Thursday, April 19, 2012

     Throughout most of my life, music has always been the one thing I can always count on to be there when I need it. No matter what I was feeling, there was a song or a record that made me feel like I wasn't alone, that there were other people out there who had been in the same places and felt the same things as me. As a young punk rocker, I never really had a focus on the things I felt, I just knew when something resonated. I knew I was pissed off, but didn't know at what. I knew I was always depressed, but didn't know why. But there was always some piece of music that struck a nerve, whether it was Henry Rollins screaming My War or J Mascis mumbling through Freak Scene, all I knew was that I felt a connection with these people, with every word and every chord. When I was about 15 was when I found the band that I would feel that connection with the strongest.
     A bunch of us worked at a little mom and pop pizza joint in Glendale called Ralph's La Hacienda. The place was legendary among all the West Phoenix punks at the time. Myself, plus my friends Ryan, Vito, and Matt all worked there, and everyone else would hang out at back until we either got off work, or Ralph got mad and kicked everyone out. The dish room where we worked was always filled with the sounds of whatever punk rock we were into at the moment. Circle Jerks, Pennywise, The Vandals, Propagandhi, and Guttermouth were all bands that were on our regular playlist. It was in that tiny, hot, cramped dish room that I heard Avail for the first time. I remember Ryan bringing the tape, I don't think it was actually his though since I'm pretty sure he didn't like them. It looked cool enough, simple black cover with a stick figure holding a flag. We always used to joke that he was taking that flag to burn it somewhere. The music wasn't like anything I had heard before. It was definitely punk, but something about it stood out. The music was a bit more melodic and had more of a southern rock feel to it and the vocals were very clearly sung. Then there were the songs. On The Nod, Southbound 95, Model, Tuning, and for me especially Beliefs Pile, all became songs that I would never forget after a few listens.
     Avail "Dixie" quickly became one of my most played tapes. I remember I didn't have much money to buy music, so my buddy Doug taped it on one side of a 90 minute cassette with Propagandhi "How To Clean Everything" on the B side. I played that tape constantly. I think I still have it somewhere. I found out they had another album, "Satiate," so I tracked that down at Eastside Records and became hooked on that one too. Our friend Ian had been the one to initially show them to our group. He had seen them play at some venue that was in the basement of a church not long before my first encounter with them. This bummed me out a bit, because back then bands like that didn't come through town several times a year like they do now. Luckily for me, Avail was a touring machine back then and that summer they came to the Nile Theater in Mesa.
      That was a crazy week. I can't remember if it was the night before, or the night after, but there was a Ska/Punk festival with the Circle Jerks that we all went to, and I'm pretty sure Pennywise played that week too. I took all three nights off from Ralph's and wound up getting fired when the kid who was supposed to cover my shift never showed. It was worth it. The openers were a local called Those Meddling Kids, who we had seen before, and a band from Canada called Gus. I'll never forget how amused Doug was by the name "Gus." Their names are pretty much all I remember about them though, Avail made every other band seem like a distant memory. They were the most intense, yet fun, live band I had ever seen. Nothing before or since even comes close. It was the first time in my life that I had been completely entranced by a band. Their set is a blur. I remember hearing Virus, I remember hearing Tuning, I'm pretty sure they closed with Connection. Somewhere in there was a short cover of Sweet Home Alabama, they were kind of known for throwing random covers in their set. It didn't matter what they played, the performance was pure catharsis. The band never stopped moving once. Beau, the band's official mascot/cheerleader, climbed on top of the PA, jumped in the crowd, seemed to be everywhere at once. But most of all, I'll never forget Tim Barry. I had never seen a frontman who delivered with that much conviction. His words meant so much to the people in the audience that they were all singing as loud as he was. So was I. I couldn't talk the whole ride home.
     As the years went on, they put out great new records and I saw them play many more amazing shows. Every one was memorable in some way. Their songs have only become more meaningful as I've gotten older. Tim's lyrics have always been open for interpretation, and I think every person who is touched by them takes something different from them. Awhile back I was in a very dark, depressing place in life, and their song Taken randomly came on my iTunes shuffle. It was like that song was waiting to make me pull myself back up. My friend Valerie was going through a tough time as well, and I was inspired to make her a CD of some of their songs that I felt applied to her situation, particularly the song Nickel Bridge. This wasn't the first or last time that their songs have gotten me through a hard time, but it felt great to not only try and help a friend, but to turn someone on to a band that has meant so much to me over the years. It's hard to explain what it is about them for me, or any band that moves someone for that matter. I don't understand people that have never been moved by a piece of music. In the course of one record, I've felt the urge to get up and throw my fists in the air one minute, and have had to fight back tears the next. It's that powerful to me.
      It's been a few years since Avail has put out a new record or played any shows. "Indefinite hiatus" is what I keep hearing. Tim Barry has gone on to create several excellent acoustic albums, and the other members have played in various other bands. But none of it is Avail. Nothing will ever match the beauty of those five people together. I hope they can find a way to do it again, if only for one night.