Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Engine Common

Last month I had asked my dearest oldest loveliest confidante, Jeremy, to guest blog on Owley Patrol. Well here it is... I'm a bit touched really. Jerms, I'm having writer's block this week but yours will be finished by end of month. Je promets.

p.s. That "bouncing" dance I did was to Saint Etienne's "Been So Long." xo

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A couple weeks back, Anh wrote a beautiful blog entry about rearranging her record collection. I could imagine being there. I could imagine "the vibe." It is something I know very well, Anh's relationship with her records.

As for me, I left my records at my parents' house in California, and for now they're just sitting there. Here in London, all of our music is kept on digital files. The other day Julia asked if she could come over to get some music off me. I had a sad feeling because I realized the experience would be the two of us sat at a computer, as if we were working on an essay. When I had my record collection — and a stereo system comprised of nice 70s pieces by Harman Kardon, Advent and so on — there was a whole physicality involved. In our last place in San Francisco, Jamie built a shelving unit custom fit for the stereo. I would move from swivel chair (to put the needle on the record) to floor (to go through the vinyl stacks) to stepstool (to reach up to the CDs). Friends would come over. Jamie would cook pasta. I would play records by John Cale, "Beyond These Chilling Winds" by Larry Coryell, the slower songs of Big Star and Modern Lovers...

It is something that I learned from Anh, these private DJ sessions. She never had such an aerobic routine. She is more elegant. She plays records with a femininity. But man, does she play records. How many rugs have there been, with the smoke of something in the air, and Anh would sit me down and play for me a new import, a b-side, a lost classic. Always songs that sound great: Have a melody, have something soothing or soaring. Underneath, a bit of a jangle. Beautiful songs. (Last summer, I was trying to explain to some friends why I don't like listening to Bjork. Anh was sitting next to me and she said, "It's not relaxing," and that's exactly right.)

Relaxing, but still intense.

Maybe Anh helped me discern the beautiful from the sentimental, digging past the gimmicky and dismissing the aggressive (without being afraid of noise). That's her taste. She told me about The Clientele. Man, she told me about Belle And Sebastian. She was the first person to play me "Sunday Morning Comedown." She did a bouncing dance with snapping fingers to a girl pop song.

When I first met Anh (She approached me at UCLA orientation and asked what music I liked. I said "The Smiths" and she said, "Ok, let's have coffee"), she already had quite a good collection of seven inch singles. I hadn't seen stuff like this before: The Sea Urchins, BMX Bandits, Trembling Blue Stars, Eggs, Small Factory, Action Painting!, Unrest and Heavenly. She introduced me to an aesthetic that was influenced by The Smiths but more esoteric.

A lot of these bands were from Sarah Records, of course, and they made mention of English locations like Gunnersbury Park and Engine Common, names that sounded — if not exactly exotic — somehow foreign, enticingly British.

L.A. - London connection.

We were in California. Our friends were in bands like Postal, and they wanted to sound like those British bands. In turn, those British bands got their jangle from West Coast stuff like The Byrds. We gleaned rock music history and knew that LA and London are friends. In later years, Anh began to uncover the secret treasures of The Canyon. CSNY and Gram Parsons, of course. She plays me John Phillips. "Pretty Anne and her peacock feather fan... And her jingle jagged faggot friend..." I can just picture Anh's suppressed grin at that line. We're in one of her bedrooms. Haven't we both had so many different bedrooms? Each of hers has been a place of comfort: A palette of plant leaf green and almost deep purples.

Now that I live here in London, Anh and I have a friendship that surfs on that California-England connection. Anh, here is an image of a gasometer along The Thames. We used to pass something like this on the freeway between LA and Orange County, when we drove down to your parents' house. We'd go down to do our laundry and live a clean suburban life for two days, go to dim sum and thrift shops. We went to the Huntington Beach Library to see bands like Postal play. We'd pass that gasometer and it would be lit up and we'd feel that special feeling of driving into the suburbs. Remember when we traveled across the valley to see Calvin Johnson do Dub Narcotic stuff in a strip mall café?

Now I live here and Anh is entrenched in the music in LA. She sends me a video link: "California," Joni Mitchell. I wonder what she thinks about the new Oasis single. And I still haven't been to Gunnersbury Park. Next time you visit, Anh.