Posts Tagged ‘storm’

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event: manning up. Photo by Ryan Tuttle.

Mikel Jollett: Manning Up. Photo by Ryan Tuttle.

By Glen

Through five records from The Airborne Toxic Event, there are themes that have clearly captivated Mikel Jollett: threads of thought that stalk his work like spirits, weaving their way through the shadows of multiple albums.

Death is the most obvious one of course, its influence limited not just to the songs but extending to the band’s very name and identity. But there are others.

Love. Loss. Home. Angels. Ghosts. Rain.

Amongst these weighty subjects, there is one that sticks out like something of a sore thumb.

Mikel Jollett is kind of obsessed with being a man.

The admonition to “be a man” conjures primitive images of testosterone-dripping, chest-thumping, macho Neanderthals who know what they want and aren’t afraid to take it, even if it means stepping on others along the way.

But unlike certain Presidential candidates, Jollett doesn’t seem overly concerned with flashing his masculine credentials and measuring his… fingers. Rather, his work betrays that he’s still grasping for direction, wrestling with what exactly constitutes manhood in the context of fear, change, uncertainty and relationships.

“What does it mean to be a man?” asks Jollett from the stage one night in Boston. “That’s a really stupid idea, right? I don’t know, like, eating beef jerky? You know, you can think of all these cheesy, simplified things that you can attach to that idea, which is ridiculous. So, for me, I landed on honesty. There was a time when I felt really trapped by so much that I was trying to hide from the rest of the world, and ultimately I realized that I just had to burn the whole fucking thing down.”

The embracing of authenticity and vulnerability is a very 21st century approach to masculinity; one that deals more in questions than answers, as we’ll see as we trace Jollett’s lyrical journey through manhood.

Changing

In “Changing,” Jollett treads a fine line between deference on the one side and cocksurety on the other. “I am a gentleman,” he insists repeatedly, offering a litany of proof. He requests what he needs, rather than demanding it: “Didn’t I ask for a place I could stay?” He pays his own way: “Didn’t I pay for every laugh, every dime, every bit every time?” He prioritizes relationship and steps up when he is needed: “Didn’t I answer every time that you call? Pick you up when you fall?”

That said, there’s a firm limit to his flexibility, and he butts up against it when he finds that being a gentleman is getting him nowhere. A deep mistrust is eating at the relationship – at least on her side – and he’s not going to take it lying down. “You say that I lie,” he says with disbelief. “You say I never tried.” Are you serious?

As her deep-seated suspicion seeds mind games and naked attempts at control, the gentleman takes a backseat to a more primal form of masculinity: one that’s had enough of listening, resists compromise and takes a stand. “I won’t hear one more word about changing. Guess what, I am the same man.”

The stubborn man, unwilling to bend and refusing to be owned, is a stark contrast to the gentleman who minded his manners and followed the rules. So what type of man does he want to be?

The Storm

In “The Storm,” an almost 40-year-old Jollett is starting to figure it out. He’s come to a sobering awareness: only just now, after “25 years of running in sand,” has he finally “learned how to stand like a man.”

As it turns out, standing like a man isn’t at all what he expected; perhaps that’s why the lesson was so long in the learning.

“I was going through a lot of heavy stuff at this point in my life when I wrote this song,” Jollett explains. “The idea of the song is somebody witnessing your struggles. You go through these private struggles in your life, and in some cases you feel like you’ve been just barely getting through for a very long time. And the idea is that somebody comes in and just sees it, and is like, ‘Oh my God!’ And that moment of sympathy and empathy, and that sense that somebody can witness who you are and want to help you in your life when you’re just kind of laid bare was really powerful for me at the time. There’s a sense of home that’s kind of the heart of love; that sense of homeness that you can just be yourself with someone, they can see your struggles, and they can see what’s good and bad about you and love you for it. And the minute you recognize that is actually when you know that you have love in your life.”

It’s an extraordinarily counter-cultural take on manliness. We think it’s all about standing on our own two feet and handling shit on our own. But Jollett found manhood in a moment of extreme weakness, even dependence, when he realized there was someone else in the room and it was okay to lean on them. Being a man is not a solo sport.

The Fifth Day

By “The Fifth Day,” the man is broken. The room is empty again.

If Jollett found relationship to be the key to manhood, what does it mean to be a man now that the girl who continually reminded him, “Boy, you’re not so tough,” is gone?

Well, perhaps she’s not completely gone after all. Memories linger: their song in the air, her scent on the sheets. And he knows, even in her absence, “It’s these things that make you a man.”

He may be facing the future alone, but he’s not the same man he was – and he’s not going back. Even if he wanted to, he can’t remember where he started.

But I won’t go back to what I was
I know now that you are lost
It’s your choices that make you a man
Your frozen mind begins to thaw
You think my God my God my God
Where was it I began?

There’s only one way out, and that’s forward, with the lessons of the past in his pocket. That is his choice.

The Way Home

The Such Hot Blood bonus track “The Way Home” introduces us to a man at the end of his rope. Perhaps it’s the same man from “The Fifth Day,” some indeterminate time later; it’s tough to say. The events that have crushed him are not spelled out, but whatever they were, they have left him alone and uncertain.

But also full of resolve.

Rather than yielding to despair and wallowing “beneath this darkened shroud,” the narrator gets his head about him. Change is no longer the enemy. He tears down his prison of shame, brick by ignominious brick. He catches a glimpse of hope – “I can hear the birds, see the light outside” – and it emboldens him to “stand up like a man and swallow my pride.” The hands of time may have beaten him down, but they haven’t defeated him.

The doubts have not been vanquished; not all the question marks have been replaced by periods. He is neither brave nor sure – but Fear will not be permitted the final word.

He doesn’t have the slightest clue where he’s going, just that it’s far away from here – and that’s enough for now. The man closes the door behind him and sets off for the horizon, walking this road on the bricks he’s laid.

Time to be a Man

If the story ended there, you might think he’d finally figured it out. But there’s another chapter, and it brings Jollett full circle.

“Time to be a Man” is a funny song. It seems on the surface to be a bit of an odd duck in the Jollett catalog, with a triumphalist tone that contrasts sharply with his customary cynicism. “Be a man! The whole world is at your door!” What was that we said about chest thumping?

Except it’s not that at all. The man who had boldly set out for a new life somehow finds himself right back where he began: tossing his way through sleepless nights. And still alone. The lessons of “The Storm” have long since been forgotten: he thought he could do it on his own, “like you don’t need no one else,” but he was wrong. “The way home is so steep” – much steeper than he expected.

Yet again, he tries to muster up the strength to be a man. However, his admonition to himself is shot through with self-doubt. “Tell me how does that go? What the hell are you waiting for?”

“The whole world is at your door,” he reminds himself. But walking through that door is not as easy as it seems.

“Time to be a Man” isn’t the optimistic paean to grabbing life by the balls that it might at first glance appear to be. It’s the same secrets and lies and doubts and failures that Jollett has always battled, just wrapped up in a glossier package.

In other words, he hasn’t figured it out after all. Not by a long shot.

But he’s not pretending he has… and that’s a start.

GlenGlen 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.

The Airborne Toxic Event, MissyBy Yules

How did it all begin?

