We walked into a Cat's Cradle that was new to me. The entrance, once on the front of the strip mall, then on the side of the building, was now in the back. The mummy man that used to haunt the ceiling now resides over the bar in the rear of the room. And while I have grown up, the people at Cat's Cradle, many of them, anyway, have stayed the same age. Including, I might add, the same ageless doorman, who has gotten somehow not gotten older or younger in the 18 years I've been going to Cat's Cradle.
The opening band was Nap Eyes, an outfit out of Nova Scotia. I didn't know much about them, but they were fine. In the push to find standing room at the Cradle, I ran into a familiar face, my guitar instructor Mark Voller, a hip dude seven years my junior, with a tattoo of a bass clef on his forearm, the kind of guy who says "Right on!" and makes you believe it. "I don't know anything about either of these bands!" he said with a grin. His girlfriend Christina Anglin, and he was game. I imagine he said "Right on!" when she proposed the idea.
I introduced Will to Mark, though I was a bit uncomfortable. When my worlds collide, I get a little uneasy. Generally I am able to compartmentalize my selves. There is work Turner, the Turner of Turner's Take and Twitter. There is home Turner, the married man with the wife and the dog and the church and the neighbors. This is where my neighbor Will resides. And there is music Turner, the college singer/songwriter who still dreams of seeing his name on marquees, if not at Royal Albert Hall then at Motorco or Local 506. This is the arena that Mark inhabits. Each of these audiences is aware that the other exists, but my fear has been that if a citizen of one of these worlds meets someone from another, some illusion will shatter and all will see me for a fraud. But Will cut right to the heart of the issue.
"Is Turner a good guitar player?" he said to Mark. I started sweating. See, there's this false narrative in my head, the one that doesn't allow for vulnerability to show. If I tell my neighbor I play guitar, I'm going to need him to just take it on faith that I am good at guitar. If I tell my guitar instructor that I'm a good writer, he's going to have to trust me. At 36, I still haven't mastered the art of letting go the illusion of perfection, of allowing my friends in on my struggles, of showing my work, be it writing or music or fitness or mental health. I don't know how necessary it is for me to walk down the street and say, "Hey neighbor! I'm getting better at guitar!" But it may be helpful to let someone in on the idea that I am doing the work of self-improvement. I don't have to have mastered everything to have friends. I have people who are in my life, who give me life because of my flaws, not despite them. They don't resent me for not being perfect, for having to work at it. They relate to the struggle.
"Yeah! He's awesome!" Mark said. Right on. I sighed. But Mark continued. "You know, Turner takes voice lessons before he sees me for guitar." Oh shit here we go. "I walk by the room, and I hear him singing show tunes, Sinatra, Hamilton . . . "
"Will, you're not supposed to be hearing this," I interjected.
"Oh yeah," Will replied, unabated. "We've heard an entire Hamilton performance at the piano at his house."
I turned. "Mark, you're not supposed to be hearing that," I said. They laughed. I laughed. Worlds remained intact, for now. An exhale. Right on.
Car Seat Headrest took the stage right at 9 p.m. Toledo wore a black turtleneck, his hair falling down over his bespectacled eyes. He was Joey Ramone, 2017. His guitarist wore a shirt for the video game Doom. His bassist looked like every bassist in every high school band ever, cradling the oversized guitar and bopping his head. His drummer wore a headband and kept the beat like it was his job (it was).
They tore into "Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An)," and the crowd nodded with appreciation and sang along. And then, "Fill in the Blank."
I'm so sick of (fill in the blank)
Accomplish more, accomplish nothing
If I were split in two I would just take my fists
So I could beat up the rest of me
You have no right to be depressed
You haven't tried hard enough to like it
Haven't seen enough of this world yet
But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Well stop your whining, try again
No one wants to cause you pain
They're just trying to let some air in
But you hold your breath, you hold your breath, you hold it
Hold my breath, I hold my breath, I hold it.
It's clear that Toledo himself has dealt with his own internal issues and found a tremendous, constructive outlet for them. In "Fill in the Blank" he is at one moment invalidating his own feelings, giving voice to the inner monogue that says "Get over yourself," and in the next allowing space for those feelings. I've been there. Many, many have. People were singing along. Post-teens were swaying. A man 15 feet in front of me had his eyes closed and hands in the air, as if he were at a tent revival. They were relating. For my part, I don't have the same angst I did at 20; now it's major depressive disorder, the nagging thought that by this point I should know what I'm doing in the world. But to be among a friendly group of people, all connecting, all exuding redemptive, therapeutic energy was inspirational.
I've got a right to be depressed
I've given every inch I had to fight it
I have seen too much of this world, yes
And it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
I looked around the room. People were bobbing their heads and acknowledging their own emotions, their own internal thoughts that hold them back, and finding voice and expression, relation and validation. Toledo was laying out the very same discomfort that I'd felt when my worlds collided just moments before.
"How many of you go to Chapel Hill?" Toledo said between songs. There were many whoos. "Congratulations," he said. "And also, congratulations if you don't." The crowd laughed. If you've got a Telecaster strapped to your back and an adoring audience, anything can be funny. But the young man who began his career recording his compositions in the back seat of his car makes for an uncomfortable rock star. And so he began the next song.
"Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" is the first Car Seat Headrest song I heard, way back on Kinsey's SnapChat. When it began, the guy behind me said, "This is my favorite song of his." 'Well, of course it is,' I thought, like the music snob I so despise. But by the time the chorus came around, I was singing along, if only silently.
It doesn't have to be like this.
And singing alongside people of all ages, one knows that indeed it doesn't have to be like that. That there is a collective empathy that, if embraced, can buoy us all.