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 to that 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.

A sadness spell.

Close the blinds in my room
Blackout curtains drawn against the gray
Morning light greeting the world outside
Last night, the hands of the clock hovered at 2 AM
For four hours straight
I’m on my lonely bedroom bullshit again
Spirit whispers scratch pen to paper
A poem written to no-one and nothing
Save for the safety of locked doors
Shelter found behind four walls
A monument to empty rooms

A recurring theme, for sure
I just need the quiet tonight
With the sound of East Carson
Ringing in my ears for hours
After I punch the clock

The smell of smog and exhaust
Coats my throat
Sticks to the inside of my lungs
I love this city, or I don’t
Or I like it as much as anything else
That passes for home these days

I fear the cold hand of death reaching down to collect
This tired body, sending it on its way
To greet the heart I long ago discarded
Visions of the end
Out here on the pavement, alone
Crushed under under the tread
Of indifferent wheels running
The race to nowhere fast
A casualty cast to concrete canyons
With those mountains so beloved
So far gone to shadow
Of memory and time running low

Pedal to the pavement, anyways
Playing the odds
It’s the end of days
Or so they say
And nobody can think
Of anything better to do.

Falling Asleep to 1990’s marketing Extravaganza Dick Tracy

The plot isn’t much to speak of
Scattered and hard to follow, but the colorful and garish
Sets, they just soothe the edges of my soul
Eyes adjusting to the darkness ahead of rest

I might always live like
A faceless wraith stalking my way
Through the avenues and alleyways
And haunted spots of anytown, USA

I liked that about the movie
How those obviously painted hulking
Concrete and steel monstrosities
Static and frozen, yet still somehow in motion

Could be a metaphor for the underbelly
Of any city, the concrete canyons of New York
The cold labyrinthine streets
Carving the wastes of Chicago

Okay, those are actually the only
Two cities that come to mind
When I think about just where
“The City” might have been based on

Not nearly enough sunshine
For the soulless sun soaked streets of LA
But I’ve always been such a sucker
For a hardboiled detective anyway

I love the two-dimensional villains
Out to get theirs at any cost
All physically deformed and amoral
Impeccably dressed in tailored suits all the same

After a day’s worth of eating shit and air pollution
Cutting two wheels across cold pavement
For a hundred bucks and some exercise
Knees that creak and wrists that ache

I think I understand
Just how busted hands
Could reach for a gun
Trading the violence wrought

On aging bones
Through toil and exhaustion
At the end of every workday
For the violence of

Striking out into the cold
Of this heartless world
To take what’s rightfully yours
Instead of what those hogs at the top say you deserve

So meet me tonight at the docks
Underneath a yellow moon peering
Indifferently though the smog
Down at streets seeped in soul and sorrow below

I’m a sultry songstress
Bruised but unbroken, just like you
Always on the same side
With a loaded .45

Pressed against my thigh
Sticking to circles of streetlight
Until the hour arrives
To slink back into the shadows

Of The City and strike
Out at its black heart
Because in this life
There are hard truths they teach us

Before we can even grow
First and foremost
We come to know
That only suckers fight fair

Divination I

Tonight I’m a screaming skull
Filled with racing thoughts
Sheltered in the silence
Of these four walls
Hidden, always hidden
From the world outside the window

The gray and the rain
Remind me too much today
Of the that place
Home, never quite a home
But close enough for half a decade

I left it all behind
With no small amount
Of shadow songs and regret
The great loves
The half-friends
The gossip, pettiness, the cruelty
An insular (cult)ure
Of curated disposability

Back against the wall
Turning away from the crowd
Never knowing just
Who to trust
Waiting by the phone
For calls that never come
In the company of
That damp cold that
Seeps into your bones
The nights spent
Hungry, paranoid and alone

The world revolving around
That tiny town
Feels such scripted
Pageantry now
All the young rebels
Marching up and down
4th Avenue playing their roles
Under careful control
The cops crack skulls
The kids slink home
Sedate for now
While the wars
(all of them) Rage on

My first day of driving
I pulled off the highway
Somewhere outside of Spokane
I cried for an hour like that
While semis sped past
Letting the last five years
Pour out of me like a hard rain
Washing over the rumble and roar
Of that long road forward, searching for safety
Then I drove to a motel
And cried the night through

I thought about turning around then
Maybe this was all a mistake
I thought to myself
With a motel room television flickering
Soundtrack for panic upon panic piling
Up to the ceiling

Wondering how to make
A city born without a heart work
Maybe I didn’t swing hard enough
Dig in, stay long enough
Carve a place to belong
In hell’s gray mouth
While the years bled from one into another

Maybe if I had just found
A room that had ever let me rest
Found a way to escape the circle chase
Of low-intensity class warfare
Finally thrive instead of just survive

Our goodbye was tedious, at best
Going through the tired motions
Of burning love I’d long since
Grown cold towards
A kiss goodbye
The words “you’re killing me”
Pressed sadly against my lips
The hard as nails awareness
Of just how softly love
Melts into cold indifference
Or mere curiosity

I read in another poem once
That the recipe for murdering
Someone is as follows:
Kiss that person
Then never speak to them again
It wasn’t the intention
But it was the outcome nonetheless

You made a joke years ago:
“I can’t wait to see what
You write about me when we’re done.”

Well, love
Here you are
This is your poem
An afterthought to an epilogue
For something else
A shadow of a shadow

An ode to cities that
Never quite lived up
To the promise they held
Communities that care forgot
and love left to rot.

Highland Park, 7:29 PM

Molly texted me just as I was walking my deliveries into the Shadyside gym.  She heard that Keziah had passed away and wanted to know if I had heard anything.  I checked my social media and found the same sad news Molly had seen.  I didn’t get the chance to take a writing break while riding my routes, but I thought about Keziah for the rest of the day.  Molly filled me in on the details gradually.  Keziah died alone in her room from a heroin overdose.  Not an unfamiliar ending, as far as punks go.

I turned the tragedy of dying young, yet aged beyond your years over in my head, and felt that same anger I have felt so many times before at the news of so many other dead friends or acquaintances.  I forgot a pickup and had to race back out to South Hills and missed most of a work meeting.  I was embarrassed, but didn’t care much beyond that.  Now I’m home, and I’m trying to remember everything I thought about on my routes.

I know I saw Keziah for the first time in the fall of 2006, when Lizzie and I were traveling together and rolled through Denver.  This was back when Molly was a substitute at that weird charter school and Keziah was one of her students.  She had just left home and was set to ride trains with a dude I had encountered and got bad feelings from earlier that spring.  I remember Emil, Sean, and Teal were sketched out too.  Lizzie and I tried to talk her into not taking off alone with this dude, but Molly ended up giving them a ride out to the yard later that night and told Keziah to keep in touch, and call if she needed help or money to come home.

I can’t remember exactly how that story ended, but I don’t think it ended well.  That dude is dead now too.  I can’t remember his name, but I remember hearing he was shot to death in New Orleans a few years back.  I just counted.  I know five people who have been shot in New Orleans.  One who survived.  I still have never been to that city, and doubt I will ever go at this point.

I know I saw Keziah again, and if I’m placing the time right, it was 2008, the summer I was 27.  I was back in Denver for a month hanging with an old friend while she was pregnant and sleeping on a couch in the suburbs, in a sleeping bag that still smelled vaguely like diesel fuel from Lizzie’s and my previous trip, no matter how much I washed it.  I’d go downtown to hang with Molly and other friends when the suburbs got to stifling.  I think Keziah was dating that guy Sal by then, a charming and sociopathic seeming fuck up who rarely stopped talking.  I remember that summer was also the last time I ever saw Mike Brown alive and all of us hanging out at a sketchy ass crashpad across the street from the Wild Oats where I had worked for a few years, and then was later “banned for life” for allegedly shoplifting

Molly told me later how her and Dustin had let Keziah and Sal live in the basement of their house.  Their fights got too brutal (I’m putting it lightly here, and maybe skipping some details that aren’t mine to repeat anyway) after a fight that resulted in a bunch of broken windows in the house, they eventually left.  I don’t think Molly ever saw either one of them again.

