For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.
Forget about the Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton. This is a story about Denton, Texas’ most hardcore annoying-people flipper-offers.
Generally Speaking, Shut the Fuck Up
I moved back to Texas in 2005, after the death of my father. At first it was temporary–I had planned to take three months off from, well, everything. I drove from Seattle with just enough belongings to get by for a while and the idea that I’d help my mom get through Christmas and a move to a new house, and then allow whatever emotional breakdown I had been postponing to takeover for a bit.
But three months became four, became six and all of a sudden I was a Texan again. I began dating a guy I knew from college and doubting whether Seattle was the right place to be. I considered coming back to New York, but I knew I didn’t want to move there without a job or place to live already lined up. I had done that twice before, and didn’t feel the need to pay those dues again.
I started working for the Dallas Observer, writing blurbs about upcoming local events, and blogging for Comedy Central–both jobs bringing in just enough money to pay for beer, cigarettes and the gas I’d need to get them. I was in my mid thirties, living with my Mom, hanging out with my friends from college and in a relationship I knew was going nowhere. It was time to get serious, get a job, get a place to live and get my shit together. So I did.
I settled in Texas because I had to do something, not because it felt like home.
Even though I lived and worked in Dallas, I spent every weekend in Denton–the college town that serves as my “hometown”, for lack of a real one. I’d sleep at my mom’s and drink with my friends, play poker on Fridays and see a band or a movie on Saturdays. It was a comfortable rut that I looked forward to all week long.
But there were times when I felt out of place. I felt like I was standing still while the rest of the world moved forward. I didn’t know why I was in Denton, but I didn’t have anywhere else I wanted to go. Nothing I was doing felt particularly special, and I thought I might be disappearing.
One night I went to a bar called Hailey’s just off the town square, to see my friends’ band, The Baptist Generals. Hailey’s isn’t my favorite place to see shows, but it was full of familiar faces and I was having fun drinking and catching up with old friends.
The Baptist Generals play music that is often melancholy and quiet, emotional and intimate. So intimate, in fact, they sometimes set up off stage and play on a large area rug in the middle of the dance floor. They were headlining that night, so the rug came out around midnight, after three other bands had performed. The crowd had ample opportunity to pour two-too-many drinks down their throats and were gathering around the band as they set up their instruments, talking loudly over the background music coming from the sound booth.
When the band started, a lot of us got quiet. For the record, THAT’S WHAT YOU DO. Etiquette dictates that if you want to keep talking or keep drinking or check your phone, you move to the bar or another room or outside or fucking Hell for all I care. It’s considered extremely rude to stand in the middle of a crowd of people trying to listen to a band and chit chat at top volume. Contrary to what some of you may think, the playing of live music is not a Being Loud Contest between you and the band.
Some bands are often too polite to mention this to a chatty crowd. The Baptist Generals are not. After the first song, the band’s front man joked about the conversations going on around them. After the second song, he wasn’t joking anymore. In the middle of the third song he put down his guitar and announced to those of us who were listening that they were leaving.
But they weren’t leaving us, they were leaving them; they were leaving the people who preferred to drink and talk and check their phones. Knowing that they couldn’t bring alcohol out of the building, he announced that the band would set up on the street outside and finish the show for anyone who cared to see it. And with that, the band picked up their instruments and walked out.
A few minutes later, a crowd of forty or so gathered in the street to watch one of the greatest indie bands of this decade play a set filled with compelling and raw and heartbreaking and beautiful music on a dirty sidewalk next to a dumpster. There was no bitterness or anger at the folks who remained inside–if anything we were all grateful they didn’t come along. The banter was lighthearted and funny–I remember laughing a lot. And I fought every impulse to take pictures, choosing instead to live this moment rather than record it.
I also realized that, at least for the time being, I was home. I was where I was supposed to be. I was in Denton, Texas, surrounded by familiar faces, and nothing had ever felt more special.