For me, the moment we’d been waiting for was even briefer than its reality. Avoiding eye contact with the 200-person attendance record before me, I felt my half hour onstage melt quicksilver-like into some alloy too hot to hold or measure. By the time I noticed my hands playing the bassline to “Hate to Say I Told You So,” the hubristic coup de grâce of our set’s pop montage tetrad, I felt like I could count the minutes passed using the fingers of mine not presently clutching my pick like it was the most important thing I owned.
As a child, I followed my surprisingly deft turn as a supportive father in the first grade play by trading a lead role the next year for some silent gig as either penguin or palm tree. My stage legs, weak and unrehearsed from the start, had atrophied over years of private stasis. They stood in gaunt contrast to my offstage ones, which, thanks to an olympiad of another kind of public performance, were just exiting the best shape of their lives.
Talking about it later with Jack, I found that he too had lapsed into some lower state of consciousness as we rose to the stage. Muscle memory, of tendons syncing with the sinews of our strings upon their necks, became everything. The stakes were even higher for me, perched as I was at the frontmost angle of Milkboy’s uselessly pentagonal stage; Jack was relegated to the amplifier backdrop, obscured by the frontline of synthesizer, microphones, and their vocal attendants.
Pete, tousled sommelier of the evening, sabered open our set with a petillant wash of phased chords poured from the keys. As fizz turned to fizzle, I struck into the solitary sprint through the run of notes measured to kick everything else into motion, uneven on raw instinct before the cyclical battery of Dilan’s floor drums grounded me. Then came the guitars, the dramatic build in my vague vision rendered with what limited, chromatic vocabulary I had, reaching a subtonic fever pitch before giving way to a snare roll that dropped into, well — a bit of “Moneymaker,” by Ludacris.
Channeling a primal energy left outletless by two or three months off the river, I amplified my simple root notes, downstroke chugs and brute force coordination with Dilan’s beats via all manner of rock star recompense. Larynx-lacerant punctuation, bold emphasis headbanging and windmill swings at my bass were added per the liberal cues of my inner impulse. It was pure, kinetic excess, learned absolutely nowhere but at reckless practices and from driving my ‘96 Volvo like an asylum escapee. Sweat tensing beneath my rolled sleeves, I even grabbed an idle mic and ventured something like falsetto harmony once or twice.1 For that half hour, my arms did things that my ears remembered from yesterday, my eyes scanned the body heat writ large along the window walls, and my mind didn’t think a thing.
After the party comes the after-party, and Swainia’s garage was nicer than at least one hotel lobby within the 10-mile vicinity. Having to break down all our gear first, we would arrive well after scores of our teenaged show-goers had. As they exited the venue, they took with them what felt like a general hum of satisfaction, soon to be echoed in Facebook accolades accrued over the consequent days. One sage elder, presumably cultured and worldly after his freshman year of college, insisted that we “must” record an “album” before summer’s end dispersed us like birdseed.2 Outside the coffeehouse a pretty young barista marveled that “you guys did it,” as though having just won an internal backroom bet. A prettier, younger ballerina – one I then liked but lacked the panache to net – would soon herald me a “rock star” at our party while the incredible feedback in “Brain Stew” wafted through the summer air. Even then, I lacked the panache to net her even then. A month or two prior, she and I had spent a very long moment alone in fancy clothes, hiding in a starlit crop circle from cops after people who looked like us.
Green Day’s lone masterpiece had been put on by Jack and Pete, who during my intermission shower (in the same practice space bathroom of yesterday’s big ado) had timidly begun their inaugural attempt at DJing. The makeshift playlist probably involved Family Force 5, pre-high school hipness Justice, and definitely some mash-ups. Some kid actually broughtand offered, as rhythmic sacrament to bless the DJ table, a comically thick stele of beat hardware — “the thing Trent Reznor made his entire first album on” — and was summarily dismissed. It would’ve been a bit tough to integrate real skill into a set played off iTunes.
As night fell darker the party followed gravity down the hill, plateauing in and around Dilan’s luminous pool. Some of the boys had dragged with them the backyard’s military-grade trampoline, positioning it ambitiously adjacent to the chlorine stream’s widest nexus. Lamentably, Dilan’s parents had outlined the pool in chainlink fencing long ago, which meant these young guns would have to to bounce themselves over it, clearing at least a WNBA draft pick’s wingspan in concrete to reach the softer impact beyond. I didn’t want to dispel too much of the almost-innocence agleam in the irises orbiting that glowing lagoon, but felt confident extinguishing that one idea was a right and kindly thing to do.
Within, Lupin harmonized in the shallows with a couple of vocalists from Laid Out, together pondering Brian Wilson’s genius and the prospect of starting an “all a capella band.” I entered the gate and traced along the scene’s cinderblock lip for a bit, cluelessly fielding advances from a couple girls who had been at the show. Finally, Jack, whose undershirt was already clinging to his torso above the water and billowing freely about him below it, shouted an invitation to dip my toes. I turned my gaze from the girls and met his with a smile, then past him to the pool slide, and last the diving board.
The adrenaline of the stage long gone, I was locked into a different kind of autopilot as I walked this more literal plank. In Jack’s mind, what followed would rank in future anecdotes among his most formative teenage memories. In mine, my synapses let go with my feet — and arms wide, spine straight, pupils steady, I embraced the surface all at once.
- Possessed by the spirit of Matt Sharp past. [↩]
- Certainly, though, we had all made some kind of plan to continue into the fall. Summer was too young to carpool with a bunch of boys to a hypothetical gig at some faraway campus, but certainly the rest of us wanted to turn this thing into some kind of mobile human disco of hand-played party music for college party movie-style college parties up and down the east coast. Even Dilan the stubborn could admit the idea sounded like “the life, right there.” [↩]