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Dull Tableaux

If I were to time travel back to the year 2000 and tell 13-year-old me that she’d get to see The Violent Femmes in concert someday, she would erupt in celebratory expletives and jack up the volume on “Blister in the Sun” (which, naturally, would just happen to be playing on her boom box).  She’d dance like a fool — much like present-day me dances — before going into a sloppy, yet epic air guitar performance.   She’d have no idea that the news was about to get even better.

“Wait,” I would say, “They’re not the only ones playing.  They’re opening for your #1 favorite band.”

13-year-old Steff would stop playing air guitar and her eyes would widen in amazement beneath her perfectly blown-out bangs.

“NO WAY!!!”

13-year-old Steff’s #1 favorite band was Barenaked Ladies.  “One Week” blew her mind in 1998, and so her 44-year-old dad took her to Best Buy one Sunday afternoon and bought her a copy of Stunt.  She loved the entire album from start-to-finish, and thus began her very first mission to obtain every album previously released by a rock (?) group.

“No FUCKING way!” she’d scream before hitting “eject” on her CD player and replacing The Violent Femmes with Born on a Pirate Ship — the darkest, most brooding Barenaked Ladies album to date.

“BROKE INTO THE OLD APARTMENT!” she’d scream along, closing her eyes and collapsing onto her bed.  “THIS IS WHERE WE USED TO LIVE!”

“Bad news,” I would say, interrupting her barenaked reverie.  “Steven Page leaves the band in 2009.”

13-year-old Steff would sit up straight and stare into my eyes and demand an explanation.  I’d tell her about the cocaine arrest, and her face would fall.

“What year do I see them?” she’d ask.

“2015.”

“…How old are we then???”

“Listen,” I would say, “this is also gonna sound really, really weird, but by the time you see them live, you won’t be a super fan anymore.  You won’t even know any of the material that they released after Maroon.

13-year-old me would furrow her brow.

“What’s Maroon?”

“It comes out in a few months.  Mom’ll get it for you.  You won’t like it as much as their other albums, but you’ll appreciate it a lot during the first semester of 8th grade.”

“What the fuck?”

“We will always love and appreciate Barenaked Ladies,” I’d assure her.

A few seconds would go by, and then “Call Me Calmly” would come on.  13-year-old Steff would grab the boom box remote and skip to “Break Your Heart.”  She’d become somber.

“But why are we seeing them in concert if we don’t like their new stuff?”

“Because dad’s client is also playing that night, so tickets were easy to come by.  Also, in recent years we’ve become highly preoccupied with our mortality, and so we’re determined to cram in as many experiences as we can before we die. Seeing The Violent Femmes and Barenaked Ladies in the same night seems very poetic to us.”

13-year-old Steff would take a moment to process everything.  Then she would say, “I like your t-shirt.”

“Thanks,” I would say, admiring her pink Paul Frank kangaroo.  “I like yours too.”

“Spider in My Room” would come on.  13-year-old Steff would skip that song, too.  Then she’d remember that she doesn’t like the end of the album as much as she likes the beginning, and so she’d walk over to the boom box, hit “stop” on the CD player, and then hit “play” on the tape player.  Her hand-me-down copy of Gordon would start up halfway through “Enid.”  She’d do some clumsy fast-forwarding before finally arriving at the beginning of “Brian Wilson.”

“The concert is still gonna be hugely important to you, Steff,” I’d continue.  “That afternoon at work, you’re gonna realize that you’ve been single for exactly two years.  You’re gonna think about all the incredible things you’ve experienced since you were 13 and used to listen to Barenaked Ladies all the time.  You’re gonna actually miss sitting at your desk and doing homework and listening to “What A Good Boy” and thinking about your crushes and crying…”

“Wait,” 13-year-old Steff would say, “are you saying we’re gonna have a boyfriend?”

“Several.”

We would spend several minutes talking about this.  She’d be confused by my tepid attitude toward the whole thing (“REAL boyfriends?!?” “Yup”) and she’d have all kinds of questions about how I got them to like me (“It just happened”).  I’d try to explain to her that it’s important to always be yourself and to never change who you are in order to impress a boy.

