Dance, little sister, dance

We had a themed dance event in the venue tonight. No bands playing live music, but instead a DJ playing music curated from a particular decade. These weekly events are quite popular and the floor is usually always full of happy dancers. I wasn’t posted at a particular location or checking IDs for this shift. Tonight I was working as a floater. Which is fun because I get to rove all around the venue and be active. I respond to problems over the radio that other spot and call in. I’m the guy who might just appear behind you and tap you on the shoulder. Then ask you to exit the venue with me due to extreme drunkenness or harassing female patrons. I get to work all the other positions for a little while when I give breaks to those staff people who are posted at a certain spot. I’m like a mobile troubleshooter.

And tonight I found some trouble. Relatively harmless trouble, but still.

Right in the middle of the dance floor was a small group of people who were discreetly smoking something out of a small vape pen. No smoking of any kind is allowed in this venue, so this is something that should be addressed. I just saw the puff of smoke and did not see who exhaled it. So I did a preemptive measure of just slowly striding through the group of people and looking at each person as I moved between them. They all moved back a bit as I moved through them. It’s obvious that I’m security due to my radio and earpiece and shirt that says STAFF. Usually my intentionally walking through people reminds them that security staff are present, and to keep their shit in check.

This perfectly fitting song from David Bowie played as I walked past them. Synchronicity wins again. I actually looked up towards the ceiling speakers thinking that one of my musical heroes was perfectly providing the soundtrack to this moment of my life.
Like he has done so many times before.

Let’s sway
While color lights up your face
Let’s sway
Sway through the crowd to an empty space

I ended up over by the DJ and checked in with him. We commented on how two young women in the group that I just buzzed seemed really young. Perhaps too young. They had to have their ID’s checked as they came through the door and passed through the metal detectors. But damn, maybe they flirt-charmed a male door guy and got through.

The others in that groups weren’t with these two women and sort of faded off to other areas of the dance floor. The two young women remained dancing like mad.

These two young ladies were very attractive and attention-getting. They were, in the parlance of our times, ‘smoking hot.’ One of the women had red hair and a black lacy halter top. This halter top was working overtime trying to contain her ever-bouncing breasts. The other woman was blond and shorter and was rocking the sexy hippie look. They both had beaming huge smiles, very tan skin, were dressed very fashionably, and bouncing all over the dance floor. They were so exuberant with their bouncing that it seemed like they’ve never been in a dance club before. Perhaps because they hadn’t and weren’t old enough to be here.

I waited and watched their behavior. They didn’t seem drunk, but did seem really happy and having the time of their lives. Then I spotted it. The blond hippie girl put her hand up to her mouth and inhaled on a small vape pen, then exhaled a cloud over her head. Got her!

I immediately thought of the Devo song called “Girl U Want” with these lyrics:

She sends out an aroma of undefined love
It drips on down in a mist from above

She’s just the girl, she’s just the girl
The girl you want

Personally I like Soundgarden’s version of this a lot better than the Devo version.
But regardless, imagine someone pogo-dancing to this fast-paced song.
That’s how these cherubic women looked while they were dancing.

So I walked over to these two and got in their line of sight. I said, “Hey, you cannot smoke anything in this venue. I’ve seen you blow out smoke twice now. If you do that again we will have to kick you out.”
The blond hippie-girl says, “Oh okay, fair enough, sorry.”
I’m thinking to myself, “Have you seen anyone else in this place smoking anything here all night? Did you not see any of the signs that say NO SMOKING all over this place? When you are the only person in a huge crowd doing a thing, might that make you wonder if doing that thing is not allowed?”

Now that we were all up close and personal I could look at their faces more closely. For the love of all that is holy, these two looked about 16 years old to me. They could easily be babysitters to my two kids making some extra money for their high school prom. Some people just have naturally young-looking faces. Good genetics, slow development, a youthful glow, whatever. I myself looked way younger than I was for many years. So I get it. I got carded into my 40’s. But I looked like a baby into my 20’s. There’s no way I would have been able to get into a club without being 21.

So now I said, “Hey do you have stamps?” They eagerly pushed out their hands showing me the stamps on the inside of their wrists. Now I went in for the kill.
“Can I please see your IDs?”

They produced IDs for me and I examined them with the scrutiny of a jeweler. If I had a monocle I would have put it on. Remember now that the three of us are directly in the middle of the dance floor. I purposely did not have them come over to the side for this. I wanted to card them smack dab in the middle of everything. The lights, the crowd, the bartenders. I wanted everybody to see me carding them again on the dance floor. That is pretty unusual. I wanted them to sweat a little. I brought out my tactical flashlight and turned it on so I could get a good look at their IDs. I was so hoping that the date was going to be after today’s date in 1997, making them minors and giving me reason to kick them out.

If venues that sell alcohol allow minors inside, they can be heavily fined and even risk losing their liquor license. And any venue that can’t sell alcohol isn’t going to last long. So we treat it with the importance it deserves. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission demands it, and they send agents through often.

Possession of a fake ID can result in pretty hefty fines and even prison time depending. But that can be more for people using fake IDs for identity theft. Minors with fake IDs for the purpose of buying tobacco or alcohol would not typically face charges on the extreme end of that spectrum. But it certainly means police involvement as I would confiscate the ID. You can’t get the ID back until a police officer arrives and checks everything out on their database and examines the ID. Most people just bail when you tell them that, abandoning the fake ID to avoid having the Police interview them. Some places give cash rewards to bouncers for each fake ID that they catch and confiscate.

Their photos checked out, their birthdays checked out, and the expiration dates were even good. I’ve seen a lot of fake IDs in my time as a bouncer. These looked legitimate. Still, I kept looking at the IDs. I even started switching the color of my flashlight shining on them. A blacklight flashlight shows the holograms in the card itself. Usually the Oregon IDs have the words OREGON embedded all over the ID that you can only see under UV light. Sometimes it’s the state logo, or a second photo of the holder, or other symbols or writing. These are very difficult to fake. These IDs has the holograms on them. I cycled the flashlight through other colors including red and green. They don’t know that those colors don’t show anything special. I was just taking my sweet time and seeing what they would do with the entire place watching this interaction go down. They had stopped dancing, of course, so the three of us are the only people standing perfectly still in the bulls-eye center of this crowd.

There are two options of what just happened here. One is that these were the best fakes that I’ve ever seen working as a bouncer (unlikely). Or, these IDs belonged to the slightly older sisters of these bouncy dancing-girls that looked exactly like them (very likely). Because there is no way in burning unholy hell that these two were 21 years old. I could have pushed it further by asking them their middle names, address, birthday, etc. But I felt like I took this far enough. So I returned their IDs to them and just said, “Have a good night.” I walked back to the DJ and told him what happened. He laughed. We crossed our arms and shook our heads like old men on their porch laughing at the youngsters these days.

Then we saw the two young women exit the dance floor and grab their jackets and leave. Aha! I think my spot-checking their IDs on the dance floor spooked them and they got the hell out of there. Or, it just embarrassed them and pissed them off so they left. Or they thought when I said, “Have a good night” that meant “Please leave.” Maybe they thought that I did think that they were fake (or belonged to somebody else), but was just saving them the embarrassment and police involvement.

In any case, they hightailed it out of there quick. I went downstairs and asked the guy checking the IDs about those two and he agreed that they looked super young but their IDs checked out. I told him that I checked their IDs again in the middle of the dance floor and he laughed hard. I peeked outside the door and saw the two ladies scurrying away down the sidewalk looking back over their shoulders. Like they thought we would come after them and make a citizen’s arrest for a fake ID or something. They were still kind of bouncing and skipping away and into the night.

Dance the night away, ladies.
I don’t imagine that I’ll ever see you here again with your older sisters though.

 

 

 

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The Dead Next Door

Sometimes the most intense situations don’t happen inside the venue. It’s often the incidents outside the front doors that turn out to be the most memorable. Things like fights, medical incidents, ambulances and police vehicles arriving, vandalism, drug deals, etc. On this particular night I was presented with the possibility of finding a dead person.

While hanging around outside the front doors of the venue chatting with my coworkers, a woman came up to me asking for help. She informed me that she thought she just saw a dead woman in a car in the parking lot up the street. She described her as lifeless, creepy, and that she was totally non-responsive. She said there was vomit on the ground outside her car and that she suspected that the woman overdosed on drugs. She described this woman’s lips as blue and her eyes sunken. Since this is downtown Portland, it wouldn’t be too outlandish for this situation to happen. Most of the rehab drug treatment centers are located here, as well as residential centers and easy access to drugs.

