In Memory

Stepping out the back door bright fall sun hits my face causing momentary blindness. In the wash of white-gold there’s a memory of summer sunlight, a different back door. I’m following my dad out to the shed, from the kitchen radio Kurt Cobain is caterwauling something about a Heart Shaped Box. There’s a new box set coming out with “all new” songs never before released.

“I thought they released everything already?” I ask Dad, glad I can’t hear the hoarse voice anymore.

Dad shrugs. “They just tweak the quality or whatever, people will still buy it.”

My nose wrinkles. “That’s stupid.”

“People were really upset when he died. I worked with a guy; he took a personal day when he got the news.” Dad pulls the shed door open and wheels out the lawn mower.
I cross my arms. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s not like they knew him.”

The blindness clears in a second and I continue down the back steps. The weatherman said it would be high sixties today but at ten o’clock it’s still chilly for the midriff top I’m wearing. But I’ve got a concert to hit up and no way am I going to see Avenged Sevenfold without showing off the matching Deathbat and Revbat tattoos on my hips. I saw the Rev once, from the middle of a crowd at the Murat, he was hidden mostly behind his expansive kit, I never even got close enough for a wave, though I hung around in the twenty degree February air with others hoping to catch another look at the band until security shooed us away. The Rev’s skeletal face and batwings are protected with the highest grade of sunscreen made.

I got the tattoo in England in March, three months after Reverend died, I didn’t want to wait until the Study Abroad trip was over and I knew there would be resistance from my parents. I can hear it now they may be your favorite band now, but you said that about Linkin Park. The paper isn’t folded, I don’t know Snappy like I know my guy back home, I don’t want a crease to mess up the design. It’s obvious he’s not expecting a skull with batwings when I hand him the picture, I try to keep my smile from being too sarcastic. No butterflies or flowers for this chick thank you very much. He covers the surprise quickly and heads to the back to trace it out.

“So, why’d you pick this?” Snappy has an accent, not a heavy one but just enough to give the mundane words an exotic flare. Needles burn across my skin and their hum mingles with the sound of other peoples’ ink and the “rawr-rawr-scream-rawr” music playing softly from overhead speakers.

“You know the band Avenged Sevenfold?” He’s running over my hip bone and the uncomfortable burn turns to a sharp pang. He shakes his head, his eyes never leaving the lines he’s etching. “Oh, well, this their drummer. He died a couple months ago.”

“They were a local band?” Needles nick my hip again and I stare up at the tiled ceiling. My guy back home has the ceiling plastered with tattoo art. “No, they’re pretty big. They’re on Warner’s label, they’ve done a couple of international tours.”

“You get to meet them?”

“Uh, no.” Now I feel like I need to explain myself, but how do I explain to someone who hasn’t heard of the band? Because really, if you don’t know, you don’t know and there’s no explaining it. I go back to staring at the ceiling trying to find the words. “Their music means a lot to me.” which sounds so lame. I don’t have Jack London’s face tattooed anywhere and I fucking love Call of the Wild. “He died real suddenly, I was…upset.” that certainly didn’t help with the lameness, what I really want to say is devastated. The ceiling tiles are no more interesting than they were a minute ago but my mind is starting to get all drifty and woozy from the needle abuse. I’m trying to think of how the Rev would answer Snappy’s question but all I’m getting is the clip of him chasing geese through the park, screaming like the madman he was. Then there was the time he was totally sauced and threw a full glass of Guinness in his face just to make his friends laugh. I prod my wayward thoughts back to explaining myself to Snappy.

This guy doesn’t want my life story, he’s just making conversation like any good artist, but it’s going to take my life story for this to make any sense. He doesn’t care or need to know that I used to have something akin to anxiety attacks if more than five people took notice of me at once, or that until I started listening to and following Avenged Sevenfold I was terrified of meeting new people, I was unbearably awkward, suffered from crippling shyness, and avoided new environments and situations like a vampire avoids silver. I’m no extrovert by any means, but without their music, without knowing the Rev no matter how distantly, I wouldn’t be lying on this table right now in England getting a tattoo.

I can’t tell Snappy I spent the week after I got the news of his passing hardly eating, moping around my room, not speaking to anyone, occasionally bursting into tears without provocation. I can’t tell him I only recently started listening to the music again because hearing his voice in the backing vocals unraveled me. And it’s not that I “can’t” it’s that I can’t, it’s like I’ve lost my friend, my mentor, my guide to life. And I didn’t know him at all.

