There was one night that we played in Boston when I think we peaked. It was sonic and biblical, a perfect infernal machine. Oyster cracked his kick pedal in half on the last note of “Blo-Hole.” A guy came over and shook my hand and said that was one of the most amazing things he ever heard.
Sound check was over. We played to three people a few hours later, and I wanted to give them their money back we sucked so much.
In the beginning especially, we practiced constantly. It was how we progressed from bent, loose, and inept to achieving our own style of loose ineptitude. Then came the brief moment of true accomplishment, chaos and command interwoven. Then it fell completely apart. It got too weird. The wrongness didn’t feel right anymore. Always, though, we hoped we were a rock band, as in “the rock.”
Rock. It’s a dumb word, a meaningless word in all its meanings. (This is why it must not be allowed to wither.) The irony of it is a given, but the irony oozes out of you like a toxin over time. You could always ascertain what rocked and what didn’t. Things rock in the context of what they promise to do and how they betray that. A band cannot hold anything back. It must give everything, and fall short. It’s really only one moment, maybe two moments in a show, or a record, that seize you. The rest is procedure. “That rocked,” you say, and people think you are half-kidding, grasping onto an adolescent, meaning-blasted phrase to express your admiration for a few seconds of electrical noise that vouched for your arrested adolescence. Bullshit. “To rock,” as opposed to something as infantile as “rocking out,” is the most severe and adult of enterprises. Most people are too childish to rock.
There’s the band you are in practice and the one you are at the show. You’re like some collectively autistic entity. You are throwing a fit, a tantrum, hurling out shards of thwarted ideas, pieces of your own shit, at the audience, screaming. Still, only moments before, or hours before, in your practice room, everything was perfectly peaceful: The autist absorbed for hours by a stray piece of lint in the rug. Your music. You hope, in playing live, to display that piece of lint in all its imaginable glories of texture and hue, to convince everyone of the genius of it, what an astonishing piece of lint it is — look at it, dammit — but you left it somewhere, lost it, it blew away.
Sam Lipsyte has published four books of fiction — Venus Drive, Home Land, The Subject Steve, and The Ask. His work has appeared in many places, including The New Yorker, Playboy, Harper’s, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Tin House, New York Tyrant, and Best American Short Stories. He lives in New York and teaches fiction writing at Columbia University.
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