In which our heroine explores that musical smorgasbord known as Music Midtown, as well as gets a taste of nostalgia for the old slam scene.
Friday night offers everything from Salt-n-Pepa to Willie Nelson (I kid you not.) I think about heading down to get a feel for where everything is and maybe check out Amanda Jones on the Locals Only Stage to see if they (yes, it's a band, not a girl) are as good as I've heard. Instead, I blow the whole thing off and hang out with a bunch of poets.
The High Museum of Art is screening a film called "SlamNation" about the National Poetry Slam which they hold once a year. The film chronicles the one in Portland, Oregon in 1994. A slam, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a poetry competition. Poets read their work and a panel of judges scores their performance on a scale from 0 to 10 (0 is bad, 10 is very, very good) and the highest scoring poets go on to the next round and so on until one poet stands trimphant and usually wins something like a hatful of cash. The National Slam is even more elaborate than the usual slam--they have teams of four poets from each participating city, as well as rules like the three-minute time limit per poem, no props, no musical instruments and so forth. (Atlanta, by the way, tried to get a slam team together in '95 but it kinda came apart at the seams and never happened. Karen did the nationals a couple of times with the Athens team and she can tell you all kinds of stories about it.)
Before the film, several slam-winning poets on our local scene are going to be reading their work, including our friends Kyle and Karen. I vaguely recall getting some sort of invitation by email to participate and blowing it off. Kyle invites us to the show and offers to put us on the guest list. (By the way, I'm not speaking in the royal "we", Malinda is also invited.) I ambivalate on it for several days prior.
Friday night proper. I get home from work, I'm bone tired, I figure I'll take a nap and we'll head there before things start at 8:00. Then I find out that the poetry starts at 7:00 and the film starts at 8:00. It's about a quarter after six. So much for the nap. Malinda is cranky; she's just spent two hours in traffic going down to Lake's to pick up a ticket for Music Midtown (Lake's doing a performance art gig in the Artist's Market and Malinda helped with the costumes so Lake got her a freebie into the show) only to find it wasn't in the mailbox and nobody answered the door so she plowed her way through traffic all the way back to find a message on the machine from Lake saying well, I guess you didn't make it down, we're leaving now so I'll just leave the ticket in the mailbox for you to pick up. The operative word appears to be argh. We contemplate heading down to get there by eight when the film starts, but the main reason we're going is to see our friends perform, so we (grumblingly and grudgingly) head out at about six-thirty or so. Malinda drives--she's not thrilled about it--but I navigate and point her in the direction of an overpriced parking deck so we can park without too much hassle. I promise to pay for it. We arrive, make our way to the Woodruff Arts Center (where the screening is) and make our way through what appears to be a crowd for something else entirely. (Alliance Theater, maybe, I don't bother to try and figure it out.) We come across Dave (one of the poets) and ask him what we've missed. He says nothing's even started yet and it looks like it may be a while before anything does. Relieved, we take a more leisurely pace to the auditorium and I decide to stop by the box office and get tickets for the Impressionism exhibit at the High. Traditionally, Steve, Malinda and I go to the High Museum together for an exhibit, usually on a Sunday afternoon. So we get three tickets for May 9th. Yes, Mother's Day. No, I don't think that's a problem, as my mom doesn't believe in greeting card holidays and Malinda's mom is down in Savannah. We're not sure if Steve is busy or not, but we go ahead and get a ticket for him. That done, we round the corner and find . . . Steve! Steve is quite surprised to see us, as he was convinced that we'd be off at Music Midtown. We're quite surprised to see Steve, as we were equally convinced he wouldn't be into seeing a whole film about poetry, considering how much he rags on live poetry. We chatter all the usual howdies and when I tell Steve we've gotten him a ticket for Impressionism he informs us, quite smugly, that he's already been. With a girl. Gracious. And here we thought Steve didn't have time for girls, what with him hanging out with us all the time. We figure we'll find somebody to go in Steve's place, maybe Lake.
We say our hellos to all the usual poet types. Jolie (another one of the poets) has just lost her job and Malinda sympathizes. Jolie talks about how she was escorted out as if she were a burglar who had just been caught; she was only allowed to take her bag and told that the rest of her things would be shipped to her. Kyle joins in and tells a similar tale of back when he was ejected from BellSouth. I begin to feel a little better about my employment situation. At least I have one. Kyle hands us our comp tickets and we dither a bit before deciding we should maybe go in and sit down or something.
