Monday, September 13, 2004

whatever happened to ...

i am supposed to be writing my pixies article for citybeat, but as usual my mind wanders off to something far different from the task at hand. the question: whatever happened to steve schayer?


yeah, nobody knows who he is except me and a few of my friends (and a relative lot of people i don't know, i suppose). he was the leader of a wonderful l.a. band called clay idols, who put out an indie record called falling down backwards in 1990, the year before punk broke, two years before the pixies broke up. it wasn't the type of music i usually liked backed then. arty and poetically emotional, but with a sweeping sonic sensibility that could be hypnotic. steve sang with an all-encompassing passion -- i remember seeing the clay idols play a gig at molly malone's on fairfax, back when that bar was still one long, narrow room, before it added the second space for performances. our entire little indie world seemed to be packed into that hot, sweaty rectangle, but i somehow wormed my way up to the side of the stage. one bright light shone down on steve's head, and the music was so loud. yet he soared above it, trapped in his tiny space on the teeny stage by equipment and bandmates. he had a wide, wide mouth that could be startlingly acrobatic, rendering exquisite shapes of the notes that passed from deep in his throat. on that steaming night, showers of fine spit came out of his lips, along with his melancholy, beautiful words. the light and the spray made a halo of sorts, and the songs carried me to a place i rarely get to go anymore when listening to live music.

oh, the songs were just about his struggles to understand his siblings, the horrors of growing up, the elusiveness of inner peace. i don't know what they were about, but he was good at capturing everyday 20something angst and making it sound important and deep. yet not in a pretentious way. the album has some good tunes and some great ones, and when i came home from drinking with the doc on friday night, i put it on. i'm not sure why. i played the song that's always been my favorite, "flower thief," which is just a yearning, surreal epic of sorts: there's a bright green piano/you use it for a door... [cue crashing violin sound], that sort of thing. other tracks, however, didn't pass as sweetly. i always thought of "it can only get colder" as a song -- kind of like throwing muses' early tune "colder" -- about how when you are young, you're warm and open and happy and grooving on everybody's vibe. curious about your peers and willing to share yourself with them. but as life goes on, everyone begins to close up. you have less time, more obligations, less love for the world and more for your spouse, family, etc. nothing to spare, nothing extra to go around. you begin to hoard the generosity in your spirit; you start to feel it will run out, where before it seemed infinite. ah, i dunno that the song says all that, but obviously it sends my mind in the direction of a large part of my current, ongoing despair. it can only get colder, i thought to myself, and i do not think i can stand the temperature.

"speechless" is a quiet tune that spirals up slowly, sadly; it was far too lonely for me to handle. soon your eyes will have no time, for the things they refuse to see. in hindsight this album played like an indictment of all the things i dreamed of doing and did not get done. "best part of bad weather," a chiming waltzy number, wistful, and with a sad, pure, stark harmony to the chorus that finally did what had to be done, burst me like a swollen raincloud, crying and singing along: pick up all those pieces/rearrange those pieces/try and hold those pieces in one place. i can't. i can't keep all the pieces in one place, and the more i try, the more pieces i lose ... the last song is "freedom bridge," which i always thought of as a snapshot of a place the suicide-minded jump from, but steve was fond of metaphors, and it might not have been about an actual bridge at all. a piercing bit of electric guitar was strung from end to end in that tune, which was another epic bit, swelling from the tiniest little acoustic guitar lick into something so huge and colorful and mournful-yet-joyous. and fading off into the distance with the endless cadence of a rolling drumbeat.

these songs have been echoing in my head ever since i played them, and in my black little heart as well. in part, as i gear up to write this story about the pixies -- a band that has triumphantly returned from that very same era, college rock's belated conquering heroes -- i marvel at the twists of fate and time that make one group fade to black, another ride higher than it ever has before. like the pixies, clay idols belong to a time and a place i can never recapture, and maybe i wouldn't want to, but i seem to have been a lot happier back then. there was nothing in the world that could be better than seeing the clay idols live ... nothing. being with my friends, like the amazing barbara m., floating in the insular little bubble of believers. the band made another round of demos, which are on a battered cassette around here somewhere, and that was it. steve did time in some other bands as a guitarist-vocalist; i remember seeing him with the chills once at the house of blues. but he was such a good singer, even his minimal backup vox threatened to steal what's-his-name's thunder. i haven't heard anything about him in years. i suppose i could google him, but for now i prefer to just wallow in this memory. i never wish to go back to any previous time -- that is a fool's desire, and i am enough of a fool. but it is so strange to think that i knew back then that i would someday live to regret the loss of that time, and the feeling of belonging that i never, ever feel now. and here i am, stunned to the point of heartbreak over an album by a dead band that hardly anyone ever even knew existed.

we moved on -- grant lee buffalo had just begun around the time the idols died. or we became more aware of grant and his freaky alchemized americana. it was a kind of consolation, it had its own rewards. we came to adore that too. but not, for me, in the same way. maybe it was the mystery of the idols that allowed it to flourish in my heart. i knew steve and used to go pester him at his record-store job on thursday afternoons, in between pillaging the vintage punk t-shirts and stickers. but i never had to dissect his band the way i have had to dismember and analyze and summarize all the other ones i have loved. strewing the body parts around me and trying to figure out how the pieces all fit together. keeping them in one place, one article, one pithy collection of ideas and quotes and other nouns and verbs. perhaps keeping the magic intact in my mind, or never having had to shred it to find out what was behind it, has given the clay idols more power over my heart.

or maybe i'm just finding new and more creative ways to procrastinate.


Jenn said...

Geez darlin', morose much? I have this vision in my head now of tiny you back in 1990 all starry-eyed and fluttery as you danced and swayed in front of the stage. Personally I don't think you're cold at all. In fact that's probably the last word I would use to describe you.

GloryBug said...

Actually, this is probably one of the best bands I've ever seen live.