Updated: May 21
I was living in Allentown Pennsylvania when I traveled to what would be the final grindcore show I would attend before quarantine ended those things. I made a stop near Reading to pick up a few friends, and together we made it to a pie shop in Washington DC with plenty of time to spare. Yea I mean it was actually a pie shop, like when we got there there were other bearded, tattooed, spiked, pierced, oft-found grimacing metalheads giggling over slices of both sweet and savory gourmet pies. My friends and I were skeptical of the pies so we went off and found what seemed to be a decent pizza place and ordered up a pie of our own. We should have stayed at the venue.
On my mind was the fact that I was growing discontent and restless within a new role I had been unassumingly ushered into at my job. Looking back I understand what I was feeling was the beginning of a grief process; I was slowly realizing that the sense of purpose that used to be present in my relationship with work was going away and likely never going to be restored. One interwoven irony is that I happened to feel the same way towards the person that I was dating at the time too.
So we got this crappy pizza and decided to start heading back to the venue when I recognized a mutual grindcore pal who lives in the greater DC area skipping down the sidewalk towards us. He’s clearly a little intoxicated and so when he asks for some of our pizza we oblige. He would later get hit by a car, not like that night but like a few months later. He seems to be doing pretty well now.
Earlier that week I had gotten an interview at a place near where my partner had been living, with the hopes that perhaps finding a new job and of course thinking that being able to live together would add something back into the relationship. Funny how that sounds clearly ridiculous coming out now, but it is not that simple when it’s just in your mind, right? Seriously, I call my clients out for thinking this same type of way all the time…
We finally made it upstairs to the bar/stage area and it started to make a lot more sense why we’re at this place despite the fact that it also sells pies. The second floor at the Pie Shop is a long, narrow venue that could easily be a tight squeeze with about half the crowd size that was meant to be there that night. Anyone with a little bit of sense about these kinds of shows knows that the potential for a rowdy time goes up exponentially proportional to the density of the crowd.
33 years old at the time I am among the older tier of the crowd and within my age bracket I’m usually accompanied by a lot of faux-jaded post-hipster types who like to talk about when they used to mosh and how crazy it was back then but in the same breath say disdainful things like “these kids today will really hurt you” or some lame shit like that. So needless to say most of the folks I’m literally likely about to butt heads with are a few years younger than me, and they like to let me know that they know about that fact as frequently as they can. It’s endearing.
Earlier that day I had continued work on my letter of resignation and had been attempting to calculate how to go about approaching my supervisor with it. At least a part of the 4 hour ride down to DC was spent sharing and processing this with the crew in the car, and that brought a sense of comfort and validation. At these shows, these friends and I had come to be recognized by our peers as “The Reading Grind Squad” as we were likely to show up to any notable grindcore show within a reasonable distance; with the definition of reasonable being what you would expect from a group of young adults who actively seek to put themselves in physically dangerous situations so basically Montreal to Richmond Virginia. The other notable thing about the R D G Grind Squad was that the core group of us had all met in the “Rooms of Recovery” and that most of the people we became acquainted with if not clean & sober themselves often had some relationship with seeking recovery more generally in improving their mental health and well being.
As one would expect, it turned out to be a raucous event. It’s cliche to say but we were packed in there like sardines and the energy and vibration in the room was absolutely absurd. See, the special thread that made this show particularly passionate was that several of the bands and their members were mutual friends not only with each other but with several dozen other people in the crowd. For all intents and purposes the entire mosh pit of 20/25 people was made up of a group of friends and acquaintances. I watch video that was taken that night and it’s hard for me to pick out the people I don’t know who are losing their shit on that floor.
The bands Ground and Bandit on the bill for this show each contain members with whom I hold some level of friendship or acquaintance, and similarly but less so with the other top-billed band that evening No/Mas. What’s interesting about these bands is that they fit a description that is actually a tongue in cheek appropriation of an insult that’s used to apply to their style of the already very niche grindcore subgenre; false grind. Mmm. I like just writing it and reading it again. F a l s e G r i n d. I feel like I’ve earned my title as an old head connoisseur of do-it-yourself metal & punk and let me tell ya FALSE GRIND scratches the itch for me in a way few other musical creations can. Seeing these three bands together in such an eccentric environment surrounded by at least 2 dozen personally known genuinely good people ready to powerbomb each other into the ground but then risk their own safety helping that person get back up… there was a feeling in the air that I think a lot of us were sensing before the first bands went on.
I had also heard back from a local counseling agency in Nazareth, PA in the meantime. This mean doing individual face to face counseling full-time rather than inpatient clinical work which often included doing lectures, activities, and running groups. Frankly I hated the area but had moved to the Lehigh Valley in order to better facilitate this new role I was coaxed into just a few months before. I was hours away from any of my closest friends, poorly compensated, and starting to struggle with what I would call some weird mental health symptoms. I was binge eating, drowning myself in caffeine, and when I wasn’t buzzing from that I was sleeping at every opportunity could find. Seriously I think the amount of naps I was taking was getting in the way of the relationship I was in at the time.
I’m a Licensed “Pastoral Counselor.” That means that I have the full credentials of any licensed counselor in the state of Pennsylvania, but I spent a certain number of semester hours each course in some kind of guided reflective & creative process of spiritual contemplation. For someone who identifies further on the atheist side of the scale of agnosticism, this was a pretty uniquely challenging experience but something that frames not only my professional services but also my personal authoring very deliberately. That being said, the fundraising part of the role I was handed did not feel like it particularly invited that kind of interaction with others, and so I sought to terminate my responsibilities in that department.
When I teach meditation I often say that one may choose to close their eyes or if they feel more comfortable they may keep their eyes open and ‘gaze softly.’ I think this is what I do in mosh pits. I can’t try to lock on to one person or one flying beer can or else I’ll start to get overwhelmed and dizzy with everyone flying all over the place and that’s how you get hurt. Instead, I sort of stare distantly as the tumult of bodies and beers comes flying across my field of vision. This way, I tend to be a little bit more reflexive when something like the heel of a crowd surfer’s boot looks like it’s going to come crashing on the bridge of my nose; which I may not have seen if I was standing trying to make eye contact with the drummer or, you know, taking a fucking snapchat or something.
There’s a language of hand signals, nods, grunts, and postures that at times can orchestrate what you’re seeing when you watch a mosh pit. I say at times, because there are definitely times when the sheer kinetic energy of the thing is out of hand and no one knows what the fuck is going on. But more often than not, a mosh pit is an instinctually cooperative high energy improvisational interpretive dance routine that’s large purpose is to serve as a vector for the sublimation of dysphoric emotions and traumas through some degree of impulsive, high risk, violent play… and the soundtracks pretty neat.
What’s interesting is that there’s a study or two out there that seem to link the presence of Neanderthal genes in a persons DNA with a proportional propensity for ADHD traits; seeming to indicate that ADHD may be a relic of caveman like behavior. This would make sense, as this sort of ability to switch the focus rapidly could be a benefit to someone who is often scouring the forest floor for food and footprints. The great irony here is that there is a such thing in the Grindcore and death metal cultures as “Caveman Riffs…” and I think whoever came up with that has no idea how apropos that actually is.
Coming to terms with the decision to leave the Caron Foundation came with a lot of tears. As I intend to digress upon in later portions of this project, I have a lot of deep seated emotional connection to that institution that goes well-beyond simple employer employee dynamics. Not the least of which is the fact that I was a patient there before anything, and hired back within a year of having been discharged. In fact, I can’t say for certain that I didn’t get emotional talking about it with the boys during the car ride down to DC that night. That felt bad.
There’s a Pig Destroyer shirt that I owned at one point that has a pencil illustration of a person walking out the backdoor of a venue, you know, where it says “No Re-entry.” This person is clearly battered and bloodied, their shirt is torn, their nose is bleeding, they’re likely covered in sweat and gross. It’s a drawing of a person walking out to smoke after getting their ass kicked in a mosh pit, and the caption reads “I needed that in the worst way.” Every band that played that night leveled the fucking place and we jumped around like, well, cave men I suppose, and had a great time. It’s those nights then spent driving back to pennsylvania to arrive back home at 3:30am exhausted, dirty, over caffeinated, over nicotined, full on gas station carbs and ibuprofen that I take a shower and lay down in bed I feel like I can finally let everything go. That being around those people and doing that crazy shit affirms to me that there are people who accept and care about me unconditionally simply for the charisma and attitude that I bring, not because I have this credential or this degree or this much experience employing the beatitudes of cognitive behavioral therapy modalities in a certain level of clinical care setting...
That night, with that many friends, with that much joy and exhilaration I felt affirmed. I decided to begin the strategic, deliberate, and painstakingly concise execution of my resignation. I felt I had thought through as much of everything through as I could, done the deep feeling soul spelunking spiritual reflecting to test whether my motives were pure or not, and I envisioned success save for if there were to be some random global disaster that threatened to disintegrate the fabric of society from the inside out, but what were the chances of that? Right?
I handed in my letter of resignation a few weeks after the show, and literally. that. Fucking. day. got a text on the ride home that Gov. Tom Wolf was shutting down the state due to Covid-19.