Cavity: Damaged V
How do know when someone's crazy? How about if they try to start a band in the vein of Godflesh, or Black Sabbath, in the hometown of Gloria Estefan? What if they manage to succeed, despite a sleazy, mediocre club circuit, unappreciative locals, and a constantly rotating roster of musical psychopaths...?
Inside the singularity with the best metal band since Gwar
by Brian T. Hughes
Cavity has succeeded, in the face of all these obstacles to create brutal music that bludgeons your neuroses. Themes like abandonment, anger, and alienation have become trite in everyday life; nevermind in music. In a world of Kevin Williamson movies, can any emotion but haughty disgust maintain relevance? That depends on whether the root of these emotions is legitimate. The trio/quartet/quintet (depending on who hates whom) attacks them with such brutality and lack of pretense that their source is obviously sincere. But to hell with this. Not only do these blanket statements prove subjective, they also don't totally apply and (most importantly) are boring. So here's the interesting parts. They start in late December, 1998, Miami, Florida...
I stand in a chalk gravel lot, home to dope pushers, sports utility vehicles far from home, punks, and lot and lots of crab grass. I'm with the South Miami Youth Crew, a greasy mob of beeswax and tattoos depicting malt liquor logos, outside Churchill's. Churchill's, the only club that books outlaw acts in this Helms-Burton plagued burg, is situated in Little Haiti. A demilitarized zone. Cavity is playing tonight. We make like Westside Story. We snap fingers, ballet dance. A ford pickup parks behind us. A tall, thick, black man in a knit cap exits. He says he's Joey. My friend Hank nudges me, and says that Joey once killed a man for talking shit. I shake Joey's limp hand and don't make eye contact. We spot Ryan Weinstein, Cavity's second guitarist, from across the street, but wait to greet him. Not wanting to belie my hardball rock journalist (ha) pose. I decide to keep socializing to minimum. It's time to write, so I sit in Hank's mom's minivan with the lights off, scribbling. Outside, the South Miami Youth Crew and Joey are a ballet dancing, finger-snapping, super predator. I exit the car and we enter the club. Ryan cuts the cover charge in half for us. We try and guess why, thinking the Sharks got into the infamous Dance for free. Maybe he cut the door in half because we can't afford to pay five buck apiece after feasting at Denny's. Maybe we get in for half price "Because we're cool," he says. Right back atcha, kid.
Ryan Cavity: fresh hair style, works in the music section of Barnes and Noble, guiding old Cubans to Gloria!, tells me that Ham on Rye is Bukowski's best prose, has the only car in the Barnes and Noble parking lot with a Green Machine bumper sticker.
We enter Churchill's. I sit in a dark corner and write. The South Miami Youth Crew plays pinball, jokes about Luisa La Loca, the Churchill's prostitute...
I wince as the theme from Deliverance plays on the p.a. Sodomy in the state closest to Cuba. More youth arrive, balancing out the aging garage punks who are at the bar with baby doll fuck bunnies, pompadours, Crumbs buttons, and lite beer. I see them and wince as my cock goes limp, realizing that the headlining Crumbs have brought their middle-aged fans.
Miami air has an age-retarding quality to it. Despite the city's large elderly population, there almost no visible graveyards. So people leave the punk scene much later, too. Strange times are to be had when after the monthly punk picnic, you can attend a party where thirty-year-olds in Buzzo*ven t-shirts drink beer from a dog bowl...
I see Anthony Vialon, Cavity's second longest-lasting member, old for a punk anywhere but here, a recovering junkie, and lead guitarist, sitting pensively, pouting on Marshall stacks on stage, sipping Sprite, cultivating his dark side for a night of primal scream therapy.
Anthony was betrayed, squealed on by worthless junkie friends. He spent nights rotting in jail, emotionally volatile, junk-sick. Busted in a Coral Gables park lit like an underwater tunnel. Lit so bright Hellen Keller wears Ray Bans. At night, hot yellow flood lights replaces black, green, brown. The slides are yellow, the sand is yelow, the grass is yellow. Not that this is necessary. The parks are abandoned by eight in spite (because) of this measure. I look up to see him again, but Anthony has disappeared.
Anthony, Ryan, Dan, and the New Drummer ascend the stage. Anthony drinks Sprite from a straw, Ryan grinds cigarettes under his patent leather dress shoe, Dan is sharply dressed, the New Drummer hides behind a mass of hair. Setup is silent, each man focused on his stack. Then they tune.
