The first plague came silently, uninvited, on its own
We’re floating aimlessly and without propulsion, the rudder is busted, there’s no wind. A thick fog is all around.
Down beneath things are different. Below I see clouds that are color light green, still not too dense, but they will be.
I have no control whatsoever.
Below one can see everything clearly, who wants to see, but I can’t look and see the asphalt, the street, the trees with their many young leaves, the parked cars and not a single living soul, from the inside window ledge on which I’m sitting. I don’t see any of that because I’m not watching, the brain is off. I’m sitting on the inside of the window ledge as if it’s my watch. I’m looking instead up and to the east. Towards the hills that are making the Danube turn briefly to the left over at Višnjica. The same way I kept watch 21 years ago, it was also April. Back then I was scanning the skies for airplanes I never saw, but I would hear them at night, doing their bombing runs. And there’s absolutely no value in anything that’s visible now, when all I see is that thick fog. Here the worst springs are the most beautiful.
They are not letting us out. For now, I’m only in some form of a shock from that fact. I hope I’ll find a way to hate them someday for that.
I saw my mom and dad the other day. Like, not on a screen, but in person. I bought and took them some groceries, only this time I didn’t just hand them the bags at the door, I agreed to come in. I was sitting on a wooden stool, with a mask and rubber gloves on, I was gazing stupidly, kind of numb. They ended up comforting me instead.
We the younger ones can move around a bit, at least until the curfew. I can’t stand the lock-up, at least as much as I was afraid of the end of program on both TV channels when I was little.
I’m not well, I’m really not well.
The plague came knocking oh so silently, but with a steady beat. There was news here and there about something that started mowing people down over in China. It was perhaps a bit unpleasant when they took that Asian lady aside at the airport in Tivat, because with eyes like that she must be Chinese, as is that virus or whatever it is. Although it was much easier to think that it won’t get us, as the three of us are kind of like an island compared to the rest of the world anyways, and what’s more, we were on a brief seaside getaway, escaping the February Belgrade. Later on, when Maja disbanded the whole office and sent us to work from home, as it would turn out a full week before the state of emergency had been declared, I thought that was rather excessive, but whoa, I don’t have to go to the office and I get to finish a few things around the house, I’ll take it.
Now, that plague is pretty individual. From every being, every society, it brought out the essence and materialized in precisely that way. Over where “you don’t get to think about anything, we’ll do that for ya”, people had to stay locked in, and the state organized the distribution of food and medicine. Over where that was inconceivable, some things were limited, but you could go on and do the basic stuff. Over here they took the “you don’t get to think about anything, because we’re not gonna” approach. How you prepare yourself is how you live. They asked us about who should lead us, not once, and we told them each time. That’s why I now have a problem with to which side I should turn all my resentment: it’s not only his and their fault, but it’s all who voted for him and them, and it appears they are everywhere around.
Every time I raise my head and see the thick fog settling down, I remember that the worst part is that I have nowhere to go. Nowhere to turn when you cannot leave, no one to talk to when you think you’re alone. Nothing is right nor can be fixed when you yourself are not there. It was there and then that I encountered Nothing.
The worse the tragedy and the more difficult the story, the better chances are that it will spawn a terrific band.
Domenic “Nicky” Palermo is a year younger than me. He describes Kensington, the neighborhood in which he grew up, as a pretty dark and gloomy part of Philadelphia. Even so, he’s aware that he had it better than a bunch of other kids from his area. Sure, he wasn’t seeing much of his father, but as he put it, “My mom was working two jobs to put food in the fridge. I had friends out here that a dad not being around was the least of their problems – they’d only have a mom around and their mom was smoking fucking crack in the house. And I still got in trouble and took advantage of that, which shows how selfish I was. I got off light, but I know there are so many people out there who didn’t, getting caught up with heroin, prostitution, or violent crimes. They didn’t have anyone there to tell them that enough was enough, besides someone who was putting handcuffs on them.” Now, that getting off light part is a relative thing. Two years might be too much for someone, but what’s two years of jail time when you were initially sentenced to seven?
Nicky was a hardcore kid who was causing only minor trouble until the night when he got into a fight with a rival gang and ended up stabbing someone. To this day he maintains that it was in self-defense, but it was officially characterized as attempted murder and aggravated assault, which in combination with his previous record meant that he got a 7-year sentence. “I got in seven total fights in my two years there. And by fights I mean some of them were just getting rolled on by a couple of people. Five of those fights were in my first three months in Camden County. The first day I was in, I was in like, a seven-day holding tank that they put people in if they’re dope-sick or if they have the flu, they just kind of get it all out of you before they put you into general population. And since my crime was so serious, I was stuck on a pretty rough block with violent offenders and rapists. As I should have been. On the last day of holding, they brought some kid in and he was crying his eyes out for hours and everybody was just screaming for him to shut up and he was crying, ‘Why am I in here, why am in here?’ So, it turns out this kid gets pulled out of there eventually and the CO tells me that the kid was out at a club in Camden, smoking wet [a joint laced with PCP], and he sees his girlfriend with some other dude and just walked up and popped him in the head. Bam! Killed him. And it wound up being the girl’s cousin. He was wetted out of his mind and the cops locked him up and he woke up the next day and had no recollection he even did it and was just in there crying. And then the door pops and I get put onto what they call a body block. The first day I was up there I saw some kid get hit with a sock with a frozen can of soda in it. It split his whole face open. It really set the mood for where I actually was. Someone stole my shoes, and I went and tried to get them back and got rolled on by three dudes – it was a jungle. I remember being in my cell after I got beat up and not having any shoes and I had this old black dude as a cellie and he’s like, ‘You better take off your socks and stay in your bare feet. You’re going to be fighting non-stop while you’re here, so take off those socks so your feet stick to the floor so you can fight.’ And I’m lying there as the lights go out in this place trying to foresee this sentence that I had ahead of me, which at that point was uncertain. I had a seven-year sentence and a two-year minimum, so the odds of me going home after those two years were not in my favor at all with the offenses I had. It was looking more like I was going to be doing four years, so I’m looking at the beginning few days of a possible four to six-year sentence and man – I don’t know how to explain that feeling to you, witnessing what’s going on and having to sit there and realize this is what your life is going to be like. That place teaches you a lot about yourself. But even when I got out after two years, I was still up to the same shit. I had five years of parole to work off and I couldn’t get a job for like a year. I got a job as a dishwasher at this place, and I couldn’t make any money. So, I started selling coke at bars. Prison just taught me how to be a better criminal. Two years later, my parole officer was coming over to give me a urine test and I had an eight-ball of cocaine in the closet – like $2,000 worth – and a handgun. I was staring at myself in the mirror, at home, just like I used to do in prison. That made me think, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened… but I just stopped. I stopped everything. I slowly became more infatuated with creating music again, and not letting myself fall into this trap that seemed to be laid out for me. Instead, I realized that I had other options. I’ve watched a lot of friends and family go down in the system – most of them deservingly – but the thing is: it’s a spiderweb. Once the system gets ahold of you, it doesn’t want to let go. They make it easy to turn a simple mistake into a lifetime of torture. The probation and parole systems in Pennsylvania are just a revolving door, setting you up for failure.” So there, it was music that saved him.
Nothing is ever as cool as it seems, ever.
Of course, that magical tidal shift in life, that only happens in movies. In reality, Nothing came to be when Nicky met up with an old friend and they started working on something which was to be a departure from the HC stuff they were used to, only for that friend to die in a car crash. Nicky later moved to LA, which he later described as probably the worst mistake he could have made at the time. Miserable, he returned to Philly, a city that is bleak, grim and full of reminders of all downgrades, but also a city he knew. “It’s an amazing place for inspiration. How do you not draw out some sort of sadness from this fucking place?”
