Monday, May 7, 2012

Fables of the Reconstruction: Another Green World

I first met the kid who would become my best friend in high school when we were on a chartered bus bound for a cross-country meet in Fort Morgan. His name was Dave Sherman, and he was a skinny little freshman with a big nose, just like me. We had our Walkmans out and our cassettes were spilled across the empty seats between us. He asked me what I had and I read off the names: The Clash, The Dickies, The Circle Jerks. Dave laughed when I said Circle Jerks, and when I played him “You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla,” he laughed so hard he slid out of his seat. He liked all those arty longhaired groups I was rebelling against—Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, ELO. Back and forth we went naming names until we finally hit one in common, Brian Eno. We became best friends. All through the years when music defined us and we were constantly changing, through our teens and early twenties, from punks to Puppet Heads to Dead Heads to just plain freaks, and even down divergent paths, me into gangsta rap and grunge and him into Sufi dancing and post-rock, Eno and Another Green World remained a bond.
            I first came across the album when I was in junior high and on the hunt at the public library for anything that would transport me away from feathered-hair conformity of my little Midwestern hometown in the early eighties. I wanted new wave and punk, and there wasn’t any of that in the record bins at the public library, but the simple, cool, bright-colored design on the cover of this album that made me think it might be close. I took it home and listened to it and I definitely got my wish to be transported to somewhere else. Another Green World has a lot of synthesizer in it, and that appealed to my new wave side, but here it’s in service to songs that are less like songs than lush aural environments, some dense with tropical rhythms, others ethereal and vaporous. Quite a few are instrumentals that slowly rise from silence and fill the air with colorful, shapely sounds and drift back into silence. But there are also tunes you can sing along to, and they’re quite catchy, especially “St. Elmo’s Fire,” with its elating chorus that goes, “In the blue August moon,” and my instant favorite, “I’ll Come Running,” a bouncy, dreamy pop song that would fit perfectly in one of those movie scenes where two lovers run toward one another in a hazy meadow, but it’s funny because the song’s title is paired in the chorus with, “to tie your shoe.” It’s all very easy to listen to; no sharp edges or violent shifts. At the same time, it’s not sentimental or soft; there’s a sinisterness lurking around throughout, a barely perceptible discordant thread that made the record acceptable even when I was a close-minded hardcore punk (after all, even thrashers need some chill music from time to time).
            I never owned Another Green World on vinyl. Through high school and most of my college years I carried the cassette I’d made of the copy I found at the library. But somewhere along the way, probably during one of my many moves in my 20s, I lost it. Then right after I graduated and I was struggling to find a decent job, I got a call from a friend who said that Dave had died of a drug overdose. Dave and I had drifted apart; I hadn’t talked to him for the better part of year. At the funeral, his mom remembered me as his best friend, even though we really weren’t any more, and she asked me if I would meet her at his apartment to go through his things. I wound up taking a lot of stuff – a food processor, a lamp, a rug, things like that – as a favor to her because it was obvious that she couldn’t bear to throw any of it away. But I didn’t go there for any of that. I wanted an artifact to remember him by. The first place I looked was his music collection. There wasn’t much there that I was interested in. He’d taken a liking to cosmic experimental stuff that bordered on new age. But there among all the crap I didn’t like was a copy of Another Green World, on CD, with a cracked case. Full circle, just like the day we met.

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