That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Archive for September, 2018

We’re all we need.

Posted by kozemp on September 3, 2018

The strange part about all of this is that I can’t remember exactly where I discovered this group. I’m usually pretty good about this sort of thing.

My first conscious memory of Above and Beyond was listening to Group Therapy 274 on the train from London to Stratford, and in my headphones as I walked around Stratford on one of the coldest days of my life (the music occasionally interrupted by Google Maps telling me to turn right), and then listening to the show a third or possibly fourth time on the train back to London.

I can remember that I got to 274 by going through the list of “recently added” tracks on my phone, and there was one called “Northern Soul” that came from Shazam. I listened to it and enjoyed it – not unreasonable, given that I liked it enough the first time I ever heard it to Shazam it – and clicked through the Artist link in Apple Music and found their latest release was something called “Group Therapy 274.”

Let’s see what this sounds like, I thought, and started it up.

I liked it so much that when we flash forward to a few months later and I see that Above and Beyond is inexplicably playing a show in Atlantic City that I ignore tons of reasons to not go and decide to catch the boys live. I have not been to a nightclub in at least ten or twelve years, if not more than that, but no matter. Above and Beyond has quickly risen the ranks to become one of my favorite acts. They release a new mix every week and I listen to it religiously. Above and Beyond is very big on being a community and the fanbase reminds me a lot of Springsteen’s in how “together” it is. They call it Anjuna Family and the name is well-earned.

I arrive at the casino and head down the old giant staircase from the parking lot to the floor. This staircase is now clear plexiglass, which is an “improvement” I don’t particularly care for. I keep getting a miniature case of vertigo every time I look to see where I’m going. When I get to the bottom of the staircase I look up at the giant sign with all the entertainments in the casino and various arrows directing you toward them.

The nightclub I am looking for is nowhere to be found on the sign. This is not great. I spot the concierge desk off to my left and start heading for that.

Along the way there I spot a gentleman in a Common Ground t-shirt. I point at it and say “hey! Do you know where this place is?”

He shakes his head. “No idea! I’m just wandering around!”

There is part of me that is still somewhat taken aback that I can just walk up to a complete stranger and strike up a conversation, but there is another, bigger part of me that loves the fact that I can point at three colored circles on his shirt and say “do you know where this place is” and the guy instantly knows what I’m talking about. Anjuna Family.

“I’m heading for the concierge, they should know,” I say.

He smiles. “Let’s go!”

I get to the concierge a few seconds later to find there’s no one there.

“Shit,” I say. I turn around to see what my new friend thinks, but he’s vanished. Maybe he found someone who knew the way? I start wandering the outer ring of the casino floor, looking for a sign or a security guard to point my way. Eventually I find a guard who gives me an extraordinarily complicated set of directions to the club. Straight until the marble ends, then left at the bar, then right at the Wheel of Fortune, then up, then left, etc etc…

I think about the directions for a few seconds and say, “so over in the old Showboat connector?”

The guy instantly looks apologetic and says, “yeah.” He could have saved us both a lot of time if he’d known I knew my way around. Ships that pass in the night, and so on.

I hack my way through the casino and find the club, as predicted, in the old connecting passageway. I get carded on the way in, which is the most amusing thing that’s happened to me in weeks, as I am certain I will be the oldest person at this thing.

There are three more – three more! – checks of tickets and handstamps before I make my way into a club that is much, much smaller than I had anticipated. It’s not particularly crowded – yet – and I make my way back to the bar, which is a giant half-circle of slate and sheet metal that runs across the back half of the circular room. There is a huge gap in the center of the bar that is basically a big platform, and I find a spot right on the corner where it and the bar meet with a central line of sight to the DJ table.

This is my spot. This is where I’m going to spend the next few hours. I make a note in my phone – I literally write down in Google Keep – “next time, pay for VIP and a table.” I’m wearing dress shoes, as per the poorly-enforced dress code I was informed about when I bought my tickets, and I’m starting to think that hours on my feet in these shoes may not have been the best idea. I’m not even considering dancing at this point.

The house DJ is playing. I had read warnings about “house DJs” in some of my research but this guy is actually pretty good. The bar is serving Fiji water and there’s decent music playing. I even recognize a Yotto track he plays; I had not expected to know a single song until Above and Beyond come on. I’ve got good water, I’m dressed well, there is excellent music playing, and I am even swaying back and forth a bit as I drink my water. It’s starting to get a little crowded, yeah, but whatever. I’m having a good time. I’m inordinately pleased this has already turned out to be a good idea.

A group of people slide up to the bar next to me and one of them, a young woman about a foot shorter than me, bumps into me.

“Sorry!” she says over the music.

“No worries!” I say.

“Not too crowded!” she says. “Good thing we got here early!”

“Yeah, shouldn’t get too much worse,” I reply.

