MONDAY MORNING PLAYBACK
There’s a game I play when I go out, though most of the time I forget about it until the game itself reminds me I was playing all along. The game is “Why did you go out tonight?” Meaning, why did you pull yourself off the couch, leave your warm happy home, your family, your comfort zone, for the crapshoot that is a bar and live music?
Some nights the answer never comes, and you return home from the forage with no more insight than what a trip to the quickie mart might yield. Other nights, you get so many answers you’d need a graphic organizer to keep track of all the lessons and nuggets you stumble upon, so you come home and switch on the dream machine that hums and glows with churchy quiet in the early morning dark and write ’em down.
You shave and shower and leave the house after having had a stupid fight with your teenage son, pick up your neighbor Pete, and talk about how upset you are about what happened. Pete talks you down with the wisdom of another father of another hormone-happy teen, and, after you park the car, you call the lad and have a conversation about overreaction and communication and all’s well that ends well until your wife calls you back and disagrees with your parenting style and all you want to say is that you’re “Human,” like the great new Killers song, and that you’re doing the best you can.
Then you walk into the Varsity Theater and order a Guinness. You listen to the Mood Swings, Ed Ackerson, Polara, and Janey and Marc, and take note of the smallish night-after Thanksgiving crowd, due undoubtedly to the fact that many tryptophan casualties are tired of socializing and stimuli. You run into Samantha Loesch and her sister Molly Hanson, and get the lowdown on Kings, their new wine-music eatery that is coming to save somnambulant Southwest Minneapolis early in the new year.
You head downtown to Kieran’s Irish Pub, where your brother’s band, St. Dominic’s Trio, is playing to another wrung-out dozen. A couple of old Incarnation kids, Brian Lamb and Mary Stockhaus, are in the house, and you swap notes about the inspiration for your brother’s song “Bike Ride On 35W,” which talks about freedom and revolution, and whose inspirational break you always take to heart a la Wilco’s “What Light.”
With plenty of eye-rolls and attitude, the twentysomething tough-girl waitress with the “Real Irish” T-shirt tells you and Pete about the vegan Thanksgiving she got duped into attending. You sit at the bar, taking in the tunes and a pint, and when a gang of post-practice musicians walk in, you say what you and your siblings have taken to saying, proudly, to so many friends and strangers over the last decade: “That’s my brother up there.”
You tell them about the time when your brother was 4 years old and he ran around the block wearing nothing but saddle shoes and socks. Then he plasters your hand to your chin with a new one about growing up in South Minneapolis, using all the signposts (Lil’ General, Salk’s Rexall Drugs) of your youth, and the images of your and his kids meld with all the Irish posters on the wall, and you make note of yet another mystical moment, the likes of which only the truly rich experience.
The next night, you go down to your basement and play “Why do you stay in?” You lift and clean and organize and dig through old boxes of local rock memorabilia for a history project you’re working on, and listen to your brother’s new CDs, the birth of which he and half the town will celebrate this Wednesday at First Avenue.
You’re amazed at the bloody sound of his voice, the power of the band, the poetic lyrics about life, love, loss, lust, loyalty. “I Thought We Were Friends” is sure to kick off more than a few kiss-off compilation mixes; “She Loves You Anyway” is a cad-confessional worthy of Westerberg or Zellar; “Out Of Bullets” is Crazy Horse good, and, yes, “Bike Ride On 35W” is one for the ages. Duly knocked out, you put on the next CD, by your brother’s Van Morrison tribute band The Belfast Cowboys, and are again amazed at how much better they sound than the washed-up old drama queen Morrison himself.
The music stops and you don’t replace it. The silence of the basement suits you. Around midnight, while digging through a box of birthday cards, you find a letter from your brother. The letter is from 1985, written when he was the age that your nephews are now. He wrote it to you after your band’s one and only LP came out. Most of it is too personal to recount here, but a few things you could have written yourself, to him, tonight, and so you’d like to pass them on:
“I had to write a letter to be able to say just what I think of the record. Every time I hear it and get a new feeling about it I want to call you up and tell you, but that’s kinda hard to do. Still, I think it’s important that you know, so this letter’s gonna have to do the trick.
“It used to be that I would watch you guys play and just itch for the chance to get up there. But now when I see you I can relax and throw myself into your songs and not worry what the people think of me. I’m SO proud of you! When you’re singing, it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I’m up there with you. When it’s your night, it’s my night too!
“I want you to know I’m behind you 100 percent. No question that it’s a personal victory for you, but a record this good has to be looked at as a victory for people who love music. Remember when I said I could never sell anything I didn’t completely believe in it? I could sell your music.
“I really love you, man. Keep up the fight! Start building the next album in your mind. This is only the beginning. But before you put out number two I’m going to try to put out my number one somehow. But even if mine is only a pipe dream, yours is real now. Congratulations! There’s no one who deserves it more than you! And the rest of the world will benefit from it.”