Nothing had first released a couple of EPs, followed by their first album back in 2014. Not that I had any idea about it, of course. No major attention nor success came overnight, but whoever came across them definitely had something to hear, and their reputation was slowly being established. Shoegaze, post-hardcore, post-shoegaze, post-whateverthefuckyouwannacallit – they were creating something that was making sense. The sophomore album, now that one was supposed to be something. They were working on some dope songs, and what’s more important, they had a record deal in place for two albums with a label which placed them at the center of its attention, and everything was rosy. The year was 2015 and the world was up to its regular stuff. Martin Shkreli was, for instance, speculating with stocks and came up with an amazing scheme which allowed his company to buy licenses for medications originally produced by companies which went under, where no one bothered to pick up the leftover licenses. Once in the possession of these licenses, he was in the position to dictate the price of corresponding meds. Obviously, the fact that the licenses had been left to dry before he came up with his bright idea meant that they were mostly fringe prescriptions, but every thorn has its rose. One of the licenses was for Daraprim, a drug in use since 1953 to fight malaria and certain parasites, but which by coincidence found its way into becoming a part of the therapy for a portion of HIV positive patients in America. In September of 2015 Shkreli had increased the price of Daraprim by a factor of 56, from 13.5 to 750 dollars per tablet, and in one fell swoop managed to harm a bunch of people who were already in significant trouble. There was a public outcry, but everything was legal. Martin Shkreli has been, as it would turn out, a silent partner and funder of Collect Records, precisely the label that was about to promote Nothing as their flagship. His money was being used for the recording of the album. So Nicky decided to do the right thing and cancel the contract, which pretty much meant losing all the recordings. There’s a terrific little documentary on the making of said record which portrays the gradation of despair and futility, but also the triumph when the recorded material is being ceded back to the band, who then (symbolically) go back to Relapse Records to sign a contract to finally release the album, the four of them jovially wasted and hungover after a night of celebrating. Actually, the funny thing in that scene is that only three out of four of them are in the car going to the office, and only Nicky and Brandon make it in. “We just miss Kyle, [he’s] throwing up in the parking lot.”
The second album was also significant for a few other things. Shortly before entering the studio, and following a gig in Oakland, a crew of thugs jumped Nicky while he was alone packing his gear. They wanted to “borrow” his phone, he resisted and got beaten up so bad that he had to be treated for several fractures, his ear getting reattached, and finally being told at the hospital that the head trauma he sustained most likely will lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disorder which can only be confirmed by an autopsy, but which is in essence a lifelong condition. The recovery from injuries lasted a while and he was still vomiting between takes in the studio. During the same period Nicky also lost his father in a bizarre traffic accident. Tired of Tomorrow. That’s the name of an amazing record which he and Nothing ended up bestowing upon the world.
It seems kind of absurd how many awful things can happen to somebody consecutively.
The fact that I felt so lousy, well that’s nothing incredible or unheard of. I have mu ups and downs, breakdowns and relaunches. Sometimes I can even predict them. The spring of 2020 was different because it was the first time that for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anyone who could help me. In theory – yes, but the hard lockdown imposed erased all options and left me alone in my head, and what’s more all shellshocked and frozen. The world dwindled down to two small rooms and a few square meters of change, and even though I was sharing them with two people and one dog I love more than anything in the world, it was precisely the feeling of being obliged to hold tight and act normally because of them that was eating away at me. Unofficially and behind the scenes, of course. In silence I thought the worst of me. That I was inadequate, not good enough, defective, painfully insecure. From time to time I’d even manage to find someone else to blame for all that, but at the end of every day or moment in which I was trying to think about things, the result would always be the same: I’m no good.
What has changed? Again, nothing out of the blue. I didn’t just wake up as a different person. But there was one important moment. I saw this video, somebody shared it on Facebook. I haven’t heard of the band before. Nothing. The song was called Eaten by Worms. I watched the video once, then one more time, then a few more times. Two things happened afterwards. The first was that I started searching for, listening to, and watching everything I could about this band. I literally glued myself to them and I can’t remember the last time something like that happened to me, to go completely berserk over some (conditionally speaking) new music. The other thing was that I finally realized that it’s OK to surrender. You have the right to give up. You can. Yes, it’s the worst thing, the one which frightened you to death for as long as you remember yourself, but in right circumstances a surrender can be your only salvation. Sonically, it’s that moment of total magical release in Bent Nail (and is there anything more useless and able to make a man lose it, than a nail that crimps and all the symbolism it brings?), and that liberating repeating of “If you feel like letting go”. It’s a true match for that brilliant scene from Band of Brothers, when Speirs tells mortified Blythe, “You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But Blythe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead.” It’s futile to expect anything else. There’s a Michael Jackson waiting for all of us in the end, to take us home.
I was using Nothing as doping for days. I was adopting new music and saving myself. One song at a time. I learned all sorts of things. Here, for example…
Vertigo Flowers is a phenomenal song, so catchy and springtime-like, and yet it leaves all that concrete in your stomach, especially with that genius “Watch out for those who dare to say that everything will be okay” part.
Abcessive Compulsive Disorder, well you can hear it anyway you’re inclined to, but I believe it’s always about one person and one person alone, the one whose head you wake up in and in whose body you go to sleep at the end of the day, with varying degree of desire to wake up. “You know me, and you know I am not well. I always knew I’d eventually hurt you.”
Nineteen Ninety Heaven is such a beautiful song that I’d fall in love with it equally at 17 and today.
Zero Day and that falling down part which comes after “emotionless”, that exudes the same certainty on the impending doom as the scene of boarding the troop transport flight in Hair, and brings about the same type of goosebumps as listening to the final four minutes of Nikola Vranjković’s Tajni život suterena does, for example.
Blue Line Baby, when you get completely lost and don’t know who’s speaking in first person anymore, is it him, her, both of them alternately, or the fourth thing. You’re listening and enjoying it as the same certainty and inevitability of the end possesses you, but you somehow feel nice and don’t want to or can’t really move at all. Memories of the time when curiosity overpowered the fear of consequences. Not yours, but don’t touch anything; it’s the consequences that are meant for you.
Us/We/Are and finally a counterattack, a bit of a reaction and some blood, even though portrayed from such a passive angle. Sometimes shrugging one’s shoulders is just that, but sometimes when accompanied with a sigh it leads to a place where one actually does something.
The Carpenter’s Son and… Oh, just listen to the song and read the lyrics, it’s all there.
April Ha Ha, that hypnotizing sound, but also the video with that perverse dichotomy of “The end is near / this will never end”. Amazing work, guys!
Catch a Fade and again that type of bliss, that feeling of slowly melting from pleasure. When he says, “Feed me grapes”, I feel like giving myself a big hug. Everything just glides in this song, and even when he sings “I’ve known that praying is beneath me / But I’ve been talking to the ceiling for so long”, you somehow know that everything will be alright (and you can’t help but feel delighted for being such a fool).
Famine Asylum is sonically like Smashing Pumpkins on steroids, or what that band would surely sound like if they were 30 years younger. It comes together with a hat tip to Dr Strangelove, but with more of an “oh, I wish” emotion, which becomes evident right at the start, I think. “Send the bombs / We’ve had enough of us.”
Bernie Sanders, a tune which is, concerning its sound, probably the band’s coolest moment. A total “two birds one stone” move, cause the song had initially become available online to those who could prove they were registered to vote in the presidential elections of 2020. Oh yeah, the song’s got absolutely nothing to do with politics. Unless cocaine is politics.
In Blueberry Memories and the brilliant idea to add beach towels inscribed with the line “Paradise is somewhere else” to their online merch store.
Blue Mecca, that huge sound, that tremolo… The song I heard in my head towards the middle part of my dissertation defense, enough to confuse myself and forget what it was I was talking about. Especially because of the “Yesterday is a long way down” line and the victorious feeling when you think of all the ugly and sad things you remember, but if you see them, it’s only in the rearview mirror.
Ask the Rust and “When did you find out you never made it home?” on repeat. Ambrose Bierce would be pleased.
…And I Hate the Flowers and that video, holy hell, that video! Or, as someone smarter wrote: “perfect depiction of anxiety and depression”. As if “Stop all the clocks in my brain / Clog all the veins and the drains / Build a coffin around this house / Dismantle the sun from the couch” wasn’t enough. No. “Live forever, no escape.” We all burn. The more we burn, the less the chance of anyone noticing. …And all that permeated by such a dirty distortion that cuts through you and soothes the pain at the same time, the type of sound Billy Corgan and Butch Vig brought to perfection on Siamese Dream.
I’m still the only one that has to wake up and look at myself, but I can at least say it’s much easier nowadays – and that’s good enough at this point.
It is a special type of fool he who hopes for a magic wand to rid him of all his troubles. Similarly, he who at least sometimes secretly doesn’t wish for one, clearly still hasn’t suffered enough. Each day is another chance for things to go wrong. The goal is to learn how to laugh in the face of it.
In almost regular cycles, before each new Nothing record, a major fuckup had to take place, and the band had to at least see one of its members take an exit. They never had to start from scratch, but it feels as if each time Nothing was having to do a restart. Nicky is the only band member who was there from the start, and Nothing is his vessel. But Nothing would hardly be that amazing had it not been for such geniuses as Nick Bassett, Aaron Heard and Brandon Setta helping Nicky create the songs and sounds. Especially Brandon Setta. The amazing work he and Nicky were doing with such humble (in terms of attitude, not the sound) vocal harmonies and layered guitars represented the foundation, ground floor, upper floor and the attic of the band. And then in the face of heavy depression, the man walked away from the tour, quit the band and sold his gear. The Great Dismal, so far the band’s latest album, is the first one Nicky wrote and recorded without Brandon. Procrastination is sheer torture: no one hesitates because he enjoys doing it, but because he’s powerless to move. How did Nicky find the strength to start anew, or how has he been finding the will to keep doing it each time? “The band helps, don’t get me wrong. But I handle everything from the top to the bottom for this project. I’m very particular about it and it means so much to me. I handle everything so I stay busy. I do the designs for the merch, I write the songs, I write the lyrics, I structure the songs. I curate every detail, even down to which bands we bring on tour. I need to stay that busy because the second that I’m not doing this stuff, my head takes me to places that no person’s head should be in. And that place is progressively getting worse, as well.” I read somewhere that he said he’s not the type who would just go and kill himself one day. But then again, he did say he’s thought about it many times. “Everything that happened to me had to take place. Every hospital visit, every tragedy, every moment of happiness, it all had to happen so I could get to the place where I understand what I’m trying to do. The whole thing with this band is finding beauty in traumatic stuff. It’s about coming to peace with chaos and uncertainty, rolling with the punches when things get bleak. Or at least being able to bask in the bleakness rather than be terrified of it.” Nothing made it quite far, from a demo tape project started in a dark cellar in South Philly, that basically only beat suicide by a coin toss, to touring around the world and hitting exactly that spot for so many people who had the fortune to hear their music. And they managed all that without any pretentiousness, without any aspiration to change the world or anyone in it. Nothing is merely Nicky’s therapy, and if anyone wants to tag along – great, but if not, he’ll be doing better anyway. Better, as much as it’s possible given the circumstances. During the lockdown days, with money from playing gigs running dry, he was only able to pay the rent borrowing from his girlfriend. He couldn’t even afford all his meds, so he had to stop taking some of them. So, is Nothing the most normal thing he ever had? “I don’t fucking know, man. Every time I think everything is moving on and I think the coast is clear, something else comes out of nowhere. And again, I’m not surprised by any of it ever. I almost welcome it at this point – it’s the classic of being in a storm on a boat screaming at God, like, ‘What else have you got?’ kind of shit. And whatever is string-pulling this chaos can always come up with some shit. But for the most part, this is the most normal it’s been for me. I’ve got a little apartment, I’ve got my girlfriend with me, I’ve got the dog. And I just kind of sit here with an umbrella open always, you know what I mean?”
I’m still working on myself – it’s never a complete project.
Was it 1985? It seems that way. I’m gonna have to check with mom when was the last time I was in Zurich. We stayed at aunt Nadica’s. That was around the time I completed the hattrick of: 1) watering the plants in the garden ad nauseum although it had been raining the whole day pretty hard; 2) pouring about half a kilo of fish food in the big tank and defending myself with, “The fishies have been calling for me, saying: Lazo, Lazo, we’re hungry”; 3) inspiring an incredible urge in my mom to do a proper beatdown on me while wallowing on the floor of a toy store, desperate because I got only one set of trains and only one Lego box, and look at all the other stuff they still have; Aunt Nadica, on the other hand, was wise to remark that hitting a child is a serious offense in Switzerland. She’s gone now.
It’s springtime and everything’s so clean in Zurich: the airport, the train, the street, the river, the lake and the hotel room. Cleanliness is expensive. Everything’s so expensive in Zurich: transportation, lunch, secondhand CDs and LPs, and the hotel room. But at least you know what you’re paying for. There are all sorts of nice things all around. I’m strolling down a tiny promenade I’ve stumbled upon, right next to a small river that’s so clear that you could quite possibly drink from it, in the middle of the city. I’m observing some pretty big fishes maintaining their position countering the current and hunting some knick-knacks coming their way. Or they think they’re hunting. That’s a solid design for life.
There are all sorts of wonderful things in stores, you could equip your life here more beautiful than you could dream of. Only if it weren’t for the feeling of being richer when exiting a store for exactly the amount you did not spend there (and you were browsing, don’t bullshit you weren’t). Richer, but in reality, a double zero. Zurich is Munich on some expensive drugs made for older folks. I’m not one, so I wouldn’t know. A city of measured appearance, pleasant and a touch more dignified and less flashy than Munich. But more expensive, a lot more expensive. Good living for those who have the right to it because they were luckier at birth. An old money city. Don’t, it’s not for you to know whose. Not yours by any means.
