in which our reluctant heroine contemplates deep and abiding friendships and recognizes that all things are political with the exception of actual politics
On the day the second George Bush was elected for the first time, Damon Moss had bummed a cigarette off me and observed wryly, “that guy hasn’t even set foot in office and already I’m a hobo”. Early on during the same administration he threw a flower themed party to warm his new digs on Flower Street. Patrick attended in a floral print skirt, I covered myself in rose-water and the party rolled forward the way all of Damon’s parties did back then, a perfect blend of humorous conversation, sparkling personalities and sangria. On the way out Patrick and I convinced Jesús Garcia, who was heading for the bus stop, to ride home with us. I said “Come on! We’ll both sit in the back like rich people and pretend Patrick is our fancy driver”. He passed up a disc and asked him to play track 8.
Conor Oberst’s voice is a temper tantrum of a thing, I learned. It warbles and frets and sounds mostly frail. It seems to appeal primarily to females under the age of 22, like tiny pants and long bangs and striped crew neck sweaters with 3-quarter length sleeves. In fact, the first time I saw Bright Eyes perform I actually tripped over Oberst wearing a striped crew neck sweater with 3-quarter length sleeves. He was so little, half-hidden and crouched down in the shadows along a wall and I thought “somebody needs to give that girl a sandwich”. I felt self-conscious enjoying his music as much as I did. But there’s a sort of brilliance in his ever-changing cacophony of musician friends and by then I’d realized that many Bright Eyes songs contain these moments in which they simultaneously recognize and reach the fullness of their potential. It was a serendipitous stroke of cosmic symmetry that my friendship with Jesús arrived at its own such moment while I was with him listening to “Kathy with a K’s Song” arrive at its.
In the back seat Jesús held both of my hands and pressed his forehead into my cheek. My heart stuttered with happiness as the road and the song and the car and all of us in the car rolled quietly forward until he said something like “here it comes” and this sparse, acoustic love song seemed to explode into drums and cymbals and something synthesized and amped and so much yelling that it blew the top off my heart. Jesús was drunk and sentimental and overwhelming, but something in me rose up in desire to drag him safely to a place of well-being and I recognized in him the same quality. We were mirror images of our good will towards one another. Jesús Garcia was my comrade.
On the day after the second George Bush was elected for the first time, Jesús had said, “Punk rock is going to make a huge comeback”. I loved the simple, bright-sided optimism of that observation. Later, after the twin towers collapsed beneath the weight of all that history and rage, after we found ourselves at war in Iraq and had begun to feel much less optimistic, Jesús took me to Nita’s Hideaway to see Bright Eyes play. Just before what would be their final encore he yelled “wouldn’t it be great?” and I knew what he meant. But what were the chances? That little guy was pretty prolific with an arsenal full of unplayed songs to choose from. Still, when the band walked back on Conor Oberst said “I’m going to do a song…it’s a love song. Because we all gotta love each other, ’cause we have an asshole for a president and we’re all gonna die”, and launched, as a sort of nod to those serendipitous strokes of cosmic symmetry, into “Kathy with a K’s Song”. The crowd exploded upon hearing Bush vilified. But we were perfectly still. Pondering, I suppose, how the very best songs of protest really are the love songs and how, before you can stand in solidarity, you have to choose your friends.