I always get the blues when I come back from a trip, the more so when the trip has been to the USA. A colleague recently said that she would not go and visit America until it stopped holding the rest of the world to ransom. Which is to say 'never' I guess. And whilst I admire her ethics on one level, like the fools who paint all members of any cultural, religious or geographical grouping with the same brush, I cant help but feel she is deluding herself and that, if she'd only give it a chance, she would find that it's not America holding the world to ransom but corporations and their politician puppets.
I love most of what I find in America. For sure there are things that I find unpalatable, but I could say that about most any place. Certainly I could say that about the UK, and you know that on balance the pros of America win out over the cons with a far more convincing victory.
So I came home from the USA feeling blue. I was also, as part of a malaise that had been dragging on for some time, feeling rather down about contemporary music, wondering where the new sounds were coming from that would excite me. I don't necessarily agree with Robin that the Future is bleak, nor that there are no great artists, writers, musicians etc around at he moment, but sometimes, well, you do have to wonder.
Part of the problem, I guess, is context. Can we take it for granted that the likes of a Dostoyevsky, or a Proust, a Hemingway, a Beethoven, a Picasso, a Rembrandt, a Goya, a James Brown… a whoever, just isn't going to be working in the same manner as they did when they produced what we have now come to accept as Greatness. As Kevin is apt to say, 'context is everything', and it's important to bear in mind. Britney Spears might be lauded in the Future as a Musical Great, mentioned in hushed reverence alongside the likes of Stockhausen. It's unlikely, I know, but the point is, we don't know. The most we can do is to leave our own signposts as to who we think our Contemporary Greats should be. But yeah, Britney would be up top of my list….
So I came back from the USA feeling blue, and I dropped by at the Post Office to collect my two weeks of mail. Amongst all the press releases telling me about Cable TV schedules and a frankly bizarre book of dreadful paintings that might adorn tacky surfer dude bedroom walls (and that owe more than an obvious debt to the very dreadful Dali - but more of that some other day) there was a simple Air Mail envelope from Clyde, Australia. Inside the envelope was a mauve tissue wrapped parcel, tied in ribbon, and inside the tissue, a cassette tape and a piece of paper listing song titles. The paper seemed to suggest that the song titles belonged to a group called Augie March.
I'd almost forgotten, quite frankly, just how remarkably beautiful the simple act of receiving mysterious mail can be. It's a thrill I recall being thankfully addicted to as a younger soul, lost in a bedroom and living on the communications that landed on the doorstep on, if not every morning, at least most.
So, naturally intrigued, I stuck the tape in the stereo.
Augie March sound terrific. Of course I would say this because they remind me of so many other things that, in my past, have also meant a great deal, have provided soundtracks for various steps in life. I sometimes wonder just what it is that makes someone with less memories love a band like Augie March; if I were 16 or 17 again now, just what would it be that attracted me to Augie March? I can't say… maybe it would be because the sound rises and falls in an aching, tragic manner with a power that I would imagine to be mine; a powerful sense of identity I would feel lurking within me but unable to release. I would envision myself making moves to this sound; imagine great cinematic moments where I would leap tall buildings, run a mile. Laugh and then cry.
Which is as maybe. Someone who is 16/17 now can say it far better.
I love Augie March right now because actually yes they do make me feel like I might have when I was 16/17; the world paradoxically both opening up with possibility and closing down with rejection. Augie March sound like the reminder of the center of the loop of life, of experience, and in fact as Rupert suggests, the centre changes, moves. Rupert however misreads what I mean by the centre: it's in fact nothing to do with musical genre or specifics, but rather a metaphysical centre where it is essence of feeling and being that counts. Or it's a metaphorical center, at the very least. So rather than being about revisiting and re-playing specific records or artists, it's about being inexorably drawn back to the feelings elicited by the sounds we choose which mean… something… that moment of revelation. Of escape and magic perhaps. Or perhaps something different each time…although deep down I do think it's always to do with both loss and discovery; the thrills and desolations inherent in both.
Augie March sound like a thrilling desolation.
Augie March sound like The Verlaines, who were one of a clutch of magnificent Antipodean groups back in the 1980s into the 1990s. The Verlaines made an issue out of bringing Classical music references and influences to Rock, and if that sounds like a recipe for disaster, well, you clearly haven't heard the Verlaines. Augie March also remind me in places of Sneaky Feelings, another band of New Zealanders from the Flying Nun roster; Flying Nun being a certain candidate for one of the greatest Pop record labels ever.
In places, Augie March also remind me of The Faith Brothers, who created a stir in the UK in the mid 1980s and promptly disappeared. They supported REM on their frankly mythic Reconstruction tour, and were as magnificently strange as Stipe and co, at a time when that was remarkably strange. Faith Brothers had a solitary 1985 album called Eventide, which included a song called 'Victoria Green'. I used to play 'Victoria Green' endlessly in my head, changing the lyrics as I did so to 'Victoria Lace', and if you don't know why then you don't need to ask. It's just another player in my Pop World Memory Fair.
Augie March remind me of all of the above and a great deal more, but most of all they remind me of the possibilities that still lie in the realms of what some call rock to provide potentially great Pop moments to illuminate our lives.
© Alistair Fitchett