It wasn’t during the spring in which they had us locked in, it was brewing for some more time, but sometime in the fall when it became clear that we had a long way to go to get out of the tunnel (if we ever do find the exit), was when I realized that I don’t know when and where, but I promised myself I will see Nothing live. A year and a half later they released the dates for the spring EU/UK tour, without any mention of anything in my region. Maybe they’ll show up again in the summer, I’ll wait, what else can I do? Then one day at work something really pissed me off and I decided that I’m done losing. I checked the tour dates again and started searching for shows on Fridays and Saturdays. I’m all out of leave days. When I changed jobs, I lost 16 days of annual leave, and since then I’m forced to ration them so I could travel with Iva and Filip. I was looking for a gig I could get to with minimum amount of time missing from work, and where visa regimes and air or road corridors were favorable towards Serbian passports. There’s this Friday, April 29. In Zurich? Done deal.
Rote Fabrik is a – go figure – factory buildings complex built in the late 19th century near the lakeshore. Nowadays, Rote Fabrik is a cultural center and is named that way both because of the red bricks its buildings are made of, and the left oriented parties which were instrumental in transforming the abandoned industry site into a culture spot. The place hosts all sorts of things, signs point towards galleries, offices, a theatre, at least one restaurant and a concert venue. It’s not dark yet and there’s still time until the opening band takes the stage, so I decide to take a walk down the path next to the lake. There’s a kayak course taking place as well as a sailing lesson, and everything feels so peaceful. I pass by the new bass player and the drummer filling in for Kyle on this tour. I don’t know them, they don’t know me. Aaron quit the band when they completed the US tour because he wanted to spend more time with his son. Christina is replacing him, I don’t know if it’s for the long haul or just for this tour. And apart from drumming in Nothing, Kyle sings in Night Sins, who are currently on tour in the states. I suppose he’s still in the band and that he’s absent only because of his other band. I guess they would’ve made a proper announcement otherwise.
Just around the corner I run into Nicky and Doyle. They look like two kids conspiring to do something mildly mischievous. Crossing each other’s paths, they see a guy wearing a windbreaker with their band’s logo. The breaker is in camo pattern, so I wave my hand, gotta do what I can to eliminate the possibility of friendly fire. They are scanning the details on the jacket. “Wow, it came out pretty good! You know I’ve never seen one of these before? Look at the sleeve print!” I’m pleased with it, too. I’m explaining how I had to wait quite some time for it to arrive, each day checking the status of the shipment, as it was all taking ages because of the pandemic. I don’t really have time and it’s a bit out of context for me to try to recount the anecdote about the first time I wore the jacket, when Iva had certain reservations regarding me wearing camo clothing while we were in Croatia.
– Well, it should be fine, we’re in Istria.
– You don’t think it’s like waving a red cloth in front of the bull wearing something of military style?
– But look, it’s got nothing to do with any Serbian nationalism stuff, it has this small American flag on the back…
– Great, explain it to them when they knock you down.
– Yeah, but it’s not even an American flag, it has the Nothing logo instead of the 50 stars.
– Even worse.
What I can tell them is that this is not oh just another gig for me, as it was really a big deal for me to make it here.
– Actually, I’m not from around here. I flew into town for this. I’m from Serbia.
– Serbia? Oh wow! I’m actually trying to get us to play there. I wanted to come to Serbia for so long, but now I have a contact there, so we’re working on it.
– Yeah, we’re trying to set something up for July.
– That’s amazing!
– Yeah, man. Trying to make it happen. There should be an announcement soon.
– But even if it doesn’t happen, you will be back to Europe in July? That’s great.
– Yeah, for sure! I mean, we’ll play shows in your area.
– I’m really looking forward to that. I know you played Croatia before, but I gotta admit [very quietly], I didn’t know about Nothing back then.
Doyle pitches in, like a human jack-in-the-box:
– That’s OK, I wasn’t in the band back then!
We’ll see each other later, inside.
There are not too many people inside, maybe about a hundred. I’m licking my lips next to the merch stand, looks like I’m gonna empty the wallet real clean. The only hitch is that I can’t find the price list, or anyone operating the stand, for that matter. The support act is The Waltz, some charming kids from Belgium. They started, they finished. A bit later, again at the merch stand, here comes a not too tall, long-haired guy wearing a Nothing beanie. He recognizes my genuine interest in what he should be selling, but promises me we’ll get everything done as he has all the stuff in plentiful quantities and all sizes, but he’s in a bit of a pickle now, so it would be best if I showed up again after the show. I didn’t even turn my back, and he was already up on stage, setting up Nicky’s gear. Hats off to his versatility and capability. I’m still laughing because the way he explained that he can take payments in Euros as well as by card, it’s just that he doesn’t have any Swedish Francs to return as change. It doesn’t matter where we are, it’s important that we’re here. Off I go forward.
