Postcard: Los Angeles 11/5/2021
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I remember the first time I heard:
A friend and I listened to a lot of music in his parents' basement bar. It was 1979 and, for reasons I don't have time to get into, I'm almost certain they hosted orgies down there.
I'm almost certain they hosted orgies down there.
Anyway. We both liked Blondie and my friend bought Eat to the Beat as soon as it came out. The first song is Dreaming. By the time we got to the brilliant lyric, "He asked me was my pleasure/A movie or a measure," I was so hooked on the drumming that Clem Burke became the second drummer's name I ever learned. (The first was Peter Criss, of course.) I was ten. All I could hear was the drums. It's still all I hear, decades later.
Straight to Hell, The Clash (You can only watch it on YouTube)
I was thirteen, watching Saturday Night Live in my room. I had a glass of Mello Yello - no ice - and a bowl of dry roasted peanuts. I remember because when The Clash played Straight to Hell, everything stopped.
Mick Jones and Paul Simonon pranced around like goofs, but something about the performance mesmerized me. When Joe Strummer put fingers to his head like a gun and breathed out to the count, I almost spilled my drink. The next week I went to the record store and bought Combat Rock. That album led me to London Calling, which is the one I'd take to a desert island.
The only disappointment of that SNL performance, ex post facto, was that drummer Topper Headon had already been kicked out of the band for his heroin addiction. It's probably good I didn't know that at the time.
It was summertime. I was fifteen. I had been out all day and was tired. I was listening to the radio, flipping through a magazine. When Doves Cry came on and my head shot up. What the hell is that?
It wasn't the sparkly guitar intro, the cool lyrics, or the fact that, overall, the song sounded different and it was hard to pinpoint why. (Now I know: there was no bass.) What made me stare at the radio was the grunty, guttural exclamation right after the opening riffs. And then the harmonizing during the chorus - in that same low, vibrating tone.
I had a glass of Mello Yello - no ice - and a bowl of dry roasted peanuts.
The song was brilliant, sweet, and sad. I didn't even know what crying doves were supposed to mean. But it was all the more beautiful because of ugly grunting. Only a genius could pull that off.
In 1985, as a high school junior, I drove a used Pontiac Phoenix (aw yeah). Someone gave me a tape to listen to; I popped it in and heard...magic. Loving Blister in the Sun is a cliché, but the opening notes, the spare and somehow full sound, the brushes on the snare drum, the odd lyrics, and a chorus you could belt out full-throated were miraculous.
A few days later, I gave a girl a ride home. I knew she liked OMD and New Order, but it didn't matter - she was going to listen to the Femmes as we cruised down the freeway. After Blister in the Sun and Kiss Off, she stopped the tape and said, "I can't see you listening to music like this." I couldn't tell if she was insulting me or complimenting me.
In the fall of 1985 - around the time I was processing the virtuosity of Violent Femmes - a friend and I went to William and Mary for a...[clears throat] "college visit." It was his girlfriend's first year there, and she had lots of new friends.
We arrived on a Thursday night. Cut to the pre-party. I'm in a dorm room full of women two years older than me drinking peach schnapps and beer. As one might imagine, I didn't want to go anywhere else - but eventually we shuffled over to an enormous fraternity house. Kegs lined the backyard. Tables were covered in liquor bottles, mixers, and towers of red cups.
We wandered inside. The women from the dorm started flirting with random guys, with my friend and me, and - thank you, kind and benevolent Jesus - with each other. The pulsating music was infectious. The women undulated, arms raised, hips rotating in glorious waves. I didn't need any more visits. I was ready to go to college immediately.
Then Situation came on. The catchy melody started warbling - you know the one - and suddenly the floor compacted. People melded personal space and more dancers crowded the floor. Two women wrapped themselves around me, and each other, and throbbed their way through the song.
The women undulated, arms raised, hips rotating in glorious waves. I didn't need any more visits. I was ready to go to college immediately.
The moment was so infectious that once I understood the chorus, I wanted to belt it out at the top of my lungs: "Move out...Move out..."
Thankfully, a voice in my head took charge. You and two women are a gyrating pretzel," it said. Everywhere you put your hand, there's a boob. Important body parts are grinding against your thighs. These lovely women are breathing in your ear. How about not singing a song you don't know? How about not signing at all? Focus on the vastly more important things demanding your attention.
And for the rest of the night, I didn't sing a damn word.
Come Friday morning, we did not speak to admissions officers, audit classes, or see the library. It was the first time I ever drank chamomile tea, though. The woman whose bed I woke up in - I just crashed there, nothing more - told me it was good for hangovers. She was categorically wrong.
Shows I've loved over the past few years:
- Toots & The Maytals. Toots was a legend, and in 2013 he still had the pipes. May he rest in peace.
- Warren Haynes. The guests! The musicianship! At the Ryman!
- Gogol Bordello. They grab you by the entrails and let go when they're good and goddamn ready.
- Elton John. Big, beautiful, and the tightest performance I've ever heard.
- Team Dresch and Bikini Kill. I saw them at the UJZ Kornstrasse in Hannover in March of 1996. I loved them both, but Team Dresch's set was just...phenomenal. Their drummer, Melissa York, killed it.
Particularly JS Bach, of course. Also Telemann, Corelli, Albinoni, and Rameau.
She stopped the tape and said, "I can't see you listening to music like this." I couldn't tell if she was insulting me or complimenting me.
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Eat Pray Love 6/10/2021
Voyage au Brésil 5/16/2021
Postcard: Lake Tahoe 4/30/2021
Baedeker's United States 4/5/2021
To Shake the Sleeping Self 3/7/2021
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