This Vagina Mine: a Puscifer concert, a Supreme Court ruling, and a wedding anniversary
Monday is my seventh wedding anniversary. A quick search reveals that copper and wool are traditional gifts for this anniversary. It’s an interesting combination, but the best I can come up with is filling some Merino socks with pennies and swinging them around our heads near some other people’s somewhere in DC, and I don’t have the appetite for that kind of action.
The day before my wedding, I was elated. I was also furious with my husband, devastated to be moving the party inside on account of torrential rain, and uncomfortably pregnant. But on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing gay marriage across the country, and I got to read that chiron on the Fox News feed that never turns off at the relative’s home where we were preparing for our nuptials. What utter joy. What delicious vindication that our gay gnostic priest would now be performing rites he could also receive with recognition from our nation’s courts.
The universe seems hell-bent on teaching me that naivety and optimism are sharing a sleeping bag. My overconfident self in 2015 could never have envisioned the unending barrage of personally, nationally, and globally significant events that would overwhelm all of us over the course of the next seven years.
In fact, even in February of 2022 when I bought the tickets to the Philly Puscifer show where we’d celebrate this anniversary–after so many sucker punches to the unsuspecting face–I somehow still never would have guessed that I’d be mourning my own rights at this concert. I did not envision that I’d be torn between seeing my favorite living musical act or joining one of the groups of protesters headed toward Center City, that we’d be transfixed by so many news helicopters hovering overhead, stymied by storefronts locked and chained.
How could I celebrate on the day they overturned Roe v. Wade? How could I dance while I was reeling from the news that at least one Justice was inviting cases that would overturn Obergefell and move us another step closer to jarring, misogynistic Christian Nationalism, inexplicably supported by a bullshit corporatocracy, even more inexplicably supported by a large enough margin of the electorate genuinely too incautious to see the constant erosion of their own self-interests?
I’ll try to answer these questions with something somewhere between a love story, a concert review, a eulogy, and a battlecry. Let’s start with the love story. My husband and I met at a Thelemic mass. I knew the moment I saw him that he was my husband, but I’m not an idiot, so I kept that intuition to myself. I played it cool and didn’t even talk to him for over a week.
In an early text, he asked me about my musical tastes, and I asked him if he’d ever heard of Puscifer. This was barely a question. You throw a stick into a room full of Thelemites, and chances are, you’re going to hit a Tool fan, and a Tool fan, whether they like it or not, probably knows who Puscifer is because they cannot contain their adoration for Maynard James Keenan.
I don’t relish being a fan of things, as I noted while discussing the ceaseless APC song in my brain for the past eighteen years. I’ll just say that Puscifer is my shit. Why? First and foremost, I’m a feminist, and these mofos are shameless accomplices to the Divine Feminine. (Don't even get me started on Sour Grapes or Rev 22:20.) Second, I love comedy, and Puscifer features it heavily in their live shows. Third, I love New Wave, and some country, and some electronica, and I hear these things in Puscifer. Where Tool is essentially its own self-generating and sustaining genre, Puscifer playfully and reverently draws in a wide variety of influences from across the musical spectrum.
My husband, on the other hand, spends a lot more time in the other iterations of MJK’s musical work. He’s honestly probably listened to that one song by Green Jellÿ more than Puscifer, but he doesn’t dislike them and that meets my threshold for a solid anniversary date.
The last time we saw them live was a bust, mostly because it was our first event out after having twins and our combined total of sleep was probably less than half of one healthy person. It was standing-room only, and I could barely see, much less follow the Mexican wrestling match on the stage. The audience for all MJK shows is almost ironically heavy on testosterone and usually seems to be composed of a minimum 50% people willfully missing the implications of the lyrics they’re shouting.
I’d seen them at least four times prior to that and really talked up the experience. On the Conditions of My Parole tour, Maynard dragged a small trailer onto the stage and unpacked it while performing a monologue about our relationship to nature that remains the greatest public speaking experience of my life, and I saw Barack Obama when he visited my college during the 2008 presidential primaries. The show set a ridiculous standard, and I was coming into this expecting them to meet or exceed it.
