by Timm Schowalter
I was trapped in a room full of 50 or so other kids that would look like aliens compared to the button-down oxford-type so typically exemplifying our species. I could find no way to escape, which was incredibly ironic because the only thing I could focus on was the filthy half-glowing “exit” sign precariously perched at a dangerous angle over the backdoor.
The hopeless green saucer lights hanging from the walls (that prehistoric uncultured Pensacolians decided many years ago was the only hip way to facilitate light in a place that prides itself as such a pop-culture hotspot; in other words, a vegan restaurant) did nothing but wash everything and everyone in a vomit haze.
But there it was: EXIT. Screaming as if the neon wanted to explode out of the letters and consume this little shenanigan being labeled as a show. It was the one thing I wanted and the one thing I could not have.
This highway of thought stretched out before me like a zoo lion watching little children walk past its cage.
Some creature disguised as a girl was on the stage. She was all alone. No – I was all alone.
She and all the other people here were in the same place, something they’d consider to be musical nirvana. And although all these snobby scene kids may have been in harmonious Elysium, I saw no golden fields.
She was the only person on stage. Ill Ease was the apropos name of the girl’s band (if you can call it that). She was probably about 25 years old, wore a camo shirt and had hair that was so unkempt only Bigfoot could love it.
Her voice was a hyperactive raspy monotone shout that will cause linguists 1000 years from now to quit their jobs. And she kept saying things in between songs that only made sense to the well inebriated in the crowd.
She used a looping-pedal that allowed her to record what she played over a certain amount of time and then repeat it over and over again. Basically she would pick up an instrument, get a riff going, and then move on to another one. It was like watching a mad scientist create sonic poison.
“What am I doing here,” I thought. This was terrible – on par with what Beethoven might have thought of a Nickelback concert.
“ANDREW! What’s up man?” someone said from the crowd.
“Timm,” I replied.
“Oh, you’re right, man. Andrew’s my name. I’m so drunk right now I called you my name.”
A friend (well sorta) I had known for the past four years had just addressed me by his own name. Later on it dawned on me that this is the guy currently leading the bike rides around police stations protesting the death of Victor Steen.
“Is this what music is coming to?” I thought.
I was boiling over with frustration, because not even half an hour before, I was watching an excellent two-man band, The Evergreens, play on the very stage that was now being desecrated by Ill Ease.
The most subtle drummer (who informed me afterwards that he was only 17 years old) I’ve come across in quite some time was hashing it out on his two-piece drum set beneath the gorgeous vocals and simple guitar of his musical counterpart.
The two guys were so plain. They weren’t using some crazy pedal to create some kind of pseudo music that isn’t worth the effort it took to create, and you could easily understand what they said without having to down the Pabst Blue Ribbon everyone in the Sluggo’s crowd is so fond of. They were just playing guitar and drums, and it was working for them.
But, unfortunately, what wasn’t working for them was the crowd. Consisting of me, a good friend, some drunk dude making a fool of himself, and the singer’s girlfriend with a few of her friends, the eight-person crowd was not accomplishing much to encourage the hopes of this un-dynamic duo.
I thought, “How does something so good procure such a small crowd, while something so terrible gets the attention of a horde of needy college students?”
While pondering this question, trapped somewhere between the exit sign, cross-dressers and the most unpleasant sound-waves my ears had ever endured, a small beautiful pinprick of light tore through the puke mist of the stage-room at Sluggo’s, and I came to a realization.
I was witnessing the answer to my query: The crowd for Ill Ease may have been large, but, man, did they suck. The awful music was getting the awful crowd it deserved.
The bimbo in the corner accidently bumping the guy next to her private parts and then laughing it off with a careless, “Whoops!” certainly was not intellectually sound enough to engage in the beauty of subtlety, nor was the goon next to her who took the initiative to scoot in a little closer to his bird-brained new friend.
After my epiphany had faded I beheld the most uplifting scene thus far. The one-woman-band of Ill Ease was breaking down her equipment and getting off the stage.
While this was going on, two new dudes were setting up some drums and a piano. This awkward instrument combination sparked my interest.
Making a few calculations about the congested environment, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so I might as well just stick around.
Due to the crowd preventing me from escaping, I was able to bear witness to some totally enigmatic music.
These guys played some amalgamation between chip-tune (music that sounds like old 8-bit video games) and the melancholic synthesized electro-pop of the band HEALTH, or imagine Radiohead meets Nintendo, if you will.
Although it was, at times, repetitive and a little underdone, the chord progressions and vocal extremities paired up with the intricate simple drumbeats was something that made your insides melt and start to drip out of your eyeballs.
Yet, before the set had time to get over-played or boring, they stopped. 15 minutes of musical paradise was my reward for enduring an hour of trash, but I had no time to be angry about it.
Finally an opportunity had presented itself, and I raced through the tiny opening in the crowd to that cockeyed glowing sign which read to me like the bright star must have to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.
The crowd swelled around me on each side like two giant balloons being filled by the lungs of some monstrous creature.
At last I made it to the exit. Exploding out the door and into the freezing cold night with not but a small spot of beer dripping down my sweater, I began to praise the Lord for my timely escape.
After spending a night of musical ups and downs, drunk people with bad teeth, cross-dressers, hippies, sluts, and a thousand of society’s other misfits, I was able to come a conclusion: Sluggo’s is not for everyone, and just like the wise King Solomon pointed out, the end of a thing is truly better than the beginning.
To some of you reading this now, I imagine I may sound like a jerk that needs to get over himself, and the events described above may seem like Disney World did when you were 11 years old. If this be the case, then you may very well be on your way to becoming an integral part of the Sluggo’s society – May God help you.