Jarad Dewing makes the hairs on your neck stand up with his story behind the story.
Killswitch Engage just put out a punch-to-the-throat music video/short film, “Always.” Directed poignantly by Ian McFarland and Mike Pecci, the story centers on two estranged brothers. The older is dying and the younger looks at him like it’s a sick joke, and they fight, they road trip, and they deal with the bloody truth: From the darkness of night until morning, we are dreaming, and that’s the only place we get to see the lost ones anymore. All we have left is that montage of memories we’ve built, the movies in our heads.
Moments like those, which lead singer Jesse Leach explains, are “when the hairs on your neck and arms stand up,” aren’t made of granite to commemorate a loss. Those kind of monuments are only a physical reminder for as long as they last, until they “fade, erode, and decay.” They’re not glacial boulders for all eternity. They’re the glass bottles my late brother Luke and I used to ping with Grandpa’s .22 revolver. They are temporary, fragile things. We have to shore them up.
I took Luke to his first rock show when he was just a kid, a Christian music festival called Purple Door which featured acts you’ve probably never heard of, but in our circle were pretty cutting-edge: Project 86, Squad Five-O, Plankeye, and a rapcore band called P.O.D. — Payable On Death.
Headliners, headbangers, my brother’s first mosh pit. I think he’d have liked some of the bands I found later on: Sevendust and Otep and Killswitch Engage. I like to think he’d have given them a chance, even if they weren’t about Jesus. I like to think he’d have given me a chance, for going through a phase where I really liked that music. I like to think he’d have forgiven me for getting him into that kind of music, so loud and rambunctious, where you get fired up and lean on the gas pedal and lean down to change the CD to your next thunderous anthem and then you hit a truck.
“Alive” by P.O.D. actually made it onto mainstream radio before Luke died, and it became his favorite song. We played it at his funeral. Grandma reached up as if to plug her ears and then checked herself, visibly cringed, and placed her hand back on Grandpa’s arm. To his credit, Grandpa just smiled; I’m not sure he could hear anything. I’m not sure they’d have liked the song any more if they’d seen the video, but they might’ve understood the imagery. Sometimes it only takes three minutes and 38 seconds to replay the fleeting films in our mind and conjure the sorrow, revel in it for awhile, and remember.
While tombstones are still, our dreams are always moving. Grief is a stationary state, but love? That’s a verb. That’s action. You grieve a past event, but you love a story. And that means you can love a brother gone. I hear a snippet of Psalm 103 in Killswitch Engage’s “Always” – the line “as far as east is from the west” – and hope that even if Luke’s not proud of me, just maybe he’s not ashamed. It’s going to get personal. It’s going to hurt. We are our own muses and we are scribbling our own lyrics, but we will never know how the song ends.
All we can do is build legacies. If we remember the soul of a brother, they still have a story, and that story is still active as long as we tell it. That memory is not permanently tethered to the physical body I carried in a rough pine box ten Decembers ago, it’s the definition of my brother, that goofball who once filled a Yuengling bottle with Mountain Dew just to freak me out, and discovered I wouldn’t tell Mom and Dad so long as he kept it on the down-low. The boy who once shot at me with a BB rifle and yelled out, laughing, when I shot back and hit him in the thigh. The boy who duct-taped his car, and liked loud music, and I’d like to think would still hang out with his big brother, grizzled and grey and desperately missing him.
I could tell you to savor your moments, to love your brothers, your sisters, your siblings and fellow humans. Or I could tell you what you already deeply realize: you will, one day, die. On that day, what will your brothers sing?
photo Travis Shinn