The first time I heard this song, I cried. It was simultaneously a confirmation that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts and feelings, and a condemnation of them. But that’s youth, right? In our modern society? I read in a book that we are programmed to fall in love with one person in our village of 300 people. And now that hard wired biological programming is totally going haywire in this modern world where we meet our one in 300 every couple of weeks. But we’ve evolved and adapted as a society, I suppose. I used to think it was a curse and now I think it’s good old fashioned common courtesy, like the British and holding the door. After you, my dear Alphonse. It took me another 20 years to learn that. 

1993. Later that summer, Matt Johnson brought The The to Boston, and since Dusk was such a big “hit” in that town he played Great Woods. The show started with this song, the audience did their part. It was glorious and wonderful. Every time I hear it, it still sends chills down my spine. 

Matt Johnson was such an incredibly lyricist. I’d give anything for one more The The album. There was a book launch party for the new History of 4AD, and Matt’s in the photos from the party, looking like Matt. 

(Source: Spotify)

1996. I would sit in front of my souped-up, top-of-the-line, $20,000 Power Macintosh 8100, loaded up with as much RAM as you can possibly take. I’d fire up Adobe AfterEffects 3.0. I’d import pictures I found on UseNet, and pile them into layers. I’d add a shit ton of effects. I’d lay them out on a timeline. I’d hit render, and go home for the weekend. 

72 hours later I had a gorgeous 320-pixel wide little music video, made of stills. It was like magic. Grade schoolers crank these out in minutes now on small devices they hold in their hand.

Every time I hear this song I picture swirling over-processed, pixelated images of Julie Delpy and Edward Gorey drawings. It really could have been the actual music video. 

I  miss this band. I know they’re still around, and I still buy their records, but Methadrone was the jam. When you watch Digg! and everyone goes on about how this band was the perfect blend of space rock and 60’s and you watch the scenes in the movie and you think “What?” This was the album they were referring to. 

Have a good holiday, everyone. 

(Source: Spotify)

I actually just posted the flyer for this show in my big day of retro scanning on Sunday, but since it’s April 3, and I’ve been meaning to kick “Music from my past” back into high gear, it’s impossible not to mention the Galaxie 500 and Cocteau Twins show at my college, Boston University, on this day 22 years ago. 

Weirdly, Galaxie 500 were one of the reasons I moved to Boston. “That town has Pixies, and Galaxie 500” my logic went. “It must be a good town.” I didn’t really know anything about the Boston music scene otherwise, but I figured that any town that spawned both of those bands had to be all right. And since Stanford had rejected me, I was pretty sure Boston was going to be where it was at. I’d gotten into several colleges there, and figured Galaxie 500 was reason enough to head there. That and it was as far away from Alaska as any college I had considered going to save for maybe UVA, but that was an architecture scholarship, and by that point I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be an architect. This lead to many awkward discussions with UVA and University of Chicago. It’s weird. I wanted so badly to be an architect. I forget about it now, but at one point, I was one of those people, those children, who actually knew what they wanted to do. It went away before I ever went down that path, mainly owing to a career advisor at the University of Chicago telling me what a miserable existence most architects lead, and how little money they made. The odds of me being Frank Gehry or Richard Meier (god I was obsessed with him) were slim. On top of that, five years of school? No thanks. 

So Boston it was. The choice of Boston University was a bit more reckless, mainly financially driven and credit given. I had other options, but not other options I could afford. The cost of living differential to Alaska in the 80’s was huge. It was an expensive place to live, and people did not compensate for it. My mother was a teacher, my father a fire man. They made good money on paper, and they saved, but it was nothing enough to afford even “need blind” admission. BU, on the other hand, rolled out the red carpet. 3 full semesters of AP credit, and $10,000 a year grants. It was hard to say no. 

Especially with Galaxie 500 nearby. 

The thing is, though, for the entire first year I was there, they barely played Boston at all - they were on tour for “On Fire” much of the time, and when they did come to town, it was 21+.

So, nine months after my arrival in Boston, it was magically lucky that not only did Galaxie 500 decide to do an all ages show, but they decided to do it AT MY SCHOOL, and with the COCTEAU TWINS. I would have been ridiculously excited for the Cocteau Twins, too, and I was, though they had already come through town on the Heaven or Las Vegas tour, playing at the Orpheum with Mazzy Star (which was AWESOME). 

I was dating a girl at the time of the show, but she didn’t come. I don’t remember why. So I went with a guy friend. And I did an awful thing. I hooked up with this girl at the show, during “Tugboat.” We were both so excited, and we were singing along, and we caught each other’s eye, and, it all just happened. I was young, didn’t have a handle on sexuality or relationships. I knew it was wrong, and I wrote about it in my journal. My girlfriend read my journal. It was a big mess, my second big, bad breakup in my life. But this time it was completely, unavoidably my fault. That was the first time I felt that feeling as an adult - everything is wrong, everything is fucked up, and though you desperately want to rail against circumstance or society, you know full well it’s actually your fault. And you find the presence of mind to think “okay, stop. look at this, feel this. You did this. You don’t like feeling this way. You did this.” It was a small step on my journey to growing up. Did it magically change me? God no, but it made me change course a little bit. 

It turned out to be Galaxie 500’s last show in Boston ever. According to the liner notes in their box set, I learned that they went up to Maine or New Hampshire the next night (I can’t remember which) and played their last show. I am so grateful that I got to see them before they finished up. 

