Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For the Love of Concerts: Peter Murphy, 80s Nostalgia and Shining

I have a friend, through my husband, named Thaxton, who loves to go to concerts. He has to go to several concerts a month in order to feel sane and, given that he is an adult like Vincent and me, it can sometimes seem like a bit of a task. Thaxton does, after all, have a super amazing wife and three gorgeous kids. However, the family knows how important this is to him and agrees that it makes a happier hubby and daddy. I certainly understand Thaxton's need. In high school, concerts were a regular staple for me, although they were a constant struggle because I could never find the variety of friends to represent my musical tastes. I had a crew that I would go with to the hardcore punk concerts, I had a couple of friends I could take to lighter fare like U2 or the Cure, I could never find anyone to go to classic rock concerts and usually resorted to bribery for that, and if there was jazz in the park I usually went with my mom or a DJ friend. (I won't even get into the slew of people I had to rotate regarding house music clubs and stuff like that.)

All of that sort of died as I got older. It became just too difficult to find people who shared my diverse interests. Thaxton will go to a concert alone and while I've gone dancing alone, I haven't ventured into the concert arena without someone to share the joy with. I like dancing alone - there's more space. But I can't imagine loving a concert moment with no one but myself, although the idea is growing on me. Ultimately, through the college years, I went to less and less concerts. There'd be a Lollapalooza here, a Warped Tour there, maybe a jazz-dancy thing I could take a date to, but the punk and goth stuff was OVER.

Luckily, moving to New York City changed that. That is where I met my husband and I quickly learned that Vincent loved concerts, just like me, and he was quite impressed with my ticket stub collection, even though I assured him that it was only a fraction of what I had experienced, given that most of the concerts I went to I paid at the door, hence, no stub. Most impressive was my $3 Jane's Addiction bargain show at Chicago's Cabaret Metro, although it really was worth $3 or less because the band was loaded and sounded terrible, which made me wonder in 1987 what all the hype was about this new band. Vincent and I quickly began to share our love of concerts together. We saw amazing shows, including Living Color, Erykah Badu, Radiohead, G.Love and Special Sauce, Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Roni Size (feat. Zack de la Rocha!), Lovage, Mike Patton and Rahzel, a jazz tribute to Nina Simone (which included Tracy Chapman, Odetta, James "Blood" Ulmer, the late Oscar Brown, and Vernon Reid), Ministry (2X!) and Zero 7, just to name a few.

Our move to San Antonio seemed to promise more of this in a different setting. As soon as we got here, we got excited about the live music capital of the world, Austin. We had a rollicking night full of heavy rock (as noted in a previous blog about Southern Freaks) our first summer here. At the beginning of my first semester in school, the Austin City Limits Festival was on our agenda and we got to see the Raconteurs, Massive Attack, TV on the Radio, Aimee Mann and so many others. But then the real work started. We planned on going to South by Southwest several times, but it didn't happen. Often, we were just too tired to drive and get worked up for a concert. Truthfully, the Peter Murphy concert that just happened this past weekend in Austin, was not something I planned on simply for myself. We have a couple of friends who are around my age and like that sort of thing, so I thought, hey, this might be a good time to finally get together with Faye and Ted, I'm sure they like Peter Murphy. Well, Faye is five months pregnant (congratulations!) and needs her rest, okay? Something compelled me to buy the tickets anyway, although I didn't think much of it. Eh, some 80s nostalgia, right? Whatever.

