Sandra/Inferno's October 2017 recap

Danny Brawlins - November 22, 2017


Photo courtesy of Marty Wilkerson

Sandra Malak has been running around the globe with a musical gang of anarchists known as The World/Inferno Friendship Society, for over ten years. The Brooklyn based band tends to get pretty busy toward the end of the year, which for them happens to fall on Halloween. This October has seen the band playing at bars, frat houses, cemeteries and even our All Hands on Deck festival here in Chicago. All this has been in preparation for the band’s 20th Hallowmas celebration for our gourd and savior, The Honorable Great Pumpkin. Ms. Malak, the band’s bassist, was nice enough to take a minute of her time to share with us a glimpse into what it’s like to be a part of this mischievous bunch during the busiest time of their year:

When was the last time you used a payphone? I asked myself this as I used a payphone in Newark Penn Station at 12:30am on October 20th of this year, and as I did this I wished I had been the person on the other end receiving the call. How honored I would feel if someone called me from a payphone! “You used your quarters for me instead of laundry? How sweet!” They’ve gone up to 50 cents, by the way. Additionally, on this particular phone there was a list of free calls one could make from it. Dial *12 for help finding a job. Dial *11 for the Social Security office. Dial *13 for the EBT office and the one that intrigued me most, dial *10 to get God’s Blessing and a Daily Prayer.  Though I would have much preferred if there was a * some number that would dial the person I actually was trying to call, but since there was not, I dialed *10. The line rang a couple times then stopped and was followed by silence. I listened and listened…nothing. Not even heavy breathing. What a rip off. Even though I was feeling pretty good at that moment having not missed the last train back to Middle Jersey where I’d been hiding out in between Inferno shows, a daily prayer might have been nice, especially if it was going to be a nice little affirmation that wasn’t muddled up in any religious denomination. Something like, “You’re doing great, kid. Keep it up.” Ah, well.

I’d spent several days moving through Newark Penn Station in the weeks preceding Halloween and must say I was very saddened to learn that they closed the Blue Comet Lounge, which was the only bar in the whole station. I spent many waiting hours of my life sitting in that dank holding tank between New York and New Jersey and was looking forward to ordering an overpriced, flat gin and tonic, glancing at an episode of Judge Judy on a fuzzy television screen, and watching potential patrons wander in and out of the bar asking if they can pay for a bud light with a handful of pennies and paper clips. But it was no longer to be. When I first noticed the bar had closed, I let out a teary eyed “What the fuck!?!” (I actually did cry a little) then I texted Bill Cashman, the band’s current undertaker, and asked him to please let Jack know the sad news. Mr. Terricloth (who for a yet unexplained reason had recently blocked my number making it therefore impossible to reach him directly) and I shared an affinity for this hole-in-the-wall-under-track-1 (“This is great! I had no idea this place was here! This is my new favorite bar,” he said the first time I brought him to The Blue Comet.) Cashman wrote back to let me know Jack was distraught by the loss of this great and legendary dive bar. It would be a long somber ride from Chicago to Brooklyn for those boys. (I flew back. Had to be somewhere.)


Photo courtesy of Sandra Malak

Driving to Brooklyn from Chicago without any lucrative stops planned along the way is definitely not the least practical thing The World/Inferno Friendship Society has done ever, let alone in the month of October 2017. In fact, we love Chi-Town and would drive back and forth every weekend to be there if we were welcome. Years ago we drove to the east coast from Minneapolis during a blinding blizzard that lasted the entire duration of the drive. Minneapolis was the last city of a tour we’d been on with Against Me! and it hadn’t occurred to us to maybe book some shows on the way home to break up the drive. (I have an image in my mind of Maura Corrigan, our former alto saxophone player, clutching the sides of her seat, face frozen in terror as she stared wide-eyed at the large white flakes pounding against the windshield for hours and hours.) This month we drove the van during rush hour to Philly to rehearse with a fraction of our personnel in a warehouse studio under a bridge, left there to sleep for 5 hours in a motel that hadn’t updated it’s bathroom appliances since 1962, woke up and drove to Detroit, played in a tiny club without telling any fans where we were playing, drove to Chicago the next day during a torrential downpour/thunder and lightning storm that lasted for 10 hours, played a benefit/punk fest called All Hands on Deck, loaded out in the storm that was still going on, then drove to NYC. “Whose idea was this?” is a much repeated rhetorical question in the tour van. “Will we ever learn and plan this out better next time?” is a question for the ages.

