Friday, May 06, 2005

The Good Life

Wowzee wow wow, where can I begin?! I have just returned from a fantastical trip throughout the great state of Texas following around a Nebraskan band called The Good Life. This is headed up by Tim Kasher, also the leader of Cursive. Kasher is one of the greatest songwriters of all-time. I am a total fan. Like complete crazy. I don't get this way about bands often. Radiohead is one example of my raving lunatic fanaticalness. Love 'em. And now...Tim Kasher. Anything he touches is gold. Since being in love with him means I'm in love with whichever of his two bands he currently is recording/touring with, I usually just refer to him personally rather than either one of the bands singly. So if you asked me, "Who are some of your favorite bands?" I would just say, "Tim Kasher" instead of "Cursive" or "The Good Life", because I can't have one without the other. It's all good, baby. Well anyway, he is now touring with The Good Life, and he made three stops in Texas, so I had to go to all three of them. Of course. With my wife Stephanie, and our good friend Jane. We are all three of us rabid Kasherites, and it was Jane who introduced us to such wonderful music.

For the uninitiated, I suppose I should explain a few things. Tim Kasher is part of the Indie scene, that is, he records for independent record labels. No big time labels for him like Capitol or Sony. It's all pretty much a small-time thing. His current label is Saddle Creek. This is basically a group of friends and like-minded individuals who like to make music and need it put out some way. It doesn't work like the big labels, where basically executives own the bands and force them to work within the labels' specifications. No, these guys can do whatever they want. Saddle Creek just sort of puts it out for them. There is no big money promotions or anything. It's all pretty much just word of mouth. So of course, the shows are not big. No sold out arenas here. No, they just play at little clubs for something like $10 a ticket. Just bar bands that happen to tour the country or even the world. These bands cannot be really considered famous. At a big place like Best Buy you may find the latest CDs from Cursive and The Good Life, but usually none of their older stuff. A place like Wal-Mart is out of the question. The best places to find CDs by these type of bands is online or at weird CD stores that cater to indie kids. These stores are usually only found in the bigger cities, like Good Records in Dallas or Waterloo in Austin.

The darling of the indie scene right now is Conor Oberst, a complete moron whose leftist views have so completely softened his brain so as to be utterly useless, is gaining some sort of fame right now with his band Bright Eyes. They seem to be featured in every music or entertainment magazine and are appearing on every late night talk show. His music stinks, and he recently sold one of his most completely retarded songs ever to Sesame Street for $1.5 million. So, for those real indie kids who aren't so enamored with Conor that they can take an honest look at things from a historical indie perspective (which is the grandchild of the punk perspective), he is a total sell-out. He is quickly becoming one of those famous bands that supposedly represent the indie scene, but because of his rising fame, is automatically disqualified from being considered indie anymore. For those of you who are familiar with none of these things, don't worry; you're not missing much. The historical school of Indie thought is to say that anybody who becomes even remotely famous is now a sell-out, is no longer meaningful, and isn't "indie". I think this is complete nonsense. Why shouldn't talented bands become famous? And can they really help it if all of a sudden people like them? No, I only consider a person a true sell-out only if he compromises his original artistic and musical principles in order to sell more records. Now, I am not in a position to judge if whether or not Conor Oberst is a sell-out according to my definition because I don't know his intentions. Maybe he is just getting famous accidentally, as it were. But I will call him a sell-out for two reasons. One is that he sold a song to SESAME STREET! For $1.5 MILLION! I mean, COME ON! Secondly, I call him a sell-out because I know it will infuriate all of his silly little teeny-bopper fans and all those who like him mostly because of his retarded politics. Stephanie and Jane used to be big fans of his and were able to tolerate his stupid political views until a recent tour of Texas. At the show they attended, he said that he hated Texas and that all Texans did was rape Indians and rope steers. There he goes, biting the hand that feeds him. Let's not mention that Nebraska (where Oberst hails from) has a much more politically incorrect history with Native Americans than Texas does. It just goes to show what a completely small, closed-minded bigot he is. Now I use these phrases on purpose. Being some sort of bleeding-heart liberal, Oberst is exactly the kind of person that likes to accuse others of being closed-minded and bigoted. That is the way of the political left. Oh, you think abortion is murder? Well, you're just a small-minded bigot. But making a baseless caricature of over 22 million people is a-okay. Moron. I guess Stephanie and Jane still listen to his music, but that have agreed with me that personally, he is a big stinker. I always thought his music sucked even before I knew what an idiot he was, but now I have more reason to heap scorn on him.

Why did I mention Conor? I don't remember. I think it was probably to help explain to any of you not familiar with this aspect of the music scene what the Indie scene is all about, and since he is starting to appear on television, you may have actually heard of him. So I bring him up to give you a concrete example of all this stuff that I'm talking about.

