Friday, October 7, 2011
The change of season could be smelled in the air at night, but the last swampy tendrils of August and August, The Sequel (The Month Formerly Known As September) were still trying to snatch at our flying ragged coattails.
It was nearing the end of a pleasingly busy day when the tall thin gent with the deadpan expression, long black Prince Valiant locks and Huck Finn cap entered holding a Regal acoustic guitar with his equally tall girlfriend endowed with loose black ringlets of hair, holding a black chihuahua and looking like the head of a cutting edge ballet company.
The woman eventually passed the dog off to the gent and we talked about his dog and my dog Max. How I actually had a black chihuahua in my mind when I looked for a dog years ago, but then into my lap dropped THE GREATEST DOG THAT EVER LIVED. By a very subtle extra light that came into the quiet man's eyes I could tell that my passion for young Maxwell had not frightened him but touched him.
From dogs, the conversation easily moved to one of the other great passions of life - books. The couple also came in with a few friends and one of them had helped unionize Powell's in Oregon, one of the Promised Lands of used books.
At this point I was already a happy bookseller. Embroiled with good talk among customers who were making tidy piles of books and records. With a black chihuahua to boot. At about this point the enigmatic and beautiful possible Ballet Company Director said: "We should probably go soon Mangum".
The rusty bells of the chapel that I usually set my hunchback to each gray UK morning in the abbey finally began to clamor.
"Wait, are you Jeff Mangum, playing Baltimore tonight?" Indeed he was. The beautiful acoustic guitar should have been a tipoff, but in the mood I was in I was fixated on the dog more than a customer walking in holding a guitar. "I'm coming to your show tonight with my nephew. He and my nieces sacrifice gentle creatures in your name on handmade eco-altars each night and hold you only slightly below Buddha in esteem."
The surprising thing was that from my nephew and niece's hushed discussions of Mr. Mangum's decade of silence since "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" and some sort of possible Christian induced seclusion from the material world, I always envisioned him as a small haunted nervous man, but here he was completely in the moment and at peace in his skin and pretty damn tall and model-like.
Riding the crest of my third iced coffee I asked if he would sign something for my nephew Geff, saying that it would place me at the highest reaches of Unclehood. He went me one better, asking for a piece of paper and doing a signed drawing on the spot. Plus an additional one for the store.
At about this time said nephew himself, claiming he had received psychic messages that Jeff Mangum was in the store (true), showed up to use the can. He played it far cooler than myself and engaged Sir Mangum in subdued musical chatter. I loaded up his bag with my Origin of Paranoia As a Heated Mole Suit, Blaster Al Ackerman's Corn and Smoke and The Baltimore String Felon's CD.
I almost dropped the ball on getting my own ticket for the night of Hawk and the Hacksaw and Jeff Mangum after pulling the few strings I have left in Baltimore (thank you Todd and Tiffany!) to score one for my sleeveless nephew Homie Geff, but luckily Madame Tiffany called me a few days before saying she had one for me. I count myself a fan of Neutral Milk Hotel and a few other groups from the Athens, GA Elephant 6 collective, but I hadn't quite had my Jeff Mangum religious conversion moment until catching his show that night after meeting him in Normal's.
Opening act A Hawk and A Hacksaw (the core of which is pictured below) didn't hurt. They played crisp charging Balkan music that had my limbs stirring and made me want to call my old pal from Furniture Falling Down the Stairs and Little Gruntpack, Scott "The Swede" Larson. The things that Jeremy Barnes (formerly of Neutral Milk Hotel) was doing to the accordion would have had Scott drooling expensive imported beer into his rustic wiry beard. And Heather Trost on violin was impeccable. I hope to live and remain married to Kim Jong Ev another 9 nines at the least and to have a lot of money so I could hire these folks for our 10th wedding anniversary. By then I most likely will only be a pair of gray eyes floating in magic water inside an old Cracker Jack box, but still.....
After a blistering set by A Hawk and A Hacksaw, Sir Mangum quietly took the stage with a few acoustic guitars and a music stand. The atmosphere he created and nurtured was truly blissful. The crowd was so far into his songs that they sang along very ably with most of them and did some nice background on others. And once again I was surprised because his live voice was even stronger and clearer than on the records.
Among all his by now classic songs he also did a moving version of Daniel Johnston's "True Love", which local duo Sea Couch also covers. It was beautiful and reminded me of how happy I was in my own life having found Everly and how just a few years ago I'd lost all hope of my heart finding a home.
And then, as if I wasn't already floating on air from the Zombies show the week before, Jeff Mangum and crew hanging in the store and then catching his great show that night, someone yelled "Where have you been?" "What do you mean?" Sir Mangum asked. "Like today? Today I hung out at Normal's Bookshop."