Old Ghosts in Altered States and Punk Anxiety

In honor of Halloween and in preparation of our next issue on Drugs, here is a short story that deals with intoxication, friendship after life, and the prevailing social anxiety we all confront in punk.

I spent Friday night courting people and reminding them of due dates and specifics about submitting to the next issue of Punks Around, Drugs: Use, Recovery, and Outreach. It was a late fall night, and per usual I started to give in pretty early—around 11:00PM. Even though I had a full cup of black coffee at 7:00PM, which usually keeps me up later, tonight I just couldn’t stay awake. 

            Perhaps all the late-night shenanigans and tinder dates have severely derailed my sleep schedule.  Most of the time they’re not even worth it—especially the dates. They go something like this: 

            I meet an attractive person at a mutually agreed upon place, usually a bar. I tell some of my safe old jokes, and then after a few laughs I branch out into some improv material. Then, after about 15 minutes of conversation reinforced by scripted points, I run out of energy and completely lose things to talk about. Not that my life is boring or anything, I just have some difficulty inventing topics without coming off as trite and insincere. Like when people ask, “how was your day?” it’s easier to just say “fine” than to go on about events that mean nothing to them. It’s a shame really, because I am genuinely interested in people and what they are doing, but I just sort of freeze up and shortcut conversations. 

My close friends recognize when I am at a loss for words and can usually swoop in to help, but tertiary friends—or the people I always wanted to be closer to—think I’m weird and trying too hard. If my date picks up on my awkwardness, then we can get through the night pretty easily. If not, I’ll likely never see that person again. People determine whether or not someone is worth talking to more within the first ten minutes. 

            I any case, such late nights out usually end at an obnoxious time, which I firmly suspect puts the rest of my sleep schedule out of whack. Maybe that’s not it—maybe I’m iron deficient, or maybe I’m over worked. Who knows?

Whatever is making me tired early has been leading to some funky dreams. Some dreams are so outlandish I practically forget about them instantly. In one, I was a squire to some asshole knight. In another dream, I was just driving straight for hours—no music, no podcasts, no other cars on the road, just the monotonous white line separating the car from a ditch. 

            This Friday night I had a more conventional dream. It started off as a typical weekend at M’s house in a notable Northeastern city. I used to stay there all the time getting drunk while M indulged in heavier drugs. We were old friends, so almost every time we entered an altered state we reminisced about the past, mutual friends, politics, and of course music. The conversation points were always endless and hilarious, and M was much better at keeping the conversation afloat.

            At some point, our mutual friend W arrived. W complained a lot about their day while taking hits of a spliff M had rolled. I, content with alcohol, sat back in silence unsure as to whether I had a right to interrupt with my opinion and advice. W’s problems seemed so compounding that, just like on a date, I froze up as if I had nothing to say. Occasionally M looked over at me with a side grimace or an eye roll, sympathetic to my silence and recognizing that I was stuck. 

            “You guys want to go for a walk to Walgreens?” suggested M.

            “Fuck yeah dude, I have to get something to snack on” W answered with high enthusiasm. 

            “Yeah sure, I can pick up some more beer” I halfheartedly answered. 

            The next thing I knew, we were walking on a bridge that crosses a major highway. Still, I was silent, worried about saying the wrong thing, or coming off as imposing, awkward, or offensive. I focused on the cars passing below me while W continued to go on about their shitty boss and coworkers. M and I listened tentatively, but I couldn’t figure out anything to say. Finally, M carried the conversation and began asking me questions to rope me in. 

            “Didn’t you used to work with a painter? Wasn’t that dude a dick?” 

            I took the bait and went on and on about my old shithead boss. W started talking to me and asking questions, and I felt like the conversation was real and meaningful for all of us. Finally I was engaged in a genuine conversation. 

            “How did you finally quit that job?” M asked, not letting the conversation touch the floor. 

