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Thunder Pie | A Kind of Masterpiece

Being in a real fucking band is possibly the greatest thing anyone can experience.

“We will try and know whatever we try
We will be gone but not forever
Come on let’s try and know whatever we try
We will be gone but not forever.”
— Farewell Transmission, Songs: Ohia

I didn’t go to my senior prom. The late ’80s/ early ’90s high school scene was not exactly a place I understood or a setting I thrived in, so I skipped the prom when it came around. The night they held it, I got high with my buddies in a garage up the street from the middle school we’d all gone to. I don’t recall there being any special ceremony: no memory of us smoking a celebratory bowl to honor me/ the only senior in our gang. There was no big mention of the fact that I hadn’t gone to the prom mostly because no one expected me to.

No one thought I would ever ask a girl to be my date. I’d had a girlfriend for a while and she was kind and cool and too good for me. I don’t remember why I didn’t ask her to go with me. I think I was afraid. I think I was the kind of young man whose entire existence was bubbling under with insecurities.

Was there something wrong with me?

I ask myself these questions half-heartedly now. Did I think I was better than other kids? I don’t believe I did. But there comes a time when the lines between being an outsider and being a smug hipster are seriously blurred. The balance is impossible to hold down, no matter who you are in high school. You end up straying to one side of the scale or the other, tipping the weight far from the other side. It’s kind of riveting now as I watch my oldest wander into their own high school/ disappearing into the invisible halls of a sound stage hundreds of years in the making. The American high school thing is dramatic and hard and competitive and stupid. And beautiful, maybe, depending who you are and how much you allow yourself to be swept up in the tides of it all.

Ahh, what do I even know about it now? I drop Blake off and roll my car around the parking lot and try not to hit any kids darting through parked vehicles and I’ve never felt so old and forgotten.

I imagine what it might have been like if I had been someone different. Someone unafraid of taking the chances. If I had asked a girl to the prom what might have happened? If I had gone to the prom, who would I be today? Would I be a different man? Did I miss out on a confidence moment?

I had long hair past my shoulders and pork chop sideburns. I looked like bad mall airbrush art: a Confederate soldier on the back of a Harley with lightning bolts overhead and maybe zombies or Charlie Daniels or something. I appear to have been totally attempting to make sure that no girls could possibly dig me, thus eliminating the inevitable arc in which they would certainly abandon me even if they did pick me out of the crowd for even a second or two.

I’m not trying to paint a portrait of a sympathetic high school punk who deserved better. Please don’t read me like that. I’m just diving into old ponds where I left some of my dead selves tied to cinder blocks, sunk like Christmas trees. I am no poet for the disenfranchised. I’m no Bukowski for the eternal sad kid.

I’m a fucking idiot and I have all of these powerful visions of how prom night might have been for me if I had gone for it. But I did not. And I’m fine with that.

And that irks the shit out of me for some reason.

This week I was invited to go and see two of my kids rehearsing with their school rock bands. One band was four kids, the other was six or seven. Both were monuments to everything ever in all the right ways that a middle school rock band should be. They weren’t note for note perfect, but there were these ramshackle moments of things coalescing, of personalities amalgamating into something bigger than the individual kid self, you know? And when those moments came: during Boris the Spider or Sunday Bloody Sunday or whatever: it moved me with the power of seven suns burning up the atmosphere.

I have known a lot of music, a lot of bands, a lot of tight rooms wired with anticipation. Being in a band/ a real fucking band/ is possibly the greatest thing anyone can ever experience. I also sometimes wonder, in all seriousness, if it isn’t one of the very best ways you can serve mankind as well. People talk gratuitously about thanking the troops/ supporting the cops/ tipping their obvious hats to the obvious receivers of praise no one quite understands or even thinks about. But man, just save your bullshit. Tip your hat at the gunless instead. Throw your support at the local punk band or the so-so singer-songwriter still hanging on by the strangest thread. It’s a thread that appears weary thin to you and me, maybe, but looks like a goddamn battleship chain to the son-of-a-bitch who lives and dies by it. The same guy who’s been playing the same songs in the same rooms to the same chatty, craft beer, overpriced-fish-taco cul-de-sac warriors for so long now that it almost seems as if he (or she or they or whatever) are either a freaking relentless joke OR a goddamn legend of life.

Which is it? And why? And who decides?

And when?

I wanted to tell these kids things I believed, but the truth is that I don’t even know what that is. The music business, the difficulty of making money with bands, the ups and downs of diving headfirst into the very sea that once moved you as an observer/ as a listener/ what do I really know about it?

I cling to the romantic aspects of things that mean something to me. Otherwise, the second you see it for what it really is… or maybe what it truly has become… you choke to death on your own champagne cork. Music, in so many ways, was everything to me. And it still can be on those certain nights when I allow myself to sit by the fire pit, a big jelly glass of red wine, bats above me in the sky, and This Ol Cowboy on the bluetooth speaker. Or Nightclub Jitters. Or Autumn Leaves. Strange Fruit. Soul Driver. I Wish It Would Rain. Looking for Love. Walk All Over You. Caravan. Into the Mystic. Against the Wind. Freeborn Man. Hellhound on My Trail. Seven Nation Army. Borderline. Waitin’ Around to Die. The Gambler. Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Heatwave. I Ain’t Ever Satisfied. White-Winged Dove. Blitzkrieg Bop. Mountain Girl. Buck Hill. Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road. Rape Me. Love in the First Degree. Moanin’. My Last Days On Earth. I Saw the Light. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Or Farewell Transmission.

Thing is, I can’t talk to kids I don’t even know about that kind of thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I could. And it might be the best TED talk ever given, who knows? But it would also likely leave a bunch of kids crying in its wake. And they wouldn’t even know why. And they don’t need that bullshit now. It will come upon them soon enough without any help from me.

There should be trillions of dollars being spent to buy kids guitars.

Fuck a lot of this world and all of the morons.

Old people are now living too long. Young people are now dying inside castles burning down from their own reflection.

I should have been a cowboy. I should have learned to rope and ride.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin.