Lit Riffs

One Day

Fighting Gravity - Hello Cleveland

Peabodys, Virginia Beach.

Hot summer night. The evening cloudburst on the asphalt creates that intoxicating syrup smell. The ocean crashes in the distance as we cross Pacific towards the pounding corner brick building.

Last week it was the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies. The previous week I was so dehydrated from dancing I passed out. Tonite was all new. I walked up the stairs and turned to the left for my first Tom Collins of the evening. Green Day’s When I Come Around was inviting the crowd to the chorus sing-a-long. Clear plastic cup passed and the crowd snake to the middle of the dance floor began.

It was always about the music. Lost in the song and smothered in colored lights and legs kicking in rhythm. Arms always raised. Voices raised. There was always glancing around. Scanning. Eye candy gliding about. Plenty of stretched out t-shirts on both sides.

But once David grabbed the mic and said, “Let me hear some noise!” we belonged to the band. The horn section would kick and every hand was raised. Songs would merge into other songs and the dancing never stopped until the intermission. Bathed in glistening brows and strobe lights we would carve our names in the lighted flooring.

We were the Kings of Ska.

This night in particular was college Rush Week and there was a fresh stock of students. The girl in from of me with the jean shorts and tank top just threw her ass out and pushed right into my crotch. I had seen this grinding before but always assumed there was this thin cushion of air that divided grinder and dancer. But those filled out jeans were all in my unseated lap and when I looked at my friend James with the confused face of porn or art, he gave me the thumbs up. I knew better than to place my hands on her waist or even touch her at all, but I leaned over a bit and her hair slapped me in the face and then I leaned back and continued to watch the grind continue until she stood up and turned and started to grind her girlfriend.

There was no eye contact. Only betrayal. Our 30 second relationship was over. Obviously I hadn’t performed to expectation so she instantly switched sides.

I was ultimately crushed. Until All I Need Is A Holiday began and then I carved my solo initials into the dancefloor and spilled my loaded grapefruit beverage down her back.

Sayonara, frat bitch! This floor’s mine.

Blue Dress

Depeche Mode - Violator

It was a PE moment in the gym that brought me to being the last person standing in a violent game of kill ball. I put some english on the ball with a backspin as it bounced off the floor and into his right knee. He passed me and muttered something about it being fucking bullshit and I retorted to stop being a baby and he responded by swinging his mullet and scorn and right hook directly into my stomach. I spent the next ten minutes trying to breathe again. As fate would have it, the word was passed to the principal that I had started it and as the Christian education would see fit, I was paddled several times by the physical education teacher who was also a part of a ministry that would break flaming ice blocks with their forehead and tear phonebooks with bare hands. His arms proved these mighty acts as he swung the board onto my khaki backside. Later that afternoon as I was shifting my bruised weight in the seat in class, the PE teacher arrived with tears in his eyes to apologize as those in the school who rose against injustice prevailed over John and his one asshole friend. I forgave him instantly.

A few years later I would be on a camping trip that would bring John around again. I don’t even know if he remembered the incident from before or even me actually. He spent most of the time with his walkman and headphones on. I think I was mentioning to a friend the Gene Loves Jezebel song I heard on MTV when he walked up and said, “Check this out” and passed me his headphones. I didn’t hesitate. I put them on. He was clicking play and Policy of Truth started playing. He held the Violator cassette in his hand and the walkman in the other. It was easier to close my eyes and listen than to watch him standing there watching me. I let the song play out to see how the next track sounded. Blue Dress came on and I heard him ask if the song was done and in a heated moment of being wrapped in the sound and a years belated ‘fuck you’, I told him to shut up so I could listen. And he did.

Guns in the Sky

INXS - Kick

She was a niece visiting her aunt. I skateboarded to her house one summer. Her room was dark and full of what she brought with her from California. She was wearing black soccer shorts and a blue skull and crossbones skate jacket. She liked my Airwalk high-tops. I liked her jacket and the way she filled it out. She pulled out this vinyl album and put it on. Wires were everywhere on her dresser. That first song kicked in and I laid on her bed. I watched a perfume bottle move across the wood laminate. She rested her head on my legs. The song pounded harder than my heart. Michael cursed. Her aunt came in. We sat up. There was talking and lip-reading over the sound. Music was cut off. Door was shut. Jacket came off. The riff resounded in my skull. My new anthem was silenced. Skate rags were opened and read against my legs. A door closed in the distance. She leaned up to play the record again. The warm spot on my leg started to cool. This was the moment music and desire clashed.

