slept.  I hated that summer sometimes, but on the other side of that hate, some of those nights, I swore had never felt so safe or so loved.

We slept on the blanket again a few summers later, the one where you were so sick.  I stayed in bed with you for days feeding you soup and petting your hair and bringing you water.  You would come out of your fever state hours after the sun went down and the night became cooler, lit only by your green nightlight.  We would talk of all the softer things that lived inside of us, and it felt like a dream, like a secret world ensconced in the sanctuary of your room.  I would fall asleep with my hand on your chest, feeling your heartbeat, the gentle rise and fall of your breathing, always marveling that something so tender could bring itself to love something as monstrous as I had always felt.  I left a note on your desk after our last good night.  I can’t remember what it said.  Something like “This will always be one of my favorite rooms.  You will always be one of my favorite people.”

You mailed me the blanket here in Olympia as summer gave way to fall.  I hadn’t been sleeping well for over a week.  I always slept so well in your room, and you hoped the reminder of the time we shared would help me finally rest here.  We skyped while I opened the package, and I cried when I saw the blanket.  I cried for missing you.  I cried for the gnawing emptiness creeping up from that deep, lost place always inside of me.  You told me once years later that you tried so hard to fill that emptiness for me that it nearly destroyed you.  I believe it.  I sent you a picture of my hand on the blanket once after we broke up.  You said you had been sure that I would have thrown it away.  I never threw it away.

I slept on the blanket for the next three years.  I kept it like a secret.  Rarely telling anyone who shared my bed just what we were slumbering beneath.  The same ex who tried to replace your scarf, figured out the blanket came from you and tried to replace your blanket, too.  It was weird.  She was always so fixated on you, in this kind of pathetic not so subtle way.  I think she knew she could never compare.  I don’t feel guilty saying that, even though I maybe should.  She sent me the blanket with the scarf in the mail and kept reminding me how expensive the blanket had been after it arrived.  I slept beneath it for a few nights with a new lover who that ex hated.  The new lover was the first person I loved since you, and the ex blamed them for our dissolution.  The new lover remarked “You should tell her that I appreciate how soft this blanket is”.  They were joking, and despite the temptation, I could never bring myself to be that casually cruel.  Instead, we slept under the new blanket for a few cold nights.  As the ex became more toxic and abusive, I could no longer abide having a single piece of her in my home.  I ended up unceremoniously giving the blanket to a different person living on the street in the cold.

“Hey man, do you want a really soft blanket that my shitty ex gave me and I don’t want in my house anymore?”

Then I went back to sleeping beneath your blanket.

Tonight I prepared to part ways with the last of your things.  I washed your blanket and scarf on gentle together one last time.  Once they were dry, I folded the scarf on my desk and placed your journal on top of it.  I folded up your blanket and sat with it on my bed.  Before I knew it, I was holding it almost like a person and apologizing.  Apologizing for the hurt and pain over the past years.  Some nights I just feel like the broken monster I’d always wanted to prove myself to be.  I never want to be soft again.  I never want to feel again, never allow an iota of hurt to touch me.  I texted my best friend a photo, which I will never show another person.  I captioned it “I hate this so much.”.  It was pathetic.  It was funny.  It was from that place of pain where everything feels so bad that it’s almost comical.

It’s cold outside this winter, with so many people in this city without homes.  I actually couldn’t bring myself to throw your blanket away, too much of a waste.  I thought you’d appreciate that.  After all, the first time we hung out, you insisted on eating the rest of my vegetables.  “I have this thing about wasting food.”  I took your blanket to the homeless shelter downtown, the one some of my friends staff.  Brian was finishing his shift before the overnight staff took over.  I handed your blanket to him through the fence.  My friend looked strangely beautiful and tired backlit by the streetlights.  I could see the near two decades that we have known one another deep set in his face.

“Thanks, someone will really love this.”

“I hope so.  I really loved it too.”

I hope your blanket is keeping someone warm in the shelter tonight.  I hope they sleep beneath that blanket and they dream of love.  I hope they sleep beneath your blanket and it brings them gentler times.  I hope they sleep beneath that blanket as peacefully as I once slept beneath it next to you.  Tonight I just want so much tenderness, for all of us.

From the shelter, I walked to the 4th Avenue Bridge.  I have thrown so many things off this bridge and into the Sound.  Spells. Hopes.  Dreams, always waving like home.  I have unceremoniously thrown the vestiges of at least two toxic connections I no longer wished to have into this polluted water.  Always hoping that water will carry them where they need to go as it rushes north and out to sea.