Nicky and Doyle are the first to walk out on stage. Just guitars and pedals. Some beautiful swelling, a sound that gently grows and flows like a tide, gradually flows over and sinks you softly. Why didn’t I film this? Nah, better that I didn’t try, you can’t capture this, it wraps around you. How long did this last? A minute? Five? I don’t know. When it ended, they started the first chords from Hymn to the Pillory. What an amazing talent to transfuse something so dreadful into something so poetic. Maybe the only proof that the punishment had any meaning is if it gave a person a hope for rehabilitation. All the doors can and by rights sometimes should be shut on you, as long as they leave one unlocked somewhere. I think we’re far from home. I’m watching and listening, not blinking and not swallowing. I think we’re far from home, I think we’re far from home…
There’s no time to lose on further introspection, we’ll deal with that later. Let’s move on straight into the next gut punch. Downward Years to Come. The content is important, but if you don’t put a proper title on it, you get nothing done. This song is not even from their first album, it’s from before that. Again I’m watching wide-eyed, thinking about the girl from the video, thinking if she ever stood a chance, if anyone ever did.
We’re done with stretching, as we move into 2022. The PA blasts the intro to Say Less. I read somewhere that the other night in Brighton or someplace like that the crowd was singing along to this crazy woman from the tape. We’re a bit tamer, this is Switzerland of John Calvin after all. But as the guitar effect kicks in, coupled with that 90s-dance-party rhythm on the drums (it’s not sampled, the drummer is playing it live), the song just takes you for a drive, you are free to take the hands off the wheel.
I can’t tell if Brandon is missing as far as his guitar is concerned (ultimately, the stuff that Doyle plays sounds very healthy to a layman such as myself), but The Dead Are Dumb shows that Nicky’s voice is a bit lonesome on its own. Maybe that’s why the setlist is made in such a way that this song was the only one where I felt something was missing. But overall, everything is how it’s supposed to be: when it kills it rivets you through, when it pours it overwhelms you, and when it’s gentle it’s The Carpenter’s Son and the only choice you have left is to repeat Nothing’s a surprise anymore.
I can’t find the right words to describe how much it means to me that I came across this band. I see and hear everything, yet all that remains in my head is: how lucky you are. And it’s not like I’m projecting something or rebranding myself by force. This is who I am, this is exactly what I can understand and what I would so badly like for those close to me to understand about me. I know what’s wrong with me; no, I don’t know how to fix it, but no, it couldn’t be further from the truth to assume that I think I’m great. If as a teenager I loved the Smashing Pumpkins and sighed for all that I was feeling through their music, then April Ha Ha contains just that type of guitar sound and that atmosphere, only 25 years later. It’s the same type of loathing, same resentment of yourself and the world (probably a bit more towards the world) in both Bullet with Butterfly Wings and Famine Asylum. Who in their right mind could love us? There’s no competition, it’s not even comparable: I wouldn’t trade my childhood and my growing up with anyone, nor would any kid ever have any reason to even consider such a swap. But what I do know is the music I listened to represents a memory of a world which might not have been anything special (because it never was), but seemed far less sick, when you compare our wars and the war currently being fought about a thousand miles to the east, and when you realize that (there’s just no way this can sound right, I know) Vukovar, Sarajevo and Srebrenica were but minor incidents compared to Ukraine that is tonight on fire again (and who can vouch that we’ve seen the worst?).
I don’t know what will come next, I don’t even know if there’ll be anything next cause there’s not too many of us here, and the end of the tour is near as well (they only have Luxembourg and Hamburg left) so they might not do an encore at all, but as B&E rises and as the sound conquers all pores spread over different frequencies, and floods the room with this longing yet ultimately a feeling containing certain sadness too, we reach a point where it doesn’t really matter what’s behind that hill, because the hill is a mountain. And every time the song reaches those And I (…) / And you (…) /And we… moments, it’s as if huge icebergs break off and collapse into the ocean. Still I, I can’t help falling for you. All those catastrophically wrong assessments and the times in life you end up feeling like being caught in no man’s land. We’ve all been that goalkeeper sometimes, or always. With this type of a song climax, a defeat appears as if it isn’t one.