            I told my story with W’s full attention. I felt like they were starting to learn something valuable about me and starting to see past the awkwardness. This wasn’t a date, but it had the same climactic point of any successful date I’ve been on – the recognition of the other person’s humanity. That point where it becomes painfully obvious that they have their own struggles, trials, and opinions. This is the point where people stop seeing you as another body on some bogus class, gender, racial, or identity hierarchy and start seeing you as an emotional autonomous being. The point of empathy. 

That point where it becomes painfully obvious that they have their own struggles, trials, and opinions.

            “I bet you felt like a boss when you walked out on that motherfucker!” W exclaimed. 

            This wasn’t about the job or my experience. This entire dream predicament was as real as my cup of black coffee in the morning. In fact, this story might be more non-fiction than fiction, as I remember something like it playing out many, many times with M. He always picked up what I was putting down, and he was always willing to help me overcome social awkwardness. Over years of knowing him, it taught me valuable lessons about my socialization skills and habits. 

            The punk rock scene is full of awkward situations and social hierarchies. Its anxiety inducing, but we endure it all for the love of the music. We all more-or-less suffer from the same bouts of social awkwardness, even the tough guy in the back who knows everyone by name. Ironically, when someone seems too comfortable off the bat, we consider them weird. There’s a comfortable level of sociability that is difficult to pin-point, but M always had it nailed. 

            At one point in the dream I realized that M had died a while back and that it was impossible for him to be there—for me to be with him. From there I recognized that I was in a dream, and I instantly woke up. 

            Recently I’ve been meeting new people in my travels and home scene. I strive to make friends with everyone, but I still confront that same social awkwardness. It often takes weeks or months for me to break out of my reticence. It’s been particularly strong lately, and that must be why M appeared in my dream. No amount of alcohol or drugs could ever nullify M’s ability to help me find ways to socialize and engage in genuine conversation. Not even death could stop him.

Al, Halloween 2019

Carlos of Al Dios No Conocido, Providence RI

Al Dios basement just before a show

Basement venue hosting some of the liveliest punk and metal acts in the country.

When I moved back to the East Coast from Bloomington and Chicago, I expected that little had changed in the Providence and Boston punk scenes. (Or maybe I just didn’t realize how much time had gone by). After reaching out to old friends and re-establishing those ancient connections, I pleasantly discovered that a lot had actually changed. Not only was there an entire new generation of punks, but there was also an entirely new pantheon of venues and bands (and the loyalties and feuds that go along with them). Alchemy had replaced Club Hell, Askew had just opened up, the Living Room was a distant memory, but many of the older titans still remained: AS220, Dusk, Fete, Colubums, etc.
Back in the early 2000s there were house shows in Providence and Pawtrucket, but they were not nearly as alive as the basements that run the city’s punk scene today.

Carlos lives at Al Dios No Conocido with a slew of other Providence punks that I see kicking around. He runs a pretty tight ship with bands coming in from all over the country. Carlos has been known to clean out his basement, patch concrete holes, corral loud or potentially offensive attendees, and generally do a lot of the leg work around the place. In fact, part of what puzzles me so much about Al Dios is the amount of bands that play that also play bigger venues in Boston. For example, a month or two ago Fluoride played the Middle East in Boston to a packed audience, and then the next night they played the tiny basement venue at Al Dios, only 45 minutes away. I wanted to know more about the history of the place and the dude in charge of reviving it. So I sat down with Carlos briefly before a show…

I’m interested in the place. Do you own it?

No, we rent it. Essentially we just regularly rent it. The landlord is pretty alright. So long as he’s getting paid he’s fine. One time he came here at the end of a show and he didn’t really care, he was like “oh you’re having a party.”  

I noticed that shows usually end around 11:00…

We do that of a variety of reasons. One is the earlier we end the show the less likely police are to come by, because as it gets late you get into the territory of someone getting really mad. Or an officer who is just around the area could stop by. But so far police have ignored us in this area because there’s literally so much more happening around. 

I’ve seen you guys post about being respectful of the space outside and not loitering. Have people respected that?

