One of the projects I’ve been working on these days is a book called “Danceroom Balling” about why, though I played in a million bands for a million years, I was always on the wrong side of music. The essay below is the proem I plan on kicking it off with. Enjoy.
We Must Move Forward to Regress
(A Jerk’s Defense of This Book)
by Chris Leo
As both a leader and a follower, I find myself stuck in a lifelong game of Simon Says, sometimes leading, sometimes following, always getting off. Every move I make is based on this game. Simon says do this, Simon says do that, do this. It’s this tart infatuation with an acknowledgement of form, an approach to form, a swatting of form around (with paws not fists/teasing not torture), but never arriving at a full acceptance of form despite eventually conceding to something that looks quite like a form every time, over and over again — every. single. time. Once the rhythm of the game picks up and a form starts to form, that’s when I start testing out advanced level omittive moves like, “Simon touch your nose” or “Simon soys jump up and down” to see who’s left standing. Then I relish in the fear cultivated by staving off the “do this” for an eternity. You wait for someone to criticize, “you can’t say ’Simon says’ every time” just to catch that chilling wave of ecstasy down the spine that comes when the basic core of it all, the phrase by which the entire game hinges upon, becomes bad. “You mean you’re telling me to not say ‘says’? You’re telling me that to be a good leader I must be a cruel despot who tries to weed my weaker subjects out?“ Next go at Simon you hit ’em hard straight off the bat with a “do this” sans “says” before building any momentum at all and watch ‘em drop like the victims of that death squad they only moments earlier begged me to form. But the fundament that really gets me fired up and randied about Simon Says is that an illegal move one turn can quickly be made legal the next move as long as the leader says “Simon says”. That’s all he need do. Simon says touch your head, Simon says touch your toe, touch the right tit on the person to your left. Wrong, so wrong. Simon says touch your head, Simon says touch your toe, Simon says touch the right tit on the person to your left. But the second time around? Right, got it! The people left standing after a round like that, i.e. the people who played by the rules, refused to do an illegal move they then quickly re-deemed legal. And that means that the best follower, the one who understood breaking a rule one turn is illegal the next (that is, to break the break is illegal, I get it), is the one who then becomes the leader. I can’t get enough, I just can not get enough.
Eventually you do get that prick leader though; the guy who doesn’t get the difference between teasing it out and plain old lame, who thinks it’s profound to (try to) end the game, who thinks getting bored with this game is even an option, who gets up and says “Simon says don’t play Simon Says no more” and sits back down proud of his douchiness and though a branch is thrown into the spokes for a crunk each time and the players wonder if this in fact means they are all now free, the freedom void brings with it a new provocation as soon as the next “non-game” move is made and a new Simon is crowned and new followers pursue the rogue rhythm and the game persists. Simon says play Simon Says ad infinitum with or without the “says“ (i.e. whether or not some form of the “says” is implied) or am I missing something?
When Simon Says as my lot in life first hit me and I was therefore forced to examine whether I was a masochist, sadist, badger backed into a corner, sociopath, amist, or whether they were all just yowling synonyms, or whether I was a frustrated antonym, it finally enabled me to see the connection between the verb “jerk” and the noun “jerk”. Why am I stuck in Simon Says? Well, because I like to pinch, I like to prod, I like to twerk, tweak and prick, but I’m not so fond of irreparable breaks. I like to drink before noon; use words that don’t yet exist next to antiquated slang; break bread at a table with you if it means I don’t actually have to eat; dance to James Brown because he twists me around, but dance to the relentless dj from Ibiza with equal vigor because I know he will eventually stop and a jerk will arrive, and when adding in that jerking pause after his reliable 2/4 all night it changes the sum to 2,000,000/4,000,017 and I’m jerked around just like I was to JB and I just can’t get enough! I like to jerk. I therefore am a jerk.
