The Bomb in The Cookies

Sometimes I commit to something without thinking.  I don’t do this presumptuously, and neither is it an act of carelessness.  I do it because if I stop to linger and examine every what-if or possible outcome, I would never follow through.  The walls in my own brain are my worst enemy, and not thinking is the backdoor I run for.  Otherwise I would never leave the house.

So when a friend and fellow blogger found out I had said yes to driving 130 miles to see her new favorite band, she requested a favor.  And without thinking, I said okay.

The day before the show, a cardboard box showed up on my doorstep.

Inside were two packages, one for me and one for her band – Dreamers.

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I opened the envelope attached to the box with my name on it.

Dear Colleen, thank you for delivering my Dreamers package.  Bigger thanks for taking the chance and going on a road trip to go sees them.  I hope you have a wonderful time.  I know it’s not Airborne, but it can still be magic to be part of something exciting.  I think you’ll see that charm in the Arkells, but I also hope you’ll be brave and chat up Dreamers.  They are darlings and have a great way of appreciating you be there.  And that’s what I wanted you to feel . . . the special buzzy way that they are glad YOU are there.  Because they are.  Have a great time.  Here’s a little something for your boys or for your road trip.  Give Nelson & Nick big love from me. 🙂  Have fun!  ❤ Susan

Susan and I have never actually met.  Strangely, however, she sensed my apprehension over text.  The Internet is funny that way.

Beneath my box was theirs, accompanied with its own message, and it sat on my dining room table for 24 hours.

Over the course of those 24 hours, I would sometimes glance at the box while making dinner or just passing through the kitchen.  And there it sat.  Quiet.  Undisturbed.

Sort of like a bomb.

But exerting a pressure on me that grew more intense by the hour.  It was tangible evidence of a commitment I made.  That I was largely starting to regret, mostly out of fear.

I began making mental excuses of why I couldn’t go to the show, none of which held up.  It was like walking backwards through my backdoor, running into every what-if and possible outcome.  What if we get into an accident on the way there?  It’s supposed to rain.  What if I die?  Who is going to take care of my kid?  What if something happens I hadn’t even thought of?

But it was too late.  The box was sitting on my dining room table.  Then it was in my car.  Then we were on our way to the show.

Meanwhile, I was running away from my fears.  Having been afraid of being afraid, I numbed myself into a state of disconnection, to the point I didn’t care about anything.  I didn’t care where we went for dinner and I didn’t care if we were late.  I didn’t care if we just dropped the cookies next to their tour bus and went home.  I didn’t care if we made it to the show at all.

I apologized to my Concert Buddy who had invited me to the show in the first place after Susan’s promotional band posts on Facebook.  Though I never promise to be the life of any party, I’m always afraid of being a drag and bringing others down because I’m followed by a very dark cloud.

Over pizza at a restaurant a few miles away from the venue, she confessed she hadn’t even bought her ticket yet.  Normally this would send my detail-oriented, schedule-y brain into panic mode, especially when she tried to buy her ticket online and found out she couldn’t, probably because it was after the 7:00 doors open time.  But I was already numb and would not have blinked an eye if we turned around and went home.  Truthfully, I would have been relieved.

“You probably can just buy it at the box office,” I reassured her (and myself).  “It’s not sold out.  Is it?”

“Maybe you’ll have to tweet the band and see if they can get me in,” she said with a smile.

“It’ll be fine,” I said, wondering if I should give Susan a play-by-play of our experience.  I decided against.  One anxious person was enough.  Two anxious people, even though one was a thousand-plus miles away, was too much for me to bear.

Outside the venue, I waited while she uneventfully bought her ticket at the box office.  Then I realized we were really doing this, and I was going to have to make sure this box of cookies I was carrying found its way to the recipient.

I had never brought a present for a band before, and I wasn’t exactly sure how one does it.  I never even knew it was possible until semi recently.  Because in my fangirl mind, I’m just a fan and a nobody, and why would any band accept any gifts from me?

But of course, they are just people.  And their people are people, and there has to be a way.  I guess?  Maybe?

Concert Buddy walked in the single door of the venue, The Basement – literally the basement beneath a bar – and handed her ticket to the girl at the door.

I walked in behind her, pretending to ooze confidence.

“What is thaaaaaat?” the girl asked suspiciously, pointing to my box.  There was a hint of fear in her eyes.  And I wondered if there was some in mine as well, which was exactly the opposite of what I was going for.

“They’re cookies for the band,” I said sweetly, hoping I would seem non-threatening.

“Cookies,” she repeated.  She wasn’t buying it.

Out of nowhere, and in the corner of my eye, a guy with a bearded face and glasses appeared.  “Hey I know them!” he said.  When I turned to the side, I realized he was talking to me and pointing to my shirt.  My Airborne Toxic Event band shirt.  I wondered why he was talking to me at all, why he had announced that, and didn’t he see there was something going down between me and security here?

“Oh, cool,” I said dismissively, and then turned my attention back to the girl who was watching me with eyes narrowed by distrust.

“You can’t bring those in,” she said coolly.  Then she called for the bouncer standing a few feet away.

Oh, no.  She thinks I have a bomb.

“So, can you just take them and give them to someone who can get them to the band?” I asked nervously.

“I don’t know.”  The bouncer was now standing beside her.  “Which band?”

By now I was thoroughly done.  I didn’t want to be here, and these weren’t even my cookies, and this wasn’t even my band.  And now I was going to be accused of bringing a suspicious package to a public place, which, in light of the recent attacks in Paris, wasn’t so improbable, despite the perfectly-coiffed pink bow and Susan’s professional Delish bakery sticker on the box.

“It’s written on the box,” I said.  “Dreamers.”

With extreme hesitation, she took the box from my hands.  Then she turned to the bouncer.  “Hey, can we take this?”

“What is it?”

“She says they’re cookies.”  The way she said cookies, it was clear she did not believe it was actually cookies.

“We’ll have to ask.  Who are they for?”

“Dreamers,” she said.  “Who do we ask?”

Then it occurred to me that this kind of thing was not common – some fan bringing a parcel of gifts to a band, and they were just as confused about accepting it as I was about bringing it there.

Suddenly, Bearded Glasses appeared again, never really having left, and was now reaching for the box.

“That would be me,” he said.

He took one look at the box and his eyes lit up.  “Oh, you’re kidding me.  How did she get this here?  Oh, my god.  She spoils us.”

Instant relief.  Everyone relaxed.

Bearded Glasses turned to me with an outstretched hand.  “Hi, I’m Plotkin.  I’m their tour manager.  What’s your name?  How do you know her?”

I explained that we were friends and had met via Airborne, the very band he said he “knew.”

“I’ll take these,” he said to both me and security.  Meanwhile, the girl was scanning my ticket and checking my ID.  I was no longer a threat.  Plotkin had diffused the situation.

“Hey, you know what they said in school,” the bouncer added jovially, “if you bring cookies, you have to bring them for the whole class.”

“You’ll have to ask the band for cookies,” I said coyly.  “I’m just the courier.”

And I walked inside the venue and found my friend.  We headed for the bar.  I pulled out my phone and sent a flurry of messages to Susan.  Meanwhile, my head was spinning.

Concert Buddy asked if I wanted a drink, and I said no.  Did I need one?  Yes.  Of course I needed one.  But I found myself so dizzy with anxiety that the very idea of speaking to another stranger and telling them what I wanted would have had me collapsed on the floor.  I excused myself and went to the bathroom.

There I could barely meet my own reflection in the mirror.  But when I saw the Airborne shirt, I smiled.  Hey, their tour manager had said, I know them.  Yeah, I knew them, too.  Once.