Yeah for the most part a lot of people have, and being that its Providence—a really small city—it gets to the point where after going to 1, 2, 3 shows we already know who the person is.  And at that point it’s easy to be like “hey can you just move over here” and they’re like yeah. I’ve never had a problem with it. Sometimes if it’s a big show there’s people all over the place, but once I tell someone to move in and they do it the rest follow. 

In terms of booking shows—I think for punk there have been great bands here and not at any of the established venues of Providence. So how do you go about finding those bands and getting them to play? 

It’s honestly everyone knowing someone who knows someone else. For example, there was a show with 3 Philly bands, and it all happened because one Philly band was going to come play, but they knew someone else, and they came by, and I got another message by another Philly band and they needed a show around the area, so it just happened. 

It’s surprising because tonight you have Fluoride playing, and last night they played the Middle East in Boston—a radical difference.

It’s due to everyone or someone knowing someone, honestly.

What do you guys do with the door money, pay for electricity? 

We always do pay what you can so long as nobody is ever turned away at the door. Once we do door split, I try to give as much as we can to the touring bands, If its a big enough show sometimes we can get some money to throw toward the electricity bill. But if its a smaller show I throw it all toward the bands, specifically if they’re from far away 

How many people live here?

It shifts around a lot. There’s 7 people right now in the building entirely. For the most part what makes up Al Dios is the first floor, and there’s just three of us. They’ve been doing stuff here for a while now, so for example this building is a place where people come and go a lot. It’s been around for like a decade actually – artists, musicians, etc. They leave stuff, here—like if I go in the back there’s a random drum set in the back here. 

Are you from Providence originally? How old are you?

Yeah, I’m 23.

And how’d you get into punk?

Honestly, I’d say it just suddenly happened. I always listened to random punk with my mp3 player—anything I came across. But at college I met some other folks and someone who was in a band. And they invited me to a show, I don’t remember where, but it was Love Sick, and I really liked it. And form there I went to other shows at AS220, Aurora, Spark City, and from there it just evolved to me meeting more and more people and becoming more a part of it. Then accidently moving into here— not accidently, one day I got invited and from there I started taking part in it, and now I’m the main person setting it up here, as the oldest resident. 

How do you coordinate it all? If you have a band that wants to play, what do you tell them they have to do? If there any procedure?

I just get messages with someone who already has like 3 bands ready, and another band from around here will want to play also because again, in Providence everyone is a musician. We try to have at least one local band on each show. 

You guys have had better bands than all those bigger places in Providence, honestly. 

It’s the kind of space we have that people are intrigued by. It’s a basement, and after the bands play people just hang in the living room and go to the liquor store near by. 

Do you let the bands stay here if they play? 

Sometimes, if a band needs to stay we always have something where they can stay, or an extra room or a couch. We had 8 people share the living room once. 

That’s really it! I’m really into the place and wanted to know more.

It’s been around for like 10 years. The thing about the name Al Dios No Conocedo is that it used to be a church, like the first floor, and it was the called “the Church of Al Dios no Conocedo,” which translates to “The unknown god” or “The God that is not known.” When they left more folks moved into here and had art and music stuff. They kept the name and made it a space for shows. It would die down and come back, die down and come back. When I moved here it was dead, the basement was a mess, and we got hit up to do a show here, because someone knew me and knew this place used to do shows, so I cleared the basement up and made it happen. It was a big show. 

At the end where those lights are there used to be a wall and someone got thrown through. And that’s where we spiraled into more and more show requests. I get hit up a lot. I don’t always say yes because we don’t wanna over do it.

How do you decide to turn down a band?

If it’s people I don’t know that well. If I or someone else knows someone personally I’m comfortable with them booking a show in my home. But if it’s someone I never met or a band I’ve never heard of I kinda just don’t do it. 

There was a problem for a bit in Boston of cops posing on social media to find house shows. Did you have the same problem? 

Yeah the police ignore this area a bit. We’re in a perfect spot. It’s the way we go about it. For the Graf Orlock show the Facebook page said 150 people were coming, but there were only really about 75 people there because the rest didn’t know the address. We are very careful not to give the address out to strangers. You have to know somebody.