Monday, October 18, 2010

Arkham Cafe

The back of her neck reads…

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends

There's a fourth line, but I couldn't make it out on a suddenly slowed brisk walk to the Spyhouse. She sat at a table outside the coffeeshop studying, Fifth Element in the background, beautiful October day upon us, and "...way the world ends" in plain sight. The barista's looking at me like she's just seen a ghost. Staring me down patiently on my trek toward the register, as if she'd been waiting all day, knowing this moment would happen, like Bill Murray trapped in the ever-looping Groundhog's Day, or a samurai who always knew this moment would come. Her sword replaced by cash register, my backpack in place of any shogun weapon I should've brought to the showdown. Her face absolutely motionless. I don't even know how she got the words out her mouth without it moving, as if she telepathed the english to my brain and we simply made the transaction through thoughts.

I want to take a moment to look at the word "odd". When I type odd, I don't mean Hogwart's odd, that'd be an understatement, I mean odd like American McGee's Alice in Wonderland odd. Call me schizophrenic, but everytime I walk into the Spyhouse on Hennepin Ave. I get this sudden awe of displacement, as if there's a portal at the door, where you're immediately not in Minneapolis anymore, and have somehow entered into the realm of a who-dun-it mystery. Everyone seems suspect.

I drop into my seat, where the gentlemen next to me is watching something on his laptop that appears to simply be a screen saver. Ok. Yeah. Sure. I guess those things are entertaining nowadays. Sometimes we get hypnotized by the moving color-burst in step with music streaming through our laptops, but perhaps screen savers are the new hypnotic... yeah. I break my bag out, notebooks, pens, parking tickets- kick my feet up in the chair across from me, and begin to write. The barista, not the same one that served me, phantoms from behind the cash register. When I say "phantom", I mean she quietly stealthed from there to here ( Really trying to kill the urge to say "teleported", but we'll go with "stealth"). Call me the one that flew over the coocoo's nest, but this chick straight phantomed/Quantum Leaped to my table. She put out her hand as if she were going to break the news to me that the hospital called and said my mother isn't going to make it. However, without effort she delivers... "Could you please take your feet off the chair."

We look at each other for what felt like a millenium, soon broke by her turning away to work on whatever crime they're trying to cover up behind the counter. I get it, these chairs cost cash, and perhaps manners should be in order before someone has to tell me, but it was her delivery that got me... The way she said it with her eyes more than her voice, almost as if to intimidate if I didn’t take my feet off the chair, some method of witchcraft would be conducted to turn me into a pastry they’d throw into the day-old discount bin for tomorrow.

So, as I’m skeptically looking at the newly purchased day-old donut on my table, I remember the days of slaving at a coffeeshop, the ungrateful professors that would tip quarters to your efforts, the women that treated you like a peon from the nearest ghetto, the people that’d take a day and then some to decide what they wanted from the menu, the schizophrenics… Christ, the schizophrenics. One guy asked me to take a copy of his version of the bible and read it right in front of him. 48 pages of what seemed to be a finals paper written by Glenn Beck, I kindly declined the offer.

It’s situations like this that make me question what the f--- I’m doing spending 4+ hours a day writing in a coffeeshop, and if I’m headed to footnoting biblical text to a stack of 40+ pages, The answers never added up to a pat on the back or hand shake from the people that should matter most, but usually results in a random encounter of “Hey, are you that guy from that ____ (insert “Band”, “Commercial”, “Play”, or “Video” here). Wow, keep at it dude. You’re gonna make it someday.”

“Someday”, I assure you, will never come. And as cheez whip as it sounds, its due to the irrefutable fact that that “someday” is “today”. Staring across the street at Fifth Element, there’s flowers and cards in memorial and remembrance of the late great Michael Larsen, and on my hard drive is a freshly uploaded video in memorial and remembrance of the late great Joe Sodd III. The point I’m getting at is, just perhaps I’m going absolutely insane, and the umpteenth day of writing songs and uploading content is beginning to make me feel like the baristas at this coffeehouse are conspiring to cloud the city with black magic. Don’t think anyone who’s written, performed, or created anything has ever conceived their labor of love with a smile on their face the whole way through. I’ll simply blank out sometimes and stare at the computer for what seems to be a few seconds- next thing I know, an hour’s passed. Maybe I and the guy sitting intently eyeing down the screen saver have more in common that I thought. 

