Art Bergmann, Ben Disaster, A Bunch of Marys : Live at The Pawn Shop, Edmonton, AB, Canada, November 29, 2013 By Caitlin Hoffman

Get In/Wait Part One:

Friday nights don’t belong to me. Friday is two days into my exhaustive work week.

Retail has a dangerous power: It isolates workers from the perceived freedom of the weekend.

Fuck that! My temporal lobe needs music to massage the knots. Only one sweet pill can curb this societal headache.

Creation is my medicine.          

Day jobs leech my soul along with my collagen. Creative expression is a chance to grab it back. Tonight I can stop being an employee and go back to being a person.

This is a special gig for me. It’s the first show I’ve been to alone, and the first time I’ve been to a show where I haven’t heard ANY of the bands. I know of Art Bergmann (thanks to that Bloodied But Unbowed doc), but have yet to know his sound. As for the opening acts, I throw myself into the undiscovered.

At worst, I’ve paid fifteen dollars for an experience.

I’m squeezed between awkward burnouts and have already been mistaken for a reporter. I’m in love with life!

The hardcore drink away their private desolations. The stage is empty, glowing red hot and florescent.

I wonder how long I’ll have to wait.

Ben Disaster:

The beauty of local bands is you expect them to be awful, and are (often) pleasantly surprised. I’m so close to the stage I could steal their beers. Music starts: dazed guitars, sturdy bass lines.

They’re rigid, focused, and, like any young band, throttled between the rift of possibility and insecurity.

Can they feel my stare? I hope they know it’s one of encouragement. 

Ben Disaster curls his lip; mouth alone an homage to London punk.

New music never is. Most sounds worth making are old news in the underground. It’s gotta be discouraging, knowing your heart and soul may be a repeat of some other band’s track.

Still, they should persevere. There could be another wall left to tear down.

Wait Part Two:

The crowds have swelled enough that I feel the good kind of invisible. People introduce me to faces I’ll forget, shouting between sips.

Alcohol does funny things. Drugs re-shape and augment. I wonder if these nights enhance our potential or hinder it. 

Philosophers lose themselves under these lights.

A Bunch of Marys:

The reverb makes a mess of my trachea. This trio sticks to the heaving air, songs thick enough to grab and shove in your head. The bassist was right about making ears bleed. The noise is a giddy punch, heavy and trigger-happy.

Some love is lost when they play a “hate song” to vegans. I’ll never understand why so many punks prejudice against other movements, when that’s the exact opposite of what we should do. If any scene should welcome those speaking out against the status quo, it should be this one. We’re all trying to make the world a better place, right?

I look around and doubt my optimism. When listening to music, most people forget about spreading a message.

Guitars speak fine for themselves. 

Wait Part Three:

Everyone’s eyes are spiders chomping flies, slicing the stormy sea of drink and drugs. Showgoers demand the right to get fucked up and obnoxious. They refuse to settle in sobriety, least of all on the weekend.

What keeps them coming back? I hope it’s the music and worry it’s the drink. (But that’s a consideration for another column.)

I know so many of these faces off

Whyte Avenue, now slurred and blurred, loud and desperate (and the more desperate, the louder they get).

All at once, I give up on the scene. Alone is better, if only so there’s no one to post your idiocy on the next morning’s Facebook feed.                                                                       

I grin at strangers through the swamp, but I won’t exchange any numbers, and I won’t remember any names.

I hope Bergmann gets on stage soon. I’m becoming bitter in this hellish, stirring nausea, this spiritual silence to which I’ve sacrificed a good sleep.

Art Bergmann:          

The trouble with legends is you expect too much from them.

There’s a stench of sunken cheeks and ruined lives. The “cooler” you are, the less ignited you allow yourself to appear. Thus, I’m surrounded by an audience too “cool” to move with the music (at first).         

C’mon, people! If Art Bergmann’s young enough to play, you’re young enough to dance!

He’s already sweating under the lights; every drip’s significant. The beat’s in me, like speed settled in the veins, salt that keeps you scared and awake.

In other words, I like it.

It’s difficult to pin Bergmann’s music down with my usual literary bullshit. These pages always fail me.

I understand why my boyfriend said Bergmann’s recorded songs weren’t worth much of a listen. His performance is essential. No recording could compare to this experience.

Little punk sounds good after being cleaned up in a studio. Real music lives and dies on the stage, and real writing has its fun long before it’s impaled on the printing press.

Nostrils, pulse, shins—all overtaken. I don’t know any of the musicians backing Bergmann but I can tell they’re playing because music is the pulse they feed from. Their hands have strummed and drummed so long they’d sooner pull a riff than a handshake.

My head hasn’t burst like this since the last time I did something illegal. Bergmann’s sharp bones attest to abuse in another decade, entrancing every soul—sober or sloshed—in the audience.

I want to grab his feet and whisper (or scream):

“Do you feel, or do you just hurt?”

Whatever he feels, he needs to make me feel it too. That’s why we’re here. He makes spasms on stage, I make ink stains.

This is history. I’m watching a movement, dead, now resurrected.

Here is the mecca I thought was a lie, a ruin eroded with liquor and neglect. When Bergmann punches the microphone, I know I’ve come home.

I thrash and curl, trying to keep my purse strap around my neck. Practicality feels ridiculous. I’ve made temporary friends with a rock veteran in a leather trenchcoat and a gorgeous blonde with a dancing addiction. The movement has arrived. Sunshine sprays rays in the middle of the night. Even the “coolest” kids aren’t too cool to bang their heads, or at least record the show on their iPhones. 

I was so worried going to a gig alone would make me feel like a lonely, introverted loser. Now I see everyone’s a loser, if only in the mirror. Cool contests are a sham, especially in a place like this.         

What is a rock show if not a uniting of misfits?

People are people. Nothing less, nothing more. You could fuck, kill, or love anyone.

If I could choose, I’d love you all.        

There’s something written on Bergmann’s guitar:

“Take Back Your Mind”

I can relax, ‘cause I know I’ve already done that. Moshers and maggots alike can do what they want with this body. My mind is mine.

This is my reality. All the shitty day jobs and boyfriends going overseas have been wiped clean from my psyche.

This is how we get free.

Inspiration awakes:

I should follow Jello’s example (“Take this job and shove it!”) and leave retail to my dirty yesterdays. Surely, I could find writing work that pays!

I’ll get royalty checks for my headaches. Sleep deprivation will be my severance pay.

When Bergmann lights up a cigarette before the encore I think, “Yes. People can live on the edge and last!”

The impulse dies fast. Work is an evil, but the romantic image of the hungry Bohemian is a lie. Starving artists lose brain cells along with body fat (whereas artists with day jobs lose motivation the longer their shifts get). You’re screwed either way, but I’d rather be well-fed.

I’d choose to lose sleep over shows like this than be curled up somewhere, awake and aching for calories. 

Gigs are about more than enjoying music. They represent a burning desire to relate with the human race, an opportunity to share, inspire, and rebel against the mundane daily grind to which so many of us are condemned.

Concerts are the temporary bliss we hope will placate our souls as they pine for lasting paradise.

The best escapes merit the worst consequences. The greater the high (musical, chemical, or otherwise), the harder the comedown.

Tomorrow morning will be a bitch. I’ll stagger into work, eyes itching with aspirations no boss could understand, and smile at customers while scribbling lines for my novels onto scrap paper.

Real life’s tough for a dreamer.

I eat up the streets with my feet and bid goodbye to new best friends who are bound to forget me once their cracking hangovers relent.

I stare up at stars washed out with streetlight, and make a promise to all the other freaks: 

“I’m going to keep dreaming, even if waking up sucks.”