We go in and sit down or something. We kill time by leafing through the book of photographs that the High has given to each of the performing poets as a thank you. Kyle has one, naturally, so we look through it. It's called, I think, "Picturing The South", and I believe the contents are culled entirely from the High Museum's permanent collection. It's arranged chronologically, so it starts with pages and pages of black and white photographs (I recognize a couple of Walker Evans photos) and there's a bit of a sudden shock as one turns a page and comes upon . . . color! A few pages later, another shock.
"Hey! It's Thomas!"
In the book, I mean. One of our friend Thomas' pictures--a strangely stark picture of a construction site in Cobb County--is right there on the page with his name underneath. Somebody we actually know is in this book! Neat! We pass it up and down the row to everybody, use somebody's program to mark the place and make a note to tell Thomas about it next time we see him.
At last, the poets hit the stage. All the usual poets, all the usual poems. I've been in this scene way too long. Actually, it's not that bad--when you're in an audience full of people who haven't heard it all before, you find that when they react to it as something new (which it is, to them) some of that freshness rubs off and the poem is revitalized. Some I haven't heard that often--Karen's newest "I Want To Live In Russia" ("I want to live in Russia because I don't have any ex-boyfriends in Russia. Yet.") and Kodac's infamous "Sleaze Machine", which is delivered in a throaty growl that seems to coated with something filthy, especially when he gets to the line "I'm your Sleeeeeeeeeaze Machine."
Anyway. Poetry readings are hard to talk about; you really do have to be there. This makes talking about the film just as hard, since at the heart of it, it's a documentary about a poetry reading. I'll just say that anybody who has been through the whole poetry scene will nod in familiarity. The film covers all types--the ones who take it all a little too seriously, the ones who don't take it seriously enough, the ones who are trying to actually do something genuinely poetic and the ones who strategize and play the slam as a game to be won. But, face it, a slam is not a place for a quiet, introspective poet. Many of the performances were absolutely inspired; I found myself applauding them on film just as I would have applauded them live. (It's not often you go to a film where people applaud in the middle of it. People don't usually applaud at films at all. Sometimes it feels like I'm the only person who does anymore. But I do. Even if the filmmaker isn't around to hear the appreciation, I feel the need to express it anyway.) Fortunately, I'm not the only one. It seems an audience with enough poets in it can't help but cheer out loud at a good poem, even if the actual poet isn't around to hear the appreciation.
The closing credits are marred by sound problems so we can't hear the final comments by the poets. Dang. The lights come up, we file out and, true to form, linger by the entrance for ages chatting about this and that. Somebody congratulates me on my performance. This is a bit bewildering, as I didn't even perform. Apparently, the gentleman has mistaken me for Karen. "Not again!" I groan. Back when I was starting out on the poetry scene, someone tagged me as "Karen Lite", much to my irritation. You'd think that the comparisons would die down once I got all my hair chopped off, but apparently not. I suppose it could have been worse--I could have actually performed, gotten the erroneous praise and then discovered that he'd taken me for the wrong poet. We helpfully point him in the direction of where Karen actually is.
None of us have had a chance to get any kind of food between leaving work and getting to the film, so we gather a group together to invade the nearest restaurant for some kind of dinner. Karen, Kyle, Steve, Malinda and Yours Truly trundle all the way down to the corner of 14th and Peachtree to find that the Gorin's is already closed. We hash out possibilies, trying to think of places that are open late and sufficiently cheap for students and the recently unemployed to afford. We settle on the Majestic--it's not as if it's close, but we all know where it is.
We depart for our various vehicles. Since it is well after 9:00 by now, the attendant at the parking lot we parked in has left for the day, which means we get out at no cost at a place that usually charges a buck a half-hour. I learned this sneaky trick when I went to see a dreadful film about Vincent Van Gogh at the same auditorium. We stop by Lake's to retrieve Malinda's ticket to Music Midtown, and stop by Kroger to snag some cashness from the ATM, so by the time we get to the Majestic, we find Kyle, Steve and Karen have their food. We settle down, order burgers and nibble on everybody's extra fries while waiting. Karen tells us about the National Slam at Portland from her perspective. She was on the Athens team, who were mentioned briefly in the film but never shown. They were a little less into the carousing aspect of it than other teams (especially Karen, who doesn't drink) so they were apparently percieved as a little bit boring by comparison. We also, being in the Majestic, did a little strategizing for the Guilty Party, which Karen was quite interested in (she says she's an expert on guilt.)
So we finished our late-night dinners and said our goodnights and there would most evenings end, but not mine. Malinda wants to take care of grocery shopping. It's somewhere past midnight. What the heck.
