Aesthetic Drift #22 by Chelsey Clammer

Celestial 57

 

The stars vibrated above me. Within me. Synchrony. At 2 a.m. I would walk back to my truck at seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old, having come from a concert, the music still clamoring along my bones. Late ’90s, downtown Austin, where my favorite band, Sister 7, played frequently—at one point, weekly.

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Looking up, crisp night air breezing into my skin, the post-show silence surrounding me, but Sister 7’s sounds still coursing through my body. Breathing in a lungful of exhilaration, I was completely sober but felt so high. Always in that walk back to my truck, always as I looked up at the Texas stars so big they felt graspable, always the anticipation for the next show that started steadily building within me with each step. Always all of that after every concert.

Sister 7

The band members of Sister 7, from left to right: Darrell Phillips, Sean Phillips, Patrice Pike, and Wayne Sutton.

It was about leather pants and feather boas. Inked art on skin that glistened with sweat. Bongo solos and scatting. A female lead singer in a dude-dominated rock genre. The sound of turning one syllable into a rhythmic melody, or a four-minute song into a twelve-minute jam session and loving every extra second of it. Being so young, yet feeling like a part of something so grand. Black Xs on our underage hands. It was about being freshly gay, being one of the front-row teenager baby dykes and budding feminists, body pressed against the stage, the sweat of desire dripping. Then, arms up to clap and punch the air because score! They’re playing your favorite song! Which isn’t that rare because all of the songs are your favorite song. But still. Arms triumphantly raised up in the air. It was about Superman tank tops and women with spikey, gender-busting haircuts. Voices screaming themselves hoarse, hollering a hell yeah to the band between each song. Knowing all the lyrics and singing along. Grabbing posters and snatching set lists after the encore. Becoming all flushed and being the blushing fangirl at the merch table while getting posters signed. Plus, innovative rhythms and kickass women. It was about feeling energy and connections vibrating through you.

Vibrating up to those stars.

Having just stepped out from massive amounts of energy contained in one space, the distance and breadth of the stars felt like they were soaking in that energy, then reflecting it back to me as I walked, as if the stars felt what each Sister 7 concert was like and they stood hovering above me, helping to remind me about the type of energy and connection that can be created with music and empowering crowds. Rhythms had guided my dancing body, and it was those stars that guided me into believing in something—that life was worth experiencing.

Sister 7 shows were celestial.

***

Celestial navigation isn’t anything new. Since the beginning of recorded history—and most likely even before then—stars have been used as a navigational tool. We humans have always looked to the stars as a way to move, to navigate ourselves through space. Stars as guides, we have created methods of calculation to measure our position in the world relative to these gorgeous celestial bodies. They tell us where we are, where we are going. We let the stars lead us, help us in our wayfinding.

Celestial means anything positioned in or relating to the sky. Means belonging to or relating to heaven.

Celestial also means supremely good.

***

The origins of Sister 7 stems from a street festival in Dallas in the early 1990s where high schoolers Patrice Pike and Wayne Sutton met and soon formed their own band. The singer and guitarist duo eventually met drummer Sean Phillips and bassist Darrell Phillips (the two are totally NOT related. Sean is a kinda geeky but awesome white dude and Darrell is a badass black guy with amazing dreadlocks who used to put his cigarette on the last fret of his base as he played, the strings holding it there for him). Together, these four musicians created a band called Little Sister. After relocating to Austin to be a part of its thriving music scene, Little Sister quickly transitioned from being an opening band to a headlining one with their invigorating and innovative sounds. After they put out their first record, “Little Sister,” in 1994, they discovered there were six other bands out there called Little Sister. So, being one of the seven Little Sister bands in existence, they renamed themselves Sister 7.

I went to my first Sister 7 concert when I was sixteen. This was after I cut my long curly hair because I thought lesbians had to have short hair, but before I found someone to claim as my girlfriend who could help me proclaim my sexuality. I felt socially awkward as I hid this part of me in my proverbial closet and needed someone to show me the kind of woman I could become, the kind of woman with confidence and a sense of freedom found with empowerment. But I was in the middle of Texas, attending a high school with 4,000 students—not one of them openly queer. What’s a young questioning girl to do?

Enter: fate.

My friend Rebecca’s mother took us to a show with her lesbian friends Tammy and some other dyke. It was my first time being around lesbians (to my knowledge) and I was intrigued.

The lead singer Patrice Pike was an out bisexual. Flocks of women of all genres of sexuality came to the show and I felt like I had found my tribe. Navigating teenagedom is hard enough. So much identity-latching and figuring. Navigating social pressures and expectations and feeling brave enough to test who you might want to be. Add a lesbian sexuality to that coming-of-age phase, and it can be hard to find your way. I was grasping for anything I might be able to identify with. Anything that spoke to me. That showed me I didn’t have to squeeze myself into the shape of a socially constructed woman I never felt like was me.

