Howe Gelb called me up a little while ago and asked me to participate in a…thing. I don’t remember what he said it’d be, it’s more that I just do anything Howe says to do. Plus, his “things” are always in Tuscon and I never need to be talked into going there. All I know he is that he used the word “barbecue”. So we whipped ourselves up into a familiar desert froth and headed south yet again.

As it turned out, Howe’s event was the something’th anniversary of the Hotel Congress, a beautiful old hotel/venue/restaurant in downtown Tuscon that looks like a scene from Paper Moon and feels like a scene from a Cohen brothers movie. Plus, Vic Chesnutt and John Doe were there which shot the superhero quotient up to dizzying heights.

The afternoon I got there, John showed me how to play X songs in his room until some fans busted in (I couldn’t blame them, John’s voice carrying down the hallway really added to the cinematic effect), then I proceeded to cling to Vic for two days. I hadn’t seen him since we were in Spain together last year. He’d almost died in the interim, apparently. Fucker.

So we played Howe’s barbecue under a beastly pretty Tuscon sky. Alone and together and then all together. It was “loose” but I found it very hard to care. I felt so lucky to be there.

The morning after, we sat in Howe and his wife Sophie’s kitchen as long as we could, sucking down as much of Sophie’s coffee as felt prudent before the long drive. The children played, the dogs slept under the table…I felt like I hadn’t been allowed to breathe for a long time. And Howe’s backyard air is a nice thing to breathe.

Now, of course, 50Foot is back in the van, itself associating with superheroes. I’ve never seen Mission of Burma live; back in the day, the Muses missed them in Boston by about a year. We played with its offshoots, Birdsongs of the Mesazoic and the Volcano Suns. I used to sit next to Peter’s kit to watch the Suns play because, being 18, I was only allowed in the dressing room or on the stage. Some of my favorite live shows ever were the backs of the Volcano Suns.

The first time I heard Burma play in person was at soundcheck in Seattle. Holy crap. Unbelievably huge. The kind of huge sound that only a signature band can make, because nobody else knows how.

I can’t be starstruck. I don’t have the capacity, simply because if someone does truly great work, in my mind, they’re not responsible for that work — they just knew enough to get out of the way, and if they suck, well, then they suck. But I can be starstruck by a song. “Mica”, a song that was a big part of the soundtrack of Billy & Kristin – The Early Years, absolutely blew me away. It’s the kind of song — and sound — that’s more than the sum of it’s parts, bigger than the three people playing their instruments and singing. The song — the right song — becomes another individual, in the room with us and onstage with the band. They make it look easy, I guess because it is easy — they speak their own language.

We’re so lucky to be here.


Posted in: words on September 19, 2006