It was late when I got the call, late enough for me to already be sobering up from the night’s festivities. It was an old buddy of mine who I hadn’t heard from him since he’d gotten arrested a while back. He was one of those guys who was always a little on the edge of things, always eager to get into a fight. But he’d always been a good friend to me, if not for being a little overly anxious. He’d let me crash whenever I needed a place, got me high when I was too stressed out, and got me drunk when I needed to let loose. It had been a long time since I’d heard from him, so even though I was annoyed at first when the phone woke me up, I was ecstatic to realize it was him.
“Hey man. What’s up?”
“I need you to meet me somewhere in one hour.”
“I need you to meet me somewhere in one hour. I need you to come alone.”
“What’s going on?”
He wouldn’t tell me. Just to meet him at an address I’d never been to before. Before he hung up, he left me with one last bit of information…
“This is going to change your life.”
I got dressed, then managed to catch a bus. It’s weird to see the crossroads of night and day. For some, the night’s fizzling down to nothing, but for others, the early morning commute to work has already begun. Such a mishmash of personalities; the stoner couple just coming down from their seven hour mushroom trip, sitting opposite a young businessman trying to get to work before the boss.
I hopped off the bus and found the address a few blocks down. It was a nondescript nothing of a building. I opened the door which led to a staircase going up, which a small, hand drawn arrow on the wall suggested I climb. At the top of the stairs, I found myself at yet another door, which, to my dismay, was locked.
So I knocked.
Seconds later, a knife of a man opened the door.
“A buddy of mine told me to come here.”
“Who’s ya buddy?”
Thankfully, my buddy happened to peer around the corner at just that moment. He invited me in, past the guardian of the door, and led me into a dimly lit, medium sized room, crammed full of people. There was a bar there, but something about it gave me the impression that the regular bartenders had shut down hours before, and these new bartenders had come in much later to start things up again. Though what really caught me off guard was the people. It seemed to be the definitive collection of counter culture figures, like a secret party of “fuck you.” From punk rockers, to avant-garde artists, to aging revolutionary literary geniuses, it seemed to run the gamut of trouble makers.
I felt right at home.
At the front of the room, lit by a single spotlight, stood a jet black grand piano. It seemed like everyone was settling in for a show to begin, though it didn’t make sense. I had seen some of these guys light cop cars on fire, yet here we all were, getting ready to watch someone play piano.
My buddy found me a seat and whispered…
“It’s about to start.”
The lights dimmed and the room went silent.
From behind the makeshift stage came a man I’d never seen before.
He didn’t acknowledge the massive crowd jammed in to see him. He just sat down, then started to play, and as he played, I understood.
I understood why I felt like I had been fighting all my life. I understood why I’d always struggled to hold down a normal job. I understood why my life looked the way it did.
The music was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It spoke to me clearer than any words ever could. It revealed everything. It cast a spotlight on the framework of the modern world, and revealed it was a facade with nothing propping it up. It showed me why we were all there, listening. I understood why I dressed the way I did, why the tattoos, why the piercings…
It was because of you.
You, the clean cut salesman, selling me something I would never need.
You, the talking head who spewed bile and banality in the guise of importance and meaning.
You, the blind follower, adhering to a tradition long since shown to be pointless.
You, the soulless mass who sit at a desk, dying a slow death and asking each other about plans for the weekend.
You were the reason I was this way.
The music played, and it showed me the false smile of convenience, and the value of the middle finger.
I never had a choice.
You forced me to be this way.
It was your fault that when I searched for truth, I only found your comfort in bullshit.
It was your fault that when I searched for beauty, I only found prepackaged plastic garbage.
It was your fault when I searched for happiness, I only found the empty mask and vacuous smile of complacency.
It was your fault that when I looked for meaning, I found nothing at all.
Your world was a fraud, sacrificing significance for a cold, controlled, comfort.
This music said all this, and I realized I was crying. It showed me what could be, and the sadness of what was. It was like living in a cave, then walking out for the first time to see the sun. It was like beauty was whispering truth.
And just like that, it was all over.
The door slammed open, kicked in and run over by two dozen heavily armored police officers as they swarmed in like bees. There was panic as people tried to escape. But control was acquired quickly by threat of extreme violence. Guns drawn, feet on the necks of their captives, the police now owned this room.
A suit entered confidently from behind the officers, and marched directly towards the musician at the front of the room. The musician stared defiantly at the suit, as they waged an ideological war with their eyes. The whole room held its breath, waiting for something to happen.
Then something happened.
The suit pulled a gun and emptied the chamber directly into the musician’s head. The blast sent blood and brain scattering against the back wall, and painting the ivory keys of the piano a shiny gruesome red. His body slumped to the floor in a bloody mess as the suit walked back out. The police filed out silently behind him, confident that their point had been made.
The crowd dispersed in collective terror. I ran all the way home, my lungs burning diesel fuel and my veins pumping acid rain. I got home in time to catch the early morning news.
“A late night police raid on a suspected drug ring left one man dead. No drugs were found, but a person of interest was killed when, police say, the man reached for a weapon.”
I clicked off the TV.
They weren’t totally lying. He did have a weapon. Now I understood the secrecy. I understood the meeting in hiding. I understood the power this man’s music held, and I understood why he was silenced with such brutality. To steal from the marketer’s, this man’s music was a call to action. It was revolution and dissent all in one non-monetize-able package.
I sat in silence for a few moments, then I stood with a purpose.
I opened my closet, rummaged through some old boxes, and pulled out a dusty old keyboard.
I sat down, and I started to play.