Tuesday, September 18, 2012

End of Daze

The time has come for me to make a major decision and, as usual, I am indecisive. No matter what I do, I know that I will be unhappy with my decision. I could take the glass half full approach and think of whatever decision I make as a win, either way, but I dumped that glass over a long time ago.

When the Portland Timbers were resurrected and brought back to PGE Park (Civic Stadium) in 2001 after 20 years or so of dormancy, I became obsessed with the idea of going to every home match. After all, I have blurry, early memories of sitting in Civic Stadium during the 70s with the sun beating down, holding up a Timbers sign that my dad had made. On one side, the sign had a Timbers logo drawn on it by his professional artists’ hand, while the other side contained the then not so old phrase “Rip City,” for our very rare attendance at Trail Blazers’ games. I’d like to believe with my revisionist memory that at a few of those Timbers matches that I was chanting alongside my mom a chorus of “F-U! F-U-C! F-U-C- (you can guess where this is going)!” at the red bastard refs. I know better. My only real memory of the matches was sitting on the east side in the burning summer afternoon heat, blinded by the sun and pretty much distracted by anything besides the action on the field, like most kids under 10. At any rate, the announcement came that the Timbers would be brought back from the ashes in the spring of 2001, so Jeff and I prepared ourselves by playing as a team on Playstation’s FIFA 2K every day with the fouls turned off, until we were beating our electronic opponent by scores of 30-0. Then we would head over to the Matador on Burnside, drink some beer, and discuss the perfect bicycle kick and come up with our new soccer lingo. When the season finally came around in early May of 2001 against the dreaded Seattle Sounders (Shittle Flounders), 12,000+ fans were there to greet our long dormant rivalry with fire and vigor. My friends and I found ourselves sitting in the “Lucky Row,” (a practice they abandoned immediately after this match) so we were gifted with a bunch of free hot dogs and the Timbers crushed the Flounders 2-nil. All of us, well, most of us, were hooked (I don’t remember who all was there to be honest. I know I bought a huge pile of tickets at the box office the day prior.)! Then, a few weeks later, the A League Timbers beat up on San Jose, the defending MLS champs in a downpour. The team came out with fire - especially Sancho (“There’s only one Sancho! Sancho!”), our Trinidad hero, who was knocking opponents down on the shitty slippery field turf at Piggy and generally kicking ass and making life difficult for the supposedly superior opponent. That was the game where I fell in love with going to these matches.

From 2001 till a post-season “friendly” in 2010, I only missed one home match. That sole match was the first home playoff against Charlotte in September 2001 due to a kidney surgery that I could not postpone. I, along with my crew, became fixtures in Section 107 (the Shed) directly behind the north end goal. We were around with the Cascade Rangers through to the Timbers Army, as we would proudly hail the feverish power of the 400 strong that we would bring. I made every match, no matter what. That second season found me racing via Tri-Met from the dialysis clinic in the upstairs of the Red Cross building just over the Fremont Bridge to PGE Park to get to the match before the end of the first half. It didn’t matter that my blood pressure would only be 80/40 and that the bandages barely containing my bulging fistula was soaked red with blood. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t stand in 107 because I was too weak. I would be there with my friends and we would root on our team.

So, why is it that once the A League/USL Timbers became an official Major League team in 2011, has my passion dwindled? Why is it that I willingly gave away my ticket to friends every so often as the season wore on during that first season? Why is it that the dream I once had, so long ago, of a packed sold out boisterous stadium coming true hasn’t sparked more excitement inside me? I used to head to the box office before nearly every match to buy extra tickets for friends, co-workers, friends of friends, family, to bring along to the matches because I knew that once they experienced a match, and the pre and post game festivities, that they would understand the joy and the pure spectacle of being there. That’s all it would take. The “Oh, I don’t really like soccer,” excuse would never hold true. This is how the Army grew. It was all of us spreading the word and bringing the enthusiasm. It was Roberto’s hilarious Tales from the Shed that would appear after every match on the web with stories of the matches and occasional updates about his neighbor “Thong Man.” There was the ‘zine Ax to the Head, which would be dispersed at matches, which was also filled with humor and incisive wit. But mostly, it was those players who played with grit and passion and determination. Who could ever forget players like Gordon, Byron Alverez, the fast sprinting Alcarez, Lord Tennyson, Sancho, the ever-scoreless Brian Winters (who the Ax to the Head once proclaimed that he “is prohibited from scoring due to an ancient gypsy curse. Should he ever put the ball in the net, the country of Yemen would spontaneously implode.”), Napoleon, Tommy Potl, Fadi Afash, the poetic Scot Thompson (S-C-O-T! Scot with one T”) the ridiculous Chugger Adair and the now controversial GM Gavin Wilkinson? And, of course, there’s amazing and legendary Timber Jim, even though Jeff drank his beer at the Bullpen one time by accident. Who could ever forget the pathetic attempt at a mascot that team management tried to introduce for a few seasons - some sort of furry, sad beast that the Shed coined as the Monkey? It would quietly wander around aimlessly scaring young children before standing near the gang in 107, only to be chanted at threateningly with a “Chainsaw the Monkey” refrain. These were good times. We’ve seen our some of our cohorts work together to help the community, help each other through trying times, and even happy marriages come out of this scene. We’ve attended a match with a huge crowd as the starting point for Ryan’s Bachelor Party (6-1!), only to find ourselves back there a few nights later in our suits after his wedding for another match that ended with a rousing victory of 6-0!

Going into the 2012 season, after a personally bleak effort at supporting my squad, I decided to recommit myself. That first year the Timbers were an MLS team, I found myself with one season ticket in the Timbers Army/General Admission section. What I did not realize at the time of renewing then was that none of the core of my personal gang was going to join me for a variety of reasons. What I also didn’t realize, or consider at the time, is that with the stadium sold out for every match, I’d have to show up over an hour early to find a place to be. This was a shock to the system. I was used to showing up to matches just as the game was kicking off – wandering down to my spot with my close friends – and jumping into the fray. None of these things were a part of that first season. I felt like an outsider. Sure, I’d occasionally run into the old acquaintance from the early days, but only in passing. It was all too massive for me. I loved the thrill of seeing the old stadium packed and the newest remodel looked great, and I was excited that this was now truly MAJOR league, but I wasn’t enjoying it as much. I found myself handing off the ticket to co-workers fairly frequently, just because I didn’t want to bother anymore - thus, the recommit. This season, I grabbed the chance to purchase a second set of season tickets. I was able to now bring a friend with me to every match. The only thing is I still haven’t made every match. It has all been much more enjoyable and fun to share the experience once again, but surprisingly, it’s not always easy to find people free. Also, I seem to be much busier all the time. I have been out of town for a few games. I have chosen to spend time with family and friends away from town, when the opportunities have arisen, as opposed to scrapping an entire weekend (and that damn extra hour to hour and a half) just to go to a match. Besides, who wants to hang out with me that long – sitting around doing nothing and drinking really overpriced beer, while we watch the scoreboard count down from 70 minutes to zero, before resetting back to 20 more minutes? And I hate to say it, but how many more years can I get into chanting the same damn chants over and over after hearing most of them for the last 12 years? Why have I had to defend myself for not joining in on chants that I dislike or am simply sick to death of, while a bunch of self-professed “capos” stand facing the rest of us leading the endless chants without watching a lick of the match? Sorry, everybody, but I’ve been there and done that (and I’d rather not get into my feelings on the use of the word “capo”). Having the Timbers Army become an actual organizational entity in recent years, as opposed to the loose collection of oddballs and intellectuals it always was, has been fantastic in many ways. The charitable work that gets done is heartwarming and amazing, but much of the fun feels as though it’s been sucked out of it. It’s become politicized and cumbersome and somewhat unwelcoming at times. Don’t get me wrong, I still love going to the matches and live and die with every bit of action as it ebbs and flows up and down the pitch. It’s just that everything outside of the actual game has become more of a chore. Have I worn myself out? Has it been too many years of disappointment with the season ending results? Maybe that final USL playoff loss in the fall of 2010, after the Timbers dominated the regular season, when the team was wiped out yet again, took a larger toll on me than I realize. It was tough to take, as has much of this season.

It is time to think about renewing. My ticket guy has called and left messages, emails have been sent and I received a damn bill for next season’s total. It has a due date! I found this highly unnecessary. It was going to be an actual decision that I would have to make this season regarding renewing, but sending a bill certainly didn’t warm my heart or entice me to reach for my credit card. Now that the season tickets are three times more expensive than what I used to spend up through 2010 and now that I am stuck with a pair of tickets, turning that into six times the cost, I am at a crossroad. I could use that money. It is getting too expensive for me, especially if I am not going to be attending all of the matches, but I don’t want to lose my spot. There are supposed to be something like 6,000 people on the season ticket waiting list. If I drop out now, then I would be out of luck down the road. If this is a temporary lull in my passion for the games, I don’t want to lose my place when that fire returns to my gut. I am exploring finding some of my old cohorts to join me and take over that second ticket, but if this doesn’t happen, I think this may be the end of my days as a season ticket holder. It pains me to even think that, but it could be time.  I do not know why my desire for all of this has waned, despite my continual internal arguments for and against.  Maybe it is time to let someone else get their turn at the matches to experience the amazing display, while I tune in on TV somewhere instead.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Disappear Here

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by music. There is simply too much and it has paralyzed me. I’ve not had the patience to listen to songs all the way through, because there’s so many more to get to. It’s hard to explain, but it has had me restless and unnerved for no particular reason. Oftentimes people who are aware of my inclination towards music fanaticism will ask me how I learn about new music. I learn of things the same way most people do, via word of mouth, from live shows, exposure from the internet, radio, TV, movies, etc, but mainly just by paying attention. I make the extra effort to remember when and where I first heard a really cool song and take the time to track down who performs it. Having said this, it becomes clear to me that oddly enough most of the music I’ve run across over all of these years has come from reading. When I was a teenager, music discovery came from the big magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin. I voraciously absorbed all of the music history and references and read every article and review no matter what. If I knew I liked a band, I would take note of who they were linked to, or compared to, and so on. Little by little by tastes both expanded and refined simultaneously and with it my need for resources expanded. While I was a weekly audience member of MTV’s 120 Minutes back in the 80s, and especially a fan of SNUB, which aired sporadically on USA late at night on weekends, and a consumer of the meek radio options locally (via cable from the bigger cities of Portland and Eugene from the Willamette Valley) such as Q105’s “New Music Hour” (Portland), and more importantly Sheldon High School’s (Eugene) public radio madness at KRVM, I was still discovering more from the written word and buying new music sound unheard. The UK weeklies such as NME, Melody Maker, and my big favorite, Lime Lizard, all became sources for new music news and exposure leading one of my high school English teachers (“The Barn”) to refer to me as an “Anglophile.” Though he was right, it was about that time that I discovered the American noises from the underground via Maximum Rock-n-Roll and local papers such as the much missed Snipehunt and Paperback Jukebox. Once I reached college, I moved onto the all-encompassing CMJ Weekly, a college radio trade magazine that included maybe a hundred record reviews to brand new releases every single week and came with a CD compilation of 16-20 new songs every month. But it was when I ran into the epic twice yearly MEGAzine the Big Takeover (go to bigtakeover.com and watch the “create or else” video and then subscribe!) that my music horizons exploded! In 1991, I had purchased a nice little CD by a New York band named Springhouse based on a positive review in the CMJ Weekly, as usual sound unheard, and I sent a self-addressed stamped envelope to the band’s mailing address on the sleeve for a copy of the lyrics. A few weeks later that envelope was returned filled with typed lyrics for the album that by then had become a favorite, along with a handwritten letter from the band’s drummer Jack Rabid, who also creates this magazine. The advert he included had a photocopy of the cover of his latest issue, which included the Pale Saints and the names of several other favorites splashed in print across it. I sent away for a four issue subscription. That was 21 years ago and I am still renewing every couple of years. For at least 15 of those years, it has been the biggest source for me for discovering new music and what I track down. Even though the ease of discovering new music on my own has become so much simpler in recent times, every issue still offers up at least 4-5 new artists that become a part of my world. Their CDs find a home on my player, I attend their shows when they visit town, and I look forward to what will come next. However, it was early this summer, while scouring through the last section of the newest issue when I started to feel pressure build up in my temples and a touch a panic set in. I was pouring through the hundreds upon hundreds of unique reviews by Mr. Rabid and several of his contributors of new music and I realized that at most I will be able to hear about 2% of this music. Since I have read this magazine for so long, I have gotten to know the tastes of many of these writers and I trust most of them, so it hit me that I simply cannot handle all of this! I looked over at my shelving that holds my CDs, and the boxes stacked all over my floor containing my records and lost my breath knowing that if I started listening to every single one of them once each starting now that I may not live long enough to get through them all. What the hell was I doing?!