“But are they HOT?!” she’d ask.

“Looks don’t mean shit,” I’d say.

“So…they’re ugly?”

“No.  But looks don’t mean shit.”

Finally, I’d tell her about the show.

“You’re going to miss Colin Hay because you’re gonna be sitting on a park bench outside the entrance of the Greek Theater eating a veggie sandwich from Italia Deli.  Mom’s gonna tell you about a dream she had the night before about Nick Cave.”

“Who the fuck is that?” she’d ask.

“Remember that song from Scream about the ‘red right hand’?  He sings that.  And he’s going to become hugely important to you when you’re 25.  Anyway, you’re gonna be kinda tired when you get inside, but then The Violent Femmes are gonna come on, and you’re gonna wake the fuck up.”

“Do we still like The Violent Femmes?”

“Yes,” I’d say.  “We do.  And that album becomes a very important tool we use to determine how much we like new people we meet.”

I’d tell her about the young guy sitting next to dad and how dad’s going to give him a bag of potato chips that mom originally brought for us.  I’d tell her that she’s going to feel compelled to turn toward the guy and ask him questions about what the band has been up to since Maroon and if the new album is any good.

“After you and the guy are done talking about the band, dad is gonna reach into his pocket and hand the guy a backstage pass.”

“We have backstage passes?!”

“Yes, but you’re not gonna use yours,” I’d tell her.  “You’re gonna leave after the show and get stuck in horrible traffic.  But yeah, dad’s client is gonna score dad some passes, and dad is gonna give his away to a kid named Rafa who still really, really loves Barenaked Ladies.  Steff, you’re gonna feel very proud of dad in that moment, and you’re gonna vow to yourself to try to remember that moment next time dad does anything that annoys you.  You’re going to try to remember that dad is a very kind man, and you’re gonna get a little bit teary eyed before the show starts, because you’re also going to be thinking about death.”

13-year-old Steff would sit in silence as she listened to me talk about love and death and backstage passes.  I would almost tell her about how dad is going to test her patience an hour later when the band goes into “One Week” and dad grabs her arm and physically pulls her to him and then shoves her into Rafa while loudly proclaiming, “YOU GOTTA BE NEXT TO RAFA FOR THIS ONE!” but I would ultimately decide to let her face that challenge on her own.

“Also,” I would add, “you’re not gonna like the first song that much.  You’re not gonna hate it, but you’re kinda gonna think, ‘Aw man, this is way too pleasant.  I can’t get into this right now.’  You’re also really, really gonna miss Steven.  You’re gonna think, ‘Fuck, Steven brought the edge.’  And then, after the applause dies down, Ed is gonna launch into ‘The Old Apartment,’ and you are going to lose your breath.  You’re gonna listen to that song, and it’ll be your 200th time hearing it, but you’ll finally understand what it’s about.”

“Death?”

I’d laugh.

“No, not quite.  You’ll get it, though.  And it’s gonna blow your mind.”

“Am I gonna like the rest of the show?”

“Yes,” I’d tell her.  “You’re gonna love it.  But it’s gonna hurt a little.  In a good way.”

13-year-old Steff would remain quiet.  She’d have a lot to think about.  I’d give her a hug, tell her she’s hilarious and beautiful and not to let middle school get her down, and then I’d hop back in my time machine to 2015.

***

Nick Cave once gave a lecture called “The Secret Life of the Love Song” at the Vienna Poetry Festival in 1999.  A certain theme of the lecture swirled through my mind last night during the Barenaked ladies set:

“We all experience within us what the Portugese call Suadade, which translates as an inexplicable sense of longing, an unnamed and enigmatic yearning of the soul.  And it is this feeling that lives in the realms of imagination and inspiration, and is the breeding ground for the sad song, for the Love song is the light of God, deep down, blasting through our wounds.”

This is “the edge.”  This is what I’ve always been drawn to in music, even by groups that also sing “nice” songs about Yoko Ono and what they’d do with $1,000,000.  “Inexplicable longing.”  It’s a powerful thing.

