There is a 2018 documentary about the legendary Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd called If I Leave Here Tomorrow, which became available on Netflix last month. I hadn’t seen it yet, but having been born and raised in Alabama, I felt like I knew enough about them and the music they wrote and performed. When I finally watched the documentary (I’ve reached the halfway point twice now, and still haven’t finished it), I was able to get a little more information as it features never before seen footage and never before published stories that made me appreciate the musicians and their art that much more.
My dad was in a classic rock band called High Noon, birthed in Mobile in the 1980’s- just like yours truly. They did a lot of cover songs, as well as original tunes, even cutting an entire album called It’s About Time. They played gigs every weekend, and would invite other musicians to pick and grin with them on stage- including members of Wet Willie (Keep on Smilin’).
Many of the stories my dad likes to recollect revolve around those times- the times before the happy accident came along and complicated those visions of almost fame. One of my favorite stories to hear involving the band is- without a doubt- my dad’s all time favorite story to tell. (I’ve heard it more than twice.) It involves a stage in Mobile, Alabama, a crowd of twenty thousand people, and the song FreeBird.
Free Bird is a song that probably almost every person on the planet has heard at least in passing. Nine minutes and eight seconds of pure, raw, hard, Southern rock. High Noon played several Skynyrd covers, but on this particular night, they took a chance. Twenty thousand mostly drunk or high (likely both) long haired Southern rock ‘n’ rollers were dancing their asses off and getting wild. Mobile’s finest approached the stage to tell High Noon- “Hey, we can’t control this crowd- wrap it up so we can all go home before it gets out of control.”
“Alright, we’ll play one more and it’s over.”
After informing the crowd this would be the final song of the evening and then everybody needed to get on home, without even introducing the song, they began playing FreeBird to an already feelin’ good crowd that, upon hearing the first chord, went absolutely ballistic. They got about twenty-two minutes into it before the cops unplugged their amps, forcing them to abruptly end the best performance to their biggest crowd of their collective music career. And that was that.
Two and a half years passed and after my sister had been born, my mom had had enough of the parties and the drinking and the gigging and was ready to reprioritize. That’s when we moved five hours north. My ditch digging dad’s dreams of being a professional drummer for a Southern rock ‘n’ roll band were scrapped. He became a Deacon, and our lives completely changed. He didn’t know it at the time, but my mom would later settle in Jacksonville, Florida- the very birthplace of Ronnie Van Zant, the great Prophet and (forever, in my book) front-man of Skynyrd.
If I Leave Here Tomorrow allowed me to get a backstage pass to get to know a band I thought I knew well enough. I always appreciated their musical and writing abilities, but didn’t think too much about their views or personalities or personal lives. The documentary allowed a peak into this secret world of Skynyrd I hadn’t known before. I finally understood what my dad had been hyping my entire life. He had been desperately trying to get me on board this ship that I couldn’t be a part of first hand back in their hay day in the late ’70’s. I finally understood what he was talking about when he described the experiences in seeing them live (countless times). The crowd- the energy. The fact that a Rebel flag was the backdrop to a band playing for a crowd full of mixed races and faces. Based on the things I knew and studied in the classroom, this scene was confusing to me. I had always tried to get a picture in my head, but after seeing footage from the rock doc, I finally understood what I’d been missing my whole life. I also reflected on what (and who) I’ve been missing as of late.
The first half of the documentary more closely represents the South I know and love. When you are born of artists and musicians, you tend to gravitate to others like this. I’ve touched on this before, so if you’ve been reading, you know how important music is to my family and me. Something magical happens when you surround yourself with people like this- the diamonds in the rough who would rather quit school than give in and cut their hair to meet the school’s dumb requirements. We are the ones who fell through the cracks and landed in some trippy place, unknown to the others. We are the rebels with or without a cause, and either way- it don’t matter, we’re just here for a good time.
One thing that always bothered me about being born and raised here is that no matter how hard we try, we are misunderstood to anyone who was not born and raised here. It’s as though we’re trying to kill everyone with kindness, but instead give off an odor that says “We’ll kill you with guns if you trespass here.” This is not so for the overwhelming majority of us in Alabama. It sucks when one or two people have to go and pull the plug to a good time. But this is something I’m more aware of as time goes on.
I’d like to finish the documentary, and I probably will at some point. For now, I’ve reached the bit about Neil Young singing Southern Man and Ronnie Van Zant sitting at the edge of the swamp, writing a rebuttle in his mind, Sweet Home Alabama. I cried twice. Because I finally understood.
If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?
This is a post about Furnace Fest 2021, and other things that go along with it, and me.
Where the hell to begin? I suppose the beginning is a good start. How many people have introduced things they write about this way?
Probably a lot. A lot is how many people attended Furnace Fest back in its infancy and toddler stages in the early 2000’s. It was definitely a scene, and I was literally into it. I was in high school, digging into music and sharing various bands with friends, most of whom were in bands themselves. I had lived in south Florida, Pembroke Pines specifically, and met even more musicians (Into the Moat, Freemartin, Hate Eternal), and had so many good times. So many fond memories and relationships built during this time. Even after I had my daughter, I was still using any of my free time while she was visiting with her dad to make time to connect to the music communities, where ever I roamed.
