Marah and the Angels of Redemption

I went to see my favorite band play last Friday night. On Saturday, I rode my bike through the Prospect Park trails and was literally still dancing, Angels of Destruction in my earbuds, as I rode. I probably looked like a dick but I don’t care. Anyway, I’m still buzzing from the show. That’s partly because now that I’m sober I get a way more intense and lasting buzz off extraordinary moments in real life. Everything seems new somehow. When I was drinking, every day was groundhog day. With alcohol, nothing ever fucking changes. Sobriety is painful, but at least every moment is unique. Even, maybe especially, when it kind of rhymes with other times.

Reading somewhere a couple of years ago that Dave — one of the brothers who together are Marah — quit drinking, was a pretty big inspiration to me. That’s putting it somewhat mildly. Even when I was drinking, Dave headed up the little list I kept quietly in my head of people who don’t drink but who I still thought were cool. Dave’s the coolest one of all of them; drinking Coke onstage he makes sobriety look like the hardcore rock and roll hell and back badass fucking beast that it is. Thanks to Dave, I see being sober as even more rock and roll than I used to tell myself being a drunk was. Anyway, these are the kind of things that people who are trying to stay off alcohol think about.

So back to the buzz. I’ve always thought that there was no such thing as good taste or bad taste in music. There is only resonance. Waves, like sound waves, that resonate. People and music that go together. That rhyme. It’s like when you can hear what’s playing in someone’s headphones and it just totally matches them. Or like the vibe between a band and their longtime hardcore fans. It’s a coming together of energies; the waves complement each other, and the fans surf the band and the band surfs the fans and everything just feels alright. This is a resonance built of rhymes in time and space; moments and places that feel like home.

Marah is animated by the very texture of my home town. What it smells like, what it feels like to live there. The songs make art of the grubby punk ass streets of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia that has a bad attitude (that’s pronounced at-eee-tood). Yo let’s cut the crap and hook up later on tonight, that Philly. It sounds like my neighborhood, Roxborough, where my dad grew up too. But theirs was actually Christian street and Point Breeze, near the docks. Basically, Rocky’s route through the city all the way to the steps of the Art Museum. He made it up top but the bourgie folks didn’t want his statue there, marring all that classical symmetry with junky ass pop culture, so they stuck him at the Spectrum. He wouldn’t stay, though. He wanted back and the compromise was to put him at the bottom of the steps. Very Philly. The bottom of the steps, looking out. Reaching the top is possible, but it’s going to fucking kick your ass, kid. And later on the people in charge will decide that you didn’t belong there anyway. Keep those arms up, though.

I love Philadelphia so much that I literally yearn for it. Which is so stupid because I am there all the time. I don’t actually remember why I ever left. Probably something about the citywide inferiority complex about New York — the idea that people with dreams, leave. Stupid. I moved out but still managed to pass up a lot of great opportunities, fuck up a lot of good chances, anyway. I think that might be Marah’s story too (but that part of their story is not mine to tell). But the band’s got a second wind now. Rocky didn’t win until the second movie anyway. Rocky II, which I am so proud to say I was in, running with the Italian Stallion and all the other public school kids who got the day off that day, down the parkway, toward the steps. At one point, I am the kid closest to Rocky. I am running my fastest, first in line, but in an instant I’m overtaken and lost in the crowd. That’s my flash of glory. The Rocky theme playing in the background, me running my fastest and for a moment, it was fast enough.

Still, I left, moved to Brooklyn when there was still affordable housing to be had. Years after I did, the band moved there too, to my neighborhood. They made Angels of Destruction in an amazing studio, with our friend Hugh, the coolest cat in Brooklyn. The old Excello studio is getting torn down now as we speak. To make room for shiny condos for rich assholes, the kind of people who have no shame at all when they use corporate speak really loud on the subway. I miss the old Williamsburg, a lot like South Philly in a way. Old Italian folks and young punks. Now both are colonized by yuppies and it’s gross. Anyway, I felt some kind of resonance when the band moved to Williamsburg from Philly, just like I had done. Maybe I was on a parallel path with them, and since they were about to make it big, maybe so was I.

It was not to be. They broke up after they put out Angels of Destruction the first time. And before that, the record that was supposed to put them over the top, bombed. In an otherwise rave review of the band, Rolling Stone recently called the Kids in Philly follow up, Float Away with the Friday Night Gods,  a “fan-alienating disaster.” I totally disagree. It’s a great fucking record. It did a groovy pop thing on the band’s already sweet tunes, and it did fit, and it sounded cool as shit as far as I’m concerned. The lyrics are depressing but the beats and riffs make you dance: very British, in the good way. All of the streets are lonely, all of the faces are cold. They recorded it in England, and Oasis was involved somehow as I remember. I dig Oasis. But I also really dig music that rhymes with a place. And the band didn’t go to England without bringing something back, into their music. Plus they made a couple more kickass records after that one too.