A little bit after our exchange I catch something out of the corner of my eye, happening behind the bar. I turn around and look to see a woman clambering up the bar to stand on the platform I am next to. She is wearing an ornate costume with what I could swear is a top hat. She starts rhythmically swaying and waving her arms to the music: a dancer who works for the club! Fascinating. I have literally never seen this before. This night is getting more and more interesting, and it was already pretty interesting in the first place.

My attention flips back and forth between the house DJ and the house dancer. I imagine they are in secret relationship, that the club forbids it but they go about it covertly anyway, in defiance of the rules.

A second house dancer appears. I wonder if they fight for the affection of the house DJ, like an old fashioned soap opera love triangle. Do things like that actually happen in real life, love triangles like on soaps when I was a kid? I’ve seen cheating, and affairs, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an honest to goodness love triangle, two people battling it out for the love of a third. Real life seems too messy and too quick for anything like that to actually happen.

The house dancers are dressed in vaguely patriotic outfits, lots of red and white stripes and the occasional star field, and I am honestly not sure why. Labor Day has never struck me as a particularly patriotic holiday. Perhaps they are always dressed like that, here? That would be an interesting choice, a patriotic nightclub. “Nevemind the European dance music, it’s America first here at Daer. Most patriotic dancing girls in town.” It’s an angle, to be sure.

I stare at the vaguely flag-draped dancers and wonder what George M. Cohan would have made of this place.

A third house dancer appears and now it’s basically the most bass-heavy Rockettes show you’ve ever seen. I want to jump in a phone booth and drag Cohan to this place, to see him drop X and bounce around with the club kids and goggle at the dancers, and then to take him back where he came from and see what the fuck happens to Yankee Doodle Dandy.

I idly wonder if the house dancers have specific, choreographed routines, or is it all freestyle? Do they rehearse? Must investigate.

I also wonder about the placement of the dancers, with two towards the front of the room, flanking the DJ table, and the one just behind me in the back. Why is she back there, behind and out of sight of almost everyone? Maybe she’s being punished for something, getting the worst duty spot in the room, but I can’t imagine what it could possibly be. The dancer on the platform behind me is unbelievably, almost impossibly beautiful. I am finding it difficult not to stare. I don’t want to stare, of course. I don’t want to be rude. But it’s difficult not to. The combination of the strobe lights and my glasses causes a weird corona effect when I watch that makes her look like a hologram. It’s a little unsettling but also still hypnotic and beautiful.

At one point one of the bartenders reaches up and hands her a bottle of water and she never stops dancing. She bends over and takes it, unscrews the cap, and drinks the whole thing in one pull with her back to the club, dancing through the whole process. It’s extraordinary.

The dancer behind me and the crowd around me at this thing conspire to make me more acutely aware than I have ever been that I am not one of, quote unquote, the beautiful people. I am surrounded by them. Surrounded by people who are better-looking than me, who are better-dressed than me, who make more money than me, or at least I presume this last based on the way they’re dressed. I am surrounded by couples, groups of friends, tight clustered packs of beautiful people. I am standing here, leaning against the bar, a bottle of water in my hand, wondering how one gets to be one of these people. Can you become one of the beautiful people or do you have to be born into it? Is it like a caste? Is that what beauty is, another social strata that is undefined and unwritten but there nonetheless?

Around 1240 the house lights come on. Even as a late returner to the nightclub scene I know this is not supposed to happen before the headliner comes on. A large gentleman who had been standing and dancing a few feet to my 2 o’clock comes back to the bar and points behind me.

“Fire alarm!” he shouts. I turn around. The fire alarm is indeed flashing. As I’m looking at it I hear a noise start to come from the crowd. I turn around and there is a new person up at the DJ table, who the house DJ is pointing things out to.

It’s Tony McGuinness! Holy shit! The boys are here! They’re about to go on! Admittedly they’re about 45 minutes later than I’d been told to expect but I AM IN THE SAME ROOM AS ABOVE AND BEYOND.

The shenanigans with the fire alarm last for a few more minutes and finally Jono and Paavo take their positions behind the decks and the show proper starts as the crowd goes completely, unhingedly wild.

They launch into the club mix of Always and the crowd is singing along. I’ve never seen this in a nightclub. There’s a weird magic to it, people singing along to stuff I guarantee their friends have sneered at them for even liking in the first place. I’m singing along too. This is why I’ve come here. To see these guys in the flesh, to hear what specific songs and mixes they brought just for us tonight, to be part of the crowd. For Anjuna Family.

After Above and Beyond have been on for about thirty minutes, when there are approximately nine hundred thousand more people in the club and we are routinely crushed by groups of them walking past our spot at the bar, I turn to the short girl still standing next to me, lean close enough to her ear to bite it off and shout as loud as I can, “good thing we got here early!”

