A typewriter cackles out a stream of memories
Drying out a conscience, evicting a nightmare
Opening the doors for the dreams to come home
We live out lives in private shells
Ignore our senses and fool ourselves
To thinking that out there that someone else cares
Someone to answer all our prayers
Are we too far gone, are we so irresponsible
Have we lost our balls, or do we just not care
We're terminal cases that keep taking medicine
Pretending the end isn't quite that near
We make futile gestures, act to the cameras
With our made up faces and our PR smiles
And when the angel comes down, down to deliver us
We'll find out after all, we're only men of straw
But everything is still the same
Passing the time passing the blame
We carry on in the same old way
We'll find out we left it too late one day to say what we meant to say
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the water
Those problems seem to arise, the ones you never really thought of
The feeling you get is similar to something like drowning
Out of your mind, you're out of your depth, you should have taken soundings
Clutching at straws, we're clutching at straws
And if you ever come across us don't give us your sympathy
You can buy us a drink and just shake our hands
And you'll recognise by the reflection in our eyes
That deep down inside we're all one and the same
We're clutching at straws
We're still drowning
Clutching at straws
- Marillion, "The Last Straw"
Clutching at Straws, 1987
Yeah, probably not the best music to be listening to in my state, but there's something to be said for getting it out. Sam & I saw Marillion live twice. The first time was in 1985 at the Filmore in San Francisco. In the days before mosh pits and barricades, I could always guarantee Sam a great concert ecperience. We would always be right next to the stage and I created a shield around her with my body, so she would be mostly immune to any shoving and pushing.
The concert in question was the Misplaced Childhood tour. The album remained one of Sam's favorite, most-played albums all her life. The poetry is amazing and the music (although somewhat dated sounding now) is astonishing. They played the whole album as one continuous song (as it was recorded), along with some singles before and after. Our friend Colin had managed to slip a roadie a news clipping about our other friend Dan's suicide. Earlier that school year, Dan had taken a dangerous cocktail of controlled and OTC drugs, and gone to lay down on the railroad tracks. They found pieces of him everywhere. Sam and I weren't close to Dan, but we ran with the same crowd and were tight with Colin, so obviously we were affected.
So the show went well, they played like the virtuosos they were, and the band left the stage. We were satisfied in a show well done. But then... they started their first encore. The vocalist, Fish, was lit in silhouette behind one of the translucent flats on the stage. And he began this speech about how he'd read the news article and it disturbed him to see a young life cut short so tragically. And they proceeded to play the title track to Fugazi, which happened to be Dan's favorite song of theirs (or so Colin told me after the show in a state of disbelief). The basic gist is in these few lines:
Cowering behind curtains and the taped up painted windows
Decriminalised genocide, provided door to door Belsens
Pandora's box of holocausts gracefully cruising satellite infested heavens
Waiting, the season of the button, the penultimate migration
Radioactive perfumes, for the fashionably, for the terminally insane, insane
Do you realise? Do you realise?
Do you realise, this world is totally fugazi
The second time we saw them was the Clutching at Straws tour, at the Warfield in San Francisco. Another great show, and this time we got to meet the band by the tour bus. I got my concert shirt signed by Fish, and shook the keyboardist's hand (I was a big keyboards guy at the time). We had a giant wall-size poster from that tour in our apartment, along with a similar one from Peter Gabriel's So tour (we saw Peter Gabriel twice in the space of a year - once for So, and once for the Amnesty tour with Sting, Lou Reed and U2).
I can listen to virtually no music without being reminded of Samantha. How she looked in stage lights (whether on stage or in the audience), how she felt backed against my chest in the crowd of people, or how we used to go dancing at the Vortex in Palo Alto (or in the dance pit at our friend Wombat's communal pad). How she got so serious when working on one of our own songs, and how she would curl the corner of her mouth into a subtle smile while singing, pursing her beautiful lips. How we would spontaneously slow dance in the living room...
Last week my brother Matt would have been 35. It's hard to imagine. Things might have been very different. We were very competitive as children. My personality may have developed in some other direction. My parents may have stopped with my sister Sara, or even with Matt. I might not have my brother Gavin today. My parents may not have split up, and I wouldn't have been the life preserver for my siblings. I may never have met Sam. And if I'd never met Sam, I wouldn't have my wonderful children.
So I guess things do happen for a reason, painful as they may be at the time... and for years afterward. That's the price we pay for being human. Loss hurts like a son of a bitch. But it's part of the mechanism of existence. There is joy to follow. I can't see it from my current vantage point, but there MUST be. Because if there isn't, what's the point?