This patron had done her due diligence by showing me a photo on her smart phone of the car’s license plates. She gave me the location of the parked car up the block and the make and model. I thanked her for getting this information to us and connected her with a manager who was already calling an ambulance. She had been in our venue for a show and went to her car when she saw the other woman. She then took a photo and came back to tell us about it.

People react strangely around death. Some people panic and freeze. Some do anything they can to avoid it. Some don’t even want to talk about it. Why the woman didn’t call the police herself I don’t know. So while everybody was milling around trying to help and respond in some way, I decided to walk up the street to find the woman in the car. It was a long, surreal walk full of many thoughts.

I’ve probably had less experience with human death than most people. My parents are still alive, and attending my grandparent’s funerals as a young man was my first experience ever actually looking at a dead person. I do remember grabbing my Grandfather’s hand in the casket and feeling like I was grabbing onto a piece of an ancient tree, or heavy granite. It was immovable. There was a complete absence of any pliancy. There was absolutely no life left inside. His personality, love, and soul had of course left his body. What was left was just the empty vessel that housed those special things during his life. He wasn’t there at all, and we were just left with an artificially preserved body with skin-colored makeup.

It’s strange because, in a way, I have always been drawn to death. Or at least fascinated by it. I’m a loving and happy person with much enthusiasm and light. But my artistic tastes certainly lean towards the darkness. From a young age I was infatuated, even obsessed, with scary death-oriented things. I embraced Halloween, the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, the Grim Reaper, and haunted houses. Growing older I fell in love with horror films and horror books. I quickly graduated from Stephen King and Bram Stoker to Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft. My favorite horror film is still The Exorcist. I can list the horror films of John Carpenter, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci in order. In college I read books written by forensic psychologists, crime scene investigators, and people who studied serial killers. Fantasy author Madeleine L’Engle said, “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”

I still don’t understand how I never actually went through a goth phase, wearing black clothes and eyeliner and acting like a sad vampire. Because my musical tastes and lyrical topics certainly always focused on death. Dark wave, goth, metal, and industrial music have been my go-to genres for decades now. I’ve always loved listening to the ethereal music of Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, and Cocteau Twins played at night by flickering candlelight. 80’s goth titans Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, and Bauhaus never leave my playlist. The aggressive, sometimes Satanic intensity of Slayer, Death Angel, and Testament still get me in precisely the right mood when it’s time for that mood. And can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I spent with headphones on listening to Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and Android Lust. Music is life. Even when it evokes death.

But here I am walking up the street alone to be the first responder to a report of a potential corpse in a car. If the woman has indeed died I would just direct the ambulance to the correct vehicle with my flashlight. Or I might find her alive and needing medical attention so I’ll perform CPR. I’ve had the CPR and First Aid training probably more times in my life than most people due to all my various jobs. But I’ve never had to actually perform it on a real person. As I walk up the sidewalk I’m recalling the mantra from the CPR class that I just recently completed. “Ah, ah, ah, ah, staying alive, staying alive.” That’s the speed in which you are supposed to be giving compressions. 30….2….30….2. That’s the pattern of chest compressions and rescue breaths. If you’ve had the training or actually performed CPR you know that you are actually going to be breaking ribs, cartilage, or the sternum. But having broken ribs is obviously a tolerable side effect when compared to dying.

As I approached the parking lot where the woman was reported things slowed down cinematically, like they always do. The Billy Idol song, ‘The Dead Next Door” started playing on the soundtrack in my head. I know the song is about the threat of nuclear war, but I can’t help what 80’s gem pops into my head at moments like these. I was thinking to myself, “This might be it. This might be the night that I find a dead person.” The classic 1986 movies River’s Edge and Stand By Me also flickered awake in my memories. My night could change so very drastically based on what happens in the next 60 seconds. Another dark thought I had was, “This could be the night that a person dies in my arms.” I’ve owned many dogs in my life and have held them as the pentobarbital gently sends them to the rainbow bridge. Each time this happens I am devastated and part of my soul blackens and dies off. But I can’t imagine the experience of having a human being looking into your eyes and talking to you as they pass on to wherever it is that they go. Is there a death rattle? A squeezing of my hand? Do their pupils enlarge? Will I feel the weight of their body change or feel their essence leave it? As much as most of my life has been focused or interested in death, now all I can think is, “Please don’t let this woman die. I do not want to find a dead or dying person. I do not want this.”

Knowing that every second counts and I need to find this person quickly, I was fast-walking into the parking lot with the description of the car. I found it and walked over to it with trepidation. Sure enough there was a puddle of vomit outside the driver’s door, and a woman inside. She was splayed across the front seat like a doll dropped from a substantial height. I looked for any needles or other drug gear on the front seat but saw nothing. I was considering what I would use to break the window if she didn’t respond and the doors were locked. I walked around to the passenger door so I could see her face and shined my flashlight through the window. This woman indeed looked dead. Her clothes were disheveled and she did not look well. Her eyes were red and watery and did look sunken with dark bags around them. Her face was gaunt and very pale. She was laying in a way that no normal person would lay. Her lips were the wrong color and her hair was all ratted out. In a word, she was haggard.

I tapped the handle of my flashlight on the window and I saw her move. I tapped it again and tried the door but it was locked. She looked up at me with a very confused look on her face. I shined my flashlight on my own face so she could see I was smiling at her and had a security shirt on. I made the gesture asking her to roll down her window and she did. I told her that I was security at the venue and wanted to know if she was ok or needed help. She nodded that she was ok. I told her that someone saw her in her car and was concerned for her health. I asked her what her plan was for getting home. She said that her friends were still in the venue watching the show. She told me she had way too much to drink at the show tonight. So she came out to nap in her car to wait for her friends to drive her home after the concert. And that she barfed outside the car window. I wanted to tell her that we all thought she was dead. I wanted to hug her I was so happy that she was among the living. I was ecstatic for this stranger who now has the rest of her life to lead.

I called back to my supervisor on my radio and told them that the woman was conscious and responsive and could answer questions. I heard cheers of relief and happiness over the radio. Just then the ambulance rolled up and I signaled them over to her car. I told her that the paramedics were called when we didn’t know if she was ok, so they were still going to make sure that she didn’t need any medical attention. This woman was more embarrassed at this point, but she was understanding and cooperative with the EMTs. They spoke with her and took her vitals and released her without any further treatment. A couple of my managers came out to the parking lot and I filled them in on her story. This was the best possible outcome for this situation. Utter relief.

Two months later I was working a dance night at the same venue when I saw a familiar face. The woman we thought was dead in the car was here again tonight dancing her ass off. I looked closer at her and noticed that she looked the same as she did the night we thought she was dead. No difference at all. She had the same purple eye shadow. She was naturally a very skinny person with a gaunt face and noticeable cheekbones. Her hair was intentionally styled to looked matted and unkempt. She wears purple-blue lipstick whenever she goes out, and her fashion choice is that of homeless zombie chic. That night I found her in the parking lot it wasn’t just the odd hue of the arc-sodium parking lot lights through car windows that made her look dead. That’s just her regular everyday aesthetic choice. She puts in the extra effort to intentionally look like that. Like the Ministry song says, “Every day is Halloween.”

She glanced at me a couple of times and I wondered if she even remembered that night, or remembered me talking to her. Probably not. She’s probably just wondering why I’m staring at her. Part of me was tempted to greet her and tell her how glad I was to see her here dancing. And alive. But I just smiled at her and moved on to another area. In my head I said, “I’m glad you’re alive and here living your life. I hope you drink more water tonight than alcohol. Enjoy the dance, living dead girl.”

 

 

 

 

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.

Various accounts of oddities and debauchery

Often the craziest things don’t happen in the music venue, but in the bar itself.

These stories all happened on different nights, but they kind of go together in their surreal weirdness.

One night I was making my way through the crowded bar and encountered a very distinctive smell. One of the sound engineers on break walked towards me and asked, “Do you smell that? What is that smell?”

I replied instantly, “Oh that’s burning hair.”

We both made a face and realized how not normal that was. We looked around us and didn’t see anything unusual. I honestly just assumed that some drunken pyro was putting  a single hair into the candle to watch it burn or something. Then I saw a blonde woman laughing loudly with her girlfriend standing at the bar. She was about 5 foot 3 in heels and probably had a few drinks on an empty stomach. Each time she laughed heartily at her friend’s joke, she flipped her head back and then drooped it forward as she giggled.

I figured out what was happening. When she hung her head down in laughter, the tips of her hairs were dipping into the glass jar candle on the bar. Her hair was getting singed each time she laughed but not catching on fire. She and her friend were so tipsy that somehow they weren’t noticing and weren’t responding to the smell of burning hair.

