Being a member of my band, lamb of god, has provided me with many different experiences. Some are incredibly exhilarating, such as watching one of my best friends jump out of an airplane right in front of me, then eight terrified seconds later following him into free fall high above the Nevada desert. Stepping onstage in front of a hundred or so thousand screaming people in the English countryside. Running wild through the streets of Tokyo at night, intoxicated on a heavy mixture of strong Japanese beer, jet lag, and the Blade Runner-esque neon skyline I had dreamed of seeing since my childhood.
Some of the experiences aren’t so fun. Getting the flu and traveling around Europe in a sweaty haze, screaming my brains out for more than hour and trying to entertain the paying concert goers when I feel like I am going to pass out and/or defecate in my shorts on stage. Leaving home heartbroken after a terrible argument with my wife and not having time make it right before I fly to Australia for a month. Not being able to find a toilet that isn’t covered in excrement, vomit, blood, or urine and REALLY having to take a poop. The sheer exhaustion that settles in after rushing from airport to airport on far too little sleep for a couple of years in a row. It gets mind numbing at times.
For me, being in a band, MY BAND, is often long, boring, stretches of “hurry up and wait”, interrupted by really intense moments of pure joy. Somewhere in the middle of these highs and lows is the experience I call my life. I really cherish all of these moments, the good AND the bad. I try not take them for granted, to examine them under the admittedly clouded and subjective microscope that is my perspective, learn from them, and become a better man. I want to understand them for what they are, and what they mean in the context of my life. Since I’ve put down the bottle, I believe I do a pretty good job of it most days. The quotidian can get rather bizarre at times, but it’s mine. I’m clear headed enough to remember it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But there are times that being in my band gives me a moment that makes me stop dead in my tracks and ask myself “Why am I experiencing this? Why me?” A few fleeting seconds on the clock that I don’t understand the exact nature of, ones I can’t seem to process, no matter how I look at them. A minute or two in my life I can’t immediately compartmentalize, yet I know is important to me, the way I view the world, my place in it, and my movement through it.
I had one of these moments a few nights ago. My band was in Washington DC, finishing up a short six day east coast run to kick off our tour cycle for our new record. We were playing at the venerable 9:30 Club, and since it’s so close to home for us there were lots of friends and family members in attendance. When it was time for us to play, I walked over to stage left, kissed my wife for good luck, and took my place behind a wall of amps and cords with our guitarist Mark and his tech Warren Lee.
As our intro started to roll, Warren handed me a black aluminum band with some letters on it and said “Hey man- this kid gave me this. He wanted you to have it. It’s his buddy that got killed in Afghanistan”. I read the bracelet.
LCPL CHRISTOPHER STEELE MEIS
KIA 17 MAR 2011 TREK NAWA AFGHANISTAN
“Man. That’s heavy” I said to Warren, and carefully placed the bracelet with my glasses and cigarettes on top of Mark’s rack of guitar equipment.
I thought for a second about this young man, then my mind flipped the switch as our intro came to an end and I walked out on stage to do my job.
About and hour and twenty minutes later I walked off the stage, drenched in sweat, water, spit, and God knows what else. Warren handed me my glasses, Marlboros, and the bracelet. I stumbled over to the monitor board where my wife and some friends were waiting. I kissed my wife and in-between taking deep breaths, began talking to my friends. I was winded and exhausted, but it had been a really good show. I was happy to be with the ones I loved and who loved me.
As I was chatting, one of the guys who was on the tour came over and said “Hey man, if it’s cool, the soldier that gave you that bracelet would like to meet you for a second.”
I looked down at the black aluminum band in my hand.
“Of course. Bring him over.”
The monitor board was right by the barricade, so there were tons of folks standing there screaming at me. Out of this sweaty pile of happy black-clad humanity a stocky young man with a military haircut started walking my way. He looked to be about eighteen years old, and was even sweatier than me. I reached out and shook his hand firmly and looked him in his eyes. There was a calm, serious quality in them that I immediately sensed was earned at a steep price.