She grabs my head, turns it so her mouth is all but in my ear, and shouts, “worth it though!”

Not wanting to risk the ear thing again I give her a thumbs-up. She’s right. It’s totally worth it. I’m having the time of my life here. There is dancing happening and I am slightly, distantly taking part in it. Actual dancing. I’m not very GOOD, mind, I have no illusions about that, but it’s obscenely fun.

After some very busy points in the first hour of the Above and Beyond show, the crowd begins to thin out. I am still standing up against the bar in the back of the room. The short girl to my left and her friends have disappeared. Since A&B have started the dancers have not returned. Eventually I realize that standing next to me is a very pretty young woman, who looks vaguely exotic in the strobe-punctuated dark, wearing the proverbial Little Black Dress, which actually stands out in a sea of club women wearing white. She knows every word to every song. I don’t know every word to every song. I’ve never even heard some of these songs before. But the pretty girl next to me sings every word.

She is not as shockingly beautiful as the dancer behind me had been, but she’s very pretty and I am once again finding it difficult not to stare. It would be very obvious were I to stare at her; she’s standing ten inches off my left shoulder. I try, when I can, to catch glimpses of her out of my peripheral vision. I honestly don’t know why I keep repeatedly trying this. To confirm to myself that she’s as pretty as she seems? She is, and even if I wasn’t initially sure the third or fourth sideways glance would have done it. There didn’t need to be glances twelve or seventeen or twenty-three.

As the show wears on I start to think: I should ask her out, or for a drink, or something, because I eventually realize that she is there by herself just like I am. Over the course of the evening girls have come and gone in front of me and to the sides of me; some of them have even tried to get behind me, which isn’t the best idea considering how closely I am cleaving myself to the bar. But this girl hasn’t called anyone on her phone, she hasn’t talked to anyone else, no one has come over, male or female, to tell her about the line at the bathroom or to drag her out to the dance floor for the now almost-hour she has been standing next to me. She is here by herself, just like I am.

About ninety minutes into the show the large gentleman who had pointed out the fire alarm comes back to the bar to get drinks. As he’s waiting for them he taps me on the shoulder. I twist to look over at him.

He shouts over the music, “this is a great set!” They have just wound through a segment that started with Blue Monday and hit, I believe, a song from each of their artist albums right after.

I shout, “yeah, it’s fantastic!” I am still generally amused just by the notion of talking to complete strangers; I am learning that shouting at them is even more fun. So many years wasted, stuck in a corner by myself when I could have been shouting at people.

“I’m loving this!” he shouts.

“I just hope they play Sahara Love!” I shout back.

A gentleman standing behind the guy I’m shouting with leans around his shoulder and shouts, “it’ll be the last song! Book it!”

I nod impressively at both his knowledge of the setlist and his ability to hear us over the din.

The large gentleman gets his drink and raises it to me, a silent way of saying “have a good night.” I give him a double thumbs up. Anjuna Family. He heads back to his girlfriend. As the boys start into an Oliver Smith track I surreptitiously look over to see if the pretty girl is still standing at my left. She is.

And so, again, I start to think: I should ask her if she wants a drink. It’s too loud for that, though; she’d never hear me over the din. The bartender probably wouldn’t hear me either and that would add another level of comic miscommunication to the whole endeavor. So then I start thinking: when the show’s OVER I should see if she wants to get a cup of coffee or something. The part of my brain that is always rational considers buying her a cup of coffee against what time I would get home after doing so, and what time the Italian Grand Prix is on in the morning, which at this point I am still foolishly entertaining the notion of watching. I angrily tell that part of my brain that it would be better to spend that 60 minutes or so having coffee with the pretty girl than to spend it simply sleeping before the Grand Prix. As the show drags on past the 2AM hour it is becoming more and more obvious that the schedule I had been told beforehand – house DJ from 10 to midnight, headliners from midnight to 2AM – wasn’t going to happen. Above and Beyond hadn’t gone on until almost quarter to one, after all, so the odds of getting home when I’d originally thought were almost zero.

I spend the last 40 minutes or so of the show thinking about asking this girl to get a cup of coffee. I’m listening to the music, of course, I’m absolutely loving the music, even dancing a bit. More than a bit now, in fact, but mostly I’m thinking about this girl standing next to me. I see her singing along to every song and I think, isn’t this the thing you always say you want in a woman? Someone who shares your interests? Someone who shares your weird, incredibly obscure interests? It doesn’t get much more weird and obscure than English progressive trance, at least not in my world, and yet here the two of us are at the same time in the same place. The entire universe has conspired over the course of billions of years to put you and this girl next to each other, in a casino nightclub in Atlantic City, listening to a band you accidentally discovered on a train five thousand miles from home.

What are the odds of this? What are the odds of something this specific happening? It’s fate. It must be. More than fate, the universe is sending you a message, and the message is simple: ask this girl for a cup of coffee. What’s the worst that can happen? The worst is that she can say no, and that’s frankly not that bad.

Sun and Moon starts and even I know that if this isn’t the end of the show we are perilously close to it. My suspicions are confirmed when I see some folks joining Jono and Paavo on the stage: they’ve been chosen to Push the Button. Lucky bastards. It looks like two young women and…

I squint in the dark.

The third person up to Push the Button is the guy in the Common Ground t-shirt I met hours earlier in the casino lobby.

I think, “I guess he found his way here after all” and start laughing harder than I have laughed in a long time.

Sun and Moon finishes and the show ends. (No Sahara Love, sadly.) There is some chanting of “one more song,” but it’s halfhearted. Everyone knows the show is over, and besides, it’s three in the fucking morning. I turn to head for the exit and notice the girl standing next to me is already moving that way, slightly ahead of me. I’m trying to get there. I’m trying to get up to her and just do something. It’s not hard. Why can’t I do this? Just walk up beside her, lightly tap her on the shoulder and say, “hey, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” This is not rocket science. I have been a rocket scientist and believe me when I tell you, this is not that. This is talking to a woman, asking her if she’d like to have a cup of coffee with you after you both attended this niche concert in the middle of the night.

This should be easy. I don’t know why it isn’t easy. It should be easy. There’s absolutely no reason this should be this hard. Where is the vaunted confidence that I go through the rest of my life spewing everywhere like oil through a blown gasket? Sit me at a poker table and the confidence I possess could practically move my chips and muck my cards for me. But put a pretty girl in front of me, at the same show as me, who likes the same things as me, and it’s gone. I’m paralyzed. I can’t do anything. I don’t know why.

I’ve never known why.

We’re heading for the exit and I’m, not debating with myself, but trying to mentally get myself to a place where I can tap this woman on the shoulder. I don’t have to think of a line. I don’t have to think of anything. We already have something in common! We’re at the same show. I will tap her on the shoulder and simply say, “hey can I buy you a cup of coffee?” No, wait, better than that, I can say, “hey, it looks like you’re here by yourself too, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” Now we have TWO things in common! We both like the same English trance act, and we like them enough to come to see them by ourselves, so instead of just having coffee we can also talk about the hilarious improbability of the universe throwing us together in the middle of the night on the beach in Atlantic City.

While I’m arguing with myself about how to say this exactly, the precise intonation and order and inflection of the words, I very roughly bump into someone because instead of watching where I’m going I’m thinking about this girl. I bump into them and immediately my instincts take over. My hand shoots out to their shoulder to steady them and I say “oh, I’m so sorry, are you okay?”

The young man who I have bumped into – he can’t be more than about 23 – looks up at me and smiles. “It’s okay, I’m fine,” he says, and he smiles again. I am pleased for a moment that I haven’t hurt this person that I am easily twice the size of by carelessly walking into them in a dark room the middle of the night, and it again occurs to me how nice everyone I’ve talked to at this show has been. Anjuna Family, indeed.

I look around.

The girl is gone.

She’s not in the group of people heading out. She must have moved into the crowd that was heading out on to the dance floor and pressing up against the DJ table trying to get pictures with the boys. I look fervently to see if she’s there but I can’t spot her. All the women wearing white I’ve seen all night have disappeared and there is nothing on the dance floor but a sea of black dresses and t-shirts. I try to pick her out but I realize I have no idea what she looks like from the back, only the side.

At this point I am starting to block traffic of people starting to leave, but the mass of people hovering towards the DJ table has grown such that I can’t get too close to anyone in that either.

I look for her for maybe one more second, then sigh, then head out the door.

I make my way through the casino in a combination of a daze and a fog. I have been on my feet in my dress shoes for something like four and a half hours and my hips and knees and ankles are killing me so badly that I am literally calculating the minutes until I can get to my parents’ place up the coast and take some very powerful painkillers. My ears are ringing. I can’t stop thinking about the girl who had been standing next to me and what might have happened if I’d been able to say something to her.

I have had the absolute time of my life.

I eventually limp all the way back to the parking garage. I’m still thinking about the girl when I look up at the other two people in the elevator with me. A couple, both dressed in black jeans and t-shirts. The woman has a telltale bottle of Fiji water in her hand.

They sense me looking at them and give weird, uncomfortable smiles. Why is this person in the elevator staring at us?

I say, simply, “that was a hell of a thing.”

Their faces light up. The guy gives me one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen and holds his fist out. “Yeah it was, man.”

I bump him as the elevator dings, and when the doors open they step out. Just before they start to close the woman says, “safe trip home!”

I say, “you too.”

She waves as the elevator doors close. She actually waves at me. I smile and wave back.

Anjuna Family.

JLK

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