Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Don't Take It Personally

Artists: Butterglory; Matt Suggs
Albums: Crumble; Downed; Are You Building A Temple in Heaven?; Rat Tat Tat (BG). Golden Days Before They End (MS)
Source: Bought new (Crumble, Temple, Rat); bought used (Downed); promo (Golden Days)

It's almost always a bad idea to meet your heroes, because they'll inevitably disappoint you. Not because you idolized people who aren't worthy of the adulation; it's because heroes function as broad ideas, and it's a crash when they turn out to just be people. Just ask Colin Powell.

There's a kind of analogue when it comes to meeting people who make music that means something to you. It's easy to forget that making art is a kind of distilling process; the final product can create the illusion that the artist thinks/feels just like you do, but it's more likely that there's a starch barrier between the feelings embedded in the art and the actual person of the artist. In other words, the process of making the music can tease the deeper truth out of someone who is not always consciously connected to every nuance of it.

But what does all of this high-minded theorizin' have to do with Butterglory? When they started putting their scrappy little homemade pop-rock nuggets out on vinyl in the mid-90s (a series of singles collected on thebuzzily great Downed), it sounded like there was an entire level of artifice or two missing. The tunes on the full-length Crumble were a mix of cheap studio and cheaper 4-track recordings, but all of them were audibly touched by the hands of real people, an ordinary Joe & Josephine who had the same kind of sounds and thoughts and such whirling around in their heads that I did.

That they were able to convert those sounds into something I (and others) wanted to hear and buy and treasure made them just a little heroic...but not so much that they seemed untouchable. Singer/guitarist MattSuggs had glasses and clothes and ideas that seemed just like mine, which meant the tether connecting me to the music was short indeed.

Lee felt the same way. The slim booklet in the Crumble CD had a mailing address in it (not a PO Box like most bands had, but a real street addy in Visalia, CA!) and the invitation, "Write us." So he did.

And Debby Vander Wall, the drummer, wrote back. Lee wrote again. She wrote back.

Now, she and Suggs were an item, so this was really just music-driven pen-pallery, nothing more. Still, this bore out the feeling of a real human connection with Butterglory's music, and even as the latter albums started sounding slicker (a relative term here) and built by a full crew of band members, something as simple as knowing that the drummer kept up a friendlycorrespondence with my buddy made it even more fun to hear.

And then it happened: the band was coming to Philadelphia for a gig at Silk City and needed a place to crash. Lee offered my little South Philly trinity apartment (he didn't have to ask - he knew I'd be game). Soon it was set thatButterglory was going to rock us and then we'd hang out and now we were friends and wasn't this gonna be awesome?

Lee lugged an air mattress in from his mom's place in rural PA; JP came down from NYC and we bought a case or two of beer; everything was set. We went to the show, and the band was nothing short of delightful (not to mention the great sets by apre- Aeroplane Neutral Milk Hotel and the foxily hypnotic Odes). Then JP and I went back to my place to set things up and Lee would direct theButterglory van to the right place. Sweet!

No one reading this far has been fooled by the build-up...an hour and change later, Lee showed up solo. He'd had a drink with the band at the bar, during which they'd gotten a better offer: a suburban spot to park the equipment-filled van, and real beds to sleep in. So now we had a fridge full of food, more bottles ofYeungling than 3 guys really needed for a night, and a heaping portion of blown expectations.

And the moral is...well, it's kind of obvious and not really so profound. I still love listening to Butterglory (and also like Suggs' solo debut, though I can't claim to be a fan of his later work), but even though I'm smiling when the xylophone pops up during "She's Got theAkshun" I can't help thinking about how the actual people in this band disappointed me on a personal level.

I mean, I know they did the right thing, but that doesn't mean it didn't kill my Butterglory buzz in a deep way. I hadn't even really met them, either, but the result was the same: Butterglory changed from The Band That Loved Me to just a band I loved. Which was what they had been from the start, of course, but that's a kind of reality check that no one wants to get from their heroes.

SISOSIG? Fortunately, the music Butterglory made during its criminally short tenure didn't lose much luster over the Pen-Pal Incident. From the crackling sugar-rush of the singles (all of which I have on vinyl, too!) to theFeelies-ish sound they'd grown into by Rat Tat Tat, it's all pure joy. This is a band destined to be almost entirely forgotten in the long run, but that short-tether connection I felt to their music is likely to keep them firmly lodged in my noggin' for as long as I can imagine.

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