When we arrived at the Met, I wasn’t really in the mood to be touched by strangers, so I was very glad that we’d be secure in our respective assigned seats. We’d been unable to find timely food ahead of the show after making the drive from Harrisburg, so we ordered from the concession stand. I wanted to try their Impossible burger with fries, which was a shockingly reasonable $12, but I settled on just the fries in the interest of time. It took a long time anyway, a staff member emerging from the stairwell with our food just as the opener, Moodie Black, finished their set. My husband and I both remarked that they probably had been good based on what we’d heard through the din of the crowd in the lobby.
The slope of the theater combined with projections on the outer wall of the balcony level above us ensured that we could get a full picture of what was happening on stage, even from our seats at the back of the orchestra section. Nevertheless, we were glad that the two seats to our left remained empty because it gave me the opportunity to move from behind a gentleman who was much taller than me. Ahead of the concert, a video of Maynard in character as Agent Dick Merkin dissuaded audience members from using their cell phones by describing the process by which violators would be turned into Spam. The singer’s truly solid performance channels a strong Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka vibe, which was independently entertaining enough to remain transfixed.
When the band emerged and opened with “Bread and Circus,” I immediately started crying. It was a little on the nose for this day as they sang:
Here we are in the middle of our existential reckoning
Long ago we all traded, regretfully abdicated
Our voice and our light
Charge our command and means
Trade it all for bread and circus
I realized that this show was going to provide some sort of healing, some collective catharsis rooted in the shared experience of art, edifying in a way that is often missing from the participation of seemingly impotent civic demonstrations.
The show surpassed my expectations and left me feeling uplifted the same way that a really intense therapy session might. I was all in from the moment I saw Carina Round join Maynard in his signature dance move, a sort of stomping from Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana) that leaves one thinking they could shake fire from the earth and drive a network of roots from their place on the stage under the floorboards and out to each member of the audience.
The comedic narrative that ran throughout featured the band members as agents of the Pusciforce TMZanon division, seemingly aliens disguised as men in black searching for aliens amongst celebrities. I’m sure there’s a much deeper backstory to all of this than I’m able to describe, but I think there’s something to be said for allowing the show to be the totality of the show.
While the band aptly narrowed in on their most recent album, 2020’s Existential Reckoning, they threw in a few choice songs from previous releases. “Vagina Mine” from their first full-length album, V is for Vagina was easily my favorite, followed closely by “Man Overboard” and “Conditions of My Parole” from the album of the same name.
“The Remedy” off my least familiar of their offerings–perhaps in part due to having newborns that year–the 2015 Money Shot, was clearly a crowd favorite. Initially, I was just surprised at how excited everyone was about this song, but by the time they reached the chorus, I was overcome with the bad kind of chills. Regardless of what the song is actually about, standing in a room full of white dudes getting visibly agitated while shouting the lyrics: “You speak like someone who has never been/Knocked the fuck on out/But we have your remedy” is just not fucking pleasant. I couldn’t even bring myself to clap. That’s hardly the band’s fault, but I have no interest in an angry mob who isn’t even raging against the same machine. I was very happy that we all just sort of moved on after that and the vibe resumed being mostly pleasant.
Following another video of Dick Merkin and an eight minute intermission, Maynard re-emerged as classic character Billy D while the agents who had roved the stage returned as Grey aliens who wanted to probe him with glowing wands after serving him whiskey. At the end of the show, Billy D said, “Fuck Maynard,” and allowed the crowd to turn on their cell phones for the last song. Before playing it, he used the announcement of an October pay-per-view release of V is for Vagina to address the heavy weight of SCOTUS in the room. Inviting the crowd to join him in a call and response of the word “vagina,” he mentioned, “It appears that some old fuckers are afraid of that word. They fucked around, and now they’re about to find out.” I have to say, having heard far too little from men supporting women and other marginalized communities they aren’t a part of, it was a rewarding albeit brief moment of outspoken solidarity.
They closed the show with “Bedlamite,” and I cried (again) as they stood on the upper level of scaffolding on the set, singing “It’s gonna be alright/It’s gonna be alright/Everything will be alright,” and it felt something akin to a parent singing a lullaby. This voice that’s been in your head and stereo more than any other for most of your life, and is in the same room, directly singing words of comfort.
Earlier in the show, the song “UPGrade” asked:
How does one choose words so magical?
They terminate or alleviate this morbid despair you feel
I don't know what incantation
What psalm or mantra you will hear
I don't know, I don't know
This ending seemed to be the answer to that question.