I wrapped your journal up in your scarf with flowers and a feather to send them on their way.  I stood in the snow and streetlight and pressed them to my face one last time, imagining I could smell the way you smelled back when I just always wanted to breathe you in.  I imagined I could smell the way our sweat smelled as it mingled together back when our days were sweet and our nights were long and filled with some of the deepest love I have ever known, back when we were in love and it felt invincible, not fragile, fleeting, and tenuous, like love almost always is.

With a sharp inhalation, one that carried the weight of lost years, I threw your journal and scarf into the sound.  I watched the rushing black water carry them away, until the waterlogged pages took them to the icy depths.  I can’t remember what the poem I wrote on the first page was, just that it was about sweat and love, and time and blood mingling beneath a moon the color of rust.  I don’t think I ever really liked it, but I might have re-worked it later.  I’m okay with the poem being lost to the ocean.  It’s fitting.  You always told me how much you loved the sea.  I let it go into the night and the water, just as I finally let you go.  I came home to a room now free of the weight of our ghosts, finally without so many reminders of time well spent, but long since passed, tragically cut short by my barbed words and irrevocable actions.

One day when I couldn’t write, but desperately needed to, you asked me to write you a story about how it felt to be speeding down Riverside Drive with the windows down on a matchless summer night in the passenger seat next to you.  You just asked that I leave out the details about us fucking next to the French Broad in the gathering dusk.  I sat at my desk and stared at a blank page and remembered how the sleepy Appalachian houses looked as the light faded.  I remembered standing in a cemetery on a hill beneath the moon, with the mountains silhouetted  in shadows held us.  I had never felt more at home, never felt more held.  All I could manage to get onto the paper were the words “You and this city are the architecture of home.”.  Back then, I didn’t write about softness, pushing through pain and fear to reach tenderness and trust, about the courage it takes to be vulnerable and gentle in the face of the unfathomable loss.

I got the hang of staying soft, but maybe too late.  I know that now.

You wanted a story my love, it’s yours.

It only took letting you go to write it down.

My only hope is that it does you justice.

“Within
All the wrong
They say
I have done

There lies
A seed
Of a million more
Just waiting to become

Send them home!
Send them home!
Send them home!

Use your sword
Use your voice
And destroy
And destroy
Then begin again”

– Swans

An epilogue.

Night On Earth – 11/9/18

L and P are asleep in my room with me.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor is playing softly on the stereo.  Okay, P isn’t actually asleep.  I just heard quiet laughter and noticed that they are actually looking at memes on their phone.  Kids.

While I cannot totally account for where today went, the company of two sleeping friends in my small warm bedroom leaves me feeling more content than I have felt all week.  I woke up not feeling well, staring forlornly at the gray sky outside of my window.  I can see across downtown, into the West Side, and to the mountains beyond that.  Sometimes looking out at this city, I struggle to account for where exactly the last five years went.

I’m thinking about my ex.  The one that emailed me a few days ago, who I never seem to feel fully disentangled from.  Connections are sometimes so weird and beautiful and painful.  We learn the worst and best about ourselves through them.  I would feel self-conscious about mentioning them here, if I thought that more than a few individuals read this nonsense, or if I thought they remembered my URL.  I guess I also don’t believe in doing anything aside from splaying my messy heart across my throat in lieu of those tattoos I have yet to work up the nerve for.  That is to say, with one glaring exception, I don’t really give a fuck who reads this.  Vulnerability is strength, and some days feeling everything as hard as I do, vulnerability is the only thing I have going for me.

I daydream about moving home.  I live with my chosen family in the mountains, and write and garden.  I finish my BFA.  I work on journalism, and chronicle this world I love so deeply burning down.  I somehow work it out with the various heartaches that have kept me away from home for so long.  I try to will it all into being with how much energy I pour into these fantasy scenarios.  I wonder if it’s all wasted effort.  I wonder if I should leave my bedroom.  I realize more and more how comfortable with that great and dark unknown I am.  I have no idea what my ex will say in their follow up email.  I have no idea what this winter and its travels will hold.  I have no idea what my upcoming visit with C is going to be like.  I have no idea what changes the spring will hearken.

