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I said “Mama , in a band is where I belong.”

Photo: Aaron Kafton


Somewhere near the Nebraska-Colorado border I was unsure of what time zone I was in. I rolled the van into a rest area to stretch my legs before finding sleep for my weary eyes. A tune I had just been introduced to in Salina had been stuck in my head. I jumped on the free rest area Wi-Fi and downloaded Using Again by Benjamin Tod. It is a gut wrenchingly honest song about drug addiction and self-worth. Each line of the song crept through the Dodge factory speakers and into my soul. I’ve never had a drug addiction but it felt like a song I could have written. What else would one do when exhausted other than get introspective?

It became apparent that music was my addiction, that it was the thing I had allowed to control my life. Then I had to understand why. What in my life opened the door for something like music to capture my heart? Why was I still doing it?

Between the mohawks, studs, leather, self-inflicted piercings, and nautical star tattoos that were the punk rock scene in southern Missouri, we learned a lot about life. The punk kids and the hardcore kids never got along. In an attempt to remedy the conflicts, a local venue held an all-day festival for both. The foreseeable happened, egos flared and fights started. A high schooler who attended every punk show in town approached me. Her face made no attempt to hide her despair.

“Why is everyone fighting? I go to shows to get away from the fighting at home.” That’s when I knew music was bigger than the enjoyment I got from playing.

In 2014, after I’d been living in Iowa for several years, I returned to the Joplin area to play one of my favorite house shows. Recently I had written a song “Sweet Tea and Black Coffee” and I was anxious to play it live. Early in my writing I used other folks as my writing material and this was an early attempt to use my own experiences. Rather terrifying. To this day, the song gets accused of being a sad song, but it ain’t. “I’ve been through hell and back and I wouldn’t change a thing. Calm seas don’t make good sailors.” Charles, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, hugged me after the show in the way that only he could. He looked right in my eyes and said, “That Sweet Tea song, I get it.”

Charles has since left this world, but I’ve replayed that memory more times than I care to count. That’s when I knew I had to write honest songs. You never know who is listening.

This spring, no matter where in the Midwest I drove, there was water everywhere. The banks of the Arkansas aggressively pushed against the levees in Tulsa as I pulled into town. Everywhere we adventured we exchanged flood level stories with strangers. We arrived back at the house show to find regular attendees arriving. We crammed into the basement, drank Wal-Mart champagne, danced, and held our version of a church service right in that basement. Nothing lights a fire inside of me like finding groups of folks who’ve found each other through their passion for music.  

That’s when I knew I wasn’t ever alone. No matter where I would be driving in the Midwest, I would have a congregation waiting.

Mostly, I feel like I finally fit in my skin. Sometimes I think that’s a justification for doing what I want. The bitter taste of imposter syndrome from graduate school often comes back, but I’ve got a community of folks who make it a lot easier to keep shoving myself in that van.

-Mississippi Jake