CYBERPUNK PHILOSOPHY, LITERATURE, AND CULTURE – ART, TECHNE, SPIRIT
It’s Punk Rock/Taco Tuesday – Time to Release Another Chapter of My First Novel ‘Condition Oakland’ – Chapter 5 – LEAVING DIVISION
CHAPTER 5: Leaving Division
Monica and I were hanging out in her room, and I told her I was probably leaving Division.
“When?” she asked.
“The end of the semester, most likely.”
“Man, that sucks.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s good. It’s good that you’re not stuck there, like me,” she said with a sad laugh. “We can still hang out though. I mean, it’s not like you’re leaving the state. You live pretty close to me. We can still go out.”
“I also wanted to talk to you about that.”
She looked at me anxiously.
“I feel like I shouldn’t lead you on, because there’s someone else that I’m interested in.”
“Why oh why did you ever kiss me, Tim?” she said like she was singing a song.
“No, listen. I’m just trying to prevent a bad situation. I’m not seeing someone else. There’s just this girl that I’ve liked for a really long time, and I feel like I shouldn’t do anything with other people. I don’t know if she likes me, in that way, but we‘ve been talking recently and I don‘t want to be with anyone right now until I figure things out. I just feel… unresolved.”
“OK. I understand.”
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
“Well that was easy.”
“Well I’m easy,” she said, and then laughed. “No, no, I didn’t mean to say that.” I was laughing then, too. “I didn’t mean to say that,” she said, hitting me.
“So, can we still be friends?” I asked, holding her arms in front of me to keep her from punching me.
“Awesome.” I let her arms drop around me and we fell into a hug.
After we finished practice the next week we went out to eat. We practiced on Saturday night, so we could stay out as late as we liked. We went to the diner by my house, Courtesy Diner, open twenty-four hours as far as I know. They had damn good pancakes. Buttermilk; like, the real deal.
“I’ve never been here before,” Lane said. “This place is cool.”
“We should put something on the jukebox.”
Sidney and Lane, who were quickly becoming friends, went over with some quarters for the machine. Mark and I were left sitting across from each other.
“It was a good practice tonight,” I said.
“Yeah, I really think we could get pretty good, if we keep playing it like this.”
“Well, I think we’re all into it enough to practice regularly.” I took a drink, broke some ice with my teeth. “I’m curious; what do you want out of the band? I mean it’s no big deal that you’re older than us, but I want to know what you want us to sound like or be about. You’ve probably got some ideas for the band, right?”
Sidney and Lane came back to the table, smiling, as “99 red balloons” came on.
“Too bad they don’t have the Goldfinger version.” said Sidney, climbing over the back of the booth.
“Well, I’ve always wanted to just be in a band. I never really thought about what I wanted a band to ‘be about.’ I guess I just want to connect with people. Music has like, supernatural powers for connection. You know how people always go up and talk to guys in bands after a show, at least at smaller shows, and say things like, ‘that song was really good’ or if they know the song from a recording, to say that a song has “gotten to them” or expressed something they had felt, or helped them through things. I think that’s incredible, and I suppose that’s what I want.” We were all listening to him intently for a moment as he expressed something we all felt in essence and we all realized it suddenly. “Hey, but what does it matter what I think? I’m just the drummer.”
“No, I agree with you,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to write songs that speak to people or even change them. Inspire them. So I know exactly what you mean.”
Sidney picked up his fork and began interviewing the table. “As of right now, we have no name. If we were a dog and we got lost we‘d be in trouble. Any thoughts on that?”
I began to try to wrestle the fork away from him. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” I said. “And I think I’ve got something. But we’ve all got to decide together if we like it.”
“What is it?”
“OK, I have to explain it before I just say it… I was making collages a few days ago, and I found the phrase “Down With” in a magazine, and cut it out, and then I found the word “Strangers” in the next magazine. So, I glued them down together over a background so that it said “Down With Strangers.” So, it came about randomly, but I think has meaning.”
