Take a minute and think about how it felt the first time you looked at one of your parents and realized they were old. My first time was seeing my mother answer the door in the middle of the night without any makeup on, her pale skin and wrinkles unmasked and apparent. Unsettling, right? Well, that's pretty much exactly how it felt listening to Scout Niblett sing "Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death" at the last Portland Lounge Series.
The PLS is a live interview/live music event hosted by WW's music website, LocalCut.com. And the song (from Niblett's '03 release, I Am) features local singer-songwriter Niblett—who sounds like the lovechild of a less brash Janis Joplin and a more spritely Cat Power—repeating the words, "We're all gonna die" exactly 16 times (I counted). She also repeats the known facts that "We don't know when/ We don't know how." This is not news, of course. But I was listening to Niblett's performance on day three of quitting smoking, and her announcement of my inevitable mortality almost convinced me that I may as well light the cigarette twirling through my fingers.
As Niblett banged away at the drums—the song's only instrument besides her intrepid voice—and switched from a nonchalant deadpan delivery of "We're all gonna die" to an impassioned "We're ah-ah-all gonna die-ee-i!" I sat, in a bar for the first time since quitting, trying to decide what part I would play in my own demise. Now, I'm not someone who'd been trying to quit—even thinking of quitting. I was the lucky recipient of a horrible chest cold recently, and my lungs simply felt so burnt and dry at its height that I took two whole days off the tar and nicotine. Then I thought, Maybe I should see how long I can ride this out. As I type this, it's been almost two weeks, a time period that some folks think means I'm "over the hump."
Hump or no, it's still pretty challenging once I've had a few drinks, but I've been very Yoda-like about all of it: You don't try to quit smoking, you just quit. But Niblett's right; we are all gonna die. And I've identified as a smoker for almost a decade now (and was at about half a pack a day before quitting). As I twiddled that unlit Camel Light in my fingers, listening to Scout, I eyed the lit smoke in PLS host Michael Byrne's hand and strongly considered asking for a drag. And when he put it out on the floor, my heart sank a little. But, earlier in the night during the interview section of Niblett's set, she also said, "I can't continue on this path...the path of self destruction, it's not good." Regardless, I was pretty convinced during "Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death" that I would use the song as an excuse to smoke on the walk home. But I didn't. And I still haven't.