Sex, Rock and Roll, and Every Other Cliché
Two friends, Nik and Johnny V, picked me up from the university parking lot at eleven. I had to attend class that day under threat of failing (I think it was an American poetry course) and that meant we would barely make it to Chicago in time for the concert. It was poor planning all around. Too far to drive, too young to even book a hotel room without my mother’s credit card (we were probably eighteen or nineteen), and zero knowledge of the city by the lake. That didn’t matter, we wanted to see Turbonegro. To Nik and me (I’m not sure why Jon tagged along, but I was glad for the company), those denim-clad Norwegians with their songs about pools of blood and gay sailors were the epitome of Rock n Roll, the height of excess and rebellion (I’d probably just started reading Marx at that time coincidentally), they were everything that we wanted to be if we weren’t stunted by being white, middle class, and from the center of the fucking country. This offered us a chance to leave that life for a little while, to participate in the primitive rituals that constituted the church of punk.
We spent most of the car ride smoking cigarettes like it was going out of style and trading songs from the bag of burnt CDs we brought. Chicago was seven and a half hours away and we did it in just over six. The Howard Johnson we checked into was immediately concerned that we were three eighteen year olds with no idea how the world worked, we weren’t even interested in the free continental breakfast offered each morning. We jumped in a cab (the first I’d ever paid for if I remember correctly) and sped off toward the venue, the Metro, and the antics of a band that chooses to describe itself as “Death Punk”.
I’d lost my virginity at fifteen or sixteen. I distinctly remember it as the worst sex of my life, though this is through no fault of the girl’s; we were young and had no idea what we were doing. I didn’t even know how to put on a condom properly. What I remember the most from that night was the smell of latex on my hands afterwards and that there was a Christmas song, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”, blaring on the car radio. I think we got better eventually. Outside of a short and weird fling that’s better left unsaid, that was the extent of my sexual history up to that point.
What does any of that have to do with a road trip to Chicago to see a Norwegian punk band? I’m getting there, trust me, but first you get to hear more about me and sex!
I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had many hang ups about sex. This is probably because I was raised in a house that was pretty open about sexual health and I have the benefit of not having been subjected to sexual abuse or assault. At some point, however, I did become something of a prude. It’s not that I was necessarily shocked by nudity or pornography or anything like that, it’s more that, in various cycles throughout my adult life, I’ve alternated between introversion and short bouts of extroversion. This can put a damper on ones relationships, especially the sexual ones. In short, when you don’t want to hang out with people it’s often hard to get laid.
Where does a band that looks like this come in?
Here’s a list of some of their songs, it may go far in explaining a bit about what happened (or didn’t, really) later that evening: “Rock Against Ass”, “Zillion Dollar Sadist”, “Good Head”, “Wipe it ‘till it Bleeds”, “Blow Me (Like the Wind)”. Do you get the idea? Pair these suggestive lyrics (all tinged with an underlying dose of homoeroticism) with a front-man, Hank von Helvete, dressed in chaps with his hair done in pigtails and a penchant for word play (I recall him excited to be in a city famous for its Bears and Cubs, gay slang for hairy men) and the result is a loud, tight, and explicitly sexual show. Hank pranced around the stage, doing jumping jacks at some points, while a man dressed in a Safari outfit played rhythm guitar, a sailor played bass, and an incredibly thin, denim-clad Oslosian shredded for the hour and a half show. Here’s a taste of them live:
Most of it was a blur, but there is a single moment that stands out: a young woman with bright red lips and a sailor cap. She was next to me for most of the show, but I didn’t notice her until later, specifically during a song called “Get it On”. We danced together then, during the bridge. There’s a huge guitar solo and a walking bass line as the band sings over and over again “What do you want?/I wanna get it on, get it on, get it on”. I remember her touching my face, stroking my cheek, and my hands held her at the waist, grabbing on to her hips as she twisted them to the beat.
We didn’t have sex. I didn’t even kiss her. Nor did I get her name. It certainly was one of the most sexual experiences I’d ever had though. I lost her in the crowd as we all rushed outside for the fresh and cool air at the end of the set. A Cubs game was ending too. The streets of Wrigleyville were flooded with Chicagoans. Finding her would be impossible. I’ve never seen her again.
What’s the point of all of this? I spent the rest of the night as we walked back to the hotel room (a stupidly long walk, but we couldn’t afford another cab ride) thinking about those red lips and regretting that I didn’t try harder to do something, anything. A name, a number, a kiss, that would have been nice.
I don’t think about her much anymore (thank god, it’s been years, but I do spend way too much time pining after lost loves so it wouldn’t be a surprise if I’d gotten stuck on her too) except in that this missed opportunity was enough to open me up. I decided from then on that I would do what I want to get what I want, especially when it came to relationships and, by extension, sex.
There’s nothing shameful about wanting sex, about embracing your sexuality in all of its weird angles and having a good time. I didn’t enter a relationship for awhile after that show, but I did start to have more fun. There have been, of course, one-night stands, but to avoid some sort of demeaning label, let it be known that I try not to make a habit of it, nor is it the type of relationship that I enjoy forging; it’s honestly a lot of work for what’s often a small (drunken) pay off. There have been longer liaisons fueled by strange circumstances (a massive storm and another ex-pat student in Buenos Aires comes to mind) and casual friendships that become more and then less. There have been extremely important, meaningful, and long-term relationships (only one, really). I’ve gotten what I wanted because I’m willing to try for it and open to any situation.
It’s probably hyperbole to give Turbonegro and a girl in a sailor’s cap credit for shaping my entire sexual history. That’s fine. I don’t give them full credit, but they certainly helped me realize that being reserved makes it hard to get the things that you want. It also helped me remember an important aspect of sex: it’s just sex. Put it on a pedestal all you want, but it’s not the specter that people fear, idolize, and question. Plenty of people went home that night from the show to have sex, maybe even with strangers (AH!). I’d put money on them still living healthy and productive lives after doing so to the extent a Turbonegro fan can. Of course, it’s important and integral in a relationship, but don’t confuse sex with relationships or getting off with love.
Jon and Nik ribbed me about it as we walked home. I should have asked for her number. I should have kissed her, etc. Yeah, I should have, but I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t have done either, but I let them have their fun. A homeless man, either following us or walking the same way down Clark, sang the chorus of “Bennie and the Jets” over and over again. Back at the HoJo, I slept in the same bed as Nik (talk about sexual frustration), but I’d like to think that I dreamed of her. It would be nice if she did the same, but that’s probably asking too much and she already gave me enough. Thanks, wherever you are.