Magic: The Gathering is the True Soul of Rock & Roll

Derek Kiesgen (Bear vs. Shark) waxes poetic about the band’s favorite tour pastime.

“What are you…guys…doing?” the rock star snarls.

“Playing Magic: The Gathering,” I say, then cast an ornithopter.

The rock star looks around the crowded green room full of liquors, beers and weeds, so, so confused. Sexually available women posted up on dirty couches — fuck, there’s cocaine — but these guys…these guys are playing Magic ?

For almost a decade, I was in Bear vs. Shark, a cold fusion of Loggins and Messina and Jem and the Holograms. We were like if Pantera was really into Michael Haneke — or a one-man band that was actually six druids from the future. We toured a lot and then we broke up — haunted Michigan and parts of New York, played steel drums in the desert. Our Constrobot deconstructed and we became lawyers, teachers, bounty hunters. Some made death masks for pets, others false teeth. One of us has a pushup academy.

So, if we are going to tour, Bear vs. Shark is going to do certain things.

Then, much like the dying alien Abin Sur summoning Hal Jordan to the wreckage of his crashed ship (or not at all), we decided to do a reunion tour. A little how’s-ya-do, then disappear into the night of playing songs. So, if we are going to tour, Bear vs. Shark is going to do certain things. We will get real wet with skin water — and real huffy cause the youngest of us is seventy-six. We will play music that is perfect to imagine superheroes or goblins battling to — and drink V8 with balled-up lunchmeat in it. We will bring thunder. We will bring knee problems. We will continuously remark on the cuteness and wonder of different cities’ fairy doors. We will pass time in places we don’t live, hours free to fill. Some of us will play that Aztec game where the losers die — and some of us will play Magic: The Gathering, the card game that your little cousins used to play at family barbeques, potato salad smeared all over their ample cheeks, red pop staining their Busch Gardens T-shirts (the ones with all the different tree frogs on them).

Not everyone in Bear vs. Shark played Magic: The Gathering — ’bout half of us. The other guys were into other things. John laboriously replicated ancient frescos; Brandon worked on a new form of tap dancing. Ashley brought along a fully functional blacksmith shoppe to work on his katana swords. Being the type of band that we were, we discovered a secret early on in tour:        M:TG is the ultimate tour tool, even more important than a good wide-mouth Gatorade bottle to piss in.

There’s that saying…I don’t know who said it, I think it was John Wayne Gacy or maybe Optimus Prime: “War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” Well, tour is long periods of driving and waiting punctuated by moments of sweaty fun-fun. I think most musicians develop substance abuse problems due to the empty hours, not a predilection for drugs and altered waters. When you show up at a venue at three in the afternoon, you have to hang out in a filthy, sharpie-attacked lounge for a long time. We did our share of the drinking and the smoking of the dog hair that gets you high (try it). We got rowdy. But we also got wizard-y and amazing. Fighting each other in the realms of the Planeswalkers filled many an hour that I would have otherwise spent rubbing shrooms in my eyes or whatever. Although I have neither education nor credentials, I think the world should replace AA with M:TG . I think banks should hand out decks to work on while you wait. It eats time; before you know it, you’re on stage playing sweet, sweet rock jams as if you’re Zeus.

You want space in a back room full of lame bands? Get a four-man game going.

Also, it’s a repellent to bullshit people who think they’re cool. Like, it straight-up weirds them the fuck out. Instead of a band, they see husky thirteen year olds, all dirt ’staches and wet dreams. They see those kids drawing Omega Red in class. They run, find the nearest hackster they can. Make sure none of the uncool got on them. You want space in a back room full of lame bands? Get a four-man game going. Spread out on that sofa covered in all the diseases. Your cards will be OK on the beat-down coffee table, ’cause you got card protectors — beautiful little sleeves keeping your Windborn Muse safe from spills. Want that annoying idiot full of idiot words to flee? Discuss deck themes you’re considering: “I was thinking maybe a blue/red direct damage control deck — or maybe one with just trolls that have people jobs.”

Marc made a deck that was only walls. Like living walls or ice walls, a defense as offense approach. Mike had one with tiny birds that could change permanents’ colors. What are permanents? I am not going to tell you. I had a black deck with a creature named Hypnox in it, creature-type: Nightmare Horror. We crisscrossed America slanging spells like motherfuckers, chasing away dudes that got in bands to get pussy. I mean, that’s how I see it. They saw men not constantly trying to get hilt deep. Who’s right? Well, I am; Magic is awesome and you have herpes.

Which brings me to my next point. I think the band Mastodon is actually made out of Magic cards. Evidence: every single one of their songs.

Bands that bond, that share a love of the game, transcend conventional friendships, meeting almost as astral brothers and sisters in arms. Bear vs. Shark encountered some righteous folk down with casting, including Brad Whitford of Aerosmith and the melted clown from Slipknot. Actor Laurence Fishburne really likes it. Diane Rehm. Sigourney Weaver. Ban Ki-moon. Dick Dale. Danielle Steele. Robert Zombie.

Are we heroes? No. Just a bunch of dudes with hot yellow Ibanezs and wieners forked like snake tongues.

Are we heroes? No. Just a bunch of dudes with hot yellow Ibanezs and wieners forked like snake tongues. Are we fit to sit at the round table with King Arthur and R2-D2 and Jimmy Page when he is the wizard from The Song Remains the Same? I would say so. Did Magic: The Gathering save me from falling into the life of a cat burglar? Yes, it did. This reunion tour is one final crusade. Spell-soldiers, bandmates, true blues getting together to say goodbye. To play for and thank people for all the lovely times. I hope we play at least one game, hopefully in Brooklyn. I hope eyes roll, and we high five.

Derek Kiesgen is the guitarist/bassist for Bear vs. Shark as well as the author of the forthcoming The Startling Adventures of the Men in Gold Labcoats, a novel with like seven hundred monsters in it. He is married to an angelic juggernaut of a human and has a grey cat.