Last One To Die by Michael Essington

03
Dec

David Gurz

Last One To Die

So, I sat down on the edge of the building and waited for the show. Bill started crawling on his belly, military-style, until he got to the edge of the building, once there he started beaming oranges at any car that drove by. Now Bill came from a relatively upscale neighborhood in Encino, so the cars he was nailing were BMW’s and Mercedes. Fifteen minutes of this— sirens came blaring. Which made Bill extremely excited (he was possibly ADD or ADHD, which is ADD in HD) and he tells me not to worry he has this planned out. He just yelled to follow him and we went down a drainpipe, through a school gymnasium, over some other fence and finally into his backyard.

Once we got into his house I asked him what was that all about? He said he was hoping to “hang out with somebody who was down for some real punk rock stuff.” I just shook my head and asked: “how was that punk rock?” And Bill says “Punk rock is about going ape-shit!” I told him “Bill, I’m not an authority, but tossing oranges at your neighbor’s cars isn’t exactly punk rock.” –Michael Essington, Last One to Die

In a time when olde school punk nostalgia has reached the proportional magnitude of the late Poison Idea guitarist Pig Champion’s beltline, there comes a point when 40 and over hardcore kids such as myself thirst for something beyond the literary pale of yet another unearthed 86 tour diary from another subcultural legend…or another “oral history” told by aging proto scenesters about how much dope everybody used to shoot and why their particular locale invented everything cool for everywhere back in the day. I mean, that stuff is all certainly righteous enough and great to read…but too, it’s like you start to think and really it’s just as true that in punk-perhaps more than in any other musical or cultural underground movement of the past thirty-odd years it was, and is, “Tha Punxes” who are all legendary in their own right. You can’t even say it was “the fans” that made it what it is as a lasting sub and quasi-counterculture. Because, going all the way back to Joey Ramone singing “Gabba Gabba We accept you as one of us” and through the hardcore call to arms anthem of anthems delivered by a DC ice cream store manager turned front man for his favorite band, Black Flag, when he forcibly declared “We are tired, of your abuse, try to stop us, it’s no use-RISE ABOVE WE’RE GONNA RISE ABOVE”…all throughout the history of punk, especially in it’s early and more D.I.Y. Manifestations, there’s that inclusiveness. That destruction of the barrier between performer and audience. There’s that thing that tells us, all of us are making this happen, that we’re all inhabitants of a certain piece of cultural real estate that engenders a whole other state of mind.

But let’s face it. In the 1980’s it was a dangerous piece of real estate to call home. Thus, you know, it’s just so perfect to read a collection of stories from just one of the punks who lived through that time, and who still maintains an outlook shaped by being in the thick of it all. And even better is it’s not some guy pontificating on the impact his garage housed record label 25 years ago has had on a musical landscape, still overrun to this day with crappy pop (even worse, crappy pop than thirty years ago mind you), or stories about how horrible it was to sleep in a van while touring Europe in 87. No, this is more the real deal. This is workingman’s punk literature or would be if a phrase like workingman’s punk weren’t rather oxymoronic. Well, I guess it’s not. I mean, a lot of us have to have jobs to be able to afford those Terveet Kadet 7”’s off of eBay these days.

But really, I sat down to read Last One to Die and I was kind of expecting one of those kinds of punk books you know, a memoiresque tour de force of just plain fucked up shit and crazy situations that would read like a Jim Carroll poem set to a soundtrack by Fear and D.I. Not that I wouldn’t have loved it if it was like that and Last One to Die certainly doesn’t lack in the retelling of crazy, intense situations department…but it was just more. It actually revealed as much of the person behind the words as it did the stories themselves. And it revealed that Michael is in no way trying to cultivate any type of phony “Old Time Punk Guy” persona. It’s obvious from the get go, dude was and is, punk as fuck. However, you get a look into what made him tick as a person back then. As well, you get to see through stories ranging from everyday encounters on city buses to time spent involuntarily barbering for the California Department of Corrections, to writing about his children, what has continued to make him tick over the years.

