Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Hi Bagel Chips:

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: To avoid hangovers, barf before you pass out.

It's really as simple as that, people. Must I repeat myself endlessly?

I'm glad we had this little chat. Now, please, let's make sure this is the last time.

On to other news. The Shins and Mercury Rev last night at the El Rey.

The Shins were the not-ready-for-mainstage players, unfortunately. The wonderment of the harmonies on their perfect little album, "Oh, Inverted World" did not come across, and the singer/songwriter James Mercer seemed to be suffering up there from acute stage-fright. He couldn't do much beyond just getting the songs sung and finished. Poor kid.

Something about him reminded me of Stephen Hawking. Partly it was his 1974 math club-president nerd-glasses. But also: Do you know how Stephen Hawking has this secret sexiness--it's an echo of a former life wherein he was this bony, awkward genius fuckup with the crazy hair and Mick Jagger lips? This guy had something of that, with his thinning hair all sweaty stuck to his forehead like a little kid waking up from a nap.

Mercury Rev was just plain ridiculous, completely grandiose, proving that they are the missing link between '60s psychedelia and '80s new wave. It is poetically appropriate that this missing link should reveal itself so late, and only proves the time-travel theory of music. (I don't know what that is; I just said it.)

Basically, they had two full-time, full-on keyboardists--one playing new wave synth sounds and one doing dramatic, classically-styled Rock-maninoff; two tons of dry ice and fire-colored lights; and a guitarist who looks like Elvis and plays like Radiohead-lite. The singer looks like a young Eric Burdon and sounds a little like--well, you know how Neil Young sounds when he sings in falsetto? ("Helpless," say?) He has the same quivering-tender quality--nonstop, for two hours. It does get a bit overquivering.

He sings with extreme care and presents each song, each word, as if it were a perfect, tiny sculpture, a miniature snowflake spun from the most fragile sugar-glass. If I ever had to name someone who is precious about his music, this guy would be up there with the Creed guy. He spreads his arms wide often and even makes flying motions. I don't know how, but he gets away with it. Maybe because he grins like he's getting a soulful foot massage from God after every song. He is insufferable, but he also seems like maybe he's just a really nice guy.

After the show me and Little Lauren picked up Axel and some scrawny rock boy named Steve at their respective Hollywood dive apartments and went to Ye Rustic. Two great things happened at Ye Rustic, which is not unusual for Ye Rustic.

One, Kamal, the Polaroid genius, is back from India and his eye surgery was completely successful.

Kamal is a warm-hearted photographer who makes his living taking Polaroids of people at the Rustic and neighboring bars. He also sells long-stem roses. He is from India and has a pretty thick accent. There's another, younger Indian guy who does the same job but he's no fun. Kamal is all fun, all the time.

Kamal was very sad about a year ago because he had bum eyes and he couldn't see for shit, and he didn't know if the eye surgery would be successful. He was so sad, it hurt just to talk to him. He was going back to India for a while, I think for the surgery, and didn't want to leave Hollywood.

I didn't see him for ages. Only the replacement guy.

Kamal once took a picture of me and my roommate, Jake, that we have framed. It's so good, I gave it to my mother for Mother's Day. When Jake found out, he got really mad at me. "That was our picture!"

So I had to ask my mom to give it back. She made a copy and sent it back. That's how good this picture is.

But Kamal has taken several pictures of me and various friends and lovie-dovies at the Rustic, and all of them are unusually evocative pictures. It's a question not just of his eye and sense of placement, but of the precise moment when he presses the button. A couple of his shots, like the Jake one, actually reveal our souls.

So Kamal was back last night and in fine form and so happy. "Everything is perfect," he said, smiling. He took two pictures for us and gave me and Lauren roses. The pictures were beautiful as usual, revealing as always.

After, we all went back to my place and drank whiskey and talked about music. It would have been fine except that Steve was one of these near-fundamentalist types who believes that all music should follow his very narrow prescription for good music, otherwise it's dumb. His great golden standard is "the Perfect Pop Single." I worship this principle implicitly, but like anything it can be taken too far. Steve took it too far, eventually comparing Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray favorably with Paul McCartney.

"You have to admit, those songs have something," he said. "They're catchy."

I was too bored to say, "So's a McDonald's jingle."

I was also too bored to tell him I had spent shocking quantities of time with Mark McGrath once for a story, and that our greatest point of connection was our love of the Perfect Pop Single. The last time I saw Mark, he was sitting in his car and had just turned on the stereo: Wings' "My Love" began playing. He just looked at me and smiled as if to say, Witness.

But Mark would never put himself or his band anywhere near the Beatles, because even though he seems stupid, he's actually pretty smart when it comes to music. He knows exactly where he stands:

"It�s funny, I was reading this Entertainment Weekly review of us, and they said Sugar Ray is the Three Dog Night of the �90s. To me, that was the most flattering thing you could possibly say. Three Dog Night! My whole thinking is so fucked up that I took it as such a compliment.

"I look at a band like Herman�s Hermits, and maybe we�re akin to something like that--just a band that wrote some pops songs that maybe you�ll hear the rest of your life. And if that�s the legacy of Sugar Ray, thank the Lord. Because we are not worthy of that.

"If that�s your standards, to match Herman�s Hermits, to me that�s the greatest thing ever. If I could be like Peter Noone and singing 'Fly' at K-Earth reunion night, I�d be stoked! To me, that fills me with goodness. If I�m driving down Sunset Blvd. in 2015 and I hear 'Fly' come on the radio, and I�m with my kids, I�ll feel pretty cool, I�ll tell you right now."



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