photo by Jena Ardell
Whatever Tomorrow Brings
September 18, 2001: Sometimes I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear.
Nobody wanted to leave. The entire crowd of almost 2,000 people just congregated in the middle of Boston’s Lansdowne Street – and nobody really said a word. There was something so cathartic about having a sea of people in a still movement, occupying a city block yet remaining inaudible.
You see, it was the first time anyone left the house/dorm/apartment/campus. Even for a 21-year-old in college, was it the right thing to do? Was it the right time to go do something enjoyable?
By now, you have probably figured out that the date I am referencing was exactly one week after the horror of September 11, 2001. It’s a day and subject that will always be near impossible to put to words.
I was a junior in college, living on campus in the outskirts of Boston. But I’m from Northern New Jersey, a stone’s through from Manhattan. That’s where my family was, except for my sister who was living in Manhattan. Everybody has a story about that day and mine was similar to many other’s where I just wanted to be home. But regardless of where you were, nobody could really go anywhere. Classes were canceled for days, there were support groups arranged and mass transportation from the university to the city was shut down until further notice. The only communication back home was via AOL Instant Messenger.
Los Angeles-based rock band, Incubus, was a huge part of my college soundtrack (still is), and I don’t mean background noise at a keg party. The Make Yourself record offered a sense of freedom and finding yourself at a time that couldn’t have been more appropriate. The impromptu acoustic version of “Pardon Me” permeated all corners of life and surfed a wave of honesty and vulnerability that was easy to connect with, and so greatly appreciated. There’s a subtle moment in this version, where Boyd let’s out a slight chuckle and I think says something like, “This is feeling quite down right now”. Those simple moments, that’s what I am talking about here. Incubus was speaking to us directly and encouraging a happy unity amongst strangers before it was spoken on stage in September of 2001.
My first memory of September 18th was that a friend who was not attending the concert offered to drive us because that was now the only way to get there. His black Honda Accord rolls up onto the bridge on Brookline Ave. The usual sounds of cars zipping along the Mass Pike below are replaced by a dark silence. Suddenly, somebody shouts, “We’ll just get out here” and before the car is completely pulled over, all three doors fly open and we literally jump out and start sprinting down to the venue. In the spirit of another LA-based rock band we were all cranking – Nick, If I ever didn’t thank you (for driving us), then just let me do it now.
photo by Jena Ardell
It was a unique time in the history of Incubus. Their much anticipated record Morning View was about a month away from being released. Though it had been finished for some time, the previous record, Make Yourself, now celebrating 20 years, offered another round when “Drive” took off and created a life of its own. The band decided to tour one more time in support of Make Yourself due to this popularity and it would serve as a nice lead-in to the next chapter.
With every emotion swirling around in our guts, the lights inside the Avalon finally go down. This venue, now the House of Blues, was dark a Rock n’ Roll room that would often transform to a night club in the later hours. The entrance to the stage was a stairwell from the second-floor green room. We see Boyd descend first – his head tilted down with his signature surf-style hair waving to the beat of the intro music. There were your typical – the band first takes the stage, the shows about to start cheers because there is no feeling like that – but, not as many. Still, I think people were unsure… of everything. And then…
“It’s coming around again
They’re letting it out again, again
It’s coming around again.”
Yes, I feel emphatic about not being static, because by song three, a fully-intended, electric version of “Pardon Me”, we all started to gently let it out. Though we were packed in on the floor like sardines, there was this unspoken “safe place” circumference around each person both physically and mentally. At song six, Boyd first spoke to the crowd. Asking for our trust and friendship he introduced a new song called, “Nice to Know You” which would end up opening Morning View. The timing was precise and impeccable because look to your left, look to you right … it was really nice to know you that night. Because pertaining to the events at hand – everybody knew somebody.
“I haven’t felt the way I feel today in so long…”
And then midway through the stellar set, we had a moment. Body and guitarist Mike Einzinger come and sit on the monitors at the edge of the stage. Boyd asks if it’s OK if they play another new one. It’s a quiet tune and perhaps was our moment of silence, because as Incubus unplugged and sang, “You better bend before I go, on the first train to Mexico” so did we all. You can hear a guitar pick drop and everybody held hands…without actually holding hands.
