The Endless Meaningless Murder Summer.

(Originally handwritten on the back of a gang prevention brochure)

The stuffed animals were once white, now black-charred and dripping wet, dark marble eyes staring, forever staring. A stack of clothes melted together, sequins & sashes, coat hangars reshaped into iceberg runs of plastic. Malcolm X books survived, as well as Birmingham 1960s civil rights pictures. The memories of this town, in that era, never go away. There was snow and ice on the ground outside and the fire confined itself to one room, in one apartment. It ate everything in it.

The kitchen was sidewalk narrow, I had to turn to the side to walk through in 40 pounds of turnout gear. A barbell was loaded up with iron plates on the floor below the sink. A Rubik’s Cube sat next to two hammers on top of the water heater. There was a stack of books on the counter. The kitchen was a jail cell. Weights and peanut butter jars and reading material.

I thought of Joey.

It was the endless straightedge summer and hardcore/punk rock/emo bands toured across, or tore across, the southeast with the steel-eyed drive of General Sherman burning down Atlanta. A packed car driving to Athens, Auburn or Memphis to stand in a cramped living room and watch our heroes bleed on microphones meant nothing. It was just gas money and laughs and yellow lines on the pavement passing by you at 1am. Wasserman and I hosted more than our share of bands, only we cheated slightly and rented out an old store front for the music. I tried to keep my living room clean.

Joey came from the Midwest and told us he’d played drums for Coalesce before doing an ounce of prison time for stealing a car. He was straightedge like us, and wore the similar war paint tattoos, the shirts and hoodies. He knew the lyrics, the same ones we did, the same ones that some of us had written. Re-located in Pensacola the four hours of I-65 meant nothing to him and his girlfriend Angela when it came time to be a part of things. There was Bear Witness and Caption. Haste and Exhaust. 8th Day.

The word “emo” didn’t take a wrong turn until the end of the 1990s. The four miscreants of Exhaust once stayed up all night on a beach swing set arguing over what was emo and what was not. Cars, haircuts, backpacks. We had a vicious reputation for not taking anything seriously and self-deprecating senses of humor. And that was in ‘95.

Hot Water Music played a pool party and life could not have gotten better.
I remember Angela there.

Angela had crystal-glowing eyes and didn’t talk very much. She was tall and thin-shouldered and constantly self-aware of her posture. Brown hair. Tour shirts. She was one of many I’d see asleep on my living room floor after nights of noise, or upstairs at Sluggos in Pensacola… leaning against a graffiti-wall in the dark bar lights.

Everyone did silly stage dives into the pool when Hot Water Music played the set list they virtually let us write. It was an endless meaningless summer and often, I’d sneak away from Alabama bartending to be a part of it all. Amber and I ate I-65 South alive that day, in pursuit of lyrics with meaning and growling guitars, Pensacola, USA.

More than once I wandered into a hardcore show, barefoot and covered in sand, salt-wet board shorts. And that was alright. I was in Pensacola, USA and no beach is prettier, the horizon disappearing behind waves and seaweed. A nearby beach bar would leave their speakers on all night and I don’t think I ever heard a song that Sammy Hagar wasn’t singing. Again… that was alright.

Two Thousands

The decade rolled over into a new century and nothing got easier. No longer part of Exhaust, no longer doing shows in a downtown store front, and nervous tension over a beautiful daughter on the way. The desire was still there, the voices, the passion, but things had changed. I remember seeing Boogie Nights in the theatre and walking out when William H. Macy’s character, Little Bill, put the gun in his mouth and the film rolled the reels from 70’s free-for-all to 80’s brutality. The relevance being that I don’t handle change very well.

Southeast roadtrips became fewer and further between, the living room floor no longer covered over with sleeping bags, tattooed skin, and black-dyed hair. I’d moved into a crummy Southside apartment across the street from an all night disco, the thump thump of the bass going until sunrise. Amber and I shared the space with no a/c, stolen internet and two attempted break-ins. Our slumlord, to this day, remains one of the most hated men in Birmingham, USA.

The phone lines were down when I got an email from my Mom in Pensacola. It read “Call me ASAP. One of your friends just killed another one of your friends.”

