He died before he knew he’d become famous. Bradley Nowell, lead singer and songwriter for Sublime, a ska/punk band from Long Beach, is famous for his songs sixteen years after he died from an overdose. And we are at what should have been his concert, but now only his bass player is on stage with a drummer and a new lead singer, Rome. And so–few people have come; we are able to sit in an area to ourselves. Score! We love when this happens: going to a public event without the public present.
And down a flight, one blind man sits in the handicap landing area with a tiny, elderly woman as his aid. Otherwise the space is empty until a cowboy comes along to dance with his girlfriend. Two-stepping without his boots to ska and reggae. He never once lets go of her hand, and you can tell by the way she dances, she never doubts him. The spins, the dips, the drops–right beside the blind guy ska-swaying in his seat.
Wallace Stegner in Angel of Repose explains the train’s whistle:
“The sound of anything coming at you — a train, say, or the future — has a higher pitch than the sound of the same thing going away. If you have perfect pitch and a head for mathematics you can compute the speed of the object by the interval between its arriving and departing sounds. I have neither perfect pitch nor a head for mathematics, and anyway who wants to compute the speed of history?”
The memory racing past me: One last good time. 2003 (?) A drive to Wyoming in our old Suburban with our son’s ska/punk rock band crammed inside. One bass, seven guitars, a smoke machine and the new lead singer finding out she doesn’t know any of the words. We follow the drummer’s van over empty country roads and listen to our son beat rhythm on his bass and the lead guitarist sing the Sublime song they’ll be performing in three hours. His tenor steadies her soprano when she tentatively sings the lyrics back. A shadow stitching time:
Annie’s twelve years old
in two more she’ll be a whore
Nobody ever told her
it’s the wrong way
The entire trip was fun. Tuning guitars in the dark, climbing utility poles to illegally tap into the town’s power grid with our orange extension cords. Listening to my son’s bass improv to “Santeria”, another Sublime song. And the long dark drive back to Montana afterwards. And not long after that, I surprised us all and left my children’s father. Left, as in divorce.
Once, and for a long time, there had always been a bomb ticking in him. Something was always just about to happen. That edge was rather thrilling. But then, the ticking stopped.
I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: The bomb had gone off years before. And the ticking I thought I always heard when I was with him? Turns out–that’s the sound of me.