Our Magic Music Night Seeing Hiss Golden Messenger Almost Didn’t Happen – Twice

The show was announced way back in August. That same day, I bought 2 tickets and sent a calendar invite to Kris to save the date.

The show would fall just a couple of weeks after our 20.5-year anniversary, and she’d really enjoyed their show last year with me at Terminal West. And this one would be even closer, just 20 minutes away at a venue we’d been visiting since high school.


From August through November, life went on. Back to school, colds, travel for work, the full serving of life in progress.

Since I follow HGM on twitter and instagram, I’d see updates about their tour, and I’d be just as excited all over again.

When they announced “our show” had sold out, I congratulated myself on my (1) excellent taste and (2) wise early-bird purchasing habits.

Less than a week prior to the big night, I realized with horror that we hadn’t asked our favorite sitter if she could stay with the boys. Kris was spending a week out of the country, so I deep in the subsistence one-day-at-a-time bunker of single parenting. Totally not conducive to planning ahead, or any of the executive functions (unless falling asleep at 8:45pm counts as one. And if it doesn’t, I don’t want to hear abzzzz zzz zzz.)

But luck was on our side! Our saintly sitter was available. SET PHASERS TO ROCK.

The Big Day Arrives

A couple of hours before our planned exit time, I take care of final preparations:

  • Load my wheelchair, saying a quick prayer of thanks for the clear skies (the joys and sorrows of having an external lift!)
  • Move the car so the sitter will have a place to park
  • Pack my small wallet
  • Fish my winter gloves out of the closet
  • Check venue site for suggested parking spots

Then, I opened my email to print out the tickets.

And my email said, “What tickets?”

Search results - justice@ejjustice

Oh, must have had a typo. Try again, please.


Change up my search terms: full artist name? Venue? Date?


Go straight to ticket seller site to check my purchase history.


In desperation, I went to my bank’s site and pulled up the 3 month old statement, looking for the transaction that I KNOW I made.


But by that time, I was not familiar with anything. My own kitchen faded out and spun away, like in a bad dream. I was speechless. But…? How…?


With the sitter due at 6pm, I confessed to my wife my revelation that I must be an idiot. Somehow, she did not seem as surprised by this revelation as I.

Go easy on me, honey, I’m not doing too well
Do you hate me honey, as much as I hate myself?

– “Heart Like a Levee,” Hiss Golden Messenger

Like most parents of small children, we don’t get a lot of nights out together, and we didn’t want to cancel on our sitter and have her lose the planned income. A chain of sorrows.

Time to scare up a Plan B. There must be something else happening on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving.


In this city of nearly 6 million people.


In this, the 9th-largest-in-the-nation metro area.



And I don’t mean “nothing as good as our original plans.” Our goal for months was to see HGM – nothing could match that.

I mean “nothing” as in “not a single thing.” Every events calendar was cleared until after Thanksgiving.

JFC. What do people even do after 7pm?

Movies! What’s playing?

Oh, that’s right – NOTHING.

Finally, in disgusted resignation, we buy two tickets to Geostorm twenty miles away. With the movie holding at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, at least I wouldn’t have to pretend to have liked it. This was the best of the bad outcomes.

Seeking company for my misery, I tweeted my disappoints out to the world.

EJ Justice on Twitter_ _TFW you've been

EJ Justice on Twitter_ _@hissgldnmssr Please.png

A minute later, I get a reply notification. Unusual, because even my nearest and dearest treat my tweets like the elevator farts they are: best to politely ignore them, hoping I’ll stop soon or leave.

But when I check, the reply was from MC.

! ! ! ! ! !

The next minute was a blur. DM, reply, an email, and he put us On The List.

A bolt from the blue of pure grace.

We drive to dinner a couple blocks from the show venue, dine, and toast to my undeserved good fortune, to the grace of artists working from love, to a wife who doesn’t hate me as much as I hate myself.

We roll toward the venue at doors open. There would be no opener, and it’s easier to maneuver my chair before the crowds reach max capacity.

