LIFE. MUSIC. ART. // Pt. 2 Music.
I’m tired, but I don’t care
‘cause I’m gonna
crawl my way outta here
I’m gonna break my back
until these bones don’t last
you got your hopes
you got your stars
but you won’t get too far
and we don’t really give a damn
we don’t really give a damn
--from an unfinished EFFORTS demo
The baby is coming in two months. The baby! Every time I say the words I want to throw my hands up into little balled fists of excitement, just like the childhood picture of my wife at Christmas--just like the way my wife still does whenever she is excited--just the way our child might do the same. A baby!
The night after Meagen told me she was pregnant, I sat down across from a friend of mine. The friend told me what had happened to her, and I said that I believed her. That same night The Weapon and I kicked our drummer out of Beset.
I was happy to be rid of someone so toxic to myself and many others. And I was relieved The Weapon wanted to continue Beset. by ourselves. But now we were in a bind. We had a show scheduled one month out, and no drummer. And not only that--Geoffrey Maybe, the bassist for my other band Efforts, was now gone as well, having joined the air force reserve.
I acted immediately. For Beset. there was really only one option--a person I had kept as a back-pocket surprise in case our old drummer ever walked or did something unforgivable. Tyler Haley is someone I worked with once upon a time, and only for three month, several years ago. We used to work together at this Get-Fucked bar for rich shit-heads. It was an absolute nightmare job. I knew he was a drummer, as we had talked about it back then, in between chasing kids out the door to pay their bills, or watching other servers get tipped with an eight ball of coke, before disappearing into the restroom. But here’s the thing--I had never heard him play.
“Come and be a hero, and help us do this show.” I texted him. He picked me up for practice a week later. When we arrived, I introduced him to The Weapon, who was sleeping on a dog bed inside the storage unit we played in.
This is gonna work. I thought to myself. And then we set up Tyler’s kit. The drums I had never heard him play on. And we plugged in our shit. I grabbed the microphone in my hand and we started to play. This is gonna work.
I wasn’t hoping. I just knew.
From the moment we kicked off our song “where is your ocean?” the results were apparent. I snapped my eyes at The Weapon and smiled. Tyler was not only good, he was excellent. He wasn’t even copying our last drummer, he was doing his own thing. He was creating on the fly.
This is going to work.
Eventually the show got cancelled. But we didn’t mind. We had Tyler. We could get other shows. The only bummer was that my parents surprised me by coming into town. They wanted to see me on stage. When I told The Weapon (the cancellation kind of fell on his shoulders) but when I told him, he sent me the following text:
“Oh God. Brother, I just wanna stick my head in a microwave”
Which is the funniest thing anyone has ever texted me.
Here’s the thing. It was a rough time growing up. There were two gods at 1622 Covington Drive: Jesus and Chaos. But that was a long time ago. In a neighborhood far, far away.
It took a long time for my parents and I to see ourselves in one another--or rather, to see the goodness inside of us, the parts of our family that reflect in one another, the things that make us shine together all the greater. I love them, and they love me. The enemy becomes the ally. That is the story of human history. That is the story of my family.
But when I started playing music. I didn’t tell them. Not right away. I knew they would be excited. And proud. Music in my family is a big deal, and it’s like this magic key was suddenly now being handed to me--not the whole making songs part--that was hard work and a beautiful miracle. No, the key was familial acceptance. I used to have this joke (it’s not a joke) that my goal in life is to become rich and famous so that my family talks to me. It’s a stupid thing to say, a hurtful joke at the expense of others. It also comes from a place of sadness and truth.
Being myself was never enough. I think Meagen is the first person to love me JUST for who I am--and even that took like five years. My self worth is intrinsically linked to what I have done, or could do. So when I started playing music, I didn’t tell the family. Not a first. I knew that using the key would only break the magic--that I would be doing music for them, and not for me.
I was glad my parents came. Even if the show was cancelled. I was glad for the love, encouragement, and attention. But whatever it is that is broken inside of me definitely felt the smallest of stings.
You used the key. You are nothing but a battery generating its own value.
My mom sat on the bed of her hotel room, and told me how her first show got cancelled too. And how there had never been any shows after that. Just my Dad and her...and their Son, who was about to be conceived just a few months later. I sat stood on the carpeted floor, staring at her and my own wife, now pregnant with our son. And I thought about how alike my mother and I really were.
