Monday, May 21, 2007
No, I Don’t Want To Go To The Bar, Dammit!*
We’re forced to make them all the time.
Sometimes we make good choices; sometimes we make bad choices.
On Memorial Day Weekend 2003, I found myself at the crossroads of decisions: Do I go see Black Taj – an offshoot band of long-defunct local indie rock heroes Polvo – at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro? Or do I go home after my catering shift to my nine-months-pregnant and about to pop wife?
I opted to go to the Cat’s Cradle after I got off my shift – working a wedding reception – and check out some music. I figured I’d be tethered to the homestead for at least a month after the baby came, so I hedged my bets that night that it wouldn’t be the night my wife would give birth and went to the show.
Fueled by a Poison Idea/Battalion of Saints cassette tape I found wedged between the driver seat and passenger seat of my charcoal grey ’93 Ford Ranger truck. The same truck I bought at Sunrise Ford in Tujunga, Calif., a decade ago. Not that the tape had been there that long. Nope. But it had been there since Darkest Hour guitarist Mike Schleibaum named-dropped Oi Polloi during a recent interview I conducted with the band to write about their upcoming local performance in the area. “We played with them in Europe,” he said. “They’ve had over a hundred members in the band.” This confirmed my suspicions as to it if was the same Oi Polloi from back in the day that I was thinking off. “They did a song about THC!” he said.
I spent several hours after that interview digging through a box of old cassettes looking for my Oi Polloi tape. Never did find it. But I found the Battalions tape – including live tracks no less – as well as a couple of old classic punk rock compilations like the Pushead-designed Cleansing The Bacteria and Welcome to 1984 both of which contained some of the best foreign hardcore my ears had ever heard.
I think I bought the truck from the salesman because I knew him as the guy who always had the blow or because my wife and his wife played together in the Montrose pool league. Or was it because he was the husband of the wife who played pool with mine and had a passion for cross-dressing and snorting coke? Yeah, that’s what it was.
The Midnight Evils vaguely remind me of Poison Idea and the Evils were Estrus Records’ label mates with Raleigh’s Cherry Valence (who were openers for Black Taj). Seeing Cherry Valence is one thing in its own right, but seeing the band with the likes of their label mates – Fireballs of Freedom, Federation X, Gasoline, or the aforementioned Midnight Evils – is quite another story because each band is looking to up the ante. Nobody wants to play last. Not that the Midnight Evils were playing on that fateful night. No, it would be an entirely different band from the indie rock cognoscenti.
Steve Popson, the former bassist of Polvo and part owner of Raleigh’s Kings Barcade nightclub, along with former Polvo band mate Dave Brylawski (Polvo being part of the Holy Triumphant of local bands that included Superchunk and Archers of Loaf all whom helped make Chapel Hill the indie rock Mecca it is today) debuted their new band Black Taj – with opening acts the Dynamite Brothers and Cherry Valence – in Chapel Hill. They had made their so-called “hometown” debut in Raleigh a few months before and now it was time to make the twenty-five mile trek east across Interstate 40 to wow the jaded hipsters of Chapel Hill.
I went to the club, got there early I might add (early in the sense that you never know when bands are going to start playing, regardless of venue), and pondered the facts of life as I drank a perspiring High Life: A stay-at-home dad by day and freelance music journalist by trade, I was just ten days away from the birth of my second child and feeling the mounting pressure that accompanies such a situation.
As a punk rock dad, I spend the majority of my days hanging out at the park with my three-year-old son Spencer, watching him pedal around on his mini-BMX bike with training wheels. Rainy days are spent singing along to Turbonegro, Devo, or Thin Lizzy while I teach him how to throw the goat – that horned, fingers-in-the-air heavy metal sign. Two days a week I am relieved from my duties for a couple of hours while he attends a cooperative playschool.
I usually read, write, or listen to music during those early morning hours, when coffee adds the kick needed to a day jump-started around 5 a.m.
