PERMANENT RECORDS: WHEN I GO OUT ON THE RAZZLE
Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.
11. MARION - THIS WORLD AND BODY (1995)
Personnel: Jaime Harding, vocals & harmonica; Tony Grantham, guitar & piano; Phil Cunningham, guitar; Nick Gilbert, bass; Murad, drums & percussion
Producer: Al Clay/ Label: London Records
A lot of albums I've written about on this list aren't ones I listen to that regularly--unless you count a couple of times a year as regularly. More likely, they have songs that from time to time will leap into my head for no apparent reason, drawing me back to listen to a track or two. Marion's debut This World and Body is a record where more than half of the songs on the disc is one of those siren moments. The machine gun riff on opening track "Fallen Through" starts it off, but then there are the handful of singles like "Sleep" and "Time" and "Toys for Boys." "Let's All Go Together" is an hymn of mass suicide, "Your Body Lies" is soft and soothing, and "My Children" is a cry in the dark, an excited expression of anxiety and escape.
Even with that in mind, This World and Body wasn't slated to show up here. I figured this close to the top 10, I'd be scrambling to get to albums I can't believe I had neglected this long (there isn't yet any Paul Weller of any kind, for instance). It just happened that I was messing around with something this week and Marion came to mind and before I knew it This World and Body was off the shelf and being played. From there, it was straight down memory lane.
I know I've written before about my mid-90s heyday as a groupie chasing bands all over the West Coast (and sometimes beyond). Portland was the best place to stay, though, because when the British bands came through (they often didn't, which is when travel would commence), it was virtually guaranteed my friends and I would be the only ones hanging about. Even for the bigger groups like Elastica, most people in this town were too busy being hip and thus had to demonstrate their distinct ability not to care.
Which was fine by me. Let them hang out in sweaty punk rock clubs watching some shitty little combo fresh out of high school that would be broken up before their first shift at McDonald's. Less of them meant more for me.
Marion came through town at the bottom of a three-band bill headlined by Edwin McCain. I don't remember what his one hit was, but suffice to say he was tangentially related to Hootie & the Blowfish and so there is an actual reason he was forgotten. The main club in Portland at the time was La Luna, and I was there three or more times a week sometimes. Shows cost between $5 and $10, sometimes maybe cresting up to $12. It was an easy time to be out in the wilderness, one could get by on very little. We'd go down early in the day and meet the bands before soundcheck, and often we'd get to go in early or hang out after the show was over because we got to know the people working at the club.
At this point in time, the posse consisted of myself and Christopher, two Japanese exchange students who were totally adorable (and also an easy pass into a British band's backstage), and another girl. We had become a pretty tight knit group at that point. Spend enough time sitting on the concrete with someone waiting for a club to open, and a bond is going to form. It just happens.
I don't remember the exact meeting we had with Marion, but we did get inside as things were being set up. Our collective gasp when we learned that their manager was Joe Moss and that the older gentleman with the group was the selfsame Joe Moss probably earned us some points. Joe had managed the Smiths, you see, and we naturally knew such trivia. A similar thing happened when it was discovered that the photographer down front for Suede's first Los Angeles performance was Kevin Cummins. Both he and Joe Moss were positively aghast that kids all the way out on the Pacific Ocean would know who they were. Christopher in particular gravitated to Joe, and they talked pretty much all night.
I chased Jaime, the dark haired and gorgeous singer. Yes, he had the same name as me, but he also had a certain cat-like sensuality, his skinny frame gliding through the empty venue like he'd been born to his tight-fitting clothes and that the more you stared, the more alive he'd be. I also felt protective of our young Japanese girls, and I made it my business to know where they were at all times. Rhythm sections in particular were filled with wolves.
Before the show, while Jaime and Joe waited for the rest of the band to finish setting up, getting the very last soundcheck because they were the first to go on, Christopher and I hung out with them off to the side where some chairs lined the wall. Somehow the subject of PJ Harvey came up, and Christopher decided to tell the guys that I didn't like PJ Harvey. His motivation is still unclear, though it likely had something to do with him generally having less luck than the rest of us when it came to band chasing. One of our most often told stories was when we were watching Blur do their soundcheck on The Great Escape tour--well, we minus Christopher. He was late, and when he arrived at La Luna he went to the side door and peered in through the window. Barely had he had a chance to get our attention and wave when the security guard closed the curtain on him. Poor hapless Christopher. This Marion anecdote probably ranks as #2 behind that Blur moment.
