Harvey Danger, "Little Round Mirrors"

>> Thursday, September 27, 2012

Posting LCD Soundsystem's "Sound Of Silver" yesterday reminded me, inevitably, of Harvey Danger's "Little Round Mirrors", a song riffing (somewhat more elaborately, at least lyrics-wise) on the same basic image.

Those little round mirrors played a substantial role in getting me through the eighties.  I grok what Sean Nelson is singing about, from the material angle--"Quite the collection, divided by section"--to the presumptuousness that comes with rabid fandom--taking "what they make twice as seriously as they could ever hope to do."  A funny thing about being a teenager, you know, the way you love well and not at all wisely; it isn't just what the artist is trying to say (or you think he's saying, anyway), but also where he ate on June 4th, 1982, and whether firing somebody was a dire necessity or the worst provocation since Gavrilo Princip got a little trigger-happy one fine morning in Sarajevo.

There is a wistful part of me that misses that passion.  A small wistful part of me.  There's an older and wiser part of me that thinks of guys with guitars working for a living.  Contra the character in the old song (and as Mr. Knopfler knows perfectly well--he was assuredly being sarcastic), it ain't money for nothing or anything for free, it's driving around in shitty secondhand vehicles and playing the same fifteen songs night-after-night-after-night for what amounts to spare change after you get your cut, unless you've put in so much time paying those dues (if you want to sing the blues, you know) that you can play the same fifteen songs in a stadium where nobody can hear you.

One of my comfort movies, I don't know why, that I like to pop in the DVD player on a weekend night the ScatterKat's out of town and watch while I scarf down something she can't share (e.g. Buffalo wings; the ScatterKat's soul would be willing, I think, but her flesh is weak when it comes to very spicy things) is the Wilco concert film/documentary Ashes Of American Flags.  Sort of an odd thing to be comforted by, especially in the context of what I'm about to mention, so maybe "comfort movie" is the wrong phrase; I mean it's one of those DVDs you go back to again and again and again for whatever reason, until it's more familiar than your Tabasco-and-blue-cheese-coated fingers, but that's part of why you go back to it.  And anyway, one of the things I just find remarkable to watch is just how much these guys suffer for their art, and I don't mean in some melodramatic hand-to-the-brow way, I mean Jeff Tweedy needing a steroid shot because he's blown his voice midtour, and drummer Glenn Kotche having to wrap his hands and hold them in ice water, and the amazing Nels Cline prostrate on the dressing room couch because his vertabrae are trying to fuse on him (Mr. Cline has a very physical way of playing his guitar, always reminding me in physical style, if not necessarily musical style, of Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood--who has frequently been seen playing his axe with a wrist brace because he's fucked up his arm attacking the guitar strings).  I respect that.  I maybe even envy it, wonder why I didn't throw myself into music like that instead of toeing around the edges of the pond, always terrified to go in deeper than the ankles.

But maybe I changed the subject.  Here, sort of bringing it around again, kind of:

A couple of weekends ago--the ScatterKat out of town again--I watched loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies while it's still available on Hulu (I don't think you've missed it yet).  And this is another movie, another documentary/tour film about a rock band that's working very hard at being a band, though in this case it's a band working very hard to be a band after fucking it up the first time through (the film is about their reunion tour in 2004, more than a decade after the band was broken up in a radio interview where the lead singer announced without bothering to mention it to his bandmates that they were finished--he did follow up with a fax; things, as you can imagine, were not going terribly well between the members at that point).

But one of the really touching/sobering things--and this brings us back around to all the kids with their little round mirrors--is this fifteen-year-old girl we meet halfway through the documentary.  Way too young to have remembered The Pixies from high school or college, obviously, but she fell in love with a book--some YA thing--where a character was into The Pixies, so she (the real live fifteen-year-old) went and checked out the Pixies and became obsessed.  She's telling the documentary crew about the Pixies cover band she's trying to form, and when one of the filmmakers suggests she can play bass and be the band's Kim Deal, the kid gets absolutely mortified, horrified: how could anyone say that to her, how could anyone suggest such a thing, Kim Deal is, like, god, and there's no way she could ever live up to anything like that.