There is a person I like to remember when I’m afraid of being brave, or talking to strangers, or when I’m suddenly in awkward situations I’ve never been.  It’s a version of myself that is usually put away and out of sight from disuse, like a costume.  And to be honest, I don’t even know if it fits who I am anymore, but I love the memory of who I was when I knew Airborne, or that time we hung out backstage with them and I put the fangirl away and pretended I was confident and someone worth being backstage with a band.  I know that deep down that “version” is just me, Colleen, the person.  But buried so deep in crippling anxiety and a loss that has made me question the value of my own existence, I forget that she and I are the same person.  And sometimes, when I’m really in doubt, I wonder if it was real.

Real or not, I took a breath and summoned the costume and its faux confidence, and went to find my friend.

The opening band, Karma Killers, had just taken the stage.  In the L-shaped space of the venue, Concert Buddy hung back near the bar, sipping her beer.  “Are you sure you don’t want a drink?” she shouted over the music, and I shook my head.  It wasn’t something I could explain at the time.

Meanwhile, I was back and forth with my phone, texting Susan, feeling more like the cardboard box the cookies came in and that used to sit on my kitchen table, buried beneath layer after layer of useless excess that would just get thrown away later.  I wanted to be the box with the pretty pink and perfectly coiffed bow that nobody could refuse.  I wondered where the bomb cookies were now in the building.

I did a quick head count, quietly surveying the people around me, which didn’t take long at all, given the fact there were only 50 people or so in the whole place, and most of them looked to be about my age.

After Karma Killers had finished their set, out of the corner of my eye I saw the band members that comprise Dreamers walk past Concert Buddy and I, toward the middle of the bar, with their tour manager, Plotkin.  They weren’t flanked by fans, and didn’t seem too bothered, so I nudged Concert Buddy and pointed in their general direction.  “That’s them,” I said.  “Should we go talk to them?”

She shrugged and turned to walk.  Just like old times.

Let me just reiterate how completely vulnerable I feel approaching a group of people who regularly go onstage and perform and sometimes are on my TV and phone at home and then suddenly are in the flesh and don’t know who the heck I even am.  It’s weirdly bizarre at best, and then there is also the very real possibility I am about to say something epically stupid.

I can’t explain what happened next.  Maybe it’s just a band-fan thing, I don’t know, but Nick – the lead singer – made eye contact with me and held out his arm like he was waiting to give me a hug.  And that simple, unexpected gesture put me at ease at the same time it made me clam up because of the imaginary pedestal I put these people on.

I’m not even sure I said any words.  I hope I said hello and introduced myself.  I don’t know.  Because Concert Buddy swooped in as Nelson extended the same gesture to her and explained that we were the ones who delivered the cookies and we wanted to introduce ourselves.  “There’s cookies?” Nelson said, and then Plotkin or someone confirmed that there were cookies.  And the guys – Dreamers – were super sweet.  Again, I’m not sure I said a single word due to my state of star-struck awe, but I do remember leaving the conversation feeling better about the whole thing.

We said we were looking forward to the show and then excused ourselves.  Concert Buddy leaned in and said, “Best to keep it short and sweet.  Don’t want to overwhelm them, you know?”

I looked around at the out-of-control and wildly insane crowd of 50 people and observed, “Yeah, I really don’t think that’s a problem for them yet.  Maybe one day!”

“Sorry about taking over earlier,” she said, referencing to swooping in with Nelson.  “I hope you didn’t mind.”

I laughed as the next band, Arkells, was setting up.  “No, of course I didn’t mind.”  Then I wondered if I could ever be that confident person again who didn’t care if people were in bands or not.  It didn’t seem to fit.  I was going to need a drink or I would never loosen up.

A few more people filed in, making the total count to around 100, and most of them were filling the small pit below the stage.  Arkells had a greater following, from what little bit of research I had done before the show, and I was looking forward to their set.  It didn’t hurt their lead singer, Max, was super attractive and had more than enough charisma to fill the entire room.  The set was lively and fun, and though they had fans who had traveled out of state to see them that night, Max made the comment this show reminded him of the shows they used to do in their hometown, and I immediately thought “small, and probably in someone’s Basement.”  But if the band was bothered by this, they didn’t let it show.  It was one of the best sets I had seen post-Airborne, with enough heart and pageantry to more than make up for the lack of a crowd.  And I instantly had respect for them, that they would put so much heart and soul for such a small audience.

Something about live music has this transcendent effect on me that I forget about until I’m at a show.  The loudness of it, the revelry, the lights and colors and expressions of art happening right in front of you just hypnotizes me and sends me to a kind of sacred space in my head where the music drowns out the anxious chatter and the spotlights chase the darkness away.  It’s cathartic and wonderful and I kept thinking it’s too bad I don’t do this more often.  It’s too bad I let myself get in the way.

After the Arkells’ set was over, I headed for the bar and very bravely asked the stranger behind the counter for a whiskey and Coke.

As I sipped on the strong bite of the whiskey mixed with the sweetness of Coke, Concert Buddy and I talked about the playlist between sets and how all the 90s music was bringing up memories for her of concerts past.  All I could think of was how short my own list was, and how few the years I had actually been going to concerts at all.  If someone were to tell me 10 years ago that one day I would be bringing cookies to band from a stranger across the country that I’d never met, well, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Not to mention all the other Airborne-related stuff in between.

Dreamers took the stage, and the whiskey started to do its work.

The show could be summed in the response of the crowd.  Once Arkells had left the stage, the majority of the pit had cleared out, and it was obvious Arkells held the greater fanbase.

But midway through Dreamers’ set, everyone was back in the pit, proving it was truly “Never Too Late To Dance.”

Their set was tight and fun and full of energy, and totally blew away any preconceived ideas I had about the 3-person band.  Nick was a confident and talented frontman, his voice clear and compelling.  Nelson was tearing it up on bass and background vocals, and Jacob was killing it on drums.  Their songs were just plain fun, and I found myself dancing and singing along, though I barely knew any words.  Their 11-song set was over in a flash, and I was both impressed and humbled.

So Susan was right.  There is life after Airborne, and there is magic at a Dreamers show.  I witnessed it firsthand, and it was an exciting thing to be part of.

Barely remembering I had an assignment, I approached the stage as the crew was taking everything apart.  When a crew member bent down to retrieve a setlist, I reached for it and he handed it to me with a smile.

Now I was buzzing from the excitement and energy of the music, and so was the rest of the crowd.  Concert Buddy and I made our way to the back of the building where a throng had gathered around the band merch tables.  I bought a Dreamers tee and the band suddenly appeared in the throng.  I high-fived Nick and Nelson and told them I genuinely enjoyed the show.  We talked about how I knew Susan, and my nervousness melted away to the point I almost forgot they were in the band I just saw, and I asked if they would sign my setlist.  They happily obliged.

While they were taking selfies and signing autographs, another random fan approached me and said “I like your shirt.  I love The Airborne Toxic Event.”

“Oh, yeah?  Me, too!  They are great!  Have you seen them before?”

“Yes!  But just once.  It was an amazing show, though.  It was like, life-changing.”

“I definitely know what you mean.”

We talked Airborne for the next few minutes, and in the back of my mind I was laughing, thinking how funny and how true it is that Airborne is this instant bond between two strangers, whether they just met, or had known each other years ago but lost touch and were now reconnected, or are Facebook friends that live on the other side of the country or even the continent.  It’s funny and strange and yet familiar, and as it turns out, it was exactly what I needed in more ways than I could ever express in words.

