Originally published in PLEASURE 2013
Illustration by Noel Freibert
“Maybe it’s mourning, what we do at shows?” at the gig kind of making conversation, not sure what to say but you’re talking about feeling kind of down usually and so slitting this peek through the blinders of the workaday present--shabby and ersatz, obviously corrupt, obviously ephemeral, paper-thin, really--to something more steady, the listening, the exalting in a despairing performance of hateful, trashy old noise sometimes somehow clearing shockwave gateway through to something else, something truer--a foundation stone, a source headwater at the base of our countervailing impulse, a place to reflect, man, bemoan, lament for what’s been lost. “You think?”
“Mourning? nah--” some calmdown peptalk here from the performer you’re opening for, two of you shooting the shit before you’re due to head onstage. It’s your first show, and you’re not sure you want to go through with it. Caught him a minute ago climbing the gangplank ladder up to the sound booth, already blitzed on watery keg beer, mumbling about reverb levels. “Try amplifying. Amplifying the grievances of your forebears. Look around--” pointing at the giant amps, P.A. speakers, major system in place, it’s true, “you’re the conduit. Charge up, and sing for the fallen.”
You look down. “How will I know if it’s working?”
Shrug. “Maybe you’ll just know. Maybe some ghost of music past will be set free by the vibrations. Maybe not. Either way,” indicating the rapidly-assembling stageside crowd, “you’re up.”
You’d wanted a little elaboration, but instead he’d just burped cheap Bud stink right in your face and you’d fallen clean off the ladder. Now, on stage, lying diaphanous skin to this damped hot speaker cabinet, countless scrambling electronic signals agurgle beneath its surface, flattening, sweat pouring slick off you into the metal mesh diaphragm, you begin to look around note it’s working; at least you think so?? an internal identification of a certain heft, weighty beast of unknown origin spied from afar across the dry savannah of your earthly worries--insecurity, regret, daily bummers fringing the picture--this peek of incorrigible shape moving sly in between things, a build, heavy sopping a sensational rise at your core, this beast now kicking, leaping, ramping wildly within you and you’re flailing nothing in your head at all, could be people are watching but you’re unashamed splaying smutty limbs thrash hey check it out but you, invisibly approaching the inner chamber of something eternal, can only continue, cannot deviate. Riding this amp, you buck it, whep, fake fucking but not for anyone’s titillation--it’s sanctification, and reader, it is fucking; it’s a throttle cranked whitehot, direct injection to past, to future, right to the edge of the dimensional wall ringed by these vibrations shockwaving seismic across the stage and into the crowd you can no longer see, no longer hear--you’re elsewhere, a moment, a Now, see, just consumed, monolithic feedback signal shivered up to blistering brain-rattler levels, desire exploding in a thousand directions as you straighten out, halflimp body spasming, and snap--snppppp here, actually, like a pop off a shitty patch cable--into stasis.
Nowhere. Suspension. You look around, “Come on!” moment seemingly yours alone, frozen in time and not a soul privy, save--wait--
“Na, was ist passiert?” whispers--yeah, it’s him--downtrodden Wozzeck, beneficiary of our most rotten deals, shabby soldier uniform sopping; apparently having survived his opera, he nonetheless got all wet wading for a murder weapon. He’s been like this ever since the premiere, Berlin, Unter den Linden, winter of ’25. All the other characters are long dead.
What remains? It’s an easy question for you to answer, and cockily: “Shake the water outta yer ears, Franz, we’re talking about music, the soul’s sustenance! Cheer up and listen!”
But he’s too deep in, doesn’t know his part in the universe of song, can’t stomach music anyways, just reminds him of that asshole drum major, of his poor lost Marie. He starts to cry. “Ich bin so einsam, was nun?”
“You are not alone!,” now you’re struggling to be understood, “see, your pain is ours! The music tells us so! We sing to you, and for you! We want to save you!”
But too late, he’s gone, his lonely howls suddenly audible again--why? The amp beneath you’s been shut off. Cops are here. They’ve cut the power. Seen enough, folks. Show’s over.