Well, back to my boyfriend, Tim Kasher. He is probably an idiot, too, but he doesn't bash us over the head with it at concerts. So hoorah for him.

So the first Texas stop is in Austin at Emo's, then onto Denton where they played at Haileys', and finally Houston, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat. There were three other acts performing before the Good Life at each show. The first was Consafos. This is a delightful band that turned us into instant fans. Stephanie bought their new LP. This band is led by Stefanie Drootin, who plays bass for The Good Life and sometimes for Bright Eyes (the afore-mentioned band led by Conor Oberst). I guess you could say that she is an all-around handy bass player for the Saddle Creek stable of bands. I am glad to see her going out front with her own band and singing prettily after playing second banana to all these other guys. She deserves her own spotlight. She's awesome.

A second band playing is called Bella Lea. This band is also awesome. Stephanie and Jane weren't too keen on them at first, but they came around by the third show. For one thing, the singer, Maura Davis, is freaking HOT. Now, I know this has nothing to do with their talents, and that they would probably not be pleased at all if her hotness was the only reason to like them, but I can't help but mention it. Dang, she's hot! But the main reason I like these folks is that they play real rock and roll with real guitar solos and stuff. This is not very common in the Indie scene at all. As I have suggested earlier, the Indie scene and "emo" music (as it is often called) is a direct descendent of punk music. One of the hallmarks of the punk scene was its stripping from rock music all showiness. And this usually included guitar solos. For punk, it was usually considered a very bad thing if you could actually play guitar well. The Indie/Emo scene is similar. They may not be consciously anti-guitar solo, but I think it is a subconscious left-over. A lot of the music is also derived from folk music, which is also not very solo-y. Just basic chords on an acoustic guitar. Remember the uproar that occurred when Bob Dylan went electric and had Robbie Robertson play lead guitar for him? Scandalous! Well, it's kind of like that today. But not this band! For one thing, Maura Davis is a very good rhythm guitar player. From watching her, I could tell that she knew more than just the basic Mel Bay chords. She was playing figures all over the neck with weird fingerings that I couldn't recognize. And Matt Clark is an excellent guitarist. He wears his Jimmy Page influence on his sleeve with his bluesy guitar licks and, most notably, with his use of violin bow. I asked him about this after a show, and he said that of course Jimmy Page was an influence. Then seeing my AC/DC shirt, he cited them as an influence as well. Awesome! This band is good. They have a bluesy quality that I love. If you haven't noticed from my generally negative remarks, I am not a big fan of the Indie/Emo style of music. I love Tim Kasher, and I like a few others okay, but most of the scene is just not my bag. I'm a guitar player, I'm a rock 'n' roller, and I love the blues. So Bella Lea appeals to me in those ways. Yet they also have the sort of Emo sadness that I do like. It's the beautifully sung sadness of Tim Kasher that makes him appeal to me, and this is also one of the major appeals of Radiohead. Bella Lea's slower songs have this sadness that is sung so beautifully that just tears at the heart-strings. Lovely. If you click on the link I provided above for Bella Lea, you should start hearing one of these songs immediately. Beautiful.

The third band, Make Believe, just plain stunk. Oh my gosh, they were like the male Yoko Ono. Need I say more? If you like Yoko Ono, then knock yourself out and check this band out. If not, then I suggest that you leave this band alone. Man. They're the suckiest sucks that ever sucked.

And finally...The Good Life. And man, are they good. Let me tell you the story of Tim Kasher, as I have been told it. This may not be all true, but it sounds good. He used to make music, got married, and then stopped making music because his wife wanted him to get a real job. So there you see, he's a nice guy, changing his plans for the woman he loves. But it didn't work. She left him anyway. So, even though his songs were all sad before this point in his life, now they got really sad. The album that the Good Life is currently touring for, the aptly titled Album of the Year, chronicles a relationship through the course of a year. Kasher says that some is autobiographical, some is fictional, but it is all good. This is the album that I heard that turned me into an instant Tim Kasher fan. For one thing, the music is beautiful. I could be a fan no matter what the lyrical content was (well, except unless it was bigoted anti-Texas crap). His singing is so full of emotion so that you can't take your attention away. But the lyrics are what jumped out at me. This album pretty much describes word-for-word a previous relationship I was once in. Well, except for the bits about bars and drinking. I thought that I could have written this album. Except, of course, that I met my wife. This made me very happy, and so I could no longer write sad poems. Or any poems. I seem to be one of those guys (probably like Tim Kasher) who is creative when I am sad. When I am sad, I could put out great poems, and sometimes great songs. But happiness is a writer's block to me. Since I've been happy since December of 2000, I haven't had any real creative output since then. Darn you, Stephanie, for ruining my musical career! I kid her, of course.

