Pages

2.12.2016

SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE






Not that you can tell but, unlike John Doe and Exene Cervenka, the real-life power couple at the heart of X, the Reivers’ John Croslin and Kim Longacre are only pretending to be one, and that could well be why they evoke this lived-in tenderness. “Late at night awake, talking about some plans, spending money that we’ll never have, no I can’t do much, only hold your hand, I get up to check the kids, I get up to bar the door  … ” As tropes go, as centers of gravity, as ore for stories,  the messy knots of wedded (sort of) bliss are a rock and roll oxymoron, moreso at that time when fashionable despair was slowly becoming the atmospheric condition of rock and roll and the tiniest concessions to happiness were decreed protocols of naivete. But nearly song for song, the Reivers’ End of the Day seemed to exalt married life, or at the very least longstanding partnerships, unburdened with irony, surging with gratitude. “The greatest love could be, at the end of every day, what is left for you and me at the end of every day … ”

I love the Reivers. I’ll never be sure if that love is heightened by how tough they were to obtain but love is love and what matters is that I had them and that I still do.  We were fated. And that’s the truest love of all. I was mad for signals from the post-REM pre-grunge late-80s mid-American New Wave, the unheard music that gnawed at my curiosity more than anything else at that time. I was chiefly horny for bands that came from down South. There was a lot of unheard music for those of us back then, the hipsters of our wireless generation, if you will. All these bands we would read about in music magazines printed on paper, giving us massive geek boners that the local record bars would deflate out of how lame its stocks were and still are, so we would scour thrift shops and garage sales and basement record bins and cast the fate of our pop fix on relatives abroad. Everything was not a torrent away. Nothing was that easy. Amazon was still just a river and Wonder Woman. And pop music cost to have. You had to work for it. You had to look hard for it. You had to pay for it. And sometimes, most of the time, you had to wait.

The Reivers’ Saturday was one of my earliest transmissions, the first Reivers I would own and on a hissy cassette at that, a half-blind buy incentivized by my affection for the song In Your Eyes. I picked it out of a bargain bin, the elephant graveyard for cultural artifacts few people give a shit about and also the mecca for penniless geeks with voracious appetites,  for half the price of a regular cassette, which would be 50 pesos. Produced by the Don Dixon, another of my then unheard musics whose Romeo At Juilliard still remains fugitive, Saturday was/is a thing of minor sonic majesty : catchy, hungry, tight, full, big. Wall to wall bang for the buck. The trace elements were easy to pick out: a little Mamas & the Papas in the lilt of their girl-boy harmonies, a little Byrds in the moodswing of their hooky jangle, a little Sundays in the homespun prettiness of their melodies. But the hook that broke skin were all the energy signatures I was picking up from every Southern pop group they called friends : Pylon, the dBs, Fetchin’ Bones, Downy Mildew, Let’s Active. I was a fan in a snap.

I picked the record  that came after it, the record we’re talking about,  out of a bargain bin and in cassette form, too.  End of the Day was sans Dixon, co-produced by Croslin and Andy Metcalfe, who played bass for yet another of my then-unheard musics Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians. And it was looser and sloppier and rawer but also warmer and lovelier, doesn’t try as hard, is more grown-up, more at home, probably not as good. But it’s somehow closer to my heart for it. The Reivers were tiny masters of minutiae, romancing the ordinary, poeticizing the everyday, often with a quotidian eye for detail, a minimum of fuss and posture and an open-armed friendliness that made you sometimes take them for granted. They weren’t the only band who did that, sure, nor the one who were the best at it but they were the first I heard who did and it was, if you’ll pardon the melodrama, nothing short of life-changing. Their individual skill sets were unexceptional. I remember a review that described Croslin’s singing voice as “Lou Reed on Kool-Aid”, or somesuch . But that tasty way they had with power-pop hooks and changes you could almost call a gift, it was love at first listen.

The Reivers have come and gone and are slowly coming back again. Hootie & the Blowfish covered the loping countrylike Almost Home on record. One of the last things I saw the late Edmund Fortuno play was a cover of End of the Day. There’s been a slew of reunion shows. And constant talk of recording. But to this day, I only have three friends who know who they are and only one is as in love with them as I am. I have since worn out and lost both bargain bin cassettes, but have all four of their records on out-of-print remastered CDs. All of which have never left my iPod. I still play them at least once a month. Saturday  was/is their masterpiece but of all the pop-rock records I can play ‘til the end of time,  End of the Day is the one that I’d probably play the most.

Its catchy singsong and guitar shimmer is almost comforting in its wary but convinced optimism that life isn’t as bad as it seems. It has its spells of melancholia, sure, but it also knows to count its blessings as a principle of faith, as a design for life.  Joie de vivre is disarming to parse from a rock and roll record when you’re a kid into energy but it’s a sticky implant that tends to brighten and blossom with age.  End of the Day may not have the grandeur of Rumours, the floaty transcendence of Static and Silence, the prickly genius of Radio City, the wry humor of  0898. But what it has is that rarest of things, in rock and roll, and in life: the sound of liking where you are.


No comments: