Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Pixies. If you were there last night, you know what I mean when I say: Pixies.

I've always told people I was listening to the Pixies in high school, but that's impossible: I graduated in 1987, the year Come On Pilgrim was released, and believe me, even had the album come out on January 1 (I think it was actually sometime in April), there's no way it would have found its way to my ears before I graduated in June because, here in the wilds of Maine in those days, without internet or decent radio, there's no chance whatsoever I would've stumbled across it. It's an honest mistake, though: except for the fact that I lived in a dorm room and had slightly easier access to booze and charming women, high school and college weren't substantially different animals.

So it was college, Christmas break of probably sophomore year, and I was hanging out with my buddy Josh. We spent some pretty choice weekends at his parents' house our last year of high school, filching his dad's Silver Bullets and playing ping-pong on the impossibly warped table in his basement -- seriously, this table was hilarious, both ends curled madly, such that the center of each court was a good two inches lower than mid- and end-court. Trick shots were not just at a premium, they were essential. We were improvisers, and we were young aspiring drunks, and we were almost without exception concerned with but two subjects: sports and girls. We both knew a lot about one and enough about the other so that our analyses and theories and budding philosophies easily carried us well into the night, up to or just shy of the point where the Silver Bullets won out and we had to call it. Even though the frequency of those beer-washed, wacky-pong weekends diminished after high school, we managed to recapture them one school break at a time all through college. Maybe the tone changed a little as we grew incrementally more sophisticated, more worldly, but that was a difference without a distinction. The music definitely changed, and that mattered.

Josh can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure he had Come On Pilgrim (the song "Caribou" rings with the recollection of that night, but memory is like a self-governing neighboring dominion, its spaces arranged as it sees fit regardless of whatever sense of jurisdiction the conscious brain supposes it's entitled to, so perhaps I'm wrong) and I'm confident he had Surfer Rosa because there's no doubt in my mind that was the first time I heard "Gigantic" and "Where Is My Mind?", two songs on my personal all-time favorites list, without qualification. Regardless of the details, the love affair started that night, and the ardor has not been diminished by time. Cheap beer, an improvised table game, a best friend and a band that was a true original are all intertwined with my experience of two smart guys with big, dopey hearts trying in our way to figure out girls. That's a party with one hell of a soundtrack.

It's true, last night we would have liked to see them play longer, although it wasn't a short show, really -- ninety minutes, and they did two encores. But shit, man, they're all between the ages of forty-five and fifty. I'm not quite forty-three, and I was getting worn out just tapping my foot and swaying. So I forgive them for wanting to, as Kim put it when she was saying goodnight to the band, get on the bus and go right to sleep. And of course we could all rattle off a handful of songs we wished they'd played, but what can one expect from a band that wrote almost nothing but songs we love? Anybody got a seven-hour show in them? No regrets.

Beyond a certain age -- and I don't know what that age is, I only know I passed it at some point -- there aren't a lot of things that can make you feel like a kid again. I suspect fantasy baseball camp is like that: you spend a week taking batting practice, shagging flies, and stepping onto a real baseball diamond beside guys you grew up watching play the game. Being there when your daughter is born, and then watching her become a new person on an almost daily basis that first year of her life recalls a sense of perpetual wonder unlike any you've known since your own childhood, when the world was revealing itself to you in increments. Or such as these: Watching a live performance by a band you've loved for more than twenty years, one that never once tried to reinvent itself, just walked away when they felt like they were done with each other, and then came back together and said, "These are great songs, let's go kick some ass . . ." Seeing your name on something you put some of your heart into that someone was kind enough to publish . . . Realizing when you open up your email and find yourself looking into a certain girl's eyes that you're not actually frozen in your own personal emotional wasteland and that you really, really, really adore her . . .

I've never been to baseball camp, and my lovely daughter is all of sixteen years old now. Nonetheless, beginning around nine o'clock last night, and showing no signs of stopping yet, goddamn do I feel like a kid right now.

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