Subculture Sunday Vol. 7

I have been writing these short posts about subcultures I have been a part of, or respect on my personal social media for a few weeks now. It’s just something fun to do to practice writing.

I’m going to repost some of the longer entries here.

I still feel a certain way whenever I see the distinctive cover art for the early Sisters Of Mercy singles. I am forever taken back to that twinge of clove cigarette and leather scented subterranean excitement upon coming across one of these gems in the record store. They felt like these beautiful black pillars, shaping what the goth subculture that my generation of outsiders inherited looked like. We were just a decade too young ⁣to catch this band in their prime, but so much of the scenes we loved were influenced by those deep and dark bass lines and Andrew Eldritch’s just slightly overwrought baritone. ⁣

I know this band means a lot of things to a lot of people. I still remember where and when I heard them for the first time – a candlelit attic room in a farmhouse in New Freedom, Pennsylvania on a frozen night in January. I will always love how they took so much what I loved about punk and turned the lights down on it, adding melodrama and a healthy dose of brooding melancholy. I was an obnoxious punk kid; hyperactive and an opinionated loudmouth, but also hypersensitive and insecure. After the shows, or late at night alone these records were the perfect soundtrack for laying to rest the hundreds of tiny heartbreaks from the day. They still are, even with my youth long behind me.

For a while when I was sixteen, one of my best friends was this burly skinhead kid who would just destroy himself in the pit at whatever show we had been at that night, especially if there were anyone we suspected of being Nazi skins at the show to tussle with. Later, we’d get home, and he’d take his boots off and collapse on the fold out bed in my room, claiming to be too sore to move. “Oh… if you can’t move, you can’t stop me from putting this Sisters Of Mercy tape on…”, I’d laugh in the dark. He would swear he was going to kick my ass in the morning for subjecting him to my gothic rock, but he never did. The tape would run out into the night and we were always friends again in the morning, listening to more knuckleheaded Last Resort and Blitz records to greet the day.

Andrew Eldritch is arguably the most hard headed shithead in all of goth, and that’s saying a lot, not only because he’s always claiming to not be goth (scroll all the way down to see two pictures of him and his bandmates looking very, very goth. He supposedly wrote all the lyrics to their first full length in a few days while on an epic speed bender. When the first incarnation of The Sisters Of Mercy acrimoniously split up, he wrote a throwaway record under the similarly named “Sisterhood” in an attempt to snatch up the recording advance for the unreleased follow up to that first LP and so his bandmates couldn’t use the name. He then reformed the band without them and continued to put out new music until the early 90’s when conflicts with Warner Brothers led him to simply stop recording rather than put out new music that would financially benefit the label at all. I remember reading an article he wrote in the 90’s where he listened to contemporary bands and pointed out where they must have taken influence from him.

The Sisters Of Mercy also played a horribly matched gig with Black Flag that Rollins wrote about in Get In the Van. I have always wondered who booked that show, and just… how that happened. They went on a brief (and very awkwardly received) tour with Public Enemy, and made a rad shirt saying Nazis were not welcome at their shows sometime in the early 90’s.

I’ve been arguing with one of my childhood friends for something like twenty-five years about how good these records are. If he’s reading this, here’s to another twenty-five, buddy.

Like Andrew, I am also maybe just a bit of a hardheaded shithead.

A love letter written to survival and community.

I have been living with this broken-toothed grin for fifteen years as of this morning.

I had just locked up my bike outside of the Villa Kula house to cook Wednesday Food Not Bombs. I was probably looking forward to baking vegan banana bread or something. I always enjoyed to the sense of connected purpose that Wednesday mornings brought.

Nobody was awake at the house yet, so I decided to walk up to Auraria Campus and check my email. Remember what it was like before we all voluntarily started carrying these nightmare boxes that allow us to stay connected to absolutely everything much to the detriment of our mental health, all while they monitor our every move and we had to go places to check our email?

I don’t remember what I was so distracted by when I stepped off the curb onto Colfax Avenue, but I remember hearing a woman standing behind me scream “No!” and feeling the truck hit me. The last thing I remember before blacking out is a passing thought of “shouldn’t getting hit by a car hurt worse than this?” I met that woman later and she told me how after the car hit me I sat up and tried to pull myself off the ground before I passed back out. I’ve always thought trying to walk off a broken pelvis and two lacerated internal organs while basically blacked out tops the list of ridiculous shit I’ve done to prove to everyone I’m the toughest tiny person they know. She told me how when she went to work that day and the first thing she said to her co-workers was “I think I just watched some kid die.”⠀⁣

I came to on the street with that woman holding a napkin to my bloody face, doing her best to assure me that I would be okay. I immediately got this sinking feeling that I’ve thankfully only had a few times in my life. There’s probably a concise word for it in another language, but it’s the feeling that comes immediately after doing something as innocuous as crossing the street, something that seemed so innocuous and normal, and your life changes forever. There was your life before that thing, and now there is your life after.

I wiggled my toes inside my boots and felt a sense of relief at knowing my spine wasn’t broken. After that i became aware of a pain in my mouth and stuck my tongue out to check on my teeth. They weren’t entirely gone yet, but they were mangled. Doctors told me later that the impact of hitting the street face first broke my teeth, ramming what was left of them into my jaw, necessitating their complete removal. They also told me my teeth absorbing the shock of my hitting the street saved me from death or a traumatic brain injury, for which I have always been so thankful. I remember that gratitude on the days when my back hurts, or my shoulder won’t sit right riding my bike.

The weeks after that day, the crew of punks I ran with in Denver, and all around showed up harder than I ever could have imagined. I remember yelling at the doctors before they would let anyone see me that I was so scared and I just wanted my fucking friends. You can imagine the relief that rushed in when I finally got to see familiar faces in the ICU. I remember feeling so thankful to be alive and to be surrounded by the love that pulled me through the scariest day of my life.

I endeavor to carry that love with me always, to carry all the love living through that accident allowed me to experience and share over the last fifteen years, on days where life on this planet leaves me so drained and demoralized, that it’s all I can do to keep living on it. I wish I could say those days have been few and far between, but they have not been, and I’ve always had a problem with being dishonest. I endeavor to offer that love back to everyone in my life, and I’m not afraid to admit that I fall short in that more often than I wish I did. I think of how many of our friends are gone, and I’m grateful for not having joined them in the hereafter, regardless of the ache their absence leaves.

If you’re reading this, I love you. Thank you. For all of our friends who are gone, I’m glad you aren’t one of them. Thank you for the privilege of our crossing paths. Thank you for the love and light you have shared, that you bring to your people. Thanks for hanging in. All we have is each other and that’s really not the worst thing in the world.

Untitled

How many graveyards
Of the soul
Live on
And on
In your skull

Every night

Are you tired
Worn down
From the years
Spent dragging your
Heart through
The abyssal dark
Alone

All the late nights
In cold rooms
Lived in loops
Playing the same
Sepia soaked scenes
On repeat

I don’t want them anymore

I’m tired, baby
Just so tired
Of restless ghosts

Falling forever
Through the firmament
Of the lives
We could have
Should have
Lived

Here’s to the past
Raging beneath tired skin
Like an ocean
With no end
The tides of comfort
That never come in

Here’s to the futures
Lost and mourned
Faded and yellow
Brittle
Maps to a country
That never existed

Twenty-Eight

Ugly people
Haunt you
Just enough
To remind You
The day you left them
Felt
Like a first breath
Back
From the shadow
Of the valley of death

There is magic
Living
Breathing in
In this world
I know this much
Is true
Too bad
There’s none left
Living in you.