Back then, I could pretty much remember every day of my life since I was 13. I could tell you exactly what I was doing on that date. Two years later, I was dating a girl who was born on April 3. The day held special significance for me, and for years, I would mark its passing for all of these reasons. Now, I do still notice, some years, when it’s April 3, and mostly I think of listening to Tugboat, on the ice of the Walter Brown Arena, just feet away from the stage, caught up in young emotions, with that girl who I never saw again. 

Happy April 3!  

Tail end of the Repeater tour, 1990. I take a bus - a bus - to Worcester, MA, to see Fugazi play. They’ve always had a thing with playing in Boston and don’t do it awesome. It’s a hard town to find a venue to let you play your $5 concert in. 

On the bus is this gorgeous red head. I recognize her from my school. We ride together on the same bus in silence, I don’t say anything. 

Arrive at the show with my trusty Pentax K-1000. Fugazi is astonishing. First time I saw them. They started with this song. I knew the pre-Repeater “hits” and by that I basically mean “Waiting Room” and “Margin Walker.” I’d been listening to Repeater constantly since it came out. The show is gloriously intense, raw, brutal, the crowd roared like a lion (I miss you, Wesley Willis). Sweat, punks, moshing, it really was glorious. Everything I hoped a show would be when I left Alaska for the big city. Watch this.  

I did my best to snap photos of the band throughout the show. I was in maybe the second row. I had the right film - Tri-X 3600 ISO. But I was bouncing around so much, and they kept the light low. 

The next week at school the gorgeous redhead comes up to me. “I saw you shooting the show. Can I get copies of the pictures?” 

"Of course," I stammer, typical 18 year old shy boy talking to a gorgeous girl he likes. 

I go home, grab the film, hit the darkroom and develop the photos. They’re awful. Really awful. All blurred and not in a quality artistic way. 

There are, however, 3 absolutely perfect, stunning shots of the redhead. 

I’m totally embarrassed by the Fugazi shots. They’re just so bad. I’m now presented with a quandary. I want to talk to her again but the shots are terrible. Two or three times more through the weeks she asks about the photos. I feint like I’m busy. It gets awkward. I don’t know what to do. 

It’s torture. How do I talk to this girl more without admitting the photos are crap. I do the worst thing. I print them out, I find her, I give them to her. “I have the photos!” I say. I had spent maybe 4 hours in the darkroom trying to get one or two of them presentable. She looks at them. They are obviously crap. “Thank you!” she says. 

From then on the photos are never discussed again, but we stay friends. She dates a friend of mine. We eventually date, which causes glorious drama. We eventually move in together, which was even more dramatic and a mess. I mess up, we fight, break up, she moves out, we start dating again, she gives up and moves to St. Louis. We write constantly. We phone. I visit. The first 24 hours are among the happiest in my life at that point, the 2nd are the worst I’ve ever experienced. It takes ten years to fully get over it. I move to Alaska, she eventually calls and apologizes and we strike up a friendship again until she disappears, which is easy to do in those pre-internet days. I lose touch with her for nearly 15 years until I randomly find her working in a hotel in Oslo, Norway when I’m there to do a conference with Malcolm McLaren. She’s a pastry chef. We’re Facebook friends now. Everything is right and civil. 

Writing that one paragraph history while listening to Repeater pretty much felt like the whole relationship. 

(Source: Spotify)

I played early Meat Beat for Emma for the first time this holiday vacation, she was not impressed. Well, in fairness I think she liked it more than the Milltown Brothers or Ned’s Automic Dustbin. I would have thought she would have remembered Ned’s, it was about her time and they were kinda big, but I played “Grey Cell Green” instead of “Kill Your Television,” so that was probably my doing. 

Meat Beat were sorta pigeonholed as an industrial band, but they were really more than that, as we eventually learned with their hit “Helter Skelter.” And boy, you know what? That song really does stand the test of time. But the earlier stuff - Sweatbox, Armed Audio Warfare and Storm the Studio, had a certain rawness to them. You can see their influence on Nine Inch Nails, especially given they were the opening act on NIN’s first US Tour. 

I was into Meat Beat before I got to Boston in 1990, thanks to my friends Davey and Jeremy and Chris up in Fairbanks. But I bought the vinyl to Storm The Studio in Boston, at Tower Records, when I first got there for school. Tower had such an amazing vinyl selection back then. I still get a little wistful thinking of it. It was a SERIOUS vinyl selection, with an amazing assortment of imports, perfectly packaged in their slightly oversized plastic sleeves with adhesive flaps. I’ve swapped most of my vinyl into the newer type sleeves without adhesive. The adhesive can stick to the record sleeve and peel some of the ink. That’s always a bit sad. But whenever I come across an older piece of vinyl that I bought at Tower in the early 90’s that still has the old sleeves, I’m suddenly feeling nostalgic again for my my first days in Boston, my first days in civilization. (this happened a couple weeks ago when I busted out The Spangle Maker 12” by the Cocteau Twins). 

When I got to Boston in 1990, the Prayer tour by the Cure had just wrapped up in support of Disintegration. I remember before I left Alaska I did some mathematical calculations on US sales of Disintegration and how many people, statistically, were likely to be at my new school that liked the Cure. It worked out to something like 40 and I was SO EXCITED.