It seems like I haven’t got much of a story to tell you all, really – I’m a relatively young fan. I’ve not lived enough of life to know that much about it. I only have a few, if any, truly profound experiences in my life up to now, but still, I’d like to share this with you.

My story is a story about imagination. And, well, music. Being that you’re reading this here.

Music, I found, was a way of pretty much losing myself, of celebrating little things in life and telling short stories in just a few minutes. Aged 12, I’d boldly claimed that I hated all music. Five years later, armed with an iPod, I was a changed woman.

Aged 17 – insert “Gasoline” jokes here – I discovered Airborne.

It began in a bizarre way; somewhere I’d glimpsed a strange name belonging to a strangely named band, and found myself on iTunes listening to the preview of Track 1. I liked Track 1 and bought that and loved it even more after listening in full – but the rest was untouched. It was only towards the end of that year that I returned for a few more tracks.

I turned 18 in early 2015, and within a week, I had bought my first two complete, physical albums. Ever. I’d never found a reason to before – digital albums on iTunes were in themselves a rarity for me – but this time, the whole thing was damn worth it. Something clicked and that was all I listened to for weeks.

It was insane.

What began with “Wishing Well” became a mad cascade. Mad, but absolutely beautiful.

**********

How did that all begin?

The first cut was probably made some years ago; the first time I learned to hold a craft scalpel in school and felt that strange plastic handle press firm into my fingertips. I wondered how sharp the blade itself was, if only pressing on a bit of plastic was already causing such discomfort. My fingers were numbed quickly.

I wasn’t very good at this… paper-cutting lark. The first cuts were probably a mess, to the point where I’m glad I’ve forgotten them. But… it was all a sort of beginning, way back then. I wasn’t much good, but that was only the start.

But now, let’s fast forward. It’s 2015. Tour announcement.

The one thing I was sure of was that I had to go and see this damn band; the tickets came out and the ticket was bought within the hour.

I was already repeating tracks and albums and shamelessly humming and whistling sections of melodies. From the introduction of that very first song, to the extravagance of “All At Once” and “The Fifth Day” and the simple beauty of “Graveyard…” (Confession: I genuinely cried the first couple of times I listened to “The Graveyard Near The House.”) Even the new release hasn’t failed in my books; far from it, and Songs of God and Whiskey is also a delight.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Graveyard Near the House

With everything, I loved whatever the band threw at me. Lyrics, vibes, string-section flourishes.

And that’s how the images came.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Strangers

**********

How did this all begin?

Have you ever listened to a song and felt like there was a cinema in the back of your head?

That’s what it felt like to me. Airborne wasn’t the first band to play their ‘five minute feature’ to me, but they were definitely significant.

I imagined strange scenes, like animations. Silhouettes, black-and-white dances, rising and falling in and out of nowhere, flowers and storms and dreams and broken glass… Take “The Fifth Day” and imagine strangeness and darkness for hours and hours; then a pause, then move the curtain, and let everything be light. Take “All I Ever Wanted” and picture it: a steely firearm in your hands, and clutch your weapon tighter, and be brave, and oust your demons from existence.

It sounds cliché, but it’s all there.

I was bored in class one day, and began to draw, and realised what I was seeing on paper. I realised that the things I could not animate could come alive in another way.

I thought of the artists I’d Googled years ago, in search of art class inspiration. I thought of the simple images I needed to show and the words that came with them, soft and beautiful and sharp and twisting and fantastic.

I had a paper knife and a cutting mat.

Perfect.

**********

I posted my first piece on Twitter in March. It was an impulsive image, one that had emerged in my head in the middle of that day. What had begun as a pair of birds doodled in a moment of boredom had grown and developed into a small piece of lyric art.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Chains"

The song was “Chains.” Why? It just happened to be in my head at the time, I guess. It took a few hours to complete, from planning to rough sketch to execution. I was rusty, having not cut paper for a while, but I was proud of what I’d achieved.

That same evening, I logged on to read the next post about the songs of Dope Machines.

I did not realise how significant Mikel’s final paragraph about ‘Something You Lost’ was until I saw an isolated sentence again the following day.

It justhit me.

I dreamt. That evening, I realised that the quote needed to be cut out.

The following day, on Friday evening, work began. Work ended on Sunday, and after some conflict with the scanner – ‘dope machines’ indeed – it was ready. I posted on Sunday night.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Something You Lost"

24 hours later, it had received what to me was significant attention. I’d been a nobody.

I was in shock.

This messy, imperfect thing had been seen. And there were compliments. Even the band had retweeted.

I couldn’t believe it.

**********

I took up the knife again the day after. From the conception of the twin birds of “Chains” to the frustration behind cutting out the letter ‘S’ multiple times, the letters had all passed through my head. I had more images inside.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Storm

I was in personal awe of the things I was doing. I was putting blade to paper to cutting mat, dreaming and for once, realising these strange, silhouetted visions. There was hope yet of me expressing the strange fantasies that circled around my head as I heard a song play.

I’d had the words and now I had the pictures. It was delightful. Perfect, imperfect, I was getting things out. Dreaming on paper. Realising those dreams. Being on fire inside; somehow enjoying the numb, calloused fingertips and harsh plastic in my hands.

There’s something about expressing yourself. It’s a feeling of happiness.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Time to be a Man

What began as something small grew into an intense but amusing project.

I decided to challenge myself; I thought I’d do as many papercuts as I could before I saw TATE for the first time in mid-April. Weeks of work later, and an ugly callus staining my finger, I settled for 10 images. There were far more mental images and far more songs to portray, but for now, it was all I could do.

The final image, unlike the others, lacked words and incorporated a shocking burst of colour. It was posted at the appropriate time of 12am, on the day of the show I was to attend.

The Airborne Toxic Event's "Sometime Around Midnight"

**********

The show itself. I was nervous about it for weeks; nervous to the minute. Nervous about anything and everything. I went with it.

Hours later, after the end, I came away smiling like a fool (also sweaty as hell – but with two autographs and some conversations!) having learned three things:

  1. The band is fantastic live.
  2. Do not be afraid – everything is definitely worth it.
  3. The fans I met are proof that I am part of a family of sorts.

…and of course, I wasn’t an ‘Airborne virgin’ any more. The stupid, awkward fears I’d had before now lay slain behind me.

The Airborne Toxic Event, Timeless

Through showing my art and jumping into the full experience, I am definitely reassured. I am one of thousands of fans, many of whom attend shows, and a number of whom contribute to this blog. I seriously don’t know how I’d feel about showing my work to the online world without all of this wonderful company and the knowledge that there are other enthusiasts out there. Others mad and much, much madder.

And you know what? It’s great to be mad.

So thank you for giving me the courage to create and submit my work and to share it all with you. Thank you for the kind words and the encouragement. Thank you to the concertgoers and the blog writers and the reviewers and the photographers and all of the rest. Thank you all.

Is this true love? Well, I don’t know. It’s just my best guess.

What I do know is that the first show, just like the first cut and the first song, is only the beginning.

The Airborne Toxic Event, The Fall of Rome

Bathed in Blue: Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

Bathed in Blue: Steven Chen of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by Creative Copper Images, Oct. 23, 2014, Vancouver, BC.

By Glen

Any week in which we get new music from The Airborne Toxic Event is a good week indeed. So let’s get straight to recapping what was a very good week for TATE fans.

