LiveJournal Q&A, December Edition Question #1: How Does Music Influence Your Writing?

A meme went around LiveJournal (yes I still use it! it’s awesome!). The meme was a challenge, asking for blog posts to be done for each day in the month of December. I didn’t get 31 questions, but the questions I did get were awesome. So, I’m answering them here.

It’s funny you ask this because often, writing influences my music. I have discovered over the years that while I have a core set of music styles that I like, it’s often my characters who direct certain musical choices. I’ve discovered artists and genres because a character likes a certain style of music. I’ve become obsessive over some bands because the character identifies so strongly with them that it literally changes how I think and react to it. (Current example: Sick Puppies.)

Outside of the people in my head who direct everything from music to book to clothing choices, I am personally drawn to more hard rock and heavy metal elements which means that it is more likely for my characters to listen to those genres and bands. But the biggest example of how music influences my writing is in my chosen genre, which is Rock Fiction.

It’s true that my writing is peppered with queer characters and could be labeled Queer Fiction, but in the end, my genre is rock fiction. There isn’t a book or a story that doesn’t have that hard rock element as a central part to at least one character, if not the entire plot. That musical element is what drives me as I seek to find the answers in the shadows beyond the spotlights on stage. (See what I did there?) The soaring guitar riffs tell my soul the story while the bass line fills in the gaps and the drums bind it all together. Outside of Tori Amos, I almost never write with singer/songwriters on repeat. Instead it’s Sick Puppies, All That Remains, Five Finger Death Punch, Shinedown, Queensryche, Halestorm, Royal Bliss, Nine Inch Nails, Rob Zombie, Ill Nino, Stabbing Westward, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine … they are the ones who are put on repeat as the characters run away with my soul. I fall into their music, their lyrics, their stories while the universe in my head unfolds to tell me about the guitarist who is dying of AIDS, the basketball player who is in love with the rock star, the runaway who is saved by the timeless band, the actress who finds peace in the silence of her guitarist boyfriend, the suicidal bass player who would be dead if not for the instrument in her hands, the young father who reconnects to his Spokane heritage through his lyrics.

So for me, it’s a cycle. I wouldn’t be writing at all without the inspiration I find in the music I am already drawn to, but my characters definitely expand my fascination with music because they take me on their journeys, teaching me what they like and what inspires them, which in turn, inspires me.

Oh, “Man Up,” Rock 106.5

To me, there is nothing sexier than a Man. A Man with a capital M. Long hair, biceps, a bit of scruff, and a fucking heart of gold that wouldn’t let a woman get knocked down in a mosh pit unless she’d made the choice to put herself there. Even then, he’s the first to help her, and any of the guys, up from the floor. And the rock and metal world is full of these guys. Problem is, popular culture is full of another kind of guy and unfortunately, these assholes seem to permeate the dj culture over at Salt Lake’s newer rock station, 106.5.

106.5’s tag line is “Man Up” and you know what, I don’t fucking mind it. I actually kind of like it. Because Rock and Metal is in part a male dominated culture that prides itself on strength, power, and in many ways, honor. It also prides itself on knowing how to have a great time. The problem with this whole Man Up thing is that 106.5 is taking the fucking FUN out of rock.

Twice in the last week when I’ve turned on the radio in the afternoon, I’ve heard the DJ shaming women, shaming body choices, shaming the trans community, and shaming people with addiction issues. Honeypie, have you forgotten your rock and metal history?! We wouldn’t have rock and roll without Sister Rosetta Tharpe! Have you forgotten just how tight Robert Plant’s jeans were on stage? (I know I haven’t …) Have you forgotten that Ann and Nancy Wilson do Zeppelin better than Zeppelin? Have you forgotten that Ozzy Osborne is barely functioning because of addiction issues? That Rob Halford is gay and Freddie Mercury was bisexual!? Have you forgotten that the kick ass men in Poison, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue all made better women than most of the women on the strip in LA? Rock 106.5, you have forgotten your roots!

Don’t get me wrong. I know full well that the metal and rock world is full of bullshit. It is full of the same amount of bullshit as a lot of other sub-culture. I know full well how hard it was for women to break onto the stage in rock and, even worse, how the media still refuses to treat them as equals. I know it’s full of sexist, racist pigs who think that because they grow their beards out and pound their chests that they’re reclaiming some sense of a lost generation of power. I laugh at the so called libertarian singers and guitar players who come across as pro-power republicans in support of the military and militarized police all the while calling for a revolution. I struggle every day with the body image pressure that is seared into my mind thanks to Bobbie Jean Brown and the like.

