understand? do you understand? I’m a gentleman, I’m a gentleman….
I have always been affected by albums as a whole. They are works of art and should be perceived that way. I like listening for the concepts and themes conveyed in an hour long piece of music. It’s like watching a movie to me. The digital music movement to me is a low point because music is now viewed more than ever before in terms of “song” rather than “album,” and it’s a shame. Its no longer about what cds you own, its whats in your ipod shuffle that matters.
One of the greatest concept albums made in my lifetime was the Afghan Whigs “Gentlemen.” The Whigs were always a cult band, and probably to this day, the ultimate cult band (although Dulli’s latest ensemble, “Twilight Singers” falls into the same category). Born during the grunge era, the band had too much of a motown-influenced sound to gain mainstream popularity. “Gentleman” got buried under albums like “Nevermind,” and “Ten,” which was too bad, because the album was pure genius. The ironic thing is that The Whigs were on the Sub Pop label early on. Anyway, they always remained too good for mainstream tastes, both their blessing and their curse.
During the nineties you were thrilled when you stumbled upon another Whigs fan, because there was a good chance you were the only one in your inner-circle of friends who liked them. Not that your friends had poor taste, but because for some reason, no one quite “got” the Whigs. This still baffles me and many others. Liking the Whigs was like being of a higher mind. And no one just casually liked them. You were usually obsessed with them. They got under your skin, in a good way.
I was introduced to Greg Dulli and his band during the summer of 1995. The prospects for that summer were looking pretty dim for a number reasons I won’t go into detail about. Basically, I was in a transitional phase in my life that required inner strength beyond belief. Everything was changing around me, including my relationships, and I felt alone. I should also mention that I was also completely broke, and that didn’t help the situation. Yet being so young at the time I maintained an optimistic outlook, believing that things had to get better and good things would come into my life, and just enjoying a sense of freedom on different levels. I think that is why I attracted the person I did into my life at the time.
I met Steve at the donut/coffee shop we worked at together. He worked in the back baking and I worked in the front, so we didn’t really see each other much. Every once in a while he would come out front and strike up little conversations about music here and there. One thing I loved about being that age is how when you first met someone one of the first questions asked was usually, “what kind of music do you like?” As you get older that question becomes less acceptable in early conversations, but it holds the same importance I think. It reveals a lot about a person. During breaks and smoking cigarettes out back the conversations about music got longer and longer. We discovered we lived very close to each other and he mentioned he should stop by my place one afternoon and drop off some “tapes” for me to listen to. Tapes were reaching the end of their lifespan by this time, but were still around. I told him great, stop by. I had a little crush on him.
Steve came by that afternoon after work and dropped off some of the most obscure music I had ever heard in my life. We sat around and talked. I learned some cool stuff about him. He was a drummer and had played in a locally popular ska-influenced rock band that recently had broken up. He attended a local college, but was planning on transferring to a prestigious music college in Boston. He had a quiet way about him and was somewhat intellectual-but in a cool way rather than a nerd way. There was something calming about his presence. He liked to talk about music and books. He had a twin sister. We ended up taking a walk to get a pizza. On our way to the pizza place Steve said he couldn’t stay much longer, because he had made plans with his girlfriend. My heart sunk for a minute. He talked about her a little and she sounded cool. She lived in Boston and went to art school, and was leaving to study art in Italy for a few weeks that summer. They had been together several years, so the relationship was most likely very solid.
Or so I thought.
It quickly became known that Steve would rather spend more time with me than with her.
