Friday, October 11 2019
Today while I was at work, Gretchen communicated with me to tell me that Liz Phair (early-90s alternative rock musician and fellow Oberlin student) was playing tonight at the Utopia Soundstage, a small windowless performance space attached to the broadcast studios of WDST in Bearsville. This was part of "Pink October," where musicians raise money either to benefit breast cancer research (or the vaguer "breast cancer awareness"). A fondness for the music of Liz Phair was one of the first commonalities that Gretchen and I discovered following the end of our 12 year estrangement in 2001, so of course when Gretchen found that tickets were somehow still available, she bought a couple.
We arrived in Bearsville at about 9:00pm and initially had trouble finding the entrance. In the past it has been via a side door, but there was a board nailed across that. Eventually we found a conventional entranceway facing Route 212. I'd never been in Utopia before, and the place couldn't've held more than about 200 people. Indicating that this venue wasn't really designed to be open to the public, to get to the bathroom, one had to go through a door marked "staff only." And the bathroom included a shower. Supposedly lots of of important rock artifacts had been created here, including the video for "Video Killed the Radio Star." [It turns out I'm wrong!]. Both Gretchen and I got glasses of Pinot Noir from the guy selling beverages in the corner and then sat with the only people we saw there we knew, Jacinta and her husband Michæl. I was too loud for me to participate in their conversation other than to admit that I often had fleas as a kid and to tell the story of how I would spread out paper maps on the floor (a manifestation of my interest in geography) and hear the the tick! tick! of fleas falling onto it. Meanwhile the opening act was a guy named Joey Eppard, who expertly played in his guitar in the manner of Ani Defranco, with lots of notes played quickly and quietly. This style isn't melodic enough for me, but some people love it. Unfortunately for Mr. Eppard, those kind of people don't apparently turn out for a Liz Phair performance.
After Eppard left the stage, Gretchen headed straight for the front of the audience, and we ended up being the two audience members closest to Liz Phair when she took the stage with her band of three youngish gentlemen. There would be no drums in tonight's performance. Liz is a year older than me, and she's looking good for her age. Then again, she lives in Los Angeles, and Gretchen suspects she's become "very LA." Liz began with a few of her newer, poppier songs, none of which Gretchen or I knew. Our knowledge of her work ends at Whitechocolatespaceegg. Eventually she got to "Polyester Bride," which is a great song from that album. Then she dipped a little deeper to place "Divorce Song," "Fuck and Run," and "Mesmerizing" from Exile in Guyville. I don't think she played anything off Whip-Smart, her second "alternative-era" album. What I like about Liz Phair isn't just her fearless, concise, clever lyrics. I also like the weird chord choices, which must've been full of surprises to people who had never heard her songs before. She had a tech available to tune her guitar and change the position of the capo between every song.
Liz Phair only played about an hour before saying goodnight. Gretchen gave her a hand to help her down from the stage and, then her manager told her she forgot to mention Horror Stories, the memoir she was supposed to be promoting. (Phair had remembered to promote breast cancer awareness, which she'd done several times.) So then Gretchen said something about Liz Phair possibly signing the copies of the memoir that were back at the Golden Notebook. Liz liked that idea even if it seemed like a logistical impossibility, and actually pulled Gretchen up on stage with her for her last-second memoir promotion. Gretchen even got the opportunity to speak, telling the crowd about the importance of local bookstores. A few minutes later, Gretchen ran across someone she knew from a writer's retreat at Blue Mountain Center. But already the people in charge were trying to shoo us all out of Utopia Soundstage, and Liz Phair hadn't even signed any books.
As Gretchen drove us through Woodstock, she had an idea, and pulled over at the Golden Notebook. There she grabbed the three copies of Horror Stories in stock, and then we drove back to Bearsville (only about a half mile away). Things never keep to schedule in the greater Woodstock area, so Liz was still signing books when we got back, though all the books on hand had already been sold and people were reduced to signing a mailing list and not actually getting a signed book. But Gretchen's three additional books allowed a nice gentleman from Newburgh to get a signed copy, and Liz's signatures made it so the Golden Notebook's two remaining copies were both signed. Liz was impressed by Gretchen's initiative, characterizing it as a "boss move." This is the sort of thing Gretchen does all the time but which I am completely prevented from doing by the nature of my temperament. I can't do it myself, but Gretchen's doing it makes me proud. Gretchen got a chance to tell Liz a few things as the books were being signed. These included the fact that we'd both gone to Oberlin at around the time Liz had and also that "Cinco de Mayo," was our wedding song. (I don't remember that it was, but we did get engaged on Venice Beach on Cinquo de Mayo, 2001 while on MDMA.) Liz said she thought "Cinco de Mayo" was a poor choice for a wedding song.
Liz Phair and her bassist. Her band consisted of this bassist and two additonal guitarits, all of them youngish men.
Gretchen talks up buying Liz's memoir at independent bookstores after Liz pulls Gretchen up on stage.
A love for Liz Phair's music was an initial thing Gretchen and I had in common soon after our reconnection in 2001.
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