THIS HERE’S A BALLAD FOR THE GOOD TIMES
[written Friday, 6/20, Portland International Airport]
I’ve only been in the airport maybe 45 minutes at the most, and already I am longing for real air. Perhaps it was the train ride, too. All day I am going to be breathing thick, manufactured air, pumped out of a vent. The head will never be the same.
The week has been a bit of a rush. Duklyon was turned in Wed., and I already have an assignment for another series. Non-CLAMP, looks like a romantic comedy—and that’s all I can say. Tokyopop is holding off on the announcement while details are sorted out.
Finished up the Hawaiian Dick afterword and gave it to Clay on Wed. I think it turned out all right. I am amused that I used a drug metaphor for the book.
Been trading e-mails with Scott Ciencin over the YA genre series. I really wouldn’t be able to do this without him. It’s such a different headspace than I am used to. We have to think in the long-term, as well as thinking for selling this to a publisher. This means dealing with plot machinations and character types, and things that I don’t fully understand, so I follow behind and let it soak in. I guess it’s wrong to say I don’t understand since I do get it. I do know how these pieces are put together and are cut off a very old and reliable block of story stuff, it’s more I don’t think that way. It’s like if you ask me for the plot of Cut My Hair or The Everlasting, I can’t really give you the pitch. I am not a linear writer who thinks about plot or throughlines or the essence of a character. I am far too half-assed for that—so this is all educational and possibly good for me. I also talked a bit to the man who will likely represent me as an agent.
I went to see Blur at the Roseland in Portland last night, and I had a real blast. Before I get into the show, I do have one:
Notice: They play the music loud because you are not supposed to be having a conversation during it. If this was meant to be a social gathering, they would play the music soft so that you and your dimbulb date could talk right through the whole thing. This applies to Matthew McConaughey-wannabes in bad sandals, even. Was that you? I am glad you found this, because you needed to hear what I have to type. I appreciate irony, so you please me in some sick way in that you sure have very little to say for someone who talks to so much. But then, that’s why no one here likes you.
Okay, now that that is out of the way…
I’ve seen Blur four times now. The first was on the tour for The Great Escape, when it snowed outside and we snuck our way in for soundcheck and just acted like we belonged. The second was an amazing whirlwind trip to San Francisco, a week before the self-titled album came out in North America, for an insane and buoyant show where everyone knew the words to all the new songs. (This was the days before downloading, and so we all had promptly bought the import, unwilling to wait.) I saw them again after that in Portland, when they came through a second time for the same album, after the success of “Song 2.” The jubilant tone of the previous show was replaced by a standoffish professionalism. It was still a great concert, but for the people who knew the one song off the radio more than the fans. (Though, we did get one of the early outings of “Swallows in a Heatwave,” a lost classic if ever there was one.)
They haven’t been to Portland since—and when was that? ’97? It’s a couple of interesting albums later, and despite the main Portland paper (hello, you shitpile, Willamette Week) possibly having no clue that Think Tank even exists (yes, asshead, a band would tour on a three-year-old greatest hits package, wouldn’t they?), people remembered, people came, and people were conquered.
Still, Blur is what, 13 years old now? Some of us are getting on in years. Which made it all the more shocking to discover that Blur hate fat people! That’s right, you heard me. Damon Albarn, Dave Rowntree, Alex James—they despise the portly members of their audience. How else can you explain that they only had one T-shirt in XL? Sure, their merchandise shill said they had run out since the tour was almost over, but dammit, you bring more XL than anything else, since your fans are turning into fat fogies! Plus, the remaining XL was the worst shirt they had. Fuckers.
Ignoring their anti-chubby politics, though, one must admit that the show was fantastic. And just as Albarn’s writing shifts from album to album, he once more brought a whole new stage persona. Backed now by ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong, along with the regular rhythm section, and the addition of three back-up singers, a keyboardist/saxophonist, and a second man on percussion, Damon has dropped the eager popstar manicness and is now the drunken elder statesmen, showing up and doing the job and somehow making it look easy, unrehearsed, and bloody brilliant. There was a little Mark E. Smith in his staggering swagger, and maybe even a little Tom Waits, too. He’s still gripped by the passion, surely, but he’s very much in control of it, and he needn’t work it too hard. Just let it be. It gave the performance an air of spontaneity, a looseness that nearly suggested they were just making it all up on the spot and that for as much as it was good, it could disintegrate at any second—a difficult task, creating a false danger. But that’s rock ’n’ roll.
Think Tank was the most-represented album, which is as it should be. “Brothers & Sisters” swept everyone up in a sense of community, and “Battery In Your Leg” is an amazing set closer. “Gene By Gene” is as fun live as on record, and “Crazybeat” fits well alongside “Song 2” as crowd-pleasing noise. The only disappointment was “Out of Time.” There was something wrong with the mix, and a bit of keyboard racket was stepping over the melody.
A nice grab bag of oldies also served us well. “Girls & Boys” may have seemed a little perfunctory, but “Beetlebum” still maintains its lackadaisical charm. “Trimm Trabb” slid in quiet and then grew to fantastic, “For Tomorrow” jumped in our midst like the hero it is, and “Tender” had the sort of elegiac, uplifting grace that you expect from something with gospel trappings (which is the whole point of gospel, which is what its detractors don’t get, since they are wrong in the head and sniff too much ink). Damon led us to believe that “To The End” was a recent addition to the set, and this was the third airing on the tour, and it’s still lovely. Highlight, though, had to be “Badhead,” both because it was an unexpected choice, and just because its simple melody and off-kilter instrumentation make you realize that Blur hasn’t gone that far away from their early days, that the anything-goes feeling was always there. (Though, early B-sides and tracks like “Sing,” I’ve always argued, pointed a clear path to 13, still their best record.)
The encore was a perfectly chosen four-pronged music weapon. “Popscene” still has the power to thrill, and serves as a great coda to a night of musical abandonment. Damon got pretty animated. This is Blur’s “I Can See For Miles.” It was followed by “On The Way to the Club,” which they linked up with the amazing “We’ve Got a File On You,” two-minutes of glorious, paranoid, accusatory, angry punk. The capper, though, was “This is A Low,” perhaps the most life-affirming sad song there ever was. I think it’s impossible not to crumble and sing along to it, and it’s the greatest high to be sent out into the night air on.
Current Soundtrack: Blur, Parklife