Throwing Muses and Me

Anyone who knows me knows I love Throwing Muses. I have loved this band longer than anything in this world, except maybe my family, of course. Obviously I’ve known them longer. I have loved this band like I have never loved any other band. 26 years. I doubt I can ever love another band like I love Throwing Muses. The impending release of their first record in 10 years has me reminiscing about my journey with this band through the course of my entire adult life.

This new book/album, Purgatory/Paradise, is coming in a matter of weeks and I’m stupid excited about it. This record is epic and smart. At 32 songs long, it’s a lot to take in. A lot of the songs are linked together, which makes it super interesting to listen to. You’ll find bits of songs in others, a bridge in one song might pop up as a chorus in another, a lyric will seem familiar and you’ll go back to find which other song has it, too. It’s so fun to find these links and associations. I’m such a dork I started making a diagram of these interrelationships. I’m quite sure I haven’t found them all. Hopefully people will help me complete it. I’ll post it when the album comes out.

I’ve probably written this story a few times over the years, but I discovered this band one day in autumn of 1987. I still remember sitting on that lavender carpet in my bedroom, listening to the Just Say Yes CD sampler I had just picked up from the local music store. I had bought it because it was full of a lot of bands I was listening to back then. I remember being absolutely stunned when A Feeling came on. I had been flipping through the booklet and it stopped me dead in my tracks, that song. If only I knew then what a defining moment in my life that would turn out to be.

A Feeling. I loved A Feeling. I had never heard anything like it before. Something about how this band sounded. The vocals. The music. I was in awe. This was 1987. We had no internet. I was 17. I set off in my shitty car in search of anything I could find on this band. I went to every indie record store I could find on Long Island. I drove to some pretty sketchy places. I found Chains Changed and The Fat Skier on vinyl. Those records were more of those sounds! Those incredible sounds! I loved it all. So much to take in, it was wonderful! I searched every music publication and zine for information on this band. I still have pictures and articles I had pasted on my wall in my room.

In May of 88 they played at the Ritz in NYC. The old Ritz. The Pixies opened. I brought a few of my friends with me to that show, and I remember standing there, slightly to the left, between Tanya and Kristin, toward the front. It was the House Tornado tour. I don’t think I even had the album at the time that they played so I didn’t really know all the songs they were performing but, god, did I know I loved this band. This was what I needed and this is what I found. Finally, I got my hands on House Tornado. I loved it, but it was dense. It took me years to really *get* that album but it’s still one of my favorites.

I never did send a letter to “mitch” listed in the House Tornado liner notes and join the fan club. I was far too shy for that. I didn’t know what to say. I was fine with loving them in my own little world. In September of ’88 I moved to Boston for college and Hunkpapa soon came out. That album still reminds me of that dorm room and its cinder block walls. Little did I know that a few months later I’d be meeting this “mitch”, because as it turns out Mitchell worked at BU where I was going to school. And coincidentally, we had a mutual friend.

I loved Boston. I knew I belonged in Boston when I visited with my family when I was about 12. I looked up at the brownstones along Storrow Drive as we drove into the city and knew right then that was where I needed to be. Coincidentally, Throwing Muses were a Boston band. And by now we’re starting to notice that there really are no coincidences.

Boston was perfect. It fit me perfectly. It was everything that was missing from my life on Long Island, where I grew up. I never felt like that was the place for me. In Boston, I belonged. I found great people. More great music. Many great experiences. I went to every single Throwing Muses show that happened in and around Boston with exceptions only for a couple of 21+ shows before I was old enough, and the time they opened for REM at Great Woods because I didn’t have a way to get there.

We regularly went to Providence to see the Muses. Often, we couldn’t get back because the last bus would leave before the show was over and no way were we leaving early. We did crazy things like meet people who’d drive us home, or we’d crash on someone’s friend’s floor at URI to take the morning bus back. It was all for the music. When I had a car we’d branch out and see Throwing Muses further out of Boston and Providence. Mitchell and I even traveled to the UK once and surprised Kristin on the streets of London when we ran into her before the gig.

