~ Friday, September 19, 2003 ~
In honor of They Might Be Giant's Other Thing, the show I'm going to see at Joe's Pub on Sunday, this is a TMBG post. Those of you who are sick of hearing me talk about them can consider yourself warned.
A few days ago, I went to Joe Franklin's Memory Lane restaurant for dinner and a show of sorts. Apparently, Mr. Franklin is a very well-known and well-loved (and well-preserved, and well-off--the restaurant is, I believe, across the street from his studios) entertainer who has, or had, a TV show or something. I confess to being unclear on the details, which I could easily cull from Google if I were interested. Anyway, Mr. Franklin was doing a radio broadcast with some musical guests, in which he chatted with them a little and had them play a song, and then repeated the cycle two or three times before moving on to the next guest. There may have been some occasion for this.
What drew me to it was that the first guests of the evening were Messrs. Flansburgh and Linnell of They Might Be Giants, and an e-mail from Flansburgh announcing the event invited locals to come and listen. It also said the restaurant had jello. I decided I'd go over after classes and have dinner or dessert or something at the restaurant while eavesdropping on the broadcast. My friend Rob very kindly agreed to go, too.
"Rob, did you see the e-mail announcement about that radio broadcast on Tuesday night?"
"Yeah, I saw it...I don't really think I'll go. I was surprised Flans even sent the e-mail out inviting the fans to come. They'll be working, you know? They probably don't want people bothering them. Besides, I doubt we'll be able to hear things adequately...there won't be much of an amplification system, since they're just recording it for radio."
"Oh. Well, I was thinking I'd like to go."
"Oh, if *you're* going, then..."
Rob, you see, is such a jaded fan (prior to this he'd attended more than two hundred live shows, and yes, I'm serious) that he only bothers to attend the best shows, unless I'm going. (Just kidding, Rob.) Actually, he ended up arriving nearly two hours before the broadcast (I didn't get there till 7:40ish; the broadcast was scheduled to begin at 8:30) and snagging the best table the restaurant had to offer. That turned out to be a table for four, which was fine because we ended up filling the other two spots with two other fans, one of whom said he knew Rob from other concerts. So he said, but I know better. I know they actually exchanged, upon the moment their eyes met, and with perfectly orchestrated subtlety, the ancient and secret TMBG Fan Sign and Countersign. I.e., they both set up an array of recording devices on their tables before even acknowledging the existence of a menu, and they goggled shamelessly as Dan Miller stood talking on his cellular phone outside the restaurant.
By the time I arrived, the gents of the hour were already situated on their bannistered daïs, preparing for the broadcast. This startled me a little, in the way it startles you when an actor breaks the fourth wall, only more so--suddenly, they can see and hear and react to you, and your world is the cat that has been turned inside out because someone reached in through the mouth and grabbed the tail and yanked, and once your cat is inside out, ANYTHING is possible--but then I remembered how to breathe again and I sat down on the squishy bench seat next to Rob and across from Mr. Countersign, directly facing and about 20 feet removed from the two reasons why we were there, both of whom looked quite happy and excited, though understandably focused. I bounced with restraint. Mr. Linnell had a smallish white accordion, and Mr. Flansburgh had an equally miniature acoustic guitar, both of which were perfectly audible. That was fortunate, although it meant we didn't ever test out Rob's clever electronic preparation known as a portable wireless radio, which would have, if necessary, allowed us to pick up the broadcast ourselves and listen to it on our headsets. The wonders of modern technology. Someday, they say, there might even be automatic computing machines weighing as little as a ton and a half.
Shortly after I arrived, the aforementioned Reasons finished their preparatories and left, presumably to have dinner somewhere else. It was then I discovered that I was in a restaurant. There was some interesting photomemorabilia on the walls, and there were people around my table and a menu in front of me. I opened it.
The menu had some interesting options and a highly notable right column, by which I mean it was notable in its highness. Besides, even though I was hungry when I came in, I couldn't seem to remember what hunger felt like. Still, I had to order something. I looked for the jello, which I don't think I've had since Yost, or perhaps FloMo, but there was none to be had. Not even on the dessert menu. I asked. Do you know what it's like to decide you shall have jello and then be denied? Life in New York is rough sometimes.
After about 10 minutes of failing to be appetized by any of the entrees, I discovered a more interesting set of choices on the left side of the menu, appropriately titled "Appetizers". Appetizer. More Appetizement. I ordered soup made with Freedom Onions, and asked the waitress if I could please have that as dinner, i.e. that I wanted it to make its appearance on the table at the same time as the entrées my tablemates were ordering, rather than during the appetizer phase. She seemed to think I was worried about whether or not I would find the soup to be sufficiently filling as a dinner, and it took several minutes to convey my lack of concern over being sufficiently fed and my actual concern over the timing of the dish's entrance. Once that was resolved, I went to the bathroom to check my hair. Sometimes, I'm a girl.
It was around this point that Rob pointed out the gent sitting alone at a nearby table wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the tetragrammaton of the hour, and since we had a vacant chair, I thought he might like to join us. I asked him. He accepted. "Ah 'ssume y'all are fayans?" he queried, and in thus requesting information about us, managed to give away a great deal about himself. Rob had fun making a caricature of his own pronounced Noo Yawk accent (what else would an accent be other than pronounced, she wondered) while chatting with our noo freyand.
At some point, Reason reentered the restaurant, in the form of the two gents responsible for the tetragrammaton. They hung out at the bar or something until it was time to begin, but my back was to that portion of the restaurant and the back of my squishy/bouncy bench seat was high and opaque, so I missed the trumpet blasts, alas. [Trumpets on the blast, alas/Trumpets on the blast, alas/Trumpets on the blast, look out, Alice?]
Soon after the Reasons had situated themselves in their seats and behind their microphones, I realized a few brave people were approaching the daïs and peeking over the bannister to request tokens of interaction, both spoken and written, and having some success. Which is to say, they seemed to walk away satisfied and the providers of said tokens hadn't stopped smiling. I said something about wishing I'd the bravery to do as much, and Rob very kindly offered to do as much for me and bring back the spoils, in the form of an autograph, which was considerate, but would have entirely defeated the purpose of having an autograph, because it's not the signature but the experience from which the signature is born that is of value. There had to be some sort of interaction linked to the autograph which I could gleefully recall if it were to mean anything to me. On top of that, if I was going to approach the daïs, I had to do it quickly, because it was almost airtime and after that there would likely have been no hope. Go, do it now, before it's too late, Rob urged. Before I could change my mind, I pulled the 8-page transcription of Metal Detector I was working on out from the rest of the manuscript pad (I'd thought, that morning before leaving for Drisha, that I might want manuscript paper to jot down new songs I might hear, and so brought the whole stack) and grabbing the ludicrous pink Hello Kitty pen I bought at the airport by mistake when I needed a pencil, I walked up to Reason #L, who was sitting closer to the rest of the restaurant and therefore was more accessible.
He was talking to his partner or something, and had his head turned away. "Excuse me, Mr. Linnell?"
He turned. He peered over the bannister. He was looking at me. He looked just like his pictures, only more three-dimensional, and closer. Was he still smiling? Yes. Good. But what should I say? Why didn't I think about this earlier? Like a kindergartener who'd just been called on and forgotten why she'd raised her hand in the first place, I dropped my eyes, awkward and mute.
I still had his attention, somehow. I remembered how to speak. I have no idea what I said, though, because I wasn't listening. Something like:
"So...I've been working on trying to make a transcription of Metal Detector, and I was wondering..." but thankfully, as I showed him the small sheaf of papers, he relieved me of the need to use English by interrupting,
"Oh, and you want me to check it for you and see if it's right?"
"Well...it's not really finished, actually, and since I wasn't really sure how to notate parts of it, and since it's kind of messy, I was wondering if you could just...(suddenly I realized how utterly pointless my request was)...write your name on it. Or something."
He leafed through the pages for a moment, and then said, "I don't see the beginning."
Horns blared directly into my ears. "Oh...I must have left the first page in my bag. I could go get it...?"
"No, it's okay. Here's the last page. What's your name?"
My name. I could do that. "Miriam."
The pen hovered over the page for a moment, motionless. "How do you spell that?"
"With two 'm's, I said automatically, determined that he wouldn't spell it 'Mirian', which often happens, and which irks me. Then it occurred to me that maybe he was wondering about the vowels. After all, the second most common error is to write 'Mariam', so I added, "and two 'i's." Then just for the sake of completeness, I added, "And one 'r', and one 'a'."
He blinked. "Uh...just...spell it out," he said.
He wrote something while I bounced to the music that was playing. I think it was one of the earlier Beatles songs, like Love Me Do, or some imitation of that. It seemed like it took him a long time to write, which pleasantly surprised me, but I think it may have just been because I was running on 78, and John Linnell's only going on 45.
"Here you go," he said as he handed it back to me.
"Thanks very much." You're forgetting something. Come on. Wish him well. "h-Have a good show."
"Thanks." Did he really smile at me?
I exploded back to the table, and presented the signed specimen to my tablemates, reading it for the first time myself. I noticed it was written in all capital letters, which for some reason seemed like a surprising choice. Rob said he was surprised that it had more than just the name--that it had an actual message, such as it was--but I attribute that to the lack of a hurry that he was in and the nonexistence of other desperate fans waiting for their turn. Then I checked my manuscript pad for page one. Of course it was there, right on top. It irked me that I didn't bring it up with me, because the first page is the one I'd worked on the most, notating the various instrumental tracks, the roman numerals for the chords, and the first modulation. On the other hand, there's practically no empty space there, so he wouldn't have been able to write much on it anyway.
I looked down at the bowl of freedom onion soup which had arrived at the table and discovered that any freedom onions that may have once been there were being very successfully suffocated by oppression cheese. Anyway, I still wasn't hungry. I drank some water instead and discovered that my hand was trembling. I also couldn't conquer the idiotic grin that had hung itself upon my face, not that I was trying very hard. You would think this would have been the topic of heated analysis and dissection for the next two minutes at least, but after the initial moment of thrusting the paper in everyone's face and exulting, "Read this!!" I just sort of leaned back against the bench and allowed myself to glaze over.
The show started soon after that, which further quieted conversation. If you want to read about the show, Rob wrote a very thorough description on alt.music.tmbg, so I don't think I'll repeat it here. I remember being delighted at how tight the vocal harmonies for Istanbul (the first song) sounded, and how much fun it was to watch them alternate singing lines during the relevant parts of that song. We made our own confetti shower for the next song, James K. Polk, but immediately after throwing it into the air at the appropriate moment, I felt stupid, because it landed on the floor and picking up confetti is so very anticlimactic. I was disappointed when I found out that the third song, Reprehensible, wasn't going to be played live, after I was sure Mr. Franklin announced that it would be. I suppose if I'd stopped to think about it, I would have realized that Reprehensible is impossible to play live when the only instruments available are an accordion, a guitar, a keyboard (operated by Dan Miller, I think--I couldn't really see) and a wooden egg-shaped maraca. Then they took a break or something, after which Robin Goldwasser approached the daïs to introduce "In the Middle", which she sang accompanied by Mr. Linnell on the accordion. Before she sang, they quizzed her a little, somehow managing to avoid mentioning her marriage to Mr. Flansburgh. I wonder why. They did, however, ask Mr. Flansburgh how he met her, and he explained that it was on a subway platform, and that she was holding a ukulele at the time, which made me happy. I definitely listen to music differently when I'm watching it being produced. The key change from A to B-flat seemed much more interesting and satisfying than it does on the CD, perhaps because Mr. Linnell seemed so interested in it as he played it. The last song, "Bed, Bed, Bed," delighted me too, and I tried to be quiet and somewhat dignified (it was a restaurant, after all) while I sang and bounced along.
There were some interesting things that Mr. Franklin said (though he seemed to be reading from a script for much of the time), and some clever remarks that Messrs. Linnell and Flansburgh made, all of which will be available on Clock Radio (I think) pretty soon, so I won't bother trying to recall them here.
However, I will record what Mr. Linnell wrote. It's on the only empty area, the three unused staves at the bottom of page 8. It says, "HEY MIRIAM,/ I CAN'T TELL IF/ THIS IS HOW IT GOES./ GOOD LUCK!/ JOHN L.
It means nothing. It means everything.
It means nothing.
Current Music: Little tiny bits of Metal Detector, over and over again. The pause button and I are bonding.
addendum: Rob and Mr. Countersign secretly took this picture while I wasn't looking. Shame on them. :)
~ prattled by Miriam at 7:08 p.m. [+]
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