King Park

Design by Anasthasia Shilov

I don’t make playlists. I don’t see the point of listening to that many songs at once. I really only need three or four songs at a time, five or six, max, dozens of times a day, hundreds of times a week; usually for one week only, then I move to the next four. The result is that I form very strong associations between specific songs and specific times. Any song can transport me, purely, as if through polished glass, to the night after a particular call home to my mother, to the particular book I was reading that evening, to a particular relationship or its particular breakup.

“King Park,” the ninth track on La Dispute’s 2011 album Wildfire, is unanchored in time. I discovered it in the early months of 2021 while I was locked away in my dorm at the height of the second wave of the pandemic. I have no such association between that time and this song, however, because I’ve listened to it several times a week, every week, ever since. I return to La Dispute so often mostly because their lead singer, Jordan Dreyer, is a poet (quite literally—before joining the band, Dreyer had never written music, only poetry, and short fiction). In the sea of shitty, heartfelt zine-worthy verse that makes up 2010s post-hardcore lyrics, Dreyer’s writing reminds you what lyric could be. His material is the same as everyone else’s: heartbreak, grief, death, loneliness, sex, embodiment, memory, cancer, and broken families, but unlike everyone else, he’s got the poetic chops to back it up. And La Dispute—more than any post-rock band I’ve come across—really feels like a band; the members actually talk to each other; no matter how polished, their music always feels like it’s played live. But among their songs, I return to King Park simply because it’s the most fucked up song I’ve ever heard.

King Park is about a murder-suicide. The murder: a drive-by shooting, a stray bullet fired across a public park meant for a rival gang member hits a young boy in the chest instead. He died within minutes. The suicide, four days later: the cops cornered the shooter in a hotel room nearby. The shooter, rather than allow the cops to arrest him, the shooter turned the murder weapon on himself. 

Like every song in the album Wildfire, the story is true. The real shooting occurred around 4 p.m. on September 26th, 2008, at the intersection of Fuller St. and Franklin Ave. near King Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The shooter, Kyle Keenan, was 20; the victim, David Witherspoon, was 16. Kyle died by suicide on September 30th, 2008. [1])

I want to capture it accurately

I want to know what the color of the blood was

Spilling out from the tarp onto the concrete

I want to write it all down so I can always remember

If you could see it up close how could you ever forget?

How senseless death, how precious life

I want to be there when the bullet hit

King Park’s singer is a ghost. They can pass through walls, through doors, through memories, through time and space. Their movement is always physicalized: they “disintegrate, become invisible;” they “float behind police lines, reconstruct the scene in fragments of memories;” when the shooter locks himself in the hotel room, the singer “floated up through the window of a room to the West.” A kind of physical embodiment of free indirect voice itself, the singer moves from character to character, possessing the mother of the child, narrating the funeral, possessing the shooter’s uncle, until finally possessing the shooter himself.

The only character who is properly given any internality by the singer is the shooter. For this reason, I have always understood King Park’s ghost and the shooter as one and the same, the shooter freshly deceased, the entire song occurring in the seconds after his death as his spirit is leashed from his body to fly away from the hotel, free, unbound by time and space. In his death, the shooter sees everything. His freedom forces him to reckon with the grief, pain, suffering, terror, and cruelty he has wrought upon his community. He travels around the town, dissociating completely from his dying body. Only at the moment of his death does his consciousness return to him—in the song’s final paralyzing hook, the singer and the shooter speak as one:

I hovered out to the hallway, tried to listen in

I heard them trying to reason, get him to open the door

His uncle begging and pleading, half-collapsed to the floor

He preached of hope and forgiveness

Said, “There is always a chance to rectify what you’ve taken, 

make your peace in the world”

I thought to slip through the door, I could’ve entered the room

Felt like the world was collapsing then we heard him speak:

Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?

Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?

Can I ever be forgiven cause I killed that kid?

It was an accident, I swear it wasn’t meant for him

And if I turn it on me, if I even it out

Can I still get in or will they send me to hell?

Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?

I left the hotel behind, don’t want to know how it ends

King Park ends and begins in the same place—it ends with a ghost leaving the hotel, and it begins with a ghost traveling backwards in time (“And I travel backwards through time and space…I want to see it all first-hand this time / I want to know what it felt like”). The shooter, in his guilt, is trapped in a kind of infinite loop. Every time I press play on the song, the story begins again, and every time the song ends, it is brought back to its beginning. Every time I press play, the shooter, animated once again through Jordan Dreyer’s raking, wilting voice, is forced to relive his death again, his guilt, his grief, his cruelty, his cry for a dark mercy. His death invites a writer’s ghost, invites a quivering band. He is trapped. But still, I keep listening.

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