6/11 Idaho Magazine Features - "The Demons of Boulder Lake" (non-fiction)

Daniel Claar - Idaho's Premier Backcountry Writer

Winner - Idaho Magazine Publisher's Choice Award 2010
"The Proper Filter"

Winner - Idaho Magazine Judge's Choice Award 2011
"Where the River Leads"

"Hot Spring Break "

"Stampede! "

"Seeing Things"
Winner - Idaho Magazine Second Place 2011

Monday, March 15, 2010

What We Pretend To Be

          Darion barely catches his breath before the band segues into their final performance of the night. The nightclub’s pulsing rainbow of stage lights beat down on the four men like a July sun. Shirtless and sweaty, the singer howls into the microphone as the song’s introduction reaches a climax of heavy riffing and rapid-fire drumming. The crowded floor becomes a seething pool of bouncing heads and raised fists. A wolf-like grin erupts across the face of the maniacal singer. Darion drags one hand over his shaved scalp and wipes the drenched fingers on his camouflage shorts as he screams the opening lines.

          Flanking the front man are his closest friends and band mates. Hawg, a masterful jazz drummer, pounds his kit with such primitive fury, no one would guess he is professionally trained. Behind a mop of thick brown curls, Kent hacks at his ebony Les Paul, carving out a menacing and chunky chord progression. Stage left, stocky Julio pummels the bass strings and stomps in circles like a man possessed. The synergistic wall of sound created by the four men feels as though it could rip the building from its very foundation.

          As always, when playing this particular number, Darion seeks out new faces in the crowd to gauge their reaction. Taken literally, the song seems to promote war on everyone from Arabs to Eskimos. Acutely aware of his own militant appearance, Darion enjoys taking a hyperbolic stance in his lyrics and stage presence. The song is actually an anti-war piece, but so disguised in its brutally heavy music and sarcastic lyrics, the band had seen their share of misunderstanding. Over the years, they had comically witnessed more than one person storm out of a show with disgust etched across their face. Once, a whirling, diminutive blur of tie-dye and dreadlocks stopped dead in her sandals, extending both middle fingers in wild gesticulations until the song ended.

          Pressed against the stage, their regular fans and personal acquaintances echo the atrocious but catchy chorus with a look of twisted glee. In the mass of twisting bodies, Darion notices a young lady with long blond hair tackle a large bearded man and drag him to the floor where they are lost from sight. Through the heavy tide of swaying bodies, several audience members surge to their aid and both are pulled back to their feet laughing wildly.

          They have just begun the second verse when Julio kicks Darion in the shin lightly and with narrowing eyes, nods his head in Kent's direction. Standing right in front of the guitar player is a barrel-chested mountain of a man, shirtless beneath a pair of tattered overalls. Like Darion, his head is finely shaved. Tattoos of barbed swastikas and iron crosses cover his muscled shoulders, neck, and bald scalp. The man's hands are balled into fists and his arms are shaking above his head like an enraged gorilla. He is screaming so loud, Darion can hear him over the music.

          Kent nods in approval at the man's frenetic energy while his fingers do an effortless dance across the fret board. The recognition from stage lights an intense fire in the giant’s eyes and he begins to lumber in place, moving from foot to foot in rhythm with the music. The colossus quickly begins to stalk in circles, elbows and knees beginning to churn, violently clearing space all around. Those nearby try to make room for the muscular monster, but the club’s floor is too packed and the crowd’s swaying momentum tosses people right back into the pulverizing machine of blunt limbs.

          The hulking beast notices Darion watching him and marches across the front line of the audience, peeling the first row away from the stage. He points to the singer’s shaved head, then to his own tattoos, before smiling viciously and shoving a skinny red-headed kid onto his knees.

          Now front and center, the man continues his aggressive thrashing and his energy infects the crowd. Some of the younger men in the audience try to shove the mammoth aside. However, the side to side motion of the pit carries most their energy into the uninvolved, and in order to retain their balance, those people have little choice but to push back. Soon, people are shoving in every direction just to maintain their footing.

          Darion locks eyes with the man, shakes his head critically, and focuses all the rage the lyrics ever intended on the beast before him. The effect is like nothing the front man has ever seen. Although use to an audience responding to his vocal cues and stage mannerisms, this individual reacts to the singer's presence like an actor undergoing some Hollywood lycanthropic transformation. All the malice Darion can emit is absorbed by the tattooed entity and then unleashed on everything in arm's length. The song's message seems to validate the man's very existence with Darion serving the role of divine preacher.

          Unable to watch any more, Kent turns his back to the crowd and slides into a guitar solo of sustained notes and manipulated feedback. Darion also turns around to make eye contact with Hawg. The drummer is watching the flailing stranger and shaking his head with concern. Sweat pours from the drummer’s thick blond hairline and into his bloodshot eyes.

          The singer looks back at the crowd just in time to catch the man inadvertently elbow the face of an older woman standing well behind him. Darion recognizes her as Julio's aunt; a woman he had met earlier that night. She was in town and wanted to watch her nephew perform for the first time. Before anyone can react, Juilio is flying across the stage, tearing the bass over his head by the instrument's neck, and pulling it back behind him like a golf player about to tee off.

          The swing is interrupted at the last second when the instrument’s cord reaches the end of its length and yanks Julio's amplifier right off its mount. The cable pops free from its jack, slowing but not stopping the blow’s velocity. Turned halfway around, the huge man never sees Julio’s charge. The body of the heavy bass guitar catches him right in the temple and the big man drops without a sound to the club's sticky floor.

          Face first on the stage, the bass amp emits an obnoxious static buzz. The song ends awkwardly as the drums come to an abrupt halt and Kent’s fingers reluctantly cease moving. Silence fills the room. As one, the audience pulls back from the giant’s crumpled form as if it has suddenly become contagious. Darion notices the man is out cold, but still breathing. He also sees Julio's aunt standing off to one side holding her mouth while a trickle of blood seeps from her chin and tears run down her cheeks.

          “I think we're done here,” Darion mumbles into the microphone.

          The front man places a hand on Julio's trembling shoulder. The bass player still has his cold eyes locked on the unconscious man. There are a few calls of half-hearted approval from the floor area mixed with boos and undecipherable cat calls from the rear of the club.

          “Last time we play that one,” Darion whispers to nobody in particular. “Never expected that…”

          Julio barely nods his head. “How about we get our shit out of here before the Nazi wakes up... or the cops arrive?”

          “Good idea.”

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