Joe and Michael left behind a legacy of performance, moving works of art, and a life of commitment to the craft and their people. As artists, we’re all at the mercy of our work and somehow constantly creating the diorama for our memorial service. Tell me what’s the end you have in mind for the next move you make with that pen? What do you want to leave behind?

I couldn’t tell you the answer right now, but I’m going crazy for it at the moment. If life is worth dying for... it's also worth losing every bit of sanity in the process. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bon Voyage Iver

Usually we say "let the beat drop", but for this particular arrangement of music it's only fair to replace "beat" with "eerie-monk vocals". Voices ghost in like a Gregorian chant, one by one, then on to the dozens, it sounds like. Don't know if you remember the finale of 6 Feet Under, but it's like that- where the chick is driving cross the country chopped with a montage of each character's death. Whether it be old age, murder, health reasons, or just circumstance, this drive is broken up into scenes of each passing. Then the kick drum pulses. No snare, just a soft kick assisting the voices and acoustic guitar, slightly strumming offbeat. Record label Jagjaguwar would've re-recorded the whole thing, but they told the guy that it sounded so organic that they might as well keep it that way (say "bullshit" here). The record label clearly wanted to hold onto the recording cash to pool it for distribution. And somehow, throughout my in-and-out phases of Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, and Aerosmith, this quandry of music fell in my lap.

You have to listen to it while your driving, otherwise it won't work. Yeah, kinda like a spell you cast on yourself. Call it the incantation of denial or a disappearing act, but Bon Iver pulled off something magical while recording Lump Sum in his retreated cabin after being dumped by an ex-gal from North Carolina.

I can forget. Easily, we can forget if we'd like to, but it takes effort. It's not so simple as the maneuver of escaping an arm-bar or turning the other cheek, but you have to impress it with effort. And I'm not talking about the Christ-when-the-Twins-lost-like-a-bunch-of-losing-losers-to-the-Yankees forgetting... we call that denial... or the hard truth, but I'm talking about forgetting for the moment, cleaning the slate of your mind and confronting the fight for what it is. I accept this rock band is dead, and whatever happens after this will ultimately be my own doing. I wouldn't have it any other way: The Blend digging its own grave to stardom & infamy, Lazlo Supreme vying for buzz band success, and me... piecing together a mixtape like memories to a brain injury. Even in the death of this rock band, the rejuvenation is what I get butterflies for. Never have I stood on stage and felt so uncomfortable. The 200 demos of promo didn't show up to the venue, guitarist can't remember the dopest song we have, and I can't wait for the night to end because tomorrow promises better than this... as long as I keep my end of the bargain as well.

Those damn cathedral-echoing voices dawn on the HBO Montage in your head. You can see it so clearly, I'd swear it was the windshield in front of me if I fell anymore delusional. The future. The future somehow pacts with the present and everything is a clear path of action & consequence. You see everything prologued to now. Not a single word of Bon Iver have I ever made out from this song, except for "all at once" and "so the story goes". That's it. Nothing else. I'm tempted to look up the lyrics online, but I'd rather rewrite them in my head everytime I listen.

Less a delusion, more an acceptance as the song goes on. Guitarist and Bassist must go. Reconstruction has to start. This side project with Reid needs to be taken as serious as my coffee addiction, as serious as I take the mixtape. Music is somewhat my lie detector for myself. I can tell when I'm absolutely being untrue to myself while on stage or recording. You can take that ethereal step back from your body, look at your image in motion, and think "Seriously. Toussaint, seriously. Negroe please. You're not fooling anyone with this emcee, frontman, bullshit bravado act. Think about what you're saying, and stop going through the motions." The show got better... way better that night, before this whole ride home thru the night while listening to emotional charges via Bon Iver started. You wouldn't've been able to tell the show got better, but for me, confronting that truth of everything that needs be after the concert, I could remember the exact coffeeshop, dates, reasons, and moments I wrote everything I was speaking. It'll disconnect and connect in a circle like that until the day I croak, I believe. As long as I step away from the lights, mic cords, and elevated piece of floor with the confrontation, then I'm fine. This damn music, ringing, like halo'd angels. It solidifies the truth for me. It's a damn annoying/ thankful reminder. The alarm that wakes you for the audition of your dreams, but wakes you from your dreams. Horrible analogy, I know, but think about it and maybe it works. My sense of humor isn't for immediate gratification, moreso the laugh-now-cry-later gratification... if there's anything gratifying to be taken from it.