I was at Leslie’s last show at the Living Room where I should have told her how much I loved her but I was far too terrified. I was at Tanya’s last show at the Marquee in NYC. I saw them play at a muddy mountain bike festival. I once saw them play 6 times in one month. I’ve seen them play probably something close to 50 times. This band. I’ve loved them since that first day I heard A Feeling. I’ve loved them every day since. And now comes Purgatory/Paradise and if anything I love them more than ever. I never expected them to put out another album, I try not to ever have expectations in general. But now that this is actually happening? The anticipation of that finished product is wonderful: the book, Kristin’s essays, David’s artwork, the CD and the sounds. I’m clearing my calendar the day I get my hands on this, so I can read, love and listen.

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Not likin’ the shit

I think it’s a fair assumption that Kristin doesn’t like the shit between Piety and Desire Streets.

Between Piety & Desire is black comedy in song. It makes me laugh but I’m not always sure it should. The phrasing is just genius, though. And it’s hilarious. “incense, strawberry candles and so-ooap, way to butcher a street”. HA! The way she sings “soap” makes me laugh out loud. That’s funny shit, because she’s right. “you can smell them coming, a torture on the breeze” <– that right there, "a torture on the breeze" – a most genius-ly perfect way to convey a shit smell in the air.

"We're gonna die so what the fuck…" That shouldn't make me laugh, either.

The imagery Kristin puts forth in the first half of the song makes me feel like I'm *in* New Orleans when I’ve never actually been there. Then the shift after "sheer dumb luck", I feel it like a strong puff of air, oof, then it's like there's black smoke coming out from the strings as Kristin plays them, a dark, heavy smoke, that settles down around her feet, slowly reaching out, til suddenly the song ends and it's gone. I feel that smoke under the guitar, it's oppressive and heavy, but not completely so either. I feel a bit up in some of the notes played, with that heavy smoke underneath. The music is conveying some strong feelings as Kristin drills into your head that "we don't like the shit between Piety & Desire". It kinda makes me want to go there.

Stillness

This’ll be about the music, but also not. A digression of the personal sort, I suppose.

This has been a quiet Sunday morning. I’ve needed it. I have always loved my mornings. I get up in the 5 o’clock hour and enjoy the darkness, the silence that only early morning can bring, until the birds start waking. I like to share the quiet with them, too. I haven’t had enough of that since school started. The children start so early and I’ve successfully conquered insomnia for the moment so I actually sleep. That combination shortens my morning quiet time.

This morning I awoke with Kristin’s new song, Some Dumb Runaway (to hear it, go to the KEXP stream) in my head. It’s so very beautiful. I haven’t listened to it in a while, so it was a pleasant surprise to find this in my brain today. Right now I don’t even need to listen to the actual song with my ears, my head hears it as it is. It rewinds and plays and backs up and plays and jumps around as I feel the parts that are significant. It’s not a particularly happy song (are any of them, really?) but it’s so goddamn *gorgeous*. That’s Kristin’s talent. To make sad or ugly or difficult things sound so incredibly beautiful. I’m so attracted to that contrast.

That contrast is important to recognize. Making bad sound nice. It lets you know that it’s OK, because it’s real and organic and true. I’ve been thinking a lot about this stuff lately, mainly stripping away layers of life, til you get to the core, universal underlying emotions. Doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, what you like, we are ALL the same at the basic foundational level. It makes it hard to be judgmental once you truly realize that. It’s been contributing to my stillness. My quest for stillness.

My acupuncturist has been teaching me stillness. I’m not sure if she intended on doing this beyond the needles, but I do know she has been using those needles to bring stillness to the body. But in our simple interactions, she’s making me think about these things, and that’s bringing stillness to my mind. I admire this woman, I’m so lucky to have her in my life. She can say one sentence to me that is so simple, yet there’s a depth within it, that will keep me thinking for weeks. I’m finding a serenity I haven’t had in a long time.

