Slingshots, Anyone? : Let Down And Hanging Around

We crossed the dark intersection, sizing up the venue’s entrance. “I don’t know if it’s gonna happen,” Cameron remarked. Smoke and chatter rose from the nearby crowd, penned shoulder to shoulder behind iron barricades—imbuing the scene with an unsettling air not unlike a stockyard. Beyond the barriers, separating the legitimate showgoers from us lurking derelicts, security looked formidable. Our initial plan to confidently, you know, stroll right in would need to be overhauled.

I still think Chris gave up too easy. Or maybe he just had better things to do? I mean, my only solid fallback for the evening involved waiting for vegan pizza giveaways in Berkeley, which while not necessarily a bad plan—maybe even a great plan—was one I’d already enjoyed in the past 48 hours. Besides, it was too easy. I needed a challenge, the rush of excitement, a story to tell. I’m definitely a proponent of doing things just to say I did them, so I was pretty committed to seeing this through.

I took up an inconspicuous vantage point across the street, chatting with some crustlords occupying a stoop. Their attitude proved as defeatist as Cameron’s. I found the perfect provocation for excusing myself, however, when I spotted a notorious local show promoter I knew milling about outside and I ambled over to get his attention. “Don’t forget about us!” one of the kids on the stoop bellowed from behind me.

My acquaintance from the vegan straightedge scene wasn’t in charge of the show, only helping out, but I still put some feelers out to see if he was, you know, “team.” Though wary of charity, I wasn’t opposed to it either.

It’s a touring band,” he replied reproachfully, brows stern behind thick-rimmed glasses.  I should have known better; after all, this was the very same cat who’d lectured me about “inflation” after I’d questioned the door price for a show at Gilman once. Whatever, dude. I claim the right to be a parasite! In the spirit of my cousin, who would wiggle out of his school uniform each day to unabashedly poop in the nude, I have no shame. With so many worthy endeavors in the world, like the upcoming Never Alone tour in support of political prisoners Eric McDavid and Marie Mason, my $10 could be spent to better ends. Not to mention, I’d heard some sketchy things about one of the members of Tragedy…

I was scanning the perimeter when my strategy-devising was interrupted by the sight of a certain someone. Straightedge tattoos, stylish cardigan over a t-shirt signifying alliance with the A-team, tasteful haircut… My head began swimming in a sea of hormones. But like Matt Frerking, diagnosed with a condition that causes paralysis in his body essentially whenever he experiences feelings of happiness, at moments like these the heart-fluttering euphoria of a crush is always punctuated by a certain exquisite pain, a flood of existential anguish. Our paths might cross and maybe we’d even someday become friends—but for what more could my heart yearn? Best to just block it out, I told myself, not allow my obsessive-compulsive tendencies to take hold… The resolution was acknowledged and squashed in a matter of seconds.

Masochism. That’s what it boils down to. Against my better judgment, I moved closer in the hopes of, you know, making eye contact or something—when another development demanded my attention. A woman standing next to me in a studded vest, so at home amidst Tragedy fans, proceeded to climb over the barricade! “Whoa,” I heard my voice croak as she was pulled in by waiting arms. I held my breath for the ensuing confrontation but security was decidedly nowhere in sight. And at this point—neither was she. Hey, I wanna, too! But I was…afraid. With the pleading eyes of a helpless pup, I looked to her punk benefactor for guidance. “Just go for it,” he snarled. OK, maybe it wasn’t a snarl, but with a likeness hearkening to Sid Vicious, it wouldn’t have been out of place. He was right: I must be brave. One glance to my left, another to my right. I swung one leg over and… Next thing I knew, I entered a portal through which the continuum of passive punk routine was interrupted, the parameters defining the rigmarole of capitalist exchange became malleable and just plain absurd. Pay?  Now, why would I do a thing like that when there’s… magic? Now you see me—now you don’t!

