We Were We Were Not There
(Author’s note: This piece is best accompanied by the music of Pure Reason Revolution or Yndi Halda, the two bands who inspired We Were Not There)
It was to be their last performance. They, who had seen the oppression of their land and found song a beautiful rebellion. They who had watched the rise of a nation that valued culture as more than a means to an end. We Were Not There were not going to be there anymore.
Dawidek looked at the microphone, one of many that he’d be putting into the stand to create an echoing, warbling overlay of his voice. Words were important, yes, but not more important than music itself. What was coming next? Even they hadn’t decided. They knew, in this new age, it was time for an end. Checked the tuning on his guitars, all lined up on the rack. It had been simpler, at the beginning. Just their voices, a room, the instruments that eventually they acquired from all the goodwill packages, beat-up German models with wrecked soundboxes.
He couldn’t remember the last time he heard the crackle of an analogue radio. The burr of a low-bitrate song. Oh, sure, Rogus, their keyboard player had hard disks full of found sounds, authentic static and cosmic storms, but it wasn’t the same. Their childhood together, their friendship, had come around snatched moments of song on contraband receivers, in the corners of the city that had always seemed grey. The concrete pillboxes that kept anyone from going near the Centennial Hall, the Wrocław Fountain closed and the lights smashed. Where did such tyranny persist? They had played through the US occupation in South-East Asia, the closest he and the others had seen to the dictatorship of Poland in their youth. And the day that freedom broke, the day the Europeans marched in, daring, in their chilled Cold War, to set them free, he remembered taking the hands of his companions, Tereza and Maurycy, Zosia and Mis, Teodora and Rogus, and singing songs of freedom that bubbled up from deep within.
Those times were gone. So too, the times swarmed by their admirers, recording them when they did not consider themselves ready. So too the Bohemian Showcase tour with the titans of the age. So too the Pan-European tour from northernmost to southernmost. There were new bands with a new spirit, a spirit that had to supplant their own. They had each agreed it. They were putting the band to bed. We Were Not There, Twenty Twenty-Nine to Twenty Forty-Five.
The crowd roared a piteous roar when they walked out. No support act. No other thoughts but the band. That microphone, the one that had somehow triggered his musing earlier, was attached to the other set on the complex mic stand. He began to pluck the guitar, to begin playing 17:The Convocation, his favourite of their songs. Each of them had picked one for this final concert, an extended affair given the length of their songs. But for him no moment, not in 12:Risk is a Risk and We Are Going to be Caught, nor 4:Satisficing, nor 21:Gulf of Elaboration and Understanding, nor 26:Absolution is Only Sought Prematurely, nor 8:Establishment-Concrete, nor 1:FreeFreeFreeEight, compared to those first moments. The faces of the fans, the wash of emotions that only hit when one began playing on stage, the memories of sixteen years of music and adventure, of bringing sound to minds that had lost it, just as had been done for them. He wept, of course, but he played on. Sang on. His voice rose more strongly than ever before, the raggedy chants and the high points stirring such overwhelming passion that he transcended even his best moments. The crowd was his witness, his bandmates his witness, each of the microphones his witness, of a man who truly sang.