Friday, May 16, 2008

Cat's Cradle, Pts 3 Thru Now: Emmitt Swimming, The Wig, The Almost-Fight, The Lie

I turned around to see up close the loveliest face on God's green earth. It was shockingly beautiful.

She asked me how long the jam band had been on stage. I said at least 30 minutes because they'd been on stage when I arrived that long ago.

Then, because I wanted to keep staring at her forever, I turned my back on her and looked back at the stage.

I could feel her behind me, her scent lingered as I stared straight ahead. She had sought me out to speak to me. Why was I looking at a jam band from Atlanta?

I turned back to her and asked her what she knew of Emmitt Swimming.

As she answered, I had to stop myself from blurting, "I'm married and I have a one year old son. I'm not wearing my wedding ring because I needed to reconnect with my essential self, the one that is beholden to no one, not because I'm trying to score, not because I'm lying."

But that would have been absurd. I didn't know her so I let the conversation unfurl. I still regret it.

She loved Emmitt Swimming. I told the story of Justin playing it for me years earlier and how I'd hated it. When she told me her name was Melody something in me fell even harder. Again I fought the urge to confess my situation.

My explanation of how I'd heard of Emmitt Swimming led us to some interesting discoveries. She'd been sitting in her car in the parking lot deciding whether to come in as well. She had performed that evening in a play. The cast party was happening AT THAT MOMENT at her house. We marveled at how we'd both continually told ourselves that we weren't going to go inside. Her connection to Emmitt Swimming? It had been her and her ex-boyfriend's favorite band. They'd had a nasty breakup and had only recently spoken. He'd suggested they could talk at the concert.

I told her why I was in Chapel Hill...turns out she was a theater student in the UNC-Chapel Hill theater department. Playmakers Rep is affiliated with that department, using students as interns, the theater is part of the campus. She'd been in a student production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' as Titania.

Emmitt Swimming was about to take the stage. Melody suggested that we go up on the riser to get a better view. We had already become a we. We chatted and laughed. Our hips briefly touched. I made sure it didn't happen again. She said that she couldn't stay to see the whole show because she really did have to get to the cast party. It had been opening night, after all, and the party was at her house.

I was having such a good time that my panic subsided. I would enjoy this moment with her for what it was worth and let her go. Would she later discover that I was married and a father? Maybe, it was a small theater department and word would surely get around. Plus I thanked Maria and Cashel in the program notes for the show. No, the more I thought about it, the more I kept coming back to the fact that I had to tell this person I'd met not 15 minutes earlier the entire truth about myself.

Then she invited me to the party. This gave me a glow of the warmest warmth.

So I said I couldn't go. I had a rehearsal early in the morning. I hadn't seen her show and it would be rude to go to the cast party of a show you hadn't seen. She seemed not to think that was a big deal but I insisted. By this time Emmitt Swimming was playing and it was hard to talk with all the noise. They were great, by the way.

They'd played several songs. We had stopped chatting to listen. Soon she had to go.

The Lie

That was when she spotted her ex in the crowd, the guy she'd come there to meet. It was the tall guy with the tall girl I'd focused on earlier. I'd imagined she'd come to meet them but she'd only come to meet him. Seeing him with another girl shook her a bit and she asked if I'd walk her out to her car. I said we could walk right by them if she wanted. The old 'pretend to be your boyfriend' trick.

Once outside of the club I was struck again by how completely at ease I felt with her. She again asked me to come to her party. I knew I shouldn't go, that going was only going to perpetuate this interlude, that every second I spent with her in which she didn't know the truth about me was going to haunt me.

So I got in her car and went to her house.

The Wig

I can't remember why I didn't drive behind her. Like I said, we were already a we. It seemed unnatural for me to get in another car. So we went together to her apartment off campus. I left my car in the parking lot of Cat's Cradle.

Her apartment was in a complex off of Highway 54 which runs through Chapel Hill. The party was in full swing. 40 or 50 people crammed into a small 2 bedroom apartment. Music blaring. Beers. Kitchen clusterfuck.

Melody went into her bedroom to change clothes. When she came out I'd gotten involved in a conversation with a group. She came out in a wig and a Mets t-shirt. We made eye-contact and she saw that I was comfortable and then she set about mingling on her own.

At this point I was planning how I would explain my life to her when she drove me back to my car.

The Almost Fight

A drunken undergrad was trying to goad me into a confrontation by calling me Brandon. I had no intention of letting that happen. This calm response to that age-old vague homophobic aggression was new. I smiled and corrected him every time he called me 'Brandon'.

By now I was on a couch in the living room having reconnected with Melody. I'd been in the house for 45 minutes. She became angry with this young idiot, found the friend who was responsible for his presence at the party, and told him to get his friend out of there. I said it wasn't necessary and I should probably be getting home anyway.

