On Nowhere

29Jan09

In which The Gay Recluse remembers Ride.

The opening chords of “Vapour Trail” are high and open, yet filled with same (phase-shifted) melancholy we associate with ringing church bells. To hear this the other day, as we plodded through our thirty minutes on the elliptical at the gym, was to be swept away with a sense of forgotten potential — i.e., it was not hard to remember listening to the song fifteen years earlier — and an accompanying sadness at the inevitable failure to arrive at any destination we might have anticipated, or at least with any degree of pleasure.

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This is less a statement of unhappiness about our current station in life than a reflection of the unrealistic nature of our ideals at the time, and a more molten sense of regret that — at least in our experience — is so often wrapped inside the hard truth as it dissolves on our tongue. At the time — 1992 — we were just about to start law school in New York City; perversely, we had applied to schools based only on our desire to play guitar — “alternative” was the phrase du jour — which we can now admit was mostly just a superficial desire, underneath of which resided a more hidden longing, although one barely acknowledged, and in any event always accompanied by waves of terror in complete disproportion (or perhaps not, in the context of AIDS) to the glimpses of our true nature we very rarely allowed ourself.

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Most of our classmates in law school, we were sad and amazed to discover, were not at all interested in voraciously devouring the music of the early nineties to compensate for — or perhaps sublimate — their sexual identities. As a result we viewed most of them with a juvenile disdain, as if we were really biding our time in this prison before going on to a better — if completely (beyond vague and preposterous notions of rock stardom) undefined — future; like Morrissey, we wanted to be famous (although in an alternative sense, the way Pavement was famous then), but unlike Morrissey (or even Pavement), we had little courage or vision. One memory of law school: after a seminar, we overheard some girl say to her friend: “I just got a kitten and named her Tsunami,” to which we interjected: “Oh, like the band?” as if some obscure group (whose music, moreover, we didn’t really like) would be of utmost importance to everyone in the world. The irony of our situation was that while we successfully positioned ourself into an environment in which we were “cool” — at least in our mind — simply by virtue of the fact that we had no interest in working at a firm or a public-interest group, at the same time going to law school made us eminently less cool in those circles in which we most desperately wanted to succeed (in this regard, feel free to envision a bullseye with Matador Records at the center.)

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When we finally started a band, during our second year in law school, despite our pathetic attempts to basically ape Galaxie 500 with perhaps a dose of Ride and My Bloody Valentine thrown in (speaking theoretically), we created a little “buzz” in the East Village — and among certain assistant A&R reps from major labels who incredibly enough oozed over and slipped us their business cards after the set, just like we were in movie — primarily from the fact that our show was packed with friends (from law school, because it was the beginning of a semester and there was nothing better to do) and we made Brownies an unprecedented amount of money for a Monday night. Soon we were hearing from “crazy Karen,” the booking agent for the club, who naturally liked to have a money-making act open up for someone “huge” like the Strapping Field Hands or the Magnetic Fields or the Grifters or Fuzzy. At one of our these shows, “Gerard from Matador” was spotted in the audience, but predictably enough — because we didn’t have much to say — he left disappointed (or so we heard) and from then on he never acknowledged our existence, even in Boston when we played with his band Envelope upstairs at the Middle East.

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The first time we heard Nowhere, the 1990 debut LP by Ride, we were “kinda shocked” by the opening bassline, specifically with regard to how plainly derived it was from “Taxman,” which of course is the opening song on Revolver (arguably the best album by the “Liverpool Band,” as we preferrred to call them.)  Was this bass line really “necessary”? Similarly bizarre to our ears was the song “Decay” — it arrives about halfway through the record — which is equally “inspired” by the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.”  Needless to say, we quickly overcame our aversion to the record and played it obsessively for perhaps a year or more, or at least until Ride released their next record and we became disillusioned with their failure to maintain our standards. These days, we would say that along with Loveless, Nowhere is the most successful example of the sort of late 1980s post-gothic, psychedelic wall-of-noise, unapologetically sweet (vocally), proto-electronic-ish (a la Manchester beat) music typically referred to (derisively or not) as “shoegazer rock.”  It’s a record that sounds as if the sixties were funneled through a jet engine and transformed into pessimistic odes to the ephmeral nature of life and sometimes death (obviously the lyrics would make ridiculous, terrible poetry, but are beautiful in the context of the songs); the actual recording of the record is sublime, too; as our friend Mike put it the other day, the drums sound like tree trunks hitting against vast lakes of still water.

