Grief and Laughter

You know, I was thinking just now
about
grief
and
laughter.
Why do we do it?
Why feel compelled to utter forth
a hiccup
or
a loud guffaw?
It got me to thinking –
Perhaps we cry
in attempts to heal the wound,
as water brings new life.
And gasp at the air
so that the pain in our lungs validate
we are still here – suffering.
And when we laugh
we are shaking off the snake skin,
constricting us for too long.
Or breaking the iceberg that exists
in us, in others,
so that we may breathe
a little easier.

Robin Williams

My dad says something like, “Every 100 years or so, the world goes completely berserk”.

Think about it: Iraq, Gaza, Ferguson, Tea Party, government shutdown, Syria, airplane tragedies, Washington mudslides and forest fires, Ebola outbreak, Hawaii hurricanes…This is all fairly recent stuff, but I could probably go on for awhile.RW

But I’m most deeply heartbroken by the passing of Robin Williams. Not only that he died, but the fact that it was a suicide. Those are always the types of deaths that cut the deepest, especially with those as exquisitely talented as he was. I could understand old age, natural causes, a freak accident even. But a suicide? Oh my god, my heart has collapsed at the mere thought. For a man I never met, the impact of his life, and now his death, has been so profound. But that’s what’s so strange about celebrity, isn’t it? – The ability to touch the lives of those you’ve never even met. I always knew this day would come but not this year, not now.

To those who knew him and loved him personally, I cannot even imagine what they are going through. Here I am a microcosm of a microcosm of society and I feel this undeniable, superficial emotional pain. It must hurt 100-fold for them. And there’s nothing that can be said to alleviate the pain to something that doesn’t seem real, that’s nightmarish in a very frightening way, mostly due to the fact that it is reality.

This past April, another one of my favorite comedians died – John Pinette. Only 50. And I felt so upset. Again, almost like I knew him. I had seen him do standup at the Wellmont only a few months before. Pinette was no stranger to health problems (his whole act based on food and struggling with weight), but when I saw him on stage he looked so great! The best he’s ever looked. It was unbelievable to me that he died of a pulmonary embolism, though it was probably caused by his unhealthy eating habits over the course of his life.

I think there’s a dark side to any funny person. I suppose it goes to show that money, fame, and success are never enough to sustain one’s demons forever. I’m sure it was difficult for Williams to top his best work. It is for any great artist. I mean once you’ve made it, it’s gotta be difficult to stay up there. Sometimes that captivating dynamism we fall in love with as an audience transforms into an all too silent void when the door closes and they find themselves alone with only their thoughts. One can get lost in a bottomless pit of emotional oblivion there.

The fall semester of my sophomore year of college, two days a week, I had 3 classes back-to-back-to-back. When I finally got let out for lunch I’d buy a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a soda. I’d hurry back to my dorm and spend my lunch hour watching comedy specials illegally uploaded on YouTube – namely those by Kathy Griffin and Robin Williams. I’d laugh away my afternoon and get out of academia for awhile. It became a ritual for the rest of the year.

The day before Robin Williams killed himself, I had convinced my brother to help me set up the VHS player in our living room. We chose to watch Aladdin and cracked up all the while. A few hours before it was announced, we had found and watched a home recording of an episode of Star Trek Voyager called “Death Wish” about an omnipotent, immortal being wanting to commit suicide. The timing of the news report was eerie. My brother said he saw it on Twitter. I immediately refused to believe it. It was a hoax – had to be. But as I saw the mainstream sources of Entertainment Weekly, NBC, BBC, and CNN trickling in, my heart sank into my stomach.

So yeah, you can go on about how God needed another angel or how heaven needed more laughter. But to those who don’t subscribe to the Judeo-Christian denotations, I prefer to think that this is how new talent is brought forth. I know that sounds harsh and possibly nonsensical. But honestly, it’s the only way I can justify it in my mind. Because as Life shows us time and time again, with death comes rebirth. We always reject it at first and get angry about it, but maybe there is someone new waiting in the wings. He or she can never replace Williams (or Pinette) but maybe will help us laugh in new ways, ways that would not have been noticed or appreciated if Williams were still alive.

I know. I hate it too. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. But you know what? At the end of the day, the only thing we can do is to celebrate his life by remembering his love, vitality, and unparalleled sense of humor. There will never be another Robin Williams.

Never.

Weatherbox @ Asbury Lanes – 7/15/2014

Brian Warren

“Every time we headline a show, I’m almost confident no one’s gonna show up,” confesses Weatherbox frontman Brian Warren in between songs.

The crowd looks around and lightly chuckles. It’s hard to believe the thought even crosses his mind. For a dark and stormy Tuesday night, Asbury Lanes holds a sizeable crowd. Everyone is standing shoulder-to-shoulder, eagerly singing along, witnessing in dumbstruck amazement the rhythmic complexity and melodious lines Weatherbox is notoriously known for delivering without fail. Their newest album, Flies In All Directions is an absolute must-listen. Dikembe’s Steven Gray has already termed it, “the album of the decade”.

