Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Connections and Vectors and Degrees of Separation

So, I decided I needed to reread all of Gilbert Hernandez Love and Rockets Palomar stories before continuing my ongoing Favorite Comics posts. That's taking a little time, though the experience has been rewarding and worth it. But, in the meantime, I wanted to write about something else.

So I decided to write about Love and Rockets. The band this time, not the comic.

Well, sort of.

This past Sunday night I went to see David J perform at the Thunderbird Cafe, a little bar about a two-minute walk from my apartment. David J was the bass player for Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, as well as having an ongoing solo career, plus having played in some other random bands over the years. It was a really great show, featuring music from his entire career. I was a pretty big fan of most of this music at one time or another, so there were a lot of great moments for me last night.

But the main thing I want to talk about here are the random connections between people and events as we spiral around this planet of several billion people over time. During his performance, as he sang songs from his thirty-plus years in the industry, my mind started recalling all of the various connections I have with David J, though we had never met until last night.

This is rambling and out of any kind of chronological order, and probably of no interest to anyone but me, but I find these sorts of things fascinating. Bear with me.

I discovered Bauhaus late. They originally existed as a band from 1978 to 1983 when I was living in a place with no access to music that was, at that time, fairly obscure. I have since seen video of their live performances from the time, and I'm pretty sure, given my penchant for costumes and theater, that if I had seen them in 1979 I would have gotten into them. As it was it was 1986 before I discovered them when I moved into a college apartment with five other guys. One of them, Steve, had an amazing collection of vinyl records, most of which were alternative bands I had never heard of. To say his record collection changed my musical life is an understatement. That fall, 1986, Love and Rockets second album Express was relatively new and spent a lot of time on the turntable at the apartment. I got really into L&R. It took awhile to associate them with Bauhaus in my mind. I found Bauhaus to be more challenging for me, and it took longer to get into. At the same time I got really turned onto a band called The Jazz Butcher. David J had played bass on two of his albums between his time in Bauhaus and Love and Rockets.

About a year later (November 9, 1987 to be precise... thank you internet search engines), still at Edinboro University of PA, we discovered that Love and Rockets were playing at Indiana University of PA. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment road trips where a friend borrowed his father's van and 10 or 12 of us piled into it for a road trip. L&R were touring for their third album, Earth, Sun, Moon. We got to the Fisher Auditorium and for five bucks, if memory serves, saw not only L&R but another band none of us had ever heard of prior to that evening, Jane's Addiction.

Lookie what I found on the internet!

Two years after that on August 31, 1989 I saw L&R at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh. The Pixies, who I had just discovered, opened. Say what you will about L&R, but they could pick great opening bands. The Pixies completely blew me away.

Then, twenty-three years later, I met David J at a bar near my house. We've been pinging around on this planet together for years. This was the same person I had seen on stage all those years ago and our individual trajectories had finally brought us to a very nice personal conversation. That's when I started piecing together all of the various overlapping vectors in our lives.

Back in 1986, at the same time that I was first getting turned on to David J's work, was when I was reading Watchmen for the first time. I didn't know then that David J was friends with Alan Moore and that they had worked together on various projects. I found out most of this not too long after the fact, but still. David had written the musical score for This Vicious Cabaret, a specific chapter of Moore's V For Vendetta, which I had read at this point. He was in a short-live band with Moore called the Sinister Ducks and recorded a song called Old Gangsters Never Die which came with a comics adaptation of the lyrics by Lloyd Thatcher (you can see it here http://asylums.insanejournal.com/scans_daily/474540.html). Since then he has contributed music and participated in Moore's spoken word performances like The Birth Caul and Moon & Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels among others.

1986 is when I first met Steve Bissette and John Totleben, the artists for Moore's Swamp Thing series for DC Comics. For a couple of years I saw Steve and John on a pretty regular basis and hung out with them enough that they know and remember me years later. So even then I was only one degree of separation from Alan Moore, which I knew, and therefore two degrees from David J.