And then her hair actually did catch on fire. And nobody noticed it. I walked over to her as fast as I could in shock and said, “Sweetheart, your hair is on fire!” I raised my hand like I would swat a fly and kind of slapped her head. This extinguished her burning hair instantly. I seriously expected her to turn around and punch me. But luckily she figured out what I did and why. Everybody in the bar was now watching. Seconds ago, her hair was literally burning and smoking like a firework sputtering to life until I swatted her head with my open hand. I apologized and asked if she was ok. She was so embarrassed that she didn’t really even respond to me verbally. Not even a thank you for smothering her cranial wildfire. She and her friend just kind of resumed their conversation. Almost like having a complete stranger come up and thump your burning dome like Smokey the Bear was a commonplace occurrence. Hell, maybe it is. Her hair was kind of short and choppy.

I started to walk away, but then I reached over and grabbed the candles off of the bar. Nearby patrons smiled at me and nodded in support. Let’s just remove any further fire danger from those ladies. I could be imagining this, but I swear there was a small cloud of smoke above her head after I put her out.

I returned to talking with the sound engineer and quietly laughing about what just happened.
I asked her, “Have you ever seen a person light their hair on fire in a bar and not notice?”
She said, “I love that you just instantly knew that smell was burning hair, and were all nonchalant about it.”
I replied, “Nothing else in the world smells like that.” Which was also me quoting Robert Duvall talking about napalm in Apocalypse Now. However, I really do not love the smell of burning hair in the morning, evening, or ever.

I truly wish that I could watch the security camera footage of me slapping that woman’s burning head. I would keep it running on an endless loop with Ministry’s song “Burning Inside” playing behind it.

 


 

A bartender contacted me and asked me to help deal with two people who were apparently sleeping in an isolate booth. Anytime a patron falls asleep in the bar we ask them to leave. We just can’t have people sleeping or passing out here, for a myriad of reasons.

I get back to the booth and am confronted with Jeff Lebowski and a woman who may be Bunny Lebowski. I am going to assume that you have seen the 1998 Coen Brothers comedy classic, THE BIG LEBOWSKI. If you haven’t, then you haven’t lived and need to fix that problem immediately. But essentially this would be like finding Jeff Bridges and Tara Reid in costume from the movie in your bar. The dude was wearing a tan Terry cloth robe and sunglasses at night. Both people were indeed asleep. They should have been drinking White Russians, but this bar doesn’t serve Caucasians. I turned my tactical flashlight on the most gentle color, green, and gently touched Mister Lebowski on the shoulder to wake him up.

“Hello my friends. You cannot sleep here. It’s time for you both to head home.”
Lebowski, or The Dude, or Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into that whole brevity thing, mumbled something in response but did not get up. Since he had sunglasses on I wasn’t even sure if his eyes were open. I touched his arm more firmly and said again, “Hey you guys have got to head home. I can call you a cab if you want, but you need to head out.”

Now he made my night by playing into his character. He got up from the booth unsteadily and said, “This aggression…will not stand, man.” I grinned from ear to ear and said back to him, “You’re being very undude.” This guy is my most favorite patron this week, but I can’t quite figure out if this is going to go poorly or not. I said, “I’ll walk out with you guys.” He and his special lady friend shuffled through the bar to the front door and I followed them out because it was just too perfect. I would have given anything if the bartender started playing The Eagles right now. I really couldn’t tell if they were acting, or just really drunk and half asleep. But they exited without incident. The Dude abides. For a cinephile like me, this was the greatest thing ever. I could have quoted that movie all damned night.

Its wasn’t Halloween, but there could have been a screening of the movie somewhere nearby at an independent movie theater. Or there actually might have been a Lebowski Festival happening. That’s where a bowling alley screens the movie and serves White Russians and everybody dresses up as characters from the film. But honestly, I don’t think that anything like that was going on. There didn’t need to be, it’s Portland. People might just dress up as Lebowski characters just for fun.

In any case, I get to tell my friends that I kicked The Dude and Bunny Lebowski out of  my bar.

 


 

 

Other times the outlandish events happen just outside the bar on the sidewalk.

The venue I worked at tonight has a bar, a music venue, and a hotel all commingled together. I started driving home after closing the bar and setting the alarm around 3am. After driving a few blocks I realized that I forgot to clock out, so I turned around and returned to the building. I walked back up to the building and saw a big blue pick up truck parked outside with its engine running. I didn’t think much of it and went inside to clock out of the computer system. I said hello to the overnight cleaners there and headed back out to my truck. That big blue truck was still there but I noticed some movement. Always noticing what people are doing around me, especially late at night, is key. Situational awareness is a most needed trait working in the service industry at night.

The truck was bouncing rhythmically with the engine still on but no passengers visible. Knowing full well what was happening, I sat in my truck for a moment just to see if I was right. Sure enough, a female head with big tousled hair was bobbing up and down on someone’s lap. She rose up from the front seat and pulled her hair out of her face, and a man’s head appeared as well. He had the driver’s seat reclined and this woman was giving him one hell of a blowjob. The truck was moving so noticeably that I thought they were having sex. This wasn’t some delicate loving romantic blowjob. This woman was going for it like a cocaine-powered porn star with the utmost dedication and absolutely zero restraint. She must have been doing push ups with her arms on the front seat as she pleasured this guy to completion. She then got out of the truck and said goodnight to the man and kissed him. He drove off and she skipped back up the stairs giggling to her hotel room.

I didnt’ see any money exchanged, but I wondered if she was a prostitute working out of the hotel. Or was she just a woman having an affair with the man at a late-night rendezvous. Were they both married to other people and cheating in secret? Were their partners at home panicked and worried that their spouse was in the hospital, dead, or cheating on them? Since he did not return to the hotel room with her I think something a bit sordid was happening. Or maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe they just meet at the concert tonight and just couldn’t help themselves? But I have seen prostitutes show up at the bar after overhearing a patron make a phone call requesting his preferences in a woman. Sugar Daddies with their stripper ‘girlfriends’, pimps, hookers, and drug dealers probably frequent our establishment under the radar more than we know.

Humans are such interesting, primordial creatures. Especially in the wee hours.
I shook my head, mentally flung any ick out of my thoughts, and drove home.

 


 

After the concert ended and the bar announced last call, dozens of people congregate outside the doors and discuss the concert and either say goodnight or make plans for further adventures. There’s a lot of people looking at their phones tracking the progress of their Uber driver coming to pick them up. And a lot of smoking since there is no smoking anywhere inside our establishment.

I stand outside and assist people with directions and suggestions for other places to go. I make sure no alcohol leaves the front doors. And I remind people not to smoke within 15 feet of the door, and to not smoke pot at all. Often I have to remind people to not be so loud since there are hotel rooms nearby, and oh yes they do make noise complaints. As silly as that is.

Tonight I looked up and saw some people standing by their huge hotel room window which faces out to our entrance and the busy street. I recognized them as patrons who attended our concert tonight. It was a man in his 40’s and two super cute women in their early 20’s. I remember them well because I thought that it was an odd matchup. At first I assumed it was a father with his two daughters taking in a show. But their flirty nature and their physicality with each other confirmed otherwise. The two hippie-styled young women were quite effervescent and attractive, and were all over this guy.

I looked away for a minute or two to help a patron figure out directions to their next destination. When I looked back up at the hotel window I saw that the man was standing there in just his boxers with his arms around the two nubile young ladies. The young ladies both were completely naked and dancing on either side of him. Their naked asses were almost pushed against the window glass. Everybody was smiling huge and perhaps unaware that we could see them, or just didn’t give a shit about it. Or they knew full well that they were putting on a naked show for us. Picture three bouncers standing outside the front door all looking up at what could be a debaucherous scene from a movie. For once, none of us were talking. Just silently taking this scene in with a bit of shock and envy. This could be a cocaine party, a threesome among friends, or a guy who hired two girls to make his night like something out of Studio 54 in the late 70’s. In any case, he’s living the dream up there. And we’re down here watching it uncomfortably. I believe one of us went back inside and told a couple of male bartenders what was happening, so they came out and we all gawked like teenagers looking at their first Playboy. When the hotel partiers finally closed the curtains I was relieved. Relieved that I didn’t have to act like I wasn’t watching their performance anymore.

This week I feel like I am in a Joe Coleman painting. Quaint little Portland, Oregon is really a lurid and obscene carnival of the strange and decadent. Random debauchery, prostitution, hotel orgies, truck blowjobs, drugs, Jeff Lebowski, and burning hair.

