So you know that this year, I'm dealing for the first time in my life with owning a credit card, right? That's because of the legal settlement I received in late 2010, for the bike accident I had in late 2009; turns out that no matter how bad your credit is, if you show up to a bank with a legitimate check in the high five figures, they're more than happy to give you a checking account and a starter credit card, which I'm using this year plus paying off all my old medical bills in order to get my credit rating back into good order. (In fact, a few months ago I passed some sort of important marker with the credit agencies, and have started getting offers for other credit cards on a daily basis; but of course, I obviously still have some ways to go, in that all these offers are still in the 20- to 30-percent APR range, about as bad as you can get and still be eligible for a credit card in the first place.)
It's been a year full of pleasant surprises, as I suddenly learn or remember all over again all the things you can actually do with a credit card that you can't do without one; and I don't necessarily mean expensive things, either, but simply the kinds of doors that electronic money opens that physical cash does not. So for example, even though I'm still spending the same amount for them, I'm now buying all my soaps and bubble baths from "housewife entrepreneurs" over at Etsy, where I can order the kinds of exotic, masculine, savory scents that I spent years searching for and failing to find at the traditional bath shops; and my CTA fare card is now automatically refilled whenever I drop under two dollars, for another example, which has eliminated one of the hugely annoying weekly quests that used to dominate my life for so long, making sure I had the right change on me every single time I wanted to get on the el or a bus.
And then along those lines, one morning a couple of months ago I was going through my news feeds, and just happened to catch the news right when it was announced that the sugary-great Swedish pop singer Jens Lekman would be playing soon at Chicago's Lincoln Hall, a fairly new large-club-sized space (I think it can handle around three or four hundred) over in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, owned by the same guy who owns the smaller but much better-known Schubas, and the two coordinating their schedules to complement each other; and there was a big inviting button just right there, that said "CLICK ME TO ORDER TICKETS RIGHT NOW..." so I did! Oh yeah, that's right, you can do those kinds of things when you own a credit card!
And see, this is an even bigger deal than it might seem at first, because barring things like friends playing dive bars in the middle of the night or whatever, this would be the first traditional rock concert I had attended in a decade; and I mean literally in a decade, because the more I think about it, the more I'm pretty sure that literally the last rock show I'd been to before this had been Sonic Youth at the Riviera in the very early 2000s, because of getting a free ticket from a friend. And that's because of a combination of factors -- my hearing getting so much worse, having so much less disposable income, me getting older, me completely losing touch with what was going on in the world of indie music. In fact, as regular readers remember, that issue of becoming a big ol' REM-listening fogie had become so bad with me, at the beginning of 2008 I issued a challenge to myself, to fill my little one-gig iPod Shuffle by the end of the year not only with all music less than a year old, but with me personally liking every single song on it (so in other words, no packing it with entire albums full of filler material), which was a big success and that led me to writing an entire book about the fascinating process.
And I started the process by cheating a little, by basically turning to Pitchfork's "20 Best Albums of 2007" list and downloading them all via BitTorrent, and building my first playlist that way; and Jens Lekman's Night Falls Over Kortedala happened to be one of my favorites in that Pitchfork list that year, so I ended up listening the shit out of it during the first half of 2008, right when my arts center was having its first successes. And so now of the thousand or so bands I own individual singles of on my computer, Lekman is perhaps one of only two dozen that I can remember by name (along with Feist, Battles, Of Montreal and many of those other Pitchfork 2007 picks); and since those songs are so associated in my mind with the pleasant memories of first building up CCLaP, I have a real soft spot in my heart for the "Scandinavian Morrissey" that Lekman sometimes is. (Or, he doesn't really sound like Morrissey; but like him, he writes absolutely beautiful little upbeat songs about these very dark, serious subjects.)
