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(Re)Collection #16: Embrace

Updated: 6 days ago



Paul K is a childhood friend of my best friend Ben. They went to elementary school together. He became a friend of mine in high school. He went to Gonzaga with me. He was still more Ben's friend though. His brother Chris Bald was a bit of a legend. He was the bass player in the Faith and then Embrace, the band that Ian Mackaye and the guys from the Faith formed after Minor Threat and the Faith broke up.


Paul K visited Ben and me in Freiburg in the Fall of 1986. He was also on his junior year abroad. I think he was studying in France. Seeing friends from home in a completely different context is illuminating. It becomes apparent whether you actually like them and have something in common. I did like Paul and thought he was a genuine, thoughtful guy. I feel like all three of us had grown up a bit just by spending a year in a foreign country. The experience sorts things out.


Ben took a picture of us standing in his room in Freiburg wearing those checked, Keffiyah scarves (picture below). I cringe a little when I look at. We were trying things on, so to speak. Well, the scarves looked silly on us. I have gone through many versions of that scenario in my life. Looking for a personal style or affectation that suits me and tells the world what I am about.


Photo by Benjamin Tice Smith, 1986

I remember us sitting around one night drinking, maybe in the student bar, talking about D.C. and friends and whatever. He pulls out a cassette of Embrace's unreleased album. They had already broken up at that point.


Ben and I didn't know anything about it. He tells us it was Ian's latest band. Both of us perked up. And there were no plans for the record to be released. He gives it to us. It was thrilling. Now I had music that very few people had heard. A secret tape.


If the music would have sucked, I would have forgotten the moment. But it didn't suck. I loved it. It was jagged post-punk with very personal lyrics. Ian was talking to me in that hyper-direct way that he has. It sounds cheesy, but that is how I felt. Minor Threat was not like that. That was more of a spectacle. Ian shouting at me, scolding me, imploring me, judging me and lecturing me. I loved Minor Threat, but Embrace was different.


Embrace's music was dark and moody. It was a perfect match to my environment. The Fall and Winter weather in Freiburg was a little bleak. I counted 33 straight days of rain. The skies seemed permanently grey. This is ironic because Freiburg is the so-called sunniest city in Germany.


I would sit on my bed in my concrete cinderblock room in a 1960s high rise looking out the large rectangular window at other 1960s high rises and listen to the tape. I kept a journal. I have gone back to read what I wrote. Maybe some day I will share bits and pieces here. I wrote a lot about what I hoped my life would be like. What I would do when I got home. Who I hoped I would become. Perhaps similar to what a soldier might journal when he is off doing his/her service.


Ian sings about the kinds of things a young person joining the adult world thinks about--elusive emotions, loneliness, money, not being able to get what he wants, nostalgia, failure, a friend's suicide and cutting ties with old friends. Each one of the songs resonated with me. Every single one. I wished that I wrote those songs. I wished I were the one singing them. I hoped that some day I could do something that was so moving, honest and heartfelt. It is a gritty, stark and personal record. Words are not enough...













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