I got a quick photo with the band and we said our goodbyes.  I even talked to and took photos with Arkells, genuinely adding that I thoroughly enjoyed their show.  Looking back now, I suppose I could have said more, or tried to be the most confident girl in the room, or invited them out for drinks somewhere.  I could have tried to take something away from that night as proof that I was special, and that they were truly glad I was there.  But I didn’t.  I guess it didn’t seem to fit, and it wasn’t what I wanted, and it wasn’t me.  The me that is now just wants to support the bands I love and tell them how much I appreciate what they do, and give back in some way, whether it’s dedicating my blog post to them or nearly being thrown out bringing cookies to their show.  I’m just a fan, and that’s okay, because being a fan can be so much fun sometimes, I forget about everything else and all the things that bring me down and make me never want to leave my house.  Being a fan is the bomb in the cookies, and it has blown up my world and made me tear down the walls and open doors I never thought existed.  Being a fan has been an adventure for me, and I am forever grateful.

In the bathroom before we left the venue to head home, another random girl approached me as I was washing my hands at the sink.  “I really like your shirt.  I have that exact shirt at home.  I love The Airborne Toxic Event.”

“They are awesome,” I said.  “And their fans are pretty awesome, too.”

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This post is dedicated with love and admiration for such amazingly talented people such as DREAMERS, Arkells, Karma Killers, their managers and crew, and of course, Plotkin, who saved the day.

And as always, The Airborne Toxic Event.

With much love and thanks to Concert Buddy, and Susan for the infamous cookies.

 

 

 

This Gratitude

Life is so busy now, writing has become a lot like the friends I think about often but with whom I never get to spend time, lingering like you do when the connection is so strong you don’t actually want to leave.  I can’t linger in creativity like I used to, when there are deadlines and turn-around time at work, and naptimes that seem to shorten in duration every day.

Music is played in the background like an afterthought, not for studious consideration in the days before Toddler Life.  It’s hard to focus on the meaning of a lyric or a chorus when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder and making sure your kid doesn’t hurt himself while he moves dining room furniture around.

The cognitive awareness of his needs and anticipating his next move is so mentally draining, by the end of the day I have little energy for anything other than mindlessly checking Facebook status updates and scrolling through pictures on Instagram.  Writing stuff down – as much as I love engaging in the wordplay and emotional connection through art – just seems like another task.

But I’m not complaining.  I love this life, and if it means never writing another word, I will be okay.  Of course, nobody is asking that of me, but that’s just how much I enjoy what I do.  Being a mom trumps everything.  It’s an honor and a gift not afforded to just anyone.

I don’t go to shows like I used to, nor do I have the time for diligent attention to a certain beloved band’s activities, but the love that I have for music has been transferred and repotted like a houseplant I love to nurture.  Only now can I share it with the little person in my life who demands all my time and attention.  “Let’s enjoy this together,” I think, and I will put on music.  Let’s dance and learn to sing.  Let’s learn some new words and learn the lyrics.  Let’s nurture this love of music, because it is very well in your DNA – not just from me, but from generations before me and your dad – your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and so on.  This is your heritage only we can show you, so let’s start with the music I love and grow from there.

For reasons only he knows, the Airborne song “Missy” has been on repeat in our house.  Except, when he asks for it by name, it’s “Mimi.”  He likes the elongated notes of the lyrics “Just as long as I’m never aloooooone” and “I’d follow you even if it was wrooooonnng” and has started cutting his teeth literally and figuratively on those notes, attempting to sing them on key.  He loves the portion of the song from the All I Ever Wanted DVD with the girls’ choir singing along, and he lights up when Dad plays the song on the guitar for him and we all join in.

Of course, this isn’t the only song he likes, or the last (“Hey Jude” is another favorite, the ‘nah-nah-nahs’  being solidly in his vocabulary), but this song and this band, this is a love that we share together, as mother and son, and family.

Today he asked for “Mimi” just like he does every day, so I put on the DVD and we watched it together until he started rubbing his eyes.  I scooped him up and put him to bed, letting the DVD play with no audience until I returned to the living room to turn it off.  I have seen this show and this band now dozens of times, and these songs are as familiar to me like folk songs in the country of my heart, but I sat down anyway and watched for a moment since the need for me to look over my shoulder was sleeping soundly in the other room.

That pause in a parent’s life, when the dust settles for a moment and you can see the hands in front of you and your plans in the distance, as well as the life you’ve left behind, all came into focus in that moment watching Anna pull the bow across her viola during “This Losing.”

For as often as I’ve heard this song, the goosebumps still rise with the memories right behind them at the surface, of where I was four years ago when these songs were playing in the background like an afterthought.  When I was pregnant and living a distracted life, and expecting it to turn out differently.  Inside my body was a little person developing hair and teeth, limbs and hands, feet and fingers.  And ears.  In the background of my life, I was hearing this music, and so was he.  And though our time together was so excruciatingly brief, we, too, had shared this music together.  Mother and son.  Family.

I have a couple painful anniversaries on the horizon this summer.  Birth and death, and the heartbreak and pain that surrounds them as thick as fog.  But intertwined in these memorials are anniversaries of first shows and concerts, first-time meetings of band members who had no idea their kindness meant so much, and all the love and compassion and connection I’ve received through music.  Of going on and living a life with purpose, and now sharing that life and music with someone else.  I couldn’t be more grateful.  And it’s that gratitude that pulls me through the pain, like a bow on strings.

Just A Fan

“Someday they’re gonna forget about us

And we’ll wonder if we were ever good enough

It hit me last night in this song I heard

I remember the feeling, but forget all the words.”

– “California,” The Airborne Toxic Event.

 

Earlier in the year, when The Airborne Toxic Event announced their 2014 Fall Tour, I started making plans.

First, it was exhausting every possible and plausible situation that could get me to San Francisco for their 3-night residency in September with a 7-month-old.  A few kind people even offered to babysit while I went to enjoy the shows.  In the end, I decided to bow out this time, even though I would have loved to have seen almost their entire catalog performed live.  I stayed up late on the second night of their residency to watch the live stream of the show online.  I even wore a temporary tattoo of The Bird so I could fangirl from hundreds of miles away.  A few awesome friends who were there at the show that night also wore the tattoo on their faces, both a tribute to the band’s insignia and to show I was truly there in spirit.  It was an amazing performance, one I wish I could have experienced in person, but I was glad I got to see at least one night of their show as it happened live.

I was pumped.  I was counting down the days until I could travel a little closer to my hometown to see them in October.

Since the venue was still a two-hour drive away, we decided to stay the night.  My in-laws graciously offered to babysit at the hotel while my husband and I had our first night out since our son was born earlier this year.  It was the first time I would be away from him for any length of time, and I was extremely nervous.  I knew he was in good hands, of course, but what if he cried the whole time we were gone?  What if *I* cried?  What if I was unable to enjoy the show because I missed him so much?  Was going to a concert really worth leaving my baby behind?  Didn’t I publicly swear I would never be one of “those” parents?

Yet I told myself that going would be healthy for both myself and the little guy.  We needed a “night out,” and he needs to learn to be without mom sometimes.  What better occasion than an Airborne show?

Hubby got there early to secure our place in line, though the weather forecast was hardly cooperative with his valiant effort.  Rain all day.  Heavy downpours.  Thunderstorms.  Twenty to thirty-mile-per-hour winds.  A high of 55 degrees.  But Hubby didn’t even flinch.  Or if he did, he didn’t do it in front of me.  I arrived a couple hours later before the doors were scheduled to open and relieved his post so he could take a bathroom break.

Meanwhile, the raging self-doubt continued when I took my place in line.

The fans in front and behind stared at me with raised eyebrows.  And for the first time ever, I felt self-conscious with this wounded bird emblazoned on my face.  I didn’t feel like a fangirl at all.  Instead, I felt like a fake.  An imposter with the “Look-At-Me” confidence on her skin, but beneath a wide range of doubts the size as mountains.  I immediately regretted my decision to be The Girl With the Bird.