Tropical Appalachia

January, and it’s that proper cold
Flick my tongue out, taste the snow
Cold Reassurance of a world spinning on
Offered from the gray expanse above

A throwback
To the kiss of winters long gone
Icy winds blow ill
Crossing the threshold of my lips

Wishing to breathe the clock backwards
Before that cataclysmic industrial thaw
Ushered in the unease of
A Tropical Appalachia

71 degrees in January, Just last week
Everyone knows something is very wrong
As the minute hands crawls
Ever closer towards a colossal Midnight

My best friend’s paws
Hallow
Hold
Every inch of ground
She walks upon

I’m not ready.
I’m not ready.
I’m not ready.
I’m not ready

World Burns To Death

The lead up to another yet another war in the Middle East has me thinking a lot about the young punk rocker I was 17 years ago, and the music that provided the soundtrack to my small acts of resistance to the war machine. The recorded output of World Burns To Death came into sharp focus. Releasing 3 LPs and a handful of EPs before they faded away at the end of the 2000’s, World Burns To Death were at the forefront of American Hardcore Punk.

World Burns To Death wrote some of the most crushingly brutal D-Beat to grace our turntables, including a sonically harrowing concept album about the failures of state communism. Finding their EPs always felt like such an exercise in giddy horror, so much so that I remember finding one I didn’t have in the summer of 2004 while traveling and carefully wrapping it up in spare black crusty shirts in my pack and hopping trains all the way home to Denver with it in my pack. Stark black and white covers, and some of the most straightforwardly ugly lyrics, in the grand, desperate tradition of Discharge before them. Exactly what I needed. Exactly the ugliness I felt roiling inside of me every single day.

That whole summer, I struggled with a sense of despair so massive that I was quietly suicidal, though I told none of my friends. A sense of apocalyptic failure haunted my dreams. The Iraq war had entered its second year and the torrent of opposition to it that had flowed through the streets had dwindled to all but a trickle. That winter we learned climate change truly would be the doom of us all, and the burning world spun on. We drank like our livers wouldn’t last and the poison would let us forever opt out of a futile future. I made a tape of someone’s Sucking of the Missile Cock LP and listened to it on repeat, fantasizing about an ending in self-immolation every time Apparatus closed out the LP, so tired of all the horror, the hurt and the desperation for my life to mean something.

A friend said something to me the other night that really resonated about feeling all the same anger and motivation that we felt when we were young people circa 2002-03 during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, the weight of age having done little to dull those feelings, but they just come accompanied with so much more fear and absolutely none of the optimism nowadays. A feeling of “this could be it; the final war punks have been screaming about, living in fear of for our entire adult lives might be here” hangs heavy on the hearts of all the youth of yesterday I know.

It’s hard to look back at the years between then and now and recognize the ease with which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gradually became relegated to the white noise of atrocity in the background while we all just tried to survive and make it to our thirties without catching felony charges or going to an early grave. There’s an undeniable privilege there, but if you’re reading this you probably know that already.

I feel that same despair today, but with almost two decades worth of cynicism and existential depression added to the pile. Whatever horrors those in power are readying to unleash on the world, I have little faith the left will mount any real resistance to. My cynicism and distrust make it hard to connect with community, in a time when we all just need each other. I’m in a new city alone, trying to live like the world isn’t collapsing. So I get up in the morning, eat my breakfast, walk my elderly dog, go to my dumb job, and try and find a dentist that will take my insurance in the feeble hope that my teeth will stop rotting out of my fucking skull, despite how regularly I brush and floss.

In solitude, I turn to music for solace, and these records still give voice to the seething revulsion I feel at the way power maneuvers throughout the world. The anger. The hopelessness. The Despair. I’ve realized lately that I’m at that age where I think I’m at that crossroads of settled into the music I love in a way that makes me less interested in newer punk, and finding myself drawn to music made by people my age or older who are still trying to be creative. More and more, I feel alienated from younger punks, too. With punks not always being the most long-lived people, 40 is roughly “ok boomer” age in punk rock.

It is what it is, but I also miss punk and need that shit more than ever lately.

If you are a creative person out there making music and art despite your despair, please keep creating.

CRUSHED!

