Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tangents, backwards

Also adopted into The New Monastic Canon, or Cannon, from my mixtape unspooled at the closing Open DJ Spin, was a band from Minneapolis called The Owls.

As a strange, smart person I found out here just said smartly, "Run the film of the tangent backwards, and you have a confluence." So, since I am telling the story of The New Monastic Workshop backwards, perhaps if I follow some Owlsish tangents, I will find some confluences.

The Monastic weekend was a temporary escape from the demands of parenthood and husbandom, but I must pass on some news you can use to parents. The Owls' first record was for nearly a year my daughter's single favorite piece of music. As all parents know, it truly is blessed when your child becomes fixated on something (as only children and loonybirds can get fixated) that also gives you pleasure. I wrote a novel entirely under the aural influence of The Owls' Our Hopes and Dreams, and after hearing these eight songs every day for a year solid (that is, until the advent of Hannah Montana), I never tired of any of it.

The way I came to possess what became my kid's first treasured record is a confluence story. It even happened along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. I was living alone again in St. Louis, with my family marooned back in New York as my wife tried to sell the house. I was all new to the highly charged experience of being the white guy editing the black paper. It was a Wednesday evening, and we had just put the paper to bed for the week. Exhausted, I dragged myself down to the riverfront, because The Hang Ups had an open-air, big-stage concert down there.

The Hang Ups had been in my head since my earliest days in a traveling band. Shy boys from Minneapolis, they grew up with Matt Fuller, my eventual bandmate. Hissy, seminal cassettes by The Hang Ups (and their several splinter projects) went with Matt in the van for years of gigs. They became a tour fixture. At afterparties, in maybe fifty towns, we crowded around Matt and sang Hang Ups songs as he chopped them out on acoustic guitar.

I became a fanboy. When I visited Matt at his family home in Minneapolis, I maneuvered my way into a Hang Ups rehearsal. We brought them down for a house concert. I did my best to keep up a penpal thing with principal songwriter Brian Tighe, whose day job was the deeply unrockist position of nanny.

It was Brian Tighe whom I saw sauntering through the festival crowd along the St. Louis riverfront that evening. I popped up on him. He remembered me. He remembered my gaudy enthusiasm for his music. He excused himself to get the new CD by his new splinter project. And that first Owls' record has been my constant companion, ever since.

The Owls played once in St. Louis, that I know of, at the now-defunct Frederick's Music Lounge. It was a small, homy room. It was hard to project starpower in that room. Maria May, something of the quartet's leader (or onstage focal point, at any rate) exuded star power. This is a woman who makes you want to run away and join the circus.

I visited with Brian, after their set, on the street outside Frederick's. Maria was smoking. It's often odd, for me, to see a pretty woman, or a singer, but especially a pretty woman singer, smoke. She had the nonchalance of the natural talent. We must have talked of children. I must have told her my daughter wanted to listen to her band and only her band, every day. I must have yearned for some kind of confluence, beyind that; surely I pushed for a songwriting partnership, through the mail. Surely we wrote songs together, started a band, hit the road. Surely I ran away and joined the circus.

It's not possible that I drove home alone, listening to Maria sing about there being only air where she used to care.

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