David stood and held his hands in front of him. “Today is the 50th anniversary of Birmingham Sunday,” he said solemnly. The rest of the Friends meeting sat quietly. Some closed their eyes. An old lady with a frizz of white hair stared vacuously at the opposite wall. David pensively pulled at his long gray beard and muttered a few words about mortality. When he sat, the silence continued.
A man in jeans shifted in his seat, leaning forward and folding his hands.
After a few minutes, Lane stood. Between chewing his own gums, he sang a few bars. “And the choir kept singing of freedom.” His wattle wagged with the vibration.
Two or three raised their arms and twinkled their fingers.
I first interviewed Robbie Rogers in 2008. He was reclining, topless, on a pysio table, an icepack strapped to his thigh. We were watching an in-stadium feed of his coach holding a post-game press conference the room over.
Robbie told me about his tattoo commemorating an aunt who had died in a car accident a few miles away.
He spoke earnestly, calm but engaged, and enunciated well.
Robbie Rogers is handsome. When he smiles, which is frequently, he just may be gorgeous. He’s also courteous and kind. He’s the sort of guy mothers try to set up with their daughters.
Robbie Rogers is gay. On Sunday, I went and watched him play for the first time since he come out.
Here’s a history of gay soccer players: one English guy came out in 1990, was accused of rape, and killed himself. A handful of women are out. One guy in the Swedish fourth division is out. That’s it.
So this is kind of big news.
I’m a professional soccer journalist who doesn’t believe sports matter. They are culturally insignificant.
But as I walked out of the stadium where I first interviewed Rogers five years ago, my heart humming at 1 a.m. in the peacefully still night air, I was sure: Robbie Rogers’ story matters.
Do you know how Eskimos take care of a wolf problem? I heard this in a sermon illustration in middle school.
What they do is dip a sword or machete of some sort into a bucket of blood. Then they let it freeze. Then they dip it again. They repeat this until a thick coat of blood builds up around the blade. Then, at night, they stick the sword, hilt-first, into the snow and go to sleep.
The wolf’ll come by and sniff blood and take a closer look. She’ll lick it. Then she’ll lick some more. Soon enough the wolf is essentially deep-throating this thing and, like a freezy, it numbs her mouth. She doesn’t feel it when it starts cutting. She can’t taste the difference between the sword blood and her own blood. Eventually, with tongue and throat sliced to ribbons, she bleeds out, a pool of red and bloodlust on the white white white snow.
I told my mother this story in the kitchen once. She stopped me. “Why would you tell me that?” she asked. She didn’t want to know.
I was furious. How could someone willingly blind herself to a truth about the world? Here was a fact (I heard it in a sermon; it’s probably apocryphal). I couldn’t comprehend not collecting as much information about the earth’s workings as possible, regardless of squeamishness.
My mother probably doesn’t remember this. It was years ago now. As I age, graceful as dry heaving, I think about it semi-frequently. I’m coming round to her side.
There are certain things about the world I’d just rather not know.
On Sunday afternoon I took a long nap in which I dreamed I was worried about my future. I couldn’t sleep later that night because I kept worrying about worrying about my future after I woke up. I’ve also been going through a few weeks of not really feeling things. Naturally, I went for a walk around my neighbourhood at 1am.
My discoveries from that walk:
- At least one inhabitant of this leafy suburb enjoys the sensations delivered by blueberry-flavoured condoms.
- A bunch of randomly blinking yellow traffic lights usually improves the look of a street late at night.
- The old man in the corner house near my street – otherwise known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s relative – loves watching Seinfeld reruns more than he cares about repairing his wall, five years after a car smashed into it. Fair enough, dude.
I came home after a while, mostly to sit on the step near my room so the dogs could lick my face. I still couldn’t sleep after that, though. Washed my face (I think) and went for another walk at around 3am.
Thoughts from that one:
- Walking is possibly an overrated way of helping you thinking about your problems, but a great way of helping you forget about them.
- There are definitely more cockroaches than humans in my neighbourhood.
I saw Low twice in two days. The first, at Fingerprints, my local record shop, was on Monday, April 1. A day later they played in the Troubadour. Here are my Opinions about that:
- To get tickets to the Fingerprints show, one technically had to purchase the album there. I had already preordered The Invisible Way through Sub Pop because it came with a four-song EP. I also already had tickets to the Troubadour show, but caved and bought the colored vinyl version. Mostly because I like colorful things but also because the cashier lady was cute.
- The way I see it, concerts are gambles. Each time, I’m betting $20 or so that I will have a transcendental experience. It’s the same principle when you go to a movie theater or any number of activities that cost money. In this case, given Low’s music and discography, I was willing to double down.
