Feeling Invisible At an Incognito Show

Content acknowledgement: Throughout this post there will be mention of suicide and depression.

Leaving New York City and approaching the Lincoln Tunnel, there is a large mural with the old adage, “Nothing Is Impossible.” As i stared into the slight gaudiness of the font and semi-bright paint job, i silently disagreed, as at the moment, everything feels impossible..

It begins with night 1 of 2.

As a person who used to skateboard and was heavily into skate culture (and particularly loved the Bones Brigade and folks like Steve Olson) primarily in my teens to early/mid 20s, i was excited to attend a conversation/presentation/Q&A with Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk. On the day of the event, i was not expecting to contact the therapist i was seeing as a follow-up to my accident, nor was i expecting to call 988 (the U.S.-based suicide hotline).

i wish crippling depression or (active and/or passive) suicidal ideation on no one. It is an appendage you’ve learned to adapt to, so you figure out how to manage it. However, there are days you don’t see coming, and a switch in your brain flips.

Due to this ‘switch’ i was not in the greatest head space to attend this event; i attended though, because i had no idea who i could give my ticket to.

As an amputee who travels primarily in a wheelchair, when attending a venue there’s a level of ‘othering’ that becomes difficult to describe at times; it is assumed you need assistance at all times, to the point of repeatedly asking if you are sure despite saying you don’t need assistance. There are some who will speak to you in a patronizing manner, as if you are a child. It feels quite isolating to experience this (especially when being relegated off to the side of the ‘disabled section’, where your line of sight is usually obscured, or at some points in the nosebleed sections, as if ADA is an afterthought). The feeling of being ‘othered’ in combination with suicidal ideation is again, not a thing i would wish on anyone.

(Photo courtesy of ada.gov: The current photo on the front page of the ADA’s site has all these beautiful and cool people on there. Make no mistake- while the photo displays more than a tinge of racial capitalism; it’s still cool to see a ‘punk kid’ with a ‘hawk and tattoos.)

For this specific event i was in the second row (a rare case in my experience). i was located to the farther right of Tony Hawk, but still in his direct line of sight. It seemed like he looked directly at me a few times, but that’s not something i will ever know. My biggest worry was, if he actually did see me, whether or not he detected that i wanted to disappear at that moment.

While Hawk was the more stoic of the two (busting out a spontaneous joke (or three)); i sensed the infectious nature of the joy and humility coming from Rodney Mullen. The both of them being just old enough to be my big brothers, Mullen has a whimsical and almost childlike approach to how he responds to things. It honestly was a joy to see, in a world full of cynicism. As i say all this, i admit that i felt none of it.

On the culture and community of skateboarding, Mullen says: “…(I)t is a union of sport, of art, community, connection, vocabulary that unites us in ways, God knows. Tell me there’s not a lot of at-risk people; when is something so valuable that is keeping them… That they’re haunted through child abuse or whatever it is they’re going through; drug addiction… Should they end it now? Skateboarding has a cohesion to say, ‘At least I belong…’ The essence of our community is that we share something so much deeper, that shapes us, lifelong. We share something not only physical, but an actual language that unites us.”

What happens when you don’t necessarily feel part of a community? i came up watching and being inspired by folks like Hawk and Mullen, but i haven’t skated in years. Currently, i feel inspired by the younger wave of skaters like (fellow amputee) Felipe Nunes. Despite all this inspiration i felt alone as i saw the masses of skaters coming together ‘in community’ at the Beacon Theater, and i wondered what i was doing there. In a sea of outsiders, i still didn’t belong.

i have been waiting for years to see Incognito, one of my favorite bands of all time. Many an attempt has been thwarted, due to particular life events. Of course, the moment this activity becomes a reality, it is marred by a mental health crisis.

Here is where we encounter Night 2: It began with the other usual act of being rolled through the kitchen (on this evening it was Sony Hall), in order to get to the venue. i’m already generally feeling as if i’m in everyone’s way (which is one of the primary drivers to the ideation i have). Rolling through a narrow kitchen (to get to and from the bathroom as well) does not make me feel any less of a burden to those around me.

i am rolled to the end of a table. There are three people sitting on the other end. One of the men looks familiar; we have met at the Blue Note before (prior to the pandemic, when i had two legs), but it is clear he does not recognize me. About a minute after i got to the table, a man with long locs arrived. He automatically introduced himself to the other parties at the table, but said nothing to me. He spoke about how he was a professional musician; i wanted so badly to connect and mention that i played music as well, but i didn’t have the energy to project my voice.

Most people who know me perhaps have little to no awareness of how shy i am. It takes a lot for me to approach people, but i do it because i crave human connection; it’s not because i’m necessarily a ‘people person’ or an extrovert. If i am experiencing a mental health crisis around strangers, my voice at times is barely audible.

A friend of the man with the locs soon approached, and sat at the table. Automatically, he turned his back to me. The man with the locs immediately engaged a woman who was attending alone and soon sat across from me, and next to him. i felt like the outcast at the lunch table amid the ‘cool kids’. i once again felt i was in the way, especially after most people who passed me kept bumping into the wheelchair.

There are times i bring a book with me to shows, where i can read before anything begins, or in between bands. i forgot to grab one as i was rushing out of the house, and as a result i sat on the opposite end of the ‘cool kids” table with my head down, wanting to, again, disappear.

In the midst of hopelessness i looked up to find what was perhaps a momentary ‘kindred spirit’: a crew member on stage in a Metallica ‘…And Justice For All’ shirt. i wanted so badly to connect with this person, but we were on the opposite ends of the venue.

