Jam, Pt I

Billie did her best writing in the car. To be clear – and safe – the writing was in her head. Which is no writing at all. But she felt like a writer with limitless potential at those times. Perhaps it was the small space that contained her, centered her. Perhaps it was the music. She played the most atmospheric music in the car. The Free Design’s cover of “Light My Fire,” anything by The Blue Nile, Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoints, the soundtrack to Wait Until Dark, “You Don’t Know My Name” and “You Love Me” by Kym Amps. But inevitably she would run out of errands, or arrive at a destination, or worse, home, and that wide windshield of vision would be replaced with a blank white wall of Microsoft Word.

Recently it was Billie’s birthday, to which a numeric value will not be assigned, but apparently it was significant enough that her best friend, Lisa, wanted to take her out for a drink, because Billie was a delightful drinker. But, rather unexpectedly, not halfway through the second amaretto sour, the tone of the whole evening became regretful – the other side of nostalgia, not the good side, not the one that should be photographed. Lisa’s regrets beget regrets, and Billie found herself asking Lisa a lot of questions, feeling around for a precise decision or decisions to which the regret was attached. The passion with which Billie pursued it alarmed her; just who was being interrogating here? Was this some sort of Socratic projection? Did the sheer pretension of that phrase obscure its meaning? Simply too much irony here, even for 2017.

Admittedly, Billie wasn’t sure about much of her life, and that was the source for her writing; ergo, she wasn’t so sure about it, either. Did she even want to write anymore. Well, of course she didn’t want to write, no writer wants to write, but she wondered what the purpose of her writing was. Was it some sort of restorative justice. The need to assemble a circle of imagined readers and recount all the wrongs she’d done, the wrongs done to her that made her do the wrongs she’d done. And yet, what if she stopped doing it. What would she do with her evenings. Was this simply a case of misplaced identity. These weren’t questions, they were the companions of an artist. The friends of Job. What an unmerited and melodramatic comparison. It’s exactly why Billie needed a baby, or a pet, or a baby pet, something requiring focus and affection, and of course that is a terrible reason for bringing either into your world. Why was it so difficult for her to find a current – electrical or hydrogenic? Preferably not both as that would be fatal. Billie wanted to find what Richard Rohr called “the flow.” Or maybe it was just that she wanted to be really good at something and really go for it, without getting all guilty and confused.

Then Lisa mentioned the dance party.

It was going to be a Jam, a no-parking-on-the-dance-floor, no-need-to-keep-score, gimme-gimme-more, open-for-business-but-you-don’t-know-what’s-in-store, Jam. It was going to be at Lisa’s 2nd floor condo, but not until her 1st floor neighbor moved out, which was still in process, and all of her friends were just waiting for the date to be texted, the date they would disturb the peace in a protest against status quo, but without a neighbor to call the police.

Billie immediately began living for this event. She pictured her and Lisa like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Sisters, determined to fuck it up so they could get down to business. She started a Gmail draft of songs for the playlist; she was adding, subtracting, dividing and conquering and multiplying the tracks. Let there be Amy Grant, Anushka, Disclosure, Eurythmics, The Gap Band, Goldfrapp, Hot Chocolate, Jamie xx, Klymaxx, The Knife, Ladytron, Little Boots, The Pointer Sisters, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Sam Sparro, Sheila E, Sylvan Esso, Vince Guaraldi, Yaz.

Some nights Billie would sit at the kitchen table trying to write and discovered drinking a little Tequila and playing some Midnight Star suddenly made writing an absolute pleasure. Occasionally this resulted in her dancing in front of the kitchen windows, perfecting some pose, or move, or just ripping off an item of clothing on the beat. Would the dance party be this good? Could it be this good? She knew it could. And it would. She just had to get there.


My role model for the evening was Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I was going to drink until I heard a “click in my head.” A really satisfying click, like the deadbolt on an old door. Brick, as you do not want to know, broke a leg – which is good if you’re an actor but bad if you’re a former track star – from drunkenly wandering back to his high school, 9 years after graduating, to jump hurdles and land on the ground again. “People like doing what they used to do,” he explains, “after they’ve stopped being able to do it.” Brick also explains – and explains – and explains – that his dead friend Skipper was just a friend. 

But let’s get the hell out of Tennessee and clarify the qualifications for a drink. It needs caffeine or alcohol – preferably both. Yes, there are studies on the dangers of combining both, and my friend with the master’s degree in clinical psychology reads every one of them and cannot keep the results to herself. But I am not opposed to being a result. It sounds rather productive. 

Anyway, the car seemed a very good place to start. It was an hour and a half drive from my house to the club. A large travel mug of refreshing mint vital energy tea of a brand called Yogi and it was batterrrrr up. A Nalgene of two glasses of wine and I was swinging. This drinking and driving may sound like a problem, and indeed it is. It’s a problem that clubs charge so much for drinks. 

By the time I finished the drive, my head felt like my grandparents’ pool when we were kids and would wade along the circumference for 5 minutes and then marvel at the current we had created. I was marveling. And parallel parking. And walking. I was all verbs. Even after entering the club and deciding on a spot and standing there, I still felt like I was moving.

The opening act opened like a stadium roof. Slow. Long. I resolved to amuse myself by profiling the audience. The indie bystanders in the balcony; young parents near the back by the bar; college students on the floor in front of the stage, and next to them, me, only because I have been using Aloe Vera on my face since age 25 and have all my hair and have a fast metabolism and have played the long thrift and have scored some fantastic outfits, one of which I was wearing. Otherwise I would have been shamed from the area. 
The opening act contains the most crucial moments in any concert experience; you must form a tribe with your surrounding concertgoers, so they will hold your place while you take calls from nature and assist you in resisting tardy interlopers with front of orchestra ambitions. This can be accomplished by a few strategically placed compliments, particularly to those who are tough and/or broad and/or tough broads. But avoid the dudebros. They are wild cards. You don’t want to play with them. Especially the college ones. Unless, of course, they play with you. Which is what happened about three songs into the main act. 

Yes, we had finally found our way through the opening to the main act, Sylvan Esso, a folktronica group that “fills an obvious void” according to Pitchfork, which is a misnomer since they prefer knives, or so it would appear from their carnivorous reviews; they want blood. Yet even they would have repented as we were reaching the point of every great concert when the band, audience, sound and light meld into one current of energy that could consume anything if it came close enough.

And the dudebro next to me was coming close. And dancing. Well, more of a German-beer-hall-pirate sort of drunken swaying, except he wasn’t that drunk and it wasn’t that crowded and yet he was bumping into me with a kind of casual intensity that was becoming constant. I reciprocated. So did he. Soon we were bumping with abandon in an adorable accidentally on purpose way. 

And Irene Cara, what a feeling. It was as though I’d found a can of blueberry pie filling without an expiration date in the pantry and was just opening and eating it on the spot. It was the most odd and normal thing in the world. Is this what it’s like to be 16 and in love? I wondered. Am I getting it 14 years late? I found myself singing Sylvan Esso’s lyrics louder than anyone: “All I want from you is a letter and to be your distant lover / that is all that I can offer at this time.” 

The band flirted with us through several encores before breaking it off for good. Everyone shuffled out; the dudebro and I did not look at each other or say anything. I walked away from the theater and looked back once. He was standing under the marquee lights. He seemed smaller.