They've built a shiny new 24-hour grocery store just around the corner from our place. We avail ourselves of it. 1:00 AM grocery shopping has its advantages--a blissful dearth of screaming infants in shopping carts, for example--but one also has to deal with tripping over boxes and maneuvering around pallets as the late shift tries to get the shelves restocked while there's (supposedly) nobody there. Fortunately, they seem to be more amused by us than irritated. Malinda and I have radically different shopping philosophies--I don't mind swinging by the grocery store and picking up, say, dinner for that night, while Malinda tries to space out her shopping trips to about once every few months, and therefore stocks up as if anticipating a seige. By the time we get to the checkout, the cart is crammed to capacity with frozen dinners, paper towels, waffles, noodles, fruit juice and a couple of cases of Coca-Cola. I pick out the handful of items that are on my tab and settle up first, then revert to my days as a cashier and bag up Malinda's stuff as it comes rolling down the conveyer belt in an endless stream of packaged abundance. God Bless America.
As we load up the car with the goodies, there's a van parked just nearby with its door hanging over and some people leaning in and talking to someone inside. I think little of it; Malinda observes a couple of dirty looks directed at us as well as a thick wad of cash being flashed by someone. Eeep. We get home and lug the groceries up to the apartment in shifts. While we're lugging, two guys wander into the parking lot. They come up to a beat-up car with its back passenger window covered in a sheet of plastic. One of them tears it open, unlocks the door, gets in and lets the other guy in. I decided that if that car doesn't start within one minute, I'm going to assume it's not theirs and I'm going to call the cops. The car does not start within one minute. Oh, shit.
We finish lugging bags and I dig up the phone book. I don't want to call 911, since breaking an entering a car that isn't even mine is not exactly a life-threatening situation. I peer out the window at them and look at the government listings in the business pages. The phone is glitchy, so I move to the study, where I have a better view anyway, and dial up the number. I get a recording, which tells me to call another number. I call that number, hoping I have the right one, and hesitantly explain the situation. The whole time, the guys are just sitting there in the car. They don't seem to trying to hot-wire it or steal anything from it. They're just sitting there. I tell the gentleman on the other end of the line about this, he asks a few pertinent details and tells me he'll have someone by to check it out. I hang up the phone and wait. The guys are still in the car. Just sitting. I dial up my modem and check my mail, but only in glances, with the rest of my gaze firmly fixed on the car outside the window. Nothing happens. Cars stroll past and the headlights illuminate the fact that there are still two people sitting in the backseat of a big clunky car with the plastic that covers the back window flapping in the breeze.
Eventually (not that long, actually, fifteen minutes, maybe, but it was a long fifteen minutes from where I was sitting) a DeKalb County Police Car arrives and pulls into the parking lot. Whew. Then another one shows up. Yikes. And another. Dang. Fortunately it stops at three, otherwise it would have started to feel like the Santa scene at the start of City of Lost Children. Three cops emerge, shine ultra-high-beam X-Files-type flashlights on the car and tap on the window. The two guys emerge. They hand over I.D. and seem fairly docile about the entire matter. The cops ask them questions (it appears--I certainly can't hear the dialogue from here), check the I.D.s in the cop cars and (I presume) tell the guys to leave. They wander off in roughly the same direction from whence they came. The cops hang around for a bit longer and finally get in their cars and drive off.
Guess it must have been a really slow night. I webcrawl a little
bit longer and finally go to bed.
Saturday, May 1, 1999
I sleep through most of it. There's nobody really on the Music Midtown roster I'm really interested in seeing until 4:00 in the afternoon, so I do meandery Saturday things (reading, webcrawling, occasional stabs at housecleaning) until 3:00 or so, dig up some old MARTA tokens and head down to Avondale station and take the train. When I get to Five Points, just as I'm stepping out to change over to the North/South Line, I notice that my keys are not dangling where they should off of my fanny pack. Ah, I see, the clip has just flipped behind it. I pick up the clip. There are no keys on it.
I jump back into the train before the doors close and look frantically around and under my seat. Nothing. Something tells me they're not there, so I hop back out and cross the platform to catch the train back to Avondale. I pace around and swear a lot. The train arrives. I get it, sit down, try to write to kill time and get about one shaky page down before I have to get up and move to the other end of the train before I give in to the urge to strangle the woman in the seat across from me who is making loud noises with her chewing gum. There are no seats at the other end of the train, so I sit somewhere in the middle, sigh deeply and try to calm down. Chances are, I was an idiot and locked my keys in the car. I do that sometimes. I get to Avondale, go back out the same turnstile I came in, walk all the way back with my eyes focused firmly on the ground before me and get back to the car with no keys to show for it. I use the spare key I keep on my person and unlock the door. I may have dropped the keys on the seat while I was fiddling about trying to hide the tape player. I turn the tape player over. Nothing. Oh shit shit shit. I rummage frantically and as my hands come across a familiar jingle I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
"Hooray! I'm an idiot!" I proclaim out loud.