Then, there I was at a concert where the lead singer was female, had a killer voice, wore snake skin tight leather pants that looked both butch andplayfully femme, her sports bra showing, awesome tattoos caressing her shoulder and conveying something spiritual, a woman who presented such an invigorating mix of butch and femme, who danced and rocked out on stage rather than sitting modestly behind a mic, and all these women cheering her on and so—BAM! I saw what being an independent and passionate woman could look like.

I was hooked.

There was that something about Patrice and Sister 7 that made me feel more assured in my own skin. Maybe it was Patrice’s style. Maybe it was the awesome jams. Maybe it was spending time with in a feminist and queer-friendly community, whatever it was, when I got out of those shows and looked up into the 2 a.m. stars, I felt more like who I thought I could be.

My first experience didn’t actually involve stars or the walk back to my truck. Rebecca’s mom gave us a ride. I don’t remember much of that first show—they all kind of blend together in my mind as a capital-E Experience—just that Rebecca’s mom drove the wrong way down a one-way street and that, of the show itself, I loved it enough to go again the following Friday. And again. And again. The entire summer of 1999 spent doing this. And then three years of it. Shows at the Black Cat Lounge, Antone’s, The Steamboat, Momo’s, even Lilith Fair. Anywhere Patrice played and I was old enough to be allowed admittance, I was there. Her voice, a source of encouragement to keep finding myself, a type of guide that pointed to how life could be freeing if you followed your true self, if you could just figure out how to be you—no, scratch that. How to celebrateyou.

I don’t remember that first show because they became such a regular part of my life that it feels like they had become a part of me—a part of who I was—and like I had forever been going to the shows. No first or last, but an always.

I started listening to Sister 7 by the time they released their second album, This the Trip.

Neat fact:

There are actually 57 tracks on This the Trip. After the twelfth song, “Some Things Are Free,” there are 44, four-second silent clips and then a final, “secret” song. Why do this? Because that last track, that “secret song” is track number 57. And in the era of cd players, the digital display first shows how many tracks are on a cd. Start This the Trip, then end the album, and what you see is “57.” As in: “S7.” As in: “Sister 7.”

What this meant in mine and my friends’ lives: Pin numbers set as 5157 (Sis. 7); sports jerseys toting the self-picked number 57; screennames as cclammer5157 or kicker5157 or superwoman5157; a silver necklace sporting a 57 pendant, pick a number between 1 and 100 and it will be 57 every time.

This the Trip Sister 7

Backside of the Sister 7 1997 album, This the Trip.

There are 6,000 stars visible to the naked eye. That’s 6,000 specks we look up at in amazement on any given night. For celestial navigation, the North Star is the main point by which we orient ourselves. But we need more than just a single star to tell us where we are. We need more stellar markers to make our position-making more accurate.

Published in 1958, the Nautical Almanac officially selected and identified a group of stars to be fixed navigational points. These stars were chosen based on their brightness, ease of identification, and their distribution across the celestial sphere. Chosen across a span of thirty-eight constellations, these celestial bodies that burn brighter than our sun have been used to create star charts that work as a source of orientation. Hold a star chart up to the sky, look at those selected stars, their arrangement, and you will see them reflected up there, their brightness pointing to your position.

Neat fact: the number of stars officially selected to help us navigate time and space is 57.

***

After I got a girlfriend and came out, I brought her to a Sister 7 show. Then I made some lesbian friends at school, and they came to a show. And then their friends came, too.

We were the front row baby dykes. The underagers who stood in line outside the venue hours before the show began so we could claim our front row positions. We were Chelsey and Courtney and Sabrina and Stacy and Amanda and Val and April and Lee and all the other young women whose faces we recognized from show after show. We waited through the opening bands, antsy but respectful, eyes darting around to see if Patrice had shown up yet—the woman we looked up to both literally as she would rock on stage above us, and figuratively as a role model. As a guide. We felt pulled toward Patrice and the jamming band, toward what she represented for us and what they created together. Exhilarating empowerment. The strength of a woman’s voice. A Sister 7 concert wasn’t watching a band perform. It was seeing the beatific energy humans—performers and listeners together—can co-create.

And so we hollered hard and clapped voraciously. Too young to drink, we let the music itself intoxicate us. We were high schoolers or recent grads. Retail workers and soccer players. We wore cargo pants and baggy shirts. Backwards baseball caps and Teva sandals. We stayed late, not caring about sleep or worried about what time we had to wake up the next morning to get to basketball practice. We were young feminists and LGBTQ-ers thirsty for an identity. A safe place. A collection of moments where we could wrap our arms around our girlfriends’ waists without looking over our shoulders. At Sister 7 shows, we were in heaven. They were a haven from what the world threw at us. We held onto each lyric that held meaning, music that gave us something to grasp, something to take with us, to become a part of who we were becoming.

