Saturday, November 1, 2008

Mohawk Joe,

And The 180th Stage Dive

I’m standing by the bar watching Audrye Sessions load their gear on stage when Mohawk Joe walks up to me.

Why aren’t you on stage?” he asks.
Oh I just played actually,” I say.
Oh that’s right… Well yeah, you were alright. Not my thing really. I’m a punk rocker.”
That’s fine.”

I follow his arm up from the cigarette in his hand. Past his fleece Jacket, up into his face, a face that reflects a half dozen decades of drinking, of working. He's shorter than me, a thin white man with a thin white mustache, and the skin under his jaw hangs loose. The sides of his head are shaved and a flaccid white mohawk is flopped down the middle. He is off kilter, keeps leaning towards me and tilting back again.

I didn’t recognize you… I have about a hundred ounces of alcohal in me…” He says. “I’m gonna to do a stage dive. You gonna catch me?”

I laugh and say nothing. Audrye Sessions are line-checking on the little stage beyond the scattering of kids sitting at tables and leaning against the walls, beyond the empty little dance floor below the stage. Tonight's show is in a quintessential dive bar with dirty floors and low lights, but however cold it is outside, the atmosphere is warm, the bartender is pouring our drinks generously, and the guys putting on the show are excited to have us.

I’ve done one hundred and seventy nine stage dives,” Mohawk Joe says. “This will be my one hundred and eightieth…. During their last song.”

I nod.

"I'm going to get in the Guiness book of world records for the most stage dives then I'm gonna go on the Conan O'Brian show."


Michael, the Michigan State student who played before me, comes over and tells me good job. He says that he had liked Street to Nowhere, and wishes he brought more kids out to the show. I tell him, next time. And as Mohawk Joe walks over to Al’s friends and asks them if they will be catching him, I try to explain to Michael in a few sentences how Street to Nowhere came and went. The memory of those six years all feels like a vivid dream. You can remember how real it felt while you were asleep, but from the outside, the pieces don’t fit together. And then Audrye Sessions are playing their songs, and I walk up and lean against a wall by the little stage and watch, and Alicia gives me a half smile and turns back towards the band, never looking down at her bass as she plays.

The crowd stays in their seats and against the walls, that vacant area in front of the stage between their ears and the music, but their eyes stay on the band and they are quiet and attentive when it gets delicate. You only can hear glasses clinking at the bar, and hushed conversation at the back of the room.

The last song comes, and Mohawk Joe appears, going from person to person, trying to rally each individual to catch him in his great dive, but everyone stays put, shaking their heads, looking towards the music. I just smile and look away when he comes up to me, so that empty space in front of the stage stays empty as he crosses the little dance floor and steps on stage. The song is tense and dark. He starts dancing a little and it all feels ironic. He's moving back and forth on the platform between Ryan and Mike, but they are focused on their guitars. He is shaking his hips, but the band is in a breakdown. James is just on the high-hat and it’s all delay pedals and whole notes.

I laugh to myself, but then the music picks up again - kick, snare, kick, snare - and Mike is wailing, and the bass shakes the room, and Ryan is almost screaming, and Mohawk Joe is swinging his old body fiercely to the music, like he isn't under his own control.

All of a sudden, an image flashes in my mind of that white-haired man launching himself out spread-eagle onto the hard tile below the stage. The same thought hits five other guys at the same moment and we all walk up to the front, all gather below Mohawk Joe. He turns towards us, his body moving with the beat, his arms flailing, and I’m still shaking my head and laughing as he leaps from the stage and into our arms. Even with the other guys holding him up, the little man feels heavy with the weight of all that beer - and feeling that weight, I get it, that this is a real person, with a real life, with a head full of thoughts and plans and memories and experiences and worries.

We let him down on his feet as the band hits their last chord. A record comes up on the sound system, and I walk away without saying anything, but Mohawk Joe follows me to side of the room.

You didn’t expect that from a fifty-eight year old, did ya?” he says.
I just laugh again.
How many stage dives have YOU done?” He asks.
Oh, well, back when I was a kid and went to a lot of rock shows,” I tell him,”I did my fair share, but certainly not as many as you.”

The Phillies and Tampa Bay are flashing on the screen behind the bar behind his head, and a couple girls are ordering drinks. The game is tied 2-2, and I couldn't care less about the Phillies or Tampa Bay.

I wasn’t going to jump,” He says, "but I turn around and there are people there… so there ya go, what the hell... and that’s more my music. You were alright though, you have some promise.”
It's just, folk singers are a-dime-a-dozen…I like all types of music, though… except rap. And those emo bands that come through here… They all… sound… the same.” He points towards the stage, where Audrye Sessions are packing up their gear “These guys are more my thing.
Yeah, they’re a great band.” I say, looking back at him from the game.
This just isn’t the place for folk singing. Back in the sixties there was a place where downstairs, people could order dinner… and upstairs there were rock bands playing.
And there were singer-songwriters downstairs?”
Yeah… see, I don’t mind listening to a folk singer if I’m eating my lasagna or something. No, but you were alright, don’t get me wrong… you we’re alright."
Thanks. I do appreciate it. You from around here?
Yeah, I’ve cleaned the floors here for fifteen years… Sometimes I do a little bartending.”
So you were born and bred in Lansing?”
What’d you do before this?”
Oh I’m just middle class… just middle class jobs. Delivering pizzas. All sorts of things…

At this point I like Mohawk Joe. I think of my friends that will be just like him thirty years from now, and I think the sorts of things that he must have seen. A man is a man, however drunk, and we’re all ridiculous, so in turn no one is ridiculous. Later I will hear him telling Mike about losing his license delivering pizzas, and after we all sign the t-shirt that Audrye Sessions give him and he proudly changes into it in front of us, he will ride his bike home - just ten minutes through the freezing night. I will think of icy roads and dark little apartments, and I will get that shudder of loneliness.

What do you think of the country right now?” I ask him.
We’re fucked. Well, we’re…. we’re fucked.
…you see. When we get to one of those in-between elections, in two years or something. We gotta get rid of the Electoral College. It doesn’t make sense.

Ryan walks up and high-fives Mohawk Joe. “One hundred and eighty. Way to go!” He says.

And Mohawk Joe turns to him with a proud smile, “Wasn’t a great one, but what the hell.