Nothing Could Kill Me — #MemoirMonday

Trenton, New Jersey in the 90s had very little to say for itself, which was itself not unusual. Trenton had little to say for itself for most of the decades that came before.

Though the middle of the three bridges over the Delaware proclaimed Trenton Makes, the World Takes, nothing had been made in Trenton for ages. The Roebling Steel plant — the one that made the cable for the Brooklyn Bridge — closed in the 50s. There was a GM parts plant on the outskirts, but that closed up shop in the 80s. Even Champale, the largely undrinkable malt liquor that tried to pass itself off as champagne that Trenton claimed as its own, closed the factory and fled for the relatively greener grass of Milwaukee.

Actual Champale ad
Actual Champale ad

By the 90s, all that was left in Trenton were the drug dealers and street prostitutes that seemed to own the neighborhoods along Perry Street, and a lone punk club called City Gardens.

To call City Gardens a dive is to be charitable. Graffiti covered every wall. Dirt and sweat and blood and beer stains called the floor home. The men’s room consisted of one filthy urinal and one hole in the floor. Thankfully the sink worked, because handfuls of tap water out of the bathroom might be preferable to whatever they might have at the bar.

Bon Jovi gripped New Jersey in the early 90s, and while hair metal fans had five or six clubs to choose from, punks, skinheads, rudeboys, and hardcore fans only had City Gardens. With nowhere else to turn, all the groups descended on the Gardens every night. We would skank to Fugazi and mosh to Fishbone.

This every night.
This every night.

Packed into the space, always oversold, a writhing sweaty mass moving in unison with hardcore hivemind. I stood behind a young woman with a pixie cut and Doc Martens. Swaying to the music we never stopped touching, my front to her back, unintentional frottage neither of us could do anything about with so little room. She turned around to smile at me when she felt my erection through my jeans. I was embarrassed to have been found out, and aroused all the more.

I was 20 — fat, self-loathing, and virginal. It was my first taste of sex, fully dressed yet covered in sweat.

I cannot remember the band that played. I never saw her again.

I saw Sonic Youth on a Saturday. My ears rang until Thursday, easily the loudest show I had ever attended — until the Ramones exactly three days later. Sound waves bounced off the concrete walls of the club and focused the energy back into the center where I stood, moshing and pogoing and doing whatever. Vibrations shook my body, or perhaps my body just shook sympathetically.

The energy in that room. 1,000 people screaming and dancing and shouting, pledging allegiance to none but themselves.

I needed a rest but I also needed to feel that energy. Crude bleachers lined the wall — to get both my rest and the energy, I walked right past the speaker column, and stood with my head in the tweeter.

My ears ring to this day. I cannot rule out the possibility that I may go deaf in my old age.

I never thought I would make it to old age back then. I was in my early 20s. Nothing could kill me.

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Music of the Masculine — #EssaySunday

It straddles the line between bass and treble. Baritone, the voice of the confident, sexual, but also mature man. Neither the petulant, immature romance of the tenor, burning hot and fast; nor the basso profundo so reminiscent of Darth Vader or Iago. Baritone, sturdy, confident, and lurid, a little like a more rakish George Clooney when he flashes his effortless smile, and then confidently says precisely how and where you will succumb to his charms.

I speak of the cello.

Violins, a tempestuous soprano, a diva, the star of the orchestra or the quartet takes the lead. Viola, a mezzo soprano in formal circles and a backup singer in the smoky recording studios of Detroit, rarely takes center stage, preferring instead to complement the star. The bass, large, clumsy, and the butt of countless jokes, sets the foundation on the which the orchestra sits.

The cello sits between viola and bass, yet it neither complements, nor is it large and clumsy. Its range begins at low A, a stern and unforgiving bass, and extends to high G above the top of the treble clef. This range almost perfectly overlaps most vocal ranges, replicating the human voice.

One does not listen to the cello, one has a conversation with it.

Cello argues, it seduces, it charms, it persuades. Cello never pleads or cajoles. Cello insists that you come to it, it will not meet you halfway. It is masculine and persuasive, but not condescending.

The cello does not mansplain or manspread. Cello will open the door for a lady, but only because he will also open the door for the men in his company.

It is the gentlemanly thing to do, after all.

It goes from stern to fanciful and back in a few measures time. It moves the piano from its glorified status back to the percussion section. It has none of the bombast of brass, but all of brass’ urgency.

Winds cower in cello’s enormous shadow.

Yet the cello never takes advantage, every bit as comfortable in a supporting role, playing root and fifth double-stops. Confidently aware that it can stand out, cello doesn’t need to do so all the time.

And yet…

It soars. Swirling vortices of tones and timbres circle space and time itself, filling the rafters and reverberating back down. Poems without words reach out across the dimensions, to touch the face of the persistent child within us all, the blind dog that yaps out at the darkness knowing something is there, but never quite sure what.

Persistent and steady, it has the soothing voice of a father who has never left your side, who will always come to check for the bogeyman under the bed one more time and remind us that everything will indeed be all right.

The closest I will ever come to direct communion with the divine will be listening to the cello.