The blind man and the pariah

Steven Wilson was on tour and playing in Portland at our venue tonight. He is a progressive rock titan with a hugely devoted cult following. He was the lead singer and primary creative force in PORCUPINE TREE, BLACKFIELD, and other bands, and now writes unique and emotional solo records.

I’m a big fan of his, as are many of my friends, so I requested to work the stage for this show. Additionally, I was asked to work load-in, which is where I greet the band, and supervise and assist the band members and tour crew with loading in all of their gear. I give out appropriate wristbands, check IDs and tour laminates, and assist them with anything they need. Depending on the amount of gear in the trucks and stage show requirements, load-in can start at 9am. Obviously this means that I get to meet the musicians and interact with them throughout the entire day. They may even ask me for advice on nearby places to go in Portland for food, snacks, quiet coffee shops, cannabis dispensaries, etc. So I get to play tour guide to famous rockers.

I try not to be a googly-eyed fan boy when any of my musical heroes interact with me, but I have to admit, meeting famous rock idols is a huge perk of this job. Prior to working in music venues, I got to meet a few of my musical heroes like Tori Amos, Henry Rollins, and Rob Halford. But meeting touring musicians at my job means I don’t ask for autographs or photos. I just treat them like any other professional musician playing a show here. Sometimes it takes a lot of willpower not to tell them how much they have personally influenced me, or which album is my favorite, or ask for a photo. But I don’t because I am a professional.

One of my best friends, we will call him ‘John’, is the biggest Steven Wilson fan that I’ve ever met. So I was texting him photos throughout the day of the tour bus, the guitar amps with stickers from previous tours on them, and even the set list once that was put in place. I received happy text squeals of pleasure and anticipation from him after each share. John bought tickets to this show months ago, and I knew that I would see him and some other friends later tonight when the show began.

Knowing I would be stuck at the stage all night (by my request), I went outside to get some fresh air and soak up the last of the sunshine. There was already a huge line down the block for general admission, and the early entry line for VIPs was forming inside the restaurant. A couple walked up to me to ask a question. It was a woman and a man, and the man had a cane for his vision impairment. They asked about early entry for people with disabilities, which is 15 minutes before doors open. They had never been to this venue before, so I described it to them, and told them the options of where they might want to stand for the show. There are staircases to each of the 4 levels, one elevator, a balcony, and all-ages area, a VIP area, and several bars. They agreed that they wanted to be in the all ages portion that is right in front of the stage. Even though the man was blind, he wanted to be front and center for the show. Their names were Colin and Jen, and they were both in their 40’s and were kind and appreciative. I made some radio calls and got permission to bring them in for early entry myself, before anyone else got to enter the venue.

I’ve helped blind patrons at music venues before, and it’s a sweet trusting interaction. They usually grab my elbow and have me lead them around. Somewhat like when a Father walks his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Except I’m constantly describing what’s around us and announcing any obstacles that we need to navigate. Colin was tall and lean and had bright blue eyes, looking ever so slightly like the actor Benedict Cumberbatch. I felt like I was guiding a blind Sherlock Holmes into the venue.

Colin opted to take the stairs instead of the elevator, so we slowly walked up to the third floor where the concert hall is located. We then walked all the way to the front of the venue and I made sure that his hands found the metal barricade. “OK friends, we have arrived at the best spot in the house. The sound here should be perfect. I hope you enjoy the show. I’ll be right on the other side of this barricade during the performance, so if you need anything just wave me over.” They were excited and appreciative, and I took them on as my VIPs to check on throughout the evening.

So now here we are at door opening and the eager crowd streams into the room. The people who have been outside in line for hours move right up to the very front by the barricades, where Colin and Jen already are stationed. They’ve got another hour and a half of chatting, drinking, milling around, and posting photos on social media before showtime. This is the time that I can chat with people, say hello and give hugs to friends, answer questions, explain rules and remind them of the ‘no photography’ policy.

