Camille Reyes

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Decemberists Warm January

In Culture, Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 12:10 am

A monument to build beneath the arbors

Upon a plinth that towers t’wards the trees

Let every vessel pitching hard to starboard

Lay its head on summer’s freckled knees

-Don’t Carry It All, The Decemberists

How many “pop” songs are this eloquent and evocative?  This is just one verse, but it sums up the gorgeous lyrics typical of any Decemberists song.  I saw the band, five members strong, play the first night of many sold out shows at the Beacon in New York last night.

I’d seen them previously three times in Portland, Oregon, where the band lives.  The day their instruments were stolen out of a van, it made local headlines.  No one fucks with the Decemberists, especially in Portland.  Even Mayor Sam Adams recorded the band’s intro for the current tour supporting the wonderful album, The King is Dead.  The mayoral salute was bizarre, but fitting for a quirky band (celebrating ten years together) madly attached to their Northwest roots.

Their tuneful terroir was especially evident this go around.  Bespectacled lead singer Colin Meloy was clad in a red flannel shirt, and the backdrop was a forest of evergreens (like the album cover—where is Carson Ellis?).  They are all gifted musicians, switching from fiddle, to guitar to upright bass.  Keyboardist Jenny Conlee frequently played the keys with one hand, and a xylophone with the other, throwing a harmonica in every now and then to really rub it in.  She’s almost as entertaining as Tori Amos, and she doesn’t even make mad love to her piano bench.

The new album has a roots or bluegrass flavor, but I hear a lot of REM from Document days and old New Order in the hooks.  In a potent encore of The Island, they also channeled a prog rock frenzy worthy of Yes.  This is not to say they are derivative.  In fact, they treat each new record as a unique experience.  I enjoy the ride every time, although I must confess I still miss the horn section smuggling my heart throughout Picaresque (2005).

They played my favorite song, Engine Driver, a painful ballad about unrequited love.  They eschewed the crowd favorite Mariner’s Song.  Since my neighbor was drunk and rude, I was relieved to miss her pitching back and forth with the faux boat on that one.  My only unsatisfied, secret request was to hear I Was Meant for the Stage.  Is there any performer who does not adore that song?

They transported me back to Portland for a spell, spinning a sonic valentine to my adopted hometown.  I could almost imagine the bouncy spring board floor at the Crystal.

I was meant for the stage,

I was meant for the curtain.

I was meant to tread these boards,

Of this much I am certain.

Oh, Colin.


A Sense of Place

In Culture, Travel on January 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm

My Lost City by F. Scott Fitzgerald

From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood — everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora’s box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits — from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground. –F. Scott  Fitzgerald


The poem is a melancholy ode, one of haunting beauty.  Yet, I look upon this city with eyes not jaded, hopes not dashed.  When I look down from the Empire State I see no limits.  The booms and busts never cease, no matter how high one climbs atop the masterpieces.  The shore might disturb the urban canyons, but I see endless yearning, the potential of a teeming humanity, the indomitable spirit of New York.  This place is still a universe to me.  And though I remember fondly the snowy peak of Mt. Hood, I do not yet tire of my steel fortresses, the wild energy pulsing through their girders.  I wonder if I ever shall.

If I do grow weary of the roar, I hope I’ll have the good sense to return to the Columbia River Gorge and bathe my eyes in the quiet beauty, the wonder of my adopted home, my Portland.  Sitting alone at the edge of Punch Bowl falls, I decided there, in the middle of Eagle Creek trail, that I would someday drive 3,021 miles to settle nearby, to view it in every season.  I kept my promise, and nature kept hers.

Before I return to the land of impossible green however, I dream, as only a New Yorker can, of capturing words filled with such exquisite pain as Fitzgerald’s.  I want to write Gatsby sentences constructed out of platinum stardust.  This is the place to do it.  This is where he did it.  From his glorious rubble, I will imagine pages on new palimpsests, always holding close his egg, this city, and my Western home.