May 31, 2022, Seattle, Paramount Theater
My favorite band is on the road and I’m wearing a mask and walking with them. I’ve been beaten by the world a bit over the past few years – maybe the same amount as anyone, but it’s a lot. I need to get out of here. Like the saddest, oldest band in the world, I’m following Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian down the west coast of America.
I started out in Seattle, where I live. My older children also came along and this felt just right, as the band’s presence in my life helped map directly to my motherhood. I discovered them when my first child was a baby. The vocals of lead singer, Stuart Murdoch, which accompanied me for more than two decades, rang out as I drove my VW truck (the little kids) to school, then my Prius (the kids) medium-sized children), then a reasonable Mazda (teenagers).
Or should I say “lisp”. If you know anything about Belle and Sebastian, you know they’re using twees and, at times, the singer’s lisp. That’s what will be on their graves: TWEE LISPERS. As someone who grew up in the bitter smell of punk rock, I don’t see myself ending up here. But Belle and Sebastian were my adult love of great music, and as the years go by, I believe I’m lucky to be in love with anything. I don’t understand exactly why I love them, but I do.
I’ve seen them so many times that I know exactly where I have to stand: on the rails, on the right side of the stage, because that’s the direction Stuart faces when he plays the piano.
At Paramount, the kids and I lined up, the stage to the right, and the band gathered outside. There’s a lot of them: seven in the band, plus a handful of local musicians that they add to each stop. They sound great, but there are unusual notes: Sarah Martin, the violinist, has been associated with Covid. And they don’t do their traditional rave-up party with “The Boy With the Arab Strap,” as the audience dances on stage with them. They are all here, my secret friends, my superheroes, but I feel a little cut off from the experience. My eyes wandered around the crowded theater, looking for people without masks who could expose me and my children to the virus.
I focus on my own fear, my own story. I am here, but not quite here.
June 1, 2022, Portland Theatre, Roseland
Leaving I-5 the next morning, I had some time to reflect, not necessarily a welcome situation. Reflection is a young woman’s game – it tends to be better when you don’t have so much to reflect on About. And I have a lot of things: For the past two years, my very long marriage has ended (happily, but still), I have sold the family home, I have taken care of my dear father Died in the middle of a hospital war. These are the things I think about, or try not to think about, when I drive on a familiar highway.
In Portland, I’m meeting my boyfriend – a foreign word for me, someone who’s been married for over 20 years. He was a songwriter who occasionally mocked me about my love of B&S. He wants to go see some show, but I’m a bit worried that he might not get it, whatever. it To be. It’s that indefinable thing that makes me love this band.
Roseland is hot and has all kinds of people – young gay couples, middle-aged seniors, families with young children. My boyfriend directed us to a stage directly to the left, and I was too embarrassed by my tendency to drive trains when he insisted we switch to the other side. I fell into conversation with a group of like-minded, middle-aged white men who showed their love for the band by accumulating details about pre-determined playlists and locations.
Sarah is back! Location is small. Stuart is right there. I begin to feel the magic of seeing a band you love – they’ve flown out of your car speakers or headphones and are now fleshed out before your eyes. Stuart sat on the edge of the stage and crossed one leg over the other. He looks like a lamb, very comfortable. He expands the verses to “Piazza, New York Catcher.” A bald man leaned on me. Two young men with ruffled hair in front of us were wrapped around each other’s necks. We all held our breath and couldn’t believe our luck.
As we stepped out into the hot night, my boyfriend pulled down his mask and said, “I love that” with a great force.
June 3, 2022, Oakland, Fox Theater
The driveway to Oakland passed in a dream filled with sunshine and buzzing rest areas and Starbucks cafes. This is the hike that has eluded me since the pandemic began. It turned out that I only needed one day to survive, as Gram Parsons sang, out with truckers and rockers, and I began to feel more human. My boyfriend, with the fervor of the transformed and complete new trend found only in music writers, Spotiel made his way through the Belle and Sebastian catalog as we drove.
At Fox, in downtown Oakland, I sat on the tracks. The band filled the stage and the evening showed its magic. There’s a mysterious exchange between the band and the audience at their best shows; Their diversity makes you feel somehow part of their project. All the others are in the band, why not you? I forget my fear, I forget feeling uncomfortable with other audiences, or afraid of them. I lost myself in the sea of fans.
When we walked outside, people lined up on the sidewalk, dancing and singing. I forgot the feeling of being “outside them” as my grandmother used to say. It feels like the world is bursting with joy.
The next day we went to de Young to see a show of Alice Neel’s paintings. Neel becomes the creative flower in middle age. In the 1970s, her work became vibrant, celebratory, sinister, humorous, communal. Her paintings are crowded with unexpected people wearing purple scarves and egg blue eye makeup. I circled the galleries, gazing at the spectacle of unending disparity. “First come, first served”, the show is titled.
And then I see it, why my love: Belle and Sebastian are people in my world. Their songs are filled with lazy, irretrievable characters: the lazy painter Jane, who gets intoxicated when she licks the railing; Judy, the horse dreamer; Sukie, who likes to hang out in the graveyard; Hillary and Anthony, who committed suicide out of boredom and misunderstanding; Chelsea and Lisa, who find solace in each other’s arms.
My own world has, over the past few years, gotten smaller and harder. Between divorce and death and isolation, my soul has shrunk like a sweater in a washing machine. Even as I pushed through my difficulties alone, trying to solve any problem through the sheer force of my lone will, Belle and Sebastian kept me company – with the characters they had. creatively and with collaborative performance have defined the band . “We are four boys in innovative ao dai,” says one of their oldest tunes, “we are not so brilliant, but we are capable.” Their dismal cheerfulness made them my go-to companions, even when I was trying my best to do things on my own, when I began to see others as enemies. They remind me that everyone comes first.
We have tickets to shows in Southern California but we’re dropping the tour and stopping here in San Francisco for a while. We’ve got what we came for. And we’re too old to drive that far.
Episode is a weekly column that explores a moment in a writer’s life. Claire Dederer is the author of “Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning” and “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Postures”.