Now then. As I said, these venues that the Good Life played at are small. Just little clubs. Bars, really. And again, these bands aren't really famous at all. So, you put these two facts together, and what you get is a bunch of awesome musicians wandering around the club with us regular folks when they're not needed on stage. Which means that I could, say, walk right up to my hero Tim Kasher and say, Hello, Mr. Kasher. Which I did. To my great embarrassment, I was so star struck on the first night that I just sort of blubbered at him and barely spit out what I was trying to say. He was probably very amused. He probably doesn't have grown men go a big gooey wet one on him very often. I think he was also amused by the fact that I called him "Mr. Kasher" instead of acting all cool like the other people there and just saying, "Hey, Tim, great to see you," as if they know him, which they don't. I got to talk to a lot of people in these bands. There are all cool and awesome. Especially when engaging in guitar talk with the guitarists. And even though Tim Kasher is my hero and I was there only for him, I think the most celebrity moment for me was meeting Stefanie Drootin, his bass player. As I have said, she also plays bass for Conor Oberst, and because of that fact, I have seen her on TV when Bright Eyes played on the Late Late Show with Colin Ferguson. So even though I am in love with Tim Kasher, I have never actually seen him on TV. Stefanie, I have seen on TV. So meeting her was, as I said, my most celebrity moment. It made me think of seeing wax figures at museums. I always see them and think, "This is way too small to be built to scale." But then you meet a famous person and discover that they are, in fact small. Other than that, they look just like they do on TV. Well, that was how I felt meeting Stefanie Drootin. Fortunately, I didn't go all gooey on her like I did on Tim Kasher. I was able to play it cool around her. I have a crush on her now, I've decided. Yes, I am in love. Stephanie (my wife) is cool with it because she has a crush on Tim Kasher. It all works out.

The first night, in Austin, we're watching the show and I had forgotten to bring my camera. Well, actually, I had remembered to bring my camera, but I had forgotten to put batteries in it. So I'm standing there thinking that I need to take pictures at the next show in Denton. And then I get a marvelous idea. Keep in mind that all previous concerts that I've been to were big famous ones. AC/DC, Radiohead, Velvet Revolver...that sort of thing. All these places are full of security guards and metal detectors. So I always had to smuggle cameras in my rectum and so forth. But not these shows. So I have this great idea. Nuts to my camera, why not bring a video camera to the next show? I asked my fine ladies with me, and they said that Haileys (the club in Denton that was next on the itinerary and with which they are very familiar) would have no objection to my bringing a video camera. I just needed to get permission from Tim Kasher. So I did! After the show. Well, actually, I got Jane to ask for me. Remember, I'm too star-struck to speak intelligible phrases at this point. Tim says sure, he doesn't care. So the next day I take my video camera with me.

Before the show I went up to my good friend Tim Kasher and asked him if he could manage to play my favorite song for me, "October Leaves". He said, "Oh, I'm sorry, we didn't learn that for the tour." I don't know if this is a cock-and-bull story or not. I see no reason why he should lie, because he takes lots of requests. Unless he thought maybe I was coming on to him. I suppose normally that it is girls who come up to him to request songs. Not some huge guy. But that's probably me just being paranoid. Maybe he honestly didn't remember how to play it.

And then I film the show. No tripod. Too short. Can't rest the camera on my shoulder. Too short. So I have to hold it up. For an hour and a half. Let me tell you, that is freaking hard work. Jane asked me if I'd film the Houston show, too, and I said no way. My shoulder is still sore. But it was worth it. Now I can see The Good Life live every night! Wee ha! And the fact that I got the blessing for its filming straight from Tim Kasher himself, well, that just makes it extra special.

But the absolute highlight of the whole experience came on the last day, in Houston. At every show, after about an hour, Tim would announce that it was the end of the "set proper." So all the other musicians would leave the stage, and he'd stand up there with his acoustic guitar and play a brand new song. Each night was a different new song. After that, the band would rejoin him and they'd play a few more songs. Anyway, he would always introduce the new song in some way, or dedicate it to somebody. So that last night, he's about to play his new song, and he stands there thinking of something to say. Then he points straight at me and says, "I dedicate the song to that guy, because he's been coming to all our shows. Following us around. But in a good way, not in a bad way. He hasn't been showing up at my doorstep." Well, I had an emotional orgasm right then and there, I can tell you that. Stephanie and Jane felt a bit slighted because they were sitting right next to me and had also been to every show, but he didn't mention them. Ha! So I am very special. I can die now. Just make sure you bury me with my recording of the Denton show.

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