Note: this was originally posted last year for SSTB's 20th.
Falling in love with a band means a lot of firsts: there’s the first song you hear by them (“Welcome Home” in the Rock Band video games, also, any alternative rock radio station from 2005 to 2008), the reluctant “okay I’ll track it” tracks from the seasoned band veteran putting you on to something magical (“Blood Red Summer” and “A Favor House Atlantic,” all-knowing Bryan), or later the first album they put out once you’ve become a fan (Year of the Black Rainbow). There’s the first time you saw the band (Starland Ballroom, 2009), the first time you play a song that passes the band onto yet another new fan (“Gravemakers & Gunslingers”), and many, many more. The worst is the first time you outgrow a beloved t-shirt, but that’s a story for another time.
One of the best firsts with a new band is when you discover with an album that feels like your own discovery. Not the superfan’s patient curation of playlists and mix CDs, not the consensus favorite album, not the latest. The first album you really, truly connect with, which is this case is also Coheed & Cambria’s debut album, Second Stage Turbine Blade, which turned twenty years old today.
- For all my pompousness about collecting vinyl (I’ve moved enough in the last five years to be sort of off this tip) and owning music not streaming it! and still (still!) rocking with an iPod classic and a robust catalogue of MP3s, I came to owning Second Stage Turbine Blade in a most unlikely fashion: purchased from the digital market at Amazon Music. I did this at the office computer of the Otterbien Campus Center during one of the summers working the desk for long, boring shifts. This would have been 2009, early in my life as a Coheed fan, and SSTB was the first full album I bought, living off of mix CD tracks from my Coheed guru, Bryan, ripped onto that trusty iPod. This meant SSTB was distinctly mine. Not Bryan’s favorite, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: III. Mine. It, living in an Amazon Music folder on my work computer, was my favorite.
- “Time Consumer” and the instrumental opening were my first favorite Coheed & Cambria songs.
- Like an asshole, I fell out of Coheed during their 2011 “Neverender” tour where they played the album front-to-back. Stupid. Having went all in on Year of the Black Rainbow the previous year, SSTB fell back a few slots in the power ranking.
- Disregard what I said earlier about scaling back my vinyl collecting; I was greatly punished for missing that tour having resorted to a secondary market purchase of the Second Stage tour pressing. The white LP is such a stunning contrast to the yellows and greens on the sleeve, still boasting my favorite Coheed & Cambria album art.
- However, my mania was back on in 2012 with the announcement of the Afterman double-albums. I learned a little bit more about my roommate Calvin after discovering our shared love of the band, his: the early pop punk roots of the group, me: the proggy No World for Tomorrow and YOTBR. He was a “God Send Conspirator” guy. Literally sharing a dorm room made it easy for that back half of SSTB to open up for me. It was nice to have something connecting me to home all the way out in California.
- “33” and “Neverender” were favorites in late 2012.
- At the Warfield, in San Francisco, early in the Afterman tour, they played exactly zero songs from Second Stage Turbine Blade. Like me in my little journey on the West Coast, Coheed had been looking towards the future, not the past.
- The problem is our pasts are crucial. Lessons we learned are in our past. People we love are in our past. Beloved memories are in our past. “I’ll miss you when you’re gone,” I bitterly remember how much I missed my wife after moving, “Forget your son when he’s out on his on,” I bitterly remember how far from my family I had to be on that expedition. There, at the end of the continental United States, I remember mornings so alone watching the fog pour into the bay. “When the day begins to break / like the tears that run across your cheek.” Still, things come back to the way they could have been: each subsequent Coheed & Cambria record echoing the tinny piano that opens the album, that opens up the whole Amory Wars world. That fog echoes, 3000 miles away when I wake up 3 inches away from my life.
I am trying to say it works out in the Neverend.
- This is where I pivot to talking about being a father instead of talking about SSTB. I shouldn’t like the album at all, especially having read the comics. In the fictional Amory Wars universe Coheed & Cambria’s concept albums narrate, the titular characters are duped into murdering their children. This is a convenient fact to skip when I’m listening to the album, which I gotta admit I do sparingly. Their catalogue having doubled since 2012, there’s just too much, which is a good problem to have except when the band has an hour and fifteen minutes to fill with ten hours of incredible music.
