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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

all is vanity (laugh with the howl)

The howling drones grew, then plateaued, then consumed themselves for twenty minutes as we stood waiting for someone to come on stage. A distorted sine wave bleeds through a broken speaker, then hammered strings in a ceaseless fury, then church bells banged away with double mallets. It is like this for some time. The crowd is anxious, cracking nervous smiles. Young girls are shoving towards the front but can't see anything. A tall man in front of us with bad teeth stinks like rotting meat. A lap steel is added, waves of growling, snarling bar chords shimmer above the chaos. This goes on for a very long time. N leans back against me. She is yelling in my ear, but I can hardly hear her. I guess what she is saying from the context. I shrug my shoulders. I make a face that says "let's wait a bit".

The room is full of smoke. People are sucking on cigarettes like they are going down on the Titanic. The air is stale and does not move. I look up at a window vent in the roof of this garage. It is covered in plastic.

My ears are ringing. The performance is so loud, you cannot even hear it. A bass player comes on the stage, tuning his instrument then thumping out low, held notes that shudder the floorboards. It remains like this for some time, the din, the roar, the slashing of air.

Now Norman appears. My hand shoots up into the air and I point at him. He sees me, nods once. He looks like a preacher, or a general from the civil war with his grey hair and mustache. Those tattoos on his arms, the black pants, they are all far too familiar to me. How many nights did we drink in the Mars Bar until the gates were pulled down, with Algis and Tracie and the rest of them?

He pulls his Fender on, sloping his back into a curve and looses an opening salvo. It moans slowly, hovering above everything else. He stares out at the audience, looking past everyone, past the bar in the back, looking all the way to Afghanistan I think.

Jarboe finally emerges, wearing a stiff white cowboy hat. His hair is grey now too, his belly swollen over the top of his pants. He is playing the old Gibson still, with half of the knobs taped over or broken off. He acts out his part, conducts, swirls his arms in the air like a chef enjoying the perfume of some minestrone. He nods, his chin thrust in the air. He plays.

You can't really hear anything at this point. It is just a massive ringing. It is far beyond bone crunching noise. It is far beyond the colossal footsteps of giants. It is louder than meteors smashing into the earth. It is impossible.

N leans back on me. She wants to do it, but her heart is beating too fast now. She needs fresh air. We have been standing for four hours already. She doesn't feel good.

Somehow it ends. Jarboe grumbles a handful of words. I know the drummer too, just forgot his name.

The next one crashes in, the air itself is shuddering. The crowd just stands there motionless. They play one note on every instrument as loud and hard as they can. The drummer counts out the measures. Jarboe grimaces and howls and falls to his knees as the kids in the front row snap pictures and smile. I saw the Swans play a few times in the early nineties. I know they did shows like this, but they also did shows where you could hear some words, when the beautiful chaos was interrupted by quieter passages. That was a long time ago, and the sound guys were really good. No matter how loud it was, you still heard everything. Here, I see someone playing an ebow, and can't hear him at all. I see Jarboe's lips moving and do not hear him. I start to get angry at the Russian sound guys. I know the musicians are asking for monitors to hear themselves. They keep asking. I know what it is to play without hearing yourself. It is like being in a very loud limbo, performing blind, in a vacuum.

N looks up at me. She will go outside. She tells me to stay, that she will be ok.

I know what they are doing. Jarboe believes that if the sound is this loud, if it is truly painful - it actually hurts your body. People have been known to throw up at a Swans show. He wants the pain. He wants the experience. He wants the surrender and the epiphany. He doesn't want to play the popular stuff you can find on youtube. He doesn't want to give off even a whiff of the sellout punk hero. He does not play requests. I get it. He is going all the way back to the beginning. This was the first music they made. This was the dinosaur goo that split the world open, so long ago. It is still magnificent. But twenty years ago, he grew beyond this madness. Twenty years ago this was a first step in many. I understand this is all that will happen tonight. Paleozoic howling.

My blood is running in cold waves up and down my back. Those short girls are pressing into my kidneys. The room is getting even hotter and the tall guy's shirt is producing a truly foul smell, like liver and raw onions and warm vodka. I press my fingers halfway into my ears and hear things much better. I love the noise. I love the cold snarl of Norman's guitar. The drummer is perfect, precise, lifting the room until it hovers a few feet off of the ground.

I send N an sms. I don't like the idea of her standing alone outside.

Jarboe talks now.
"Raise your hands high, Muscovites." He says, like he is working at a circus. "Raise your hands high, powerful Muscovotes. You killers of fascists."

I see him smirk to himself. I start to think he hates this place, with the bad sound system, playing in an art garage on a Sunday night.

I don't feel good. I want to hear everything happening on stage, not just this sharp ringing that is beyond deafening now. My hands shoved deep in my pockets, I realize I need to go. I need to make sure N is ok, standing in the parking lot outside next to the security guys. It is cold tonight, and she is not dressed well. I also want to stay, to drench myself in the New York of my twenties when I lived around the corner from CBGB's - to laugh with the howl. I want to drink some stale beer and talk to Norman afterwards, those simple musician's conversations that sum up an entire night in a few words, a nod of the head, a knowing expression, an exchange.

But I will not.

I leave quickly, and those short girls are thrilled. They still won't see anything.

Outside I gulp on the cold air. N looks up at me. Her face says "I tried". I hold her hand, put my arm around her to warm her. She is freezing. We sit in her car with the heat all the way up. Talking to each other is almost pointless, as we can't really hear anything, just an empty hollow whine that will fade after we have a pot of black tea and maybe a piece of cake in a near-empty cafe before we go home and to bed on this Sunday night.

Comments

Omgrrrl said…
OK...sometimes our heroes disappoint. And ALWAYS it is never a good idea to let a Lady feel Pain.



BUT DUDE! You saw the Swans. In Moscow. You raised your hand/eyebrow/heartrate.

I dunno about Vanity. But I know a lot about laughter and howling.

I am bold enough to suspect that you had a brief couple of moments of Joy there in Muskovite Land.
Annie said…
Splendid; my ears hurt just reading this.

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