instrumental to change

                i wanted to be angry
i got awe and i
…..wear it like religion
…………….the spirit of
…………god lives
in my stereo and speaks in
……tongues of

Opening week of the Varsity, an abandoned movie hall turned plush gorgeous lush venue in Dinkytown, USA, I attended the inaugural Saturday night music selection. I went for the inundation of the atmosphere, lavish red velveteen satin and innumerable possibilities in a space that begged simultaneously film festival, poetry slam, theatre and rock. There I witnessed local favorite A Whisper in the Noise, the carefully chaotic piano and string fusion of soft when you’re fragile, brutal when deserving. Headlining the dizzy heads of twenty-somethings sucked into the surroundings, punch hip with a handsome place to go, now, was to-me-unknown Revolver Modèle, another product of Minneapolis’ rich and richly schizophrenic music scene. They pulled me into a place I hadn’t been for months—maybe years.

I remember my first shows in bowling alleys and basements in Fargo, North Dakota. I hope to never know my last is my last, the sweltering hot small or the arena grand, the cabin in the woods or the crevice in the valley. I never forget but sometimes need reminding just what music does—where it takes me. The thrumming live frenzy and the headphone concentration, the exhilaration of hearing for the first time the latest from revered or sinking through a favorite for the thousandth and finding myself years away. Modest Mouse’s “Dramamine” reduces me at three notes to seventeen and bawling for my older brothers, absent across the country in my first worst hours and you think you’ve figured out everything. Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” is car trips with my father to skin my knees in traveling ball in Valley City these are the days of miracle and wonder. Countless connections link music to memory, to sanity and losing it, movement to worship, sound to unquestioned calm.

I grew up as punk as a prairie girl could fake it, minus a fashionable uniform and counterproductive contempt. I wanted ideas out of music—guidelines not for what to think, but how. Regrettably I also wanted to be angry. Insert the hardcore. Throw in some industrial. The sense I was making of the world around me in my early teens demanded suspicion if not rage. Music communicated this experience, and it could create it—as such, it could also change it. I understand now that anger was something I wanted—not something I was. Outrage is an appropriate response—and sadly will never cease to be—but senseless to seek out without questioning, without complexity, your own complicity or worse, with the deliberate negligence of everything else.

I wanted to be angry—I got awe. A mantra in the purest: something that appeared and reappears in my brain, starting when, I don’t remember, though I tie it to my musical journey fortuity, the best twelve dollars I ever chanced. In the mid-nineties Nine Inch Nails was labelmates with Underworld. NIN offered anger and more—grittiness, recklessness, a tongue-in-teeth perversion all gripping, all grinding, with a welcome to the underground, just the edge, a taste. As for Underworld, well… they were on the same label, right? Not having heard a note of it, or of Underworld, period, I bought Second Toughest in the Infants—wanting to be angry. I got awe. I wear it like religion, the spirit of god.

Humanists invoke divine imagery warily. Rarely. But believe me—meaningfully. I’m not trying to get away with it as a poet. Regarding inspiration, the lightbulb breaking, nothing is magic or heaven-sent—I murdered my muse and drank her blood. But I resent the monopoly on words suggesting sacred, determined to take them back, absorb and defuse and watch glow unmoved. What I give back, what I return is in earnest, honest, and not to appropriate a language to make a point I otherwise fear would be misunderstood or muted. Interpretation’s endless of the tongues of rhythm—describing is desiring to know and let change.

Of all the books I’ve read, all the moments between pages, between the lines the bliss when perfect words find perfect pitch speak with a voice bold this is it the path to follow watchful for my own vision voice, nothing compares to what I’ve gained from music, and Underworld was the first to wrench me around. Gently. Suggest a direction then hurl me. Books can introduce a depth of feeling that will linger and inspire, but where’s the passion on the printed page, the physical emotion, the quickness, the life from which to draw the raw conclusions? Solitary stumbling across a stunning passage cannot compete with the collective experience of screaming the lyrics to a favorite song in a circle stomp with a thousand strangers I concurrently want to hug and beat the hell out of—or at a dance event riding the wave of electronic intensity connecting me to everyone swirling around me. I don’t want my teachers to make me shiver, I want them to incite me to break my body. I sprained my ringfinger to Blood Brothers—not when I’ve seen them live, but alone, in my room, scissor-kicking sideways off the edge of my bed and crashing headside down into the floor, the pain nearly passing me out and incredulous laughter choking.

When I write, it’s with music—sometimes in the background soft, but what I mean’s inside of me, pushing the words around. Telling me what fits, instructing where the logic is, how many syllables will complement this melody, how harmony’s achieved with a crass cold chord. It’s how I’ve come to interpret things. Words weave into rhythm until what I’m saying depends less on the words themselves than how I have arranged them.

Long stretches without different sounds sickens the psyche. I have standby fall backs I slip inside, am soothed by, AFI marathons and nights of Neutral Milk Hotel, along with the occasional weeks I can stand nothing but Smashing Pumpkins and middle-era Cure. But I need new sources of inspiration—for writing and for living, making sense and shifting, and my, how over the years the instrumental’s changed. I fetus curl in bathtubs to Godspeed You Black Emperor. I sing with Songs: Ohia and lockstep stand attention to VNV Nation. I am in awe of Sole. I want and need and love it all.

When Revolver Modèle took the stage at the Varsity January 29, 2005, the crowd was ripe and ready but I felt a little jarred. Everyone, even the drunk, were intensely adult-like, all smart black and slinky. I’s in raver pants with a rag on my head, a stained shirt and crossed arms. I’d been enduring a musical dry spell—not like I hadn’t been surprised or heard something I’d liked in awhile, just a full-on out-of-experience feeling. In prior months I’d been moved but not transported. Lost but not kidnapped.

A familiar but antiquated sound assaulted, essence of underground eighties goth, the vocals deep and guitar demanding. Were they good? I wasn’t sure, I couldn’t tell, I just stood there, bouncing lightly, trying to decide what I thought. The weed-thin front wormed like a live wire in a porn and the tiny bassist beat the strings with her ropey veins. The eye-lined lead stomped around the stage, his amp cord whip-snapping after, while the drummer kept steady and big his trade. The third song in, something overcame me, shaking me up and out of my dormancy, taking me by the hand heart throat forcing me into frenetic, death-defying dance, control-lost but commanding a high I hadn’t felt in a long time. It wasn’t abandon who cares about anything where I don’t fit, who’s watching, it was embracing: I care about a lot of things. I am. This is life—now.

My Things To Do Before I Die aren’t books to write, they’re bands to see live, stages to fall before, speakers to freak, sweat to lose and moves to prove I exist. I exalt. What follows… will come. When it does. If it will. And I will translate as best I can.


Published February 1, 2005