“This is what Dead shows must’ve felt like man…” I lean into Jake’s ear as I snap some shots of the An-drool Corn Starrch Jamboree. Or whatever the fuck they’re callin’ it these days. Everyone in the band posted it as a different name. Too much gear shufflin’ around and exchangin’ hands to get an accurate count on the band members. And the vapor trails aren’t helpin’ much. I’m smokin’ a spliff. Scarf tied around my head. I’ve never been one to take pictures durin’ shows. Gotta stay in the moment man… Mostly though I use this camera my sister gave me in high school as a fancy point and shoot. I just hate usin’ the flash durin’ shows. Broke my mom’s point and shoot as a kid exposin’ the flash in my eye. But this is gonna be one of those “ya had to be there” moments. Need some solid evidence I didn’t just trip too hard after our set.
“It looks like they just grabbed a buncha people off the street to play.” KC whispers as they start on some spacey noodlin’ the way the Dead used to open their sets. Andress Starr Family Groove Thang. Sree in a construction helmet and vest. Feelin’ like a real road worker holdin’ up traffic as they wheel their amp down the streets of Hamtramck after their set. Two drummers. Diego in the banana suit while Mahadeva hides behind a Spider-Man mask. Geoff. With a fresh shave! Kyle. With a clean shaven fingertip! The prosthetic he built fallin’ off durin’ the 208 set outside the scene of the crime.
It’s nights like these I’m left thinkin’ about memories. I put on my copy of Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young. Bought it at a record store in Grand Rapids after makin’ the drive with a pinhole in the head gasket to meet a Tinder match. What can I say? In her first DM she talked about the Butthole Surfers. I found out about the Butthole Surfers in the backseat of my mom’s minivan when she put on the Dumb and Dumber cassette with their cover of “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” Anyways. I remember tellin’ her when I bought it about the time I overheard Jake talkin’ about his favorite Neil Young albums. I told him I always dug Tonight’s the Night. “I bet you really dig heroin too Nips…” And we both had a good laugh without him needin’ to know the truth.
I thought about coverin’ “Albuquerque” for our set. First song that came to mind to cover when we got asked to play the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival. This year’s festival dedicated to a hundred years of Hamtramck. Has it been a hundred years of gettin’ drunk in the streets? Let the Yeji Boys toast to a hundred more. Even though I’ll miss their set Sunday while I get ready to go have a panic attack watchin’ some house DJ I’ve never heard of. Man. The things drugs and alcohol protect ya from. At least I can still disassociate sober as I flashback to dancing as the art of escapism.
“This is the greatest city in the world! I never wanna leave!” Cam yells standin’ on a chair as we watch the Labor Day yacht races. Thankin’ Jeff for hookin’ ‘em up. My first Labor Day Festival I met Jeff pukin’ in the street and he asked me to kiss his dinosaur. Pullin’ the stuffed animal from his shirt. Cam didn’t get the memo it was bring your own damn water balloons. You can hear the smack of one pop against someone’s face. The kids dart into the street to salvage the unpopped balloons between laps. Only one of the poorest cities in the country can pull off shuttin’ down the streets for three days to commit a mass act of rest. The most defiant thing you can do in this system.
“It’s the most punk rock thing you can do under capitalism… Be vulnerable and share your feelings.” Stacey tells me this a few weeks ago at the fifth annual Punk Rock BBQ after she congratulates me on gettin’ cleaned up. Four months to the date I had been off blow. She makes it a point to tell me this because she realizes we’ve known each other for four or five years now. Which means I’ve known most of you motherfuckers for four or five years now. And we’ve seen each other through some shit. Well. You’ve all seen me through some shit. Even if ya don’t know.
Kev and Antonio put their arms around me at the Magic Stick a week later. Playin’ the Rachel Cobra memorial. The first time they played a show at my house they were still in high school. And they ripped... Tonight. I’ll get to feel the vibes of Sugar-T through those monitors as Antonio gains +100 shred for rippin’ my weed pen while on stage. They’ve never stopped thankin’ me for tapes or bookin’ ‘em. Even though the pleasure has always been mine to watch their growth. Not realizin’ they’ve been inspirin’ mine. Does the scene realize how much life it continues to breathe into people?
So much of who we are comes from other people and our memories with them. Durin’ our set I wear a shirt I bought from Nick. The Miller Time cap Jake bought me in LA when we first met. The guitar pick with mine and my brother’s favorite Vine reference engraved on it is around my neck. I got a Jager bracelet from an old coworker I used to drink too much Jager with on the clock. And even spend a minute talkin’ to Manchester about the teal die earring I bought from Sav at a pop up at Nice Place. Fuckin’ remember that bullshit?!
