It's All a Dream: Encountering the Other with mewithoutYou
(In my last article, Son of a Widow: Losing Self with mewithoutYou, I explored the theme of self-loss in mewithoutYou’s “Son of a Widow.” I mentioned at the end of the piece that the song hints at self-loss being in service of encountering the Other. In this article, I will explore, through a first-person narrative, the Other encountered in the music of mewithoutYou based loosely on an experience my friend had many suns and moons ago.)
We were young, yet ambitious. Or maybe simply antsy. Being consumed by seas of corn and suffocated in the stench of swine can do that to its victims. Yes, we are, by our accounts, victims of Iowa, and any visitor traveling through can understand why. The only way to escape its grips was to differentiate ourselves. But differentiation did not come out of our own volition. It happened to us.
While the ABV in the drinks (many of us all long past our straight-edge days) we have with the conversation has increased over the years since the turn of the millenia, the squabbling over who discovered the band remains the same. Begrudgingly, however, it was Tom who did make the phone call on that pay phone right outside of the Casey’s from where we used to steal Salted Nut Rolls as 12 year-olds (although the two-for-one deal was a steal in and of itself). I remember all of us huddled around the dented and abused pay phone as Tom asked their label if the band would ever consider playing a show here. Because the band was a significant Other to us, we assumed it would be a fat chance they would ever give Cedar Rapids the time of day.
We were wrong. The label had the same youthful hope we had in them.
The venue was not much, and that is exactly what was coveted by them. It was the basement of the local Elk’s Lodge, the dying fraternal order social club. The institution was cherished by its grouchy members, but the building itself suggested otherwise. Exposed ceilings and the sheetrock-covered back wall contributed to the already ominous aura in the dimly lit room. While we had our inhibitions about the venue, the band greeted the room with subtly enthusiastic affirmation as they unloaded their bulky cases of equipment and instruments.
As the band continued to purposefully prepare for the set, others slowly infiltrated into the venue as if they were aware of what we were all about to experience. It was as if they had unlocked a secret knowledge collectively only they knew. Furthermore, they appeared to also know we did not possess the same secret knowledge. We had long expectantly awaited to see the Other, but now it seemed as if we were the Other in that musty Elk’s Lodge basement.
Nevertheless, the show must go on.
We all gathered around the small stage. It was the height of a soapbox, and it seemed it was about to serve a similar function. Slowly the first song built, luring in the attention of the crowd. Not only was it an audible sign that the show was about to commence, but it also was a peculiar sound that commanded intrigue by its listener. It sounded as if it was one instrument, maybe a consistent pattering between each guitar, playing the same few notes reflecting each other over and over again. Of course we had all heard the recently released song before but not in this modality. This was different. The music surrounded us but with such a delicate beginning, it was only slight. The band stood motionless without their frontman. Faces looked around searching while the music built. The drum and bass soon entered still building. The band was like the construction workers erecting the new development outside the Cedar Rapids city limits-deliberately building their sound suburbia.
Then, our faces no longer searching but re-calibrating, the frontman, hidden behind the veil of bodies, rushed in at the lonely and awaiting microphone. The previous building built. He, along with the Others and us, shouted “Let us die, let us die”–a paradox of lyrics if there ever have been, as we all were swept in vigorously alive. Regardless, as the band, the Others, and we all shouted and flailed our bodies around, we all took an ever-brief moment to lock eyes to confirm with one another that this, whatever this was, was about to happen.
Organized chaos ensued. Guitars, microphones, body parts all flailing, striking, and thrashing.
It is arduous, perhaps even intolerant, to recall the events that unfolded during that hour. They belong only to that hour. However, they beg to be allotted.
Despite the chaotic nature in that Elk’s Lodge basement, each arm, guitar, and drop of sweat played its part in the ‘choreographed’ and improvised relational symphony of sound and body.
Hold ‘choreographed’ lightly. Nothing, except a few necessary elements, were determined prior. Like Whiteheadian metaphysics, the Event was unaltered mutual relationality. Whether the frontman or the pre-adolescent dragged along by his brother standing near the exit, each was an equal participant in the Event.
Nothing was choreographed except possibly, just possibly, this one moment. The affirmation of the architecture of the dilapidated basement by the band perhaps, in that instance, excited the future possibility of one moment near the end of their set. In the midst of the ‘choreographed’ chaos the frontman stands still for one moment, unsettling our controlled recklessness for a brief moment. His eyes read of intention–an intention we eagerly anticipated. With the might of his slender frame he hoisted his microphone into the exposed ceiling–a ceiling that consisted of a mass maze of metal tubes and other things that only the person who places them there knows. The microphone catapulted upwards and as quickly as it disappear into the metallic maze, it reappeared, wrapped around a rafter, directly in front of the now intentioned lips of the frontman. Our teenage minds could not fathom what we had just witnessed.
We had little time to settle into what we had just witnessed though, because as soon as he shouted those intentioned lyrics into the microphone, the enigmatic frontman bolted for the nearest exit door. The rest of the band continued with the song as if they were accustomed to this behavior. Many of us rushed to the exit door with him. Like gridiron football players colliding, he blasted through the door and out into the open Iowa field that laid outside of the venue. He swiftly spotted the small pond adjacent to the the exited door from which he just exited. And like a mosquito lured by the light of an incandescent bulb, the frontman, with his whole being, hurried for the moonlight reflecting off of the surface of the calm pond’s water to baptize himself.
Throughout that evening it became clear to us: the band was no longer an Other and all those who joined this Event were not an Other. We, each and every one of us, were a part of the Other. We were a part of an Event far more expansive than any each one of us.
Most of us went our separate ways after high school, staying in contact sporadically. Yet, that evening, I mean that Event, holds us together and will for the rest of our existence. Because, throughout the night without each of us informing each other, we longed to encounter the Other, but, on that beautifully ‘choreographed’ and improvised symphonic evening the Other encountered us.
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