- Because I’m kind of a fucktard, I thought the Fingerprints gig started at 8 p.m., likely because that was when the Troubadour show opened. I left a little after 7 p.m. and walked (for some reason I had it in my head that everyone in Southern California would come to this show and there would be no parking), arriving at quarter to eight. There was no opener. I missed the majority of the show.
- Maybe 75 people showed up. I walked in and no one bothered trying to stop me or checking my receipt. The atmosphere was relaxed. A German Shepherd sprawled peacefully on the floor. A mother held a sleepy child in her arms. A comely girl sat cross-legged on the ground.
- The arrangement of the room meant I couldn’t see much without pushing forward, which I didn’t feel like doing. I used to show up to gigs hours early, walk in as soon as the doors opened, and stand at the very front. I realized somewhere along the way that concerts are more fun relaxed. I show up when it’s convenient (generally an hour after doors) and take it in from wherever I happen to stand. I’m more likely to have a transcendental experience if I’m not stressed or tense.
- There were a few dudes with neckbeards in attendance (myself included), but a heavy portion of the audience was older. Guys with ponytails and couples with kids or a dog.
- “We’re from Duluth, Minn.,” Alan Sparhawk said. “We of course encourage you to visit if you’re in the neighborhood.” Then he mumbled something I didn’t hear. “But it snowed there yesterday, so …” and he trailed off again. It wasn’t very loud. Actually, the sound setup felt like a folk band. It didn’t fit Low at all. I did not have a transcendental experience.
- On the walk home, I stepped over a pink bra on the road. A man with earphones on rapped loudly into the night, at no one in particular. A girl with two of her friends strode past me, her hands down the front of her shorts. Sometimes I think of America as void of culture, just like one believes that her accent is neutral. But the disparity between the audience and the people outside meant I felt the specificity of the culture in Long Beach, Calif. I heard my accent.
- On the drive up to Los Angeles I thought about Low’s touring arrangement. A few days prior @lowtheband tweeted: “They didn’t have Panera back when we were first touring… Or oatmeal at Starbucks. Or Starbucks. But then gas was 99 cents a gallon…” It got me wondering. Sparhawk and Mimi Parker have two kids. Did they consider giving up music professionally? According to Wikipedia, Parker did one tour pregnant. Surely Sparhawk’s side project, Retribution Gospel Choir, had something to do with the thought that he could still make money touring while Parker took care of the kids. He also does production stuff in Duluth. But since they stuck with it: How much sex do they have on tour? Do they ever share a room with the third band member? Who do the kids stay with when they’re on the road? What professions did they consider? Does the bassist ever feel like a third wheel? Has he ever heard them having sex and had to play with them soon after?
- The reason I gambled on Low twice is because its music feels important, sacred. If you had played a Low album for me and said, “This is what Mormons listen to at church,” I would have believed you. (Sparhawk and Parker are Mormons.) That is, I would have fallen for it until I heard the words. Low combines stately music with wry lyrics. Check out the music video for Breaker to get a sense of their humor. Many songs feel heavy until you parse the lyrics and realize Sparhawk is making an exaggerated, acerbic joke.
- Mimi Parker wore a skirt, heels, and button-down. This surprised me, as the night before she was in jeans and a t-shirt. I’ve never seen a drummer wear a skirt and heels before.
- Oh, even though I showed up halfway through the opener’s set, I scored a spot directly in front of the stage, off to the left a bit.
- After the opener, the projector played a countdown from 10 minutes. The audience took many cell phone pictures of this. I’m not entirely sure how it helped build anticipation, but whatever. Again, the audience was older. I suppose when your first album came out in 1994, some of the older folk come out to represent.
- During the show, the projector played video. Most of it was grainy footage without narrative. For example, one song had clips of a man escaping a straitjacket while dangling from a rope off a flying plane.
- This new album ranks below the handful that came before it, for me at least. At the time it was still new to me, so I hoped that my lowered opinion of it was because of the bad album art. C’mon had great art that gives me a specific visual when I think of the album. The Invisible Way is just bland blah. Sometimes a live show can provide the image/color/vibe I think of when I think of the album. I’m a visual learner.
- During one video clip, between songs, a man jumped off a rock. Sparhawk held his hand up, casting a shadow across the background, and only dropped it as the man fell. Parker rolled her eyes at him.
- That was the most emotion we got out of Parker. It’s got to be hard drumming and singing at the same time. Perhaps the concentration made her stoic. Sparhawk was the personable, compelling one. He would make facial expressions to fit the songs and goof off. During Murderer, he scowled and shook his head so much I started to take the lyrics seriously. That’s the image I think of when I think of Low now.
- A main component of Low’s sound is the interchange between Parker and Sparhawk’s voices. On the records they’re both great. Maybe it was Sparhawk’s amiability, but all his songs popped much more. Parker’s felt stale. I’d pay to hear Sparhawk sing a cappella. Paker’s songs I sat through.