My good friend John shows up and finds me at the stage. We chit-chat about the show and me meeting Steven Wilson numerous times throughout the day. We geeked out on the gear onstage, and the possible encores listed on the set list. He also told me that he met a really cool woman in the crowd who loves Steven Wilson almost as much as he does. He pointed her out and I recognized her from earlier in the day. She was decidedly shorter than John is, and covered in tattoos. She was a die-hard fan who got here really early to get in line for the show. Nothing like meeting like-minded people who love what you love. He then told me that he ex would be here tonight and that will be emotional for him. This will be the first Steven Wilson show that they would both be attending since they broke up two years ago.

I should give a little back story on this scenario. John dated this woman for 6 and a half years and they were engaged to be married. They lived together and both loved the music of Steven Wilson, bonding on his songs and lyrics and live performances. Sadly they broke up amidst some unfortunate deception and hurtfulness. They called off the wedding and she moved out. John was, understandably, devastated. He honestly had planned on spending the rest of his life with her. They had zero contact for a very long time after the split, except for telling each other what social event they were attending, so the other person would know not to be there. John is a very loving and charming person that you remember even if you just met briefly. He leaves a great impression and has a truly caring and warm personality. So seeing him hurt like this and then suffering through the lengthy aftermath of the split was hard on all of us in his inner curls. I let him stay at my house a few night when I wasn’t there just so he could get his head together without being surrounded by reminders of her in his house. The household ghosts of a dead love are insistent and vexing.

I’ve been there too, as most of us have after a bad breakup. A house full of things that you bought or created with the other person is now tainted. Every single item. The art, knickknacks, photos, and decorations that made your house a home now just bring emptiness and tears. You now have to decide who gets to take what with them. Custody battles over throw rugs and photo albums and pets. Every little item in your home reminds you of the person who broke your heart and razed the future you had planned. You look at the empty couch and flash back to a morning where she was reclining on it giving you a flirtatious smile over coffee. No matter how much sage you burn and how well you clean, the house still smells of her perfume. You swear you even hear her voice saying your name when you’re there alone. It can drive you mad and make you consider torching everything in the house so you can start over clear. But you can’t burn some memories away no matter how much you want to.

At this point I was waved over by Colin and Jen, so I left John for a bit to see what they needed. Colin asked me if I could help him get to the restroom before the show started. Strangely, there is no bathroom on this level, so I offered to walk him upstairs to the mezzanine bar bathroom. I came out of the moat between the stage and the barricade and offered my arm to him again. We slowly walked all the way across the venue and went upstairs. We chatted a bit and I learned he was from Canada and had traveled down here after attending the previous Steven Wilson show in Seattle. I also learned that we both have a college background in psychology. I walked him into the bathroom and described very precisely how the urinal was located in front of him. I tapped the porcelain top of it with my metal flashlight so he would hear it and know it’s positioning. I told him the flush handle was up on top of that and stepped back. Had we not communicated very effectively, he could have urinated on the wall.

As Colin was relieving himself, another friend of mine came up to say hello. As I’m standing in the bathroom watching another man pee. I couldn’t think of a more awkward time to try to have a conversation, but that’s how it goes at concerts. I tried to be friendly and greet him, but honestly my mind was on Colin’s pee stream. He asked what I was doing and I said, “Oh I’m just bringing my friend here to the bathroom.” He then saw the white cane and hopefully put together that I was escorting a blind man to the lavatory. I think some other less prudent staff might have just nervously said, “I’m waiting for this blind guy to pee.” I liked my wording better. By calling Colin my friend, you don’t actually know if he and I are friends outside of this venue, or if I’m just being respectful by referring to a patron as ‘my friend.’ And actually we are kind of temporary friends now. He is trusting me completely with his well-being getting him around this venue and through the crowds with me as his eyes.