So I've missed Mojo Nixon. Ah, well. I make my way back downtown successfully, get off at Civic Center station and follow the crowd. I figure the big multicolored archway across the street is probably an entrance. I show my I.D. to get a drinking wristband, show the contents of my fanny pack to prove that I have no weapons or incendiary devices on me and show my ticket so I can get in. I emerge right by the Powertel/Mitsubishi 96 Rock Stage. I'm not entirely sure who the hell's playing, since by now I have completely lost track of time. It's sometime after four o'clock and before dark. There's a big wailing guitar solo going on. I glance at the schedule. It's either Chris Duarte (who?) or Rick Springfield (really.) I keep walking. As I work my way deeper into the crowd, I find myself surrounded by guys in baseball caps and girls with highlights who have been drinking Budweiser since maybe noon. I'm feeling not entirely in place.
I follow the signs to where the 99X Locals Only stage so I know where it is. I don't actually need to be there for at least four hours, but I like to be really, really prepared. It's straight across from the Budweiser 99X Stage, where the big expensive altrock acts play. The scheduling is actually pretty neat--they alternate between stages, so one band sets up on one stage while the other plays, so there's very little lag time between sets. I arrive just in time to see Kid Rock start up on the Budweiser stage. It's loud, thrashy rockyroll rap stuff. I am vastly unimpressed. But at least I know what time it is now. Six o'clock. Three hours until Lake's show. Four hours and fifteen minutes until the Tender Idols. I've got a hell of a lot of time to kill.
I check out the Artist's Market--a row of tents where people can take all the money they haven't already spent on beer and food and buy jewelry, photographs, artsy collages, wooden statues, sunglasses, wristwatches, embroidered patches, stickers, Little Bunny Foo Foo T-shirts, temporary tattoos, tie-died clothing, keepsake boxes, postcards, stained glass hangings, mirrors and other miscellaneous stuff. It's rather like a cross between the market at the late Arts Festival of Atlanta and those purse-and-T-shirt booths just outside of the Five Points MARTA station. I think about buying a necklace or bracelet but ultimately decide against it. I also observe a small stage somewhere in the middle of all this and predict that this is where Lake will be having her Alien Fashion Show.
I decide I really need to be drunk, so I stand in line at the Fat Tuesday's booth, get an overpriced frozen drink. The drink starts to eat a hole in my stomach, so I meander for a while trying to find some food that I can afford to eat (the pizza is seven bucks for a whole pizza--no slices available--and I can't stand to let that much food go to waste) while overhearing Branford Marsalis and Rick Springfield (on separate stages, mind you.) I think about sneaking over to CNN Center and getting some cheap food there, but I can't leave the grounds with my Overpriced Frozen Drink and I really can't stand to let that much alcohol go to waste. I settle on some deep-fried pieces of catfish. Don't knock it, it was damn good catfish. I also get some lemonade so I can play two-fisted drinker (which gets trickier when one also has a basket of catfish to hang on to.)
I wander over to the 99X stages and catch the very end of Marvelous 3 (right down to the final drawn out drum flourish and one last leap-in-the-air guitar twank!) and catch the start of The Pleasantdales. Despite the retroesque stylings on their CD cover, the sound is thoroughly modern rock. Not too bad. Really loud, though. I put down my comestibles and fumble for my earplugs. I hang around long enough to finish my dinner and spike my lemonade with what's left of my Overpriced Frozen Drink, then make my way back to the Artist's Market to see Lake's show. I want to see what they did to my football helmet.
(Okay, so it wasn't my football helmet, it was Lake's, but I was the one who started on the decoration of it for this event. A week or two before, I'd gotten home from work on a Saturday night, was too wired to sleep, especially with a bunch of loud children playing tag outside my window, so I phoned up Lake and asked what she was up to and she said we're making space hats, come on over, so I did and helped her and Malinda, who was already there before me, transform rather ordinary hats into fantasmically gaudy creations worthy of an Alien Fashion Show. Malinda didn't want to work on the football helmet, so I took it and painted it in fragmented blocks of color with little line symbols that looked like collisions between katakana and stick figures, then painted the whole thing over with a coat of glitter. I felt all arty and went home, at which point Malinda and Lake added a plume of purple tinsel, a boomerang and rubber squid tentacles to it. End of aside.)
I find Malinda in front of the tiny stage. She's dressed to the nines and wearing her ultra-styling leopard print plush coat. (I'm just wearing black pants and one of my Tender Idols T-shirts, as a way of subliminally advertising the show to people. "The Tender Idols? Wait, I've heard of them, somehow . . . ") She's just gotten there and I tell her about my exciting day so far. ("I've been walking my feet off while surrounded by drunken idiots. You?") My dogs are dead tired, so we go over to the nearby T-shirt booth and sit on the table facing the stage. It's an ideal seat, at least until people end up standing in front of us. But we're sitting down, so nyah.
The stage has our pal Mitch on drums and two long-haired guys I don't know, one on guitar, the other on keyboard. They wear multicolored Lake-painted coats and play a kind of loose art-jazz thing. I poke Malinda. "Hey, isn't this kinda like Rone 37, only without Glenn?" I ask. Not long after I say that, who should show up but Glenn (former keyboardist of Rone 37.) He embraces us both hello and watches part of the show with us before wandering off to get a drink and never returning. The show is nothing elaborate--Lake and her friends stroll out on stage displaying outfits that only a truly alien mind could come up with--amalgams of synthetic fabrics, bright feathers, brighter paint, tubes, wires, tinsel, mirrors and lots and lots of glitter. (No art project of Lake's is complete without glitter.) Unfortunately, the apparent casualness of the presentation inspires a drunken audience member in baseball cap and baggy pants to stagger onstage and join the fun. He is tolerated momentarily, then booted off. After the fashion show ends, Mitch and co. continue jamming and the audience piles up on the stage to dance. This rather annoys Lake, as she doesn't relish the idea of having the sweep the stage of stray people before they can start Act II. I hang with Lake and Malinda a bit and then bow out so I can stake my claim in front of the stage for the Tender Idols.
I arrive fifteen minutes before showtime and a thick crowd has already started to accumulate. I nudge my way to a sort of third-row standing spot. There's a barrier between the stage and the crowd, presumably to allow photographers to roam and discourage people from rushing the stage. Everclear is finishing their set on the big stage. They have invited a significant portion of the audience to join them. On the stage. I glance over my shoulder to see the view from the video screen, while Steve Craig (99X deejay) and a couple of other people stand on the still unlit Locals Only Stage and peer through binoculars at the sight. Everclear finishes and soon after, the lights come up, Steve Craig does a little intro ("We saved the best for last.") and, at long last, ladies and gentlemen, the Tender Idols.
They start, I think, with "Never Get Closer Than That" and go pretty much nonstop from there. Ian has tied a scarf to the microphone stand for an extra flourish when he picks it up and waves it about, as he is sometimes inclined to do. Some girls behind me have brought bras and underwear to hurl at the stage (all in watercolor floral patterns that were probably snagged for a deep discount off the clearance table, but, hey, it's the thought that counts) and I am offered a pair of panties to make my little gesture of affection. I try to use the elastic of the waistband to slingshot it somewhere between Danny and Ian, but it doesn't make it across the yawning chasm between barrier and stage proper (none of the lingerie love offerings do, as a matter of fact.) They only have half an hour to play, so there's no time for cover songs or even time for Ian to say much to the audience. He explores the full limits of the stage as he sings, including leaning out over the barrier chasm while hanging on to the posts that hold up the roof over the stage. They don't play any songs off the first album (grumble) but they do play a brand-spanking new song called "99" that I fall in love with instantly. As much as I love all the swoony ballads on Step On Over, it's good to know these boys can still write a solid kickass do-not-listen-to-while-driving-or-you-will-get-a-speeding-ticket kind of song.
Right after that, they are cut off to make way for, as Ian says, "some skinny geezer." They toss cassette tapes into the audience and people go nuts grabbing for them. The crowd disperses and I wander over to the backstage area door to say some howdies. I chat a bit with Danny (the guitarist), who has a box of tapes and is handing them out to people in a more civilized manner. He tells me he's gotten the new David Sylvian album and found it a pretty intense but rewarding listen. (Danny is one of the two guys I personally know in the Atlanta area who has actually heard of David Sylvian. Ian is the other one.) I get a tape from him (it's just a little promo single with"Gettaway" and "Never Get Closer Than That" on it, but I don't have anything off of Step On Over on tape, so I now have new idolsongs for my car.) and tell him I love the new song they played. Malinda is tugging at my sleeve so I say my goodbyes and we make our way across the lot to the big stage to see the skinny geezer, better known to the world as Iggy Pop.
