6. LIVE, THROWING COPPER

 

Despite the wallet chains, bleached hair, thrift store clothing and the simple fact that I owned every release on Dischord, Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords, I was definitely not Punk Rock in high school.  This is easy to see in hindsight, but at the time, I thought that learning the bass line to Green Day's "Longview" alongside Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" was a perfectly Punk thing to do.  Incidentally, my first public musical performance was myself and two friends playing that Kravitzian neo-hippie anthem at a school assembly led by a guy named Stephen who was running for student council.  He changed the chorus to "Are You Gonna Vote for Steve?" and soundly trounced the opposition; a nervous girl with a speech impediment who read her monologue directly from 3x5 cards before sprinting offstage, red-faced.  I think she was promising something about Christian growth over the next year, which was clearly no match for our afro wigs, bellbottoms, and polyester shirts.  

 

One of the good things about not being 100% dyed-in-the-wool (with Manic Panic, duh) Punk Rock was that I had a plethora of musical genres I could enjoy without being labeled a poseur or sellout.  I took full advantage of this by loving everything from DC Talk to D.C.'s Fugazi.  Within this massive chasm fell a little Rap, a little Top 40, a little New Wave, and a ton of Alternative ("yeah, it's an alternative to good music", my high school BFF and current bandmate Justin Harris used to say bitterly.  He loved the Black Crowes and LL Cool J).  I had no quality filter.  I bought everything in the Tower Records listening booth, which was basically the 90s version of Pitchfork's "Best New Music" section.  It was the end of 11th grade when I fell in love with a band featuring two Chads and a singer with a last name I still can't pronounce.  

 

A band called "Live" could never win me over today.  How pretentious.  But then again, the band "Live" itself couldn't win me over today.  I don't even know if they're still around.  I do know that they released a record with a title having something to do with "secret sodomy" (that can't be right...I've gotten this far without fact checking though.  Why start now?), and then another called "Birds of Pray" (perhaps as a divine apology for the former) but I never listened to either.  The band only made two records, as far as I'm concerned:  Mental Jewelry - speaking of good ol' BFF Justin; he once started a male accessory line of necklaces and bracelets fashioned out of used guitar strings.  His business title?  Wait for it: "Instrumental Jewlery".  And no, I don't believe he ever copyrighted the name, it's all yours - and then a few years later,Throwing Copper, their watershed moment.  Holy crap.  What a one-two punch!  I, along with the rest of the world, heard the latter first.  One of my secularized (aka "evil") friends bought the tape before I did.  I distinctly remember the first time he put it into the deck of his beat-up family sedan.  "Listen to this, dude.  It's not the Offspring, but it's still super rad!"  

 

I looked at the back of the little rectangular cassette insert.  Throwing Copper?  Arty.  Abstract.  Intriguing.  Not understanding the title made me feel smarter (most of my other favorite albums had names like Dookie).  The first song was called "The Dam At Otter Creek".  Hmm.  Sounded innocent enough.  It conjured up some sort of cute Bucky Beaver cartoon character doing the backstroke at a kid's outdoor camp.  I expected the music to follow suit.  Wow, was I was wrong.  That song remains one of the scariest things I have ever heard, and that's after spending the latter half of my 20s researching the likes of G.G. Allin, Mayhem, Cannibal Corpse and Gary Glitter. The Live singer's voice sounded like an enraged Gilbert Gottfried channeling a donkey.  It gave me goosebumps during the choruses - "Ah be-HEE-here now!  Ah be-HEE-here now!  Ah be-hee-HEE-HEE-A-HERE now-OW-ow-ow" - that unearthly demon voice jumping up an octave to a piercing falsetto in a style that would become totally played out over the next decade courtesy of Dave Matthews, Chris Martin, James Blunt, and that guy from Train (supergroup, anyone?).  But when that Live singer did it (I soon learned that his name was Edward Kowalczyzykthbpth, a real off-the-tongue-roller if I ever heard one), the only thing I had to compare it to was that one dad-approved oldies anthem about the lion who dozes on one specific evening in the mighty jungle.  Those vocals always scared me too.  But that was nothing like this Otter Creek thing.  My goodness.  The song ended with the sound of a Chinese cymbal being beat to death and your boy Eddie K doing some sort of screaming Satanic blood ritual over the top of it and all I wanted was to hear it over and over and over again.  Pull the car to the side of the road!  I need to get out and run through the forest naked, slashing my bare chest and feet on sharp rocks while punching Bucky Beaver to death in his smiling toothy face.  Accept my being, O Dark One.  For unholy is your night and undefiled is my virgin soul.  