So I got in my truck and turned up the album ‘Night Drive’ by Chromatics. Appropriate music for my post-shift journey to my house. This band is also from Portland. Sexy music for a sexy night’s soundtrack. And the lyrics to ‘Accelerator’ are perfect for all of this.

God I’m feeling I got a hunger
I love my soul I’m satisfied
Come on, come on
Hit the accelerator, the accelerator
Come on, come on
Hit the accelerator, the accelerator
Living on to be a sinner
Lord it’s hard to be a saint

 

 

 

Working the stage (with a crowd surfing primer)

Sometimes being a bouncer isn’t always about checking IDs and kicking drunk people out. In the bigger music venues you can split the duties between the various people on shift. So sometimes you get to work the stage. It is substantially different from working the door as a bouncer. As a musician and concert-goer since 1986, I am a person who truly enjoys working at the stage. Being that close to the performers during their set, and feeding off the energy and joy of the crowd is one of the more fun shifts for me. I’ve met some amazing international touring bands working stage. And they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us do.

I’m sure you’ve been at a concert where there were crowd surfers. But for the uninitiated, that’s when you climb up on somebody’s shoulders and lay across the crowd that holds you up and passes you around the audience. You usually end up being delivered to the front area between the barricades and the front of the stage. There are always staff there to help catch you so you don’t injure yourself or fall on concrete. That’s me when I’m working stage. Catching adult human beings so they don’t break their bones. Always keeping people safe, even from their own recklessness.

Other things we’re watching for would be fights, people smoking pot (because indoor venue), any sexual harassment, tiny concert-goers getting crushed into the front barricades, and medical issues. Many people don’t want to lose their spot at the front of the barricade, so they don’t leave to drink water. People faint or pass out and we have to haul them up over the barricade and then get them medical attention if needed. People take too many drugs and can overdose there in the heat of the crushing horde. Some people just don’t know how to take care of themselves at concerts and don’t bring money for food or drink. I’ll give out waters to people as long as I can, but I only have so much there with me. Some people have heart attacks or strokes and we need to call the ambulance. There’s a lot that can happen at the stage. So when you see a bunch of security people at the front of the stage looking out at the crowd and not at the show, it’s us. We’re scanning for all of these things while you are watching the concert and hopefully not getting hurt or dying out there in the ocean of sweaty bipeds.

Depending on the type of music and the crowd, there may not be any moshing or crowd surfing at all. On nights like that working stage I get to enjoy the performance and just keep my eye on the people in the crowd that might need help. We can often predict the drinking patterns of a concert based on the genre of music, and whether or not the crowd is going to give us problems all night or just stand there and soak in the music. And just to dispel your possible assumptions, it is often NOT the metal or rap crowds that give us the most challenges. Usually those crowds are some of the best, sharing  more of a spirit of brotherhood and helping each other out. I feel better about the people at a metal show taking care of each other and helping each other out than I do at most other types of shows. Just for reference, it’s been the alt country shows and stoner rock shows that surprised me with their violence and asinine behaviors. Testosterone, machismo, aggression, and whisky, my brother. Keep them all separate.

The time before the show starts is a great time for me to build social capital with the people who arrived early to occupy the front of the barricades. I smile a lot and ask them about which band on the bill is their favorite. I sneak in reminders about the photo policy, and tell them to wave me over if they have any problems throughout the night. I keep telling people to drink lots of water and show them where the water station is located. I answer questions about potential meet and greets, autograph signings, set list acquisition, bathroom locations, and all of the other questions people ask. I’ll also be a photographer for people who want shots of them and all their friends in the front row. All of these short little interactions build a good little temporary relationship that will last throughout the show. And if and when any problems occur, things will go easier. Actually I get sometimes get them to do my job for me. I’ve seen people remind others to not use their flash, and to stop taking video after I announced that to them. I love listening to people tell me stories of seeing this band last night in Seattle or another city. I appreciate fans that follow their favorite band on tour for more than one night.

I also love seeing parents there with their kids for a concert. They’ll often tell me that it’s the child’s first concert ever. I vividly remember my first concert experiences. So I always try to be super friendly to the kids and offer them water and look out for them to step in if somebody is getting to rowdy around them. Just asking a kid what album is their favorite one from the touring act goes a long way. I love glancing over and seeing the kid wide-eyed and in a state of reverie seeing their favorite band onstage for the first time. Or singing along with the lyrics just like they lived those words. If a stage hand offers me a set list after the final encore, I’ll try to hand it to the kid. Parents have come to shake my hand and thank me after the show for helping provide them with such a fun first concert for their child. Live music is life.

Ten minutes before the opening band started, I was called over by some teenagers in the front row. Their friend had just dropped to the ground at the front of the barricade and was laying on the venue floor. I immediately called for a medical situation over the radio and climbed up over the barricade and into the crowd. I asked them if he fainted and his friend said, “Well he did take a lot of hallucinogens tonight.” I knelt down by the young man and put my fingers on his neck to check for a pulse. As I started tapping him he woke up and stood up with me. I told him who I was and where he was and asked him what happened. He said he had a ‘crowd induced anxiety situation’ and that he ‘took a bunch of mushrooms’. I offered him some bottled water and he drank it down. I asked if he wanted to walk out to an area where there were fewer people, but he said he was ok. He said he didn’t pass out or faint but he just needed to lay down and gather himself for a minute. At this point there were 5 security people and 3 managers on the other side of the barricade looking over at me speaking with this young man. I gave them all the thumbs up gesture and walked out through the crowd back around to the pit area between the stage and the barricade. I told the kid and his friends that I’d be there all night and would keep an eye on him and check in. Managers agreed to let him stay with my offer to babysit him. So for the remainder of the show I kept watching him to make sure he didn’t drop again. I gave him a bunch of water and would frequently give him the thumbs up gesture, which he would return with a big smile. I was tempted to say things like, “Handle your high, dude.” Or these lyrics from the band SLACK, “You took too much, your brain is toast. BRAIN TOAST.”  But you know what, I was 19 once and I did some stupid shit too. He and his friends ended up having a fantastic time. I’m glad we let him stay. Maybe next time he won’t take as many drugs as he did tonight. I hope he remembers the concert.

At another concert the crowd surfers were out in full force. Depending on the rider agreement with the touring act, we can either allow this or not allow it. This band wanted us to let the crowd surfers do their thing and not have us kick them out. For a while I counted each crowd surfer that I helped get down safely from the front of the audience. Then I honestly lost track once it got over 20 people. I don’t think I got to turn around and peek at the show at all for this one. People were coming over like salmon jumping out of the water trying to get upstream to spawn. Except that it’s all sweaty shirtless male salmon. Seriously, why it is always the big dudes that have been sweating from the minute they entered the venue that come across the crowd and fling themselves onto us? Can’t we get some tiny person who actually showered and used deodorant that day? The body odor is truly offensive.

You watch the crowd a different way when it’s a crowd surfing kind of show. Because if you miss one and they come flying over the barrier onto you, somebody’s getting hurt. The adrenaline is going, and your peripheral vision awareness is being put to the test. We all point towards the closest crowd surfer we can see so that the other guys on the line will see it coming and not be ambushed. I keep thinking about how I’m a musician and really can’t afford to get a finger jammed or broken by some drunk dipshit who is going to fall on me. If all goes well 2-3 staff will be there to grab you and lower you down to the floor without injury.

Here’s how it usually goes. There is indeed an unspoken protocol. As you get handed towards the stage, you should look at the security guys and let them grab you to stabilize your landing. Don’t flail or fight, we’re trying to help you out. We’ve been doing this for hours, so let us grab you and deliver you as gently as we can. Grab us around our shoulders if you can and let us lower you down while we hold you. Almost like when a husband carries his new bride into their new house. It’s called “Catch and Release” since we catch you, stabilize you, and then return you to the audience to either enjoy the rest of the show, or crowd surf again. Sometimes if we see the same person over and over again we will give them the message that you only have 3 times that you can do this. But don’t try to become part of the performance by getting on the stage or trying to stay in the pit area and head bang. We are going to walk you out. Either gently as an escort to get you to the alley where you can get back into the crowd, or holding your arms you against your will to make sure you get out of the area if you are not following our instructions. Don’t make this interaction a bad one. It should take about 10 seconds and then you’ll be on your way. Usually the people thank us and even clap us on our back for our assistance.

Sometimes the person falls onto you and wraps all four limbs around you. Face to face, groin to groin. It’s an awkward and intimate position for both of us. This is a common position for people having sex, and only when they are having sex. A standing missionary position crowd surfer landing. Since the person is completely wrapped round you, we just call it the Koala bear. I can’t really complain, as this is probably the safest and most gentle way to come out of the crowd. But it’s an odd moment for sure.