Of course, my model was completely flawed, not taking into account age, demographics, region, etc. When I got to school there were literally hundreds of kids in Cure t-shirts and it was totally, completely overwhelming. And, of course, even more confusingly they weren’t all depressed, moody kids. They were like any other kids.  

So I went deeper, and into Wax Trax and industrial I went. Things finally looked up when I met my friend Jen Bose, who was wearing a Clock DVA t-shirt when I met her coming off of an elevator. 

Huh now I’m going to have to re-listen to Clock DVA. That’s been a while. 

(Source: Spotify)

SS Coachella musings: Bands through time

Taking a trip on SS Coachella has caused my thoughts to turn, once again, to the different manner in which bands age. Not as individuals, since of course we all age as people, but how they mature, grow and evolve over the decades. I’ve been seeing live music for over 20 years now, and it’s given me the privilege of seeing bands play several shows over their entire careers. There are some bands I’ve seen 15, 20 times now, every year or two for two decades or more: Low, Greg Dulli, Spiritualized, and Mark Kozelek come to mind. Others it’s been less frequent, but over an equally long period of time: The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Verve, New Order.

You’d think I would have thought about bands aging through the years during Pulp, the band Ive been seeing the longest live through the years. But in truth I barely thought about it with them. They’re older as people, they are slightly more likely to play a hit. They don’t have a new album to promote. But their musical style and technique is notable, really, only for the fact that it hasn’t evolved. One wouldn’t go so far as to say they are note-for-note perfectionists, trying to replicate the album. And indeed, one could safely say that their manner of band-aging is probably the most common: keep on doing what you have always done. Try and look the same, try and play the same. Maybe grow a beard, as Jarvis has. Duran Duran is another in this vein. Simon LeBon and Jarvis have aged, and their fashion has evolved slightly, keeping time with the outside trends of the world while nodding to the fashion of their youth. But as bands, they play as they always did, they function as they always have. Of course, with Pulp, their longevity may play a part. I first saw Pulp some 15 years ago, but at that point they had already been a band for over a decade (America, and indeed most of the UK, forgets the many albums Pulp released before their breakout His N Hers). 

But no, it wasn’t Pulp that made me think f this topic on this ocean-faring journey of Rock. Rather it was a newer band, or at least new by my old-man-of-the-sea standards (aside: leave it to me to find the one cruise ship on which I feel old). The Band was Yeasayer. And in truth it was the Juxtaposition of seeing Yeasayer right after the newer-ish Father John Misty. And perhaps we should start there. Father John, is it a person or a band? We are in the PJ Harvey period of his/their career, where music aficionados start to take note of the rather great album and start paying attention, hoping to see the band-person live. And so I found myself, last night, in the Sky lounge, deck 14, SS Coachella. 

(It should be noted, too, that this overgrown party yacht is devoid of internet, or at least internet of a reasonable price. And while I consider myself rather more than well off, the old Alaskan in me finds it unconscionable to pay such exorbitant rates for a digital connection. Or, rather, I find it unconscionable to pay such rates for trivia-satisfying internet connections. Perhaps if I had some pressing work. But as I am on vacation, I have none, and going four days without the internet is part of the charm. The point of this digression is to say that in my normal life, in the 21st century, I would be able to quickly look up and answer definitively, within seconds, whether Father John Misty is a man or a band or both. A man a plan a canal panama. Except we are in Jamaica’s shadow. It’s weird to write without the internet anymore. Recently a novelist I rather like, who I cannot remember right now and, again, cannot look up, said that Wikipedia was the novelist’s best friend. Worth millions in research dollars and thousands of hours. How right he (Nicholson Baker? Franzen? No, I do not especially love Franzen. But that is a confession for another time) was.)

So Father John (let us toss aside the stubborn unknown number of Father Johns and work in the singular) comes on stage with his band, all-pro, sound checking and ridiculously handsome. Right here, before Father John begins his set, there are a few things that strike me. 

First, Father John is not alone. We have alluded to this, of course, but its significance has not yet been made clear in the context of this essay supposedly about aging bands. For this is a big deal. Father John Misty. I was “hipped to”* Father John by my friend Kenji, earlier this year. He was raving about the album. It was not out yet. He gave me an illicit copy. I loved it. It sat in this realm between early Devendra Banhart and Fleet Foxes. It was enigmatic and well crafted and one of those albums that come from some new talent that you cannot believe hasn’t been around before. I had this feeling the first time I saw Connor Oberst play solo acoustic, at the ripe old age of 20. I was in awe. Say what you want about Bright Eyes and the level of bombast they occasionally reached, but that first live moment was transcendent. Connor turned out to actually be one of those amazing new talents that came out of nowhere, so that makes the moment even more special in my mind. Father John, if I recall correctly some of my mid-spring research, (remember, again, internetless, and we have pretty much completely outsourced our memory to the internet by now, haven’t we?) had actually done some stuff before. If I recall correctly Father John is more in the vein of Francis and the Lights and that band my friend Rob loved. G Love and Special Sauce? No, that’s Rosey’s ex. Gary Glitter? No, that’s the pedophile. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Imagine my disappointment when I learned they were some of the dudes from Imarobot. Weird. 

But ere last spring, Father John, to me, was still of immense interest and mystery.  Was he a new Devendra or Conner Oberst? Or was he a Fleet Foxes or Grand Archives? I began to suspect the latter as my email box pinged me of Sub Pop’s promotional efforts on his behalf, but I wanted the mystery to remain. I probably could have looked him on on that handy internet I miss so much at this moment, but I never did. Rather I went to SXSW and hoped to spot him in the wild. He did a few shows there, but as it is with South By, I never got a chance to see him. So last night, on this boat, was my first chance. 