At the end of every show, we walked back to our used cars and clunker trucks, drove back to our hollowed home lives, our confining families and restlessness at work or school, retreated back to the space where a community like this didn’t exist, but the anticipation for the next show gave us hope, something to hold onto.

Pike from Journal 2

Picture of Patrice Pike geekily taped into the author’s journal in 2001.

Like everything else in the natural world, stars are also born, they live a life, and then they die. The trajectory of star’s fate is dependent on how it keeps a balance in its core’s gravitational pull. Too much inward pull, and a star collapses. This sounds like a simple non-event, but when it’s a massive star that is collapsing, a huge eruption can occur. A supernova, it’s called. A stellar explosion so luminous that it shines brighter than an entire galaxy.

More than just a shooting star, a supernova is an event. And when these massive stars explode, they release gravitational potential energy. Everything around it persuaded into movement.

Because even when that core gravity collapses, when its pull weakens, it doesn’t disappears completely. Rather, the pull extends outward to infinity. 

***

Sister 7 eventually disbanded in 2001 when one of the band members needed to follow a different career path. The disbanding was sad but the music continued. Not just in a nostalgic way like in our hearts or something, but in the music that Wayne and Patrice continued to play together as a duo, the record label they created, and the Sister 7 reunion concerts they’ve played throughout the years. Patrice’s music career also followed a less-conventional path for a little while. In 2006, she was a part of a supernova—Rock Star: Supernova, that is.

A contestant TV show of rock stars competing to score a record deal with Tommy Lee, each week on Rock Star: Supernova, singers would either get voted off or picked for another round. Then, it was practice practice practice, thrown in with some televised back stories and contestant drama.

I never would have considered Patrice as the kind of person to be on a reality TV show, but here’s the thing about her: I see her as a woman unafraid to stretch the boundaries of creativity, to try out something new for herself. From Austin jam band to singing a song with Tommy Lee on the drums that was viewed nation-wide, Patrice’s strength to continuously grow as a singer and creator is what has always inspired me. It’s about bravery and leap-taking. About pushing yourself in different ways to see how you evolve, how your shape and sound and pull towards different creative expressions oscillates and shifts.

I didn’t own a TV when the show was being aired, so I didn’t get to cheer her on each week as she steadily remained a contestant until a few rounds before the end. Now, I watch clips of Patrice on Rock Star: Supernova, and all I can think is, “That doesn’t seem like Patrice.” They are damn good performances, but that’s exactly it—for me, it seems like she’s performing. I hop over to live Sister 7 videos on YouTube and that’s when I watch the rock star that I experienced twenty years ago—Patrice is in her element. She’s a kickass woman on stage with a voice so powerfully raw and clear, that the sound rings up to the stars. Reality TV show or not, there is something celestial about Patrice, her performances, and her empowering energy that has forever rippled outward to her audience.

***

We are made of stars.

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Each star contains, creates, generates the chemical elements needed for life. Everything a universe necessitates for its own existence comes from stars. They contain the basic chemical units of who we are and how we got here. We know that stars are light years away and that they shine for billions of years. But what we’re still discovering is the interesting aspects of a star’s demise. A star on the verge of collapse has a magnetic field that’s strengthening. Whether a small star that eventually blinks out of existence or a massive supernova explosion, its chemical elements disperse throughout the universe, and will eventually create new stars.

All of this is to say that the energy and magnetism of those brilliant sources of light never fully die. They may collapse or explode in different ways, but the chemistry needed to create the universe remain. Everything is there like it always has been, vibrating. Pulsing with the new, re-created life, one with its own shape and energy. Stars cycle, shift, evolve. But the elements remain—continue.

We are made of stars.

***

It’s 2019 and I’m staying with the woman I was dating during the reign of Sister 7 in my life. We haven’t really talked much after we broke up eighteen years ago, but we’re friends now, thanks to social media. Her mom recently, suddenly, tragically died, and so I go to stay with her for a few days to keep her company and help to hold her grief.

When I arrive at the house she shared with her mother, I find a Master lock on her gate, a 4-digit combination needing to be entered. I call my ex.

“Hey. What’s the gate code?”

“You know what it is,” she says then hangs up and, duh, now I feel like an idiot. I twirl the numbers round, line them up properly. 5157. The lock opens.

Two decades later, Sister 7 is still a part of who we are and how we live in, how we navigate this world.

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Patrice Pike playing at the Saxon Pub, in Austin, TX. April 25, 2019. Photo credit: Amanda Buffalo / Osage Buffalo Photography.

Along with the logistical aspects of celestial navigation, we have also always looked to the stars, to all those celestial bodies, as a type of spiritual guide. Astrology, the zodiac, moon phases, and planetary alignment are all ways we in which we try to chart out our fate by looking up.

We have also looked to the heavens in numerical ways. Angel numbers, for instance, are number sequences that carry divine guidance. These angel numbers refer to specific numerological meanings. Consider numbers as a type of divine science, where the digits each carry a specific vibrational meaning that reaches way beyond a simple quantity. Numbers as fate, as leaders in life, cosmic counsel, as opportunities, intuitiveness and opening ourselves up to divine numerological meanings.

When we repeatedly see a certain number, it means our angels are telling us to pause and ponder its meaning.

So of course I’m curious.

Angel number 57 means change, means persistence. It’s a number that is a combination of intuition and personal freedom.

57 means encouragement and hope.

***

It’s been nearly two decades since Sister 7 disbanded and thirteen years since I went to a reunion concert. And although Patrice has been doing shows with Wayne in Austin regularly all of this time, I’ve been chasing careers and academic degrees and girlfriends and boyfriends across the country, but have just re-landed in Austin.

It’s a Thursday night when my friend from way back when, Amanda, and I decide to go to a Patrice Pike show at the Saxon Pub.

Driving there, we are giddy as hell, excited because just the thought of Patrice brings back so many fantastic, visceral memories. We arrive at the venue a handful of minutes before Patrice starts. We’re no longer the baby dykes who get there early to grab good seats, but we sit in the back to just chill and listen. I’m no longer losing my voice from screaming loud, but rather sitting in the dark corner and knitting a tank top while hollering a “WHOOO!” and clapping between each song. And although I’m not sweating and pounding the stage with my palms (no one is doing that, actually, since it’s not that kind of show any more), I’m still smiling so much that my face hurts by the end of the set.

When the show’s over, Amanda and I go outside to smoke a cigarette, which is when I look up and see how brilliantly the stars are shining, like how they always did after Sister 7 shows. I’ve been looking at those stars for forever now. They have become something for me, helped me, in a way, to see how there was a world beyond the small, awkward microcosm of my home.

Still giddy as hell, Amanda and I linger outside the Saxon Pub, then decide we want to try and talk to Patrice—tell her our story of being those front row baby dykes and how much tonight’s concert was just as thrilling, even though the energy was different—and maybe even take a picture with her.

As we hang around a bit, looking through the door at everyone stopping Patrice to say something, I think back to a picture I took with Patrice. It was 2000 and she was hanging out in the audience during one of the opening bands as she occasionally did. I got up some guts, handed my camera to my girlfriend, tapped Patrice on the shoulder, and of course she wanted to take a picture with me. In the photo, my smile is wider than my face and one of the regulars in the background is wearing the hip cowboy hat style that Patrice established.

Patrice and Me

Patrice Pike and the author in the audience before a Sister 7 show at the Black Cat Lounge, circa 2000.

Amanda and I are still waiting, wondering how to approach Patrice when so many people are trying to talk to her. Then she makes her way to the merch table and we hop in the line that quickly forms, and as we wait some more, I remember that at one point, I too had a hip cowboy hat signed by all the band members. I had forgotten about that because with each move throughout the years, Sister 7 mementos drifted elsewhere, got lost, or—gasp—were thrown away. It’s what happens as we grow into being new people. Mementos—like friends, like band members, like stars—fade away, and new ones take their place. But the feel of what those mementos meant to us, what those friends, that music, and those stars gave us, never fully fades.

Finally, it’s our turn and my and Amanda’s energy immediately ramps up. We tell Patrice our story of being fans when we were just teenage baby dykes and then we buy a cd and get an autograph and our dialogue bounces back and forth like loose protons and Patrice is smiling and she gets it and I am probably making a total fan girl fool of myself, but my god this woman and her music and what all she represents for me is just excellent. Exhilarating. We end up not taking a picture because we forget to do it, but that’s okay. It won’t be needed to remember this night, this experience, this re-feeling of being a part of some source of empowering energy.

The stars’ grandiosity can really make a person sense their speck-like status in the world, but looking up at those stars after a Sister 7 concert—and now after this Patrice Pike solo show—I am reminded that I’m not just in this world, but a part of it.


Clammer Meadows photo 7-12 300dpi

Chelsey Clammer is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared in SalonThe Rumpus, Hobart, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School and Black Warrior Review. She teaches online writing classes with WOW! Women On Writing and is a freelance editor. Her next collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. www.chelseyclammer.com