Boy, was I wrong. I did my usual ritual, got dressed up, deep blue shadow, blood red lips, black dress, very goth, indeed. I looked good and I knew it. Gotta revel in those moments at my age. Vincent was exhausted from work all day and I felt like I was imposing this on him, but the tickets were bought. We took off to Austin and once we got to Emo's, we noticed the place was already packed. It was a sort of 80s nostalgia night with current "80s sounding" bands inside (Cute is What We Aim For, Danger Radio & others) and Peter Murphy w/Ali Eskandarian outside. All the kids, and I do mean kids, inside were dressed in day-glo and pomp a la "Pretty in Pink" and "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Outside, black, black, black. It was just like the damn split rooms in McGreevy's. I guess they needed to be nostalgic about music segregation, too. I guess that has never really left us. Still, in order to see what's current and to indulge in the air conditioning, we watched some of the inside bands, which sounded a lot like an updated Simple Minds. The audience sang along with corny, ironic lyrics layered on top of sweet melodies. I even bought a dress with the phrase "Cute is What We Aim For," but not because I liked the band; I thought the statement worked for me.

Later on outside, when Ali E. opened up, Vincent and I couldn't help being drawn in by the scrawny, Afroed, Middle Eastern gyrator. His words were abstract and his body was violating the mic stand. I thought that Peter Murphy, or his management, was pretty cool for having this guy open. My energy started to pick up. Instead of having the glued-to-every-Texan's-hand-usual-beer, we had Absolut Mandarin on the rocks and people-watched. There was the trash rock lady: a lumpy woman with disparate tattoos, hair pulled up in a scrapply way, messy eyeliner and leathery skin. I loved her. There was the can-kick-my-ass rock chick: a very, very big woman with stringy black hair, dark make-up and a mouth that doesn't move past a straight line unless a beer is in it. I loved her and even got goose bumps when she walked past me. There was the don't-really-want-to-know guy: A man in his 50s-60s wearing devices in his ears that Vincent said our friend Andrew uses to hold up tarps when we go camping. They were big and heavy! Reached his shoulders and he'd swing them around purposefully when he'd turn to this or that friend. He looked like he'd try just about anything, and I don't really want to know what that might mean. I loved him, but not that much. Then there was the 80s GQ guy: He still has the short on the sides and back, wavy and combed up and back hairdo. He probably really likes Depeche Mode, too. He probably thinks he's really hot and probably feels sad if his look isn't just right. I loved him, too, but not enough to give him my number. Not that kind of love, yo. And there was the out-there-artsy-druggy-interpretive-dance-weirdo: He had sort of blond, sort of black, sort of long in places, sort of short in places hair. He had on lace and leather and denim and probably some mesh, too. He had both pants and a skirt on. He was dancing with arms-a-flailing all night. He was a sweaty, eyelinered mess. I LOVED him. I so would've given him my number, if only so Vincent and I could pretend like we'd actually go to his house to see what is inside. Again, not that kind of love, yo. The love I'm talking about is love of people not giving a f***. I love it. I love them for it. I could also mention all the women, including myself, who have the standard diagonal forward bob, but that makes us seem like we're uncreative when what it really means is that we have few options now that we're in the workforce.

But onto Peter Murphy himself. My friend Jennifer, after the concert, asked if he was great or just old and sad. Old and sad are not words that describe one of the greatest songwriters I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. I saw Peter Murphy for the first time when I was 15 years old. I was with my friend Elaine and we were at the Cabaret Metro. It was during his "Should the World Fail to Fall Apart" tour. I remember him under that blue, smoke-filled light, singing "Confessions" and thinking he was amazing. But in my limited concert-going experience then, I thought all "famous" people were amazing in concert. He was so honored at that concert, that whenever he spoke, the audience hushed. And this was an audience of high school and college kids. This weekend, at Emo's, he was clearly given similar respect, although there was a section of people out from under the outdoor roof who talked throughout the entire concert. I was pretty surprised at that. The people under the roof, however, were pretty reverent and the acoustics were that he couldn't hear the noise just a few feet away. Peter Murphy is better today than he's ever been. He is such a skilled songwriter and his voice is really beyond belief. I don't know what he's done to protect it, but it is richer and more complex. During the concert, I found myself in a place that was not exactly 80s nostalgia anymore. This was a totally new and current experience. Peter Murphy was shining in an entirely new way for me. He played acoustic sets, dark tunes, upbeat melodies, a really varied and thoughtful program. I kept thinking of how professional this man is.

