Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Day 7, Gainesville, FL

The summer of 2008 was rough.We were touring Europe for the first time. It was Ben, our original drummer’s last hurrah with us before moving to North Carolina and joining the band Brave Young. He and I had recently patched Kingdom back together with a bassist we’d desperately wanted to replace and a new guitarist who we barely knew and who knew only a handful of our songs. We were out for 3 ½ weeks on foreign soil playing more covers than originals, barely playing our own songs, barely getting along while doing it. It was madness.

As tour progressed the reality of Ben leaving the band started to hit me, that when he was gone it would just be the bassist who told me that he and the guitarist were going to change our sound (“You’re outnumbered!”) and who I butted heads with so often I'm surprised they didn't fuse together, the guitarist I didn’t really know (who while being both talented and cool was also a good friend of the bassist), and me. When Ben and I dreamed up Kingdom years before, we’d had a vision of what we’d be. Could I maintain it without him? Could I maintain it with those two dudes? Or should I call it quits?

The van drove on and things within the band were a mess, things in my personal life were a mess, my friend Julio had tagged along for part of tour and I’d spent it LITERALLY crying on his shoulder... I was a mess. Time was running out for decision making. Julio had offered me an indefinite vacation in Spain at his place to clear my head. The more time I spent with the new (/newish) members the more I felt Ben and my vision slipping away, which truly did make me want to run away to Julio’s. But I loved touring, I loved Kingdom, and only now were we getting to the point where we could really go places and do something. Why let it end when it was just getting good? But, I argued with myself, would it really be good with the company I was keeping? Would it even be Kingdom anymore?

Two days before going back to the States we played in Germany with my friend Paul’s band, Signs of Hope. After the show Paul and I stayed up talking until sunrise. Seated on the hard floor of the venue with our band mates tucked in sleeping bags around us, I spilled everything. About the bassist I despised, our soon-to-be-gone drummer, my love of Kingdom and desire to keep it going even though I was miserable. Clashing desires, conflict, confusion.

Paul told me stories of his own band (of which he was the only original member), and his own problems maintaining a line up. It’s a problem most seriously touring bands share. Near sunrise Paul, in his casual twinkly-eyed way, shrugged my whole dilemma off. He told me to kick out the bassist and if I lost the guitarist with him, whatever! I could just find new people. These guys hadn’t written any music he said, they were not irreplaceable. Keep the band together, find good members... you can do it.

“I can?”

He smiled and twinkled and told me, “Sure!” as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

When we got back to America I did as Paul suggested. I parted ways with the bassist. The guitarist left with him as expected. It was time to start fresh. I would give it one chance. I would call my friend and ask him to join, and if he couldn’t or wouldn’t do it then I would say to hell with the whole thing.

A cell phone rang in a pocket in Boston. The owner answered. I spoke. “Hey Dave... wanna join Kingdom, write a record, and tour the world?”

Dave moved to Philly and took up residence in a spare room in my house. We wrote The Rage That Guides (with Ben's help) in our living room and toured the world. We fell in love after a show in Germany (much to our surprise) and recently celebrated our 2 year anniversary. Now Threads is recorded, and we’re back on the road... and all because of Paul. Without his words of encouragement when I so desperately needed them, Kingdom would have ceased to be, Dave and I would never have ended up together, and fuck knows where we’d all be. Certainly not playing a laser tag/pub under black lights in Gainesville, Florida with Signs of Hope and Nerd Alert.

My teeth glowed milky blue under the lights as I told this story to the crowd in Gainesville. They burst into a spontaneous chant of, “PAUL! PAUL! PAUL!”, who blushed, then, eyes twinkling, grabbed the mic and told the crowd that while he may have helped, I’d done it myself.

We started our next song, Harbinger. As I shouted, “YOU CAN’T BREAK ME”, my voice broke (...talk about irony.) It was an almost comical pubescent style crack and I was embarrassed, but thought of something my friend Jim once said to me which I always went to in times like this, “Who cares? It’s hardcore! Just have fun!”

I leaped across the make-shift glowing neon stage, singing and sweating and fun having, watching the mix of fun-punks and crust punx and leather jacket punks and hardcore kids with and without Xed hands whip ‘round in a frenzy, and caught eyes with Jim. Jim, of Battle! (who we toured with 3 times), Jim of Nerd Alert (who played before us), Jim who I once called before a big fest we were playing, feeling way out of my league and terrified of messing up who'd said to me “Who cares? It’s hardcore! Just have fun!”. And after Harbinger, glowing like a jack-o-lantern, I told the crowd this story, too. What a funny night, I thought.

In life there are rare nights like ours in Gainesville where the past and present and future all collide, where you can look out and draw a clear line from one person to the next to chart the path of your life. These nights are rare and can be rattling, they make you feel loved in one light then old in another. But seeing your influences in the flesh is cool, and I'm not talking the famous people- the singers, the writers, the speakers, the teachers or philosophers, but the normal kids with worn down soles on their shoes who slip wisdom in between jokes and complaints.

And I didn’t get Kingdom back together all myself like Paul said, though I appreciate his sentiment. Kingdom isn't my band. I thought being the only original member would be strange, like it would make the band mine in some weird captain-of-a-sinking-ship sorta way, but realized after Dave and later Pierce and later Pames joined that a band isn't just the people who created it, but also those who carry it forward while honoring its original form. In time, the present of a band usurps the past. A band is not its first few months, or the trial and error periods, but what is left shredding in the end, and it belongs to those who believe in it most strongly. Sure I've been here since the beginning, but in some form or another so was Dave (we toured with his band on our first ever tour in 2006!), and Pierce (who was at our first show, was the first to buy our demo, and the first person to care about us), and Pames (who booked us and, coincidentally, Battle! in a practice space in Richmond many moons ago.) I'm no captain of a wreck, more like a member of a rowing team. We push and pull together.

After the show I lost my voice almost completely, but it seemed fitting. Listening to the very people I was with is what had gotten me there in the first place, so perhaps it was best to keep my ear tuned again. We stayed with Jim, as we always do, and in the morning went out for vegan ice cream with him, James (of Battle!/Nerd Alert), and Signs of Hope. We said our goodbyes to our friends and the warm weather, and got back in the van and left Florida.

Signs of Hope + us
(Florida tree moss)

And since I had no other place to put this, here is the AMAZING Jamaican food we had at Reggae Shack in Gainesville:

(fried sweet plantains, red beans and rice, callaloo)

(fried sweet plantains, red beans and rice, spicy jerked tofu)

(fries, seitan steak burger)

Veganism? Delicious!