Missing Esme: Making sense of loss in the new year
I was having a hard time figuring out what this column would be about this week. Resolutions? Hot new bands? The fact that three East Dallas liquor stores sold out of Ciroc? All my ideas were falling with a thud. And then, on New Year's Day, my heart did too.
In the early morning hours of January 1, 2012, Esme Barrera was found murdered in her home near the University of Texas campus. Much has been written about it since, and my grief is fresh, as it is for many, many folks who knew and loved her in the Austin music scene, where I came to know her over the last couple years. I want to impart what an ideal music fan she is/was. I'm still having trouble with present and past tense.
I met Esme through the Girls Rock Camp, where she was a volunteer. We liked the same music: girl bands, punk bands, garage bands. I first saw her at a Finally Punk show years ago, front row, biggest fan. I didn't recognize her without a smile on her face, because she was just that stoked about life. Always. And especially about music.
This past summer, as I was hanging out at the camp for a follow-up piece on their five-year anniversary, Esme grabbed me, wearing that sweet, crooked smile. "You have to see this band," she enthused, dragging me into the small practice room where the band she was coaching, The Bagelz, were rehearsing a song simply called "I Am Awesome." These girls were in middle school, and were effortlessly cool. Looking back, it rips my heart in two because she was right: I did need to see them.
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Esme was always front row. Always the biggest fan. Always championing a new band or showing up to support an old one. Always making a mixtape. Never arms crossed, emitting the cynicism or snark or smugness that can bog down folks who write about or work in music for a living. We often get so wrapped up in shit-talking and side-eyeing and anonymous slap fights and trends/fads/scenes that we forget music is supposed to be a goddamn pleasure, not a chore, not something we have to elbow out of the way. She's representative not just of a specific music community, but all of them. You love music? Put some pants on and get in the front row, dude. I can hear her saying that.
In this very new year, the loss of Esme has inspired me, and possibly others, to approach music in a different way. To channel that lust for life. To use a little — oh boy, here it comes — optimism. Call me crazy, but local music isn't just separate scenes, it's a community that should be supported the way local businesses and neighborhoods are, and Esme was that cheerleader we all needed. We lost a friend but the music community lost a fan. Let's balance the scales?
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