An Encounter with _____

Posted on February 6, 2014 by

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Last September, my friend Dan and I had tickets to see English alt-rockers, Anathema.  When these things don’t start on time, I’m prone to antsy pre-concert stops to the venue bar, where the economic drink is a $7.50 bottle of Bud Light, which, granted, is opened for me by the leather braceleted bartender so that the cap flies across the bar in a display of theatric apathy worth the markup. After that, I’ll likely stand around with my beer, unsure how to hold it and appear casual (Do I dangle the bottle by the neck? Do I cross my arms and hold it to my chest? What if someone bumps me and I spill? There’s no re-entry, so I can’t go out to the car and change my shirt. Dear god.).

This time, I figured I’d be a little late to the show, skip the opener, and arrive just in time for Anathema. But as it happens, the opener wasn’t actually the opener. When Dan and I got there, a third band had been smuggled onto the bill.

The opener was an avant-garde two piece – droney and kind of spooky. We caught the closing song – haunting female vocals hovering above grisly synth keys that made me aware of all the standing hair on my body. It’s not often that you find yourself impressed with the opener, because the opener is the opener for a reason. But these two created one fuck of an atmosphere.

They finished and the sound guys cranked ’80s dance music over the house speakers and the crowd broke up. The guy who’d been playing synth pulled his sweaty hair into a ponytail and started carrying the gear through the crowd. I recognized him now. Aaron Turner, former singer and guitarist of post-metal pioneers Isis.

I’d spent long adolescent nights on the floor, in front of the stereo, with my electric guitar on my lap, trying to figure out how to play Isis songs in my parents’ basement. I guess if I’m being honest, I used to play some of those songs in the mirror, too, like I was in the band.

Okay, so you get it, Aaron Turner was a monumental figure in my musical development. But the uplifting magic of seeing him unexpectedly at the show isn’t my point, because really there was nothing magical about it. I should have been happy, but my guts reacted with this confusing dissatisfaction, verging on sadness. Not like: oh my god, Isis is never getting back together, so sad. No. It was the realization that Aaron Turner has made such an impact on me and there is this incredible asymmetry, because there is nothing that I will ever do that will affect him in this way. Our (non)relationship is parasitic. And this goes for any celebrity that has infected you with some sort of performance. In fact, I will omit Mr. Turner’s name from the rest of this essay and you can imagine whomever you want, because ____ is not unique in this phenomenon.

For the rest of the show ____ sat by himself manning the merch table. Dan goaded me to go say something to ____ before the show was over, reminding me that it was undoubtedly my last chance. I’d never get this opportunity again. Dan was probably looking for a laugh. He knows that I do this thing, and by “thing,” I mean fawn. Okay, okay, yes. I fawn when I come face-to-face with the artists that inhabit my iPod.

I’d done some fawning probably a week prior at the Ice House in Minneapolis where Saul Williams performed for about a hundred people. We were all packed together in this dim bar. He spoke, red lights falling on him in front of a twenty-foot red curtain that opened on exposed red brick. After the show he was out back chain-smoking on the patio. Of course I had to say something. I’ve been listening to his music for years and reading his poetry for longer. But when I started talking, I began to gush, gushing to him about how his work was like nothing I’d hear before, how I was introduced to his music by a girl, who years later became stripper, and the rest. Part way through, I realized what I was doing, and it was lot like watching yourself locking your keys in the car. The whole time he was leaned up against the wood railing, head down, spitting between his red moccasins. When I finally stopped myself, he looked up and gave me this uneasy okay-that’s-nice-now-please-leave-me-alone sort of thank you, and continued smoking.

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Around midnight, Anathema left the stage and the lights went up. There was no encore. (Encores are inane. Where is the satisfaction in cajoling the audience to chant the band’s name for a minute or two, before returning to the stage, hands raised, hair back, in some autoerotic exhibition?) The crowd had decamped. Dan reminded me, now or never. ____ was still sitting at the merch table, though now, his wife had joined him and she was starting to pack up.

Walking up to the table, I wondered if it would be indecent to walk up to the merch table, looking only for a conversation. Didn’t I have to buy something? But there were two problems with this. They were only selling vinyl and band-tees. I don’t have a record player, and the last thing I need is another $20 black t-shirt.

There he was, ____. My face was hot. It all gets really hazy here.  This business is a lot like having a crush. ____ is hottest cheerleader, prom queen, popular girl, and I’m the hall-monitor. We won’t ever work out, but all I want is for ____ to let me down easy. Unlike Saul Williams.

I said “hi” to ____ and his wife. I told them I had no idea they were playing, and then, the gushing began. I spent thirty seconds prefacing my gush, which was also part of the gush, but I recall saying: “I don’t know if it’s kosher to talk about Isis right now, and know that you probably hear this all the time […], but without Isis […], I wouldn’t listen or play music the way I do today […], and the fact that the music was created so selfishly is what made it what it is […].”

This monologue continued for about three minutes.

____’s wife stared at me, unreadable. ____ straightened up, and just looked at me. I was about to thank him and walk away, when he said, “I really appreciate that.” He put out his hand. “Believe me, it was my pleasure. Thank you for saying that.”

I thanked him for talking with me, and left.

Dan told me this part, I don’t remember: ____’s wife was smiling as I turned away. Dan said, “You may have been creepy as hell doing that thing that you do, but they knew you were sincere.”

Posted in: Aporia, Essay