I was sitting with Kathy Foster and Westin Glass in a small booth in the corner of our favorite Thai restaurant in southeast Portland, Oregon. We, the Thermals, were despondent.
It was the evening of Wednesday, November 10, 2016, almost 24 hours after we had learned that Donald Trump was to be our next President. We had watched Trump’s campaign closely as it had veered wildly from insensitive bullying to outright nastiness, and what we had viewed mainly as a sick joke on American politics had now become a disgusting reality: The next leader of the free world is a psychopathic megalomaniac.
He won by pandering to the rich and suckering the poor, appealing to the ugliest, misguided desires of a voting bloc that is highly bigoted, no matter their level of education or income. Let’s not mince words here, because Trump never did: He came to run those blacks out of the White House and to make sure that woman didn’t move in after them. He was here to rid our country of Muslims and Mexicans, and if he had to grab a few pussies on the way to the highest elected office in the land, well, he didn’t see anything wrong with that. And neither did millions of American voters. Hate was Trump’s true message, and Jesus Christ on a burning cross, did it ever work.
The three of us joylessly shoveled sticky noodles and curried rice into our mouths. The restaurant where we were eating is one of our most beloved in Portland, which is why I won’t be giving the name of it here. I used to love raving about my favorite places to eat and drink in Portland, until I saw too many of them overrun by fancy new transplants with man buns and expensive scarves, pushing thousand dollar strollers. These days I keep secret the places I love in Portland, the few places left that haven’t been torn down to build condos.
Of course, this issue was a lot more important to me on November 7th than it is now. Every complaint now feels petty, as it should, as we stare down this barrel of a gun, fully loaded with enough ammo to last four years, ready to blow away so much of the progress this country has made in the last 40 years.
That night, the Thermals were looking at an upcoming two-night stand at the Brooklyn Bazaar, the first of which was only two nights away. We had to practice, pack up our gear, and fly to New York. Personally, I didn’t want to go anywhere, or do anything, except crawl back to my house, get back into bed, and stay there forever. But life goes on, whether you want it to or not. Kathy boxed up some chicken and rice and we drove a half mile to our studio.
We weren’t talking much. When we did talk, it was only about Trump. We were all equally agitated. We had devoured news of the campaign non-stop and our heads were now flooded with every scary detail we had learned about Trump - his shady Russian connections, his brutality towards women, his hatred of minorities, legal or not - and can never forget. We got high. Weed is legal in Oregon, but for how long? Who knows what freedoms Trump and Pence plan on abolishing? Smoke ‘em while you got ‘em. If there was ever a time we needed drugs, it was now. We tuned up and played a few songs. Music was, in this case, a drug as well. Something that takes you away — out of yourself, out of the world. Something that makes you feel good, or helps you to feel nothing at all.
We were rehearsing songs from our LP Desperate Ground. It is a subtly political record, less obsessed with institutions than it is focused on violence in the world. The songs are short, fast, and loud. It was making me feel better to play them, and the lyrics about man’s inhumanity to man felt more relevant to me than when the record was released in 2013. But the high the songs were delivering to me lasted only as long as the songs themselves. Every time one ended, my mind raced right back to my obsessive fears for the future.
We took a short break so I could run to my car and grab a bottle of water. On the walk back to our studio, I had a vision, one of a specific group of Trump supporters. Those that are young, white, and male. Those that identify as alt-right, those with Pepe avatars, those who are smug as fuck in Trump’s victory and are relishing the sadness and despair they know people like me are now feeling. I realized I had been holding back my emotions, suppressing my own tears, so as not to give one ounce of satisfaction to those trolls.
By the time I walked back into our studio, I was shaking. I sat down on a drum case, tears welling up in my eyes. I was breaking down, and I felt embarrassed, more than anything. I refused to let myself cry. “That’s what they want me to do, more than anything,” I told myself. I didn’t want the haters to see me cry. But there were no haters in sight. I was surrounded by loved ones, by my dearest friends in the world. I didn’t want them to see me cry, either. I didn’t want to let it all out, feeling like it would be just one more defeat.
I talked to Kathy and Westin about the hateful images I couldn’t get out of my head. Told them how I couldn’t stop thinking about the people who had not only voted for Trump, but had voted for the misery of the entire left, and how happy they were feeling now. “They’re not happy, though,” Westin told me. “They’re miserable. They hate themselves more than anything, and a Trump Presidency isn’t going to change that.” I knew he was right.
We went on to rant about the horrific possibilities in store for our country: The end of all the rights we’ve enjoyed, and the starting of all of the wars we’ve feared. Kathy put her hand on me. A female of mixed race, she has more to lose in Trump’s America than Westin and I combined, but still offered sage advice. She told us we should try to not let ourselves be overwhelmed by hypotheticals. That instead of focusing on everything that could go wrong in the world, we should just take it day by day, and stay vigilant and active in our own community. Stoic even in times of chaos, her warm touch and wise words were a true comfort.
We played a few more songs. The more we played, the better I felt. It was something more than the volume and the emotion, and something simpler. It was the physical act of playing guitar and singing. It wore me out, and by the end of practice, I was just too tired to be distraught. Playing with the band was the best thing I could have done that day — nothing else would have helped. Hearing our songs had been soothing, but it was listening to Kathy and Westin that really got me through the day. I have credited music for saving my life in the past, for although it is a cliche, I know it to be true. But it wasn’t music that saved my life that day, it was my best friends.
By Hutch Harris, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.
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