Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Monster At The Pixies

During my rock and roll years in Rhode Island, I had chance after chance to see The Pixies play. They shared a label with Throwing Muses, a great RI band, and they seemed to play together a lot. I wanted to see both. Well, I eventually did, but only years later and not together.

Throwing Muses played Summerfest in Central Park and I finally saw them. Great show, but somehow I don't feel like rock and roll is served well OUTDOORS. The very nature of the music calls for containment to rebel against, a context that conflicts with the chaos expressed. That being said, Throwing Muses were a force to be reckoned with. On a side note, their song 'Hunkpapa' has somehow become associated with my own Dad, so they will always have a hallowed place in the O'Malley household.

The Pixies were another story. When I heard that they'd broken up, I was very upset. I'd passed up opportunity after opportunity because I always assumed that I'd see them one day. They were always playing, and even once I'd moved to New York, I felt as if it was even more likely that I'd see them there. But it wasn't meant to be. The usual frictions split them up (drug use, creative control, etc.) and The Pixies were no more.

I continued to follow Frank Black...his solo records were chock full of awesome teeny rock songs, expansive anthems, and weird obsessions. The playing was tasty, the sound was crisp, the songs were great. There didn't seem to be any of that 'who is he without a band' hangover that most front men go through. He was instantly Frank Black and had a mystique all his own.

Meanwhile, his (and The Pixies) influence was EVERYWHERE on the radio. You walked out your door in the morning and tripped over a band ripping them off. Much like The Replacements, they had to watch other lesser lights buy mansions off the back of their style.

Time passed. I moved to L.A. in the fall of 2003. Life was strange. I catered to make ends meet in between auditions. I spent most of my time on the phone with my girlfriend or on iChat with my son who had moved to Maine. These dual separations led to perhaps my darkest hour. I don't mean some emergency room stay, jail time, no, just your ordinary garden variety crisis of the soul.

By the fall of 2004, I had begun to unravel. It seemed as if every aspect of my life was out of joint. Nothing was functioning smoothly. This started to manifest itself in lots of unpleasant ways. Specifics? Not all that important. But a rage settled over me like an invisible net.

Oh, there were mitigating factors, of course. A whole slew of new friends, great creative projects (plays, music shows, etc.), the Red Sox...ah, the Red Sox! They fit into this story somehow too.

It was the night of the first game of the World Series. I was on an unbelievable high from their improbable/impossible comeback against the Yankees. They were playing Game 1 against the St. Louis Cardinals. I was catering in the morning. And what was I doing that night?

The Pixies had reformed. And they were on tour. There was no way I was going to miss them this time. They were playing down in Anaheim in some outdoor stadium. I bought 2tickets and wound up planning to attend with a new friend.

Then everything went wrong. The party I was working started late. I thought I'd have time to go home, shower off the booze I'd been slinging, pick up the tickets, pick up my friend, and head down together. Now, he'd have to pick up the tickets for me and meet me in Anaheim. I left the party as soon as I could.

Now, on any other day, this kind of thing would have sent me into a fury. For whatever reason, this night was a turning point. I met the setbacks with a sense of calm, even appreciation. "This means I'll get to listen to the Sox on the way down!" "I'm still getting to see The Pixies!"

This kind of reaction is NOT the norm for me. I rail against inconvenience. I am a control freak.

Traffic was insane on the way down to Anaheim. Why? Who knows? What should have taken me an hour took two. Did I lose my composure? Nope. I listened to the Sox and took it all in stride.

I got to the Stadium just in time to hear Bellhorn hit the homerun that put us up 11-9. I hadn't let any of the obstacles ruin my mood. I was very proud of myself. My friend Andy was waiting in the parking lot with the tickets and the payoff was going to be seeing a legendary band reunite for people like me who had missed them the first time around.

They didn't disappoint. Their sound expanded beautifully to fit the large space. It felt immediate and vital and part of the present. Not some trip down memory lane.

Then he showed up.

I sat in the front row of seats in a section right above one of those walkways that go from one side of the arena to the other. We were 8 to 10 feet above those who walked by and had a perfectly unobstructed view of the stage. On either side of us were empty seats. The place was packed but there was so much room to move around that many seats weren't filled.

Andy sat on my left. A few seats away from him sat a couple of girls. Suddenly a force of nature rustled past them into the seats between. He sat fuming. He punched the concrete wall repeatedly. He leaned over the railing and screamed at the top of his lungs at passersby, startling them greatly. He yelled things like "I will kill Pixies!" Then he would fall silent with his head in his hands. Andy and I exchanged glances with the girls on his left. When he leaned forward to terrorize, one of them mouthed "Don't leave us!"

On any other night, I might have been furious with this violent intruder. But tonight? I felt one degree removed. Like this could be me without a support system and with one too many nights of partying. There but for the grace of god. I saw his knuckles become bloody with each successive punch. I wanted to help him but I knew that any interruption would be taken as a challenge, as aggression. He was pure agressive id.

The day had been a lesson for me already; this monster seemed like a message from god. At my core is a rabid beast seeking conflict. Left unchecked I am a wall puncher of the first order.

Somehow, 15 years after I'd first had my chance to see The Pixies, I finally turned a corner. He eventually stormed off, screaming as he went. He'd never remember the music, he'd never know how many people he'd frightened. His life was a funnel of disdain.

Andy had to leave early. I sat in the crisp air alone and let The Pixies do their thing. I'd chosen to be there, after all.

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