I recognized several tunes, such as "Cuts You Up," "She's in Parties," and Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt," but most of the songs were new. None of the records I have were for sale, just his newer stuff, including "Alive Just for Love" (2001), "Dust" (2002), and "Unshattered" (2006). All the stuff he sang from these records was beautiful and this made me wonder about the separate groups inside and outside within Emo's. Why did the kids inside cling to a sound that actual "80s bands" had moved on from? I suppose the sound is new to them, but why try to make a replica instead of just be influenced by it? And why didn't the crowds mix more? I was curious about the younger version but I didn't see a lot of the people in black go inside. Similarly, the kids inside absolutely did not go to the outside stage and see someone who was actually creating the music that influenced the bands they came to see. Why not? Weren't they curious? Did they not get the connection that the venue owners were clearly making? I felt like Peter Murphy deserved a bit more, really. There he was, sweating onstage, just past 50, making sure his voice was hitting each note perfectly. And making sure not one bit of his performance was stale or nostalgic at all. He deserves to be honored like David Bowie, no? Ah, yes, the ever-present comparison.

In an interview here, he mentions that his work is a bit more like Judy Garland instead of David Bowie. He states that Bowie is more calculated (that's a polite way of putting it) and that he just can't help what he does onstage, that something just comes out of him. He shines. And that is so inspirational. Grad school really beats something out of me, at times. People can be so condescending. Texas isn't a bowl of bon bons, either. It offends people just to be who you are. And no one wants to give props to a hardcore chica with a brain, considering all the sexism and racism down here. But Peter Murphy shines, despite people ripping off his stuff, despite not being as famous as others, despite the heat and less than ideal circumstances. And it isn't calculated and it isn't stale. He was doing his unique performances (androgyny, cages, goth, etc.) before Bowie (although Bowie is older), before Ministry, before Nine Inch Nails, and even though he doesn't go there anymore, what has remained constant is the originality of his songs, including lyrics, melodies and arrangements. He totally remains true to the voice he has, and this is what inspires me. I often doubt myself, feel like it's not worth it to keep writing because so many people don't get me, are downright rude to me. But I found myself smiling, smiling wide at this concert. I didn't expect it. Vincent said he hadn't seen me so happy in a long time and the truth was I hadn't been.

So maybe Thaxton is onto something. Sometimes you just have to keep doing what you love - even if people try to beat it out of you - because it keeps you sane. I've kept writing, despite considerable pressure from people who'd rather keep me quiet. On a previous post, about the Caribs and Misery, I wrote a bit about this, about a paper that brought me lots of drama. A prof made life hell for me and devalued my work. One of my sources, a person who I researched but never met, found me and left a comment on the blog. His name is Ben Palacio, and he said that this paper that basically cost me credit for a class because of its politics "deserves five stars." I don't have a big audience, but maybe I need to value the quality of the audience I do have. And maybe I just need to keep on shining because it keeps me sane. I thank Peter Murphy, Ben Palacio and, most of all, my husband Vincent, for helping me see that.

Austin City Limits, here I come!


Tim said...

McGreevies!! My dad's BFF owned that place.
I saw Agnostic Front there.

Toro said...

Beautiful! The writing and you (Yes, I am a biased opinion).
Billions of people never will hear Peter Murphy, thousands will never get it, but he keeps shining because HE needs to, and because of the few who need to see him shine, just like a particular hardcore chica I know.

Toro said...