Who did I think I was, and who did I think I was fooling?

As I quietly gazed at the leather boots which had been gifted to me by another Airborne fan, I realized that perhaps I had made a mistake coming here.  After all, there was a time not long ago when I used to stand in line like this and wish to be transported back home with a baby – because that was all I ever wanted, anyway.  Not waiting in the cold rain and wind to see a band who didn’t care if I was there or not.

I had to refocus.  I had to shift my attention to something else.

So I struck up a conversation with the group standing in front of me.  There was the kid clutching White Noise, his ticket holding the place where I assumed the page read the band’s name in bold letters.  There was a middle-aged woman speaking affectionately with him – his mother, perhaps.  Three girls his age chirped to him and each other, but no one seemed to notice I was there.

I asked the innocent and friendly question, “So where are you guys from?”

The mother answered.  She said they had driven three hours and arrived an hour earlier than they planned.  Then they asked where we were from, and I told her.  I motioned to the boy.  “I see you’ve got your copy of White Noise.  Are you hoping to get it signed?”

“Yes!” he cried.  “Have you met them?  Do you think they’ll do it?”

I smiled.  “Yeah, I think so.  Have you seen them before?”

“No.  This is our first time.”

I immediately went into rapturous gushing over the band.  How much they’re going to love it.  How excited I was for them.  How it’s going to blow their minds.   How they’re going to remember this night for years to come.  I specifically instructed the boy – who identified himself as “the fan” of the group – where to stand and to have his phone out recording during “Does This Mean You’re Moving On” because Mikel had been fancying himself a cameraman these days, apparently the very 2014 thing to do.

They asked if the band usually came out after the show to sign autographs and take pictures, and I gave them instructions to go around the back of the building after the show and hang out for a while.

We talked about our favorite songs.  They asked how many times I’d seen them.  I felt like the veteran of the line, though I knew this could hardly be the case.

In spite of all this, the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t be there continued.  At one point, I even quietly asked my husband if he felt strange, too, and he agreed that he had.  “It feels like I just woke up from a dream,” he said.  “A really long and crazy dream.”

When the doors finally opened, we headed for our usual spot in front of the stage, though we didn’t get barrier.  We had come to find out the venue has a VIP package deal with perks like early entry for those who don’t care to impress their wives by standing around in the rain.  And if there never ended up being a show – if The Airborne Toxic Event were to have been spirited away somehow – that would have been enough.  Hubby standing in the rain so I could have first dibs on the front row.  It’s the thought that counts.

I saw a few familiar faces from the years prior, but the regulars were missing.  The crowd looked foreign to me, and most of the glances I caught were the kind that made me feel like I was two feet tall.  They all seemed to be asking me who I thought I was coming here with the Airborne bird on my face, and I was asking myself the same thing.  Why am I not at home singing lullabies to my baby?  Why am I here at all?

The anxiety I felt was stifling.  All the while I kept making small talk with Hubby, afraid to ask if he felt the same.  Was he wondering why we came, too?  And with such horrible company as I!

Then someone tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a piece of paper.  I looked up to see them pointing at a woman standing a few feet away.  It was a reader and contributor to This Is Nowhere, Airborne’s unofficial fan blog, and someone with whom I exchanged a few emails.  She had picked me out of the crowd.  Because of The Bird.

I hugged her immediately, and the group of benevolent concertgoers we were standing by actually made a space for her to now stand next to me for the duration of the show.  We shared a pleasant conversation while waiting for the opening band to take the stage, and in between sets.  But I couldn’t shake my anxiety.  I didn’t feel right in my own skin.

Before the show even started, I was sweating buckets.  Secretly I hoped that The Bird would drip off my skin and then maybe I wouldn’t feel like such a weirdo.

When it was time for Airborne to take the stage, the lights dimmed and the intro music began to play.  This time they choreographed lights and lasers to accompany the music and the experience.  I felt like I was about to witness something amazing – living, moving sounds of art happening in front of me.  And I wasn’t wrong.

All my anxiety melted away as soon as the band launched into the opening of “Welcome To Your Wedding Day.”  The toxic cloud of sound and light rained down a cleansing concoction of music and emotions that could only come from months and years of following a band that has somehow weaved its way one’s subconscious, accompanying every major event like a soundtrack, and transcending the gap from one life to another.

Oh, Airborne.  Your celebration of what is painful to speak, yet brought into the light and admired for the beauty in its ugliness, is what brought me here in the first place.

That, and a darn good show.  And do they ever put on a show.

This was my first time seeing Adrian Rodriguez replacing Noah Harmon on bass, and quite honestly I forgot that he hadn’t been there all along.  But there was something different about the show and the songs as he brought his own spin on the old favorites.  He didn’t try to fill Noah’s shoes, and neither did he need to.  This was Airborne reborn – the same, but different.

That theme would persevere through the rest of the show, persistently tugging at my subconscious like a nagging child.  This is different.

I shushed it and went back to enjoying myself.  These were all my favorite songs, played live and at decibels that would bust my neighbors’ eardrums if I played them at home.  It was glorious.  I danced.  I jumped.  I screamed.  I did all the things I normally did at the shows I went to last year and the year before that, letting the music lift my feet off the ground as it drowned out the constant chatter in my brain that has plagued me ever since my child died.

I lost my voice screaming the words to the new song “Wrong,” which is decidedly un-Airborne in nature, but so much fun and face-melting live.

I lost my heart to a gloriously-delivered “Elizabeth” and a rocking good time of “What’s In A Name.”

And it never fails.  I always cry during “Graveyard,” only this time I leaned into Hubby’s chest, feeling less celebratory and more reflective.  This was all so strange.  Had we just woken up from a dream like we thought, or was this the dream after all?  And whose dream is this, anyway?

Clearly, it wasn’t mine.

During the encore, they played “Moving On,” and whose phone does Mikel decide to steal this time but the one belonging to the kid I met in line.  His reaction was priceless.  A euphoria only known to those who have that once-in-a-lifetime interaction with their favorite musician.  It’s so brief and fleeting and wonderful.  And his is documented forever, a moment he can replay whenever he wants.  I know what that’s like.

Yet I stood there in a strange and hazy fog, feeling like I was on the outside looking in, watching others have those interactions, remembering my own, and questioning every thing I thought I knew.  I was a ghost of a fangirl past, a different kind of fan than the one I started out as.  Then it occurred to me that albeit for Adrian, the band wasn’t really that different – I was.  The way I perceive them is different, and the way I experience their show is different, and maybe the way I appear is different, too.

This culminated after the show was over when Mikel was handing out setlists from the stage.  I had taken it upon myself to secure one somehow for This Is Nowhere’s collection, even though I don’t make a habit of collecting setlists or any trophies anymore.  Mikel stood on the stage above me with a setlist in hand . . . and handed it to the girl who was by the barrier in front of me.   Then he disappeared backstage.

It was such a small thing – trivial and stupid – that was exaggerated by my perceived ghostliness and lack of visibility.  After all, I am just a fan, just like everyone else in that room.

Hubby wasted no time grabbing my hand to find the kid whose phone Mikel had taken during the song, but they had disappeared as well.

I felt desperate and insignificant.  Lost.  Strange.  Sad.  I shouldn’t have come.

As the crowd filed out, we went to the back of the venue where my old Concert Buddy was standing with my sister-in-law and another couple. They had foregone waiting in line and stayed dry, opting instead for a hot dinner and arriving when the doors opened. I was so happy to see her – and all of them – and relieved when they gave me a hug and thus snuffed out the fangirl ghost. It was back to business as usual.

We talked about the show some, but mostly about ourselves. Concert Buddy had a conversation with Adrian before the show, who remembered her from San Francisco last month. The fan whom I had met that night came up to say goodbye, and I wished her well.

Concert Buddy asked if we were going to wait around outside to talk to the band.

“I don’t know,” I told her honestly. “I don’t want to, really. Are you?”

“Yeah. You should really go. I think Mikel will be happy to see you.”

“Oh, he doesn’t remember me.”

“You never know.”

I laughed. “I’ll go with you. You can introduce me to Adrian.”

The six of us headed outside and around to the alley behind the venue. Already a small crowd had formed, among whom included the kid I had met before the show and whose phone Mikel had taken. They excitedly thanked me for the “advice” and gushed over the experience. Now that I had finally let go of the ghost, I beamed with genuine happiness for them. After all, it wasn’t that long ago I was at my first show having my own amazing experience. I was glad I could share it in this way with someone else.

We didn’t have to wait long for the band members to meander outside. Adrian was already talking to a few fans on the other side of the street, and immediately recognized my Concert Buddy when she approached him to say hello and take a few pictures. A small swarm of people gathered around Mikel and Steven, everyone talking at once.

I stood off to the side against the wall of the building, waiting for everyone else to have their turn. I wasn’t feeling particularly fangirly at the moment, and once again I asked myself why I was there and if I should just leave.

Out of nowhere, Adrian came over to introduce himself and I told him how excited I was to meet him, and that his performance tonight was amazing. I was quickly won over by his charm. We had a nice chat for a few moments until I glanced at Mikel, and he glanced at me.

“Oh, hey,” he said casually. “How ya been?”

“I’ve been good. How’ve you been?” And then I think I may have laughed. I’m not sure because I started to get very embarrassed and awkward and I felt my brain explode inside my skull.

He said he was good, but to me he looked tired. At that moment, I didn’t know what else to do but clumsily ask him for a picture and then politely excuse myself. Hubby was standing there with the phone ready, and when I stood next to Mikel and turned to him, I slowly felt my brain put itself back together.

“This is my husband, by the way,” I said after Hubby snapped the photo.

Mikel extended his hand and said it was an honor to meet him.

“You know,” Hubby said, “I’ve seen you several times now and I’ve never gotten a picture with you. I’m always the photographer.”

“Oh, absolutely, let’s take a picture then.”

This time, I snapped the picture. Hubby thanked him and they shook hands. Another fan jumped in and got his attention, and we stepped away.

We regrouped with our friends at the top of the street where Daren was chatting and taking pictures with the kid I met in line. I wanted to say hi to Daren before we left because Daren is always so nice and down to earth, and just a cool guy in general. After we said hello, he asked how I drew The Bird, and instantly I became self-conscious and shy and told him that “I’m just a big nerd.”

“Well, so am I,” he confessed. “I think it’s really cool.”

“Oh. Thanks.” I probably blushed. “I just draw it in front of the mirror free hand. It’s no big deal. I’m just a fan, is all.”

And it’s true, I thought after I said goodbye. I am just a fan, as small and insignificant as it sounds. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m just an eyewitness, a spectator, an audience. I came there perhaps foolishly hoping to have an experience and feel special, only to realize I’m just a cog in the machine. In the end, the experience is about them. They’re the ones who have worked tirelessly to produce the art of which we are simply eyewitnesses.  They’re the ones who spend hours on the road, probably not getting enough rest, away from their loved ones, and tirelessly putting on a show night after night.  And only they know the price they have paid to stand there in front of us, the sacrifices they’ve made, the work that goes on behind the scenes to get the notes just right, the motions choreographed, the machine running smoothly so we all can play our parts and feel connected in the grand scheme of the art.

The dream is theirs, and I have just a very, very small part in it, but I’m happy to be part of it nonetheless. The experiences I’ve had because of it have been nothing short of amazing, memories I’ll remember for a lifetime, and some of them have very little to do with the band itself. The other fans I’ve met, some of whom only briefly, are some of the most extraordinary people. They are kind, supportive, even talented in their own right. They are people who matter. They are important in their own way, and I’m so grateful to know several of them personally.

But whereas the band moves on to the next city, the next show, and the next group of eager fans standing in line hoping for their piece, the rest of us get to go home and back to our regularly scheduled lives.

For me this was walking hand in hand with the man who waited in the rain for me to a restaurant for a late-night snack after the show. Then it was going back to our sweet baby boy, who cried as soon as I walked in the door and then smiled and laughed with joy when I picked him up. This is my life now, and it may not be glamorous or terribly exciting, but it is truly all I ever wanted, and significant in its own way.

I’m just a fan, and maybe you are too. Maybe you’re not even an Airborne fan, but a fan of something or someone else. Maybe you’re like me, and you shamelessly love the crap out of things because they make you happy. You’re in good company, and whether they have happened yet or not, you are letting yourself be open to have some amazing experiences. It could be your favorite musician stealing your phone and taking a video during a show, or taking a selfie with your favorite artist. It could even be sharing a knowing glance full of meaning and a thousand unspoken words with a loved one during a show. No matter what it is, being a fan is an experience in itself.

And even though one day they may forget about us, we will always have these memories burning brightly in our lives. Even if one day far in the future, we forget the words to the songs. We will never forget the way they made us feel.

airbornelight

The Graveyard Near My House

I don’t enjoy singing in public.  Generally, I don’t enjoy anything that precipitates an anxiety attack.  Singing is like reading one’s words aloud as one writes them, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in front of an audience of one or one thousand – it makes me physically ill.  My throat closes, my chest tightens, and I gasp for air as if I am being suffocated.  I guess you would call it “stage fright,” though what frightens me the most is the way singing exposes a person’s soul to interpretation and criticism.

However, there was a time when I wasn’t so concerned with exposure.  As a child, I loved being onstage.  The spotlight felt warm, familiar, and blinding, like the sun at the beach.  In school I auditioned for the starring role in every production.  I joined chorus and involved myself in extracurricular activities related to theater and music.  One teacher told my mother that I was either going to be an actress or a writer, and both careers had her scared to death because probably neither would allow me to support myself financially.  But I had a passion for the stage and the pen that has transcended to adulthood.

After high school, I pursued a more reasonable career path, but turned singing into a hobby.  I paid for singing lessons and enjoyed learning how to train and strengthen my voice.  My instructor encouraged me to get involved with community theater, confident that I had both talent and skill, and I honestly felt her disappointment when my other goals and pursuits did not line up with the stage.  Eventually, I quit the lessons and life took over – marriage, moving, and the mundane day-to-day activities that left very little time for hobbies like singing or writing.

Since he was a 16-year-old bass player in a garage band, Hubby has been trying to get me to record something with him.  He doesn’t sing much, but he loves music, and playing the guitar is more than just a hobby for him – it’s a talent in his family that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Over the years we have acquired some equipment and practiced here and there, but the majority of time has been spent talking about it and never actually doing anything.  Other than a couple inebriated karaoke sessions at our local taco joint, my singing career – I mean hobby – had become stagnant.

Then when Wesley died, it was over.

Like so many things I used to enjoy, singing was something I thought I could no longer do.  Unlike mindless humming or the repetition of words in a song on the radio, real singing – the soul-exposing, heart-revealing expression of melodies that come from deep within – was an impossibility for a long time.

Likewise, and most disturbingly of all, Hubby stopped playing the guitar altogether.  He refused to even pick it up.  At one time, he even considered selling it, because even though it was my graduation gift to him, it became a sore sight in the living room.  Grief will do that to a person, and it is non-discriminatory.  Grief doesn’t care that you are a 4th+ generation musician.  It will blow the skill right out of your brain, and then beat you with it.