You see, this PJ Harvey thing was a total lie. I love PJ Harvey! So, when I heard the malicious words come out of his mouth, I was completely shocked. How could he say such a thing? I defended my honor, and Christopher started to backpedal--quite literally, as it were. He took a couple of steps back, oblivious to the fact that five or six guitar cases were lined up behind him, all standing on edge, placed in a row like dominoes. The back of his shins hit the first one, and as he realized what was happening, a strange gravitational anomaly occurred. He lost his balance, but rather than tumble over backward, I swear he was suspended in mid-air, his arms spinning in great arcs as if he were a hummingbird and the swift movements held him up. The first guitar case teetered there, as well, but then it tipped, hitting the one behind it, knocking them all down one by one. As if on cue, whatever was keeping Christopher afloat burst, and he tumbled back after them. It was the best case of instant karma I had ever seen. (God, he's going to kill me for this!)
The show that night was blistering. Marion were on fire. The way La Luna was set up, though, anyone besides us that had come early could avoid giving the band a chance. Oregon law requires drinking areas and non-drinking areas be totally separate, so the bar was located at the back of the hall and though the partition that marked it was open, it still left quite a bit of distance between stage and boozers. Everyone but the five of us was all the way back there. Jaime would occasionally send out calls to the estranged, but it did little good.
Not that you could tell from the band's performance. Whether it was their determination to win people over or the freedom that comes from thinking no one is really listening, they tore through their set with wild abandon. Marion's performance at La Luna is up there with the best of all live shows. You'd have thought they were playing to the biggest crowd the world had ever seen. At one point, the guitarist Phil was so into it, he fell over backwards right off the stage, crashing onto the hard wooden floor. He kept playing, lifting himself up and jumping back on stage. Dedication to rock 'n' roll!
As soon as the set was finished, we all ran backstage to tell them how excited we were. The gig had gotten us totally amped. We sat around the dingy hole that served as the band area and drank everyone's beer and chatted. Eventually, we made our way to the upstairs bar where there was a game room, and Jaime and I played air hockey for bragging rights to say which of us spelled our name properly. I lost. Though I still contend he spells it like a girl.
This World and Body was already one of my favorite albums. I liked it instantly, its ferocity taking me completely by surprise. I had not actually come to the band that easily. Their B-side "Late Gate Show" was on a Select Magazine giveaway cassette and it didn't jazz me up, and I actually passed on their singles "Violent Men" and "Toys for Boys" at Ozone when I had sampled them there. (Christopher actually got them, I believe, so he owed me, really.) But when I put on This World and Body it shook both for me. Seeing them destroy Portland from the live stage, and having the entire city be unaware of its own obsolescence, though, ensured I would love Marion forever. Like so many great bands of the period, they would release one more record (produced by Johnny Marr, no less), originally only in Japan and then in the UK, and then disappear amidst personal turmoil too sad to recount. Recently, however, Marion came back and posted some cool demos to their MySpace page. I can only hope they'll do another album and hit the road. Portland may have rebuilt itself, but that doesn't mean it can't be torn down once more.
NOTABLE B-SIDE: Though I missed "Violent Men" as an A-side, it resurfaced on the B of "Sleep," the last single from This World and Body. It actually still plays as a bit of a wannabe in the Britpop canon, like other lackluster debuts by also-rans like Powder or something off that first Shed Seven album. Yet, if you dig deep, the trappings are there. Jaime's vocals have a richness that a lot of the more famous Britpop singers never touched, like Thom Yorke if he actually woke all the way up, and the guitar riff in the chorus is like an early scribble of the sharper hooks of "Fallen Through" and "Time." Plus, you have to love the sensitive boy lyrics decrying the ridiculousness of his own gender. Why oh why hadn't I bought this when it was in my hands? Thanks be to the band for putting it on the flip, as it was not on the album.
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Current Soundtrack: My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade
Current Mood: recumbent
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich