Scared To Sleep For Years

The fall and fall and surprise rise of Throw Rag

When Wheeler was younger, he repeatedly tried to collect SSI benefits—social security for the mentally impaired—but he kept failing the tests. Like the psychiatrists his dad used to send him to always said, his problem was that he was just a drug addict. Never mind that the net result—"I would put tin foil on the windows, try not to look outside, take the mirrors down and try not to pick myself," he says—was the same. "Maybe I just didn't talk to [the evaluators] at the right time because I was definitely crazy at certain points."

As a kid, Wheeler was obsessed with demons, he says. It started when a Christian family who was babysitting him told him that if he didn't accept Christ as his savior, he'd be visited by the devil.

"I was scared to sleep for a year," he remembers. "I would imagine totally twisted shit, and then when I finally shot speed, I saw gray demons. For a bunch of years I would see these gray demons with a man's body and a ram's head or a wild boar face on a man's head."

A few years ago Wheeler went to Italy and was shocked to see paintings of these demons hanging in cathedrals.

"You have to ask yourself, is there a reason these images have existed for so long?" he asks. "It was great to see them though because they were there and they weren't leaving. I'd seen them regularly but they'd always been in the periphery. I was stoked."

In "Rule Maker," from the group's Desert Shores, Wheeler sings about the "navy brat Catholic situation" that caused his father to marry his mother after impregnating her. He sings about being "a mistake," but says that he doesn't really feel like one now.

"Yeah, I don't think I do," he says, mulling it over. Then suddenly, brightly: "I wish I could find my dad, though! My last run bummed him out so much he couldn't deal with it. That side of the family just changed their numbers and disappeared on me. It's weird. I go on all those Internet people searches and stuff but it's so confusing.

"Oh well," he says, seemingly unvexed. "It'd be cool to see him though! I think he'd trip out to hang out with me now!"

It's this kind of thing—this completely horribly sad, hopeless, hopeful sentiment delivered with a bemused curiosity instead of self-pity, like monkeys poking at human artifacts with a stick—that hits me on some level so primitive it's hardly within grasp of articulation. Like a twitching on some existential frequency that I'm afraid to tune into. Or like Wheeler with the demons he finally confronted in the Cathedral, something I can only see out of the corner of my eye when I'm not really looking. What if we weren't hemmed in by all the little fears and concerns and insecurities that tether us to our experience of our lives? What if all that were suddenly lifted—might awe and wonder not be the only thing left?

"You know what the coolest thing is?" asks Wheeler, leaning forward, excitement building. "We're all going to die! So we're all going to know what happens when we die! Outside of having a kid, it's going to be great. I'm stoked on it. I think there's going to be a clarity and a presence. I don't think there will be sadness—just an understanding. Like 'Whoa, these were my motivations, these were my things, it wasn't about any of that.' It'll be so simple."

He flops back in his chair, spent and smiles. "It'll be so awesome!"

Throw Rag with the Briefs and Go Betty Go at the House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-Blue; www.hob.com. Thurs., Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m. $12-$13.50. All ages.

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