Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I remember distinctly the first time I heard The Magnetic Fields. It was 2000 and my friends Rowan and Katie were visiting me from Edinburgh in my little apartment in Washington Heights. It was November. We had met up with college friends and were driving upstate to visit our old college and on our way up our friend Spiro said "Listen to this song." And he put on 69 Love Songs, Vol. 1, specifically "Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side". I was hooked. Ever since that mini road trip, that album and in particular Stephen Merritt's deep, deep voice makes me think of November air, that long stretch of road between NYC and New Paltz, my besties from across the pond and a whole bunch of other things I love. There are just no other albums that radiate romantic longing and quirky love so poetically and so concisely.
Last night I got to see them live at the Beacon Theater and I think they played every single song I was hoping to hear last night apart from two. So I'll include one here just because I feel like hearing it now. (They may have played this during the encore but I had to leave to catch a g'd train back to Guam.)

The Beacon theater was a perfect venue. It is an old and very gilded theater,the perfect receptacle for the sometimes melancholy, sometimes humorous but always beautiful sounds of this band. The venue was filled to capacity and still it felt so intimate, the sign of a great show.

I went with Lorraine who has been my concert buddy for my entire adult life. I sincerely think there are only maybe five concerts I've ever attended without her and I have attended no less than 600 million concerts, beginning at the age of 10 (Rod Stewart with my parents, in case you were wondering.)

Anyway, before the show I was talking to her about how much things have changed in the concert going world. For example, people used to light up joints at nearly every show we went to at nearly every venue. We'd be in Radio City Music Hall, or Madison Square Garden or the Mercury Lounge or that weird VFWish place in Brooklyn the name of which escapes me and some gentle wafting of pungent weed would come floating by from some darkened corner, without fail, regardless of the performer. When I went to see a concert at Carnegie Hall...I kid of course. But for some reason, I couldn't remember that happening as often anymore, especially since smoking cigarettes indoors has become verboten in NYC. The memory of smelling weed from somewhere seemed so very far away and faint, like a misshapen smoke ring from a dirty teenager. No less than 20 minutes after we had this conversation, there it was: the smell of weed from somewhere behind or in front of or to the left of us. I feel comforted, as I type this from here in my windowless office at my respectable job that people are still doing this and I don't really know why. I should also mention that shortly after that we smelled a garlicky pickle, the source of which we were able to pinpoint. This also gives me comfort. People are still eating pickles at concerts, a tale as old as time. Side note of possible interest: the pickle eater was seated in front of us. We had noticed him earlier because as he and his girlfriend sat down, he waved to no less than five people in the surrounding area. We dubbed him the Mayor of the Beacon. So yes, the Mayor of the Beacon was eating pickles at the concert. What goes through someone's mind when choosing a concert snack, I wonder?
Seated behind us were two, what I can only assume intoxicated young men who talked, at full volume the entire show. Again, what goes through the minds of two people when they decide to "talk things out" in the middle of a concert?

I met Lorraine in the city before the show at her office building in midtown. On the way up the escalator after getting off the subway I was stood behind a man who was clearly transient with ratted, dirty clothing and a rolling basket full of several stuffed garbage bags. He was muttering to himself, as you do when you are lugging garbage around the subways and as a result I left a gap between us in case he put his crazy pants on before the escalator ran out. The uniquely NYC practice of leaving the "left lane" of an escalator open for those in a big damn rush often sees its fair share of failed attempts to rush up a really, really long and steep incline. One man, out of breath and sweaty  from his attempt gave up and decided to squeeze into the gap I left b/w me and muttering bag man. He regretted it almost immediately, I'm certain, when the transient gentleman turned around and said "Do NOT grab my ass!" He then proceeded to repeat it and mutter something about "There is no need in this world to touch my ass." If you are reading this, I really wish I could convey how hilarious this whole exchange was in person.

We took a crosstown bus and sat in traffic for a bit. I minded this not at all. I suppose I'm too much with the I <3 NYC thing but when I'm smack dab in the center of it, surrounded by the sounds (and smells) of the city, when I'm sitting laughing about the random exchanges of two strangers on an escalator, when I see the grey contrast of the cluster of skyscrapers so sharp against a clear blue sky, my brain just starts in on its mantra: Home. Home. Home.

After the main part of the show but regrettably before the encore I had to rush out and catch the Long Island Rail Road back to my current "home". Normally I don't mind the train ride but waiting at Penn Station when it is late and I'm tired and all I want to do is be in my apartment, abuzz with freshly seeing one of my favorite bands (and possibly a contact high from the mystery weed), waiting for that train's track to be announced makes me want to jump off a bridge. And then the last three stops before mine seem suspended in perpetuity. My iPod battery was dead and I read the magazine I had in my bag from cover to cover on the way in so my only respite was reading the train ads. One ad was for a local college and featured a smiling young woman with a quote that said something about finding her future at college. Someone had written a word bubble from her mouth that inexplicably read "Sssssssnake." This served to reinforce the part of me that truly enjoys pointless graffiti on dumb advertisements. It really was gravy for such a great night.

I'd like to thank the following:
  • The Magnetic Fields for being so awesome
  • Spiro, for playing that cd in the car all those years ago
  • Lorraine for being the best concert buddy ever
  • The "don't grab my ass" man for the laughs
  • Whomever wrote "Sssssnake" on that poster
Good night!

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