But I also know full well the culture that shaped me. I know a culture that embraced men in makeup and women in torn jeans. I know a world that empowered women to never be ashamed of sex or their sexuality and that taught them that sexuality doesn’t take away a woman’s power. I know a world where men take the stage and scream love songs while shredding guitars and where women punch and grind with the best of them. I know a world where the mosh pit stops the minute someone hits the ground and that protects those who don’t want to be a part of it. I respect how these men and women stand up for soliders who come home to nothing after doing a job no one else fucking wants to do. I know a world that fought like hell against the PMRC. I know how family is created the moment that the lights go down. How people who will only ever connect at the show, that night, will bang their heads together and scream lyrics that saved their lives, become brothers and sisters in a moment. There is no shame in this culture. There is only pride.

So when I hear the utter bullshit spewing from 106.5’s airwaves, it turns my stomach. Don’t get me wrong, KBER’s unending blathering on air makes the station almost impossible to listen to and more often than not I find myself catching racist sketches or gender based battles of wills. And it pisses me off because this is not the culture I grew up in nor the culture I still embrace.

See, the culture I grew up in boiled down to one idea: if you could handle the pit, you could stay in the club. Didn’t matter anything else. It was a culture that changed music, changed ideas of what it was to be a man – all the while embracing primal consciousness. It was a culture of respecting those who were different and bringing them into the fold, protecting them, all the while mocking and ripping the masks off of the white-bred suburban bullshit that so many of those who sing the music grew up in.

So don’t fucking sit there and mansplain what it means to be a man. I know what it means because I’ve seen men weep when the music overtakes them and I’ve seen the power in a curled fist and felt the bond of a mosh circle that is protecting those on the outside from being harmed. Fucking Man Up, Rock 106.5. Right now, you’re fucking wussy, whiny, and down right idiotic.

And by the way, you guys have a tendency, every time you play your Man Up drop to play some 80’s Hair Rocker band. So, I LOVE the fucking irony there.

GOD I miss the guys at The Blaze. They knew how to run a rock station.

“Discussions” with my brain at 6 AM …

I think every writer out there can relate to this …

Me: *stretches and wakes up a bit*
Brain: Hey! Let’s have a conversation.
Me: It’s too early and I haven’t had any coffee yet.
Brain: So what! I’m up. You’re up. Let’s talk.
Me: It’s six in the morning and I’m hot and tired. Can this wait?
Brain: So here’s what I’m thinking. You know that whole “follow your bliss” thing?
Me: It’s six in the morning. My bliss is going back to sleep.
Brain: Okay, I can’t argue with that logic. But, seriously, we gotta talk.
Me: What did I say?
Brain: Come on, you’re up and arguing with me. So, what I was thinking was this …
Me: I’m not going to win this one am I?
Brain: So what I was thinking was this – you are really ready to take your writing to the next level, right?
Me: Yeeeahhhh …
Brain: So maybe you need to quit your job and just do the freelance thing.
Me: Or I can build up a freelance reputation and then quit my job.
Brain: But … bliss …
Me: But … bills.
Brain: You know, those words are almost identical.
Me: But not.
Brain: Kind of.
Me: No, really. Not. I appreciate this pep talk but it’s now 6:15 and I have to get up in a bit and I’d like to get some sleep.
Brain: *sends pain to nerves* You still want to sleep?
Me: YES! You made it so I can’t.
Brain: Sorry about that. But I’m following my bliss here.
Me: So what did you want again?
Brain: Bliss.
Me: Look, yes, I would love to drop my job and hit the road as a merch girl or writer A-La-Almost-Famous or something. But I’m in a good place right now too.
Brain: Because 8-5 is really your style? When was the last time you actually got to work on time?
Me: That isn’t the point and you know it.
Brain: What is the point?
Me: …. can we do this later?
Brain: *grumbles* Fine. But, hey, listen to this -
Me: What?
Brain: You write rock fiction for a reason you know.
Me: Yeah, because I love the themes and the characters are fucking sexy.
Brain: Well, maybe there’s a lesson there. I mean, the real rock stars, they give up everything and take that risk. Maybe it’s time you thought about that too. Not saying you have to take off on the road or anything but it might be good if you changed things up.
Me: You’ve been saying this for a while.
Brain: Yeah, but not at 6:45 in the morning.
Me: I love my day job though. If I leave it and have to get a day job I hate I won’t be writing as much.
Brain: Life is risk.
Me: I’m going back to sleep.
Brain: Now you’re being logical.
Me: On a couple of levels.
Brain: I know, I’ll create some dreams for you about what it’ll be like if you are able to follow your bliss.
Me: Whatever. But if you do, create a savings account I can live off of so I can in fact follow that bliss.
Brain: Oh …yeah.
Me: This was funnier an hour ago.
Brain: It wasn’t meant to be funny.
Me: I know.
Brain: We’ll get there, right?
Me: Yeah.
Brain: Sleep doesn’t matter, right?
Me: You’re the one keeping me awake right now.
Brain: Oh yeah.
Me: Mind releasing those pain receptors?
Brain: Hmmmmmmm. Nah. I think I’ll leave them.
Me: Jerk.
Brain: Last I checked, we were connected, Sweetheart.
Me: Don’t call me sweetheart.