I told myself I'd tell her in the car. But at the last minute her roommate came along. I said nothing about Cashel or Maria. To this day I feel guilty.

My car sat alone outside of Cat's Cradle. It seemed like years since I'd gotten out of it to go see a show I had no intention of seeing, a band I didn't like, on a night I'd planned on staying home.

Instead I sat in a car with Melody Dawn Garren and couldn't tell the truth. Which, for the first time in my life, was all I wanted to do.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cat's Cradle, Pts. 3 Thru Now: Fate Taps Me On The Shoulder

As I stood in line outside of Cat's Cradle to go see Emmitt Swimming, I grew increasingly annoyed with myself. There was a much larger crowd than there had been for Combustible Edison and it seemed more collegiate, young, like a band playing in the basement of a fraternity. I decided to get in my car and go on home.

I bought a ticket and went inside.

A jam band from Atlanta was playing. I'm not sure if it is apparent from the posts on this blog, but I am pretty open-minded when it comes to music. I deny no genre. However, I must admit that the 'jam band' subculture is one that I've never come close to getting sucked into. I am a song guy. Improvisation is something great actors do on film sets within the boundaries of a script, not two Teds, a James, and a Rufus on bongos turning 'Highway 61 Revisited' into a 20 minute swamp stomp.

Not big on jam bands. Even good ones. The guys onstage were not one of the good ones.

I bought a beer and stood near the exit, still convinced that I wasn't there at all, that I was at home. The jam band seemed to be near the end of their set as they were all incredibly sweaty. I think this was supposed to add to our enjoyment, as if their sweat was proof of some kind of psychic artistry put into action. I just wanted to hand out towels.

From where I stood I could see out the tunnel hallway to the exit. A steady stream of what seemed like high school sophomores entered the club. I had been constantly struck in my first two weeks on the campus by how young everyone looked. It added poignancy to everything. They were little kids! I again wondered what I was doing out with a bunch of preschoolers when I'd planned to be asleep by this time.

I saw a tall guy who looked a lot like me walk by with a tall girl. He looked sad somehow, like he was not where he was supposed to be. I wished I was taller. This doesn't happen to me often, I'm usually pretty okay with what God gave me. I only saw the girl from behind and she had one of those bodies that seems attractive but on closer inspection is all angles, too much bone and not enough skin. Then when I saw her face their relationship became clear to me. She was arm candy to him and he was ashamed of it. I wanted to go tell him to own up, that I was in my own ill-fitting relationship, that he didn't need to put on a front. This advice which sprang into my head left me feeling self-conscious and hypocritical.

A light from the parking lot beamed in every time the doors opened. This left all concert goers silhouetted until they got within 10 feet of me. I had sipped about a quarter of my beer. I'd been in the club all of 15 minutes.

Her silhouette happened and it was like all the noise stopped.

As she moved through the dark passageway into the light that would reveal her face to me I felt this knot of fear well up and dissolve. When her features came into relief I sort of lost my mind.

I instantly told myself a story about her. She was the younger prettier sister of the tall guy's girl. She was supposed to meet them here. Our eyes met briefly and she walked past me to a wall length mirror.

Now I'd been surreptitiously taking passes by this mirror to check myself out since I'd gotten inside. When I went to the bathroom. When I went to get a beer. But I was impressed by how she simply walked right up, stared herself in the eye, arranged her hair, checked her face...why was I so sneaky? Why didn't I just walk up to the mirror and give myself the once-over if I was so concerned?

Then she walked off into the club.

I immediately felt panic that I'd lost her. I couldn't talk to her. I was a married man with a young child. I realized that I wasn't wearing my wedding ring. She'd think I was a sleazebag. A scenario unspooled in my head, one in which I lied through my teeth to her, told her a fake name, told her whatever I wanted to just to spend time with her. Who was I kidding? That wasn't my style.

So I went after her.

One sweep of the club. Nothing. Another sweep of the club. Nothing. A quick look at the girls bathroom line, waiting until the person inside came out. Nothing. She'd vanished.

I had made my way to the very center of the club, right by the risers on which sat the sound man's equipment. I faced away from the back room where the bar sold Pabst Blue Ribbon, one of which I still held in my hand. The same one I'd had since I arrived. I faced the stage where the jam band from Atlanta still noodled.

I felt incredibly sad then, and more alone than I've ever felt since. That's it. I'm going home. I drained the beer and put it on the riser to my left.

And at that very moment she was right behind me waiting to tap me on the shoulder.

Tomorrow: Emmitt Swimming, The Wig, The Almost-Fight, The Lie

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cat's Cradle, Pts. 3 Thru Now: Emmitt Swimming

Somehow today is the day I tell this story. I met Melody Garren at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC on February 20th or 21st back in 1999.

But the story really begins at Justin's house back in the late '80's. Justin played me a song by a group called Emmitt Swimming. I hated it. Made fun of HIM for liking it. To me it sounded like Mel Torme covering an REM song with The Cure. Hmmm. That doesn't sound half bad! But I truly hated this song.

Within 15 minutes we had moved on to writing a song, watching the Red Sox, eating buffalo wings or taking a drunken rowboat ride up the small river that ran through his backyard. I wouldn't think of Emmitt Swimming for at least another 10 years.

In that time I'd lived in France for a year. Lived in Providence for two. Did 500 children's theater shows. Met my future ex-wife in an avant-garde play at Perishable Theater. Formed a band and played rock shows. Broke up with future ex-wife and moved to NYC. Reconnected with future ex-wife and planned marriage. Appeared in several NYU student films which will come back and haunt me someday. Started another rock band and played rock shows in NYC. Got married. Got a job on this crazy new thing called the INTERNET. Wrote an article a week about Urban Legends for AOL as Legs Urbano. Moved to Brooklyn when Maria got pregnant. Appeared in first full production in NYC of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore' at Expanded Arts. Got my SAG card with the same day booking of a video for the band Live and a Law and Order episode. Began couples counseling several times. Halloween 1997 brought Cashel Michael McManus O'Malley into my life. Booked and shot several commercials. Attended Public Theater Summer Shakespeare Lab. Auditioned for anyone and anything anywhere at any time. Wrote song after song about the difficulty in my relationship with Maria. Felt impending doom in spite of all the good things.

Auditioned for and was cast in 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane' at Playmakers Rep in Chapel Hill, NC. I got my Equity card with the booking. I would be there for two months, from the middle of February to the beginning of April.

This was a dream come true in many ways. Paid acting work. A gorgeous setting. A chance to work on a groundbreaking Irish play. As I've said here before I was determined to use my time wisely. To get in shape. To deliver my maximum effort. To knock the role out of the park.

I did all of these things. I also set about going to see live music as a way of reconnecting with a part of myself that had gotten lost in a marriage I knew I would end.

Rehearsal was leisurely and enjoyable. The gym was clean and well laid out. The house I lived in was spacious and quiet. Cat's Cradle was a 2 minute drive away. I saw Combustible Edison and wasn't impressed. I saw King's X and was but had to leave because they went on so late.

Then I saw that a band called Emmitt Swimming was playing that Friday night. Where had I heard that name before? It took me some time to find the memory. Once I did I actively set about making plans to do something else. Perhaps a movie. Perhaps stay home and read. I had hoped to keep seeing live music but I knew I wouldn't go see Emmitt Swimming.

The day of the show I woke up early and went for a workout before rehearsal. My thought was to work out twice so as to tire myself out so I'd be able to go to sleep early and not go to Cat's Cradle. I ate a big lunch and relaxed around campus. I went to rehearsal for a couple of hours. I went and worked out again in the afternoon. I cooked myself a big dinner and read. I turned out the lights at 9 and settled in to go to sleep. I was not going to go see Emmitt Swimming at Cat's Cradle, that's for sure.

I lay in bed. I became annoyed with myself for getting up and putting my clothes on. I then got up and put my clothes on. I told myself I wasn't going out to the car. I then went out to the car. I reminded myself that I did not want to see Emmitt Swimming at Cat's Cradle. I then drove to Cat's Cradle.

I sat in the parking lot and looked at the line. I listened to the radio for 15 minutes. At least 3 songs. I hadn't had to wait in line to get into Cat's Cradle before. I didn't want to wait in line. I didn't even want to see the damn band! I was going to start the car and head home.

I got out of the car.

Tomorrow: I feel a tap on my shoulder...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rage Against The (Insert Snoring Sounds Here)

I was lucky enough to snag a VIP pass to the 2007 Coachella Festival. The pass came to me via, who else, Cousin Mike.

After a 3 hour leisurely drive through the desert, my friend and I meandered our way onto the fairgrounds. It was still early afternoon and sweltering. We found a nice square of shade and parked ourselves by the main stage. Our plan was to revitalize with water and food after the long trip. By the time dusk hit we'd be ready to rock.

While in this limbo phase, we saw The Roots tear a hole in the fabric of the universe. They inserted a mini-set inside of their larger show which consisted of a mad guitarist/singer fronting a power trio with drums and tuba. I can't explain how perfectly this worked and have forgotten what the name of this weird little combo actually is.

As the sun set, the true appeal of this particular festival became quickly apparent. The lights began popping out against the sky, the sounds were loud but given such space that they never overwhelmed.

Manu Chao took the stage. Having heard SO much buzz about this fellow, I was rather shocked at how quickly I disliked everything about his music and performance. All rhythm no melody all bounce no groove. We tolerated this for a while but it was Manu Chao that forced us to leave the pampered VIP area and head out into the festival itself.

We bounced around checking out different tents. Nothing really captured our attention. We headed into what appeared to be a hallway of fabric. It slowly spiraled inward until you realized that you must be approaching the center of a nautilus. As it spiraled, the passageway imperceptibly shrank. When you entered you could fit 10 people across. After 15 minutes inside you were shoulder to shoulder. After 25 you were in single file. The ceiling fabric was also lowering and lowering until you stooped. All of a sudden you were enveloped in fabric from above and below which forced you to crawl through a small opening. You came through the other side on the inside of the spiral but now there was no ceiling fabric. The claustrophobia had given way to a gorgeous protected open air path which reverse mirrored the one you'd taken in.

After exiting the fabric birth canal, we found a tent with the band The Klaxons. This was the highlight for me musically. I'd never heard of them before this and their rock came with such an infectious sense of polish and pop that they seemed like the perfect live band for 40 minutes. We were singing along even though we didn't know the songs.

And then, the headliners back on the main stage. We made our way back to the main stage VIP area to get a good seat for the historic reunion of Rage Against The Machine.

I'd not been a fan when they were together. Well, not totally true. I thought the music itself was incredible, flexible, funky, powerful. But Zach De La Rocha's bark/singing and juvenile junior high poetry protest song lyrics are embarrassing, especially in light of how underground and radical he THINKS he is.

I know music is subjective but I truly believe that if I had a couple of hours with the most diehard of Rage fans I could make them see that what De La Rocha writes is not protest but propaganda. Of the worst order.

All that being said, I still thought that if there was ever a time or space for me to enjoy a Rage Against The Machine show, it would be Coachella. I was very interested in how they recreated that sonic battering ram in a live environment.

Unfortunately, my optimism was ill conceived. All nuance was crushed. De La Rocha's vocal became the focus point which means that the show remained in a narrow strip of faux release and impotence masquerading as power.

I can't get the snark out of my head when dealing with Rage Against The Machine. What machine are you guys raging against, anyway? The espresso machine? The answering machine? The washing machine?

The totalitarian machine? Really? Didn't you make millions by EXPRESSING YOUR OPINIONS FREELY?


Monday, May 12, 2008

Dando Lion

In the space of about 2 months I almost pulled off a trifecta of musical obsession for Melody. There was The Rolling Stones concert at Dodger Stadium. There was Guns 'n Roses at the Gibson Amphitheater which we wound up NOT attending because we were both sick as a dog and she was leaving to go home for Christmas.

But before both of those came The Lemonheads at The Troubadour. The Troubadour for me holds a bit of melancholy...back when I first came out to Los Angeles for pilot season in 2001 my cousin Mike and I were supposed to see Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. Joe Strummer was the lead singer/rhythm guitar player/songwriter/bandolero of The Clash. His next band The Mescaleros is ALMOST as good as The Clash. His solo stuff is sadly under appreciated.

Mike had tickets. But a speeding late '70's American behemoth of a car hit-and-ran me at the intersection of Crenshaw and the 10. Needless to say I was in no shape for a concert. Joe Strummer died the next year. I'm still in denial over that one.

So The Troubadour symbolizes the great show that never came to pass for me, and is tied up with the death of an idol. But when I heard The Lemonheads were playing there I snapped up 2 tickets pronto.

Melody was new to LA at the time and hadn't been to The Troubadour. She also had been a teenager in mad lust/love with Evan Dando but had never had the opportunity to see them live. I risked her taking him hostage and going on the lam by taking her to the show.

I had always liked The Lemonheads but had never really gotten into them. To my ear they sounded lazy. I also held a bit of a guy grudge against Evan Dando, feeling that a guy that tall and good-looking couldn't possibly have anything to say that would speak to a normal size midget like myself.

I've since come to believe that his music has been greatly overlooked due to this prejudice, in much the same way that Marilyn Monroe's immense gift was overshadowed by her beauty. This is a shame because Evan Dando is a GREAT writer.

His songs somehow cram Douglas Coupland novels into 3 minutes and 30 seconds of sing-along tastiness. He can confound you and break your heart at the same time. When you spend a little time with this music you start to worry for him, to feel protective, to wish that the rest of the world would stop drooling over him long enough to take him, his feelings, his songs, and his ideas seriously.

His songs prefigure the whole alt/country genre and he croons as hard as he rocks.

All that being said, I couldn't help but feel some serious pangs of jealousy as I watched him stoop down to sing into a fully extended microphone stand while my girlfriend loudly lost her mind.