I first encountered the music of Olympia, Washington’s Clayface during the summer of 2016.  At an early show show at the long since shuttered Obsidian bar to, be precise.  The music moved me for sure, but it was more of a gentle sway, and not the kind of elegant goth in black lace with a raven’s nest of hair sway, but just a “Hey, this sad music is pretty alright.  I’m fucking old and my back hurts and how come it’s so hard to go anywhere in this town without feeling like a thousand eyes are on you?” sway.  In fairness to Clayface, my inability to properly goth-sway had nothing to do their music, and everything to do with the sunlight creeping in through the door.   You see, dear darklings, these gloomiest of gloomsters, the heirs to 40 years of darkness and forgotten bedroom recordings with the feeling of a cold grave in autumn (in the best way!) simply had the rotten luck of opening the gig just after the 7:30 door time.  ‘Round the Pacific Northwest in the summer, well the sun doesn’t go down until 9:00.  We were stuck watching music I would later affectionately come to refer to as “Like if Robert Smith had way less money, and way more genuine misery” while the sun was still up, and goddamn if it wasn’t hard to feel the darkness a little less in the presence of the sun.  Creatures of the night don’t stalk the streets during the light of day, and I can all but gurantee you Peter Murphy would throw an absolute prima donna shitfit if Bauhaus had ever been asked to play a gig beneath the burning day-moon.

Somewhere in the years that followed ( I don’t remember when, because so many gray days long since blurred together and I always joked that every year spent in Olympia aged my pretty face twice that.) I came to actually know the music of Clayface and call Jacob a friend.  I couldn’t tell you when, but I’m pretty sure I was standing on the back table next to the devil statue at Cryptatropa watching the band absolutely scorch through Sister Is Dead, the title track of their sole LP when I just sorta got it.  The story behind the record is not mine to tell, but I will say this:  Lots of people experience tragedy.  Sometimes its hard to not feel like life is just a series of reprieves between the tragedies that define us.  I can also say that I know few people who people who have come out the other side of their tragedies making art as painfully honest, vulnerable and beautiful as Sister Is Dead.  It remains one of my favorite records to come out of Olympia.  A quiet and sadly dignified, criminally overlooked slab of wax sulking in the shadows between your RVIVR’s and your G.L.O.S.S’s and your Wolves In The Throne Room’s.

I was lucky enough to go on tour with Clayface and Harsh R, an equally beloved project making fucked up abyssal noise in the dank and dark venues of Olympia.  To this day, I count that week traveling up and down the west coast just at the end of a dry summer, heavy with wildfire smoke lugging heavy ass equipment and boxes of records as the highlight of my 2018, if not the entirety of my time in Olympia.  Last spring when I left for an extended absence, my last night in town, I went to see Clayface play and stood at the soundboard next to Avi laughing and crying all at once.  Thinking “Goddamn, if this song doesn’t just rip my heart out every time, and I love that Avi is all grins anyway.”  A perfect sendoff from a town I loved and hated to drive three thousand miles through the rain into uncertainty.  I wore my Clayface shirt the whole drive.

The morning was already hot and dry this July when Jacob and I caught up at a vegan restaurant on Capitol Avenue.  I was sad to hear him say he was thinking of retiring the Clayface moniker for something fresher, maybe a little less heavy.  I was relieved to hear him say the project already had a name and was beginning to play gigs.  Only recordings so far are a nightmarish soundtrack to a short flim made by Jacob.  I haven’t seen the film, but after listening to this, I fear the images that might haunt me in my sleep when I inevitably pass out as soon as I’m done typing this mess.  The first track is deceptively soothing, drawing the listener in, lulling them to a false sense of rest before the nightmares move in.  My first thought was how much this too short of a recording reminded me of the Hellraiser Themes by Coil without sounding derivative.  I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.  I’d like to think John Balance and Peter Christopherson are smiling from whatever acid-laced glitched out afterlife they inhabit.

Listen to Crushed here!

Clayface

clayface
Clayface, September 2018.  Riverside, California.  Photo by Sass

HARSH R

78883353_2612945455408211_8868256843672059904_n
Harsh R.  September, 2018.  Arcata, California (I think) Photo by Sass