I am at the Caravan Lounge in San Jose, the darkest, smallest public space I have ever visited. I am surrounded by black T-shirts, black denim jeans, and black leather jackets. A singer at the other end of the bar is screaming over the noise of two extremely amplified electric guitars and a snare drum set. I have earplugs in my ears, but the vibration of the base guitar is still rattling my breastbone and echoing in my shoulder-blades. I am wearing black slacks and a black T-shirt emblazoned with two skeletons, one of which is stabbing the other. My sister M is standing next to me wearing the same shirt. She turns to me with a wide grin and mouths above the din, “Isn’t this great?”
I am here basically because my sister’s husband was brought up in Brazil. When M heard that a trio of Brazilian women musicians needed a place to stay while they recorded their next album, M and her husband volunteered their spare bedrooms, expecting perhaps a nice string trio. Instead they got Nervosa, an up-and-coming Brazilian thrash metal band.
They had a fine time. M and her husband B introduced the band to zydecko, bluegrass, and some of the African artists they had learned about in the Peace Corps. The Brazilians loved “listening to vinyl.” They danced to the new music, played foosball, and cooked dinner for M and B one night.
Then Nervosa suddenly and unexpectedly got an invite to participate in “70000 Tons of Metal” a four day Caribbean cruise featuring performances by sixty (!!) heavy metal rock bands from all over. They dashed off to Florida leaving a lot of loose ends behind them, including two large crates of T-shirts and CD’s that ended up loaded into my husband’s car for transport to Nervosa’s first California gig after the cruise, in San Jose.
Which leads me to the Caravan Lounge. My husband was fairly beside himself at the thought of two unescorted women at a dive bar full of black-clad metal-heads. He hinted darkly of various forms of disaster lurking as we wandered around the mean streets of San Jose in the depths of night. He insisted that I call several times during the evening to confirm we had not yet been assaulted. In fact, the streets of San Jose on a rainy Wednesday night are not so much mean as they are empty, and the only approach made to us was by a sad-faced lady outside the Greyhound bus terminal begging for bus fare.
At the Caravan Lounge we introduced ourselves as Nervosa groupies, showing off our T-shirts. It was early, but the security guard found the girl with the cash box; she took our money and fitted us each with a plastic bracelet decorated with skulls. As we walked off to find dinner M overheard the ticket seller saying to the security guard, “Aren’t they cute!”
Apparently silver hair at a heavy metal concert is irresistible. No less than three different groups of black-clad, pierced concert-goers approached us to ask “Can we have our picture taken with you?” We were turning from the last set of admirers when Pitchu appeared beside us and invited us backstage. Behind the shelter of a cinderblock wall and a steel door we were able to remove our earplugs and enjoy watching Pitchu practicing her drumming on the steel locker, Prika in lotus position on a crate checking notices from the previous gig, and Fernanda applying the makeup which transformed her from a clear-skinned smiling All-Brazilian Girl to a wild-eyed punk rocker.
The place is packed. We stand in the wings as Nervosa comes on stage to wild applause. Thrash metal seems to require having long hair and waving it wildly – one young man near us has a shaved head with a top-knot of long blonde hair which he whips around and around at the risk of dislocating his neck. Another fellow waves a Brazilian flag to the beat of the drums. Two burly security guards keep the pulsing crowd at bay while somehow seeming to dance to the rhythm also. Almost everyone is smiling.
My sister and I are smiling too. Our real lives are just outside the door, and we will re-enter them as soon as we step outside and put on our brightly colored raincoats, but for this moment we are visiting another planet, where everyone wears costumes and it is always Halloween.