Friday, May 13, 2011

When my blood stops, someone else's will not

I make no bones about the fact that one of the reasons I moved to UMass was musically related. A few wikipedia searches elucidated a history of 90s grunge heroes who had formed, or resided in and around the area. Since August I'd been slowly ticking a few boxes. I saw Frank Black of The Pixies play in Seattle, J mascis popped into a Besnard Lakes show and Lou Barlow did a show at Pearl St. However, there was a particular group I had been desperate to bump into.

2/5ths of Sonic Youth live in Northampton, and despite all the gigs and trips to Urban Outfitters, I still hadn't seen them acting like they're normal humans in Northampton, the alternative hub that they call home. All that changed last Thursday though, when a bit of internetting revealed that Thurston Moore, the lanky singer of Sonic Youth, was doing an acoustic show at a Northampton club I had never heard of.

Sure, it was the last Thursday in town, and usually everyone goes out and gets rather loose at the bars, but I had other plans. The opportunity to see Thurston Moore play his first solo show for his new album at a local band night would have stopped me from anything else going on in the world. $6 was paid at the door, and Sam and I grabbed a seat at the bar while we waited for him to get on stage.
Goofy, lanky and older than my mum: still cooler than you.

We sank a few PBRs, and sat through the three opening bands. One short man in hat made feedback for 20 minutes while a too cool for school 'artist' played on her keyboard and made weird noises. Finally, a Zack Galifianakis clone and his other homeless looking friend played on some old casios. It was possibly the worst show I had ever been to.

Well sort of, Sam did some investigative work and found out Thurston Moore drinks Boddington's - a rubbish English ale that well churn your insides. He didn't seem phased by it, and not long after midnight he, another guitar player and a drummer piled onto the stage and started playing songs from his new album.

Sam and I grabbed a spot on the floor and sat up staring at the band. The room must have had about 50 people in the crowd (including Kim for SY!) and aside from some local barflies, the place was full of family and friends.

The set was all stuff from the new album (produced by Beck), and was a lovely preview ahead of its release and subsequent tour. It's like hearing a crooner who spent his days in Andy Warhol's factory and not a Vegas resort. I loved sitting on the floor, sipping my beer and getting to see one of my favourite musicians play at a tiny bar to a tinier crowd. I was buzzing throughout the set - none of which was due to the beers, and couldn't help by realise how lucky I was to see this show.  It had taken until the last days of school to get there, but I finally had the Sonic Youth moment I had been waiting for since I got off the Peter Pan bus in late August. Horrible show to great show in a few chords.

The set was for six or seven songs, and knowing that there was a bus at 1AM, Sam and I debated whether we should stick around for the last song or head to the bus stop. Wisely, we stayed, and the song was predictably amazing. As soon as it was finished though, we checked our watches and knew there was a slight chance we could still get the bus.

The guitar wasn't even unplugged before we stood up, ran our glasses to the bar and sprinted out the door. People on the streets were cheering us on, and Sam, despite his little legs, was showing himself to be a bit of a whippet. We turned the corner at Pearl St and up ahead saw our bus head down Main st. Sam, off ahead seemed to only run faster at the sight, leaving me to dordle behind. He ran run the corner, and saw the bus initially slow down at the stop. Tragically, there were no other waiting passengers, and the driver immediately set off towards Amherst.  Had someone been there, his stopping time would have been enough for us, but alas, our lack of gym time and the pints of beer we had just sunk left us waiting for the next one. Knackered, and feeling like I was about to vomit, I couldn't help but realise how hearing that last song was still worth it. As far as special moments in America are concerned for me, a Thurston Moore acoustic show at an empty club is right at the top of the list.

That list keeps growing though, and most of Saturday made for some amazing moments. For whatever reason, I hulked out at Sam's and ruined his tiny blazer. Then, much later in the evening was a party at the Swedish house. The last one resulted in a cake fight, and sadly there was none in the house this time. However, it was made up for by the fact that most people were leaving town in the next few days, and this would be the last time to party together for a while.

And party, some did. Dangercans were going off everywhere, and when I finished mine I threw the empty at Sleeves in disgust that he didn't finish his. Meanwhile Tani was off spewing in a corner early and it wasn't even midnight.

