Ruthless criticism of all that exists! Nothing is immortal and the future is the only real thing! I was not going to eulogise. I called Brace from a busted payphone in the lobby of a hostel in the Mission in 2008 to deliver him some punk post. I apologetically jammed a copy of my zine into the box which he left at the compound and here we are. Printing my full real name and the address of every home I had in a magazine that went out thousands of absolute losers around the world has had its consequences. Too many people were all too patient with me as I learnt to write past painfully overwrought puns and local vendettas. Intrepid legends wrote to me of ancient lost bands, men asked me personal things about my life that they have read in here at gigs wherever I went. Still do. Incarcerated people sent me their drawings and dreams. The most British thing about me is my abiding distaste for Americans but I met some really real real ones living the compound in 2010 while researching counter-institutions, the psychic profits and spiritual wages of working for free in our time beyond the end of history. Since then the field of vision has widened and shrunk at once. When it comes to Maximum, opinions are like arseholes; those who claim not to have one are usually full of shit. Just remember that the frustration of seeing something you cherish deviate from your own vision for it is part and parcel of the cherishing! Punk remains a possibility explosion chock full of headless punishers circling the drain tryna grasp something pure, and may it always be so. Impure hooligans hamstrung by our own large, poisoned brains. Might have been at the compound that I first saw the Christ the Album artwork which used that old line about how “the institution is the lengthened shadow of one person.” Crass used it in fury, of course, but we can bend it with love. Following the steps of a one communist genius maniac, thousands cast the longest most fucked up silly shadow together, one that sweeps across every inhabited continent on earth, and that when the light is just right, it still looks like a huge, triumphant middle finger.
I had never heard of Asheville. On the way, we stop at a waterfall where all the rocks, on closer inspection, are jammed full of quartz. Tiny flakes of it cover the ground, reflecting back the weird light through the canopy above us. In some wordless ritual to the obtuse beauty of this odd place, my companions unwrap their taut (taught) bodies and I’m caught off guard by the old but always familiar sensation of my body being squeezed up a hard double-glazed pane of glass through which I cannot pass. It’s glass, though, so I’m close to undetectably quarantined, a clear view of how I might otherwise behave. While they are swimming I smile and take pictures, considering the many other moments where glass has reverted back to sand between my toes. Temporary contingent utopias. I pick up and clean a fleck of quartz and slide it between two debit cards, looking up to see Max’s testicles, loose amongst the nature. We walk back to the van past the ruins of the decommissioned quartz mine. In town, when we get there, I immediately recognise the tone a small city of transplant / escapees mildly resentful that they weren’t the only ones with that idea. These locals (a relative term, it seems) have tried to insulate themselves against sharing their space with tourists and students through a network of bars with strict local ID laws. Gabe, who studied here, somehow talks his way in. I sneak past and shit in there with ferocious commitment. We tour a synthesizer factor, worker-owned in spite of it all. Hope and invention, bread and circuits.
A couple of days gone. Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Our host’s housemate reminds me suddenly of the many boys I hung around between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two. Hardcore men with gold chains and shiny sneakers were usually ready with the putdowns, but this was an evolved one who incongruously yet still perfectly plays in a band called Eye Jammy that sounds like the Big Boys. He told us about his life with his whole face; ambitions to save up, to teach and help. I want to tell him that I’m so glad he’s a person in the world. We park up the van and I see our bands impromptu logo through an open set of doors. The doodle I drew on some scrap paper in Australia a few months before has been blown up, photocopied onto thirty-two sheets of paper and stuck together to paper the walls of Mississippi’s only queer youth space; the Spectrum Center. It’s a weird face (I have always drawn these faces) with “Hope Is a Prism” written above it, and “No More Prisons” below. The teeth and lips say BB and the Blips. Someone young (they are all young) approaches me to ask if I have ever heard of Angela Davis. He wants to talk about living militantly in the steps of others. He teaches me about the organising baked into the earth both here (in Hattiesburg, site of one of the first voter registration drives, where the KKK burnt Vernon Dahmer in his home, the crucible of so much besides) and in nearby Jackson, and how it was crushed to dust and by whom. He rails against the compromises he feels have been made by the socialist mayor there, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and how the staff of the only cooperatively-run business in Jackson still follow his Mom around the store while she’s grocery shopping. We are all thrown into a ring of understanding through shared tendencies much more than the incidental music. Becoming more animated, he moves on to setting up his first DSA meeting, the good first showing of eight or nine, and I think about the coastal eyerollers I know who could use some of his earnestly stringent analysis, about how much better talking to people is than podcasts. In another corner, a mother’s chaperoning her girls, who attend the building’s youth group, to their first gig here. We drink in each others’ wide open accent and I’m charmed at the girls’ gawking shyness. Her girls were born just after Katrina. She was pregnant when it hit. “We lost everything, so this place was a new start.” I garble an approximation of their hyphenated names during our set. The assembled crowd is one enormous grin. Everyone’s a woman; everyone’s dancing, a combo which always makes me want to cry and it crosses my mind that I can potentially channel and then transmit enough of this joy to guard everyone in the room from all future pain and then realise I’m getting (always) ahead of myself. The gig is a battle royale, set up so the locals¾Judy and the Jerks, Soft Spot and Dee Dee Catpiss and the Fuzz Coffins¾rotate song by song against the projected clock, and somehow everyone is casually insanely good at every instrument, and it works and thrills us all into fall-apart giggles. Later, the cops show up. The cops are both young Black women who want to know if the organisers of the show (which ended, per curfew, at 21:58) have any idea who would called it in, because the caller would not leave an address or contact details. Neighbours, it transpires, have been regularly making police reports about the shows at the space. I think about cowardice and try not to look at their guns and feel very British. I tell everyone I have just met that I love them, we take a photograph, and leave.
