My Tribe

Posted: July 25, 2013 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , , , , , ,

By Glen

airborne fansIf Facebook can be taken as a reliable guide to such things (debatable, but play along), my best friends in the world are a bunch of people I’ve never met, or met only briefly. Depending upon your perspective, this is either extraordinary or pathetic.


Seven years ago, I embarked on a journey that continues to this day, with no end in sight. It was not a journey that I chose for myself; it was unexpected, unplanned, unwanted and terribly inconvenient – life-changingly so. A journey marked by questions, doubt, insecurity and indecision, which radically unsettled the foundations of my life – if not externally, then at least internally.

This isn’t the time or place to get into the details, the whats or especially the whys. Suffice it to say, my life had been defined by and constructed upon a particular set of beliefs – beliefs I was certain of, and that I was certain would never change. Until suddenly they did.

Well, maybe not suddenly. Like a ball approaching the crest of a hill, the changes in my core convictions came slowly at first, hesitantly, until finally they eased past the point of no return and began the inexorable slide down the other side, gaining speed, unable to be stopped.

It’s not a bad thing, though many people I know and respect undoubtedly would see it as such. Truthfully, I have few regrets about where I’ve landed today, even as I remain uncertain about exactly where I’ll end up tomorrow. It hasn’t been easy though, especially as it relates to some of my most important relationships. Not with my wife, who’s in the midst of her own journey in a somewhat similar direction, thankfully. But with… well, pretty much everyone else.

The beautiful thing about my old life was that it came complete with a built-in tribe: a sense of belonging forged by shared beliefs and values that superseded any superficial differences we might otherwise have. My identity was inextricably bound up with this group, orbiting around What Mattered Most. And though we were exhorted to be outward oriented, every meaningful friendship that I had came from within the ranks.

So what happens when your centre starts to crumble, and your commitment to the ideas that define the community begins to wane? If you’re me, you begin to feel like an outsider in a club you’ve only ever seen from the inside. You become a misfit in the places you once called home. You sense a growing distance between yourself and everyone around you, though they probably haven’t noticed any change. You feel fake, going though the motions, too cowardly and concerned about self-preservation to actually tell anyone what’s really going on. You become a stranger, surrounded by a throng of friends.


Four years ago, I discovered a band. Three albums, two road trips, six shows, one act of generosity and two unforgettable backstage experiences later, they have a fan for life. But as much as The Airborne Toxic Event has enriched my life with their music, this is about more than a fan and his band. This is about finding my tribe.

In the course of following said band across multiple states in pursuit of the ever-fleeting concert high, I stumbled across something – someONE, or, rather a whole bunch of someones – I didn’t expect. An entire community of kindred spirits, who not only understand and accept me in all my weirdness, but actually share in it.

Historically, up until very recently in fact, people didn’t have the luxury of choosing their tribes; they were born into them, and they never left. Today, with the ease of travel and the Internet erasing borders, the tribal concept is much more fluid. Now we select our tribes: voluntary groupings that coalesce around ideas, interests, commonalities. The bond of a shared passion is powerful. And as Mikel himself has said, “There’s something about music and the way people hear music and the way your taste in music is part of what creates your identity as a person in the modern world.”

And so it is that when I scan my top 12 Facebook “favorites” – the dozen people with whom I apparently spend the most time conversing online – I see my wife, plus 11 people that I’ve spent maybe a total of 20 hours with in real life. A few of them were there with me for that magical half hour, backstage with our band at Red Rocks. Others waited in line with me in Portland or Seattle or Vancouver last April, anxious to claim our spot against the stage. And still others I know only by their Facebook profile picture. If they ever cut their hair, I might not recognize them if we passed on the street.

BUT… these friendships, founded on a mutual appreciation of five musicians, have quickly grown into something more, something very real. In the 10 months that I’ve “known” them, we’ve mourned together, celebrated together, shared our deepest hopes and fears with one another, and talked through some of life’s toughest questions together. Oh, and we’ve also stood side by side, belting out the lyrics as the band played some song about forgetting yourself for awhile. And really, isn’t that what we all want in a friendship?

If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that there are more meaningful things on which to base your identity and relationships than a band. The Airborne Toxic Event is not a religion, however devoted to the TATE gospel some of us may appear to be. As important as the band is to me, there are bigger things in my life. And in no way do I mean to minimize my long-standing, flesh and blood friendships, which still mean the world to me and could never be replaced. Nevertheless, my fellow fans have filled a hole in my life that needed filling.

20130723-154640.jpgA few months ago, I joined the TATE tattoo club, a bird proudly emblazoned on my shoulder. A stylized raven, according to Mikel – a fact I probably should’ve known before I got it. I actually decided to get a tattoo almost three years ago, but it took me that long to decide what I wanted. Every time I came up with a new idea, my wife asked me, “What does it mean?” She seemed very concerned that whatever I chose should have significant meaning in my life, as her own tats do for her.

When I finally took the plunge, I had to admit: there was nothing particularly meaningful about it. Just a band that I can’t get out of my head – that I don’t want to get out of my head.

But in the ensuing months, as friendships have been forged, I’ve discovered that the tattoo means much more than I thought it did. I’ve come to see it as my tribal mark. This is my tribe: not my only tribe, maybe not even my most important tribe, but a tribe that I am proud to have chosen, and to have been chosen by.

Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

  1. Jen says:

    Thank you Glen! I love that you call us your “Tribe”! I have been searching for a word to describe the best friends I have had in a long time, (with out really seeing them for more than a few hours), and you found the perfect word. TRIBE! This Tribe, that means so much to me, and makes me feel respected, cared for, supported and loved by all of you everyday. Thank you all so much for being in my life ❤


  2. Thanks Jen! It’s a wonderful community we’ve all built together.


  3. Susan says:

    This is a very lovely post. The only downside to your first person account is it doesn’t highlight the great dedication and work you put into your tribe. Here is the small bit to remark the tribe is lucky to have you.


  4. […] There was the stadium worker who related a moment of unexpected camaraderie, when a complete stranger put his arm around his shoulders during a particularly poignant rendition of Blood Brothers. It illustrated the power of music to create a surprising kinship, and to draw together a tribe of diverse people bound by a shared passion. […]


  5. […] know it now, but I’m about to make some wonderful new friends – not the band, but a dozen like minded TATE fans who will add so much to my life long after this day has […]


  6. […] My Tribe: Musings on identity and belonging, and a personal tribute to the friends I’ve made through our shared dedication to five musicians from LA. […]


  7. […] I’ve written previously about what my TATE tat means to me: […]


  8. […] At times I have gotten much more transparent on this blog than I ever intended to get (see here and here). The past seven years have been somewhat tumultuous for me personally, and my way of […]


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