On the flip side, grief can also be harnessed and used to create art.  But this doesn’t always happen automatically or immediately.

It was during that terrible dark year following Wesley’s death and my miscarriage that I “discovered” The Airborne Toxic Event, and the song “The Graveyard Near The House” hit very, very close to home.  It felt like one of the many conversations we were having during those horrible months of accepting our reality and reeling from the nightmarish truth that our lives could end at any time, and what would happen then?

It is a love song for the realists, a fact which makes it quite possibly the most romantic song of them all.

It is also known to make me weep shamelessly at concerts.  Or in the privacy of my own home, when no one is around.  I have heard it literally thousands of times, and there are moments still when a certain line or note will hit me right between the ribs where I think I’ve so cleverly hidden and buried my fears, only to discover they are collecting at the surface, seeping and festering on an open wound.

When we finally reached the point of desperation readiness to start trying for another baby, we began filling the great abysmal unknown with negative pregnancy tests and the last pieces of what were once hopes and dreams.  We started having conversations about adoption, or selling everything and buying a couple motorcycles and never walking through the baby aisle of a department store ever again.

Infertility is a grief of its own, a vacuum of despair and humiliation that steals a person’s humanity.

We were already humbled within an inch of our lives when our son died.  Then came the miscarriage, and now I was having trouble getting pregnant a third time.  Meanwhile, our friends were having babies left and right, as we were slowly going insane.

So one day in the spring of 2013, I snapped.

“I want you to play me a song,” I told Hubby, and I handed him the guitar I got him when we were 18.

“No,” he said, pushing it away.  “I’m probably going to sell it, anyway.”

I bit my lip, ignoring the hurt I felt that he would sell his graduation present.  But this wasn’t personal – this was grief.  And like all issues I feel strongly about, I continued to push it until he finally relented.  I mean agreed.

“Just think of it as an art project,” I told him.  “Let’s use all that equipment we paid good money for.”

And then I pulled out the big guns.  “You always said you wanted to make music with me.”

Hubby can’t resist a challenge.

First, Hubby had to learn the song by watching live performances of “Graveyard” on YouTube.  This took him less than an hour.  Then we had practice sessions in our living room for a couple of weeks.  Lastly, he cleaned the dust off his effects pedal and microphone and we set a date to record it live.

We talked about various locations around town where we could film it, but nothing seemed feasible without an electrical outlet.  We had to think smaller.

Our filming date coincided with his parents’ camping trip, so out of convenience our location was chosen for us – the back deck of his parents’ house that overlooks the woods.  It’s a picturesque little backyard in the springtime, and it also afforded us the use of electricity and unlimited trips to the refrigerator, which ended up being a necessity.  We were unprepared for the amount of time this was going to take.

Hubby began setting up for the shoot, and then it hit me, what we were about to do.

I had baited him with talk of putting it on Facebook and YouTube without really considering my proposal: that other people would see it.  I was throwing myself under the bus to get my husband to play the guitar again, because one of us losing ourselves in this fight to survive was enough, but both of us was unacceptable.  And also I had gone a little bit insane.

But in a moment of clarity before the camera started rolling, I panicked as if I was stepping onstage.  It didn’t matter that the audience was an as yet undetermined amount of people – someone was guaranteed to see it, even if it was just my mother-in-law.  And in the months and years since Wesley, my social anxiety has grown into an out-of-control wildfire that threatens to consume me into staying inside and being a hermit for the rest of my days.

Nevertheless, I was fed up with life.  I had all but given up.  What difference would it make, really, if I put a stupid video of me making a fool out of myself on the Internet?  Even if it was truly awful, no one could have made me feel worse about myself than I already felt.

Besides, if nothing else, Hubby can play the guitar, and he looks good playing the guitar.  So it couldn’t be all bad.  Could it?

We spent hours doing take after take.  A dog would start barking, and we would have to stop.  A plane would fly overhead, and ruin our audio.  And I kept having waves of anxiety that threatened to steal my breath and voice and made my skin tingle.  The left side of my face eventually went numb.  But we kept going until we finally hit our stride and got a decent take.

The sun was setting on our way home.  A full day of playing the guitar and singing, to make up for the years of silence in our marriage where there should have been music.

Hubby spent a week editing the video. I suggested we add a black-and-white filter, as a tribute to the band’s video. I watched it one time, all the while resisting the urge to criticize myself out of existence.  Again, what did it matter?  I was already becoming a ghost in my own life, wasting away from grief and desperation.  Who really gives a crap, anyway?  Not me.

I declared it “not terrible” and we put it online.  And then I tried to forget about it, like I do everything that requires some kind of soul-exposure.  Even blogging.  Even this blog post. 

Over time, I’ve tried not to think about it. I never watched it again, and I refuse to listen to the audio recording. I can’t take it, and I can’t even really explain why. I think it has something to do with the fear of my own severe, harsh, and sometimes unfounded criticism that I only use on myself being realized, and then I will truly never sing or write or do anything creative ever again. And it doesn’t matter that a few people saw it and actually liked it, or were inspired by it to do something creative themselves, or were just glad we had done something that didn’t involve sobbing over our pain. If I were to watch it again, it’s like singing in public, except it was a year and a half ago, but the anxiety is still hanging around.

The only reason I started thinking about it again was because Hubby was tagged by some of his old band mates in some viral social medial survey in which they requested to know his Top Favorite 20 Songs Of All Time. Amongst other respectable choices, there was “The Graveyard Near The House.”

“Really?” I said. “‘Graveyard’ made the cut?” Because I’m surprised when Hubby mentions in any capacity the band that has taken over his wife, and is sometimes met with affection, other times with annoyance. I always forget that he was the one who introduced me to them, not the other way around.

“Yes, of course ‘Graveyard,'” he replied like I should have known better. “Those are just some of the best lyrics ever written.”

And then out of the blue, I suddenly remembered I sung that song in the public forum that is YouTube.

“Hey, remember when we did our ‘Graveyard’ video?”

“Yes.”

I paused to remember the person I was in that video – that desperate, grieving shell of a person.

“Why did we do that?”

Now it was Hubby’s turn to pause. He thought for a moment and then simply said, “Because we had to.”

He is right. We had to. We had to do something. Even if it was just a makeshift, homespun little music video covering an obscure song that isn’t even on the radio. Even if no one will watch it, or think it is anything great, or even if they think it’s awful. We had to do it. Whether it’s because we were at the very end of our rope emotionally, mentally, and physically and we just had to put something out there into the void . . . or we risked losing the last of the charred remains of an empire that was our past selves if we didn’t cultivate and nurture our creative roots. We had to do it.

And it had to be this song, because there isn’t another love song for realists out there – the people who openly discuss the devastation and downright absurdity of death in the same breath they acknowledge that love is worth it, no matter the outcome. Win, lose, or die . . . in the end, it’s better to love, whether the person is your spouse, the unborn children you’re hoping for, or the dead child you miss so much it hurts. This is our soul-exposing, heart-revealing truth. In the end, love wins.

Since then, Hubby has picked up the guitar more, and has even written his own songs. We even learned a few more Airborne songs, and other songs that were fun to play.

It’s a slow process of rebuilding the people like the ones we used to be. And although I will probably never sing onstage in public again, it’s nice to know that the soul-exposing, heart-revealing person I used to be is not completely gone forever, and might be salvageable after all.

Here is our video. It’s not anything special. It’s probably not even really that great. But we had to do it.

A Leaf On the Wind: A TATE Fan’s Perspective

It came without warning.

