There are several types of trauma.
There's shellshock -- there's the sheer stupefaction of the horror of modern war. Nobody is expected to have to deal with that kind of mechanical slaughter.
Then there's the trauma of a sharp blow to the head from someone you love -- nobody expects that either. Or they shouldn't have to, at least.
Or firey rebukes out of nowhere from people who seemed friendly before --
Or the slow, inexorable loss of friends and contacts without any idea of why.
These are all traumas of pain. But what I saw last night, what I listened to, made me realize -- there can be a trauma in pleasure as well.
I came to the Lucky Cat club expecting to hear the type of music I had always heard. The band had advertised itself as something akin to a punk group, though at a slight difference because Punk is, after all, dead. Those aren't my words -- that's what the flyer said. "Punk is dead, but come listen to us anyway. We'll make your ears bleed." When I saw the fliers I wondered if my boss knew about this particular slogan; then again, 'e knows I'm a bit masochistic, so maybe I was the right one to take this assignment.
So I stepped down the stairs into the dimly-lit club, gazed at the red brick walls, with the faded posters and the flyers for various social justice causes, and prepared myself for an evening of one pain or another. I asked the bartender, a short, fat, balding fellow, if the band was any good. He said, "I don't know, but this is the last time they're ever going to play here." I asked him what he meant, but he refused to explain.
The band itself was called Commodore Yap. They didn't look like much -- of anything -- they didn't even look much like they didn't look like much, you know? The only way I would have been able to pick one of them out of a lineup was if they had painted their names on their foreheads beforehand. I mention that because the bassist had one hemisphere of his head painted red. The rest of them -- I couldn't even tell if they were men or women. Maybe I'm not supposed to go around asking that question, but it was definitely a part of their generic look, so I think I'm justified in saying it here.
I began to wonder how this band was Punk or Anti-Punk, becaue it didn't seem to be making much of an effort either way.
I looked around the room. Everyone was staring at the stage. Some of them had puzzled looks; some of them were glaring. They probably felt like they'd been promised one thing or another and weren't getting anything. Two women in the corner I could hear discussing whether they ought to leave.
The band was pretty quiet in its set-up, too. In fact, as I soon realized, they weren't making a single noise. No tink of cymbals, no guitar tune-up, no thump of amps, nor even the simple padding of feet.
Maybe that's why most of the people looked puzzled. But three people at a table -- two guys and someone in a gorilla suit -- they were whispering excitedly.
Wait -- gorilla suit?
I looked around the room. I had thought this was a regular, casual crowd of people. But as I peered into the dark corners and gazed at the tables, I saw that roughly half of the audience was in some sort of elaborate dress. Not so much costumes as the sort of clothing one would wear in order to be a character -- like, one man wore Opera clothing, there was someone in black silk robes with heavy black eyeliner, someone was wearing old-fashioned wool pants and a plaid wool shirt and steel-toed boots. Like that. There were some people in costume -- I saw a wizard, cleopatra, and Calvin next to someone in a tiger costume. Every single person in the bar was stylish in some fashion.
(hur hur hur.)
Who were these people that were more entertaining than the band itself?
A hush fell over the audience, and the band began to play.
It's not like...I mean, I don't remember what the music sounded like. I'm sorry. It's not my fault. I'm sure if I heard it on the radio or the internet again, it would be good, but it just wouldn't be the same. I HOPE it wouldn't be the same. Because if you're in your car and a band like that come on the radio, you want to keep your vision and your hearing connected to the act of driving. Seriously, if the band could do on radio what they did live, they'd be listed as a schedule 1 drug by now.
Because about five seconds into the song, I stopped seeing them or the stage or the room.
I was standing in the front hallway of a house, looking out the open front door to the grassy hill beyond, lit by the rays of the late setting sun. A child was silhouetted in the doorway, and I heard faint sobs.
I turned around. There was a tall short-haired woman of bronze skin and wide smile, who moved forward, and knelt by the child. "What's wrong, honey?" She said. "Did you lose your bandana again?"
"It was stolen," said the child, in a somewhat boyish voice. "The girls at recess took it and wouldn't give it back because they said I shouldn't wear it like I was wearing it, And I didn't think I was doing anything wrong at all, but they said I had to dress like I was supposed to. And then they threw it into the stream and it went down the stream and I'm never going to see it again! It was my favorite blue bandana and they made it disappear forever!"
"That could be," said the woman. "But isn't that the same stream that flows by here?"
"Yeah. But what do you mean?"
"Your father has been fishing all day at the stream. Perhaps he saw it."
"Oh!" said the child, and dashed off toward the water.
"Wait, you silly goose!" said the woman. "Let me keep up with you at least."
The child did not obey, but ran along the stream, keeping a close watch on the water. Perhaps the bandana had been caught on a branch. Perhaps it had washed up on a bank. Perhaps father had caught it on his hook.
The father was sitting by the water, under a spreading willow, in the darkening shade of the day's last sunlit hours. A skylark few over the water, twittering, and bullfrogs thrummed, and dragonflies flew low over the reeds.
Father had no fish, by the looks of it. But as the child drew nearer, it was clear the man was smiling anyhow. Perhaps he had caught the bandana after all.
"Father, father!" said the child. "Some mean girls threw my bandana in the stream and this is the stream and maybe the bandana floated by you. Did you see it?"
"Oh, my lass," said the father, "I am sorry, for I did see it, but I was unable to rescue it in time."
"You mean it's gone?" said the child, beginning to sob again. "What happened?"
"Well," said the father, "It's like this..."
