A Memorial I Don’t Know How To Write

One year ago, On June 22, 2010, I cried for the first time in a long time. It was in front of, essentially a perfect stranger, in the middle of a giant room filled with perfect strangers. Talk about being out of my element. Through the most choked out, incoherent nonsense, I spoke to a woman, so obviously drunk on wine about what seemed like a tiny moment, but apparently was not a tiny moment. As the words came out of my mouth, the impact they had actually had on my life were pretty fucking profound. A mantra, a philosophy, words to live by if you will. They were so simple.

I can not pinpoint, in the shredded fabric that serves as my memory, when I first met Clark Sabine. I remember that I loved his band Motorcycle Wars. To get into the hows and whys is so irrelevant at this point. But anyway, it started with me begging the guys at Now! Compact Discs if my band, The Magnums, could open for Motorcycle Wars at an in store. When Ben said yes a week later, I was so excited. No one in my band cared about this show, outside it being a chance to play, but I was thrilled. I had gotten very caught up in the Motorcycle Wars vs Dead Teenagers “War”. I thought it was the best thing to ever happen to punk in DC. It made fun of how fucking serious the music scene seemed, and the whole thing was so refreshing. I will not deny that I really wanted to be a part of that. And this show, I got to be for a moment. I remember it for three things that occurred: 1) Ian Mackaye was at the show and it totally freaked me out that HE was going to watch ME play music. 2) Bonnie Schlegel tackled me during our set. 3) Clark gave my band props from the stage. It meant a lot to me, because, as vain as it sounds to write, there were a lot of people I wanted to impress that day. Like I said, there was something going on in DC and I wanted to be a part of it, and in that moment Clark made me feel like I was.

A few weeks later, I had the privileged of seeing The Motorcycle Wars at the Kansas House. The tragedy of this part of my life was that I did not have a drivers license. This was because I had gotten a DUI in September of 2000. So, part of the reason these shows have such a significant prominence in my mind is because I went to so few and it took so much effort to go. I think, by this point, I was living in Fairfax and could catch shows in Arlington before the metro closed. This was before Metro was open super late on weekends. Anyway, I digress. After the show a bunch of people walked down from Kansas House to the Galaxy Hut to drink some beers. I tagged along with a bunch of people who were, essentially faint acquaintances. Somehow, in the crowd of people I actually got caught up in a conversation with Clark. We were having a typical bar talk, deep and esoteric. At some point, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. No joke, it was pretty much that straight forward. I said that I really wanted my band, The Magnums, to be able to tour and make records for like 7 or eight years. Nothing big, just a good, solid run. Clark said to me, “You can totally do that if you want. You just have to plant the seed. Once you plant the seed, it will grow. Maybe it won’t grow into what you want it to be, or maybe, no matter what you do it won’t grow at all. But what’s important is that you planted the seed.”

I was kicked out of the Magnums  in July of 2001. I got really drunk on Gin and had a diva moment at a show in a roller rink in Ocean City. And while I think it’s pretty ironic that I got kicked out of a rock and roll band for being an asshole, I acted like a petulant, ungrateful child that night. I guess I decided to stomp on that seed. However, a few days later, after I got over this episode and the fallout, Clark’s words totally made this not seem that bad. I had tried, I gave it everything I had and did what I could to make it grow. But what was important was I planted the seed. What was important was that I had tried in the first place. That philosophy, that mind set is perfect because it pushes you and comforts you at the same time. Things tend to grow the way they will. You just have to try and nurture them.

Clark’s death hit me really hard. A lot harder than I would have expected. I did not know him very well. I would run into him at shows from time to time and talk to him for five minutes every few months. I never hung out with him, I didn’t really know him at all. He was a guy that played in bands and was into some of the same things that I was. So my reaction to his death surprised me. I know part of it was that he was my age and he was gone. Part of it was how he died and the circumstances surrounding his illness. Clark died after a battle with Skin Cancer. You don’t think people get skin cancer, I mean unless they are those idiotic orange people that spend time under tanning beds.

At his memorial, surrounded by so many “punk kids” from “the scene” I was shocked. I knew some people pretty well, but like Clark, most of them were just people I knew from seeing their band play, or working at a bar or a club or something mundane like that. It’s strange to be in a room with so many people whose art is your life. Not just a part of your life, but is what you live and breath for. And I’m not going to lie, I felt like I was trespassing that day. I didn’t even want to go, I just felt compelled to be there. Something about all of this just drove me towards that country club out in Fairfax.

It saved my life. I believe this. After spilling my selfish guts out to Clark’s sister, through water wine eyes, she basically said that to honor her brother, she implored his friends to see a dermatologist about any moles they had. I promised her I would. If you know me well, you know I don’t make promises unless I intend to keep them. I know myself very well, and I can’t hold myself to anything. I don’t know why. But I held myself to this. And it saved my life. I’ve had two irregular moles removed and two more are being biopsied probably as I write this. I found out that I have higher risk for skin cancer.

For a year, since all this happened it’s really fucked me up to think that Clark had to die so that I could, live? Not get skin cancer? I don’t know. I can’t really articulate the sadness I feel, the confusion I feel about all this. I think about Clark everyday of my life now. This is a person I knew mostly from making a fool of himself for people with a band that broke up, what nine, ten years ago? I think about all the things in my life, about how I got to that point and it fucks with my head, because it’s all fucking coincidental. If I went over it here, this would turn into a novella and I would probably go mad. I’ve learned how fragile and precious life is. And man, that has really fucked with my head. Mostly, I feel foolish about my feelings. They seem so misplaced. The sadness and grief don’t make sense to me at all. It’s not, “logical”. I get depression. When I am depressed, that shit I understand and can cope with. This is a grief that seems so ridiculous for me to have, but I’ve never felt something so intently.

A few months ago I asked Clark’s girlfriend Rebbecca (I believe I  directed you here earlier), after my first surgery, if she would send me a picture of a tattoo of his. It’s a bare tree surrounded by a border. I always loved that tattoo. I just thought it was really great, with a fantastic image caught in a frame. It was really stark and intense. I definitely get tattoo jealous sometimes, and Clark’s tree was up there. Had he been alive, of course I would have never stolen the image, or even the concept from him. That’s just bad tattoo etiquette. And even though it doesn’t seem likely, I didn’t want to ever forget this man that I barely knew. Suddenly, he was such a part of my life, and needing such a self destructive reminder of him just seems idiotic. I grappled with actually getting it for a long long time. And in the end, aside from serving as a memorial to Clark and a reminder to me of what everything he has given me, it can be a conversation starter. I want to share Clark’s philosophy, embody it in my life as best as I can, and to me this tattoo is the visual personification of my mantra, “Plant the Seed”.

Clark, you are with me every step of the way. I am not half the man that you were, but I am trying everyday to find the hope, the joy, the passion and the energy. When I want to give in, give up and turn off, I think about you and the life that you lived and what you clearly gave to so many people in this tiny, fucked up world. It keeps me going. It keeps me in check and I can’t thank you enough. Thank you too, for bringing Rebbecca into my life. She is an amazing angel and is the living embodiment of your philosophy. Though I would give up our friendship in a second if it would negate your death and bring you back to her, I cherish her being in my life more than this crumbled language can truly express. She is rare being, and I am blessed to know her. I miss you, friend. Thank you for all that you have given me. Even in death, you do not rest. It’s remarkable and beautiful.

The photo above of Clark was taken by Leigh Kelsy. I didn’t ask her if I could use it, but her flickr page says it’s cool so long as I credit her. I am humble and grateful for this image of Clark to accompany this piece. Leigh, if you read this and are pissed, let me know and I will take the photo down.

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