- The beefed-up sound system at the Troubadour served the band well. Particularly during Sparhawk’s longer songs, I felt the $20 or whatever I paid well worth it.
- None of the band said anything until the encore except “thanks”. No band introduction, no explaining song names, nothing. Even when they left, Sparhawk simply waved and they walked off. I liked this a lot. The music spoke for itself. I mean, I also like someone like John Darnielle who chats throughout the show, but this tactic worked for Low.
- When they came back for the encore, Sparhawk chatted with the audience, asking for requests (“this is the part where the show falls apart”). One girl mentioned that the Troubadour doesn’t allow gum and complained. Sparhawk thought about that for a bit, noodling on his guitar. “Chewing gum is like smoking weed. The more you do it, the more you can handle.” He mentioned that he tried gum again not to long ago and it knocked him on his ass. “They really make that stuff strong nowadays.” When they left for the second, final, time, he said, “I hope you have a great summer. Don’t get too hot.”
Alan Sparhawk explained during the encore set that this song is about countries that use religion as excuse to go to war. It’s among my favorite Low songs, but I prefer an extrapolated take.
God creates humans with different attributes. Ostensibly, we’re supposed to use whatever gifts we have to serve Her. Each organ in the body of Christ serves a different, equally crucial purpose, or so goes the sermon. That’s great for those bubbly, outgoing folk. That’s awesome for Mother Teresa. What about the rest of us? What about the swindlers, the cock-suckers, the murderers? God needs the more malevolent among us too. Jesus can’t die for the world’s sins if Judas doesn’t play his treacherous part. When God requires a killer, a thief, a politician, are those sinners any less crucial to the plan?
What was you first music memory?
Noah DeSmit: My first music memory is singing in church. However, I have very strong recollections of my dad playing Celebrate by Rare Earth very loudly in the house when I was little. Parliament Funkadelic and Michael Jackson also featured many times while growing up. These memories are stronger in my mind than the hymns at church.
What’s your craziest touring memory?
Usually the crazy moments come from strange audience members. I’ve seen a guy in nothing but jean cutoffs and a mesh shirt wield a fly swatter and swing it in the air like it was his national flag during battle. There’s the guy whose entire shirt was an LED equalizer that lit up to the beat of the music. I think my favorite was the kid who wore a banana suit the entire night, never stopped dancing and looked like he was having the most fun he’s ever had in his life.
What’s your most neurotic habit?
Tapping fast beats with my toes. Just the toes, not the entire foot. Many times I don’t realize it’s happening. It looks quite odd to someone else as I’m essentially wildly wiggling all of my toes. I would guess the bpm of the beat in my head to be at around 150-155 bpm. This is pretty strange to me since I don’t produce anything at the speed. Most of my music is 118-124.
Since starting in music, what has been your most frustrating moment?
Most of my frustrating moments come from the lack of musical understanding and education found in the event-goers of the cities I’ve resided in. I remember one night, I was playing a deep house track. The track had been in the Top 10 at Beatport for more than two weeks. I mean, we’re talking about killer tune that most likely millions had danced to that month. Needless to say, when a bright-eyed attractive young woman walked up and asked for a Rihanna song, I was bummed out.
If it were possible, who would you open for?
For the longest time I would have said Joris Voorn. Truly a master. However, after playing out so many of their tracks and listening to their music at home and in the car, I would now say Benoit & Sergio. Especially after seeing them at Movement last year. Their ability to make you feel and move at the same time is unmatched.
Have you ever been in a fight?
A friendly fist fight with a dude based on a set of predetermined rules, sure – but nothing ever serious. I try to keep violence as the absolute last resort, only participating when there’s no other recourse. My reasons are not altruistic. I like staying out of jail and I’m the opposite of a large, powerful and intimidating figure.
What’s the last movie you cried watching?
My last proper cry during a movie was a few years ago when I watched In America. I think it came out in 2002. When Mateo dies I barely kept it in. But, at the end, when Johnny says goodby to Frankie – I definitely lost it. Powerful stuff.
What would you say to your first girlfriend?
Maybe something like, “You made the right choice in ending it. Cheers for that!”
What’s the grossest thing you’ve seen McFly do? (Editor’s note: McFly is Noah’s cat.)
The catnip treats were pretty gross. One day, I brought back some catnip-flavored treats from the store for him. When I got home, I gave him a few pieces of the new snacks. He was stoked. I went into the other room for a couple minutes until I started to hear the terrible sound cats make when they’re… throwing up. I walked into the living room and discovered green puke in about eight different places around the kitchen and living room. There were literally eight bright green spots of chewed-up catnip treats spread about the apartment. I was a little worried about him, but he recovered and seemed to be OK. It goes without saying, I keep it simple and don’t buy those anymore.