Further Seems Forever, Thursday, Hopesfall, Every Time I Die, Taking Back Sunday, Minus the Bear, Evergreen Terrace, Anberlin, Copeland, Anthony Green, Mastodon, Hum, Silverstein, Glassjaw, Isis, Haste, Stretch Arm Strong, From Autumn to Ashes, A Static Lullaby, Hatebreed, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Finch, Norma Jean, Between the Buried and Me, mewithoutYou, Underoath, The Bled… all of these incredible bands have played a Furnace Fest stage at some point. Furnace Fest was sort of like the underground sewer kids congregating together to attend church in one of the unholiest places you could ever imagine, Sloss Furnaces (known to locals as the Furnace) in Birmingham, Alabama. The place is definitely haunted, and with a history and subsequent demise like its own, it would be incredibly dumb to not take advantage of the opportunities to host such festivals, as well as a haunted house each Halloween. It is equally dumb to not go to these festivals, because in doing so, you meet some of the coolest and friendliest and most talented and interesting people on earth.
North Dakota is a state just below the Canadian border, but that is how far one guy traveled to see Furnace Fest 2021. Imagine that guy and a chick from Alabama singing and moshing side by side during Taking Back Sunday after twenty years of not seeing Taking Back Sunday live in person. This festival was a big deal to a lot of people. But it was a really, really big deal to me. So I’m writing everything I can down now, the following morning, a morning that required two cups of coffee, the morning after indulging in the best concert experience of my entire fucking life.
Furnace Fest 2021 was supposed to be Furnace Fest 2020. It was initially this:
And then, a year later, after the pandemic was over (just kidding, it’s still here)…
Anyway, after a year had passed, and requirements for entry (vaccination/neg Covid test) were added, so, too, increased the number of bands. So it evolved into this:
When underground bands become more mainstream, the rates go up. Entry pricing was spiked, like everything else, so rather than spending no more than $200 for an entire weekend of moshing, now, you are looking at closer to $500. I’m still not very well off, so rather than experiencing an entire weekend of live music, I had to pick one day. Several of my favorite bands were playing each day, and I had to also take into account our schedules and stuff. Saturday it is.
Birmingham is about a forty-five minute drive from my house. The gates were set to open at 11, so we had plenty of time to get ready without rushing, which is the ideal situation. I also knew I would have a day to recover before getting back to work, which (obviously) is ideal because I’ve coasted through this morning flawlessly and after having two cups of coffee, doing a few chores and eating some Pigs in a Dreamboat (Pigs in a Blanket on steroids), I’m ready to write and share. It is another beautiful day, so I am sitting outside, listening to the birds while I gather my thoughts. I have so many… so again, I’ll start from the beginning.
Saturday started out nice and easy. I got up, did my usual morning coffee and face washing rituals, listened to music, and prepared for the day. I had gathered all of the things I knew we would need the night before, so my fest prepping only involved getting some breakfast, and getting to the show. My outfit is usually the same when attending shows, so that was no sweat. My American Football tee, some jeans, and my ratty Converse. I showered after coffee and got dressed, and by then, my daughter was in the final stages of getting ready, too. The weather was incredible. I didn’t see one cloud, and the skies were blue and it was sunny, at 70 degrees. There was a nice breeze and making my way to the car, I smiled, thinking, “This is going to be such an amazing day.” I felt excited for my daughter, who had never before been to see a live concert. Every concert ticket I had purchased since 2020 only became null and void up to this point, and in retrospect, I feel grateful that this was, and forever will be, her first live music experience.
So we get to the Furnace and spend $40 to park, but it is a fantastic space, convenient to the entrance and to the exit, and a small lot, so access was easy. The gentlemen at the lot entrance taking money and a Birmingham Police Officer were listening to groovy funk music and in pleasant moods, and were more than accommodating, friendly, and helpful. I always appreciate a sense of humor and they had it. (I also imagine the weather and atmosphere had a lot to do with it.) So our entry was smooth and fun and the experience definitely got off to a great start, which only got better from there. As we approached the One Day Pass entry gate, I noticed the line was incredibly short, and everyone around me looked like friends I’ve known since high school. I felt totally at ease as I approached the gate keepers, handing them my vaccination card and ticket. The lady noticed my t-shirt and said, “Hey cool shirt! That’s the first American Football shirt we’ve seen so far.” Which was surprising to me, so I responded, “Really? That’s crazy! But, cool… and thank you!” I got my hand stamped and a purple band was secured around my wrist and then I proceeded to the Security Guard with the metal detecting wand, looking back as my daughter was entering. They noticed her leather jacket that she decorated and painted herself, her pins, her spikes, and her boots. “Wow, you look awesome. Love the jacket!” She replied, “Thanks.” Then she said, “This isn’t really my scene”. I smiled. Little did she know, it actually is.
My daughter is on another level when it comes to music taste. She is unashamedly into the heaviest/ most gravity defying punk you can imagine. She likes the classic, respectable bands who have undoubtedly earned their stripes. These bands on this Level X ticket are lightweight losers compared to the shit she listens to. We will be watching Bad Religion next month. That is more her scene. This was all she wanted to desperately get across to these softies.
We walked through the main isle, with cool venders along either side. I browsed through the stuff, hesitant to stop in fear I would spend enough money to diminish my pride and result in questioning why I didn’t just go ahead and get three day passes in the first place… so, moving along…
We get to the main stage, which is set up in the yard. We sit down in the grass, and hang out for a while, allowing our food to digest and look through the line-ups for all three stages to determine which stage to make our way to, and when. I see some bands at the Plug Your Holes stage that I never had a chance to see in high school, so we walked across the property towards the furnace. We maneuvered through the light crowd towards the front of the stage to see Better Off and Evergreen Terrace. These bands were amazing live. There wasn’t a whole lot of moshing for Better Off, but their set was definitely a nice warm-up for Evergreen Terrace.