I was sitting by the bank, catching fish now and then and throwing them back, when I saw the bandana floating by. I thought, "My goodness, that looks just like my girl's favorite blue bandana. I must catch it." So I drew in my line, and prepared to cast my hook out and hook the bandana, when I heard from the tree above me, "Oh, something blue! I must have something blue for my nest! I must have some pretty blue thing for my nest!" And a weaverbird flew out of the tree, and snatched up the bandana, and said, "I shall have somthing pretty for my nest! And all the pretty lasses will love me then!"
"Wait," I called to the weaverbird, "Please! That's my girl's favorite blue bandana! It belongs to her!"
"It belongs to me now!" twittered the weaverbird. "You can get pretty blue things, heaps and piles of them! I can't! I need this!"
"Please," I said, "it belongs to my daughter. She would be devestated if she lost it. It's all she has from when we found her. Wouldn't you feel bad if someone made your children cry?"
"Weaverbird children cry all the time! That's what they do! But I can't get children without having something pretty and blue to weave into my nest, so that I can attract a pretty weaverbird lady! And I've never seen such blue! It's perfect! it's just what I need! You wouldn't begrudge me that!"
"But my child would!" I said. " And it's not mine to negotiate, it's hers! Please, be a kind weaverbird. I know you have it in you."
"Oh, alright," said the weaverbird. "Here, I have an idea. Why don't I buy it from you!"
"How would you pay me?" I said.
"I'll grant you a wish!"
"A wish for a bandana...I'm going to make it a very big wish, then."
"Ask your wish!"
"It's complicated," I said. "Hear me out, if it's not too much trouble. You see, everyone at school says my child isn't a girl."
"And is she?" twittered the weaverbird. "Or is she not?"
"That's for her to figure out," I said. "But whatever happens, I just wish for her life to be safe from insults and injury. I want her elders and peers to respect her."
"Isn't her safety and well-being your responsibility?" twittered the weaverbird.
"I can't be there for her all the time!" I said. "And I can't be there when she's grown up, and I can't change every law and custom that's set against her!"
"Perhaps you can," said the weaverbird, "and you don't have enough faith in yourself."
"I'm just a poor man!" I said. "What can I do? Who would listen to me?"
"I'm just a poor weaverbird. Who would listen to me? Yet you do, and other people do, here and there. There are more good people in the world than you think."
"Then why don't things change for the better?"
"Because most of them say, 'I'm just a poor nobody, what can I do, who would listen to me.' Most of them have no faith in themselves. Some do. These people make the world a better place even as it gets worse. But it's not enough. It's not enough for you humans to sit around and complain and curse the system when you could change it. You could do something for your daughter beyond making a wish to me."
"But you offered the wish."
"That is true. I will watch over her, then, and do what I can for her, as long as I know you're doing the same."
"Deal," I said, and the weaverbird flew off.
"So you let my bandana go?" said the child, through her sobbing.
"Oh! No, my girl. I was just telling you a story. Come with me. I think I know where your bandana is."
They walked along the stream, in the last light of day, until they reached the concrete tunnels where it went under the road. There were many large branches caught across the tunnel openings, and many smaller branches and various debris pressed up against them. And there, on a twig sticking out from the largest branch, was the bandana.
The child squealed, and ran towards the water. The father caught her, and said, "The water is deep, my child. Here." He took his fishing pole, and cast it out to branches. He missed. He tried again, and again, and again, and could not catch it.
The tall woman appeared atop the hill, on the other side of the strem. She clambered over the branches, nearly falling into the water, and caught the bandana. She waved to the man and the girl.
The girl turned to her father, and said, "Does this mean there is no Weaverbird? And no wish?"
"I cannot tell the weaverbirds what to do," said the man. "Perhaps they will watch over you because they want to. But even if they don't, I will. For there is a wish -- there is my wish for you. I wish your health, and your happiness, in a world where many people are bent on stealing both. Your mother and I will be here, when you need us, and though we cannot protect you forever, we can teach you how to keep yourself alive."
And they walked back along the bank, as the last light of day disappeared below the horizon.
The room faded back into view. Everyone around me was clapping.
And their ears were bleeding. I put my hand up to my earlobe. There was blood there as well.
I turned to the fellow next to me, and said, "What on earth was that?"
He said, "That was probably the last time you're ever going to hear Commodore Yap."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," said he, "They have to keep moving around so that they don't get arrested. Hallucinations and all that. You know. And the band is under increasing pressure, so they've decided to break up. This was their last show."
"What?" I said. "You mean we're never going to hear that again? You mean we never get to see the story again? That can't be! It mustn't! I don't want that to be a one-time -- "
By this point, everyone in the room was staring at me.
"You'll always remember," said the bassist. "Isn't that enough?"
"Then remember this as well. Look around you -- look at all the people who've heard us before. They're the ones in costume and wild outfits. And they're the ones in generic outfits. And there's the bartender. And there's the floorboards. And the walls. And the -- "
"Get to the point!"
"There is none. I was just trying to inspire you with a speech. I don't know what to tell you. Just...remember the kid, okay? Remember there are people in the world who depend on you to be a good person. We all do, but some of us a lot more than others."
"But what about the music? Will I ever get to hear it again?"
"Maybe in dreams," said the drummer.
"Maybe in nightmares," said the keyboardist.
"Maybe in all the people you meet," said the lead guitar.
"Maybe in your shoes," said the basist. "In your sole. Get it? Sole?"
"Har har har," I said.
I left, then.
When I think about it, it kind of doesn't matter what rating I give the band. Because you can only experience them live, and they're never coming back. Why am I even writing this review? I'm just making you want to see a band that doesn't exist anymore. God, what am I doing, sitting here writing a stupid review when I could be out there, helping people, trying to help people, failing to help people...
I'm sorry. It's just...it's like I said. There is the trauma of perfect pleasure, because it comes and it goes and you know it's never going to come back. That's what Commodore Yap was like.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go rescue puppies and donate to orphanages and volunteer at soup kitchens.