Forget everything I said about never attending a rock show again, even though I said all of that stuff exactly one day ago. Thanks to a very kind favor from my pal, Bob, I will be attending The Feelies reunion show in New York City on July 4th. They will be there supporting Sonic Youth, a band I am told are “no Hooters, but pretty OK regardless.”
It is not often your fourth favorite band reunites for a handful of shows that happen to take place in your city of residence, so I am (understandably, if disproportionately) excited. So excited, in fact, I nearly sabotaged a valuable first encounter with my potential wedding cake baker this morning. At 11:59 a.m., without so much as a “pardon me one moment while I behave like a crushed-out girl,” I compulsively whipped out my laptop in the middle of the meeting. This is because my brainâ€”and an email, and an ical alert on both my computer and my iPodâ€”reminded me that Feelies tickets would be available at noon. It was as if my tiny rabbit brain just started screaming “GETFEELIESTICKETSNOWORYOUWILLNEVERBEHAPPYAGAIN” and I forgot where I was for a moment.
Just like that, I was in my own ADD-constructed Fortress of Solitude, oblivious to the fact that I was sitting across the table from a very nice person who had been feeding me delicious cupcakes for the last hour, and seated next to a very mortified fiancee who might have been thinking, “How would I feel if I had a child who grew up to be exactly like Todd?” I was a dog with a bone. Had to have tickets. HAD TO HAVE THEM.
Thankfully, while I was frantically mashing the refresh button on my browser and failing to get reservations, Bob was at his computer, calmly succeeding. So I’ve got that going for me.
Allow me to catch my breath for a moment and explain. (Pretend I’m catching my breath now, instead of just continuing to type. Isn’t that a great literary device, though? “I shall be right back. Oh look, I’m back again! Thanks for joining me on this delightful journey of make-believe time lapse.”) I shuffled through my teens in unlaced Pony high-tops during the sad, pathetic and dark days before the Internet. This primitive existence placed some notable limitations on life, particularly the life of an adolescent. For instance, if one wanted to see pornography, there were only four options, and all of them were dodgy. You could: 1) Hope your father was enough of a pervert to keep a small, well-curated stash of adult magazines in the bottom drawer of his dresser, beneath a pile of cardigans and turtleneck dickies (thanks, dad); 2) Find a wet, rain-damaged issue of Oui underneath the bleachers at the little league field; 3) Visit your local convenient store and try to surreptitiously flip through the Vanessa Williams issue of Penthouse before the store manager hit you with his belt; or 3) Make your own. (thanks again, dad.)
Less significant, but certainly no less frustrating–without the benefits of the Internet, unless you grew up in a “cool” city (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Schenectady, Vespin) it was difficult to scratch that “outsider” itch you sometimes felt if you were the kind of teenager who didn’t care deeply about the outcome of the homecoming football game, argyle sweaters, or classic rock radio. As such, any exposure to interesting music was strictly a word-of-mouth experience, or something passed down from cooler siblings. I have an older sibling, but in the mid-’80s my sister listened to Rick Springfield and had a Quiet Riot poster hanging above her canopy bed so she was not much help. (She was also fond of pointing out that owning an album by the band Yaz made me a “faggot.” We get along much better these days, thank you.)
Fortunately, one of my high school friends had older brothers and his older brothers had friends with cars and those cars could be used to drive to proper record stores, where real music was made available for purchase. (The rest of us who were too young to drive had no choice but to shop at the mall, where we could glumly flip through glam-metal releases at the generically yet still short-sightedly named music chain store, Tape World.) Through the pioneering spirit of these wise old men, a couple of very important cassettes made their way into my hands. The first was The Velvet Underground & Nico, and the second was the Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms.
The Velvet Underground was my first experience hearing music that other people probably dismissed as loud, avant-garde weirdness, but somehow sounded exactly like rock and roll to me. It was different than hardcore punk, in that hardcore appealed to me only because it was different and not because it was good–which it usually wasn’t–while the Velvet Underground appealed to me aesthetically as well. It was like the extended guitar feedback on “Heroin” was telling me, “You’re right. You are better than those other cretins.” In hindsight, a pretentious thing to suggest to the listener but at the time, pretty necessary. Kind of like how reading The Fountainhead as a teenager in a slightly repressed, risk-aversive environment can be a great way to build your creative confidence. (Reading Ayn Rand as an adult, however, is really only beneficial if you’re interested in becoming a heartless capitalist monster, or the subject of one of those workplace reality shows that requires you to yell at aspiring Pilates instructors all day long, on camera. You’ve been warned.)
The Velvet Underground separated me from my peers while reassuring me I was not only being set apart, but above. Its influence was probably more formative than personal. But Crazy Rhythms, aside from being a masterpiece of skilled musicianship, was a precise sonic reproduction of my day-to-day brain activity. It was hyperactive and mumbled, with fast guitars and drums desperately buzzing, circling and reaching for something they seemed to lack the confidence to express. It was a busy interior monologue set to music.
Here’s an example of what I mean, from the song “Forces At Work.” Here are the song’s lyrics in their entirety, sung-spoken after a blister-poppingly long musical build-up played at the speed of hummingbirds:
The tinge of the mind
The mind is in check
The check is the force
The forces at work
I love all four albums by the Feelies, enough to invest in even their more obscure side projects, like Wake Ooloo, Speed The Plough, and Yung Wu, but my connection to Crazy Rhythms remains the most durable. I can even trace the lineage of its discovery, all the way back from my General Electric portable stereo. (It was passed from Andrew S. and Alan R., to Colin–the eldest of the Mathews brothers–then down to Devin, to Simon, and finally to me. Many years later, Simon, Devin and I would reunite our own connection to the band when Devin found himself in the enviable position of booking bands for his college and invited the Feelies to perform on (what we didn’t know then was) their final tour. The band’s appeal was limited at the State University of New York in Binghampton, so I like to tell myself the concert was a gift to us. (And not the abuse of power it probably was.)
Around the time of the concert, I was experiencing a serious heartbreak–the kind that makes you turn Goth. The girl was also a great fan of the band, and she was supposed to join me at the concert. We talked about it for months leading up to the show’s date, as if it was our plan to run away together. Then things slowly broke bad between us. So bad, that at
the last minute I rescinded the invitation. I did this mostly because she had become an ugly stranger to me, but also because I wanted to hurt her for the many nights I spent lying in my loft bed listening to Metallica’s “black” album very, very loud so everyone in the dorm–her most of all–would know my profound pain. Keeping her from attending the concert was the only power I had left in our relationship and, like a boy, I used it without mercy. If we had been ten years younger I would have pushed her face in the mud, but this seemed like the second best thing.
Simon, his friend Jeremy, and I drove together several hours to attend the concert and, together with Devin, danced spasmodically from the first note to the last, sharing sweat with the 100 or so other people in attendance. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a show, and the only time I can say I’ve danced for an hour and a half without stopping to feel self-conscious.
I even exploited my position as (assistant) music director of my college radio station to meet members of The Feelies before the show, “for an interview and station ID.” Their drummer, Stanley, was the only member who had time to chat and, while I was obviously a rabid fan and counted Stan Demeski as the first famous person I had ever met who wasn’t a local newscaster, I nonetheless approached the interview with cool detachment, bordering on indifference. Because how could he respect me if I let him know how much I respected him? Right? As a result, much of the interview consisted of me saying, “so…you guys are some sort of rock’n’roll outfit? Is that right?” and Stanley rolling his eyes and checking his watch, itching to return to his sound check. I just hope he saw me dancing that night.