Around this same time (the details of this are a bit fuzzier because I wasn't directly involved) was when the Pixies were coming together as part of the Boston indy music scene. Among several bands that were part of that scene was a group called The Five who were originally from Pittsburgh (The Pixies used to open for The Five). I didn't live in Pittsburgh at the time, but I was coming here fairly regularly for comics and record shopping. One of the comics shops I went to was a place called BEM. Turns out, as I discovered many years later, the proprietor Bill Boichel was friends with the guys in The Five. So I was only three degrees from the Pixies.

In 1990 a couple of friends and I made a trip to Cleveland where we saw The Jazz Butcher at a club called Peabody's Down Under. I met Pat Fish, the Jazz Butcher himself (the only consistent member of the band over their thirty year history), and I also randomly ran into my friend Joelle who had been one of the people crammed in the back of the van with three years earlier (Joelle now lives in New Zealand, opening up a whole new country of potential connections). While there I had Pat autograph the booklet that came with my CD copy of Scandal in Bohemia/Sex and Travel. These were his second and third albums, the ones David J played bass on. At the time this was a very rare German import that I had manged to get my hands on, and for years the only way these two albums were available. When I showed it to Pat his response was something like, “Where the bloody hell did you get this? I've barely seen these.”

A few years later I'm writing for In Pittsburgh Magazine and get the chance to do a phone interview with Frank Black/Black Francis of the Pixies. It ends up being my first cover feature article. One of the musicians opening for Frank at that Pittsburgh show is Reid Paley, former lead singer of The Five. Through a lot of mutual Pittsburgh friends I met and got to know Reid, as well as Five guitarist Tom Moran. At the time Tom was in an Alt-Country band called TheDeliberate Strangers. I saw them a lot and one of my articles about them in No Depression ended up being my first in a nationally published music mag. A couple of years later I met with Reid and some other people for hanging out and drinks at a local bar called the Squirrel Cage and Frank Black is there, just hanging out.

In 2000 the original members of the Jazz Butcher reunite for an American tour and a new album and I met the whole band at the Millvale Industrial Theater (as well as at some small bar in Erie whose name I don't remember). While there I got signatures from drummer O.P. Jones and guitarist Max Eider. Eider had also played guitar on David J's 1989 album Songs From Another Season.

I have a friend, a remarkable poet, by the name of Margaret (check her stuff out at http://margaretbashaar.wordpress.com/). I met Margaret as one of my customers at Phantom of the Attic when she was like twelve. Through her teen years we bonded over Elfquest and now that she's an adult I'm happy to call her a genuine friend. She is part of what for lack of a better term I'm going to call an artist's community that gathers at the Grand Midway Hotel in Windber, PA. The Hotel is home to a mixed group of artists, poets, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, and pretty much anything thing else creative you can think of. I have only been there once, to a really amazing Halloween party. One evening, while having dinner with Margaret the topic turned to music and I mentioned Bauhaus, or Love and Rockets, or something, and Margaret casually mentioned that David J hangs out there occasionally. She had met him one morning in the kitchen of the Hotel while he was attempting to make tea.

Small world.

Margaret and several other denizens of the Midway were at the show on Sunday.

And on Sunday night I completed my quest and got David J's signature on the booklet.

Twenty-two years in the making!

I could go on with these connections. One of Reid's albums was produced by Eric Drew Feldman, former member of Captain Beefheart and regular PJ Harvey collaborator. Reid and Frank Black just released a collaborative album. The lines drawn between musicians seem to connect that whole world, and if you end up knowing one of them your world just gets a little smaller. The same is true of the world of comic books, or of any one of a number of hobbies and professions. When these things overlap it's even more true. What I find most fascinating about all of this is backtracking the history. I was listening to David J, the guy who wrote the prototypical Goth song Bela Lugosi's Dead, and reading Alan Moore, the guy who wrote Watchmen, both genre-changing, significant pieces of Pop Culture history, at a time when they felt worlds away from my life. Twenty-five plus years later I know they weren't a world away, just a couple of steps.

And not to overstate something that we've all known since the advent of Kevin Bacon, that's true of everyone.

Anyway, I just want to end this rambling post with a quote from a Love and Rockets song called A Private Future. I've always thought this was really good advice.

Live the life you love
Use a god you trust
And don't take it all too seriously

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