Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drive this 7" wooden paint brush through my Philadelphia heart

The year was 1997. I was a 15 year old hardcore kid living in Polyglot flyer-plastered room in rural Maine with nothing but a small and dear record, tape, and zine collection connecting me to the outside world of what was then called the "hardcore community". Through various means, including but not limited to a hardcore radio show from New Hampshire that I picked up once a week by holding my boom box's antennae at just the right angle, zines I picked up at the shows I could convince my Dad to drive me to ("... it's only 45 minutes away Dad and BLOOD FOR BLOOD is plaaaaaying! Pleeeeease??!?!"), the bands who toured up to Maine (Blood For Blood, Hatebreed, and 25 Ta Life mainly), and most importantly my Very Distribution catalog, I learned about new music.

This is how it went: Once a week I would hear new bands on the radio. I would write down the names of those I liked on my "to order" list. If I went to see a band I dug and they shouted out a band I'd never heard, I'd also add them to the list. (For example, I can thank 25 Ta Life for introducing me to Warzone through endless "As One" covers.) And lastly, I would read through my Very Distribution catalog, highlighting any band that sounded interesting (using various colors of highlighter to signify my varying level of interest) and throw them on the list, too. Then I would comb the streets for cans to return for a deposit, or wait for a holiday to get a little money and then make the huge and arduous decision of which of my listed and highlighted bands would get ordered. 

There were always oh-so-many bands described as "heavy", "metallic", and "straight edge" (instantly earning them a yellow highlight), and I had been burned several times by betting on the wrong record (Plagued With Rage's 7", for example), so I ordered carefully. On one particular ordering spree in '97, Ink and Dagger's "Drive This Seven Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart" had piqued my interest with its odd title, made the cut, and arrived at my little home in the middle of nowhere... just in the nick of time.

All of us have bands that represent pivotal moments in our lives. For me everything is always politics, that's just the way I am (and maybe why I've always loved Feminism so much- "the personal is political"), so my "important" bands are those that led me down a more resistant path. (I guess you could call it "the path of resistance"... heyo!) Ten Yard Fight pulled me out of drug and alcohol addiction, One King Down led me to veganism, Boy Sets Fire made me see the connection between animal and human suffering, Trial reminded me that hardcore could be a place for intelligent (radical) ideas, 25 Ta Life (hate all you want) made me realize that for angry, poor, ripped-off kids like me there could be "strength through unity", but there was still an element missing for me in hardcore. Something punk rock (a scene I never felt was mine) had that we didn't. A lawless side.

Hardcore was very by-the-rules. It was a particular band playing a particular sub-genre singing about a particular selection of regurgitated (but somehow never tiring) topics. Tough guy bands sung about fighting and hardship. Straight edge bands sung about drugs and sell outs. Emo bands whined. Political bands sung about politics. It was like a corn field planted in straight lines. Very few surprises. I was ok with that. I was like an Idahoan. I liked livin' in the corn. But sometimes you need a little adventure in farm life. And so entered Ink and Dagger, the band that left corpse-painted crop circles in the neatly growing ideas I had of what hardcore was.

From "Drive This Seven Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart":
You are now able to do whatever you want, because you are in control of your energy, and feel free to expand and manipulate that energy into positive accomplishments. Being the new vampires, we wield our thirst for "energy" (blood) into a weapon that sees no boundaries aside from the total obliteration of the old mindsets handed down from the Gods Of Punk long ago. The new vampires set our own traditions. We have emancipated you from these chains of mortaldom. Punk is about doing whatever you want, therefor we wish you, the new vampires, to take personal meaning to this, and build upon your powers every single day.
That was it. Ink and Dagger represented the creativity I craved. They were the unselfconscious boundary pushers I needed. That I felt we all needed. They became a band so meaningful to me that I carried their 7" in my backpack all the time. I would pour over the lyrics, over those words above, and I would feel connected to and inspired by the hardcore community which I saw now as whole and rounded.

Being from Maine I never got see Ink and Dagger. When the singer died, I thought I never would. Then the line up of This Is Hardcore was announced and who was on it, but them. And not for money like so many bands (cough BOLD cough) but as a fundraiser to help a friend (good ol' "hardcore community"), which is something I could respect. And get way fucking excited over.

I do not make very much money so I don't have much to give, but I wanted to do something to honor the band I love so much. Then I thought... gee what can a face painter do for a band that used to play with their faces painted in corpse paint? Hmmmm maybe... paint faces?

So I made a plan to paint every Ink and Dagger fan at the fest in corpse paint before their set, worked it all out with the dude who set up the fest, and the morning of Ink and Dagger's set I rolled out bed, packed my brushes and my paints, and rode over to the Starlight Ballroom.

I set up my little corpse painting station at the front of the venue before Ink and Dagger's set. My friend Martine went to round up some "new vampires" for me, and much to my surprise they came. In droves. In fact the line for Ink and Dagger corpse painting became so long that Martine had to help out and we only did maybe half of the people who were there before we ran out of time. She whited faces, and I blacked them. We moved so fast I barely had time to think about how extraordinary what we were a part of was. But then I painted this one dude, and I did.

As I blacked and whited him we chatted about our love of Ink and Dagger. He seemed to get a little choked up, which confused me, until he told me that the old singer of Ink and Dagger (Sean) was a friend of his. I stopped painting and, still holding his face in my hand, expressed my sympathy for his loss. I continued to blacken his eyes as he told me how he and Sean met, what an influence Sean has been on him, and how he was getting his face painted to honor both the band and his old friend. I painted in silence for awhile, taking in the depth of what was transpiring, and then he broke my thought with, "Sean would really like this, that you're doing this. He would."

I had a sad but, for lack of a better word to describe it, kind of special moment then where I felt connected to a guy I never met and a band I never saw who had, despite the distance, helped shape a scene for me that had helped shape my life. 13 years later in an absurd hypo-allergenic theatrical way, I was able to give something back, to contribute to the immortality of the band that tried to give us immortality.

I painted my own face and jogged through the crowd to get near the stage. Their set started with an explosion of sound and light. The strobe lit up the white faces around me, I watched them stage dive and scream and throw their arms around each other in a camaraderie I rarely witness anymore. As I climbed up some one's back and crawled and rolled my way over the heads of the crowd in a desperate attempted to sing ANY of "The Road To Hell" into the mic, the world flipped and spun around me, the multicolored lights flashed and glowed, and I felt the wet spray of fake blood on my face I thought,

We wield our thirst for "energy" (blood) into a weapon that sees no boundaries aside from the total obliteration of the old mindsets handed down from the Gods Of Punk long ago. The new vampires set our own traditions.

I fell back into the crowd, into the corn field, and looked up in admiration through what seemed like the haze emanated from a freshly landed space ship, and stood amongst the new vampires in the circles that Ink and Dagger had cleared for us.

Thank you Joe, Ink and Dagger, and the hardcore community for a fantastic night.

(photos below from nikki sneakers)
the corpse paint assembly line (me above center, martine in the right hand corner, me below)


  1. Great story, thanks for sharing.

  2. We have a lot of love for you. Thank you for what you did!
    -Jennifer Layne Park

  3. I agree, this was a great story. What you did with the face painting was a really creative and sweet way to honor a band you love. I also laughed to myself about how you found out about new bands because I did the same thing but with the initial records catalog and the local college radio station.