It’s all clear to me now. I know why I was attracted to them so much. Their music is, paradoxically, urging me not to quit. Maybe that’s too harsh, perhaps it’s more discretely nudging me towards not being so afraid. Or in direction of a place where I won’t be paralyzed by the fear of everything crumbling to pieces. I always attached myself to something encouraging, which doesn’t allow you to give up, but roots for you while you attempt to keep fighting and perhaps even root for yourself. I’m receiving the same kind of courage boost from Nothing, it’s only now that I realized why. I can’t do it no more, I don’t have the strength left to believe that nothing bad will happen (and for which I should keep my guard up, so I could counter the blow and defeat this invisible foe, like I pretend I have done so many times ‘till now). Their nihilism soothes me. Yes, this world is the worst there is, and you gotta be out of your mind to think that what you fear the most might not happen after all. I find solace in irony and self-irony. I can’t keep worrying about stuff, I really have no energy left. There’s no need for anxiety. Let that shit come, finally. I’ve been anticipating it for years. I’ll see it off and laugh at it because it will not bring about my ending. And even if it does, I’ll laugh at it from the other side. It’ll be OK even if I no longer am.
And yes, we did get an encore. Not one, but two songs. Vertigo Flowers and Eaten by Worms. “Oh baby, we got two for two”, as that guy said before Bruce Willis whacked him.
The crowd is slowly dispersing, the band is packing their gear on stage. I’ve got a million things I’d like to say or learn, but there’s one thing that burns.
– Hey, can I ask you something?
– What you wanna know?
– What is B&E short for?
– Breaking and entering.
– Oh. OK.
– My ex-girlfriend… My girlfriend at the time locked herself out of her apartment and called me to break in through the back door and open the front door for her. Later she called the cops on me.
– Like, she set you up? She came up with this scheme?
– …Not really. First I opened the door for her, then later we got into a nasty argument. She called the cops afterwards.
– Shit, I’m sorry for bringing back those memories.
– I don’t give a shit anymore. I really don’t care, it’s been ages since then.
Doyle once again jumps in the shot, jack-in-the-box pt. 2:
– Truth hurts!
I’m buying everything at the merch stand. I planned to take the stickers too, but my man tosses them in for free. “You sure about this? I don’t wanna get you into trouble”, I tell him. “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” A decompression is what should happen next. That, and to leave my ears ring in peace. The app says it’s a 52-minute walk to the hotel. Perfect. It even seems just fine that I won’t make it back to town before 1AM and that I won’t eat anything apart from the banana I brought from Belgrade now waiting in my room. During the Covid mess my stomach grew enough that my own father started mocking me.
While exiting the factory compound, I run into Nicky next to their van. He’s waving at me, saying thanks.
– Hope to make it to Serbia! There’s gonna be a tour announcement soon, hopefully.
– Well even if you don’t get to Serbia, I’ll definitely try and make it to a show nearby.
– Right! I think we’re gonna announce a festival in Lithuania tomorrow. That’s close by, right?
– Not really.
– Switzerland is actually closer to Serbia than Lithuania is.
– Oh shit, my map knowledge is really terrible. Sorry.
– Haha, that’s alright. Hope to see you again in a few months, somewhere.
I think to myself, there won’t be any Serbia on that tour, he probably has us confused with some place like Slovakia at best.
The walk home was lovely. At various green spaces and neat lawns by the lake I was coming across the Zurich youth of Balkan and Anatolian provenance congregating in smaller groups and blasting their music from Bluetooth speakers. I was kind of floating over all that.
Truth be told, right at the last corner before the hotel I ran into a kebab place which was still serving food, amazing. I did end up having a proper bite before bedtime.
I only had Nothing in my mind before I switched off. Has anyone else noticed how often they mention the plague in their lyrics? I wonder what’s the next cataclysm that we’ll serve ourselves gonna be.
The first plague came silently, uninvited, on its own
For all times it hid somewhere, deep within us.
 Play on words on a line from “Prva ljubav” (First Love), song by late Serbian singer/songwriter Djordje Balasevic; English translation of the original lyric is “The first love came silently, uninvited, on its own”
 Croatia and Serbia used to be parts of Yugoslavia and were entangled in a bloody war from 1991 to 1995, after the break-up of the former country.
 Sites of atrocities which took place during the wars in former Yugoslavia.
A few photos and quotes were stolen from: