Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The road to recovery

We're back, we're safe, we're fully armed with memories we shall carry until we are old men.

I lay upon the couch in my boring, generic, middle of the road, cliched college apartment in Carbondale as I finish my final 10 days as a college student. I could be a frat guy, wasted on Busch Lite, calling some upper-class, white girl with long stringy bleached hair that likes guys with a sweet faith in Jesus and a knack for pointing out how funny people different from us really are. I could be content to be normal.

Instead, I lay here, ankles throbbing, ears ringing, mind's eye rapidly shuffling images of a week that could vie for the best of my life. Before I sort out the trip's events and the impact it will have on my life, which has changed after this, I must nurse my body to health.

I slept three hours last night sitting upright in the car as we crossed from Texas to Oklahoma. My ears rang from being up front for Rage Against the Machine's reunion. The show gave me goosebumps with its power and relevance, but it also gave me some wicked injuries.

We camped out from 2 p.m. until Rage took the stage. Though the more than 100 degree weather tested us, we enjoyed our stay in front of the stage. Armed with a back pack full of bottled water, we bantered playfully with those waiting around us, making friends for the afternoon.

Explosions in the Sky, a brillant instrumental band from Texas, played beautiful background music during the hottest part of the day as we watched security heave open bottles of water into the air between spraying down the crowd with cool water. We grooved to the Roots, who as expected blew us away with what is no question hip hop's best live show.

Seated on the left side of the stage, no more than 10 people away from the front, we laughed at our brothers and sisters on the right. We stood comfortably as they pushed for position. We were enlightened, polite and just better. We cheered Willie Nelson as he and his family band performed a day before Willie's 74th birthday, and we felt bad for Austrailian 80s band Crowded House, who suffered through a totally geeked Rage crowd as they played one of their first shows in 11 years.

Then tragedy struck. Our utopian left side degenerated into the same miserable pushing as our friends on the right. As Manu Chao prepared, we found ourselves fighting for every inch of ground. I dug my feet in, using my ankles to stay in place, that's when they first started to hurt. Manu Chao, despite a horde of foaming Rage fans, managed to rock the crowd with his high energy set. That's when the first of our group fell. Chad and a girl he had befriended during the wait bailed. Security pulled them over the rail right before my very eyes.

"Chad, no!" I yelled, trying to convince my friend to stay put, but it was too late. So I threw my sweat soaked Manu Chao shirt to him, and wished him well. The move proved to be a smart one. THe Rage pit nearly ripped me apart.

I stood relatively close to Tim and Wayne before the set, but that quickly changed. The organizers showed Zack de la Rocha's sillouhete on the jumbo tron and the place exploded. Goosebumps covered my arms as I yelled as loud as I could, Zack took the stage with his band mates and set us afire with a few simple words: "Good evening. We're Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, Calif." With that, they launched into Testify, and destroyed any intent I had to stay a college student.

Wayne would quickly bale over the front rail as a gaggle of strained helpers lifted him up. Tim would get pushed back to the corner and also bail over the rail. I would remain in the pit the entire show. Someone ripped my wife beater off my body as pants and shoes flew through the air. I battled, I battled hard and I did more damage than I suffered, but all with good nature. When a smaller guy in a red shirt with dreads stumbled, I picked him up under the arms and hauled him to his feet.

After Bulls on Parade, I pulled a hidden bottle of water from my pocket and sprinkled the surrounding crowd, much to their delight. But the moment the music started I was down center pushing with all my strength, spinning, fighting and singing at the top of my lungs. I sprained an ankle somewhere along the way, and it wasn't so bad. I sprained the other ankle later, and it still wasn't so bad.

At one point, an afternoon friend helped me stay on my feet as we rocked out. I entertained the idea of fleeing over the rail, but I wanted nothing to sully this memory. I stayed, worried these sprains could lead to a broken bone. That's when they started Wake Up, that's when Zack gave us what we wanted - commentary on current events.

Zack told us every president from Truman to today was a war criminal and deserved to be "tried, sentenced and shot." That includes Bush. Zack climbed the amp as we hailed him, thanking him for the return. Rage finished us off with Freedom and Killing in the Name Of. Epic describes it perfect.

Fast forward to tonight, to my couch. Sure I'm hobbled, beaten and disoriented. Sure I need to force my way back into everday life. Sure, things will be tough these next 10 days, fee of binge drinking and losing control. But I wouldn't have this any other way. I have what none can take from me, a story, a memory, a thing that makes me special and helps me see what's really important in the world. Expect far more updates, photos and info when I feel better.

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