Monday, October 17, 2016

The Guy at Hammerjacks

The things that stick in memory. I'm at a Godfathers show at Hammerjacks in Baltimore, Maryland, probably in 1987. The band's in the States promoting Birth School Work Death, but the song I remember most is "I'm Unsatisfied," a tune that first appeared on a 12-inch in the U.K. and was later gathered on Hit By Hit. What I see when I hear the song now: a guy near the front of the stage, to my left, decked out in standard-issue Hammerjacks black-leather, head banging during the song's opening lines. In memory I associate him with the leather-clad, Marginal Man crowd that used to hang at Back Alley Cafe in D.C., lining their motorcycles out front, but it's more likely that he was a Baltimore native. The memory is devoid of any real meaningful context, but there it is, always, when I hear this great song. He's forever enshrined, and I'll likely carry him wherever I go. Where is he now? A dad, a boss, far removed from Baltimore? Dead? Who knows, but he lives in the eternal present, a perfect, decay-resistant image of rocking out.

I have other memories of Hammerjacks: my buddy returning from the bar clutching four shots of Jägermeister, grinning and excited because "It's like brushing your teeth"; in the parking lot out front, gathered around another friend's car, talking randomly and self-consciously about fucking; the time I almost got pulled under the mosh pit at a Ramones show; the seedy and thrilling shadows of Route 395 and the cars roaring above our heads as we'd leave the club.... But no image sticks quite like this head-banging dude, utterly lost in the intense elation of a rock and roll song, enacting a silhouette that occurred the night before, the following weekend, and last weekend, too, there and elsewhere and everywhere. But he's mine for good. He's become a kind of favorite character from a book or TV show. This is how memory works: the guy's emblematic, representative, without my having asked him. What if I'd looked the other way at that moment? He wouldn't have been cast. He doesn't matter, and he means a lot.

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