Dope Machines UnChained

The shackles have been released – Dope Machines is on the loose!

Rumors of a Feb. 24 on sale date for The Airborne Toxic Event’s new album turned out to be on point, confirmed by the band late last week. On Tuesday, Dope Machines hit iTunes and other digital retailers for the start of the pre-order period. In the process, eager TATE fans were able to get their grubby hands on an early download of the LP’s closing song, “Chains.”

“Chains,” which was premiered on Monday by VH1 (and for which we posted a snap review and lyrics), is described thusly by Mikel Jollett:

I wrote the song on one of the 400 days I spent locked inside working on the record. It’s sort of Los Angeles, about the idea of sprawl, how the great expanse of interconnectivity (physical, digital, social) can make u feel so alone when there’s no center and no edge and no end.

Fan reaction to the track has been almost universally positive, in contrast to the mixed response that the heavily synthesized “Wrong” has received. Though there have been a few dissenters, the overwhelming consensus would seem to indicate that “Chains” has succeeded in its presumed mission to stoke excitement about the album release and spur pre-orders.

In the highly unlikely event that there is anyone in the world who likes the band enough to be reading this article and yet has somehow not heard the song, here’s the audio:

You’re So American… Or Not

When Dope Machines appeared in the iTunes store late Monday evening (yes, Monday – it pays to live in the Pacific time zone), fans were thrilled to see an unexpected eleventh track on the listing: “You’re So American,” which we had earlier posited would be right at home on Dope Machines. Like many fans, I placed my pre-order immediately.

Yesterday, I poked my head back into the virtual shop, only to discover that my pre-order had disappeared. Upon further investigation, the 11-track version of the album was nowhere to be found in the store; it had been replaced by the 10-track album we had all originally expected.

After doing some digging, we were able to confirm that the original posting was a mistake. The 10-track version of the album is the only one that will be available. All pre-orders for the 11-track version have been cancelled outright; if you ordered your copy within the first day or so of it becoming available, you will need to place a new pre-order for the correct version.

The Airborne Toxic Event Dope Machines Cover ArtNude on White

The other major piece of the puzzle to come into focus this week was the album artwork. The first opportunity to see it came Friday when Shazam users were offered the chance for a sneak peek by Shazaming “Wrong.” By Monday, the cover was all over the internet.

The artwork is striking in its simplicity. After I spent entirely too much time developing my theory on what it means, Mikel ended the suspense by explaining it for us:

The cover image for our new record Dope Machines, features a photograph entitled “Nude on White” by innovative Mid century photographer Paul Himmel. I saw his work and immediately was drawn to his use of grain and high contrast to create images that were simultaneously foreign, clearly altered but unmistakably human. I felt it captured the tone of Dope Machines. Himmel was married to another highly influential mid-century photographer named Lillian Bassman. Her work echoed similar ideas: obscured but iconically human.

Paul died in 2009 after 73 years of marriage to Lillian who followed three years later. We contacted the estate and eventually were put in touch with Paul and Lillian’s children who upon learning about the band and our sincere admiration of their parent’s work, graciously allowed us to use Paul’s photograph for our cover art.

I was honored and elated and remain in their debt.

I was quite surprised to learn that the image is 60-odd years old, as I was certain that the woman in the picture was clutching a phone in her right hand. So much for my theory. Even so, when I consider this image in the context of the subject matter of Dope Machines, it strikes me as saying something about how, as we use our magnificent technology to connect with other human beings, we’re only seeing a fuzzy shadow of the persons they truly are, and they us. It is not at all what I was expecting of the album cover, given the spacey, digital feel of the “Wrong” single artwork, and yet it’s entirely fitting.

Meanwhile, the decision to release the artwork through Shazam, much like the choice last week to reveal the track list through an Instagram pic, is another appropriate tie-in to the Dope Machines theme. Unfortunately, the technology isn’t perfect. Some users, including myself initially, were not able to make the sneak peek link appear in Shazam. I thought perhaps it was only available to American users; however, I was eventually able to get it to work using the iPad app. I never did succeed with my iPhone. Regardless, it wasn’t long before the image had spread far and wide.

TIN’s Julie alerted me to a very informative article that explains the critical role that Shazam plays in the music industry today, which sheds some light on why the band chose to use that particular app for the big reveal. Times sure have changed…

Anna in the News

As reported last week, Anna Bulbrook made an appearance on Saturday Night Live last weekend, as a guest musician on Sia’s performance of “Chandelier.” Unfortunately, she was very tough to spot, hidden as she was behind a mime (speaking of changing times). But it sounded lovely.

Meanwhile, axs caught up with Ms. Bulbrook to talk about her new project, The Bulls. Anna says her Airborne bandmates are “being rad” about her new gig, and compares her new role as leading lady to performing with TATE:

Playing songs you have played forever with people you’ve played with forever is like getting on a beloved, familiar train. You get on, the train goes, maybe you have a glass of champagne, then you get off. It’s fun and comfortable and special, all at the same time. But I’ve played with lots of other people and bands over the years, so I’m used to doing things in lots of ways. The giant difference is that in The Bulls, I stand in the middle. Everything is strange and different when you are singing.

Coastline Cancelled

Disappointing news for Florida TATE fans who were looking forward to catching the band in February at the Coastline Festival. The festival has been cancelled due to financial difficulties.

Mikel Named One of Stanford’s Best

Best Paths runs down the top five Stanford alumni in the music industry. Not surprisingly, yer man Mikel cracked the list.

Toxic Gold

When The Airborne Toxic Event hit Coachella in 2013, Baeble Music caught up with Mikel and Daren for a chat, and also captured an intimate private performance of “The Storm” and “Timeless.”

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic EventGlen 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.

By Glen

2013 was quite the year for The Airborne Toxic Event: 92 live shows, 1 album released in 3 stages, an EP, multiple TV appearances, 4 video releases and a single featured on a film soundtrack kept the band busy and gave fans plenty to talk about through the past 365 days. In case you missed any of it, we’ve got you covered with our interactive recap.

Jan.1: The Airborne Toxic Event rings in the New Year by breaking into “Auld Lang Syne” in the midst of “Missy” at Chicago’s Metro

Jan. 14: Announcement of “Timeless” as the first single from new album Such Hot Blood; album to be released in spring 2013

Jan. 15: New song “Timeless” premieres on billboard.com

Jan. 15/16: TATE plays a pair of shows at New York’s Webster Hall (Night 1 | Night 2)

Jan. 22: “Timeless” single released

Feb. 21: Announcement that Such Hot Blood will be preceded by the release of The Secret EP, featuring four songs from the upcoming album

Feb. 28: TATE plays a one-off show at London’s KOKO; the lone European gig until October

Mar. 1: New song “The Storm” premieres on spinner.com

Mar. 6: New song “Safe” premieres on diffuser.fm

Mar. 8: New song “The Secret” premieres on rollingstone.com

Mar. 11: The Secret EP released

Mar. 11: Live performance and interview streamed on KCRW.com; marks the first time most TATE fans have heard new song “True Love” (recorded a few weeks previous)

