Sound & Story

Hey there.  It’s been a long while.  I hope the deep and dark Covid winter has been as gentle with you as possible.  I hope wherever you are, you are hale and whole and that the spring season brings you continued good health and tidings, and that returning sun lifts your spirits.  I hope the fear of creeping authoritarianism doesn’t have too strong of a hold on your heart. 

Things have been busy around here.  Or the days have been blank voids of depression and quarantine isolation and crushing anxiety.  Not a lot of middle ground.  I graduated from college, something I never thought I would do.  I turned 40, something else I never imagined myself doing, celebrating by a ride to my hometown with my sweetheart and the dogs to visit my childhood best friend, then coming home to punk bleach a pair of jeans in the basement while my birthday cake baked in the oven.  I wrote a book.  I did a few readings.  I finished a zine.  I have two other zines just so close to done.  In the coming weeks, I will be significantly overhauling this website with the hopes of selling some of those zines in mind.  Somehow this all feels monumental and insignificant at the same time. 

Tonight though, we’re just taking baby steps in getting back into the swing of things.  In the past year I have found myself feeling too rigid in my writing practice when I am able to engage with anything creative at all.  I agonize over blank pages and prose that feels too plain and flat to my self-critical ears.  It has been difficult to write for enjoyment for much of the last year.  So I’m trying to get back to the heart of what I loved about writing when I first got serious about it – Music and stories associated with it.  Some of this was inspired by recently finding an old piece of writing centered around an EP from a largely forgotten Philly crust punk band, and the aforementioned childhood bestie’s and my attempts to see them on a school night when we were sixteen.  I shared that story with said friend, and he simply said, “You should write more stories like this.”  I endeavored to get a new turntable and listen to some of my old wax and see what happens. 

This is my first attempt.  I will be writing about Neurosis’ The Eye Of Every Storm

I hope you enjoy this, or take something from it.  As always, thank you for your time. 

At this point in my life, I have seen Neurosis more times than I can count.  I own most of their records and have worn multiple shirts into rags.  I consider them one of my favorite bands of all time.  I am scarcely alone in this sonic reverence, given the sheer number of records they have sold in their 35(!) years together.  They have a devoted fanbase all over the world.  Whenever they play in a city, the shows usually sell out within a matter of days (I’m still pissed at the meathead in a Cannibal Corpse shirt who undercut me on an extra ticket in front of Neumos in Seattle back in 2010, by the way).  Their so-fucking-loud-you-can-hear-it-from-goddamn-space shows are almost a religious experience.  All that spirit and sound shot into the stratosphere scattered to the winds, and Neurosis inspired countless musicians who took those sounds and disfigured and distilled them down into something all their own. 

I first heard Neurosis sometime in the 90’s when a friend put a song off Souls at Zeroon a mixtape for me.  I was transfixed by the heaviness and raw emotion of the song.  I spent the remainder of the decade kicking myself for not being brave enough to “borrow” my mother’s car to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver to Colorado Springs to see Neurosis play with Bongzilla one night during the summer after I graduated from high school.  Something about traveling in secret down desert highways to see the band seemed so romantic, but I wimped out at the last minute, probably opting instead to drive around aimlessly through Denver’s weird suburbs with my first serious sweetheart listening to tapes and trying to figure out which diner had the worst coffee. 

The Eye of Every Storm came out in 2004.  The record wasn’t much on my radar until someone played a copy for me in the squat I lived in during the fall of 2005.  Something about the immense, apocalyptic heaviness of it, even through shitty boombox speakers just hit me.  I suppose I ascribed some sort of meaning to the record, considering Hurricane Katrina had just decimated much of the Gulf Coast and storms and the decline and pitfalls of the industrial age were at the forefront of so many of our minds.  We listened to the album late at night, with the windows open towards the Oakland Hills where some of the members of Neurosis had no doubt spent their childhoods and I felt a connection to a place born in sound and subculture. 

I moved to Richmond, Virginia, that winter, on a whim.  Mostly to find a spot where I could be around ritualized substance abuse less, and maybe dig myself out of a rut dug by too many aimless nights and filled with cheap liquor.  I knew one person when I got to the city on New Year’s Day, 2006.  My friend Teal.  We got the keys to our house in Churchill and moved our sparse belongings into the house in the cold.  The walls of our new place were mostly blank.  There were a few pieces of furniture left by the old tenants and a rodent infestation too boot.  My bedroom window overlooked downtown and the train tracks and I liked it just fine.  Teal and I spent most of the winter in quasi hibernation, watching bad movies under blankets and reading back issues of Cometbus to one another at night. 

Just as the city awakened to spring, some pathologically sketchy oogle gifted Teal and I a car when they decided to move up to upstate New York.  “I don’t need a car where I’m going.  I don’t care what you do with this thing.  Never bother me about it again,” they said.  Against all better judgment, Tal and I accepted the vehicle.  Because, hey…  Two irresponsible young people. With a quasi-legal, uninsured vehicle of questionable ownership given to us by someone with a name like “Hacksaw” or some shit like that…  What was the worst that could happen, right? 

The oogle split for New York, and Teal and I decided impulsively one day to drive our new car down to the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina for an all-day punk fest we had heard about through word of mouth, where a few bands we liked were playing.  I think the fest was called “DIY Fest” or something.  It was one of those gigs set up in a rented hall by impossibly optimistic young people, not for profit, but for the love of music and community.  The kind of gig so earnest and endearing, that so many of us age out of attending as cynicism and “the real world” set in. 

I don’t remember much of the day, aside from the gray sky outside the hall pissing rain almost all day.  The rain and the weather leant the air that damp, not quite spring chill that sets in your bones and won’t leave.  Teal and I kinda stood around all day, catching up with friends and acquaintances and watching mediocre teenage hardcore bands shamble through their sets.  I draw a blank when I try and remember what bands played, other than Kakistocracy and The Crimson Spectre.  Requiem too.  For some reason, it stands out that that gig was the both the best, and last time I ever saw Requiem play.  I don’t remember any of Brian D’s between song pontifications.  I’m sure I clapped politely with the rest of the largely white and middle-class crowd.  If I had thoughts or feelings about the failures of punk and broader leftism and their failures to reach out to working people outside of our comfortable subcultural bubbles, I kept them to myself. 

The show let out, and teal and I decided to drive straight home.  We said around of goodbyes and got back in our sketchy car and headed towards I-95 towards Virginia.  It was around midnight, with roughly two and a half hours of driving ahead of us.  Like young fools who can kind of function on little food and sleep, Teal and I had scarcely eaten or even drank water all day.  Somewhere in the first hour of the drive the exhaustion hit us and our bodies went into revolt.  We pulled off at a truck stop somewhere for coffee and whatever vegan junk food we could find.  I slid back behind the wheel, sipping my bitter coffee while teal pulled open a bag of chips and offered me some. 

I said, “I am so tired.  We might have to keep talking to keep me awake and on the road on the way home.” 

“Fine by me,” Teal said.  “What should we listen to?” 

“Neurosis?”

“Perfect.”  

Teal pushed in a dubbed cassette of The Eye Of Every Storm into the tape player and the thundering opening of Burn hit the speakers.  We drove the rest of the way home, taking animatedly, letting the tape flip over to the beginning when it ended.  The songs receded into the background, providing the backdrop for our conversations while remaining a commanding presence in the car all the same.  I didn’t know it at the time, but in that tiny car, speeding through the blackness of a chilly southern AM, one of the best friendships I have ever had was being born.  Our hearts beat at an caffeine-accelerated beat, in the spirit of sound and friendships forged in finding one another at exactly the right moment in time. 

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