I said that I’d talk with my friend later, and then helped Colin find the sink, apply soap to his hands, turn the water on, and find the paper towels to dry off. Then we walked back through the crowd. The main room had now filled in, so it was much harder walking through everybody to get back to the front row. If you’ve ever been up close at a concert, you know that people are very territorial about their positions, especially up front on the barricade. That’s prime real estate. Patrons arrive hours early to stand in line so that they can secure the best spot when the doors open. And they’ll be damned if they are gonna give up their spot for some Joe Schmoe who just showed up and thinks that they can push their way up to the front. So as I’m walking Colin through the crowd, the space between bodies is getting smaller and smaller. I’m starting to get glares from people who think that I’m just trying to shoulder my way past them to get in front of them for the show.

I start saying, “Excuse me….excuse me please.” Once people see that I’m security staff with a radio and leading a blind man behind me, they move out of my way and let us through. The closer we get to the front there really isn’t any room as people are crammed in standing shoulder to shoulder. People are not so willing to move out of our way, some even trying to act like they can’t hear me. I start shining my flashlight around to get people’s attention, and tapping everybody on their arms saying, “Security! Coming through. Excuse us. Please move. Security.” That always gets people’s attention and they move out of our way quick. This journey from the upstairs bathroom to the front of the house took longer than it should have. I reunited Colin with Jen at the front center of the barricade and they thanked me profusely.

I returned to my position in the moat by the stage and smiled at Colin and Jen. I saw several of my friends out in the crowd, and sure enough now I see my friend John standing next to his ex. They are smiling and talking jovially. She waved at me to say hello and I waved back. Odd to see them standing together as friends after the last two years of minimal contact. But time heals all wounds. On the other side of John is this new woman who he was so excited about meeting. He’s spending ample time talking to both women. But I’m pretty sure he’s flirting with the short tattooed woman that he just met here tonight. Good for him.

The show starts and it is indeed amazing. The crowd at a Steven Wilson concert isn’t particularly interested in crowd surfing or starting fights, so I don’t have to worry about that at the stage. I actually get to glance over and watch the performance by a musician that I love from ten feet away. The show was a great mix of Porcupine Tree songs and Steven Wilson solo songs. At one point I was standing there with my arms crossed in the typical security staff pose. My face was expressionless, so I probably looked angry. Steven Wilson looked at me from the stage while playing guitar and shook his head at me like he was saying no. But more like he was asking, “Are you not entertained? I remember you from earlier today. Why so angry? Aren’t you having fun?” So of course I smiled big back at him, and then he smiled back and nodded in the affirmative. I laughed and looked out at my friend John, who saw that little interaction and was laughing and smiling pretty big himself. That was my quick little moment with Steven Wilson during the concert.

I ended up walking Colin out through the crowd on my arm two more times to use the upstairs bathroom. Each time got more and more difficult to move through the crowd, but I got it done. A tactical flashlight and a strong loud voice comes in handy. I tried to pass the same people each time so they would remember us and be ready to make a path. Each time I walked him by I passed my friend John, his ex, and the new woman. They were about 10 feet back from where Colin was camped on the front of the barricade. I gave them a quick smile or said, “I’m on a mission” as I gently pushed people out of the way. People smiled at me as I made my way back out of the crowd, some even patting me on the shoulder to essentially say, “Thanks for helping the nice blind gentleman get to the bathroom and back without losing his spot at the front.”
I’m here to help.

Steven Wilson had the same opening act for this tour, an extremely talented Israeli woman named Ninet Tayeb. She is not only the powerhouse lead singer of her band, but she is also an actress, a DJ, and model. Ninet and her band were amazing onstage, and she would then come out later to sing several songs with Steven each night. Her voice is strong and powerful, ranging from husky to angelic. She sang a duet with him that I had never heard before tonight. The melody was haunting and plaintive. I was moved by the emotion of the song, and the lyrics that I was hearing for the first time.