We started hanging out all the time. We would go to see bands, swim at the nearby lake, go to the beach, take walks, hang out at the nearby amusement park, take pictures together, we hung out with his friends and twin sister, we’d go out to dinner at nice places, he turned 21 that July and he’d buy cheap booze like Mad Dog 20/20 that we would sneak into the park and drink and play hide and seek. Often we would just chill out and listen to music and talk, he played me the demo his old band made. He loved to introduce me bands I had never heard or loan me books by authors I had never read. Steve liked to make Indian food and it was such a treat, considering I couldn’t afford much beyond ramen noodles. Steve would make his coconut cream chicken while we drank some beers. We’d open the front door and blast Paul Weller from my small attic apartment where it was always no less than 110 degrees and sticky from the humidity. He had recently introduced me to Weller – the perfect summer music. I would share with him my own art. At the time I was into poetry, photography and sculpture. He was sincerely impressed, and that meant a lot to me at the time, it gave me confidence. Through all of this I never asked Steve where his relationship stood with his girlfriend. It seemed obvious in the way he talked about her that he wasn’t planning on ending their relationship. I didn’t even bother to ask the question, because I already knew the answer. Although once during a late night swim I asked him if he wasn’t with his girlfriend if he would go out with me. He answered with “yes, and would you go out with me?” The funny thing was that no, I didn’t want to go out with him. Even though he treated me so sweetly and kindly, and I really felt he cared about me, he was being unfaithful to his girlfriend. How could I trust someone like that? I couldn’t. Yet he was so special to me. We were so compatible. I replied with yes, because I wished the circumstances were different. I wished he wasn’t a dog. Still, he was great company and he made me forget that things were kinda shitty.
One afternoon there was a knock at the door. I opened it and Steve was standing there holding a small turtle. “I found him in the street and thought you might want him.” I didn’t really want a turtle, but I thought it was cute that he had “rescued” it and thought of me, so I took it in. He stayed to hang out and took a cassette out of his back pocket. The night before he was in Boston visiting his girlfriend and shopping at a used music store where he found a copy of the Afghan Whigs “Gentlemen” in the 2 dollar bargain bin. “I thought it was shame for such a great album to be in the bargain bin, so I thought I would get it for someone with good taste in music. I couldn’t understand why it was in there.” He then explained that it was a concept album. “It’s basically this guys story about how he can’t stop cheating on his girlfriend.” He asked me to put it on. We listened to the first side.
“And it don’t breath, and it don’t bleed it’s locked it’s jaw and now it’s swallowing. It’s in our heart, it’s in our head, it’s in our love baby, it’s in our bed.”
The music floored me. Each song flowed so perfectly into the next both musically and lyric wise. It was like one long dark confession of a criminal. Unlike most songs in popular music that either whine about being cheated on or are apologetic for unfaithfulness, singer Greg Dulli had no excuses for what he had done or for his addictions. He just wanted to confess. It was blatant, sensual, biting, and even scary. He was both the little boy and the devil. I never heard anything like it before in my life, and 12 years later, I still haven’t.
“tonight I go to hell, for what I’ve done to you. This ain’t about regret, it’s when I tell the truth.”
Here is the video of “Debonair” off of the album:
After listening to it I had a different perspective on Steve. A sympathy almost. It was demented and didn’t seem right. And what I was doing, was that right either? Did he want me to listen to this to help me understand what was going on his head? It was so twisted.
The time came when I would finally meet the “mysterious” Nikki, Steves girlfriend. Steve had bought tickets to Lollapalooza that summer, back when Lollapalooza was really the only major music festival in the US. Again, I thought that was cool of him to buy the tickets. I really couldn’t afford much beyond my rent and had to save the little extra I had to buy books for school in the Fall. He would be bringing his girlfriend, though.
I remember how nervous I was when I got up the morning of the big concert. I got up early and showered. I threw on cut-off shorts and my Lollapalooza shirt from when I went in 93. I finished the look off with my beat up black hightop converse all-stars, and wore my long dyed black hair down to show off the turquoise streak. I looked like the poster child for grunge, but hey, it was 1995. I looked outside. It was kind of dreary and looked like it might rain. I went to the closet and grabbed my red flannel off the floor that the turtle had been nestled in. He had escaped once again from the little set-up I arranged for him, and made his way into the walk-in closet that had no door. I tied the flannel around my waist and put the turtle back in his little artificial home. A little after 8am I could hear Steve’s footsteps coming up the stairs.
