Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger

It’s always a little sad when something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time is over. It’s like a little piece of you has died.

I had been looking forward to this Marah weekend for a long time. There are fans, and then there are Marah fans. They are the best people in the world. And when you have to go home to an empty house and work looms and you are tired and lonely, these are the people you think of to cheer yourself up. They are the people you want to hang out with, the folks who will accept you for who you are no matter what. And in quiet moments, you will remember their faces and smile.

Dave P., the proud poppa-to-be was so happy last night I thought he was going to burst. He has worked so hard for so long and it is gratifying to see everything coming together for him seemingly all at once. I’ve known him for a couple years now, and he is good people. It’s nice to see the world giving him some love in return.

And what can you say about Adam from England? He has spent the last few days sleeping on Dave’s couch. Said couch is not that big, and Adam is a tall drink of water. He gets brownie points just for that in my book. He has amazing songs and a mesmerizing stage presence, and he will go places. I hear he is staying in the U.S. for a while. Good for us.

I can’t get over how amazed I am that my dear friend Christine Smith is now a member of both my favorite bands. I had always seen a synergy between the two, but never dreamed she would be the link. She is the perfect foil, the true musician in Marah, and I can’t imagine them without her now. Her new record is truly dark and sad and beautiful, and I am a bit sad that this lovely, talented person whom I have come to know and love over the last three years is going out into the world and I will have to share her with others. She has come so far in that time that I barely recognize her, and that’s a good thing. I always felt there was something more inside her than what she showed to the world. This record tells us that story.

How to express the intensity with which Dave sings? That force that comes out of his body, the sweat pouring from his face, which turns red with the effort. The smile that says he knows something you don't know, and he isn't telling. The gesture when he raises his hand to acknowledge the audience—often with beer in hand, half toast, half fist pump—always gets me. Yes, I am at a Marah show now.

Kirk plays the trumpet. I have known that for a long time, but we have not been blessed with the dulcet tones much before this weekend. On Friday night, it seemed out of tune with guitar. Last night it was all power and fury and drama. That horn needs to come on the road with them.

And Serge—there are moments when I see him smiling up at Dave with such joy that I want to scream and shout and say, “Yes! This is what life is all about, right here, right now!” It is a smile of pleasure, of admiration, of bliss. We all need moments like that in our lives. Those moments don’t come often. Catch them and hold onto them when they do, because they will pass and your life will go back to the same dull drudgery. But you will have those moments in your mind etched in your memory, and they will get you through. I don’t know how to thank Serge for that smile, but it burns in my brain and keeps me warm when I am cold.

The night ended with Jesse and Tommy T. in the front pumping fists in the air to “History.” Jesse later told me that it was his favorite Marah song. The looks on their faces said it all: joy, transcendence, love. They were totally within themselves, totally in the moment, and yet part of the big beautiful family that is a Marah audience.

There are moments in your life you wish you could capture and put inside a bottle and let them out when you are sad and lonely and life has dealt from the bottom of the deck once again. The moment when Dave is on his knees at the lip of the stage strumming like a madman, completely lost in waves of sound; the moment when Dave P. closes his eyes and smiles from ear to ear and you think his face will crack in two, and he pounds away on the drums like he is powering the whole city of Philadelphia; the moment when Christine smiles her beatific smile shyly, almost to herself, sways back and forth, her tiny hands moving across the keys and filling the air with sound; the moment when you catch Kirk’s eye and he grins that shit-eating grin that tells you he wouldn’t trade being right there right then for anything in the world; that moment when Serge looks over at Dave and Dave looks at Serge and they all look at each other and they are suspended in time and space and music. You wish you could take a picture; you try to record the sounds. But those won’t do. Neither will writing about it later. You had to be there.

And then it is gone and you are driving home and The Faces are echoing in your head. And you feel older and emptier, and the melancholy hits you in waves. The wind gusts through the blue October sky, and winter will be here soon. But you have this night, this memory, and no one can take that from you.

You Can Look

I am the beautiful untouchable.
I am the ball everyone plays with but when the boys and girls
Are called in for dinner I am left out on someone’s lawn in the rain and the cold
Where I lie forgotten in a pile of leaves leaking air, oozing life
Until the next time the children want to play with me and look for me
And find instead an empty, used up shell that falls to pieces when it is touched.

I am the beautiful untouchable.
I am praised and loved and bought drinks and made to feel special
Until two o’clock in the morning when everyone is tipsy and warm and headed home
Together in small groups laughing and embracing and stumbling into the night air
I am the one left behind, walking alone on the sidewalk unsteady and disremembered.