And because of that Last One to Die is way more than just a punk book. It’s a look at a life and values shaped by the early California punk/hardcore scene, but it’s also a book that touches on themes of redemption and even justice and retribution without ever presenting the matters in anything like a heavy-handed approach.

And yeah, Michael was in a punk band too back in the day but he doesn’t make a big deal of it in the book. And he went to some fucking amazing shows, a few of which are wonderfully documented inside. He also got to interview some way fucking cool people. All that stuff is in there. But more important, he’s in there. One of us, the punxes, and more generally, perhaps, more importantly, another human being who’s got some great stories to tell. So definitely, check out Last One to Die. I don’t care if you’re most treasured record is a sealed copy of Soc. D.’s Mommy’s Little Monster or if you’re rocking Deadmau5 on an iPod. It’s a worthwhile read.

But for fuck’s sake, if you’re 40 or over while still into punk/hardcore music here’s to ya! And especially here’s to you Michael, thanks for hammering out a killer book.

David Gurz lives, works his real job, and writes from a small Northeast Penna. Borough nowadays while enjoying life with his wife and two children. He was a member of a few dreadful sounding hardcore punk bands during the mid 80’s through the 90’s that maybe a hundred and fifty people ever heard of. Bass player in the Greensburg State Correctional Institution prisoners band in the early to mid-aughts; he also edited a ‘zine, Usual Suspect, during his captivity and his writing has appeared in Profane Existence, Mishap and Words Break Bars. He is the author of the widely unread Subterranean Emerald City Blues, a proof of concept shot .at doing the whole eBook thing. Dave is lackadaisically working on another book to be self-published in 2013. You can read his blog and purchase his latest book too if you feel like it

 

 

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Broken is available now: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb

Broken by Michael Essington

22
Sep

Broken

Broken

Broken
Written by: Michael Essington
Essex Digital Media, Inc.
September 17, 2017

Michael Essington not only understands the seedy underworld but successfully conveys the fear that lurks behind its macho posturing.

Broken is easily one of the best books of the year so far. It takes the gut-punching prose and hustle of Last One To Die and kicks it up several notches. Essington doesn’t simply rehash his first book; he expands upon his oeuvre. Fair warning though: if you have not read Last One To Die, a lot of what makes Broken great will be lost on you.

Broken’s big change is a tonal shift. Last One To Die was very much a coming-of-age novel, albeit a twisted and black one.

This book tackles the reality of life: few, if any, people can escape their own stupidity. The average moron will keep on making the same mistakes again and again until he dies. Magical transformations are nearly impossible to pull off, and anyone who claims to have done one should be looked at with deep skepticism.

This is not a happy book or an uplifting book, but it’s a funny, gripping and real one. Broken isn’t just a viciously honest portrayal of drug addicts, criminals and homeless, it’s a scathing commentary on American society and human nature. If you haven’t read Last One To Die, read it; if you have, Broken should be next on your list.

If you don’t own it, give it a read.

Rating: *** three out of three stars

 

 

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Broken is available now: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb

Misconceptions of Hell by Michael Essington

04
Aug

Eddie Cook

Misconceptions of Hell

Misconceptions of Hell
Written by: Michael Essington
Essex Digital Media
June 25, 2016

Michael Essington is the author of five books, and to read one is perhaps to read them all. Essington is the chronicler of ragged, drunks, the pale, beer-bellied, out-of-work writer lounging in twisted sheets, the cuckold and those dreaming of becoming cuckolds–in short, a world inhabited with bad luck and smart-alecky snipes.

This beautifully grimy life certainly is evident in his new collection, Misconception of Hell, which, at nearly 140 pages, is a hefty portion of poems and short stories.

For Essington, the sordid life is inexhaustible. His first book, Last One to Die (2011), was peopled with oddballs on the edge of reaching their destiny: the exquisite hangover that resonates into another afternoon of cheap (and sometimes expensive) drink. Five years later, his new collection still feeds off the old obsessions–drink, “bad women,” a few good women, his father and mother, the race track, his years wasting away at dead-end jobs–and his loyalty to friends to whom the average pedestrian would give room passing on the sidewalk.