It was then that I started looking closer at all of the album titles that have been shelved and often for too long in favor of whatever has come after. This is the dilemma of I struggle to straddle inside every so often. I am always in search of that new song and/or album to stamp its place on this time and become tied forever in the future as the soundtrack of the now. I have never wanted to become stagnant with my love of music. For years I have argued against people my age and older who claim that there’s “no good music anymore.” Well, damn it; there is great music every year! One simply has to make the effort to find it. I’ve never liked the idea of still listening to the pop hits from the 80s – the era I came of age in - on the flashback stations and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I have a fondness for much of that stuff because of their individual impacts on me positive and sometimes even negative. It disturbs me that those formats rarely venture out of the one to two hits per band realm. For example, I always loved Big Country, but can they ever play any song of theirs other than “In a Big Country”? Yes, it was their big signature hit in 1983, but it wasn’t their only hit and it is nowhere near their best song from a career of eight solid to great albums. And from there, why not play some selections and expose the masses to Stuart Adamson’s pre-Big Country post-punk outfit The Skids, because I am sure at least a few unknowing fans would be excited to learn about that? New music doesn’t always have to be actual newly recorded music, but discoveries from the past that can be revelatory and exciting – such as when I discovered the Skids way after the fact. Then I realized that most people could care less. So, I contemplate my own situation as someone who has a need to consume these details and histories with an endless hunger and my situation becomes distressing. It is impossible to hear all of the new music that I know I’d love and there are so many amazing songs and albums that I have ‘shelved’ for too long that I need to re-expose myself to. Thus the minor music panic attack. How could it be that I’ve gone over a year without listening to any albums by the Big Takeover favorite The Chameleons, or that crackling first LP by The Rifles No Love Lost, how long has it been since I’ve played that? Come to think of it, how many of these greats have been off the rotation for too long? After reading the latest issue of the Big Takeover I realize that so many of these came from Jack’s recommendation: The Long Blondes, Adorable, Compulsion, Leatherface, The Joy Formidable, Maximo Park, exlovers, Whipping Boy, oh and the amazing and completely overlooked Australian 1990s band Glide (this list could go on forever, but I’ve already written beyond my intended introduction by about a page).

                                                                                            Big Takeover #42

Glide was a multi-textured guitar band that survived for 9 years in obscurity, especially here in the US. They had one poorly distributed US release, 1996’s Disappear Here, which seemed to reach our shores sometime in 1998. It was that summer’s Big Takeover issue 42 - #3 pick in Jack’s Top 40 and here are some of his words at the time that inspired me to seek this out:

“Mixing in a nice breadth of styles that nod toward the Buffalo Tom/Man Sized Action/early Soul Asylum/late Husker Du thick, streamlined hum without the distortion (this is a cleaner, intentionally focused wall of guitar), the sounds of Disappear Here snare you from first play with their dynamite sonics (can’t stress this too much), and then holds the listeners hostage thereafter with the sheer talent, scope, variety, and well thought-out dynamics on display.”

Jack is speaking specifically of band-leader William Arthur’s brilliant guitar work, but his words ring true for the entire sound of the album. With an endorsement like this, I could not resist. I tracked down a copy via mail order from the label itself and was stunned upon first listen. Firstly, the production from Wayne Connolly is immaculate. He had done masterful work with my other Australian favorites Underground Lovers during the early 90s and this clearly continued his magic touch by wringing out the best balance of sound, where the dynamics of the complex arrangements reveal themselves naturally and each instrument is given a chance to shine.

The opening song, “You Were More Than a Trick to Me, Ray,” is a tour de force as it builds up with an acoustic intro before exploding into a messy waltz that drops us right into the middle of some serious turmoil. It’s a scrambled scene that winds up incredible tension right off the bat, before switching to a more straight forward 4/4 pounder that pays off with the ending repeated refrain of “I like that side of you” – giving us a breath of fresh air and the sense that there may be a positive ending to the drama within.

Much of this album feels like it is tackling the notion of imbalance within relationships from both sides of the coin. The second song, “What Do I Know?” tackles this topic with its opening lines: “You give me protection I don’t need / Too many connections I don’t see” atop a gliding and catchy as hell guitar hook that practically sings William Arthur’s chorus for him. This theme arguably appears in a few songs throughout. The first slow down on track three gives us this conflict within an imbalanced relationship, where it takes too much effort to maintain the original spark, and the effort to continue the charade finally peters out. The big and painful chorus gives us “I wonder why / You’re cracked and dry / You feel you need a worn out lie / See you flicker a worn down smile.” “Tangled” jumps right back in with the feeling from the opposite perspective of the need to end a relationship, but still feeling trapped by it. Again, the chorus has an incredible pay off both lyrically and musically as the “All I really want is peace and quiet / You batter me and leave me sore and tired” presents his feelings clearly despite “flipping like a fish gasping for breath tangled up in your net.” The inner turmoil is palpable, because it’s not easy to give up on something that one already has when there’s no guarantee of a better future. These emotions continue on yet another upbeat strummed shiny piece of musical genius on “Here She Comes” (“Arms around me tight / I’m tied too tight”). Finally, on the penultimate song, “Ripped and Stripped,” we get the redemptive payoff from the frustration with the most straight ahead rocker which gives us a clean break and ends the floundering coupling (“You never knew me / Now you’re nothing to me / and I’m not your slave”).

The brilliance of Arthur’s lyrics is that they are vague enough that one can punch their own experiences right into them. Everything I said above could easily be taken in another interpretation. The beautiful ballad, “Wrapped in Fingers,” for example, was a powerful song for me personally, as I once had a major crush use chorus’s repeated question “Would you ever hurt me?” on me out of the blue (story can be found here at Lose Your Illusion). The song took on a whole new dimension for me and breaks my heart every time I hear it. Initially, however, I interpreted the song as the lyrical offspring of Sugar’s nasty and murderous “A Good Idea.” Either way, the music is powerful and the soaring chorus lifts the listener up to the stratosphere each and every time.

The saddest part about Glide’s story is that while working on the follow-up to this album in 1999 (and an early EP collection: Shrink Wrapped Real Thing), William Arthur reportedly overdosed and passed away. This tragic and senseless passing robbed the world of this fantastic songwriter – a story that happens far too often and has become cliché in the world of rock-n-roll. In this case, the artist was never given a chance to find the kind of wide audience his talent deserved. There are three songs on Disappear Here that fully display his incredible talent and showcase not only the inner battle inside of him, but his ability to convey it like no one else can. There’s the previously mentioned stunner, “You Were More Than a Trick to Me, Ray,” the centerpiece, “Surfaced Euphoric” with its dragging introduction and take a breath chorus, before it plunges head first into the deep water of a dramatic dive of wild abandon. The lyrics close with “I’ve blown away every chance I’ve known / That was it – the only song I know” and indicate incredible effort and desperation. The third standout, among an album of stunners, is the closing track “Cradlesong.” This song gives us layers upon discordant layers of Arthur’s amazing guitar work on top of a shambling mess of a beat (the rhythm section of Jason Kingshott on drums and Andy Kelly on bass are excellent throughout – worth much more than this minor mention) wonderfully capturing the mess that he has portrayed throughout the album. The dramatics of the song lead into a slow peeling away of density and sound as the song marches its way to the inevitable conclusion (“Leave me with a chill when you waste a tear / Open my eyes now, blue and clear / Unclench my hands and disappear, here”) and carry us to a conclusion that leaves us with both a finality and a lingering curiosity of what might happen next. It is simply spectacular. This album never grows old and sounds as good today as it did when I first played it 14 years ago.

Hearing this album again after far too long puts my mind at ease. It makes me realize that no matter how overwhelmed I can get sometimes by the sheer amount of music to be heard in the world, I can always take heart in the fact that what I have already run across will find a way to endlessly amaze and empower me. Besides, over all of these years, due to the scarcity of Glide’s product on the market, I have always been paired with just this one fine example of their music. Tracking down their many singles, EPs, and two other albums has depended on an international money order to Australia sent to their manager and some seriously expensive prices, which has kept me at bay. However, recently, these songs have been made available via download at very reasonable rates, which I have taken advantage of. After so long, it is amazing to hear more music from a band that I have held in such high regard for so long. Please take my advice and find out for yourself. Check out their website for more information and for sound samples at glidetheband.com.