Today's Cut of the Day comes in form of a story dreamed up during a Deelay Ceelay live experience. The scene: My friend Aaron and I enter the main room of Holocene. It's packed. We can't make out much of what's happening on stage. Not only because we're relegated to the back due to the mass crowding, but also because the heavy fog pouring from the stage where Deelay Ceelay have just begun its set. We can see one member of the band. Well, part of one of him. His arms to be exact. Drumming, or maybe just air-drumming. Where else in life would we see that motion? He could be playing Whac-A-Mole for all we know. Let's make up a story about what we're almost-seeing to fill in the gaps of what we're not seeing. This music is fun. A little arcade-like. Let's let it inform the story. Each song, projection on screen or our movement within the room (enabling us to see better) dictates the next scene. And this is what we came up with, song by song…
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As with most days, Delaney sat in the family living room indulging not in endless hours of Saturday morning cartoons, but instead endless hours of conquering level upon level in the video game projecting from the TV screen in front of him. His glasses-sporting self portrayed as a warrior princess on screen, clothed in fanciful duds and capable of taking on any of the brightly colored objects that came his way.
Not too long after 10 his older brother Chris came trotting down the shag-carpeted stairs that led from their bedrooms to the living room. His strut was routine as ever, the bounce in step owed to the 1976 Whac-A-Mole World Championship belt affixed within his belt-loops, well earned nearly a year prior and proudly displayed as a result. But today's descent wasn't as routine. Midway down the staircase, the toe of one of Chris' cowboy boots caught in the olive colored shag-carpet, causing him to trip and fall to his death. Cue tears streaming from Delaney and his mothers face. A funeral quickly followed.
Soon after the funeral, a large manila envelope arrived addressed to the now deceased Chris. Delaney would've opened it anyway, loving to be involved in the ongoings of his brother, but with his older brother now dead, it was his duty to tie up any and all of Chris' loose ends. Inside the envelope was his brother's contract for the upcoming 1977 Whac-A-Mole championships to be held in a week. Delaney scanned the document and paused when he came across the second paragraph on page five that denoted a deceased contestant can only be replaced by a blood relative. Prior to reading the sentence, Delaney hadn't thought of such a possibility, such an opportunity to honor his brother and preserve the family tradition that wasn't technically a tradition since only Chris had taken part, but that oversight was insignificant. Delaney had a chance. What that chance meant was obviously up in the air and confusing, but it was a chance nonetheless. Delaney decided to contemplate such a chance while engaging in a block of hours in front of the TV playing his beloved video game that consoled him in time of such unrest. Within moments of taking a seat on the shag-carpet, hunched over without back support, the decision was clear. Clearer than the video game visuals before him created with a green screen, an actress and two dudes intent on art that fosters community. Delaney would enter the championship.
Cue blaring blips and beats. The intensity of the arcade music beat in rhythm with his own pounding heart from the moment Delaney entered the massive expo center the following weekend after a harrowing flight to Fort Lauderdale. Crowds of people stood together, jostling, pushing, moshing and bobbing in a fashion not so unlike the moles he would soon battle or, say, the audience at a concert. Delaney found it hard to push through the mob up to the front where his machine challenger sat. Sweat dripped from his brow. Sweat from being in the midst of the audience and the pressure of the task ahead of him. It wasn't about the moles, it was about his brother and there was no way he was going to let machinery best the bond he had with Chris. He would channel all his frustration about his older brother's untimely death into besting fellow contestants and most of all the moles that wore giddy smirks across their brown painted faces.
Entering his own world, Delaney summoned all his strength, agility and focus he'd honed during those countless hours playing his video games. He locked in his tunnel vision and drove the foam mallet down in tune with the arcade music playing above. The sweat dripped, his shoulders shook and he won. Round after round, set after set, Delaney showed those moles who was boss and at the end of the day rose his arms in victorious fist pumps. He exited the expo center a hero, the 1977 Whac-A-Mole World Championship belt rightfully won and displayed within his very own belt loops.
The glory didn't end in 1977. Nope, not in the least. It carried on past the championship with Delaney officially entering the Whac-A-Mole circuit and going on to travel to tournaments that took him across state lines and away from home at least nine months of the year. He rose to the top of the sport, every battle won moving him to a higher seed within the competitive world of Whac-A-Mole. With enough hard-won victories under his (literal) belt, Delaney advanced to the 1978 Whac-A-Mole championships where he won again, effortlessly. Same for 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, with each belt joining the others to the point that his entire waist-line, not to mention much of his torso, was taken up with the championship belts, each carrying a large bronze buckle acknowledging his supremacy. Have you ever been to an arcade? Place is tacky, so Delaney wearing all those belts at once kinda fit right into the charm of the operation.
Something was missing though.
On a not-so-unusual day Delaney answered his ringing telephone. On the other line was a friend—who we'll call Mike—asking if he'd be up for a day of carefree skateboarding. However this not-so-unusual day fell exactly the day before a big championship, one that would determine Delaney's seed in the 1985 Whac-A-Mole World Championships. Resistant at first due to the risk, Delaney eventually relented over the course of the conversation and agreed to the outing with a commendable level of nonchalance having decided that he didn't want Whac-A-Mole to keep him from living. This was a life after all. One which he was so often reminded of every time he passed his brother's portrait on the mantel above the fireplace. It was an unpredictable life, as proven the moment Delaney slipped from his skateboard, crashing hard against the pavement and breaking his wrist in every place. Not only would he now miss the tournament, but he would perhaps never play Whac-A-Mole again.
Cue one of the world's leading surgeons—hoping to cement his name as both a daring and skilled surgeon, which would therefore catapult him even further to the forefront of his profession and garner him acclaim from international medical journals—declaring his desire to operate. The surgery was so risky, so experimental that Delaney could either return to his level of wrist action or be paralyzed forever. He accepted the risk.
On the operating table, the air is tense. Above Delaney's sedated body colorful psychedelic visuals play out representing what is occurring in his open wrist. High tension.
After an agonizing passing of time (equivalent to that of one song) during which the surgeon's brow dripped with sweat and his shoulders shook, his hands somehow remained capable, and he delivered the results every reader of this story has been pulling for: the surgery is a success!
After racking up a $45K hospital bill from his two day, overnight, uninsured stay to recuperate from the surgery, Delaney is discharged from the medical facility to the comforts of his own home. He's inactive, watching day-time TV and dissecting infomercials for a period of weeks while healing. When the time is up and the bandages come off he realizes he hasn't missed the absence of Whac-A-Mole one bit. A new lease on life has been achieved, nevertheless one without direction. He continues the same routine of watching TV. Considers growing a beard, but doesn't. Other than getting up to grab a few dollars from the piggy bank he never outgrew for his mom to purchase him cheetos on her shopping trips, Delaney's whole day played out, in front of the TV screen, day in, day out. He didn't just sit there though. He airplayed Whac-A-Mole the entire time.
“Why?! I don't want this anymore!” he proclaimed to no one in particular. A posthumous onscreen Billy Mays failed to react.
More miserable than tremors! A compulsion! He couldn't stop. What was a former Whac-A-Mole champion to do post-career? Delaney put the constant motion of his outstretched arms to use. He took up drumming. A music video brought the idea to him, proof positive that being a couch potato can indeed improve one's life.
Delaney quickly advanced within the world of drumming, much like his meteoric and unprecedented rise to the top within the confines of Whac-A-Mole. From street corners creating a rhythm with chopsticks and plastic buckets to joining local bands, he eventually secured a spot as a drummer in T.I.'s live band, touring the country in similar fashion to his days on the Whac-A-Mole circuit. This is his place, he realized. The cheering, the chanting, the applause. Just like the old Whac-A-Mole days, but this time due to a path he chose himself rather than one he found himself on by the cruel twist of the toe of a cowboy boot on shag carpeting in the '70s. Every night a different city, but the same songs and the same encore of “Whatever You Like.” In that song, in that moment, Delaney was most alive, no matter the night. He had gotten whatever he liked: a life less ordinary built through a mix of fate and choice, and for that he hit the drum-skins with such intensity that at particular show in Portland, smoke began to emanate from them. Through that and the unrelenting fog machines, his older brother Chris appeared. With his fervor, Delaney had summoned his dead brother's spirit to life to drum beside him.
They then go on to tour together as part of T.I.'s live backing band, both visible and ever-present behind the thick cloud of fog, every night, in every city. Donning matching outfits and beating the hell out of those drums from behind their facing drum-kits with the superspeed that once conquered arcade-dwelling moles and now compelled audiences to dance. In due course they break off to form their own act, playing a setlist full of their own songs that capture the spirit of their shared history, that amped-up surefire hit of “Whatever You Like” and even a mashup of a Jay Z song that Miley Cyrus would probably like.
The true point of the story? Well on Deelay Ceelay's site it asks that in exchange for downloading its free mini-album, you write a story, poem, song or share a photograph. I was just following the directions when I saw them. And now that you have one quarter of those songs (maybe one half if you downloaded the "No Vex" Cut of the Day
a bit back) maybe you too will embark on a path of creative repayment for the music...
Deelay Ceelay official site
Photo by Nilina Mason-Campbell