While driving yesterday, I reflected to myself on the beauty of South Carolina’s finest, Assfactor 4. On the day of that tragic break-up that I detailed earlier, I forgot that I also purchased Assfactor 4’s “Sometimes I Suck” 7-inch. It was good, but nowhere near as crushing and brilliant as the “Smoked Out” 7-inch.
Thinking about the 4 reminds me of my first job. I worked as a bus boy at a bed and breakfast across from the beach in Spring Lake, NJ. Every day I drove there blasting “Smoked Out.” I required something fast and punching to kick-start a rotten day of toil. The proprietor never trained me. That left me winging it as I went along. I spilled water on patrons, dropped cubes of butter in their laps and tried to hide in the back room or on the porch as frequently as possible. My coworkers and I stole food, a finger-full of cake here, a handful of fries there. I talked some to the waitresses, despite debilitating shyness. After three weeks, my older brother said they needed another guy on their aluminum siding crew. I quit and took what wound up being an even more agonizing mode of employment.
Greg asked me yesterday how long I’ve been out of college. I answered: “Five years.” Has it been that long? As he commented, “What have I done since then?” Both of us have been productive, him with a hot indie record label, me with, uhhhh, well, let us investigate the matter: two salaried jobs, two wage slave jobs, five tours with this band, various writings in zines and magazines. Spoon told me that he ran into some old friends of ours. They asked the standard question: “So what are you doing now?” By that they mean “what is your job” and by asking that they seek to determine if you have risen above them on the social scale of income. He responded, “I work here, at this diner.” They laughed, and asked again, “No, really, what are you doing?” Poor Spoon is just trying to make ends meet and figure out what to do next.
We’re all figuring out what to do next. These days people live with their parents past 30, can’t find jobs that pay a livable wage and look up from beneath a mountain of debt they cannot hope to climb out from. These are hard times. Is having a “real job” any guarantor of security? Ask the downsized. I decided at my last real job that it would be my last real job. It crushed me. I wanted to be able to do what I’m doing right now. If I ran into those old friends and they fired the Question at me, how would they view the answer? Most people envy what we do. Despite the poverty, the uncertainty and the wear and tear, most people would love to play in a band and travel around the country.
Still, if we went to our high school reunions, what would our former classmates make of us? My high school reunion is this year. What would I say if I went? “I’m in a band that’s played over 100 shows in the past year, that’s put out albums and that’s toured the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada. I’ve written a lot and work at a bookstore.” How would that be received? I don’t care. I stopped trying to impress people in junior high.
This reminds me of when I saw a friend of my older brother. He left Jersey for Los Angeles nearly 17 years ago to pursue an acting career. Only now is he beginning to acquire bit parts in semi-seen TV shows. He said to me, “I look around at my old friends here in Jersey and they’re old. They look beaten. They’re alcoholics or meth heads. They work heating and cooling. They’re dead. I never regret moving and going after my dreams.” Is that what I am doing? Chasing my dreams in the middle of Colorado with the screaming wind whipping icy rain against the van?
I think part of my problem lately with some performances is a feeling of disconnect with the people watching us. I don’t feel any bond and I don’t try to forge one. That is my fault. Should I feel a connection with them? Not once on this tour have I addressed the audience, though I did on past tours. Part of me feels like I have nothing to say and part of me knows that I have nothing new to say. Sure, I could mention the war and the Bush junta and the greatness of DIY hardcore in the face of encroaching Clear Channel cooptation. But it’s been said. How do I talk and have it come out sincere and unique? I miss the idealism of my early days in this. I miss the feeling of community, of a movement. Now it feels more like the hollow shell of modern day communism, more like the aftermath of a bowel movement. We are in Kansas and just passed a tractor-trailer flipped on its side. That is real life, that is movement, or the lack thereof.
Sign upon entering this town: “Gorham, KS. Spud Whitman- Professional Bull Rider”