Evergreen Terrace is fucking insane. (Side note- It is so amazing to see how these people have aged. You can tell they have definitely dealt with some shit, and over time, owned it all. They persevered and kept grinding and doing what they love, what they’re good at, despite any differences between themselves and society. I respect that.) The band is named after the street in The Simpsons, and their singer, Andrew Carey, is one of the best hype men I’ve ever seen. He surfed the crowd, stood on the bars reaching for us (I could have hugged him at one point), and totally engaged with the fans. It was just like the scene I had viewed on dvd’s from their small venue days. It was as though nothing had really changed. There was still love, anger, emotion, and plenty of reasons for letting it all out.
After that performance, we made our way to the potties and then bought a water. I wanted to pace myself as I had been awake since 7 am, and my back, knees, and feet aren’t in tip top condition. We walked back to the same stage, with major anticipation to see Hopesfall.
Bloodjinn was up next, and we landed halfway to the stage before I ran into two old friends. One, Lyle, is a musician, and the other, Brian, a photographer. They are both incredibly talented guys, and their creative works have taken them far elsewhere, allowing them to grow in their talents and both have really made a name and respectable reputation for themselves. I am very proud to know them both. Lyle informed me three other friends of ours were there, and I hoped we would eventually run into them. My friend Peter, another incredibly talented writer, musician, and hair stylist, was among them. He had lost his mother, an Asian immigrant, to Covid last year, and had just gotten married, so I was especially grateful to see him given all the heavy circumstances. I discovered he had moved back home to his family farm recently, and we exchanged numbers. He was also blown away with how long it had been since he last saw my daughter. Social media allowed us to keep tabs on each other through the years, but it wasn’t the same. The day was not only turning out to be a great day full of amazing music, but also a reunion of close friends I had not seen since before the pandemic, friends that I’ve been missing for years, who I feel confident I will now see more of in the future.
Hopesfall is a band that I have loved since the release of The Satellite Years in 2002. This band is purely hard. Screaming vocals, poetic lyrics, melodic guitar, crashing drums- ugh, devastating. I had never gotten the opportunity to see them live in our primes, but they were a band I knew I would eventually see if the opportunity presented itself. I didn’t know that it would take nearly two decades for this to happen, so this raised anticipation was now old enough to birth a baby. Luckily, mine had grown old enough to experience them live while in her high school stage. It is something she’ll never forget.
One song they performed was Waitress. Waitress is one those songs that I could put on repeat and listen to for literally two hours straight. The Satellite Years as a whole album is gorgeous. It begins with Andromeda, a spacey instrumental featuring repetitive tones and intricate beats which I absolutely adore. As much as I love this song, I would usually skip straight to Waitress. The lyrics are:
These faces have fallen here before Tired and blue A light that bleeds unforgiving shadows Her olive eyes repeat failure in every glare A failure that mirrors itself with a foreign stare Hold it together you’ll find your peace But the pieces are burnt shells that frame regret on every wall Reflections of olive eyes pierce holes through her haunted heart She hates that stare Her smiling face defense to the world A world filled with olive eyes that frame regret on every face
This reads like every page in my high school poetry notebook, so you can imagine me in 2002 during that phase, screaming these lyrics right along with Jay Forrest. Hopesfall was incredible then, and they’re incredible now. And I feel so happy and thankful my daughter and I were able to share that experience together, with it being the first time for us both.
After Hopesfall wrapped, we made our way to the LevelX Stage and were able to catch Cartel, Mae, and The Bled. All bands were super good. I exited the front of the stage crowd, leaving my daughter there to experience The Bled as one should (moshing very hard), as I sat on the sidelines with my friend Peter. We did more catching up and then it was time for him to go back to Plug Your Holes (he wanted to see Beloved, Stretch Arm Strong and Glassjaw), while I was pumped to see Anberlin, Mayday Parade, and Further Seems Forev- er, uh… Taking Back Sunday. (We’ll get to this later in the day.)
Anberlin is another band I have loved for years. I discovered them in 2003, when Blueprints for the Black Market was released. They are one of those bands that are hit and miss for me, meaning, I don’t love every song, but the ones I do love, I really, really love. The Unwinding Cable Car (my personal favorite), Cadence, Ready Fuels, Change the World, Glass to the Arson, etc. They are definitely talented guys, and not only that, superb humans. The day before Furnace Fest, they released a new track called Two Graves, which I think is brilliant and beautiful. They played this song as well as other crowd favorites, wrapping up their very short three week tour. My daughter and I were in the very front of the stage, dancing about, having a great time. Mayday Parade performed next and put on a nice show. I don’t have too many personal experiences involving Mayday Parade, but I do like them and was glad to see them play. The next- and final- band to take the stage, however, is a band that, I am proud to say, I was the first to Tell AllMy Friends about.
The year was 2002 and I was singing in a rock band. My rhythm guitarist and I were big into the emo scene at the time, and Taking Back Sunday was among that scene. Not many people around us had heard of them at the time, but when you dig into certain bands, you might also dig into their labels, discovering similar bands you will probably enjoy. Thursday, Silverstein, Hawthorne Heights, Atreyu, Bad Brains, etc. have all worked with Victory Records, and Taking Back Sunday fit the bill. Did I tell all my friends about TBS?
I love this band. Tell All Your Friends was one of my favorite albums to listen to at the time. It was so fun. I remember driving back from Tennessee with a group of my friends (Braver by the 2nd) after they performed (I photographed) and while heading home, we all scream-sang this album together. These are the moments that stick with you. These are the moments that matter.
However, I had many more moments like this involving the band Further Seems Forever. Further Seems Forever was my all time favorite band when I was in high school. When The Moon is Down was released in 2001, I fell in love with Chris Carrabba (who later broke away to form Dashboard Confessional). I wasn’t mad because I also loved DC, and the second singer for FSF wasn’t too shabby, either. In fact, when How to Start a Fire was released, Further Seems Forever became a band that means more to me than I could ever describe.