The pedestrian would make room for the hunkering characters in the story Bo. The story is about Hank and Bo, who, while investigating a suspicious husband, end up robbing him of his drugs and cash and inadvertently causes his suicide.

The portraits of downtown life are almost always moving–in spite of the grime and foul language spit through rotten teeth–in part because the author’s identification with the common life is honest and so bewilderingly caring that it can stump more than one reader wondering why he relishes this seediness. In the poem Last Call, he tells the story of Judgment Day in a rundown bar, while St. Peter cleans up. In Lazarus, he describes a man on the verge of suicide but has a change of heart after sharing his lunch with a flock of pigeons.

The finest story in the collection is Nam, which is about a farm boy from Kansas that longs for the big city. He gets drafted to Vietnam and witnessed many atrocities. Leaves the army and becomes a Kansas Police officer and views more atrocities, which sends him back to the farm.

In Jack, he describes someone suffering from depression. Someone that has given up on everything, but booze and his childhood blanket.

While we can say that the area of experience is the same, for many of his readers, it’s the welcome familiarity that calls them back.

 

 

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Broken is available now: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb

4 Past Midnight – Battle Scars & Broken Hearts

16
Jul

4 Past Midnight
Battle Scars & Broken Hearts
Hedgerow Records
Released: July 15, 2017

Fred – Rhythm Guitar
Peter – Lead Vocals & Drums
Tam – Lead Guitar
Stevie – Bass Guitar

01. Do It Now (1:28)
02. For Life (04:08)
03. Politician (4:10)
04. Guilty (4:54)
05. Tonight (1:28)
06. On Tour (3:29)
07. Hope, Fear, Pain, Love, Desire (4:39)
08. Survive (2:10)
09. Let’s Go (3:13)
10. Alone (4:45)
11. I Hate My Life (2:33)
12. Day After Day (2:12)
13. Withered Roses (5:47)
14. Can Anyone Hear Me? (4:36)
15. The Reason (3:27)

4 Past Midnight, what can I say about this band? They are fuckin’ great. I stopped doing reviews around February of this year. I’d been banging out one or two reviews a week for two years and after a while, most of the bands blur into a huge sludgy ball of Social Distortion and Bad Religion clones. And, I couldn’t come up with anything new and original about bands that were anything, but new and original.

Anyway, Peter of 4 Past Midnight had posted the band’s album cover a couple of times (which is great by the way), and said the album was coming soon, you know the basic pre-release stuff. I thought let me check this out. Now, I admit I am late to the game, 4 Past Midnight has been around since 1989 and I am now getting around to listening to them. And as I stated above, they are fuckin’ great.

I don’t know what their touring schedule is like, but I can’t imagine any band wanting them to open for them. They’d get blown off the stage. Great vocals and the guitars are also fantastic.

The coolest thing about 4 Past Midnight is the very familiar sound of old school punk, with a pinch of Oi thrown in, but the quality of modern musicianship.

Rating: *** three out of three stars.

The standout cuts are: Do It Now and Withered Roses.

If you get a chance, order this from one of the dozens of websites carrying it online.

On to the story . . .

1995

Back in 1995, I found out my live-in girlfriend was seeing/carrying-on with two different guys. So, I packed as much as I could into a black hefty bag, paged a friend and left. But not before I kissed my one-year-old daughter on the forehead as she slept in her crib.

The old friend pulled into my driveway, I walked out. , I would’ve left in my own car, but weeks earlier the engine on my ride died, it cracked, croaked and everything else. I sold it for scraps.

As I walked out the door my, now, ex yells, “If you walk out now, you can never come back.” I nodded and said, I knew. As I closed the door, I heard rumblings of “Punk ass white boy.”

I knew I needed transportation, a job and something to keep me busy – quick.