Another show was scheduled. I tried not to think about being on a stage. I had always had a spark of stage fright, but ever since the last EFFORTS show, back in March of 2017, that fear of performance had blown into some sort of demonic possession.
It is a hard thing to have a panic attack on stage. And another to do so while wearing fake blood all over your lips and chin. I dropped the guitar pic on my first song, and forgot how to play most of the others.
So you can see how I was terrified of having to play with Beset. And even more nervous about putting EFFORTS back together. Because it could only lead to me being destroyed--to being at the mercy of those same songs that nearly killed me two years ago. But I couldn’t worry about that just yet. First EFFORTS would need a new bassist. And I had a plan.
Back when I was first writing demos under the name “Jesus Destroy Them”, the only bassist I knew was a guy named Jason Gilmore. He came and practiced with me once, but it just wasn’t the right time in his life.
During one of our practices, I brought a new sticker to put on my guitar, and Jason brought a handgun that he placed atop his bass cab. “We’re gonna be a good band.” I told him.
It wasn’t too long before someone texted us. My friend, Allyson. She’s a promoter around town. I had told her how good Jason was. How we really sounded amazing. “You guys wanna play a show in July?”
...Fuck. Yes. Fuck.
We had three months to rehearse. The end date was now a time bomb. This was apt, as everything else in my life had become various countdowns to disaster: May would be the now rescheduled first Beset. show. June would be the next doctor’s appointment (where we would find out the physical gender AND if the baby was still alive). And if I could make it through all of that, July was now the doomsday sequel to pubic failure in a band that meant everything to me. Tight.
But before any of this could happen, actual tragedy struck.
Rick was in Nashville before we ever got here. He was a songwriter who gave my Father a chance and helped him get his feet on the ground in this shitty town. His two youngest sons were best friends with my two youngest brothers. He and his family were seemingly legendary around town. You could not throw a stone in Nashville without hitting someone who knew Rick or his kids. He was funny. He told great stories, and threw great parties. I knew him only as an acquaintance. Here are my memories of him, some of which I kept alive, and some which were told to me by others.
...I stole my first beer from a Halloween party of his. It tasted bad so I poured it down the drain of my first apartment...I lost my cloak at his house during the party. I had a custom made Sith robe that I would fall asleep inside during prescription drug withdrawals...Rick was in the film That Thing You Do!. He wrote some of the songs and can be seen once or twice during the movie. Tom Hanks tried to give him a part where all he had to do was hold a drink and laugh and Rick was so nervous that he started screaming HA HA HA and spilling his drink...Rick had a temper, and Rick had some problems. One time during my more troubling youth he took me aside and told me in front of a group of people to get my shit together...He picked my brother up on the side of the road and made him pour out a bottle of pills...He was best friends with a musician named Stuart Adamson...when Stuart was in Hawaii, hanging himself, Rick was at his own daughter’s wedding, trying to get ahold of his best friend. Years later, by sheer coincidence, I would find Stuart’s music on my own and create Spell Saga based around his songs…
And here’s the other thing. There is perhaps only one person in the entire world that could get my family back together, even for a weekend. And that was Rick Elias. We had not been seen together, all eight of us, in the same room, for seven years. I was especially nervous to see my brother Sam. We had barely spoken in half a decade.
There is a specific set of psychic armor I have to walk through to be ready for my family. It is as much for their sake as for mine. It’s not so much that I expect a--I was going to say battle, but actually I do. I do expect a battle with them. Not a war per say. Maybe it’s more like...radioactive energy. We are these eight larger than life, chaotic entities, and when we get around each other, or certain types of people, it tends to create these uh… sparks. Like some form of out-of-body autistic lightning. We are funny--VIOLENTLY funny, and selfish--ENTICINGLY selfish people. I think that’s why so many of us ended up in bands. And why as many of us ended up breaking up the bands we were in. We have the energy for greatness but not the discipline. I’m sure they would argue, but I got half a dozen stories for each us that I won’t be sharing. History goes to the victors. My point of view becomes the world’s. At least for as long as this blog entry.
It was good to see them. I can’t describe it with words, because it was more like “kaleidoscopic” than “wonderful.” Our best and worst behaviour was on display. And I got to hug everyone, and hold Sam, the brother who never returns my calls, the brother who I thought would be dead before I ever saw him again.
“Come outside with me” I told him. And he followed me out to my car. We played songs for one another, he playing me bands he liked, me playing him all the songs I had written. “I wrote this one about you, I told him, and played him “West Coast” by EFFORTS.
He got real quiet as I clicked though the album. My Dad used to call that an A & R spin, just sampling a bit of each song with a group of people. “I’m sorry...that I’m not always good at communicating.” he told me. I nodded. We didn’t look at one another. “It’s alright.” I told him.
The next day I brought my long lost brother a care package of spell saga cards and comic books. And we all got dressed and ready for the visitation. My brothers and I rode down with a family friend, hereto called “X-NAMELESS”, who, as it turns out, was fucked on cocaine and high as a kite. He sped down the interstate zipping in between cars like he was certain it was his own visitation we were going to miss. I’m going to die, I realized, I was going to be a father, and now I’m going to die. There was nothing to do. I turned to look at my youngest brother, and I laughed hysterically as we warped down I-65 South.
“Let’s listen to some of Rick’s music” My brother Asher asked, and we did.
After the visitation, my family left town. My care package remained. I took it back and drove away, filled with mixed emotions, but mostly just grateful I got to see them all again. It felt like some sort of ceremony--”here is your old family, now go start your new one”.
One night I watched Meagen play with Hank the dog on the ground, and she was so happy. I realized that soon it would be a kid she was playing with, and I was all smiles and tears. It is rare for me to see good things on the horizon--only impossible odds and the promise of miracles.
By the month of May, I was practicing with both of my bands once a week. We were getting better. Songs that had previously taken Beset. months to figure out were now being reworked and sharpened in one afternoon.
And EFFORTS was definitely tighter. The songs were even better than before--Jason has a way of transforming things in unexpected ways. During one song, he even manages to make his bass sound like a choir of insects. It’s fun when your playing stuff that sounds exciting. When you can imagine other people feeling emotions to that stuff you and your friends are making. I guess that’s something that shows kind of drive home. That you are now making music for others, and not just yourself.
There is a severe lack of humanity to this letter. Everyone is written like a mystery novel where the characters don’t have traits. And it’s too long as well. But that is how I choose to view my life at the moment: an overly long mystery novel.
I could try writing it better:
Today my Mom visited me for two hours. After she left I ate two donuts and felt like crying.
Beset. Played a small fuck-shack called Kimbro’s Pickin’ Parlor on May 6th, 2019. Gio was so nervous and I was worse. I felt like I was going to throw up as I stood on the carpeted stage. My friends showed up, and Meagen, our tiny baby inside of her. “How are you feeling?” she asked. I told her that didn’t help, and then I realized that she was just as nervous as I was. Oh God.
And then it was time to play. I didn’t know what else to do so I squatted down on my legs into some sort of primal power stance, glanced at my friends, and then wondered, desperately, what sort of words I had written, as none of them were anywhere near my mind.
This is going to work. I told myself. But this time it really was just a wish. BAM. BAM. BAM. BAM. BAM. All five songs came out in some sort of gloriously strange sonic assault. And then it was done.
I walked around in a daze, and listened to everyone who congratulated us, surprised it was our first show. Some of my friends were singing the lyrics to me and I just smiled and nodded. We had survived. And not just that, we had surprised people. “Really great set.” they told us. “Hey man, great set.”
It was Meagen’s birthday. We watched this little baby appear on the screen. “Congratulations.” the nurse told us. “It’s a girl.” I glanced over at Meagen and she had tears in her eyes. I stared at the screen. At a little baby girl. We made a girl. We have a baby girl.
The doctor sounds like a robot when he tells us his concerns. There might be a cyst in the brain. They cannot tell. The baby’s head might be too small. They can’t tell. The machines at this joint are mobile ultrasound units--they make everything look like a watercolor painting of shadows and potential warning signs. They schedule another ultrasound somewhere else. A week out. Meagen and I are terrified. We go out to breakfast and I search for more info on my phone, hiding it from her while trying not to throw up. I hold her in bed and we fall asleep.
