Chlorine and Wine: Connecting With Baroness Through Cancer
Posted on May 17, 2016
As much as we’d like to think otherwise, we usually don’t remember where we were or what we were doing the first time we heard our favorite songs. Oh sure, exceptions exist, I specifically remember being in my dad’s car in 1994 hearing Green Day’s “Basket Case” for the first time, or when Ted Leo floored me playing “Me and Mia” nine years later in Boston at a now defunct Tremont Street club. But ask me where I was when I first heard The Replacements’ “I Will Dare” or The Weakerthans’ “Watermark” and I’ll have no clue. There’s also the reality that most of the new music I hear these days is with my headphones on while in front of a computer, which is not an environment exactly conducive to lifelong memories. However, staring at a screen with headphones on is exactly what I was doing when I first heard “Chlorine and Wine” from Baroness, and that memory has sure as shit stuck with me. You don’t easily forget your second day of chemotherapy.
After a successful surgery to remove a tumor in March of 2015, my cancer returned a few months later. The prognosis was good, but chemo was now the only option: my 10 weeks of poisonous infusions would start in late August. Naturally, I was scared shitless, and didn’t really know what I’d be in for at all. From movies and TV, I expected that I’d be puking all day, losing hair, and just generally feeling awful. All of that and more was true, but one thing I didn’t really count on was how mind-numbingly boring it would be. It’s not like they just give you a shot and then send you on your way to spend the rest of the day hovering over a toilet. No, you’re stuck to a chair or bed for around four hours a day while foul-smelling chemicals are slowly dripped in you. Luckily, Dana Farber provides robust wifi for their patients, so I was able to stream music and television…and also work. (This being America and all, they still expect you to PAY for that chemo—no freeloaders!) It was during my second day of infusions when I was lying in a hospital bed (they ran out of chairs) scrolling through Twitter on my laptop. Amid a sea of bad jokes, hot takes, and upsetting news, I finally came across something good: Baroness was back.
For those unfamiliar, Baroness is a fantastic metal band from Savannah, GA. As an admitted metal neophyte, I don’t exactly remember who or what caused me to give first them a listen. I’m guessing they were described to me as a metal band that punks will like too (covering Descendents is an easy way to get cred there), or maybe it was their striking artwork. What made me a fan, though, was their strong sense of melody. To this day, I still have trouble getting into any death, or really brutal metal. Maybe someday it will click, but until then, I need hooks.
After releasing three stellar and colorful albums, Baroness were on tour in England when they were involved in a terrifying bus crash. Reading the gruesome details, the fact that they were able to walk, much less play music again, is beyond remarkable. Half the band would ultimately, and understandably, leave in the aftermath, but frontman John Baizley and guitarist Pete Adams vowed to continue.
Seeing the news that the band had released a new song, I leaned over into my bag to grab my headphones, getting the cable tangled with my IV in the process. I hit play and an atmospheric instrumental washed over me before the whole band came crashing in around the one minute mark. Immediately, I felt a connection to the hospital imagery of the lyrics. No, no one was cutting through my ribcage, but the nurses coming and going and feeling ‘uncomfortably numb’ were all common. I’m still not entirely sure what the titular combination of chlorine and wine refers to, but I feel like it gets reasonably close to what a hospital smells like. Towards the end of the track, a group chorus comes in to declare ‘Please don’t lay me down’ as a defiant NOT YET to mortality. And yeah, that’s when it got a little bit dusty in the hospital room. It was an absolute rollercoaster of a song, maybe not the heaviest thing they’ve done musically, but certainly the most surprising and emotional. This would be the first taste of what was to come from their upcoming album, to be titled Purple. I wondered about the significance of the color, and then I looked down at my arms bruised from the daily injections. It started to make sense.
If I had to guess, “Chlorine and Wine” was probably my most listened to song during treatment, partially because it holds the dubious honor of being one of the first tracks added to my “Chemo Mega Mix” Spotify playlist, but also it just really struck a chord with me. It’s a true testament to how great a song it is that I don’t have a Pavlovian response of nausea every time I hear it now. I certainly can’t say the same about a lot of other things I experienced during those few months.
After a few setbacks, chemo officially ended for me in early November. Over the next few months, I slowly started to regain strength and a healthy immune system (and hair!). I still had to skip out a lot of shows, but I’m now more or less back to my old schedule. Finally, the other week, I got to see Baroness live for the first time, and it was just as cathartic as I had hoped it would be. Despite the dark places the music can go, the positive energy in the room and onstage was more palpable than anything I’ve witnessed in a while. How could it not be? Against all odds, Baroness got to be onstage playing music, and I got to be there watching them.