Everything to be Thankful for: The Rock Avengers Tour hits SLC

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It started like every other rock show. A venue, a bar, merch tables tucked in corners with high traffic but not in the way. Setup. Dim lighting. But as with every Royal Bliss show, you never quite know what you’re going to get. On November 26th, 2014, what the crowd got was five and a half hours of rock, storytelling, and drinking.

The Pre-Thanksgiving Royal Bliss show is a tradition in the Salt Lake City rock scene. The band has been a fixture on the scene for over a decade, and every year they throw a huge party the night before Thanksgiving. For the past two months, the guys behind radio hits such as Devils and Angels and Here they Come have been on the Rock Avengers tour with Bobaflex and Australian rockers October Rage, and brought both bands with them to the party, also inviting American Hitmen, who are also well known to the Salt Lake scene.

October Rage, who hail from Newcastle, Australia, are a young, hard rocking quartet with a sky-is-the-limit potential. Frontman Nick Roberts exudes a kick-ass-yet-dorky personality on stage, all the while wielding his axe like a weapon as he charts a path through the ever-dangerous US rock scene. As with all rock bands, success is as much to do with charisma and charm as talent, and these four rockers have the goods. While their riffs are nothing yet to write home about, they shine in a way that pulled many a jaded drinker from the back of the venue by the bar to the front of the crowd, proving that the Australian Rock Scene did in fact not die when Sick Puppies made the move from Sydney.

Local blues-rockers American Hitmen were next, bringing an almost 70’s rock vibe to the room as they took the stage in leather biker vests and tight black jeans. They cruised their way through a set that included covers of classic favorites and hard-hitting originals. Three of the members of the band met while serving together in Iraq and that bond they brought back from the desert shows on stage as their set is a give and take of collaboration and solos.

The West Virginia quintet Bobaflex carries themselves as if they just stepped out of a Ramone’s tribute band but their sound is as full and face-melting as any hard rock group’s should be. Their set, which included the single best cover in existence of the classic Sound of Silence, revved the crowd and ended far too quickly.

And then came why the crowd was there as Royal Bliss took the stage.

While not quite metal, Royal Bliss still brings that hard-ass, hard-rock, ass-kicking mentality to the stage in everything they do. The Salt Lake City quintet will have as many as three guitars on stage while blasting their way through their set, and frontman Neal Middleton never met a “Fuck” that he didn’t like to say. Yet, they never take a single moment they spend on stage for granted. Every song break is peppered with thank yous to the crowd, their wives, their girlfriends, and their kids. Songs are belted not just from Neal’s soul, while lead guitarist Taylor Richards channels his inner Jimi Hendrix and bass player Dwayne Crawford provides the hard-hitting heartbeat. Throughout the course of the show, the crowd is taken on a journey that demands whiplash inducing headbanging and tearful cuddling with the significant other at your side.

Despite the well-oiled machine that is a Royal Bliss show, rock music always demands a sacrifice and last night, it was the equipment. Midway through the show, a monitor started to smoke and Neal had to bullshit his way through stories and finally just gave himself over to laughing at the problems and their history as the “Unluckiest band in rock” as he admitted that “Everything Royal Bliss touches, breaks.” He also gave a lecture to the men in the crowd, saying that “if you disrespect women, you aren’t cool, you’re an asshole.” As a woman, I desperately appreciated the comment. He also gave a jab to corporate radio and record labels, hollering out that they shouldn’t have to pay the radio stations to play their music, especially in their hometown. For the record, all of the bands on this tour are independent.

The show ended with Neal coming back on stage in a jacket that only a preacher could love and doing an impromptu three minute “preacher-style” thank you before the band launched into the ever-loved Fine Wine and Champagne before all four bands came on stage for a cover of A Little Help from my Friends and a performance of Royal Bliss’ signature I Was Drunk. Finally, Neal and Taylor stepped into the crowd for a campfire circle rendition of Home.

Those who stayed the course for the entire night, for all five and a half hours, had everything to be thankful for.

You can check out my rather crappy phone photos here. ;)

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Truth Is …

This week, I lost the second of my cats. The first died just about a month ago. She was 23 and we’d had her for 22 of those years and out of nowhere we realized that she was sick. It took a week and she was gone, but we had her in our arms until the end. The second was our sweet baby who was 15. And he’d been with our family since he was born and now … isn’t. Morph, the one who died this week, was my little writing buddy. He drove me crazy sometimes, don’t get me wrong. But he’d sit on my shoulder and on my papers and purr at me and encourage me. And now it’s just quiet. And no, I don’t need him here to write, but more and more, I’m missing his presence when I curl up and start to let the words flow.

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Rest in peace, buddy. It’s too quiet without you.

This one is going to fester …

What matters more? The music or the person who sang it? Whose version of All Along the Watchtower comes to mind when you think of the classic – if confusing – lyrics? Jimi or Bob? Who played Wild Horses better? The Sundays or the Stones? Whose Hurt is it? Trent Reznor’s or Johnny Cash’s? There are entire last.fm playlists devoted to different recordings of Down to the River. Lady Gaga’s or Halestorm’s version of Bad Romance? CeLo Green or Sick Puppies doing Fuck You? The Eagles or Trisha Yearwood when it comes to Taking it to the Limit?

So what matters more?

See, we humans have this weird association with the art and creative world. We expect the masters to be copied but then when the masters are copied, the public decries that the student is never, ever as good as the teacher and all that was once pure and perfect has been obliterated and has been destroyed and civilization is about to end as well.

Until the next time.

And the next time.

And the next time.

This is not a phenomenon specific to music. When books are transformed into movies or TV shows, purists cry from the corner: that isn’t the story that was written! Well no, often, it is an adaptation, it is fan fiction, it is a commentary and sometimes, gasp, it is in fact, better. (I’m looking at you, Hobbit detractors.) When an author dies or retires from writing a series and the torch is passed, often the writer who takes over is even better than the original because they’ve devoted time and blood and passion to a world that someone else created. And sometimes, it really sucks. Sometimes, we look at a change, at an adaptation, and wonder what the hell they were thinking. (Madonna’s cover of American Pie comes to mind.)

But let me come back to music, specifically, the replacement of musicians within bands.

It’s funny, in a sad way, when you let yourself sit back and think. Because what is a band, really, but a group of people coming together and signing a contract to share revenue on a product they will work on together. Whether they are childhood friends who go from garage practices to arena stages or groups of people suggested to each other by labels and managers, at some point, they sign contracts to make sure that should they break up, everyone is covered. It’s kind of like signing a pre-nup and a marriage certificate on the same day. And, like in a marriage, they all work their asses off. And also, like a marriage, sometimes it comes to an end.

But that’s where it gets sticky.

Does a band use that moment to break up? What finanical and legal implications do they face? What obligations were outlined by the label and the band in their contracts? What does it mean for the family unit of the band when one person wants out but others want to work on it?

Sick Puppies fans have been faced with this harsh reality over the last few weeks. They have joined the legions of Queensryche, Drowning Pool, Three Days Grace, Flyleaf, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Journey, Iron Maiden, Audioslave, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac, and even Judas Priest fans that carried on with new lead singers or at least what became temporary replacements (think, when a couple gets divorced and then remarries …). Drowning Pool hasn’t lasted more than two records with the same lead singer. But they’re still touring.

So this becomes the question that a lot of music fans struggle with because music is unique to all of my previous examples. We as music fans are attracted to so many things – the lyrics wash over us and the rhythm section makes our blood pump and the melodies carry us to places where things are safe and secure and someone who is singing all around us understands our very core.

Are we as fans attracted to the song or the person doing the singing?