Tuning is just incongruous at Cavity shows. Like the psychiatric evaluations of men in the throes of depressive psychosis that precede commitment at Doral Palms Mental Hospital, the tuning is not so much a calm before a storm, but a last chance to catch a breath of mental health and happiness before thirty minutes of auditory regression-hypnosis therapy. E's are tuned to E, A's are tuned to A. One last sip of Sprite, and it's like diseased gums are chewing sand...
I'm sitting in my kitchen, two days after Christmas, offering fake meat to Ryan. My new kitten, Gatsby, plays with Ryan's female companion. She has orange hair and a small nose (the kitten).
The girl: pierced, with straight-edge choker. The only non-coatrack female scene-member in the city of Miami, as far as I know. She makes gagging noises when Miami hardcore kids are mentioned.
Using stock softball fanzine questions, I ask why XX chromosomes are an endangered hardcore species. Ryan leans back, scratches his temples, speaks:
"Girls are taught to be lady-like, and hardcore is ugly, gross and un-ladylike. The girls aren't generally geared into listening to hardcore... There's somewhat of a 'coatrack' mentality, where women are there to hold their boy-friends' t-shirts while they mosh and act tough... I can't really comment on the status of hardcore because I don't get around that much."
Secret word for the day: coatrock. Women in Miami hardcore wander from table to merchandise table, billowy jeans cinched with boyscout belts, platforms, spaghetti-strap tit shirts, purse under one arm, boyfriend's "Fuck Your Addictions" t-shirt under the other. Standing the back of the club, reading teenage poetry 'zines, discussing the feminist implications of the new No Doubt record. All the while, their boy-friends are kung-fu dancing, playing hardcore "smear the queer," as animal liberationist Nike posterboys.
But Ryan has his own problems to worry about. I ask him his opinion about conservatism in hardcore:
"I dunno. I guess it's sad...I sound like I don't care, but I respect other people's opinions, no matter how stupid, immature, and self-defeating they are... If people would start worrying about the world and stop worrying about petty scene politics or stupid bullshit like that, then everybody would have an easier time living. Cavity, we just live."
To hear their tortured string grinding bear-in-a-leg-hold-trap feedback, Cavity's living in worlds beyond ours. Haldol Thorazine world, running screaming in alleys from men with syringes filled with burning sedatives.
But it's better to live in worlds of fear and agony, aware of godless mutant bosses wearing dead-skin masks, feeding on cats and vagrants at night, then wake up in the psych ward, realizing it was just hallucinations until Nurse Lucy's tongue forks and tastes the air. Better to live in worlds of abandonment, where embalmed loners "Where were you when I was living?"
Cavity: skinny, preened men, thin like tainted communion waifers, destroyed psyches, shirts tucked in keep their guts from gumming up the stage as they're spilled from Gibsons and Fenders.
(When Ryan grabs the mic and sings, personalities shatter. Everyone's. The calm boy at the bookstore screams, pulls splinters from his throat. It's dramatic, but no not surprising. This is...)
Hardcore: Dungeons and Dragons geeks don Adidas, X's, and point fingers.
Which Cavity decidedly isn't. They're screams are real agony, not the rage of being denied the car on a saturday night...
The talk with Ryan ends. I ask for Anthony's phone number; Ryan says: "He's out of town."
"Oh," I say, "when's he coming back?"
"You have the number?"
"Where is he?"
"I don't ever talk to him," Ryan mutters, gets into his car adorned with Spazz and Greenmachine stickers, and pulls away into lukewarm South Florida Winter afternoon...
Watching America's Most Wanted, John Walsh gravely warns: "Psychopaths are made, not born." What, then, twists skinny, clean-cut South Florida boys?
"One of the first records I ever got was 'My War' by Black Flag," Ryan told me back in my kitchen. Not surprising. At times, Cavity is very reminiscent of the album's b-side; at others, merely reminiscent of slides of a vacation to the infinite pain and pleasure of our own personal hells. I sit outside in late December, at a Starbuck's next door to Dan the bass player's apartment. Dan lives between Starbuck's and a strip club. I spend fifteen minutes, trying to decide which is more distasteful. I look around, hoping Dan has changed his look, and will appear with a beard and a pentagram carved into his hand...
