Crocodile, 441-5611, $7 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 25
A MOTORCYCLE PUNK in a skintight T-shirt rockets down University Way, right arm fully extended, pointing>"/>
Crocodile, 441-5611, $7 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 25
A MOTORCYCLE PUNK in a skintight T-shirt rockets down University Way, right arm fully extended, pointing at me like the most menacing Mad Max motherfucker. This barely holds water against my freakiest experience on this boulevard (the glass dildo shoved in my face last November is tough to top), but it doesn't need to.
This is just the first domino.
The rider disembarks, flips the visor up, and it's Arlie Carstens, genial vocalist of Seattle's foremost ax-wielding post-punk quintet, Juno. Given the cumulative effect of injuries this man has suffered in the last three years alone, the fact that he still prefers his hog to, say, a life-sized plastic earth bubble is astounding.
After an hour with Carstens, a Washington state lifer, I have enough dirt and dish about Seattle's rock scene to fuel a season's worth of Behind the Music. After an entire day with him, I'm impacted in the volcanic core of his band, his labyrinthine neighborhood, and the painfully specific highs and lows of 27 years on the brink.
Ravenna Park was a place for long, slow, therapeutic walks after The Neck (see below). Ten minutes after Carstens comments that it's a hot spot for "some fucked up D&D shit," we enter a clearing where no less than 20 humans clad in medieval garb do mock-battle with staffs and shields. This spectacle is juxtaposed against a wholesome 1950s-style family barbecue 20 feet away.
It must show on my face: I've seen nothing like this.
"You are pumped," Carstens whispers. "You are so pumped."
"Are we intruding?"
"Actually, we're referred to as The Invisibles here. We're in a fantasy world and they're in the real world. We say hello, they're not saying hello back."
He laughs heartily and gives me a killer smile.
"This park is the fucking punkest place in all of Seattle."
Let's get it over with. Carstens broke his neck in a 1998 snowboarding accident. That is the most concise summation of a situation with an endless, unbearable glossary; during the day, I hear words like catheter, paralysis, suicidal, sponge bath, metal plates, and sobbing. Often. Each is its own awful dagger.
I try not to ask formal questions about this. They have been asked and answered in interviews ad infinitum. But you spend a day with Arlie Carstens, and, well . . . this is his life.
"Your muscles have memory, and, when you start recounting these things, it takes you back to those events as they happened."
He makes eye contact easily, but his gaze is intentionally focused away from me.
"Sometimes my voice will get shaky and I'll start freaking out. Trying to explain what it's like to someone in an interview again and again and again . . . it can be heartbreaking.
"Our band is about my bandmates and their lives as much as it's about my life. My injury is something that we all have to deal with, but, while it is quite significant, I don't want the telling of my injury to overshadow what we do collectively, which is make music that we all equally care about, that we're all equally invested in."
There is Juno and there is The Juno. The former is the four "core" members—Carstens, guitarists Gabe Carter and Jason Guyer, and drummer Greg Ferguson—who steady their bullet train of a second album, A Future Lived in Past Tense (on Washington, D.C., label DeSoto), in the live setting. The latter is a litany of bassists, drummers, female voices and et ceteras that have recorded, one way or another, with the core since 1995.
Carstens is entirely responsible for the time-shifting "short stories" that sharpen Juno's triple guitar onslaught. Chords stack atop one another, topple over, then attempt new, even more daring formations. It's a precarious swamp to tread through, and an exhilarating one.
"There are moments where a member of the band is riddled with self-doubt, where they're like, 'I hate this guitar part I've written,' or 'I haven't written a part at all because I can't fucking do it!'" Carstens says. "And everybody in the room will stare him down and say, 'That's not true, because you're a fantastic musician. I like what you do and, one way or another, we'll figure this out.'"
Carstens doesn't wink as he says this. This is not group therapy, feel-good, pretentious emo-bullshit. He is a funny, charismatic, irreverent individual who happens to be deadly fucking serious about his band.
The clouds over Ravenna Park have not changed a goddamn bit in the two hours Carstens and I have spent on the same bench. Nothing is shifting or improving up there.
Juno just got back from Europe and are recuperating as this interview ensues. Recuperating: That is perhaps not the word Carstens would choose. He knows better.
"I'm sorta sad that we didn't come home and immediately play a show," he says. "When you're on tour for an extended amount of time, the set flows better.
"The shows where you think you're playing the absolute worst, when you're grizzled and exhausted, those shows, from the outside looking in, are the best. By the time we play on May 25—which is Miles Davis' birthday, by the way—we'll be well rested."
Carstens raises an eyebrow and looks out into nothing but foliage, trees, and omnipresent green.
"I don't know if being well rested is what punk rock needs."