Of course, in the long run, that is a question that can only be answered by the individual. But very rarely will you run into people who only listen to one incarnation of a band, save for Van Halen fans. There is a definite split between the David Lee Roth types and the Sammy Hagar devotees but it’s also generational for a lot of us. My first Van Halen album (on cassette thankyouverymuch) was For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge so to me Van Halen isn’t Jump, it’s Right Now. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the David Lee Roth years, but that isn’t my Van Halen. And are they “covering” songs when they are doing one from a different incarnation of the band? Well, does a family stop being a family when someone leaves?

It’s a weird thought process to work through because a band is more than just someone with a guitar. A band is a unit of people trying to make sense of the world through music, but also trying to make a living while they do it. Bands are a business and that’s hard to remember when we’re rocking out to bass lines that make us tingle. And sometimes the band name is more important than those making the music; sometimes the band is the original members and no one else.

I’m 900 words into this and wondering what my point is and I think that my rambling proves that there really isn’t an easy answer. But I think it’s an interesting question to ask of ourselves not only as artists/writers/musicians but also as consumers of other artists/writers/musicians.

What matters more to us? The person creating the art or the art itself? Because you can’t separate them and trying to isn’t fair to us or them, but what matters more? I mean, it isn’t just talent and style we’re talking about here, but the soul of the song and how the band explores it.

Yeah, this one is going to fester.

Truth is …

After election night inspired a couple of hours worth of ranting on my twitter feed about how the GOP is anti-science, anti-earth, anti-woman, anti-life, anti-God (because let’s face it, how anyone could sanction what they sanction and still call themselves “Christian” is hypocritical), anti-American, anti-Peace, in favor of dropping bombs on children (all of which is searchable through voting records, by the way), anti-poor people (and middle class too), anti-child, and of course, anti-health care I found myself needing to actually write. See, twitter is AWESOME for a good political rant and for retweeting dumb things and of course, for stalking your favorite celebs, but it really isn’t that good for writing. So, I did what any logical writer would do: I sat down with two of my favorite characters, two characters that of course, the GOP would hate. They’re non-religious, hard rocker types who advocate for things like actual liberty and non-conformity, and who both live and struggle with mental illness. Mental illness that is managed by the healthcare plans they can afford through … wait for it … the ACA. Because their plans can be subsidized, they can afford things like mental health care! And medication! Which keeps them from killing themselves. Oh, and of course, one of them is … shhhhhh …. Chicana. (See: things the GOP hates.) And the funny thing is, the piece I wrote tonight wasn’t even about any of that. It was about her reaction to her dumbass ex-boyfriend. But still, these are two people the GOP just wishes wouldn’t, you know, vote.

This is what we writers do, right? We write about the world, holding up that mirror, hoping that someday … people listen. Sad thing is, they usually do, but only after we’re dead.

Also, yes, as a sports fan, can we stop with the national anthem before games?

Also, my district is now represented by Mia Love. *weeps*

Truth is … I’m excited for music over the next couple of years. You kidding? Times like this is when the metal world SHINES.

Over Coffee …

It isn’t that I haven’t been updating, it’s that I’ve been adding reviews and content to the sidebars. Check out my short stories and pop culture commentaries! (Shameless plug.)

But honestly … I’m sitting here over my coffee (with my coffee?) thinking about the real reasons I write, and how I can’t imagine anything in my life that doesn’t involve these characters, and I’m so flipping tired (Utah Swear Alert) that I’m honestly not doing a lot to move things forward. And it’s not even physical tired, but emotional tired. It’s that moment when you sit there and go “Fuck. I’m 35. I have novels under my belt. I’m an active writer. I’ve worked and (not been paid) as a writer. And why didn’t I move to LA when I was 20? Why didn’t I turn left instead of right?”

And the depression comes not from the lack of being published but wondering where the direction goes because you know, writing is like that. And depression is so easy to push through, right?

I find myself wondering about being on the outside looking in though. Knowing writers, knowing musicians, knowing people who are working in the field where I’ve always dreamed of working and wondering … what the hell I’m not doing. Other than, of course, keeping pushing forward and demanding an audience and doing my best to drown out that voice that echoes, telling me I’m not any good. Because let me tell you, there are a lot of publishers and agents out there who are happy to say over and over again that people aren’t any good.

This is the problem with being one of those writerly types. We think too much.

I dunno. I know I need to actively start music blogging again because I loved, loved, loved doing it. And of course there is the writing that needs to happen on the novel. But right now … it just feels overwhelming.