Hawkmoon 269

U2 - Rattle and Hum

I spent years listening to Christian music in my youth because anything else was going to compell me to do drugs or commit suicide. I generally assumed homeless or mentally ill people had achieved their status by overdosing on KISS. Since there wasn’t much to rebel with in that oppressive circle, I chose the metal version of Christ’s music. Whitecross, Bride, Messiah Prophet, and yes, even Stryper. Honestly, it wasn’t very good. There were some standouts over the years but the lyrics were all the same and lacked originality. Steve Taylor helped look past the ‘O’Jesus, you are so wonderful’ stanzas to things that pertain to life that happen right outside the door. The last album I can really recall that I thought rose above the Christian rock genre was Whiteheart’s Freedom, but again that was musically over lyrically. Plastic ripped off cassette after cassette searching for those words that would let me know. I got it once off a Whitecross album and kept chasing the dragon and rarely found it.

Television in the background during dinner was a common thing in the house. We would watch Brady Bunch or Little House on the Prairie and the littany of commercials in between. There was this very distinct sounding guitar build and I would run from the dining room table to catch the commercial on TV. A red background with silhouettes of band members entering the stage and the guitar gaining speed and then the drum kicks in. The crowd cheers and a deep voice announces Rattle and Hum by U2 coming to theatres November 4th and then it cuts before the ponytail in the cowboy hat can sing. What was he about to sing? What did he sound like?

And I wanted to be in that moment. I was knee deep in Christian music but I was on the cusp of change and that commercial pushed me over.

I cut my neighbors grass every weekend and instead of getting my usual ten dollars I proposed the Rattle and Hum album. They obliged, but recognizing that it was a double album it would be two weekends worth of cutting. Ugh. Two weekends of waiting. Two weekends of running to the television at the first pluck of the chord. Two weekends of wondering.

All of this suspense based on a snippet of music of a band I nver knew.

So when that second Saturday arrived, I put out my sweaty hand to retrieve the plastic wrapped dark jacket cassette and ran home to my stereo.

I popped it in. I was so used to metal and loud screaming voices that the initial sounds of the songs confused me. It was all foreign. The album didn’t open with that song I liked. I kept fast forwarding but didn’t know any of the songs so I got lost as to whether I had actually fast forwarded, was still on same song or had launched myself right past a song. But I pressed buttons for at least 30 minutes without any luck. It wasn’t there. IT WASN’T THERE! And the singer’s voice changed progression and rhythm’s seemed a bit off and would instantly switch. It was a mess to me.

So I set it aside. I was upset. No song. And I was out $20. The cassette eventually got lost with the rest of the tapes. The song on the TV began to piss me off. I knew they probably were not even going to play the song in the film. Not that I would even be allowed to go see it. But my heart fell right into that opening despite my confused mind. I would buy more cassettes of Christian music and felt even more lost and jaded by what i was hearing.

About a year later the basketball team I was on headed to a late night game and I made arrangements with one of my teammates to trade cassettes. I was listening to even more obscure music and it was getting worse. I mentioned I had the Rattle and Hum album and he was ready to give me several tapes for it. I have no idea what I traded for.

On the tired ride back from the game he was slouched with his back to the wall of the bus, knees up and reading the jacket with some taped up headphones on. It was a long ride and he had already switched cassette sides.

“Hey man, did you listen to this album much?”

“No. not really?”

“Have you heard this song? It’s amazing.”

“No. What song?”

“Here. Listen”

He snapped off and handed me half of the earphone and within 30 seconds I knew I had made a mistake.This building bass line and the drum pounding. The guitar was completely missing. This wasn’t anywhere near that red screened commercial. This was pure emotion not only in words but the way the music played. That voice was breaking and crying from the soul. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or hurt. Was he singing about a girl? A parent? Did he lose someone? It was a lot to take in at once in that cold dark bus. I was trying to process it.

Like a needle in a vein/Like someone to blame/Like a thought unchained/Like a runaway train/I need your love

I asked him to rewind it, waited patiently and when that button clicked I held my hand to my other ear and pressed the headphone in to the other.

Like faith needs a doubt/Like a freeway out/I need your love

I took that line with me when I walked off that bus. My dad was waiting for me outside and I was quiet the ride back to the house. The drumbeat pounding in my heart. I needed to cut more grass. And soon.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjowzACvzMY