Meeting Your Heroes

words x Vittoria Benzine

I had been depressed before, but never like that. The first time I experienced an episode withW symptoms resembling those in the pamphlets guidance counselors give parents, I was fifteen. I had no business being in a relationship at that age, my propensity to love was far too precocious, my acuity with emotional terrorism startlingly advanced. The intensity of my first “real” relationship dragged it to the border of abuse, making accomplices out of both of our inexperienced hands. The ensuing insecurity plunged me under my covers. Endless evenings played out there during the winter of 2010, while I fantasized over dwindling away to dust.

Three years and one more messy relationship later, I was significantly less helpless to face the condition’s onset than I’d been the first time. In that span, I’d granted credence to my potential power; People liked me, and I realized that I just might have the weight required to achieve a life greater than the mundane existence fated for me in Central PA. This depression, this breakup, coincided with the gift of a Verbatim CD, its face blank, but its capacity loaded with Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary. Though my confidence in my own intelligence was growing, I simply accepted I’d never be as smart as my friend Willam who’d gifted me the CD. He had British parents, older siblings studying in Chicago, and a book-cluttered home. As a result, he had impeccable taste in everything. I didn’t know if the album would appease my comparatively uncultured tastes, but I did know that it would possess great artistic merit.

I received this CD during the first year I had my drivers license. My tight little 2001 Saturn with roll-down windows and manual locks skirted all over the Susquehanna Valley’s ample hills while I grappled with my impending adulthood, hoping to outwit the countless forces beyond my control. That was the year it became impossible to ignore how differently I drank from my peers. Alcohol had, after all, ruined my latest relationship – the fake cheating I allowed him to believe had actually happened, the sobbing fights, and my otherwise timid boyfriend pulling into a shopping plaza before a party to chastise me: “You are incapacitated.” I had no idea how my escalating alcohol abuse was affecting my daily mood, but a misanthropy brewed. I tried to play it off like I was becoming Daria, but this was not a self I could be comfortable in.

The pounding percussive beats that open Wolf Parade’s debut album lent strength to my tentative rage. I sensed a new breed of depression taking shape, a black vengeful one that spat in faces to the tune of Violent Femmes. “Watching you run, farther than guns will go,” bleats lead singer Spencer Krug on “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son,” his signature pitch approaching a wail. The song is direct and unforgiving. I had driven another well-intentioned lover away thanks to a malice I could not get my hands around. I was angry with my destiny to die alone. I felt spited, too, by my hopeful sentimentality that had fooled me into believing in some alternate, saccharine ending.

That album became emblematic of such a difficult period in my life that I came to regard it with mystical fear. In my apathy, my method for storing CDs, trash, even treasured belongings in my car became very straightforward: throw it on the ground. When I came home for breaks from college, I resumed the old habits, fishing for something to listen to while I drove the familiar roads, grappling again, though this time while vibrating from the 50mg Vyvanse pills I bought in bulk “to sell” yet always finished on my own. One crystal cold night at the tail end of 2015, I found that scratched Verbatim CD on the floor, turning it over in my hands for a brief moment to decide if I really wanted to go there. Then, with a brusque frown, I popped it in and popped another pill. I scream-sang in Krug’s ilk to every word from that iconic cymbal at the beginning to the chord concluding electric cacophony at the end. I repeated the masochistic ritual twice more, drowning in the sorrowful reality that I had moved to New York and was supposedly on the road to achieving everything I’d ever wanted, but was too lost, too empty and lethargic to feel anything beyond the highs alcohol and amphetamines produced. When the sun came up, I plunged under my covers again and wept for my imminent return to the city, muttering “I’ll take you where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.”

By Spring 2019, I had long-since accepted that those substances were the root of my problems. I am emotional and flighty, but these attributes allow me to see stories in the mundane. Because they enable me to partake in my craft, they should be tended to rather than muted. Armed with sixteen months of cumulative sobriety, punctuated only by one short relapse square in the middle, I felt as if I was learning to collaborate with the traits I had once considered faults. It helped that by that time, I was gearing up to move into a converted warehouse apartment in Williamsburg, complete with a private elevator to my bedroom and skyline views from the roof only one floor above.

For the first time in my brief but emotionally saturated existence, I had precisely the life I wanted. I had my dream home, dream boyfriend, and a rising writing career. When I discovered the joyous mania titled “Mending of the Gown” by Sunset Rubdown, it was the perfect complement to an enthrallment so violent it threatened to short-circuit my synapses. The lyric “it was the tender mending of this slender gown that brought me bending to the ground,” resonated deeply with me. A glint of late-spring sun off the Chrysler Building or the rustling of leaves in Central Park could set my arms ablaze with goose bumps. The right kiss had the power to flatten me.

While I sat on the Keystone Amtrak train returning to New York after a visit home, I noticed an advertisement for a show at (le) Poisson Rouge. It highlighted the incoming act of Spencer Krug, of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. A prompt Google search confirmed the connection. I was somewhat amazed, though it made sense. Each group produced music that shook me on a cellular level, generating guttural emotions. Of course the author of my many-flavored psychoses had to be Krug. Of course I had to see that show.