So I am going to drink my coffee. And make plans. And you know, get to work because I do have a day job.

This has been your whiny writerly post for the week. I promise not to give you another one until December. ;)

Pirouettes

I used to dance.

I was never very good. Not really. I mean, I can shake my hips and count to four, but dancing really wasn’t my strong suit. But I love it. I love falling into the music, moving this way and that, spinning and leaping, while being caught by invisible hands of rhythm and blues. I’d dance to everything, from Disney musical numbers to the hardest rocking metal songs. The world was my stage, my arena, my stripper pole. Despite my short legs and skill in tripping over the balls of my feet, I danced. I danced and danced and I didn’t care who saw or who laughed because I danced.

When I was five, I had a bunch of those skater skirts that twirled up around my waist when I spun around and my mother was always begging me to wear white underwear with my white tights because the world could see the cartoon drawings and polka dots when I started to spin. I didn’t care. In my scuffed Mary Janes and my second-hand dresses, I climbed trees and raced my bike and swirled in circles until I fell, dizzy, and the sky spun counterclockwise above me.

I was Jennifer Beals in Flashdance and Paula Abdul in Cold Hearted. I was Roxie Hart, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Debbie Gibson, Janet Jackson, and every girl in every Warrant and Motley Crue video. In my basement, I won Gold Medals in dancing and practiced my kicks and ballet positions. I made freshman dance team and pep club in the 10th grade and it was then I noticed just how different I was from all the other girls. With my thick thighs, rounder hips, hour-glass figure with the boobs to match. When I tried on my first D-cup bra, I wept in the dressing room. I already knew I was different in ways beyond the shape that promised, more than my lack of talent, that I’d never be a professional dancer. Already I was being defined not by who I was or my talents but the boobs I carried around.

Worse, I knew I was different and I didn’t know how to voice it, I didn’t know what to say and somehow that fucking bra set it all off.

See. I knew gay. Gay was okay. I knew because my best friend from childhood had come out to me and my parents had spent most of my childhood making sure I understood that it was okay to be who I was, no matter what. It was okay if two boys loved each other or two girls loved each other as long as no one was hurt in the process. I knew gay.

But see.

That was the problem.

Just like my big thighs didn’t fit the cheerleader look and my big boobs didn’t make for a dancing career, I didn’t fit into the gay thing either.

I remember sitting in history my junior year of high school, listening to the gay students stage their walk out as they protested the shutdown of even the idea of the Gay/Straight alliances. And I sat still, ashamed to join them. I, a daughter born into the activism of the Americans with Disabilities Act, was ashamed to join them. Because I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t like them so I didn’t have a right to join in their fight. Who I was, it wasn’t included in their dance.

So I sat and supported in silence.

Two years later, walking across the campus in Austin, days before my first class would start, my eyes landed on a bright pink flier and a two-letter word that saved my life.

Bi.

Consciously, I know it wasn’t the first time I’d heard it but it was the first time I remember seeing it in a positive context. The first time it had ever settled in my mind as something real. Something … me.

My first support group meeting, I danced with the building, trying to find the open door. I found the bathroom, ducked inside, met the eyes of someone who looked as petrified as me. We didn’t speak. She was sitting at the table when I scurried inside. She smiled when I took a seat. These weren’t just college students. I was in a room with people my age and people older than me and people who became the ones I turned to as I came to realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

There was the dance when I came out to my parents. When my mother – who thought I was lesbian – came out to me as bi and I remember wondering why she couldn’t have just said the word to me when I was growing up. Why she couldn’t have just said that whatever I was feeling, it was okay, and given me my word. There was my father dancing with traffic on I-15 on the way into town and how glad he was when I told him I was bi because he was so fucking worried I’d come home from college to ask for money.

In Austin, I found family. We went to coffee shops and listened to local bands and went to clubs and sat out in parked cars, talking until the sun came up again. Everyone was welcome. Swingers and doms and subs and transmen and transwomen and gender queer and cis and nonbinary and we held hands and fought against Governor Bush together and we held hands while waiting on results from Lawrence V Texas and no one was turned away.

No one.

All that mattered was that you didn’t have a problem with people who were bi. That you didn’t talk over us. That you let us have our safe space.

Arms open. Everyone danced together. And sometimes it was only the women and sometimes it was only the men but we were there. For each other. And I knew that outside of my circle, outside the world, there was judgment. I was warned by my elders to watch for catch phrases and words that would make me question myself.