“Well, see, you can take it as like saying ‘I’m ‘Down with Strangers,’ meaning you’re cool with people you don’t know. Or, it could also be like a battle cry; ‘Down With Strangers!’ meaning you don’t want people to be isolated, or lonely, or alienated. I mean, I like it a lot, and I think it goes well with what we’re trying to do with the music.”
“Hmm…” Mark said.
“So, ‘Down With Strangers’?”
“Yeah. But it’s just an idea.”
“It’s good,” Lane said. “It’s fitting. And it actually means something. So, I like it. I would listen to a band called ‘Down With Strangers.’”
“Yeah, it’s good. We should call ourselves that, at least until someone comes up with something better.”
“But doesn’t it also mean, like, down with strangers! Like in a bad way? Like, down with them?’ Sidney asked.
“Well, if they’re strangers, you don’t know them, so why would you have a reason to say down with them? I guess it sort of means like, trust life. And the whole sound of the name has a sort of attitude about it, that makes it more than just naiveté. I guess.”
“What about you, Mark?” I asked.
“You know, I like it. I really do. I think it does fit the music and it’s also like a battle cry, like you said. And I guess we want to give people something to get behind with the music. I mean, it’s not like we’re writing anything revolutionary or anything…”
“Aren’t we?” I blurted out. They looked at me expectantly. “…I guess I see the name as a warning, against losing our humanity. It’s a call to fight against that.” I was taking a leap of faith that the band shared some of my views on things: politics, life, whatever you want to call it.
“Yeah, it is like that.”
“I mean, I want to be about something, as a band. Music is universal, and it’s a great way to reach people, so we might as well be about something positive.”
“Sure, why not?” Sidney says.
“Alright, so we’re ‘Down With Strangers.’ That’s it then.”
Like I said, we only practiced together four times before this first show. If we were patient, we would have waited at least another month, practicing each week, before we made our debut. But we weren’t patient, and in fact we were so excited that it would have been impossible for us to wait without at least one of us exploding, so we set up the show, through Sidney, at the church gym.
Anyway, that’s the path that led us here, to our first show.
We play our four original songs, and one cover, our version of a ’Braid’ song we all like. It’s a lot of nervous fun. Some people seem to like us, including our friends. At least they’re not walking away while we play, but that may say more about the quality of our friends than the quality of our playing. Mark’s girlfriend Charlin is there, and we met her before the show. She seems really cool, tall and beautiful and also with dreadlocks, really friendly and funny. She and Mark are a good couple, too. They play off of each other when they talk and it’s just amazing to watch. They’re really good together.
We‘re selling copies of a recording we made in the basement, and we have a mailing list, and five people actually sign up. Those people will never end up getting any emails, though, on account of me losing the paper their names were written on, but at least we interested them.
I’m sixteen, this night. Almost seventeen, like the other guys. Except Mark, who’s eighteen. We’re all young, though, and feel like it.
We open with the song “Collapse,” the first song we practiced together as a full band. It’s a good beginning song because it is energetic and sort of catchy, and we like it the best of the songs we have written so far, so it sort of relaxes us and makes us excited at the same time. There’s a pretty good response, too. People clap and yell and all of that. I’m mainly watching our friends in the front row. Laura and Monica are there, standing at the side, together. Avery is there, too, right in front of me, and in the second song I look at her a lot. It’s a love song, I guess. Avery is a really good friend of mine.. The song is called “The Open Window Campaign,” and it’s about picking someone up after they get off work and it’s raining and they’re happy to see you and you have no idea what you’re going to do next but you know you can do anything. Or something like that.