Mar. 16: “Timeless” bombastic video released

Mar. 20: “Timeless” official video released

Mar. 20: “Timeless” performed on The Late Show with David Letterman

Mar. 30: Such Hot Blood tour kicks off in San Diego, CA

Apr. 10: Announcement of an Apr. 30 North American release of Such Hot Blood; album art released

Apr. 12: “Timeless” performed on the Jay Leno Show

Apr. 14/21: TATE plays Coachella; the first performance is live streamed online, though technical difficulties cause the first song and a half to be missed

Apr. 22: Full album stream of Such Hot Blood released on spinner.com

Apr. 23: “The Storm” bombastic video released

Apr. 30: Such Hot Blood released in North America

May 1: Live performance and interview streamed online for Peavey, Hollywood

May 2: TATE plays Jimmy Kimmel Live; “The Storm” airs on TV while “The Secret” is broadcast online

May 4: “True Love” bombastic video released

Jun. 1: New song “Dublin” premiered in Visalia, CA with the Tulare County Symphony

Jun. 18: Free show at New York’s Central Park SummerStage, featuring The Calder Quartet and the Ensemble LPR

Aug. 23: Performance with the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa, CA

Sept. 4: Fall tour kicks off in Columbia, SC

Sept. 13: Such Hot Blood released in mainland Europe; includes new bonus tracks “Dublin” and “The Way Home”

Sept. 13: New song “Hell and Back” premieres on Philadelphia’s Radio 104.5, with the live premiere a day later

Sept. 18: Live set and interview filmed for JBTV in Chicago, IL

Sept. 30: Such Hot Blood released in the UK

Oct. 1: European tour kicks off in Birmingham, UK

Oct. 7: Live acoustic set and interview filmed for Gin in Tea Cups in London, UK

Oct. 15: “Hell and Back” released as a single and on the Dallas Buyers Club soundtrack

Dec. 9: Final live performance of the year at 98.7’s ALTimate Christmas Party in Hollywood, CA

So, what was your personal TATE highlight of 2013? Was it one of the events listed here, or something else entirely? Comment below!

For a complete listing of 2013 tour dates, including setlists for almost all the shows, visit our TATE setlist archive.

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic EventGlen 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.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event. Photo by TATE fan Ryan Macchione.

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event.
Photo by TATE fan Ryan Macchione.

By Mike

Ed. Note: This is the first in a six week series in which fans of The Airborne Toxic Event select their Top 5 musical moments of their favorite band member. Mikel gets two entries – one for vocal performances, and one for lyrics. Next week: Daren Taylor, The Ultimate Beat Keeper.

When I accepted the task of composing a Top 5 list of Mikel Jollett’s best vocal performances, I had a few ideas in my head. My first step was to go to YouTube and start listening to all the Airborne Toxic Event videos I had watched thousands of times before. Only this time, I did something different: I shut my mouth, quit singing along like I always did, and really listened. Obviously, I was focusing on the vocals, but I really listened. My opinions of the top five started changing. What I ended up doing was compiling a list of nine songs, then I went back to YouTube and carefully pared them down. And now I present to you, the Top 5.

5. The Kids Are Ready to Die

This is my favorite recording of the punk version of this song. They really rock out on it. I considered making the long journey to this show, but in the end I didn’t. I probably should have. Mikel’s energy is evident from the beginning of the intro, and it climaxes when he belts out, “The kids are lined up on the wall and they’re ready to die!”

4. The Storm

The beauty in this one is how Mikel’s vocals perfectly complement the slow build of the music. It starts out slowly and crescendos into a frenzied storm. It’s hard for me to pick just one point. I get chills every time he sings, “Then you walk right through the doorway, you tell me you’re here to stay.” And when they play it live, I totally get off on belting out, “And you knew it all along, I wasn’t happy all alone.” It’s easily my favorite song on Such Hot Blood.

3. Half of Something Else

This song is a favorite of many fans for many reasons… the subject matter, the beauty, the passion. And that is embodied perfectly in Mikel’s voice when he sings, “The way that you screamed, The way that you cried, The way that you wipe your eyes and fall against my side.” The band gets a lot of letters telling about the song being played at weddings, and I can see why. It’s my favorite love song of all time.

2. Duet

I hate to cop out, but the beauty of this song is the whole thing. It is quiet, playful, bold, and graceful. That being said, a huge assist has to go to Anna Bulbrook on this one. Mikel’s singing along with both Anna and her viola is where the song draws its power. The Walt Disney Concert Hall show is the highlight show of the band’s career thus far, and for me, this is the shining moment.

1. Sometime Around Midnight

This was an obvious pick. It not only is the song that started me on the path to becoming an Airborne superfan, it did the same for many of my friends as well. The first time I heard Mikel sing, “And you walk, Under the street lights,” I was hooked. I cried the first hundred times I heard the song. And sometimes I still do.

Purchase the Best of Mikel:

The Kids Are Ready to Die
The Storm
Half of Something Else
Duet (Live from Walt Disney Concert Hall)
Sometime Around Midnight

mike Mike is just a half-white guy from Akron, and the indisputable winner of the “Best Airborne Tattoo” prize.

By Ginny

This is a blog dedicated to The Airborne Toxic Event and how their music impacts people, but let’s face it, music is art and there are many classifications of art. So while I’ve become a full on Airborne fan, music has always been my first chosen art form for comfort.

I feel honored to have been asked to contribute a post and I’ve entitled it “My Storm” because that’s what this is about, but in the end we’ll pull it together, I promise.

I’m a bona fide member of the walking wounded, and I know I’m not alone. We’ve all faced our own challenges, demons, battles and wounds that we felt like we could never overcome. But we do. We go on with our daily lives for whatever reasons motivate us to do so.

My reasons are my two boys: Owen (8) and Teddy (4). The thing is, when you become a parent, your heart no longer beats in your chest. Mine has been equally divided in half and beats in their miraculous little bodies. Having those two boys helped me to conquer my past which included every form of child abuse that you could imagine. That’s partly why I’m a member of the walking wounded club. Somehow, I’ve broken the cycle of abuse. My boys are safe, well cared for and know they are deeply loved. Simply, they have the childhood I wish for myself. There’s beauty and all sorts of significance in that.

Part of keeping kids safe is baby gates. Most parents put them in place and never remove them. Instead, we hop over them every time we need to leave the room. It was a Sunday morning, and like so many mornings I had dishes in both hands and hopped right over that baby gate. This time, however, my foot caught the top of it. I fell extremely hard and hit the side of my head on a ceramic tiled step. This left me with a concussion and severe herniated disc in my neck. Over time, despite every form of therapy that exists, the disc just became worse and was impinging on my spine, and had pretty much decimated a nerve on my left side. After three years of pain that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, I came to realize that spinal surgery was the only option left. Mind you, I was a single mother through two of those three years, so I didn’t have the luxury of “taking it easy.”

I had spinal surgery last December and felt like, ah, life can finally get back to a new normal. Like a musician (I so wish that were true!) I travel a LOT for work. My first trip was in March of this year. I woke up and knew something was terribly wrong but couldn’t figure it out. I could barely walk, barely breathe and was intensely dizzy. I have no idea how I pulled this off, but I somehow made it through security on to a flight to Phoenix, made it to the hotel and ultimately crashed in my room.

I gave myself lots of extra time the next morning to get ready; I put on my make-up, did my hair and put on a nice dress. All of that, only to faint about 15 feet away from my room. The ENT’s arrived and my heart rate was extremely high and my oxygen low, so they tried to rush me, but I stopped them, saying, “Wait, what can possibly be wrong with me? I just had horrific spinal surgery. I cannot be sick again!” They finally just ignored me and brought me in. I was seen immediately and the ER doc looked at me and said, “You look like a ghost. Aware of any anemia issues?” I said no, I just had surgery and was still tired and not myself, but I thought I was on the mend. At that moment a nurse handed him a sheet of paper, and the doc said, “Your hematocrit is 13%. Good thing you made it here or you’d be dead within a day.”

I couldn’t really comprehend what he was saying because the lack of oxygen made my thoughts all fuzzy, but I simply could not deal with another issue. I had fought so hard and battled such indescribable pain for the past three years, and now I was being rushed to ICU for blood transfusions.

I was in the ICU for three days, and had four transfusions and iron via IV. I was placed on 975mg of iron upon leaving the hospital. For those that don’t know, iron is incredibly hard on the body, but we needed to try to generate red blood cells to combat the blood I was losing in huge degrees due to esophageal disease.

My biopsies came back abnormal, but the tissue is so damaged they can’t confirm if it’s cancer yet. I had a Nissen Fundoplication in June, with complications. I was told that I’m a medical miracle because my esophagus had perforated, which causes “instant death,” but in my case it somehow fused to one of my lungs. The best of the best in the medical community in Chicago have yet to give me any real answers.

To be dealt such a blow after I finally thought all the pain and suffering was over was just devastating. I honestly didn’t know if I could put on my big girl panties and live to fight another day. So I turned to the most beautiful art forms; first and foremost my amazing boys who make it clear that quitting is never an option. I need to pay my mortgage and support my family, so I have to press on. I don’t know if I have cancer, but I do know I’m still bleeding internally and the surgery was not a success. Redo’s for this particular procedure have a high fail rate. Esophageal cancer is one of the deadliest forms. All of this can weigh on me like a ton of bricks, or I can try to shift the focus.

And that’s where the song The Storm comes in. I started listening to it a lot in June prior to and post-surgery.

Your face in these pictures looks like a poem
Your eyes lit up like a river stone
Your body so much like a blanket thrown on a warm bed at night
Like a house in the storm

This verse reminds of me the sparkle in my eyes that my husband fell in love with and assures me I never lost, even when I was “ghost girl” because I had roughly 20% of the normal amount of blood that a human being needs to live. It reminds me that this body, this body ravaged with scars across my neck and six scars on my abdomen, tells a story, yet this body provides comfort to my amazing boys like a warm blanket. They supported me in ways they will never understand.

When shit like this goes down, when you don’t know if your body is growing cancer cells and you can’t get straight answers from top surgeons, it’s enough to drive you truly mad. I had some pretty dark days that forced me into defense mechanisms such as pushing people away, trying to carry it all on my shoulders and pretending things are normal (I hate that word, by the way).

The Light…

Then I realized that I must accept that I don’t have all the answers. I have to watch and wait. There could be more surgeries coming soon. I might receive a cancer diagnosis in September.

For now, I listen to The Storm and I allow myself to relax, to let those in that truly want to stand by my side during this complete shit storm. They truly do love me, and they help me to believe that I’m not alone.

The deep strings, the power of the guitars and bass create such a power-packed emotional experience, and then the song ends gently with the keys of the piano. For me, the highs and lows of the song mirror my own storm. Feeling alone on this island in the middle of the worst storm you can imagine, then somehow being transported while still deeply wounded, and yet having to continue with life as if none of the horror is occurring…then you take a moment to admire all the beauty around you, and you realize, you are not alone in this storm.

This song is here like a good friend waiting to remind you: you’re not alone. It also speaks to kicking ass and walking away like a boss because you are STRONG. There are legions of us in the walking wounded club. We see each other every day, and we take care of one another. With trust in my faith, and music to make me feel less alone, the storm will be temporary and then there will be peace. I just know it.

Click here to purchase The Storm.

 

Ginny: Fan of The Airborne Toxic EventGinny lives in Chicago and is the Mother of two amazing boys. She is a self-professed media maven by day and top chef by night. Music is Ginny’s number one passion outside of being a Wife and Mother, as well as a full time career woman. Ginny is also driven to drive awareness of suicide prevention and has proudly participated in The Overnight which is a 20 mile walk to drive funds for the AFSP (American Foundation of Suicide Prevention).

By Colleen

[Read Part 3 here…]

I remember it all as if it were yesterday.

I remember waking up the next morning – Saturday – the gray light filtering through heavy clouds and through the blinds. “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go was playing softly in the background of my brain as I opened my eyes. This strange phenomenon of a dream-state playlist has frequently occurred since childhood. Even while asleep, the music never stops playing. Only the songs change, and sometimes they are a reflection of whatever it is I’m wrestling with.

That morning, it was another bitter disappointment. I had missed My Band by a minute. We were supposed to be in Portland on vacation, yet we were still at home. The What-Ifs began piling up, smothering me, the heaviest of which was I was supposed to be a mom.  It all seemed connected somehow, as if I were destined to fail at everything I tried to do.

Let it go.  This too shall pass.

I sat up and sighed heavily.

Sometimes, more often than not, the thought of facing another day of disappointments is too much to bear.  These days are a battleground, and before my feet even touch the floor, I’m already exhausted.

You can’t keep letting it get you down.

“Well,” Hubby said in defeat, “let’s go back to the festival and try to make the most of it.”

Make the most of it.  Yes.  Yes, this was our life now.  Making the most of heartbreaking, crushing disappointment after disappointment.  By now, we were pros at licking our wounds and pushing on.

And I was sick of it.

Maybe it was the music Hubby played that morning of all the up and coming bands were going to see that day.  Songs like “Radioactive” by the then-unknown Imagine Dragons were blasting through our house and getting into my bloodstream.  They were calling to me, beckoning me out of these ruins.  But their promises were transient, if not completely unrealistic.

There was only one thing that could set me free.

It was on the way to the music festival that I told Hubby I had to go.

“We paid two-hundred dollars to go to this festival,” he reminded me, “and you want to throw the money away and spend more money.”

“I don’t think I can not go.”

“You want to drive two hours to see a band when you can see twenty bands right here.”

“I don’t care about the other bands.”

“You’re crazy.”

“If I give up now, I might as well just give up on everything.  I might as well just not live anymore.”

“Over a band.“

I suddenly became indignant.  How did he not get it?  And he was probably thinking, When did my wife become so unreasonable, lacking all common sense?

“It’s more than just a band,” I told him.

He sighed and shook his head.  “You’re on your own this time.”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“No.  But I can’t do this anymore.  I can’t follow you down these crazy paths anymore.  It always ends in disaster.  And it’s just so much money to throw away, Colleen.  Seriously.  I can’t consciously do this.  But if you have to go, then you have to go.  And besides, I really want to see Death Cab for Cutie tomorrow.”

“I don’t want to go by myself.”

“Find someone to go with you.”

“You really won’t come with me?”

“Nope.”

