Hello, Internet. I hope to write regularly for BRUISER about the music and arts underground in Baltimore. Below is my curriculum vitae.
It occurred to me recently that I have been going to punk/underground shows and events in Baltimore for thirty years. Over time, a DC gravitational show pull shifted to Baltimore City. A more suburban Baltimore show landscape became an urban one for me. But yes, same thing… thirty years.
As they say where I am from in Southeast Baltimore, “I don’t know, hon… it’s somethin’ to do.”
But perhaps there is more.
Is it because I enjoy helping corporations like Ticketmaster-Live Nation achieve record profits, as fees now count for 78% of a ticket’s price at a major show at a major venue? (source)
No, that’s not it.
Is it because I have a drinking problem that I can mask by attending shows, which have unfortunately been wedded over time to bars via permits, licensing, and zoning?
No. I don’t drink or otherwise intoxicate.
Is it because I need to take pictures and videos of the performances with my Smartphone, showing the Interworld that I was there, leaving as soon as the set I want to see (or the song I want to hear) is over?
No, definitely not. And please stop bugging amazing showbookers like Dana Murphy for exact set times to better coordinate your content creation.
Okay, okay… I’ll stop with the funnin’ and the pokes. Where I’m from, we make fun of people that we like. And, if you go to shows, I’m glad you are there.
At the top of this piece is a picture of me and my bandmates in The Unheard Ones in front of the Joseph Lee Recreation Center.
As a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I would go there for games, events, and activities organized in the space. Around it, in the much larger Playfield, was a playground, a small shallow concrete pool, a basketball court, and several acres of land broken up into soccer fields and baseball diamonds.
The Center itself closed by the time I moved back to the neighborhood, when this picture was taken in the middle 1990s. Does anyone know if the Center is open again? Public space has been eroded if not eradicated in this country. Community spaces have been defunded. There is another essay by another writer for that ugly tragedy. But, at any rate…
Spaces like that Recreation Center got me in the frame of attending events that were a function of a community. It was just us; no one outside the world (or neighborhood) we inhabited cared. The goals were modest: be safe, have fun, clean up after yourself when you were done for the next group. A couple of bucks might go in a can to cover expenses. You were part of something. Just show up and behave yourself. Help set things up if you can. It’s your Baltimore… don’t trash it!
So, the first motivation was born there. Going to punk/underground shows felt like that and still feels like that. Need someone to fold record covers? No problem. Need someone to work the door? You got it.
But something larger was happening.
At some point, in some punk rock basement, I made an agreement with myself: if this ever stops giving me what I need, I will stop.
But it never has.
What does it give me?
Every time I attend an underground show or performance I feel a bit like Ahab in Moby Dick. As Melville had him put it, “Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”
To go to a show, be there at doors, and stay as long as I can and pay dedicated attention to the performances is a willful and lonely act on my part. There are many factors that can take me out. There are many hazards in my way. But if I do it, I am not doing the easy thing. I have no “every-show besties” traveling companions. I am not there to be social primarily. I have done my research and this is what I want to see and hear. I am often sitting, reading a book amidst folks much younger, waiting for the performance to start.
And, if I do this, I get to watch other people also try to strike the sun.
Being creative is a thankless, endless task. You sacrifice non-creative job momentum, stable relationships, sleep, and other vital things just to show folks what you have written or sung or come up with. Shows are exciting for periods of time, sure, but also not exciting for long stretches. Touring is a grind. Performance is a chore.
But somehow, someway you go through all that to express, to perform, to read a poem, to show a film, to put on a play, to try to connect with others in a larger human way. It rarely leads to success. It rarely leads to fame. You have a compulsion to do it, and so you do it until you can’t.
What I see can often inspire or move me. It can often help solve a creative problem, seemingly impossible the night before, in something I am working on (these days in words, mostly). That is what I get.
I get to go home tired but energized, feeling part of a creative conversation. Ready to once again shoot my shot. And, hey… if anyone needs striking… it’s the sun. that part of the Korn song where Jonathan Davis growls “Are… you… ready?” suddenly plays #strikethesungang
Sure, I have stories of being at legendary shows, seeing future leading lights play in front of handfuls of folks. I have seen things get very wild and I have seen things get way out of control. I’ve been part of moments of pure joy and transcendent communal ecstasy at events both intimate and sold-out arena vast. I’ve seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I could spend the rest of my life at the barstool trading stories about the past, basically ignoring the performances that night, to be in another kind of spotlight.
“You think this is wild? When I saw Unwound play in a basement with UOA in the summer of ’93? Now, that was wild. These kids today, I tell ya…”
But that is not the point. That has never been the point.
The point is that out there right now there are folks trying to send a message, to tell a story, to express themselves. I want to listen. I want to hear what they have to say. I want to see what they are going to do.
And I will. Until I can’t.
I hope to use this space to do that in words and to let you know what I have seen and heard.
See you at the show.