I called my Aunt, the nurse, and she said it would be fine. That the doctor was just being cautious. I searched under every stone on the internet, and told Meagen everything was going to be fine. “I know.” she said. And then, because it was her birthday, we tried to act normal and continue with the plans for the evening. First we drove to the museum and Meagen began to cry at the Frida Khalo exhibit. And then we met our friends for dinner at a ramen place but I just spent the entire time trying not to throw up or worry.
We made an appointment with a specialist for the end of the month, and I waited. We waited together.
Band practice continued. Beset. Was now booked for a studio in July, and the EFFORTS show was fast approaching. I tried my best to focus on stage fright instead of the possible loss of our child. All my greatest fears were now here to destroy me. I told Meagen we would be okay, no matter what. And whatever she needed. If she needed to leave. If the worst happened. that I would support her decisions.
One night I dreamed I was trying to stay on the couch at my parents house. “No!” my Mother cried. She was looking at me withese wide and crazed eyes. Like she was there but somewhere else as well. “Your brother is staying here!” I told it was fine. I just needed to stay the night. My father watched, his hands in his pockets, unsure of what to do. “I’ll just stay on the floor.” I told them. But my mother was adamant. I was unwanted. And she looked away form me as she shouted, pleading with me in the same voice that she used whenever she was about to cry, whenever she would call me Toddy, “There are insects in the floor! They will crawl out in the night!” Then she told me they burrow into me, nestling into the foreskin of my penis.” Oh. I said to her realizing she was crazy. I tried to talk to my Dad but he just shook his head sadly. He could not stop her. He could never stop her. I counted out the money I had saved and wondered how much a motel might be for the night. Then I said goodbye. My mother still wouldn’t looking at me. She couldn’t. She was too upset. My father stared at the floor. I walked backwards, doing my best to not bring attention to myself as I stole a photo from the ground. It was a picture of my mother, happy and in love, holding me as a baby. I awoke.
The EFFORTS show was approaching. And we sounded so good. Better every week. I started pulling old song demos together--the idea was that we sounded so different we might record a new mini-album. Sort of like a disc of reworked songs + finished versions of demos that just didn’t fit with I Bought You A Coffin. I’ve got a few handfuls of these--stuff that is definitely first-album-era EFFORTS.
I think about the band in historical terms. I did this before we even started playing together. There are plans for albums, meticulous notes of what was recorded when, and even demos catalogued into different “Eras”. I decided to chronicle all of this publicly by spending a few nights building an official EFFORTS website at YOUWHOHAVELIVEDWITHSUCHPRIVILEDGE.COM
Zach wasn’t too keen on the idea of working on anything new. I wasn’t surprised. He’s into the present and I’m all about the future. That’s a big part of what makes EFFORTS work. We did however decide on a title for the mini album. Should it ever come to pass: Coffin Delivery Confirmation.
One night, during EFFORTS practice Meagen texted me that the baby moved when it hears music, and I got so overwhelmed that I forgot how to play the guitar.
During this time, it seemed all of my fears about stage fright would return at the snap of anyone’s tongue or fingers. I began closing my eyes at practice, trying to pretend people are watching me. That we're already playing our show, and that through the magic of instantaneous transport if I can just make it through this rehearsal, the show will be perfect and fine.
Baby (it’s a girl!) likes to kick when momma eats watermelon. Or when Momma goes to a chiropractor. I love her. And this future Meagen and I are walking into. I am so afraid.
On Father’s Day, I came home from work at 5 AM and found a bag of tinsel and presents. Inside is a Star Wars card--I had just watched the movie again the week before, thinking about fatherhood--and it reminds me of the Star Wars card my father got me for graduating high school. “You’ve gone through your own ‘dark side’...” he wrote. Inside the Father’s Day bag are two little onesies; the first has the new Spell Saga logo on it, and the second has the album art for the D&TEG birds at night single, the song I wrote Meagen for her birthday. I teared up. I was so happy. And so afraid. So worried this will be my last Father’s Day. Worried that I was being selfish. Worried that I can’t think of the baby as their own person--not yet, for fear of anything happening to them.
