On a morning when I have to scrape the ice off my windshield, my hands feel like they’ve barely survived. Every strain and brittle ache is a closed fist–as if I have spent my life with five fingers in a clench anticipating struggle. Even with gloves, I might as well be holding an icicle instead of a scraper. The suburbs can make strangers out of homes and glaciers out of neighbors. I am adrift in a parking lot of late model commuter icebergs. In the pre-light of morning, the only signs of life coming from this suburban single life apartment icemaker complex is the hum of my car and the muffled sound of My Bloody Valentine’s latest seeping out from within as I finish clearing my car.
Listening to My Bloody Valentine is like finding broken glass between satin sheets in an unmade bed. Live, the sound cascades against the Roy Wilkins Auditorium walls that places you less in an echo chamber but more at the source of a waterfall–the point of impact where nature, gravity, and beauty have converged into a singular violent beauty. The art school post-psychedelic films projected as a backdrop make the show feel more like 1993 than 2003. Riding the rail next to a punk rock Lolita ten years older than me with magenta and neon blue running through pigtails, I felt like I was twenty years younger.
I’m old enough to have a bucket list of bands I didn’t see when I was angry, young, and poor. My Bloody Valentine was on the list of “never-will-see-because-they’re-gone,” it seems like this decade is the age of “burying the hatchet,” or maybe Gen Xers have finally come full circle on nostalgia and understand what our parents already knew–power chords don’t age gracefully and you don’t have to either. Under the chaos of strobe lights and sonic sculptures being built and torn asunder song after song, it’s hard to fathom Belinda Butcher–lithe, shoegazer Helen of Troy with a Fender Jaguar–is fifty-two years old. Inside that turbulent silhouette, she wrestles noise and years from six strings while her baby’s-breath and lilac voice is still intact–dreamy, distant, and slightly above the din. She is the sound of the siren at the point of no return, our hearts are ships deadset to be reduced to splinters against the shore of her stage monitors.
When MBV’s sonic architect Kevin Shields pushes the band into “Only Shallow,” I can feel acrylic nails dig into my arm. In the fevered eruption of recognition, GenX Lolita has sunk her fingers into me, screaming loud enough that I can feel the heat of her last American Spirit Menthol cigarette on my neck. She’s crying as she lunges over my right shoulder in desperation to get closer to Shields, an elbow landing somewhere between 1995 and my neck. She has managed to reach the security rail by nearly knocking me over–her clunky leopard skin creeper crowding between my right leg and the rail. It’s a concert-sized game of Twister up front but she immediately shows her age as she gets self-conscious and apologizes for the body check. Her arm is a clatter of bracelets and our feet untangle beneath me. We trade spaces and I slip behind her. When the song is over, her glossy plum-colored lips mouth sorry and thanks at the same time. Even in the pooling dark of concert lights, I could see a blush.
There would have been a time (when we were both ten years younger) where perhaps we wouldn’t have had this brief exchange. I imagined her as a nine-to-fiver–once a goth punk but now a mom, out on Friday night, deeply binging on the nostalgia of days gone by and simpler but no less confusing teenage years. I kept looking at her hands while she was holding the security rail–they were tough and weathered. They reminded me of my mother’s hands–you can trace the years of hard work in the wrists–veins serving as well traveled roads against an aging highway. Her fingers were covered in new, cheap rings–Hot Topic specials with a costume jewelry feel. Shiny, excessive, and ornate. But amidst the rings and ornament, a simple gold band. Nothing fancy about it.
The next thing I knew, the band was leaving the stage. I had spent the last two songs looking at rings and wrists–all the while My Bloody Valentine was winding down their show in a drone of feedback and distortion. I looked around to see who she was with–when the show cleared out she leaned against the rail in a pantomime of the now dispersing audience. She looked like she was waving at something moving steadily away from the shore. When she gave up on the idea of an encore, her shoulders folded in and she spun around to watch the rest the crowd leave. I had already turned to look for my friends but stopped long enough to see her zip her leather jacket and tumble away–like a dead leaf pushed along a chain link fence by a November breeze.
I sunk my hands into my pockets and wandered towards the rest of my night in the Twin Cities.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, and Drunken Boat. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He lives in Springfield, IL.
Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.