I didn’t sleep much in the week following the election. I suffer from insomnia even when the country isn’t experiencing a national tragedy, and it’s only gotten worse since November 8th. No matter how tired I am when I lie down, as soon as my head hits the pillow, my mind springs to action and races, for hours sometimes. One night I was awake until 8 AM, despite the fact I had taken sleeping pills at 5. When I was a child, it was the looming specter of death that would keep me up at night; in recent years, it has been memories of mistakes, regrets of failed relationships. Now, my brain is kept on constant alert by the horror of the coming Trump Presidency, and the tidal wave of hatred his victory has unleashed around the country.
I know that I am far from alone. Most of my friends are as overstressed and under-rested as I am. But I also know myself well. I know that I am high strung, and that, even on the best days, I feel anger and tension just beneath the surface of my skin, ready to blow at any time. My last therapist described the feeling as a symptom of depression. Then he retired.
Over the last decade, I learned to recognize the warning signs of an outburst. Anger can be like a drug, and I found that just before I was about to say something cruel or inappropriate, something I knew would hurt someone’s feelings, the hair on the back of my neck would flex. It was a physical rush, a high of sorts. It took me a long time to control my urges; part of the high came from releasing the anger, not suppressing it. Lately I am grateful for the feeling, as it often keeps me out of trouble, by letting me know when to keep my mouth shut.
It was Monday, November 14. The Thermals had flown back from New York the previous night. Our trip had been a positive and surprisingly relaxing experience, and we had just one more show in our hometown of Portland, Oregon, before going on winter break. But I was still on edge, and knew I would be for awhile. And possibly for four more years. I knew I was going to snap, and I knew it would be in the face of a friend. We only hurt the ones we love, the ones we shouldn’t hurt at all. I knew it was going to happen. The only question was, when?
We were playing a rare—for us—small show at The Know, a dive bar with a 100 capacity performance space. The bad news is, The Know, a beloved institution in the Portland indie and punk community for over 10 years, is finally closing its doors as the Alberta neighborhood makes way for more condos with dog baths and storefronts for artisanal ice cream. The good news is, The Know will reopen in the former space of The Blackbird, another popular indie venue whose heyday was in the early ‘00s, in Portland’s historic Hollywood district. The unspoken news in this city is, rock clubs have gentrified our urban areas as much as fancy eateries have, but admitting that means we have to point our fingers at ourselves as easily as we do our new neighbors. We hipsters only look in mirrors if we’re fixing our hair, or holding a rolled up dollar bill.
The show was expectedly full, a decent representation of the current Portland rock scene: Old scenesters and new transplants commingling, conversations lubricated, as they always have been here, with well whiskey and PBR tall boys. Our friends The Woolen Men, with whom we’ve shared a stage a few times over the last five years, opened the show. I’ve always liked them, although they, like too many bands this century, worship a little too heavily at the altar of Ian Curtis for my taste. I love Joy Division; bands that sound like Joy Division, not so much. But The Woolen Men temper their bleak influence with a light hearted attitude that I’ve usually enjoyed. Next up were Lithics, one of the best new bands in Portland. Lithics are a neo-no-wave powerhouse, with all the spoken word discordance and saxophone solos you’d expect from a band in 2016 perfectly channeling 1979.
We got on stage around 11. There was an air of intoxicated excitement in the club, and if the audience wasn’t yet rowdy, well, they were ready. I was ready, too. Ready to shout, ready to sweat, but also ready to get the show over with, so I could go into hiding, at least for a few days anyway, to lick my wounds in private. We didn’t waste any time; we filled the room with loud noise, both positive and negative, to match the mood of the patrons. I feel a cathartic release at many shows we play. At others, I grow increasingly aggravated. This performance was somewhere in between. I was enjoying myself, though I was suppressing my bad attitude rather than letting it seep out of my pores. But we played well, for about an hour, and as we came back on stage for a quick encore I had no regrets — yet.
Just before the very last song of the night, I saw Lawton Browning, the guitarist and vocalist of the Woolen Men, coming up the stairs from the green room on to the stage. Lurking and looking pretty drunk, I wondered what the hell he was doing. He wasn’t about to get onstage, was he? Yes, he was, and did. I couldn’t believe my eyes. His amp had been left on the side of the stage before we started, and now here he was trying to drunkenly load it off while we were still playing. The stage at the Know is tiny and there’s no room for shit like this to happen. But that’s beside the point. I don’t care how huge the stage is. If we’re playing a show, you don’t get on stage and start loading your gear off.
I had never seen this happen before. I was livid. I ran over to Lawton and screamed in his face. Told him to get the fuck off the stage. Told him he should’ve moved his gear before we started, or waited until we were finished. But more importantly to just GET THE FUCK OFF THE STAGE. I let him carry his amp head off, still shouting at him over the mic after I returned to my side of the stage. We blew through our last song to finish the show. I didn’t enjoy it, had a sick feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t quite guilt, maybe shock. I don’t often blow up, and had disturbed myself by doing it in a room full of people.
Back in the green room, Lawton and I continued our confrontation. He called me a prima donna. I lunged at him, still fuming. I wanted to smash his face in. Our respective band mates separated us. Lawton picked up his cabinet and stumbled out of the club with it. The last thing I yelled at him was something like, “I hope you kill yourself driving home.” He was seriously drunk, too drunk to be fully accountable for his conduct. I was completely sober, so what was my excuse? Well, I felt justified for acting territorially during our show, Our show, our stage—stay the fuck off. Kathy explained to me that Lawton had left his rig on stage as a back up for her, as her amp tends to fail at shows lately. “He still should’ve waited till we finished,” I muttered. Lawton’s bandmates were apologetic, as was I.
In the weeks since, I’ve replayed that night in my head more than a few times. Some days I feel remorse for my actions; other days I wish I would’ve socked him in the face a few times. When I feel guilty that I acted like a belligerent bully, I want to blame it on Trump. Trump is why I really felt angry and why I snapped. But by exploding and cursing and trying to fight a friend of mine, all I was doing was becoming more like Trump than I could have ever imagined. I have tried to rationalize my behavior, but in reality I was just another angry white man, taking out my aggressions on an easy target.
By Hutch Harris, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.
Image by Westin Glass, distributed under the CC-BY creative commons license.
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