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Horn & Halo by Joe Bocchicchio 10/19/17

Dedicated to my daughter Camille, and her friends Jon, Michelle, and Jaclyn who organized the benefit in memory of their former bandmate and friend Garrett who completed suicide.


The ancient Celts held that the barrier between the living and the dead was thinnest at

Halloween. Dread compelled them to dress in fearful countenance to protect themselves from the revenge those who died, often at the hand of those still living. Highland mist, wind, and nights so dark that meager torchlight could only illuminate the patch of ground beneath your feet. The dead walked about you dispelled only by your own talismanic appearance formed in terror and designed to terrify the restless, vengeful, dead. Dawn provided a year's reprieve.

Each passing year, however, weakened these beliefs by slowly eroding the old ways until now only children fear the dead. One Halloween night long ago, when I was a young boy I timidly left my bed scared of ghosts and sought out my father. He was a stern man and I was not eager to approach him. I would not cry that night from fear of neither ghost nor my father but I could not pass the night alone. I sought him out and told him. I was afraid of ghosts. He didn't scold or ridicule me or caused me to fear him. "It's not the dead you need to fear" he said, "but the living." "Now go back to bed." Struck by the sense of it I felt oddly relieved. Returning to bed I slept well and awoke the next day more wary of the living, less fearful of the dead.

What is it that we grow to fear most as we age? Not the dead. Not even our own death.

We see the comfort in that. We fear the living and the harm they may do us but not so much as we fear what may happen to those we love especially our children. There is sickness to fear born of infection and malignancy. There are the mysterious disorders of the mind. We worry about accidents. There is violence and death at the hands of others. "Keep them safe" we pray, Every time we part we pray "keep them safe" Yet harm comes. And what greater horror is there than the death of a child, and perhaps worse of all, death by the child's own hand. At that there is no greater fear, no greater sorrow.

It being October Halloween is closing in. The barrier thins and we are in reach of those on the other side. Yet the living are still more fearsome. Fifty are murdered in Las Vegas about equal to the daily average nationwide. I am driving home from work. The comfortable, welcoming curve in the road is disrupted by a fleet of parked police cars, an ambulance, and the familiar unmarked van of the Coroner. Death has come to a quiet street. The neighbors' boy, not yet 16, has shot himself in the head. The police tape off the house. In the front lawn the boys' parents have dropped to their knees. Nothing will ever calm their grief.

I work in Suicide Prevention. There is no irony in my life. I phone in the suicide to my office and the on - call does the follow up. Neighbor or no, I am out of the mix. The very next night I am scheduled to attend a benefit concert to raise money for mental health and drug treatment, a benefit I helped organize. That is how I ended up sharing the stage, however briefly, with the punk band Weird Penis.

Tribes endure. Tattooed people cluster making music. They dance. Staccato heads bob up and down. Frenzy ensues. Bodies swirl, clash, spin away, collide again, energy builds to music fierce and relentless, bass guitar thump fires a steady blast, soaring, searing rhythm guitar strums, neck cocked loaded for trouble, it takes two hands, drums you feel in your chest, your belly, your groin, a banshee song, lead guitar screeches in, no brakes, the bodies collide.

Tribes endure. But it's not my tribe.

What is it that makes us come together as a people? How is it that that an old man came to be here, at an Akron dive bar, a sort of hippie hell, where people with skin art, fierce beards, unnatural hair colors, faces pierced with metal, many wearing black studded clothing with demonic iconography stitched and sewn by each person's own design meant to offend and frighten others. This young, bold, angry tribe, fearsome in appearance, some carrying knives, are still endearing.

I am cloaked in long grey hair and as silent as a stone gargoyle. I watch them throughout the night. Young men and women greet each other with high fives and hugs. They flirt, they gather around the eight ball table and joke about. They play poorly and are generous towards each other. There is much laughter among them.

When punk was new and Margaret Thatcher was old she famously articulated the neo-conservative mantra, "there is no such thing as society, merely individuals and their families." This piece of political Aspergers complimented the punk ethos expressed by the Sex Pistols in "Anarchy in the U.K.". The energy is still in the music. Here is a lyric:


I am an anarchist

Don't know what I want

But I know how to get it

I want to destroy the passerby


These garish, obscene, young punks of today sense the grim truth in Thatcher's dictum that is now so entrenched in US culture where politics is a euphemism for corporate power. The thin barrier today is not between the living and the dead but between the living and the living dead. The faceless, sexless suits; those executives who make the rules, the robotic administrators in beige trench coats and pink ensembles who enforce the rules, and the zombies in every day cloth who obey the rules exchanging their freedom for discounted goods.

The punks today are alive to the constant threat to their autonomy, they are at once, horn and halo as they struggle to resist anonymous, arbitrary power and to destroy all that is pedestrian, dull, and unimaginative; the walking dead, the passerby.

John Dewey held that a public coalesces around a problem. Society or community does not, as such, exist. What brought us together that night was death, death from suicide and accidental overdoses. The punks coalesced around a problem. They sought me out as an ally. I, in turn, reached out to the professional class of health providers and agency supports. People volunteered their time and talent to raise money to help others. At least for a night the tribe stretched out and a public came into being.

At the end of last set I was invited to address the crowd. Standing before the band the

lead singer was calling for quiet so that I may be heard. He kindly toyed with me regarding my age and handed me the mic. I half expected to be spit at or have a can of beer thrown at me.

After all this was Akron. The stage was dance floor level and glowed softly red from a dim house light. The crowd was eerily silent as they stared at me. I felt small and old. "You're wondering what this old man is doing here," I said. "I'm here to thank you for your talent and for putting up your money." "I want to tell you where your money is going." "We're going to buy Narcan and save some lives." We're going to get people into detox and rehab." "I want to thank you for your authenticity and sincerity." I paused and remembered the neighbor boy. "You need to know that last night the 15 year-old kid across the street from me shot himself in the fucking head."

"Maybe what you all did here tonight will prevent someone from doing that tomorrow." I finished and as | crossed the floor I got some nods and pats on the shoulder, a few thanks here and there and the crowd went back to having a good time just as young folks should. I took my leave.

Driving home I passed the house on my street where the kid died. The porch light was on. No car was in the driveway. Nobody was home. The barrier felt very thin.


Joseph Bocchicchio 10/19/17




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