“This was your friend, bro? Killed in Afghanistan?” I asked him.
“Yeah. I was beside him when he died in the valley.”
I grabbed the young man and gave him a hug.
“I’m sorry, man,” I said “do you have to deploy any time soon? Are you home for a while?”
“Yeah, I’m home for a while.”
“Good, bro. Good. Stay safe.”
“I will, man. I will. It was nice to meet you,” the soldier said as he turned and started walking away. He stopped and called back to me.
“Wear that. It’s special. Only people who were close to him are allowed to have those.”
“I will, bro. I will.” I replied.
“Hey,” I called out to him “Was he a fan?” I asked, feeling stupid as soon as the words left my mouth.
The young Marine paused and nodded.
“Yeah, he was.”
Then he turned, walked into the crowd without looking back, and disappeared.
I never got his name.
I turned around back to my wife and my friend Kenny. “Wow. That was some pretty serious intense stuff.”
“Yes, sir. That’s some big boy business right there for sure,” Kenny said.
We walked through the alley behind the 9:30 Club towards the dressing room entrance. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I wiped my eyes quickly as we entered the dressing room area. I showered and shaved, and put the bracelet on my right arm.
I looked in the bathroom mirror at the bracelet and didn’t really know what I was feeling. I was simultaneously sad, angry, happy, honored, and humbled; yet I couldn’t get a grip on any one of those feelings for more than a second or two. I couldn’t process the emotions running through me, ones that arisen so quickly and all at once from an encounter with a young man that had lasted probably two minutes at the most.
I was sad because a young man was dead. I was also angry in a few different ways because that same young man was dead. I was happy to have been able to meet his friend, hoping that somehow it would help him a bit with his grief. I was honored that I was included in the process of remembering a dead countryman I had never met. And I was humbled that somehow what I do, this thing I call my band’s music, had somehow impacted a stranger enough that they wanted to share their pride and grief over their dead friend with me.
I stopped, looked at myself in the mirror again, and said aloud “Yes, this is indeed some big boy business.”
Then I drove home with my wife and went to bed. But the emotions still rise up in me at times, a few days later. I am still trying to figure out my experience.
I am not a scientist, trying to cure cancer. I am not a doctor, saving someone’s life with a surgical procedure. I am not a fireman, rushing into a burning building and pulling little kids out before they burn alive. I am not a social worker, trying to help disadvantaged families find a way to escape the poverty of the ghetto. And I am certainly not a soldier, fighting and dying in a foreign land for what I believe to be right.
What I am is a forty-year old man privileged enough to travel around the world and scream for a living. What I do is incredibly trivial compared to a what some other people do. People who work a lot harder at their chosen professions than I do mine, with almost none of the recognition I receive. Sometimes I feel insignificant, like a joke. I grow pensive and full of doubt. I wonder if what I am doing with my life means anything at all. I wonder if I should just quit.
When I get like this, my wife tells me to remember that what I do does help people. I still struggle with believing that sometimes. I guess I am an egomaniac with a severe inferiority complex.
These moments I have, ones like this one in DC, don’t answer my questions about the direction I have chosen for my life. They don’t tell me that what I am doing is noble, or worthy, or serves some higher cause. They don’t fill me with a sense of purpose or righteousness. In fact, they often make me feel even more insignificant. I am a singer in a heavy metal band. It’s all I really know how to do anymore. I might as well put on clown makeup and join the circus.
But these moments do drive home one point, and they drive it home hard: that if someone like the young man I met backstage takes what I do seriously enough to share some big boy business with me, then while I’m doing it, I damn well better take it seriously as well. I better do the best job I can. I better put every bit of myself and what I am into this thing. Because even though it’s nothing more than a heavy metal band, it does connect with people sometimes in a meaningful way. And without letting that fact make my ego explode, I need to recognize and respect that connection. Right now, it is what I do with my life. I need to be the best man I can while I’m doing it.
To my knowledge, I have never met Christopher Meis. But he has been on my mind since our show in DC. I did a little research on him. This is what I know about him.
Lance Corporal Christopher S. Meis was 20 years old. He was from Bennett, Colorado. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Camp Lejeune, NC, a few miles from where my brother Scott lives. Lance Corporal Meis was a very proud Marine, and joined the Corps because he strongly felt he needed to serve his country in that fashion. He believed the Corps were the best of the best, so that is the branch of the service he chose to enlist in. He was a machine gunner, so he must have been a strong young man. He died of a gunshot wound to the chest during a firefight with Taliban fighters on March 17th, 2011 in the Helmland province of Afghanistan, thousands of miles from home. He is survived by his mother, father, and 16 year old brother. His friend I met was with him when he died. He did not die alone.
That is almost all I know about Christopher Meis. I do not know if we would have argued over politics, if our views on the war in the Middle East would have been polar opposites. I do not know if he liked to read books, or liked to play video games, or had a girlfriend. I do not know if we would have argued over whether or not sushi was gross, or whether NASCAR was the greatest thing since sliced bread or just a bunch of guys going in a circle turning left really fast. I don’t know if he would have laughed at my corny jokes or just stared at me like I was an idiot. I do not know what his last thoughts were. I suspect they were of his family in his beautiful home state of Colorado.
But there is one more thing I know about Lance Corporal Christopher S. Meis: he was a fan of my band. He was a guy like any other dude I might see at a lamb of god show, someone who liked heavy metal, just like I do. I could have maybe talked to him outside my bus before the show, or kicked back over a non-alcoholic beer at the local bar as I still do sometimes when I go out after the show on tour. He was not a number. He was not a statistic on a television screen. He was one of us. He was a human being, a person. A person with a family that loved him. A person I now have a small connection with. I hope and pray he is at peace. I hope and pray his family can find some peace during their time of grief.
I did not write this to inspire feelings of a political nature one way or the other. I did not write this to make any sort of commentary on America, our military, or their involvement in any conflict anywhere in the world. That stuff is beside the point to me in this case.
I wrote this because I had a moment that I felt worth sharing. Through my band or my writing, it is what I do. It is how I try to figure out my place in this world. And I will try to do it honestly and to the best of my ability.
I wrote this to honor a fan of my band who is no longer with us.
This is just my experience.
RIP Lance Corporal Christopher S. Meis, USMC
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Here's a few things you should know about about me:
1. I'm 40 years old as of 2/21/2011.
2. I'm happily married to an awesome woman.
3. Sometimes I live Richmond, VA. Sometimes I live all
over the globe. I ALWAYS reside in Randonesia.
4. I really like: books, hunting & fishing, skateboarding,
punk fucking rock (the music & the way of life- true
til DEATH!), comic books, guns, knives
whips (basically any sort of killing weapon), good coffee, & non-alcoholic St. Pauili Girl or Becks
5. I am a sober alcoholic. I don't drink or drug anymore
because it was killing me. Everybody else, by all
means, PLEASE- have a drink on me.
6. I sing for a metal band called lamb of god.
7. I say exactly what I want, when I want to. If you don't
like it, don't read this blog. I don't care if I hurt your
feelings- I speak what only what I regard as the truth,
and nothing else.
8. I tend to disregard conventional grammar & spelling
at times, not because I am ignorant in such matters,
but because this a fucking blog, not my attempt to
win the Pulitzer. When I get paid to write, I let editors
fix the details. Here, I try not to worry about it much.
9. I do not tolerate racism, religious intolerance, homo-
phobia, dogmatic political posturing, sexism, class
restrictions, or just general idiocy/assholeness from
ANYONE, OF ANY SEX, CREED, OR COLOR, nor should
you. That being said, I am definitely not politically
correct, so if it's a joke- get over yourself.
10. I do not give a fuck.
11. I am actually a nice, warm-hearted, generous,
articulate Southern Male with impeccable manners. If
ya see me on the street, come say hello!