LIFE & LIMB: Mike Clark on Finding & Chasing What Resonates
Michael Clark is primarily a writer, but one who plays a variety of instruments and has an intense love for all-things music-related. When I’d first met him at a friend’s DJ night, he was spending most of his days researching and writing product copy for a guitar manufacturer on Long Island. Though he has since relocated to Denver, he continues to play music with friends (some from NY) and has released solo tracks and albums (including his 2014 release Acoma Basement Blues). He grew up just outside Binghamton, has family in New Jersey and has lived all over the tri-state area for the last 10 years. This bouncing around kind of explains his diverse taste in music. When asked for his top five favorite bands, he noted The Clash, Sly & The Family Stone, The Ramones, Fucked Up and Yo La Tengo. This versatility made for a more interesting takeaway from this interview.
W: Out of all your favorite shows, what experience(s) became the most memorable?
M: I have two distinct memories that signaled two major shifts in what I thought about music. The first being a show in a bar called Hungry Charlies in Syracuse, NY [around 1997?]. The bill was almost entirely hardcore, featuring Vision of Disorder, Stillsuit, Downset and Earth Crisis. For no real reason other than a need to feel like I belonged to something, I found myself immersed in this whole idea of “hardcore” and “crews” at this point. Stillsuit cranked out a set of sci-fi oriented angular post-hardcore, but the mood seemed to shift a little during V.O.D. I noticed a lot of guys in “ninja” getup, dancing in the pit but doing a lot of intentionally defensive moves, kicking and swatting at other people during the set. The lead singer jumped into the crowd a few times and guys would grab him and push him back on stage. I found myself feeling more and more uneasy as the night went on with the overabundance of tough guys and no real sense of community. It all seemed like a gang-like instead. Downset hit the stage and knocked things out of the park. Rey Orpeza danced all around the stage while spitting some serious lyrics and emoting probably the only genuinely positive messages during the night. After their set Rey was chilling by the stage chatting it up with whoever decided to swing by. He freely gave people his beeper number who said they had a zine and wanted to interview him. I lied and said I had a zine, and had him write his beeper number on a copy of the show flyer.
The genuinely ‘real’ vibe of Rey seemed to bring everyone back down a little and the venue was pretty calm—until Earth Crisis hit the stage. From that point until the end of the show, things erupted into this wave of violence and mob-mentality that scared the shit out of me. The aggressive “fight” dancing started up again in the pit, but what also seemed to escalate was the security-to-crowd agitation ratio. Kids tried climbing onstage by chicken-walking on their friends’ shoulders. Security would strong-arm them back. First it was light shoving, then violent thrusts. Then, fists started flying. At one point I remember seeing a curly-haired kid get right to the edge of the stage, and lean in merely inches from a security guard’s face. The guard, visibly agitated, pushed him back a couple feet, to which the kid responded by lunging back toward the guard. He threw a punch at the guard’s face, never landing it, but eliciting a counter-punch from the guard. This one landed square on the kid’s face and sent him sailing back into the crowd. After that I found myself just kind of retreating inward and wondering what the hell was going on. Why was everyone doing all this horrible shit to each other if it was all about “crews” and “brothers”. I remember leaving the venue feeling mentally and physically worn out, and heavily reassessing what I thought mattered in music…
A short time after, still feeling pretty disillusioned by that show, I went to see Fugazi on their farewell (ok ok, “hiatus”) tour. Admittedly I was never one of their fanboys and really knew more about Minor Threat. But, well aware of their iconic status at that point, I saw it fit to at least catch them once. Blonde Redhead opened and really did some wild stuff with analog synths. It might’ve been the first time I’d seen one onstage. Fugazi hit the stage with little introduction and hammered through something like a two-hour set, complete with multiple encores. There was a sheer intensity that I can’t say I’d witnessed up until then. And the overall climate just felt so different. Everyone there was basking in the glow of the band’s mechanical precision. It wasn’t hateful, it wasn’t childishly optimistic, it wasn’t overtly political..it was just..energetic. And hopeful. Ian hung around post-show and shook hands with just about everyone in the sold-out room, including myself. My ears were ringing a good three days after that show and it felt more life-affirming than any goofy slogan some hardcore bro in a basketball jersey could have ever tried to sell me.
Nowadays Fugazi seems more relevant than Threat to me. But every once in a while, there’s cause for putting on “I Don’t Wanna Hear It” and throwing yourself around the room.
I know I’ve been there, too. You tend to chase those first thrilling teenage experiences, when you caught a show where every aspect fit in its right place. And then other times you witness how positive messages can get lost in translation, exploding into a violent frenzy that leave you disenchanted and heartbreakingly homeless. I like to think that’s part of the reason we keep going to shows, though. New experiences help us reevaluate and deepen our appreciation for the “old times” …or, even better, the “next times”, like Mike’s with Fugazi.