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“First you look so strong,
Then you fade away.
The sun will blind my eyes,
I love you anyway.
First you form a smile,
I watch you for a while.
You are a vapour trail,
In a deep blue sky.”

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The first time we played at CBGBs was a Saturday night in 1994; Jawbox was on the bill (and were responsible for getting us the show, since our bass player knew their guitarist from college), as was Sunny Day Real Estate. The catch — as we learned after accepting the offer — was that we would be the “warm-down” band, a kind of terrible but exhilarating feature that like certain forms of torture should probably henceforth be relegated to museums and encyclopedias. (CBs sometimes used to have multiple warm-down bands, as we discovered one strange Wednesday night when we stayed there until three am with Beth — like the Kiss song — whose friend’s boyfriend’s band was appearing in one of these slots; even at the time we knew there was something awful and surreal about sitting in CBs at that strange hour, peeling the labels off our beers and fixating on the decaying fabric of the random couches and armchairs in our vicinity, perhaps realizing but not quite acknowledging a fear that this was a metaphor for our own future.) Nevertheless, for our show, even though tons of people streamed out after Jawbox (the headliner), enough remained to make the event a true pleasure — something nobody could ever take away from us — particularly in comparison to the thousands of empty venues — including malls, back porches and “art galleries” — we subsequently played during our years “on tour.”

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There was a girl at this show — she was from Connecticut or maybe Westchester — who we will always remember: she was tall and gangly, well over six-feet with wide hips, a shock of red hair and large, expressive eyes, which in the glow of the nightclub appeared like mirrors.  Though she professed to like our band (she even bought a 7-inch, if memory serves), her true love was Ride. She published a zine (which had more than a few issues) exclusively about the band and her undying love for them, and she encouraged us to sign a petition she planned to send to the band’s U.S. label with a thought to encourage — or “force” — them to fund a Ride tour of the States. (By this point it was 1995 and the band’s third LP was considered an artistic and commercial failure by all concerned, except for this girl we met; sadly her name now escapes us and we threw out her zine when we left Brooklyn.) We expressed our disappointment at having not seen the band a few years earlier, when they had canceled an American tour after the drummer broke his leg playing rugby (maybe?).

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“Tremble with a sigh,
Glitter in your eye.
You seem to come and go,
I never seem to know.
And all my time,
is yours as much as mine.
We never have enough,
Time to show our love.”

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We thought of this girl from our past the other day as “Vapour Trail” ended and the chiming guitars slowly gave way to the orchestrated strings. We wondered where she is now (although we don’t really want to know), and if she still loves Ride more than any other band. (Did she maybe play “Vapour Trail” at her wedding? (Was it a lesbian wedding?) Will she one day pass on her love for this band to her grandchildren? (Will they accept it?)) That we think of her fondly and with a certain admiration gives us some comfort, if not exactly hope, knowing that even the smallest of waves can roll for thousands of miles across a flat sea.

(Listen to “Vapour Trail” on our Tumblr.)

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3 Responses to “On Nowhere”

  1. 1 Mike D

    Incredible post about an incredible record.

  2. I am absolutely in awe of your ability to process and remember these significant periods and events…not only the facts, but the feelings and the awarenesses.

    As for me, I relate to Revolver being one of the Beatles’ best albums, I would play it over and over in 1966-1967, esp. “Eleanor Rigby” and “For No One”. My parents marriage was falling apart. I was 10…and gay….and frustrated….and angry. I didn’t know how to get angry….or cry….so….

    Instead of (or in addition to) diving deep into “…music to compensate for — or perhaps sublimate – their [my] sexual identity[ies]….” I found heavy drugs and alcohol.

    That’s why I can’t remember a lot of that period, prior to coming out…and getting sober.

    You have quite a gift. I’m not much of a reader anymore, but I will read your book when it is published.

  3. 3 kirsten

    this makes me so excited for your novel I can barely breathe!


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