A jerk hangs out, has friends, holds down jobs, and is on the rare occasion even commended for being a jerk when an annoying situation demanded a jerk step up (often to confront another jerk) and the jerk stepped up. The jerk lives in the city. He doesn’t bail out to the country or the penthouse. He likes you guys. You are his lifeblood. Without you he has no him, he has no reason, he has no mirror to nudge, he has no game to fudge. He cooks pasta like the rest of you, though he might substitute cilantro for parsley when you’re not looking if and only if he thinks it might amp the dish up. When you asked the jerk to pass the salt as a kid, he was the burr who extended his arm with salt in hand just not far enough for you to reach it so he could see you struggle and beg for a millisecond. Point is, he still handed you the salt. The jerk isn’t a dick. A jerk might offer you some “water” but fill the cup with a booze you don’t drink; a dick would do the same, with piss or an empty cup. Conversely, the jerk is the guy who can still make adults laugh with banal jokes that last had an edge for most of us in 3rd grade. He can say just about anything about any genital and acts thereof and still hit home that this whole thing is so silly even though we‘ve heard it all before. He remembers that we daily forget how silly it is. And if it doesn’t work the first time, he keeps trying until you laugh — until you finally admit that this is all silly world without end amen. The jerk is a slow learner with a quick wit. He plays mediocre pool at billiards halls, but holds down the table at bars where there’s more at stake. He might not be charming, but he’s been known to get into a pair of panties or two by accusing their wearers of farting or by betting that their panties have racing streaks they need to prove aren‘t there — conquests no charmer could ever nail. The jerk knows exactly which buttons to button on his blazer and which ones to leave undone. The jerk is totally off, but only in relation to what is on. He is not out. Never ever count him out.
However, his ceaseless jiggling, fidgeting, provoking, fucking with, instigating, and precarious potential for fomenting make him come off as a reckless self-destruct even if his every intent is ultimately for the team. He might quote a Coptic creed arguing that Judas was a team player too. He enrolls in lessons after he’s mastered the tool just so he can be a good spy within the trade. He might kick the ball down field without aiming because, if everyone was expecting him to aim, he needed to throw off the scent this time around for the future good and anyhow he just wanted to see how the ball flew without aim or whether he could think aim like he heard people can think themselves to cum or whether “whether” and “weather“ were homonyms because that which is beyond us is always the most intriguing so let‘s see what form this intriguing takes, aren’t those also forms of aim? What this amounts to is that the jerk, being an indoor/outdoor calico filthy to the house inhabitants within while prissy to the beasts without, truly excels at one thing and one thing only. The instability of the vacillating urges the jerk has no choice but to wallow in eventually tones into an art form, like any mound of mud on a ceramic’s wheel would at some point, but a form-ish finally none the less. The pricking and jerking in every direction evens itself out, landing him right at the center of the social system he‘s been sizing up from the outside in. Simon says this way, Simon says that way, Simon says dip, don’t slip. That is, the jerk is great at one thing. The jerk is the king of the dance floor.
Since his “off” is subject to an “on” (remember, he‘s not out), he has all the rhythmic sense a great dancer must while at the same time owning the ability to throw in the unpredictable jerk right when the on was about to get boring, followed by the complemental ability to slide so fluently back into the groove that the 4/4 around him feels like 5/9ths to everyone else on the dance floor previously in sync together that now need his help deciphering this straight forward math which has begun to feel like weird math even though it hasn’t changed at all, it‘s still a 4/4 — with every short 3/ 4 frame balanced out with a delayed 5/4. (And unfortunately, like the rarity of the beautiful girl also being the hottest, the jerk — contrary to what we’re taught to deduce from great dancers — is not necessarily the best in bed either. Breaking in and out of that same 4/4 right when you want him to do nothing more than be that dj from Ibiza cementing the rhythm down until you cum might not be in the cards tonight. If this contradiction of the mantra sounds shocking, extrapolate: imagine boning Martha Graham. Great for sure, but a different kind of great. Or better, male pigeons get their mates via excellent dancing, yet they don’t even have dicks. The jerk proponders, “but when I said ‘Simon Says‘ forever without a pause you said I was breaking the rule. What gives?”)
Sweet, you say, so at least the jerk has found his calling then. If he’s such a great dancer he need only choose a realm of music to operate in and baller should be set. Wrong. The dancer that knows when to jerk the groove at the right moment does so while the steady groove behind him continues to be steady. Put that same dude in control of the beats and the party is in some dire straights. Welcome to Danceroom Balling, some jerk’s stories about his days jerking with music.
