Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Saturday, August 11, 2007

#36 - Music sounds better with you

What they saw

If an alien spacecraft flew over New York City last night, and if they had equipment designed to track unusually high levels of energy on the ground in terms of decibels, lumens, and human neurochemical activity (the sort of equipment that one would imagine any self-respecting alien spacecraft would have), the out-of-towners would have first stopped over a clump of stage lights in Prospect Park, under which Craig Finn and The Hold Steady were rocking their adopted hometown with moving tales of druggie losers, borne on magical power chords that goof on heartland rock clichés at the same time as they glorify them, making spectacular gestures of empathy with the untold thousands whose young lives were soundtracked by hammer-on, hair-metal guitar solos and honest workshirt riffage. The show is no doubt a love fest of boys with eyeglasses making devil-horns and girls with eyeglasses making devil horns and a singer whose CPA demeanor only magnifies the music’s profound, dirtbag-in-all-of-us beauty.

It is not purely a love fest, though, because in the crowd somewhere is Holly, the handsome waitress from Minneapolis turned ad copywriter and rock critic who regular readers of this blog will remember as Craig Finn’s muse and I believe sort-of ex-girlfriend---or at very least someone with a complicated relationship to the singer. I am certain Holly is there because, when I ran into her a few weeks ago at Sonic Youth’s amazing recreation of “Daydream Nation” at McCarren Pool, she told me that despite her history with Craig---and partly because of it---she would never miss a local Hold Steady gig. We walked around Williamsburg after the show that night and marveling out how well the band has aged, and how unimpeachably cool a couple Kim and Thurston are, even if the Ecstatic Peace releases have been a little underwhelming. And Holly even asked me if I wanted to be her plus-one for the Hold Steady show. Sadly, I had to decline.

Now why, you might ask, would I decline an invitation to see perhaps the world’s greatest rock band with a woman I’ve been obsessed with for over three years? Let me put it this way: If the aforementioned aliens continued south from Prospect Park, they would have soon fixed on an even brighter glow, pulsating out from where the land mass meets the ocean, colors hurtling into the inky blackness like fireworks. And as the aliens drew nearer, they would register tremendous 4/4 house beats, and the monstrous WHUH-WHUH-WHUH of saw-toothed synthesizer riffs, and an overwhelming upsurge of emotions from a stadium-full of people who feel that dance music is a religion that can unite black and white and yellow and rich and poor and gay and straight in transformative ecstasy. And finally, at the center of the glow, they would see two men in robot costumes standing atop a neon pyramid---an evident nod of respect to the apocryphal pyramid at Chameleon, the early West Village disco that would later become the famous Paradise Garage in 1977.

The spectacle this evening in 2007, of course, was Daft Punk performing at Coney Island’s Keyspan Park. It was a massive recreation of their legendary 2006 Coachella Festival show, which went on to become a YouTube phenomena, and the tour was a traveling revival meeting intent on proving that electronic music could still fulfill its mid-90s promise. As I explained to Holly in a text message, I was being forced to take sides in the ontological battle between rockists and the international dancefloor massive. Her thumb-typed response was simply “Whatev.” But as my imaginary alien plot devices might testify, what ultimately happened last night was not so simple. The show was the most thrilling of my life---and I know I’ve written that before, but this supercedes all previous claims. It was also, quite possibly, the saddest show of my life.

The evening began in a frenzy when a message board posting made me realize that my General Admission ticket limited my access to the stands, not the stadium dancefloor---which for me would be like watching a hot-dog eating contest from across the road after a week-long fast. So I took the F Train to Coney Island and began canvassing the parking lot for fat people. My logic was this: Most heavy-set fans would prefer not to stand up for the entire show, and would be happy to trade a field ticket for a seat. I’m rather heavy set myself, and this is generally my attitude. But tonight was different: all my fellows had field tickets that they refused to part with.

Finally I came upon a small tailgate party at the far end of the parking lot. A very large couple were reclined in folding lawn chairs on either side of a cooler, while others leaned against car bumpers. As it turned out, everyone already had tickets in the stands.

“Sorry,” said the woman in the lawnchair, who was wearing a vintage Dark Side of the Moon t-shirt. Then she pointed to the cooler and said “Gerolsteiner?”

“Um, sure,” I said.

She pulled a bottle of German mineral water out of the cooler and handed it to me. It was full, but the seal on the cap had been broken.

“Water?,” I asked?

“It’s special water,” she said, grinning. “The Germans think it has restorative powers.” She grins at the guy next to her, a voluminous old hippie in a Woodstock Harley Davidson t-shirt. He chuckled, and stuffed his mouth with wasabi peas.

Maybe it was the comeraderie of the moment, or my thirst, but I figured what the hell, took a long swig, thanked her, put the bottle in my pocket, and went back to my ticket hunt.

And almost immediately I saw what looked like a press table at the side of the stadium. Figuring I could try using my dubious blogging credentials to scam my way in, I was informed by a women with a clipboard that Daft Punk were giving digital video recorders to hundreds of fans to record the show, and if I wanted to be a cameraman, I would have access to the field. I said sure. So I exchanged my driver’s license for a tiny Sony DV unit, and in I went.

I’d missed the opening acts entirely by this point. And as I worked my way through the crowd, all the stress of the ticket fiasco fell away. I felt profoundly at home here, among these strangers; we were all part of the same tribe, and our shared love of dance communion, if it could only be harnessed or distilled, could surely trigger world peace, or at least provide an alternative to Paxil. I know this sounds like hippie blather. But that doesn’t make it any less true. And suddenly there was Dennis Miller – Dennis fucking Miller, reprehensible reactionary scumbag “comedian” – standing in the crowd with his hand on the shoulder of a teenage boy: maybe his son, maybe his secret lover. Who knows? But either way it was fine. If Dennis Miller, struggling with pedophilic homosexual leanings, squirming quietly at the wrong end of NAMBLA jokes, can come out and be himself at Daft Punk show, then good for him.

And then the stadium lights dropped and the video screens flashed and suddenly I was being pulled upward by analog synthesizer riffs like Curious George at the end of a balloon string, with fragments of the vocoderized chant from “Around The World” and gargantuan four-four beats careening around the stadium. And then suddenly thousands of people are shouting “woooooooo!” along with the hook of “Crescendolls,” which Daft Punk lifted wholesale from “Can You Imagine,” a beautifully out-of-character move by the disco-era remains of the New York doo-wop group Little Anthony and the Imperials, who may be better known for this sample than their 1958 debut hit “Tears On My Pillow,” a moving number though it is. And suddenly I realize I am very, very high---placebo effect or otherwise, I do not know---and I feel the joy of the moment lapping at the back of the neck like the black waters of the Atlantic Ocean lapping at the Coney Island shoreline behind the stage.

And then suddenly I realize: shit, the camera. I need to capture all this. So I fire it up and train the viewfinder on the stage. And as the aperture adjusts to the brilliant lights, I find myself watching a tiny video screen of men in robot costumes standing in front of a video screen of men in robot costumes, which mirrors exactly the image in my minds eye of the YouTube video of Daft Punk performing at Coachella in front of a video projection, and then I feel the image in my viewfinder propelled forward into the retinas of hundreds, maybe thousands of beautiful, loving, yet humanly flawed Daft Punk fans who couldn’t be here tonight and must watch the event on laptop screens in their dark bedrooms. And then these multiple layers of video images collapse into one another, and my head begins to spin, and I have to turn my camera away from the stage.

It’s at this moment that I suddenly feel profoundly alone, despite being surrounded by this crowd of beautiful, loving, yet humanly flawed Daft Punk fans. And I am scanning the crowd for a familiar face. But in fact every face seems familiar: the skinny latino girl in cutoff jeans and a bandeau top doing crazy back-bending limbo moves. The frat dudes high-fiving and rubbing each others’ heads. The hugley fat couple jumping up and down in the stands in what seems like slow-motion. And then I realize: it’s the couple from the parking lot. And I wave and jump up and down to get their attention, and it’s like I’m moving in slow motion, too. And I want to shout their names, because they don’t see me. But I don’t know their names. So instead I shout “Gerolsteiner! Gerolsteiner!” But they still don’t see me. And then Daft Punk rewind the hook from “Crescendolls” again, and everyone is screaming “Woooooo! Wooooo!”

And then I realize I’m no longer holding the camera. So I drop to my knees, and begin to feel around the dark stadium floor. And then I feel a hand on my shoulder, and a voice saying

“Alles gut? Sie wird in Ordnung?”

And I look up and see a blond dude with a crew cut in a Brazilian soccer shirt handing me a bottle of water---not Gerolsteiner, of course, but God-damned Coca-Cola-owned Dasani. But I took it and drank and said “Danke” even though I don’t speak German, and he said some other things I didn’t understand, and then the show ended and the lights came up and I found the camera, which seemed to work although the viewfinder was cracked. They still gave me my license back at production table, though they were obviously pissed. And then, since I was still pretty wired, I walked along the Coney Island boardwalk, watching other very high people staring up at the old amusement-park rides, and laughing at the garbage buggy, which plucked up cans in its mechanical arms and emptied them into its dumpster before moving on down the beach.

And later, as I sat on the F train around 4AM, I thought about how many train-rides I’ve taken home after shows by myself over the years. And I thought about Holly, who was probably in bed already, hopefully alone. And I thought about the guys in the Hold Steady, who after their hometown show might even be in their own beds, either alone or with loved ones or with friendly fangirls who look remarkably naked when they remove their eyeglasses, even if their clothes stay on. And as some guy probably said at the end of some Raymond Carver story, I felt right then that something major was about to change. But I couldn’t say exactly what it was.


At 2:53 PM, November 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heard this story at the reading last night at Housing Works and was moved to come look at your blog. Thanks...


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