Sit-down Setback

We arrive at the venue’s entry, where the opening door is up a half-flight of brick steps.


When the door swings open, we can see 2 more flights of steps leading up to the venue proper, the listening room.

As I mentioned, we’ve been to this venue off and on for the last 20 years – but not in the last few, not since I’ve had my wheelchair.

After the couples in front of us file in, we coolly ask the door man, “Where’s your wheelchair entrance?”

“We don’t have one.”


“Sorry, we don’t have one.”

Kris and I exchange dubious glances. Is he new? In possession of a remarkably dry sense of humor? Is it backstage, so they keep its use tightly restricted?

“But…but…how do you get gear and stuff in?” I stammer.

“Carry it.” And he shrugged all of his many muscles, some of which appeared to shrug their muscles.

Well, son of a bitch. We made it this far — through the Forest of Wait and the Bog of Buying Brainfart, to On the List, to the literal Doorstep of the Venue — and there was No Way In.

We move back to regroup. A few walkups get told it’s sold out and leave. A few more ask about the band anyway, which I tell them is great (hence sold out) and can’t help pettily throwing in “and it sucks that they put me on the list, and neither of us knew I wouldn’t be able to actually get in.”

I might have said that last part extra loud so muscley doorman would hear. *angel on my shoulder blushes*

But it worked. *devil on my shoulder grins*

This man of few words said, “Well, we’ll get you in there if you’re on the list. What if we carry your chair up? Can you get up the stairs, then sit again when we get it to the top?”

“My [power] chair weights 130lbs!”

“And I weight 260,” he countered good-naturedly.

“I weight 220, but I can’t lift it.”

I am thoroughly skeptical person, and also this female salmon. But. If they’re offering. And if it’s really the ONLY WAY…

There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time

– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger

So I relent.

Kris offered her arm to my death grip, and I clawed the bannister with the other hand. I step, step, rested, step, dragged my weak leg and large ass up too many stairs to count.

Showed my ID to the list holder, got stamped, and staggered in.

Down below, Doorman recruited two other willing guys and brought up my big, bulky wheelchair.

I was too ashamed to look back. I was mortified they had to do that for me, and flooded with appreciation that they would anyway, and terrified they’d hurt themselves or the chair in the process.

It’s a basic-ass power chair, but it took me a $1,000 co-pay and nearly a year of time to get it. A replacement would cost over $6,000 because my insurance company doesn’t shop on Amazon.

Eventually, it arrived, and I sat and tried to breathe slow and not cry. (Not tonight!)

But the lack of elevator was just the tip of the inaccessibility iceberg. There was no designated seating area for chair users, so we were left to strategize our own spot. We picked one at the end of the bar, next to the (low) tables where standing people would be less likely to block my view.

The crowd fills in moments later and fills the place up. I will not be able to go anywhere until it clears out again after the show – unfortunate news to my neurogenic bladder’s every 20-minute schedule, but again, no choice here.

It’s hard, Lord
Lord, it’s hard
Everybody in the whole damn place has gotta have a good time

– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger

Lights up

Band in. Show starts.

And in that alchemy, the mess, the strife, the shame of getting there melted away.

We groove like only HGM can groove.

We laugh. We sing along. I chair-dance myself sweaty.

And also countless people trip over the footplate of my chair (and my feet). I have to pee for an hour and a half, leaving me praying the show never ends and ends right now. Bitter and sweet, sweet and bitter.

They play all my favorites.

I’m amazed at the energy the band can bring to this last stop on tour.

I’m humbled at the sacrifices they make to come bring this experience to us. Thousands of miles and dozens of days and countless loved ones left, just to fill us with the gospel of the jukebox.

It’s like an oil change for the soul. The toxic sludge drained out, the life-giving power of connection restored.

Hallelujah anyhow.

Requisite low-quality phone snap that completely fails to capture the power and glory of the experience

We applaud the contiguous encore. It’s the mature choice, logistically and conceptually, and it makes perfect sense.

Finally, finally, it’s over. We wait a minute for the aisle to clear as quickly as it had filled, and I beat it to the (inaccessible) bathroom. Relief.

When I come out, they’re waiting to take my chair down. I grapple-plod-step-rest-plod back down, and plop on a bench in the clear, cold air outside to await the chair arrival.

When the eagle lands, Kris and I head back to the car, to home, to bed.


The story would end there, but it doesn’t quite, because there was magic afoot, remember?

To home, to bed, to sleep perchance to dream. Perchance to not be awakened by either kid before dawn. And so it went!

In the morning, I rolled over to try to shift the pain from one hip to the other, to keep the pain down enough to pretend I might sleep for 15 more minutes.

But that never works. I open my eyes and was transported instantly back to the stage last night.

blue sparkly jacket in my closet
The wholly impractical blue sequin jacket I thrifted last week in a fit of Opry fever

A shimmering blue column of power and persistence catching the sliver of weak sun, transforming it beyond recognition.

A pulse of light in the darkness, just like HGM in the November early darkness on that empty Sunday evening.

I’ll rise, I’ll rise
I’ll rise in the morning
Take the good news
And carry it away
Take the good news
And spirit it away

– “Drum,” Hiss Golden Messenger

And in that flash, I knew: there is enough love to go around.

That songs are stronger when more people sing them.

That live music is the raw edge of community – our synapse, ifyouwill –  of community with every thing that makes life good, and with each other.

And it’s a “we” that makes life good.

There’s one way in and there’s one way out and we’re gonna have a good time

– “Biloxi,” Hiss Golden Messenger

I had a good time. A great time. An epically awesome time.

Even with the roadblocks, the self-imposed and the systematic, amor vincit omnia.

Thank you, MC.

Thank you, HGM.

Thank you, Eddie’s Attic strong men.

Thank you, Kris, for 20.5 years.

Thank you, legs, for getting me up the stairs one last time.







Name That Tune, Felix Wunderkind

We popped into Kris’ office this morning to deliver an important message. She was listening to, at that moment, the Stereo MC’s “Step It Up.”

After delivering our message, Felix asked sweetly, “Mama, are you listening to the dinosaur song?”


He continued, “I like this Dinosaur Train song.”

Mamas running to catch up in 3…2…1…

Oh. Wh–?


Holy shit.

I invite you to compare:

What’s the german word for “the first time this happened, it was interesting, but now that it’s happened a second time, it’s even more shocking”?

Because it happened last year, too.

Sometime last year (since March), Kris was listening to Beethoven’s Ninth (the Ode to Joy one), doing chores. Felix ran over to his keyboard and pushed the button to play one of the demo songs. This one:

“See, Mama!”

If it sounded identical, it would make more sense to me.

What is this talent of his called, and how on earth can I feed it?

It’s been real

just passed a wreck on the interstate. Left lane, at least one car totaled, responders on the scene.

Simultaneously, saw a CBS46 news van chugging along by that same spot, and they slowed down, looked at the remains of somebody’s terrible day, and sped off.

“This is nothing new, no television crew / They don’t even put on the siren” — “Star Witness” by Neko Case

A playlist for MS (NHBPM 17)

Create a playlist for your health.

Done! You can read the highlights here, and click here to hear it all on 8tracks. Hear, hear!

Generally Unwell

“You’re body’s a dream that turns violent” (Catch My Disease by Ben Lee)

“Now no doctor’s medicine
Will do me no good
Lord have mercy, children
I wished it would” (I’m Sick, Y’all by Otis Redding)

“Baby, if you never got sick, I wouldn’t get to hold you” (If You Never Got Sick by The Wallflowers)

“How long you think that
You can run that body down?
How many nights you think
That you can do
What you been doing? (Run That Body Down by Paul Simon)

Specific Symptoms

“There’s someone in my head but it’s not me” (Brain Damage by Pink Floyd)

“Ooh, when it gets through to me, it’s always new to me
My double vision gets the best of me” (Double Vision by Foreigner)

“Her name is ___, her eyes are ___” (Her Name Is… by George Jones)

“Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull
And cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my skull” (I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen)

“She’s holdin’ leg wonderin’ how to feel them” (Legs by ZZ Top)

“You’re what happens when two substances collide
And by all accounts you really should have died” (A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left by Andrew Bird)

“I’ve lost my sight, but not the vision” (Reboot the Mission (feat. Mick Jones) by The Wallflowers)

“And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
Senses working overtime” (Senses Working Overtime by XTC)

“Oh Mom, I wonder when I’ll be waking
It’s just that there’s so much to do
And I’m tired of sleeping” (Tired Of Sleeping by Suzanne Vega)

“But when she gets weary
Try a little tenderness” (Try A Little Tenderness by Otis Redding)

“And after all the violence and double talk
There’s just a song in all the trouble and the strife
You do the walk, yeah, you do the walk of life” (Walk Of Life by Dire Straits)

“You spin me right round, baby
Right round like a record, baby” (You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) by Dead or Alive)

“You got the gift to give me parasthesia” (Pins and Needles (w/ Fujiya & Miyagi) by Project Jenny, Project Jan)

Rolling with the Changes

“And falling is like brand new rain,
Places I have never been” (Another Country by Tift Merritt)

“I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains,
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways,
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests,
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans,
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard,
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard,
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall” (A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob Dylan cover) by Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians)

“Miniature disasters and minor catastrophoes
Bring me to my knees” (Miniature Disasters by KT Tunstall)

“I smoke old stogies I have found, short but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road” (King of the Road (Roger Miller cover) by Rufus Wainwright)

“Last years troubles they shine up so pretty
They gleam with a luster they don’t have today
Here it’s just dirty and violent and troubling” (Last Year’s Troubles by Suzanne Vega)

“Life is sad, life is a bust
All you can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and you do it well” (Buckets of Rain (Bob Dylan cover) Beth Orton & M. Ward)

“How can I explain to you?
How somebody can get so very blue, now
How can I tell you about my past?” (Mr. Pitiful by Otis Redding)

“And I’m tired from all the weight
Tired of being strong
So won’t you come and stay
And let me lay
Down in your arms
Down in your arms” (Troubled Mind by Catie Curtis)

Turn and face the strange” (Changes by David Bowie)

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around” (Life During Wartime by Talking Heads)

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this” (Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This by Van Morrison)

Working with Doctors and Meds

“Now I want to understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can” (Doctor My Eyes by Jackson Browne)

“And after all that she’s been through
Oh the doctor say: “There ain’t nothing we can do”” (Long Line of Pain by Amos Lee)

“He said my epidermis was darling
And found my blood as blue as can be,
He went through wild ecstatics
About my lymphatics,
But he never said he loved me” (The Physician (Gershwin cover) by Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys)

“Cuz I know that I don’t belong here
And I know the pills don’t work for me no more” (The Pills Stopped Working by Hem)

“Shook my soul, and stole my dough
Left my condition down a deep dark hole
I’m a pincushion, gotta face the facts
I’m just a pincushion, do everything she ask” (Pincushion by ZZ Top)

Still Alive

“If I got my hopes too high, this is no easy kind of life.
But I see it in my mind’s eye, touch me real as daytime,
I can’t keep from trying” (Hopes Too High by Tift Merritt)

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise” (Blackbird (Beatles cover) by Sarah McLachlan)

“I’m still alive, and I will survive
I can take what life’s got to give, just need a little time” (Still Alive by Social Distortion)

“Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight” (Don’t Let Us Get Sick (Warren Zevon cover) by Jill Sobule)

“It’s a pity, it’s a crying shame
Who pulled you down again?
How painful it must be
To bruise so easily inside” (Life Is Sweet by Natalie Merchant)

