This guy just won the Nobel prize. Who gives a shit, right? But then there's this: "He studied at Lycee Henri-IV in Paris, where his geometry teacherThis guy just won the Nobel prize. Who gives a shit, right? But then there's this: "He studied at Lycee Henri-IV in Paris, where his geometry teacher was Raymond Queneau, a writer who was to prove a major influence." -- You just said the magic word -- QUENEAU! So my interest has piqued......more
It was late September 2001, and the atmosphere of the country was just plain shaken and strange, and the smoSo here’s my favorite Modest Mouse memory:
It was late September 2001, and the atmosphere of the country was just plain shaken and strange, and the smoke hadn’t fully cleared out of the skies of New York City, or for that matter even from over the Pentagon, which was closer to home for me, and it seemed a whole lot of other stuff, really unpleasant stuff was on the rise- not just debris and smoke, and not just rising- things were going to come screaming down from the sky, screams and smoke and lives would soon be falling and rising, and not just in my little corner of the Earth, but everywhere, and there was nothing any of us could do to stop it. Modest Mouse was playing The Black Cat in Washington DC, just re-opened in a new, larger space, a few doors down on 14th St. from the old location- a place I had seen countless shows. I wasn’t going to miss them, of course, I had been a long time fan, considered them the best band to emerge out of the morphing late-90’s indie rock scene, and The Moon and Antarctica was only about a year old- I hadn’t yet seen them play songs off what is probably their masterpiece. I will also say, to set the scene, that I probably ingested some kind of pills, or some kind of other substances, maybe a melange, as I was apt to do in those days, so consider me also strange and shaken- apocalyptic, ill-defined, warped, spoiled, lost- as went the country so went myself and my friends (it was in the air, and what is in the air gets in the blood). I don’t remember the opening band, but I remember standing at the bar along the right length of the club, I remember the house lights coming down, I remember the glow of the white squares only on the checkerboard floor, the black ones becoming infinite wells, I remember a drink in my hand sweating, and that massed-humanity smell and sway of packed, smaller club shows… out from the dark of the stage sounded those simple pairs of guitar chimes that begin Third Planet and Isaac’s strong-yet-fractured voice “Everything that keeps me together is fallin’ apart…” and then over the band as the song picked up and kicked in, began video projections of buildings being demolished, in reverse. Not the World Trade Center, nothing from recent events, but just stock footage of building demolitions, in reverse- coming back together, being rebuilt from the entropy of their own destruction. And the lyrics:
“...Your heart felt good it was drippin' pitch and made of wood And your hands and knees felt cold and wet on the grass to me Outside naked, shiverin' looking blue From the cold sunlight that's reflected off the moon Baby cum angels fly around you, reminding you We used to be three and not just two And that's how the world began And that's how the world will end…”
“Baby cum angels”-- what those are Isaac only knows specifically but I know too- little silver angels that bring life into the world.
“The universe is shaped exactly like the Earth if you go straight long enough you’ll end up where you were…”
As the videos of the bright buildings reforming themselves from chaos rolled ghostly over the band working at this song, it was genuinely moving, genuinely cathartic- proof that this most populous art form somehow still speaks to the inner intellectual-personal world, gets to the heart of our lives in a profound way- that this strange amalgam of punk rock and surreal Americana that is Modest Mouse, can breach into the realm of my significant memories, things I’ll never forget. I teared up and the show went on…, and the tears went away…
So this book? It’s a book of photographs of a rock band growing up. One thing I hadn’t realized is that Isaac Brock was a one-time resident of the Positive Force house here in DC, the communal punk house that was home to musicians and artists of all ilk in the 80’s and 90’s, initially centered around members of Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, and Bikini Kill, etc. and is still alive today. I came to the DC area in 1995 and Positive Force was legendary. Isaac Brock had been there in the early 90’s, playing music and taking photographs, and there he befriended photographer Pat Graham. Isaac moved from DC to Issaquah, Washington and formed Modest Mouse in 1993. Their first US tour was in ‘97 and Graham was asked to come perform the services of roadie and tour documentarian. The photographs in his book extend from Positive Force in the early 90’s to 2010- from a band living out of a shitty red broke down van playing one-nighters to a band packing festivals and stadiums around the world. From kids playing punk shows to grown-ups attempting to reign in the chaos of living unusual lives.
Modest Mouse’s music, to me, has always evoked space- not just that outer infinite of incomprehensible stars and nubulae, but the quotidian, comprehensible spaces that we inhabit daily- the spaces of the open country and backwoods America, the claustrophobic spaces of suburbia, strip malls, delimited cities in contrast to that openness- the desert, the ocean, the icy plains at the poles, the badlands with their insane geometry, and the outskirts of a town as you enter and those open spaces begin to be divided and subdivided into sectors, lines, delineations- The Road and the End Of The Road… Modest Mouse’s music has always evoked this feeling of motion through open spaces, and in American roots music that is inextricably and intimately entwined with the grand metaphor of The Road. Modest Mouse is music for this mythic open road, for moving through nightmare America, into and out of our grimy cities, out into our wilds, all of the sensory dislocation and dysphoria that implies. So this book, composed primarily of photographs of Modest Mouse on The Road, is utterly appropriate as another medium of documentation of this music. Though these are mostly performance photographs and portraits of the band members in different locales, some of the most affecting of the pictures are of striking sunsets, oceans achieved, cloud-hours, freak highway stops, trucks (oh, so the tour beginning in Sept. 2001, which contained the show of my fable told above, Modest Mouse's experience of that fateful morning is documented in three separate polaroids taken in succession, as the band was driving south to LA for a scheduled show that ended up cancelled (obviously) of a big rig burning, pouring smoke and flames, isolated, on an empty highway- a highly perspicacious triptych, no doubt…), motels, odd flophouses, desert scenes in small towns without recognizable names-- the ephemera of The Road… and though there are plenty of high quality, gallery-quality photos, the polaroids stand out as especially beautiful, those indefinable and irreproducible wash-outs, crayon colors, halftones, faded images like memory decay on paper- I feel sorry for those come into this world knowing only the years of digital photography, for there is something of the way a polaroid photograph interacts with time, as if it was never set correctly to begin with so age and years work at it with an artisans hand, and in its finite nature and its fallibility it reflects its subjects so very well…
This is a book of photographs of the most important years in the development of a specific band’s career, which happened to overlap with some of the most important years of the development of my life as well… It is rumored that Bob Dylan named one of his records “Together Through Life” because of that thing that only contemporary musicians, or artists, writers, etc., can achieve for those living in this world alongside them- speak to strangers, bridge the conscious gap, leap the self, become a part of a life you will never personally know… Certain artists and myself are “together through life”- Modest Mouse is one of them, and so these pictures speak to me almost personally as well.
One more memory, and a few links, because this thing is getting long-winded:
Isaac Brock had a side project called Ugly Casanova, which made what I consider one of the finest indie rock records of the early aughts, Sharpen Your Teeth- another unique fragment of modern Americana. I and a group of friends went to see them play one night, the numeric date lost and forgotten among so many others, at the Ottobar in Baltimore. They didn’t end up going on until like one in the morning, but played another of one of the great shows in my life, ending sometime in the early hours of a desultory morning, and this group of friends, whom I remember every face of clearly that night, wandered out and on and into our lives. Only one of them still orbits the realm I inhabit, and she is my most dear friend. The rest have fled like angels, and are essentially no more than that thin stuff of memories to me… but they exist there in that moment of night and music, and so they live with me still, as long as I pay them the grace of remembering.
Music can achieve that, beyond other arts, that communal touching and bringing of significance, that infesting of memory, that creation of shared moments. When you read, when you view a painting, when you watch a movie, you are essentially alone- when you listen to music, you are one with the others listening, and with the ones performing.