I couldn’t be mad at him.  I couldn’t blame him.  This was something I had to do myself.  Suddenly I became self-righteous, suiting up for a battle of my worst fears that I was lining up myself.  I was Joan of Arc.  I was Radioactive.  I had gone a little insane, and there was only one cure versus a lifelong regret.  And no amount of money could stop me from getting something I wanted, no matter how insignificant a band seemed to be in the Great Scheme of Things.

I called my best friend, the one who had seen them yesterday at the festival and sent me the pictures.

“How much do you love me?” I asked when she answered the phone.

I called my brother, too, because I literally had no idea what to expect, and I thought it never hurts to bring a guy along.  Unless, of course, it is my brother.  For those of you who know him, you know what I mean.  Also: He knows what he did.

I invited another friend, too, who was going with us to the festival that day to see her own favorite band, Weezer.  She didn’t even know who The Airborne Toxic Event was.  Ironically, the only person who had seen them already was my best friend.  She knew them all by name, and she wasn’t even a diehard fan.  But I still think it was Steven Chen who got her to go, and not how much she loved me.  Whatever the case was, I didn’t care.  I was going.

I finally had hope.

I could enjoy the music festival.  I could smile and have a good time.  I could dance and sing along with Imagine Dragons in the rain.  I could rock out with Weezer that night from the second row.  I was free, albeit for the lingering fears that tomorrow I would be stuck in traffic, the car would break down, my printed-at-home tickets would somehow be invalid, or all three.  I was almost certain one or all of those things would happen, because catastrophe was always breathing down my neck.

But tomorrow, this time I was coming off the victor.

Hubby gave me the rundown of concert-going due to my general inexperience, despite a full day of a music festival.  Get there early, he told me.  Make friends with the people in line with you.  Stick with people you feel safe around.

“I’m going to try to meet them.  Do you think it’s possible?  How will I know?”

“Just hang around afterward.”  He chuckled, then added, “What are you going to say to him?  Your Guy?”

He meant Mikel Jollett.  My Band.  My Guy.

“I don’t know.  Hopefully not something weird.”

“You should tell him you’re a writer.”

“Yeah.  Maybe I should.”

“You should tell him about your book.”

“Yeah.  You know what?  Maybe I will.”

More fears were lining up.  I have trouble speaking to people on the phone.  I have trouble speaking up for myself.  Yet I was going to somehow tell this mythological figure of a rockstar and prolific writer that I was a writer too.  The idea was laughable, and scared me to death.  But I was desperate.  If I could do that, I could do anything.

“You know what?” I added.  “I’m going to get him to kiss me.”

“Really!” Hubby cried.  “Go for it.”

“You don’t think I can.”

“Oh, no, it’s not that.  Why wouldn’t he want to?  Look at you.  You’re beautiful.  He’d be crazy not to.  But now I’m kinda sorry I’m not going.”

“Why?  You still can!”

“No.  You should do this.  You can do this.  You don’t need me.  Go knock him dead.  I hope you get it all.  All you ever wanted.  Just . . . don’t forget about me.  And remember we’re getting on a plane early the next morning.  Hopefully.”

I was filled with love and adoration for this man who shares my heartbreaks and my joys.  It is his faith in me that makes me feel like I can do anything.  Even something as scary as leaving these ruins temporarily without him.  Even speaking to a rockstar, my hero and idol and musical crush these last several months.  I couldn’t let him down.  I had to prove to him that it was still possible, to have these dreams – crazy though they might be – and make them come true.

I could hardly sleep the night before.  The next day – Sunday – I was a trembling mess.  I picked up my group and drove them two hours north to a city I had rarely visited, terrified as every mile passed.  What if I get us lost?  What if we don’t get there in time?  What if this whole thing turns out to be a one huge, gigantic failure?  What if the band isn’t what I imagined at all?

As we listened to their music on the ride up, I had a sudden heart attack of terror:  What if they were just this big melancholy, depressing show?  The lyrics, after all, are so tragic – the very reason why I liked them so much.  What if the whole thing was like a funeral, leaving everyone depressed and wondering why I dragged them to such a dismal event?

I asked my best friend, “So . . . I mean, they put on a good show, right?”

“Yeah.  They do.  The guitarist, Steven – he’s pretty hot.”

“What about Mikel?”

“Uh . . . he looks . . . good . . . I guess.”  She said ’good’ as if the word was being slowly drawn out into the air with a syringe.

“Just good?”

“Well.  You know.  He’s old.”

“Hmm.”

“You’ll like them,” she reassured me, as if she knew I was beginning to doubt The Whole Thing.

Nevertheless, we arrived without a hitch.  We got in line behind less than twelve people, and I desperately tried to hide the fact I was trembling and shaking and wishing I was safe at home.  But the thought of seeing My Band, after all this time, and all this trouble, was stronger than any cowardice left remaining.  I bit the bullet and turned my introverted nature inside out, making small talk with the strangers standing around me.  A mother with her teenaged son and daughter who appeared more excited to see them than they were.  A couple with a young son, longtime fans who reassured me it was going to be a great show.

I started to get excited.  It was finally happening.  I was here.  And just on the other side of those walls, so were they.

After two painfully long hours, the doors opened and we filed inside.  I stood behind the couple with the little boy, across from the center of the stage.  My best friend stood behind me with the camera, ready to take pictures of the whole experience.

I tried to stand still and stop trembling.

But so much was riding on them, and me.  They were oblivious to my presence – this brokenhearted girl who defied logic and reason and common sense just to be there.  I was bleeding from the inside, desperate from painful disappointments and tragedy just a year ago.  Just a month ago.  But it was all happening today, and every day since.  In my mind, Wesley dies every day he does not live, and I somehow have to go on trying to stay alive.  But staying alive is not the same as living.

Tonight, I wanted to truly live.

I didn’t want to be a grieving, bereaved mother.  I didn’t want to be on the other end of sad, pitying eyes.  All I wanted was to be a fan.  And I wanted to be happy, just like everyone else in this room.

To onlookers, that was how I probably appeared.

But when the doors closed outside, they closed on my sadness.  There was no yesterday.  There was no tomorrow.  There were no stunning ruins.  There was only now.

Me and The Airborne Toxic Event.

This couple I had been standing behind had no idea that when they let me stand next to them, in the front row by the barrier, they were ensuring I was going to have the best night of my life so far, the best night I could ever hope to have, the very remedy for a heart stricken with never ending grief from the worst tragedy that could ever happen to a person.  I will never forget their kindness.

And when his microphone was placed in its place onstage directly adjacent from me, I couldn’t believe what was happening.  It was all happening, all at once.  Everything I ever hoped for.  All I ever wanted.  This was it.  The rest was up to them.

The lights dimmed.  The crowd began to cheer.  And from the darkness, and from my imagination, they all appeared, one by one.  Daren, Noah, Steven, Anna . . . and finally Mikel.

He picked up his Silver Falcon.  He stared into a waiting, hopeful crowd as Steven began to play.  And when he opened his mouth to sing “All At Once,” I suddenly knew this was always where I was supposed to be.  Right here, front and center.  Right here, right in front of this stranger I didn’t even know, but whose songs I knew by heart.  These songs that lived and breathed in my ruins, that lit up the skies with their lyrics, that offered comfort in a way only the power of music can.  It was all here, and it was all happening right in front of me.

