It all started during my junior year of high school. You know, with the high school sweetheart. The person you profoundly claim to be “the love of your life,” the person you spend countless hours with, being intimate with, being vulnerable with, being yourself with, trading clichés and promises like baseball cards on a daily basis while the two of you plan the rest of your lives together while living on a fine line made of steel and heartache that will hold you two tightly in irrational and impulsive instances of self-destructive love and passion. At least, that’s how my relationship with my high school sweetheart was. It was fun.
But she ended up moving away for college while I stayed at home due to my incompetence in school and the obligations of being the eldest of my siblings. Of course, like many others, we would aspire to be “the exception” among the countless relationships that end due to the long distance and separation. And, of course, like many others, we weren’t. It is not my duty to share the circumstances of how it ended, but it ended abruptly and it did not end well.
As I felt this mighty temple of promise, security and trust we created out of that relationship crushing under the weight of the world, I discovered The Airborne Toxic Event.
A friend of mine posted the music video to “Sometime Around Midnight” on Facebook. I remember that night so well, too. It was Halloween night and I hadn’t slept in three days because I didn’t know how to cope with that jarring heartache that followed the breakup. I was playing lots of Johnny Cash songs on my guitar as the doorbell rang with trick-or-treaters demanding candy. I tortured myself wondering why everything fell apart, how oblivious I was to miss the cracks and bends in a relationship I thought was as solid as a boulder. And the absolute worst feeling was feeling I was alone in it all. That no one knew what I was going through. That there was nothing anyone could say, no song that anyone could sing or movie I could watch that would sympathize with me at that moment in time.
But hearing “Sometime Around Midnight” was soothing, sobering. And I listened to it again and again. I let the viola and cello wash into my head like the feral waves described in the song. And again. The notes of the rhythm guitar quickly chipped away at my curiosity and wonder that plagued my mind. And again. I listened to Mikel’s lyrics as if it were the gospel, as if he was preaching how I felt word for word. I was lost in the haze of the wine. The world was falling around me. And it was at that moment I realized I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I felt, that there are others who feel this way and that there were others who felt this way before. I felt a sense of solidarity, a sense of comfort knowing that my pain wasn’t unique, that my heartbreak was ubiquitous, that others have seen the person they once loved walk out of that universal, metaphorical bar with another and felt their world fall to pieces. After hearing that song I finally slept again.
My TATE experience didn’t end there, though. That was just the beginning, but seeing as how you are reading this on a blog sharing the title of an obscure song such as “This Is Nowhere,” I have a feeling you already knew that. After my “Midnight” experience I delved deep into the world of The Airborne Toxic Event. I listened to their self-titled album front and back hundreds of times. I listened to it repeatedly. I listened to it daily. Every free minute of my days were minutes filled with TATE’s music. From their Walt Disney Hall performance to their eclectic, novel locations for their “Bombastic” videos. With tracks like “Innocence” and “Wishing Well” capturing my natural sweet tooth for literature and “Happiness is Overrated” and “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” allowing me to reflect upon my own naive nature and teenaged angst, I was able to find peace with myself. I ate it all up. Their first album felt as if it were written from my own experiences and it connected so well with me. When I learned their songs on guitar I felt like I was learning about a part of myself that I did not realize was there. The whole experience of discovering TATE was educational. It was sensational.
I couldn’t stop. I did the same to their second album as I did to their fist. I dissected All At Once relentlessly as I found it to be a much more complex, sophisticated and powerful album in comparison to their younger, more upbeat debut album. At that time, I felt like I was living the song “Changing.” I was questioning the very world around me, from politics and love to the morbid topics of death and loss. The album felt especially politically charged with “The Kids Are Ready to Die” and “Welcome to Your Wedding Day.” And as I learned those two songs on my guitar, I felt the howling, disconnected feeling of “The Kids” and the angry, poetic punch of “Wedding Day” in my hands. Never have I spent so much time learning music that is so passionate and intimate, and although the songs were simple enough to learn – they were intelligent, they were intricate, they were sewn so delicately, but they felt as if they were built to be durable enough to withstand the test of time. That’s how I felt about all of TATE’s music at that point.
When I heard about their Spring 2013 concert schedule, I bought two tickets for their Sunday show at the House of Blues in San Diego. One for me and one for my friend who posted the video of “Midnight” on Facebook, as I wanted to share this experience with the one who shared such beautiful, life-changing music with me. This was also my very first concert, too. The trip from my humble crossroads town to San Diego was filled with music and stories that we exchanged with one another. It was pleasant and somewhat awkward at times, but all of it didn’t matter once I saw Airborne on stage.
I was standing in front of the right sound system, so close that I could feel the air being expelled from the amplifier with every breath, strum, beat and note that Airborne played. The heat and the pressure in the air around me just added to the experience of physically feeling the music. It was deafening, it was awesome, it was so much fun. There was even a fight. I mean, seriously? Who the hell gets in a fight at an Airborne concert? It went down the whole time “Sometime Around Midnight” was playing, too. The crowd rushing and shoving their way around me to avoid the fists and profanity being thrown around robbed me of my opportunity to enjoy the live performance of the song that changed my life. But I can’t say I hated the concert because of that; I loved it even more. Noah (or was it Steven?) even tossed a pick in my direction, which bounced off my chest and was unfortunately lost to the black hole within the GA floor.