“I know we don’t live here anymore
We bought an old house on the Danforth
She loves me and her body keeps me warm
I’m happy there
But this is where we used to live

Broke into the old apartment
Tore the phone out of the wall
Only memories, fading memories
Blending into dull tableaux

I want them back”

— Barenaked Ladies “The Old Apartment”

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All Apologies

I’m worried about an intimate friend of mine who doesn’t know I exist.  We’ve met before, but there’s no reason for him to remember.  I remember, though.  It was brilliant.

It’s Nick Cave.  I’m worried about Nick Cave.

I was thinking about him this morning during my drive to work.  I was in a real crap mood.  Everything just seemed so bleak and blah and I was being a total brat.  I’ll put it this way: I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana lately.  A lot of Nirvana.   I need it.  I’m living off it.  In the morning, when I’m grumpy and groggy and stuck on a crowded, winding freeway, all I want to hear is the MTV Unplugged in New York album.  I’m usually turning onto Melrose Avenue by the time Kurt Cobain starts telling the story about Lead Belly’s guitar.  “I even asked David Geffen personally if he’d buy it for me.”  Kurt, you little punk.

Courtesy of papermag.com

I was feeling very thankful for Kurt this morning as I drove along in my solitary angst — he was making me feel less solitary.  This feeling of gratitude made me think of a different time in my life where I relied on an artist to get me through the day — it was 2012, and I was on my first Nick Cave Bender.  I was unemployed, I was living with my parents, and I had just gotten my hands on a copy of Let Love In.  Something shifted.  I lost and found myself again and again in images of the devil crawling along my floor.

Yes, I realize I sound like an emo kid straight out of 2003 when I say that kinda shit, but I suppose that’s appropriate — I was, after all, depressed and living with my parents.  Nick Cave gave me something to do.  It became imperative to go out and find all of the Bad Seeds albums.  I absolutely had to get my hands on all of the concert DVDs.  I needed to read all the old interviews and watch all the behind the scenes footage I could possibly scrounge from the depths of the information superhighway.  Nick Cave was my comfort and my company.  Creepy?  I dunno.  Maybe?  Not really.  I was just lonely and bored and sad and filling out job applications seemed a lot less meaningless whilst listening to “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry.”

When Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds announced in November 2013 that they would be coming to Los Angeles the following summer for a show at The Shrine, I immediately set my alarm for 5am so that I could get pre-sale tickets the following day.  Months later, they announced a second show.  It sold out within minutes, but I managed to find a pair of tickets on StubHub for a sum of money I’m not proud of paying.  (I am proud, though.  Secretly.)  A third show was added — a solo one with limited seating — and I busted out my debit card one final time.  In July of 2014, I saw Nick Cave three nights in-a-row, and it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever, ever done.

I did talk to him.  Twice, actually.  The first time was during the Q&A that followed the solo show, and the second time was in the parking lot of The Shrine after the second show.  He had changed out of his sleek black sport jacket and into a blue velour zip-up sweater.  He was busy taking a picture with someone, and when he finished, he turned to face me.  I didn’t do or say anything weird — I just asked if he’d sign my friend’s copy of King Ink.  He instinctively knew to spell her name with one “L.”

I shouldn’t have been looking at my phone this morning, but I was.  I was at a stoplight and I picked up my phone and looked at my Facebook and saw that my friend had sent me an article.  The headline sealed the fate of my day: “Nick Cave’s Teenage Son Arthur Dies After Cliff Fall.”

I threw my phone onto the floor of my car and unleashed a guttural, primal, “NOOOOOOO.”  The light turned green.

“Never look at your fucking phone while driving, Steff,” I thought.  “Never do that again.”

“I know, I know, I shouldn’t,” I answered.  “At least I was at a stoplight.”

“I know.  But don’t do it again.  Ever.”

“I won’t,” I said to myself.  “I promise.”

I meant it.  I do mean it.  Because life is fragile.  How we manage to forget that for such long stretches of time is truly amazing.

When I arrived at the office and parked my car and turned off the engine, I picked up my phone from the floor.  My cousin had also sent me the article.  I read it.  It pretty much repeated what the headline had already summarized.  A cliff.  A fucking cliff.  A 15-year-old boy had died after falling off a cliff.