I swear I can see Chase sitting in the car with me, along with my dad, and everything else amalgamed to a lucid dream of something subconsciously trying to speak to me. It goes from hard reminder to easy recollection. The hardest part now, is putting it all in motion once I land to Minneapolis. It takes a bit of submission to conceive all that needs be done. I love coming to terms of what needs, and must be done. Something very compelling about it, something not for words and simply for action. Matter fact, I should get to work.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Melissamatic (3/3)

Ange was nothing but vowels and uncontainable weeps on the other end of the phone. Couldn't make out a damn thing she was saying. She kept murmuring something on the other line... soon got to the point.

"Toussaint, Chase was hit by a drunk driver last night."

That faint fiber of hope warms your arteries for a moment that thank God he's not dead, only injured, hospitalized, gonna be alright, he'll make it, he'll make it, for sure he'll make it- Shit! I should go to L.A. to visit him bedside right now!

And then the inevitable continues as she says...

"He died."

... Which let me note that there actually are no words for the moment after being told your best friend has passed away. To try and apply diction and definition to the elimination of someone's life is an impossibility that we attempt anyways. For as many times as I've tried to informally document the space in time I was informed Chase passed away, the emotion has never become more consolable... just a bit more maluable to the category of "one of those things you deal with". Either way, the best I can give it right now is you become numb to the ground beneath you, the globe ceases to revolve, bridges collapse into the Mississippi, flames burst around you, but you don't flinch. Your debt, your woe, your worry, all meaningless to the gaping void growing in the left side of your chest. Staring at the floor never became such a productive activity. Your mind races like a schizophrenic film reel, bits and pieces of moments flash in an instant as it sometimes stops to scroll in slow motion, however there's never a moment that you can remember that goes by at the normalcy you recall it to be.

Ange goes on to give a few gruesome details I could've gone without, but I don't flinch. I thank her, hang up the phone. What I remember next is the absolute collapse, weeping while pressing my forehead against a wall. Pressing my hands against the cracked paint, pressing to move the foundation of the building to splinters so I can take a picture as to what it feels like on the inside. The pressing turned to punching, turned to weeping, turned to punching, turned to submission. I lean against the wall, wallowing in an emotional give-in, tapping out to God, or whatever higher power existing above the whole reality of it all, simply subservient to the moment.

His face, his laugh, all the tangibles, never again... Only memories... Brief memories... I hurry to recall each and every last one of them like pages blowing in the wind on the front steps of a court house, scurrying to get my case together before the final drop of the gavel, scurrying to remake this good friend in my mind before it all fades to black, before I forget. Wall punching commences, don't ask me why, these moments are heresay to what we truly mean to each other, to the fragility of the human connection, that if one of us were to perish from the face of the earth, someone else's universe would implode on notice. Hence we say "you mean the world to me". Chase meant the solar system, and before I could rupture any more of a hole in this poor wall that hasn't done anything to anyone, but keep a roof above everyone, Melissa quickly grabs me...

She doesn't need to know, she didn't have to know, she just embraces me, because in these moments, words are irrelevant. We don't speak... comfort comes in no volume or tone of sounds, she lets her arms do the talking as to say "I'm here for you. Your universe has stopped, your pulse derailed, your heart paused, your everything taken away. I'm here for you". Yeah, something like that. I don't remember how I explained it to her in words what had happened after that, but I remember falling asleep as she still kept her arms wrapped tightly around me. Anyone in a relationship can attest to trying to fall asleep with your arms around your significant other is damn near impossible. You both lay there for several minutes, what seemed like a cuddly idea, turns into a sweaty nuisance. You both break the comforting hold turned to "ok I'm going to actually have to sleep at some moment here" death clinch, and let go. Somehow, this wasn't the same. We somehow sustained the embrace til the morning. I pressed my hands against the wall while I lay, again. Something with these things I wish I could push over to a pile of dust and broken wood... I'll get back to this notion later.

The next day Melissa took me out to sushi. A first encounter with what would become my favorite meal, a restaurant decorated with lavish colors, an up-close view of the chefs chopping away, and lighting that probably cost more than the joint's monthly rent. What of it, it was all gray. I couldn't smell, I don't remember the taste, nothing entertained the senses enough for me to shake the fact that Chase was gone. Again, I was numb until the food was served, and Melissa broke the streak of silence with, "I'm sorry- I don't know how to deal with these things- I just". A smile caught my face, as I glanced down to my plate and then back to Melissa. Here I was being so selfish to my own emotions that I couldn't see the woman sitting across from me was making an attempt to catch me in this slow motion fall. In response to tragedy, we sometimes go blind to others outside of us attempting to console our state.

Melissa and I were in a what you'd call a relationshit. The attraction was high... as was the volatility. We'd fight simply to engage in public display, she'd test my limitations to see how far manipulation could be taken, and I'd kick the limitations to the floor to let her know manipulation could be tried with the next guy... not this one. She once asked me to hang out for the day, which consisted of ridicule, being told I'm inadequate, and ignoring me where ever we went. This went on to the point I called it, and said I'm not putting up with this bullshit and left. She texted later that night that we were done, to which I responded "Nice. I'll be taking all my s--- out of your place. Clearly, if you don't respect me, you don't respect anything I've loaned you". Problem is, several of those loans, were couches. I mustered the adrenaline filled strength to launch 3 couches out of an apartment. Laid them on the front lawn, and said "I'll pick these up in the morning. They're not yours anymore". Again, I'd like you to recall the phrase "lesson learned" while reading. No, this is not how you operate a healthy relationship, let alone a shitty one. However, we were both relatively young to the idea of a working relationship and imploded when it came time to put down the pride. We were futile, Ken & Ryu, China & Japan, Iowa State & University of Iowa. BUT, when Chase had passed... none of it mattered.

The beef, the pride, the rivalry... never mattered less than it did that night. In lieu of death, all things considered, love matters most. Even the most ridiculous/tumultuous relationship can't sustain a grudge during loss of life. Why? Because simply when one of your peoples passes away, titles & semantics simply don't exist. And it's not even as if the shit had disappeared, because to say "our tension and stress disappeared" would mean to say that it actually had to exist at some point. For something to disappear means it had to have appeared and obtained existence. Funny part is, the realization came that the beef, pride, rivalry, the malicious bullshit actually never existed between Melissa and I. In relationshits such as those, you get so wrapped in righteousness that you can convince yourself all these bad things exist.

Chase's passing deconstructed a lot of illusions, and had paved a path absolution. However, with this came the previous notion I spoke of while pressing my hands against the wall. Something about the world that made me want to set it to flames, smile at the wreckage and walk away with my hoodie up. Never had I wanted to drink harder, test the boundaries of mortality, ruin promise, and sabotage my future, more than the next year of my life after news of Chase.

The next 365+ days were dark. Dark in the sense of taking delight in biking against traffic, defining what I'll be for the rest of my life, and taking on the ghosts of all things past; my father, Doc, music. I gained this ability to stare anything and everything in the face while standing on the edge of a dime and grin like a mad man. In some cases, this was detrimental, and in others it was proactive. Never had the approach to music and theatre been more fearless. That ability threw me off in terms of self-destructive habits, but at some point had to be honed to an advantage rather than a set back. Doting on Doc, there was so much to his demise that could've been taken as a negative, but so much that could be learned from it. All the addicts in my family have persevered to succeed in life from all angles. Sitting observant to the entirety of Chase, right now, I can't see anything but the good in his life, smile, humor, all of it. There's so much shit that we can pull out of death, and I don't want to sound Disney flowery, but unless you get control of what you learn from adversity, you will be that guy throwing couches out of his ungrateful girlfriend's house... not a way to be.