I wrote about my short hiatus from music several months ago. It was a difficult time, and to be honest, I had to stop listening to music because it started to hurt me. It’s never done that before. I’m happy that it is no longer doing that, and I’m finding a deeper serenity with it than I probably had before. Feeling them deeper, at that base emotive level. It’s nice there, because it’s real. Realness. Stillness. Goals. Tap into that and the songs tell you it’s all OK. We’re all the same. Our reactions to those emotions differ due to all the layers on top of them, but strip it all away and it’s all the same.

I think I digressed within my digression. Probably because Some Dumb Runaway fit so perfectly within my still morning. “…Away to your still house” (Cold Water Coming). Music. Kristin’s music. The perfect soundtrack for your still house. Even the screamy stuff. Because that can leave you still, too.

a hiatus undone

what an amazing way to wake up.

i wrote that hiatus post the other day because i could feel i was nearing the end of it. i was feeling something in the ether, a bit itchy, like I was holding out for something special, something that would strike someday, somehow, some way. Who knew that later that same day Kristin would post about a secret show that turned out to be the very next day.

no better way to break a fast than to see Kristin and Dave perform together opening for Black Francis. Holy crap. Such an amazing show. The only thing that could’ve made it better was if the people who had wanted to be there were able to be there. I wished more of Kristin’s listeners could have been there. Never can get enough love in a room.

Mississippi Kite · Sno Cat · White Suckers · Quick · Delicate Cutters · Krait · You Cage · Flooding · Your Dirty Answer · White Bikini Sand · Your Ghost (with Black Francis) · Wave of Mutilation (also with Black Francis)

Krait. I need to talk about Krait. I could never single out a favorite song until Krait. To me, Krait is perfect. But last night, last night Dave played the most incredible drums on Krait that just propelled that song to a whole new level. So good that I tried to record it on my phone but the sound is all blown out from the crap phone mic, so, well, now I just hope to see that again someday.

White Suckers. I’m so happy Kristin’s been playing White Suckers lately. White Suckers is one of those songs that (for me) was a bit overshadowed by the heavy hitters on the record – like Spain, Your Dirty Answer, etc… but years later it pops out and says “hey!” and you realize it’s an incredible song that ends up being one of your favorites. White Suckers had its hand raised in the back of the room all this time. It’s a song that’s been resonating with me for a good part of the past year, and I love it even more for that.

Kristin, Dave and Charles doing Wave of Mutilation. What a great little duet that turned out to be! Love, love, LOVED it. The one thing that struck me most was how beautiful Kristin’s voice sounded. It’s a rare day that you hear Kristin singing with someone, and her voice sounded SO pretty against Frank’s (yes, his names are all interchangeable, to me, anyway). I tried to record it halfway through because I loved it so much, but the sound was a bit much for my phone’s mic so that didn’t quite work out so well.

Kristin and Dave’s set had me all open and receptive to music. I was feeling it completely, SO HAPPY. By the time Black Francis’ set I couldn’t keep still in my chair, sorry row-mates. Loved that he opened with Nimrod’s Son. Loved all his solo songs, new songs, Pixies songs. Loved his set so much. So much fun. No complaints there. I’d love to rewind time and experience that night again. Or maybe rewrite this post to use the word ‘love’ a bit less. Nah.

hiatus

Sometimes, I like a good hiatus. A small break. A fast of sorts. It’s a good thing to do sometimes. It’s not always easy, but I find it’s always worth it in the end.

Around the start of this month I didn’t really feel like listening to the music for a while. This is no offense to the music, of course, it’s just something I do every once in a while. We all know I listen to a LOT of Kristin/Muses/Fippy. DUH, it’s my favorite. Music doesn’t care if I step away from it for a while. It doesn’t get insulted or have its feelings hurt like people would. I still love it more than anything and that will never change. I didn’t so much make a “decision” to take a break per se, I just didn’t listen for a couple of days and it turned into a “thing”.

It’s been roughly 11-12 days now? I dunno, not really keeping track but it was around the start of the month so let’s go with that. Now it’s become a bit of a challenge. How long can I make it? I’m kinda clearing my mind a bit, and that’s very much needed. Coming back to the music after a long break like this is always sofuckingawesome and I think that’s why I’m doing it (at this point, anyway). When we reacquaint it’s so amazing. It becomes a rediscovery, the elation of being back with an old friend and it’s like you’ve never been apart. It’s so fun, eye-opening and wonderful. I crave that “holyshitthisisthebestthingieverheard” feeling. I can’t wait for it.

In the meantime I’ve been exploring. Mostly I tend to gravitate to 90’s music, songs that shaped my college life (oh, what I wouldn’t give to go back to that time). Old standbys. Those songs you really love and can always jump back to. Kitchens of Distinction. I loved that band so much back then. I still do. A lot of bands I liked back then didn’t have such staying power as Kitchens, who rank up there as one of my most favorite bands ever. Vic Chesnutt. I made it through The Salesman and Bernadette and part of Little and it just got too sad. Dinosaur Jr. Pond. Guilty pleasures I’m not telling you about, those are my secrets. Pavement. Pinback. Unintentionally listening to a lot of bands that start with the letter P. More stuff, too, but well, you get it.

I do that for a while, jump around, make playlists (I’m so witty, I call them “Other Music”). Then I start getting bored. I listen to Sirius radio, I jump around those stations like a hummingbird flits between flowers. I yell at the radio for sucking. I yell at the bands for making some sucky bullshit. Sometimes I’ll listen for a bit and wonder WHY someone thought that sounded good. It’s important to know what sucks, it helps you better recognize what doesn’t. Occasionally, very, very occasionally (perhaps I should say ‘rarely’), I will find a new song by a new band that I actually really, really like (The Men – Open Your Heart). Mostly though, even satellite radio has me hating more music than I like. I’m happy and encouraged by discovering The Men, because I really do have a hard time finding new and exciting music I really like.

This music exploration is for the most part fun, but it’s kinda like hanging out by yourself in a new city. You meet people and you drink and laugh and have a great, amazing time, but it’s lacking the comfort of good friends who truly know YOU. I’m missing that comfort, I think, but I have other favorites I have to somewhat fill that void. But at this point, I’m kinda starting to crave the music I know more intimately than any other. THAT is what I was going for.

I wanted to appreciate it completely. I never take the music for granted, but I wanted a fresh take on it. You can get too familiar to something, too used to it where you miss the fine details. Like mixing up your workout, to get your muscles working in a different way from what they’re used to, making them stronger than before. Stimulate the brain in another way. I’m finding my brain reaching out, it hears Kristin’s voice singing in the distance, it feels those songs tugging. I know they’re there and for now that’s comfort enough.

How long will I make it? Who knows. I like to make my own rules. Who knows when I’ll cave, but I’m a little excited about it, and I was kinda going for that, too. Half holding out to see if Kristin would post another video demo. Half challenging myself. I’ve been learning a lot about music as I make a half-assed attempt to play guitar. It’s making me think of music so differently now that I know a little about how to make it. That’s what’s been so fun about revisiting those old songs from my college days. I hear the fine details better now. It all makes more sense. I like to think I’m expanding my mind in this adventure, so when I pull Kristin’s songs out again I’ll find new things I hadn’t noticed before.

These songs never stop giving. They change based on who you are and where you are at that given moment. I hope that in our brief time apart I’ve opened new doors in my mind to where I can approach these songs from different angles and hear them in new and exciting ways. No other music seems to give me such vivid imagery, movies and mind pictures than Kristin’s. I can’t wait to see what they have to show me next.

Paradoxical Undressing, Vol. 3

This was my 3rd time seeing Kristin’s full Paradoxical Undressing performance. Last night I decided that I need to make every best effort to see it, regardless of where she may be performing. The experience is getting better each time. It was a tough drive home on a lonely, dark highway, but so very worth having to drink shitty rest stop coffee. Especially worth the gorgeous and huge waning gibbous moon, glowing first orange, then yellow and sometimes partially obscured by scattered clouds. And most especially worth the hugest meteor I’ve ever seen drop from the sky. So very beautiful, so musical is a sky like that, so stunning a night.