Now here’s one of those moments where every single element of the night and the emotions involved coalesced. I was listening to Ninet sing the lyrics of this song, which turned out to be called ‘Pariah.’ The remote-controlled colored light turrets shone purple and blue onto the smiling faces in the crowd. I could spot Colin and Jen in the front row with their eyes and mouths open wide. Ten feet behind them I could see my friend John with his ex on one side of him and the new crush on the other side. Everything slowed down just like those dramatic moments in movies where they use a variable-speed camera to go from real-time to slow motion in the same shot.
I looked up at Ninet as she sang:

So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me
It’s up to you now

You’re still here and you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you
It’s up to you now

So pariah you’ll begin again
Take comfort from me
And I will take comfort from you

At 3:15 the song shifts as it reaches its emotional crux. The pretty acoustic arrangement builds up and the band kicks in with distorted guitars and noise swells. Thundering drums that would fit with arena-rock bands drive the sonic apex of the song. This moment froze as I saw Colin at the front sing the lyrics along with Ninet and raising his arms up above his head when the crescendo hit. It was exactly the way a child throws his hands up in the air when riding a roller coaster. The pure joy of a child channeled through a blind adult man hearing his favorite song performed live.

Then I looked behind him and saw one of my best friends also experiencing pure musical bliss while standing between two loves. The past and present. One love that died and is transforming into a new friendship. Evolving into a respect for what is and appreciation for what was. The other new love is just blooming amidst the shared experience of this concert. Those two will always remember this night as the night Steven Wilson’s music brought them together. And I will always think of this vision of all this coming together every time I listen to this song for the rest of my life. John and I have both watched each other date numerous women over the duration of our friendship. It makes me so happy to finally see him happy again. The lyrics about beginning again were the perfect sentiment for someone who is finally getting over their ex and moving forward. The lyrics at times seem like a dialogue between two ex-lovers speaking to each other with advice and encouragement.

I am certain that Colin has felt like a pariah or an outcast due to his blindness. People tend to not talk to blind people like they do sighted people. I didn’t see anybody talk to him tonight besides myself and Jen. And I know that John and his ex considered each other a pariah or a nonperson for the two years after they split up. A persona non grata that your friends learn not to bring up around you, for just hearing their name makes you uncomfortable. These lyrics could not have been more applicable or perfect for this short but powerful moment in time.

I am in awe of the power of music, and how lyrics sung by a complete stranger can resonate so strongly with us. I feel lucky and proud that I was there to share this moment in time with these friends and the musicians onstage. And not one of them knew that I was watching them during this magic moment. Nobody else had the unique viewpoint I did from the corner stage that allowed me to see all of these faces together in a kaleidoscope of joy. Sometimes you are just at the right place at the right time for lyrics of a song to affect your life. Or to sum it up. Or to spur it along to further greatness and forgiveness, healing and acceptance.

If anyone in the audience had looked over at me by the stage looking out at my friends in the crowd, they might have thought that I had tears welling up in my eyes. And on this one particular occasion, they would have been right.

Don’t you worry
Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause nothing really dies
Nothing really ends


And if you want to hear the beautiful song by Steven Wilson and Ninet Tayeb, here it is:

And here are the full lyrics to Pariah:

I’m tired of weakness
Tired of my feet of clay
I’m tired of days to come
I’m tired of yesterday
And all the worn out things that I ever said
Now it’s much too late
The words stay in my head

So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me
It’s up to you now
You’re still here and you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you
It’s up to you now
So pariah you’ll begin again
Take comfort from me
And I will take comfort from you

I’m tired of Facebook
Tired of my failing health
I’m tired of everyone
And that includes myself
Well being alone now
It doesn’t bother me
But not knowing if you are
That’s been hell you see

So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me
It’s up to you now
You’re still here
And you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you
It’s up to you now
So pariah you’ll being again
Take comfort from me
It will take time
Don’t you worry
Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause nothing really dies
Nothing really ends

Post-script:

In the chaos after the show I wasn’t able to connect with Colin and Jen. I never saw them again. But I did hear that they were singing my praises to my manager on the way out, telling him to thank me for taking such good care of them throughout the show. And my friend John is indeed still dating the tattooed woman that he met at this concert.

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2 comments on “The blind man and the pariah

  1. Margaret Linder says:

    Darren, keep up the excellent writing!! You have your own unique take on most events!! You are very empathetic and caring!!
    This blog is powerful!! It brought happy tears to our eyes!!

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