A Thousand Flowers – The Sand Pebbles – 2009

When I was a kid, I hated to fight.  I was the youngest of three boys, so I was afraid of fighting as it was rare for me to win.  And if I did hurt one of them it only meant that they would hurt me worse later.  Any of my retaliation came in the form of punching and running.  I had my moments, but overall fighting was something that I avoided.  Or most of the time, I simply ran.  I would cry at the idea of a fight.  And young boys will fight.

“this is not the song that we wanted to sing”

I developed a reputation for running, so all of the kids wanted to fight me.  If you have to fight at some point and you are terrified of fighting, why not just pick a fight with the kid you know is going to run.  Of course, I didn’t know this then.  I thought everyone hated me and wanted to beat me up.

“got no choir, got no bell to ring”

The thing that I didn’t realize is that no one hits you as hard as your brother.  When I fought my brothers, I would come out bruised and aching.  They would make sure to punch me in the same places they had hit me before.  The torture a sibling can deliver is unrivaled.  Kids really are afraid of hurting each other mostly, so they don’t hit that hard.  Not nearly as hard as my brothers.  So when I finally learned this lesson, I still hated fighting, but I would stay and fight.

“you’re not clever, you’re not even sly”

One day I ended up pissing off a kid that was a couple years older than me.  A theme of my life is doing the opposite of what is right in almost every situation.  In this case, the kid was taller and bigger than me and I should have run.  But in this particular situation, I was tired of kids picking fights with me, so I was just going to slug it out with him.

“the wings of soul will not take you higher”

So I got beaten down by this kid.  And when he tried to walk away, I got up and jumped on him.  I beat on his ears.  I head butted him.  He threw me on the ground and hit me a couple times.  Then he got up and kicked me some.  Then he turned to walk away and I jumped on him again.  This went on for hours.  All of the voyeurs left and it was just me and him.  He begged me to let him go home.  I cried and jumped on him again.  The action moved like the pace of this song.

“there’s nothing moving in the tower of song”

And really, I can’t attribute all of this energy to fighting.  My life was wrong.  And this was the theme for quite a bit of my childhood.  I was  constantly on the wrong end of retribution.  I didn’t look for trouble.  It was there for the taking, and I took more than my share.  I’ve always been somewhat of a glutton.

“this silence is loud, but it never comes”

And there’s this tremendous release in finally fighting when you feel oppressed.  And I have to admit that I have recreated this situation too often in my life.  And I suppose it has something to do with being abused to begin with.  I have recreated abusive environments to fight my way out of over and over again.  The release achieved by fighting against some perceived injustice is intoxicating and addictive.  And in the fog of self-righteousness and turmoil, it’s impossible to know the difference between real injustice and a fantasized grievance.

“got a use-by date on your life like a tattoo”

I discovered something in the fight with the older kid.  Everyone may want to fight the kid that runs away, but no one wants to fight the crazy kid.  No one can predict what the crazy kid is going to do.  And while there were more situations after this that enhanced this reputation, this was the beginning.

“and if your mind goes blank, well here is a clue”

Later in Houston in 8th grade, I ended up with a similar reputation.  I did something to a kid that offended just about everyone in the school.  And I was the new kid, so I became the school punching bag.  I got in a fight or two every day for about two months.  Most of the time against multiple opponents.  And this is a reality of fighting for boys, and men for that matter, that is commonly ignored in our fist fighting mythology.  There is hardly ever a fight that is one on one.  Don’t take it personally but the pack is always close by.

“everything’s showbiz, pop is the new porn”

With the previous lessons in fighting behind me, I knew that even multiple opponents weren’t going to hurt me as bad as my brothers.  They were all terrified as well.  So I just took it.  I hardly ever fought back.  I just let them beat me up and made sounds like I was getting hurt.  Then I would get up and go to class.  But one day I finally had enough.

“repeat and repeat until the feeling is gone…”

And I don’t know what it is about A Thousand Flowers that makes me think of fighting.  Something about the motion.  Something about how I felt the first time I heard the song.  But the sound just has friendly violence all over it.  And I find the contrast between the title of A Thousand Flowers and fist fighting to be quite satisfying.  I just discovered The Sand Pebbles, and I really like them.  And there is something about their approach to indifference and irreverence that I think I could listen to over and over.  There’s something very physical about the music and the insistent beat.  Everything from the drums to the guitar effects has a punchy quality that drives the song from one end to the other.  And the live song feel reflected in the vocal signals at the end of the long bridge section is impressive in the overdub age.  And I like the visceral approach to intellectual underpinnings.  They are like a fist fight after a philosophical debate.  I really don’t even know why they affect me like this.

“let a thousand flowers bloom”

One day I finally just snapped.  I saw someone that had been involved in one of these fights in the hall at school.  Our eyes met and I socked him in the eye without warning.

“like a promise, can’t come too soon”

Later I saw someone in the bathroom that I clearly remembered kicking me in a group of other kids.  I pushed his head into the tiled wall and threw his books in the toilet.

“take a picture of the moment, then”

To cement the end of this period of fighting in my life, I went looking for the kid that had participated in and been the main instigator of a good number of these fights.  When I found him, he happened to be walking in front of the principal and one of the redneck coaches that delivered swats to kids in exchange for skipping detention.  Both of these guys knew that I was being bullied like this.  Ah what a prehistoric world 80’s Houston was.    I grabbed the kid right in front of them.  I took his books from him and threw them at him saving the biggest one to hit him in the head.

“blow it up start it again…”

The principal and the coach took me to the office.  They threatened me with suspension and expulsion and a whole lot of other things.  I mumbled something about wanting to go home and calling my mother.  Then I realized that they didn’t want to talk to my mother.  They had been ignoring all of this for a while, and they didn’t want to have to explain that.  So they just sent me on to class.

I don’t even know whether I like this story.

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