When the law caught up with Joey he was running down train tracks and draining blood from his wrists, both of them slashed to ribbons from the same Spyderco knife he’d use to stab Angela to death. Facing down the guns of Pensacola Blues, and coated in the drying brown-red blood of two (his and hers) he told them that he was the man they were looking for. The paramedics bandaged his wrists, the police put handcuffs on them, I seem to think that he took one last look at daylight…

I’m not sure of the ‘why’, but from bits and pieces of court testimony, and police reports and friends too close to it all, I know a great deal of the ‘when’, the ‘where’ and the ‘how’.

Joey stabbed Angela a total of 17 times. She fled to a neighbor’s apartment and banged on his door, midday, as Joey continued stabbing her while she screamed in a cell phone to 911. Whatever crimson image her neighbor saw kept him in shock, and a shut-in, for months and months. Joey ran for the train tracks when the door opened, the Spyderco knife now turned against his own wrists, Angela’s body collapsed, running streams of blood.

A month later and it was still the endless murder summer... Amber and I went to Panama City Beach, of all terrible places, to see Hot Water Music and whoever else at the Warped Tour. The punch of the lyrics had new meaning. The guitars now felt like they were cutting open my veins. On the way home I stopped at an all-night burger joint to meet Pensacola friends. We talked about Joey. We remembered Angela. We agreed that life was unfair… unfair that there were so many horrors in this world and, sometimes, all you can do is watch. We hugged good byes and, in the parking lot, I told them I was going to open a bar someday and call it the Speakeasy. I drove back to Birmingham, USA.

Another month later and I raced away from closing down a Southside bar to UAB’s hospital to be there when Janey was born, be a part of it all.

Summer was officially over.

(This essay was supposed to be my “Jungleland”. Drifting characters and late late nights, and the interaction of the two. Parking lots, living room shows and beach sand. That idea took a wrong turn along the way. I just finished reading a book where the protagonist had a voice in his head driving him. The voice said “Push… it ... down…” whenever he began to dwell on his actions or behavior. Whether it was regret, or sadness, or anger.

Push it down.

A lot of words written above came from something that I’d pushed down. A lot of words I’ve written over the last few years come from something I’ve pushed down.
Today I met a woman who’s husband was shot to death; left her and their daughter behind to fight this world alone. Her daughter is nine. Janey is nine. Life hurts all over. No one is exempt.
Push it down.)

“Shiver and say the words of every lie you’ve heard. First I’m going to make it, then I’m going to break it while it falls apart.
” - Echo & the Bunnymen


Shallow Discontent.

(This essay is about music. I love music. And I listen to every single band mentioned or quoted below. Who cares…)

Big city. The trains kept waking me up. That, and the cold in between the cracked mortar of the brick walls, and the nightmare that I’d lost five years and Janey was 14 and I was stuck running in circles. I woke up crying. I woke up cold. I was hidden away in a 2nd Avenue North Fire Station, centered between a true speakeasy and the Family Courthouse. There was a book about Satan on my night stand and I tried to go back to sleep.

He turned his wrist in to shoot himself in the heart.

I’ll stop there. Enough.

No, no I won’t stop I won’t ever stop. I’ll walk into every fire you set, I’ll grind glass in my palms and I won’t quit. And I’ll pick up your dead bodies. Forward motion. (Forward motion means I will write about it all)


He turned his wrist in to shoot himself in the heart. His wrists were scarred-slashed from last week’s attempt, and they were done the right way. Semi-sharp razors running from the veins to the forearms. It was cold in the projects, it was loud from the family member’s screaming, and it was blood-pooled from where he’d turned his wrist in to shoot himself in the heart.

Still alive, and screaming to let him die, in a cheap chair, reclined in a corner. Pepsi cans stacked in front of ash full trays, home cooked meal left uneaten on the plate and it was 6:30am. The police went in with us simultaneously. The gun was on a counter top and I was freezing cold, tough guy that doesn’t wear a jacket on 20 degree Tuesdays.