I should pause here for a moment and talk about Devendra Banhart and Iron and Wine, specifically, but the trend of those two more generally, including, perhaps, the likes of Cat Power, Conner Oberst and the grandfather of this trend, Leonard Cohen. What is is within the immensely talented artist who makes some of the most beautiful, haunting, wonderful music with little more than vocal chords, wood and wire that compels them, upon commercial success, to hire something like 15 musicians to accompany them on stage? I have never understood this. The first time I saw Devendra, opening for my sister’s band in a church in Allston, Massachusetts at the close of the last century, he was an artistic force to behold. All charisma and court jester and Charles Manson and the Beatles rolled into one. The last time I saw him, in the desert sun of Indio in a tent at Coachella, he was a ramshackle farce of Robin Hood’s merry pranksters scarcely differentiated in any major way from every other drum circle in the campgrounds beyond the fence. So, too, with Bright Eyes, whereas the last time I saw them Connor had apparently decided to enlist the aid of 10 of his friends and every cute girl from that midwestern town where Saddle Creek resides (Norman? Lawrence? Curse you internetless ship). I’ve often wondered what lies within these talented artists that make them need to cover up their amazing artistic talent with a bunch of gawdawful noise. And this isn’t me being old or austere - I’m a sucker for  symphonic rock and large bands. When a person I meet out in the real world what kind of music I like, and I need to answer quickly without using musical touchstones they do not know, I usually say “oh, you know, 13 member Scottish noise bands playing symphonies in feedback.” Alas, such a band does not exist to my knowledge, but it gets the point across. I love A Silver Mt. Zion and Arcade Fire. It is not the largeness of these songwriter’s new bands that irks me. It is the newly accompanying loss of direction. Maybe it works for A Silver Mt Zion and Arcade Fire because they’e Canadian. Maybe that’s why Leonard Cohen is still okay even when he has is unneeded 10 piece band. Ha ha. That was a joke. More seriously, I believe it’s a different artistic muscle, making a great, simple, pure folk song and making an alt rock symphony. This is probably the secret truth that keeps Win Butler up at night, knowing it will hinder his dream of being the next Springsteen. 

In any case, when Father John got up on stage with this group of dashing men, this was going through my head. I quickly counted them. There were only 4 others. This was an encouraging sign. Suddenly I found my brain immediately flip flopping. Earlier, I had hoped that Father John would be the next incarnation of Devendra of Connor, an enigmatic, haunting soloist whose purpose in life was to fulfill the destiny of Jackson Frank and convert our raving, Max Martin-and-hip-hop-mad world back to its artistic inner roots. This is, of course, a perilous journey, and few succeed. But Dylan and Springsteen are getting on in years and while they are doing what they can to keep at it until they drop, the need for fresh reinforcements is getting dire. Lately, I’ve found, most fall by the wayside in the Devendra/Oberst model, rather than the flat out madness of the Jackson Frank model.** Seeing all those band members on stage made me worry that Father John didn’t have the fortitude, and the best we could hope for is that he was a new, better Fleet Foxes. I found myself suddenly fervently hoping for this lesser but still rather positive outcome. 

The second thing I noticed about Father John, even before the band started, was that he was insanely, ridiculously handsome. Just stupidly so. And in a very specific way. Long 70’s rock hair and beard, and that same loose-fitting pale blue/periwinkle button down shirt they all wear, with the sleeves halfway rolled up and two buttons unbuttoned. You know the one. As my fiancée commented out loud, “he’s hot,” she also mentioned Stillwater, the band from Almost Famous. 

And that was it. “If you put the dude from Stillwater, this guy, the dude from Yeasayer and that hot guy in Miike Snow all in a row, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. They all are even wearing the same shirt.” I said to her, fascinated. 

“Totally.” 

Before we move on in our essay from Father John, I will say that they were pretty damn good, his banter wasn’t quite reaching the level of the masters such as Jarvis Cocker, Tom Waits and the guy from the Dirty Three, but he is obviously a man of thought and intelligence. There is hope for Father John yet. Don’t give up the ship, Father John, Springsteen’s mantle awaits those brave enough to stay the course. 

So here we come to our first point, for Father John did, actually, look exactly like the picture of the lead singer of Yeasayer in my mind’s eye from the first time I saw them, at La Zone Rosa, March of some past year, I’m gonna say 2007 or so. Nonternet.  It was uncanny. And yet, and yet. 

And yet, as Father John finished we all shuffled down 10 decks from Deck 14 to Deck 4 to the Silhouette Theater, a two-story ornate theater in the front prow of this floating pleasure palace to see Yeasayer. I’ve seen Yeasayer four or five times across the six or seven years they’ve been a band. Made a point to see them at least once per album, etc. They are a band I like to keep tabs on. I’m not sure, exactly, why. As we waited for the show to start Emma and I were having a rather entertaining discussion about the merits of bridges in songs and our preference for or against them, and the verse-chorus-bridge structure. We brought the conversation around to Yeasayer specifically and I said that was one of the things I liked about them: they messed with traditional verse-chorus-bridge structures but stayed near them. That they sort of dabbled in that art of combining two songs into one in an interesting way that keeps you intrigued and when it works it’s wonderful (The Beatles in their later years were great at this but I’ve always found the best example to be Haunted When the Minutes Drag by Love and Rockets). 

