Sunday, August 20, 2006

falling down backwards

it seems like just yesterday, or maybe only a year ago, but it was really almost two years ago that i reminisced about the clay idols and wondered whatever happened to steve schayer, the group's leader. after i wrote that i heard from a couple of people that he was still out there, and maybe on the verge of a comeback. but this did not come to pass ... until thursday night, when steve played a solo acoustic gig at taix, the french restaurant on sunset in echo park.

we dashed in from the parking lot at what seemed like the very last minute, as we were extremely late -- traffic sucked, echo park is far, blah blah blah -- but we actually ended up having plenty of time to get in and get settled. i met up with barbara mitchell, who had orchestrated much of this momentous event; basically, she's been encouraging steve to do another show since the last one, some 15 years ago. among other things she has a record label now, roslyn recordings, and so also was there with one of her artists, paul hiraga of downpilot, who closed the show -- with patria jacobs playing the middle set. i can't remember the last time i knew so many people at a show, man. and they all seemingly knew each other, and they definitely all knew steve.

the lounge/bar was set up with a small stage area ringed off with chairs, in front of the fireplace, where steve was fiddling fiddling fiddling with his guitars and the microphones ... technical difficulties. he looked the same to me, maybe a little thinner. i guess the equipment problems took up some time, but i don't remember that so well anymore. mostly i just remember when he started singing "porch," his voice that same resonant, agile instrument, his guitar playing animated and mystical (as in, what key is this?), the sound filling up a suddenly silent room: i have a house where i can go/when there's too many people around me... and we were off. he followed up with "you'll never know," and i think it was around then that barbara, black bangs framing a pair of sparkling blue eyes, said to me, "it's like grunge never happened!" i peered at steve for a beat and replied, "what's that?" "i don't know," she said, and we laughed, more heartily than the joke really called for -- laughing, i think, out of pure joy in the moment.

he played a new song called "do yourself a mischief" and then intended to end the set -- after only three songs? uh-uh. barbara was having none of it. we were by then standing at the bar just a few steps from the stage area, and she got him in a headlock next to the microphone; he finally succumbed, after extracting a jack and diet from her. so then it was, i believe the song is called "i wouldn't wish it on anybody else," but i could be wrong, b/c sometimes his songs don't have the titles you think they do. i think that was the one stew from the negro problem requested, but i'm not sure. many requests were shouted; few were honored. steve made to go off again after that tune, and again was thwarted by the persuasive ms. m. so he wrapped it up with "falling down backwards," which sounded totally amazing, and then the sound man helped him out by turning on the rolling stones right after the last notes rang.

the set was over and my head was buzzing and steve was enumerating the technical-problem bummers to barbara right next to me, when i spoke to him and he looked at me with "who's that?" in his eyes for a moment, then dawning recognition and a shout of my name, a bear hug, and that wide skull-cracking grin of his. there it was again, that sense of joy. he did fret, to my mind overmuch, about the sound problems, but they really did not matter ... though for a minute it seemed like b's and my insisting on this fact was not getting through to our dear neurotic mess of a singer-songwriter. soon enough, however, so many people had come up to kiss his ring that he was demanding another drink: from zero to diva in 60 seconds flat! hee. the next couple of hours were a happy blur, as we circulated, listened to the other players, drank, talked, laughed, and had ourselves a time. i was among, not just my peers, but people who remembered the same past i do -- a rarity. (or maybe i just don't spend enough time with people my own age.) steve handed me a CD of the last clay idols recordings, which were never pressed; finally, a replacement for my mouldering cassette copy. i discovered upon getting it home that it has some newer material ... but no song list. fucking musicians. (but he is coming back to play the echo next month, hurray!) barbara and paul ended up coming home with us, and we stayed up 'til three talking and drinking and such. they got up and got on the road just before 9 a.m. -- i don't know how they did it. old-school!

later i burned the disc steve gave me to itunes and worked on the song titles, playing different tracks over and over. man, the clay idols were a great band. the dust of memory fell away, and those songs came alive through my ibook's puny AM-radio speakers. that music was so rich and gorgeous, with its slightly gothic rattle and psychedelic ripple, stark and folky and lush, shimmering and shuddering. it really shared a kinship with grant lee buffalo, the band we consoled ourselves with after clay idols broke up.

anyway, this little journey down memory lane comes awfully fast on the heels of last weekend's time tunnel to the reader, which is where i was working when i first learned about the clay idols and really bonded with barbara. i used to visit steve when he worked at vinyl fetish on melrose; i scored some awesome punk t-shirts and buttons in there. and stickers, too. uhm, and also i just finished reading writer/artist joe sacco's palestine, a graphic novel about his experiences with the palestinian people in the west bank and gaza in the early '90s, as well as his new book, but i like it, a compendium of late-'80s comics, mostly including "in the company of long hair," his tale of being on the road in europe with the miracle workers, which just so happened to be one of my favorite local psych-punk bands back then.

i never know exactly what to think of these forced nostalgia marches. it's silly to imagine some cosmic convergence making all signs point to the years 1988-91, but on the other hand, there they are. it does put me in the right mindset to write this article about sacco's new book, so maybe i should just thank the universe for that and get on with it.

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