When I was floating away with the Friday night gods at Bowery Ballroom last week, Dave asked quietly from the stage at one point, what songs do you guys want to hear. I called out, “Love Train” because at the Tin Angel once Serge took the harmonica and danced through the crowd, and because it’s the “Philadelphia Sound,” the sound of Broad Street all dressed up to go out, and because I love that song. But who the hell calls out a cover when one of the greatest rock songwriters of all time asks what you want to hear? When the band just got back together and is playing tracks off a rereleased album? Loser. Happily, Serge grabbed his harp and got down in the crowd later anyway, playing and dancing, and then Dave and Christine came down too, and they played acoustic, with the amazed and overjoyed crowd all around them singing along, for a couple of songs. A better writer than me could put words on that moment. It was really beyond.

Resonances move through time as well as space. When you’ve been loving a band for sixteen years, it turns into a whole life thing. For me, Marah rhymes with my adult life. This whole pathos of the passing of time is heavy but it’s a gift. You feel temporal resonances that you would have missed when you were young. And it’s part of what makes the experience of seeing Marah play now, so intense. They are not the same band they were when they first played that showcase at the Mercury Lounge all those years ago. (They’re better). The band feels this time stuff too — they got back together for a 15 year anniversary rerelease of Kids in Philly, they are revisiting their past with the rerelease of Angels. And it’s all on vinyl so you have to take your time with the records, slow down, open em up, chill out and fucking listen.

Time’s a bitch too though. As you get older, it’s disappointing that not all things are possible any more. Your fuck ups and shortcomings really have closed off some options. Some of my dreams are just going to stay dreams. And although I always fully expect that Marah has got to be on the verge of becoming the most massively adored iconic rock band ever, just around the corner, maybe they feel that heavy part too. The thing is, when that wide openness changes, it makes what is happening in front of you, right here, right now, in this very time and this exact place, all the more precious. So precious you can’t even stand it. The sound of the show was the band’s commitment to every single moment of it. That’s what matters. It’s like what Joey says at the end of The Commitments, after they break up — “The success of the band was irrelevant. Sure we could have been famous… and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.” Or even better, like what Dave said from the stage the other night: “the world is a fucked up place… so I’ve decided that if you have a great rock and roll band you may as well play.”

Amazing the words that fall from that dude’s lips, easy as the sweat falls from his hair and his face onstage, giving every fucking thing he’s got to the song, the lyric, the riff, the moment, like it’s his last act on earth. Funny, spot on, true. Like when, after the show, a drunken adoring fan, sloppy and silly but pure somehow, came up to Dave and started freaking out over him. Dave goes, real monotone, jaded but with kindness: “dude, you remind me of every person I’ve ever known.”

I know he said this because I was standing near him, listening, sidling up, after the show was over and everyone went outside to smoke. Some moments in the continuum of time and space have more intense contents than others, they’ve concentrated time, place, resonance, your whole fucking life, all of it, somehow, in one moment in one particular place. Bowery Ballroom, New York City. I got to talk to my sober rock idol, and of course I just went on and on about how much I loved the band like a goddamn moron. I’ve been similarly idiotic other times I’ve met him — introducing myself to him on Bedford ave, him looking strung out, me with a stroller, the whole thing awkward as fuck. Or like when I was the only fan attending an interview at Tower records in downtown Manhattan, the band in a glass booth with the great Vin Scelsa, me probably looking like some kind of stalker in a long black leather coat, standing there, watching, thinking, yeah this band rocks but what the hell is going on with my life that I am standing here right now?

Always I’ve been a geek around these guys, and this time was no different. (When I met the shining light that is Serge, I could only say “you guys are fucking insane” over and over again.) So I told Dave how I had tickets to their reunion show in philly and I couldn’t go and I also had tickets to the stone pony and then I couldn’t go to that either and you guys are my favorite band of all time and I’m just so happy you came to new york and bowery ballroom is the greatest place to see a show and this was the greatest show of all time and I just want to really thank you guys so much for getting back together and playing new york city and god knows what other stupid shit tumbled out of my mouth. Dave just gave me kind of a heavy lidded look and said, “it’s kind of like it all happened for you.” Maybe he was making fun of me. But hey, maybe that whole dot in the space time fabric did happen for me. I mean, for all we know, we’re dreaming.


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