During the last few moments of an interview on Sunday, the news broke. The temporary bassist for The Airborne Toxic Event, Adrian Rodriguez – who had been covering Noah Harmon since his paternity leave – was announced as a permanent member of the band.

Hours later, Noah confirmed the news on Instagram. “I got fired,” he said. “7 years. 0 regrets.”

Fired? What?

I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and exhaustion. It was almost 3:00am, and I just happened to be in the middle of a bout with insomnia. In hind site, I should have turned my phone off and tried to sleep. Normally, I am a reasonable person with responsibilities and a family. But when it comes to That Band, I am known to forego basic needs like food, water, and sleep to get the coveted barrier spot at a show. I take my passions seriously. And I have yet to be disappointed.

But this. This was shocking. Unbelievable. Disturbing.

I immediately took to the social media capital of the world to make sense of what I couldn’t believe with my eyes. I wasn’t the first to have seen it. A collective wailing began – words so loud on a screen, you would have thought someone had just died.

Then the rioting started. A demand for a formal announcement and an explanation. A cry for justice. A search for someone to blame. Some took the objective approach. Some intellectualized it. Others chose a state of denial. It can’t be true. It just can’t.

To the casual observer, we seem like stark-raving lunatics. “It’s just a band,” you might say. “Get over it.” And do you know what? You would be absolutely right. At the end of the day, they are all just people. They are fans of their favorite bands, just like we are fans. They have families just like we have families. They make mistakes, they get mad, they make up, they move on, just like you and me. And what happened is none of our business, no matter how frustrated we are over the news.

The problem is some of us are not simply frustrated. We are heartbroken.

How is that even possible? How could someone be heartbroken – yes, truly in emotional pain – over a bassist’s departure from a band?

As I wrestled with those questions myself (contrary to popular belief, I really do question my sanity when it comes to this band quite often), I remembered I had made a similar connection some years ago, only this was with a character on television. His name was Wash.

Speak the word “Firefly” in a group of sci-fi loving nerds and you will immediately summon the fangirl in all of them. If they had it their way, the show would still be on TV, not cancelled after its first season on FOX more than a decade ago. Following its premature cancellation, a movie was released based on the TV show, called Serenity. If you’ve never watched this series, but you’d like to, I would advise you to stop reading this post altogether.

 

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Still here? Great.

Part of what made the series Firefly and its subsequent film Serenity so memorable was, among other things, the characters – their individual personalities and unique perspectives they brought to a ship of misfits. So when Wash, our beloved pilot, was suddenly and violently killed in the middle of his wistful mantra, “I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar,” another kind of collective wailing was heard in the universe. As one Firefly fan put it, “It was the closest I’ve come to feeling real grief over a fictional death.”

It came without warning. It can’t be true. It just can’t.

The departure of Airborne’s beloved bassist has elicited a similar reaction from the fans. All anger and shock aside, the overwhelming response has been sadness.

Certainly, Noah Harmon’s contribution to the band was superlative, and his performance onstage is unforgettable. He was (and still is) a ridiculously talented musician, and just about every single fan of The Airborne Toxic Event hates to see him go. Undoubtedly, he will be sorely missed.

But we are grieving something more.

A few years ago, when I was still furiously writing a novel about a fictional musician’s journey, my “research” was interviews and articles about The Airborne Toxic Event, simply because they were the band I listened to the most at the time. Little by little, I uncovered the distinction this band had over any other, that of a refreshing and honest approach to the way they made music and the way they connected with one another. Even from an outsider’s perspective, witnessing the chemistry between band members who at the same time share a common goal and an inside joke is electrifying and highly attractive. It’s as if they share some creative magical bond, and the end result is music for which we’re willing to pay good money.

For The Airborne Toxic Event, this was a group of exceptionally talented individuals who brought their distinct personalities, unique perspective, and even sense of humor to a collaborative project that ultimately became three albums’ worth of material, and then some. But they didn’t leave it at that. Instead, we have hours upon hours of interviews with the band detailing their journey, a DVD that was essentially a making-of special of their concert at the Walt Disney Hall in 2009, and even homemade video blogs of their adventures during the early days of touring. They weren’t shy about bringing us along for the ride for the past seven years, and we packed our proverbial bags and joined them. Surely, it could be said that a few classically-trained musicians and a prolific writer with a flare for the melodramatic and propensity toward death-defying motorcycle trips across the country are a band of misfits (but not the band Misfits), a group of characters who are real people, and have graciously shared their lives with us onstage and downstage for a chat after a show. This wasn’t just once or twice or just long enough to make a video and create an “image” of how the band wanted to be perceived. This has been going on for years, long before I ever jumped on the bandwagon. But even if you were to discover them today, you could start with their pilot episode on YouTube and follow their journey as a fledgling band of an undetermined musical genre with a handful of fans, to playing Lollapalooza to a screaming crowd of thousands in the pouring rain.

Yet time and time again, in more interviews than there is time to cite, they attributed their creative success to their collaboration with each other, not just as musicians, but as friends. As recently as the spring of 2013, Mikel Jollett himself stated during the live session at KCRW: “It’s a collaborative process between artists, and there is an overlap of a lot of friendship, and also just a common sense of you’re a team . . . and every part is extremely important.”

These sentiments spilled over onto Twitter just days prior to that session, when he reminisced and waxed poetic publically just enough for us to feel proud we were supporting such an overlap of artistry and friendship:

“Falling asleep to the gentle, stoney sounds of the band and crew skateboard-jousting in the loading bay. Some nights when I can’t sleep here in the bunk of our bus, I worry the bus will crash..and all I can think is that it’s precious cargo..You know my friends are here sleeping. We’re in this vessel together and I just don’t want anything bad to happen to them. I feel responsible. I feel protective. Im reminded of the night the Drowning Men got hit by a drunk driver. We turned our bus around and there they were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, on the side of the road. We slept 19 people on our bus that night..And all I could think was: I’m glad we’re here together.”

Whether this was the intention or not, the vast majority of fans felt this connection as soon as they took the stage. As outsiders, we were eyewitnesses to their dynamics and chemistry, both on and off the stage. Their humility and their humanity set them apart from other bands, and ultimately endeared themselves to us, to the point we believed we were sharing some kind of collective cathartic experience every time Anna Bulbrook pulled the bow of her viola across our heartstrings.

Now one member of this band and group of friends has left.

It came without warning, and we are scratching our heads in wonder and rubbing our eyes in disbelief. It can’t be true. It just can’t.

“It is a loss of innocence,” as one fan stated, “that the perfect band of friends who have a blast and just happen to make amazing music and whose live shows are transcendent are human after all.”

Photo by Ryan Macchione

Photo by Ryan Macchione

It is the humanity we are mourning. A reality, both refreshing and tactile, that perhaps this wasn’t just a job for them – that maybe they enjoyed it as much as we did. And being human, they make mistakes, they get mad, they make up, they move on, just like you and me.

But all of us will have seven years’ worth of music and memories, and none of us will have any regrets.

As for me, I’m excited to welcome Adrian to the group, and I’m anxious to witness The Airborne Toxic Event transition into a new season. I know things will never be the same. But I’m glad their story isn’t finished, and I’m glad they’re still making music, and the feeling I get when I see a show will always remain: that I’m glad we’re here together.

Photo by Ryan Macchione

Photo by Ryan Macchione

*Special thanks to Anneke, Wendy, Jennifer, Ryan, Kristina, Elizabeth, Jamie, Christina, Susan, Kevi, Andy, Christie, and Glen.

Three Words

Recently I entered a contest on This Is Nowhere, the unofficial fan blog of The Airborne Toxic Event.  The rules of entry were simple: Submit three words that best summarize what the band means to you via text or video, and win a prize.  When I read the contest rules, however, I smiled and shook my head and immediately disqualified myself.

