Cole of the Massacre rises from stage left, with spit hanging from his possibly cocaine numbed mouth. Like a breeding mantis he sucks the dribble from the hanging corner back into the cradle of his mouth, lubricating his voice with the cold saliva before wailing into the next number. Though he appears distant and inebriated-concerning perhaps even the most drugged of downers scurrying the mob of screaming fans-this “spit trick” is a regular antic of the band and his voice is stronger than ever. I’d never heard a voice like Cole’s-a screeching, enigmatic growl of sandpaper soul that shocks the classically trained with unexpected range. The venue is quite small and incredibly dark with the surreal placement of audience and artists almost arms reach away. I light another cigarette and nearly burn the underage girl dancing next to me while sardonically thinking stadium entertainers wish they could be as intimate and communal as the nomadic vanguards filling the Punk Rock Club.
“Do you have another one?”
She repeats herself, I hear the youth in her voice. How the fuck did she manage to get in here?
I don’t need to answer, so I hand her my last red. I wasn’t attached to this particular pack as I had snatched it moments earlier from the dance floor with finish-last luck. I turn my head up, and notice Cole bleeding. He has cut himself now with the sharp end of his b string, spilling blood from his thumb as he imitates a slide-guitar like motion. Using his voice as an instrument to close the continually distorting song, I watch the mighty King Cole strum faster and faster with the drummer and bassist following behind-the speakers blaring louder than sirens of war. Now I see fans gathering to join the Black Hand Massacre on stage, the blood of a punk rock star now drying on his squire. I see the expressions of the bouncers standing way too close to the band growing less patient. The rest of the band seems to notice as well. Cole takes his now blood drenched thumb and attempts to place it in the mouth of the scarier-looking bouncer. The new makeshift backing band roars in awe as Cole falls and is beaten by the bouncers, who are built and dressed like aged wrestlers out of the Regan era. Most of the great new music is unappreciated by the guards, and their company is all but a security device catering to pussies of the lowest order. How a club with such taste could only assemble dopes for protection is a classic outcome. Bewildered by the cries of the moshing public, he gasps for air in the mire of blood from his own instrument. His hands are trembling, saliva lactating from his dry mouth, and the bold echoes from his colleagues beg him to cease the thunder of his guitar feedback and in place bless the public with the vibrate sounds of the pedal board. I watch him from a growing distance, walking further away from the chaos, envying his ability to whore the masses. Even in envy of the youth violence I prematurely feel too old for.
This was the life I was still destined to live, as a folk hero of self-destruction at odds with the status quo. As if I have known his band in previous lives I dare wouldn’t share openly to protect the false sense of pride left in the naysay Generation. In this strange, post-apocalyptic future following the death of rock and roll, music has evolved into a crazed cesspool of indie confusion. None have made a better mark or impression, to me at least, than the Black Hand Massacre. Cole is the martyr of punk rage and an ambassador of psychotic genius void of any faux pas, like a Herzog leading man. In the crowd I see his body being passed like communion bread amongst the hungry fans. Men and women grab at his loins and smear the blood from his now severely wounded thumb, screaming obscenities at the bouncers. I see his blood drenched body hit the wave of zombies in their Deerhunter shirts and purposely mismatching colors, as no mercy is shown the barbaric swarm engage in a rock and roll suicide. Even the term “indie rock” is a bastard child of what we consider original, or God forbid even ironic- Richard Hell and Patti Smith make love in their decaying memorial while Darby Crash is crucified by Neo Nazi Punks.
While the guards run authority on the menace, the frustrated true colors of the bassist, Mr. Hollywood, begin to shine as he is to sing the next song. He is a true talent himself, an ambitious co-founder of such a radical project, he shows no empathy for his ragged guitarist Cole, who is now taken as a burnt offering for the swarm. Still I must commend him for letting the show go on in the midst of an apparent professional crisis. Mr. Hollywood has gained some weight since the early days of the Massacre (perhaps from his recent absence of hard drugs), his voice now strangled in an asthma ridden, almost cowardice croon singing a dope tuned hymn where he asks if there’s a God in Heaven.
“I got the Virgin Mary laying naked on my bed,
Sweet Lord Jesus living in my head.”
He wears glasses wide as his face at this point, once thin except for an awkwardly protruding, small paunch- possibly used as percussion instrument for early recordings in broke times. I know the history of this band very well. Mr. Hollywood now puts his bass down, at the insistence of the concerned lead guitarist, he attempts to lend a hand for his withered guitarist. A woman with high breasts, glasses matching Hollywood, rubs her shoulders next to me as the dope kicks in. She is in all black as I am, and struggling to fight the noise from the speakers placed next to our heads, I tell her the tale of my arrival.
It has been a glorious night, I got into the festival after hitchhiking across the country from Memphis on the hunt for Jesus Christ and cocaine.
The festival, upon my arrival, was like Thompson venturing with the San Francisco angels. It was a wasteland of scruffy brutes and noblemen to drug-induced desecration ruining the woods of mother nature with used needles, empty bags, and cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Like a city boy gone Bonnaroo, I demeaned their company for the presence of their young female companions.
“Oh hey man, can I hit that?”
I’d brought my own supplies and as always catered to the whim of those looking for cheap thrills, never disclosing how spiked my stash truly was. A young fan, whose brother was the same man I’d betrayed by channeling his woman into adultery, couldn’t handle the high and ended up slashing his wrists in front of his posse. They’d found me in bed with his brother’s woman, and like Cole I was beaten during the opening of Edward Sharpe. A frontman of zen like Sharpe should have noticed the bewildering reality of his pathetic followers, the taste of dreads in my mouth seasoned in my blood ending in a fractured nose. I don’t think the musicians would have approved of this. This new era made me think of my old life with Trisha, who had broken my heart like no old soul could have broken, my Bonnie laid with my own neighbor, which led to my cross country exploration to find myself or in other words just get the hell out.
So here I was, watching the Black Hand Massacre, the brainchild of my God founder Anton NuKumeyer. The founder and frontman, he stood with his nestled stringy hair in the dead center, stoic and almost stone compared to the wild activity of the rest of the band. He must have taken the roughest blow from their rock and roll past.
Here they were, with feedback and bliss, playing the incredible Anthems of Glory before an audience saturated only in what they’d previously heard in records. This was their first appearance at the festival. A moment like this meant more than life with any companion.
I had traveled so far just to find the women in my fantasies, to defy my broken past that still lingered even with the self-medicating aid. While I explain this to the mistress of the show, all she wonders is what this had to do with the festival and the band. She strokes my scars and our bodies interlock with interest yet little passion.
Sadly, the great Cole is taken hospitalized while I make my move on the black clad princess, almost feeling the pulse of her vulva as the band plays Miss June ’75.
“She makes me live…she makes me liveeee…
My God, I’m gonna live forever
We’ll be like two bloody stars up in Heaven…”
I mutter Hollywood’s sweet words into her ears, and goddamn I finally feel alive again. Aside from the affair that gave these scars, this was the first encounter of what would be many in my travels, in the vein of Hemingway and Byron I was a Casanova of criminals. I couldn’t mention any of my dirty work but I spoke with my black hands to show her the danger of my perversions.
At excellent timing, Anemone plays with the sexual vocals of a faceless angel (the lighting covers her for some reason), and I harmonize with Anton as she mouths the words. I shut her with tongue and feel like the very men I despise, but this was simply heroin speaking and this was the time. I can even taste her drugs. The needle was something I’d feared in my youth and had no time for, after the dysfunctional nature of me playing a worried Clyde for my lover, but now nothing seemed to matter but living each day expecting it to be the last. No longer was a fear of death relevant but a desire for it, spiting the worry signs from all the concerned squares from back home. I never knew the woman’s name, and she is one of the first I can call woman and not girl, being only twenty years old I could felt something of a the sea change come over me.
I am the Gonzo of my generation.
The Miller of America. The Cohen of New Kings.
The sitar is now brought out and we decide we must make love in midst of this madness, which wasn’t my suggestion, but the idea was rooted by crowds around us. My humility called me to button my shirt up and yet I let down the bandanna sporting nasty liquors as I was stained with the aroma of Coors.
How a woman could be so drawn to such a mess even bothers me.
Now the music becomes just as disturbing as her prowess, kissing me below the waist before the blackout occurs.
I awake, in handcuffs, sitting in the same cell as my idol. I am dreaming?
