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Stephen Shoup


Ears stretching towards the sounds like green shoots of a plant bending into the sun. It’s just so much easier for the concepts to be implicit in the tones.


At age thirteen, I first understood the power chord’s ability to articulate not only malcontent and simplified aggression, but a depth with two corresponding notes, a basic frequency as a platform for more progressive ideas of self-expression, because in the watery denim of adolescence a bit of felicity was all that I could hope for. I still remember that moment, drying off from a shower in the morning before class and the four chords making their way from the sky and waves into the clock radio in the bathroom and the moment seemed to take on some weight, something unclear was being defined by the rhythm, the distorted chord progression a perfect juxtaposition of chaos and melody, and his murky poetry like a nursery rhyme from the id.


I suppose that is where I entered, when singing along didn’t leave any room for improvisation. I would put my guitar headstock against my bed’s headboard as I lay down and strummed the few chords I knew; the wood of the headboard would amplify and vibrate the sounds from the strings, conducting the vibrations, and I would lay my skull against the headboard and could feel and hear it, and I imagined that this was how deaf people must try to listen to music, that it would all just tickle into them.


As a quixotic teenager, I would prepare answers for interview questions always asked by transfixed British journalists–their drab grey suits and frantic scribbling into notebooks and me smoking and exhaling my cigarette and answers casually: no I wasn’t redefining the genre, I was simply paying homage to the formative blues forerunners; no the British never invented any rock and roll, they simply plagiarized American Delta Blues and made it more highbrow.


It was a way to be alone as much as a way to say something really loudly.


We would set up our keyboards and amplifiers in the barn. The farm was long abandoned and only the cigarette butts and one 60 Watt bulb hanging spoke of recent human occupation. Abandoned spaces and rotting wooden floors and tangles of cords are still my solace, even a decade later and a greater distance between my heart and hands. For me, this is how things are measured, this is how I feel part of a community: harmonizing. We would jump drunkenly from one instrument to the other, always something primal in the channeling of energy with pounding sticks and clicking our fingers onto white and black keys, just a manipulated and predictable pattern fed through processors to darken the tones and soften the noise. How many times we forgot to press record and couldn’t remember the parts the next day when our cells woke up to the sun. Only recently have I realized how identical the rehearsals of what seemed so very contemporary–the synthesized ambience of rock music meeting a trance-like pulse of electronics–were really just diluted versions of the celebrations that go back thousands of years. So when they would dance and drum around fires and drink from wooden bowls dark fermented juice that reflected the moonlight and flames, the four-four pattern pounding out the something from the ocean of the heartbeat and the hiss of the wind against their ears like reverb and the faces shifting in the darkness, there, by the fire, voices rising and smoke and the smell of sweat and the forest they were audience and participant, I am there. I am here with so many more programs and voices to say I’m lonely and I don’t know how to not be amazed and saddened so I just sing over the machines and keep the fire going.

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790