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
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
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.