Further Seems Forever had a message board on their website, and being such a huge fan, I participated in this board. I had just moved to south Florida, where the band originates, and my mom (who I was living with at the time) suggested I might meet up with some of the local FSF fans from the message board so I could make some friends. That is how I met my friend Shaun, and later, my SoFla crew. I won’t get into all of this now because that would take Forever, but for now, just know that this was a special crew who I still keep in contact with and love to this day. My friends were mutual friends with Further (as we called them), but I never got the opportunity to see them perform. I was working and going to art school, and then it wasn’t long after that, I moved back to Alabama and not long after that, became pregnant. Once again, it would be nearly twenty years into the future before I would see them play in Atlanta for their damn near perfect reunion tour, where they performed songs from How to Start a Fire, as well as a tribute to Jon Bunch (the third and final lead singer, who later killed himself).
Further was due to perform at the Heartsupport Stage from 9:25 to 10:15, while TBS was scheduled to play from 9:55 to 10:55. I had an incredibly personal and difficult decision to make. I began looking at and weighing the pros and cons as early as Anberlin’s stage breakdown. “Would I have time to catch Further and then make it back to wiggle through the crowd to get back to the front and see TBS?” was my first internal question. After deciding, hell no- that’s crazy, I thought things like, “Your kid wants to see TBS more, and you know you would rather see the show with your kid than leave her here to watch them without you,” and then followed it with, “you know Further put on a hell of a show, but you’ve seen them before and you haven’t seen TBS.” In between this form of rational thinking, I also thought things like, “But it’s Further!” and “But you would probably enjoy their set over TBS’s set!”, etc. I dismissed the thoughts and stayed in the front and center of the LevelX Stage, beside my child. And we watched the lights go completely down. When they came back up, the music started. Taking Back Sunday kicked right into it.
Aside from Adam’s bleach blonde hair, there was nothing about Taking Back Sunday that didn’t appear any differently than what I had known throughout the releases of seven studio albums. Adam talked about his upbringing in Florence, Alabama, and interacted with the crowd. Someone who had dressed as Waldo was among us, popping up in various locations in the crowd, the band announcing his location after wrapping up a song or two. It was a fun show. It was a great performance. Everybody moshed, danced, surfed, sang. I felt like my daughter and I experienced this together and it was amazing.
Yesterday, I got kicked in the head, shoved, had my hair pulled, had my feet stomped on, had beer splashed on me, fell down on hay and gravel among a sea of people beingphysical, didn’t buy any merch, and missed my favorite band performing live.
On the other hand, I had people screaming to help me back up, people reaching down to me to pick me up and support me until I was stable again, I laughed my ass off, I cried happy tears, I moshed (it’s been a while), I screamed, I reunited with dear old friends, I sang my heart out, I danced, and I had the best concert experience of my life… with my kid.
Adam said TBS had to wake up at 4 am to make it to the show on time, and then he went on to say “Totally worth it.”
To my old friends from Alabama to my new friend from North Dakota, I whole heartedly agree.
My love of music is eternal, and I am one of those sentimental kind who share music all the time with anyone who would like to listen. Here, you might like this! Growing up, I was the geek thumbing through the magazines and various other written works about bands I respected. My friends and I would frequent our local Books a Million while most people our age were cruising the strip. Skaters would grind the sidewalks outside the store and then come in to meet our circle, made up entirely of local musicians and their very temporary love interests. They were the ones trying to make their own names for themselves, and I was the knowledgeable music box with good taste who just happened to also love photography. So you can imagine the experiences. I was like the sister, guiding my brothers along this path to music success. “Try this.” “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” And snapping the best possible photographs I could to capture their raw energy during shows. We literally created our own music scene here. It was real. And that was the prime time of my youth.
After entering adulthood, your experiences with your friends change. It became less and less about creativity and more and more about survival. I have friends from all walks of life, and while I have lost many, and lost touch with many more, anyone around here who knows me, knows me as a song bird.
I volunteered at our local radio station, putting together a two hour music centered show each week. One week, I played a heavier rotation of songs and the owner of the station approached me, asking if I was having a temper tantrum. I responded with laughter and informed him there were more than a handful of people who listen to my show for the specific reason that it will be heavier than everything else on the station. These songs keep me from having a temper tantrum. But whatever. After a year and a half, numerous talk shows were added to the station, and upon hearing what these feeble minded people discuss, I decided to pull the plug on my show. I put so much of my time and energy into making something worthwhile for people who I knew would appreciate having that outlet again. I tried to recapture the music scene as I once knew it within my show, but it seemed like nobody at the station was biting. Everyone seemed rather interested in hoaxes and anything related to money or politics. So, goodbye daughters of the revolution…
One friend of mine I still stay closely connected to recently reached out to me for my writing ability. She had a great idea to help market her handmade jewelry and asked if I was interested in being a part of it. This is one of those opportunities that fell into my lap at just the right time. We will be setting up shop next month for a Punk Rock Flea Market and I can’t wait to collaborate with this artistic genius again. It will feel like old times, and old times feel good.
Remember when people created just to create? Remember when people shared things just to share? Remember the innocence? The struggle? The work?
No matter where you are in life, no matter how under appreciated you feel, do whatever it is you feel passionate about. Use your time, your energy, and your talent to create something that you enjoy, regardless if you have an audience or not. These are the experiences that will allow you to continue breathing easy.
I’ll be revisiting this old music scene again this weekend. After twenty-one years, Furnace Fest is happening again and will be featuring many bands I haven’t seen since I was sipping coffee, flipping through Spin and Rolling Stone at Books a Million with my talented friends. Talking about how bright our futures would be. Laughing. Excited.
Even if we grew up to be birds of a different song, we are still song birds. But I’ll always treasure the days of my youth.