No, Anton NuKemeyer. In the flesh, and somehow he was in trouble like I was. I am speechless, knowing his appearance from every era-I wonder how he ended up in here with me. I wonder if he was treated the way I was by the police, another memory I can’t recall. He looks in better shape than I do, his scars healing from the guards. The shattered mirror of the jail cell shows me that I have been beaten by the same guards that led him to this demise. Only difference was he was getting out of this early, I was to stay in holding. My hands are cold and lazy, my sunglasses were shattered in my pocket and the music plays no longer. I wish I had the confidence to tell him how big of a fan I was, but he seemed just as dissociated with life and the moment as I.
“I’m a huge f…”
He passes out, cold and in a pool of what I fail to tell is either my blood or his. I’m not sure if my idol has been killed in the midst of this, yet emotion and reaction seem delayed. I blame the drugs. And this was when I realized the true nature of music festivals, mere retreats from the aimless lives of those with good taste.
Bonnaroo was not the land of free love it once was, now it was a dumpster and safe haven for the under-aged and depraved. Aside from the only two acts I had ventured out for, the festival was now a product I’d despised. Shards of glass were piled at the corner of the cell, and the only music heard was the static from the Police walkie-talkies. Saving me as always, I can hear Anton quietly singing. My idol is now coughing up the lyrics of a classic I couldn’t even remember, something from Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Or the soundtrack for Easy Rider. The greatest isolated vocal take ever heard.
The police arrive now, in uniforms that look shoplifted, and explain to me and my idol we are to confined for another 48 hours. They are rent-a-cops I’m almost certain but they manage to inflict fear like the duty requires.
They told me the girl I’d encountered was sixteen years of age and charges were in the process. Anton was free to go but I could face years in the pen. Unfortunately he was passed out, and when asked my name I said I was his brother; that I had no recollection of the night before. With this they were hesitant to let me go, so paid a fine that consisted of the money I had left in my pocket. The money that would have gotten me home, but of course there was no home anymore.
Upon my release, the sunshine covering over the ruins of trash and soiled youth left behind, I was walking towards the campgrounds on an endless road. A van is close in distance, and I call for them. Whoever they are. Three men, quite hairy yet no older than me, peer out smoke-pouring windows.
“Hey man, you need a ride?”
“Yes, do you have drugs?”
“We just may. Hop in.”
I found myself hitching a ride with a small clan of the very people I’d come to the festival to avoid. But as they offered me a smoke, a brew, and playing the best of Black Hand in the pot-smoked van- I feel a new chapter being written. I had joined a bandwagon of drifters following incredible new bands I’d yet to encounter. And though no wives for the taking were present, none of this seemed to matter. Perhaps I’d find less trouble wherever we were to go.
Only with music can we be instantly and enigmatically healed, the stigmata of my wounds became no more once I heard Anton imitating the British yet again, mesmerized by his performance last night that was now like a religious experience, and All Around Us blares until it fades with the final crash of a makeshift tambourine.
“Just like you,
Everyone is so happy here
Here it comes, Here it comes…”
Beautiful lyrics heard just the night before, in person, if only I could relive that show once more. I rejoice the echoing repetition of the very familiar chorus and let myself float. As the flashbacks of LSD grace me by the presence of such a sound, I know there is no end to the journey I was to embark upon. I was young Anton. I was my own idol. In the horizon I could have sworn the face of God had shown itself-in that moment where the worry dies and the drugs take over-so perhaps it was a mere side effect of the trip. Only in the moments of musical trance or psychedelic tension will I contemplate the volatile realities of an afterlife.
I wish to mention my encounter with Anton to my new friends, but perhaps that was our sacred intervention not meant to be shared to all. Even with the wounds of yesterday’s brutalities I have trouble believing if any of it, even the show itself, had happened at all. Knowing they were there and my meeting was very real (at least to me), I’m brought back to Earth and away from a diluted self-made Heaven. We exit the campgrounds without remorse, and now the stereo sounds busted.
Whether there is an afterlife at all, I thank my Gods of musical expertise for usually answering for me.
Even at the worst fidelity.
Mister Pope is a writer and musician from South Florida. He has
travelled across the United States playing folk music and lived in
strange and insufferable places while engaging in questionable and
outlandish eccentricities that make up his idiosyncratic manner of
storytelling. He is the founder of two psychedelic musical projects,
Gravy Horse and the People’s Love Cult. He is currently working on two
albums, a book of poetry, a screenplay, and finding a permanent