Never thought I would, but I definitely take steps back and wonder "What would Chase do?", "What would Chase say if he saw me now?". At a concert round a year ago, we were performing the song "Chase", wrote it after everything had subsided and I was actually able to take a pen to paper and confront it, and it felt different. We had played that song over a dozen times, but for some reason it felt different. Perhaps it was the neurons in my brain firing off in a pattern I'd never experienced before, or it was my ego surging to my front lobe... but I felt something. Joel, Chase's brother, had opened the show that night and was in the crowd while we performed the song. Hours after the end of the concert, Joel had texted me as I was driving home. When I checked the text, it had said something to the effect of "I really felt Chase was present tonight while you guys played your song." Hot damn, Joel. I was thinking the same thing. I was thinking the exact same thing.

In a round-about way, that explains the title of this blog. Chase was a big fan of Joseph Campbell, the author who coined the term "Follow your bliss". Meh, to hell with following, Chase that thing down.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


They say when the cops opened his car door, he flopped right out of the vehicle. A sad mess of hard liquor, old age, and broken promises. My grandfather was so much a genius to music theory that his peers dubbed him "The Doctor", which soon turned into "Doc". His birth name was Loren, but everyone called him Doc... I called him grandpa. Never knew he combated with alcohol for decades until we got the call to pick him up from detox at the tender age of sixty-something.

The other grandfather of mine, my father's father, keeled over in the front lawn several days after promising the family he would quit drinking as a Christmas present. Fact, if you've been drinking everyday for the past several years, your body will shut down like Fort Knox if you try and go cold turkey. I could hear a man, who had just newly quit smoking after decades of the daily habit, coughing two floor beneath me because his lungs had never gone without the stuff for more than a few hours in the past twenty years. Your body assimilates to your habits, and when you up and decide to just make a sharp right, your body will try and keep going the direction it was headed in the first place. Decide as you will in your mind, but your body will make the ultimate decision in the end. Hence we say "listen to your body".

Right now, my body says go for a run, eat a turkey sandwich, take it easy, and kickass at the show tonight. However, my mind's conveying the possible outcome of drunkenly collapsing out of a vehicle, hopefully while stopped, pulling the foundation out from underneath a family, unveiling the sad truth to my grandson, and slowly fading away in a hospital..



Nope. Would love to live up to the musical standard and success of Doc, but can't smile about it without a hesitance. The man drank himself into oblivion for years, whereas I'd rather not. Yes, I come from a long line of alcoholism, drug abuse, and a woman who possibly incinerated herself along with her house, grandma Annie-Louise. I can't help but give a morbid/disappointed grin at the insanity to how much I've fucked up in the line of successors. Let's just say I came to grips with this last night, in the not-so-greatest-way possible, and learned my lesson. Should it have come to this? no. Did it come to this? yes. Do I welcome the future? Hell yes. I'm already steppin in the circle with the m----f-----r like Musashi on his 13th bout of the day, looking tomorrow in the iris, and whispering "bring it".

As much as you self-destruct, you have to keep your aim on the end. I've always wanted to be a family man. A family man with an impeccable word. However, I don't know what to say for the predecessors before me.

What would the conversation be this morning if Doc and dad's dad were here.... bwah, I can't imagine. They'd probably give some kind of man-grunt gesture, waive a hand in the air like Brando in the Godfather, and murmur, "Christ, shit happens", or "Eh, whattaya gonna do". And to that I'd say, "Shit. Not be a fuck up". I'd want them to say "you'll make a great grandfather some day. Enjoy in moderation, don't take it personal, and life goes on". Yea, I'd like to have a conversation with the ghost of my grandfathers, but all we can do for people past is let their lives speak for themselves.