This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for years, but am glad I waited ’til now to actually accomplish. Sometimes putting something off is a good thing. You know what else is a good thing?
Being raised up listening to Black Crowes bootlegged cassettes.
I almost named this post She Talks to Angels, and Other Black Crowes Songs No One Should Cover Ever Again, but instead opted for Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye for a few reasons. Before I explain, let me just say something about you and your acoustic guitar and your confidence in your vocal talents.
You are not fit to cover She Talks to Angels. Not because Chris R sings the shit out of it. Not because it is the most overplayed BC song ever, in history, forever. Not even because any time anyone plays an acoustic set anywhere, this song is on the list, or worse, REQUESTED. But because I HAVE HEARD IT THREE TRILLION TIMES ON EVERY BLACK CROWES BOOTLEG EVER ILLEGALLY MAILED AND/OR EXCHANGED AND IN EVERY RESTAURANT I HAVE EVER WORKED FOR AT THE BACK OF THE HOUSE, AND I HAD TO HEAR THIS FUCKING SONG EVERY SINGLE TIME WHILE I WAS JUST TRYING TO WASH DISHES, MAN.
Anyway, Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye is a song by The Black Crowes, a band that isn’t even my favorite, but way up there in probably my top five, that begins with my favorite introduction to any song ever. in history. forever.
My on and off boyfriend of five years has blue eyes (and has been repeatedly told he is a prettier version of Chris Robinson and obviously I’m into that). So naturally, any time I hear this song, I think of him. The other reason why this song reminds me of him is that he always seems to have bad luck. And finally, another reason I think of him when I hear this song is because I’ve broken up with him (said goodbye) exactly, and without exaggeration, four hundred and twenty times. So yeah, Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye! Makes sense!
Unlike our desire for commitment, The Black Crowes have always been a constant in my life. My mom and uncle have seen them a thousand times live. Even (actually, especially) in the smaller Atlanta gig days. They still play those shows, and I’ve seen a couple. The last thing my parents did together was see BC live. The last thing my baby daddy and I did together was see BC live. (Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye for good there.)
Cursed Diamond is a fun song. I used to hear this song and retreat within myself. My birth stone is a diamond, and being that I wrote my own obituary at the ripe old age of twelve, I am not at all hesitant to tell you that there are moments in my life when I feel, uh… what’s the word I’m looking for… oh- CURSED.
I recorded a homemade music video to Cursed Diamond that I stupidly shared on YouTube, and it has since gained momentum (only because it pops up if you search the song), which only terrifies me. Why in the hell did I post this? I can’t remember the login, and an old email account is attached, so there it is, trapped, in history… forever.
But, there is a part of me that is glad I can see it any time I like. Those are memories I love arranged to a song I love and hopefully it will be easily accessible while I rest my bones in a nursing home. If I’m LUCKY. I look at the bright side now, but that wasn’t always the case.
Which brings me to Sister Luck. And heck, let’s throw in Sometimes Salvation while we’re at it. These two sad old songs cut me DEEP.
My sister and I are two and a half years apart in age. The half is very important to us. We were forced to share a bedroom, and a lot of other things, growing up. As younger sisters tend to do, she annoyed the shit out of me. It was nerve racking, for someone like me who just wanted privacy and space. Any time we had a fight, my parents would make us sit next to each other until someone apologized. Then we were to stand facing each other and say “Sisters are (you guessed it-)
There are, of course, very personal reasons why Sister Luck and Sometimes Salvation open my floodgates of emotion. Like anyone else born in the South, a sad song relating to numbing the pain with drugs, etc. will probably be one you feel you can relate to. There are so many people I have lost from one thing or another. It’s just common. When it’s your sister, though… that’s a really deep wound. But, it’s one I’ve coped with for years, with the help of The Black Crowes.
Writing about your struggles and pain seems like it’d be really dumb these days. The cycle continues. But people need to face the realities of the struggle. Yes, it is real. But in that struggle comes some really beautiful transitions. You can even become Ashley’s probably fourth favorite band.
Thorn in my Pride, Wiser Time, P. 25 London, Nonfiction, She Gave Good Sunflower… and so many more Black Crowes songs to name that have been present in one version or another through my life. This is just my thanks, for being present before, during, and after every single one of those splits. Seems like the Robinson brothers can relate.
Speed Racer is a classic, 1967 Japanese series that was adapted into a 2008 Wachowskis film starring Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Christina Ricci. I considered myself a fan of these actors- their most sentimental roles for me included Emile’s from Into The Wild, John’s from Big Lebowski, Susan’s from Stepmom, and Christina’s from Now and Then, The Addams Family, and Casper. Ricci is my girl.
Speed Racer was one of those movies I stumbled upon by accident, which also became one of my favorite movies instantly. Donnie Darko was discovered the same way. I was at a friend’s house and this was one of my brothers I’ve known since Kindergarten kind of friends. He blurted out, “Hey- you’re weird! You’ll appreciate this!” and then flashed the Donnie Darko DVD. Not only did I appreciate the film, and later, even the Director’s Cut version, I appreciate those who understand me and my desire to explore, enthusiasm for acting talent, and love for an awesome soundtrack. Speed Racer wasn’t some kind of epic masterpiece by any means, but it was different and the story is incredible and I love the featured actors in the film.
There is something timeless and uniting about any story that details defeat and triumph, especially when it involves an underdog who has endured a lot of pain, and ESPECIALLY when the underdog’s triumph is realized through defeating THE MAN, revealing everything coming full circle. It was relatable in so many ways, but there was a particular scene that just, as John Goodman as Pops says, clicked.
