We Used To
by Luke Wiget
God loves things by becoming them. —Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ
I find Young in My Head on Spotify before heading to work where my business cards remind me I’m Luke Wiget, Creative Content Manager at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Downtown Nashville. It’s Tuesday, maybe, and I’m beat, definitely, as I hit Gallatin Pike South and “Hey, Are You Listening?” lifts with Gibson riffs I know are Jason Martin and Moog drones I believe are the producer TW Walsh, one of Martin’s longtime collaborators who played on and mastered this seemingly final Starflyer 59 record—that is if you’re listening to any of the words on this retrospective ten-song album. The first track feels to be in first and second person and it nulls Jason Martin like the violins they used to teach us about phasing in our recording classes. They loved to tell us that if two of the same instruments struck the same note at the same time they’d create silence.
At the light before Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge I idle behind a silver Jetta whose driver is ashing one of his breakfast cigarettes through the sunroof and spitting out the driver’s side window. Two or three rapid cycles before a green. To the right, a bent old man I’ve been watching for weeks tends a tiny patch of sod behind the bus stop in front of the pawnshop. He’s kneeling to the teenage grass waving neon green along the otherwise barren and littered mainline that leads us from Madison to Music City.
Jason Martin continues: “Hey, are you listening? / Are you near or far? / Now I just donʼt know who you are. /And I donʼt care anymore.”
He must be singing to God or himself or maybe an audience—or about God and himself after a quarter century of post-punk shoegaze that stayed too independent and has finally split the man in two. It sounds like he’s finished with the thing, and I get it. I’m scared of this kind of end after trying to make it myself in music and feeling like even just writing here and there is losing out to work and time.
The Jetta and I file on.
The second song, the title track, fires off with eighth-note powerchords and oversized, Interpol-sounding drums I’ll learn after the fact were played by Martin’s teenage son. “Where do I go to feel like Iʼm there again?” Jason Martin sings alongside his kid.
What a mouthful—a mind and heartful—that line.
I think for me, it’s mostly been, Where or when do I get to leave to feel like I was here, like I’ve been somewhere?
“I remember in 2,000 when I was just 28. / ‘Cause Iʼve always been, Iʼve always been that age.”
Two-thousand on through the next half decade was high school baseball, playing in punk bands, strolling the community college quad in foggy California listening to Kid A with a head tender on transcendentalism and remnants of my still-good Christian savior. It’s all so quaint and serious, it’s hilarious.
I turn onto the highway a third of the way through the record, proud to have some of the thoughts about writing and music back in my head, driving a new used truck after sharing a car with my wife the last ten-plus years. Driving myself now, it’s like high school again—the autonomy, the space and control, a wide-open mind at fifteen over the limit. This morning, I’m able to replay what a drummer friend of mine from California emailed me last week after a long stretch of silence.
I was once a creative person. I’ve been working and working, keeping my head down and driving (this ambulance) and sleeping and waking and working and driving and working…Remembering I once told myself “Well, you gave that music thing a try, now back to spinning your little cog.” I guess to be real I was/am scared of where I am now, what I have become, and most of all scared for my future. The unknown and uncertainty has shaped my fear and paralyzed me. The biggest one; what’s next?
Dear, God, I think and try to come up with something bigger than that, please help my friend.
I speed up. I turn the album up louder. Maybe, if I’m being honest, this isn’t much, but it’s enough for now—having my own car again. Driving to the Museum and back and taking a few notes here and there winding backroads to Old Hickory Lake with my daughter who won’t listen to anything but “loud punk rock” from my childhood that she hollers for from her car seat. I play her The Clash, Descendants, AFI, Devo, who hardly passes, and MxPx—her favorite. She waves her barefoot out her window. I hang my arm out mine. And it rushes in—the hot windy drives away from my wife’s parents’ place in Fresno, dropping down the hallucinatory Pacheco pass, then that cool, wet air as you wind through the Pajaro Valley and find Highway One. How good it feels to leave a place you’ve been for a while. How good it is to create a difference.
“I wanna work with my kid. / Record all of his songs / ‘Cause mine are all gone,” Jason Martin sings on “Remind Me.”
I lose the Jetta somewhere in Inglewood, but he’s included in my thinking that everything is about expression. The flick and spit out the window and sunroof. The old man praying over his seeds. And there’s the slew of aging punks I know still trying to make art. It’s all the same. We want to make something. We want to make something of ourselves—get it out. We want to come. It’s why we don’t call smoking inhaling.
“If you can remind me / Please remind me. / If you can remind me / Please remind me.”
You wonder if some of us don’t need any reminding because we’re so susceptible to obsessing about the past and always threatening to quit, which is the case on this one, this track. Quitting or not quitting, it’s the line a lot of us ride, and it’s what it means to be living. But maybe it’s is also a plague—our original sin—and the reason or the result of tangling Genesis into a problem rather than a solution to the problem of being created. And then there’s Augustine, I remember, as downtown Nashville rises into view. Augustine crushed us when he preached that with Adam’s fall “we became a corrupt mass.” So this need, it’s to create a way out. To transcend, I think, but hate the idea immediately. Or maybe, like Richard Rohr says, it’s about becoming more ourselves. Whatever the reason, the route, God help those around us while this deconstruction eats our decades.
I used to live in New York. I was there for writing school—to add an MFA to my name. After, and even sometimes before our classes, some of us drank at The Treehouse Bar in Greenwich Village because it was close by and the bartenders comped most of our beers, and better still, they listened to our recycled but roaring ideas about writing and the individual—that that’s the way to make the world better—figuring one’s self out, I mean. The Treehouse crew, they’d seen our kind before, and I think we amused them—our band of anxious, confident adult kids from the expensive school on Fifth Avenue.
One of those nights, my buddy, a West Virginia sweetheart and writer called Howard Parsons, talked about the language we use when we talk about what we used to do.
I used to be a janitor, I’d told Howard.
Usta? Come on, Lucky, Howard says like I’m not listening.
I texted Howard recently for a follow-up on the subject, and from a art and literary tour called Travelin’ Appalachian Review, he hits me with:
is “used to be a janitor” a verb? representing the fairly inexpressible concept of “the state of having been but no longer being a janitor” by saying “in the past, i made use of the complex non-conjugated verb ‘to be a janitor’ to express what was my existential present moment, but no longer.”
the further you tear into it, the less sense it seems to make—the more conceptual and theoretical the expression reveals itself to be. which is cool! because here, everyday people are engaged in the use of conceptual linguistics and expression!
I get to the Museum and listen to the Starflyer record over and over at my desk and in less than a day manage to turn it into something of dream-binge that bleeds out into some solipsistic poetry I’ll never show anyone—nothing even close to a review of the album and maybe this isn’t all that close either. While I’m wasting time cataloging Jason Martin’s longing and loss into lines, I consider the other borderline Christian music I grew up on—Pedro the Lion, TW Walsh, MxPx, Craig’s Brother. And then, there’s Café Pergolesi, where a lot of this starts to shift when some kid passes me a burned copy of Seven Swans by Sufjan Stevens, who earned an MFA at the New School, where I’d end up some ten years later, and in him I hear what I am and what I want to be—something searching and sad, questioning and textured and beautiful. God, what a record that is. And there’s Pergs itself—the punk and psyche shows. The terrible coffee. The year spent conning the baristas into learning my name. It’s that place a lot of us had growing up in towns we didn’t particularly belong, where you spent long days smoking cigarettes, reading. Holy body odor hanging over philosophy afternoons. Running into people. Drinking cup after cup of mint tea over Camus and Steinbeck and Plath. Littering Molskines with lines about the moon being buried in Loch Lomond lake. We all have our own version of the spot we learned to think and create—a café you take your kid twenty years after and cry and feel happy to have spent your time there.
After work, I drive up to Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge and find my table as a band of sweaty tattooed guys around my age warms up an audience of cut-off tour shirts and short jean shorts, Vans, myself included, though I’ve taken to the cushy geriatric high tops they’re producing for the aging “creatives” of America. It’s clear tonight that the bottle-aged punks of Inglewood and Madison have sprung for babysitters. We’re all red-faced with heat and drinks. Two older guys in front of me awkwardly share the microwaved taco plate even though clearly they don’t know each other and are here for this birthday party-reunion-show.
The four-piece soundchecks and hugs some of the folks in the audience, collects fresh drinks, climbs on stage. The drummer clicks into a punk country tune and a dyslexic solo pours out of the accountant-looking guitar player in a flannel followed by racing octave leads from a guy with tucked-in t-shirt and a hiked-up hollow body. And of course, it’s the drummer singing—the way my drummer friend always wanted to in our band. And he’s too tan and too hoarse to take unseriously as he reaches out for the melody. Not flat or sharp. But instead, calling the song toward himself. This drummer, whose birthday I think we’re here to celebrate, he’s the moon making the waves not the moon reflected off of them.
Where do I go to feel like Iʼm there again?
Jason Martin’s question is fading to the band and the beers, and I’m praying it’s a kind of palindromic prophecy. A reincarnation—a hope.
I’ve gotten most of this writing about Starflyer and all down here at Dee’s and am reminded of the other night when my daughter asks me to head outside to look at the crescent moon, and my wife and I let Esmé lead us to the back deck and a sliver of it is just barely lighting the sky behind the branches and in between the clouds. Esmé saves, I write real quick and look up to see the band chooglin’, the crowd drinking and singing, the singer drumming. I hope there’s never a time I sit down to think or write or talk about things and it’s not real clear that it’s all connected. That we aren’t what we do or plan to do. We’re better, more infinite. We’re each other and better still, maybe what we are—who we are—as Rohr tells us, is the Christ.
Tomorrow, I’m going to pull up to the light and watch the old, unmarked man on the side of Gallatin. He’ll bow over his grass with the Tennessee sun bearing down on him, and he won’t be angry or otherwise about the absurdity of trying to grow something here. He’s simply trying and I don’t know why, but I love it, and maybe it makes me a bad person or a hard one to love, but it’s the reason I love people and I won’t always remember that, so if you can remind me, please remind me.
Luke Wiget lives in Nashville. His work has appeared in Catapult, BOMB, The Millions, The Rumpus, among others. He won the 2015 Quidity Lit Editors Prose Prize and was included in the Wigleaf Top Short Fictions 2014. Luke edits dD, a magazine and small press. You can find him on Twitter @godsteethandme.