And the thing that makes this so sweet and awful is the context of this, which is that when the documentary begins, Kim Deal is just a kind of, well, mundane middle-aged woman, trying to stay clean after a really debilitating drug-and-alcohol problem and staying home to take care of her ailing mother (who really wants her daughter to go on the reunion tour because, honestly, Kim needs to get out of the house more and have something else in her life), Kim Deal is anything but a god, she's just a regular person trying to get along as well as she can despite the fact she was a member of arguably the most important post-New Wave band in music history at one point.  (C.f. that famous line from Kurt Cobain about "Smells Like Teen Spirit"--that he was just trying, honestly, to rip off The Pixies.)

A little while after we meet the kid, we catch up with her after the show, getting Deal's signature and wanting to give Deal her copy of that book that got her into The Pixies in the first place.  Which ends up in Ms. Deal's hands despite the fact Deal has to walk away from the group of autograph seekers, and we see Deal on her tour bus paging through this book and looking stricken; it's hard not to read the look on her face as a kind of pride and horror that she's so important to someone when she's just, you know, kind of a fuckup like everybody else.

That this kid takes what Kim Deal was trying to do twice as seriously (at least!) as she could have ever hoped to do, you know.

I saw this kid, and I vaguely remembered being that young.  Not in specific frames, as I think I might have suggested, yesterday, I can no longer do; but in the kind of general sense of remembering how vitally important these mortal gods were to me when I was barely holding on and kept alive--I think I would have to say that literally, though I don't wish to elaborate--by what Sean Nelson called "little round mirrors"; and you know, I think if you'd told me that these people were all middle-aged schlubs trying to get along best they could, just like I would be in twenty-two years (give or take), I'm sure I would have said something like, "Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm not stupid", but the truth is I'm even more sure I wouldn't have really understood what you were saying or what I was agreeing with.  When you're young, all of that stuff is an abstraction.

Maybe that veil of ignorance is just as important to survival at that age as forgetting becomes later.  I don't know that I could have stood what all that ordinariness really portends.


Steve Buchheit Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 9:54:00 AM EDT  

The 80s, when rock stars were gods. Before we found up they were fuckups just like we were. What's the lyric from Joan Osbourne, "What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us."

I remember going to a concert with my wife and the headliner was outside doing fans' nails while signing CDs, and the warmup act was also in the crowd. I know my wife wanted to meet them, so I tried encouraging her to just go up to them. That was my wakeup moment of seeing just what being a fan meant. So I ended up getting the artist signatures on the CDs for her.

John the Scientist Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 11:36:00 AM EDT  

But you know, they're not just middle-aged schlubs like you and me, either. They achieved something great and shining for time, even if they could not keep it up. In a way we haven't. It's best not to forget that, especially for the kids who have not yet had a shot to make their mark. Because the sum total of those marks is what drives civilization forward.

They are, to a degree, idiot savants. As are we all. It's just that the teenager sees only the savant, and we middle aged, weary travelers on the road of life take comfort in the presence of other idiots.

The people I feel sorry for are those who don't have any savant to give. Just what is the meaning in their lives? Or they just producing / consuming machines?

TimBo Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 4:05:00 PM EDT  

Being "great and shining" would be awesome. But most people won't make a mark beyond their immediate associates. What I think drives civilization more than the "great and shining" is the aggregate of those guys whose kids see them working a third job year after year to support a sick wife, the parents who get up to work after being up all night with a sick child, the folks who volunteer their time to help the disadvantaged even when there's no sign of progress.

I'm not saying that rock stars, savants and the famous aren't bright lights and don't have some influence, but those without amazing talents, even those with very little talent or intelligence can make a huge difference. One person at a time.

If you want to have meaning in your life, if you want to influence a fifteen-year-old girl, if you're tired of being a middle-aged shlub, there are plenty of opportunities out there.

Eric Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 5:28:00 PM EDT  

I don't know that it's an either/or proposition, TimBo. I don't want to demean or disparage something as fundamental as a good parent or spouse; at the same time, you have to consider that even people who have those things in their lives (and many don't) need an icon to make it all worthwhile. Foreshadowing tomorrow's post: sometimes living for the music is the only thing that gets us by.

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