Saturday, April 18, 2015

The War on Drugs

“Wide awake
I rearrange the way I listen in the dark
Dreaming of starting up again.”
         “Burning,” The War On Drugs

I arranged a trip to Palm Springs, California, where Midge, my 98 year-old mother, is living, around a War on Drugs concert at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.  Within minutes of the tickets going on sale, the concert was sold out; scalpers were asking for as much as $200 a ticket, eight times the original price.  I decided to email the owner and make a special plea for her to set two aside for nephew Bob and me.  I wrote: I have been coming to Pappy and Harriet's every couple months, whenever I visit from Indiana to see my aging mother.  I have been to several Cracker Campouts and usually arrange my visits around whoever is performing at your fabulous place.   As a longtime customer who writes favorably about Pappy and Harriet's on my blog, I am really hoping that you might have two extra tickets reserved for regulars who missed out on the virtually nonexistent window of opportunity for purchasing tickets.”
Robyn, the owner, promised to put aside two tickets and suggested I post a review on Yelp.  This is what I wrote: “I always plan my trips to the Palm Springs area around a visit to Pappy and Harriet's, which has fantastic food at very reasonable prices, a friendly staff, a diverse clientele, and live music every night.  I attend Cracker Campout every September and have seen some of my favorite bands there, including Parquet Courts and Camper Van Beethoven.  Walking around the grounds and seeing buildings that once were used in Gene Autry and Cisco Kid westerns is also a special treat, as is the breathtaking view on the drive up from 29 Pines Highway.  Recommended for people of all ages - and children are welcome.”

Robyn proved to be as good as her word, and we received armbands when the ticket takers found my name on the guest list. I left Robyn my latest Steel Shavings with paper clips marking where I commented on my three 2014 appearances to see Parquet Courts, Cracker, and Dust Bowl Revival.  Having arrived soon after the restaurant opened at four p.m., Bob and I enjoyed a nice meal and listened to The War on Drugs warming up nearby on the outdoor stage.  They sounded awesome, and outside I was able to peak at them through an opening.  A guy directing cars approached and greeted me warmly.  When I said I had feared he would ask me to move, he replied that I’d have to do something much worse than look through an open-air window.  “I’ll try to act almost my age,” I quipped; he laughed and revealed that he was 64 years old.  He looked to be no more than 50.

We ran into band members Adam Granduciel and Robbie Bennett at the bar, casually talking to fans.  Knowing they hailed from Philadelphia, I asked which part.  Adam said they lived in the Fishtown neighborhood of north Philly, which is not far from where Toni grew up.  I was tempted to inquire about the derivation of the name War on Drugs, but Adam’s probably answered that a thousand times.  He generally says it just came to him while drinking red wine.  He told one interviewer: “It was either that or Rigatoni Danza” and “that it was the kind of name I could record all sorts of different music without any sort of predictability inherent in the name.”  I first heard of the band when Robert Blaskiewicz burned me a copy of their breakthrough CD “Lost in the Dream,” featuring “Under the Pressure.”  Alissa’s boyfriend Josh informed me that they’d been around for several years and had previously released indie albums titled “Wagonwheel Blues” and “Slave Ambient.”
The sellout crowd surrounding the stage was totally into the vibes from the very first notes of “Under the Pressure.”  One guy near us was gyrating and swinging his head about throughout the entire two hours, frenetically during upbeat numbers such as “Red Eyes.”  The air was so pungent with the smell of reefer that Bob, drug and alcohol free for more than a decade, left for a brief breather.  After I took a bathroom break, I found Bob by spotting the head-bobbing guy.  A well-dressed woman in front of us kept swaying back and forth, while a comely Asian alternated between closing her eyes like at a symphony and staring transfixed at frontman Granduciel. 

