The Year the Suburbs Tried to Kill Me… Monkey Power Trio 20

The weekend before last marked the 20th meeting of my one-day-a-year audio art collaborative, the Monkey Power Trio. For those of you who might not be familiar with our origin story, it all began back in 1995 with a promise between old friends one hot, summer afternoon in Brooklyn. On the spur of the moment, we’d decided to make a record. We gave ourselves just one hour. We gathered whatever instruments we could find, and we made our way into an unlocked basement storage room somewhere, where we proceeded to scream and beat on things while an old cassette recorder whirred away, suspended from a string tied to sewage pipe. The result was a 7″ record, which we decided to call The First Hour, acknowledging the fact that we’d agreed, shortly after finishing, to meet up and do the same exact thing every year until the point when only one of us was left alive. And, surprisingly, we’ve stayed true to our word for 20 years now, despite the fact that, every year, it becomes exponentially more difficult for the five of us to get away from our real-world obligations and express ourselves creatively.

This year, we met in a far-flung suburb of Atlanta. I think it’s safe to say that no one in the band, except for the one of us who suggested suburban Atlanta as a venue, was looking forward to it. We’d been to Atlanta before, and it was terrible. Without getting into too much detail, I’ll just say that the energy was wrong. We made some really beautiful music, but most of us, by the end, had come down with the flu, each of us sequestered in a different bathroom, vomiting and shitting our guts out. And, I think, in large part, that’s why we didn’t want to revisit the suburban hellscape that exists an hour north of Atlanta. And, more importantly, there’s nothing the least bit inspiring about being trapped a few dozen miles from civilization, cut off from the real world by a solid wall of Chili’s and Hooters. But Number Four was persistent. He told us that, if we came to him this year, he’d take care of everything, and arrange for a beautiful, rural lake house where we could record. “All of your needs will be satisfied,” he assured us. We knew it was bullshit, as everything he’s ever said has been bullshit, but, as no one else had come forward to offer us a free venue, we gave in.

Needless to say, there was no beautiful lake house. And very few, if any, of our needs were met. He didn’t even pick us up from the airport. Sure, he’d bought an enormous bottle of Fireball Whiskey, which, according to what I’m reading today, is really more antifreeze than it is whiskey, and a big bag of beef jerky, but that was pretty much it… As it’s still more than he’s ever done for the band, though, I suppose it’s a step in the right direction.

So, we spent the weekend trapped in this god-forsaken southern suburb, sleeping in the beds of kids who, after a relatively ugly divorce, now live most of the week with their mother, who lives in another suburb, and trying as best that we could not to lose our minds… which is actually more difficult than it sounds, given the personalities of the men in our collective, and the pressure inherent in our format. Trying to write and record a dozen or so songs in one day, without as much as a single note or phrase having been written beforehand, would probably be difficult for even the most well-adjusted person. And, for someone like me, who’s incredibly fearful, insecure, and sensitive, it’s hell on earth. And it’s that pressure that forced me out of the house on Friday morning, before we started taping.

Immersed in a full-body panic attack, I told Number Four that I intended to take a walk around his neighborhood. Knowing that I’d likely get lost, he directed me instead to the dark green algae hole at the bottom of his lush, green backyard. “Go to the lake,” he said, “pointing down the steep hill behind his house.” And, fearful of running into any of his neighbors, I took his suggestion.

Before going any further, it probably bears repeating that I hate the suburbs, especially relatively new ones that are full of poorly constructed mcmansions. This is doubly true when said homes are full of delusional people who, for reasons they don’t quite understand themselves, are aspiring to be something that they’re not. I just find the whole things terribly sad.

It’s a theme that’s come up again and again over the years in the work of the Monkey Power Trio. Here, for example, is a song we did a few years ago that never made a record. It’s called Cupcake Fistfight. (I liked the idea of the song, but we only played it twice before moving on, and we never quite got it… which is really one of the most frustrating, and beautiful, parts of Monkey Power. We never play anything more than two or three times. And we never work on songs. We just don’t have the time. We have to keep digging for new nuggets of gold in the dirt of our collective unconscious.)

I should add that I’d seen this lake in Number Four’s backyard several years ago, back when the house was relatively new, and the family was still intact. There had been a barbecue on the back deck, and we were surrounded by his neighbors, who, as I recall, were all worked up over the fact that a truck “just full of Mexicans” had been reported in the area. I remember looking down toward the lake, pointing to all of the artificially green lawns surrounding it, and speculating as to what the future might hold for it, after a decade or so of Chemlawn run-off. “Nothing will be able to live in that lake,” I said. “It’a lake of death, in a suburb of sadness.”

So, on this Friday morning, I walked down to the lake, thinking that I’d stare out into it for a half hour or so, while everyone else set up their amps, and see if I might be able to see any signs of life. And it was there, at the edge of the water, that I found a canoe, which, as an Eagle Scout, I felt compelled to slip into the water.

And this is when things started to go wrong.

My first mistake was thinking that this was actually a real lake. I thought, naively, that this was a natural lake, and, as such, followed the rules of lakes that I’d come to know over the course of the past 40 plus years. Most notably, I thought that the water would be relatively shallow just off the edge of the bank, and grow deeper as I moved out. This, however, wasn’t the case. This lake, as I’d soon discover, was manmade, and didn’t grow gradually deeper as you moved away from the shoreline. No, it was essentially a quarry filled to the brim with slime and water. Its steep, 90-degree walls had been dug on each side by heavy machinery. So there was nothing past the shoreline except for a several 100 foot drop, straight down into the dark green abyss.

Something else that may be useful for you to know, a lake fed by lawn chemicals for over a decade, produces a shit load of algae, which, when growing on the surface of solid rock, is slipperier than an eel in a bucket of lube.

What actually happened is still kind of a blur. I remember rolling the canoe over, and sliding it halfway into the water, from the back. And then, I think, I must have walked around to the side, where I kind of pushed it a bit further in, thinking that I’d hop in the back. As it turns out, I didn’t make it that far. As I was leaning and pushing, I think I must have put my right foot an inch or so into what I was expecting to be shallow water, right along the edge of the lake, thinking that I could push off slowly, while swinging my left leg in. What I neglected to factor in, however, as I noted above, is that there was no shallow water. So, when I stepped just an inch into the water, hoping to find solid footing, what I found was nothingness, and I fell forward. My right foot immediately disappeared into the dark green lake, followed by my left. Thankfully, I was able to grab the side of the canoe with my left arm as I was falling, and, somehow, I was able to grab the shore with my right, stopping me from going completely beneath the surface of the slime. So, for a long moment, I was just suspended there, between canoe and shoreline, trying to decide what to do. (Happily, though, the panic attack that had brought me to the lake had abruptly come to an end.)

Thankfully, even though the canoe was moving farther from shore, I was able to hold onto the bank with my right hand. I franticly tried to climb out, but couldn’t. The sides of the lake, as I mentioned, were solid vertical rock, coated with algae, and I couldn’t get a grip… At the same time, it kept running through my head that I couldn’t let this friend’s canoe go, as I’d never hear the end of it. In retrospect, I probably should have just taken off my shoes and jeans, let go of the canoe, and swam further down the shoreline, to a point where I could grab onto a tree and pull myself out. As it was, though, for whatever reason, I decided to just work my way down the shoreline inch by inch, pulling the canoe along with me, feeling around with my feet for a notch in the rock that I could fit either my knee or part of my shoe into. And, thankfully, after a few minutes, I was able to find a crack, get some leverage, and pull myself out on my belly… anticipating the uproarious laughter that would soon be directed at me, and calculating the chances that the phone in my pocket, which was already broken, might survive. (It didn’t.)