We drove around that day and Meagen begins to panic, because she can’t feel the baby kicking. I do my best to tell her it’s fine (though I don’t know this for sure) and make her laugh (even though I am two second away from shaking until I collapse). As we drive around she kept apologizing for ruining Father’s Day, and I told her she did nothing of the sort. Then her car died in some sort of ominous reminder: the appointment for the baby was two days away.
We awoke at dawn, and drove to the ultrasound appointment. I was on four hours of sleep, and had already prepared myself as best as one could for devastation.
We drove to the appointment, and I sat in the room with Meagen as we watched a much nicer screen for signs of life. The technician was lovely, and she talked us through everything. The baby is healthy. The baby is beautiful. Meagen cried silently on the table while I smile at the screen. Then we go into a room and a doctor--a really GOOD doctor, one who, in my opinion, deserves a raise--explained everything in detail. And as far as they could tell, the baby is just fine. When we left the building, I threw up my arms in the air, and whooped and hollered.
Later that evening, we laid in bed and began trying to agree on names. Vivian Story Rogers was now the front-runner, though I was still holding a torch for a little girl named Danger.
A month until the EFFORTS show I made a flyer, and Allyson put up a link to the event on Social Media. We practiced that week during a lightning storm, pushing all the anxiety of the future, and the worries of the past into some raucous thunder-peeled singalong (we are very loud). We played our song West Coast until a new version appeared. Afterwards we hung out on Zach’s couch and it felt like friends. Like a band. Like we needed it. I left my windows open and the car was soaked to it’s Hyundai bones.
I dreamed that I couldn’t wake up quick enough. That Meagen and our two dream children walked nervously into the room, and hid beside the bed like something bad was going to happen. I looked up at the door to find a man had followed them into the room. He was holding a gun and some other strange looking weapon.
“No!” Please! Please!” I cried.
Then I woke up. I am so tired.
Meagen couldn’t make it to the EFFORTS show. She was just too pregnant. My buddy Jru and his band Club Pop opened for us. It is a shame you will never see them. It was one of the most mesmerizing displays of showmanship his town is likely to see. I took footage. I would show you, if you asked.
I got to the show early and set up a little table. On the table was a box of tee shirts, several holographic stickers, and a light up Halloween statue of a cat that I had once stolen from a grocery store.
I wrote out our set list and then added a little note on mine; it was a little chart of how to know if my guitar was in tune. I forget things like that. Then I sat in the back and tuned my guitar while other people played. I was so nervous.
When we got up on stage there was not much of a crowd, mostly just some friends from work who cheered and smiled as they filed up closer to the stage, like some sort of embracing barricade. I looked down at my left hand, I was holding the opening chord. My fingers were trembling to the point where I wasn’t sure if I could hold the guitar, let alone play. I looked up at Jason. He seemed nervous too. That helped. A little.
Zach clicked in the songs and we opened up with Pale Horse. It’s just a one minute song, but we survived. We kept going: Bridge Song into Everyone Will Leave. At one point my pedal board--a gift from Jason, fizzled out and fucked everything up. I stomped on it and kept going. The microphone in front of me smelled overwhelmingly of cheese popcorn. I leaned into it and kept singing. The crowd cheered and shouted and we made it all the way through to the end of the set.
My guitar cut out at least twice but I screamed and faked it until I could kick the sound back on again. We played something like 13 songs in what felt like three minutes. By the end we narrowly escaped disaster on Ringtone Money, and then gladly, so very gladly we hit the last song: I Bought You A Coffin. We played it as loud and hard as we could. Each of sweating under stage lights and a humid late July evening that krept in past all hope of an air conditioner.
I don’t remember what I said to the crowd as the music cut out. I just remember all the people who rushed the stage to congratulate us--musicians who wouldn’t know how to lie if they tried, acquaintances who looked astonished about what we had just done. And a particular friend who I had known for a long time, who seemed overwhelmed by it all. He said some really nice shit. Some touching things about me and my family and my late ascension into the kingdom of music.
We packed up our equipment, high on adrenaline and sweating out four months of practices. We didn’t sell shit, but we played without embarrassing ourselves. We did it. EFFORTS. Our own private victory. “Let’s do another one.” I told them.
Meagen and I finally agreed on a name. Which is good. Because she’ll need one in two months.