Sustaining Momentum and Trajectory
In my early teens my slightly older neighbor played lead guitar in a band that covered Nirvana songs. I hounded him with variations of: ‘Yeah but what song do just real fans love?’ He was so nice that it took him a whole summer before he lost his patience and told me that every real fan’s favorite song is the first song on From the Muddy Banks of the Wishka. I sprinted home. Twenty plus years later obviously it was a pretty funny joke but that afternoon – and many times after that – I set my CD player on repeat and listened and re-listened to Krist and Dave tuning while Kurt stoked the fire under his larynx of boiling nails. I wedged myself between the decibels, searching for some hidden Pandora’s box, or rabbit hole, or skeleton key. I wanted in with that particular earnest, maniacal determination that is common as cooties amongst dejected, selectively vulnerable adolescents.
This was late 90’s. Nirvana was over. I bounced between the library and Napster and Sam Goody to hear every band Kurt Cobain ever mentioned in an interview, in liner notes, on a shirt, or on his shoes. No one was loud enough, catchy enough, unintelligible enough, or Nirvana-y enough. So for years I marinated in three studio albums, one outtakes album, one live album, one live acoustic album, four terrible “import” bootlegs, and a live compilation VHS.
One gutter entrepreneur in our 6,444-person town owned a PA and would rent out the basement of a senior citizen community center for shows. There’d be the band that covered Nickleback, the band that covered Jimmy Eat World, and then my neighbor’s band. And on one fateful night there was an ‘all originals’ band on the bill called Cured Ham.
I bought their CD before they even played. The guy who sold it to me said, ‘We haven’t played yet. Are you sure?’ Yes, of course I’m sure. I took it to my car and unwrapped it but fought the urge to play it immediately. I mean – what could a band called Cured Ham possibly sound like? In the single-fold insert, one of the five guys had a BC Rich guitar so, joke or tragically-serious were both on the table.
The dubiously named quintet eventually took the stage – no BC Rich – and they exploded. I remember chaos. I remember a sensation not of my equilibrium shattering but of it having shattered. Every sense I had went to rubble. I could not find a thread of anything I had ever heard before to grasp onto, to begin to understand what I was hearing. I’d tell people later, “There was one guy who all he did was scream.” I’d add, “Like a dinosaur.” That’s the best I could do.
I said they took the stage but there was no stage. The lights in the room were on. Some wood paneling, otherwise white walls with framed prints of flowers. Oak trimmed windows and doors. It probably wasn’t their first song, or the second. I’d like to think for some reason it was the third song where I could finally understand some of the words: “It’s fucking cold outside / I wanna die! (palm mute) Die! (palm mute) Die!”
I doubled over in ecstasy, laughing. I laughed Guinness Book hard. This seismic euphoria unclogged synaptic channels or paved new ones. Or both. I don’t know. But I found my new Nirvana.
No one cared. Mom, brothers, friends, karate instructor. I told everyone about it. I started my new life with curedham.net everyday. Nothing changed. Then every week. Nothing changed. Until some search led to some link led to some page to say they’d changed their name to Farewell to Twilight.
They played a lot of shows at an old armory, so, in a gym. They would rent it out and invite other bands from Southern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois to play. Still no stage and the only lights were construction-grade floods on the ground.
Other fans of Farewell to Twilight, I suppose, already listened to Small Brown Bike and Hot Water Music and Converge. Whoever. And they knew to wear all black – especially black shoes. And don’t show up to Warped Tour with a homemade t-shirt. And if you’re gonna thrash, it’s a short violent burst through the pit with your head down swinging your fists and feet: Like This. You do it Like This or else who the fuck do you think you are? You’re ruining this for us. And if you’re not doing the short violent burst through the pit then you stand. Your arms. are. folded. at. all. times.
I bought almost every t-shirt they made. I had one for every day of the week plus a spare. They never really left the Midwest or toured for more than a week that I remember. But I drove to Rockford, Milwaukee, and St. Paul to see them.
They got to play at their tiny town’s Fourth of July celebration one year. They were still playing when the fireworks started and I knew that this was the best live music experience I was ever going to have. I knew someone was going to stop it, and they did, but it was fine. Seeing them was good enough. Seeing them with fireworks? C’mon. What kind of world would it be if things that good went unabated?
Farewell to Twilight announced three final shows and played two of them. They released a last song online and poof. Done.
To date I have one tattoo: The letters FTT inside a shield shape on my ankle. The shield shape mimes Kurt Cobain’s only tattoo (which he got to prove his loyalty to a label he wanted to be on). No matter what else might change I knew I wanted to make permanent something about this version of myself, the version of myself who cared more about music than anything, who cared more about this music than anything. I wanted something to be permanent because things were starting to change. I was signing leases, applying for jobs, and charging $185 of khakis, leather shoes, and a belt on a shiny new Kohls card.
