About ‘Condition Oakland’
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TRACK 3 – CHAPTER TWELVE: SONG FU
“I still say subdued stances are the best. Where you’re like… you appear to be relaxed and like, just cool as hell, but from that stance you really have like all the energy in the world. Where you’re like, holding yourself like a weapon.”
“It’s all like a defensive posture. You can take the energy from your opponents’ blows.”
“Yeah, that’s the martial arts thing. And there‘s also like a generative spirit in the holding. You‘ve got the chi‘ flow.”
“Legs apart, guitar kind of low. The power stance or whatever.”
“Rock and roll will never die,” Lane decrees.
“Cause it’ll kick your ass.”
“While maintaining its cool exterior,” Mark of courses.
“Playing music is a martial art,” I say.
“Definitely,” Sidney says from the seat next to me in the van, acting like he’s holding a guitar and doing the thing we do where you point the head of the guitar at people like it’s a gun and then pluck a string like you’re pulling the trigger, at the other kids in the back seat.
The four of us, Mark, Lane, Sidney, and I are driving to a bookstore, and traffic is moving slowly. Rush hour. We’re just hanging out, as a band. On the CD player is a recording we made of our latest practice, during which we were discussing appropriate and inappropriate rock stances, poses, faces…
The CD playing in the car sounds like it was recorded in an underground construction site.
“You can’t have choreography. That’s just in bad taste,” Mark says on the burned CD.
“But we’re total dorks. How else could we like, show off our dance skills? We can’t just start dancing onstage.”
“I’m not taking part in any choreography.” There are random guitar noises. People are trying to play parts of songs they don’t know.
“You don’t respect me as a dancer,” my voice says.
“I respect you as an idiot, and that’s what matters.”
“Hell, I can dance with the best of them. I’m a natural dancer. You’re just not used to my type of flow. It’s alien to you. I’m f-ing out – of – this – world,” I say exaggeratedly on the tape, and we all laugh remembering my dancing as I said that during the practice.
“Let’s play through ‘Happiness is a Warm Bum’ again,” Lane says, trying to wrangle us in.
“Cool,” Sidney says, and you can hear him jump down from off of his guitar cab.
“What was the backup vocal about the newspapers?”
We start playing the song.
“We fucking rock, dude,” Lane says.
“I agree,” I say. I am the traffic. I am a million dollar man. I can definitely afford to pay no mind.
I think to myself, it’s like time doesn’t exist whenever I’m with you. My friends. I’m just here. Like I’m hitting the ground running all the time. Just… free.
It’s like in the movie ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ When they’re talking about how field Marines, when they’ve been in the shit for too long, they get ‘the thousand yard stare‘… They see too much. It’s like the inverse… it’s the same thing in a good way. “Where you’re really seeing beyond. All field Marines got it. And you’ll have it too.”
I sort of wake up in myself while I’m saying this to myself in my mind… like the camera focuses on me and I’m in slow motion while everything else is still going on regularly around me.
And some familiar phrase directed at you pulls you back into yourself.
“Are you gonna eat that?”
“The air freshener on the rear view. The foot shaped thing.” He’s pulling on it and smelling it now. “Lane just bet you five bucks you wouldn’t eat a piece of it.”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” I pull it off and start gnawing on it.
I start thinking.
“Do you guys ever think about this? I mean, us, here? In the band now? This whole time in our lives?”
“What do you mean?” Mark asks, kind of saying that he does, but not wanting to be the one to say how.
“I guess just… that we feel like we could do anything… and maybe we really could. And how there’s just this whole thing hanging over us that says we can’t stay this way… but… it’s just this thing, and we’re this whole other, better thing… And it’d be bullshit to give into it just because we can’t stay here… Because what if we could?”
“Wow… I kno- I don’t know… I think you’re right about…” Mark says.
We hear ourselves playing music from the CD player, our melodies, our rhythms.
“But what?” I ask.
“But… really I don’t know but what. So…”
“Yeah…” Sidney says. “I agree. But what?
“I think maybe thinking about all of this stuff is part of what leads you out of it… in, in a dumb way…”
I look at him, kind of happy and dumb and a little bit scared and wondering.
“We could stay here…” Lane says. “I don’t think there’s any reason we couldn’t. Just… hold on to this moment.”
“Maybe the secret to eternal youth is to never get old,” Sidney says.
“Or maybe it’s to be… If the world is broken… maybe you have to be… have to realize that the world is broken… and then do everything you can to fix it,” I say.
“That makes sense,” Mark says.
“We should keep talking about this,” I say.
We go into the bookshop, huge, with giant stacks of books, grouped in general categories. You have to search for anything you are looking for and if you aren’t looking for anything specific, there is plenty to find too.
“I love this place,” I say. “I could spend hours in here.”
“Do they have an area where you can just sit and read?” Lane asks me.
“Yeah, this place is connected to the coffee shop next door. And there are chairs around, in the back and upstairs.”
“Is there a music section?”
“Yeah, it’s over here.” We walk past Religion, Philosophy, and stop short of fiction.
“Shit. They’ve got a ton.”
“Yeah, and they get pretty good turnover here, there’s new stuff all the time.”
“Oh man, have you read this?” He picks up a copy of the book ‘Our Band Could Be Your Life,’ and hands it to me.
“No,” I say, taking the book. “What is it?” I flip it over, start to read the back.
“It’s stories about a bunch of indie bands. How they got started, and stories about their tours, or whatever. All really good bands.”
“I see ‘The Replacements.’ That alone would make it worth reading.”
“Yeah, you should get it.”
I check the price.
“It’s cheap enough. I’ll get it. Do you think it has anything that could be applied to our band?”
“Maybe. It’s got some good information about record labels and getting signed, and what that can do to a band.”
“What does it say?” I ask.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard that sometimes when bands get signed to a major they either fall apart or turn to shit, or something otherwise bad. I don’t know if that’s always true, but it happens to a couple of the bands in the book.”
“I’ll read it,” I say.