J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Notes From Underground - #25
Divine Hammer


I was really excited.

Even though this was the second or third time I was seeing him, I'm always excited to see Jim White. He's always an enthralling performer, a friendly face and a great person to talk with after a show. I mean, he was even the one to introduce me to Cormac McCarthy by recommending I read Blood Meridian. I owe this guy a lot.

On this particular night he was opening for another band at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill, so as the headliner was starting up, I was standing outside talking to Jim. We had a nice time and he left. My girlfriend-at-the-time (GATT) and I decided that we were tired enough and the headliner not interesting enough to compel us to stay. We walked on back to the car as their opening song drifted out of the doors of the cradle: "A million, a billion, a trillion stars..."

That band was Luna. And I've been kicking myself ever since. Especially now that they are no more.

We all have those moments - the friend who tries to convince us of the brilliance of a band only for us to ignore their suggestions; the critical laurels we read about, but ignore - and eventually we come back to them only to find we were desperately, desperately wrong. Oh, how could we have slept on this record/band/artist for so long?

I run across this line of thought from time to time whenever my urges get the better of me and I pick up something I should've tried listening to years ago. This week it was the Breeders' Last Splash. Having long been a fan of the Pixies, you think I would've gravitated towards this very well known and highly praised record by one of that band's major contributors. But I didn't. And didn't. And didn't. So finally, while on a trek to part with some books, CDs and VHS cassettes at a local used compendium earlier this week, I decided to pick it up using the credit I'd earned. And thus began three straight days of listening to the album over and over. End of story.

I'm grateful for these moments. They are a kind of humbling experience - something that keeps me excited about music even if the present terrain sometimes looks bleak. 2007 has been a pretty awesome year for music, but in past years, I haven't felt that way. And in going and digging back, finding things I should have heard ages ago, I kept that flame burning inside me - the one that begs for more music, more innovation, more great sounds. I often have to contain my desires to openly celebrate these moments, fearing a sort of scoffing 'Oh, you just heard that?' sort of response from people. I remember my own shame-faced feelings about finally listening to the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique and the Clash's London Calling back in 2001. But then again, maybe I'm too sensitive.

I often believe that great art comes to you, most times, when you are ready to understand it - divine inspiration to finally drive something home for you. If I had listened to Paul's Boutique in middle or high school, would I have appreciated it as much? Not nearly. One example of this for me is Television's Marquee Moon. I went out and bought it when I first read Robert Palmer's Rock and Roll: An Unruly History and I liked it, but I honestly wasn't sure what to make of it. I was 16 at the time. Flash forward five years and I 're-discovered' it, even though I'd listened to it often over the years. I was finding new sounds, new influences on the album that hadn't been obvious to me before. It made a whole new set of sense to me. It was mesmerizing.

Indie culture (and, of course, art in general) has long been a refuge for snobs and elitists. I've suffered a slung arrow or two over the years about being pretentious, justly deserved or not. It's easy for people to turn art into a game of oneupmanship - who heard something first or what not. It's petty and an insult to the great, humanitarian pursuit that lives within all great artistic endeavours. I am thankful for growing up. It puts a lot of that nonsense into perspective.

Doesn't mean I'm going to go give the Doors a second chance though. Just saying.

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