And then came, “Whatever tomorrow brings I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes.”
It was a catalyst that allowed the remaining hour to serve as a place to jump and sing, share a beer and shed a tear.
photo by Jena Ardell
I got to see Incubus this past week. It was in Boston, and as I’m briefly chatting with Boyd before the show it hits me like a ton of bricks that the last time I saw the band in Boston was September 18, 2001. This time it’s the 20th anniversary of Make Yourself tour. Not every record that hits the 20-year mark gets a tour in its honor, but a record with this much meaning and sentiment behind it is more than worthy.
I struggled with articulating how much that Boston 2001 show meant to me as the light bulb went off mid-conversation with Boyd. Suddenly drummer Jose Pasillas and DJ Chris Kilmore chime in and share their memories of that time. Before our Boston show and days after 9/11, Incubus was in New York and I believe, they were contemplating whether or not this tour should proceed. As Kilmore shares a story with me about having to take a long walk over a bridge in order to get out the city to continue that tour, I think of and share this blurb that Cane from ALT 92.3 wrote in our collaboration feature:
“Incubus at Hammerstein Ballroom, September 15th, 2001. Four days after 9/11. It was the first show anyone played in the city since that day. The energy in that packed room was like nothing I’d ever felt before or since. My God…it was like we were on a mission. Everybody randomly high-fiving each other, for no real reason other than to say, “we’re here, we’re one.” Cabbie, my partner at the time, and I go on stage to intro Incubus and it was like we were war heroes returning home. Cabbie had an American flag draped over his shoulders like a cape, and was running back and forth across the stage, whipping the crowd up even more. I don’t remember what I said, exactly, but I’ve never heard the “USA, USA, USA!” chant any louder or more heartfelt than that night. I went backstage and bawled pretty hard.”
Incubus played the majestic Wang Theatre in Boston last week, which was truly a perfect setting for such an occasion. It’s elegant and just looks fragile inside, yet it can sustain any art you throw at it while encouraging you to also design your own. At about 10:45pm, we get to the end of Incubus’ set. Boyd crouches down with his back facing the audience. He turns around and starts rhythmically grooving the shaker in both hands over the intro to “Wish You Were Here”. A lightning bolt strikes me and in my minds eye I am transported back to this song being performed at the Avalon in 2001. I recall that exact Boyd pose gliding the shaker in perfect harmony, holding it eye level to the mic like a priest clutching the bread. I revisit that feeling of nobody wanting to leave Lansdowne Street where we all huddled in comfortable silence.
This is what music does – it flows freely through your veins and in perfect spots, creates a ripple effect for you to carry on forever.
Make Yourself closes with “Out From Under” where you are left with,
“Get out from under them
Resist and multiply
Get out from under precipice and see the sky
Get out from under them
Resist, unlearn, defy
Get out from under precipice and see the sky.”
Resist, multiply, get out from under. If just for two hours, that’s exactly what we all did that Tuesday night in 2001. It didn’t make anything untrue or go away, but it did allow us to see the sky. The courage it took Incubus to charge ahead with that tour is something I will always respect deeply and attach to the Make Yourself era.
And while that record closes with encouragement to take a moment to look to the sky, Morning View was then ironically introduced with visuals where the ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue blanket, and that same sky is a backlit canopy with holes punched in it.
So, if I’m weary or if I feel as though I am going “Nowhere Fast” or if I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear or if simply basking in a moment of reflection, I contemplate – the day you were born you were born free, you better think fast, think fast, cause you never know what’s coming around the bend. Don’t let the world bring you down, remember why you came, experience the warmth. It’s driven me before and it seems to be the way, so …
“If you let them make you
They’ll make you papier-mâché
At a distance you’re strong
Until the wind comes
Then you crumble and blow away
You should only make amends with you
If only for better health
But if you really want to live
Why not try and make yourself?”
Thank you, Incubus.