“I don’t know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time gets moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we’re going to ever get home…
So many things that I had before
It don’t matter to me now
Tonight I cry for the love that I’ve lost
And the love I’ve never found” (When It Don’t Come Easy by Patty Griffin)

“Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm gonna try with a little help from my friends” (With A Little Help From My Friends (Beatles cover) by Joe Cocker)

“Here’s what I find about compromise-
Don’t do it if it hurts inside
Cause either way you’re screwed,
And eventually you’ll find
That you may as well feel good
You may as well have some pride” (Second Time Around by Indigo Girls)

Coming Back Strong

“‘Cause I’m back on the track
And I’m beatin’ the flack
Nobody’s gonna get me on another rap
So look at me now
I’m just makin’ my play
Don’t try to push your luck
Just get out of my way” (Back In Black by AC/DC)

“Flip another breaker
Crack another fuse
Check, check, check, a hey, hey one two
Gonna make it baby, even if I have to crawl
Gonna hit full speed, even if I hit the wall” (Smoke Another by Cross Canadian Ragweed)

“I am going to make it through this year
If it kills me” (This Year by The Mountain Goats)

“Well I was born to run
To get ahead of the rest
And all that I wanted was to be the best
Just to feel free and be someone
I was born to be fast, I was born to run” (Born to Run by Emmylou Harris)

“Here comes a comeback
The kid is back, back on track,
And there goes my hero
He’s an underdog, he’s coming out on top” (Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog) by Brett Dennen)

“Things are goin’ great
And they’re only gettin’ better
I’m doin’ all right
Gettin’ good grades
The future’s so bright
I gotta wear shades” (Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades) by Timbuk 3)

“So I try a new direction
I’m going to give myself a resurrection
I’m getting ready” (Getting Ready by Patty Griffin)

“if tomorrow never comes
i wont give a damn
if tomorrow never comes
i will not be afraid to meet my maker
just the way that i am” (If Tomorrow Never Comes by Todd Snider)

“Now, I don’t care what you think
I’ma do my thing tonight
I came to dance, came to drink
Livin’ that disco life
I burned about a thousands cals
Dancin’, movin’, shakin’, groovin’
So fuck what my trainer say
I’m finna get a hot dog (A-a-a-a-a-a-after this club)” (Hot Dog by LMFAO)

“And you know
I’m so wired up
Don’t need no coffee in my cup
Let it all hang out” (Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) by Van Morrison)

What I Did Last Monday

My sister LA, KK, and I saw Patty Griffin!

It was her first solo tour in 12 years, I think they said. She was in fine form and sounded great. I was relieved to see that she was way more engaging and talkative than when we saw her with the band a few years ago.

The show nearest us sold out before I knew it existed, so we got tickets to the show the night after, at the Melting Point in Athens. It was a rocking whirlwind trip that made me feel young again…and then not. It’s been years since I drove more than an hour to see a show, and how daring to do it on a weeknight!


But even with the drive, we were home by 11:30.

But it was a cool venue that we’ll be watching to visit again.

We even discovered an excellent mexican place for dinner before. Fajitas with steak, bacon, and ham? I’d be too embarrassed to order those at home, where the same wait staff could judge us every few weeks (desgraciada puta…). But 60 miles away? Bring. It. On.

Set list

If I Had My Way
Long Ride Home
House of Gold
Stay on the Ride
Faithful Son (a new song from forthcoming album, which will be called American Kid – no drop date yet)
“God is a wild old dog” (also from American Kid, and a perfect contender for my Dog Songs that will Make You Cry playlist) (Yes, I have one, and goddamn, are they sad.)
Get Ready, Marie (“a sexy song about my grandparents” that I hope is on the next album!)
Poor Man’s House
Railroad Wings
Flaming Red
Little God (only got through the first line when audience laughed. tried twice, gave up laughing, big applause for being a good sport)
Top of the World
“You can go wherever you want to go” (song from American Kid written after a good dream of her dad)
No Bad News

Getting Ready
Heavenly Day
I’m Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone