Special Thanks Angela Behm Iris Poole Jessi Bennett Cassandra McCollum
There Is No_System is a production of Brian Behm Creative.
Where do you find home? (pause) When I say that word, home, what’s the picture that appears in your mind?
Is it a specific place?
Is it a person?
Is it a club, a community, or a scene, where you felt particularly embraced?
The most straightforward answer is a specific address in a particular city or state. If you were an army brat or had some wanderlust, maybe you’ve moved, and your home has changed over time.
For me, having lived in three states, I know that they all, on some level, feel like “home,” and for different reasons.
There’s a scene in the first act of the 1938 play, “Our Town.” Growing up, I was rather fond of the way a letter in the play was addressed to one of the citizens of Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire.
If you haven’t seen it, the 1938 play was meta before meta was a thing. The first time I saw it performed was at the Children’s Theater in Minneapolis, and it blew my mind.
Up to that point, you have to understand that every play I had seen had sets and elaborate production. I’m sure that even when I say the word ‘play,’ you can get an idea of how that might look. Our Town rids itself of all of that, stripping the stage back to the bare minimum needed for you to inhabit a sense of place. They also break the fourth wall in a way that Deadpool won’t for decades. (insert Deadpool clip)
But back to Our Town. Towards the end of Act 1, a girl named Rebecca talks about a letter that her friend got when she was sick. Let’s listen to a recording of that scene from a performance that featured Paul Newman as the stage manager who hosts the play.
In Our Town, in Act I, Rebecca quotes the address on Jane Crofut’s letter from the minister mean? REBECCA: I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter, and on the envelope, the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America. GEORGE: What’s funny about that? REBECCA: But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God--that’s what it said on the envelope. GEORGE: What do you know! REBECCA: And the postman brought it just the same. GEORGE: What do you know!
Sometimes home is a place. Sometimes we even need to know where we are in the universe, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes home is a bit more metaphoric.
Even if I haven't said it in these first four episodes, you've probably sensed a pattern that music is important to me. These accompanied essays are a way for me to bring the emotions in my head out in a way that I can't with just words or my ASMR voice. There are two love songs that I hold very dear that explore that sense of home. The first is The Talking Heads' This Must Be The Place. (quote from David Byrne)
I was at work yesterday talking about where I thought this episode was going, and I started to think about This Must Be The Place. It's a beautifully simple song built on fragments of ideas about a lover. In a way, the stripped-back instrumentation and song structure of This Must Be The Place; its subtitle is "Naive Melody" because of how intentionally simple the music is) echoes the same minimalism that Thornton Wilder pursued in Our Town.
It's like the story about the blind men and the elephant, painting a picture through their minimalist ideas and experience. One holds the trunk and gets an idea of what the elephant is, another the Tusk, etc. They all have different comprehension, and the parable talks about the limits of our perception. By simplifying what he was trying to do in the song, Byrne's fragments can point to a larger whole. I've been fascinated to learn later in my life about Byrne's autism. That's not particularly important here, but maybe it is because there's a precision in those fragments that could have its origins in that neurodiversity.
The Pet Shop Boys Home and Dry (from their 2002 album Release) is a song that occupies a similar space in my head. We're going to come back and look at how we time travel through songs because there's a lot more that I want to say about that, but I can't listen to that song without thinking about the first time I moved away from "home."
The year was 2003, and I was in Colorado. Having grown up in the suburbs of St. Paul, firmly in the middle of 10,000 lakes, it was a new experience to be in a land that was so brown at an elevation that kept a guy who had just finished 140 miles in a race from being able to run up a flight of stairs. I'd just moved. In fact, in a way, I was in the in-between. I'd moved, but I was temporarily living with my bosses in a town called Monument while I waited to be able to move into my apartment.
The other day I stumbled on some photos from then. My dad drove me out. It was June, and I moved a couple of months ahead of my soon-to-be wife. After the wedding, my bride would be moving down with me. I needed to prepare for our new life, so my dad volunteered to drive me out.
On the way, he and I stopped at this strange museum outside Grand Island, Nebraska. As you're driving in the middle of the state's wide-open plains, you'll suddenly stumble on a gigantic looming structure on the horizon. As you get closer, you realize that this object is a museum that vaguely looks like a stagecoach straddling the freeway.
It’s a museum about the people who took the oregon trail west on their travels in search of a new home.
If you go back and watch the movie About Schmidt, you can see Jack Nicholson at this museum.
We went to the gift shop, and I bought myself a crappy ring. I wanted an "engagement ring" because it felt like a connection back to my fiance in Minnesota. That ring is still somewhere around the house. I think it turned my finger green. As I mentioned, it wasn't the highest quality of jewelry.
But, as soon as I got to Colorado, my dad left. I'll never forget driving up to DIA in Denver and then driving away after I dropped him off. The reality of the situation hit me as I suddenly realized how alone I was. That night when I got back to my employer's house, they let me know that they would be heading off on vacation the next day. They lived in a 6,000 square foot house. It was a huge house that straddled the line between mansion and McMansion. It was also in the middle of a part of town called The Black Forest. At night, the wind would blow, the trees would creak, and the house was too big to have a sense of what was going on. With the couple who I was staying with gone. I was suddenly more alone than I'd ever been in my life.
Have you ever been in that position? Unmoored and about to drop your anchor, but without the new connections established? Home and Dry provided solace. I love to drive, and I can picture that song playing as the rain spit against my windshield, and I looked across the front range as I navigated the North Gate Boulevard that eventually connected to the Air Force Academy.
The song talks about the writer's partner being out on the road and how they want them to be back home and dry. There's a certain universalism in the song that I love. I love how artists like The Pet Shop boys, or more recently Rostam, can write from a queer perspective and still allow me to see through their eyes. We're more alike than different, not greater or less than. And I'm thankful for the connection that crappy ring and song created to keep me anchored, afraid of flying off into space in a state where I couldn't breathe.
We went back last year, and there's another experience I want to talk about in Nebraska that you'll have to hold out for, and that sense of home had shifted. Now that we've been in Texas for a decade, home in Colorado felt alien. Something that felt familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously.
But the home that I want to focus on today is more about the home where we find community. Where do we find a sense of place? I think you can argue that a lot of the problems we have in our life come from the times we unmoor from that sense of place.
There are a small handful of communities where I’ve found home, but I think all of them, in a way, spring out of western Illinois. I didn’t grow up there. Like I've mentioned, that would be the suburbs of St Paul, MN. But, for over 20 years, I spent at least a week in a cornfield outside of Bushnell, Illinois, at a music festival called Cornerstone.
If you've made it this far, you're already used to my ADHD brain ping-ponging from anecdote to non sequitor. So, indulge me for a second as I tell you a story that happened on our way to Cornerstone that first time.
Unlike the trip to Colorado, this year I was only 15. I'd just gotten my permit. A couple of days before we left for the festival, I got my driving permit and was anxious for my dad to let me drive. He didn't, of course. Now that I'm closer to the age that he was then, I guess I can't blame him. But we were on our way to something we didn't know. That night we'd stopped to have dinner in Iowa City. Then, we got back on the road and, if you're familiar with the geography of Iowa, made it to the Mississippi River.
Being summer, there was construction on the bridge over the water. Grammarly is challenging me on how 'Being Summer' is a dangling modifier. Still, in the upper midwest, it being summer should tell you almost immediately that there was road construction. We proceeded to get stuck for more than an hour on top of this span. It was pretty. It was peaceful. We had our windows down and could feel the breeze traveling with the current of the water far below us. I could see eddies in the aquatic reflections of sunset through the intermittent grates of the roadway.
Sun now set, we got to the other side. Through the darkness, we headed south into the farmland of Illinois. After about 20 minutes, my dad pulled off to the side of the road. Him doing this, I have to stress to you, was weird. An abrupt stop wasn't routine for us, and I was more than a little confused.
He parked and, without saying anything, got out of the car. I watched as he shuffled off into the field. I'm alone. I had no idea WHAT THE HELL was going on. as I waited, I noticed the fireflies. There weren't just a few fireflies, there were thousands of them, and they were everywhere. While I was waiting, trying to understand why my dad had disappeared, I found myself in the middle of a teaming surge of an organic galaxy of lightning bugs. You couldn't have art directed a more movie moment, and shockingly for a fifteen-year-old, I was able to chill out and enjoy for what it was.
All told, I think my dad was gone for 20 minutes. He eventually returned to the car, got in, and drove the car back onto the road, never uttering a word.
A few minutes later, the pregnant pause only having grown, he said eight words that have burned into my soul. "We are never eating at that Arby's again."
So, with that build-up, Cornerstone was an anomaly. If you grew up evangelical, you probably had more than one experience of being taken to a youth group concert. Depending on the era, you may have seen DC Talk, or maybe Audio Adrenaline or the Newsboys or Mercy me? But, if you didn’t spend any time in evangelical circles, those names might not mean anything to you. They certainly didn’t mean much to the people at Cornerstone.
Cornerstone was a Christian music festival, but it was way more into the weird. If a music festival could be a club, Cornerstone was like CBGBs. I’ve described it as if Burning Man were a bunch of Christian Punks, but I don’t know that that’s a great analogy. On the other hand, if you spent your year listening to obscure Christian alternative artists like Daniel Amos, Vector, Fleming & John, the choir or the prayer chain, and you were the only kid at church with a mohawk, Cornerstone was a safe place.
Side note, Oscar Isaac spent many of his formative years going to the festival. Sufjan Stevens lived for a while with the community that put it on. I'm sure we'll talk more about Cornerstone.
