The “Los Toxicos” Airborne Toxic Event Fan of the Month: Alena James

Anna Bulbrook crowdsurfs at Firefly Music Festival
Firefly Music Festival Summer 2014 in Dover, Delaware
Firefly Music Festival Summer 2014 in Dover, Delaware

Los Toxicos is a monthly feature where we get to know a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event. To nominate a fan (or yourself) for a future month, e-mail us.

Name: Alena James

Twitter handle: @Avianmaria

Where are you from?

I’m originally from Charleston, South Carolina, but I packed up my car on my own and moved up to the District of Columbia to make something of myself. Glad that happened, because my first TATE experience was at the 9:30 Club. Like so many others after going to their first TATE concert, it was a life changer.

Tell us about yourself (who you are, what you do for a living, hobbies, etc.).

I’m an overly educated American Asian Female brought up in Summerville, South Carolina. It’s a pretty place just outside of Charleston. My Dad was a hardworking Filipino American and my mom is a hardworking southern girl who cooks grits and fried chicken. I grew up in a small house with three other siblings: an athlete, a musician, the golden boy, and me, the intellectual dork.

The last photo before my life changed and I started living again. Hanging outside with the TATE Tour Bus at the 9:30 Club. My first TATE concert.
The last photo before my life changed and I started living again. Hanging outside with the TATE Tour Bus at the 9:30 Club. My first TATE concert.

I was a really big literary nerd until I graduated HS. I lived in the world of Emmerson, Dante, and Nietzsche and was an overall big existentialist. Then I went off to college and became a political scientist and a microbiologist. I spent my time arguing around a table in some classes and then isolated and looking through a microscope in others. Accrued a myriad of student debt without a clue how any of the things I was learning were pertinent to the future I was not anticipating. Then before I knew it my senior year snuck up on me.

I lost my Dad just a year before finishing college; my world and family seemed to be destroyed in an instant, and I found my 21 year old self lost in a state of Kerouacian emptiness with nothing but the academic world to hold on to, and consumed with the belief that if I just gave up and went home that I’d be a loser in life who never amounted to anything. Somehow, I finished school within 11 months of my dad’s death and went on to do more school to pass the time and be an inspiration for my siblings to stay in school.

After grad school, I landed a job as a science professor and have been teaching ever since. I moved up to DC wanting to become a defense analyst. Went back to school, picked up another graduate degree, and started working part time gigs as a WMD analyst. I joined the world of online publishing and of collaborating with academics working on projects for free. I was inspired by Mikel’s publications and work for NPR. I wrote this article (Plague) on the Bubonic Plague and worked in the name of my favorite band, because I could.

TATE BirdSomehow, I landed a job as a lab manager at a university and I started teaching again, finding the work more rewarding than pulling on loose threads laying around Washington, DC, riding on the single hope that I would get into government work. So far trying to become a government wonk hasn’t panned out and I’m kind of glad about that. However, I was inspired by the story of TATE’s origins and it motivated me to do what the fuck I wanted. I made my own business cards that have M.S., M.S, B.S, and B.A. at the end of my name and according to the IRS founded my own research and consulting business. So now, I’m pretty much my own boss, researching and writing on political and biological topics, teaching microbiology, and traveling overseas to international conferences when the opportunity present itself… and that’s this La Toxica’s story.

Hobbies? I think my primary hobby is being the fucking floating feather from Forrest Gump.

TATE performing a free concert in Baltimore Rams Head Live Summer 2015
TATE performing a free concert in Baltimore Rams Head Live Summer 2015

Ten months ago, I was shark cage diving in Hawaii. Three weeks ago, I was standing right outside of Harvard’s Law School Admission Building. Six weeks before that I was parasailing with my best friend in Charleston; a month before that I was representing the US in Vietnam at the International Biology Olympics, which I didn’t even know was a thing until two weeks before being invited to go. Two months before that I was sleeping in a tent somewhere on the side of the road in New Mexico

How did you become a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event?

I was working at an Aviation Museum and there was a cute boy that worked there too. To find common ground to talk to him, I checked out the music he liked on Facebook. He had this band with an interesting name that seemed like it was dangerous listed, and I decide to check them out.

Catching Anna Crowd Surfing at Firefly Music Fest in Delaware Summer 2013
Catching Anna crowdsurfing at Firefly Music Fest in Delaware Summer 2013

I listened to TATE play “Something New” as they were on a boat and just thought it was such an innovative music video. Loved the colors, the song, and the fact they were playing on a seemingly small boat captained by their drummer. After that, I did some google searching and came across their infamous Disney Hall performance. After seeing an indie band playing on a boat, playing at the Disney venue with the quartet, Anna’s classiness, and hearing Mikel sing “The Book of Love” for his loving grandmother, it motivated me to pick up a violin I had had for years and learn to play.