I saw Keziah a few years later after I moved to Olympia  At a crust show at Crypt.  She was with Maria, who told me she had moved Keziah out to Port Townsend with her to get her away from Sal.  I meant to say hey, and then a fight started with some army dudes who had wandered into the bar and were getting too aggressive on the dancefloor.  I sucker punched one of them.  Shit popped off and I remember seeing him push Andreas against the wall in the dimly lit back room of the Crypt.  I saw distinctly his hands at Andreas’ throat.  I ran across the floor and aimed a punch square at his kidneys.  I remember everything moving in slow motion, running up and realizing how big this man was.  I felt my fist connect, and to be honest, I don’t even know if he felt it.

The trouble cleared out the door and they went across the street to McCoy’s.  I lost heart for the show and slunk back up the Puget Street hill to my basement room and my books and my dog and my cat.  I didn’t say goodbye to anyone.  I never saw Keziah again.  I saw Sal on 4th Avenue some weeks later.  I remember wondering with a slight distaste if he had followed Keziah out to Washington.  He said hey and I remained neutral and didn’t say much.  He handed me a zine and I took it, only to throw it away as soon as I had walked another block.

I never really liked that guy.

I listened to the news on my routes all day today.  So much intense rhetoric coming from the right about the coming civil war if Trump gets impeached.  Some people have been talking for a while now about how we’re in a cold civil war, waiting for the first shot to turn this shitstorm hot.  Trying to catch my breath n the Alley just on the other side of Negley Avenue today, it’s hard to not think those motherfuckers are right.  I guess I’ve been feeling that for so many people across the world, one war or another since before any of us were ever born.  There’s soldiers, there’s casualties, and there’s fucking profiteers.  Today, dodging in and out of traffic and ticking down miles until I could ride home to my old lady dog, I kept thinking about Keziah dying alone in her bedroom with a needle hanging out of her arm while the Sackler family are secure in whatever compound they call home to keep themselves safe from the rest of us.

And I want to hack these motherfuckers to pieces and set their bodies on fire and allot their fortunes to healing the epidemic they have profited mercilessly from, that has been decimating the poor for decades, and put so many people in my community in the ground.

I remember trying to help another friend kick junk, a few years back now.  I remember sitting in my too cold living room calling support line after support line, just trying to help find them resources.  The walls we kept hitting felt like some maggot’s idea of black humor.  Someone got it in their head to make the hellscapes we call cities and the drudgery and toil we call work so unlivable and impossible to extricate oneself from that so many people will be literally dying for a taste of escape, then to make sure they will never escape from the escape.

And I get it.  I can barely go an hour without looking at my stupid phone.  Not that these fucking cancer-making nightmare rectangles provide much escape nowadays.

I remember trying futilely to beat back my busted teeth at 23, before I lost a shit ton of them to car wrecks and rot (also a case of a lack of resources).  I went to the hospital in my city and told them I was homeless and had a tooth infection (both more or less true).  An overworked doctor gave me a bottle of antibiotics and a bottle of 30 hydrocodone, the number to the dental school across town, wished me luck, and sent me back into the snow.  I washed the pills down and walked back to the house where I was crashing.  I remember clearly the beautiful, washed out numbness that followed as the drug began to diffuse through my bloodstream.  I can almost taste it writing these words now.  I laid in a friend’s bed and listened to a tape of Amebix’s Arise LP and thought to myself:  “I get why people get hooked on this shit.”  I even remember recording notes of what I was feeling in my journal of what I was feeling.  I wondered if this was what so-called “normal” people, who live with the luxury of not feeling this world’s dizzying joys and crushing horrors, so hard and so fast, and just so relentlessly felt like.

And I think about the brutal unfairness of this world, what it’s done to my friends, and how we are among some of the luckier people making our way through this this thing we call late capitalism.

And I think my lifelong best friend Molly summed it up best, talking about Keziah:

“Keziah got handed a heap of shit in her short life and when she needed to, she gave it back. She was resilient, defiant and curious.  May she rest in peace.”

 

 

HIDE – 8/15/19

It’s nice to go to shows and see gray hair, and crow’s feet and smile lines.  It’s a relief to see aging punk rockers still rocking the double studded belt look coupled with their receding hairlines.  I don’t know if I was totally aware of what a toll it took on me to go to shows in a city where I would often be fifteen years older than many of the punks in attendance.  This especially in a subculture that discards and writes off its elders every generation or so. 

Speaking of the new destroying the old, each time I see HIDE perform, Heather Gabel and Seth Sher outdo themselves completely, both sonically and in stage presence and intensity. So much so, that I think back to the first time I saw them in a near empty bar in Seattle with one of my very dearest friends, and how that gig almost seems like a tame folk punk show played in a community garden in comparison to the aural horror and menace they unleashed on Brilloboxtonight.  I go to shows in my new city alone a lot, which doesn’t bother me at all.  I just hang in the back and read in between bands.  I find that the sense of being alone in a crowd helps me concentrate more than I might at home.  Tonight, I biked to the show late, with a copy of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado in my backpack.  At the show, I read “Inventory” from that collection of short stories while I waited for HIDE to set up.  If you haven’t read the story, I’m not going to give you spoilers, if you have, you might have an idea why that particular story felt fitting to read while waiting for HIDE to set up.  

Better writers than me have argued that the best music and art holds a mirror up to the culture at large, reflecting its ugliness back to us.  In doing so, it forces us to face our failings both subculture wise and as a species.  I know this is what drew me to the worlds of punk and goth in the first place and I know this is the argument so many of us used on our parents when they wanted to know why we insisted on listening to Dead Kennedys (or really whatever offensive band you loved as an adolescent) loud in our rooms decades ago.  “Fuck you, dad!  They’re just telling it like it really is!”.  I feel like I once saw Marilyn Manson, a far lesser artist than HIDE, and one with a much more contrived presentation and aesthetic make the same argument on Donahue or some similar television show in the 90’s, that he wasn’t telling kids what to do or think, but was just a vessel with which to expose them to the hypocrisy and contradictions of the dominant culture.  

Somewhere though, that message became compromised and watered down, and this writer felt like Marilyn Manson gave suburban kids permission to be shocking and edgy at the mall before going off to college and getting a job. HIDE is holding up a very different mirror to our culture and our collective participation in the both quiet and loud atrocities that take place across the world and at home.  When Heather Gabel opened tonight’s show repeating instances of verbal harassment experienced while simply being a woman walking through the world in the coldest and most guttural screams imaginable, you get the feeling she is not only railing against the outside world, but demanding the audience examine what parts of that world they have internalized and brought to this small, smoky room with them.  One song blended into the next and the venue fell into brief silence punctuated by the sample of a voice saying “When you depersonalize another person… it seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn’t do.” while Gabel writhed on the floor in front of the audience in mock submission.  I couldn’t help but think back to being a child in South Florida in the late 80’s, coming in from playing outside to my mother watching Ted Bundy’s final interview on the night of his execution.  I watched a few minutes of the interview with my mother, long enough to watch Ted Bundy blame place the blame for his hatred of women on pornography all while the jackass from Focus On The Family ate it up because it fit his agenda, more than examining our collective hatred of women did.  

I can think of few bands I’ve seen in recent memory that take the stage with a more driven intensity than HIDE in the past few years.  I don’t really know how to write about the mechanics of creating music, so I don’t really know how to write about it in a lot of ways. I could scarcely begin to understand how Seth Sher creates the noise onstage that he does, but he does so to astonishing effect.  I’m going to admit here, that even scarcely an hour after getting home the details of the show are a bit fuzzed out.  I spent the entire set standing up front stage left, not even dancing, just standing transfixed, aware that I was witnessing something truly powerful and cathartic, and occasionally pulling out my phone to snap a photo or take a video, more to document how the show made me feel for self-reference, than to take any sort of fancy photos.  I’m not a good photographer anyway.  

 I remember when Trump first got elected, some were moved to comment along the lines of “Well at least we will get powerful at and music out of these dark times.”.  While acknowledging the privileged nature of that statement (as in, there are a lot of people experiencing these dark times from cages, and a lot of people who might not live to see the end of them), I don’t disagree with that sentiment.  The Punk and Industrial scenes were borne of the turbulence and tension of the 70’s and 80’s.  While I feel like HIDE’s art stands powerfully on its own, regardless of whether it is being created within the confines of an ascendant fascist state or not, I cannot help but find the synchronicity HIDE’s momentum as artists coupled with the particular cultureal moment we are in to be both terrifying and comforting at once.  I just looked at my journals and photographic records and found that my aforementioned dear friend and I first saw HIDE on March 13th, 2017, just two months after Trump’s inauguration, and just a year and a half after thinking we were going to get beaten to death by Nazis together.  I distinctly remember returning home to Olympia late that night and sitting beneath a cold winter moon on the shore of the Budd Inlet, promising one another that we would continue our shared resistance to the powers that shape our world, be it through art or activism.  We had just witnessed something that powerful.  Tonight, at the conclusion of HIDE’s set, the stranger who had been standing next to me snapping photos (no doubt, better than my own!) and I simply turned and acknowledged one another with an exhausted warmth as if to say “Did you fucking see what just happened, and are you okay now?”  

I rode my bike home, exhilarated, feeling hopeful for our collective subcultural future, if nothing else.  These are vicious times, and HIDE creates art to not to provide comfort in those times, but to encourage the listener to rise up in the face of them.  On my ride home, I couldn’t help but think of two very different Industrial and Post-Industrial acts of a bygone era – Death In June, and Boyd Rice’s NON.  Both bands have created searing industrial soundscapes and both bands have been dogged by accusations (that this writer happens to agree with, and an immense amount of evidence easily found via google seemingly supports) of fascist and far-right sympathies, if not outright agendsas for much of their careers.  In defending themselves, both individuals (I cannot bring myself to refer to Douglas P as a musician) often use the same argument – that they are just utilizing fascist imagery, referencing it in song, and lastly dressing up in its trappings to hold a mirror up to the culture at large, to make the listener uncomfortable, to think.  

After watching HIDE perform tonight, I couldn’t help but think that the music of DI6 and NON could more accurately be described as the artists holding a mirror up to the culture as they wish it to be, one where the might makes right and the strong tread upon the weak, a world where white men get to speak and act with impunity – The very same world HIDE seeks to obliterate.  Where Death In June, so many of the bands they inspired provide the listener space to fantasize they are the perpetrators of atrocities (If you can make a convincing argument here that the song “Of Runes and Men” is anything other than Douglas P jerking off to the thought of being born 30 years earlier so he could have joined the SS, I will eat that “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist shirt I wear 8 days a week.*).  I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of relief at a changing of the guard of sorts within the Industrial and dark cultures.  In the crowd tonight there was none of the fascist dog whistling sometimes present at Industrial shows of yesteryear.  No boys with dumb fashy haircuts.  No fucking pseudo SS uniforms.  No Totenkampf or Sonnerad patches..  Just a bunch of outcasts gathered together in a small room, and two uncompromising musicians, asking, no, demanding that the audience confront their collective demons and their complicity in the horrors of rape culture and misogyny.  

What are we going to do?  What are we going to create in the face of such horror?  What are we going to do to bring it all crashing down?  What are we going to build in the ruins? 

*Just kidding.  I won’t.  Douglas P is a fascist.  Period. Point blank.  Fuck that guy.  

Mediocre photographic evidence: