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Closer Issue 10

Antarctica Starts Here

Driving through Portland - sitting in traffic, more to the point, Lee Morgan on the radio and the sun shining down on me. Morgan fades to shuffling hip hop beats, my tongue still stings from an espresso burn. I'm completely wired, ideas scorching through my head like silver contrails of light and words bursting like fireworks in my cortex, and almost in tears from the beauty of it all as my heart swells with wonder. I'm coming home with Howard Zinn and Nelson Algren, an allergy attack and a belly full of caffeine. I won't sleep for hours, but I've got a pen and paper and books that can change my life in the passenger seat. As I was walking around downtown just now, I realized that every shitty thing that ever happened to me has had one result, and the same one - eventually - each time. It has made my heart grow larger, just wide enough to take in a little more pain and feel compassion for the person who caused it, just wide enough to listen to people who are hurting and offer some compassion and empathy. The blues can only have two effects - they either harden a person and turn them bitter and cold, or make a person that much more sympathetic and kind. One way in ... two ways out. And only one of them worth taking.

Turn On The Goddamn Heater If You Have Cold Feet

I just celebrated ex day. I don't anticipate celebrating it again; at least, not on the same day. In fact, I don't want to celebrate it again, but if I ever do, it will fall on a different day and for different reasons. This year, it happened to coincide with Memorial Day; frankly, it doesn't really deserve that kind of significance. Ex day is a name I gave to a day of remembrance. It's just my way of putting the past in its place and letting it be, of walking away from a weight that I've carried for too long as it is, and the nature of the burden should be evident from the name. I celebrated ex day at the beach with a letter that I never intended for her to see and a book of matches. I wished her luck and happiness in my uneven handwriting, put it in an envelope with the last remaining picture that I had of her, and held a flame to it until it caught fire. I watched the envelope and its contents burn, curl into ash and drift into the wind. As the last embers burned out, a single seagull flew out of the darkness and into the light of the sodium lamps, wheeled once and disappeared again.

This Is What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

For days, I have been enjoying the confidence that accrues only to the foolhardy, the drunk and the insane, yet I am as sober as I can be, save for excessive (for most people) amounts of coffee. My heart is open and, as Dave Quinn says, I'm an emo pussy. My heart is on my sleeve; I couldn't have it any other way. And isn't a heart better to wear in that location than a handkerchief? Is it better to joust like Don Quixote or a knight of the Round Table? For my lot, I'll take windmills and a broken down mule over lust and cloth. I'll take friendship over fleeting intimacy, no matter how foolish the plots and goals of friends may prove to be. Those plans yield a fresh crop of hope, no matter how unrealistic or distant it may be; reaping such a harvest is far more rewarding than any number of nights filled with tender sighs and moistened lips. Love all too frequently ends in betrayal and suffering, while attacking palm trees that made snide comments in passing results in laughter, even years later. Everyone needs a Sancho Panza; the same cannot be said for Guinevere.

No Has Beens

So I thought that was where it ended - at the Belly Up Tavern, an over-priced watering hole for middle-aged surf yuppies, listening to Megadeth's last good album, waiting to see Down By Law. Considering how integral Down By Law had been to the zine, it was only fitting, even though it wasn't the place for them and it certainly wasn't the place for me. I have about as much to do with bars that have hardwood floors as I do with mirrored balls. Not my scene. I had gone to dinner with Dave and Keith earlier; we talked a bit and caught up on old times, then discussed the new ones. It was their last show of the tour and, I thought, the last time I would see them before the zine came to its close. Even then, I knew there was something wrong about ending it like that. I knew that drawing STM to a close at a venue where no one felt at home and a show that none of us belonged at would have given the lie to everything it meant to me and everything I stood for. DBL belonged at an all-ages venue and I had hated the Belly Up for years, hated the small-minded attitudes and posturing and nostalgia for bands that its patrons didn't pay attention to in the first place. And so I waited, half listening to the bad metal they played to cater to the "punks." I waited for the sound of real punk rock to come storming through the speakers and replace the bullshit that found fertile ground in unquestioning ears. I waited to hear the chords in which I always found myself made anew. Most of the people there went to see the Buzzcocks, to hear "Orgasm Addict." I went to see one band and waited at the metal security railing, knowing that I'd go home with a bruised rib cage and pulled muscles, a sore neck and ringing ears. I waited, knowing that when DBL took the stage, I would start dancing. I'd start singing like I wrote the words because art doesn't exist in a vacuum. Art is only real when other people see it or hear it or touch it - when they feel it like a hard punch to the gut that knocks the wind out of them. Their reaction expands its meaning. In other words, when we sing along, even if and especially if we can't sing, we make that song ours. Consider it a gift. We all give music our own meaning. I used to get angry when songwriters wouldn't discuss explicit meanings; now I thank them for it. These songs belong to the band and me and you. They have crossed the boundary from "theirs" to "ours." And this is the greatest degree of honesty I'm capable of, admitting that I've been wrong in my approach to music for years, because when DBL played "Independence Day," the song took on entirely new meanings as I screamed along - "Don't worry about me mom and dad/ 'Cause I'll be okay." They are meanings that I'm sure Dave Smalley didn't intend, but that came through loud and clear to me and raised my heart like a fucking black flag of rebellion and resistance at a time when it felt too heavy to ever pick up again.

We Know The Night

I crave connection, getting into a conversation with someone I don't know so I can learn new things and exchange ideas, or maybe discover a reflection of my own thoughts and dreams. When I was in Sendai, I wound up talking with a punk named Yutaka. We drank beer for hours and talked about The Replacements, but we were really talking about our lives through talking about the 'Mats. We talked about why we like them - the way they articulate loneliness, confusion and being totally clueless about girls - the inference being that we are lonely and confused. I can only presume that he didn't have a girlfriend either because when the clear gray light of dawn broke, we were still sitting on the sidewalk, drinking beer and talking. I felt connected that night. We shouted out "Bastards of Young" and "Alex Chilton," we sang "Waitress in the Sky" and "Talent Show" and I felt like I had found another brother in arms. Same problems. Same solutions. Same goddamn sorrows to drink away.

No Retreat

So here I stand, nearing the end of all the shit I've gone through over the past few years - unbroken and still defiant. 10 years of learning how to rebel, 1 of being forced into partisanship and 17 more of practice, with plenty of opportunity. I can't remember the last time I didn't go against the grain, that I didn't bet against the odds, knowing I'd get cut. Trying anyway. Nothing worth doing is easy. Even so, I've been lucky. Those 28 years gave me the gift of a burning heart, yearning for better times, that carried me through the worst ones. Hard luck yielded strong friends who are closer than any brothers or sisters ever could be, no matter how many miles are between us. We don't need to see what lies ahead anymore; we just lock arms and move straight on 'til morning.

Open Letter To No One In Particular

I had stopped at a small coffee counter in the Portland airport for some espresso. I ordered my usual double and the guy behind the counter told me a large usually comes with four. What was I going to do? Turn it down? While he pulled shots, we chatted. I saw a copy of Zinn's "People's History" on the counter behind him and I told him about my visit to the Ludlow Massacre monument. For his part, he told me about the stand's sale to a coffee conglomerate. "It'll be like Starbucks soon enough," he said. "You'll get singles and doubles." Therein lies the value of independence - being free to give four shots of espresso to someone who's about to get on a plane and only charge them for two. As it turned out, he told me my drink was on the house. Maybe it was the conversation. Maybe it was my appreciation of the quantity of espresso in the drink. And maybe it was just a middle finger to the new corporate owners. Whatever the reason, I tipped him well and went on my way, burning my mouth with every sip.

