Waiting for the Train – Looking for Alaska
Waiting for the inbound train from the boonies of West Wellesley, I was confronted by a dazed and confused hipster rocker-type; tight cut-up jeans, yellow and blue plaid zip-up hoodie and a baseball cap turned sideways. He asked me if I had a five, to which I said I didn’t have one. I followed him and watched as he struggled to fit a crusty five into the MBTA kiosk with shaky hands and smelly breath. He coughed up a lung or two before we really started talking.
I asked him where he was off to, and he said Harpers Ferry out in Allston. He was playing there, lead vocal for a southern hard rock group called “Looking for Alaska.” He suggested the name, a dedication to the 2005 young adult novel by John Green. Their group is an audible depiction of that fragile teenage youth, ripped apart by love, hate, and death.
His complexion was pasty, his eyes were red, and he smelled like sex and alcohol.
“What have you been up to?”
His reply was honest enough, “I’ve been on tour, and just got back a couple days ago.” Doesn’t explain the smell, but he went on to explain who he is and what he does. “I manage an art store when I’m not playing, and when I’m not doing either I’m either drunk, stoned, sleeping, fighting, or fucking my girlfriend.”
His composure was befitting, and his language, unfiltered, aptly expressed a “fuck the world” attitude. He told me he was twenty-one… he looked younger than that.
I asked if he had anything he could play for me, and out of his hand he flips his touch-screen phone and provides me with some heavy sounds while we waited. I couldn’t understand the lyrics because cell phones aren’t boomboxes.
“What are you singing about?”
“Eh, mostly about why I hate girls and yet do anything for them. This song was written with my girlfriend in mind, and it became a lot more when I brought it to the band.” I could feel his words through the soft incandescence of his voice. The song had a good vibe to it, and I like when they drop the chorus line because it changes the tempo of the song radically. But why so aimless? And why all the pessimism? I pressed on, and our awkward happenstance became an impromptu interview on the subway as we slowly rode into the city.
“So what brought this all about? Why’d you guys make a band?”
“Well, it started out all fun and games. I had a couple guitars, and my friends all had instruments to work with. It really kind of fell together a year or so ago and we’ve been going forward with it ever since.”
“So you’ve been on tour lately?”
“Yeah, we just went on a back-to-back tour in California and Texas.”
“Whoa, that’s a lot of touring.”
“No shit, lots of driving with six sweaty dudes, no showers, no A/C.”
“Shit… how’d you guys keep on?”
“Lots of raw Ramen noodles and Chef Boyardee. Lots of alcohol and lots of pot.”
We laughed at the thought, and yet the truth was bitter. Going on tour is not as glamorous as it’s made out to be for your average band. It’s costly when you don’t have representation to get you from A to B. He went on to explain that the van they were touring in belonged to their friend and Chief of Security. I got a good look at this “Chief of Security” he was talking about, and he blows my fucking mind. Side profile of this guys face is blue, covered entirely in tattoo. He was bald too, a big defined head, and shoulders that suggested he was huge.
“Whoa, that’s nuts,” I said after hearing his age. Forty-four, and yet he didn’t look older than thirty.
“Yeah, tattoos tighten up the skin, so he’ll look like that his whole life.”
“No shit, he’s got tattoos on his face!”
Our conversation took a detour away from music and Looking for Alaska, and landed on tattoos and other body art. He had a bull-ring hanging from his nose, and he kept touching it, so I had to say something.
“I hear it’s bad to fuck with a piercing like that so soon after getting it put in.” He mentioned it was a week or two new.
“Yeah, it just keeps fucking with me, getting all crusty and shit. I can’t wait for it to get cleaned up.”
“Keep it clean, or you’re gonna be in deep shit. What else do you got?” It turned into a show-and-tell bragging session, appropriately done in front of a score of young, clueless girls. We sat in front of them all, but my new acquaintance didn’t waste any time acknowledging their presence. He turned around in his window seat, his right hand-held the brim of his cap, and he tilted his head around, keeping the hat in place. His eyes sneakily looked over at the prepubescent situation at 5-oclock, looked back at me with an odd look, smiled, and then went on to explain some of his more revealing body art.
“I got half a sleeve done on my right arm here, check this out.” He took off his hoodie and showed me the half-completed tattoo of a white tiger among bamboo and other designs. “This one so far has cost me $1,300, and it’s still not finished. It’s gonna’ cost me another couple hundred to fill it in with color, but so far you can see what it’s gonna’ be.”
The train approached Kenmore. He was getting out at Boylston to meet his friend and guitarist, and I was going to Lechmere to get my ass home. I noticed our window of conversation was quickly closing, so I ended our time together with some serious questions for him.
“Where do you see yourself going with the band?”
“Well, we’re signing with Check Minus Records this weekend, so things are about to move forward. We have an EP out there, recorded and pressed, and another one that we put together this year. Nobody’s heard our new shit yet; we’ve been playing the same songs live for a long time, so we’re sharp. It’s time for something new.“
Confidence. He may have been young, but he had vision, and he knew the score. Music is his art, and art is his life, he would say. You have to live your life and make your art because you only have one moment and it’s not worth wasting.
In Looking for Alaska’s case, the dream is there, and these guys are consistently putting out. I heard recently that they have just added a new member to their group (six in total now), so their image is changing, like their music, like their lives. I went home and listened to some of their stuff on their MySpace and Facebook sites. It reminded me of bands that pushed the boundaries of modern rock, fresh with quality breaks and rhythm that suggested undertones of metal and hard southern rock.
Honestly, I am not an avid listener of the stuff, but it opened my eyes to a type of lyrical passion only expressed in a few styles, and I can see why people eat it up. They certainly have a following, and have only begun to get their hands dirty in the national music scene. I can see this group taking solace in various tours with other major groups and labels, growing in the metal music scene, networking, and hopefully, playing somewhere in Europe for those metal-loving rockers abroad. That’ll be the moment when they’ve gone there and back with their music and their message.