A friend that I had lost touch with, about eight years earlier tracked me down and got a job at Kinko’s. She was dating the manager there and said I could grab any shift I wanted. I chose the night shifts. The later the better. Night time is when I missed my daughter the most. Once I had some money the manager started letting me take the Kinko’s van home on weekends, making it easier for me to take my daughter on weekends.

After about six months I was promoted to assistant manager in the computer department and then moved across town to another Kinko’s. I spent the next couple of months trying to move up and out to a different location. , I became a sort of cleanup manager. When different Kinko’s would terminate a computer department, I would be sent into overall and streamline everything. Once that was done, I’d leave, I was hired full time at the Pasadena location.

I’ve always loved Pasadena; it’s like Downtown L.A. without being quite as filthy. And 90% less homeless people peeing in alleys.

When I first got to Pasadena the computer staff did not like me. I had already earned the reputation as the “cleanup” guy, and no one likes things being changed.
Over time everything fell into place. Everything became familiar fast. For example, there was a Hispanic homeless man that sat on a bench a half a block down and everyday we’d have the same conversation as if we were both stuck in the movie Groundhog Day:

“Con permiso, you have matches?”

“No, I don’t have any matches.”

“You have cigarettes?”

“No, I don’t have a cigarette.”

“You have marijuana?”

At this point, I wouldn’t need to answer because he would be laughing so hard he’d be rolling off the bench.

I would see the marijuana man daily, but one of my favorite people would be opera man. Once a week this little mentally challenged man, who wore glasses and was about five feet five, would walk into Kinko’s, stand in the middle of the lobby and bust into the loudest, booming opera you have ever heard. He would scare the shit out of some people, while others would ask me, “What station are you playing?” Then after a couple of minutes, he would turn and walk out the door.

Then one of the coolest oddballs was this black lady (who was also mentally challenged) that came to the store about once a month. She would walk in and wave over each and every Kinko’s employee and hand them one or two blue cans of some kind of Spam-like canned meat.

She was quick about this. I’d be in my office and she would come up behind me and drop two cans on my desk and bolt out of there. Not a word was spoken. The one time I was able to make eye-contact with her, she smiled and rushed away.

Something about all the chaos kept the customers on their toes. If an employee was starting to get chewed out and Opera-Man popped up the customer would be completely out of sorts and have to restart the thought process. It was kind of cool.

After a year of working in Pasadena, I was transferred to Glendale and then over to Monrovia. Finally, I decided I didn’t want to hear the sound of copy machines anymore and I left to work for a design studio that was contracted with Universal Pictures.

I still think about Pasadena all the time.

From the forthcoming book, Broken

 

 

broken_001

Broken is available now: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb

Life Won’t Wait by Michael Essington

28
Feb
Marius Gustaitis

Marius Gustaitis

Life Won't Wait

Life Won’t Wait

This week we have a guest columnist, writer Marius Gustaitis, who some may be familiar with his great blog Trudging Through The Fire (http://mariusgustaitis.com/), if not check it out.

I love when my intuition turns out to be right. When it confirms my suspicions. Tells me my assessments are dialed-in. On target. I love it. It’s deeply satisfying. Makes me feel good about myself. Makes me feel like I know what’s going on. Like I might have a clue.

I met Michael Essington a few months back at a Reagan Youth/ 13 Scars show at Los Globos in Hollywood.
The music was so loud we didn’t get too much of a chance to talk. But I sized him up. I was a bouncer for a few years, and it’s just something I do. Maybe all guys do it. Size up a motherfucker. Try to figure out if they could take him.

Well, I wasn’t exactly at that point with Essington, since we hadn’t pissed each other off. I wasn’t at the deciding-if-I-would-win-in-a-cage-match phase of our relationship. I was just trying to figure him out. Trying to see if I could guess what he was all about.