Bi now! Gay later!

Fenceposts.

Confused.

You don’t belong here.

Faker.

Maybe we just shouldn’t be grouped together under this umbrella.

Is it nice to pass?

Whore.

You’re a disgrace to us. Why can’t you just look normal?

I was taught to listen for what they would say. I was warned because it had happened over and over again. Our history had been erased, folded over into something else, forgotten. And those with more experience voiced their worries because they knew that I would be more likely to commit suicide or to be harmed by my partners and to be ignored by police and counseling agencies because even those devoted to the Gay cause would shut the door to me. Because outside of my world, there was one that didn’t invite girls like me to the dance.

I believed them. Right up until I met her. They just didn’t understand. Times had totally changed.

Right?

She was so funny. And we could talk about everything. Up all night talking about writing and Star Trek and annoying exes. We talked about the burgeoning marriage conversation. And even though she hated to dance, she thought it was cute that I did. She sent me roses. Despite my bi family in Austin, I was lonely and the first girl I’d fallen for hadn’t fallen for me and I needed to escape and despite everything in the world telling me not to leave, I got on a plane.

This time, when I started spinning, it was in reverse.

Because it started as slowly as it did quickly. I didn’t believe what they’d warned me about could come true. That it was there in front of me.

I don’t like that you’re bi, she said.

Are you sure you aren’t a lesbian? You’ve never been with a man, she said.

I can’t trust you, she said. Because the ones before, they all left me for men.

I can’t trust you, she said.

Faker, she said.

Why can’t you just be normal, she said.

While more and more I became isolated, solitary. More and more, I defended her.

And I don’t know why I didn’t leave except you see I did know because despite my bi family in Austin I’d been single and here was someone who loved me, right? So even though I didn’t fit into her boxes, I stooped and squirmed and folded and bent myself in her shapes and if she sat on the lid, we could tape it shut. I learned not to dance, because it attracted attention to the fact that I was different. I stopped correcting people who assumed I was like her. I retreated inside myself. The men I found handsome were my secrets alone. She could point out women but when I did, I was reminded that because of who I was, I’d leave her.
I told myself that as we settled into what had once been her grandmother’s house, that we shared her tiny room and bed because she wasn’t ready to expand the landscape of her world to include mine. I discovered every excuse imaginable as I kept my clothes in a different space, that as we never went to Austin to get my things, that it wasn’t that she didn’t trust me to be in her life, it was just who she was. We liked the same things, after all. Her world and mine could be shared without any part of me, right?

Right?

The day I quit acting was a dance audition.

The audition before, she’d sat in the hallway outside and told me she didn’t like that I was going for things because it made her feel like she couldn’t do things even though I could. She didn’t like the people I met. The men I met.

Then came the dance. And I walked out halfway through, in tears, and she hugged me and told me I’d made the right decision. It wasn’t like I’d been practicing anyway. I sat in the car and remembered the call from the casting director in Austin and wondered what would have happened if I’d gone to that movie callback in Houston. The one that came for me while I was packing my bedroom to move.

The day we cleaned out what had been her grandmother’s bedroom, I expected us to move our lives into the space. It was full of light and white walls. A new space. We boxed things for her family and closed the door but she allowed me skirts that had been her grandmother’s and I donned them, twirling like I had when I was five. The fabric didn’t fly up to my waist, and with each wearing, each spin, I found holes to mend and the need to patch unpatchable fabric. Small stiches of the finest thread still created runs. Seams weakened by dust and age split and split and split again.

Still. When I left, I packed them. After the fights, the bruises, the lock over my heart and the seventy pounds that stopped what little dancing skill I carried, I packed them, hauling them back across country, taking space away from the stuff I finally picked up in Austin.

They hung in my closet.

Gathering dust.

Weakening at the seams.

One by one, they were turned into rags and cat blankets. Some were given away.

To friends, to family who didn’t mind the rips or the runs.

I trust less. I listen more. I warn those coming after me that while times are changing, there are still words to look for and I talk to them about the history of our movement that has been erased. I warn them, but tell them to love. And I cry when over and over and over again they tell me that they were so sure something was wrong with them because no one believed them. No one. I tell them to be proud and never let anyone tell them differently.

Because, you know what, I still have my dancing shoes.