Three words.

Suddenly I was back in elementary school, sitting at a wooden desk that smelled of pencil shavings and art supplies, with a stack of lined notebook paper.  I could see my arm shooting up as soon as the teacher finished explaining the rules.  “Does it have to be just three words?  Can we do more?  Can we write a page?  Can we write a short story?”

How about a blog post?  How about a novella?

No.  You already did that.  Stick to the assignment . . . er, contest rules.

Three words.

The task hung over me like a raincloud.  How was I supposed to come up with just three words that summarized three years’ worth of music, of raucous rock shows, of testing my husband’s patience and wallet?

I was never supposed to.  I couldn’t.  After all, I was the reason for a teacher’s long sigh at a 12-page story for a one-paragraph assignment.  Three words?  Forget it.

Then other fans started sharing their three-word entries.  Instead of diving into the Deep Significance of Life, they chose the clever route.  Some were laugh-out-loud hilarious.  Some even got their children involved.  And I realized that, once again, I was way overthinking things.

I brought Hubby into the brainstorm.

“Help me think of three words that best describe Airborne,” I said.  “What three words would you say?”

“Poop monkey butt.”

He always knows which buttons to push to get me just upset enough to laugh.  “No, seriously.”

“Well, it would have to be something about music.  And something that captures the show.  Because they put on an amazing show.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“It can’t be something lame.”

“No.”

“This is hard.”

“Oh, come on.  You’re The Girl With the Bird.  You’ll think of something.”

And I did.  Eventually, at the last hour.  I went the clever route.  Something I hoped would encapsulate their music, literary edge, and crazy devoted fans like me.  Hubby helped me make a little video.  I watched it once through squinted and scrutinizing eyes and sent it along with the request that I not be included in the running.  I made this just for fun.  The serious stuff I save for here, on this blog that has become the public version of my heart.

The day after I submitted the video, I started thinking more seriously about it.  How would I describe its significance without the need to break out a bottle of wine and a box of tissues and the warning that some people are unable to even read it?

That’s when I stopped thinking about the band.  I stopped hearing the music in my head.  My mind fell silent, like someone had hit the mute button.

Three words.

Three years.

The mental photographs I took began to flood my mind with little 3-second memory montages.  The innumerable amount of times I listened to the music.  All six shows.  Road trips and one trip to California.  All the fantastic people I met, all the sweaty hugs I’ve received, all the times I cried when a certain lyric or swell of the violin punched me in the gut and left me crying on the treadmill, in the car, at the grocery store, in an empty house, and on the way to the hospital the day my second son was born.

This is life after Wesley.

Life.

After.

Wesley.

Three words.

Three words that are meaningless to anyone else, and have nothing to do with the people that make up The Airborne Toxic Event.  They are not clever or profound.  But its these Three Words that reflect more to me than pages glutted with verbosity ever could.

Life after Wesley.

It’s not the life I wanted, but it’s living nonetheless.

graveyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concert Buddies

Oh, the injustice.

There she was, standing next to him.  She was smiling, he was laughing at something she said.  She was inches away from where he stood, and I was miles.

I zoomed in on the picture on my phone, if only to torture myself.

So he was real.  So I didn’t just imagine him.  She had met him.  She was the proof.  Though I hadn’t seen her in months – wait . . . years – she hadn’t changed at all.  Still the tattoos.  Still the same signature ‘come hither’ smirk she was now using on him.

I tried being reasonable.

I hate her, I thought to myself.  I hate her stupid face.  I hate everything about this day!

I blinked back tears and looked up from my phone.  The scene was more than I could bear.  I was nothing short of trapped at an airport, waiting to get on a plane that never came, while my favorite band was about to take the stage just miles away.  And an old acquaintance of mine had just met the lead singer.

There was more than jealousy going on here.  This was some kind of twisted metaphor.  This was the story of hopeless defeat and crushing disappointment.

I was supposed to be on a plane, comforting myself with the knowledge that I was going on vacation and they probably weren’t that good anyway and the likelihood I would have been as lucky as the woman in the picture was next to nothing, and they were only just a band.

But the plane was delayed.  Then the flight was canceled.  Then the crushing disappointment finally got to me.  I officially lost all common sense.  The rest is history.  It is Madness.

There is a loneliness to being in love with a band that no one has even heard of.  It is not the same for people who love The Beatles or The Killers or The Rolling Stones.  If you put ten people in a room, there is a one-hundred percent chance they have heard of those bands, and the odds are just as great that two out of ten of those people will like the same band.  A kinship is then born.  What’s your favorite song?  Favorite album?  Who’s your favorite band member?  How many times have you seen them perform?  Why does that particular band speak to you?

You get my drift.

Instead, when I’m in a group of two or ten or even a hundred people, there is a ninety-nine percent chance I’m going to hear “The Airborne Toxic Event? Who is that?”

So for months, it was just me, by myself, alone.

Then my best friend ran into an old acquaintance at a music festival.  She was glowing and excited, having met Mikel Jollett only minutes earlier.  She had the pictures to prove it.  My best friend sent me her pictures while I was feeling sorry for myself at the airport, with the disclaimer (or warning) that “she’s just as obsessed with the same weird band as you are.”

It’s like being an only child and then finding out you have a twin somewhere.

Once I got over my petty jealousy – and met the man himself at a show two days later – I decided we were long overdue to get back in touch.  After all, she was in her mid-twenties and I was just a stupid teenager the last time we hung out.  Back then, we didn’t have very much in common.  Now she had a family and I was a bereaved mother.  Things had definitely changed.  But somehow, for some reason, we liked the same obscure band.  I wanted to find out why.  I wanted to know her favorite song, her favorite album, her favorite band member.  How many times had she seen them perform?  Why does this particular band speak to her?

Later, through the magic of social media, I went from having a twin to an entire family – a whole group of people who shared the same kind of obsessive love for the same band, for reasons not unlike my own.  We are a kind, empathetic lot.  Most of us have experienced the uglier side of life.  But at a show, all of us remind me of happy children, laughing and singing and smiling in spite of our circumstances.  We have more in common than we even realize.  And we are sharing a moment.  We are making memories.  These concerts are snapshots of our lives, and we’re all in the front row, smiling like we have never felt pain.  But more than likely, we smile and sing and dance like this because we have.

The acquaintance in the photograph is now a friend again.  We are each other’s devil’s advocate, plotting ways to get ourselves to Airborne shows, be they a hundred miles away or a thousand, perhaps to the chagrin of our long-suffering husbands.  It could be said I am grateful to her, for without her I never would have gone to California once or Chicago twice, and we never would have hung out backstage with the band That One Time.

But at the end of the day, I was right the first time.  They are just a band.  She and I, however – we are friends.  And I am grateful to the band, because I know so much more than her favorite song.  Without them, I might never have known what a kind, selfless, passionate, funny, and fascinating person she truly is.

I might never have stood in the pit of the Chicago venue with her, several feet away from Mikel Jollett.  We were not in the front row.  We didn’t have the chance.  My obsessive-compulsive need to be in the front row would just have to get over it.

Oh, the injustice.

But there we were, standing next to each other.  She was smiling, I was weeping during “The Graveyard Near the House.”  She was inches away from where I stood.  Then she closed the distance between us – all those years we were out of touch, all the space and time we could have been friends but weren’t – and she put her arms around me and held me as my shoulders shook and the tears poured down The Airborne Bird on my cheek.

I love her, I think to myself.  I love that she is here, and that I am not alone.

So many of us are waiting for friends like her.  The next time you go to a concert to see your favorite band, take a look at the people around you as you share a moment and make memories.  You have more in common than you realize.  Such friends are closer than you think.