Having sweaty 200 pound human beings that aren’t wearing a shirt flying at you from head-level is an unusual occupational hazard indeed. I can’t think of any other job where that might be listed in the job description. Without a shirt on we can’t grab you as well. And skin on skin is slippery. Especially when you are sweating bullets and processing large amounts of shitty frat boy beer. There are also two kinds of crowd surfers. The conscientious ones who do it right, and the assholes. If I see you continuously crowd surfing and thrashing around while you’re up there, accidentally or intentionally kicking people in the head as you go, I’m going to kick you out. I hate those guys that are crowd surfing and then sort of launch themselves over onto another group of unsuspecting people just trying to enjoy the show. You’re landing with your entire body weight on people’s heads. The neck injuries are probably in the dozens. I’ve been in the crowd where the same jerks keep violently crowd surfing and injuring people’s necks and heads. It sucks. If this happens try to communicate with the security people there so they can grab them and not let them back in. That’s what we’re there for.

At a stoner rock show we had dozens and dozens of crowd surfers coming over the crowd into the pit area. We got in a rhythm and just teamed up on each one to help them get down safely. But this one particular dude won the award for assholery. He was crowd surfing and was being handed towards the security staff in the pit. We climbed up on the steps on the barricades to help him get down safely. But once his feet touched the floor he tried to break away from us and climb onto the stage. Myself and two other guys grabbed him and prevented him from climbing up. Then he turned on us and started trying to thrash around aggressively to evade us. I was right there with my hands already on him so I just wrapped him up and pushed into him like a linebacker. More security were coming over once they saw that this guy hadn’t just touched down and walked out with us. I was pushing him towards my coworker who was moving in towards us from the opposite side. But somehow this dude tripped and fell, and since we both had our arms wrapped around each other he took me down with him. With my forward momentum I essentially just fell on him. I hope it didn’t look like I intentionally did a takedown on him like in a wrestling match. I’m pretty sure it did, though. As we fell he was facing me so I was in danger of him kicking or punching me as I got up again. Amazingly, he didn’t.

Aggro dude still kept wanting to get away from us and do something, so the coworker who I was pushing him into grabbed him with me and we dragged him out to the corridor where he can enter the crowd again. We each had him by his arm and shoulder as we brought him out to the release area and let him go. Thankfully he did not turn around and come at us again, but he yelled and made a commotion like we were the bad guys. I walked back to my place in the pit and both coworkers and audience members gave me high fives and smiles for dealing with that. Turns out the band saw this fracas happening right in front of them and actually stopped playing their song. With all the adrenaline and intensity happening I didn’t even notice the absence of any music. The actions of that one crowd surfer interrupted the concert. The singer looked down at me and asked over the mic, “Did that guy do something wrong or something?” I nodded at him and said, “Yeah” and got back in position for the next crowd surfer. They started playing again.

Later in the same show, an audience member gestured to us that he needed out. Understandable with all the heat, sweat, over stimulation, and crushing force happening.  He was a white guy in his 20’s with only camo shorts on. I came over to assist with pulling the guy up over the barricade while the people around him moved back to make room. Got him over the steel barricade and when we put his feet on the ground he just collapsed like his legs didn’t work. I couldn’t tell if he passed out or had an injury or what. I started talking to him encouraging him to walk out with me. He would walk with us for a few steps, then go limp again. Was this guy pranking us? Was he losing consciousness? Was he having a medical incident? The security manager who hired me happened to be floating and came over to assist. We each had one arm and walked/dragged him out of the pit area into the corridor that leads back out into the middle of the audience.

The guy wouldn’t answer us but started making really odd moaning sounds. We had his arms securely and he wasn’t struggling, so we dragged him a short distance and stopped. It looks really bad to have to bouncers dragging a person’s limp body in front of everybody. Might make people think he died and we were dragging out his corpse. We kept trying to talk to him to get him to walk with us. He kind of started half walking with us, so we continued carrying him all the way through the entire venue floor towards the elevator. Then he started doing odd things with his legs. I wasnt sure if he was trying to kick out our feet, or trying to dance. At one point he lifted up his legs and pedaled them in the air like he was riding a bicycle. We had his arms, so why not?  He started shuffling along and moaning again, so I honestly considered the outcome that he was turning into a zombie. We got him in to the elevator but still kept a firm grip on his arms. A few months before I was hired there was a huge fight that moved into this elevator. Apparently numerous staff were punched and hurt in the melee. I couldn’t help but have the ghost of that story bouncing around my head while we held this guy in the elevator. It’s only two stories down to the entrance, but when you’re holding a non-communicative man who is either on drugs or turning into a zombie….that’s a long elevator ride.

We walked him out the front door and gently set him down outside on the sidewalk leaning against the wall. Everybody breathed a sign of relief that he didn’t lose his mind and start attacking us. I stood back and let the security manager lead this. He offered the guy water and asked his name and if we could help him and what happened to him. He was able to mumble something about breathing heavy, which we interpreted as having difficulty breathing. That combined with his nonsensical babbling and yelling lead us to call an ambulance to assess him. Some random person walked by and asked him if he took some bad meth. All of the sudden the guy got a panicked look in his eyes and started screaming and stood up. He was extremely agitated and charged at us so we tackled him to the ground. I got his legs securely and my manager had his torso. This dude started screaming at the top of his lungs and struggled like we were trying to murder him. The staff person on the phone quickly changed the nature of their call from medical to police. While being held on the ground this guy screamed things like, “THEY ARE RAPING ME! THEY ARE RAPING ME!” He howled like a banshee and tried to get up with two 220 pound men laying on him. I thought of those stories of people with extraordinary strength that don’t feel pain when on some drugs. Or mothers able to lift cars off of their child in an emergency. This dude was maybe 150 pounds but he seemed to have the strength of a horse. We all have walkie-talkie on our belts and he would look at each of them and scream, “THAT’S A GUN! THAT’S A GUN!!” Then he would switch between screaming and sobbing. He would get very quiet and say, “I hate myself so much.”

Remember this guy was only wearing some camouflage shorts. So his bare back, arms, and legs are scraping across the concrete as he struggles to get away from us. He’s got almost 450 pounds of bouncers on top of him and he’s squirming around and jerking and kicking. His exposed skin had to be bloodied and raw. His entire body is going to feel like he was in a motorcycle crash when he returns to the real world tomorrow. And this is the violent idiocy of recreational drug use. Dangerous and surreal.

Waiting for the police to arrive while you are holding an out of control person on the ground that doesn’t want you to also feels like an exceptionally long time. He stopped struggling and muttered nonsense to himself. A friend of his from the concert came out and smiled nervously when he saw his friend being held on the concrete by two bouncers. He came over and tried to calm the guy down by touching his chest and telling him it’s ok. The police and ambulance arrived and assisted us in releasing him to them without him ramping up again and charging anybody. They handcuffed him immediately and put him on a stretcher to go in the ambulance. He’s going to get assessed and likely detoxed from whatever he was on. He will either spend the night in Hooper Detox, or stay a night in the hospital on a psych hold depending.

Meth/cocaine/balt salts/rage virus….I guess I’ll never know what that guy was on.

My boss and I went back inside and thoroughly washed our hands and forearms. Apparently as the guy was being put in the ambulance he said, “This was the best concert of my life!”

I took a moment to gather myself and then returned to my place on the barricade. There were more crowd surfers that night, but nothing like those last two.

I remember thinking “Well, this is my Monday night. How crazy will Saturday be?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell, Ash Street

For the last 5 months I’ve had the pleasure of working part-time as the door guy at Ash Street. This is the revered rock club that’s located in old town Portland around the corner from Voodoo Doughnuts. It opened on Halloween in 1994 and is closing on New Year’s Day 2018. The most official explanation I’ve found is this: The lease is expiring and the landlords refuse to renew it, and they do not wish to keep it going as a live music venue. So in a few short weeks, another historic downtown music icon will cease to exist after a 24 year run. The staff was told of this exit date over a year ago and announced it to all. So they have had time for a long slow goodbye, and time to plan lots of farewell shows.

I could go into the lunacy of working at Ash Street as a bouncer. I could go into the time where I got to kick out a baby (and the Mother who snuck it in). Or kicking out a musician’s girlfriend for smoking in the venue AND not having any ID on her. Or breaking up fights, physically escorting people out of the bar, grabbing a beer out of somebody’s hand as they tried to drink it illegally, extinguishing a homeless person’s lighter so they can’t smoke heroin, and a psycho felon trying to intimidate me by handing me his prison ID card. But I don’t want that to be the focus of this piece. Perhaps another time when the kids want a good bedtime story.