It was sold out by the time I discovered it. I made plans to drive to Pittsburgh for Krug’s date at Club Cafe. Fortunately, an exciting feature of my expanding fantasy life is a companion with far-reaching connections. He texted me the day before to say we were in for the show at LPR.

I learned that Krug had worked extensively under a solo stage name, Moonface. I decided not to listen to any of this solo music in anticipation of his show, though I assumed this was what he would perform. I wanted the material to be fresh to my ears. Seeing Krug in the flesh was to be a meditative experience in search of closure, the acceptance of some bygone era’s final passing. An aspiring writer myself, I wanted his words to wash over me. A longtime steward of his work, I wanted to roll around in everything his career meant to me.

Upon entering the venue, I was shocked to recall that this was my first concert during this round of sobriety. The sensory cues tag teamed me at once – dim, red lighting illuminating rows of inviting bottles, the strange antiseptic smell I associate with bars. There are so many lives I want to lead, but this is the one I picked because it provides the most overall satisfaction. Still, I mourn this life’s lost brethren, like the parallel existence where I’m a roadie for some C-list indie act. There, I traverse the country’s secondary markets, peddling band t-shirts to salivating hipster men while nursing four double shot gin and tonics every evening. I looked to my boyfriend with tears in my eyes and said, “I wish I was in Kansas City,” before swallowing my sadness whole. No, we were going to have a good night.

After several redirects, we settled into our permanent standing room spot for the show, positioned directly behind Krug’s back. The artist remarked upon the venue’s unique arrangement before beginning his set, assessing the sea of audience members seated at dinner tables on the elevated mezzanine in front of him. I gathered that “In The Round” at LPR means an intimate show where the performer sits in the middle of the crowd. Attendees seemed intent rather than expectant, thrilled to see what kind of emotions this legend might dredge up for them too.

The show was musically dense, with very few conversational interruptions. I allowed my mind to wander while Krug played. He’s an artist’s artist – his songs are long and theatrical, dynamic with stretches of crescendo, mezzoforte, and sudden pianissimo. His raw musicality is only matched by his lyricism, though I went into the show primed with this insight. On a superficial level, my mind parsed the words, and I tried to measure myself against them. Could I ever be that good? As I allowed my eyes to be hypnotized by the agile dance of his hands over the keys, my subconscious unfurled. I felt the days and feelings from the past six years, the span in which I’ve known I’m an alcoholic, spread themselves out. From the vantage point of this new life, where Krug and I are compatriots of language, the memories possessed a comfort with which they’ve never approached me before. In Krug’s solo songs, I found something between the black anger and frenetic mania that characterized my perceptions of his other two projects.

I waited nearly forty five minutes after the show to meet the man himself. “This feels creepy,” I told my companion, who chatted with his friends from the venue while I chain-smoked American Spirits to quell my nerves.

Krug sauntered out of the venue, and I did my best to eradicate all aggression from my greeting. In that moment, I learned a profound lesson on meeting your heroes: they are just people. Sitting at his piano, the musician had looked large, powerful. The faintest touch of concentration allowed me to see the back muscles working beneath his flannel shirt with remarkable clarity. Standing in front of me, he was dark and astonishingly compact. A distinct intelligence lurked behind his brown eyes, with pupils ringed by a halo of amber. Intuitively, I could feel he was jaded, and I willed myself to employ a disarming amount of self deprecation to put him at ease. I really wanted to verbally accost him. I almost did. “So, I didn’t know any of the songs you just played, but my friend burned me a Wolf Parade CD in high school and I used to think it was cursed,” I opened. Confusion momentarily clouded his face, and I kept talking in hopes of recalibrating.

I didn’t end up saying even a quarter of the things I’d intended to him. While I did tell this famed musician that his work has influenced mine heavily, I didn’t tell him about my storied past with it; the depression, the anger, substance abuse, heartbreak, or more recent fits of seizing jubilance. It’s not his burden to bear, and I wasn’t sure he’d be pleased to hear about it. Instead, he conversed rather easily with my boyfriend and I, even allowing me to include here that he thinks Family Guy is a “bad show.” In that moment, I realized we are peers. He is no longer an object of idolatry to me.

Krug had established this status in my mind through the lyrics he wrote. They don’t make sense upon first listen. His music is as experimental as it is expressive. The emotions that once threatened to destroy me, but now prove my strongest assets, are all multi-faceted hybrids. After that last high school breakup, I developed crippling abandonment issues, yet I occasionally get off to the idea of my boyfriend fucking other women. I refuse to let go of my sadnesses because melancholy makes me happy. I see this complexity in Krug’s music, vague enough to transpose my personal narratives onto. I have seen this ever since I learned one could experience a depression so deep that only the imagined scent of blood in the water could provide comfort. I have seen it since the last days of my adolescence, where lost love had me crying out for “your blood, your bones, your voice, and your ghost.”

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