On Sick Puppies and the Space Between

When we think of bands, we think of longtime friends gathering together in garages and empty warehouses and coffee shops, lugging gear and crowding into minivans with everything they own, setting off on a journey that will bring them not just fame and fortune and the adoration of fans but will also bring them a deeper, wiser understanding of the universe itself. They, after all, do what so many of us cannot. They bring those confusing instruments to life, the ones we all started at as kids, knowing (because our teachers told us so) that the vibrating strings made noise and that noise became music but in the hands of some of our peers, those instruments became oracles of the gods themselves.

When we think of bands, we don’t like to think of success. Success means selling out, right? It means fans who have been there since the beginning challenging every single move they don’t approve of, it means new fans fawning over every single solitary thing ever because they have so much time to make up for. Years have gone by and communities have been formed and fan bases are so hard to break in to and dammit, but dammit, the music has saved a life.

When we think of bands, we think of music. Radio. Record labels. Youtube and Myspace. How often do we stop to think of the individual fan, the individual band member? How often do we stop to think of the story?

This week in the rock world, there’s only been one story on many people’s minds – the split inside the band Sick Puppies. And it’s just the latest in a long line of fascinating stories for these three musicians. After all, how many bands, how many people actually manage to live the “American Dream”? How many of us would be willing to put everything, absolutely everything, on hold as teenagers and take jobs to save up money, all with the sole purpose of leaving our home country and flying all the way across the world to hopefully make it big in the American Rock World? How many? I know people who wouldn’t do that for love. Now imagine being eighteen and doing it for a dream.

And Sick Puppies did just that and came to the states with two numbers in their pocket and their instruments on their backs and somewhere along the way, people started to pay attention. Somewhere along the way, people noticed the heartbeat that Mark Goodwin’s drums provided and they noticed lead singer Shimon Moore’s wild and doofy frontman stylings, and they noticed that soft-spoken bassist Emma Anzai was anything but quiet on stage.

And the story become one of how Youtube videos can go viral and change everything for a band. It became one of how women in rock music are becoming more and more respected. It became one of number one hits, fan communities, and inspiration. And now the story is “What the fuck happened?”

See, when we think of bands, we also don’t like to think of them splitting up. We don’t like to think that these friends who used to keep the neighbors up until all hours of the night could reach a point where working together is torture. We don’t like to think about how if a band is like a marriage, how half of all marriages end in divorce.

But that’s what happened this week when Sick Puppies announced that lead singer Shimon Moore was no longer with the band.

For me, as a fan and as a writer, I find myself wondering what happened. Of course I want to know. I want to know why choices were made and why things couldn’t be worked out, but I find myself wondering these things as a writer. Because, as any writer will tell you, the truth is always found in the spaces between the words.

Why did public statements use words like “time apart” or “instead”? Why were announcements made the way they were? Why did some people become active on the fan boards out of nowhere? And those will be questions that at some point, a smart reporter will ask. I’d hope.

But more than those questions, it’s the story that calls to me. Sick Puppies, a group known as much for songs like You’re Going Down and War as they are for entreating challenges to the world in softer tunes like Maybe and Run, I wonder where the story will emerge.

As a music fan, I hope it won’t be through social media snipping. The trio has been reasonably professional throughout the split, but it’s clear there are deep seeded hurts that are starting to bubble to the surface (as now-former lead singer Shimon Moore’s facebook post about the situation made clear.) There’s a part of me that hopes it even won’t be through any blogging sites or interviews (although I’m always available to give them). But, instead through the songs that are inspired by the next chapter of this band.

Because when we think of bands, we have to think of their stories and what the music is telling us. Rock is a culture of blood, sweat, and tears. And even bands at the top of the charts, the ones who so often feel like they are cranking out the same riffs and the same lyrics over and over again, even they have their own messy story to tell. They’ve sat in rooms and pondered the end of the very life that feeds them. They’ve walked away from love, from stability. All to get on a bus and go from town to town.

Over the next few months, fans are going to start to be able to say the signs were there. And they were. See, that’s the thing with music: it’s part of the soul and our souls direct us. Or, if you prefer, that instinct tells us something is up. Because in the end, it won’t just be the story they write that stays with us. It’ll be the story that Emma tells on stage with her bass every night and the tales that Mark bangs out on his drums and the webs that are spun in whatever new project Shim finds himself doing.

Speaking as a fan: I hope it’s a good one because sometimes, new blood keeps a band alive but sometimes, the story just has to end.

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