Credit: Dmitry Samarov

The day before Protomartyr played at Schubas, I had a meltdown at the Pitchfork Music Festival.

The publisher of my second book had generously offered me table space to hawk books, prints, and art at the Book Fort for no charge. I was also scheduled to do a reading that afternoon. But I barely lasted two hours of the three-day festival.

It was a crazy hot morning when I got there that Friday. There were already lines of kids waiting for drinks, food, free silkscreened T-shirts, and merch. I watched all the happy young people milling about and thought nothing but horrible things. Why was I here? Why were they? What was I thinking, wanting to sell my crap to these people? Why would I want to sell anything to anybody at all? The relentless sun was no help. I don’t respond well to heat under the best circumstances, but combined with being in a place I didn’t want to be, it made for a cocktail of impenetrable darkness inside my head.

I mumbled some likely incomprehensible apology, packed up my things, and got the hell out of there. I was gone before the first band played a note.

I had a ticket to see Ex Hex at the Bottle that night but was too thrown by what had happened earlier to want to leave the house. Protomartyr was to play the next day at the festival, then go across town to Schubas. I made myself go back outside to see them.

There’s a gauntlet to run when seeing shows at Schubas. That gauntlet is the bro bar one must traverse to get to the music room in the back. Every time I’ve ever been there the front and the back seem like separate ecosystems. Rowdy Cubbie fans dominate the bar no matter the season, while the type of people in the music room depends entirely on what band is playing. It’s an odd, sometimes uncomfortable negotiation getting from one world to the other.

Before I got to Schubas, I had deleted Instagram from my iPhone. It was the last social network I belonged to. I’d signed up a few months earlier, just before I’d deleted my Twitter account, which I’d used compulsively for the previous seven years. I figured Instagram might be more manageable and less all-consuming, but it turned out not to quell any of the cravings, while delivering little of the rush which Twitter’s pellet-sized but never-ending updates gave. (Instagram was methadone to Twitter’s heroin.) After I made a sketch of the opener, Bully, I reached for my phone to snap a pic and post it before realizing there was nowhere to post it to.

Protomartyr came on and I made another drawing. This time I just scanned the packed room afterwards and realized I likely didn’t know a soul here.

Without the veil of social media my situation was laid plain: I was a weird 45-year-old in a club full of much younger people who had probably followed these bands from Union Park after roasting all day in the sun. They were sunburned, sweaty, and woozy from booze and whatever else they’d ingested, but mostly they were drunk on music. At least we had that in common.

When I got home, I scanned the sketches and uploaded them to my website. Then I looked up the bands’ websites and emailed them their drawings. After a decade, starting with MySpace around 2005, there would be no common area for me to share this work anymore. I would now have to address each and every subject of my sketches personally if I wanted them to look.

In the weeks that followed I got several e-mails from social media acquaintances worried about my sanity. I found out quickly just how few actual friends I have. Without the convenience of a shared platform most of my “friends” don’t want to bother. Meanwhile life goes on.

I go and sketch at more shows than ever, even though the instant gratification/approval of Twitter and Instagram is gone. I’ve found out I don’t need it. Every now and again someone at a show will notice me sketching and ask to take a picture. Sometimes these photos end up on social media and I’ll come across them sometime later. But they’re like rumors from a faraway town, rather than news from my own.

I’ve never gone back to Pitchfork either, and have no plans to ever do so again.   v