Without giving anything away, there is a scene in this film in which the words “just listen to her” are spoken. The scene is PIVOTAL and so many things rest on these words- this idea. This is one of those moments from a movie that strikes me at a nerve that means so much to my own personal underdog story. It is this story that I want to share today.
Helen Keller was an Alabama writer, who was born deaf and blind. One of my favorite quotes was something she said, The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. I have detailed in this blog the extreme levels of feeling I have done throughout my life, and one reason I feel above all else is because of my inability to properly hear the world around me. I am not deaf and blind, but if you ask people who communicate with me the question, you might get the answer- Just about.
When I was in elementary school, I participated in speech therapy. My S’s were too soft and I had a lisp, probably comparable to Drew Barrymore’s. Oh, you know, Drew Barrymore from Donnie Darko? And E.T.? And all the other movies I grew up obsessing over and learning mannerisms from?
Anyway, speech has always sounded muffled to me. As a child, I would sort of disengage with conversation and rather, tend to my imagination and small world I had created, or would just STEM with music at the highest volume through my headphones. As I got older, I noticed that the things I wanted to talk about were not necessarily what others wanted to talk about (unless I was with my musician or nerd friends). As I get older still, I notice my disassociation from situations that involve larger groups of people in which I am a participant, rather than simply a spectator. I also notice when I am a spectator, I miss out on a lot of information as I simply cannot hear. This happened to me while I was in the audience before the Dalai Lama and Dave Chappelle. I began masking, I began isolating. A four minute video I watched at my Audiologist’s office summarized why.
While many factors played a role in my declining auditory abilities, loud music and soundwaves, no matter how abrasive (in fact, the more abrasive, the better in some circumstances), were things I grew up constantly absorbing. Whether backstage, on stage, in front of the stage, or via headphones, these intense vibrations have pierced my ears and soul throughout my entire life. I can remember being three years old watching my dad playing a gig at a bar or rehearsing on his drums in our barn.
I have had tinnitus for years, which is, I guess, like living in a world without coffee and, therefore, something that can lead to very serious consequences if left neglected. My brain was trying to grab more volume from the outside, resulting in higher output that, to me, only sounds like an annoying as fuck high pitched ringing. And as the outside world became noisier, so too, continued the unseen, brutal cycle of hearing loss. Along with some other things:
The disengagement continued. The depression continued. The isolation continued.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand welcome to memory loss by age thirty-five.
Among some of the realizations which came along in working with Dementia patients on a daily basis was a deeper understanding of the simple, unimportant abilities we take for granted. It also forced me to reevaluate the word important. Having the simple ability to wipe your own ass may not feel very important now. BUT(T) it is! Likewise, the ability to hear background noise and distinguish sounds within speech is important.
When you lose basic hearing functionality, you don’t really take into account what is actually happening to your brain, how your hearing and some vital areas of your brain are connected, and how ripping and wrinkling this particular trail on your map is leading to worse problems that will cause you to gradually decline to the point where, hey, sorry… you can’t wipe your own ass now.
That is exactly what is happening, though. Hearing loss is a lot more complicated than just (it’s more annoying to me than you, promise) repeating “Huh?” over and over. My co-workers have witnessed me standing up from my chair countless times to place my ear to the window in order to comprehend the information that someone (masked) is attempting to relay to my damaged ears. “Sorry?” Yeah, you bet I am.
My hearing tests I’ve taken over the years have been helpful in mapping my current status of hearing damage. The area gauging how well I hear soft sounds (S, F, TH’s) drop well below normal, resting just above the “Recommended for Surgery” line. When I place my hearing aids inside of my ear, the calibration of these devices amplifies those sounds for me, as well as any other levels that need amplified and equalized- which are sadly, many. But this allows me to not only distinguish the words that others are directing to and around me, but also allows me to speak more clearly myself and actually engage in a meaningful conversation. I can also meditate much easier now. Meditation is the topic for Monday, though.
Another useful bit about this auditory testing allows you to determine whether your hearing loss has, over time, made an impact on your ability to comprehend speech or sound. My results proved that despite my hearing loss, I have yet to be affected in my area of comprehension. Meaning, I’m not a total dumbass for not responding to you. It isn’t that I can’t understand the meaning of your word usage, it’s that I just didn’t hear every sound you made. This is something to consider when verbally communicating with someone, especially while wearing a mask. I can’t read lips in this scenario, so the time it takes me to respond may increase and I might look confused until that happens.
Just smile and nod.
When you have spent years literally adjusting to the noises around you, you tend to work harder to do more of the L word. Just Listen. Listening is something that a lot of people seem to despise. I enjoy listening to the world around me, but especially to music. I have made so many playlists over the years, like little personal friends of mine. These songs have kept me company, in a strange way. It always helped me to escape the ringing by placing the headphones on my head and immersing myself into an album. It was what, I felt, kept me from going mad. Mad World…
I am now happy and grateful that I have the ability to hear the outside world better and the inside world less thanks to technology and science. Hopefully, this will keep me engaged longer and I can slow the downward spiral to a pace which will keep me living independently, longer. I hope that my short piece today can help shed light on an actually kinda important issue. Just listen to her.
“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather,”
said Bill Hicks, years ago. Bill Hicks is one of those comedians that will live forever. He is one of my favorites, for a number of reasons. He was genuinely himself, and wasn’t really afraid to be. He was born in Alabama and then lived elsewhere, which is the dream for a certain kind of Alabamian. The dreamer. The big fish. Is it true- that life is but a dream?
I think comedians are like magicians. The observant odd fellows who permiss themselves to explore elsewhere. It can be dangerous. Or worse, confusing. Will I get it? Is this funny or no? “What does it matter?” oh, the frequency of this being spoken in the Hicks household, in my household… I, too, didn’t understand this or that, but I especially couldn’t understand why some people just refused to have any sense of humor. About… anything at all. I guess it’s no one’s business. Some people just get it and some don’t. Simple, right?
