Saturday, February 28, 2015

Left to My Own Devices

It's been a day for the unexpected.

Driving out to the northern neck to visit my parents, I had no idea it would begin snowing, swirling all around the cars and on the road, much like sand does on a beach road after a storm.

Driving over the Rappahannock, I saw a frozen river below me, great chunks of snow and ice dotting the surface.

But as I always do when crossing a bridge, I had the window down to smell the wet air (or what a watery death smells like, I can'rt decide) while inside the car the Pet Shop Boys' "Being Boring" was blasting.With not a single boat on the river, no one but me heard.

I left Mom and Dad's in enough time to get home and ready for my girl date tonight, only to find a phone message awaiting me (I know, how old school, right?) from my friend canceling our plans because she'd been down with that stomach bug everyone's getting all day (no doubt picked up at the bar where she works).

Hadn't seen that coming.

So instead of our intended restaurant and bar crawl until the wee hours, I decided on the documentary screening at Black Iris Gallery of "Records Collecting Dust" about the origins and holy grails of vinyl collecting.

Arriving at Black Iris just as three guys did, we found the door locked. What the...? From inside, Steady Sounds's owner gestured for us to come back in 15 minutes.

Good thing I only live three blocks away.

On my return, I found the doors open and plenty of familiar faces in the chairs. Chatting with a WRIR DJ, we lamented how you can never believe a starting time on a Facebook event invitation. This one had said the showing began at 8 p.m., so we'd both rushed over only to find it really began at 8:30.

Can we have some truth in inviting standards, please?

The film's producer had planned to attend but yesterday's snow had thwarted that, so we got right down to the film which began with a host of record collectors recalling the first album they owned, typically bought when they were in elementary school.

Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Pendulum." The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour." Grand Funk Railroad's "An American Band." Kiss' "Alive."

Several of the interviewees said that while their parents had been music lovers, their taste had run more to "hippie" music, so once these guys began bringing home hard rock and metal, a musical line in the sand had been drawn between generations.

Apparently no Mom was supportive of her son listening to Iron Maiden.

I could relate when one guy said he'd play a favorite 45 for fifty times in a row. No one who had 45s hasn't been guilty of that.

Another recalled his awe when he first heard Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. "You can do that and put it on a record? That blew me away," was his takeaway.

Several mentioned the thrill and uncertainty of taking a chance buying an album without knowing the band or anything about the record. That's a distinct thrill few millennials could even imagine in a music world so saturated by hype.

Everyone of a certain age related to the guy who said that he still had all his really good record finds, "Except all the really good stuff my ex-girlfriends stole." I know I lost more than a few great albums to breakups and poorly separated record collections.

One guy had a fascinating collection of civil rights-related records, stuff by Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Bobby Seale and even Aretha's preacher father, Reverend C.L. Franklin. Who knew activists made albums?

It was too bad the producer hadn't made it because there could have been some terrific post-screening discussion had he been there.

The documentary had been unexpectedly compelling. When a friend called not long before I left to see it, I'd shared what I was going to see.

He was amazed. "You mean record collecting has already gone out of style and come back in enough that it's worthy of a documentary?" I could just imagine him shaking his head through the telephone line and he's got one of the biggest and best record collections I know (all original, of course).

Walking out of Black Iris, the filmmaker I'd had dinner with last week asked where I was off to, assuming correctly that my night wasn't over. My second stop was Savory Grain to see Shinola Brown play.

I had no idea about this band beyond that I knew the sax player and the invitation had indicated new and old soul music was their metier. It sounded plenty good to me.

Inside, I snagged a bar stool only to hear my name called and spot a friend at my side. He'd just come from seeing "5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche" at Richmond Triangle Players and was having a post-play drink with a friend.

According to him, I had to join them.

This was a surprise. I certainly hadn't expected company, just music. But his friend was delightful, they had stools right in front of the band and why the hell not?

The funny part is, I'd just invoked his name last night when talking to a friend about renting out her house during the bike race. I knew he'd done it and told her to talk to him. It was as if I'd conjured him up.

He and his friend told me about the play, about how he'd been called up on stage to eat quiche and how much fun he'd had. I heard about his recent engagement and how he worries people will think they're moving too quickly. I learned that Savory Grain is his neighborhood bar, his go-to place because he can walk home.

At one point, I ran my hand through my hair and both he and his friend reached over and did the same to me repeatedly. "I love your hair. It's so '80s," she raved. Exactly what I'm shooting for - Pet Shop Boys-era hair.

Shinola Brown turned out to be a scaled down version of the Hi Steps, a favorite local R & B cover band I've seen numerous times. With just five members, they took on songs as diverse as "You Really Got a Hold On Me" and "Something," all well-executed due to the guitarist and drummer both having great voices.

My friend pointed out that he'd made the draperies framing the alcove where the band was playing. His friend pointed out that she was the one who'd taught him to sew. I volunteered that I sew and we marveled at being three people who sew in a 21st century world where so few do.

There wound up being other friends at the bar. The bartender I know from storytelling and the trumpet player and his wife I'd just seen at the VCU game and Mardi Gras show. For someone who'd expected to listen to soul music alone, it had turned into a surprisingly social evening.

Late in, one of the bartender shrugged on a blazer and paused in front of us. "Where do you think you're going?" my friend's friend asked between seat dancing to Otis Redding.

"Home to f*ck my wife and go to sleep," he replied matter-of-factly.

"In that velveteen jacket?" she asked, invoking her fabric knowledge. The hysterical part of that is I'd just been thinking how much his blazer reminded me of one I'd sewn for my boyfriend back in college, which had been burgundy velveteen.

"Velveteen?" he yelled, laughing loudly, clapping his hands in delight and clearly having no idea that velveteen blazers were a thing.

Sure were. Just like record collections made up of bands you took a chance on. Endlessly picking up the needle and dropping it back on the same song.

And we were never holding back or worried that 
time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
You could always rely on a friend
Cause we were never being boring
We were never being bored

And I'm not saying he stole it, but when my relationship ended with that velveteen blazer-wearing boyfriend, my copy of Badfinger's "No Dice" disappeared right along with him.

Talk about unexpected, you could do that? That blew me away.

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