We should never make automatic judgements on someone’s musical tastes, based on whatever show they’re attending. If you were to see me at the Incognito show, you most likely wouldn’t know i listen to everything from Nat Adderley to Zeni Geva… just as we should never make assumptions about how someone is doing. People who are seemingly filled with joy on the outside may also be struggling– for all we know, that show could have been someone’s final moment of connection, before they ended it all.

i tend to do a lot of people watching when i am at a venue; on this occasion i was hyper focused on seeing if there were others who may be struggling like me. i wanted to let them all know they were not alone. But i can never know. So i felt alone, even if i wasn’t.

At the table i did shed a tear or two in the dark, but for much of the show my eyes welled up. i automatically knew i was going to cry rivers if they got to my favorite ever song of theirs, ‘Still A Friend Of Mine’, because it is a song i have cried to several times. During the set my bladder became so full it was about to burst, and something told me that it was going to happen when my favorite song came on.

My internal indicator was absolutely correct. The moment i closed the door to the bathroom and heard Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick’s long (inaudible from the bathroom) monologue, i knew this was it. The moment the first two notes played, everything i was holding at the table left my body, and i began sobbing. In fact, there were a few trips made to the bathroom.

The band (and all others around me) were seemingly celebrating the gift of both music and life. i welcomed the positive energy around me, but i felt nothing but emptiness inside. This juxtaposition was simultaneously overwhelming and heartbreaking. This is the first time i’ve gone to a show (of one of my all-time favorite bands in particular) and experienced difficulty in finding joy, despite how great the show was.

Bluey (the founder of a band that rivals (but definitely beats) Pigface, in terms of the number of folks who have contributed… with Incognito, Bluey stated it was over the 1000 mark) made a closing speech after their set (which averaged about two hours), calling for a global ceasefire. He didn’t name a particular place on the map, but he was quite decisive in his focus on children being murdered in the name of political will and the fight for land. He may not have named names, but it was undeniable that many in the audience had a particular point of reference and interpretation of where he was coming from.

He did indeed speak of the fact that the role of music (Incognito’s in particular) should be to unify, regardless of location, ideology, spiritual practice, political belief, and all of the other seemingly polarizing factors. These types of speeches do frustrate me; although people have positive intentions when they say these things, the lack of decisiveness on this perspective potentially opens up space for an environment you did not necessarily intend for there to be. Whether you choose to be more measured, or frank (such as Kurt Cobain’s statement: “If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us-leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”), the importance is that it is done.

Whatever frustration i had was short-lived, as Bluey began to talk about the isolation elders felt as the pandemic raged on. As he urged everyone to reach out and connect with people who may be experiencing loneliness, my eyes welled up once again as i saw people hugging and meeting new people. The band bowed and left the stage as Bob Marley & The Wailers’ ‘One Love’ played. Given the subject matter Bluey was addressing, it was one of the few times i’ve seen any associations with the song make sense. i’ve seen many focused on the chorus, without acknowledging the message. That said, whatever happiness i felt for others still did not assuage the emptiness i was feeling.

As i was about to leave, i saw Maysa Leak (Bluey’s muse, and amazing long-time Incognito co-vocalist) sitting at a table, signing merch. i felt so plain, in the midst of her stunning beauty and sophistication. She gestured a ‘hello’ and slightly moved over in order for me to pass. i did stop to say hello; i also thanked her for the music, and the message. She returned thanks. i may have been feeling emptiness; however, this does not mean that the love in that room didn’t resonate with me.

i also informed her that i was feeling suicidal. In response, she said “It’s gonna be alright.” i asked her for a hug, and i wept as she embraced me. She repeatedly said, “It’s gonna be alright.” i felt comforted and reassured in that moment by this stranger. She didn’t tell me that “Killing yourself is something you shouldn’t do,” or that “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” She didn’t say, “there’s so much to live for,” or “If (you) did it, (your) family would be upset”- things that are not necessarily helpful for people who are experiencing ideation. Most of us already understand how difficult it will be for others. Telling us how ‘bad’ it is doesn’t get to the fact that all we want is for the pain to dissipate.

After our embrace, she dropped some merch in my lap. i rolled into the elevator to get to the ground floor, and i again, began to weep.

As i waited for my ride inside the hotel (Sony Hall is on a lower floor), i saw the crew member outside with the Justice t-shirt. After getting his attention, i told him that Metallica is my second favorite band, and that Incognito is also one of my favorite bands. He responded, “Is Incognito your first?” We talked a bit about Metallica, and he mentioned that he was trying to get members of Incognito to give metal a chance. He asked if i was going to any more metal shows in the future, and i informed him that i was going to see Judas Priest later this month. He excitedly talked about seeing them live some years ago.

My fellow Metallica ‘kindred spirit’ (and fellow outsider, at least for the evening)’s name is Steve.

i suppose these moments carry with them an interesting twist; as i was at one of the lowest points in my life (resulting in, once again calling the hotline), i ended up meeting members of Metallica- the band who had a hand in saving my life. Here is another point- perhaps lower than that August day. i ended up meeting a person in another one of my favorite bands of all time, who happened to console me when i needed it. i then met a man who was a crew member of said band, wearing the shirt of a band who had a hand in saving my life. i didn’t tell Steve any of this, but now he (as well as Maysa, and the woman who sat across from me, who bid me a good night before she left) has become a part of my life’s story.

It was a good feeling to smile in between the tears, if even for a moment. Thank you all.