I recently read Tom Scharpling’s (I give five stars) memoir, It Never Ends. In it, he describes many things relating to his struggles- specifically, his near-crippling depressive state and the suicide attempt as a teenager which resulted in electroshock therapy and half lifetime of suppressing associated feelings of humiliation being Tom Guiliano. He may still be playing hide and seek with his former self while simultaneously embracing his assumed role (newly adopted life) as the creative, hilarious, and loveable Mr. Tom Scharpling.
Tom Scharpling is my damn hero. And after getting to know pre-Tom as Scharpling, I say Tom Giuliano is also my hero. Giuliano was the inventor of Scharpling, after all. What a gift.
I actually discovered Tom while watching the best episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, called The Shaving, which was aired on Adult Swim (one of the best things to come out of Atlanta) in 2003. Tom voiced a mild mannered lunatic (onion?) named Willie Nelson. It is super incredible to have this sentimental attachment to this character, particularly because he mentions Willie Nelson (the actual WN) in his book, describing a highlight of his career as Mr. Nelson reads a line that Mr. Scharpling wrote for the Emmy award winning show Monk. Side note: he was one of two writers who contributed to this show from beginning to end, which is an incredible accomplishment for any job- but I imagine especially for a writer. And dang- Mr. Scharpling has many, many layers so the four legged onion named Willie Nelson character now makes perfect sense.
I later bought this season of Aqua Teen on DVD and I used to spend hours binge watching these episodes, The Shaving being my all time favorite- and Willie Nelson (the monster who feeds on human blood who simultaneously wants no part of killing to be scary) my favorite character. I wondered, and immediately thereafter, researched (like everyone does) who was behind the character, voicing it to life perfectly. Tom was. So I read more and more about Mr. Scharpling and that is when I discovered The Best Show. It was in its toddler phase at that point, or maybe in middle school- I can’t remember- but when I found out his comedy partner was also the drummer of Superchunk, I remember feeling like I found a key to this long lost magical box of goodies that I’d been missing since Kindergarten. I opened the box and so many amazing pieces of the puzzle appeared and it started making a lot of things in my life naturally gravitate together.
Later still, I discovered Kurt Vile, partly in thanks to Tom, but also because based on the shit I listen to, my Youtube suggestions aligned me with Vile and I probably credit him and Tom with getting me through the shitstorm that was my personal life beginning at age 30.
I’m 35 now and all I can say is, yet again, Tom Scharpling has given me (and I realize others as well) a gift. His personal journey is not only gut wrenching- it is gut mending, too. He rose from the grave, so to speak. This gives losers like me a ray of hope that one day, too, shall I be free from the constant bullshit that is in my head.
I’ve mentioned my own suicide attempt when I was a teenager. And even before that, I wrote my own obituary at age 12. (I was a famous journalist loved by thousands who died by drowning in the Gulf of Mexico, BY THE WAY.) I don’t recall writing this (which is even crazier if you think about it- especially when you consider I DO remember writing a fourth grade essay contest detailing why I would be the best Vice Principal there ever was*), but MY GRANDMOTHER FOUND IT and GAVE IT TO ME twenty years later. I couldn’t help but laugh. But after the suicide attempt, no one was laughing then. My dad had no clue what to do for his fifteen year old daughter who had just endured abandonment from the Almighty Iron Woman that was my mom. My mom was in L.A. at the time- and honestly, I couldn’t say if she was even aware that it had happened. She still may not know. My dad called Doc at the ER (an actual ER Physician we went to church with at the time) for advice and he then instructed me to jam my finger down my throat to induce vomiting (“or else they’re going to make you drink tar at the ER, your choice”). So I gave myself the finger. *I won the contest and was awarded by being Vice Principal for an entire day which means I sat in the Principal’s office all day chowing down some Oreos, MISSING DOMINATING A GAME OF WAR BALL WITH MY FUCKING FRIENDS
I have also mentioned that my baby daddy gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received regarding harmful thoughts: just add something nice. The simplicity of the sage he brushed against me stuck and, over time, rooted in the central command center of my psyche. (Coming from a guy whose name would appear on my phone which would result in physical tremors. Another obstacle I have overcome.) And so, the mindset blossomed into an action that took a lot of practice, and it has taken me years to not only find that balance word that has been BEATEN INCESSANTLY in self help sections, but work towards tipping the fragmented imagined scale the other way and grow the flowers in my garden head and actually find some REAL MEANING in my existence. What a difference!
I grew up listening to the radio, and my family’s abundance of musicians and artists meant I was destined to grow up either back stage or on stage or directly in front of the stage. Only in recent years (thanks to my 50% hearing loss- which I will soon be having fixed) do I enjoy a concert from a greater distance. I think the straw that broke my back was Helms Alee at Bottletree in Birmingham (one of the last performances at Bottletree- RIP) when I was standing directly in front of the stage, headbanging until I felt my two beers and whatever food I’d ordered start making me nauseated. All I remember after that was making my final exit out of Bottletree (forever) with a hefty load of barf pouring from my mouth directly in front of the entrance and the workers looking completely stunned. My friends literally carried my ass to the backseat of the car, where I curled up into a ball and I don’t remember anything after that.