But, even if I don't tell you about it, you can’t look at me and REALLY see me without getting the dust of Western Illinois in your mouth that would hang in the humid midwestern air on a particularly sticky day. As a weird kid (some would say weird adult), I didn’t fit in. That’s been a repeating pattern in my life. Because it's been a repeating pattern, I can't help but try and build things that create those spaces.
Now (and I’m sure dear listener, that this is the case for you), you go online and find your freaks if you don't fit in. We could sort of do that then. We didn't have social media, but we did have things like AOL and Compuserve. That online space for me was first on a USENET forum called Rec.Music.Christian and, later, on a telnet bbs out of New York City called Echo.
The people I met on r.m.c. almost all attended this festival in Illinois, and I knew that I had to go.
As the years passed, I kept going. I think it kept me alive. As an unpopular kid, the festival became more important to me than Christmas because I had my friends in person for one week out of every year.
When we moved to Colorado, we eventually plugged into a church in Denver called Scum of the Earth. Cornerstone, and the sense of place we created there, acted as a divining rod that showed us where we could look for the puzzle pieces that would help make us whole. Scum calls itself a church for the left out and the right-brained. Finally, we'd found a church full of weirdos like us! It was amazing. I can't write these words without tearing up thinking about how we realized that we'd found home. There are many stories there. Consider this another Hansel and Gretel-like bread crumb to find out way back.
I want to introduce you to Gothic Nate. Then, I want to tell you about my friend Leanor and a night at Cornerstone where we got goth makeovers. But more importantly, I want to introduce you to Mike and Mary Sares because these "sermons? essays? rants?" wouldn't exist without the model of shepherding and caring that they both exhibited in the way they pastored and looked after that congregation.
I introduced my daughters to Mike and Mary this summer. It was essential to close the loop and introduce people I care immensely about to whom I feel deeply indebted.
Eventually, Angela and I realized that Colorado wasn't where we were supposed to be and that "home" would be Austin. I'll never forget the wise words that she told me when she said, "We could stay in Colorado and probably be happy, but we're going to have to be comfortable with not being able to answer what if.
Speaking about closing the loop, there's one more story with my dad that I think is important in our discussion about home. The first year I was at Rooster Teeth, he died. I lost both of my parents within a couple of years. They both died of different cancers. Before he died, I'd been reading a book by Donald Miller called a Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I love the book for many reasons, but I love that it's a weird prism into tangential corners of my own life. The book is about my friend Steve Taylor as he gets ready to work on a movie that I VFX supervised called Blue Like Jazz. The whole book is about how Steve and his friend Ben Pearson help Donald to figure out how to create a narrative out of his stream of consciousness biography;
Donald learns in the book that stories are only brief moments. They have a beginning and end as the character we're following goes through some change process. I felt like I was on another planet as I struggled through the 100 days of 100 degrees that summer, and I watched the pyres of fire erupt in the forests east of Austin in Bastrop. More than a thousand miles away, my dad was busy dying. Home suddenly felt like it was back in Minnesota and not Texas.
Like back when I sent him home from Colorado, I felt alone. I'd also been reading Ender's Game that year, and the talk about light travel and the ansible in that book also made me feel alone. In that book, relativistic travel means that time is different for you when you're on your way somewhere else at the speed of light. You're traveling through time at a different rate than the people you care about. If you were to race back home, all of the people you care about would be dead. In the book, they have a device called The Ansible that lets people talk in realtime between planets. It's the only way they can connect. The phone and internet were the only way I could connect with my family while I crunched on the ninth season of Red Vs Blue.
Reading Donald Millers book brought comfort. It made me feel better because I realized that, for my dad, with my life, he could see that I'd managed to come full circle. In the hero's journey of my life, I'd gone out and changed and came back. I'd found a place where I was thriving in my work. I'd been able to buy a house finally. We had a dog, and we were heading towards being parents. I could take a small solace because my dad knew We'd found home.
If we continued to follow the story and learn other stories, the train would come off the tracks again, but stories are only brief moments in time. Sort of like these fragments of memories or David Byrnes lyrics in This Must Be The Place.
So what’s your address? Where’s your home? For me, it might be Brian Behm, of the Austin film community, via scum of the earth, by way of cornerstone festival, in the service of the alternative Christian music scene, in the flyover lands of the northern United States, also of Austin, Texas, and the Alamo Drafthouse, in care of Rooster Teeth and as a part of No_System, in the United States, on the edge of North America in the Western Hemisphere of the earth, in a solar system that's a small part of the Milky Way galaxy, that's firmly planted in a universe that's in the mind of God.
The more you know about what’s formed you, the more you see the fleetingly visible lines of your trajectory. So I hope you'll spend some time thinking about them and trying to trace them.