A mid-July evening in Asbury Park is likely to encounter boardwalk nightlife, beach-goers, and other summertime revelers – but not tonight. Outside it’s bleak and desolate. Lightning repetitively strikes the sky, thunder rolls one boom after another. Beyond the door is a steady remainder of a dissipating torrential downpour, just beginning to slow down from monsoon-like proportions. What were gales of wind, perhaps strong enough to carry someone away to the edge of the coastline and deposit them into the surf, are now dying down to light ocean breezes.

But despite the slightly foreboding, yet fading Day After Tomorrow vibe outside, NJ locals D’Arcy kick off the night, warming up the crowd with throaty yells, guitar solos, and feedback aplenty, all steeped in a 90s Grunge reeducation.

Next up are Asbury natives, Ghost House. Though reminiscent of The Wonder Years, frontman Zach West holds his own as he and guitarist Howie Cohen exchange vocals and sideways glances.

Dikembe3When Dikembe hits the stage, the vibe of the room noticeably changes. The crowd
quickly shuffles closer with rapt attention. After sorting through some minor technical difficulties (frontman Steven Gray’s guitar is uncooperative tonight, prompting him to borrow another from Ghost House), the lads tune up, drummer David Bell removes his shirt, and Dikembe begins. The Gainesville, FL quartet’s new record (Mediumship) is officially out. They play some new songs off it including “24 Karats”, “Gets Harder” and “Donuts In a Six Speed” where many times it appears bassist Randy Reddell’s hands are going to come flying right off from the rapid intensity of his playing. Dikembe’s set is nothing short of electrifying. The heart and soul of their performance is palpable, spawning many
to move about in half-dance, half-head nod. They close out with a powerful cover of “Where Is My Mind” that the Pixies themselves would have little choice but to bow down in humble appreciation and respect. Their departure leaves the crowd hungry for more.

Weatherbox2Before dominating the evening, Weatherbox approaches the stage tweaking their instruments and amps, fiddling with pedalboard settings, getting the tone just right. They immediately launch into “Pagan Baby”, the first track off Flies In All Directions. Brian Warren brazenly sings out: “Baked into the crust, I’m comfy, reading eulogies / You heard I was a nice boy; Well, you didn’t hear it from me”. The rest of the night rolls along without a hitch as Warren leads into more new songs like “Kickflips” and “Drag Out”, complete with the album-identical nearly neverending ending, the crowd screaming in unison, “Maybe magic don’t come back, don’t come back / COME BACK, COME BACK”. At this point, Warren is visibly pouring sweat, his greasy, tangled hair becoming more matted and knotted with each heart-heavy sway. Throughout tWeatherbox3he performance, he bounces between a black and red Telecaster and a semi-hollow body Epiphone with untrimmed strings flailing. He looks like a madman possessed, his troubled soul wrung out to dry. For not having played on the album, Warren’s accompanying band is pretty close to perfect, laying down every lick, fill, and riff with uncanny precision. His eyes wander around the room on “Dark All Night For Us” softly singing, “Don’t suffocate your lungs, hoping to be forever young / You can’t make art in a vacuum state or become something great alone / You need a friend to depend on”. Towards the end of their set, Dikembe’s Steven Gray gets on stage one last time to sing Andy Hull’s (Manchester Orchestra, Bad Books) verse on “The Devil and Whom”, and to the delight of more seasoned Weatherbox fans, the band closes out with “Broken Glowsticks” off EP, Follow the Rattle of the Afghan Guitar.

When Warren sings, “You won’t find a band like mine”, the room nods along in rhythmic testament with knowledge of its inherent truth. Weatherbox is a jeweled ship in an ocean of mediocrity with the ability to quell any storm, so that all may come and bear witness.


Dikembe7Dikembe6 Dikembe1

Weatherbox_Drums AJ_Weatherbox

Forest Dream #1

5.21-22.2014

clearingI found myself standing on the perimeter of a graduation ceremony of sorts that was taking place in the forest. It was really a beautiful day; The sunlight was visibly streaming through the treetops and into a small clearing.

In this clearing were neatly arranged folding chairs, all taken by about-to-be graduates; All were sitting calmly. There was no talking or joking; All heads faced front. There was a wooden stage facing them and I was facing that stage, but was on the left side near the back – out of sight.

I noticed a girl (around my age, but a little younger) make her way over to a podium on the age to speak. I remember everyone looking very young. This was definitely a high school graduation/school function of sorts. I could just tell by the age of the student body.

As this girl was going up to speak, I immediately became disinterested. I really wanted to get out of there but felt hesitant about leaving. I was trepidatious; I didn’t want to break any rules, nor did I want to get in trouble for leaving. But as I continued to think about it, I realized how silly it was to feel that way; I remember inwardly reasoning something along the lines of, “I’m independent. This is my life. Why should I feel obligated to stay somewhere I don’t want to?” I was resolved to stick to my guns and not be so easily manipulated and pressured by a feeling/notion that had no logical basis. So as the speaker began, I started to walk away.