So back to the radio- I have a deep appreciation for DJ’s and the knowledge their minds contain about music. I, like Tom, grew up listening to various DJ’s and reading music magazines and listening to my cool family members discuss the superior underground scene around a Scrabble board during the better majority of my childhood. In short, I love digging for good music. I appreciate good music. When I was a child, we listened to 107.7 the X, which was an alt rock station out of Birmingham, Alabama. I listened to the morning DJ’s on the way to school, and by late middle school, was ditching class and faking sick to listen to the entirety of the show. One particular experience I’ll only forget as I enter mid-stages of dementia, was when I was about fourteen years old and got to talk to SPACE GHOST LIVE ON THE AIR FOR A SOLID FIVE MINUTES. So rad. I also distinctly remember Tuttle and Kline (who are now country station DJ’s in TX last time I checked- gross), scolding me for skipping school just to call in to their show for the tenth time within that six weeks grading period. Did I fail? Not because of my grades. I was a straight A student being told I had to either do night or summer school simply because of my unexcused absences. And I didn’t care.
Another DJ I called a lot was the late night DJ who shall remain nameless. The reason is because when I was seventeen years old, this FORTY-SOMETHING YEAR OLD MAN DROVE AN HOUR NORTH TO MEET ME AND ATTEMPTED TO LURE ME INTO HIS VEHICLE. (It didn’t happen. He had the face of radio- ugly.) So, yeah. That experience was definitely icky, and it wasn’t long after that, The X was X’D and I let radio go and instead got back to my own mixes.
I’ve been making mixes for-eh-ver. Whether on cassette, cd, mp3, or Youtube Music Premium (shut up), I THOROUGHLY enjoy curating playlists. Our local indie station, Live 95.5 got wind of me thanks in part to my friend Sandy, a Certified Health Coach, who would help instruct a laughter yoga class that we led for an assisted living facility in town- which was actually a great time. I would sometimes guest on her show, called Pathchangers: Habits of Health, and contributed bits relating to mental health. Our friend- ironically also named Tom* (who owns a music/recording equipment store and also founded K-99 Rocks, a small but effective Birmingham rock radio station that hosts and records local live shows)- would also appear and provide sound, practical (and incredibly helpful to me) money advice. It was a well rounded, health goals oriented show, and I’m very proud to have been a part of it. *all the good ones are
The station’s owners, Jay and Melissa, became friendly with me and I mentioned my love of music and creating playlists and told them if they ever needed assistance with their station, I’d love to help. Tom also invited me to guest DJ on K-99 Rocks, and he showed me how to navigate his program, but I just didn’t have the time to do what he was looking for. So yeah, I volunteered time, “talent”, energy, whatever for Live 95.5 fm, and came up with some ideas which later developed into my own radio show. Oh. What was it called?
My Radio Show. It was called My Radio Show. So, partly because I could care less to have a catchy name and wasn’t getting paid for being a creative genius and didn’t want to put TOO much thought into it, and also partly because of my friend Tom Scharpling (only friends of Tom will understand) and the inspiration he has lent me (and others as well) over the years. I worked hard on my show, though, using equipment and software I’d never used before- learning it all very quickly. And working from my own home- the house on the hill- on my own time. I was laser focused the minute I started until the minute I finished. And when it aired, I made time to listen intently without interruption, critiquing myself and usually being satisfied afterwards. I know probably five people, tops, would regular-ish-ly tune in. But it was something that I created and was- am- proud of.
The evil pandemic began in my neck of the woods around the same time I began My Radio Show. Concert tickets were refunded (maybe one day I’ll write about the Band of Horses fiasco), and frowns ensued, so My Radio Show was definitely something I was holding on to for a piece of normalcy and a tinge of sanity. It kept me from drowning in sorrow over the fact that my daughter and I were going yet another year without seeing one single concert together- when I’d been to a billion. It was all I ever wanted- to have this incredibly magical concert experience with my child. We currently have tickets to numerous shows but one has already been post-poned to next year and I have found myself biting my nails again… which is definitely a good idea, because… Covid.
So I worked on My Radio Show for a year and a half, and last Sunday I announced that I was airing the final episode. I came to the conclusion that I was finished with this project for a few reasons. One, I wasn’t getting paid. Yeah, I volunteered for it, and I never expected to get paid- but when you find yourself volunteering, and then other things come up, a non-paying gig is hard to commit to. I just didn’t want to be committed to something that wasn’t going to keep me afloat. I had to carve time out for other things that were actually working for me. This blog is another example of a non-paying hobby. And, like the radio show, it is something I truly enjoy. I’ve loved writing ever since I possessed the ability. In fact, I used to win awards in school and attend Writers’ Conferences and publish poetry as young as age 15. But this is not something that has a regularly scheduled timeslot attached. I can come and go as I please- and based on the timestamps of my previous posts- it’s pretty obvious I do this whenever the fuck I feel like it. And I’ll likely crawl back to Jay while shoveling coal in my mouth to visibly appear as desperate as I may someday feel. But until then, I’m good and yes, I know the invitation is open so I don’t have to succumb to that dramatic low in order to revive my local indie radio dj pipe dream.
So what is the point of this post? I just wanted to write. Tom Scharpling just wanted to write, too, and eventually, he made a real name for himself- LITERALLY! I often wonder with an embarrassing last name like the one on my Birth Certificate, if I shouldn’t change mine as well. Maybe I, too, could develop a new persona and my own confident character that, like Tom, steamrolls chumps. Maybe that’s why I like what I like. As mentioned in his book in his run-in with a fellow King Crimson fan who spied his KC tee…
you either get it or you don’t.
My favorite line from his book goes like this and can be found on page 215, referencing fried Oreos and Twinkies on the New Jersey Boardwalk: “They are as common as a pair of horn-rimmed glasses at a Wilco concert or a misspelled tattoo at a Tool show.” Mr. Scharpling, thank you. Everything in my life- both good and terrible- makes perfect sense.
Tom is right about so many things, but the key takeaway from the book he wrote is this: you are not your trauma.