I had been looking forward to seeing Paradoxical for months. It’s been a rough year so far and I couldn’t wait to “feel”. Feel the energy of the songs. The emotion. The combination of the live performance, the sounds, the projections. I’m already sensitive to people’s energies and the way this show is done intensifies all that for me. I couldn’t wait to purge a little, and I figured I would.

My reactions to both other Paradoxical Undressing performances were different, so who really knew how I’d react this time. I tried to listen to some of the more emotional songs on the drive up, maybe to desensitize myself a bit. I’ve been so fragile lately, and with yesterday being the 8-year anniversary of my father’s untimely death, I really didn’t want to sob audibly. Desensitizing didn’t really work, but I was quiet.

The room was very dark, which was fantastic. I found myself wishing they made black tissues, so I could discreetly wipe the tears from my face. The white frigging *glows*. The darkness helped my focus, and I think it helped throw me deep into this performance. I have very vivid images in my head for so many of these songs. Some are static, some are movies. They’re full of color and imagery and so very gorgeous. I found myself falling into them, in an almost out-of-body experience. I’m in the song, I’m participating in the song. I’m walking down that dusty highway and I’m sitting on that beach. I’m looking at that deep-south crumbling shack. I’m in a cloudy and wet Ireland. You’ll hear Kristin play some chords from Appalachian folk inter-dispersed in her readings. You’ll notice chords from Uncle June and Aunt Kiyoti. She doesn’t have to play those entire songs for me to jump into those, too. Such a wonderful thing, when the songs invite me in like that. I’m honored for that privilege.

Songs don’t always show me pictures. Sometimes they are just feelings without concrete or tangible structure. During those, I sometimes found myself being sucked into the gorgeous projections. Molly Cliff-Hilts, who painted the art used during this performance, paints to Kristin’s music. Her art really does *look* like the songs. They’re not necessarily what I see, but they’re not supposed to be. But I get it. It makes sense.

The songs are energies. Kristin puts her life pictures into the songs to bring them to life. We’re supposed to put our own life pictures on those songs, too. I think of them as this core entity, full of swirling energies, emotions, senses, feelings. What we see in them is just a skin that lays atop that and that’s supposed to be different for everyone. It should never matter what the song is *about*, as written, but rather what it means to *you*. Everyone’s skin looks and feels different, but the energies beneath are always the same. Reach inside and feel that. Learn to recognize it. It’s wonderful.

But sometimes I found myself crying over the song’s lyrical content. Coupled with the book excerpts it’s sometimes hard not to. Sometimes I found myself crying over what the song means to me. Sometimes I cried due to my grief. Sometimes it was just because the song was the most beautiful thing I could imagine hearing at that moment. A chord’s ring. A vocal inflection. A combination of both.

Kristin makes fun of herself for singing different notes over the ones she’s playing but what she does is perfect. I’ve never heard anything as consistently beautiful as the music she makes, or the sounds she sings. Paradoxical brings that all together, the music, the words, the visuals. It’s also funny as shit. I laugh, I cry, I love. I ended up getting way more out of this show than I had expected. Its left me in such a lovely place. Wish you were here, too.

Static

“A pretty picture of you breathing air / and you’re just standing there…..static”

I find this line so very striking. It’s been hitting me really hard over the past few months, each time I hear Static. This line stands out and resonates with me for quite some time.

What a wonderful, amazing way to look at a picture. Breathing life into a flat 2-D representation of a person, it makes that photo alive. It makes that person alive, whether they still are or not. Standing there. Static. Yet not. They’re breathing. They’re thinking. Their lungs are moving. Their neurons are firing all through their body. Thoughts are jetting across their brain pathways. They are anything BUT static.

Contrasts. We’re back to the contrasts again. I’m always so drawn to the contrasts. And I don’t think I can look at pictures the same way again. I will always, always see more. Feel more. Appreciate more.