Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ring like bells, ring like bells

THE LOFT "Why Does the Rain"

As a doughy teen who'd smashed his sister's car up within two weeks of getting my license in 1984, I was left to getting around everywhere on my bike, a silver Schwinn ten-speed that I was given when I turned twelve and which was a large part in why I didn't get laid until I was nineteen. What kid who rides his bike to school in the suburbs gets laid? Not me, anyway.

Thankfully, this car smash business happened in suburban Miami, in a part of Coral Gables that was then still sort of middle class but twenty years later consists mostly of these heinous gated communities. (Developers do not fuck around down there -- where my Moms lives now was naught but marsh land twenty years ago.) A series of paved bike paths snaked through my neighborhood, and though the eternally coked-up and speed-addled drivers of South Florida could care less to even look for bicyclists, there were enough back roads to go down so I only got hit by a car once.

Sometimes I used a walkman but I'd duck-taped a slimline boombox to the groin injury bar thingie of the bike, and that provided the all-important soundtrack. Several times a week, I'd ride about five miles each way to Yesterday & Today Records to see what new stuff had come in, to read through the NME and Melody Maker to find out about new music and keep up on very British acts I was infatuated with like Yeah Yeah Noh, the Pastels, June Brides, Shop Assistants, We've Got a Fuzzbox & We're Gonna Use It, Pop Will Eat Itself, the TV Personalities, and the Loft. I was an avid Creation records fan and bought all the singles they released, in order, even the fairly shitty ones by the Jasmine Minks, the Legend! and McGee's own Biff Bang Pow!

With the exception of the first Jesus & Mary Chain singles, which hit me and my friends with such a powerful force (total coolness in the fact that they covered a bootleg Syd Barrett song and that combination of buzzsaw noise with confectioner's grade pop music -- we all asked ourselves how come that had never been done before?! as one generally does when confronted with an act of, yes I'll say it --as a partial ode to the British papers-- total fuckin' genius) nothing else coming out of England at the time impressed me so much as Pete Astor's first band the Loft, who are the subjects of a second, decent-though-anemic compilation album as of a few months ago. eMusic has it, if you want to download the thing for super cheap. They also now have the SST catalog, everything by the Monochrome Set, and more Document stuff all the time (insert disclaimer here). His second band the Weather Prophets (clearly dude was obsessed with precipitation -- they had a song called "She Comes from the Rain") had a few killer songs ("Almost Prayed" chief among 'em). But it is the Loft that I love.

Love, yes I said it, love. So much of what I love is in fact right here in this one sad sack little song! It's mopey and minor keyed and the lyrics are all "woe is me," but beautifully so, perfectly so. I think it's because there's hope in these three and a half minutes, that absolutely cliched Beckett-y, can't go on must go on kind of hope. The song is about feeling helpless, I think that's why I connected to it so much as a 16 year old. The outside world may completely ignore you or worse, the trains keep running on time when you feel so bad 'cause you're so utterly into that girl who'll never talk to you or whatever, when everything should just totally explode, all at once. This is helplessness in a grand sense, a very cinematic helpless and hopelessness, the kind that starts a movie with some startlingly beautiful and sad creature staring out a window on a darkened street.

The song continues to talk to me, beyond the safe and respectably shambling jingle jangle goodness of its sound or the fact that this is my favorite kind of guitar solo -- the kind that's crisp and sing-song-y solo that is almost a new song in and of itself, the kind that in varying degrees you find in Television and the Minutemen and Galaxie 500 and the Velvets and the Urinals and the Swell Maps, the kind that sounds basically the same on record as live but not in a bad way. It's not even that here we find that special combination of groovy melodies and misanthropic lyrics which never ceases to have its way with me. I guess it's that I fear that I've only rarely advanced beyond the emotional and psychological levels of a sixteen year old. Surely my ex-wife would provide a good reference for this.

Back then, when this simple little tune was new, I played it every day over and over again, riding my bicycle along idyllic tree-covered paved paths en route to school or to my part-time record shop job, scowling at the world, which had done me such wrongs as to place me in the depths of paradise. These days I'm more likely to listen to it while I shower, gearing myself up for the day. Is it strange I find such goddamn twee woe-is-me-isms warmly compelling, nourishing even?

Nahhh, I think it's probably the least strange thing about me.


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