Ten years later I’m married, one child and trying for a second, with a house, a dog, an all-consuming hobby of performing stand up comedy, also drinking too much, with sprawling credit card debt, and a series of unfulfilling retail jobs that landed me in the esteemed position of Insurance Salesman. This brought me to the door of a screen printing shop owned and operated by the former rhythm guitarist of – who else – Farewell to Twilight.
Me in my flat-front business casual pants, tucked-in Goodwill button down, and the shoes I’d bought for my wedding repurposed for this. Naturally I apologized for how I looked. He coolly responded along the lines of: ‘Nah, this’s always been you.’ The statement rang devastatingly true, instantly, and was the most unwelcome news I’d ever received.
I didn’t want to admit to myself that the Farewell to Twilight part of me was attached to the selling insurance part. I’d only adopted the insurance selling facade to provide for my family. And yet here was 1/5th of the venerable institution by which I definied myself (my self of selfs, my self so true I didn’t even tell most people about it) pointing out that I was irrefutably both, if not more facade than venerable institution!
My opinions about music and art should be more important than the things I do to provide for my family, right? I’m not just another credit card account balance, am I? No – I’m the guy with the Farewell to Twilight tattoo! Do you hear that, Kohls?! Do You?!
But if I am a cog, if I am little or nothing more than an interest-generating account balance, then what are Nirvana and Farewell to Twilight? Are they ugly and dismissable remainders of juvenile development, like baby fat or wisdom teeth? Are they totems of stunted development, or breadcrumbs leading me backward to a smothering death of instant gratifications? What is it about me that I can’t get past them? Or what is it about them?
I will call Sean a “vocalist,” conceding to detractors that some of the time what he’s doing is not singing. His voice is a Killdozer. It is blunt and merciless. It’s movements are tectonic, impassioned, puppeteered by the metaphysical. Tyler’s lead guitar work is searing needlepoint, establishing expectations then left-turning and curve-balling, a Pied Piper who teases and eludes. Bryan’s thundering rhythm guitar and Tyrannosaurus wails ground the whole business. His presence anchored everything FTT did or hoped to do. Drummers never get enough credit. Mark was as volatile as any other member and imbued his parts with character enough that if the band were the beast they sound like they are, the drums would be an ornate and multifaceted exoskeleton more than a purely structural necessity.
I am not nor have I ever been “a Killdozer.” I do not sear or wail, or thunder. Ornamentation embarrasses me, and my posture only suggests the possibility of a skeleton. I am a caricature of a white, middle class male. I have two bachelor’s degrees, and I have guitars I don’t know how to play. I like button down shirts. I worked sales. I am that guy.
But irrefutably, the first night I saw Farewell to Twilight changed my life. It jump started a then un-namable determination to be a certain way. Not to dress a certain way or to have a certain job, though, as much as I thought that was it. The years since they disbanded I kept coming back to the CD I’d burned of all 21 of their songs, and each time I listened it stirred the dim embers among the pale coals of my bygone aspirations. “Stirred the dim embers among the pale coals of my bygone aspirations?” Jesus Christ. My undying attraction to their music tripped me up like a root bulging through the foundation of my cozy bubble of privilege. There was something there but I never stopped to dig it up, you know? It was enough for me to know something, potentially something meaningful, was there.
We can go as long as we want without asking why something feels significant. We can go on without questioning because maybe we don’t want to, or don’t have to, but at a time in my life where I felt rudderless and was grasping at every straw for one sense of self from which I could cobble some sort of direction, I had to wonder: Why do I keep coming back, what – if anything – is there?
Farewell to Twilight struck a balance of articulation and abandon. They stared down the barrel of the relentless unknowableness that life can be, and they metabolized it into hostile and caustic parcels, as honest as they are clear. Striking and sustaining that balance is a process, a courage, and an ambition worth emulating, no matter where I buy my pants or whatever else changes.
One of my many insurance supervisors, all who stood to earn more if I earned more, took me out to lunch and asked what success looked like to me. I said it’d be nice to make enough money to pay my monthly bills (which after a year I’d almost done once), but that even if I was making that much money I’d feel like a failure because I’d be sacrificing more than I was willing to sacrifice to make money for the sake of making money. Shortly after that I transitioned to full time bartender (where I’d been picking up shifts to make ends meet).
After years of failing to develop a skill set of moderation I finally stopped drinking. I kept doing comedy, but scaled back. I enrolled in a debt management program. I still bartend at what is essentially a truck stop. In this capacity I entertain no delusion of ambition. There’s an autonomy I enjoy and some regulars have become friends, but I knew going in I was doing it for the money and the schedule. I am at home with our second son during the day. I am providing my family with more than any amount of money would. I am at peace. I am honest and clear and leaning forward.
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