A couple days later, we played a private midnight show in an activity center on the campus of Princeton University. Fifteen educationally aspiring young people, two of whom cared who we were, gaped at us for an hour and a half then quickly retreated to smoke reefer and play naked beer pong while we wearily loaded our gear back into the van and headed back to Brooklyn, stopping once to unload yours truly in Middle Jersey along the way. As if this wasn’t fulfilling in itself, Jack and I made a last minute decision to gig-bomb the annual Ghost of Uncle Joe’s celebration in Jersey City, which is an all afternoon and night long Halloween pre-game within the gates of an urban cemetery featuring zombie cover bands and sausage and pepper stands (there is no event in New Jersey to my knowledge that does not involve at least one sausage and pepper stand). We had a day in between this event and our next Inferno gig in Providence, RI on which to rehearse acoustic versions of songs we hadn’t played together in four years and after an embarrassingly extensive back and forth of who’s idea it was to play this gig in the first place, we agreed to spend twenty minutes in Middle Jersey plowing through the broken down versions of Sticks and Stones, The Gun Club, and Tex and the Horseheads tunes we’d bounced around with in Germany, Great Britain, and Asbury Park once upon a time. The rest of the band was sensible enough to get a decent night’s sleep, but Jack and I woke up early the next morning, put on our darkest UV blocking sunglasses and blackest most weather inappropriate suits, stood on a stage in abnormally punishing sunlight looking out into a crowd of tombstones and families with costumed children, played no more than five songs, then jumped into the van and headed north, picking up individual band members on arbitrary corners of Manhattan along the way.

Sandra and Jack

Photo courtesy of Sam Kawahara of Sticks And Stones

There were no surprises or disappointments up in Rhode Island (except for the apology letter I was handed by a fan/friend of mine which referenced his potentially outlandish behavior during a show he attended of ours in Portland, OR. In the letter he explains that he believes he may have been slipped a mickey at the bar since he couldn’t recollect a large portion of the evening, and hoped he hadn’t done anything to offend the band or anyone else at the club. I assured him that I couldn’t remember either and lets all assume everyone was on their best behavior.) Pawtucket has a neat little club with a clean dressing room and a mediocre restaurant next door where we spent some quality time together as a band before the show which was neither over nor under attended. The singer of one of the opening bands, Cactus Attack (whom I never got to ask if the band members mean to attack cacti or expect to be attacked by them), graciously put me up for the night in a room satisfyingly decorated in a Halloween pumpkin motif while the NYC based members of the band headed south. (I whisked myself up to northern Vermont and witnessed an egregiously picturesque autumn landscape the likes of which my crappy cell phone camera failed to capture.)

A week later we reconvened as a band to rehearse for our 20th annual Hallowmas celebration. 20th? Really? No way. Yeah way! At every Hallowmas, past Hallowmases flash before my eyes. Honestly, this is not always a pleasant thing to experience. A band family that has been around as long as we have somehow managed to will likely experience ups and downs of obscene proportions. The opening scene of the fantastic Peter Lorre film Arsenic and Old Lace shows the phrase “This is a Hallowe’en tale of Brooklyn, where anything can happen — and it usually does.” Yes. Truly. But despite the unraveling that may happen behind the curtain, there is an inevitable moment for each of us when we realize that it isn’t about us. It isn’t about me, or Jess or Francis or Scott or Jack or Rafael or Aaron or Chopper Yaya or any of players that happen to be standing on stage representing The World/Inferno Friendship Society. People annually travel great distances to hear us call out for help in rising up the Great Pumpkin and this cannot be taken for granted. No matter how less cute we all inevitably become there is an entropic need for us to meet at the pumpkin patch every 31st of October. Whose idea was this?

We know.

If the Great Pumpkin had a free hotline at the payphone, what would you say to him? What would you ask him for, he who has given us so much already? Dial *23 if you are sincere.

Besos, you pretty anarchists,
Sandra Malak/Inferno F.S.