To me this was “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. English-accent diatribe bounced echoes behind colorblind eyes, in between the snatch-and-grab to get a pulse-barely man to UAB’s trauma hotel. For him it’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” a 70’s mantra on turntable vinyl turning, crackling, running around over the grooves. There’s no need to play the album backwards since the hidden messages are in the chorus.

Take your own life. Anyone can do it. Or take one, because anyone can do that too. Advice? Stay on the highways.

The highways of the Tragic City keep you out of the neighborhoods… neighborhoods forgotten over with abandoned factory hopes and shop-glass dreams. Soaped-up and dust store front windows. This is Lower Common Denominator economics and short term leases. The streets are not streets, they are alleys and pot holes. The houses are not homes, they are four walls with a roof-leak ceiling. The children are not children, they are the thieves, victims and bystanders of tomorrow. Kingston pushes against Woodlawn and into East Lake, my personal favorite*
*(When New Orleans arrived in town during a recent hurricane scare, the tourist gangsters beelined their violence to an all out war on Oporto and 2nd Avenue North. Across 77th an Asian shop keeper has killed two, attacked multiple and refuses to back off. 44 oz sodas and stolen beer. Once again, and said from long ago... East Lake eats you up.)

Downtown numbered avenues separate the East from Elyton, Ensley, Pratt City, and the other heavy hitters of the West. Stay on 31, believe me don’t get off 59, 20 or 78. Don’t even look off the highway, don’t make eye contact with the shadow-heart of the city.

Stay on I-59 through Kingston and the dead gang boy we pulled off a porch with a bullet piercing underneath his arm and into his lungs bouncing into his trachea. We locked the door, locked in the thick pot smoke that got me, straightedge boy since the eighties, really high really fast while his friends drew guns and wanted to see a magic trick. The magic of resurrection. The one cop in the house called in a 10-33 and an army and a stream line of blood ran over a tattoo of a David star, poorly carved in blue-black ink, with some cliché words of God judging him. Stoned, I went outside and the police calvary roped off the area with machine guns and yellow tape.

Inside I’d leaned my back against the door to keep the neighborhood from coming inside, their screams tearing open a silent night of Kingston, the creaking industry sounds of Stockham long long gone.

Stay on I-59, the safe passage over neighborhoods this big city tries to bury. But just staying on the highway... it’s not always enough.

Big evil city. Winter was just some girl. Cursed with the complex of never saying “no”, the complications of going along to get along. A boyfriend’s bully older brother cornered her once in a downstairs bathroom, there’s no romance in kissing like that. Winter bleached her hair white like snow and had buck front teeth that worked for her and shrugged off the bad shadows of the city. Winter had two kids and there was that time a different boy cornered her, held her arms, and shoved fingers inside her and she told me that it wasn’t rape because she never said “no”.
“You never say no” I said. This is “Sweet Jane” meets “Jane Says”, a mashup of sad, mixed musical notes that play the message: There was something here for me at one time, but even that’s gone too.

Winter smiles way more than I do, a pretty freckled-blonde smile. I thought about her once and I didn’t look at pornography for five years. The heart of the big evil city keeps beating.

So forward motion dictates to go to hell with it… let’s get meaningless. Lets re-write Anarchist manifestos to Rich Boy or Motley Crue. We no longer need Strike Anywhere, Public Enemy or (early) Against Me. Do you think that’s what I listen to when I conspire? I write “romance-dead-tragedy, with some string of hope barely threaded”. I don’t need reminders that this town is hell. I need alcohol-esque escape. I need songs with puddle shallow meaning, lyrics of nothing.

Look at my shoes, my haircut, my watch, they make the man, right? Flat black soles, a cheap Timex, hair not an option. This is N’sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” in the speakers, not Fugazi’s “Song #1” or anything that matters, or anything relevant or anything that will last. That said Big Evil Crumbling City…

I’m not going to work so hard to be your hero anymore. I don’t need jacket patches and silver spikes to prove my discontent and,

and someday,

I will be the one to bash in your beating heart.

“You can't win. You know that, don't you? It doesn't matter if you whip us, you'll still be where you were before, at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones at the top with all the breaks. It doesn't matter. Greasers will still be Greasers and Socs will still be Socs”
– S.E. Hinton