It wasn’t until a year later though when I went to my first TATE concert that I became a real fan. As I mentioned earlier, it was at The 9:30 Club where I had my first TATE concert experience. I got to the venue early. I didn’t know any words to the songs other than the few that I had taken the time to check out and “Sometime Around Midnight” had not even been one of them. Lol. I had only ever been to Coldplay, GooGoo Dolls, Fall Out Boy and Neon Trees concerts. All of which I was so disengaged from the experience, because the artists seemed so disengaged from their own audience. Maybe that is the price of fame. I don’t know, but each band just seemed like they were carrying out a typical routine; which made me think that was how a typical concert experience was supposed to be. You pay money to see a band perform, they play, you sing along lost in a sea of people drinking alcohol, the artists don’t have time to acknowledge your existence, and then you go home smelling like smoke and beer.

Meeting Adrian at The Civic Theater in New Orleans, LA in 2014
Meeting Adrian at The Civic Theater in New Orleans, LA in 2014

My TATE experience was soooo different. All of the band members came out smiling and waving and just seemed happy to be on the stage. The venue was intimate and the band just seemed so real and down to earth.They did their incredibly energizing performance, I heard the “The Book of Love,” saw Mikel do a crazy rock climber move hanging from an unstable balcony, the club was full of sweat, everyone around me was jumping, and the smell of alcohol was all over. At the end Mikel introduced all the members of the band and was still seemingly happy to do what they were doing. Following the performance, all the band members came down immediately and shook hands with everyone. Noah shook my hand and thanked me for coming. Then Mikel came down talking to someone. He was nice enough to take a photo with me and I felt so lucky to have been the first person to have a photo that night. That was my first time meeting a rock star and being in a club—the total opposite of the academic arena that I’ve spent the majority of my life hiding from the world in. It was definitely life changing for me and has taken me to places I’ve never thought I’d ever go. From DC to PA to DE to MD to LA to TX to OH and hopefully soon to CA.

Meeting Daren at The Civic Theater in New Orleans, LA in 2014
Meeting Daren at The Civic Theater in New Orleans, LA in 2014

Also, like everyone else, I’ve found being a TATE fan helped me to cope with the shitty things in life that never seem to end, the bullies that are always lurking around targeting you,  and the fucked up hardships that just continually pound you into the ground. It’s odd to say, but I’ve found a lot of peace following the work of these artists. I could not be any more grateful. Even though nothing ever went anywhere with the cute boy from the Aviation Museum, I always think how much more I would not have lived had I not checked out the band with the dangerous name that he liked.

Do any of your family or friends like The Airborne Toxic Event? Did you convert them, or did they convert you?

I took my sister to The Firefly Music Festival in Delaware in 2014. I only went to see one band play. This was the outcome. I’m not sure I’ve converted her, but I know she really likes Songs of God and Whiskey.

My sister’s first TATE Meet and Greet at The Firefly Music Festival Summer 2013
My sister’s first TATE Meet and Greet at The Firefly Music Festival Summer 2013

JournalWhat does your Airborne Toxic Event collection include?

It’s funny, I don’t save tickets, I don’t have any posters, and I have millions of digital photos that I never look at. I have some shirts that I bought that were not my size that I can’t fit into. Aside from my CD collection, I think my Airborne collection consists of this journal I painted a few years ago, this pic of me meeting my favorite writer at an Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, and the TATE bird above I hijacked from the band’s website and manipulated in GIMP. I know it’s silly, but it’s definitely become a personal symbol that helps keep me motivated to move forward through life no matter how many nukes life drops on you or the people you love.

Meeting my favorite writer and artist at Three Rivers Arts Festival Pittsburg, PA 2013
Meeting my favorite writer and artist at Three Rivers Arts Festival Pittsburg, PA 2013

What’s your favorite TATE song and album, and why?

I know most fans can’t pick a song, but “Dublin” is my favorite. I thought one day I’d get tired of listening to it, but it’s been my morning wakeup call now for the past three years and gives me hope that if I wait patiently, the love of my life will find me one day.

Have you ever had a special experience at a TATE concert? Tell us about it.

My special TATE experience was being captured in this photo the band posted on Twitter. I never thought I’d ever in my life be in the front of a crowd of people like this. If you look just below the microphone, you can see my face cut in half with the right side exposed and the left side cut off.

Being lost in a sea of people Firefly Music Festival Summer 2013
Being lost in a sea of people Firefly Music Festival Summer 2013

Every concert I’ve gone to has been a special experience and just all around motivating. One laughable memory I had was from attending a TATE concert in Baltimore where I met another fan who was a former student at the university I teach at. She told me that her sister (also a student at the university) remembered me as the college professor she saw at the last TATE concert in Baltimore. It was pretty funny, given that I had cancelled class that night to drive to Baltimore.

Steven and Adrian rocking it at Firefly
Steven and Adrian rocking it at Firefly

What’s on your Airborne Toxic Event bucket list?

  1. I want to make something original and inspired by TATE to sell at the next This Is Nowhere Charity Auction.
  2. I have only ever gone to a club show alone and hope that I’ll get to go with the love of my life one day.

Are there any other bands you would recommend that Airborne fans check out?

I really like music from The Head and the Heart. They have lot of very beautiful written lyrics and chords. I’d recommend checking out if you haven’t heard them before. “Winter Song” is my favorite.

About thisisnowhere 413 Articles
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere and author of Toxic History: The Story of The Airborne Toxic Event. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.