Avery and I met almost a year ago, through a friend. She’s probably one of the smartest people I know, and we always have good conversations. She is sort of small in stature, and cute, but gorgeous also. She has medium length brown hair that drapes over her eyes and blocks your view of her face, and you miss her face when you can’t see it. But don’t get me wrong, you wouldn’t wish away this hair. She is undeniably beautiful. We are “just friends,” but we’re close enough to joke about being in love with each other. Because we sort of are.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce the band,” I say. “This here is Mark Creasey on drums.” I point back at him. He does a frantic drum solo and hits the cymbals. “Lane McCarthy on lead guitar.” His fingers rip out a short vignette. “Sidney West on bass,” who is playing the opening to some video game theme song. “And I’m Tim Davis. We’re called ‘Down With Strangers.’”
I start getting a little ridiculous. I’m just so happy. Nervous, too, but I am trying not to think about that. In an instrumental part of one song, I don’t really have to play so I walk forward and Avery plays my guitar, while it’s still around my neck. She reaches up and strums it with her hand. Someone is giving me the punk rock sign or the metal sign or whatever you call it and I’m pretending to be a total rock star and it’s great.
We play through three more songs, then finish our set with our newest, ‘My Favorite Appeal.’ (That’s the name of the song.) It goes like this:
“We never know what to talk about
But it always ends up coming out alright
our tongues are tied, up-with / things inside
with our hearts always ringside
lookin’ for the prize
We always seem to feel
Like we’re falling apart at the seams
And if we could hold together
Any pieces of piecemeal dreams
We’d find in the end we’re not so different, I mean
We just want to hold on as hard as we can
To this feeling that keeps slipping through our hands
We just want to hold on as much as we can
To this feeling that keeps slipping through our hands
I blame the ever shifting moment
That keeps me on my toes
But I wouldn’t have it any other way,
So it goes
I break free of the past
and put my face up to the glass
and look at all the pretty things inside
I hold on to my heart
When the whole world falls apart
And I think back to you and me that night
I heart the telescoping catylst
Of the heart of every idealist
Met with critical thought’s readiness
To make of all life such a mess
Yeah we know that nothing’s perfect yet
It’s just she looks perfect in that dress
And I’ve never felt as good as this
So all I wanna say is
“FUCK YOU ABYSS!”
Verse: We build up our shelters
Against the hardest of rains
Dressed in dialogue and dreams
And the cleverest of pains.
We just want that belonging
That’s so sweet to feel,
The loneliness that brings us together,
My favorite appeal
I just want to hold on as much as i can
To this feeling that keeps slipping through my hands
I just want to hold on as long as i can
To this feeling that keeps slipping through my hands”
After the show, a few people come up and tell us they liked us. They want to know when we’re playing again, etc. Charlin is talking to Mark and they’re laughing about how he messed up on the first song. I hadn’t noticed; I was so worried about my part and remembering the words. Avery comes up to me.
“Tim, that was really good,” she says over my shoulder, hugging me. “I mean it. You guys were really good.”
“Thanks,” I say.
“So who’s the next band, anyway?”
“You know, I don’t even know their name? Yeah, I have no idea. ‘Something something and then a number.’ Sidney never really gave us the details of the show, just when we were supposed to be here.”
“Are you sticking around for them?”
“Yeah, I sort of feel like I should. I mean, they were here for us. At least, I think they were. Ha. I don’t even know.”
“Well, I’m going to go. But you guys were really good. Really.”
“Thanks, A. Thanks for coming.”
I’m talking to Laura and Monica, when Charlin approaches from my left.
“Hey, I know I’m supposed to be the drummer’s girlfriend and all, but I thought I should tell you that all the girls were looking at you through your whole set.”
I blush. “Oh, really? That’s funny.” Laura and Monica are grinning at me.
“Yeah, you looked pretty sexy up there singing. So, just watch out, there’s gonna be a lot of girls after you as long as you’re in this band. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Thanks. I’ll be careful.”
I’m sweating a little bit from the show and I sit down on a sofa against the wall. I just sort of watch everyone walking around, waiting for the next band, talking and laughing. I feel like I have landed, after jumping out of a plane as we took the stage.