|Bradenton, Florida. A shit-hole ghetto town about an hour south of Tampa. I think it was the summer of 1990. I remember it being really, really hot. I was in high school and my friend Chris suggested starting a band. He played guitar already and told me I should get a bass. I took that week’s paycheck from the grocery store I worked at and went to a local used music equipment shop and asked what that could get me, I bought whatever it was they suggested. In my memory it was a sunburst Fender but I honestly can’t remember. I didn’t know I needed an amplifier for it to work, and had trouble figuring out how to play it at home. The following week we got together in another friends garage for “band practice” which was a serious lesson in humility. I showed up without an amp, but luckily (or unluckily) someone there had a guitar amp I could plug into. This was the first time I’d ever heard what the bass even sounded like.|
Chris proposed that we start off playing “New Direction.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Chris pointed out that I was wearing a Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt at the time, New Direction of course was the first song on their recently released album Start Today. I didn’t actually have the album yet, I had a dubbed cassette copy that my neighbor Max had made for me which I listened to all the time – so once Chris started playing it I knew what he was talking about, but Max hadn’t written the names of any of the songs so didn’t know what any of them were called. Max would later sell me his blue and white swirled vinyl copy of that album, which has remained one of my prized possessions even to this day. Anyway, I knew the song but I had no idea how to play it, given that I had no idea how to play bass. I stood there in the garage all afternoon while my friends jammed one song after another that I knew but I had no idea how to play. That was the only band practice I ever went to, and I wasn’t ever invited to be any of their bands ever again, rightly so.
I kept that bass and every once and a while I’d pick it up and hope I’d magically learned how to play something. I never did. When I’d fantasize about being in a band I always pictured myself singing, so just never got motivated enough to try and learn it. Besides, my favorite band in town at the time, Tired From Now On, already had a bass player and a singer and I wasn’t going to even try to start a Tired From Now On copycat band. I think I sold it to my friend from Canada Kyle for $50 when one of his bands was passing through Gainesville a few years later. At least I’d spray painted it black so it looked much cooler than that crappy sunburst. I wonder if he still has it?
A few years later when I was working at Victory Records my co-worker Chuck told me he wanted to start a band and asked if I’d be interested in singing. Of course I said yes, instantly. He said he was getting the rest of the band together and we’d have a proper rehearsal in a few weeks. At that time I was often the last person to leave the office, which was in a 3 story condo in an industrial part of Chicago. My office was on the 3rd floor, and when everyone else would leave I’d often turn up my stereo as loud as it would go and jump around screaming along like an idiot to the loudest, angriest thing I had. It was excellent therapy. I highly recommend everyone try it sometime. My private karaoke included many bands, but vocalist Tim Singer’s bands – No Escape, Deadguy and the recently released (at the time) Kiss It Goodbye were in heavy rotation. I guess I always kind of related to his “I tried, but everything is fucked anyway” lyrical narrative. In my mind, that’s how I’d sing in a band.
Eventually Chuck would rope in the rest of a band and we’d all get together one evening after work in the basement of Bulldog Records, Victory’s record store in Wicker Park where bands like Blood For Blood and Murphy’s Law had recently played some already legendary shows. Drums set up, amps plugged in and blasting. I knew enough lyrics to enough songs that I figured there wouldn’t be a repeat of the New Direction situation and I was ready to go with whatever song they pulled out of the hardcore repertoire. Except the songs they’d written themselves and had already been practicing that I’d never heard before. Chuck handed me the mic and said “let’s go!” and I just stood there. I didn’t know what to sing, or what to say. I’d never written lyrics before, and certainly hadn’t anticipated doing it on the spot. I’d been daydreaming about doing this for years, and now when given the chance I froze. I convinced myself that anything I’d come up with would be so stupid the band would stop playing and I’d be laughed out of the basement. Of course, just standing there like an idiot had a similar effect.
Decades later I of course recognize how letting my insecurity keep me from doing the thing I was dreaming of doing, when I directly had the opportunity to do it, was just about the stupidest thing I could have ever done. I’m not really big on regret, we all do things that if given another chance we might do differently or applying hindsight realize our errors, but pushing past that fear and doing actually band with my friends sometime in the 90’s when I had countless opportunities is something that I’d totally should have done. If life had do overs, that’s where I’d use mine.
I mention this because totally out of the blue this week there’s a new EP out by Tim’s new band Bitter Branches and it’s incredible. It’s the last thing I was expecting in 2020, and after listening to it on repeat essentially since buying it I can attest it’s exactly what I needed. If anything I’ve mentioned in this sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s what you need as well. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to take the chances we have, when we have them. They won’t always be there and even trying and failing is way better than not trying at all.