I am infatuated with her vocal cords (A poem)

When she sings
The concrete cracks
Petunias sprout up from
Every crevice
Truth rings from her diaphragm
In a major key
Tiny birds birth soliloquys
In her songs
Voiceless citizens are given
Honorary degrees
When she decides to belt a chorUS
The dead are provoked to dream

She does not own a Grammy
No one pays her for her melodies
Her only entourage is me
She says she is no Ella Aretha
Sinead or even Siouxie
Thinks she doesn't create
Silver lined notes
but her voice is gold to me
Her punk rock broadway ditties
Rescucitate her listeners unequivocally

She trembles
When she croons
We tremble with her
In her invincible vulnerability
And we are thankful for the gift
Whether she likes (knows) it

Or not

(Some of you might not know, this chica also writes dope songs)

Grisel said...

I didn't know you knew the owner of Mc Greevy's, Tim! I could've got in for free, man. :)

It was the only place we could count on for "Shiny, Shiny" by Hazee Fantazee and "World Destruction" by Afrika Bambatataa and John Lydon (Johnny Rotten).

Grisel said...

Aw, geez, Toro. Shucks.

Anonymous said...

I was reading your new blog post, and it made me think of Club Naked and Medusa's... and lo & behold, you had an older blog about Club Naked! Good times. CN was scary to my 16-year-old self because the bouncer had a gun. Scary but cool.

Your blog also reminded about JAKE AUSTEN. Holy schmoly, I haven't thought about him in years. What's he doing, any idea?

Anyway, you and I weren't really good friends at Kenwood, but we travelled in the same circles. I just thought I'd say hi and tell you about the nostalgia rush your blog gave me.


Grisel said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Jake is actually mentioned in the blog about Club Naked - he was the person who told me about it. And yeah, the bouncer (Joe) seemed a bit scary but he was there to make sure none of the kids had alcohol and that there weren't older perverts harassing the girls. He actually dated a girl named Melissa who went to Kenwood and he was quite honorable.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you had such a wonderful time at the Peter Murphy show. Concerts are a life blood for myself as well. In fact, the only thing that keeps me at bay is the fact that many sell out quickly or are becoming increasingly more expensive to acquire tickets to the show. (Needless to say, like a sick bastard I dropped $400 on 2 Neil Young concerts this past December. But come on, it's Neil for God's sake; you have to if you've never seen him yet.) Let's face it though, they are a luxury for those who can part with the dough.

Like my man Thaxton, I too will see a show alone. In fact, I’m headed to the All Points West 3 day concert in Jersey City in August alone. I would have gone with Thaxton except the groups we want to see are on different days (Radiohead, Kings of Leon, The Roots, Black Angels, & Metric). I've had mixed experiences with the solo gig. Sometimes it's so nice to do your own thing and soak it all in. This introverted viewing makes for some real deep listening and feeling with little distraction. While on the other hand, there have been times when you really wanted your people around to have seen and experienced the show with you.
Of course there's the "went with people but won't see their asses till the show is over and the mob files out" experience. A few times I was separated from my group the second that we walked through the gates just do to the mass of people (Pearl Jam was 1 of them). And often for those heavier shows (oh yeah) you lose your friends the second the first note shakes the hell out of those tweeters, mids, and sub woofers. By the way that Living Color show in Central Park that summer was pretty killer!

Most of the shows I have been to have awesome memories & instances to them. A slight few of them I barely remember due to extracurricular activities varying immensely in nature. Like the time I saw Dylan & The Dead @ Giant's Stadium in 1995. (Mixing a tab & a half of acid with an 1/8 of mushrooms combined with MASS amounts of hits from a triple chamber bong, stainless steel & glass pipes, AND the 14 cigarette machine rolled joints intermingling with 2 beer balls, a grill of food & 12 of your friends for 8 hours in a parking lot before the show will kind of make you lose track of all of the songs you saw and heard performed that night.)(Yes, that sentence was supposed to be that long; you don't know the half of it.) Well, I know I was at that show that's for sure. When the Dead played "Space" 65,000 plus people all sat down because that's exactly where we were; in space. However, those lost songs or shows aren't really lost they're still captured in the fabric of the heart and soul.

I'm so glad you brought forth the point about the various types of "characters" that come to the show, and there are ALL kinds. I'm with you Grisel, I love to observe all of the nuts that come out. It's the best. I'd have to say that one memorable individual from the Jane's Addiction Mischief Night Concert @ Hammerstein Ballroom in NY was the best (Jeff, I'm sorry that I got the last ticket; you would have loved the show). All the freaks were out tonight! It was towards the end of the show, energies from the band and the crowd had been swarming together like a wild hatch of hornets all night long. Every bass note vibration from Flea absolutely shook my pant legs. I had been moved around the general admission floor like a piece of driftwood crashing onto shore and then being pulled back out to sea by the undertow just to be dashed against the grain and grit of the coastline once more. It was a maddening concert make no mistake about it folks. Anyway, back to the point. So there I was tired & tattered but still standing. Then out of nowhere appeared a great fire from behind my left shoulder. She wore absolutely no clothes and had painted her entire body to deep oranges, browns, and reds smeared to give the appearance of wood. Her hair which had to be at least 2 feet long was hair sprayed straight up in the shape of a perfect tee pee camp fire flame. I'm not sure if she was a natural read head or if it was a dye job for the evening’s gala event. She came towards me like one of Bela Lugosi's vampire wives and as she passed I could almost feel the hairs on my body being singed. I've built many a fire in my life, but never like this one. I wanted to stop her to talk to her but I didn't dare. It was like your parents told you when you were very young not to touch the fire because it would hurt. And then she passed like a wisp of smoke and was gone in the crowd. All you could see was her "fire hair" burning its way through the top of the crowd. Yeeeeaaaah, she was a character!

Lately, I too have been to some concerts that I found myself saying, "Jesus, what are all these kids doing here?" I've come to realize that music is sort of like clothing styles that come in and out of fashion throughout certain amounts of time. However, there are always going to be a number of people adhering to certain styles or sounds regardless of the current flavors and whether or not they are accepted. Thus this leads to age diversification at shows that wasn't present to us for so many years because we were the kids. We just didn't realize it then that "we" weren't the only age group at the concert. Naturally, this does not hold to every single concert ever, but a decent percentage no doubt. I'm actually glad to go to a Neil Young, Bob Dylan, or even John McLaughlin concert and see teenagers and even much younger kids coming out to the show with their parents to spend time together as a family and to enrich their lives with good music and culture. Music is a language that is incapable of being used to insult another. Not words mind you, but the notes themselves are special. They have immense power and when put together in melodic phrases and rhythms, various feelings and thoughts can be invoked and inspired. It’s all good. Take it ease.

Live music is king!

From the Desk of:
The Urban Lumberjack

Anonymous said...

Made me think of some all time great concerts: Sun Ra in Central Park, Bad Brains at the Rock Hotel, Steel Pulse at Pier 42.......

And hey, what about Neo and Smart Bar?

M. AtomGlamHeart

p.s. watch out for those laser lights!

Grisel said...

Urban Lumberjack, I love your descriptions!

And M. AtomGlamHeart, one day I'll write about my clubhopping. My piece on Club Naked was only the beginning.

And yes, watch out for those lasers - a bunch of kids lost their vision recently, poor things. My prayers are with 'em.


Toro said...

Mindblowing concerts of mention: Brooklyn Funk Essentials at SOBs, Rage Against the Machine at RU, The Cure at Wembley Arena (London), TV on the Radio at Austin City Limits, Miss Lady Kier at the Enit Festival, Faith No More Guns and Roses and Metallica at Giants Stadium (I was 15, come on), Tricky at Irving Plaza, Counting Crows at the Beacon Theater, Jamiroquai at Roseland, Mike Patton everytime I see him, Corey Glover and the Family Stand at Tramps, Jane's Addiction in Philly, The Roots at Dodge, The Roots with members of Living Colour Bilal Toshi Reagan and others playing Prince's 1999 live in order at BAM.