Oh, the show? That part was OK…

The past week had burned me out on hardcore. Refused’s reunion in SF was a letdown, confirming my hunch that the scene’s most ostensibly “challenging” bands consist of a lot of chic rhetoric and not so much substance. Or if the subversive potential ever really existed, it’s safe to say that in 2012 the magic is dead and—like Steve Ignorant hijacking Crass a decade later—the spectacle’s stultifying nature was manifested as the aged band members paraded around on stage in a farcical reenactment of what once was. And anyway, just because teenagers rioted to Bill Haley and His Comets in the ‘50s doesn’t mean they need to go on a reunion tour, you know? This fossilization of culture and history was exactly what Refused so vehemently railed against—that’s what makes it so scandalous! The group who talked of “burning museums,” who sneered at journalists and who declared they would never reform or “glorify what was once” finally revealed a streak of disingenuousness.

Then there was the Trial show in Reno. Another disappointment. As the singer Greg spoke over the mic, the earnest words I might have lapped at in my teens now rang a bit hollow. What was that about the “community” handed down to us by patriarchs like Kevin Seconds and held strong by the likes of bros swinging x’d fists? Because standing in that room I felt about as alienated as I did inspired. Especially when someone I do express affinity with isn’t allowed in because of an altercation she had with one of these jock moron months previous; or when another friend leaves with a bruised head from being “crowd moshed” by some fool who should have grown out of that ten years ago—oh, wait, but I guess we call that “expressing ourselves” in hardcore! I felt better about Trial’s appearance at Gilman the following evening, albeit with a lot more physical aches—and with little abatement of my scorn for stupid hardcore kids. Dear kid in the Earth Crisis t-shirt, a message: There will be no compromise, no more negotiating. If you refuse to stop acting like a douche bag and keep jumping off the stage, I’m going to stab you

Tragedy was refreshing, mostly because I could just watch them detachedly, with no preconceived notions or expectations. Gosh, I’ll have to try that in other aspects of my life… Settling down on a dark corner of the stage, I wasn’t even trying to hide my delight at the onslaught of sheer d-beat power! If only I could ignore the fact that there were at least two outed predatory men in attendance…

But my comrades were there as well. Outside after the show, I commisserated with a fellow anarchist punk, though several years my senior, about my recent spate of jadedness. My friend Jeanie came out, also. She’d had not as much luck trying to barge the gate, but ended up being let in for free just a few songs in. Yeah! Cover charge is theft! After celebrating our victory, I inquired, shyly, about the person in the cardigan. She then made me really nervous by calling the person over to us. “This is my friend Derek,” she told them. Gulp. What do I do?!  Just act natural, I instructed myself—following which I went ahead and did the opposite. Luckily, the person was preoccupied so the exchange really didn’t go beyond the stage of cursory handshake and greeting. But you know, Jeanie tried…

As we crossed the street to get our bikes, one of those “predatory men” I alluded to ran up to me. He was someone I’d traveled with, even considered a friend and had been called out by feminists within the hardcore community the previous year. He initiated small talk, but I was purposely distant. I felt conflicted because all of us within this rape culture—especially those of us who are hetero cis-men—possess that capacity to cross boundaries and hurt one another and, theoretically, I want to leave the door open for those who wish to change their behavior. But when a close female-bodied friend has broken down in front of you due to this man’s actions, it’s hard to reciprocate that friendliness. I think he picked up on this, because after a minute he apologized for “interrupting” Jeanie and me and continued on his way.

I headed back to the house where I was staying, processing the many facets of the evening. Despite the undeniable high of a gate-crashing victory, the show also evoked a woeful quality implicit in any reflection on the passage of time. For us punks, especially us stubbornly sentimental ones, this is a significant—maybe even central—quandary: when one’s unwavering idealism becomes embittered by world weariness; and biases forged in the throes of starry-eyed wonder subside. Nothing lasts forever, as they say, and all that is beautiful ultimately decays. But this disillusionment and loss need not imply devastation. Actually, it possesses severe potential: for it is primarily through the shattering of our complacency that we become beings capable of growth and self-realization.

But enough of that now. There would be ample time, I consoled myself—you know, like the rest of my adult life—to cogitate on these pressing matters. So many shows, experiences and heartbreaks yet to come. In the meantime—I needed sleep!