This week, love letters. One to my past, and one to my present.
Download the episode without music here. Transcript is below…
Callie: Big shout out this week to Jade for a pledge increase on Patreon, and to Xandi for becoming a new patron. Thank you both, and I love you dearly.
My name is Callie Wright, and this is Queersplaining, intimate portraits of queer and trans lives, and the issues that shape them. This week, I’m sharing another story from my own life. This is a story of losing a very special kind of joy, and finding it again in a place I never imagined finding myself.
November 19, 2011. I am the Messenger played its last show to a packed house at The Mad Hatter in Covington Kentucky. I’d spent most of my 20’s playing in bands, and I got to do some really cool shit that lots of people only ever get to dream about. We toured, played big music festivals, made friends with some of our heroes. We got to hear kids in cities around the country scream our lyrics back at us from big stages and small stages, and even an old abandoned auto shop once. (Laughs) We slept in living room floors and in vans. We had weird encounters with people at truck stops and saw a country show in a Wal-Mart. But on that November night it ended, and I mourned.
I started playing guitar when I was about 13 years old. I played violin in 5th and 6th grade, and that was my gateway drug for guitar. I got lessons from being in the school’s orchestra, learned some basics about reading music and music theory (that I quickly forgot). I learned about melody and rhythm and structure.
My first guitar was a super crappy Samick Les Paul copy. I’m bummed to say I don’t know actually what happened to it. The thing I remember most about it is that it had a sticker with a picture of a Klingon dagger on it, and that was badass.
I started by learning to play Metallica songs. My grandma bought me that first guitar, my first amp and my first book of guitar tabs (Those are charts that show you how to play without knowing how to read music). It was like a greatest hits Metallica compilation.
I spent hours and hours learning those songs. I still know most of them, but I’m far enough out of practice that I’m not sure I have the skill necessary to play most of them anymore.
I immediately started playing in bands. And of course, what we called bands at that point were mostly just groups of us getting together in our parents garages, and playing Metallica, Deftones, and Korn covers and imagining ourselves in front of stadiums full of people.
I only ever played in 3 bands that were serious enough for me to look back and be really proud of. A thrash metal band called Ailinel, an electro pop band called Bazookas Go Bang, and a metalcore band called I am the Messenger.
I got to do lots of cool shit in all three of these bands, and I’m still proud of the music I helped make in all 3. but I am the Messenger was the one that did the most, and the one I remember most fondly.
My first shows with them were as a fill in guitar player. I was still very much attached to Bazookas Go Bang, because it was *my* baby. I was one of the primary songwriters, and I was the one who handled most of the business and marketing and so on. Not incidentally, the fashion at the time in that music scene made it cool for me to wear women’s skinny jeans. That was a bonus.
I am the Messenger’s singer had quit. One of the guitar players moved to vocals, and they asked me to join. I told them I was firmly attached to Bazookas Go Bang, but I’d be a fill in, if that would help. Because they were friends. I played a CD release show in front of a crowd of hundreds, played a Christian music festival in the middle of Illinois, then hung it up. But I had the time of my life on the road with those guys.
A year or so later, I was not so enthused with the way Bazookas Go Bang was going and I am The Messenger’s replacement guitarist had quit. They asked me to join again, and so this time I defected. I don’t remember if it was that year or the year after. Things started happening for us.
We played this Christian music festival called Ichthus. We weren’t a Christian band, by the way, and never pretended to be, but they invited us anyways.
I remember the last night we were there. We were playing one of the indie stages for unsigned bands. There was a break while there was a speaker on the main stage. As it got darker outside, the tent started to fill with kids. It was exciting, but I was convinced those kids were coming to see the band after us. They were this legendary Christian hardcore band called Sleeping Giant. Either way I thought it’d be cool to play in front of a crowd that big. Maybe we’d make some new fans and maybe sell some merch.
Right about the time the sun had set, it was time. The stage lights turned on. We’d had our gear setup. The security guy gets on stage and starts giving his spiel. “If you’re going to push mosh, you hang out over here.” And he pointed to the left. “If you’re going to hardcore dance, you go over here.” And he pointed to the right. “Let’s take care of each other.” And I’m like “shit what are they expecting here? This is a speech to give before Sleeping Giant, not us.”
I got on stage to do our sound check, and I had a problem with my guitar. There wasn’t anything coming out of my amp. So I jumped behind my rig to troubleshoot. I followed the cable connections through. I realized there was a cable that was just barely loose. I got it plugged in and finally my guitar was making sound.
They run a super tight ship at these festivals with set times. They will just push the mute button in the middle of a song if you go over. So I didn’t waste any more time. I gave our drummer the thumbs up and he counted us in before I even had the chance to turn around and see the crowd. He did the 4 count and I hit the long note that started our intro.
I remember turning around and starting to walk forward to the front of the stage, just in time to see the crowd utterly and completely lose their shit. There was a wave of bodies pushing toward the stage, and I felt the stage start to shake. I saw the PA speakers start to rock back and forth. These kids were fucking stoked! I almost lost my focus, but I kept it together. I probably had the most ridiculous grin on my face as we started. I watched the pits open up and they just didn’t stop.
I have a vague memory of our singer diving off the speakers, a mic stand almost hitting me in the face. I remember a kid getting two inches from my face screaming the lyrics to one of our songs. It was everything a band ever dreamed of in a show. After it was over, we huddled outside the tent to congratulate each other. I was the only one crying, because that’s who I’ve basically always been as a person.
And that wasn’t the last show we had like that. We got to headline a New Years eve show with one of the biggest hardcore bands around at the time. But, eventually we figured out there wasn’t a career in what we were doing. Either the timing wasn’t right, we weren’t good enough, or some other reason. We eventually decided it was time to hang it up. We closed things out on November 19th, 2011 at The Mad Hatter in Covington KY. I remember my ex was super pissed we chose that date because it was the day one of our favorite bands, City and Colour was playing, and she’d bought me tickets for my birthday. Still feel kinda like an asshole about that.
After the show, we loaded our gear into our cars instead of the trailer attached to our van and drove our separate ways home instead of back to our practice space.
I remember thinking how grateful I was. Almost everyone who’s ever played in bands dreams of having the experiences I got to have in the few short years I played in I am the Messenger. But I was also really somber. I knew there were few things in the world that compared to the feeling of shows like our set at Ichthus, or our New Years show co-headlining show with For Today. It was time to move on to quote unquote real adult life. I was almost certain I’d go the rest of my life never feeling that way again.
2681 days later. March 23rd, 2019. I’m standing behind a black curtain. I’m a nervous wreck. There’s a crowd of around 700 people on the other side of that curtain. I hear the announcer. “Let’s hear it for our Cincinnati Rollergirls Violent Lambs!
Our mascot runs out with the flag, the crowd goes nuts.
“Number 116, Ursa Maimher.”
I plant my toe stop in the ground and I push. And I come flying out from behind the black curtain to the roar of the crowd. I skate around the outside of the track doing the sports handshake with the opposing team. I stopped in the center of the track as they called the rest of my team’s roster and we lined up in the middle. I looked out into the crowd. I saw them all smiling and cheering my teammates and I.
Holy shit this is it. This is that feeling.
Here I am in an old basketball stadium, in front of a hometown crowd, ready to take the track and perform. Its a different performance, to be sure. Its one that’s just as much for me as it is for them. Now, as it was then, I had something to prove. Mostly to myself. I’d worked so hard for this moment, and I never expected it to come so quickly. I had to do good.
My goal was to skate in a C team game before the end of the season. This was our first home game of the season, and I was rostered for the B team.
I spent a lot of the day thinking about how similar these events are to the shows I used to play. The doors open at 5. I had to be there at 1 to help with setup. There are no entitled rockstar attitudes on my team, just like there weren’t in my band. Everyone pitches in, everyone works to make this thing happen. There’s so much to do to setup the venue. We lay the track, setup chairs, put out food for the visiting team, we setup the merch, and then we wait.
We share stories with each other. We encourage and lift each other up. We talk about our hopes and fears for this game and for life in general. And eventually, it’s time to do the thing. The score ended up being 211 to 99. We took home the win my first time out.
One of the few things I truly regret from my time in bands is that there’s not a ton of pictures and video from that time, especially video. So many of those things, I have only the faulty camera that is my mind to rely on to replay those events. Thankfully in 2019, things are different. I skated in my 4th bout this past weekend, and I have pictures from all 4, and video from 3. I get to hold onto those things hopefully forever, with a clarity that my brain will never achieve.
Something I have now that I didn’t then was the foresight to understand that nothing lasts forever. I know that one day, however long from now, this amazing journey will end as well. And on that day, I’ll mourn again. Because I’ll also be convinced on that day, there’s a good chance I’ll never feel quite that way again. But, given my past experience with that sentiment, I’ll also know that there’s a good chance I’m wrong about that. And when I remember that, I’ll smile again, grateful that it ever happened in the first place.
Thank you so much for listening, my friend. As always I hope this finds you well. And if it doesn’t, I hope things get better soon.
If you wanna connect, I’m on twitter and instagram @calliegetsit. Search queersplaining on facebook and twitter to find the show there.
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Before I go, I want you to know that if you’re lost, you’re hurting, you’re scared, if you feel like no one cares and no one understands, you need to know there’s a community out here that loves you, cares for you, knows that you’re capable of amazing things and that you ARE worthy of love. If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out. Until next time friend, my name is Callie Wright, and this is Queersplaining