The Layout and the Playout

Ash Street is a truly odd setup, populated with numerous groups that don’t really commingle. The main space is the bar with some tables and booths. Then there is an open portal to the performance venue with a good size stage, and another small bar with booths and tables. There is a small room with several video poker machines. This room is, strangely, also where the bathrooms are located. There is one Buck Hunter video game, A KISS pinball game, a two person Pac-Man cocktail table game, and a bowling game. Move past the video poker room and you end up in the back patio. There are just concrete building walls back here, with no view at all.  It’s almost like a concrete brick open-air tomb where everybody sits and smokes like chimneys. The sound booth is located up a staircase off to the side of the venue space. So the sound engineers are looking down to the stage at an angle from the side. Then there is also the front patio area were there are picnic tables. Unlike most venues I work in, alcohol is allowed out there. The main problem is the mentally ill homeless population that constantly walks by and sometimes engages or hassles the patrons.

Oh, and the green room. This bastion of music venues is where band members do all the drugs and try to court groupies. The seedy little beer-soaked storage area where bands keep their purses and backpacks. The little back room where you scarf down your greasy burger and slam a Red Bull before the show. Perhaps you’ll scribble out your set list or even warm up and play some scales on your guitar in this room. The Ash Street green room is located up that long flight of stairs next to the sound booth. I don’t know what the architects had in mind, but there is a short brick wall arch that opens into a itty-bitty little room that only has enough room for a short couch. It’s totally a hobbit-hole with pipe-weed being smoked inside. You have to crouch down and duck your head to enter the archway to get into that little nook to sit on the couch. It is indeed like waking into a brick fireplace. I will never sit on this couch. I can only guess how many lost items would be in this tainted couch. Guitar picks, lighters, little nuggets of weed, bullets, desiccated French fries, ripped out pages from the Satanic Bible and The Necronomicon, and probably used condoms full of alien semen. Nothing would surprise me.

Here are the main groups of patrons that I’ve identified:

The regulars. This is a close-knit family of people who hang out here every evening. They’re here every night I’ve ever been here. They eat dinner here, and drink and socialize for hours. They are all very friendly to me and I’ve had both silly and serious conversations with all of them. When they come in people will yell their name like when Norm would walk into Cheers. They keep to themselves and don’t typically ever go into the music venue.

The musicians. Usually we have 3-4 bands playing on a bill. The musicians and their roadies, girlfriends and boyfriends, and their fans will be here solely for the music venue. Shows here are usually only $5, and the guest list is generous. So nobody ever makes a lot of money here, but its super fun and the sound is always fantastic.

The gamblers. These are the pseudo-regulars that are here solely for the video poker machines. I’ve seen people sit in that room (with the bathrooms) for hours and not win anything, and then also seen some win $200-$400. Some sweet homeless folks will come in with change they scavenged from returning bottles and ask the bartenders for dollar bills for the machines. I actually want them to win.

The service industry neighbors. People love coming to Ash Street from nearby establishments. Staff from the downtown original Voodoo Doughnuts location come in all the time. I had to learn all of their faces right away so I wouldn’t card them every single time they came in. Staff from Kells Irish Pub, The Oyster Bar, and Dante’s should have their own reserved seats. They always head to the private back patio. Always.

The tourists. Self-explanatory. People who aren’t from here wander around downtown and want to check everything out. And if they’ve heard that we’re closing soon they really want to come in and get a taste of it before it’s gone. They usually ask me about other places to go on their way out, and I get to play tour guide to downtown Portland for a few minutes.

Like I stated earlier, none of these groups really commingle much. But it works. The space is big enough for all of these groups and people with no shared activity to be there and all still have a good time. And it makes the people-watching exquisitely entertaining. As a Sociology major in college, I still love watching disparate groups of people inhabiting the same space and sometimes reaching out to each other. Watching a clean-cut conservative tourist with a pink box of donuts start a conversation with a middle-aged punk rocker with facial piercings and purple hair gives me endless pleasure. Everybody goes home with a good story to tell their friends.

Is Ash Street the best music venue in Portland? No. But is it a welcoming and accepting dive bar that hosts local and touring bands all the time? Yep. This place has heart. One of the great things about Ash Street is that, let’s be honest, it was a bit easier to get booked there. Bands typically play here early in their career and move up to bigger and better venues if they’re lucky. Or they return here because they love the people and the vibe. So many of my musician friends cut their teeth playing here over the last 23 years. And Ash Street was totally supportive of touring bands. They would even give you dinner if you were on tour from out-of-town, along with drink tickets that all bands get. Ash Street was always a stop for bands on tour.  They would accommodate these touring bands needing specific dates and let them jump on a bill with some local acts. Therefore, you would get some awesome and diverse bills where sometimes the bands didn’t make much sense playing together. And it would always sound good. The sound engineers are awesome. Even now, in the last few months of our existence, nobody has short-timers syndrome. They are still giving it their all, every show, every band. All three sound engineers will come down from the sound booth and stand in the crowd to get the true honest mix from the center of the room.

Honestly, Ash Street has booked some of the worst bands I’ve ever seen . But they got up onstage and did it, which is more than a lot of people can say. And everybody needs those first few gigs, and to be treated like seasoned veterans. Some Portland hipster bars would have people standing with their backs to the performers, scoffing or heckling them. Not here. People will applaud after every song, even if it’s hard to determine when that particular song is actually over.  I’ve watched many amazing bands here that I wish found more success. I’ve seen bands playing to an empty room, or just to the other band members and their girlfriends. I’ve also seen bands play in front of 150-200 people here. I’ve witnessed some of the weirdest, most odd acts Portland has to offer here on this stage. These artists were definitely keeping Portland weird. The majority of the acts here have usually been rock, metal, or punk. But I’ve also seen acoustic shows, industrial acts, spoken word, country, noise, alternative, dream-pop, performance art, adult puppet shows, and solo artists playing 5 instruments simultaneously. The bookers were clearly invested in giving all artists a chance to perform on a good stage with good sound.

Perks

Another nice thing about working as a bouncer at Ash Street is the perks. There’s all the usual stuff like getting paid an hourly rate in cash, getting additional tips from the overall take that night, getting a free meal on shift, and getting a free drink after your shift. Then there’s getting to meet and chat with people all night, and the people-watching. This job totally fulfils my extrovert nature.

But also there are perks involving other nearby establishments. All service industry places do this, the little tit for tat of helping each other out. The world-famous Voodoo Doughnuts original location is just around the corner from Ash Street. They are a storefront and a bakery with nowhere to actually hang out. So the Voodoo employees come over to Ash Street all the time. We even let them hang out after we have the patrons leave at closing time. And in return, any Ash Street employee can go over there and get a free donut anytime. I’ve made the mistake of mentioning the free donut perk to my kids. Now when I head off to work they ask if I’m going to Ash Street. And if I am they say, “Be sure to bring me back a donut, Dare!”
Two chocolate Tang donuts, coming right up. When I get home at 3am.

Employees from nearby Alderman’s, Kells Irish Pub, Oyster Bar, and Dante’s visit Ash Street all the time, and we probably have arrangements with them too. I have friends who work as bouncers and DJs at Kit Kat Club, which is indeed a strip club. How does one inquire about a free lap dance perk? One probably doesn’t. Directly across the from Ash Street is a killer Mexican food cart called La Piñata Takos. They don’t have their own restroom to use while they work, and we do. So the arrangement with them is that they can use our bathroom anytime they want, and we can get a free meal from them when we’re on shift. Has there been a night where I’ve collected my free perks from all the places? Have I ordered a Kick my Ash burger with fries from Ash Street, then ordered a chorizo burrito from the food cart, and then collected an Old Dirty Bastard donut from Voodoo Doughnuts? Goddamned right I have. “Nothing exceeds like excess. You should know that, Tony.”

Honestly the greatest perk has been seeing all these shows and meeting all these fellow musicians. I’ve found some great bands and become friends with these people. I’ve talked with them about how they stage their tours, how they load their gear, how they run their merch booth. Networking and studying always. I only work security in music venues because I love it above all else. You still learn a lot from watching a band that you don’t particularly like. And even more from watching bands that you love. Being around musicians all the time is such a rush. The creative energy and pride of doing what you love is infectious. It’s also a shared history. We all know and understand the grind. And we still find it worth it.