I am the beautiful untouchable,
The Virgin Mary, the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa
The cold and lonely lovely work of art, carved in stone, painted on a canvas
Watch out you can look but you better not touch
I will fall apart in your hands.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Keith Olbermann, Savior of Democracy

Here I thought Keith Olbermann was just another sports bimbo turned talking head on MSNBC. But lo and behold, he has emerged as a latter day Edward R. Murrow. Check out this scathing indictment of the Bush administration's recent anti-terror legislation and see if it doesn't remind you of the CBS great.

The beginning of the end of America indeed. Let's hope somebody was watching.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bookstore Light

Sometimes you get just what you need when you don't know you needed it (previous post). Tonight I got something I needed--and knew I was going to get it all along.

This band Marah does that to you. Doesn't matter how pissed off you are, how fucked up your life is, what kind of a hellish day you've had. Doesn't matter how drunk you are and what a fool you are making of yourself. Doesn't matter if you don't know all the words, or if this is your first show or your hundred and first. This band will lift you out of your own personal shit into another place; they will make you forget about whatever it is that's bothering you, pull you out of your head and back into the world, and will make that world a place that's beautiful and messed up and profoundly moving and downright silly and it will all be all right.

Tonight they were just back from a show in Germany and going on pure adrenaline. Sleep deprivation can be disastrous, but it can also be cleansing. There is no room for overthinking when you're exhausted; you go on heart and talent alone. And that's really what rock'n'roll is all about anyway, so in a sense it's the best way to be. Tonight they were alternately focused and shambling, intense and loose, heartbreakingly sad and outrageously funny. They are brothers, and so they know each other's weaknesses and are able to poke and prod and needle each other in uniquely destructive fashion. It's hilarious onstage but the words are often true, the complaints ancient and ongoing. But no matter; in fuzzy sweaters to ward off the suddenly winterish air, with a couple of swigs of beer and a buzzing amp, they make the night their own. And you are there, and you are a part of this big family that is so warm and welcoming that you just don't want to leave, you wish it really were your family, that your real family understood you the way these guys do.

It's dark in the bookstore where the show is taking place; the three of them sit in a row, and the shadows and candlelight create a ghostly vibe but in an odd way sort of highlight everything; the way their faces keep shifting in and out of the light somehow makes it seem like you are watching a play, makes you pay attention. But how could you not? These are extraordinarily talented people having an extraordinarily good time, and you are fortunate to share it with them. I wish I could tell you how beautiful their faces looked while they were singing, explain the perfection of missed notes and guitars that won't stay in tune.

But it's late and I'm tired, and what stays with me tonight more than anything else is this--on a night when I felt like shit about myself--about the world--these guys made everything all right again. And for that I thank them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

No Future

It's Sunday night in Red Bank, and somewhere north of here about an hour or so, it's closing night at CBGB's. Not everyone can be there; most of us who think that they want to probably shouldn't be anyway. Tonight is reserved for those who made the place what it was--those who created it. (Or at least those of them who are still alive.) I had though about going, but decided against it, partially because I'm not really a big Patti Smith fan. But mostly because it was not ever my place. I had only spent a couple evenings there, and both were in the last year or two. I would've felt like an imposter if I had gone there tonight. It wasn't my night; I didn't belong there. So I stayed in Red Bank and sat in on a trio set by Maybe Pete at a very trendy and swank bar called, oddly, Red. This town is full of such upscale hangouts; there are expensive looking black tables lit with small candles, and very low chairs (what is it about these places with the low furniture--does being closer to the floor signify hipness?).

Onstage, lead singer Frankie dedicates his song "This Town" to the lost souls who had found home at CBGB's over the years, and to Lenny Kaye doing the robot (ok, inside joke). And I smile and nod.

But it was never my place. So though the music fan in me is sad, I am not heartbroken the way I will be when the places I have known in Asbury Park are gone. (I know this because it has already happened to those places I loved in my hometown of Washington DC.) When they go, that's my youth disappearing right there. And that's a strange thing to experience. But it really doesn't happen all at once; it happens little by little, eroding slowly so you don't notice. So enjoy these things now while they're still there--get out and see those bands and drink that beer until you're drunk, and scream and shout and dance like an idiot. Because one day, you'll just wake up and it'll be gone. And then it will be too late.

In a sense, CBGB--the real place--was dead a long time ago. The things that made it what it was--the bands and their fans that made it their home--are long since gone. So last night was really just a formality. But everything has its time and place; nothing lasts forever, and that's as it should be.

So R.I.P. CBGB's, and long live rock'n'roll.

Onstage at Red, Maybe Pete rock into "Just My Imagination," and for now, the future is here in Red Bank.