A couple nights ago, I went to the Ogden, with the hopes of catching Denver’s own Astra Moveo, as well as Shy Child and the Faint. Unfortunately, pre-show drinks and toe-curling vegan sausage pizza at City 'O City were too good to rush, so I missed our local boys, and arrived just in time for Shy Child’s raucous keytar-and-drums meltdown. The Brooklyn-based pair performed with all the alacrity, boyish glee and dorky sincerity of two teenaged friends playing Thompson Twins covers in their parents’ basement. Oops, that was a little flashback to my own youth. Anyway, the utter lack of pretension and artifice was thoroughly endearing.
The Faint, of course, drove the kids wild with their seductive synths and boudoir beats. Fans were bouncing, sweating and stumbling all over the Ogden, shouting lyrics about strippers and cars. The light show was dazzling, the stage energy was undeniable, and yet, the Omaha outfit’s set left me cold.
When I ran into Lipgloss’s Tyler “Danger” Jacobsen and Michael “Boyhollow” Trundle in the lobby afterward, they asked me what I thought of the show, and at that moment, I knew what it was. “That has to be the most superficial band I’ve ever seen!” I replied.
“What?” gasped Jacobsen. “Have you ever seen She Wants Revenge?” We laughed. Of course, he’s right. Justin Warfield, frontman for She Wants Revenge, has proven himself a serial poseur – reinventing himself repeatedly as rapper, rocker and, most recently, neo-Goth synth-rock lothario. But it’s never bothered me.
During my long, dark drive home, I thought about it a lot. Why was it that the Faint’s self-consciously retro, mostly meaningless electro-rock grated on me, while I had a fantastic time grooving to She Wants Revenge the last time I saw them.
The answer is context. I’m not talking about the venue or who I was with or how much caffeine was in my bloodstream, but rather, about life context. The connections we make with music – and that music makes with us – can’t help but be influenced by what’s going on in our lives.
Though my love for electro-rock stretches way back to my formative makeout years – when I truly thought that Devo was the best band ever – I only recently rediscovered the visceral joys of its big, dumb, sexy beats last summer, after a fizzled romantic misstep. When the not-quite-relationship finally nosedived, I threw myself into the reckless sublimation of dance music, rather than commiserating with despondent old standbys like Leonard Cohen and Stephen Fretwell. Even after I was over the heartache – really, it was more like heartburn – I continued to embrace the thundering inanity of Teenage Bad Girl and Chromeo.
This week, however, life got real. Not in a heartburn kind of way, or even in a heartache way, but in a – well – real way. A wickedly funny, humblingly intelligent and uncommonly kind man everyone called “Chick” – short for his given name, Francesco – passed away on us. Chick is my uncle, and – though we never lived near each other or even spent that much time together – he is one of a handful of relatives with whom I feel more than that cheap, superficial family reunion connection of someone you happen to share genes with.
My fondest memories of Chick involve flying. One Thanksgiving, during my freshman year of college, I was far from home and feeling very much alone. Knowing this, my uncle and my equally funny, smart and kind aunt invited my girlfriend and me to spend the holiday with them. The long weekend is a bit of a blur to me now, but I remember vividly our return to campus.
Rather than brave the icy interstate that would bring us back to Poughkeepsie, Chick decided he would fly us there in his airplane. I’ll never forget soaring at what seemed like a few feet over the New England countryside – all white from the recent snowfall, with dapples of evergreen trees stippling the landscape – in a plane that felt like it just might fall apart if it met a strong gust of wind. The experience would have been exhilaratingly terrifying if it weren’t for my uncle’s unflappably confident and placidly content demeanor. Calm – and even smiling a bit – Chick might just as well have been flying a kite or baking cookies.
He was as at home in the sky as most of us are on earth, and now he’s gone. Some sort of figurative language about heaven should probably go here, but he would have hated that. He never went in for that kind of stuff.
As I think about Chick – flying, talking politics, crashing a model helicopter in the woods behind his house – I am, as always, listening to music. As I think about the wife, kids, grandkids, sisters, nieces and nephews who are grieving his final flight, the appropriate soundtrack is music that says something about the complexity of human experience. Right now, I want music that soars gracefully over the landscape, that examines its own existence, that means what it says. I want music that means something.
And that’s exactly why the Faint were unable to move my heart, my mind, or even my feet the other night. It was not the fault of the band, its music or its lyrics. In fact, it might not have been anything intrinsic to the music at all. It was context. Just as my minor romantic heartburn of last summer made electro-rock seem so necessary, so my current grief makes the very same music seem hollow and pointless. It’s just the wrong soundtrack for my life – and Chick’s death – right now. Instead, I’m listening to Achille Lauro, the Wheel, Hello Kavita, d. biddle, Mark Darling, Matt Boyer, Porlolo, Tim Pourbaix, the World Romantic – humans who make music for and about other humans.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t come right back to electro – or any other genre that just isn’t cracking right now – when the time is right. That’s the beauty of life – it zigs, zags, changes and surprises.
Of course, it also ends. Rest peacefully, Uncle Chick. I hope you’re flying high. –- Eryc Eyl