I don’t think I was ever in any real danger, but it does make you think. If I hadn’t been stone cold sober, what might have happened? If I’d hit my head as I fell toward the canoe, and gone completely under, what are the odds that this story might have ended differently? And how would my friends have responded, had they found me, floating dead, face-down in the slime? Would they have gone on to record? And would all of the songs have been about my death?

For the past month or so, I’ve had this sense of impending doom. The first time I sensed it, I was working at the Water Street Sculpture Park, when I lost my balance, having just climbed out of a four foot deep hole lined with jagged pieces of concrete, which I’d just dug to accommodate my most recent artwork. I started falling back into the hole, which had a two-foot long piece of rebar coming out of the bottom, when, at the last second, I was able to shift my weight and fall to the side instead of being impaled. And then there was the incident at the lake. Then, on Halloween night, the family and I just missed a fatal 9-vehicle pile-up on 75 by one minute. If we’d been just a minute faster with our trick-or-treating, we would have been right in the middle of it. Instead, we came to a stop just a mile away from the wreck, were we sat at a standstill for over five hours, as the coroners and emergency crews did their work. I suspect we all have these near misses all of the time, and just don’t think about it. Maybe it’s just a function of age. But I’m very much feeling the fragility of life these days. And I’m realizing how damn fortunate that I am.

Here, for those of you who are interested, is the scene of my underwater adventure in the suburbs of Atlanta.

atlantcanoe

Was it the suburbs seeking revenge for a Cupcake Fistfight and a lifetime of ranting? I’m not a huge believer in such things, but I suppose that somewhere, that Friday morning, the forces of good and evil were fighting over my soul.

I’m just happy that I didn’t meet my end in a barren manmade lake in the the middle of a sea of decaying mcmansions. While I could appreciate the irony, that’s not how I want to go out.

note: This Monkey Power session would have gone done in the history books as “the year that Matt woke up early and jogged,” if not for the fact that I almost drowned. Now it will forever be known as “the year that Mark fell in the lake.”

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7 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted November 3, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of drowning…..

    The chair of a state Republican Party had this to say yesterday about Democrats:

    “Push their heads under the water over and over again until they cannot breathe anymore.”

    The audience applauded.

    http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/push-their-heads-under-the-water-until-they-cannot-breathe

  2. Elviscostello
    Posted November 3, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Mark, Life is random, ugly, horrifying, and beautiful. I just lost a friend of 41 years who stumbled and fell in his driveway, hitting his head on the concrete. He had surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain, but never regained conciousness, and died this morning. A step one inch over and he’s probably here today. Its all chaos.

  3. Oliva
    Posted November 4, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    So glad you survived. Keep surviving! We love and need you.

  4. Rick Snyder
    Posted November 4, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    http://imgur.com/yvezbxK

  5. idea man
    Posted November 4, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    A horror franchise is reborn!

    http://imgur.com/oHmojBc

  6. John Galt
    Posted November 4, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    “Tip a canoe and Maynard too.”

    If you wererunning for office, I would have had signs made.

  7. Chrissy Danguilan
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    OK two things you freak. 1!!!!! OMG YOU ARE AN EAGLE SCOUT?! That explains soooo much, so much outsider quality oozing off of you. Kudos, my man. Thing 2. Fuck the lake, it was not the lake trying to kill you, maybe not even the suburb but the fatal intersectionality of a fake lake+a suburb+in Atlanta. You are so lucky you have not left behind a widow and orphans my friend.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] or otherwise vacant homes of friends, distant family members and casual acquaintances. Last year, we recorded in a soulless suburban McMansion of a recently divorced couple outside of Atlanta. The year before that, we recorded in some kind of converted grain silo outside of Jackson Hole, […]

  2. […] know what you’re thinking… Given how terrible things went the last time we met up in the remote suburbs of Atlanta, why would we do it again, instead of going somewhere exotic and interesting, like Lake Tahoe , or […]

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