But with an infant, this all would change.
At the Cat’s Cradle, I ran into several friends who were excited to see me out on a Saturday night and even more excited for me to be out at a decent rock show knowing it could be months before I’m able to keep my eyes open past midnight. Black Taj played a rocky set - and by rocky I don’t mean “rawk,” but rather somewhat sloppy, like they needed to practice some more – of Hendrix-meets-Sonic Youth jams, long on wanking and short on lyrics. Brylawski’s between-song banter had slipped since his days of Polvo where he never seemed to be short of saying anything. I had grown tired and headed for the door. Once outside, I met two friends who tried to lure me to a local watering hole owned and operated by a former Merge Records’ employee (with prerequisite band-member bartenders). As much as I wanted to go, something inside of me made me say no. It could have been the lack of funds in my pocket, but that’s a poor excuse because I knew I could rally the troops for a few beers on the premise of celebrating the pending childbirth. Maybe it was the fact that my wife had left a message on my cell phone earlier in the evening saying, “Don’t worry, I’m not in labor… but you need to pick up some milk for Spencer.” Maybe it was the full moon, I’m not sure. But for whatever reason, I made the decision to go home.
And it’s a good goddamn thing I did. Roughly an hour and a half later at 1:30 a.m. – and just about the time I’d be considering leaving the bar before last call – my wife’s water broke. When the water breaks, it can mean only one thing: a child will be born soon.
Being responsible isn’t my best suit. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my day, and fortunately, having kids has allowed me to learn the ropes of acting responsibly. But it’s not an easy path to be traveled, especially when you look at what had happened in the past ten months since my wife and I first learned of her pregnancy. I lost my job as a music editor when the local weekly folded; I left my pregnant wife alone with our son for three days to take a trip to Los Angeles to see one of my childhood friends and attend his movie debut; we converted our carport into a guest room in anticipation of the new addition to the family (note to self: prenatal hormones and home improvement don’t go together); we were crippled by an ice storm that left us without power for several days; I came down with a raging case of sinusitis that led to a case of strep throat in the winter and bronchitis in the spring; I had the unfortunate occurrence of having an Amstel Light bottle explode in my face while bartending at a wedding reception, a shard of glass scratched my cornea.
On top of all this, I’d been on a serious Oblivians jag (Best of the Worst 93-97) and it’s various offshoots (Cool Jerks, Tearjerkers, Deadly Snakes, and Reigning Sound), which could have been a good primer for a full-scale alcohol and drug-induced fall out.
But that didn’t happen. Well, I did revel in lucid dreams brought on by the codeine cough syrup prescribed for the chest congestion and the somnambulistic existence of life under two successive percocet prescriptions. Yet I managed to avoid any drunken encounters with the law, or my wife, and stayed relatively sober during one of the most tenuous moments of my life, the long days before the birth of your child, when your wife – wracked with discomfort – wants it over and done with; when she wants the fetus-turned-to-boy to get the fuck out of her.
Cole Burdick Barbera – my second son – was born on May 25, 2003, at approximately 2:37 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. It would take almost two weeks for his jaundice to fade and I can say there is nothing like illuminating your child with all the care of a pot plant.
A stack of music had accumulated in the meantime and I had been eager to tackle it. There was Betty Blowtorch, a posthumous disc of raunch and roll featuring former members of Hollywood noise-punk outfit Butt Trumpet which brought back visions of my life in Los Angeles, of living in Glendale and going out to see shows in Hollywood.
I was reminded of the time I went to see Clawhammer at Raji’s only to find out that the prime parking spot I had scored in front of the club wasn’t so prime. My car was towed from a “temporary no parking spot” for a night time film shoot. There were things I needed to learn if I was going to stay in this concrete jungle like where and when to park and how not to go to the police department’s impound lot at 3 a.m. pissed off and drunk.
I was reminded of the days before marriage and before kids, and my have I come a long way.
* A version of this essay originally appeared on the zine Razorcake’s web site