Friday, September 28, 2007

Everything Connects To Lincolnshire

Last night I was watching the wonderful Watson Twins sing at the Black Cat in DC, with a couple of black German beers taken at the nearby Saloon pub (the friendliest, beeriest watering hole in the city) swishing through my grateful veins, and generally feeling that if I was born to be enlightened in any way, it was during moments like this.

The twins were acting as more than adequate support to the rock-n-soul-country-blues fusion (a new coverall category for every CD I own) of the equally magnificent Magnolia Electric Company, the only band I like whose genius lead singer-songwriter looks like the kind of bloke who used to stop me outside English rural pubs in the early 1980s and say, “Be you wantin’ a foight?” Jason Molina in his various guises brings out more records than I’ve got time to listen to, the latest being a five-disc genuine wooden box with a free medallion and MEC wallpaper. I haven’t actually played it yet, just fondled it.

Anyway, after the Watson Twins had played I ambled over to buy a t-shirt, and started talking to the twin with the flashing smile, Chandra. She asked me where I was from, and when I said Lincoln, UK, she said, “Oh, that’s near Grantham.” Alarmed that she should even have to know of Grantham’s existence, I asked her how she’d heard of the place. Turns out the Watson Twins once spent a term there on a study exchange. “I think they sent us there so that we wouldn’t have a chance to go crazy or anything.”

She said some kind things about the Lincolnshire countryside, and that she was aware Grantham was the town that had spawned and raised the most destructive, and most hated, British prime minister of the 20th century. Fortunately, I resisted the impulse to ask her if she’d been to watch Grantham Town FC during their Lincolnshire sojourn, thus avoiding the Instant Idiot label I’ve historically found plastered to my brow when talking to attractive women.

This post needs a conclusion. It’s this: I feel certain The Watson Twins were the best thing that ever happened to Grantham. Lack of comments below will serve as confirmation.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"You Haven't Heard of APB? Really?"

I was driving down Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda yesterday, listening to a retro-compilation CD of early 80s Scottish indie-funk boys APB. It was a warm day, so the windows were down. At a red light, a pick-up truck stopped to my right. ‘What Kind Of Girl?’ was blasting out. The bloke in the driver’s seat was staring at me, not in a hostile way, but like he wanted to ask me something.

“What year’s that?” he shouted, pointing vaguely.

“1984, I think,” I shouted back.

He looked baffled, began to mouth something, and pointed again, this time at the car. Then I realised. “Oh, you mean the car?” I said. “Passat, 2003.” He looked relieved, began to talk something auto-technical, I switched off immediately, then the light changed and I sped off (I was running late).

That’s the ridiculous mental world that I live in. I genuinely believe that when someone in a pick-up truck stops next to me, he may have enough knowledge of an obscure early 80s band from Aberdeen to not only recognise one of the songs, but to be genuinely curious about what year their biggest hit came out.

This is the same mentality that has seen me waste much precious life-time making compilation tapes and CDs of music I think other people ought to know better. And that they will come to love that music and thank me for culturally enriching their lives. Occasionally it works, a little, but never as much as I think it’s going to.

If it had been a film, the pick-up truck driver might have been into APB. In scripts, characters are supposed to say things that surprise us and confound our prejudices. In real life, though, it doesn’t happen quite so often. Not that this is something I’ll ever learn.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Standing Still At The National

Concert audiences of my generation stand mostly still. In my teens I would bounce and spit at the front. In my 20s I’d get drunk beforehand, then bounce and ruck somewhere in the middle of a sweaty, heaving mass of leather jacketed indie-boys. In my 30s, I started watching from further back. Now I could just as easily be at the front again, if I politely eased my way forward, because nobody up there at the lip of the stage is moving either. The most mobile people at an indie-concert these days are the bar staff.

Last night at the 9.30 Club in DC, the captivating and richly voiced indie-sextet The National played plenty of mellow songs to sway to gently while contemplating The Great Existential Posers (now there’s a band name, although I tend to contemplate more obscure stuff - last night it was a game of football I played badly in 17 years ago). But there were also more than enough fast and loud numbers to which, at one time in musical history, you might have expected people to shake their heads and wildly move their bodies. And you could tell that some of us still wanted to, as though the mind was willing, but the body wasn’t. Because we’re all in psychological straitjackets.

I can’t speak for all the other inconspicuously leg-jerking but chiefly static pundits, but my own feeling is that it’s unseemly for an Indie-Pop of my age to be throwing himself around at a night club. First, I’d only had one beer because I was driving. Second, if you touch anyone at a concert nowadays, even just brush past them, you feel obliged to apologise. So knocking them over in the thrall of a speedy, thrash-led song is just no longer part of indie-etiquette. People drink, but you never see them drunk. No one caterwauls the lyrics. Instead they sing quietly to themselves.

Although the cheers and applause at the end of every song were loud and spontaneous enough, the crowd behaviour during the songs themselves reminded me of a classical music concert, where the unstinting bourgeois norm has always been to sit rigid and noiseless, internalising any emotion that you might be experiencing at the beauty of the music. A discreet tear at evening’s end may be allowed to modestly display one’s sensibilities.

The live concert used to be an experience you took part in by moving and screaming. Now I feel I might as well buy the requisite technology - massive screen and surround sound technology - and watch the concert DVD at home. With no one there to watch me, I might even dance.