A few months ago, my younger brother and I saw Nick Cave in Hollywood.  He was there to read excerpts of his new book.  He didn’t sing anything — just talked and read.  We were in the second row and I was ecstatic to just be in the same room as my hero, my caretaker, my girly obsession.  The first thing he read was an excerpt about a little boy walking across a treacherous bridge.  The little boy was him — this was a memory.

Nick Cave’s family was in the audience that night.

https://vimeo.com/122744455

With eerily appropriate timing, my younger brother sent me a message that just said, “Nick Cave’s son  😦 “  Before I could respond, he added, “It’s even sadder thinking back on what Nick was saying at that book reading, about being a kid in Australia walking on bridges and the wives tales about the boys that had fallen off.”

I exited the car.  When I got to my desk and opened up Facebook again, I saw that another one of my cousins had sent me an article about Arthur Cave.

A co-worker appeared in my doorway.  He said, “Hey.”  I turned to face him, and I guess my face said everything — the next words out of his mouth were, “I know.  I read the sad news.  Terrible.”

I sat with the sad news.  I thought about Nick Cave, the dad behind the fierce suit and the sexy, bloody love songs.  I thought about his wife, Susie, the stunning model who gave birth to twin boys 15 years ago.  I thought about Arthur’s twin brother, Earl, and wondered how he must be feeling right now.

Nick Cave, the dad.

I only know Nick Cave’s music.  I don’t know Nick Cave, the dad.  I’m a superfan, not a stalker.  However, being a superfan of another human being’s art is kind of a complicated thing.  How do you give back to an artist whose music has helped you through so much?  Is it even possible?  Perhaps the most efficient and affective way to show respect is by leaving the artist alone — remaining a superfan instead of a stalker.  I suppose a letter is always an option, but, unfortunately, a letter isn’t gonna solve shit.  Not in this case.

I’ll just continue being a superfan.  If he releases another album, I’ll get it.  If he goes on tour again, I’ll see him.  If he makes another movie, I’ll watch it.  If he decides to retire, I’ll support his decision.

I’ll also give my parents huge hugs when I see them tonight.  I suggest you all do the same.  And stop looking at your phones while you’re in the car.  If driving makes you feel anxious or bored or angry, you can always just put on some tunes.  I have a few recommendations.

I’m so, so sorry Nick.

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“But why are the kids crying?!”

“How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?”

That’s the attitude I try to have when it comes to the death of someone I loved, yet never met.

In 2013, I lost three of my best friends.  The news was devastating every time.  Did I know them personally?  No.  And yes.  And not really.  And very well.

Why did I consider them my friends?  All of them had just, I dunno — all of them had gotten me through so many confusing, shitty, or just plain boring times.  I hope I don’t sound too crazy when I say that.  I’ve never stalked anyone and I understand the difference between fantasy and reality, but yeah, these people meant a lot to me.  They still mean a lot to me.  I can call them my “friends” if I want.  And I was sad when my friends made their exits.

Still, the question remains: “How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?”

Lou Reed?  He ain’t dead.  He can’t be.  I still love him very much and I still have “Sweet Jane,” so nothing has changed.

James Gandolfini isn’t dead, either, and neither is Tony Soprano.  (My theory, anyway.)

Peter O’Toole.  My dearest, darling Peter O’Toole.  The coolest.  The smartest.  The hottest.  The craziest.  That voice.  That height.  That hair.  I think about him all the time and I miss him all the time, and yet, as long as I can get together with my friends every December and laugh and cry and yell and drink champagne while watching The Lion in Winter, Peter O’Toole can never die.

This morning, as soon as I got to work and turned on my computer, I found out that Rik Mayall died.  Today.  Rik Mayall died today.  Weird.  So very weird.  And sad.  He was still, well, young…

Just last week, I was listening to The Pogues and wondering when Shane MacGowan would die.  I was also wondering why Shane MacGowan hasn’t died already.  Seriously.

I should stop.  I don’t wanna give the universe any ideas.

My point is, I was already thinking about my remaining heroes and wondering who I’d lose next.  Apparently, not Shane MacGowan.

