Coursing through the Wires #5

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I started writing this edition in the week or ten days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and the New Orleans levees gave way. Now that we're close to 100 days after those tragic events, and FEMA is pulling its staff out of the Lower Ninth Ward, it seems as good a time as any to finish the story. The night before Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and Louisiana, the only thing I could think about was my first visit to New Orleans in the fall of 1995 and my host and friend Rebecca. (Olivelawn has nothing to do with Reb, but I've always sworn she was the cover model for this LP. Bonus points for the nod to the Ventures' Knock Me Out**.)

I was on my first major road trip and crashing for a couple days with Reb, who was living in Baton Rouge at the time. She decided to show me the sights on my first evening in town. We drove through the remnants of some tropical storm to get to New Orleans. I was amazed at the water cascading over the Bonnet Carre spillway at the southwestern edge of Lake Ponchartrain. I can't remember where we had dinner, but I got to try turtle soup (with dry sherry floated on top, of course) -- a classic local delicacy. We headed down to the Riverwalk and then to Jackson Square and Cafe Du Monde. Reb was telling a story about how high schoolers would go there after prom and the girls would make a game of blowing powdered sugar off the beignets onto the guy's rental tuxes. The 23-year old wise-ass version of me made some snide remark, while staring into my cafe au lait, along the lines of "what's the big deal with this french fried dough? " I looked up at her and saw a mix of tears and fire -- I immediately apologized, but I'm sure it came across as little more than damage control. That night wasn't the end of our friendship, but we lost touch about a year or so later as our lives continued to move in different directions. Ten years later, I'd like nothing more than to go back to CDM and treat her to beignets and cafe au lait, getting greasy powdered sugar blown at me. Anyway, two records are indelibly linked in my mind to Reb...


Beat Happening -- Black Candy (K Records, 1989; reissue/distribution by SubPop). As much as I've always liked Beat Happening, the early albums just don't click for me when taken as a whole. Black Candy is no exception -- it would make a brilliant double 7" whittled down to "Other Side" and "Ponytail" and "Playhouse" and "TV Girl." Another fine 7" would pair "Black Candy" and "Nancy Sin" (a later recording that is consistent with this album's tone). "Gravedigger Blues" and "Cast A Shadow" (and Yo La Tengo's pedestrian cover of the latter) would then be relegated to the dustbin where they belong. Calvin's gravel-tinged groaning is the dominant feature of the album, alternately enhancing and distracting from the songwriting. Anyway, there was a night in January (probably 1993?) where Reb put her newly-acquired CD of Black Candy on repeat play for about four hours while a group of five or six of us were all writing papers and attempting to study for finals. After a while, the repetition and lack of range in Calvin's voice became somewhat meditative... though it's not the mantra or inspiration I'd ever have chosen on my own.


Bettie Serveert -- Palomine (Madator, 1992). The bobbing dashboard dog (front cover) and out-of-focus sunflower (back cover) scream "wimpy pop songs" -- false advertising of the highest order. Formed from the ashes of Dutch not-quite-stars De Artsen, Bettie Serveert melds Neil Young guitar explorations with husky female vocals and succeeds mightily. The band continues to record and tour -- a song from the latest album, Attagirl, even appeared on an episode of the WB's One Tree Hill (known around my home as "the slutty teens show"). All the DJs had played it to death the previous fall, but Palomine became the unofficial soundtrack of "dead week" in 1993, that gap between the end of spring exams and graduation, a fitting mix of desparation and hope and the knowledge that things were changing. I used to have a picture of Reb sitting on a red leather couch in a dark paneled room and I know "Kid's Alright" was playing in the background.


** See, I wasn't kidding about the Ventures thing:



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This page contains a single entry by SKM published on December 3, 2005 2:28 PM.

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