And then Yeasayer walked on stage and imagine my surprise when their lead singer had short hair! He had the alt frat do! I was already in shock after seeing !!! earlier in the day and realizing they had all cut their hair, but now! Yeasayer too? For indeed, nearly everyone in the band had cut their hair (except the drummer. Bless you. I’ve always loved your hair). WTF! 

The show progressed. The theater was full. This boat is generally filled mainly with two broad groups (though ample exceptions abound): the rock-industry-as-lifers, all tattoos, smoking, and hangovers as badges of honor to get through with Mimosas and porkpie hats, and the modern alt frat boy, Jack Johnson and Ween lover who would do a bit of a hippie ranking-roger-drunken-rock-with-yeah-dude-fist-in-the-air dance even to a Tori Amos show if it had a beat (and indeed, that actually happened, later in the evening, albeit with all-female dance shoegazers Warpaint). The latter of these two crowds seem to like Yeasayer because they do have a beat, albeit a complex one that makes it a little hard to dance to when drunk, but they are, I have no doubt, pretty awesome when they’re stoned. 

Yeasayer seem like a smart band. I can only imagine what the toll of touring to people like that must be for them. And look, no I don’t have a problem with having a good time or getting drunk or stoned or rocking out. I’m more projecting here onto the band. Because this is their job. This is their work. They have to do it, every day, and they have to look like their having fun. And you know what? I like to drink and have a good time like the rest of them but I have no doubt that if I were sitting at my desk trying to do some work and some shirtless drunk guy with a fake snake tooth necklace made from hemp and plastic came over and was like “hey dood do you smoke?” I’d get irked.    And is this, I wondered, why the lead singer of Yeasayer cut his hair? To put a subconscious boundary between him and his fan base? 

No, it didn’t seem right. Perhaps it was more something about being on the forefront of some zeitgeist. Because Yeasayer are, really, pretty monstrously talented and unique and really do a good job at capturing the cultural moment. Thinking about this combined with the earlier realization about !!! cutting their hair and the fact that just an hour before I commented that Miike Snow’s lead singer (another solo/band mystery but I’m fairly confident I got this one even with nonternet) and Father John looked just like him. Perhaps the lead singer of Yeasayer (robbed of a first name by nonternet), realized this too and was like ‘fuck this shit, I am having my beard, cutting off all my hair and hanging up my pale blue/periwinkle button-down shirt with two buttons unbuttoned and the sleeves half rolled up. Yes, it will mean that i look even more like my fan base, with whom I have a love-hate relationship, but that will be okay. I will just never purchase or wear a snake tooth necklace made of hemp and plastic. At least not while performing live.”

And it was here I thought of a third alternative. And I have already alluded to it: that of Ween. 

For this we need to go back to 1992. Boston. I think. I can’t remember exactly. Nonternet. It was in college. I was living with a guy named Mark. He wasn’t a stoner, but he had a stoner’s sense of humor and a mild sympathy towards them. More relevantly to the immediate story (the stoner comment was mere foreshadowing), he was from a town near New Hope, PA. There was a new band from there that he really liked. They were called Ween. He dragged me to see them at the Middle East. Upstairs. I don’t even think there was a downstairs yet. Ween were performing for an album called God Ween Satan: The Oneness. They were hilarious. Brilliant. Musical prodigies effortlessly playing in any style that struck their fancy. Brilliant banter (oh, they were among the banter greats in those days). One hell of an entertaining show. We bought the album from the band, and not much later found an amazing video tape of videos from the label Shimmy Disc, their record label. On the tape featured two or three “videos” of Ween, which were basically home movies of them getting stoned in Jamaica with their producer/label owner, Kramer. They were, are, hilarious. I should dig them up. I recently had them digitized. Mental note. Not long after, The Pod came out, we saw them a few more times. Many more. Maybe 5 or 6 times total in that period, including a show of note near their home town in that famous club in that town near them that I can’t remember anymore. Not Maxwell’s. Though we saw them there too. It had a balcony. They filmed the video for the first single from their new, upcoming album there. Mark and I are briefly in the video. 

The album was called Chocolate and Cheese, and the song was called “Push the Little Daisies.” It was an inexplicable hit. Ween became huge. The band you least thought would be huge, did. Now, in hindsight, it totally makes sense. This SS Coachella crowd (I am writing this as I survey their daily 18 hour long pool party, a surprising number of the girls in bikinis have bruises on their legs here in day four) must have existed even then, and they would love Ween now, and they would have loved them then. 

I kept going to see Ween for a while after that, saw maybe 20 shows or so in the early days. I particularly loved the country album and shows. Those were great. Way more fun then back when they played just the two of them with a DAT (god, those guys would have LOVED having an iPOD in those days - they were always rewinding, changing DATs to find the song the audience had just requested). 

But eventually, I stopped going to their shows. No reason, really. I still liked them. Nothing to do with them getting big. In honesty, it was probably because Mark, and my other Ween-fan friends, Hugh and Mike, had all moved away and I had no one to go with. 

Until about 2004 or so when my girlfriend at the time turned out to be a Ween fan (it did not figure in our initial courtship, I assure you). Quebec was coming out, and she wanted to go see them. So we did. At Avalon. Or House of Blues. Or whatever it was called then. Nonternet. I’m gonna go with Avalon. 

The scene was totally different. The Dead had broken up (yegads, I date myself) and Phish were on haitus, apparently. I don’t really know much about that scene (though yes, I have seen the Dead, Phish and even Max Creek), but I was basically informed of this fact by a Ween fan out back when I was smoking (a cigarette). But I get ahead of myself. Band first. 

Gene Ween had always been a pudgy guy. Built a little like me. Big belly, sorta fun seeming, jolly, not exactly the kind of guy you thought was hot, but you liked him, because he was talented and funny. Now, here in 2004, as they went into the song I liked best on Quebec, Alcan, I took stock of him. He had easily lost 50 pounds, perhaps more. His hair was shaved. He looked like a totally different guy. The difference was staggering. Dean Ween looked the same, but Gene? No idea what had happened. 

My conversations out back should have been a hint. I got to talking to a kid who asked me how many times I’d seen Ween. “Twenty or thirty” I said, kind of confused why he asked. 

“Woah. That’s crazy. Did you see ‘em last week in Jersey?”

“Oh god no. No I don’t think I’ve seen them in like five years.”

“Wait. what? You’ve seen Ween 20 times but not recently? When did you first see them?”

“God Ween Satan? I dunno. I used to go all the time. I haven’t been in a while.” 

If you’re a Ween fan, this exchange probably looks like bragging, and I do confess that as I age, I do occasionally throw out bands I’ve seen to look cool, but i assure you, this was not was not my intention during this conversation. Indeed, the conversation had me generally perplexed. Why was this a big deal?

I eventually learned from this kid (he was 21) that Ween’s entire scene had changed. The kid used to follow Phish, and when they took a hiatus some friends of his suggested they started following Ween around. Lots of people did. He started pointing out people in the smoking area out back, saying “that guy and that guy. They used to go to Phish shows.” etc. He had some term for Phish followers. I don’t remember it. If you know, you know. 

I looked around. It suddenly all made sense. Ween’s entire fan base had changed. And Ween had correspondingly changed. 

It was only a couple weeks after that that I read in the paper (ha. It was almost certainly, in that year, NME.com) that Gene Ween had been admitted to rehab for drug abuse. It was all so obvious, in hindsight. 

Bands change with time. Their fan base changes them. Some change very little, some change a lot. Bands that stuck together, that evolve and tour forever change more than bands that reunite, having taken long breaks, though reunions bring their own evolutions. I recently saw Dead Can Dance after a long hiatus and the inner tensions, politics, etc., from the past were still oozing out. The crowd loved Lisa Gerrard, enigmatic, haunting, still beautiful, still with the voice of angels. Brendan Perry still seemed like it drove him crazy, still wished that the audiences’ adoration fell on him principally. Perhaps I am projecting. And in fairness Perry is a highly talented and charismatic artist, he just suffers from standing next to a superhuman being.  

Broken Social Scene have gotten hairier, looser, Kevin Drew’s banter has reached a high art. 

New Order have become much more technically proficient, but are beginning to be weighed down by their history, something that seems antithetical to Bernard Sumner’s whole artistic being. 

Bands have different relationships with their past work. U2 and the Stones and the like, of course, have no shame, play the old hits without any angst, do occasionally make new records, but seem comfortable in the fact that no one buys them, that they are just talismans against which they tour. The setlists reflect that.

Other bands revel in their history. It should be no surprise that The Wedding Present are comfortable with their past, since David Gedge’s lyrics drip with nostalgia as it is. Bauhaus put on a bunch of clothes and play their old parts to pitch perfect perfection, the dissonance only reveals itself when you go see any of them solo.

With the Pixies, Frank Black seems to have settled into a Dick Dale like life of constant alums, touring, and a small but dedicated fan base and seems to have made his peace with the fact that Kim is more popular, even though he rightfully finds it paradoxical given how much of the Pixies‘ sound is owed to each of them in different measure. Kim, herself, has been fascinating to watch through the years, from the first time I saw her, towards the end of the Pixies, clearly unhappy, to the early Breeders years where she was so ridiculously happy and bouncy and freed of all the burdens in her life. You could walk up to her and give her a hug in those days (I did not, no, I am not like that, but friends did), to the most recent Breeder’s reunion, where the banter was hilarious but there was definitely an element of paying the bills. The personal troubles she and Kelly have been through show on their faces. She is the queen mother of the lifer-rocker contingent on this boat. The retinue of merch girls, sound technicians, tour managers, label owners and session musicians. The life I so desperately wanted for so long and so luckily fell out of through circumstances beyond my ken, to which I owe my life today, and my blissful dearth of tattoos. 

So, what, then, of Dylan? You may have gone and seen him on the never-ending tour. I did. The first time was not long after Time out of Mind. My friend David, a musician himself, loved that record, and got me into it. For I had given up on new Dylan records. He was right, though, it was good, and so we went to see him, at the Paradise. At was completely confusing for me, took me years to really grasp it. He didn’t play the hits, and when he did, you barely recognized them. It rambled. His lyrics were, it would be fair to say, incomprehensible. Yet I was completely intrigued, and now, I think, I get it, after years of thinking about it, reading about it, going to see it once or twice more. His whole life is an art, he’s taking live music to places it’s never been. Not like space rock or experimental “places it’s never been” but rather through the endless, nonstop reworking and reinterpretation of his songs. It’s been said that his band knows thousands of songs, and can immediately launch into any of them with the most subtle sign from Dylan himself that this is where they’re going. 

