I’ve been sick. I’ve An Illness, which basically means I thought it was strep and it turned out to be a viral infection, which is a scary term for a bad cold. I prefer the scary term because when you tell someone you have a cold, they’re all, “Have some orange juice, brah, you’ll be aight in the morning.” (Everyone I know is in blink-182.)
But here’s all the context: we’re coming at the tail end of a month and a half during which Shawn pulled a tendon in his hand and has been unable to do most of the at-home stuff, so I’ve had to do both of our chores – cooking, dishes, all the laundry. Because I didn’t want him to get bored with Kev’s Delicious Meatloaf every single night, I jumped back into my more culinary habits, trying to give him somewhat exotic meals every night. (Part of this is that he finally relented and watched Ratatouille, the film that made me want to learn to cook, and liked it.) At the same time, a friend of mine got West Nile Virus and I had to travel back and forth to the facility that was taking care of him (about three hours each day) and bring him stuff from home and do a little shopping for him, all without the benefit of a car. Toss in the fact that I direct or produce four different shows, was working to finish my novel, and I was still trying to have my normal routine (all the gym workouts and writing and appearing on other shows and cycling everywhere and so much writing, guys, so much). It was a bad cold – severe, some might say – but it was also just exhaustion.
The Sunday night things got really bad, I stared down at the lid of a pan I needed to wash and I literally could not lift my hands. I just stared at it, zoning in, and I could not move my hands anymore. That was when I collapsed on the couch and barely moved for a week and a half. It was cool. I took a lot of ~Quil products and watched Svengoolie and healed.
In increments, I’ve been rebuilding my life. Monday, I hosted my first show since I got sick. Yesterday, I stayed out all day to work on editing My Agent of Chaos. Today, I went back to the gym. But last night was supposed to be the real reward for recovering well: a Gaslight Anthem show with my buddy Rich. I’d seen Gaslight Anthem a year before with another friend who hadn’t liked the show as much as I did (too loud for him), so I was eager to rock out a little with a guy who got it. However, life intervened, as life likes to do, and Rich couldn’t make it. While the thought of not rocking with him saddened me, I kind of relished the idea of going solo. I half-heartedly offered tickets to the folks in my comedy group, and when they all demurred, I headed out to the House of Blues alone.
I wandered onto the floor with my Red Bull and everything I own stuffed into my jeans pockets as the opening band, TwoPointEight, was doing their thing. Loud and melodic, not my thing, but I nodded along. I knew Against Me! was going next and I didn’t know what to expect. They were harder rock than I’m used to in my Springsteen/DBT/Blitzen Trapper bubble, weren’t they? All I knew is that the lead singer used to be a dude and now she’s not (and the conversations from the brodudes around me about the subject were vastly illuminating. Every single one referred to her as “her,” and the basic consensus was, “they still fucking rock, why do I care?” I love 2014.) Then they took the stage. My first thought was, “Wow, hot guitarist.” My second thought was, “Oh, there’s a mosh pit right in front of me OMG right in front of me.”
The songs poured on; some connected with me, some didn’t, but here I am dealing with a whole new paradigm in my life. Here’s my ignorant suburban take on mosh pits until last night: they’re an outlet for young male aggression who need to rage against everything to feel alive. And, okay, maybe that was some of it there and maybe that’s the total reality elsewhere, but there were all sorts in this crowd. Men, women, some androgynous folks, older, younger, and all of them knew all the words and screamed along. Aggression? Sure. But not … aimless aggression. The crowd slammed into each other to the left, to the right, got pushed back, rushed forward, fell back.
I found my hands pressed against the sweaty back of a bearded hipster and when I pushed him away into the pit, I wasn’t doing it to keep him away. I was volleying him back into the experience he was having. I was part of that experience. Nobody was angry. Nobody was violent. Men and women rose from the ground and floated above our heads on the strength of our hands and surfed to the stage, where security caught them and sent them back to the pit.
Then Gaslight Anthem took the stage. This is a band I’ve carried inside me for a long while. The song “Bring It On” captured me five years ago and I fell into the album it came from, American Slang, when I was in between real jobs and needed an anchor. Then Kelly the Wonder Tattooist played their first album for me while he inked my Steampunk Dr Pepper onto my arm and everything took hold. Their new album, Get Hurt, arrived a few months ago. Some of the songs stubbornly remained out of my grasp, but some of them drifted into the hollow parts of me and took root. And the title, Jesus. Could any other title demand as much attention from the raging angst inside me than Get Hurt? (Okay, Darkness on the Edge of Town. But that’s not fair.)
They started with a song called “Stay Vicious,” and I don’t know what happened. I threw myself into the pit, shoulder to thumping shoulder with the dudes and ladies moshing as if their lives depended on it. In seconds, my shirt was soaked through with sweat, my hair was plastered to my skull, and I was screaming, screaming these words that I’d learned so recently and was desperate to shout into a space big enough to hold them. Tubby bearded guys and skinny bearded hipsters bashed me from all sides. Was it erotic? Sure it was erotic, and I had the goofy teenager grin to prove it most of the night. But erotic glances the surface of what this was: camaraderie fueled by pure adrenaline and rock and roll.
At one point, a hole opened up, and a dude in a Hold Steady shirt rushed in, glancing at me and this skinny guy I’d been pressed against for three songs; Hold Steady was smiling maniacally and jabbing his index fingers at his feet. Never have I been in this situation but instinctually I knew what that motion meant. Up. I got his left foot. The skinny guy got his right. Two tall girls behind him got his back. And up he went, screaming. I was screaming.
Right before the band launched into “Howl,” euphoria whipped through me like a goddamned hurricane. I shouted, “I’m fucking forty,” even though I’m not quite. This androgynous college kid in front of me stared at me for a second, then clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Yeah you fuckin’ are! Wooooo!” And then up the kid went, because that’s how it is when you’re happy and healthy and things are finally kicking ass again.
Usually when I take in a show, I pray for one song I can’t live without. Lately for DBT, it’s been “Natural Light.” For Bruce, for whatever reason, it’s “I’m Goin’ Down.” For this show, all I wanted to hear was “Selected Poems” from the new record. The harder edge of the night seemed to go against it, but right there, mid-set, Brian Fallon took to the microphone and sang those first words: “Honey bee, she say I got too much sympathy…” And then the chorus:
And all I seemed to find is that everything has chains.
And all this life just feels like a series of dreams.
Selected poems and lovers I can't begin to name.
And all in all I find that nothing stays the same.
Maybe, but sometimes you figure out how to break those chains. I was shoved to the front and security poured water in my mouth and I threw my hands up, because Lorde is wrong, I’m not getting kinda tired of that. Sweat-drenched and half-crazy, I was young, I was new, and I was ready to howl.