I started playing piano when I was 4, trombone when I was 11, bass when I was 14, and guitar when I was 17. I was 16 when I joined my first band, “Mental Floss” (featuring the ex-drummer of Agnostic Front) as singer and was kicked out by the time I was 16 and ½. Started my next band, Native Nod, immediately thereafter. Then came The Van Pelt, The Lapse, Vague Angels, Pro Forma, and a million other projects accompanied by a million tours before I finally agreed to surrender. The making side was not the side of music I was meant to be on, at least not publicly. This isn’t to say I regret it. Everything surrounding the actual music part of the music I made was priceless (“priceless” in this sense meaning purely “without a price“), and even every album was graced with at least a few high highs. But that’s just it, a few isn’t enough to milk a life from (at least not the type of life I want to lead. The Grateful Dead have 10 more masterpieces than Television, but it took them 100 albums to get there when it took Television just 1 side of 1 to make a classic. Makes me think if you gave monkeys a million shots at masterpieces they‘d come up with a few too. I‘d rather be Television). Being off, I was using music to provoke an understanding of things; I was prodding when I should have just been accepting with the faith that there will always be prodding, whether willful or not. If I could have managed that, I could have tipped the scale in the other direction. But if I could have managed that, of course, I wouldn’t be me. I am the amazing dancer and being the amazing dancer responsible for the song does not foster the amazing dancer receiving the song. The Night, Mi Corazon, Il Mare, and L-L-Love were taboo clichés I almost never let mar the inside of one of my songs. I saved them for before and after. No way, my songs were to be about important things, huge things, progressive things, things no one ever talked about before in a song. Ugh. Luckily, there was one saving grace for my music; despite all my best efforts, I was simply too horny to avoid the fourth cliché necessary for hit-making. It found its way in, and if I happened to be passing through a weakened depressed state wherein I couldn’t fend it off, my balls took over the better part of the song allowing it free reign to contaminate the way it has with so many other hits in the past and hence, there were some high highs after all.
Feel for me, reader, because I knew it all along. I just couldn’t connect with what I knew. I knew music was not an argument. I knew it was an acceptance. But as my condition is chronic, I figured if I argued that music was not an argument, if I argued that it was an acceptance, it would equate to something even bigger than a direct acceptance would have. Simon says never ever ever do this, do this.
Yet here we are, on the verge of a book of vignettes and essays related to each phase of the author’s life as a musician wherein he tried arguing about things that should have either been argued about in a different forum entirely or should have simply never been argued about at all. Is my offness that chronic that I just can’t get the hint to drop it, to let it go? Of course it is, that’s how I do yo. If I did it differently, if I wrote perfect songs, my memoirs of my days with music could have been called “Ballroom Dancing”. Instead, I get hung up on “Danceroom Balling” and my argument in so doing is solid. Check it out: on the surface, “danceroom balling” means exactly the same thing as “ballroom dancing”. However, even though the “ball” in “ballroom” comes from the Latin “ballare” for “dance”, “ballroom” is currently a word while “danceroom” for some reason is not. “Danceroom balling” also has so much more depth than the limiting “ballroom dancing”; having long since lost the redundancy of “a room for ballare where you can dance” it now simply means just one specific type of dance, and one specific type of dance that doesn‘t get guys like me laid at that. “Danceroom balling” on the other hand could also refers to a dance floor where people ball, as in bone. Or it could refer to a dance floor where people bawl; tears, tequila, and tripping the light fantastic do go well together. And “ball” itself has also come to mean so much more than “dance“. A ball can just be a blast of a party now, as in “let’s have a ball!“, with or without the dancing. So “danceroom balling” could also be a dance floor where people just party. Or it could be that awkward cavorting on the dance floor seconds before the dancing. And ultimately, joining all the double meanings together, we’re still left with a redundant “danceroom balling” meaning a dance floor where people can dance without any form, without any prescribed moves, without any classes necessary, free even and especially if it comes at the price of form. “Danceroom balling”’s got all this going for it! Man, my argument is fortified and flanked! Yet at the end of it all we find ourselves back where we began: if “danceroom balling” really did work better than “ballroom dancing” we wouldn’t need to argue for it at all then, would we? Arguing for it is as misdirected as trying to explain to someone why the joke they didn’t laugh at actually is funny. No, if “danceroom balling” really did work better than “ballroom dancing” we’d just accept it. Simple as that.
And so it goes that we find ourselves right where I was during the days of these vignettes then. Which means, I’m still going Danceroom Balling so c‘mon!
Note Bene: By design I don’t remember well, that stuff isn’t good for one’s movement. This book is therefore not a memoir, for those are written by dead people. This book is nothing more than fiction written by a living dreamer and the tales herein are intended solely for your entertainment. Nothing in this book conflicts with the truth because nothing in it claims to be true.
Chris Leo is the author of the novels White Pigeons (Fifth Planet Press, 2004), 57 Octaves Below the Middle C (Fifth Planet Press 2006), and Feathers Like Leather (Heartworm Press, 2008), as well as contributor to the anthologies 23 (Heartworm Press, 2009) and Santi (Black Arrow Studio & Press, 2007). He has also been the main lyricist for bands such as The Van Pelt, The Lapse, and Vague Angels. Other projects currently on his slate are If You Cut It It Will Grow, a novel about a wordless letter; Danceroom Balling, a novel of essays on why studying music amounts to unrealized music (but good times); and Tales of The Vox Super Voltus, a dictionary of words that never came to be.
Illustration by Margarita Korol.