Who will pick this up? What will happen when he stops? Recently I read about David Bowie’s stopping. I don’t think the world has really cottoned to this fact yet: that Bowie may never tour again. He may never play again. We’ve thought this about people before, and they’ve come back (My Bloody Valentine, Jeff Mangum), but this seems at once more plausible and more devastating. I managed to see Bowie once, and it was great, but now all I can think of is all the times I stupidly skipped him. This is bad enough. How will we react when we realize we can never see Dylan again? I’m still hurting over the end of Johnny Cash: my first show, for the record, and I saw him again, 20 years later, Parkinson’s in full effect with Rick Ross handling most of the guitar duties himself.

Actually, the more I think about it, the boomers are in for some tough reckoning soon as most of their live idols, already playing out for far longer than anyone ever imagined, start to hang up their guitars. 

A strange thing, live rock and time. You can be moved by a live show. You can spend your life chasing after being moved in the same way by the same band again. In rare, beautiful moments, the feeling can be fleetingly recaptured. Yet at the same time, out of the blue, the feeling can be felt by some new band. And then the circle begins anew. You can dedicate your life to it, as the tattooed lot does, huddled by the ashtray, bloody mary in hand at 11 AM. Or not. Either way, it can wrap you up, and give you a new friend for life, even if they do cut their hair when you least expect it, or forever refuse to grow up, even as you do. Sometimes both.  

 

* Insert a whole nother aside about the ironic use of aged vernacular phrases like “hipped to” and the consternation it causes as you age and worry people won’t realize you’re being ironic. For good measure, throw in a third aside on splitting the word “another” and how it really ought to be allowed. 

2 Perhaps I should not be so harsh. Perhaps the 2010’s are their off-period, much like that bad Neil Young dance single, Born in the USA and the Travelling WIlburys. The People’s Key, actually, is a pretty damn fine album. 

I fell in love differently when I was young. It was jealous and obsessive and all consuming and frightened. It was, basically, unanswerable by the fixated-upon party. I fell in love with a girl named Heather once. This song had just come out, and though the song signs about Heather the flower and not Heather the girl, it was relevant at the time. I was dating Heather after dating her best friend, and Heather also had a little bit of a crush on my best friend and main adversary in life, Frank. Typical young adult literature stuff (or is it New Adult now?). I thought that certain lines of the song were so apt: “You don’t have to tell me where you’ve been. It’s bad enough I know you were with him.” Classic David Gedge stuff, though I didn’t know that yet, because I had only just discovered The Wedding Present. The three of us Frank, Heather and I would hang out in groups of twos. My jealousy had already kicked in and so I hated hanging out in threes. I would brood the whole time, while Frank was debonair and witty. I was always so jealous of my friend, already. And I was comically oblivious to the irony that me trying to save a narrative by dating an ex’s friend was far more sad than what my friend was doing by flirting with a girl I happened to be hanging out with. It was all so angsty and teenage.

Teenage summers in Alaska are basically spent driving around. I would play this song in my car whenever I was driving with either one of them. I would brood and mood and not say anything explicit, I would just point to the stereo and silently mouth the words. I would expect them to hear Gedge’s lyrics and intuit everything I knew and felt. It’s horrendously embarrassing to this about it now, but I can’t help but laugh at my pomposity. 

Honestly, the whole summer could have been wonderful if I had just chilled the fuck out. 

My friendship with Frank survived, my friendship with Heather never did. It still stands as one of my great embarrassments just what a child I was to her, and to her friend, my ex. 

But I did get the Wedding Present out of the whole ordeal. When this album came out, and it’s successor, Watusi, I was young and I thought people lived their lives exactly like David Gedge lyrics - friends secretly dating, being in love with the wrong person, pining and jealousy and affairs and whatnot. I lived commensurately, hopelessly influenced by Gedge’s debonair life. 

Now I’ve cleaned up my act, and I still listen to the Wedding Present (and his other band, Cinerama), both old and new. Gedge still sings about the same things, but my relationship with the new albums is different: I see him more as a storytelling troubadour in the Bob Dylan/Tom Waits vein. But when I hear the old stuff, I’m still instantly transported back into that worldview I had when I was younger.  

Last summer David Gedge came around america playing Seamonsters in its entirety for its 20th anniversary. Imagine that. This shit was 20 years ago. The album was still stellar, and I felt every emotion from my college angst all over again. It was heavenly, for about 45 minutes. And that was enough for now. Like filling up your tank of gas. Eventually you have to get back to driving and go somewhere. 

(Source: Spotify)

Saw the Afghan Whigs again last night. I’ve been deathly ill this weekend, sore throat, horrible, painful chest cough, headaches and the works. But I couldn’t go. I haven’t missed a Whigs tour ever, at least back to the “Up In It” tour in 1991 or so. I’ve only missed one Dulli tour - the Amber Headlights one - and I am STILL feeling guilty about it. I skipped them at ATP a few weeks back because I was feeling lethargic, and mildly annoyed with ATP for ruining my weekend on the Jersey shore and moving it to New York where my real life would interfere. Plus, I had already seen the Bowery Ballroom show. The second I skipped it, I regretted it, so when, a few days later, my Whigs fan club email alerted me to a new Music Hall of Williamsburg show, well, I knew I had to go.