- The highlight the 2021 tour was, sad to say, not a choice cut from SSTB. I’m big on adding meaning to events that are seemingly insignificant. For example, the last road trip my wife and I took before our son was born, it was for a Coheed & Cambria show (she stayed home). During the “truth be told the child was born” line of the tremendous set-opener “In Keeping Secrets,” fireworks went off at the nearby baseball stadium. Pretty good for a first concert during the pandemic.
- Still, I copped the yellow Second Stage Turbine Blade hoodie, one of many pieces of merch commemorating the album available during the tour.
- My wife’s water broke five weeks early. I was out and had to rush home so that I could rush her to the hospital. Once we got checked in and confirmed that, while everything seemed alright, the baby was in fact coming in a matter of hours, I ran back to the house to collect a more meaningful supply of clothes, toothbrushes, and the baby’s car seat. I was hysterical. I played “Delirium Trigger” and screamed the lyrics into the black of the night and the empty highways. “Oh dear god, I don’t feel alive!” I howled trying to split the difference between the stupid Hawaiian shirt I’d been wearing in my old life and frantic hoodie I’d thrown on running out the door into my new life.I let the twisting syntax of “Everything Evil” distract me, trying to match Claudio Sanchez’s cadences: “I, I felt much better than this before,” “come write me a letter, and paste it on my refrigerator door” (how is this an honest-to-god song lyric?), and yelling, really blowing out the car with it: “would you run? Would you run down past the fence? Would you run!? Would you run, down past the fence!” Red in the face I made myself chuckle thinking Travis Stever and Mic Todd’s “let me out’s” being a little on the nose for a delivery room track.
- At some point “Everything Evil” was also a favorite Coheed song. The catharsis, whether you’re on your way to have your first child or not, is almost too much to handle. Anthemic, it asserts what I’ve needed to feel many times, what I definitely needed to feel that night: “I wish, goddamn it, we’ll make it if you believe.” I pointed to myself in the mirror of the car: we’ll make it if you believe.
- Back in the hospital I sat in the carpark for a beat, trying to catch my breath. I listened to “Away We Go,” which is not a song from SSTB, but it calmed me down, made me feel confident. Not like the distraught characters in the messy fiction in Coheed’s first act; more composed, prepared. I imagined my wife: “you are my holiday, “believe me, take my word, I’ll never break your heart;” I imagined her as a mother, us as parents. I shut off the engine, letting the radio play a few more beats in the quiet: “believe me, take my word, I’ll never break your heart / and away we go.” Headfirst into Labor & Delivery ward I ran.
- The morning after Benjamin was born I held his impossibly small body against my chest. I wondered if he could hear my heart exploding between my ribs, or if he could tell how terrified I was. Still, something stronger gripped me: love. I hummed to him while light poured in from the 11th floor hospital windows:
“good morning, sunshine / awake when the sun hits the sky”
- Over and over I murmured the opening lines to “Junesong Provision” to him, promising to myself and to him the rest of that verse would never, ever happen. In the parking structure, alone I installed the car seat we’d be using to take him home in a few hours. I was gone from the room for maybe twenty minutes, tops, when I got back rushing back to him, I asked his mother:
“has he been a good boy since the day I left?”
- Spoiler: he was and is a good boy. The best boy.
- We brought him home on November 9th. Intrepid Coheed & Cambria fans will remember what happened on November 11th: the release of “Rise, Naianasha (Cut the Cord).” A far, far more suitable song for the boy than anything from SSTB. But that’s the thing, when he’s ready to roll his eyes at dad’s music collection, Second Stage will be there with the rest of it, waiting to be discovered, just like it was when I found it.
- Now that he’s getting bigger, he’s learning how to use his arms, hands, fingers. Sometimes, when he and I are home alone listening to music and his head is nestled against my chest, I’ll feel his tiny fist open, his fingers extend, and “grab on to my sleeve.”
- Now that he's getting even bigger, he's learning to say words, to walk, he has an entire world happening behind his eyes while the whole world happens in front of him. When he grabs on to my sleeve now its to show me something he discovered. And we run. We run down past the Fence.