It was December of 1990. Scott and I had been dating for exactly two months when Christmas rolled around, and among my gifts was a mixtape filled with love songs, most of which were by bands I’d never heard of. (Back then, Scotty had the bigger and far more eclectic music collection. I owned exactly 11 albums, 8 of which were by Duran Duran.)
I took the tape with me when I flew to Minnesota to spend the holiday with my family. Scott had even made his own cover out of an index card with a picture of Ziggy comic, wherein Ziggy is wondering if there was a cure for loneliness. I spent a week in a strange house in Minnesota (my parents had moved there with my brother and without me that fall), listening to the tape over and over, analyzing the messages I imagined Scott was trying to send me with a level of internal drama, romance, and earnestness that only a 19-year-old in love can conjure up. Among other things, I was convinced he wanted to sleep with me. (I was right about that one. And if he’s nice, I just might let him yet. )
The first track on that mixtape was “Any Cure” by the Subdudes, my first introduction to the band, and I was a fan at first listen. In anticipation of writing this post, I asked Scott how he’d come across them in the first place, as they’re not mainstream and I’ve never heard them on the radio (which is really a shame—they deserve greater success than they seem to have). He didn’t remember, because he’s old like that. In any case, I borrowed his two CDs of the band…permanently. And then I married him to seal the deal, so that legally I own 50% of the albums under community property laws.
We finally had the opportunity to hear the Subdudes live in 1996 when I learned they were going to be at the Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis. So we trucked down to the show from St. Cloud, and were astonished when the band announced that this was their farewell show. I was sad, because they were really good, and something different, especially given the heavily synthesized music of the ‘90s. As is so often the case, I “discovered” a band just as it was coming to an end. That’s the problem with bands; they’re always breaking up. The reason for that is that they’re filled with musicians. (If you know musicians, then you’ll get that joke.)
Imagine my surprise a year or so ago, then, when I got a new music notice announcing their latest album’s release, and mentioning a couple others that had preceded it. When did that happen? I was at their farewell show! Turns out, after a relatively long break, they got the band back together and started recording again, which made me say “Yay!” Out loud, even.
And then this Wednesday night, they made their way to the Old Pueblo where Beth and I were present to appreciate their musical stylings. We were part of a small crowd at the Rialto, smaller than I would’ve liked for a band I enjoy so much. Many acts pass up Tucson in favor of Phoenix, and I’m always a little sorry when one chooses us instead and we can’t muster up a decent crowd for them. However, what we lacked in size, we made up in enthusiasm (I hope).
We were in the second row and had a great view of the band. As I watched and listened, I realized that these guys epitomized the working musician. They showed up in jeans, looking like they could leave the stage and immediately set about fixing a screen door or starting a barbecue, and they played their music with love in their hearts and skill in their hands, and that was that. There were no outfit changes. There were no dancers. There were no elaborate sets. It was just 5 guys who were dedicated to the proposition that it was all about the music. Everything on stage, everything they did, was in service to the music, rather than in creating a spectacle that is as much performance art as it is music. (Madonna and Beyoncé, I’m looking at you.) There’s a place for that in the world, but it’s not my place.
The Subdudes played their great music and, in between numbers, cracked wise about their lawnmowers and workbenches at home, and you got the sense that they were real, down-to-earth people who just happened to play music. I like that in my musicians. I like that as a musician, because I aspire to break down the unnecessary wall between artist and auditor; at its best, I think music is really a cooperative effort, at least energetically. I think that’s true of all art, and I lament the division that took place as we “civilized” ourselves to a point where creators and consumers of creation were two distinct classes of people, with caste boundaries consistently reinforced by people who say “I’m not creative. I can’t dance/sing/play/paint/sculpt,” and institutions that promote this fallacy; this has not always been the case in the course of human history, and does not, in my opinion, reflect the true tendencies of the human soul.
This was especially brought home during the encore, where the band left the stage with their instruments, and then came out into the audience, settled themselves in the center aisle, waited for everyone to move in, and played a completely unplugged and utterly gorgeous couple of songs in the midst of a silent crowd unwilling to miss a single note. The whole endeavor showed such trust on the part of the musicians, and respect on the part of the audience, to have this moment of community among a group of strangers. It was a beautiful thing.
During one beautiful, gospel-influenced piece, it finally dawned on me why live music is such an important part of my life: Going to shows is, for me, like going to church. I arrive with my complement of mental burdens and minor complaints, but in the course of an hour and a half I am relieved of both, uplifted, inspired, and content, and the “congregation” around me is likewise. We all believe in the healing power of the holy spirit of music. And if we’re lucky, we walk out of the show with epiphanies like this. I have to say, I never in all my years walked out of any other church with such, and I only left smiling because I was glad it was over. But when I leave a concert, I’m sorry it’s over, and wondering when I can go again.
Can I get an “amen”?
And may I also recommend that you check them out at their website? They are well worth your time and money.