Sunday, August 06, 2006

Don't let our youth go to waste

Luna live

Bonnie and Clyde (Clyde Barrow version) - Luna

Tell Me - Galaxie 500

I remember where I first heard Luna's version of "Bonnie and Clyde." It was maybe my second week of grad school and a friend had taken me with her to meet an old friend for dinner at his apartment in Evanston. We immediately hit it off. It's much more common now for girls to be music geeks than even 10 years ago, and I used to meet snobby indie boys who seemed surprised and even annoyed to meet a girl who not only knew what they were talking about, but often knew more than them. This wasn't the case with this guy--let's call him Dan. We chatted enthusiastically and somehow got on the subject of Galaxie 500 and Dean Wareham's continuing adventures in Luna. I confessed I wasn't enough of fan (I didn't even own any G500 at this point) to have bothered to keep up, but Dan insisted on playing Luna's cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie and Clyde," a hidden track on Penthouse. I loved it right away: the "All Tomorrow's Parties" dirgey groove, the fervent violins, Wareham's painfully correct French, Laetitia Sadier's straightfaced responses, and most of all, those hiccupped yelps in the background. It sounds like it was a riot to record. I forgot about "Bonnie and Clyde" for a long time, but a month ago Luna released the covers album, Lunified that includes both the Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker mixes, along with a slew of other well-chosen covers. The guy who once reframed "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste" knows how to respect his heroes and predecessors without taking the slavish imitation route.

The only time I saw Luna play was in late August 2001 at New York's Bowery Ballroom. These were friendly confines for Luna and maybe the town was just very used to the band because the audience was restless and chatty. My friends and I weren't serious fans so we lingered close to the back, but were still kind of irritated by the inattentive crowd and, in particular, a hyper-physically demonstrative couple in front of us. I can't tell you what was on the setlist, except that the band closed with "Bonnie and Clyde." I was on vacation and it was a hot, ordinary night in New York. It was maybe three weeks before 9/11. Luna had played at the World Trade Center earlier that month.
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I don't know if every American is like this, but I often think of unrelated activities--people I've met, places I've gone, books I've read, music I've heard--before and after, particularly events that cluster close to the date. For example, I'll always remember The Shins' Oh, Inverted World as belonging to that summer before, when I must have played it 700 times until one day I thought I never wanted to hear it again. Around that time I read Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, a novel that begins with a sky-borne catastrophe and spirals into blame and paranoia. And Luna too--though I knew Luna long before 9/11--gets lumped in my mind with that blithe, then suddenly tense and helpless time.

I didn't lose anyone close, but several of my professional acquaintances died in the World Trade Tower attacks. They were on the 94th floor and didn't have a chance. I remember the first time (as a silly twentysomething in a job where I was in over my head) I met one of them--a powerful man in the financial industry, a Park Avenue patrician--and thinking now, here's someone with the world at his feet. It took only a few minutes to learn that all of us live fragile lives, that our fortifications are, in fact, eggshells.

Maybe a year after 9/11, I saw a hairstylist who had been recommended by someone on a listserv I subscribed to. I liked his work and before leaving asked about making the next appointment. Having watched him over the previous two or so hours it took to color and cut my hair, I had gathered from his body language and voice that he was carrying something around. "Hey," he said, "don't make another appointment with me because I won't be here in two months." In one of those odd moments when relative strangers suddenly decide to unburden themselves and you just happen to be standing next to them when they're ready to talk, he explained that his sister had died in the Towers. Since then, he had drifted from New York to Seattle to Phoenix to Chicago. He couldn't think clearly any more and making decisions--like where to settle down for longer than a lease term--were beyond his capacity. I sometimes think about him and wonder if he ever came to terms with the disaster and how he felt about the fact that all of us mourned with him for a time--pressing our hands hard into our chests to the national anthem, exercising the alert vigilance of grade-school crossing guards in airports, scrutinizing plans for the Ground Zero site as if it were our own home being built--and then one day ... moved on.

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Almost nothing in American indie rock is more elegiac and backward-looking (and good God, isn't so much of it?!) than Galaxie 500 songs when Dean Wareham is singing falsetto. Even if he's just talking about buying junk food while stoned or trying to get a girl's attention, his fever-keen implies something important has been lost and is probably now unrecoverable. Knowing what I know today and what I didn't when I first heard G500's music, this all seems a bit exaggerated and young. You deal with losses, and then you find new interests and people and things to moor you to the world again. Which I guess is why for me, an album like On Fire seems to belong so much more to the past than 17 years.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jon said...

We've got our Amy back.

So, I don't think there's much arguing with your central thesis, but I also wonder if there isn't a little bit of willful naivite and artistry mixed in with that Galaxie 500 youth? No doubt that "Strange" is young, but what about "Decomposing Trees" or "Listen the Snow is Falling"? In those, there's that elegiac sense expressed in a minimal way, but it's well-wrought, well-built and well-building.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I had a thesis? Where?

Sorry if I implied naive. Those kids were always smart n' sophisticated. C'mon, would I slag G500 in your presence? Just saying you only gain perspective through experience. And the hysterical pitch of youthful melodrama sort of morphs into a mellower perseverance as the years march on. Or something.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

If this is what we get when Amy takes a week and a half off, then I'm even more excited about Shake Your Fist than I was 10 days ago. Thoughtful, intelligent, touching--and with perspective that is hard to get if all one does is fixate on the last 12 hours of leaked releases.

As for the Luna song, that's one that I have a strong memory of, too. Sitting in the back seat of a car with three friends on a long road trip in probably 1998 or so, I heard it for the first time but only partially since the car stereo stunk and the fader was turned toward the front so that those sitting in the back could participate fully in conversations. When "Bonnie and Clyde" came on, I strained to continue keeping tabs on the conversation *and* listen to the music as attentively as I could--and failed miserably at both. By the time there was an opportunity to ask what the song was, I'd lost track of the question.

I don't remember when I next heard the song--years later--but that "Oh, yeah, *that* song" feeling was strongly accompanied by a clear memory of that moment in the car with those friends. Aural madeleine, I suppose (he writes, trying to seem like a guy who might've read Proust, when in fact he hasn't).

8:34 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

You are kind, Neil. Nobody's actually read Remembrance of Things Past (which I'll always prefer to the new translation's title) all the way through. That's why the madeleine is so famous; it appears on like the first page.

11:33 PM  

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