“I don’t wanna know the answer to that…” Sean’s briefcase goes off like the bomb everybody used to think it was. Pullin’ up to the function with a briefcase full of fuckin’ wires. To this day I’ll look at the thing with the same awe-struck confusion as when I’d see it at the Russell. The same awe-struck confusion as I watch the Andrew Starr Warrs Jedi Mind Fuck. I remember Cam workin’ on the song at the Russell when we first got the lease. Wanted as many instruments on it as possible. I didn’t know THIS was the fuckin’ the vision! Do you even realize how many motherfuckers are on that stage right now?! Decoratin’ space and time and the whole damn continuum with pure genius. How could you meet people like this and not find the beauty of life and bein’ a goddamned fuckin’ human? How could you see somethin’ like that and not be inspired by the infinite realities we can create? Unpack the work from your briefcase for Labor Day. Rewire it to somethin’ that makes you wanna fuckin’ move. Creatin’ sounds that prove to you the only limitation of reality is our imagination.
Snap some shots of a lost Jake. Searchin’ for Sav. For his uncle. Lights a cig as he gives up his hunt for family and watches Cam’s cult. “He came all the way down here to see me play and I didn’t even get to talk to him.” Seems to be a recurrin’ theme. I didn’t even get time to talk to my mom before she left. Since I first started playin’, all I wanted was to play this festival. Deep down that’s all we crave still. That approval from the people we love that they’re happy for us. Lookin’ for someone to give us reassurance everything we do is right. Like that early house show at Shireen’s. We’ll always be those lost kids on the festival grounds hopin’ to win the prize that’ll make us feel good about life.
ESG on Monday night might be responsible for reteachin’ me how to dance. And feel good doin’ it. But that ain’t got shit on this moment. This moment is that prize. This beautiful fuckin’ moment feels fuckin’ good. Antonio and Kyle bounce uncontrollably. Sunglasses and hair maskin’ ‘em from bein’ perceived. Movin’ with the dual beat of the synchronized drums. The band morphin’ into somethin’ you’d hear on a cruise ship through a wormhole. Diego’s sax cuts through the open air as Sree cries into the mic.
I lay in the bean bag chair and begin to cry. The way you do when nobody is there to see it. “I’ve been starvin’... To be alone…” Ash the spliff as the words pass through the wire and into my ringin’ ears. The memories blur. Seein’ ‘em through the haze of chainsmoked cigs. Drippin’ sweat and drippin’ noses. “The odds of all of us bein’ here right now is so unlikely. That alone should make us wanna savor these moments with each other.” I hear Jake sayin’ somethin’ along those lines at the end of Summerfest while we listened to Daniel Johnston and Bob Dylan. Infinite variables in our lives have led to this exact moment. Takin’ direction from the infinite people our lives overlap with.
I mean. If I hadn’t taken guitar lessons from Troy I never would’ve found out about Daniel Johnston. Which is probably the only reason I’m here in the first place. “What a great teacher to have.” Peter says as we watch Troy’s band the Witches near the end of the night. Which is funny cause a few hours ago. Just a few feet away. The man who taught me life is just the constant bangin’ of your head against the wall was sayin’ “who would want a miserable recluse like me around children?” But those lessons spent usin’ vomit porn as a metaphor for the Dave Matthews Band were just as consciousness expandin’ as when he showed me the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. And you can see all these dots connectin’ from different people and experiences. Like the aux chords slitherin’ like sonic snakes from Sean’s briefcase. You call it coincidence as it all melts together like Kyle’s feet on the ninety degree concrete. Or maybe it’s one of the obvious signs you’re where you’re supposed to be. How many times has Daniel Johnston saved your life? How many times has the scene been your only motivation to bang your head against the wall another day? Keep on livin’. Wake the fuck up! Get outta fuckin’ bed in the mornin’!
Splashed awake as Cam douses the crowd with a water jug. Baptized and rejuvenated in infinite possibility. “WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!” Cam screams. Shimmies and shakes as they kick pedals around in the puddles on stage. Danglin’ over the monitor. So glad they moved here from Grand Rapids. I was talkin’ to this girl from Grand Rapids one time and she said there was no sense in makin’ memories with people that aren’t gonna stay in our lives. But KC I’m glad you’re here for this beautiful fuckin’ moment regardless. Time flies. Things change. People leave. But people never leave us entirely. Even if they are merely a brief memory of how the right vibration can send life pulsin’ through your fuckin’ body again.
“WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!” The crowd screams. Everybody moves. Everybody bangs their head futilely against the wall. Sax screeches. Bass drivin’ with the dual drums direction. We can make each other happy. Maybe not forever. Or even most of the fuckin’ time. But we can build memories that help make the sound of our heads against the wall sound like the beat from the Andrew Starr Whole Damn Family Band. Cam has always had a way of makin’ you feel like family. “WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!” Hands clap. Feet stamp pedals. Instruments drone and squeal. This place brings you in like home. Ben says it durin’ his set Monday night. How could you ever leave this place? You think as you smoke a joint with Byron, the guy whose house you parked in front of. This is the place where you found a will to live. The people that showed you this world is as beautiful as you choose to make it. “WE CAN MAKE EACH OTHER HAPPY!!!” It just takes one good memory. One beautiful fuckin’ moment. Like Cam’s smile as they sit between the drums they lunged through at the end of their set. One of those prized “ya had to be there” moments no footage could ever do justice. These beautiful fuckin’ memories that will keep our vibrations pulsin’ and dronin’ with life.