Fall / Break

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…

– Thomas Merton

Hastings College, Nebraska – October 1983.

Mike was a friend, but he mostly went his own way. His long-lashed eyes he cast downward at least as often as casting them up. Already slender, he made himself still smaller by keeping his arms confidently tight to his trunk, and perhaps by hunching over a bit like someone purposefully lurking in a dark alleyway.

He lived alone and spent most of his time alone. Some things were easily observable about him – he was creative, smart, and easily bored. Then there were things about him you couldn’t quite square up – he was alternately blasé and then quietly dramatic. He often seemed intensely confused and took great pleasure in confusing others. With just a smile he could give you a conspiratorial thrill that would make you so happy – yet the smile might be likely to also confound you.

For a certain type of person, Mike was a tastemaker. He was an early-80s punk in attitude and appearance – a snarl never far from his lips – a shaved flop haircut hid his handsome and angular face – safety pins in his clothes and earlobes – Kool smoke swirling about him, a delicious fog.

Mike was a campus exotic. A person bedeviled by the insistent light of nonconformity that burned so brightly from within, in spite of his own shading protestations of normalcy.

Insistent light in autumn.
Insistent light in autumn.

With a group of theatre students that I counted as my closest friends, I had rehearsed Macbeth for weeks and performed four shows for audiences when fall break came around. The leaves of the campus maples and crabapples had begun their glorious transformation to the colors of straw and blood, and bright warm days shortened then jelled into brisk nights.

For most Hastings College students in 1983 fall break meant heading home for a few days or a quick vacation. For theatre students it meant sticking around a mostly deserted campus with the intention of catching up on studies. Instead, it actually consisted of a lot of sitting around smoking cigarettes, hanging out drinking coffee, shooting the bull, listening to music. Probably with my group of friends we busied ourselves attempting to strike a casual balance between laughing a lot and complaining about being misunderstood.

A long way to fall.
A long way to fall.

If you’ve ever practiced anything, you know that rehearsing is not typically a glamorous endeavor. Unless you are playing a lead role you must be prepared often to simply be quiet – to silently stand or sit – watching and listening to action you are not a part of, but of which you will become a part.

Fall break was a bit like that in 1983, not much action. They were lazy days on campus with few people around, no classes, and very little structure. Mike was edgy and extra bored with the time on his hands and little to stimulate him.

He was playing the role of Lennox, a Scottish nobleman and an eventual messenger of most urgent and bloody news. He was especially good in his critical scene that opened with Lennox running toward an opening in the curtain. Forcefully shouting his line while still offstage Mike burst through the curtains that led to an open and fenceless balcony. Swirling his cape with a flourish, Lennox was supposed to rush onto a seven by eight foot platform, nine feet above the stage. There was a lot of backstage time before that scene…. So, how does one scratch the unreachable itch of boredom?

This is true…

A couple of hours before the final pick up rehearsal of Macbeth, our friend took a hit and half of acid. Things went a little wobbly early on in rehearsal and then all to hell when Mike took the stage for his big


His entrance in Act III, Scene IV was wildly purposeful, and his speech was grave, rambling, and accusatory. That evening, he would not deliver all of his lines.

ACT III, SCENE IV. –- Forres. A Room in the Palace.

Enter Lennox and another Lord.

(Mike had serious momentum gathered as he broke through the curtains.)

LENNOX: My former speeches have but hit your thoughts,

Which can interpraahhhhhhhhhhhh!…

The rubber sole of his suede boot had become tangled in his waving cape and he was not able to plant his front foot. He went flying off the platform, landing on his hip with no attempt to break the fall. His body hitting the stage made a horrific sound – really more of a noise – a powerful splatting slap.

EMTs learned his name as they surrounded Mike, checking him out on the stage floor in the theater. As they loaded him on the gurney and rolled him toward the ambulance, they asked him lots of questions, trying to calm him. They wanted information about how the accidental fall happened.

Disoriented from the shock of horrible pain and the acid effects, Mike mostly rocked to and fro on his side, moaning, clawing at his tunic.

EMT ONE: (Insistent.) What happened in there, Mike?

EMT TWO: (Urgent.) What caused you to trip, Mike? Mike, did you just trip?

MIKE: (Suddenly clear. Intense.) NO. I’m not tripping. I’m NOT tripping.

But man, was he ever.

We listened to a lot of rock and even folk rock in those days, but the influence of punk and post punk music on me was more intense in many ways. It is not very surprising that the music I liked so much, (The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees,) would come to influence not only my taste, but other musicians I would grow to also love. Much of that is due to the times I spent with Mike. He had cool music going all the time.

So, speaking of tripping, I would not have predicted how much I would come to love the synth and computer generated music of trip hop that made the scene in the early 1990s. But man, do I ever.

Dig these tunes and forget that extra half a hit. (Links are underlined in italics.)

AlphaSometime Later by Alpha, from Come From Heaven (1997 Melankolic / Virgin Records).

Somewhere Not Here by Alpha, from Come From Heaven (1997 Melankolic / Virgin Records).

Soul City by Bowery Electric, from Lushlife (2000 Beggars Banquet).

What Your Soul Sings by Massive Attack w/ Sinéad O’Connor, from 100th Window (2003 Virgin Records).

Protection by Massive Attack w/ Tracey Thorn, from Protection (1994 Virgin Records)

Black Milk by Massive Attack w/ Elisabeth Fraser, from Mezzanine (1998 Virgin Records).

beth gibbons
BETH GIBBONS / Portishead

Only You by Portishead, from Roseland NYC – Live (1998 Go! Discs, London).

Pumpkin by Tricky w/ Alison Goldfrapp, from Maxinquaye (1995 Island Records).

Bloodstain by Unkle, from Psyence Fiction (1998 Mo’ Wax).

Polaris by Zero 7, from Simple Things (2001 Palm Pictures / Ultimate Dilemma).

Destiny by Zero 7, from Simple Things (2001 Palm Pictures / Ultimate Dilemma).

Thank you Mike.

21 oct 2014

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