The Carnival Is Over, Let The Carnival Begin

There’s a party semi-raging on the ground floor of our three-story treehouse. Paloma and I are sandwiched between it and a couple of Chinese grad students on the top floor.

We won’t be attending.

(I doubt that the Chinese will either)

It isn’t because of the music, though the organ-driven jam band is hardly a selling point. It’s a lot of noodling and the kindest I could be in describing their efforts is symmetrical.

We won’t be attending because there is nothing left that either of us could accomplish at such a scene.

Both of us managed to eke out a good decade or two more out of behaving like rock stars on tour than folks who were relegated to weekend warrior status by their early twenties.

I think we’re still catching up on sleep we didn’t get in the ’90s.

And, we don’t want to end up as carnies.

As if the universe knew of this impending soiree, I received a rare e-mail this morning from Kelso, one of our friends. We had all worked together at a record store in the mid-’90s and he had news of The Drunken Frenchman, who had also worked with us in the same store.

“He’s working in a traveling carnival as a ride operator,” the friend wrote. “He’s a carny. This gives me great pause.”

Such an outcome isn’t really surprising. There are a finite number of record stores in the world – fewer each day – and, even then, The Frenchman seemed destined to work his way through most of them.

I guess he finally did.

And now he’s a carny.

Of course, with his craggy features, hangdog eyes, and gruff, indifferent exterior and demeanor, The Frenchman is well cast in this role.

Paloma – though never having been fond of The Frenchman – was sympathetic, considering his gig with a shudder.

“He gets fresh air,” I offered.

Any of us from that time could have ended up as carnies.

Here’s hoping he finds love with the bearded lady.

It really wouldn’t surprise me.

Here are four songs from fifteen years ago when all four of us – Paloma, Kelso, The Frenchman, and me – were still part of the carnival…

The Verve – On My Own
from A Northern Soul

The Verve just simply wasn’t meant to happen in the States (at least not on the scale of success the band achieved in the UK). First, they were forced by the record label to change their name here to The Verve UK.

Then, in 1998, driven by its use in a Nike commercial, the group notched a mammoth global hit including in the US with Bittersweet Symphony only to see the Stones take all of the royalties in a controversy over a brief sample.

At the time, I thought that The Verve was one of the great rock bands on the planet and – listening again to their scant three albums from the ’90s – I still feel the same.

Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
from The Bends

Though it was released earlier in the year, The Bends was an album that was still in constant play for me in August of ’95. The album failed to generate the enthusiasm that Creep had a year earlier from their debut Pablo Honey, but it was immediately apparent after one listen that Radiohead was a force with which to be reckoned.

Sometime in August or September, I caught the band opening for R.E.M. and told the friends I was with that – though I wasn’t sure when it would happen – we had just seen a band that would in the near future be the biggest band on the planet.

(it would happen two years later with the release of OK Computer)

As for the soaring, atmospheric Fake Plastic Trees – it’s quite simply one of the most gorgeous and compelling songs of that decade.

Natalie Merchant – Carnival
from Tigerlily

Ms. Merchant had just embarked on her solo career with Tigerlily following a lengthy and successful run fronting 10,000 Maniacs. Her former group had been a staple on college radio in the late ’80s and Tigerlily brought Merchant to a whole new audience.

That album and the slightly funky Carnival wasn’t much of a departure from her work with 10,000 Maniacs except for being a bit more polished and arriving at a time when mainstream radio was embracing artists once relegated to alternative outlets.

However, my enduring memory from that time is seeing Merchant on a bill with World Party at an outdoor venue with Paloma and the ten minutes during which she interrupted her set to save a moth that had made its way on stage.

Tricky – Ponderosa
from Maxinquaye

Once a member of pioneering trip-hop act Massive Attack, Tricky became a critically-acclaimed force in his own right with the release of Maxinquaye. It was impossible to ignore the clattering, hypnotic rhythm of tracks like Ponderosa.

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3 Responses to The Carnival Is Over, Let The Carnival Begin

  1. Perplexio says:

    I’m not a fan of Radiohead, but I am a fan of Marillion and I’ve heard Marillion’s Brave album favorably compared to Radiohead’s OK Computer… Although many of the comparisons were coming from Marillion fans who say Brave was/is better as it pre-dates OK Computer. Just putting it out there– if you dig Radiohead you might want to check out Marillion’s Brave album.

    • barelyawakeinfrogpajamas says:

      I was a big Marillion fan from Misplaced Childhood up through Brave. Then, I kind of lost track and interest of them. I keep meaning to write about spending time with Fish in Edinburgh.

  2. Perplexio says:

    Not enough people on our side of “the pond” know about Marillion in general and Misplaced Childhood specifically. An online friend of mine recommended them to me back in 2002 when I started getting deeper into classic Genesis he recommended I check out Marillion and that I start with Misplaced Childhood. I prefer the Fish era material but some of the Steve Hogarth era material certainly has its merits as well. I also enjoy some of Fish’s solo work.

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