I call up Vivian at Berkeley where she is studying for a math exam. I read her a poem about a canary.
“That’s so cool!” she says after I finish. “I’ve been waiting the whole time to laugh. See, it’s funny because it’s infinite.”
She gets it! Vivian is a poet stuck in a world that demands she do math problems like a Bernoulli. She tells me about an asshole grad student who is working her to the bone.
“He is such an asshole.”
God, what an asshole. She tells me about a Hesse book she is reading called the Glass Bead Game or Magister Ludi. She likes Hesse a lot. I let her go.
“Who put such a high premium on stoicism anyway? Fuck these bands that are like, ye, fuck rock ‘n’ roll, we are all about the music man!” Smiley dragged out the word “music” like a cow. “Everyone knows rock ‘n’ roll has nothing to do with music and everything to do with dancing and rage.”
We all looked at each other. What a fucking guy, we couldn’t help it if we had no stage presence. He didn’t even play tonight on account of his “wo gnarly meth crash dudes! Looks like I’m outta this, shit twitch twitch roll on the ground kick a dent in the grill cloth!” Meth heads had no right to even speak. Naomi looked ready to cry.
“Hey, fuck you, Smiley, stop bitching and just eat these seeds so I don’t eat the whole bag,” Cory S. Monster said. “I have to drive your sorry ass back to that house tonight. Speaking of which, has that caretaker come by?”
“Naw man, that house is beyond care. Did I tell you that I found a baby mouse in my fuckin’ sneaker? A baby mouse!” Smiley laughed hysterically, the bill of his hat bobbing up and down like a duck.
Gabriel grunts and rolls away from me. The cot squeaks under his weight and then all is still again. I peel the sheets off of my sweat and look up at the window. A square window with a red cotton curtain. The sunlight filters through darkly, casting the room in a maroon glow. Like Mexico is a network of veins and right now I am the blood, pulsing slowly through it. I will remember this room always, it will be a running motif throughout my work, I will make it out of crepe papers and mud, spackle it with found pieces of metal and hides. Snoring lightly, beautiful Gabriel sleeps on.
He had asked me what I do. “Que haces? Eres artista, no?”
I struggled to answer him. My Spanish is so awful, but it wasn’t just that, I really didn’t know what to tell him.
“Eh, yo…uh…yo pinto pero no solo eso, hago collages? Entiende? Como pastiche? Tambien las peliculas pequenas…”
I had shrugged embarrassedly and he had laughed and kissed my nose. What could I tell him? I hadn’t created something I was proud of since that last summer before college. That last summer of an explosive vision of movies, paintings, music, everything before ending up in a dried up desert of a place where theoretical art flourished like weeds and actual objects didn’t exist. So I had come to Mexico to find them.
This one incidental room existed in my mind like a rotating adobe cube filled with the promises of a new time
I sat with my hands crammed awkwardly between my knees. The bass amp took up much of the back seat and squished me between Serge and Greg as we hurtled down Highway 17. Skinheads made me nervous. They’re a mixed hat.
“This is a boring drive,” said Serge. “Let’s rape Aruna!”
Nobody said anything. What was wrong with this guy?
“What’s wrong with you, man?” Greg asked.
“Just a joke, relax kiddies,” Serge muttered.
“Oh no no no, not yet, these glories are already beginning to kick in! These trees are shimmering like fucking candy corn!” Cory banged his hands on the steering wheel as he looked around wildly. I clicked on my seat belt.
“Look, try not to kill us. We’re almost there,” I said.
Cory swerved into the exit, around a parked car and somehow pulled a perfect parallel job between two black motorcycles. We crept out of the car and into the shadows of a massive elm that obscured a human-sized hole in a chain-link fence where heavenly blue morning glories burst forth in a secret eruption. Then we vanished into a house-shaped darkness.
Last night as I was moaning into the ashy carpet, an echo threw my moans back into my face: Oh! Oh! Oh! Apparently the people below us were doing it too. The verticality of this thin gridded life!
I called Aruna tonight because I was feeling stretched again. Living in a Berkeley co-op, constantly being breathed on, gets more lonely than it would seem. Sometimes I need to talk to someone who knows something of the beauty of an abandoned chicken coop and isn’t hopped up on nitrous oxide. The whippit fairy runs on pure bullshit fumes, and so does everyone else when they are passed out over the staircase in an orgiastic swoon, drooling and seeing the “TRUTH” lit up over their heads in a purple glow.
“Remember the raven we buried?” I had asked her.
“Oh my god, yes! Remember the maggots in its eyes after like, what, three days?”
“Yes! Remember the hill where we buried it? And the donkeys that roamed it?”
“And the monks who we were always shining searchlights on us? Remember the sparkling view of the city that laid out in front of us like a map?”
“And the time we took off our clothes and danced? And you didn’t because you were scared of cops? Remember when you and Viktor fell in love?”
“And the poems we wrote the dead raven?”
“And the movie we made about the whole thing?”
“Yes, I remember it all,” Aruna said sadly.
“It’s nice to get automatic respect for having a snatch and carrying a guitar, isn’t it?”
We were all processing our seeds sitting in this completely dirty, completely empty room that vibrated with each word spoken. I looked at Serge and the way his jaw worked made him look exactly like a llama.
“Not when it means a pat on the head and one on the ass. And the word ‘fluke.’”
Serge laughed. “These chicks, man. They think they got some kind of battle axe hidden in their panties but they’re always submissive when it comes to fucking.”
I tried to get angry about this but it was difficult to focus. “And you like it when drugs kick your ass. We’re all trying to pass off power when no one’s looking. Why else would you so freely give in to roller coasters and addictions?”
“You realize you’re giving rapists a really good defense here?”
“No, you idiot. Power is delegated, not seized.”
I am chopping hair from my head with gardening shears and they are falling all around me in black shards. This is for a job where I have to know about both the price of artichokes and their location. I hate fucking artichokes.
I am writing an email to everyone on The Ego Trippers mailing list to tell them about some new songs and t-shirts and feeling strangely guilty about even having a mailing list. Shameless self-promotion seems like selling out but word of mouth isn’t reliable anymore. I hate writing emails.
I am loading my bass into the pickup for an hour of plinking along with a kid who is not interested in making music but monkeying Primus. Maybe the five and twenty cash dollars will help me grit my teeth through it. I pretty much hate Primus.
The wall of my basement bedroom is covered in handwriting. A particularly bold faced one says: The Beauty Of Our Time Fades Away And Dies. Vivian always did write the best lyrics.
Have you seen the lineup?” Cory asked me.
“No, why? Are we first or something?”
He handed me a crumpled up flier:
Doors at 7pm
Tuesday, October 13, 2004
THE HENCHIES, SECRETARY, THIS HOLIDAY LIFE,
NOVEMBER TRIALS, BARBIE AND THE MEATMARKET
Shit. It’s always a bummer to play after a band like November Trials that draws this cultish crush of people who walk around in herds and evaporate immediately after their idols put down their picks and sticks to go chow down at the nearest Del Taco, leaving you to play to an empty cement pit. At the same time, they’re good musicians and it’s somewhat unnerving to follow them up with our amateur asses. Naomi looked very nervous at this prospect and suggested a cigarette.
We sat down at the railroad tracks behind The Gaslighter. I was shivering lightly in my thin chiffon dress so Viktor draped a slender arm around my shoulders. A yellow streetlight made us look jaundiced. Everyone and everything was reverentially quiet. Buzzing underneath our smoky exteriors, I think we were all wondering if we could control the songs tonight.
The railroad extended into blackness, repeating, repeating, repeating, repeating.
I miss them. Naomi’s ferocity could not coexist with Vivian’s easygoing unconcern with the mundane details of life and music. (Naomi began to break down during practices, rattling her sticks in frustration along the rims of her snare, refusing to continue playing.
“I can’t do it,” she would say, rubbing her forehead over and over again. “Songs aren’t like movies, they’re not the same every time. My face is too visible, I feel like I should bandage my chest down with packing tape.”)
I lay on Viktor’s chest sometimes and we talk about before, when we were all friends. He strokes my hair slowly as he says, “You know, we all liked going to your shows because you guys looked just as scared as we felt half the time. Your music was peripheral, it never got straight to the point but it sounded accurate to the experience of being surrounded by lust and love and drugs. That is what I liked about it.”
I look at the blown-up photo of the band on my dorm wall, the four of us smiling crooked teenage smiles and I agree with him silently.
We did not look like a band. We were not cohesive in our styling and the musical references of our wardrobe had little to do with the music we were producing. This made it difficult for people to determine whether they should listen to us or not. It may have made us seem amateur and “girly” in a way that is bad in the general kutten vest and brothel creeper scene. Vivian dressed like the love child of Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, piling on the faded florals and wooly flannel overshirts. I, in my velvet shifts and cat-woman mask, resembled some sort of Victorian superhero, while Cory was going for the butcher look in a white lab coat splattered in fake blood. Naomi was earthy; a voluptuous Frida Kahlo with gong-shaped earrings dangling from her stretched lobes.
And I think about it now and wonder why we spent so long going over the details of an outfit, why aesthetics usually trumped practicality (like the night Naomi played her drum solo in an enormous confection of a 50s prom dress hiked up to her thighs) and why we felt so out of place in the realm of the HARDCORE. Maybe Smiley was right, maybe it was rage we were lacking. But when we played together in a misty red light, the band became an object, rotating slowly as if in a jeweled music box and the sound and image fused into one thing. One piece of fleeting and repeating art.
“Take a swig and pass it around.”
Eight or so kids were packed into Cory’s car, watching the sun go down, black eyeliner raccooning their young faces into something more sinister and exhausted. We drank the bitterness down from a Reverend Horton Heat flask, fighting the urge to gag because we were old enough for that. When we finally toppled out of the car, it was night and I could feel the alcohol filling up every cell of my body and I expanded like wet cement into the cracks of walls and this constant hammering behind my eyes was going to shatter them soon. I sat by the merch table and doodled intestines on a napkin while gazing slack-jawed at people’s gorgeous faces.
“Hey,” said someone and I jumped from my irreality. “You’re on.”
1. Dinosaur Sex—Check out the audience. Sparse. Smile sheepishly at friends: heh heh, I’m on stage. Check presets, remember to let out breath for high note transition into:
2. Mary Shelley—stop-go Fugazi style mish-mash (My dad says we need better transitions. “But dad,” I told him, “It’s supposed to be like an aural collage.”)
3. Kill 2 Instead of 1—a mixture of abortions and the Kentucky derby, my heart is pounding by this time, it’s a good thing the lyrics are sparse, we never think to bring a water bottle onstage.
4. Sizzle Moon—into a 12-bar blues: I sat upon/a stone wall/contemplating hunger. “Hey someone throw me a water bottle?” The crowd looks thicker now; just faces floating, bodiless.
5. Chess on the Beach—remember to duck at the chorus because Cory always swings his bass violently toward my face in a fit of spontaneous dance. I attempt a graceless two-step.
6. Olafur Eliasson—weirdly metallic sounds emanate from our amps, drowning me in a wet noise. The lights turn purple here and steam gathers like we’re playing inside a storm cloud. I try to keep my voice from quivering.
7. London Jetlag– a sing along, end with some smiles and thank yous and an awkward shuffle off the stage with a limp guitar dangling from my shoulders while some faithful friends whoop and holler from the crowd.
I guess I looked angry sitting in front of a broken mirror backstage because Cory gave me a nervous smile and hightailed it out of there. I always feel impotent after a show, like I can never match the virility of male drummers no matter how I beat the bass with my muscular legs, like with every early tap of the block I am a disgrace to my sex. Vivian and Aruna tip-toe around me now, trying hard not to crack this meditative fury that bubbles beneath my skin. I can hear them laugh and talk about the show as they slink out to find Cory and eat up whatever pills he has to offer tonight.
Judges’ comments: Atypical narrative is a dangerous method to employ, as it can often serve to distract more than it enhances. This story deftly avoids the former, while playing in a realm of themes and envrionments rarely touched upon in so-called Indian fiction.
Jayinee Basu is currently a student at University of California San Diego working on her bachelor’s degrees in Literature/Writing and Political Science. She is also a painter and a musician.