Friday, December 09, 2005

On endings

Okay, so I can get very possessive about my music. When I find a good band, particularly a relative unknown, playing small venues in college towns to crowds of the exact same people every time, cutting garage-band-demo-ish albums on tiny indie labels when they're feeling particularly hot, that band becomes mine, and I love it, and it’s mine, and no one will ever love it the way that I do.

Wednesday night, my first and best birthday present (compliments of big brother, of course) was tickets and companionship to Jump, Little Children's Last Hurrah at WorkPlay in Birmingham. It was significant, because the last time I'd seen them live was two years minus six days before, when I was newly single, broke, and miserable (now, of course, I'm no-longer-newly single, still broke, and considerably less miserable). It was also significant because this is JLC's last tour, after which they'll turn their attention to making babies and living like the grownups they somehow became when I wasn't looking.

When I bought the tickets two years ago, I completely underestimated the extent of the masochism involved in subjecting myself to an entire evening of "our" songs, songs that I shared with my ex, resulting in the one and only time I've ever cried during "Made it Fine." Outside of my own misery, the other thing I noticed was that JLC's fanbase seemed much changed since the release of Vertigo. The tiny space of Eddie's Attic was crammed with equal parts JLC's usual crowd, jeans-and-t-shirt-clad and shouting out names to obscure, unrecorded songs for the band to play; and this new, unfamiliar crowd of teenaged girls, all in Britney Spears-style cabbie caps and Ugg boots and skinny scarves, doing this weird clapping thing during the chorus of "Say Goodnight" that interrupted (and spoiled) a really beautiful and powerful melodic line. I didn't recognize these girls. I wondered where I'd been.

I began to realize that these girls somehow thought that the band was theirs. It was like finding out that your high school sweetheart was cheating on you the first week of college with some sorority bimbo. I love him; I've known him forever. Maybe you like the way he looks in those jeans, but you'll never know him or love him the way that I have, the way that I still do.

This band doesn't belong to you, Cabbie Cap Girls. I am Magazine and Licorice Tea Demos. I’ve shaken my ass to "Opium," fallen in love to "B-13," done I won't even tell you what to "Body Parts." I was there for four-hand guitar, for the Bobshevik Revolution tour ("I remember the day my father said to me, he said, 'Bobshevik, you are a doughnut.' And he was right"), for the Vertigo CD release party. I've seen them in Birmingham, in Athens, in a bar in Greenville that's impossible to find. I love the band, I am the band, they are mine and you can't have them.

In the months after, though, I began to notice more and more changes. JLC's sound was becoming more produced, more polished. They acquired a string section, started calling themselves "Jump," and some chick named Amanda started taking more and more prominence in their shows. The ultimate eye-opener, though, came one rainy night as I was driving through Midtown with the radio on.

They were on 99X.

JLC is not 99X. I’m 99X; I have a wallet card to that effect. But they aren't. They're Jay, brooding and taciturn; Jonny, the third-sexiest man ever to wear a vest and bowler hat, doing wonderful and unnatural things with his stand-up bass; Evan, sweating his ass off behind the drums and making "My Guitar" what it was; Ward, very possibly the first cellist ever to get undergarments thrown at him during a concert; and Matt, making love to his accordion, moistening panties throughout the audience with his beat poetry in spite of (or perhaps because of) his eyeliner and snakeskin pants. They can't be compressed into a mainstream radio station format or described using fewer than seven adjectives and several sound effects.

But that's the band that was mine. Even with the truest of love, people change, people grow. Sometimes they grow apart. If JLC wanted to explore, add new instruments, abandon old favorites in favor of new music styles, who was I to tell them they couldn't? Was it right for me to insist that they stay the same for my sake, when their hearts had obviously gone elsewhere? It's always painful, it always feels like a loss, but if I really loved this band, my band, I had to let them go.

When we got to WorkPlay on Wednesday night, Doug and I didn't stand in the middle to jump up and down to "Come Out Clean." We sat at a table at the edge, where I could see Jonny, Jay and part of Matt and pretend the string section wasn't there. The cabbie cap girls were now wearing peasant skirts and shrugs, their Uggs traded for furry Eskimo boots. I listened to the music, cheered where appropriate, laughed at their banter, closed my eyes during "Cathedrals" and pretended that I was listening to my band, the band that belonged to me. And at the end of the evening, I left the band to their Eskimo boot girls; it's their band now. My band, just five guys and their unlikely assortment of musical instruments, lives forever on my iPod, where I can yell, "15 Stories!" and they play "15 Stories," and if I yell, "Again!" they play it again.

They recorded their final album live at the show that night. When you listen to it, know that mine is the voice cheering the opening chords of "All Those Days Are Gone." And maybe they are. And maybe that's okay.

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