We Who Had Never Prayed For Anything

You might not have recognized us back then. Of course we came from sickness like anyone else. Although not particularly religious, we read Ecclesiastes every day just to keep ourselves in check. We worked the jobs available to us, tucking our shirts in on Friday night, a string of months disappearing into free-fall. It seemed a rather shapeless time in social history and even our lives felt vaguely unformed, as if our purpose had not yet been revealed. At the time there was no music in our lives, not even what you would call incidental music, maybe just a snippet of "The Happy Organ" by Dave "Baby" Cortez that segued into a sports call-in show. If asked, we could not have identified the chord changes in a twelve-bar blues. Suddenly we stopped reading Ecclesiastes. Then a chain of events began.
From a lifetime of bottled-up resentment we took out a net-net lease, and gambled with money we never had, and hustled our brains out in the most vulgar and tasteless of fashion, leaving the cigarettes burning untouched in the ashtray. Things grew exponentially. We came to collect the rent when you were short, moving around the tricycles in the hall with displeasure, our flat voices devoid of passion. We gave you a lift and could've killed you there on the passenger side while we sped through yellow lights to get to work five minutes early. We voted Bush/Quayle, believing the business of America was business, vaguely aware while laughing at television sitcoms that 400,000 underground petroleum storage tanks were corroding and leaking into the water table all throughout the country, the biggest being the pool under the Chevron Oil Corporation's El Segundo, California refinery, containing as much as 200 million gallons of oil. We were introduced to the stock market by our local pastor, who moonlighted for First American National Securities, and came to our house during dinner, and answered our questions by coughing into a hanky.
Soon we found ourselves, as if in a dream, at a luncheon at the Petroleum Club on the top floor of the First Interstate Bank Building, hobnobbing with law partners and lumber brokers and chiropractors, doing exactly what they did, complaining about the niggers, about getting killed on taxes, placing the napkins on our laps a second too late. And through our networking and our atrocious golf handicapping, clumps of grass flying everywhere, we eventually got involved in the big money, the real estate deals, viciously dotting the landscape with ugly and unnecessary office buildings, ugly and unnecessary shopping centers, becoming notorious all throughout the region, forging ambitious partnerships, always being the most litigation-oriented team members, creating a new language never before spoken, where silence, partial disclosure and misrepresentation all congealed into something quite unnerving.
And at the height of all this activity God actually appeared to us in a vision, and told us what little shits we had become, that no one had the right to be nearly as cynical as we now were, and commanded that we scratch everything and move to the big American city to form a mediocre rock and roll band. And we asked what the name of this band shall be and God said that once we stumble upon it we shall know it, but that we shouldn't use Little Anthony and the Imperials because it's already been taken. And God let it be known that this was our first and last meeting and that now we must be abandoned, and that upon our arrival in the big American city there would be no gods of any denomination to turn to.
And we entered the big American city on the first night of the Full Moon Festival, in the year of the highest murder rate on record, the streets flooded with mentally disturbed homeless. And as instructed, we scoured the classified pages for used musical instruments we couldn't play, and formed a mediocre rock and roll band called The Twenty % Tippers, meanwhile leading anonymous lives in small pockets of the city, working anonymous jobs in faceless offices and warehouses, creating wealth for astoundingly humorless people. And if Aristotle was correct, that the city survives by remembering, then this was a dead city, joyless, frightening, devoid of any color or meaning, where half-awake salary workers dozed inside of suit coats on hurtling subway trains, where every entertainment poster featured a handgun, where sensitive and intelligent people had lowered their expectations to zilch, and black-white hatred was the yardstick against which all things were measured.
And we took up residence in a club on Third Street called The Sun Mountain Café, the only space clueless enough to book our mediocre ass, and Tom O'Byrne, the booking agent there, consulted the Farmer's Almanac to see what night consistently forecast the heaviest rains, and the answer was Thursday night, and he asked himself by what night had people certainly exhausted all their bread, and the answer again was Thursday night.
And thus began a series of weekly performances where The Twenty % Tippers' desperate, almost hysterical attempts to fill up this tiny club became legendary. But the task proved daunting for this was practically the last chapter in human history, where every act of signifying was carried out beneath the long frightening shadow of globally shifting production centers, of chronic fatigue syndrome, of Music Television.
And to our surprise we now found ourselves constantly praying, we who had never prayed for anything. We prayed that we might somehow encounter those not afraid of failure or intimacy, we prayed that we might find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places, we prayed that it might be hinted to us what Duke Ellington would do had he been born much later, stripped of his genius and given nothing but a Yonkers garage band to work with. Mostly we prayed ourselves sick because we didn't know where we were, because our whole lives had amounted to nothing, because we didn't know how to express our feelings and because there was no god of any denomination to look down on us and protect us and walk by our side and comfort us.
We began reading Ecclesiastes again, losing the fight to not take every single aspect of our lives for granted, sitting up most nights playing solitaire with a fifty-one card deck, slowly graduating from a mediocre to an above average rock and roll band, always feeling we were in some strange kind of hiding, almost as if waiting for instructions.
We might even see you on a Thursday night.

-- sent out as announcement for Thursday shows in April '94 at the Sun Mountain Cafe

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