Becs, bless her, was absolutely leathered to the point that despite all of my obvious strength, I couldn't keep her on her feet. That was a job I passed on to Dicky Peach and his visiting friend Will. See, I've had the opportunity to get to know Peach over the two semesters, and he is quite a sound individual in my opinion. I've spent less time with his mate Will, but given that he showed up and seemed to party with us every night he was in town I can say the same things about him. I however, am not the Amherst police department. When the two were escorting a shoeless Becs home, (though Peach gave his to her, like a proper gentleman - though not classy, and the shoes probably stank), one of the typically  bored officers misread the situation. In order to protect Becs from those two predators, she was taken to the drunk tank (while blowing six times the legal limit) and Dicky Peach and Will returned to the party, presumably feeling guilt ridden, shoeless and drunk.
My party costume: American.

So Dicky Peach, in his socks and on a wooden floor was doing his best to dance around the room while drinking straight vodka. Predictably, on a more extravagant move he took down 5 people surrounding him while the rest of the room continued their hoedown to Mumford and Sons.

I don't know how, but he made it back to his room before everyone else and had ordered wings. When we went up to visit him, we found out what happens when one man, despite being one of the best drinkers I've seen, finishes a ton of PBRs and straight vodka.

His socks were torn and bloody, presumably due to some sort of homeless homage, and he lay on his bed, using all his enjoy to try and sit up and put chicken in his mouth. He took it in turns to exert himself, grab a piece and lay back down for a bit longer and ramble - it was like that drunk David Hasselhoff video from a few years back. Better yet, when he finished his serving he threw the box on the floor and sat up on his bed. Only now, he was way to drunk to even manage that, and with graceful lunge towards the desk that neighboured the head of his bed, he managed to fall off, onto hit the floor hard before rolling onto the wings. Genius.

It continued for a bit longer, but as soon as he got his wings stained body back onto his bed, he fell back off onto the floor. Meanwhile, I had grabbed his phone from home and sent a myriad of inappropriate texts to every girl that was listed in his phone. No doubt, that was only a minor pain compared to his ensuing hangover.

Things got worse when Alex rocked up without his shirt and wings sauce all over his mouth. God knows where he had been, but Sam and I did our best to raid the laundry downstairs to steal his shirt, but some engineer much cleverer than us put a lock on them. Damn for us, lucky for Alex.

Typically, the night had gotten out of control, and my plans for an early start the day evaporated when Sam and I left the building and noticed the sun had begun to rise. Despite all this going out, it was exam time, and I had 3 to do as well as a journalism story. Things were looking very poor.
I managed to do two easily enough, and the story was completed, but karaoke Tuesday really interfered with my final onexame. I'd like to say the night got off to an innocent start, but that would be a lie. Before we'd even gone to dinner, Ollie said I could have a sip of his water. What I was actually given was grapefruit vodka, and with a mouthful of the stuff I spat most of it out into the nearest vessel I could find...Peach's not quite empty pint. Though he was upset that I ruined his drink, Ollie saw no such problems in drinking my spitty, beer-infused vodka concoction and downed the rest of the glass.

Now here is the real surprise, by the time we got to dinner he was the drunkest man there - but not by much. Sleeves had been going for most of the day, and at 7PM when everyone else was arriving, he wasn't above making a few innapropriate Nazi jokes around our German companions. Class.

Ollie, in his drunkness had no idea what he had ordered and was shooting his mouth all over the place. When he actually followed through with his threat to leave dinner, I felt compelled to be the one who looked after him. He ran to Stacker's and I followed. The place was empty, and the great elf was confused. He kept telling me how it's normally packed on a Thursday and that he was upset Karaoke was not on. He was wrong on both of these things as it was Tuesday, and the karaoke man was setting up in front of us. As quickly as he arrived, he left though, leaving me sat in a corner on my own until everyone else finished dinner. Great elf.

Everyone eventually joined, and Ollie returned to sing some Craig David. The karaoke guy mistakenly called him Australian, at which point Ollie grabbed the microphone, and in his think Northern-English accent announced everyone at the bar that "I'm from Huddersfield cunt!". The night got a bit blurry, and I know I joined a few folk on their songs, but was disappointed when they didn't play my request of Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen. Bastards.

Still, competing in a karaoke competition was not the most exciting part of the night. Neither was the best looking girl in the room putting her moves on for Sam. Instead, it was reserved for the two police officers, bored again, doing an inspection of the bar. They walked around, and made an immediate beeline towards Alex, the man I've had to describe as "the one who looks twelve-years-old" to people. He produced his identification, which they looked over, thoroughly, and called it in to the station for checking. The call came back, and his hands were placed behind his back and he was escorted out the bar. The id was fake, purchased over the internet from the same place Sam got his. He, seeing them inspecting Alex, and despite impressing his company, just walked out the bar, not wanting to replicate the situaion.