Iggy is throwing it down like a man possessed by all the demons of rock 'n' roll at once. Long haired, wild-eyed and bare-chested, wearing a pair of tight black pants that gleam like armor, the man is such pure Rock Icon that the backing band just blurs into a kind of anonymity. They're just there to play the music, and Iggy's there to channel it into his fury. End of rock-crit-speak.
The set has already started by the time we make our way over, so we basically plunge our way into the crowd and swim our way in until we run out of gaps between people to slip through. We come to a halt somewhere with a decent view of the video screen and a distant view of the stage. As people gradually work their way out of the crowd, gasping for breath, the crowd collapses in to fill the space where they stood, causing a strange sort of tidal suction that we use to draw our way deeper in. Malinda and I hold hands for fear of being swept apart in the swirl of humanity. I use this to my advantage, as I slip in to sudden gaps that open up and then drag Malinda in behind me. We make our way to a lousy view of the screen, but an improved, if patchy, view of the stage. (People's heads have a tendency to get in the way.)
Then Iggy, in a weird anarchic sort of way, ends up helping us along.
Somewhere in the middle of "The Passenger", when the crowd has gone sufficiently apeshit, Iggy says something like "I want everybody to come up here and fuck shit up!" The crowd needs little prompting. The folks in the front start clambering over the barrier and up onto the stage. Everybody else, as before, rushes in to fill the empty spaces and we take advantage of the sheer chaos to plunge forward. One girl in the crowd tries to block me and says "Back that way, sweetheart." like she's a security guard or something, but I ignore her completely and wedge my way between people almost all the way to the front. The stagehands, who are handling all this surprisingly calmly, close the valve on the flow of people by ceasing to help them across. The crowd that makes it to the stage is reasonably well behaved, no property damage results and some girls shower Iggy with kisses before everybody is swept off the stage who wasn't on there at the start of all this. Malinda and I are still clinging to each other for dear life and, indeed, clinging to everybody for dear life. We are in the thick of the mosh pit and everybody is squished together in one big insane group hug. Crowd surfers are bobbing to the surface and rolling around on the crowd. A guy lands on my head and I find myself struggling to support him with my neck muscles before enough hands come to the rescue to hold him up and toss him elsewhere. Malinda gets knocked over and we have to rush to hold back the crowd from sweeping in on top of her. But, my, we've got the best damn view of Iggy we've had all night. We can see the droplets of sweat rolling off of him.
"Betcha didn't expect to get this close, didja?" I ask Malinda.
He finishes the set, the crowd screams for more, he plays one encore and then midnight strikes and it's time for all of us to head to the MARTA stations before all the trains turn into pumpkins. The music strikes up on the PA system to indicate there will be no more concert (and plays "All You Zombies" by the Hooters, weirdly enough.) The crowd dissipates and we emerge, bruised, battered and breathless.
"Damn, that was fun!" I exclaim.
Sunday, May 2, 1999
I gawp at the full moon as we make our way back to the station. We take the long way round, stopping over to see if we can touch base with Lake. Malinda want to go to the post-show show at the Tabernacle, and wants to invite Lake along. Lake is not to be found, so we follow the streams of humanity and use the map in our program booklet to furble our way to the Omni station. I'm still humming on a wave of adrenaline and howling at the moon periodically. We MARTA home, get in our cars, drive back home, wipe our faces, brush our hair and then get in Malinda's car and head all the way back downtown again. The Smithereens are playing the Tabernacle, admission's only five bucks with a Music Midtown stub and Malinda really wants to go. I get a crash course in the Smithereens on the way down, thanks to Malinda's CD player.
We make good time and get there by 2 AM. We find a ace-perfect parking place that no one charges us for. This seems to be my weekend for good timing. We arrive just as the stage is being set up for the Smithereens. We head up to the balcony (best seats in the house, I tell you) and plunk ourselves down in the first row, propping our feet up on the railing. The stage is about the starkest I've ever seen it--no elaborate lighting rigs as per Love and Rockets. Just the lights the place came with, and an unadorned stage with some guitars and a drum set.