Imagine this - but in a sky blue color
Imagine this – but in a sky blue color

Leaving the clearing behind me, I approached a sky blue bridge. Before I could cross it, I was stopped by an administrator of sorts. He was definitely an older gentleman; Think along the

Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge
Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge

lines of a younger Cornelius Fudge. He stepped in front of my path with his back to this sky blue bridge.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.

“I’m leaving,” I said. “I don’t go [to school] here”

He refused to let me pass, but I defiantly blew past him anyway. I went over the bridge and on to another part of the forest. He did not protest, but followed me instead.

We immediately came across a small house made of large, roundish stones (like a very rudimentary cobblestone house) that was understood to be a chapel.

Imagine full scale walls with stones stacked like this.

From the window, I saw the ghost of a priest clothed in red and gold vestments doing the Communion rites, holding the Eucharist up and whatnot. Everything inside this chapel, including the priest, was absolutely transparent. After witnessing this, I began to become very interested in going inside this small church/chapel. I told the administrator (whose role seemed to have gone from adversary to guide) to let me inside. I thought maybe he had a key.

We were on the side of the chapel, so we went to approach the front. But to my surprise, as we entered the vestibule area, the Communion scene inside was nowhere to be found. Instead the interior was full of cobwebs and dust. I thought I felt a bug on my skin and freaked out a bit, trying to brush it off.


Though that was pretty much the end of the dream, I also remember a small tidbit that came afterwards. Although, I’m not sure if it was cohesively generated as I think I woke up and made myself fall back asleep to “see what was next”. The next scene went as follows:

I found myself back in the clearing but after the “graduation ceremony” had ended. There were groups of people socializing.

I remember approaching the speaker and apologizing for walking out. She was very nice about it, assuring me not to worry. I remember her showing me the program for the event/ceremony. She pointed to the pictures of 3 girls who were in the program in black and white. She told me she had spoken on their behalf, to remember and memorialize them as they had died very recently. I did not recognize the girls nor do I remember their faces.

Forest Dream #2

I was at a relative’s house. The dream house was pretty accurate to the house in reality: A large house, with an extensive backyard but – There was a mountain range in the distance; As one looked out beyond the yard the mountains were prominent as ever. It looked beautiful as the sun was setting. The yard wasn’t that large as I noticed the other surrounding neighbor’s yards were nearby, but there weren’t many fences dividing the yards up; It was pretty open and connected.

This relative was saying mean and disparaging things to me. Again, not far from reality; This relative has always been slightly condescending and ambiguous towards me, but would never stoop so low to say some of things that he was saying to me in this dream; In short, repetitively saying to my face how worthless and useless I am. I kept telling him to stop but he wouldn’t, continuously pestering and pushing me to brink of explosive anger.

Another relative from the same house, stole my phone and I caught him looking through it. He was at the bottom of some stairs (In a basement, I suppose. The interior of the house was not based in reality) and I was peering from the top yelling at him for doing so. I didn’t appreciate him violating my privacy. He ran away and I went down to retrieve my phone. After this occurred, something else was said to me of condescending nature (by who I don’t specifically remember) and I flipped; I yelled, cursing everyone out in the house and booked it – out of the yard and towards the mountain range.

I ran very fast. Faster than I ever could in reality and without tiring. I went the length of the entire backyard from the back of the house onward, until I came upon a metal gate that was attached to a larger chain metal fence. I opened the latch and continued to run and run and run; Through the other neighboring yards on and on. I ran so fast and so far, thoughts blacked out by my anger, blinded by my rage (I had no idea where I was going. I just needed to run), until after a time I decided it might be appropriate to stop. OHT Pic 4387 Open forestI had cleared the “suburban backwoods” and now found myself alone and isolated in a forest.

But I wasn’t afraid. I was suddenly calmed in the realization of my aloneness. It was peaceful, quiet. I don’t even remember hearing birds chirping or crickets singing. The forest wasn’t very dense but was actually very open. I noticed a sign across from me that said something along the lines of: Visitors must leave the forest before dusk. I remember the word DUSK specifically, in bold and all capitals.

The shape was something like this, though the material was not finished wood. Imagine a light tan, beige-ish color instead.
The shape was something like this, but the steps were bigger and more triangulated. And the material was not finished wood. Imagine a light tan, beige-ish color instead. I don’t remember a railing either.

In my contentment, I continued to look about the forest and noticed (across from the sign) I was standing next to a spiraling staircase to a treehouse. But there wasn’t just one staircase – there were two. The inner one was made of wood and the steps were large and somewhat triangular. The outer one was made of highly ornamented wrought, black iron. I remember looking up the staircase for awhile, pondering it. My memories then came flooding back as to what had transpired: The argument, my flighty tantrum. I did not ascend the staircase, but began to head back to the house. By the time I got back it was dark.

Instead of announcing my return, some other relatives (including my brother) decided it was best to sneak me in and not tell parties previously involved that I had come back; So that they would be worried and look for me and waste their time and emotions doing so. I remember lying down, hiding with my brother behind a jungle gym while the relative who stole my phone headed out to look for me. After that, my dream starts to get hazy, unclear, and watercolored. I woke up soon afterwards.