On Nostalgia; On Goodbyes

It’s difficult to compress these sort of things into text. It’s hard to try, often times incompetently, to paraphrase these experiences into words on a screen when the reality is something so much more. Throughout hundreds of shows, what I felt this weekend, I’ve felt once, maybe twice, before. It’s not something that is tangible. It cannot be quantified. Moments like this reach the level of becoming ethereal, and dare I say, spiritual. It’s something I don’t take lightly, and it’s something that’s snuck on me and my cynicism in a surprising and wonderful way.

Over the last few years, there’s been a run of 10 or 15-year reunion tours and shows. These occasions are met with maybe not so equal parts of excitement and criticism. There’s the whole “Ah, yes, sell that nostalgia” logic that seems to be of the prevailing opinion. A kind of dismissal that whatever is happening doesn’t have any real heart or significance behind it. Reflecting on this weekend with that in mind, I’ve been able to make two assessments: 1. This is wrong and also wildly inaccurate, and 2. Who the fuck cares what this is? People have been disregarding legitimate emotion and attachment as nothing more than nostalgia, as if nostalgia is a bad thing in itself. I saw Piebald, Hey Mercedes, and specifically, Thursday, play reunion sets in the year 2016. These things aren’t happening solely because of nostalgia. Don’t glance over the significance of what has been taking place these last few years for bands like these. It matters. It means something. It might even mean more than it did in the first place.

Adding proverbial insult to the proverbial injury, not only was I there to see the band that got me into this whole music thing, I was there to celebrate a venue. The Masquerade in Atlanta is closing down this year after decades of being the epicenter of whatever scene Atlanta may have ever had. I grew up here. I fell in love here (I really did). I sweat and I bled and I cried and I hurt here. So many nights. We ran across the highway, dodging cars. We stood in the rain so that we knew we would have a spot right up against the barrier. We hung out in alleys waiting for bands to come out and talk to us so we could fumble over our trite star struck words. It wasn’t just a building, and it wasn’t just a club. It was a home away from home for kids like me who felt like we didn’t belong anywhere else. Kids who spent the weeks just trying to get through, trying to get by, to get to the next show, because we knew it would make it all worth it. When we were here, we knew that at least for a few hours, it was all going to be okay. It was a lie we were okay with telling ourselves, because we believed it, night after night, week after week, show after show. And sometimes, it wasn’t a lie. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it was the truth. And maybe we didn’t belong anywhere else. Maybe that is where we belonged. Maybe that’s where we were supposed to be. I feel like it was, because I don’t think I would feel the way I feel about its closure otherwise. It’s incredible to think about how so much of your life can be impacted by what happens within a certain set of walls. It can, it will, it did.

And that brings us back to Thursday.

Writing this, it’s hard to try not to recycle things that I’ve said, and thought, and written already before. At times, I feel like I’ve already said nearly everything that there is for me to say about this band, but it’s just so easy for me to keep saying it because it still means so fucking much. It always has and it always will. In a life that has been full of strife and struggle and delusions of grandeur, these guys have been a constant. If you read the things I write, it is because of what they did so many years ago. If you know me as a person, I am who I am because of what they did so many years ago. This isn’t hyperbole. Music is powerful. Music is bigger than who we are as individuals. That’s the whole point. If you feel that way about something, embrace it. Absorb it. Let it enfold you.

I was a sad kid. I was fucking lonely. I didn’t care about anything and I didn’t know what I was doing. Most days I still don’t. Looking back, it’s easy to frame my life in a very teenage cliché sort of a way, but when you’re the one living it at the time, it is anything but. I had to have been a freshman at the time, and I had an upperclassman friend who one day on the ride home said “Dude, you’ve got to fucking hear this.” I remember this moment with a fucked up kind of pristine clarity. It was a legitimate Perks of Being a Wallflower sort of moment. Full Collapse had just dropped, and he put it in. For that moment on, there was life before I heard that record, and the life I would live after it. I had been into music for a little while at this point, but this was it. I was sold. I dove headfirst into the music scene, I let it consume me, and that’s why you are reading this right now. It is why I have become the person who I am. I mean that. Through and through.

I don’t expect that album to be that for you, but if you ever feel or have felt the way that I felt during those years, I hope that you find a record that can fill that hole in your heart. I hope that you find something that makes you feel a part of something bigger than yourself. It took some time, Full Collapse filled that hole for me, and it has been overflowing ever since.

Having the opportunity to see Thursday play twice in less than 24 hours over this last weekend was a dream come true. I felt like I was outside of my own body the whole time, viewing the scene through some kind of twisted kaleidoscope in the best way imaginable. Seeing them do a set in a 400 cap room and then absolutely destroy the city of Atlanta on the main stage of a festival was the best of both worlds. I had initially said goodbye to them five years ago, during a verysmall show here in the city. It was the middle of finals week for the colleges. There was an ice storm. Geoff had food poisoning and had to leave during the middle of the set. Random kids came up to sing songs while the band finished out the set list. I got punched in the face. It was an experience in its own right, but it wasn’t how I wanted it to end. They deserved better. We all did. With these last two shows, I got that. If this is the end, as sad as it is for me to close this chapter of my life, I understand and I respect it. I recognize that I’m more than lucky to have been where I am, when I am, so that I could appreciate it all in the way that I have over these last few days. I’ll never stop being thankful for that.

And the thing is, as you get older, you find more ways to appreciate all the songs, the albums, the artists, that you’ve grown up with. The catch is that you don’t have the opportunity to see them as much. The catch is that with each passing year, fewer of these artists are still active. It’s a numbers game. “On a long enough timeline, the life expectancy for everyone drops to zero.” Music isn’t the epicenter of your life as it once was. It’s all still there, it’s still burrowed down inside of you where it’s always been. But it takes a little more to bring it out. Sometimes it takes a lot more.

I haphazardly ran into Geoff before the opening night club show. I was still as in awe as I have always been when I see him. I was still the kid from 15 years ago, choking back tears, trying to tell this person how much his words meant to me. The only difference is the years that have gone by in between. This time, he was on vocal rest and couldn’t talk. I told him what I’ve told him every time I’ve talked to him. Thank you, for everything you’ve done. Thank you for being here tonight, even after all these years. I told him every time I see them is like the first time all over again, and that’s a feeling I never want to get over. He wasn’t supposed to be talking, but he said “Thank you, Joe” and he gave me a hug. That’s a feeling I hope you experience at least once in your life, for whatever band you might love. It’s priceless. It’s a validation for all the time and energy I’ve put into the scene over the years. In that moment, it really, truly, had all been worth it.

I don’t go to as many shows as I used to. The time, the money, the physical endurance of it all. It just doesn’t balance out anymore. Eventually, it gets to a point where it’s not quite the same as when you used to be the sad kid with his life still all ahead of him. But this weekend was worth it. It was more than worth it. This weekend made me feel like I was still that kid. It made me feel like there’s still some kind of bigger meaning behind all of this, and that everything we do, we do it for a reason that really, sincerely matters. I got to tell an artist how much they mean to me, after I’d told them the same thing so many years ago. And after so many years, they gave me the same familiar embrace when I was nothing more than a starstruck fanboy who was in total awe that somebody had created something I had been able to connect with on such an intense and personal level. A conversation that turned into discussions and laughter in side alleys, in backstage rooms, on tour buses. I got to share this weekend with people who I’ve known for years and years and who I know they feel the same in their heart the way that I do about this band. I got to share this weekend with somebody who had never even seen this band before, and I saw her absolutely captivated and enthralled by what she was experiencing. And that’s what it’s all about. That is why I have done what I have always done. I cannot describe to you how fulfilling it feels to have somebody appreciate something you have dedicated your life to. It brought me to tears, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. If I left it all right now, this would be a movie script ending. I have been spoiled. I have been honored. I have been humbled. I have been blessed. I’m just so god damn happy to have been a part of it all.

Thursday is a part of me. I carry them in a little piece of my heart that has been reserved for a select few other bands and the music and moments and memories they have all created. They have forged the background to the soundtrack of my life. I will remember these moments for as long as the neurons in my brain are still firing. I will sing these songs until the day I die.

And I thought of other people I’ve known, peopled I’ve loved, people I miss, who weren’t here, who I haven’t seen in years. I thought of them, and I wished they were here for this, with me, because I know how much it would have meant to them. I still miss them and I still love them, and even if we don’t talk as much as we used to, and I know they feel the same. I know I can tell them about how incredible of a time I had with all of this, and how they were on my mind, and I know they would have felt the same if the positions were reversed. And that means something. That’s not just nostalgia. That’s not something you can just dismiss. That’s something that has worked its way into the fabric of our lives. It’s fucking deep. It’s who we are. It’s who we want to be.

If this was goodbye, after all these years, after a lifetime, I’m mostly at peace with it.

If this was goodbye, I’m glad that I got to scream it with thousands of people who feel the same way.

If this was goodbye, I’m glad that I wasn’t alone.

I just wish you could have been there.