I bought the tickets to the show before realizing I was planning on being away this weekend, but then personal life stuff caused me to stay in town. Then I thought “oh, I can go. huh.” Then I got sick. So I wasn’t sure. But i manned up, downed some whiskey, and headed to the Music Hall.

It was worth it. The Whigs are fantastic live these days, and seeing them in a nice mix of booziness, dayquil, mucinex, tons of advil and some chlorphename malleate was awesome.

I was worried they’d play the same set, but they didn’t. Light on stuff from Congregation, my favorite, but they unexpectedly played two songs from Uptown Avondale, their EP right after Congregation. I don’t recall them playing “Band of Gold” or “Come See About Me” even back then, so I was really excited.  

The first Whigs show I ever saw, they got in a fight with one another. The second, they did an encore where the entirety of Teenage Fanclub joined them on stage for the encore, and they all played “What You Do To Me” by the Fanclub and Dulli sang. That was pretty awesome. Pretty much every show has been pure bliss since then. Except the Powder Burns tour in Boston. They kinda phoned that one in. At least I think it was that one. Maybe She Loves You. They get blurry for a bit there.

I’m now actively plotting on figuring out how to go to another one. I’ve got my eye on Nov 3. In Seattle.  

(Source: Spotify)

Saw Mark Kozelek last night. He played “Have You Forgotten.” He also played a song about how much he hates playing old old songs, specifically naming Katy Song, Mistress and Grace Cathedral Park. That was weird. But he played Mistress nonetheless, and Cruiser, and he took requests, and he played “Have you Forgotten.”

I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Mark Kozelek tour in the last 20 years or so. It’s kind of amazing to think about. It’s equally amazing considering that the last 10 years or so have been the same thing - him sitting there, alone, with his spanish guitar, tuning endlessly. I still buy all his albums - all the solo albums, all the sun kil moon albums. There are some great songs. Is it my fault that i just love the RHP albums best? 

My two best memories are the show @ the middle east upstairs - pre Blue Guitar, maybe around the bridge album. After the show, my sister stole the worksheet he had with all his tunings on it. I still have it in a box somewhere. I should dig it out. My sister fell hard for Mark that day, and for years we joked about how he went home that night, and then dated, a friend of mine, and my sister didn’t get to meet him. 

The next memory is the next time he came around, on the Blue Guitar tour, to Mama Kin in Boston. He played Make Like Paper for something approaching 30 minutes. It was just a wonderful, wonderful show. He still had a band back then. I miss Mark Kozelek with a band, what can I say? I miss the songs he doesn’t play anymore - Evil, Summer Dress, 24, Medicine Bottle. I’d like to hear 24 redone for 45. It would probably work. 

I listened to Songs for a Blue Guitar and Ocean Beach today. I always thought I loved the earlier albums (Colorful Hill, Bridge, Rollercoaster), but these two… they were what I needed. They were great.

The last few times I’ve seen Mark solo (@ the Music Hall with Kevin, @ SXSW), I’ve almost fallen asleep, but this time… I don’t know, maybe it was invariably hilarious banter, maybe it was the fact that I had been sitting brain dead at home already, so the show was more of a sensory overload… but I loved it, and it brought me back to youth, to emotion, to being depressed all the time, to being in love every day with someone new. I won’t say I miss it, but it’s nice to reach out and touch those feelings once in a while. 

(Source: Spotify)

This really is one of the greatest songs in the world. In my second-to-last long bout of unemployment, somewhere around mid 2001, I took up the acoustic guitar and decided to start playing covers of goth songs in a country style. This was the first one I did. This song is timeless, it may be the best thing Edward Ka Spel ever wrote in a pop style.

In my secret dream world, songs like this are at Karaoke bars throughout New York, and people know them, and I can sing with my lovely baritone Edward Ka Spel impression  voice and everyone will be amazed and impressed like they are when someone sings in a perfect Rihanna impression voice or raps like Busta Rhymes (I have never actually seen either of those things happen). There would be lots of Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and The National - you’d think the first two of those would exist, but they don’t. Sing Sing DOES have Sisters of Mercy, but it’s a rare night these days when I’m out with anyone who appreciates my Andrew Eldritch impression (my fiancée excepted, bless her heart). 

More concretely, I took Edward Ka Spel to Taco Bell once. It was in 1992 or so. On Commonwealth Avenue. The Pink Dots were playing Axis that night. There was that young canadian dude in the band, too. I can’t remember his name. Not Kevin from Skinny Puppy. The jazzy bassist guy. I wanna say his name is Trey, but i think I am mixing him up with that dude who was in His Name is Alive for a while. He was awesome. Edward was recognized in the Taco Bell, which was pretty hilarious. Cul De Sac opened for the Pink Dots, and it was in that period when they sounded exactly like Can, though not yet playing with Damo Suzuki. The canadian dude from the Pink Dots just broke through it all and kept saying to them over and over “I love Can.” They did not know who he was. Good night all around. 

I had been told that Edward possessed an amazing ability to remember names and never forgot a face. Ten years later or so I was near the front of a Pink Dots show in New York and he looked down and said simply, “Hi Rick.” Impressive. 

But this song - this is the song you listen to when you are trying to get away from an unhealthy obsession. Since you are dealing with obsession anyway, it’s best to listen to the song 10-12 times.  

(Source: Spotify)