“It’s kind of hard to explain.” I finish the inarticulate explanation. He nods. “This is the third one this week I’ve done, not with this design, but involving this guy.”

In the car, I pop in Nightmare and the opening piano fades into heavy drums that I hammer on the steering wheel. Doors open in two hours, my sixth time seeing The Boys, third time this year, fifth time without the Rev.


The Boys are Back in Town

They blasted “Back in Black” before the curtain drop, as is much more fitting, but I’ve had Thin Lizzy in my head for nigh two days so we’re going with that.

Maybe I should back up.

Last night I saw Avenged Sevenfold for, I think, the thirteenth time. Maybe the fourteenth. I’ve stopped keeping count because it doesn’t matter if I’ve seen them thirteen times or thirty-three times it will never be enough. I have a post brewing about the opening bands Ghost B.C. and Deftones, but that will come later.

The new stage set up is just incredible. They always go all out on their stage shows but the mock throne room with the King himself towering over and scowling at the crowd was more than I had imagined even after seeing pictures. Huge shoutout to the crew that gets that thing up and takes it down every day because, my gods, it’s a massive set. The attention to detail is amazing as well. I didn’t really get to sit back and look at it until after the show because who the fuck is looking at a stage set when AVENGED SEVENFOLD is on the stage.
I don’t know the technical term, but the deathbats mounted at the top of the wall above the corroded banners are flamethrowers. Yeah. They went there. That giant King? He moves. There are some other really cool things they’re doing, but I won’t spoil the surprise. You’ll have to see the show and then come back so we can freak out together.

Last night was the first time I had pit seats to see Sevenfold. I’ve had GA at stadium shows and always managed to get within the first ten rows, but the pit at Klipsch Music Center is tiny, tiny, tiny. There’s maybe room for 100-150 people. I had four short people in front of me, seriously, they came up to my shoulder, so I was pretty much at the barricade and it was glorious.

I had a moment while I was standing there next to the stage when I remembered the first time I had seen them. It was February 2009 at the Murat Egyptian room. For those not local, the Murat is a small indoor venue in downtown Indy. The capacity for the room we were in, 600. I feel like it was sold out, but I don’t remember. It was packed, I didn’t get anywhere near the stage. Last night, I’ll have to ask, but I’m pretty sure there were 13-15,000 people at a venue for 25,000. Pavilion was packed, the lawn, despite the rain and thunder was pretty well filled. The guys have come so very far, I was smiling like a fool the entire time the stage was being set up.

New curtain for the tour, says REV in the banner under the deathbat
New curtain for the tour, says REV in the banner under the deathbat

The people around me were discussing the Nightmare tour cycle when they had all seen the band for the first time. I love seeing the guys playing Wembley Arena and the O2, because Holy Shit, those are huge venues. I love that I have the memory of seeing them in that small dark room almost five years ago because I can look back at that wall of people, of friends, of fellow fans and giggle and laugh like a lunatic because the guys have come so far. Their stage show has gone from smoke machines and small video screens fixed on risers to a behemoth set with enough fire to be seen from space. And no matter the venue I have always felt at home in Avenged crowds. The shyness that has haunted me all my life and made it difficult to make friends is gone. I talk to people left and right, jump in on conversations two rows back, laugh with people in line. This is family. This is home.

Syn's face and Zacky's smile
Syn’s face and Zacky’s smile

Famous Last Words:

I’m not okay (I Promise)

I’m guessing M. and Harley will be disappointed by this. I’m sorry :(”

My heart is pounding. My hands are still shaking as I write this. My lungs are stuffy, constricted, not working like they should. I’ve resorted to recovery breathing, like I’ve been running or gotten a good workout in karate.

My Chemical Romance’s split is a 6 on my Richter scale. My world is rocking on its foundation. And I know for some of you it’s off the charts, the devastation is complete and it’s going to take a miracle to rebuild everything.

But the heart pounding adrenaline, the tears suffocating my chest, are more than just shock of seeing a cornerstone of my musical life so cleanly break off. No. It’s a memory. One I’ve locked away in the furthest, darkest corner of my mind for years. It’s the memory of another early morning condolence.

Rev died, sry hunny

I got that text December 29th at 9:25am, 2009.

No, I didn’t save it. That day, that message, they’re branded into my memory. I locked that day away; pushed it as far as I could. And here I am; racked again by chills, tears stinging my eyes, heart pounding so hard I can feel it in my toes, mouth dry, stomach roiling, trying so hard to breathe.

My gods, the Pain.

I’ve been reading the tweets all weekend about MCR’s split. Gerard’s goodbye is a cool rag on third degree burns. And I feel what you’re going through because it hurts. It does. My Chemical Romance are the band that got me into the more theatrical side of rock n’ roll and through that I’ve found the bands that are the building blocks of my existence. I know without a doubt I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for them and I know I’m not alone with that sentiment. Some of us wouldn’t be breathing if not for this band.

It was a late night/early morning, when Fuse TV was young and still catering to the rock n’ roll crowd, that I saw the video for “I’m not Okay (I Promise)”. And that, that moment I saw these guys, these slightly awkward misfits, was the moment I—and many others—fell in love with MCR.
That song was the anthem of my life. I was fourteen, middle of freshmen year and I really wasn’t okay. My parents had split only a year or two ago and my mom had taken to staying out late at the bars with her friends. She was distant and I was not okay. My sister was acting out in her own way, getting into minor trouble at school, probably doing things after school that would have landed her in more serious trouble had she been caught. And I was trying to hold everything together. I was trying to be a pillar of support for my mom, trying to wrangle my sister, trying to navigate the nightmare that is freshmen year, trying to be the good friend as my best friend went through friend drama and boy trouble. And I was Not Okay.

And then, like a small condolence from the gods, there was My Chemical Romance. They gave me more than just music; they gave me a fan base, the MCRmy, they gave me a way of life. This is the moment music became more than just background noise while I did homework; this was the moment it became who I was because it gave me a reason. It gave me something to hold onto. And as I sit here listening to their full discography I’m struck again by how much they shaped my life and the hole their absence has left me with.
But the tears I feel are of breathless relief. The band is gone, with cool—almost clinical—words severing everything cleanly, but the guys are still here. They’re still breathing. They’re still out there going about their lives.

I’m not here to minimize the pain. My Chemical Romance is a foundation block in my life, but for some they were the keystone holding them together. This isn’t some “wow, that sucks” polite condolence. I’ve heard them. And sometimes that well-meaning yet vague response is more painful than the actual event.
You’re not alone with your pain. I want you all to know, unequivocally, You Are Not Alone. For every person in your life that tosses an uncertain “sorry” at you because they don’t know what else to say, there are three more in the MCRmy that will gladly hold out a hand and share your pain.

The alienation I felt after The Rev died was as close to soul crushing as I think anyone could get and still get out alive. I was at my dad’s house while he was in Columbus, OH for the day on business. I had the place completely to myself for the day and I spent every minute sitting on my bed crying. When he got home, close to six, I answered the door wrung out of tears but still racked by uneven breaths and chills. He gave me a hug and asked what was wrong.
I couldn’t answer. I hadn’t spoken the words aloud all day, because words are power and if you speak it that means it’s real and it’s happened. I had texted him earlier and gotten the same awkward apology from him as my mom had given me.

“Is it about that drummer? I’m sorry.” That drummer. That drummer. He wasn’t that drummer he was the goddamn Reverend Tholomew Plague. He was James Owen Sullivan. He was so much more than just “that drummer”. And my dad didn’t understand. That painful rift of those who “know” and those who don’t has never been more agonizingly clear. I was completely alone in my real life in dealing with this grief. No one understood how the death of a man who I had never met could tear me into a hundred pieces. So I had to pull myself back together, at least on the surface. I had to patch myself back together for them. I had to get up the next day and act normal, pretend like my world wasn’t in shambles and burning around me, because not one of them understood the devastation the Rev’s death had caused in my life.

So, MCRmy if your world is in pieces, talk to me. I never want anyone to go through the pain of being alone in rebuilding your world. To others it’s just “that band”, maybe even a band they don’t like, but I know how much more they are. If you don’t talk to me, talk to another Killjoy. Get on Twitter, get on Facebook, get on the official MCR page and talk to others.

This is an army and we’re not leaving anyone behind.