I remember my mother breaking down to a puddle of salty tears and frustration when they called to say Doc was in detox. I remember not understanding what one single adult was explaining to me about the situation. They'd try and describe it, but I couldn't wrap my little brain around it. All I could do is shudder to think the pillar of my manhood was wilting away in a holding cell, coming to terms with the addiction. Scary. Real fuckin' scary. And not in any way I'd want to be at that age... or tomorrow.

And, now I have two declarations from this Wisconsin tour: 1. sell out the next show in Milwaukee. 2. don't let my future grandson down because I decided to lose control for the umpteenth time.

"Take the best from your grandparents, don't repeat the worst". Maybe Doc would say that right about now.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ill Mill

It's usually a large white guy that waives me over. I usually have a drink in my hand. Water, rum & coke, weed & lemonade, pick your blood thinner. Somebody's usually in my ear about where the hell I'm goin' with all this- what's the next step? what happened to your bassist and guitar player? when are you guys gonna blow up?... for none of which I have an answer. Our bassist suffers from amotivational syndrome, aka he smokes ganja everyday and is limited to the ambition of a 3rd string Detroit Lion. The guitarist would rather deliver pizzas than hit the road, of which I don't blame him, but won't drop a line when all of this finally does connect and land in the lap of America. The drummer just got re-married and lives in the heart of Iowa, Rock Rapids... but he still has the fire. The fire of unfinished business, the fire that revenge is made of, the fire of any down trodden/trivialized faith or peoples oppressed to pieces. Call him the one man Gaza Strip, and music is his weapon. Then there's the piano player, diagnosed with autism when he was just a tike, and hasn't gotten a reconsideration since, or been inclined to know just how socially advanced or behind he is... at this point what the f--- does it matter, the kid's a musical genius. He doesn't answer to anyone but his parents and me. That's obviously a blindsided arrogant thing to say, but I've traveled the earth with kid for so long that there's things between us that best friends don't know about each other, and things between us that brother's don't share with each other. Our relationship is beyond language, because trying to speak over blaring speakers is as pragmatic as fishing in the gulf, all it takes is a look to communicate on stage. Roll with a band long enough, you can have breakfast and hold an entire conversation with a few gestures. Why? Because it's all you've been doing on stage for the past god-knows-how-many weekends.

But here he is, waiving me over to meet with him. No drink in my hand this time, just leaning on a chair, voice shot to shit, big smile on my mug, and every intention to raise hell as high as it'll go tonight... within the boundaries of the queen back home, my family, and my own health. Self-destruction is fun, but we can credit that to 21-26.

I enter an empty room with chipped paint on the floor and walls. It's just us. So many folks in the bar, so much time put into this one night, so much alcohol spilled to the ground, so many posters and fliers, so much put into this one moment, so much for putting a price on your soul.

He digs into his pocket, and pulls out a wad of 1's, 5's, 10's and 20's... mostly 5's... and that's fine. "60 to security, and the rest for you". "Thanks", I say. "See you next time", he replies.

My grandfather's been part of this same exchange, and possibly someone else down the lineage, but so far it's just me and him that I know of. You enter the hall, perform your sound, get paid. Doc, my late grandfather, was a trombonist. It was different back then... way different, but I bet he had the same feeling in his gut. The same pride coarse through his artery when someone put cash in his hand after producing a sound that no one else could on that stage. Congrats, you just made a living off music... now, go do it again.

"See you next time"... it keeps bouncing off the thin walls of my skull. I wanted to answer him, but better it be private than public. So many groups exit and who the f--- knows if they'll be back. Ambition runs thin in this industry, pride breaks under the slightest of pressure. Dreams drown in good intentions. I take the man's statement as a dare. Door-Men watch everyone enter... and exit. So rock on Door Man, and I take your wager to return. And yes, you will see me again. The next show we throw down in this city won't be nice, simple, or settling. I'll see to it. No one else will but me. Please believe when we return to Milwaukee there'll be a line out the door for this show because what's going to ensue on stage will only be summed by nasty, dangerous, and off-the-cliff. Folks will leave thinking that performance should've been televised. Good night, Milwaukee, until next time...