My live music superlatives so far

I’m getting old. I have a bad back. My knees grind whenever I take the stairs. My hair has receded clear off my scalp entirely. I’m starting to really feel the slow physical degradation that goes along with the aging process, every day of my life.

I tell myself that age is a construct, that it means nothing, that it has only the power you grant it. This is true to some extent, and while reminding myself of that does help, it only gets me so far. There is no denying my exterior travel casing is long out of warranty, and is starting to wear out.

To compensate, I try to do things old people do not do. I think of the oldest person I know, which is my dad. He has always been the oldest person I know. What would Dad never have done when he was my age, i.e., in his late forties? Would he have, say, spent a weeknight in a packed music hall while a hillbilly surf rock band threw fried chicken at the crowd?

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Southern Culture on the Skids @ Slim’s (RIP), San Francisco, CA (2019)

I think not.

But preventing myself from turning into my father is not the only reason I still go to shows. I go because I love them. I love the crackling energy of the good ones, especially in smaller venues. I love the unpredictability of the performances, the beer spilled on my shoes, the low-key seediness of it all. I love spending two hours in the same room as the people who recorded some of my favorite music, sometimes close enough to cough on them. Live music makes me feel like I’m squeezing the most fun I possibly can out of life. It’s one of the best parts of living in San Francisco. I make it a point to catch a show whenever a good one pops up on the local events calendar. Right now that means not at all, because, well, you know why. (For posterity’s sake: Covid-19. Duh.) But I mean before that, before that.

When I lived in Florida, I did not have access to the surfeit of shows I have here. Florida is not on the way to anywhere else, so a lot of bands just skip it entirely. Those that don’t will usually stick to one or possibly two of the Miami / Orlando / Jacksonville triumvirate, none of which I lived in and two of which I actively loathed (Miami is seriously underrated though). I appreciate what I have—or have had, I guess—here in San Francisco, I really do.

Going to shows is one of the two or three things I miss the most now that we’re in semi-permanent lockdown status. I’ve been thinking a lot about the shows I’ve seen in my life—the good, the bad, the unexpected, the disappointing—and I’ve compiled a list of the ones that have stood out for me, and why I still think about them all these years later.

Here it is.

Continue reading “My live music superlatives so far”

Four More Years

Exactly four years ago today, after a three-and-a-half-day cross-country drive, I arrived in San Francisco for good.

My dreams of moving here had grown more and more powerful since 2007, when I first managed to visit, but I’d actually had it in my head that I wanted to live here since at least 1993, when during Coast Guard boot camp I requested an initial duty station anywhere in the Bay Area. (I got New Bedford, Massachusetts instead, which I hear has come a long way since then. But I digress.) I left Florida two days after the string of disappointments that were Election Day 2014 in the Sunshine State and Continue reading “Four More Years”

Things I miss about Florida, part 3: Thunderstorms

Florida summers are brutal. The double-whammy combination of high heat and humidity makes venturing outside for more than a few minutes at a time supremely uncomfortable, unless you like the sensation of having been basted in a thin slick coating of your own perspiration at all times (I, for one, do not). The sun is relentless, bright enough some days to give you a headache from just looking out the window. You will often find your steering wheel is too hot to touch without gloves.

But on the other hand, there are thunderstorms.

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Image by William Carson

If you’ve never experienced a Florida thunderstorm, I can tell you they’re not like thunderstorms I’ve experienced elsewhere. Florida storms are Continue reading “Things I miss about Florida, part 3: Thunderstorms”

Things I miss about Florida #2: Beaches where you can swim

I’ve never really been a beach person. I don’t much care for sand, for one thing, and my Scotch-Polish heritage means I’m not big on sunbathing either, for obvious reasons. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two valid reasons to go to the beach at all: to play volleyball, or to swim. (Unless you have kids, in which case “letting the little buggers run wild outdoors for a couple of hours while you sit under an umbrella and try desperately to claw back some quiet time for yourself” also counts.)  But sometimes, when the weather was good and my mood was just so and I had a day off that most other people didn’t have, I would sometimes take advantage of my proximity to the coastline and actually visit, say, Fort DeSoto or St. Pete Beach or even all the way down to Siesta Key for an afternoon of flopping about in warm salt water until my eyes burned.

But as the great American poet Tom Kiefer so prophetically observed, you often don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone. Beach swimming is all but impossible in California, which you’d never know based on the fact that the Beach Boys never mentioned having to put on rubber wetsuits before hopping on a surfboard, but nevertheless, it is so. (On a somewhat-recent trip to San Diego, all the surfers at Ocean Beach were wearing wetsuits, suggesting that swimming would have definitely been a no-go. Of course, it was March, so that could also have something to do with it.) I cannot go swimming at the beach here, and as a result, swimming at the beach sounds like the most enticing thing ever.

Of course, I visited a lovely beach in Italy last year and went for a short swim. It was … fine. And I know perfectly well that if I were to move back to St. Petersburg tomorrow, I’d probably stop caring about the damn beach before I even got clear of baggage claim. It’s just how I am. Still, I miss it now, and that’s the point.

These are my “records:” Juliana Hatfield, Sleater-Kinney and the End of History

Juliana Hatfield: Only Everything (1995)
Sleater-Kinney: All Hands On the Bad One (2000)

It’s easy to forget now, but the 1990s were supposed to be the End of History. The threat of sudden nuclear obliteration arriving and raining down on us faster than Domino’s could bring us a pizza—one that we Generation Xers had lived with our entire lives—was suddenly just gone, and in the ten-year interregnum between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Twin Towers, we never quite managed to figure out what we were supposed to do with ourselves.

Juliana Hatfield wasn’t singing about the end of history on her 1995 album Only Everything, but I’ve always thought it neatly captures the overall feel of the moment: Mostly confident but still tentative in places, looking inward instead of out at the broader world, trying to shed the cynicism that by then had come to define her (and my) generation. Her Continue reading “These are my “records:” Juliana Hatfield, Sleater-Kinney and the End of History”