I didn’t say much to him beyond “Hi,” as we made our way down to his car. He said Nikki was in the car and was looking forward to meeting me. I was so nervous. I was both very curious about her and at the same time, never wanted to met her. Would I find out what made her so special? Would she be absolutely stunningly beautiful? Would she be ultra-hip? Would she hate me? Would she know? Would I feel hurt and sad for the day?
She was sitting in the front, crossed-legged in the seat with her shoes off, reading a book. She turned around and we introduced ourselves to each other. She was pretty in an average way. We didn’t say much the first few minutes of the drive. I asked her what she was reading. It was a book of poetry by Anne Sexton. She asked me if I liked her work. I wasn’t too familiar but told her I did. We talked about the bands we were looking forward to seeing and we both really wanted to see Courtney Love’s band “Hole.” Steve and her let off the vibe that they had been together forever. We went to pick up the former singer in Steve’s band, Jim. That guy was pretty entertaining and distracted me by making me laugh for the rest of the drive to the show with all his funny stories. At one point Steve turned up the classic 70’s song, “Brandy” by The Looking Glass and gave a look to to me in the backseat out of the corner of his eye.
At the show the four of us hung out as a group for a while. I remember Jim and Nikki wanted to get close to the stage for the Jesus Lizard. Steve and I hung back. We watched as they took their seats near the front of the stage. Steve then pulled me over to a somewhat secluded spot off to the side on the field. I sat back in his arms and we drowned into the distorted, muddy sounds of the Jesus Lizard.
Later on in the day Nikki and I grabbed front seats for Hole. While waiting for the band to come out we talked about all sorts of stuff. We liked most of the same bands and found out we had a lot in common. It was strange. I felt completely comfortable around her and she was really cool. At one point I remember her saying to me, “At first the way Steve talked about you I thought he had a thing for you, but now for some reason I don’t think that at all.” Wow. I just played dumb.
That night after dropping everyone off we hung out at my place and talked about how great the day was. Steve was going through my music and asked me how I was liking the Afghan Whigs tape. I told him I loved it, and to put it on.
Here is the “Gentlemen” video. Although it looks very 90’s, I think it’s one of the hottest, sexiest videos ever made.
“Jim really thought you were cool. You should go out with him. He doesn’t have a girlfriend,” Steve said. I told him I thought Jim was cool too, and very funny. Steve left me his number.
“summers kiss is over baby, over…”
Jim and I ended up hitting it off and started seeing each other which ended up pushing Steve out of the picture. From going out with him, I learned that Steve was notorious for cheating on Nikki and getting infatuated with other girls. He was pretty sure Nikki knew but chose to ignore it.
At the end of summer I went off to school. Steve helped me pack up all my stuff and we let the turtle go into the woods. I remember during the move I went with Steve to a pay phone, because Nikki had left a message at his house for him to call her. She was in town staying with her parents. I remember listening to them get into an argument because she wanted him to go to some Italian festival with her, but he was helping me move. It wasn’t a yelling argument, Steve wasn’t the type to raise his voice, but it was an argument nonetheless. He got off the phone and was like, “She has to be doing something at every moment, it gets on my nerves sometimes.” That was the only negative thing I ever heard him say about her.
After school started I barely saw Steve at all again. Our relationship just dissolved. Eventually we just fell out of touch with each other. Eventually Jim and I broke up. I ran into Steve again the next summer, as we were working at the same place again, but he seemed different. He and Nikki had broken up, due to his unfaithfulness. He was doing drugs, of the bad sort. We hung out together a couple of times, but he seemed very withdrawn and kind of depressed. I never saw him again after 1996, except I heard from someone he got heavily into drugs. That made me really sad. He has a special place in my heart, along with the “Gentlemen” album, and of course, The Afghan Whigs. The summer of 1995 will forever be remembered as the best summer of my life.