I have felt strangely comfortable with my solitude lately, almost uncharacteristically so.  The burning need to have someone else soften the edges of the void that lives inside of me has receded to faint background noise, a minor discomfort.  I want it to stay that way.  There is this part of me that doesn’t want to need or want anyone.  I just want to be hard and cold and efficient forever.  It’s the perpetual BPD dilemma, between feeling everything so hard that it keeps you immobile and doing your best to deaden your nerves just to get through the day.  What a hilarious joke it is to know that the answer lies within a middle path, but to be cursed with a way of seeing the world that often leaves room for only two extremes.

Right now, I just feel strong and content.  The void feels like a pinprick rather than a gaping wound.  I am happy writing these words, essentially a reminder of how to breathe and a love note to myself and listening to a record I have been listening to for 18 years while two of my favorite people drift off to sleep around me.  The room is filled with music, magic, and friends.  My window opens to a view of a city I have always hated, but have strangely come to love in the most adversarial ways.  I know I will get out of here one day, just like I know years from now I will remember time spent in this room and with these people with an unvanquishable fondness.

I dream of escaping the rain and the petty bickering of my so-called community almost daily.  I dream of some grand escape.  Some more contented life waiting for me out there.  I feel like I have been going through the motions and missing a sense of home for five years now, ever since I came to this city all broken and fucked up.  My first winter here, I used to panic sometimes when the sun went down.  I would literally work myself up into a fear that it might never rise again.  Tonight the clouds blot out the stars, like so many nights before.  I always talk about nights here as abyssally dark.  The cloud cover cuts off the light from the stars and the moon, and you get the feeling as if the sky might reach down to swallow you whole.  There are candles lit, and my friends are snoring, and it is enough to keep the sky from swallowing us.

Maybe if I got out of bed and went for a walk, I would be able to find some comfort out there, some semblance of kinship and solidarity on the cold street, beneath the streetlights.  The other night, L and I walked home through downtown.  During our walk, we passed two different tent cities.  Both of them are a few blocks away from one another and prominently located downtown.  It felt like walking through a warzone of human suffering, the ultimate expression of an endless low intensity class warfare.

I thought back to sitting next to the water beneath a burning yellow sky, thick with wildfire smoke this summer on my first date with C.  Such a strange feeling of giddy first date nerves and impending doom at the thought of just how much of the Pacific Northwest was currently on fire.  C and I talked about the perpetual state of crisis wrought by late capitalism and the hopelessness it breeds.  Always a visitor to this city, never a denizen, they commented on the tent cities as well.  They weren’t here five years ago when C last came through town, because most of these folks had homes and jobs.  Yuppie scum, and business owners want to front like some horrible moral decline exists within their city causing people to sleep on the street, all the while blissfully ignoring the conditions that breed desperation, homelessness, and grinding poverty.

C’s last night in town, we went to the store to procure ingredients to make dinner.  We had parked at separate entrances and I was walking back to my car alone when I noticed the moon, low dirty and red in the sky above us.  I texted C “Look at the moon!” and they responded with “I was just thinking the same thing at you!”.  I appreciated the quirky tenderness of the moment, given the gnawing dread that accompanied the rust colored moon.

Driving home, I thought about my first affinity group.  Shit.  I guess it was actually my second.  We named our first affinity group “Wet Hot” because my friends and I all quoted the movie Wet Hot American Summer at one another incessantly on the road to the protest we were headed to.  It served as a brief moment of levity in the coming days of fleeing riot cops and clouds of tear gas in the searing California sun to yell “Wet Hot!” any time we got separated in hectic streets.  Or to announce “This is the Wet Hot affinity group reporting in” at nightly spokes council meetings.

“Blood Red Moon Crew”.  More of a loose knit group of vandals and street artists, all obsessed with the apocalypse.  The name stemmed from one of us who was raised Christian in the sterile Denver suburbs.  Late one night she remembered a sermon quoting a bible verse where a moon the color of blood heralded the end of all things.  We had the name of our crew.  Young and desperate, eyes pried awake from the complacent sleep and naiveté of childhood, but still immersed in youth.  We were awakening into a world we fervently believed to be burning down.  We spent countless hours hunched over typewriters and drawing boards, skating to the Xerox machine and back, writing our missives and warnings to anyone who would listen.

Tonight I’m thinking about love and loss.  About moving on.  About sickness and anxiety.  About what fifteen years lived in the last days have done and how a moon the color of rust is pretty close to the color of blood.  I’m thinking about how times seem desperate in such a way that makes our restless youth seem quaint and comfortable.  I’m thinking about how everyone I love is scared, and I don’t know where to be.

Night On Earth – 11/9/18

Brutal Heart Number Two.

Through the driving rain
To the edge of the world as the light fades
An offering of forgiveness through devouring mist
Singing jagged sorrow unto the ocean’s spray
Whisper an apology to the wind
Lost like a tear in the rain

For love grown cold
And given to pain
For tender trespasses gone
To cobwebs gathering
In the corner of an empty room
Scar tissue stretched
Across this heart, long since
Offered to indifference and dust
Time passes like a motherfucker
These days
You can see it on my face

I knew from the start
I would stand
To face the roaring waves
Alone on a night just like this one
Whispering a harsh goodbye
To a love birthed to die young

Tonight it’s all too much
I want
To rip this still beating heart
Right out of my chest
Before surrendering to rest
Laughing in the face
Of ever saying a word like love again
Mold myself into a monument
Of heartless annihilation

Fall to my knees
In supplication
Whispering a prayer
Like honey sliding
Across broken glass
Grim determination to
See the task through and through
As the fog rolls in
Reaching through the dark
For all my bloodied
Unbroken
Brutal
Hearts

Brutal Heart Number Two.

Oh no! I’ve been “doxxed”!

An open letter to my esteemed white nationalist readers:

Congratulations on collecting a few blurry (and frankly still flattering) pictures of me and constructing a poorly written paragraph mocking my body, my sexuality, my politics, and my writing.  Good on y’all on figuring out that I despise fascism, racism, and nationalism in whatever malignant form they take.  Literally, the post before this one is about antifascism.  Many of the stories on this blog are about teenage punk rockers punching out Nazi skinheads.  If observation, deductive reasoning, and sentence structure are at all indicative of this whole “master race” thing y’all are constantly circle jerking over, well I believe I have some very sad news for you.  I get that releasing whatever private information you could get your little hands on was supposed to humiliate my friends and I into silence and shame, but it didn’t work.  Not one of us are less committed to antifascism and anti-racism than we were a few days ago.  If anything, we are going to be even more dedicated and vigilant from now on.

I love my friends. I love the work they do.  I’m going to go ahead and infer on the motives here again, but I imagine y’all hoped this would drive us into terrified isolation and infighting.   It didn’t work.  Your tactic only served as a reminder of how vital actual community is to movements, how looking out for one another is a part of community.  We are looking out for one another, and will be continuing to do so into the future.

I love my home.  Asheville is far from perfect.  It’s full bland liberal whiteness, consumption as activism, and bumper sticker politics. It has its share of white-dreaded hippies who just want to Namaste the world into not being a horror show.  Beneath that, it also has a long and rich history of radical struggle.  Asheville has a vibrant and thriving radical queer community.  You don’t get to lay stake to a city, just because you feel your whiteness entitles you to it. Asheville holds no place for you within it and the majority of its inhabitants likely hate you.

I am proud of my “crappy poetry”.  Again, you’re really reaching here.  All of my writing is on a public site.  Literally anyone with this thing we call “the internet” can access said writing.  After they have accessed it, a person can like it or they can dislike it.  I find strength in sharing vulnerability and brutal honesty with whoever chooses to engage with my writing.  That vulnerability and honesty is not for everyone, and this is fine.  Frankly, I would be disappointed if a single white nationalist found a single piece here that resonated with them.  Because by existing with all the tenderness, honesty, and painful nuance I can pour into it, my art is intended to be a (small and effeminate) fist in the face of the rigid white supremacist hyper masculine culture you motherfuckers are shitting yourselves in panic about losing.

I would call my aesthetic “aging crustpunkgoth meets skinhead adjacent”, thank you.  Again, anyone who knows me, or reads my writing knows that I have 20+ year history being a part of various underground subcultures and a deep love of music and subcultural aesthetics.  I come from a time and place where subculture weirdos were far less numerous and stuck together, often against fascists.  With that history, I wear what feels comfortable for my awkward body.  Sometimes that’s lace and black denim.  Sometimes that’s a Fred Perry.

I rarely walk anywhere without steel toed boots on my feet though, just something to remember.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, the imagery of the (just so poorly placed) “Anti-Communist Action” logo on your fliers is not lost on anyone.  The imagery of a body falling from a helicopter intends to evoke the terror of the Pinochet regime when leftists and enemies of the state were thrown from helicopters into the ocean.  Further, the coded, antisemitic language often replacing “communist” for “Jew” is lost on absolutely nobody.  One only need to look at the history of the Third Reich and other fascist movements to see how deeply rooted so called “Anti-Communism” is in antisemitism.  Your ugly, racist, antisemitic colors are showing here, and everyone can fucking see it.

Try to throw me or anyone I love out of a helicopter, I’m taking at least one of you motherfuckers to the bottom of the ocean with me.

Thank you for your time, and thanks for the free advertisement.

161

DOXXED!
Portrait of the author upon learning that Nazis have leaked the very public information that the author does in fact, not like Nazis.
Oh no! I’ve been “doxxed”!

Fighting (And Beating) Fascism Is Totally Punk Rock

On a beautiful spring afternoon in 1996, one of my best friends and I walked into a room packed full of punks and skinheads in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Both of us had fallen in love hard with Punk Rock the year before. We lived and breathed for the next show. We had recently seen a flier at a record store for a Two-Tone Ska and Punk show happening at a community hall in Lancaster. My friend convinced his beleaguered and loving mother to make the drive from neighboring Southern York County to Lancaster so we could spend the day dancing with all the other punk rockers and moonstompers. The names of the bands who played have long since faded from my memory. I do, however remain certain my friend and I were the youngest kids at the show, all nervous with our charged hair and Doc Martens. I will confess to a certain youthful naiveté here, still new to the subculture and susceptible to some negative stereotypes about punks leftover from the 80’s. That is to say, I went everywhere, even punk shows expecting trouble, in a constant state of alert.

My friend and I quickly realized we had no reason to worry. The crowd of punks and skinheads inside the hall were exuberant and friendly. The older punks asked us where we were from. They taught us how to skank. All the punks danced hard, yet without aggression or maliciousness. When someone fell, there was always a set of hands reaching down to lift them back to their feet within seconds. My friend and I lost ourselves like that, stomping to the music until the show ended and it was time to return to our small town. Before we left, we hit up a table towards the back of hall filled with information from Anti-Racist Action (Antifa’s spiritual predecessor) to grab some zines and stickers. I spent three dollars on a “DESTROY FASCISM” patch. The patch was a simple embroidered design of a red star stomping on a swastika, a voice bubble emanating from the star with the words “Fight Back”. That patch adorned almost every punk jacket I wore for the remainder of the 90’s. I did not learn to sew until I was almost 18, relying instead on safety pins to affix patches to my jackets. This meant the patch was easily transferable from garment to garment.

I lost that patch somewhere down the years. Reading the news this morning, I wish I still had it. I hardly believe something as symbolic as wearing a patch on my clothing will stop a rising tide of fascism in its tracks, but I believe in wearing your heart on your sleeve. These days too, I find comfort in remembering where I come from in a world where I feel as uncertain of our species’ collective future as I ever have. This is why I still adhere to lace codes in my Doc Martens. Yellow straight laces to signify to the few people I pass by on the street who might be versed in obscure subcultural fashion codes from a bygone era that these boots are laced up to stomp out fascism.

If you came up punk in the 90’s, you probably hated fascism and Nazism with fervent vitriol, even if you had the only the most rudimentary understanding of said concepts. This too, was a sentiment leftover from the 80’s when groups like Anti-Racist Action organized with punks across the country, fighting and often bleeding to remove the filth of fascism from their scenes and cities. By the time my friends and I came up, the violence was finally dwindling. A.R.A. pushed to make punk and Oi shows inhospitable for fascist recruitment. Nazi skinheads attacked minorities and menaced punks at shows, but with a growing rarity. In Rural Pennsylvania, they served as an omnipresent threat, yet just as often unseen menace.

When we weren’t at shows, my friends and I smoked weed in the woods away from the prying eyes (and noses!) of parents, then rushed back to our bedrooms to put Crass records on the turntable and pore over the lyrics. Crass’ talk of neo-fascism in songs like The Gasman Cometh and Yes Sir, I Will record scared the shit out of me when I was fifteen and living in a small town, far removed from the grim realities of Cold War Britain. The threat just seemed so far away and impossible. Where I lived, Nazi skinheads showed up at maybe 1 in 10 shows and 9 times out of 10, the punks were ready to stomp them the fuck out the instant they threw their first stiff arm salute.

