Friday, July 17, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: The Interpol Oeuvre

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I've been listening to Interpol's El Pintor (2014). Recently on Fridays, after I've spent the week immersed in whatever record I am studying for the Hippies vs, Punks post, I find that hearing Interpol again is like slaking a great thirst. I don't know what exactly it is, but I suspect that it has something to do with disappearing testosterone.

When Interpol's debut full length, Turn on the Bright Lightsappeared in 2002 it had a great impact on me. Part of the millennial Post-Punk revival (think Franz Ferdinand), Turn on the Bright Lights was recommended to me by a buddy and coworker. I was going through a breakup with my girlfriend of 11 years while struggling with a return to alcoholism after six-plus years of teetotaling; at the same time, I was getting traction as a local politico, even quoted once in a while in the weekly city newspaper.

It was an intense time. Looking back now, I can clearly see it for what it was, a classic end-of-young-manhood overextension and freak out, some sort of ego-driven self-immolation. And there was no better soundtrack for such a production than Interpol's guitar-drenched derivative (of Joy Division and Sonic Youth) Turn on the Bright Lights.

El Pintor is Interpol's fifth studio album in 12 years. While succeeding records have not been able to match the instrumental power of the band's debut, all are remarkably consistent. Interpol has not monkeyed much with their sound. You don't get extreme creative pivots. There are stable components: the defensive restrained vocals of frontman Paul Banks; the pulsating, chiming guitar of Daniel Kessler; and the efficient score-keeping drums of Sam Fogarino.

The album prior to El Pintor, the eponymous Interpol (2010), I listened to a lot. Its release roughly coincided with my last lay off. The three months I was unemployed I did a lot of running, usually five days a week. I had Interpol loaded on my iPod. I bonded with Interpol, as I did with the follow-up to Turn on the Bright Lights, the commercially successful Antics (2004), which was also a time I was laid off.

The only Interpol record I never really meshed with is the band's one non-Matador album, 2007's Our Love to Admire, released on Capitol Records. It is a perfectly good album. It just happened to coincide with a time that I was fully employed and with a new girlfriend. So I guess I didn't need any lengthy testosterone-laden sonic sojourns.

Last night walking home from the train station listening to "PDA" from Turn on the Bright Lights, it hit me what I have been after, what holy grail I have been searching for in the years I have been listening to Interpol recordings.

One hot Friday in July I got stoned with a guy after work. He was a techie, a Photoshop guru who had been hired by the magazine where I worked as a production coordinator. He was an offensive guy who had been after me to get high with him for a while. On this particular day I relented.

Afterwards I walked over to 8th Avenue from 25th Street. My girlfriend, the one who I would break up with tens years later, the year of Interpol's debut album, worked at a magazine on 8th and 34th and I was going to meet her. We were to take the subway to Brooklyn where she lived in a spacious railroad apartment that occupied the entire top floor of a tenement building on 2nd Street near 4th Avenue.

It was hot, and I was stoned. The sun was scorching. When I got to 8th Avenue, which at that time, the early 1990s, was pretty dicey between 23rd and Madison Square Garden, populated by junkies, panhandlers, thieves, petty toughs -- the urban milieu that used to be commonplace in New York City before gentrification began in earnest during "Giulianitime." (It is surprising how many Whole Foods pop up as I Google Map some of these streets now.)

As I walked up 8th I noticed a young blond woman in modest professional attire pulling a suitcase behind her. I figured she was making her way up to the Garden for the Democratic National Convention. The denizens of the street had already started to prey on her, and it was apparent that she was unnerved.

So in the full flower of my street-fighter 27-year-old youth, clad in my red 501s, my Black Flag bars t-shirt, my Carolina boots, arms muscled from curling a barbell, waist narrow from running, I strolled up beside her. I was not close enough to exchange a greeting, but near to where the junkies and thieves thought we might be together.

Suddenly the gauntlet that she had been walking fell back. She looked around to see what had happened. She saw that it was me. And that look of recognition in her eyes -- she was young and attractive -- that I was the reason she was no longer being harassed, well, it is hard to describe how it made me feel because it is such a core male fantasy; but in my stoned state it felt for a moment there like I was Clint Eastwood swinging his arms up the avenue.

In four blocks we arrived at the edge of Madison Square Garden. She crossed the street toward the blue police sawhorse barricades and the many satellite television trucks. I walked up the steps of the U.S. Post Office across from the Garden and sat down in the high heat. And I remember I had two very clear realizations as I studied all the satellite trucks with their parabolic dishes pointed to the heavens in a religious fashion: 1) This -- meaning the Democratic National Convention -- was obviously too important to be free and spontaneous -- money clearly controlled the outcome; and 2) the planet was getting too hot.

Ten years later, as my relationship with the best girlfriend I ever had disintegrated and I looked forward to trading it in for some ego-addled male fantasy of being a "player," I connected with NYC's Interpol because -- as I realized last night walking home in the July sunshine -- Turn on the Bright Lights aurally captures how I felt when I escorted the young lady up 8th Avenue to the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

But, as I was to painfully learn, there is a big difference between 37 and 27. Alcohol doesn't get you as high; sex cannot be pursued with the same abandon. Now that I am 50 and have given up both for years I think Bob Dylan pretty much says it it all when he sings in "Highlands":
The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that used to be
The party’s over and there’s less and less to say
I got new eyes
Everything looks far away

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