The band emerges with little fanfare. "Hi. We're the Smithereens." and they start playing. I'm rather boggled at the number of songs I recognize, not just from Malinda's CD but from sheer radio osmosis. ("Girl Like You", "Wall of Sleep", "Blood and Roses" etc.) The crowd assembled in front of the stage is deeply into it, especially the guy up front and center who is singing along to every song and periodcially pounding the stage with his hand for emphasis. Even so, the vibe is pretty casual, as they are forced to kill time whenever a guitar string breaks, waiting for the roadie to fix it. (They are playing what appear to be vintage electric guitars, but apparently didn't make enough money in their radio glory days to afford, say, two of them.) At one such guitar-fixing break, the lead singer starts shaking hands with the audience, while the drummer announces that he's running for mayor of Atlanta on the platform of "A chicken in every pot and pot in every garden." (The crowd cheers.) When the guitars are finally fixed, they ask if any of us saw Iggy Pop. (We naturally yell in the affirmative.) They play a riff or two from "Lust For Life" (perhaps for the benefit of those who didn't make it.)
Indeed, the lack of formality inspires a couple of audience members to hop up on stage and join the fun. (This seems to be the theme of the evening.) The first is a girl who enters, Stage Right, if you will, and just dances on stage next to the guitarist for about the length of one song while the security guys look at each other like "Um, should we be doing something about this?" She scampers back into the audience once the song ends and no damage seems to have been done. However, come the encore, the stage-pounding guy who had been sitting front and center leaps up on stage next to the lead singer and instantly gets swept off stage by the now-alert security guys (even as the lead singer says "Hey, he's okay.") A third guy bounds up on stage in order to stage dive and ends up landing on his ass as the crowd scatters to avoid him instead of converging to hold him up. (Lesson: only crowd-surf on tightly packed audiences.)
Meanwhile, a couple joins us by our spot on the balcony and dances for the encore. One of them remarks on Malinda's flashy ring (a big plastic jewel with LEDs in it that flash for about 30 seconds when you press it, at least until the batteries run out) and Malinda, as always, gives it to him. (She gets them at dollar stores by the bucketload and gives them away to anybody who admires them.) The show ends, we give them a standing ovation and they say they'll be back in the fall when the new album comes out.
We amble out and wander over to one of the side rooms (the Tabernacle has a slew of them--it's every bit as cool as the Fox Theater in that regard) and admire the view from one of the window looking out over the parking lot and Centennial Park. The guy Malinda gave the flashy ring to joins us and thanks Malinda effusively for her gift. He is exceedingly drunk, but he's a charming drunk and reasonably cute, so we put up with him. He tells us his name is Birger and we believe him because nobody would go the trouble of making that up. We have a nice little chat with him as he finishes up his Long Island Iced Tea, between drinking it and spilling drops of it on his shirt.
He throws his arm around Malinda and I take his other arm as we lead him out of the room. He declares that he could die at this very instant and feel fulfilled to have had the experience of walking arm in arm with two such beautiful women. (See why we put up with him?) We get downstairs and out the door and end up pausing in front of the car wondering what to do next with this stray boy we've just picked up. (The last time we picked up a stray, he ended up living with us. Still does. Then again, that particular stray was a cat, which is slightly less maintainence than an actual boy. But only slightly.) While we decide, two probably inebriated people come up and ask us some odd question which I don't think we ever actually answered. One goes head-to-head with Malinda on Doors trivia and loses. The other asks Birger how he wound up with two women and does he need help handling this abundance. Birger says he doesn't know and no, he doesn't.
Birger offers to cook us breakfast at our place, but we're a little leery of letting a strange drunk man we've only just been introduced to into our house and giving him full run of our kitchen utensils. We settle on going to an IHOP and letting him buy us breakfast. I get the map and play naviguesser from the backseat as we furble our way through the streets of Atlanta. Birger lapses into some outrageous Scottish accent for no apparent reason other than he's really drunk and Malinda seems to find it amusing. (He is, in fact, originally from Norway. Go figure.) He keeps the accent well into the IHOP proper and puts down some Scottish-sounding name on the waiting list for a table. He nearly forgets it by the time they actually call it, much to the amusement of the hostess.
We sit ourselves down and order breakfast. I order chocolate chip pancakes, because that's what I always end up ordering at IHOP. Birger remarks that it looks more like a dessert than a breakfast. (He's right, but I don't make a big show of admitting it.) We have an amiable little chat about life in Atlanta and suchlike, with Birger going off on weird riffs while still talking in the outrageous Scottish accent. He asks when and how we can meet again, and I suggest that we put that extra ticket to the Impressionism exhibit to use. So we give him the ticket and our phone number and agree to meet again in a week. Birger settles up for breakfast, grouses at me for not finishing my pancakes and we drive him back to his car. We wave bye-bye, drive home a little before dawn and collapse into bed.
I sleep. A bit.
I get up and take in a late-morning Catholic Mass, head back home, take a nap and then get up and head back downtown in an effort to get my thirty bucks worth. I end up running a little bit later than I would have liked and I can hear that The Lizardmen have already started playing just as I'm hitting Centennial Park. I half-walk half-run to the entrance (I'm heading in via the one near to the 99X stages), get my ticket stub torn again and make my way to the Locals Only stage. The Lizardmen are throwing it down in true '60s style. It's a nice warm spring day and they're wearing suits. Damn sharp suits, too. That, my friend, is true style under pressure. The crowd is a decent size, but for some reason they're keeping a respectful distance from the barrier in front of the stage. Beats the hell out of me. I get up front and have a grand old time. Someone is passing out Lizardmen stickers (I grab a few) and signing people up for the mailing list (I'm already on it.)
The show ends, the crowd cheers and I haul out my handy little pocket schedule to see what else there is to see. Not a hell of a lot. The earliest thing I'm even remotely interested in seeing in a what-the-heck kind of way is Berlin at 5:00. It's only 2:15. Over on the big stage, a band I've never heard of called Bare Jr. is starting up. Whatever they play makes no impression on me whatsoever. I decide to head over to CNN Center for cheaper food than what they've got in the festival proper. I get a frozen pink lemonade thingy at Dunkin Donuts and find myself falling asleep into it as I drink. So I think, screw this, and take MARTA all the way home to take a nap, since the one band I really do want to see today hits the stage at 6:30.
Like most Sunday afternoon naps, my dreams are intense but evaporate quickly upon waking. I push myself out of bed at about five, feeling cranky and drained. I contemplate just ditching the show and falling back asleep. I ask myself how hard I'd be kicking myself the next day if I didn't go.
I drag myself to MARTA, running late, again, but this time the train gods smile upon me as I get to the station just as the train pulls in, change over at Five Points and catch the Northbound train just as that pulls in. MARTA can be very rapid transit if you can manage to avoid cooling your heels between trains. I make my way to the Fox 5 Stage (All the stages, in case you haven't noticed, have at least one media sponsor, and the larger ones have Big Ass Corporate sponsors on top of that. The lineup roughly matches the format of the radio station sponsor, but this stage is sponsored by a television station and seems to be the "File Under Miscellaneous Stage".) and the band has already started, but, durnit, I made it. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Count Basie Orchestra.
For the record, yes, Basie passed away quite some time ago, but jazz means never having to say you're dead. Witness also the Mingus Big Band and the Sun Ra Arkestra. Unlike rock bands, which tend to come apart upon the death or departure of a founding member, a good jazz band can add and subtract members over the years and still keep the essential spirit of the original.
The crowd is thick and quite varied. There are a few folks there old enough to have heard the stuff the first time around (albeit at a very young age) and there's also a strong contingent of Gen-X types who have big band music grafted to their subconscious by way of all the Bugs Bunny cartoons they watched while growing up. (I should know, I'm one of them.) I duck around for a decent view and finally find a space where enough people are sitting down that I can see clearly. Hey, when I hear a brilliant jazz solo, I wanna know who I'm applauding. I do an awful lot of applauding (as does the rest of the crowd.) I catch a few people swing dancing in the crowd, as well as one hippie chick in a patchwork dress doing her own little swaying dance. To the Count Basie Orchestra. I love this country.
After the show, I think about catching the tail end of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but I realize that after hearing the real thing, it'd just piss me off. I do one last wander around the Artist's Market, get a strange postcard and a nice little silver ring. I also find they're selling Tender Idols T-shirts at the T-shirt booth, including one that (shock!) I don't already have--silver on black, with "the tender idols" on it and "new york. london. paris. munich." below that. I groan mightily, but pay the ten bucks anyway.
Hole is the last act on the big stage, but I decide to take a walk outside of the Music Midtown boundaries, in Centennial Park (which is really quite nice at night, with the luminous towers and the lights under the ring fountain) and overhear the show from there. At one spot, not only can I hear the show, but I can hear it echoing off of an office building, which makes for an interesting overlapping sound. Just outside of the park, I get handed a Jack Chick illustrated religious tract, and a homeless guy asks for change. Just one. Slow night. I can see the video screen for the big stage from the sidewalk outside, so I watch Hole for a little bit and then call it a night. I take the train home, just beating the postshow rush, and get home to find one of the big stories on the evening news is the fact that toy stores are opening at midnight to unveil all the shiny new Star Wars toys. Oh, and a little smidge about Music Midtown. Nice to know they have their priorities.
Sleep is good. I decide to get some.