Friday, March 3, 2017

Trap Them And Queer Them

Donald Trump won the election. Serious political commentators ignored the possibility or gave it no better than a 35% chance. Then President Trump won. It wasn’t quite Dewey Defeats Truman, but it did happen and it’s where the country is now.

Since then, news about grotesque abuses of power and appointments of actual Looney Tunes to federal office dominates the papers and television.

Election night, I expected to feel rueful and happy for my friends inspired by Secretary Of State Clinton’s campaign. I’d never seen so many of those friends excited on the morning of November 8th, and I figured Secretary Clinton’s victory was inevitable. So the next evening, I marched and chanted and went home. I held up a sign saying I was queer, bloody but unbowed. It did feel like that, I did feel like whatever we’re calling culture now landed one really good punch, but shit, I was still here, and it would require more than one really good punch to knock me down.

(Image above from Monkey Defies Gravity.) Trap Them played Subterranean six days later. I’ve got a long history with Trap Them, and I count on the band for spectacular live shows, due in large measure to vocalist Ryan McKenney.  Whenever I see Trap Them, McKenney goes off, whether it’s jumping into the crowd or perching on top of the barrier like a vulture, eyes set to kill, forehead oozing blood.

McKenney broke both heels in Europe (and one ankle) and according to the show I saw on YouTube, did the following European tour in a wheelchair. It was wrong to see McKenney confined to a chair, gripping that microphone like a neck of a man who never saw McKenney coming. Trap Them performed admirably, but when the band’s most dynamic member broke both his heels, it’s unlikely to result in an engaging set.

(Image above is from Metal Injection.) I almost didn’t go to the Chicago date. My brain was wobbly and my head swam if I moved it too quick. It’d’ve been prudent to lie down and stay home. I almost did, and then saw the earplugs I’d been hunting for. Fuck it, I said to myself.

My brain evened out and my head stopped swimming by the time my commute to the venue, Subterranean, was over. Subterranean is a three story walkup. There’s yet another floor of Subterranean to get backstage. How did Ryan McKenney get up those stairs?

I waited. Like Rats was unremarkable, and Yatuja was technically proficient enough that I’ll remember their name, but anything else about them is gone. Sorry, gents. An admittedly generously poured vodka cranberry later, and Trap Them was finally sound checking.

No sign of Mr. McKenney. I figured he’d be on the first floor in a wheelchair, and then someone from the venue would carry him up the five or six steps from the audience floor onto the stage. There’s another way to get onstage and that’s down one flight of an industrial metal spiral staircase from backstage. But imagining him going down those stairs was ridiculous. How would they carry a person in a wheelchair down that spiral staircase?

They didn’t carry him. He descended alone.

I saw McKenney push himself cast-first down each step of the spiral staircase. He wore casts on his feet and kneepads. He crawled from the bottom of the staircase at far end of stage right to the microphone stand. The venue would’ve carried him. His bandmates would’ve carried him. He crawled.

He performed the 45 minute set on his knees, thrashing around, using whatever he could for support and maintained the baleful, wrathful presence he was known for. He flung his body like he hated it, and yeah, broke open his forehead mid set. I’m focusing on Mr. McKenney and not the rest of the band. They played well, if unspectacularly. I think guitarist (and songwriter) Brian Izzi added a few flourishes on the pre-Blissfucker material.

You’ve read enough of these know how this one comes together. Life landed one real good punch on Mr. McKenney, and he was stubborn enough to cancel zero shows. I began to despair and Trap Them reminded me I didn’t have to. And I needed to see Trap Them and Trap Them specifically. I needed the music (a combination of Entombed and Hot Snakes) played much too loud. I needed to see Ryan McKenney’s wild eyes and him performing through what I presume is meaningful pain.

(Above image from Flickr user Morten F.) I somehow got the idea my queerness is incompatible with my love for guitar music. I believed (at the cost of impugning one of my home cultures) that I really ought to listen to more, well, queer or allegedly queer friendly artists. During that seven day period, what I saw from queer friendly artists was variations on the phrase “my idols are dead and my enemies are in power”. I understand the fear. I understand the despair. But I came to fight, not resist. McKenney came to fight too, even when no one would blame him for a less evocative performance.

It was at most 45 minutes. I don’t recall an encore. Before I left the venue, I talked to Mr. Izzi, who said that we all needed this show. He was more right than he knew.

Youtube won't load properly, so instead, have Chris Maggio recording drums for Darker Handcraft. He's incredible.

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