Books & Covers & Black Flag
A friend tells a story of an encounter with a couple of Alaskan snowbirds driving their RV through Texas. My friend asked how they happened to end up in the Southwest and received this reply: "Every year I would watch the geese fly south for the winter and finally I thought: a person ought to be smarter than a goose."
And so it was that I spent two winters in Los Angeles, hiding out from the frigid Chicago weather. I had no fixed address for a number of years, living out of my suitcase and floating from town to town between tours, so why spend all winter freezing? I'm smarter than a goose, right?
A particular evening during one of those LA winters stands out, in which I learned a lesson about books and covers and judgement. I'm not one to strike up a conversation with strangers and, beyond some polite chit-chat, prefer to enjoy my thoughts in silence while riding in planes, trains, and automobiles.
The ride-share driver who picked me up that evening was older – not as old as my parents, but more on that side of the scale than on mine – and looked more or less like a typical middle-aged mom. We exchanged some polite small talk, but I was not especially eager to engage. She asked how I liked living in the neighborhood where she met me and I had to admit that I didn't know; I was only staying there for a few months.
This surprised her. What kind of a job did I have where I could rent a place in another city for months at a time?!? I told her that I worked in the music industry, touring with bands as an audio engineer, and could stay anywhere with access to an airport.
"Oh," she said. "I come from a musical family!"
Hoooboy, I thought. Here it comes. People in LA love talking about their connections in movies, music, or television. How am I going to get out of this one?
"I come from the Caiafa and Cadena families," she continued. Caiafa did not ring any bells and the only Cadena I'd ever heard of was Dez Cadena from legendary early-1980s hardcore band Black Flag. But it couldn't be that Cadena, right?
Sure enough, it was. "My brother is Dez from Black Flag and my cousin Jerry was in a band called The Misfits. Do you know them?"
Yes, of course I knew them! Black Flag toured relentlessly in the '80s, playing in makeshift venues, warehouses, VFW halls, almost any kind of place that could be converted into a venue. They pioneered the network of independent promoters and venues that made touring as a small punk or indie band possible.
Before Black Flag, a band might build a regional following in the hopes of signing to a major label. After Black Flag, bands could actually tour the entire country promoting their records – many of them self-released. They made it possible for musicians to remain independent and still earn a living. In a very real way, my entire career in the music business would not have been possible without Black Flag.
I was reluctant to talk when the ride started, but now I waited eagerly for stories of my driver's musical family. She told me about her experience watching her brother follow his dream. We laughed about how her New Jersey accent comes out when she calls Cousin Jerry. Contrary to my initial instincts, I had a genuinely fun conversation with a stranger and was slightly disappointed when we arrived at the destination.
We've all heard that one should not judge a book by its cover or that money doesn't bring happiness. We might believe that we know what they mean – but still go right on judging appearances and chasing money. Some lessons can't be learned until you learn them. Every once in a while, there is an opportunity to see those clichés in action and really understand what we thought we already knew.
Here's to keeping an open mind!
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