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The Grateful Near-Dead

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But then he sensed a force of an altogether different magnitude. “I heard that weird sound you get when a camera’s flash is charging—that rising electronic whine,” Paris says. “I thought, That’s not good. And then—boom!” Paris and Totolo describe a spectacle similar to a rider bucked by a bull at a rodeo. When he came to—ears ringing, chest pounding—Lazar made a throat-cutting motion. Paris took this as a cue to start the next song. “I thought he was wildin’ out,” says Paris. “I’m like, ‘Yeah! Rock on!’ And then—boom!” The second shock hit, flinging Lazar again.

After the third shock in 30 seconds, he struggled to a crouch. He began taking his pulse, trying to calm himself, then made his way to the wings. Finally Totolos took the mike: “I said, ‘Well, uh, our singer’s gonna die, so I guess…’ But before I could finish my sentence, he comes running back out and says [in a hoarse yell] ‘Finish it!’”

Afterward, Lazar walked out of the club and hailed a cab to the hospital. Technicians accessed the automatic history of the defibrillator, pinpointing the precise moment of near-fatal activity: when his heart rate hit 192 beats per minute, the tempo of the song “Sugarbomb.”

Lazar returned to New York and met with his doctors and a rep from the ICD manufacturer. One doctor confronted him directly. “She said, ‘You really should not be doing what you’re doing,’” Lazar says. “And I said, ‘This is what I do.’” He then literally haggled with them over a new ICD trigger. “The doctor’s like, ‘Okay, let’s make it 195 for two and a half minutes,’” remembers Lazar. “And I was like, ‘Couldn’t you make it 200 for five minutes?’ It was like buying a mattress from Russians.”

Doctors jacked up the set rate and urged Lazar to slow down. For a while, he followed their advice. But eventually, he made a decision: He could survive, or he could live. He called a band meeting. “He sat us down and said, ‘Dude, don’t hold back,’” says Paris. “‘If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna fuckin’ die. Do it.’”

Sitting in his Greenpoint apartment, Lazar pulls off his white T-shirt to reveal the scarred convexity just above his left pectoral. There sits the central inspiration behind the Giraffes’ recent album, Prime Motivator, a collection of brutal, Zeppelinesque songs referencing hospitals, ICUs, and ambulances. “When I don’t feel so fine,” go the lyrics to the title track, “my machine makes up its mind … and it gives me some more time…” The ICD is hard to the touch, roughly the size and shape of an Altoids case. “I’ve been clipped on that by a door, and it fucking kills,” says Lazar. “Because you’re pinching skin between metal and metal.” As Lazar pulls his shirt back on over his head, a heart-shaped pendant swings six inches from the bulge of his ICD. It’s a gift from his girlfriend, with whom he recently broke up after ten years—months shy of their planned wedding. People who have near-death experiences often awaken with a transformed consciousness. For Lazar, the change came in stages. “I came out of it and thought ‘Okay, I can just go back to being the same old me, no big deal, got it,’” he says. “And then I remember being seized by ideas like, ‘I’m never gonna fall in love again.’ Well, I like falling in love. I don’t know how much time I got left. I gotta do this—whatever ‘this’ is.”

So he stopped penning jokey riot fantasies and started writing songs about life and death. And he gave himself over fully to the loud, rowdy rock-and-roll lifestyle—albeit with modifications: He must avoid metal detectors and microwave ovens (“There’s been the bizarre spectacle of someone turning on the microwave and me running out of the room,” he says), and since he must beware of magnets—used in most guitar amps and speakers—he’s permanently excused from sitting in the back of the van with the equipment. Sex is allowed. “The only thing is, if I do get defibbed, my partner could receive an unintended shock,” he says.

“I’m a cyborg for the rest of my natural life,” Lazar says matter-of-factly. “I guess I used to think of death as ‘sweet relief.’ You know, that whole abstract, romanticized goth idea. Now I know that’s horseshit. Death is straight-up annihilation, nothing else. It is truly ceasing to exist.” He takes a drag off a self-rolled cigarette. “For me, now, life, living, has become simultaneously more desperate and base but more beautiful.”

On a recent Saturday night in Williamsburg, scores of skinny-jeaned, artfully disheveled young souls are packed into the Union Pool, where the Giraffes are nearing the end of their set. Lazar, his black dress shirt unbuttoned to midchest, wields a fifth of Jameson as Paris begins the swaggering guitar riff of “Sugarbomb.” A girl screams, a beer can soars, and Lazar leans into the sex-as-ballistics love song.

Three minutes in, the song begins the climb to the tempo that triggered the first onstage defibrillation in rock history. Lazar continues to sing as the beat rises from 150 BPMs to 154 to 160 to 170. He grabs quick breaths, his chest heaving. Another can of beer soars toward the stage, raining foam. The air pulses with flashing lights and noise. Lazar is screaming atop it all in a fevered, raw-throated glossolalia, his dark hair plastered to his forehead, eyes shut tight, his lips curling into a smile.

The Giraffes will play the Knitting Factory on June 18.


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