Tag Archives: The Airborne Toxic Event


I listened to the Airborne Toxic Event album. It’s called Tales of God and Whiskey. It’s not bad! One title caught my eye. It was April is the Cruelest Month. Being April, I played it first.

I’m really bad about getting lyrics out of listening to a song. It’s usually dozens, if not more, listenings before I pay more than cursory attention to the lyrics. Sorry, lyricists!

But ‘April is the cruelest month’ is a quote from somewhere. I thought it was Eliot and I was right. Here’s an excerpt, posted on goodreads.com, from The Waste Land:

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

Right below the Eliot quote are two poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The second hit me right between the eyes:

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers

Zach’s music

Rose mentioned to me the other day that she was still listening to The Airborne Toxic Event song that Jeremy had posted about last fall. I vaguely remembered it. There’s a link to a video of the song in the post.

I don’t like music videos, even of tunes I like, so I didn’t watch it. Also, the emotional overhead was too much.

But Rose’s comment started me thinking about music that Zach liked. He had a stack of home-brew CDs in his car which I inherited. I remembered them. I had gone through them while we were driving from Baton Rouge to Jeremy’s house during what would be his last summer. Most of them didn’t interest me. In fact, I had a hard time picking out anything I wanted to listen to. Zach was cool, though. He didn’t press anything on me or complain when I found a mash up of Eagles songs to put on the player

I went through them a year ago. I kept a couple. Some were mixes I copied onto my hard drive. A couple were mixes with people’s names on them so I sent them back. The bulk of them I sent on to Jeremy. I did copy some of them and they come up every once in a while on my random playlist.

It’s funny, despite having many thousands of tunes on my hard drive, it’s rare that one comes up that I don’t recognize. When I check, it most often is from that group of Zach’s CDs. Even though the music usually doesn’t move me, it’s a good feeling to have a little connection with Zach through his music.

I bought the Airborne Toxic album with that tune on it this morning. I think I’ll listen to it now.

Jeremy speaks

Jeremy sent me an email today and asked me to put this up on the blog. Here it is:

I’m having a tough day. It sounds disingenuous to say that I’m thinking about Zach today — I think of him every day, and I know lots of other people who love him do as well — but this week has been especially difficult.

Ashley, Rosalie and I were fortunate to travel to Michigan to celebrate my mother’s 65th birthday and my grandfather’s 90th. It was a nice (and too short) weekend spent in many places with many people familiar to Zach and filled with memories of him. Late in the day Sunday, as the festivities at camp wound down, I walked to the Outback by myself. Dad wrote a few days ago about how my relationship with Zach deepened in our teenage years and included a picture of the two of us standing by Stony Lake. After much discussion, I’ve figured out that the picture was taken in August of 2001 (the telltale sign is that ridiculous James Hetfield-style goatee I had at the time, which I remember trying to bleach that summer and sported for a few weeks as a freshman at college before cutting it off. Don’t act like you never made any bad grooming decisions at 18.)

Back to the Outback. I signed on to be a counselor in that particular teen camp program in the summer of 2002 after two successful years in the youth camp program. Zach made plans that summer to do a venture out trip at Storer that summer, but they fell through for some reason (possibly he wasn’t old enough to qualify for the trip??) so becoming an Outbacker was the fallback option. It was there that we truly grew close, bonded by the sharing of the program’s tremendous experience. He would return to the Outback the following summer, which would prove to be the final one at Storer for both of us. Last Sunday, I went out there alone thinking it would be a perfect time of reflection on my relationship with Zach and how much I miss him. It was weird…I sat in the fire circle, surrounded by the empty spaces where the hogans used to be, and all I could think about was my own experience at camp…the campers, the counselors, the trips, the laughs, the tears. After 15 minutes or so, I started the walk back to Ashley and Rosalie, feeling guilty because I didn’t spend the time intensely thinking of Zach. Am I moving on?

Fast-forward to Tuesday morning. I’m back at work at the fire station, and the first call of the day is a pedestrian struck by a vehicle. I’ll spare the gory details, but the only thing our crew could do for the victim was cover him with a sheet while police shut down Moreland Avenue for an investigation. It was way too familiar, right down to the pattern of the damage to the front of the pickup truck that hit him. This is the third time since Zach was killed that I’ve responded to a person struck by a vehicle, and it’s not getting easier. I keep my head down and work through it — I love my job, and emergencies don’t stop so I can recover from a personal tragedy. But I’ve spent the 24-odd hours since seeing that particular dead body in a state of numbness.


I remember a random conversation with Zach from one of the last times he came to visit us in Georgia. A song by The Airborne Toxic Event was playing on the radio, and he got really excited about the fact that the band name was a reference to a Don Delillo novel.
I brushed it off at the time, because I’d never heard of Don Delillo. Looking back, it’s one of many signs of how well-read and intelligent he was that I kind of ignored because we were too busy watching football or figuring out ways to integrate booze into cooking. It’s something I feel rather ashamed of.

Here’s a song and video that makes me think of him, not only in the lyrics but the words of singer Mikel Jollett on their inspiration:

“I feel very tied to this place and very resistant to its cliches. The SNL skit on Californians is funny and I wonder sometimes if that’s what the rest of the world thinks of us: dithering, spoiled people obsessed with their appearance. I understand it because most of what California exports (besides food) is the culture of white people who moved to Hollywood to get into films and yes many of those people are dithering, spoiled and obsessed with their appearance. But outside of maybe 10 square miles in the heart of Los Angeles, you don’t find many people like that here.”

By the way, if anyone has the time and skills to re-cut that video with scenes from the NorCal, that would be awesome.

Zach loved the state he grew up in, as did I. We talked a lot about how fortunate we were to grow up in Grass Valley; how that realization grew more and more stark as we built our adult lives in southern cities that we didn’t like.

TATE has become one of my favorite bands. I try to read more, to understand the world from an advanced perspective the way Zach did. I still have no idea who the hell Don Delillo is. But nothing makes me think of him and cry like these songs.

“i’ll write your name in stars across the sky/ And we’ll meet somewhere someday and I’ll ask you why…”