The System Has Failed
Another tour in the books. We’re finally done with this leg of the #ClarityTour2016. Capped off with a bit of a “home show” in the Central Coast of California where Chicky and I lived for a short time. We had some good friends that knew we were going to be pretty much homeless after having to move from the house we were living in, so they told us that if we could make our way about 4.5 hours south of the San Francisco Bay Area, we could live with them in a gorgeous little beach town called Grover Beach, just south of San Luis Obispo.
Having no other options, we packed up everything we could fit and started driving south. The kindness of others kept us from being momentarily destitute. So, these wonderful people, and the Central Coast hold an amazingly special place in our little black hearts. Now we’re touring for a while. With our sights set on a new record at the end of this year and a tour of South East Asia and Europe, it’s time to get back to work. Not the cool work that a D.I.Y tour like we’d like to embark on like that requires. But more, I guess you’d say traditional jobs. Sometimes these tours aren’t that financially advantageous, and taking the leap to fly into Mexico City (a place where at the time the US dollar was 18-1 to the Mexican peso) you don’t make much money. So we’re back on that 9-5 (or in my case that 12pm-12am) grind that motivates us to get out of our hole here in Oakland, CA and start spreading the LFADM gospel to as many places and to as many people as possible. Now that us and the van are back home we figured we could just peacefully attempt to settle back into “real life”.
For those of you that don’t know, not only do we live in a music rehearsal studio, I work here too. It’s a pretty cool job, I can’t lie.
Nestled in the industrial side of the lower bottoms of West Oakland, it’s a pretty private musical getaway. With no residential neighbors and no other business that deal with the public around, we’re in a world all to ourselves. Well, kinda to ourselves. Much like other large cities in the US we here in Oakland are dealing with a HUGE homeless problem. Maybe some of you saw the story that went viral about guy that made the tiny houses out of scrap material that people illegally dump in Oakland? Well that was here…on our street. Chicky and I see having proper shelter as a basic human right. I think most people do. Although we as a people tend to let the feeling of cognitive dissonance set in and dismiss those that are drug and alcohol addicted stay without shelter. They’ve made their figurative bed and now they have to lie in it. Or not. Because more often not there is no bed for most. Again, we’re a non residential area. Literally at the bottom of Oakland. People sleeping in the fetal position on the sidewalk among a pile of dumped trash is a common site. Sometimes you’re just happy that it’s a living person and not a dead body (This area was also a known body dump for a while as well!). Living among the tiny houses is like living next to any other neighbor. You would see them in the mornings, sweeping the front area of their home showing some pride in where they lived. Granted, these are still alcoholics, and drug addicts. The downtrodden, that while still coping with various crippling addictions, they attempt for some normalcy in their lives. We know what it’s like to live in these conditions. Before we moved into Soundwave Studios, we were living in our van. A choice we made since we are constantly touring, and paying soaring Bay Area rent prices wasn’t a fiscally sound decision.
For about 6 months we lived in various parking lots, stayed at friends houses from time to time and kept up our Planet Fitness membership so we could shower in the morning. Most people didn’t know we were homeless. We didn’t feel or look homeless, but we were pretty fucking homeless. Nothing reminded me more of how homeless we were when we awoken by the cops one night. We had just bought our 1st tour van. Wendy the Ford Windstar. Purchased for under $1,500 we knew we not only had a road warrior van, but a mobile home as well. We had been sleeping in the Food Max parking lot in Richmond, California for about a month. We were in between tours working a big promotional job for a major tech company. So, this was a perfect way we could work and save money. We were also in the process of pressing vinyl and gearing up for a very large tour for our remix album that featured a remix by Justin K. Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu). The police saw the old looking van with shades up everywhere to prevent someone from looking in and figured people we staying in it and had to check it out. Before we knew what was happening we were ordered out of our car and told to sit on the sidewalk. I was pretty fucking angry. I felt like they were trying to embarrass us. We hadn’t done anything. We were staying in the back of the parking lot away from everyone. Not trying to be a bother. Hell, we wouldn’t even use the bathroom at the Food Max unless we could buy something. But here we are now. One officer going through our vehicle and the other with his eyes on us like we’re common criminals. The one watching us kept telling me to sit and I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to. I told him that I’m not a criminal and I refuse to sit here like one. It felt humiliating have the police lights flashing, cops around us. I pride myself on never being that sort of spectacle, but here I was. Living in a van with my wife, getting questioned by police in a the very neighborhood I grew up in. I was fearful of seeing any familiar faces. They seemed very curious about who we were. I guess we didn’t seem like the typical people they tell to leave the Food Max parking lot for vagrancy. When we told them we were musicians working a job in between tours they didn’t believe us. One officer asked, “What’s your band called?” We of course replied with the name and how to spell it. As he searched for us on iTunes, our Descend EP popped up and the officer exclaimed, “Hey, there you are! You didn’t lie”. He started to play it and liked it. He actually bought our EP on the spot and started looking up our videos on YouTube.