And then it hit me like a gust of air on which to glide:  These were not sad songs, and this was not a melancholy funeral for the deaths of someone else’s dreams along with my own.

This was a party.  A celebration of being alive.  And The Airborne Toxic Event was our host, providing the music for which to sing along, and of which we all knew the words whether longtime fan or not.  We were all dying and hurting for one reason or another, but we were all here for one reason and one reason only.

“Isn’t it a great night to be alive?” Mikel Jollett cried in the middle of the song.

Yes.  Not just to be alive, but to live.

One by one, they went through hitting the highlights of their two-album catalog of songs.  “Gasoline” burned down the room.  “Numb” had us shaking from being anything but.  Even “The Graveyard Near the House” was given due respect with Mikel on an acoustic guitar and Anna with her shining viola, two single spotlights on one gorgeous song.  I wept shamelessly, but not for the reasons you’d think.  I was just so happy to be there, to see these songs that somehow were mine be made real and beautiful for what they truly were.  Though I had listened to them in the depths of despair, and they echoed in my ruins during the darkest of days, they made me so happy on this night, I was shouting them at the top of my lungs, screaming and smiling and feeling as if I had finally found a way outside of myself and could fly in an open space, carried only by a melody.

“Sometime Around Midnight.”

Sometime Around Midnight: The Airborne Toxic Event

Can one concert change your life?

There was just one problem.

It was a small one.  Even a stupid one.  One I had no control over, and would therefore have to overlook.

He did not seem to notice I was even there.

I was standing right in front of him, and he never looked at me.  Not even once.

Noah and Steven made eye contact with me a few times.  We smiled at each other, as I danced around like an idiot to the music they were playing on their guitars just a few feet away from me.  Suddenly they were not members of a band, but guys at a party we had all been invited to.  I was enchanted with this way of things – how different it was from every concert I had ever been to!  What raw talent they possessed!  What charm!

But Mikel was the aloof leader, determined and precise, though smiling and absolutely proving every inclination I had to be correct, and proving my best friend wrong.  Sure, Steven was hot.  But Mikel had charisma.

I was so drunk on enchantment and high on happiness, the disappointment from his lack of any kind of small acknowledgement paled in comparison to the fact they were everything I ever hoped for, and then some.  Not only were they talented musicians, they were performers who played to their audience.  The observation has since been made that they appear to be having just as much fun as their audience, and I could not agree more.  They love what they get to do, and it’s impossible not to love what they are doing in return.

When they came back for the encore, we all were the drones of “Missy,” shouting the lyrics with smiling faces – to the band, to each other, to the world.  There are no strangers at an Airborne concert.  We are all friends for one night, the audience members together with the band.  Such chemistry is a rare and beautiful thing.

Then it was over so fast.  The lights came on, and we all awoke collectively from a single dream.

Still, a few of us waited by the stage, hoping the band would return for pictures and autographs.  I had my Sharpie ready.  My brother graciously bought me a shirt to have them sign should they appear.  My heart was heavy with hope.  Could I really do everything I said I would?  Could I really swallow my shyness and be the kind of person I always admired – brave?

Suddenly, Steven appeared.  My best friend squealed with delight.

We took pictures and collected signatures.  He was gracious and friendly.  I, however, was trembling from a sudden rush of shyness.  I could barely speak to him except to snap a quick picture.  He signed my shirt.  Then I sunk into the background as others took their turns.

I bit my lip.  Mikel was nowhere to be seen.

Still, I told myself, he was everything I thought he would be.  Everything a talented musician should be.  It was more than I could ever hope for, just to be here tonight.  Just to stand in the front row to see my favorite band.  After everything I had been through to see them, I couldn’t complain.  Perhaps it was just as well, even.  Maybe he would have been a pompous jerk, as rockstars can be known to be.  And that would have been worse than not meeting him at all.

I was still wearing a smiling face when I left the building, absolutely giggling with glee with my best friend, who got to meet her rockstar crush.  There was so much to be happy for.  I was ready to get on a plane in just a few hours, even though I felt like I could fly there myself.

My best friend offered to drive home.  I sat in the passenger seat as we drove around the building, staring off into the memory of the evening.

“Oh my god!” she cried.  “That’s him!”

We passed a small group of people outside the venue.  I turned to look, but she had already passed them, heading up the road and away from the building.

I screamed for her to turn around.

Further down the road, she did a quick U-turn and stopped several yards away from where he was standing.

I jumped out of the car, but I wasn’t excited.

I was terrified.  Absolutely scared out of my mind.  All the What-Ifs were smothering me again.  All the fears were lined up in the space between he and I, and I gathered whatever courage I could muster to slay them all.

I had no idea what I was going to say.  My mind was blank as I took slow, deliberate steps towards him.  Each step was an act of defiance against my will.  Every inch I crossed was a victory.

There he was just, just a few feet away.  Yet there were miles and miles between us.

As I was still walking toward him, he casually glanced at me.

Then he immediately looked again, the way a person does when they recognize you from somewhere.  As if we already knew each other, and he just happened to forgot where or how.

At that moment, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I couldn’t believe what had happened, what was about to happen.

“Hey!” he cried, leaving the group he had been talking to, and walking straight over to me.  Miles became inches.  And then suddenly he was standing in front me, smiling.  Suddenly I didn’t have a brain.  Or legs.  Or the ground beneath my feet.

“You were in the front row, weren’t you!” he declared.

But thank god, I still had a voice.

“Yes,” I said.

“You were my favorite tonight.  You knew all the words to the songs.  You were just dancing around having a great time.  You were fun to watch.”

Wait.  Wait a second.  But you didn’t even look at me!  You NEVER made eye contact with me!  You didn’t know I was there!  Yet here you are, talking to me like we’re old friends, like we’ve known each other for years, like you knew I was there . . . all along. . .

I must have blushed a deep and unattractive purple.  In half a second I thought back to my “dancing around” and wanted to go curl up and die somewhere, feeling as if he had caught me in an intimate moment.  I probably looked like I was having a seizure for two hours, yet somehow that was “fun to watch”?

I’m not sure what happened to me.  Maybe my subconscious felt he was taking cheap shots at my dignity, because I didn’t believe him.  “Listen,” I told him in stone-cold seriousness.  “You have no idea what it took for me to get here tonight.”

“Really!” he cried.  “Tell me.”

I blinked, feeling as if he turned the spotlight around on me.  This was it.  There was no turning back.  I had his attention, for whatever reason, and I was not going to squander it.

So I told him about the airport, about the music festival, about just missing the show.  He said he was sorry.  He apologized.  To ME.  Who am I???

We talked about Portland when I told him I was going there tomorrow.  And with each moment that passed, I felt myself getting bolder.

“You’re a really inspiring writer to me.  I’m a writer, too.  Sort of.”

“What do you write?”

Wait.  You’re supposed to have said ‘thank you’ and I was supposed to feel embarrassed.  Now I only feel embarrassed, but for no logical reason.

“Um . . . er . . . I wrote a book, I guess.”

“What’s it about?”

No!  YOU CAN’T ASK ME THAT!  You are ignoring your lines!  You are supposed to say something benign, like “Oh, that’s cool” or “Good for you.”  NOT WHAT’S IT ABOUT.