Yet, once again, looking at the father of Cavity, Dan, no pins stab his face, no superfluous mouths, no worm-bloated corpse. Just thin, clean-cut, Argentinean physique, tidy fingernails, good teeth. He works in a dance studio. I maintain hope and remember that Ted Bundy was a frat boy and Gacy was a fuckin clown so maybe my images of twisted minds isn't too far off the bat...
"Hi!" Dan shakes with that limp hand that's so popular in South Florida, "I just want to go get a drink. I'll be right back." I scribble questions. Dan returns, stirring a cappuccino. Cappuccino? What sick beast can create music as dense and grim as Cavity and then drink frou-frou-piss-mud from a chain store that can't even make decent lemonade? Like watching Sesame Street, Hardcore Porn, and Enya videos at once...
Pop culture, rock music especially, has been accused of inspiring more violent crime than a Bulls three-peat. Usually, I laugh this sort of finger-pointing off. But in a few select cases some psychic havoc seems to have been inflicted on today's young men...
"I wanted to start a band resembling the bands I was listening to at the time," Dan says ignoring the passing metro, "Like Black Sabbath, the Stooges, Laughing Hyenas. I wanted to do something in that vein. I liked their aggression. Even if their sound isn't that heavy, they're always trying to kill the audience. And for the past six years, I've been finding people who were into that. Guys like Anthony, Rene, Ryan could identify with the music. Anthony saw us play a few times and then asked if he could join. The people heard the sound and wanted to be a part of it."
(Months later, Anthony tells me that Dan recruited him to play guitar; he didn't request the spot. Cavity band politics seem to run this way. There's always between three and five sides to a story, depending on who just quit the band.)
Is this it? I wonder. Could it be that the creator of the soundtrack to every paranoid delusion, every panic attack, every hallucination, is just copying Geezer Butler?
But as out time in the Starbuck's parking lot draws to a close, Dan's ability to create the music of Cavity began making sense. Discussing "Damaged III," a Cavity track available only a split with Daisy Cutter where the boys groove on a one chord riff for over three minutes while samples from Rumblefish, Goodfellas, and Natural Born Killers, scream in the background, Dan explains he wanted to sample "disturbing things."
"I liked the movies...the sounds were disturbing, and I wanted to put them over the music and see what kind of effect that would give. I wanted to create a visual image out of the samples..." he says, shrugging his shoulders...
In the past, when people wanted a glimpse of the unnatural and disturbing, we needed only wait until the state fair, where the sideshow pinheads and flipper babies would disgust us and remind us that, hey, things could be worse. However, with the sideshows a thing of the past, and pinhead imagery restricted to bad Ramones rip-off bands, Americans need to find a new way to deal with that dark, deformed side of existence. When Dan writes songs that open with lines like "How do you know when someone's crazy?" he is filling that need, for himself and his listeners. Cavity's music is dark and grim because that side of art and life must be face by everyone, even clean-cute Argentinean expatriates...
Dan takes me to his apartment where I listen to some yet-to-be-released tracks on artist Robert Kozick's record label. They slam, groove, and wail. The album takes the minimalist drone of Damaged III one step further, grooving on a single note for more than a minute in one case. Anthony, who is openly displeased with his voice, has replaced ex-screamer Rene, and the vocals seem far less contrived as a result. However, inability (or refusal) to alter one's yell more drastically than from "loud" to "louder can be bone-crunchingly...dull. Months later, I hear from Anthony that, although everyone seems to want credit for this grind-crush mantra, it was the product of him and Dan, as have been many of the recent songs, and the entirety of the Somewhere Between the Train Station and the Dumping Grounds album. My notebook is telling me not to make any Lennon/McCartney comparison. I'll take my own advice and move on...
The record finishes and Dan escorts me to the door, explaining he has an appointment to keep. I thank him for the opportunity to talk about the band and once again return his limp, Floridian handshake. Nice fell, I think, driving home, being sure to stare at the man with the goiter in front of McDonald's.
A month later, inspired by Dan, I'm in my room, listening to the Stooges. The parallels between the two bands are more thematic than musical. While Cavity takes an Iggyish nihilism and darkness and turns it into music, what comes out sounds more like "Electric Funeral" than "1970." I almost don't hear the phone ring over the manic, screeching, completely out of place saxophone on "Funhouse." Anthony was not at home for our scheduled interview. And even though his roommate told me he was working late, I can swear the tape picked up some noise in the background that sounds suspiciously like "I'll call him back later." When I answer the phone, Anthony murmurs something about moving to Switzerland, Ryan quitting, and Dan being in the process of planning a West Coast tour. This is typical of Cavity. Over the course of its existence, only Dan has remained a constant member. People quit, or they're fired, and no one speaks of the ex-member again. But a new record comes out nearly twice a year anyway.
"Even though I'm the second longest lasting member of the band and, besides Dan, the one who's contributed the most to it, it's still Dan's band. Dan will find some way to keep it going. He always has. It's been worse," Anthony says.
Why is Anthony moving?
"It's about a girl, actually."
Leave it to those fucking XX chromosomes, I think bitterly. Not only are they allowing hardcore jocks to mosh in comfort and maneuverability, now they're taking away half of the creative team that wrote "Train Station..." My notebook tells me not to make any John/Yoko comparisons (as I don't know this ravishing young Alpine lift bunny.)
In songs like "Open Transom," with its blues inflected bass lines and the outright Mississippi Delta folk grind of "No Deeper Than Dredge Boats in Flood Waters," Cavity flexes its "even white boys get the blues" muscles. And while "No Deeper..." is about as close to "Dust my Broom" as Dan was to Iggy, it has an undeniable soulfulness that no Yardbirds or any of its spinoffs could ever mimic. The blues - the actual blue emotion - must come from somewhere. A well in rural Alabama inhabited by the ghosts of runaway slaves? A cuckolded meat packer from the South Side of Chicago? Or maybe it's just bred in the bone, an ache that stabs from the liver to the track marks on Anthony's old arms...
Anthony's sores don't exist anymore. They've gone the way of former lead singer Rene: disappeared without much notice to the outside world 'cause it's really no one's damn business anyway. Rene disappeared for eight months, moved back with his parents, in a desperate bid to "grow up." He finally called Dan, announcing the obvious: he had quit the band. When Rene quit, Cavity lost an intense performer. The guy who hit himself with the mic as he crouched over, screaming "Stupid Lies" (or something like that).
Anthony's departure was equally private, though significantly less passive-aggressive...
I ask Anthony what has most shaped his world view. I feel manipulative and cheap, because I already know the answer, but a twisted sense of journalistic integrity prods me on. After some hemming, hawing, disclaimers, and apologies to the other member of Cavity, Anthony simply says, with a self-deriding laugh:
What kind of drugs?
"Uh...Ha Ha...Good ones and bad ones." Anthony goes on to speak the praises of ecstasy, but I really don't give a shit. I want to hear about the life-threatening, relationship-ending, self-esteem destroyer itself: heroin.
It was the illicit seed of the poppy that prevented Anthony from going on tour in California. After being arrested, unable to get on an airplane, Anthony was out of Cavity for a brief period. He mutters something about an "exploded tour," surrounding the girl who started him mainlining.
"The first time, Rene and Dan were really cool about it and I couldn't be mad at them [for touring without me], and I couldn't blame them. My life was a total disaster. But the second time I got arrested, they took it personally," Anthony's voice is stirred with the indignation of abandonment. "I mean, nevermind that my parents had found out. Nevermind that this would really fuck up my life. It wasn't as if I went out to fuck over the band. That was a bad scene. But once the tour was over, they invited me to play guitar in the band again. So I guess it all worked out okay."
Anthony hints at his brief stints in prison, calling the ordeals "Byzantine." The interview ends, and I'm left with the Stooges and the vague sensation that I've talked to someone who has really lived the blues, despite an ethnic handicap. Anthony hung up after saying simply: "I don't know, man. I don't know. I just need to get out of here. I need to get to Switzerland." This escape trick has worked in the past. His inexplicable ability not to get sentenced to hard prison time or a drug treatment program has earned Anthony the name "Lazarus" among friends
Which seems to be an appropriate final label to slap on Cavity. The grind and wail like an Italian mourner in a cotton gin; they've been through hell, heroin, and more comparisons to EyeHateGod than you can count on both hands. But what remains is their ability to rise from the grave year after year, record after record, despite seemingly irreconcilable personality differences, addictions, and that dreaded Adult Crash.
Joseph Campbell said that existence itself is the cause of suffering. Maybe that's why Cavity can reemerge after each screaming match. Because nothing can destroy suffering but the destruction of existence. Until the Cavity van explodes in a ball of gasoline and psychosis and each member (whoever they are at that time) is killed, their tortured snarl will exist too.
Epilogue: Cavity has reformed, minus Anthony and Ryan, and is currently preparing a new album for summer.
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|