He looked at ease. With himself. With his surroundings. Didn’t look like he had anything to prove. That told me a lot. If I ever did get any ideas about beating on him, this in itself would’ve given me pause. Guys don’t get like that without knowing they can handle some shit. And they know it… because they’ve handled some shit. You can’t fake it. Probably been through the chopping factory. Endured the blows of Life. But seems to have weathered it well. Call it character. Call it badassness. He’s got it. Like genuine.

Plus, he’s got that bull neck and Taurine shoulders so in fashion with debt collectors from Queens. Probably did some wrestling in school. Football? Yeah, maybe, some boxing, too. He’s a ground-and-pounder alright. Gets you on the floor and pile-drives from above while your limbs are pinned. Knows how to head-butt effectively. You have to resort to fighting dirty with guys like that. Use teeth. Table cutlery. Pull on the peach. All while taking thunder blows to the brow and jaw and trying to blink your way through the exploding green balls and vibrating purple parallelograms in your eyes. You’re looking at major war shit.

But there was no need to reach for the saltshaker, yet. He was just sitting there watching the show.

I figured he’s an ex-maniac, now settling into adulthood. I knew he had a family. I bet he’s easy-going and reasonable, until somebody really get’s under his skin. Then he blows. Yeah. Seems a little powder-keggish. Maybe some childhood stuff he’s still exorcising. Old stuff that fuels it. The Rage.

–I swear to you, these were my first impressions. Just from watching him. Now and then an occasional shouted exchange over the music. I had not read Life Won‘t Wait.

Well, needless to say, when I did, I was immensely pleased with myself. And my psychic powers.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I had him all figured out, or had known his whole story, but it turns out I did have a sense of the warp of the woof. I gisted it.

After reading his collection of autobiographical stories about life in the 818 (with interesting interviews with James Frey, Steve Jones, and Texas Terri Laird) I realized I had been right about a lot of things. Not like a jungle shaman high on Ibogaine right, but right enough to make beer money giving readings at a card table on the Santa Monica pier right.

Mike has been through some shit alright. Some quality childhood bummers. Family dysfunction. Suburban dissatisfaction. Valley Fever and its resulting health issues. A sensitive adolescence. An angry young adulthood, with its accompanying three handmaidens: Drink. Drugs and Violence. Sprinkle in some punk rock/metal, jail time, and a volcanic temper, and you know what you have?

Somebody who would’ve been a close friend. Are you kidding? Fucker’s from my tribe. Forget about it.

So the book was a dee-light to read. A lot of head-nodding and chuckling. Whether he’s going to jail, the hospital, or dealing with stupid things surrounded by stupid people, Essington makes a good tour guide. He doesn’t bore you with details. Just points out some of the interesting sights. Gives a few historical facts for reference. Moves on to the next landmark. He’s smart, funny, and insightful. His work is informed and readable. Never mind prolific.

But to me, one of the most badass things about Mike is that he doesn’t make himself out to be one. Oh, there’s this story and that one. Things happen. Shit goes down. But he lets you decide what to think. He clearly delineates his facts from his opinions. Again, like a guy not desperate to prove anything.

Look, I fancy myself a writer of sorts, so as I’m reading his stuff, I see how he’s stripped-down his line–keeps the sentences simple declarative. Doesn’t write in Proustian curly cues. He just prints it. But I was also impressed with how little editorializing he does. He’ll tell you what he thought, what he felt, but not go on and on about what he thinks it all meant.

Can you imagine how refreshing? Not to have some writer’s philosophy of life railroaded down your throat. My readers should be so lucky.

Anyway, both traits require discipline. To keep the line clean. And to keep the philosophizing to a minimum. It takes restraint in the writing, and some measure of faith in his readers–that they can fill in the blanks. Those qualities make Mike the writer he is. And the person.

And that makes running with Essington, as a reader or road dog, a low-maintenance for big payoff experience. If you haven’t gotten to know him yet, I wouldn’t wait too long. Life sure doesn’t. Neither does Death. So make a new friend. One that can handle himself if the shit goes down.

 

 

broken_001

Broken is available now: http://goo.gl/n9ofGb

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