“Uh . . . it’s just this stupid story I wrote.  About music, or something.”  Please don’t ask me to elaborate, because I think I will have a heart attack and die right in front of you, and then die from embarrassment of having died in front of you.

“Are you going to get it published?”

“Er . . . I don’t know.  Maybe.  Probably not.”

“Why?”

“Um . . . I dunno.”  I looked at my feet as I shuffled them.  To him, I probably looked every bit of the 8-year-old girl I felt like, simultaneously regretting this conversation as much as I was basking in it and wishing it would never end.

And for whatever reason, the honesty just came out of nowhere and out of my mouth: “I just don’t have confidence in myself.”

“You should get it published.  Just publish it.  Just do it.”  He continued on in this momentary rant of how I needed to publish my book, this stupid story he had no idea I had written about a band like his, of music like the kind he had written, and how I used to listen to the very songs he played tonight to inspire me.  How it was these very songs that got me back to writing in the first place, when I thought that part of me was swept away and lost forever in the death of my son and myself.

I was overcome with that Twilight Zone feeling, of everything coming together and happening in plot twist after plot twist, as if we were just acting out what had already been written down.  But it was all happening now, everything I hoped for.  Dreamed of.  There was just one thing left to do.

He ended his rant with “You don’t want to be ninety years old one day going, ‘I should have published my book!’”

He said this in an old-lady voice, which was so freaking adorable and funny, I couldn’t help but laugh.  “Okay,” I said.  “I’ll do it.  You’ve convinced me.  I’ll do it.  Someday.”  All the while I thought, But you have no idea that it’s a giant pile of crap, and published or not, you’ll never know.  You don’t even know who I am.  You think I’m just some silly fangirl, and tonight I am.  And I think you’re just some hotshot musician.  But we’re both wrong.

Still.  I was keeping up the ruse.  He could think I was some silly fangirl, because the fear of being myself was too great a fear to slay at this time, with everything that came with just being me.

The fear of asking for a kiss?  That was nothing.

“Thank you so much.  Tonight was without a doubt the best night of my life.”  It was now or never.  “Can I give you a kiss?”

This felt like some sort of game I was playing, and for all intents and purposes, it was.  Arm your fears like soldiers and slay them.  And to my surprise – and relief – he was playing along.

He leaned forward and I kissed his cheek.  And then he kissed mine.

He signed the shirt my brother had bought for me.  He took a picture with me.  He thanked me for coming, and we said our goodbyes.

But he would never know what that night meant for me.  He will go on to play a hundred more shows and meet a thousand other people, even silly fangirls just like me.  But he will never truly know the personal victories of shy girl so broken, of the bright spots of happiness of a grief-stricken mom without a son, of the wounded and dying bird who just wanted to fly.

Or does he?

That night I came home with my stories and spoils.  Hubby didn’t believe me at first until I showed him the evidence of the pictures and video my best friend had taken.  She had recorded “Sometime Around Midnight” in its entirety, even capturing my sudden turning around to smile at the camera.  And I wondered how a person could look so happy when they were so sad inside.  It was a beautiful illusion.  It was a living dream.  We were just actors in a play on some cosmic stage, and at the end of the show we go back to our regularly scheduled lives of heartbreaks and tragedies, with the memories as relics of a Good Show.

Except this time, the relics were a signed T-shirt, a guitar pick, and the lingering kiss on the cheek from a rockstar.

Now what?

What does this mean?

What do I do now?

I refused to believe this was somehow The End of the story.  There was so much I wanted to write.  So much I wanted to do.  So much life I wanted to now live.

I tossed and turned that night, replaying the events of the evening in my mind as I wondered what lie in store now that I had finally succeeded.  That maybe I wasn’t a failure after all.  Maybe there was hope for me.  For us.

We finally made it to Portland, and we had a fantastic time.  Another victory.

What else could I conquer?

I started training for The Color Run 5K.  I was always the fat kid in school who ran one-fourth of The Mile and walked the rest of the way, huffing and puffing.  Now I was going to run over three miles consecutively, and not just run it, but have fun doing it.  I listened to “Welcome to Your Wedding Day,” running in time with the song to wake up stubborn legs, the way it used to wake us up in the morning all those months ago.  I listened to “Does This Mean You’re Moving On?” as I ran with a smile, thinking back to Mikel’s antics during the show – jumping out into the audience and inviting brave souls to sing along.  And I listened to “Sometime Around Midnight” as I thought of myself running to the music festival to see them.  Faster.  Faster!  If you hurry, you just might make it.

I spent the next several weeks following the concert in a haze.  It changed my disposition.  Likely, I confused the people around me – if I didn’t annoy them first – with how happy I suddenly was.  Of course, it was happiness underneath an ever-present Dark Cloud.  But it was happiness nonetheless.  I was so grateful to a band who didn’t even know who I was.  The entire thing could easily be dismissed as preposterous nonsense.  But I couldn’t ignore the facts.  That concert had changed me.

Then it occurred to me I could do something about it.

Someone had posted on the band’s website forum that they had written them a letter, and Mikel actually wrote them back.

This had to have been a fluke, I reasoned.  A lucky shot in the dark he just happened to see and respond.  But the fact was, he saw it.  And that was all someone like me could hope for.

So late one night, after a couple of drinks, I wrote them a letter, too.

I put it in a bottle and stood at the edge of my ruins.  Then, without a second thought, I tossed it into the unknown, an ocean of uncertainty that separates me from all other people, rockstars or not.

I didn’t tell anyone what I had done.  Not even Hubby.  This was between me and them.  Whether or not they responded didn’t matter.  They just had to know.  And I hoped that somewhere – in some distant, faraway, magical place – someone would read it and finally know who I was.

I told them about Wesley.  I told them what had happened when I heard “Sometime Around Midnight” for the first time.  I told them the story I have been telling you, but truthfully, it was the first time I had told anyone anything.  It was the first time I had opened up to anyone about what happened.  Somehow this proverbial message in a bottle was a connection to some world outside of myself, outside of these ruins, and in just the simple act of sending it out there into the unknown,  I had found a kind of courage I never knew I possessed.  It truly didn’t matter if I never received a reply, or if they never even saw it.  I had freed myself somehow, and in that freedom I found myself unburdened from so much pain.

In this liberation, I was surprised a week later when I was once again standing at the edge of these ruins, and a bottle washed up on the beach, addressed to me from The Airborne Toxic Event.

I returned with a new outlook on these ruins.  No more were they going to contain me.  No longer would I feel trapped here, burdened by grief.  Never again would I let the fear of disappointment lock me in from getting what I wanted, from truly living.

What had happened to be me was terrible and ugly, but it didn’t mean I was.

So many things had failed, but it didn’t mean I was a failure.

And though my world had burned to the ground, I was more the phoenix than the ashes.

And if I was a phoenix, then that meant I could fly.

But where?  And most importantly, how?

Only I could answer those questions.  But for the first time, anything and anywhere felt possible.

And though my situation is as isolating as it is formidable, for the first time I realized it was possible that I wasn’t alone.

[Read Part 5 here]


When she’s not front row at a TATE show with a bird emblazoned on her face, Colleen can be found blogging regularly at These Stunning Ruins, where this post originally appeared. She and her husband have also been known to occasionally lay down a wicked Airborne cover.