Moments In Song #4 – Urge Overkill ‘Sister Havana’
The next day we were driving through the endless flat, brown dust that is western Texas, when the sky turned ominous, with dark clouds rushing in from every direction. All of a sudden, my hands started shaking uncontrollably and I began to hyperventilate. It had been right around here where my grandmother’s car had flipped while she was driving through a thunderstorm. I didn’t know what a panic attack was, but looking back, that’s obviously what was happening.
“We need to get off the road now. I can’t drive in this.”
“Sure. No problem.”
There was a sign for a Pizza Hut at the next exit. We pulled off and got something to eat. The storm passed in a manner of minutes, moving through the area with violent speed, as they tend to do in that part of the country. We settled up and left. On the way back to the interstate, we stopped to get gas. I asked Bobby if he could pump it while I went to the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom, he was there standing outside the door waiting for me, excitedly hopping up and down.
“Dude! Oh my god! Urge Overkill’s here! They’re in the parking lot! They’re all out there! Come meet them!”
Bobby walked quickly towards a filthy white van parked at one of the pumps. Even though I was six inches taller than him, I was rushing to keep up. Sure enough, it was Urge Overkill. I still have no idea what to say when I meet people in bands, but Bobby was one of the most uninhibited people I knew, it was part of his charm, and within minutes he had charmed Urge Overkill. (It turns out telling people in bands how much you listen to their music is usually a good way to get them to like you.) Then, Ed Roeser, the bass player, stumbled out of the van, wearing the exact same Teenage Fanclub shirt I had on.
“Hey man, I dig your shirt,” he mumbled.
“Thanks,” I said.
Bobby asked them where they were playing next. UO guitarist Nash Kato told him they were playing in Phoenix at The Mason Jar. He said we should come, that he’d put us on the guest list. Bobby pointed out that we hadn’t been able to see them the night before because he wasn’t 21 yet.
“Naw man, I’ll put you on the list. There won’t be any problem with that.”
We gave their tour manager our names, thanked them and headed back to the car, practically bursting with excitement. It was the most excited I’d felt in nearly a year. It was a 10-hour drive from Fort Stockton, Texas to Phoenix, Arizona, and we made it all the way to Tucson, about two hours short of Phoenix, before we had to quit and get a hotel room. We crashed until noon the next day and then drove the rest of the way.
Pulling into Phoenix, we headed straight to the Metro Center — a mall where my mom had briefly managed a Waldenbooks when I was younger — and bought Urge Overkill’s Saturation on cassette at the Sam Goody’s. We then proceeded to drive all over Phoenix listening to it, getting more and more excited for that night’s show.
‘Positive Bleeding’ was my favorite. I was seduced by its boundless energy, its optimism, its swagger.
Hearing it made me feel powerful, like my life was going to change. Life could really be this simple. Good things can happen when you least expect it. One day, you’re stacking 20 pound fluorescent light fixtures. A week later, you’re driving around Phoenix getting ready to go see some band you met the night before, a band you hadn’t even heard until a couple of days ago. I could get used to this kind of life. It felt like a good sign. I wasn’t even home yet, and already things were different.
Even now, 20 years later, my first reaction when I hear this song is embarrassment. It’s literally painful to listen to. Hanging out in Phoenix, I had no way of knowing that a week later I would be lying on the floor of Bobby’s living room, crumpled up in a ball and terrified of the future.
But in Phoenix it was all sunshine and euphoria. After all, what were the odds of running into Urge Overkill? Of our two trips continuously syncing up over and over again? It had to be some kind of sign. Bobby and I, along with our group of friends, had always been weirdos and outsiders. There weren’t many people in El Cajon who shared our music obsessions. And the people who were into music, the ones over in San Diego, just saw us as weird hick kids from El Cajon (which to be fair, we kind of were). But our experience with Urge Overkill made it feel like the world was becoming smaller, that maybe we weren’t so far away from things, that sometimes a simple alignment of timing could open up all kinds of doors.
Like I said, my optimism still embarrasses me.