 

My first real band - if you define "real band" as "four God-fearing teenage boys desperately trying to convert other teenagers to Christ by playing DMB-esque granola jams exclusively to youth groups at churches" - was embarking on a 5-year career peppered with highlights such as going deep into debt to press 1000 copies of a first (and only, Lord be praised) album that eventually sold maybe 30 copies.  Our band was definitely pro-Live.  And I was the anti-choice lead singer.  It was quite a conflict of interests, as much of my Jesus-centric adolescence was.  Most importantly, I remember feeling utterly crushed because I couldn't yelp "WOOH!" and "COME ON!" between vocal phrases as passionately as Edward.  Total failure.  

 

For the first time in my life, my love for a band directly translated into a desire to see them play live...or, uh, in concert.  As a 17 year-old, my show-going track record could be generously described as "burgeoning".  I could count my rock shows attended on one hand.  Scratch that.  E.T. could count my rock shows attended on one hand: 1. Stryper (Hawaii, 1987, with Dad), 2. Carman (worth Googling, also with Dad), and 3. Ok, maybe there were only two, but that "Vote for Steve" thing has to count for something.  When the radio told me I had a chance to see Live at a downtown all-ages venue the following weekend, I jumped at the opportunity.  

 

The venue was an intimate little place called La Luna, and it has become a legendary haunt in the decade since its closure.  Nowadays, if you remember going to shows there (the building has since been converted into a restaurant), it proves you didn't move to Portland along with the rest of hipsterdom over the past five years.  It also proves you're getting old.  It seems like I was at the club every other weekend in my late teens and early 20s.  Durning those glory years, I saw the likes of (deep breath) Sleater-Kinney, Failure, Archers of Loaf, Grandaddy, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hum, Grant Lee Buffalo, Blur, Ben Folds Five, Sunny Day Real Estate, Thirty Ought Six, Elliot Smith, Foo Fighters, Shudder to Think, Jawbox, Veruca Salt, The Cardigans, Giant Sand, Built to Spill...  I'm sure I'm forgetting about 500 noteworthy others.  But my first was the Live concert, and it was awesome.  

 

The sad truth was that it wasn't even the band Live that made the show so good.  It was the band opening for them, a group of loud nerdy dudes named Weezer.  In fact, by the time Live took the stage with all their massive guitar amps, Krishna mullets, and [self-] important lyrics, I had almost forgotten how I had wept openly the first time I heard their "Lightening Crashes" single, not to mention my Satanic beaver-bashing-nudist-fantasy.  I left the show early.  

 

My love affair with Live ended abruptly on April 17, 1995.  My Band of Christian Brothers and I were gathered in the living room of our drummers' parents house, eyes glued to the TV.  It was time for our heroes to make their debut on MTV's Unplugged (remember that show?  What happened?  That was good stuff!  Well, decent stuff.  Ok, so it was mediocre at best...  I used to dry heave every time they interrupted Beavis & Butthead to air that horrific Yacht Rock version of "Layla" every ten minutes).  We were eagerly anticipating this performance, to say the least.  Plus, it was a unique experience for us to be getting together socially somewhere other than a Red Robin restaurant.  

 

Live took the televised stage armed with the requisite oversized acoustic instruments.  I'm not going to pretend I remember much more about the performance, but it's probably safe to assume there were oriental rugs, candles/incense, bottles of wine, chandeliers, black button-down shirts, and some barstool-type chairs present.  What I do remember vividly is a particular stunt that was pulled halfway through "T.B.D.", an emotional, darkly brooding rocker (weren't they all?) that was a collective favorite of ours.  Ed was holding what appeared to be a Bible at the beginning of the song, which was an amazing sight to someone who used to pray fervently for Marilyn Manson's soul before going to bed each night.  My heart filled with pride, and my mind was racing, Ed has finally found The Way!  And on MTV, too.  What a testimony!  What a brave declaration of faith!  I'm going to carry a Bible onstage too, every single show from now...And just like that, my Heavenly daydream was over.  Ed sang the line, "This is how I'll go out tonight, but I don't need a book" and then promptly dropped the Bible to the floor with a thud.  I choked back tears and solemnly carried my worn copy of Throwing Copper to the used record store the next day.