Inner Warfare In One Man’s Head

The Seattle Times
September 28, 2001
By Alex Tizon

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Perhaps the best thing about the Dave Brockie Experience is that we don’t have to experience it every day. Dave Brockie, of course, isn’t so fortunate. He is a screaming anarchist with a bass guitar. His band plays “shock performance rock,” a mix of punk-flavored heavy metal with lyrics meant to make people gasp. It’s his God-given calling to offend, and at the moment he’s offending even himself.

He’s 36, a freckled farm boy dipped neck-deep in tattoo dye. Once upon a time, about two-and-a-half weeks ago, he was stridently anti-war and anti-government, specifically anti-U.S. government. But having gasped at the sight of the World Trade Center crumbling down on thousands of citizens, he is, shall we say, re-evaluating.

“Every day is a struggle figuring out how I feel,” he bellows. He is a bellower. “The situation is so complex and (expletive) up. I’m in a state of total discombobulation. It’s making me question everything. It’s making me think, (expletive)! Maybe war is the only way.”

It was a long, raggedy road to Brockie, up from the dusty Oklahoma plains to this Midwestern river city of fountains and stockyards. They grow people bigger over here. This is beef and barbecue country. If Chicago is the City of Big Shoulders, this town might be where everything south of the shoulders gets fed.

It’s still mostly a hard-boned, blue-collar town, but with suits taking over more buildings and neighborhoods every year. In a state known for its conservative politics, the city has a knack for electing Democratic mayors. Cowboys mingle with computer geeks, Southerners with Northerners. The most important thing to know is while in the city, you say “Mizzou’-ree,” outside, it’s “Mizzou’-rah.”

Kansas City is also known for jazz and blues, spawning the careers of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. We decided to head to the Grand Emporium, one of the city’s best-known music clubs. We talked to some people on the way. On a downtown street, Donny Harrison, a 30-year-old poet and Jehovah’s Witness, showed us the rings on his thumbs. Each ring is for a friend killed on the street. He said war doesn’t scare him because he grew up in a war zone of sorts, a neighborhood off Troost Avenue, in a part of town many white people avoid. He “expected” the events of Sept. 11 because it was prophesied.

“I saw the signs,” he said.

At a Starbucks cafe, Emilie Rottinghaus sipped a caramel macchiato and talked about how she will never again attend a Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. She is 33, a car-rental exec and rabid Chiefs fan. She comes from a family of rabid Chiefs fans.

“Seventy thousand people go,” she said. “It’s an obvious target. My husband isn’t as freaked out as I am, but he agreed. If it can happen in Oklahoma City, it can happen here. I’m terrified of leaving our kids by themselves.”

The Grand Emporium is a cavernous hall of smoke and old beer smells. Peeling fliers cling to dark walls. Depending on who’s playing, the crowd could be all black or all white. On this night, it’s almost all white. Most have tattoos, and a few have more tattoos than blank skin. It’s a stringy, untucked crowd. An all-girl band called Stretchmarx opened the show.

Brockie sat in a back room, tipping an Amstel Light and holding court. He comes from Richmond, Va. His band is touring to promote its first CD, “Diarrhea of a Madman.” Three of the songs are about masturbation, indicating at the very least a man with no sense of proportion. Once you get past the outrageous act, though, it might strike you that he is not a stupid man. You might not have high regard for his opinions, especially now, but like it or not, they echo the views of subculture pockets from coast to coast. One tirade went like this:

“The main reason this happened to our country is because of the government’s own foreign policies. They’re coming back to haunt us, and it’s because of this habit that America the superpower has of turning the whole Third World into its own personal toilet, and now someone threw (expletive) back at us and we’re ready to bomb the (expletive) out of them. This whole thing is just so (expletive) up!” Several musicians said “amen” to Brockie’s speech.

After a full 15 minutes of railing against the government, he then told of how he called a friend in New York City, and the friend couldn’t talk because she was still searching for her mother who worked in one of the twin towers. This made Brockie mad, made him feel that the jerks responsible for this needed to be stopped, and that a war may be necessary, but he hated himself for saying so. His hair was spiked up from pulling on it. He rubbed his head, bounced his knees. He balled up his fists and ground them into his eye sockets. He fidgeted and squirmed as if trying to work himself out of his own skin.

When we left him that night, Brockie was still talking and swearing, still making a case for peace and cross-examining himself, still bellowing. He talked as we shook hands and said goodbye, as we left the waiting room and wound our way through the smoke, past the crowd with their dancing tattoos, and out the front door to fresh air.