During the 2016 US Presidential campaign the above ‘This is fine’ meme gained significant popularity as it perfectly captured how many people were feeling about the overall situation. It was not created for that however, and is actually part of a 2013 comic by KC Green, which you political buffs out there will recognize as a date not long into then President Obama’s 2nd term. There’s no question that 2020 is shaping up to be a disaster, and people are understandably asking how long until we get back to normal. But when exactly is this “normal” that everyone is talking about? It certainly wasn’t 2019, nor 2016. If you think back to the George W. Bush years following 9/11 and the resulting ‘war on terror’ there was a lot of hoping for a “return to normal” then too. The response to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign certainly made it clear that for a lot of people, Bill Clinton’s presidency was far from ideal. That takes us back to ’93. Was it normal before then? Under Bush Sr? How about Regan?
The truth is it’s been a disaster for a long time, we simply forget how much we hated yesterday because of the overwhelming pain of today. So we trick ourselves into reaching for something slightly less terrible, rather than something better. “Normal” sucked. “Normal” was broken. “Normal” was dysfunctional and oppressive.
If “normal” was so great we wouldn’t have needed 4 waves of feminism. If “normal” was so great we wouldn’t have to explain to anyone why black lives matter. If “normal” was so great there would be no debate about who deserves health care, or an education. There would be no argument about what kind of basic lifestyle can or can’t be afforded with a full time minimum wage paycheck. There wouldn’t be countless examples of laws being enforced differently based on someone’s income or race. Teachers, the people we put in charge of educating future generations, wouldn’t be having to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets. Artists and musicians, people who make our world beautiful and enjoyable, wouldn’t be seen as disposable. The oceans wouldn’t be full of garbage. We wouldn’t be talking about how amazingly clear the skies and air are in cities that have imposed shelter in place rules, keeping people out of their cars. We wouldn’t be counting how many people died from the latest pandemic that jumped to humans in the unsanitary conditions from selling wild animal parts in wet markets.
And that’s the moment we are in right now.
It’s not hyperbole to say that everything is going to change. There’s the world we knew before the virus, and the world we make after it. No one will ever think of handshakes or face masks the same again. That’s a given. But what about everything else? I don’t want the world to go back to normal. I don’t want something just not quite as bad. I want us to take the opportunity that we have been presented with and strive for something better.
You can call me an idealist, but that would be a hard sell given how much time I spend talking about how everything sucks. But I’m trying to make tomorrow better, and I believe that’s possible. And I’m not the only one. Here is a very short and very incomplete list of a few people I consider friends. People I know who won’t settle for “not quite as bad” and are actively working for something better. Take a few moments and see what they are up to, and feel free to add more names, projects and links in the comments.
(this post can be found at arethingsbacktonormalagain.com)
|If you ever wondered what would be a good example to illustrate the absolute pointlessness of borders and countries and citizenship and visas and that entire thing, let me introduce you to the Coronavirus.|
Around the world visas are expiring but since flights have been cancelled people can’t leave. Many countries are extending visas a month at a time, and Japan has announced a 3 month leniency which optimistically assumes all will be back to normal in 3 months. While Portugal has given everyone in the country access to the national health care, social media around the world is full of newly emboldened racists arguing that foreign born permanent residents of their countries should be cut off from health care to keep the resources for the full blooded citizens (naturalized citizens need not apply). But the virus doesn’t give a shit about any of that. It doesn’t choose who to infect based on visa status and doesn’t limit contagion to any racial, political or national group. I’ve listened to people in the US argue that NY was only hit as hard as it was because of the politics of the residents, and that the rest of the country doesn’t have to worry about a similar situation. People are being really stupid.
The truth is a sick person walking down the street can infect any one of my neighbors just as easily as they could infect me, any of my neighbors getting sick puts me in the same risk as everyone else. If I get sick they are just as much at risk as anyone else. So what sense does it make to argue that if the Chinese family 2 streets over gets sick, they shouldn’t get the same medical attention as the rest of my neighbors? What sense does it make that if my visa expires and there are no flights to take me somewhere else, that I’ll be considered to have illegally overstayed my visa and prohibited from coming back?
The purpose of all of these systems is of course obvious – it’s to keep other people out. To create an “other.” Some tangible, legal difference. Someone to be better than. When you are obsessed with laws and paperwork and sorting things into little boxes maybe that seems like a good idea. But you know what doesn’t give a crap about laws or paperwork and sorting things into little boxes? Viruses.
And because viruses don’t care about any of that, all of this focus on what is happening here and ignoring what is happening there, is pointless. All the focus on me and not you is pointless.
This pandemic is certainly acting as a spotlight to bring attention to plenty of previously shadowed rotten and crusty corners of how things work, or more often don’t work. When no one is paying attention dysfunctional systems can just sit there not working because it doesn’t matter to enough people and it would be too much of a headache to try to fix. If it’s not broke don’t fix it right? Well in this case it’s more that if it’s broke but not enough people are impacted by it then don’t fix it. And all the sudden lots of people are being impacted.
(excerpted from my newsletter)