You know about Ziggy Stardust, Rebel Rebel and poor old Major Tom, but there is so much you don’t of the sound of David Bowie. These are the songs that you should:5. Sound and Vision (Low, 1976) Actually a song you probably do know but didn’t know you knew, sharp and compelling as anything you’ve heard..
4. Bewlay Brothers (Hunky Dory, 1971) Climbing out of earnestness with pain and delight, knowing something but not knowing what.
3. V-2 Schneider (Heroes, 1976) Space-age, new-age from a distant planet, words so close and so far.
2. Fascination (Young Americans, 1975) The rhythm and groove which every disco artist dreamed they might find.
1. Big Brother (Diamond Dogs, 1974) Magnificent, poignant and magnificent again, what the conceptual album and song are dreamed upon.
Low entranced a Birmingham, Alabama audience on Friday evening with a set of music spanning their 16-year history. The set list was magical, the sound full and melodious, the visuals, the drinks, the venue, all of it so right that I thought about how great it was to be alive. It was like childhood contentment, almost knowing something to be true, turning ahead, out of nothing, more real than metal, naked, science and math and art and language, all of that in their sound. (Click here or on the picture below to hear for yourself) And so, I was pretty excited after the show and tracked all of the band members down – Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Steve Garrington – and tried to explain it all to them.
I admit that I did go on and on and my wife tried to pull me away, realizing that I was acting like John Steinbeck’s Lenny, squeezing the beauty and truth out of a thing, but none of them seemed to mind too much. And then I wanted to thank them for that too.
We went to see Low play in Anchorage, Alaska, and hoped for the Northern Lights too. We had never been to The Last Frontier; neither had Low. The flight from New York was long – 14 hours with a change in Seattle – and we were verging on collapse by the 10 pm showtime (2 am our EDT). But the venue was great – an intimate bar, Taproot – and there with only a hundred others in attendance, all of whom were bushy and rough.
“We waited for twenty years!” Someone called out.
Allan Sparhawk gazed back. “Actually it’s been 22.” The band looked tired – or were we projecting? – starting slow with Gentle and other lullaby-like songs from their remarkably listenable 2015 release Ones and Sixes, before gradually picking up with Sparhawk’s characteristic distortion and intensity in No Comprehende and Pissing. The light show was understated – 90’s style mandalas blooming and transforming behind Mimi Parker, making her look like a weary Madonna – as was the sound, lilting in and amongst the non-stop chatter from all corners.
“Yeah, I saw you there, but I was talking with RJ!” His beard puffed out like a cartoon character’s. “I haven’t talked with him in months!”
The only exception to the swirl of drink-inspired banter was a young couple in front of us, she with short blonde hair, he with a blond streaked beard, sitting side by side at a wooden table, gazing into each other’s eyes every 15 seconds, talking quietly and mysteriously, consuming a beer with stoic regularity, not once looking at the stage.
A woman looked at my wife and asked if she was a mail order bride. “There’s a lot of them here!”
I imagined that many of these people had come in from distant logging camps and moose hunts for this magical night, and tried to forgive them their boisterous manner. The PA was louder the second night – although the feedback from some songs seemed at times beyond system’s capacity, enveloped in white noise. Sparhawk, Parker and bassist Steve Garrington were more upright and clear, and so was the crowd, almost twice as large as the night before, drunker, louder, crashing into one another, spinning my chair to and fro as they went back and forth to the bar.
“I’ve got four bands now, man!” A heavy man stroked down at his scraggly greying beard as he yelled out to his friend. “Our shortest song is seven minutes! We got one that goes over 40!”
“It was a family event!” The woman’s eyes were sharp, her hair wild. “What do you want from me?!”
I was more tired this night, so damned tired that I just stared stupidly at the spinning mandalas and let them coax me to sleep. I switched to water and then Coke, and counted the bearded men yell with their dates, while Low played on, their subtlety lost in the tumult, until Sparhawk played his guitar like Hendrix which quieted everyone for a moment.
Sparhawk announced that there would be no encore, just one more song. The band had a flight in four hours.
“Don’t wait another 20 years!” Someone pleaded.
We went out into the cold night, looking into the sky, deep and empty, searching the horizon, seeing nothing but the haze of the city lights, not knowing yet that the only Northern Lights we would see were those in Taproot, both they and Low at the center of the madding crowd.
Yes, I admit this is both anal and childish, but I like to remember the places where my thoughts worked best – even if I didn’t remember much of it at show’s end.
9. Emmylou Harris, The Boot Saloon, Toronto (1992) A honky-tonk night.8. Tragically Hip, Cleveland Flats, Cleveland (1995) Canada’s greats, straight & full-on.7. Guided by Voices, Fillmore West, San Francisco (2002) The club is open. 6. Jane’s Addiction, Key Arena, Seattle (1995) Farrell and Navarro in summer dresses. 5. Low, The Aquarium, Fargo (2012) Three full sets. 4. My Bloody Valentine, Roseland Ballroom, New York (2008) Ears are still ringing.
3. Noel Hill & Tony MacMahon, Mother Red Cap’s, Dublin (1994) The pure drop in a tavern.
2. Sufjan Stevens, Bowery Ballroom, New York (2013) The end of the world – December 21, 2112 – with a few hundred others. 1. Grateful Dead, Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma (1985) Full moon, at a zoo. (walstib)
My Bloody Valentine released a new album this spring, mbv. It is a haunting offering of distorted, crazed music, much like their great Loveless LP from 22 years back. I listened to the new album a few times and became obsessed with the second last track, Nothing Is, which I put on repeat and listened to 300-400 more times. I have come to listen to nothing but this song of 3 1/2 minutes – whenever I write, workout, or do anything with music. I’m listening to it right now.
I must admit to a history of obsessive music listening. My housemates in college stole the fuse from my stereo because of my addiction to The Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station. I’ve obsessed over all sorts of music – NIN, Aimee Mann, Low, Fripp & Eno, William Basinski, Jesus Christ Superstar – often just a song at a time, and that over and over again. I was the perfect audience for Ragnar Kjartansson’s 12-hour performance piece Bliss, where the same 4-minute section was repeated again and again and again. It’s like a trap or a crutch or a refuge or just something I like too much, and I won’t stop until there is nothing left and I just can’t listen to it again…for months, if not years, and then just might start all over again.
I have to admit that it is hard to write my blog today. I cannot process in any way what happened yesterday in Connecticut. I don’t know how it is possible for someone to kill children one after the other, putting not one bullet into each tiny person, but several into every one of them, every last one. It makes me think that maybe the Mayans were actually right, that this really is the end of us, that the apocalypse has arrived, not with great storms and collapsing fault lines in the earth, but in us, dumb, staring at each other, wondering how we really got to this. And we did. The fact is that there are people – millions and millions of them – that will actually continue to support the right to bear arms as it is stated in the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They will say that guns don’t kill people, that people kill people, that guns have nothing to do with it. They will actually say that. And they will believe it. They will actually fucking believe it. That isn’t politics. That’s suicide, pure and simple. Guns don’t kill people? Really? How would that lunatic have killed 20 kids without his damned guns? How fucking stupid can you be? Anyway, yeah, the Pain and Guilt step of suffering grief, instructs that, as the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs – as tempting as they might appear at the moment. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase. Does it ever. But to get through all of this insanity, I recommend that you look within as much as you can bear and maybe listen to The Great Destroyer by the American group Low. When I go deaf/ I won’t even mind/ Yeah, I’ll be fine. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino) is required viewing, reminding us that war kills everything in body, mind and spirit. This one’s nothing but pain and guilt, horribly, beautifully so.. I also encourage you to delve into the writings of the great philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer: They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice…that suicide is wrong, when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person. And don’t stop at Schopenhauer. You must keep going. Read as much miserable philosophy as you can bear.
Most important of all, do something. Please. Sign a petition. Write a letter. Speak your mind, damn it! Fight these monsters right to the fucking end. Do it! Really, do it. Or else you have to just watch the world go to its damned and terrible end.
A few songs have figured prominently in my head as I wrote My Bad Side and thus figure in my dream soundtrack for the film: