the therebefore

Friday after work I drove to Fargo doubting, was I doing the right thing? hanging onto seven years that hang and hold me. One of the very few things that happened that happened in The Teaching Emotion is that a nobody band named AFI played in a basement in West Fargo, North Dakota, September 27, 1996. I shared this memory with Lotte on a whim unthinking, a decision that years later—”Black Sails” era—led me back back to the band, evolved and awe-inspiring.

Before Friday night and after those hours in Scott Christianson’s basement, I’d seen them six times, but I knew this return would be special especially for me, the only one there who was there excepting original band members Davey Havok and Adam Carson. I wanted to be there again. I wanted it to be worth it, to sound good and make sense and mute my admitted ambivalence about the band today. The last two times I’ve seen them, they just… weren’t there, or I wasn’t fully, something was missing, there were too many unnecessaries, surface and image and noise. Feedback not reflecting just absorbing blind.

I had to go. Wanted to bring Joe but I couldn’t persuade him and didn’t want to break the boy, he’s only thirteen, and I realize and respect, he’s not me—not a younger version or a someday maybe—and that’s just fine. Maybe in the future he’ll take shelter in music, and I pray but don’t pry. I just hope he finds a constructive way to deal with being alive.

The show was at Playmaker’s Pavilion, the site of Fugazi awakening and countless other concerts when I was a teen. The crowd was young and inexperienced, but I was once, too. A man about my age remarked of me at least one person in this state knew how to dance. But I’m too connected to Minneapolis? or too detached from Fargo? to not reply, “Well, actually…” The man’s name was Robert, from Oregon originally; he tried the U of M a year and once saw AFI play in the Whole on campus. School didn’t work out for him. “So I sold my soul to the government,” he said. “Minot?” I asked. “Grand Forks.” “Better than Iraq.” “I’m leaving next month. So I hope it’s a good show.”

Couldn’t respond, couldn’t speak to that, to my frustration and fear and fierce desire to not know whether he supported the conflict, felt he had to go, that he was doing the right thing.

“…Yeah.” Numb but I meant it. And it was. Brilliant. By far the best of the now eight times I’ve seen them. They returned. And they referenced that night in 1996, they remembered. And I can’t stop but everything is different, now, driving through West Fargo on an exploded Thirteenth Avenue of strip malls and new money, when I was a child it was flanked by fields of sunflowers I wanted to go to the Pits but had to travel memory, surprise, I need a place to sleep. Daughter and sister second to guest. When I entered my old bedroom where I used to crash and write and hide, I couldn’t find the light switch, had to grope wall to wall to wall forgot where I left it behind.

The next afternoon I drove home to Minneapolis. Overnight the leaves had fallen and I was right on time to catch the beveled glass slice the falling sun and throw rainbows all over my living room.

The beautiful song of the hour.