The Ancient Common Sense of Things – Bishop Allen – 2009

The Ancient Common Sense of Things MP3

Lately I have found this blog to be incredibly satisfying.  But in that satisfaction, I find myself at a crossroads.  And while it may take me a while to get to my point, I think this is a common theme of my entries.  I have a point, but there is no way I can go straight for it.  In this case, I have to announce at the beginning that I am at once completely satisfied and ready to stop writing completely.

It’s late and I’ve had a long day.  I was looking for something easy to write about.  I got a couple of easy suggestions, but I wasn’t feeling either of them.  Mainly I can’t feel those things because they are so removed from where I am right now.  Sometimes I can just push through that and get it done but not tonight.

Then I thought about an easy story to write about.  Pick a Black Flag song and write about the Black Flag show I went to when I was between 13 and 15.  I can’t remember the name of the club.  I want to say it was the Cabaret Voltaire in Houston and the year was 1984, but I can’t be sure.  I didn’t know who Black Flag was really.  I also didn’t know I was going to a Black Flag show.  This was pretty common for me at the time.  Anyway, it’s a pretty canned story.  I was in crowded club that was not very big.  It was Houston summer hot and I was on drugs and probably had not slept for a long time.  I’m pretty sure I had also skated into town on my skateboard.  Maybe a 15 mile trip.

Black Flag took the stage and I had been inside the club for a few hours already.  It filled up and I was pressed against a wall far from the door but close to the stage.  The place was hopping, but a few songs in, I was overheated and dehydrated.  One of the songs was ending and I started to pass out.  An altercation was starting in front of the stage.  Henry Rollins was dealing with this in some way.  Maybe he was part of the altercation as he often was.  But I was drifting in and out as this was going on.  After a while, I opened my eyes and saw Henry Rollins looking at me and he pointed at me saying, “Hey get that kid out of here!”

The crowd lifted me up and passed me to the door.  I could feel the cool air as they set me down in front of the open door.  It was summer and it never gets cool in the summer in Houston, even at night.  So it must have been very hot inside.

As I contemplated which Black Flag song would be the soundtrack to this anecdote, I was getting really angry.  I couldn’t think of a Black Flag song that I would have heard at that show.  Then I realized that I never owned a Black Flag record.  Then it occurred to me that I never liked Black Flag.  I don’t much like Henry Rollins either.  I kind of hate the ‘rage’ style even though I have been known to have rage problems.  I feel like Henry Rollins has been an advocate of just creating more anger.  It isn’t a release or ctharsis.  It’s anger for the sake of anger.

“There are those who understand that long before this all began, a hammer hit a nail with great sympathy.”

So I gave up on the Black Flag song and I went and looked at the Bishop Allen site for the 20th time this week.  And I started listening to songs that weren’t officially released yet.  As this song played, I realized that I really wanted to write about this song.

“And strings that bowed in concert make a symphony.”

But I couldn’t think of what I would write about The Ancient Common Sense of Things.  And I became more despondent.  I really just need to go to bed.  And then I thought about what it felt like to be pushed along the top of that crowd.  I can feel the cool air approaching.

“Oh oh oh…  the ancient common sense of things.”

Then I understood my problem.  I was trying to write about a song that meant nothing to me because I happened to have an interesting experience at a Black Flag show.  I don’t want to write about Black Flag.  It means nothing to me.  The emotions I had on top of that crowd had more to do with Bishop Allen than Black Flag.

“There are those who know to look in all the crannies and the nooks.  And when I found you dear what it meant to me.”

I am a young teenager on top of a crowd of angry punks who are about to have a giant fight.  I have heat exhaustion and I’m dehydrated.  Henry Rollins just directly addressed me.  He will be a legend.  The noise disappears and my eyes focus on a heart on the ceiling that someone drew with a red marker with some names and a plus sign between them.  And suddenly 25 years later everything is clear to me.  I hate Black Flag.  I hate Black Flag almost as much as Black Flag hates Black Flag.  Almost as much as they will hate talking about Black Flag 20 years from then.

“My heart is pounding loud just like a tympany.”

For years I will do my best to self-destruct.  I will succeed on an enormous scale at that particular endeavor repeatedly.  And now I will have written about an interesting story without having to associate it with a song I hate.  But with a song that really makes me happy.  Almost as happy as I was on top of that crowd knowing that the noise and confusion and overwhelming heat were about to be over.  As happy as I was looking at that heart knowing that someday I would feel as connected to someone as I do to my wife.

“oh oh the ancient common sense of things.”

And I can see that while Henry Rollins and Black Flag represent to me this machine that generates bad will and anger over nothing.  This may not actually be who they are or how most people experience them.  But at the time, I was 14 or something, and I was so angry.  And I didn’t want to be at that show.  Or I wanted to be in that building, but I wanted all of the redneck punks to be gone.  The invasion of the urban punk scene by white suburban hate killed punk rock.  Within a few years, you wouldn’t be able to put on suspenders or shoelaces without worrying about what it meant about your politics.  Somehow I blame Black Flag for this.

But Bishop Allen represents this simplicity and gratitude.  And the Ancient Common Sense of Things is this sort of simplified explanation for where I’m at overall right now.  But I also think it’s got a bold statement in its lack of solicitude.  It doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  No distortion.  Well arranged harmonies.  The non-pretentious approach to simple wisdom.  I love how the overall sound has a carefully muted attentiveness.  And the entire musical motif leaves me feeling too light, floating on top of a sea of compassionate hands on the way to the cool air of the outdoors.  The muted safety in stark contrast to the hard attitudes surrounding me.  This peace in the midst of noise and haste.

“oh oh the ancient common sense of things.”

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