“We’re dumber than diesel, still trying to appease you. Stil trying to make it right…”

I remember my teenage years pretty vividly. They were confusing, invigorating, intoxicating and tinged with enough daring-do to make me wonder how I lived through it. I mean, we did some stupid-ass shit. When you’re at that age, you feel invincible, immortal even.

I had a friend with a Silver Plymouth satellite, a beast of a thing dating back to the days of real muscle cars. Well, to be honest, his was a bit under-powered for its time but that’s beside the point. Late one night several of us packed ourselves like lemmings into this shiny metal box and cruised our way north on i-95 towards West Palm. Somewhere north of PGA Boulevard at 3 in the morning, Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” blaring from the cassette deck and who-knows-what coursing through our veins, the driver decides it would be neat to kill the lights while going nearly 120 MPH. We drove that way for 5 miles until both the road and song ended. We stopped, rewound the cassette, turned around and did the same thing again.

Like I said, stupid-ass shit. Romantic in a youthful, Springsteen kind of way. But stupid.

“In spite of the weather a supersonic tether is pulling us outside…”

In the modern world where muscle cars and cassette decks morph into multi-stage turbos and MP3 players, the same brazen sense of life immortal plays out. But I am older now, with kids nearing or at this age. The risk verses reward equation tilts a bit harder in the direction of risk. The impact of this change can be felt in a local story from a couple of weeks ago.

Homecoming night had become morning. A group of four teens on their way home from a party get into a little fender-bender. The driver inexplicably puts the car in reverse and backs up nearly 150 yards, loses control, hurdles a guardrail and flips into a canal. Three of the four teens die on the scene.

Now I’m a pretty realistic person. I can often cast aside these kinds of horrors as a part of another more complex equation. It goes like this:

(6.5 billion people) + (revolving rock) + (dying star) = Shit Happens

But this was a bit different personally. It was local, up the street in Coral Springs. In fact, my son had just driven us by what would be the accident scene a couple of days before. And of course, these kids were just 15 and 16 years old. It becomes really easy to project this onto one’s own life, more so than in most cases.

It’s not that I can’t imagine it. Quite the opposite really. It’s too real.

“So charming and clever supporting our endeavor with digital oxide…”

So how does this all reconcile itself within my artistic expression? Well, the reconciliation happened a couple of years ago when I wrote “Digital Oxide”, which contains within it the spirit of “driving with the lights off” mixed with the potency of regret. I had tried to record this song for several years, missing the mark with regular precision. I could never come up with the arrangement I wanted, the sound I wanted, the spirit of the idea. But somehow in the shadow of the tragedy outlined above I was able to conjure something. Live drums, orchestral bells, tons of reverbs mixed together creating the proper sense of drama.

Unapologetic ally epic.


Digital Oxide

We’re dumber than diesel
Trying to appease you
Trying to make it right
In spite of the weather
A supersonic tether
Is pulling us outside
We have nowhere to go
Nothing to see
Nothing to hope for
A subatomic law
Can’t erase the things that we saw

While we were driving with our lights off
Speeding down a blacktop four-lane
With nothing but a fist full of promises

Reaching through the sadness
Pulling out the madness
Letting it be our guide
So charming and clever
Supporting our endeavor
With digital oxide
We want somewhere to go
Something to feel
Something to hope for
Nothing ever dies
And no one’s gonna stop us tonight

While we’re driving with our lights off
Speeding down a blacktop four-lane
With nothing but an arm full of promises
We’ll be done before dawn
And we’ll be sleeping with the lights on
There’ll be nothing left to explain
We don’t care what your momma says

Now we’ve got somewhere to go
Something to see
Something to hope for
Because nothing ever dies
Even when galaxies collide
A part of us is always alive…

©George Zhen, 2009

From the Sun-Sentinel:
Car accident that killed three Coral Springs teens stuns community