Oddly enough, I was also thinking about The Young Ones last week.  I don’t remember why or how, but, quite suddenly and inexplicably, I felt inspired to find the Dr. Marten’s boots song on YouTube.  After watching it, I spent a good hour and a half searching for cheap Dr. Marten’s online.  No avail.

The next day, a co-worker of mine mentioned The Young Ones.  He’s Scottish.  I said, “I fucking love The Young Ones.”  He said, “That’s too weird.”  I asked him why.  He said, “It’s just weird that you even know that show.”  I asked him why.  He said, “I dunno.  I mean, it’s British and it’s old and it’s weird…I mean, I was watching that when I was in high school.”  I said, “So was I.”

If you knew me in high school, you must recall that I was a pretty cool teenager.  I mean it.  Like, the coolest.  For example, when I was 15 or 16, I begged my mom to buy me orange suede ADIDAS like the ones Ewan McGregor wears in Trainspotting.  I felt so badass whenever I wore them.  Like, so very, very badass.  I also begged her to buy me a pair of plaid pants, because, ya know, Scotland.  Or something.

There’s really, like, very minimal plaid in Trainspotting.  I realize that now.

The coolest thing, though, was that every Saturday afternoon in tenth grade (after improv practice, no less) I would go to my friend Kaley’s house for Britcom.  Yes.  Britcom was our somewhat exclusive club that involved eating ice cream and watching British comedies until our eyes hurt.  We wrote a constitution at one point.  I don’t remember what was in it except for The Golden Rule, which came from an episode of Father Ted: “If anyone is ever talking to you again, think about what you’re saying and then don’t say it, and then just run away somewhere.”

The Young Ones was one of Britcom’s staples.  Every David Bowie reference made me feel so damn validated.  I went out and bought a Madness record and listened to “House of Fun” on repeat.  I began referring to my English teacher as a “fascist bully boy,” despite the fact that she was a She.  I seldom said, “I don’t have any money” — I usually launched into a Neil impression and said, “We haven’t got any breaaaad.”  When I was feeling boy crazy I was a “Bitch funky sex machine.”  I wrote “Boomshanka” on things I shouldn’t have written “Boomshanka” on.   I even once got a Starbucks barista to write it on the sleeve of my Americano.  I think I still have that sleeve somewhere.

Rik Mayall is dead.  The people’s poet is dead.  I’m sad for his wife and his family.  I’m sad for Ade Edmondson.  Like I keep saying, though, “we still have his poems.”

My VHS tapes of The Young Ones were dragged from my parents’ house to my college dorm (there was a VCR in the downstairs common room), and when I moved out of the dorm and into an on-campus apartment, I made sure to buy a TV that had both a VHS player and a DVD player.  Why?  Well, how could I live without Neil, Mike, Vyvyn, and Rick?  They were university students, after all.

I still have those tapes.  I’m not ever going to get rid of those tapes.

Aw, Rick.  Thanks for helping make it nearly impossible for me to legitimately enjoy 99.9% of the current comedies on television.  No giant sandwiches falling from the sky?  No jokes about Leonard Cohen being a vampire?  No pervasive political undertones?  No, thank you.

There was also the music: Dexy’s Midnight runners doing “Jackie Wilson Said” and multiple Madness appearances and that great scene with friggin’ Motorhead…

What the hell is that shot of you guys being pushed on that…what is that?  That’s a luggage carrier thing, right?  Well, it slays me.  Every time.

Ah, Rick.  Thank you.  Your show is so damn cool.  So, so cool.  It had everything the teenage version of Steff wanted in a show, and, since 27 year old Steff is very similar to the person she was 11 years ago, it’s still one of my all time favorites.  It’s part of me, really.  An appreciation for The Young Ones (or the ability to sit through several episodes in-a-row) is my litmus test for whether or not a man is husband material.  (Husband, not boyfriend.  Those are two different things.)  Watching an episode of The Young Ones is my solo go-to activity when I’m having a shitty day.  The music that plays during the end credits is what I hear in my head when I’m exceptionally happy.

Aw, Rick.  RICK.  My favorite pseudo-intellectual-anarchist-hipster-bachelor-boy.  You’ve never failed to make me smile.  You never will, you friggin’ weirdo.

 

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