I think I've settled on my five favorite current bands. As of right now, the list probably goes:
(1) Hold Steady
(2) New Pornographers
(3) Mountain Goats
(4) Drive-By Truckers
(5) Los Campesinos!
So, when I say things like "Three of my five favorite bands are playing San Francisco on back-to-back-to-back nights in May" or "Four of my five favorite bands are playing Sasquatch Festival this year" ... that's not hyperbole. It's really true. The future is bright.
Drive-By Truckers are a band that inspire a lot of words in me, so I'm going to apologize for that in advance (and I'm also going to break this post up into two parts). For lack of a better word, they signify more to me than they do to most people, and probably more than they even intend. Like the Hold Steady, they have made their place of origin (Muscle Shoals, Alabama) a major character in the band's narrative, a rich, textured character that can't be summed up in a few words. I've written about this concept at length over at Elliot's old blog, so I won't repeat myself too much here, but, if you have time, go read it. Thanks.
In a nutshell, even though rural Alabama and rural Minnesota likely have absolutely nothing in common, I identify with the band. It's a fragile dynamic we're working with here, that it's possible to wholeheartedly resent the place you came from, yet to understand that it is also likely responsible for all the good things about you. I would like my kids to be raised in a small town, but I sure wouldn't want to be the one to do it.
So I take the Truckers' small-town conflicted narrative to heart, and herein lies the problem. There's a line in "Birthday Boy" (one of two songs leaked from the upcoming The Big To-Do) that I want to talk about:
"The pretty girls from the smallest towns / Get remembered like storms and droughts / That old men talk about / For years to come"Now, that's a really good line. I mean, fantastic. Evocative. You could write a dynamite short story just based on that line. It gets at something deeply rural and American, nostalgic without being sentimental. And so, the first few times I listened to this song, I nodded slowly and sagely, as if to say, "Ain't that the truth." Once again, the band had perfectly captured small-town adolescence, the impossible longings for the girl who seemed to transcend the pointless boredom of the vacant landscape, the one who, even though our hero has moved to the city and found happiness and prosperity, he still thinks about from time to time, forever perfected and pure, always on a pedestal of her own goodness. It's a common movie trope. I'm sure you're all familiar with it.
Except ... that's not true at all. It's certainly not true for me. There's no girl like that. I mean, sure, I had crushes and fantasies like any high school kid, but I can say with absolute honestly that if I had to make a list of the 100 prettiest girls I've ever met in person, at least 95 of those spots would go to girls I've met since coming to California (Ilana jokes that, apart from my sisters, I had never even seen an attractive girl until I moved out here and, yikes, there are some Facebook pictures to back that up). It's just something that's supposed to be true, the romantic personification of the idea that you've left home, but your heart never will. That's not true at all.
Furthermore, I'm not sure how it could be. Small town proximity does a great job of destroying most fantasies. In English, I'm saying that no one leaves, everyone gets old and fat, and, no matter how stunning the Homecoming Queen was, you've now seen her in sweatpants, dragging three screaming kids through Wal-Mart. It's not her fault. We all have to live. I mean, I'm wearing sweat pants right now. I'm just saying it's hard to keep that "once in a lifetime girl" shine on you when you work at the feed store.
I've read several biographies of Bob Dylan and, there's no way around it, the man just constantly lied about his past. He had no problem standing behind lies that conflicted with other lies, lies that could be easily factually disproved, lies that didn't even make any sense (he talks about going to Chicago to jam with famous blues musicians when he was six years old). There's a weird gray area to Dylan's lies, though. I don't think he believes them, but I also don't think he thinks he's lying. It's almost as if he doesn't believe the past is a static fact, that he knows he didn't do the things he claims he did, but somehow that doesn't mean he will NEVER do them.
I think I'm reaching that level of cognitive dissonance about my past. I know for a fact that I don't stay awake at night dreaming of a girl from La Crescent, Minnesota. And yet, when I hear a band sing about that exact same sentiment, I do not for a second doubt that it's true.