Original photo credit
Original photo credit
Original photo credit
And so the concert finally arrived just a few days ago, and I made my way down to the trisection of Fullerton, Halsted and Lincoln, very close to where the old Lounge Ax punk club used to stand, along that night with what seemed like the city's entire population of balding, clunky-glassed, forty-something slackers. And I have to say, Lincoln Hall is freaking gorgeous, built from scratch and with a very contemporary look and feel, much like Steppenwolf's main space not too far away, all euclidian bar tops and shiny black surfaces, and with a breathtaking two-story performance space containing a table-and-chair U-ring balcony overlooking an SRO floor below, with a decked-out stage and a military contractor's worth of tech stuff in the back of the room. And of course I'm 42 now, and simply don't do things like stand for three hours at rock concerts anymore; so I showed up as soon as the venue's website told me I could, a full hour before the show's start (and two and a half hours before headliner Lekman actually took the stage), and I indeed was able to easily snag a stage-left chair up in the balcony, essentially giving me the same view as the owner's box across the way from me, "paid for" by basically sitting there for several hours with pints of Guinness and a book, waiting for first opener Geoffrey O'Connor and then for the main set to begin.
(Shot by me from the actual concert)
And the show itself was just really...well, it was really just great; turns out that Lekman left his entire band at home for this tour besides a percussionist, so it was a much more intimate show than it could've otherwise been, Jens telling a lot of jokes and giving a lot of introductions to songs, talking in detail about both the tour and his Chicago impressions, apparently the very first time he's actually been to the city. And I guess...or, I'm not really sure about this...but I guess it apparently turned out to be one of the biggest, most intense shows that Lincoln Hall's now held since first opening in 2009? Like I said, I'm not sure about that; it was definitely a sold-out crowd, I know that, packed to the gills by the time Lekman actually took the stage, and the crowd was passionate enough that near the end, they sang nearly an entire song from the audience to Jens's amazement, and certainly Jens himself seemed so moved by the end of the night that he almost cried when taking his final vow. But admittedly, all of those things could've just come with a normal if not popular show as well; but now add that several days after the show, Lincoln Hall announced with a surprise that they had commissioned a special after-show hipster poster to commemorate the occasion, because demand was so high. And again, I suppose that could be a regular activity of Lincoln Hall, to commission special silkscreened posters of individual concerts after the fact, to mark especially popular ones; but that's suddenly a lot of 'ifs' and 'buts' lining up, right? More realistic, perhaps, to acknowledge that it turned out to be a surprisingly special and memorable event, one that even the people involved didn't realize was going to turn out to be so memorable, so much so that the main star was moved almost to tears and the venue hastily assembled a collector's item to sell long after the crowd had gone home. (These posters weren't for sale at the actual show; I know that for a fact.)
My point is that it was just a really special night to begin with, combined with it being my own first rock concert in a decade, my amazement over having bought my ticket with a credit card in the first place, three hours of drinking Guinness and doing edits on my arts center's latest original book, which made me feel like a badass, sitting next to these two absolutely adorable hipster nerd-girls there dateless, all fucking excited, who kept waving their hands in the air and dancing in their seats every time Lekman played a song they liked. It was all of these things added together that made me start having this slow realization about halfway through the evening, one that had become like a tidal wave of surety at the end, this suddenly sort of absolute confirmation that this karmic "time of penance" I've been going through for most of the last decade is finally and completely over. Oh, you remember the karmic time of penance, right? I suppose you could say that it started with September 11th, although for me it was more like six months later, spring of 2002, when in a period of only two or three years I had most of the details of my life turn to complete shit -- my girlfriend and I had one of the messiest breakups I've ever went through, I quit pursing writing for a career, I lost my 9-to-5 job and to this day have never managed to get one again, I got chased out of the poetry scene while tied to a rail, I lost nearly every friend I had, I eventually had every single tooth in my mouth go rotten, and of course let's not forget that I got hit by a fucking car, and the shattered hip and shattered hand and PTSD and year of daily physical therapy and four months of living with my parents again that all came with that.
By the mid-2000s, with a lot of soul-searching, I had come to the conclusion that all of this stuff seemed to be adding up for a deliberate reason; and that's because it was the universe essentially punishing me for being such an asshole to so many people for so long in my youth, a form of karmic penance I was being forced to pay for all my past sins, basically the closest I've ever gotten as an adult to admitting to any form of spirituality or metaphysics. And in fact, if you go through my old journal entries here from that period, say around 2004 to 2006, you can see me very explicitly grappling with this subject by name, declaring that I now know that I'm going through this penance but having no idea when it might be over, when I might finally pay my debt and be allowed to start having good things happen to my life again. Because, see, I'm one of those people who also believes that my life tends to always be generally sloping in either an upward or downward direction, in these very long waveforms that take years and years to complete; so in the early '90s, for example, I was at the low point of one of these waves, completely burnt out on my collegetown slacker existence and literally slinking off to Chicago with two suitcases and 75 bucks in cash; but then by the late '90s I was at the high point of the next wave, when in a period of just two or three years I had several books come out, appeared a couple of times on NPR, had all my successes in the poetry-slam community, had easy sex and was given free drugs all the time, etc etc. And then by the mid-2000s, I was back to another low point, with all the things I just mentioned; and so who knew when things might finally flip back around, and when I might find myself once again building towards another crest?
It's been pretty clear for awhile now that the lowest point was right around the re-election of Bush, and that the wave had started its uphill climb again by 2007 when I finally got my arts center open; but sitting there at Lincoln Hall that night, so buzzed and happy and content and proud of all the things that had been going right for me recently, it finally hit me that the negative part of this most recent wave was over for good, that literally right that moment this emotional wave was passing the zero point again and permanently into positive territory. That my penance was finally paid, that I had finally received enough punishment for the asshole I used to be; and that now that I'm a profoundly different person than I was before (and I am a profoundly different person than I was before, both because of maturing, learning from this process, becoming an authority figure to a couple of little kids for the first time, and finally switching my profession from artist to small business owner, where you simply have to become less of an asshole to even get your job done), I'm finally set for the next half-decade of my life to once again be a series of overlapping highs and accomplishments, not just the modest successes I've been having with CCLaP but pretty soon a much bigger hike in revenue and national reputation, or maybe finally a new apartment, or God forbid a new girlfriend. Now that my health is back to normal, now that my finances are back to normal, now that I don't have to be embarrassed to tell first dates what I do for a living, now that I'm a calmer and wiser person, now that my debt to karma has been paid, maybe all the elements of my life will finally start clicking again at the kind of full strength they haven't since the mid-'90s, when I was having all my first big successes as a writer in the first place.
And I started to cry, right there at the Jens Lekman concert, so overwhelmed with relief and gratitude for having this realization, with just such an immense lifting of what had been such a heavy weight that'd been on me for the last decade; and you know, thank God that it was so dark, and that people were so intensely into such a memorable show, so that I could just sit there and quietly sniffle to myself and wipe my eyes without anyone noticing, although it's too bad I couldn't do the same on the el afterwards, where I continued to slowly leak tears all the way home. It seems sometimes like such a giant rock that's been on my back all through the 2000s, this just overwhelming sense of how much there's still left to do before my life is back to something even resembling normal, how it seemed sometimes to be just one giant piece of shit after another and without there being any end in sight. It's been a humbling experience, a learning experience, a painful experience, one where I had to literally break my entire life down into basic building blocks and then reassemble it again from scratch; and I leave it with a lot of burned bridges left behind, a lot of people who will despise me until the day they die, a lot of people who will never trust me again and certainly will never want to be my friend again. And it's gratifying and overwhelming to suddenly realize that the worst of it is over, that I've indeed become a new person and am ready for the next wave of successes in my life, wherever those successes might lead me. It's gratifying to know that my debt to society has finally been paid, and that I'm ready to have good things start happening to me again.
Anyway, that's enough for today. Talk with you again soon.
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