Sunday, June 27, 2010

Deconstructing the loss of Supergrass

Please turn on your speakers

Just two months ago I had no plans, nor did I expect to be in Paris two months later, but when musical tragedy struck, I found myself making the pilgrimage. On a day that began with rejoicing as I was about to hit the road from LA to San Francisco to see Faith No More reformed, a mere five minutes before I walked out to the car, I was presented with the news that my beloved Supergrass had just announced their break-up.

This was entirely unexpected. Just the day before, returning from yet another road trip, with the shuffling iPod on a real Supergrass kick, Tasha and I basked in the comfort we had in Supergrass. We relished their camaraderie and their stability. It was so reassuring to know that something so great was always going to be there. I kid you not, this was the day before the news broke. 

It was Tasha who broke it to me and understood the irony given our recent conversation. I shouted "WHAT?!" I froze. Tasha gave me a hug. My husband Gregg looked at me with sadness and a fear for my sanity. Then a few tears rolled my cheek. These would be nothing for what was to come.

But within a moment of complete and utter loss, I was given a reprieve. While the band's statement read like an obituary, the closing paragraph talked of farewell shows. My face lit up as much as it could under the circumstances and Gregg's carried a wince as he could see our bank account draining before his eyes. Much like in that mythical tale where followers of Jesus went from "He's dead!" to "He's here for forty more days!" I suddenly had Supergrass back from death for four more shows.

After some scrambling and planning, I found myself headed to Glasgow, Manchester, London and Paris to say goodbye. The first three shows were met with varying degrees of emotion. But the flood that would come in Paris was more than I had anticipated. Of course losing a favourite band is sad, but really, to be crying before the show starts? When you look at the ticket? When the retrospective videos play? I was completely bawling and couldn't be stopped. I cried straight through for the first four songs and totalling it up over the night, probably at least half of the entire set. Rocking out to "Richard III" would turn to tears as I realised I would never hear it live again. Who knew it was possible to cry during their anthem for teenage recklessness, "Caught By The Fuzz"? The notion from most parents, teachers and bosses over the years suggest we enjoy ourselves within reason and otherwise lean towards of a life of stability and sensibility, so crying so much over the break-up of a band started to feel plain wrong.

From Supergrass' last ever show in Paris, June 11, 2010. Photo by Rod

What was it about Supergrass that made me react this way? My reaction forced me to look back and examine this. I had to come up with something fast as the ability to get immediate and effective psychological care in Paris with a language barrier seemed unlikely.

With very particular musical tastes firmly in place by my early 20s, at the age of 24 and with the other two bands I had obsessed over now obsolete, I sought out new (and by new I mean old that I hadn't heard before) music, but I expected nothing to take me over as Faith No More and Mr Bungle had done. Those days were behind me and so I began to settle into a more sensible life. I had travelled extensively to see multiple shows of both those bands, but I was sure that was over.

After expressing a vague interest in Supergrass to Gregg, odd since I had abhorred the whole Britpop scene in the 90s on my principle against fads, he presented me with their first album I Should Coco on my 25h birthday. From the first half a minute of the opening track, I'd Like To Know my eyes bugged out over the goodness of what I was hearing. They almost fell right out of my head as the quality continued for the next three songs and into their most famous hit, Alright. By the album's end, I was giddy and maybe frothing at the mouth a little, now sorry I had to go out for my birthday lunch rather than keep spinning this new-found treasure. Once home again, that is precisely what happened. I struggled to contain myself, but after a week of waiting, enough was enough and I went out to buy the next addition.

"I Should Coco" (1995)

The thing that had piqued my interest in the first place was a review of Supergrass' fourth album which stated that unlike most bands who got worse with each album, they actually got better. I had long complained of the same problem which is what led to my curiosity. Supergrass', In It For The Money proved there was really something to that reviewer's assessment for indeed, though I thought I had only just found a masterpiece, this second instalment blew off my toenails, my socks having gone the week before. My toenails are really ugly, so it was for the best.

For me, In It For The Money is a perfect album from start to finish, containing a hefty chunk of fan favourites and no filler. My favourite track was, back when I first heard it and remains seven years later, the opening and title track. There's something deeply stirring about the opening organ note that is held, building tension before the foreboding guitar notes start to trickle in. The intense feelings this song brought me then, maintains its same power all this while later.

"In It For The Money" (1997)

After bringing my eventual favourite album into my life, I barely managed seven days of restraint before getting their third album Supergrass (commonly referred to as 'The X-Ray Album' for its cover), and made it through seven more before getting the fourth and most recent to that date, Life On Other Planets.

Over the coming months, armed with all that was available, I found myself listening to Supergrass 80% of time. On the odd chance I'd listen to something else, it almost felt as though I just listened to other stuff just because I felt I should. My longing for Supergrass was unquenchable and since they weren't heroin, it seemed pointless not to indulge. 

So back to the question, what was it about them that gripped me like they did? One thing very important to me with music is that it be sincere. This quest has long been debated. Should we just accept the art for what it is or should it matter where it came from? While I know this pursuit can be futile, if all the planets align, I believe it can really enhance the experience. When something connects with your heart, it's all the more meaningful if what you thought you heard was real and not a complete and utter fraud that just sounded good. In Supergrass, I swore I could hear the sincerity I sought. I swore I could hear heart in the vocals, sweat in the drums, soul in the bass and magic in the keys. With these powers combined, a listener like me could sail in with some tears. When music clicks with you, a sort of relationship is formed. In the case of Supergrass, it isn't really in the lyrics, it's in the vibe. They're the friend that knows the right things to say to make me feel good. With friends it's a look or a gesture, with music it's emotion and energy. Both transcend words.

Upon finally seeing Supergrass live, from what I could see, their expressions, their intensity, their connection with each other on stage, I felt as though my hopes were being met so from that day onward, my devotion went full speed ahead. But that's the broken down and analysed version. In the moment, there was a lot of screaming, dancing, jumping, and couple of tears. I wasn't playing psychologist for band dynamics, I was just having the time of my fucking life and it was all courtesy of Supergrass and their amazing live show. As much as I had loved other bands before, they blew only my mind and my guts. No band before had hit the trifecta of mind, guts and heart. Through their live show, Supergrass showed they had it all for me.

Poster from my first ever Supergrass shows in 2003. I got tickets for both. I immediately knew I would need to see both and I was sorry I didn't go down to Anaheim too.

Whiling away the time between tours and albums over the next few years on websites and message boards, the attentive Supergrass fans were one day delighted to find that keyboardist Rob had started blogging and those of us who cottoned onto it were regular readers. He wasn't giving us Supergrass updates, but he was incredibly dry and funny and so a new little group of friends was formed, including Rob himself. Stemming from this, I would eventually meet Rob in person while in England and he would go on to recommend me to the rest of the band and the management after I volunteered to look after their woefully neglected MySpace page. I got the job.

My sentiments that spurred me to offer to do the MySpace page.

From the group of regular readers and commenters, Stephanie stood out to me and apparently, I to her. After stalking out each others' MySpace pages, we began corresponding on our shared love of Supergrass, but eventually our bond surpassed that interest into a million other things. Sharing an understanding with someone about something that means so much to you is a fabulous way to connect with them and for the socially retarded among us, we really need stuff like that to start us out. Thanks to Supergrass, I would find one of my best friends in the whole world.

By the time their sixth album was released, my commitment to the band and my love of their music had grown exponentially, now in cahoots with Stephanie and our friend Kate, seeing just one show was not an option. We spurred each other on. I had already flown to Phoenix and San Francisco to see them on their tour for their fifth album, Road To Rouen, so I had to do at least as much this time around. The latest effort, Diamond Hoo Ha again hearkened back to that first review that sparked my interest. Indeed this album, was as good as anything previous, which in their case, is a very high bar. Supergrass continued to deliver and subsequently, I continued to adore them. But now with my role as MySpace page manager, I was in a position to meet the band in circumstances other than waiting out the back door of a venue.

"Diamond Hoo Ha" (2008)

This prospect was as scary as it was exciting. For all I had loved about them, I was aware that much of it was potentially a figment of my imagination and they might not quite be all I had made them out to be. The dangers of getting too close were suddenly apparent. But like a tech geek to an Apple store, I could not stay away. Stephanie and I watched them open for the Foo Fighters in Seattle and then headed backstage to see what we would find. Stephanie had propped them up in much the same way I had, so at least I'd have someone to commiserate with if it didn't all work out. My stomach was in knots. I was potentially about to destroy something I held so dear. Don't go. Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is bliss...aaaaand we're going in....

While, I might have been able to leave happy with a polite, "Thanks for doing our MySpace page!", I ended up with so much more. I already knew Rob somewhat and indeed, he was lovely and quietly hilarious in person, but in talking with the others, any remaining fears I had were quickly quelled. They were exactly everything I had propped them up to be creatively and also really sweet and sincere. On that very first night I found myself in a conversation with Gaz, the guitarist and vocalist, in which we somehow ended up talking about the time when Steven Spielberg wanted to do a Monkees style show around Supergrass but they turned the offer down. I had known about this, but of course never talked to anyone in the band about it. One might assume that after all these years, and with the band's popularity having waned, that such a decision might be filled with remorse. Instead, I could see the a light in his eyes as he excitedly told me how they were just really more interested in making their second album (which was eleven years old by the time this conversation took place) to waste time making a TV show. He spoke of how important it was for them to be doing stuff to be proud of and in this brief chat, all I had thought I heard in the music was proven correct. This wasn't an interview nor were my list of dreams for the band submitted for fulfillment at the door before my entrance. No, through this casual conversation, and various others with bassist Mick and drummer Danny over the course of the next couple of years, would solidify that what I heard on the albums, the heart, the soul and the humour were all completely real. An even deeper bond with the music was forged once I realised that all I had felt and gathered from the music was true.

Over the next few years, more adventures would follow. Through good timing, I would see them in Australia and in England and end up dressed us as a Mrs Santa dancing on stage for a song during their Christmas show. Rob, after stumbling on my secret blog would provide me with the encouragement to pursue writing. I definitely ended up with more than I bargained for. But adventures and perks aside, what Supergrass gave me with their music is unlike anything I had ever experienced and something I feel I am unlikely to experience again. Music that made my heart buzz (and other parts of my body feel good too), music that made me laugh, cry and feel a general sense of glowing isn't commonly found. The music could do all this and not lose its power in the 7 years I have known it. The high standard that had always been paved the way for an exciting future, making it a continual source of something to look forward to. Now it is gone. So, with such a loss, all I could do was bawl my eyes out.

 There's me on the right dancing at Supergrass' Christmas Show in London in 2008

Supergrass made incredible decisions musically, decisions that would impact and enhance my life, being a consistent and reliable source for joy, which is why their break-up had such an impact on me. I can only trust that judgement when it comes to their sad decision to end it and be thankful that they left me with such a beautiful and unblemished legacy. Mick, Gaz, Rob and Danny: thank-you.

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