23 February 2015

Is the sunlight

The Fireside Bowl in Chicago — in the memories of aging white hipsters, the purists — was the place for B-grade emo and punk and hardcore acts, a central reference point as we all evolved through the late-nineties. Our jeans got progressively wider at the bottoms, until we decided it was time for them to be tight. I remember the first couple of times I was there, and all the awkward energy of being 15 or 16, standing in the back of a room as it filled up with older kids, and being worried about making curfew.

It closed for a while, the Fireside, but that was after I left. I don't remember the last show I went to, but the last show I remember was the Dashboard Confessional in May of 2002. Heather and I went together, although we had broken up already, and the place was packed out: Chris Carrabba, the singer was just about to break out and he shouted at one point, 'If you aren't going to sing along, get out because there's a whole crowd of people outside who wanna get in and sing!' It was just starting to get hot in the city, and after the show finished, we wended through the crowd holding hands, like we had forgotten we had broken up.

I was telling myself all sorts of lies that summer and growing my hair out while I painted houses. I was going to get over this, no matter what, I thought, pull my old life out of the abyss and resurrect it all, but the summer ended and I went back to school. And then autumn came and I fell in and out of love and in the Spring, I was in Hyde Park, just a half mile from where I am right now, sitting on a bench and thinking that there was no way any of this would get put back together, was there.

Then, this January, the Decemberists put out a new album and I saw they were coming to Birmingham. Yoko and I talked about going together, but we still haven't found someone to watch the kids and Yoko excused me to go without her: you should go, you should get a ticket. I held out hope that we would work something out, that we'd get someone to watch the kids, but then Yoko's friend from MK planned to come up and stay the night and the plan of the date dissipated. 

When Wednesday night came, the night of the show, I wasn't quite sure what to wear, but put on a blue Gap jacket that I bought in Niigata in 2007, on sale for 5000 yen and rode my bicycle to the City Centre. I met my friend Minnesota Matt at the venue, and we got in when the doors opened and waited for his wife to come via three or four buses from work. I bought an overpriced beer and we talked about all the bands we had seen, all the places we had seen them. Matt's wife came after the opener, we were all chatting when someone started calling my name. I think this person knows you, and indeed I did: it was a friend from college who was there, of course, yes, she was living near Brum and, yes, of course, we were all at the Decemberists together. All the Americans would be, these two are from Minnesota, can you believe it?

A guy I watch on YouTube says that scents are strongest memory triggers; perhaps faces should be on that list as well. I had a sudden rush of memory like you do when you see someone you haven't seen in a while, and when you have changed so  much. She knew me when I was growing out my hair and following Jesus and not wearing shoes. Yes, I remembered now, I had particularly hounded her about Jesus, and we were in the same writing classes and I could remember lines of her poems. Her mother  had died. I remembered that we had a reading together once in the Knox College Old Main Common Room and I remembered what an asshole I had been those years. 

The band started to play, finally, all these songs that I have known for years and years now. Records that spanned all the countries and timezones: I had the Crane Wife in Japan and ran across the Agano River bridge, listening to it on my iPod shuffle. Then the song that is on the new album, the one I've liked so much because it describes how I feel so well: I am waiting, should I be waiting. Yes, what should I do. Everyone was dancing almost. All that energy, my mouth open and singing along.

I rode the bike back home and Yoko and her friend and I sat on the carpet in the house on Victoria Road and drank leftover champagne. I told them the story of the night, of my friends and my former life in college and all the embarrassing things I had done simply because young love didn't work out and I believed in the wrong things. The long thread of the past can be untangled enough for it to make sense for a moment, for an audience of Japanese women patiently listening to me retrace my steps. All before you knew me, before I started to cut my hair and think about my posture. All these mistakes I had made, when I was barefoot, my Evangelical Jesus phase, and how young I felt all night long — that tightly drawn guitar string inside of me plucked again.

I'm hopeful, Colin Meloy sings, should I be hopeful. The past is a kind of residue, a smell on my hands that fades until something serendipitous happens again. I'm not sure hoping has consequences one way or another.