Despite it being quite chilly outdoors in the desert, Bob and I agreed Pappy and Harriet’s was the perfect venue, intimate, with probably no more than 500 people in a friendly crowd that appeared to be mainly from Los Angeles and Palm Springs to judge by the applause their mention elicited.  Adam also asked cryptically if anyone was from Birmingham, Alabama, or Lawrence, Kansas and announced that the band had been looking forward to this gig since the tour began.  Indeed it showed.  In two days The War on Drugs was scheduled to play at Coachella Fest before thousands, one of whom, a friend of Bob’s in the music business, told my nephew that he was envious that he’d be seeing them at Pappy and Harriet’s.  This summer they’re touring Europe and have a gig in Paris (must tell Frederic and Blandine)

I stood the entire time without my knee ever aching.  Endorphins must have kicked in - or maybe it was the contact high.  When hearing songs from the group’s previous albums, I was reminded of two of my favorite bands, Alda Reserve and the Jayhawks.  During “Eyes to the Wind” and at he end of “Burning” Bob hugged me.  During the final number I hugged him back.    He said it was one of the best concerts he’d been to – high praise from a Grateful Dead and Phish fan.  Before he left at 5 a.m. the next morning for a conference in L.A., Bob wrote this note on Best Western stationery: “Thanks Jimbo!  Had the time of my life!  We did our part in the War on Drugs.”  On Facebook he posted: “Lost in the Dream” is my choice for album of the year.”
 Nephew Bob Lane
Midge was in relatively good spirits despite missing her deceased hundred year-old friend Shirley.  Resigned to letting others dress her and wheel her to meals, she is no longer falling every few days like before.  My brother has her mail forwarded to his house, so she is no longer deluged with letters solicitations.  He takes her to the doctor’s every week or two and keeps her hearing aids in good operating order.  We all went to dinner at Shame on the Moon (whose owner is a Bob Seeger fan).  My brother has libertarian leanings, and we agreed that in the unlikely event Rand Paul wins the 2016 Republican nomination, the Presidential debates might be quite interesting, given Paul’s serious misgivings about our foreign misadventures of the past 15 years and the failed 30-year War on Drugs.  

Like most visits, I got out Midge’s old photo albums.  While she has trouble remembering daily events, her memory of childhood and college days is remarkable. I learned that her paternal grandfather was a Pennsylvania Railroad executive who lived in Philipsburg, New Jersey.  Her grandmother Frace had a chicken coop in her backyard.  Midge witnessed one being beheaded and refused to eat it.

At Applebee’s my final evening in Rancho Mirage, I had a chance to talk with bartender Natasha, smiling broadly now that her braces are off.  She filled me in on her two year-old daughter and her friend Andrea Aguirre, who got a promotion and is managing an Applebee’s in Indio, where thee Coachella is taking place.  While my room at Holiday Inn was a little higher than normal at $169, those who didn’t make reservations well in advance are paying twice that, manager Adrian told me.

During the trip I reread Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  The small town newspaper editor, Braxton Bragg Underwood, was named for a Confederate Civil War general.  Atticus Finch’s sage advice to Jem and Scout was to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, uncomfortable as that may be.  Like another American classic, “Huckleberry Finn,” there is frequent use of the “n” word, but the overriding theme is tolerance.  My favorite characters were the black housekeeper Calpurnia and Dolphus Raymond, who married a black woman and let on that he was an alcoholic though his drink of choice was coke. Reading the final chapters on the American Airlines flight home, tears were streaming down my face.  Despite my arriving an hour late due to engine problems, I caught the final Coach USA bus to Highland and arrived home about 1 a.m.  Toni was in Grand Rapids for Becca’s dance recital so I popped a beer and listened “Lost in the Dream.” To my surprise on Wednesday seven musicians comprised The War on Drugs, and listening closely, I could pick up their sounds. 

First day back, I ran into Steve and a researcher at the Archives despite it being Saturday.  Declining invitations to attend parties at Marianne and Missy’s and at the Hobart VFW for Kevin Horn’s niece Taylor’s sixteenth birthday, I opted to chill in front of the tube and watched Cubs and Bulls victories. 

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