Over the past few weeks I've learned something the hard way... you have to live in Greenville to write about Greenville. Let me explain: I was Hawk Season. I wrote the column that started out, innocently enough, as a monthly music column and descended quickly into the realms of serious Gonzo madness. I've known for a while that I would be moving away to the Triangle, Carrboro to be precise, and my plan was to write a triumphant final column under my actual name before letting the next Hawk Season take over. Yes, there is a new Hawk Season. He's going to be writing in the September issue and beyond.
Give him hell. I plan to.
The big plan did as all big plans do... it didn't work. I've been through three drafts of my final column, the last one a dreadful chimaera of disjointed segments, and I'm starting over.
I moved to Greenville in July of 2006 and I didn't want to be there. See, I grew up in Eastern NC, in the sweltering wilderness of Pamlico County, and it wasn't a pleasant thought to be back. Just two years of this, just long enough for my wife to get through grad school, and we would be out. We'd just come from Asheville and we were a little spoiled. I didn't know it, but Asheville's music scene had gone into a tailspin that same summer and the world class scene we'd been closely involved in was faltering. The Smashing Pumpkins didn't help, either. They were actually the death knell. They "drew the attention of the world" to Asheville in a way that was only detrimental to local music. This is no paradox, dig it: Asheville's independent rock bands had been slowly clawing their way to the nation's attention when the Pumpkins' string of Orange Peel shows torpedoed all this progress, forcing the local scene to start over at the bottom of the ladder.
It's getting there again, Asheville's Drone Valley festival in September promises to rekindle some of our old glory. Not an excuse for complacency, but a sign of hope.
So that was the summer of '06... drinking PBR and resenting the new town, watching the old town's scene slide slowly downhill from a distance of five hours. Shootings and stabbings across the street at King's Arms, employment hard to land. I tried to find music downtown, but I couldn't find anyone who wrote their own songs.
The drought was not to last.
I don't remember who told me, but I remember my first Spazz show. The drummer from the two piece I played in up in Asheville drove down and we played a set. I had never seen anything like the place. It reminded me vaguely of Asheville's now defunct El Nuevo showspace, but it was huge! I don't know where these people had been hiding, but they knew their music and they came out to shows and actually acted like they enjoyed themselves.
So we had our venue, a place to go see music, but we'd acquired a taste for good beer up in Asheville and it was killing us to have to roll with what Lowe's Food had in stock. I mean, their selection was okay, but the personal touch was gone. It's good to be able to talk beer while you buy it, and this isn't possible with a 17 year old stock clerk who doesn't know the difference between a Lambic and an Imperial Porter. We were walking, my wife and I, when we saw an empty storefront across Charles Blvd from some worn down houses that would, incidentally, be torn down to make way for the Sheetz. Weird houses, dead kittens everywhere. The Sheetz I prefer to those creepy houses.
Shut up, Corbie. Finish the story.
I remember saying it would be perfect for someone to open up a real beer store in that spot and my wife agreed with me... but she said it was impossible. We had this sinking feeling we were the only beer snobs in town. I had this image in my mind of a little shop, packed to overflowing with swank Colorado beer, East Coast microbrews, and especially sweet stuff I'd never heard of, with nary a Natty or Miller Lite case. Impossible, I know.
Well, 21 Eleven opened up and our jaws hit the ground. Now 21 Eleven's doing so well that Lowe's Food has invested in a banner declaring "the biggest beer selection in town!" It's only the biggest, Lowe's, because you guys stock thirty varieties of Budweiser. Run scared, guys. You can't keep up with Richard's prices.
We started getting our beer at 21 Eleven and our music from the Spazz. Word from Asheville was not good and Greenville was being nicer and nicer to us. 21 Eleven went from being our favorite beer store to our favorite beer store/live music venue and we were making friends with some of the coolest people on Earth. That's when I learned the age old mystery of Greenville... it's a lousy town, of that we can all agree, but it's filled somehow with people whose equal you will never meet. What's up with that? There's a camaraderie among my Greenville friends not unlike the Rebellion from Star Wars. Just because Palpatine runs the show doesn't mean we voted for him.
So we lived with our villains. Nay, we flourished. We rode our bikes through traffic, laughing our asses off through close calls and blown out tires. We went to shows that kept going until 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning and showed up to work at 8:00 the next day, somehow more functional on the job with a head full of good music than on days we went to bed at midnight.
It came to be July of 2008, it had been two years. The house stood empty and a gigantic Penske truck idled in the yard. I didn't know what I would do without the Empire, I still don't know. I'm in Carrboro now and things here are, so far, quite easy. There are bike lanes the width of a Prius and hippies wandering everywhere, that glazed look in their eyes that says "I saved the world today, what have you been doing?"
The move has been hard, but I feel good about the future. I know this time I have not left a doomed scene, the Greenville underground will flourish and I'll be back every chance I get. No matter how many spaces are raided and shut down or how many times downtown resists the push of original music it cannot die. Obi-Wan Kenobi smiles at Officer Vader and puts down his light saber. "If you strike me down..."
Thanks Richard and Jeff for putting on the shows, you guys are in my rock and roll hall of fame for sure, and thanks Kevin (aka DJ Dog) for being such a rad editor. Hawk Season put some stuff in his magazine that, frankly, even I was a little scared of but he had the faith to print it.
Godspeed, rock on, and I'll see you around.