We didn’t get a ticket that night. We were just told to leave and that if we came back we’d probably get a ticket. We drove around for a while looking for a place to park so we could sleep. It was a very desperate feeling. We felt for a moment like maybe this music thing isn’t worth it. But we had a record and big ass tour to see through so we toughed it out a little longer and found a spot nearby, safe from law enforcement (ironically right across the street from the police station). Fast forward a few years later and here we are living in a studio, across from the homeless. Like A LOT OF HOMELESS. It’s grown exponentially since we left for tour over two months ago. A criminal element has finally sunk its claws into our once docile encampment. The drug dealers have set up shop in the camp, showing no shame, dealing literally in the middle of the street. Junkies shooting up in cars litter not only our street but all the surrounding areas. The lowest level of drug addicted and mentally ill prostitutes walk the street in broad daylight. Some riddled with open sores, some underage. Sex trafficking is real on Wood St. It’s become an open air brothel for the truckers that park along our street. There is a stench in the air like none other when you walk down Wood St. Like being trapped inside of a backed up port-a-poty. The homeless shanty town across the street is not only littered with the garbage of the privileged citizens, it’s also a giant public toilet. No really, I had to pick up some dudes turd and makeshift toilet paper in front of our door the other day.
Greed. It’s greed over human life. And it’s the willingness on the part of people who seek personal enrichment to destroy other human beings. That’s a common thread. We, in that biblical term, we forgot our neighbor. And because we forgot our neighbor in Pine Ridge, because we forgot our neighbor in Camden, in Southern West Virginia, in the produce fields, these forces have now turned on us. They went first, and we’re next.
I was born here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Oakland to be exact. So this is home. I don’t know the solution to this problem, and I’m fully aware that all these people aren’t leaving anytime soon. I’m fully aware of all of the systemic factors that can put people in a situation where you find yourself living in a makeshift shanty town tent city below the freeway. Really I do. Maybe that’s why it’s so goddamn frustrating! Living here, you actually build relationships with some of the people. One woman for instance who now is a drug addicted prostitute was at one time a friend to Chicky and I. She did everything she could to support our music from the moment we met. She would come to shows and even buy merch. She’d play our music to anyone that would listen. But her addiction to drugs took over. She’s a 40+ year old local street walker here on Wood St., and sadly at times she’s barley recognizable. I know the pain of addiction all too well. Some of you might not know, but I grew up with a mother that was addicted to drugs for the majority of my formative years. I saw up close and personal what damage it can do to a person. My mother’s addiction came to a head when I was 20 years old and I watched the paramedics carry my mother off in an ambulance in a state of “methamphetamine psychosis”. Devastating effects, but not all of these effects have to be permanent. I’m happy to say that my mom is clean and doing just fine. She’s is a social activist fighting for workers rights to a living wage. She’s just one of many stories that I personally know of people that have sank to the bottoms of human despair, to rise out and thrive. I say this because I understand that people can hit a true a bottom, and with the right support, you can achieve so much. When I look outside, and I see the growing encampment. I see the dead eyes of the people that live in it. When I see levels of despair people feel coupled with lack of resources and opportunity at these peoples disposal, I feel “hope” is a filthy 4 letter word. I don’t know where we should start to try to solve this homeless problem, and because of that I at times loose faith. Not faith in a deity, but faith in humanity. Have these people lost theirs? Or we have we lost ours because we know are viewing these human beings as parasites. Sub-human creatures that are no longer worthy of living. Sometimes I feel that the cyclical reality of a fear and consumption based society has made is blind to the struggles of our fellow man. I’m face to face with the reality of a changing city everyday. Rising rents, more RV’s and cars parked up and down every alley and industrial street in West Oakland with people living in them. I’m going to continue to have a dialogue with my homeless neighbors and I’m writing this because we have some extremely kind, caring and intelligent fans/friends. I’m writing this with the hope that the collective minds of good people can help us come with something that can start a process to help these people out. Outside of hipsters trying to lessen their carbon footprint, not everyone wants to live in a “tiny house”. I will close with this quote from Julien Benda
“We can serve privilege and power or we can serve justice and truth. And those of us who commit to serving justice and truth, the more we make concessions to those who serve privilege and power, the more we dilute the possibilities of justice and truth.”