Sure, we worried that the government was fucked, and might kill us all in a nuclear war. We worried we would get cancer from all the pollutants in the air and water and chemicals in our food. We strained at the leashes held by those that ran a world we were coming to realize we wanted no part of. All the same, I was living in a small town, being raised by a conservative mother in the deceptive, neo-liberal calm of the Clinton years. My mother listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio and raved about the ever-looming threat of SOCIALISM. I listened to punk records and read zines with my friends. The signals were as mixed as they were many. I knew the grim realities of police violence and state control existed, but had not yet witnessed them first hand or felt their hands at my throat. There were two cops in our little town. They both went home at 9:00 PM.

Twenty-two years later, I am no longer young and idealistic. My generation came up in the complacent Pax-Americana of neo-liberalism and the Clinton years.  We became adults in the war mongering to the victor go the spoils ruthless profiteering of the Bush years. We watched Obama offer more of the same, albeit with a prettier face as the world spun out further down. Now there are those who would argue that we are in the end stages of capitalism where a bloated system reliant on relentless resource extraction and consumption, dependent on human misery can no longer sustain itself. Those in power are terrified of relinquishing hold on what gives them wealth. We see power resort to ever more drastic measures to hold on, to keep us running in circles; spending, consuming, hurling humanity to its collective mass grave. If history shows us anything, it is that in these moments of crisis and social transformation where malignant ideologies like fascism take root .

Reading the news this morning, I see that the world my fifteen-year-old self both railed against, and simultaneously never believed would actually arrive has indeed arrived. The moral equivalent of the Nazi boneheads we strove to run out of our punk scenes and cities two decades ago have situated themselves as the conductors of this blood soaked horrorshow. The nihilistic apparatus of power seeks to serve only itself, by any means. It tears migrant families apart. It aims to strip legal rights from queer and transgender people. It aims to allow cops murder people of color with impunity, to warehouse them away in prisons. Antisemites are murdering senior citizens in their places of worship. White supremacists, enraged by any modicum of progress made in dismantling the system that upholds their power, emboldened by the current administration are shooting black grandparents in grocery stores. Movements like Black Lives Matter that you know, arose to make the very simple request that black lives be afforded the same dignity, safety and self-determination as their white counterparts are vilified and criminalized, treated as if they are polarizing and partisan. All of this to feed a network of profiteering, gluttonous parasites.

That great and terrible “just around the corner” that Discharge warned us about through a wail of distortion and D-Beats going on forty years ago now, is no longer just around the corner.

It is here.

Times are cold and hard, but this is an argument against despair. This is the time to act. This is the time to organize. Go to shows. Be with your people. Love your friends and watch their backs. Do not give into depression and isolation. Do not give into apathy and indifference. After the gigs get into the streets. Agitate. Go hard. The fascists are not only organizing, but they are murdering people. Their weapons of state control and industry are running riot and literally bleeding our world to death. This is not a grim and potential future we worried about when we were children. This is the painful present. The stakes have never been higher.

This is for the punks, because 40 years of the movement and the music have been preparing us for this very moment. This is for the aging punks. Remember that spirit of rebellion you carried as kids. I am begging you to keep that flame burning now in whatever capacity you can. Your world needs you to keep giving a fuck. Your world needs your anger just like it needs your kindness. Your children need you, because we owe them a world better that the one our parents left us. We owe them a planet with clean air and drinkable water. We owe them a free and just world. We must instill in them the compassion that this culture seeks to stamp out of them as soon as it can.

This is for the young punks, because while “No Future” may have been a hopeless rallying cry worthy of romanticism by punk rockers over four decades, but it’s a fucking copout now. Your world needs you, because the threat to our future has never been greater. Your fellow human beings living without the luxury of romanticized self-destruction need you. Not everyone has the option to give into despair and self-destruction. This is not the time to succumb to nihilism. This is the time to live up to your rebellious potential. This is the time to use your voice, to step into your power and stand fucking hard.

This is what Crass trained you for. This is what The Dead Kennedys prepared you for. This is what The Clash trained you for. Everything happening now,  Oi Polloi have been writing more or less the same song about since the 1980’s (Don’t get me wrong! It’s a great song!). This is the war that the Vengeance LP hardened your resolve for throughout countless cold winter punk house bedrooms. There must be no retreat, no surrender, because the time is now nearing midnight, and we are in danger of never greeting the dawn.

 

 

Fighting (And Beating) Fascism Is Totally Punk Rock