No Equalizer

Life isn't fair. I seem to be running into a substantial number of people lately who think it's supposed to be. It's not fair that their relationship ended, that they have a mean boss, that they don't like how their life is turning out because they were supposed to be successful - whatever the fuck that means - and they feel like they're failing. It just isn't fair. And what every last one of them fails to realize is that unfairness is the point of life. As I've gotten older, I've come to realize the value of fighting for everything, even the lost causes - especially the lost causes. Everyone has been through hard times - some harder than others but all equally trying. In my case, I've buried my family, I've walked away from destructive relationships and not looked back, I've helped friends move to other cities and gone for years without seeing them. It isn't fair, but all the tough breaks made me who I am today, and I feel like I got the best of the deal. I love hard times because they force me to change and take a stand, and I find out who my real friends are when I'm getting the hell kicked out of me. Can I even begin to explain what a gift that is? In three years of stripping away family, friends and lovers, I've had no choice but to figure who I am and what I do, what's important to me and what I can do without. I've spent weeks alone, not really talking to anyone. I've lived like a monk, getting my head straight and getting ready for what comes next. I don't wake up in the morning and wonder who I am or what I want anymore. I don't wonder why I'm doing what I'm doing. After everything I've been through, I wake up in the morning and jump out of bed, ready to move, ready to burn. I wake up hoping that life decides to put obstacles in my way because I know I can go around them, over them, under them or straight through them and nothing will stop me. Hard times harden muscles, sharpen minds and yield warmer hearts. Hard times make us stronger and, if we hold true to our ideals, better people. Frankly, I don't want it any other way.

Fly The Flag

Hazy silver light turns gold on the tarmac, turning luggage carts and water alike into gleaming 24 karat beauty. Fumes shimmer in the setting sun. And this is what I've been waiting for - anticipation and energy enough to chase whatever comes along as far as it can go. Is it strange to look at life's limitless potential and still find it confining? Everything is finite and time often seems like a two-bit cutthroat alley thief, stealing moments and stretching them into years. There is little to be gained by mounting an insurrection against the oppression of end points, but I raise my black flag anyway. It is true that I'm a sucker for lost causes, that I swim against the current, that I run into headwinds, that I believe even walls will give way if I only push hard enough. Time is neither an enemy nor a friend; it is more like an unsympathetic proctor, ensuring that the tests are collected at the end of the allotted hours and that no one cheats - or at least that the foolish get caught.

Revolution Begins In The Mirror

There's been a revolution brewing in my head since I was a kid. Six strings and half as many chords have always been a declaration of independence to me, so much so that I still flail away at my guitar every chance I get, even though I've never gotten any better. I pull the strap over my shoulder and plug in, turn the volume and gain all the way up and try like hell to play something that sounds like the noise I hear in my head when I'm going to sleep or singing to myself. I walk through the streets alone, a ready grin for any friendly face, always searching for something new. Not so long ago, I felt incredibly old - I still joke about it. I felt aged beyond my years and jaded beyond my dreams, disenchanted and disenfranchised. I had forgotten what I loved and what renewed me, what made me feel alive again. I've only just begun to remember, but it seems that my feet are predisposed to dance in celebration because they already know the path that I feel compelled to follow. This is my community, a loose-knit fellowship of like-minded outcasts. This is my home, anywhere that Les Pauls ring out in triumphant rejoicing over everyday life. And this, to me, is freedom. Power chords have always been a clarion call to arms in my life. And my revolution of the moment is all but over. The years of inactivity peeled away and the voice that grew rusty with disuse is screaming again. It was a private revolution, yet a necessary one. I had forsaken what I knew for love; while it may be true that there is no greater sacrifice, it is equally true that there is no sacrifice which makes less sense than exchanging a love that is ultimately life-affirming for one that promises only growing feelings of discontent and having been cheated in the process. And isn't rage against injustice and raw deals always the cause of revolution? Doesn't hunger foster a spirit of rebellion that lingers until the soul and stomach are full? I thought I was feasting but my emaciated stomach and heart knew the truth - I was wasting away. They rebelled and declared war upon my complacency and in the struggle, I slowly began to wake up. I realized where I had been and what I had been doing and joined in. Now pillars of smoke climb as fires slowly burn out. I can look back and see nothing but scarred earth and ash where battles were fought, and realize that, while this revolution was anything but bloodless and I shall bear the scars for the rest of my natural life, everything turned out for the best. I'm stronger now - stronger still due to the grace and support of my friends, the only family I have left. A fire burns inside me again, a fire I once thought was extinguished forever. I no longer feel like a partisan in my own life; those days are over and the rebels have come down from the hills to join in the celebration, shooting their pistols and drinking from the jugs of wine that we pass around in the spirit of friendship. Revolutions now and again are necessary; the blood they spill provides fertile ground for growth and change. My eyes are wide open again and though I may still be bruised and bloody, I know my heart is strong and I'm exactly where I need to be.

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008