It’s only two hours to New Orleans so we do it straight away, attempting to bottle the euphoria and arrive as the cicadas reach a gritty climax. Our host is Jonah; profound snark-sage, carries himself like someone holding the weight of at least twelve lives so far. He stalks the street as though treasure’s imminent and we march single file behind him at 2am towards decorated Halloween front yards, until the heavens open. “Ah, the Fleur de Lis,” he snarls from the side of his mouth up at endless flapping flags, “the French swastika.” We don’t bother running as it pours, noticing the rain and the air are the same here. Jonah and Mary-lou share a large home with numerous shadows, set back from the road, a wobbly mansion surrounded by rusty protrusions (possibly art, hard to say) mature ferns and heavy palms. The walls are dark, wet wood, they seem to pulsate and glisten as we dry and, socks off, the tiles cool my soles. There’s an indoor-outdoor walkway to move you between rooms. These types of exception homes make my spirit sing, parallels to another past, another future, one I used to be able to describe so clearly, inhabiting sometimes, now faded to nearly nothing, loosening focus even more since they criminalised squatting in the UK. They have that overwhelming vibe of people living upon layers of bone-dust, everyday relics of deep lives, of survivors who came slowly back. I muse on this romantic half-thought like a prick then realise that apocalypse is no abstraction. New Orleans is a whole world. For a while there I’m completely enchanted at the sense of having aesthetically and architecturally escaped America. The long, winding highway over water. I put it together over the first few hours of ears open / mouth shut that in fact there are deeply American reasons for the poverty that covers this place like an oil slick, for the poisonous fentanyl crisis, the stark fact that there are no public schools left here. Curdled slabs of marble jut out at slightly off angles. We climb the walls of St. Roche cemetery with the aid of some lost mourner’s plastic chair. Cars slow by. Ain’t doing nothing. Ten of us share one improbably long sandwich. I choose now to try my first ever seafood. It is a sort of breaded shrimp. Later in the evening (a night I’ve been playing over in my head a lot since) we will play before Special Interest in a Laundromat and their set, twisted and heavy, will end. Then Alli will speak out over the mic, solid stood over the crowd on a washer, about grief. They begin “Are you scared?!” and the crowd, assuming this is some call and response number, gives it back ten fold. No. Rage hails down at the death cult and it feels like a laser pointer red dot right in the centre of the ease with which everything adjusts, shoving even this, a most revolutionary sound, style, and presence into a standardised entertainment module for buzzing youths just …checking out a show, man. It’s gauche to say a moment like that was profoundly moving but what was generated over the space of a few minutes broke a hole in my standards for what our end time gatherings could further aspire to. Far from it, naturally, that they need deliver a sucker punch to the crowd through laying bare one persons’ raw loss and grief at their own expense, but still. Stillness. Still space, still reality and still re-connecting the dots. ‘I came here, I came here, I came here to dance.’ Of course, that. Still.
Memphis (an unbecoming twelve-hour glimpse of it, anyway) was a lowlight, simply. The smoke in the bar itches my lungs and, through various missteps, we disassembled the prior unity of the van, owing to excesses of both beer and pride. This gig, this episode, leaves me wondering what I need to sing these silly songs effectively, be in front of others, what was missing in Memphis, and indeed that it might be okay not to be totally self-contained. Then we are catcalled and kerb crawled during a walk around the block in a suburban street and I feel like the moon is laughing at us. In St. Louis we play the last Lumpy and the Dumpers gig and I wring out the weight of everything on stage. “If you get in the way of women dancing I will make sure you never have sex again.” Then there is A Moment and I am convinced that we¾me and this small army of pogoing bitches¾have the power to ensure this sticks. “Sweat it out, don’t deny me. Fill me, just fill me, I live in my body.” Later there will be a fight at the Courtesy Diner (est. 1935, so neither the first nor the last) and my best friend and the one I love will (respectively) sit on and tackle the aggressor just to weigh him down and then the tired waitress will lock the doors and that man, defeated in the car park, will shout out some parting shot: “Trump won, get over it!”
There was a moment earlier on this tour where I had cause to source suboxone and fast. Navigating a foreign city on this urgent errand I shut out all rumination (my life challenge) and my engine was filled only with the desire to do the right thing and to help make it stop. It was a lesson in hyper focus seeing how others come through for each other over and over in these protracted crises, harm reduction as both a legacy and a lifetime. A whole culture. A whole world. We are all most alive as an instrument of a project, even and especially when that project is simply to keep our friends alive. Say no to the fetishized interior! May you, too, live.