When 21 Seemed an Impossible Dream -The Cult at Strombo’s – Bonebag

The strangeness that I feel rattles my bones, it rattles my bones ~ The Cult (from Dreamtime 1984)

In 1984 I turned 18. For most of the year, though, I was 17. I struggled. So much stuff swirling about my head at that time. Everything a secret…everything a wound, a laceration. I needed something.

Somewhere inside that year, The Cult released Dreamtime. On that EP was a song that had an extreme impact on me. Vulnerable, whipped, tired, bone-weary and too old to live…I finally found my theme song. There was one catch…I was not yet old enough to claim it as my own. Maybe…just maybe…if I survived a couple more years, I could sing the song and own its lyrics. But the mere imagining that I would live to the ripe old age of 21 was such an impossible concept…I just could not fathom it. Never in a million years would I live to see the day when I could say I was 21 and felt like I was 99. 21 was three or four years in my future. No way I could make it that long. The pain was too explosive.

I’m tired and sagging
Only 21 but feel like 99 sometimes

But I wanted those lyrics to be my reality. I was always looking for something to propel me forward…a future signpost to keep me going in the right direction. A part of me always knew, even amid the chaos, that life was beautiful…that it was worth holding onto.

The song was Bonebag. And its message crippled me to the core, and simultaneously made a fighter out of me. I WAS bonebag. I swear, I wore that song out. When I was down–and I was down a lot back then–the song served to lift me higher. I’d listen to Ian Astbury bemoan the exhaustion of life through those words and it would sooth me, appease something in me not quite reachable by reason.

Just sittin’ here
In my lazy chair
Watching all the young ones

Yep. Too old to live. Not strong enough to stop living. In the slothenly trap of the ennui that surrounds, life goes on.

I’m tired and sagging

The Cult became a favourite rather quickly.

From an overly (overtly) romanticized blog post I wrote after seeing the band in 2013 at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto:

Enter BONEBAG. That song grabbed me by the short ones and refused to let go. But Bonebag was just one of the fantastic songs on the EP. The Cult immediately spoke to me. They were medicine men arriving at the exact moment music was set to make an apocalyptic shift into the great shitter in the sky. Ian Astbury, Billy Duffy and the boys were mercenaries of rock. But not just rock…they were the bridge punk was desperately longing for. POSTPUNKGOTHICROCK. And Ian was some kind of mythical incarnation of the first Rimbaud in a leather jacket. He’s as much a Lizard King as his predecessor, JIM MORRISON. 1984 was a year of revival. Those of us who knew that music was about to die latched on to THE CULT with a quiet desperation and a deep blissful sigh. The Spiritwalker had come…and he gave us the Bad Medicine Waltz we were all waiting for.


The marquee outside the Danforth Music Hall, December 2013

I find it hard to speak of The Cult without going overboard. My passions run deep. There was a time when I latched on to things because I knew they were saving my life. The Cult was one of those things. I’m talking lifesaver in a turbulent storm kind of thing. They gave me a song with a future accuracy I could strive for. I was only 17/18, and I felt like 99 all the time. I wanted to achieve the right to sing the lyrics of Bonebag AS a 21 year-old. I know it sounds stupid…but there it is. Bonebag became my I-think-I-can song.

Ian Astbury at the Danforth Music Hall – December, 2013

When you’re struggling to go forward, you grasp at all the little straws along the way. You can’t leave today… you’ll miss the next episode of Fame. You can’t leave today… you have tickets to see Alice Cooper in two weeks. You can’t leave today… you need to finish that Mark Twain novel you’re halfway through reading. Always an excuse to stay… always the wisdom to know that it gets better. Unless the wisdom vanished and you fell into another hole. During those times it was just accidental that you would survive.

I had several ports in the storm. The Cult was definitely one of them. Bonebag was one of them.

Thanks to George Stroumboulopoulos for having The Cult visit his place in Toronto last night for a quick 5-song set. And thanks to George for including myself and my daughter on the guest-list for last night’s gig. If someone had told my 17/18 year-old self that I would even live to see 21 and sing those riveting words Only 21 but feel like 99 sometimes I would have called them crazy. Here I am 49…feeling like 21 sometimes. And not only have I seen The Cult twice in stadium shows and once at the more intimate Danforth Music Hall…but I can now say I saw them in a house…in George Strombo’s living room.

Life takes twists and life takes turns. None of them are ever foreseeable. Some are unbelievable. I’ll chalk last night up to the unbelievable and amazing variety of turns. It was an event I won’t soon forget. Standing there, face to face with Ian Astbury as he powered through the 5-song list taped to the floor between us, I seriously gave thanks. Without knowing it, he and his band threw a song out there into the wilderness some 32 years ago…and it helped save a life. It was only my life, but it was still a life. Thanks George…and thanks to The Cult…for last night and for everything.

Sometimes it’s nice to remember where it is that we have come from… and how far we have come from there.

Edited to add the full 5-song set at Strombo’s House…which is now live!