We called it the 9:30, like we say the 405 out here in California. It was a club in DC, and there was both the old 9:30 and the new 9:30 and I was lucky enough to have visited both. I saw GWAR at the original 9:30 club. I don’t know why we ended up in DC so early that day, but I remember walking across the Key Bridge, irritated, cold, hungry, and angry with my three companions. It was a good show. Tristan, my boyfriend, pinned me with my back against the mosh crowd unable to move out of their path, and I got pummeled by the not-so-good-natured moshing, and sprayed like water torture, with kool aid colored water for the duration of the show. I remember having blue, pink, and purple skin for days. Eventually I wandered off from the crowd, down to the basement, which was covered in patina: writing, paint, old band flyers, and sharpie. My memory isn’t as reliable but I swear even the industrial garbage can and the floor had something scrawled on it. History. That room felt great. I sat down there, for god knows how long until someone I was with came down to check on me. He used to hang out with GWAR in Richmond before they were banned from being seen in public in their costumes. While we were downstairs he pointed out one of the band members. I was disappointed because the band member was in regular street clothes and did not at all look spectacular. “He just looks like a regular guy,” I complained. We left the club, with the metro shut down for the night, and accepted a ride with sketchy strangers, 6 of us crammed into the backseat of a small gas efficient piece of shit on our way back to our car.
Eventually, the 9:30 club outgrew it’s space and bought a bigger, shinier building, but without the charm/horror of the downstairs room with years of ephemera of rough showgoers. The second time I saw GWAR it was at the new 9:30. I remember sitting in an ante room watching this strange film from the 1940s or 1950s with a beautiful blonde and an unending stage coach scene. I watched transfixed while everyone else was off doing something else. Eventually I made my way out to the show floor to watch the first band end their set in a fist fight. I remember my second Gwar show being more of a spectacle. There was a huge boxing ring. I remember that they “beheaded” OJ and colored water shot 10 feet up into the air out of the beheaded OJ costume. And some other people. Maybe Monica Lewinsky was there in character, and I’m sure B Clinton. It was chaos. There was more and more and more colored water sprayed into the crowd. Social commentary. But less history since it was a new location and a new building.
I’ve been involved in music in some way since childhood. I played my instrument at church, I learned the piano from a very talented musician who taught four presidents how to play. He quickly realized I could memorize music and had me play at one recital blindfolded. For fun. I played for weddings. I played in school. I played in one forced church setting, which in retrospect was likely a cult. I fought with my mom over it, she pushed me into the car and threw my flute in behind me before slamming the door. She would tell people I would play for them without asking me, then take the money. She’d stand over me at the piano, forcing me to practice although I had memorized the piece already, with a belt, hitting me, until she was satisfied. So in my middle to late teen years when I found out how upsetting it was for her when I visited a local, shitty dive apartment called the band room, where they played something like heavy metal and something like noise, and I was hooked, both to horrify her and myself. Soon after I left home for good, moving in with an artist, and we would go to shows together. Having grown up in a sanitized, church environment I spent more time watching than listening. “This is how regular people are,” I told myself. “This is how I will be too.” I saw Gwar, Danzig, the Ramones, White Zombie, Pantera, Type O Negative, Primus, L7, the Melvins. I crowd surfed and smoked pot. I got tattoos. Trying to cover up my history, give myself a patina of something I liked better, something that hurt me less than loving the lord. I never understood how there could be so much pain in loving God. But the music didn’t hurt. Music didn’t hurt like love did.
This weekend I’m returning to DC for the Women’s March on Washington. I don’t know if I’ll have time to walk the Key Bridge. If I can sneak off to the 9:30 for a retrospective tour. I’ve knit 6 hats. I’ve taught and coached my 10 year old little girl about women’s rights. I want her to see me do this thing, this thing I’m scared to do. “This is who I am,” “this is what activists do,” even when they’re scared. Scared of crowds, scared of law enforcement over reaction. I read somewhere this week to take a sharpie and write your name and number on your body for the march. To stay toward the edges of the crowd. I’ve been at the edge before, and that’s where I got pummeled. I don’t have the answers. I don’t have any answers. But I will go. For my little girl. For myself. For her children. This is who I am.