Welcome to the family

In the last few months I’ve seen birthday parties held here with the birthday family performing onstage with cake. I’ve seen father and son bands rocking out onstage. Regulars have brought in homemade food to gift to the staff. The family motif keeps returning as I think about it. The entire staff here is a family. The regulars are a family. Bartenders regularly come out from behind the bar smiling as they give someone a big hug. Regulars bring their dogs inside, and they become canine regulars. As a part-time bouncer/door guy just here for the final 5 months of Ash Street, they could have pretty much ignored me. Why bother getting to know a new guy here at the end when we’re all on our way out? Well, everybody has welcomed me in like they would any full-time long-term team member. I’ve gotten to know the bartenders and cooks and sound engineers. I’ve been invited to their birthday parties. We have our inside jokes now. I’ll clock out but remain at the bar shooting the shit with the gang. Typical conversations between us music geeks involve how you can determine what kind of person someone is by which Cure album they cite as their favorite. Comparing stories of best concerts we’ve ever seen. Telling the stories of the strangest shows we’ve seen at Ash Street. The bar even has a little wooden piece of wood with the word COCK written on it. So if you are gonna cock-block somebody you can drop an actual cock block on the bar as you do it.

One night two drunk people started punching each other right in the middle of the bar/restaurant area. I tackled one guy and bear-hugged him out of the venue and onto the sidewalk. I glanced behind me as I was moving the guy out the door and saw that my coworker had done the same with the other guy and was hauling him out behind me. This coworker was off the clock, and not a security staff. He was a bartender and cook. We de-escalated the situation and the two men calmed down and ended up hugging it out. We didn’t need even to call the Police. My coworker later said that he hoped I didn’t mind him involving himself in that situation. But even though he was off the clock, he felt like everybody there is a family and a team and should all jump in to solve a volatile and violent situation no matter what our job description is. Keep everybody safe. I thanked him and told him he could jump in to help me anytime.

Another spin on that family theme is the regulars. These staples of Ash Street often congregate out front on the sidewalk where the picnic tables are, or inside at the tables by the big bay window near the front doors. When Barret hired me, he tried to personally introduce me to each of the regulars and told me that they have a lot of history and pride in this establishment. So much so that they will even police the sidewalk area when problem people start trouble. These regulars have even been known to jump in and help the bouncers break up a fight. So on a Sunday evening when I’m the only bouncer there, if the shit goes down I know that not only will the bartenders and cooks jump in and help, but up to a dozen of the regulars would jump in and help too. I imagine some drunken bro trying to get into it with somebody outside on the sidewalk only to be faced with 15 regulars standing up from the picnic tables. They all surround him like the undead from a John Carpenter movie. Then they beat the living hell out of the guy. The band onstage might actually be playing some pulsing 80’s synth score that perfectly matches this vision. I stand inside with the bartenders with our arms crossed as we watch, smiling like around parents at their kid’s baseball game. Downtown Ash Street Gang.

Some bands decided to reunite after 10-15 years for a one-time show at Ash Street to relive their history here one more time. I’ve watched the sound engineers break into a huge smile and hug each band member as they walked in with their gear. The same way you would greet your brother you haven’t seen in a decade at the Thanksgiving meal. It is literally a reunion every night around here. And also a goodbye. Some bands get drunk onstage and have trouble leaving the stage once their set is over. Because they know it’s the last time up there ever. They howl like banshees at the top of their lungs onstage (with the mic thankfully turned off), mourning the demise of such a musical institution. They want their voices to echo off of these walls forever like in the hall of Valhalla. Every performance is a little death, after all. La petit mort, my good friends. They splash their drinks together and toast the show just completed, and the legacy that they are saying goodbye to.

My last performance at Ash Street

My personal history with Ash Street is pretty much like everybody else’s in Portland. I’ve attended many shows there, and almost every band I’ve been in has performed there as well. In the mid-90’s my first band, Sarcasm, played at Ash Street numerous times. We were based in Eugene, so to us playing at Ash Street was a really special out-of-town gig. My second band, Sleepy Hollow, somehow did not play at Ash Street. My third band, Brother Heathen, played there around 2000-2001. My fourth and current band, The Shrike, has played there 7 times since 2014. We opened for Jennie Vee on her national tour there in 2015. I filled in on drums with my friend’s band When We Met a few times recently. And I was and extra in the crowd shots of a music video shot at Ash Street by my friends in Sugar Tits (Later to change their name to Sugar Tease).

My friends Bryan and Melissa are a couple that makes up the entire band that is When We Met. They typically don’t have a drummer, as they play along with pre-programmed drum tracks onstage. When The Shrike and When We Met would play a show together, they would have me jump onstage with them for their finale song, The Pixies “Where is my Mind?”  Then they started asking me to join them even when my band wasn’t playing a show on that bill. I would just play the drum set from the band that was following them. We learned the PJ Harvey classic, “Rid of Me” and played that together too. For their final show at Ash Street they asked me if I could join them for their entire set and learn all of their originals.

So on November 7th, Election Day, we all played our last show ever on the Ash Street stage. It was definitely a fun, surreal, and melancholy performance. I smiled and sang along with some of the lyrics while playing the drums. But I was also fighting off the sadness and the tears. This was THE LAST TIME that I would ever perform music on this stage.  I was noticing the fog machine kicking out clouds for the colorful rays of light to puncture. I would spot friends’ faces smiling out in the crowd. My fiancé was beaming. I also found it truly fitting that we played two covers from the 80’s and 90’s in this set. Both songs are easy to play on drums, honestly. And they both pretty much encapsulate the quiet/loud quiet/loud pattern that so many songs do. Simple drums just gives me more opportunity to embellish and add different drum parts and fills.

So for the PJ Harvey song, Melissa puts her bass down and just sings while Bryan handles all the guitar parts. Barret is the booker/promoter/head of show security at Ash Street. He is a performing musician too, playing with God Bless America as well as solo shows. He saw us do this song in sound check and mentioned something about how it would be fun for him to pick up the bass and join us. We immediately jumped on this idea. So with zero rehearsals together and zero planning, we played “Rid of Me” onstage as a 4 piece. I had never played music with Barret before, and everybody loved having him up there to fill out the sound and change-up the stage performance. When We Met went from a 2 piece band to a 4 piece band for one song on one night.

We finished the rest of their set and ended with the classic Pixies song “Where is My Mind?”  This song has always been special to me, and obviously to Bryan and Melissa also.  There is a melancholy sadness to that song already. Then knowing that this is the last song that I’ll ever perform on this stage got to me. I kept picturing the final scene of Fight Club, where this song plays as all the corporate skyscrapers explode and start collapsing. I truly hope that the Ash Street building isn’t brought down by a wrecking ball and bulldozed to make expensive apartments or a high-end restaurant that nobody can afford to eat at. I wish we projected images of the collapsing buildings from the movie scene behind us as we played.

We leave space at the end of the song to go crazy and do a big rock ending. We gave it all we had tonight. I even hurled my drumsticks high up in the air after I hit my final cymbal crashes, which landed in the crowd somewhere. We moved off the stage and hugged and posed for some photos. Since I was playing somebody else’s drum set, I actually got to just leave the stage and talk with people instead of having to scramble to lug my drums offstage as fast as I can. Somebody returned my drumsticks to me. I felt great and thought this song was perfect for my last song played at Ash Street.

But, in a happy surprise, I was given yet another chance to perform on that stage. Barret Stolte was playing an acoustic set later in the night, and he asked me if I’d want to join him for a cover onstage. Just him and me. Guitar and drums and his voice, doing Echo and the Bunnymen’s 1984 classic “The Killing Moon.” I knew the song well and loved it. So, much like Ash Street itself getting a stay of execution for a year, I got to play one more song onstage with my friend. Again with zero rehearsal time or planning. That just added to the excitement because we didn’t really know if we would nail it or not. That kind of positive anxiety usually makes a musician focus more intensely so they stay together and get everything right. Which, luckily, we did. Remember that Barret hired me and is technically my boss. So there we are, me and my boss onstage playing an 80’s song together. That reads funny, but it didn’t feel like that at all. It was just two musicians and friends playing music together for the first time, and the last time, on this stage. Some friends filmed the song so we have that moment of history preserved. This was truly one of the most fun and exciting and emotional performances of my life. Spontaneous new collaborations onstage, and giving it our best efforts, for it will never happen again.

Too late to beg you or cancel it
Though I know it must be the killing time
Unwillingly mine
Fate
Up against your will
The killing moon
Will come too soon

This is the end, my beautiful friend

As we enter the final week of Ash Street’s existence, there are 6 farewell shows planned. Each of these is very special. The lineups are much larger than regular shows, and each one is a themed farewell to a particular musical genre. Some of these bands have played at Ash Street countless times, while some have reunited after years (or decades) just to perform at this show, on this stage, one final time. There will be amazing musical moments, laughter, tears, and memories. The special shows are Farewell to Dwight Church weekly open mic shows, Farewell to Indie Rock, Farewell to Hip Hop, Farewell to punk rock, Farewell to rock and roll, and Farewell to metal on New Year’s Eve. I get to work two of these goodbye shows and I wish I could work them all.

In 2010 another very famous music venue closed their doors. I’m talking about Satyricon.  It was very similar to Ash Street in that it was a gritty dive bar that everybody wanted to play. Touring bands and local bands always wanted to get booked there. It actually closed in 2003 but reopened as an all-ages venue in 2006. It finally closed for real in 2010 and the building was bulldozed in 2011. But the memories people had of that venue were so strong that they wanted a piece of it. People were actually going to the demolition site and climbing the chain link fence to grab one of the bricks of the old Satyricon building. I am sure that I know people who have a brick from Satyricon’s rubble on their mantle. My understanding is that the Ash Street building is not being torn down. But I wonder what people will try to steal from the venue in the final week.

One night the movie A Princess Bride was playing on the television above the pinball machines. It was a cold, mellow Sunday evening with not too many people there. I was spacing out watching the film while some doom metal band played in the venue. The scene where the two leads are traveling through the dark forest and talking about Rodents of Unusual Size. Westley says, “I don’t think they exist.” BAM! He is immediately attacked by a R.O.U.S. and rolling around fighting for his life. The sound to the TV is off, so the soundtrack was unknowingly being provided by the doom metal band. It matched up perfectly. Similar to how you can watch The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon as a soundtrack. The sync of the Black Sabbath-like music with the imagery of wrestling with a demon-monster, lighting it on fire, and stabbing it with a sword was uncanny. It completely changed the mood of the scene. No more light-hearted romance comedy tale aimed at kids. Now it’s Dungeons and Dragons doom metal by way of William Goldman. Conan the Barbarian with a soundtrack by Cathedral. This silly and brief juxtaposition actually sums of the experience of Ash Street pretty well. Accidentally putting things together that don’t go together and seeing what develops. Creating new mashup art out of old art. Bastardization and mutation. Spontaneous collaborations and bizarre weirdness that you can’t turn away from.

I shall miss you, Ash Street Saloon. This place means so much to me. I’ve been spending quality time there off and on for the last 20 years. My five months working there were amazing and I wish that I had 5 years of stories. Support local music and venues. Start your own band. Go see a show. Go play a show. Make memories.
Buy the ticket, take the ride.

And for the love of all that is holy, please burn that green room couch in a CDC cleanroom. The toxins released from burning that disgusting sponge of nasty anywhere else would kill us all.

Feeling the stage

When I work in the venue I’m primarily watching the crowd. I’m watching for specific things. These include clouds of smoke from people smoking, people showing visible signs of intoxication, people trying to go into areas they aren’t supposed to, people touching others inappropriately, and fights. Occasionally there is even barfing.  Honestly it’s like supervising little children on recess. Except they are huge, drunk, and wicked children who are able to actually cause harm. Sometimes I wish I could suggest that certain people utilize nappy-time.

Sometimes I’m just looking for things that don’t fit. Somebody asleep or passed out drunk. Someone showing symptoms of having a seizure. Strobe lights or dehydration have caused some people to drop to the ground, resulting in me calling an ambulance for them. People who don’t seem to be watching the show but are watching a specific person very intently. People looking into an area where valuables might be stored. Someone lingering by the merch booth and looking around nervously as they consider stealing something.

Tonight my attention was drawn to a young blonde woman right at the front of the stage who seemed to be freaking out a little bit. By freaking out I mean she was flopping her upper body over onto the stage and screaming a lot. Then she would lay her torso and arms on the stage and remain there. Prone. Almost like she was hugging the stage floor. She would lightly pound her hands on the stage along with the beat sometimes. All the music venues I work at have a stage that is at hip level. Most people just set their drinks on the stage and watch the performer. This woman was reminding me of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She wasn’t on a bed, but imagine that type of agitated flopping on the stage. Then undulating on the carpeted stage floor for a while, then being still, then standing up and starting over again. And screaming in happiness.

Now I’m perfectly aware that people enjoy concerts in different ways. But I’m also aware that people take drugs and/or get drunk at concerts. Any exaggerated movements or actions like this will get the attention of the security staff. This also just didn’t quite fit the vibe of the performance. The artist was a solo singer-songwriter. He was the lead singer of a pop-punk band in the 90’s, but now is doing a stripped down solo tour with just him and his guitar. This kind of show just doesn’t bring out violent body-flopping on the front of the stage. When she would just lay her chest on the stage and fling her arms out on the stage I worried that she had exhausted herself, injured herself, or passed out. She was like a whirling dervish getting lost in her spiritual spinning. When she was stretched out on the stage she would continue to move around and almost gyrate into the edge of the stage. Her arms would move into different positions and she would push the palms of her hands into the stage floor. Sometimes she would turn her head so that her cheek was mashed against the stage carpet. This carpet has probably had gallons of alcoholic drinks spilled on it over the years. Sane people wouldn’t put their face on it. She would then turn her head so that the other cheek was then mashed against it. Some drugs enhance your sense of touch and cause you to seek repetitive tactile stimulation. This girl could have taken Ecstasy and wanted to make love to the stage.

I watched the people around her to see if they were reacting to her like she was a batshit crazy person. They seemed to be her friends and were supportive of her odd behavior. They weren’t acting like they were irritated by her in the slightest. They would occasionally put their hands on her shoulders and exchange smiles. They weren’t making faces or feeding her water like she was a drunken embarrassment. Situational cues are very helpful in moments like these.

So she wasn’t technically disrupting the performance. She wasn’t screaming over the singer during quiet moments. She wasn’t putting herself at risk of injury. She wasn’t pissing off everyone around her. She wasn’t trying to actually climb onto the stage. She wasn’t stumbling or falling or showing signs of extreme intoxication. This particular woman enjoys the show by flinging her upper body on the stage and striking a prone crucifixion pose. Ok girl, do your thing.

Who am I to tell her how to enjoy this concert? While some people stand planted like statues, others dance like it’s their last day on this planet. Others prefer to document the show on their smart phone or DSLR camera. Others smile wide and cry tears of pleasure, while others sing along with every lyric perfectly. Some people hug their friends or hold their partners close for the shared experience, others stand off by themselves not wanting to be touched by anyone so they can focus on the performance. I observe all of these different takes on being an audience member when I work. It’s so fascinating. My Sociology minor from college still fits me.

I continue to watch this woman lay her chest on the stage and love it for the remainder of the show. Once the show ended the singer put down his guitar and moved up toward the audience to shake people’s hands. I was slightly concerned that she would climb onstage and try to grab the singer, so I moved up closer behind her just in case. She got his attention and she told him, “Thank you! I’m deaf. So I was laying on the stage so I could feel your music. This was the best concert of my life, thank you.”

Deaf. Wow. That explains everything. Don’t I feel kind of stupid for assuming she was high on drugs now? This was a beautiful thing I just witnessed. The singer was very touched as well. They had a sweet conversation about her feeling the guitar chords and the rhythms and the power of his voice through the stage floor into her body. She was absorbing his music into her body by the vibrations through the wooden stage floor. Just six strings and his voice. Into her chest. Into her head. Into her heart.

She saw me and introduced herself, and told me that she was deaf and how much she enjoyed feeling that concert. She asked me if I could take some pictures on her camera of her with the singer. I was happy to. I took a ton of photos for her and her musical idol. He had to be so moved by her experience tonight. He hugged her and they said goodbye ,and she left with her friends. So many smiles.

I’ve seen a lot of great live shows in my life. Pearl Jam, Prince, Tori Amos, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Some of these concerts moved me so much that I achieved an almost spiritual level of pure happiness. I’ve teared up at certain shows. I get tunnel vision and will hyper-focus on the performer, not really remembering where I was or who was around me. The shows can mesmerize me and put me in a trance. The music took me somewhere else and changed me for the better.

But of all the various shows I’ve attended, I don’t think that I enjoyed any of them as much as this young woman enjoyed this show. She literally felt the music reverberate throughout her body. She pushed her face, her breasts, her hands, and her hips against a conductor of the music. I envied her devotion and pure joy in feeling the music of this man. She didn’t even possess the one sense that the rest of us have when attending music concerts, and yet her level of connection and ecstasy was immeasurable. Tonight’s performance may have been the happiest night of her life.

It’s been many months since this concert but I think of her often. Whenever the music is so loud that I feel it through the floor. Sometimes I’ll lay my hand on the stage while a band is performing. I’ll feel the vibrations of the music. I nod to myself and smile.