Though they left, Tim and Steve of Southwest arrived. Two underage patrons replaced two that just left. Perfect. For half an hour we said goodbye, and it was truly a sad moment. They're both great lads, and the kind of people I was looking forward to meeting over here. A year abroad takes a big financial investment, but none of that matters when paths cross with people like that. They're the ones that make it worthwhile, and no doubt I'll see them in Australia soon enough. Steve, a guy who once saved a seat on a bus for John and I on a twelve hour bus trip was particularly resonant in his good-bye sentiments, and though he gives me a gentle ribbing for some my America heckling, he has been nothing but a great guy to me. As I said before, taking the financial gamble to get over here means nothing when you meet people like that.

When I left a group of people at the bus stop, I headed back towards the Swedish house, where Alex had escaped from the police and was again dangercanning beers whereever he could. He was outdone though, as Christian, a German with a rock-hard skull seemed to be able to break a beer on his head with relative ease. We were already to leave the party at three, but Ollie ran back in and started playing Oasis. The room filled, and the party continued for a few more hours. Given that it was the last night for a few people, there were few dry eyes in the room as 'Wonderwall' played out. The Great Elf struck again.

It was four or five in the morning when the party finished. Alex was partying like a free man. He was chasing ducks, kicking anything he could find, shouting "yeah boys!" at everything and had about 4 cans of beer with him that he smashed on his head, drank a bit out of and then threw away. It was a typically Jekyll and Hyde performance from him.

When we did make it back to Cashin to see Renita off, Alex reemerged out the front around 6AM to do another dangercan before throwing the can on the road. As he continued his whole "yeah boys!" performance for a while he was eventually distracted by the can on the road again, and ran out, drank some more and then threw it away again. Nutbag. Later, he would should up for breakfast wearing a Scotland flag as a cape and being a general drunkard. Still, at least he didn't move a couch into an elevator with a bunch of pink foam everywhere. That was left to some other bell-end.

Just before 7AM, Sam and I walked Renita to the bus stop as she left UMass. It was another of the many goodbyes from the last few days that will continue into the next six weeks. Part of me is sad to see people go, but another is excited for them. Everyone should have bigger and better things to move onto, that's another reason why we choose to study abroad, to build a better future for ourselves. No doubt I'll miss the people whose paths are separating from mine, a great deal too, but there's a bright outlook for most of everyone I met here, and that's something to be jublilant for, not upset.

That upset feeling is reserved for my final exam. After going out, having a few beers, not really remembering karaoke then going to a party, I stayed up all night for an 8AM final. Not content with already being in a bad headspace, I walked into the wrong room to begin with and distracted a group of people who had just started their own exam. Oh well. I finished mine, and in a race was one of the first to do. It was my last UMass academic moment, and a perfect convergence of what a year abroad is. A partied out educational clusterfuck.

Exhausted, I managed to have a little nap from 10-11 before heading out to tie up some administrative loose ends, least of which included seeing Sam off from campus. His parents arrived and took him on their own little road trip. It was a shame to see him go, but it's only temporary. We'll see eachother in San Diego, and that's when the good-bye will really matter.

That night, my last in town, Eoin, Joe and I raided the clothing bin in our building and collected some wears. We all made cut off jeans, and adorned them differently. Eoin had a suit jacket and wife-beater, Joe double denimed with a nice vest and I managed to get a tie-dye shirt. The night was more passive than the last few, owing to my lack of sleep for the last week, and though the police visited and yelled, they I still managed to make it home before the sun.

I said bye to a lot of great people that night and when I went back to my room I barely slept. I had to move out the next day and the gravity of the situation had finally come around. The smiles, hugs and words were the last between people for a long time. The steps out of the building and down the hill are ones that probably won't be taken again. But not once, did I ever contemplate looking back. I still had a few hours left, and I didn't want to spend them thinking about how much I'll miss the place, I wanted them to be memories I'll take back to Australia with me.

Ryan Adams - Wonderwall
As a group, we always found ourselves singing this song together. Amherst, Miami, any party, anywhere, it didn't matter. I used to hear this song all the time in the UK, and when I left it reminded me so much of the place that I pined to go back. It may well be the most overplayed song in history, but it has become a soundtrack to particular points of my own narrative.
When I saw Ryan Adams and The Cardinals in Sydney 2009 and they played this song I could have sworn it was the best live song I've ever heard. It absolutely blew my mind, and again, the meaning of the song changed.

You can listen to the whole show below, but please click on the version of Wonderwall, it's amazing. I love the original version of the song, and Ryan Adams version when played live goes beyond that, yet, my favourite of all is the drunken version we hollered on numerous nights out.

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