It wasn’t until about midway through the concert when Mikel and Anna opened up “The Graveyard Near the House” that I realized it was my favorite song. Mikel makes minor changes to the words almost every time he plays it live and I like how it can change the dynamic and context of the song (ex. “Two actors playing our parts” and “Two actors playing two parts.” It seems insignificant, but to me it is the difference between the unity in shared falseness and the separation of falseness; it would take an essay for me to explain!). “Graveyard” is just perfect. In my mind, it’s a story of what could have been, what could be, what I could strive for when finding someone to love; it is a story that comes around full circle just as life itself does; it is somber, it is elegant, it’s a very satisfying and fulfilling song. I find the line, “I’ll carve your name out of the sky” to be so simple and empowering that I have yet to find another line that can boast its equivalence.
I was deaf in my right ear for days after that concert and I couldn’t stop talking about or listening to Airborne for months. That concert only made me hungry for more Airborne. I started reading articles and reviews about the band. I was clashing with almost all of their scrutiny and finding myself studying interviews and articles that included members from the band. I felt like the world needed to hear Airborne and appreciate and praise them for the beautiful music that they produce and the marvelous talent that they share with us, but at the same time I was glad that not everyone was listening to them. Another forum poster described it as selfish to feel like keeping Airborne all to ourselves. And reading that helped me feel like their music is more than just a novelty, their music has become a piece of my life that causes me to feel selfish about them, too: that undeserving ears will never understand or listen to TATE as I do.
The release of Such Hot Blood added more fuel to the fire. I will admit that I felt that their third album was a bit disappointing due to a lack of something I can’t yet put my finger on, but once I realized that it was an album showing a band that was maturing, I too, felt as though I was maturing as I was grasping the concepts of “What’s In A Name?” and “Timeless” and “The Storm.” It was even comical when everyone lost their cool over the realization that “Elizabeth” is a direct reference to the woman in “Midnight” and they were even more drawn in by the mystery and awe that the connection between the two songs brought to the fans. It took a few months for it to sink in, but I eventually enjoyed every song from it, especially “This Is London” and “The Fifth Day.” Their change of pace and musical direction was evoking and intriguing as I was trying to decipher the meaning and intentions of it all, which made the album that much better for me. I listened to it and I learned.
That whole consisted of nothing but Airborne on my playlists and in my ears. When I heard Airborne was going to be playing in my middle-of-nowhere-town of Corona at a tiny showing for a holiday tour to promote a local radio station, I nearly crashed my car in uncontrollable excitement. The only other time I almost crashed my car due to something music related was when Van Halen was constantly playing on the radio for weeks without end and I was sick of it all. Anyway, I rushed to get my tickets as soon as I could and I took my brother and my closest friend to the TATE concert.
It was amazing. I was about three or four yards away from Anna and Steven, in comparison to dozens of feet away in San Diego earlier that year. Mikel was hilarious and admitted that the show was their smallest show in years. He even sat down and met and talked with the fans afterwards. The show was short, only six or seven songs, but in that short time I was able to share a very unique concert experience with two of the closest people to me, catch two of Mikel’s picks and get spat on by a bitter fan who dropped one of those picks from the railing above me into my hands. After that concert, my brother couldn’t stop listening to all of Airborne’s albums. I was so happy to have people to share TATE with.
And as I type this now, it’s been over six months since that concert in my hometown. Six months without live music from your favorite band is six months too many. However, I did buy tickets to see their three opening tour shows in San Francisco this upcoming fall. I am beyond excited. Airborne is just one of those bands who really knows how to throw together a damn fine show. You can feel their energy on stage, their passion and drive as musicians, as ordinary people who love their fans, you can feel it resonate all around the room, causing this cathartic feeling for people to experience their music live.
I listen to Airborne less often as I journey onward into the world of music, but I still listen to them enough that their music is an extension of my life that I will always be able to reach into and take what I can from it. Which brings me to wonder if I had stayed with my high school sweetheart, if we had worked things out and had been “the exception” we wanted to be, would I have ever had the opportunity to discover The Airborne Toxic Event the way that I did? I sincerely doubt there is anything more fulfilling she could have offered to me over the life-changing music and experiences that helped me discover and define who I am today. Their music was there as I transitioned from being a naive, heartbroken teen to a mature adult – and I can’t even say that I’m completely there yet. But what I can say is that I am grateful and thankful for the gorgeous, compelling music and experiences that Airborne has offered me.
Keep on being lost in the haze of the wine.
Nick is currently a student at his local community college intent on becoming a journalist and a creative writing teacher. A recreational guitarist for seven years, when he’s not buried in schoolwork and music, he enjoys learning and writing songs. He’s also a huge fan of lyrical poetry, games involving dice and Star Wars.