We were 600 miles out, and the road lay as flat and straight as a dropped spear, stabbing into heart of mountains far too distant to yet see. With the windows down, the wind was howling through the cab like an angry ghost, pulling at us, snapping and biting. We were doing 120. It was midnight.
“Don’t be such a pansy,” Jeff said. “Friggin’ hit it already.”
So, I did. The engine skirled like a kicked hornet’s nest, whirling up past 5000 RPMs. The ghost wind vanished, the car now encapsulated in a torpedo of air. I was positive there was crap getting sucked out, the windows were like vacuums, and anything not nailed down had already left or was about to.
I didn’t care. When the speedo tipped past 200, the engine was making sounds somewhere past normal hearing and holding the steering wheel straight was damn near impossible. I snuck a quick glance to the side, but there was nothing out there, just wind. Nothing in front of us, just the dark. There was no road. No car. Only the sure sense that something terrible was about to happen.
When I was a kid, which pretty much approximates any time prior to the birth of my own kids, I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd. A lot. I’m pretty sure I even went to a concert somewhere in the late 80’s, but those memories seem to have taken a holiday. In all fairness, it was a long time ago.
The most specific memories I have of Pink Floyd have to do with math. Or rather, math class. Even more specifically, Calculus in 12th grade. That’s where I used to sing DSOTM and The Wall. Me and a couple of guys. We’d sit there, doing exercises, and someone would start. Maybe semi-consciously. Tap-tap-tapping out a bass line or exploring a drum solo. Someone would pick up the lead, and by the time the chorus hit, seven or eight of us were right there, more or less on (or near) key. Not quietly, either, which is why I probably didn’t spend as much time in that class as I should and goes a long way to explaining why I eventually got a degree in … Philosophy. I really hated Calculus.
It was probably the homework. I detested homework. It’s a loathing that I’ve carried a long time, which goes a long way to explaining why that PhD degree is still ABD some 20 years on. Somewhere along the way, I found the Oracle, you see. Not sure how I got there. Not sure why. But I remember the words on the arch, quite clearly. Oh well. Everyone has their limits.
I’ve never really had a problem with teachers, but I will offer that I have had precious few that were worth it. Fewer still actually reached me, that inspired me. Lit a spark in my mind and was patient enough to blow it into an inferno. To help me discover my passion or my life’s work. It’s not a teacher’s job to do that, but I do wonder what it would have been like to have had that kind of passion, and wonder if I somehow missed out on my Prometheus moment.
Teachers, for me, were more of an obstacle. I didn’t really try very hard, which was part of the problem. I could, and did, phone in 3 extremely proficient years of exemplary work in high school, and then promptly took a nap through my senior year. Note to self: stay on the kids all the way through — accountability is the midwife to inspiration.
“He’s very clever,” wrote one teacher, on an 11th grade report card. “But I’m not convinced he’s applying himself.” I found that in a box, along with a lot of other yellowing, random, documents my parents had squirreled away for reasons obscure. Yeah, yeah.
I loafed through college, too, which wasn’t a terrifically intelligent thing to do. Electrical Engineering lifted me and my non-existant work habits into the air, shook me like a doll and crunched around for the juicy bits, and then spat the remains into a liberal arts program. Which, looking back on it, was where I would have ended up if I hadn’t still been blindly following the advice of a Junior High guidance counselor. The unreflected life leads to all manner of stupid places.
My friends and I all went to different schools. Not unsurprising. Some of them had studiously failed to nap their way into a safety school, so seeing them on holidays was the highlight of the year. The cars, the trips to Seven-Eleven for strawberry milk and microwaved whole-wheat donuts (don’t ask), evenings spent at the airport waiting for the cops to chase us off. Lost boys.
Grad school meant more teachers. Another grab-bag of academic inconsistency. The brilliant prof was usually a pig-headed one-note douche. The aspirants were the interesting ones, the hopeful, clutching their decades of indentured servitude like a Get Out of Jail Free card. This is where learning happened. In the Ending, there were the Words. And they were Fire. Finally. The fuse had been lit. Finally. And the fireworks, when I cannoned into The Wall, again, were legend.
But all explosions, even the ones that echo down the long halls, fade. New voices come. New hopes worn on new aspirants, all shiny. And me? Well, I spend a lot of time wondering where the lines will appear on my kids’ faces. It’s a father’s right.
Wheels turn. Night passes. And I still don’t really know why I hate calculus. But I’m pretty sure it was that jackass at the front of the room.
It’s been 20 years since I listened to The Wall. When tracks hit the radio, I changed the station or turned the radio off. I avoided the re-releases. “Ah, jeez,” I’d say. “There’s been entirely enough of that.”
A signpost. Pointing at history.
I still see the Lost Boys occasionally, some of them anyway. Fourth of July. New Years. It’s a zoo. The kids are all pretty much of an age, and now old enough to entertain themselves, which they do with an abandon that borders on “worrisome”. Our drug of choice these days is “good food”, and getting together usually means production levels best measured in pounds.
We don’t see each other enough. There’s always that wistful moment, near the end, when we hug and look past the strangeness that time has written on top of our friendships, when we almost remember.
We lost one of our best a few years ago, a casualty to inner demons. Another transitioned from aspirant to prof. The rest of us are making ends meet. It’s interesting, surprising even, to see how far the bands have stretched, and we spend time talking about how much left we have to do. I still smile. That’s a good thing, I think.
Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound is a drug dealer. A wizard. A man to be feared.
I had absolutely zero intention of sitting down and getting sucked into my own navel that afternoon at RMAF. I almost didn’t even notice that the LP he was playing was that reissue of The Wall. It’s like it didn’t register on me, as if I was somehow immune to it, or that I had a perceptual block installed that prohibited me from recognizing it. I took my photos, shook hands, and realizing that I actually had the time to do so, I sat down.
There was a moment of panic. I think I might have started to get up. But there was Jeff’s voice, wavering in my head, like some kind of ragged ghost of Christmas Past, telling me to floor it. “Don’t be such a pansy.”
It took about three seconds. Doors swung open. The beat started. I knew all the words.
Music, like magic, isn’t a gift. It’s wrong to think of it that way. It can cut. It can heal. It can do whatever it is that your imagination will let it do. But it’s not in any interesting way, independent or real. Not by itself. Meaning comes from the listener. And sometimes, with the right circumstances, the right tap-tap-tapping, it can open you. But it’s not a gift. It’s a mirror.
I want to say that this room, with this gear, was the best I’ve heard from Team Catalano. At this show, or any other. Reading that back, however, that tastes a bit like weak tea.
In my perhaps-too-long-of-a-visit, I was visited by visions. By demons and ghosts. By triumphs and frustrations, old and new.
It was awful. It was thrilling. It was the best f***ing thing I’ve heard in ages. Thanks, Jeff. I’m really not sure I needed that. But what a ride!