It’s 2004. I haven’t been back to the Midwest in three years. Since I saw David Bazan in Austin, he has done a lot of tours and risen and fallen in fame around Seattle and nationwide a couple times over.
Two years after the subculturally sensational Control, Bazan has forsaken the concept album and recorded a songs record for Jade Tree called Pedro the Lion’s Achilles’ Heel. It is consciously transitional—an odd aesthetic amalgamation of Winners Never Quit, Control, and It’s Hard to Find a Friend but with tracks divorced from any discernable plot arcing device. And while the record is, frankly, probably not going to be his most memorable release, Bazan is still the good storyteller here, and each number weaves insular, humorous, and engaging tales, making strong steps toward what I assume is his new goal to make self-contained short stories as pop songs.
According to Bazan, it is also one of his most autobiographical works. This claim is a little hard to swallow as I squint to find him in a barrage of metaphors and third person anecdotes. As far as I can tell, this record is not about him at all. I mean, it is, but still by projection and injection. His life is here, sure, but it still wears the same creative mask he has worn since I first encountered him in 1998.
That is not to imply that Bazan is fake. By all accounts, he is a sincere and thoughtful musician. But he is hiding something—inner conflicts most likely: intellect versus emotion … belief in self versus aversion to pride … sheltered upbringing against belief in the beauty of reason, truth, and pleasure … etc.
And perhaps dealing with those conflicts behind the walls of fiction is a better form of honesty than the supposedly lucid confessional tripe of his peers. Bruce Springsteen certainly thought so, and every line of Nebraska still haunts and changes my mind while I struggle to recall even a chorus from a Saves the Day record. And maybe the reason David Bazan is able to simultaneously hide from and own an audience or listener—and to keep reviving that power every time it is temporarily decided that he is passé—is because he’s demanding that we draw our own conclusions from characters, including his own personae.
It’s what I saw in his eyes six years ago. The demurring and ranting may be something of a mask, but I bet it’s also his way of offering back control.
Bazan picked me up at the ferry docks on Bainbridge Island (a place I’d never been but on casual inspection appeared to be where Seattle’s white people hide at night) in a somewhat aged van he uses to tour. From there we drove to Poulsbo, a small rural town in the middle of nowhere that he moved to somewhat recently to afford his own recording space. He had the “almost final mix” of Achilles’ Heel playing from a CDR freshly burned off his studio computer, and he seemed to be contentedly weary. I asked how much work he had left to do on the record himself, and he said not much, that he and his recording partners had wrapped up most of it the night before.
For lack of a better description, Bazan’s studio is essentially a barn sized work shed. Sawdust, dirt, building supplies, magazines, wires, and random clutter filled the place, but he was in the process of tricking it out with sound rooms and good insulation.
Like his new record in the van, he seemed excited to show off his handy work, but not out of any motive as crass as vanity. It seemed that he just wanted to share the pleasure that surrounds work of singular vision—the joy of making something. And as he spoke of how such and such thing would create such and such sonic benefit, and how he loves to record songs live and how this space would accommodate that, I did share his excitement. Most of the details were lost on me, sure, but it was fun nonetheless.
“We’ve done a lot of touring,” Bazan said when I asked him about the almost two years between Control and his new record. “Europe for the first time…. It was a great, fun experience. People showing up in towns we’d never been to, people speaking a different language, it was pretty unbelievable.”
You started working on the new record in October?
“Yeah, the first song was written in the summer or spring of 2003.”
And you told me in the van that this one is more of a songs record than your last two….
“Yeah, the impetus for Winners Never Quit was really a concept record. Control didn’t really start out that way, but out of fear, or I don’t know what, it fell into that. A song like ‘Second Best’ started out as a normal song and became very conceptual and part of the story. I liked that, but its soul was kind of compromised for the sake of just finishing the record and fitting it in there. It was more unique before, and not so heavy-handed.”
You think a song can be compromised by an album?
“Mine have been. But that’s because of the weird backward way I have worked in the past, and probably still work. I’m just trying to steer my way clear of all that stuff and just be a song writer. I mean, I’d like to be prolific and not write ten songs a year.”
How would that song have been different if you hadn’t been trying to put it into a context?
“I don’t know, I liked the way it was dirty in the end. That part fit. In the end, I was really struggling to finish that and it helped me finish it. It probably wouldn’t have gone on the record … it’s a really dramatic song, and I couldn’t support the drama in it lyrically without the context. Even then it feels pretty cheesy to me, but when I turn it up loud, for a Pedro song, it’s pretty heavy. In a way I think it’s cool, but sometimes I think it’s cheesy.”
For the new record, you feel like all the songs kept their integrity?
“Yeah, they were all written independently … they don’t have anything to do with one another. There are some themes I’ve noticed through the record, and when I noticed them I enjoyed them, but they happened naturally.”
What kind of themes?
“There’s a lot of male chauvinism on the record. Like, in one song I say, ‘Now that my blushing bride has done what she was born to do’—referring to child birth. Another one, ‘But she’s a maid, I guess that’s what she gets paid for.’ There’s just things about women…. I don’t know, they remind me of my uncle and my grandpa and their sarcasm, the often hurtful wit of older men who can’t think differently … little things like that. Death again, as usual. Like, my own death, and not just characters.”
Was it just with Control, Winners, and Whole that you wrote about other people?
“Well, all of it sort of is. I’ve started to figure out how to do autobiographical and confessional songs in a way that isn’t actually that. Winners, it was me preaching, which in a sense is autobiographical. It was very heavy-handed. There was a lot of me in those records. Control … I don’t know, there’s a lot of me in that one … me trying on different hats. I was really compelled by the images I was writing about. Songs like ‘Rapture,’ I know the fun of doing shit you’re not supposed to do. It’s so exciting, beyond compare. The rush of ditching school to fool around, it was so exciting. I don’t really like writing about relationships I’m in, so I like when it comes out fiction. But it’s things I think are funny. They’re my own ideas I poke and prod at, and in that process [self-examination] just comes out.”
It’s a form of self-criticism then?
“Yeah, definitely. More than I realize at the time. Having just sort of admitted it was preaching—a lot of the character I was preaching against was in me. That was pretty hard to deal with when I realized it.”
But for the new record, it’s more directly about yourself…?
“I see a lot more references to my own personality in the songs. It’s just more connected and less conceptual … just things I think are funny. It’s like, ‘I feel like writing this on a piece of paper,’ and in the process I think there were some more subtle statements and implications about my personality than on any other [record]. There’s still some mystery there. [Achilles’ Heel] is more like It’s Hard to Find a Friend in that way. It just feels like you can connect with the song, rather than trying to have to figure something out.”
It’s 2002, I am never going back to the Midwest if I can help it, and hopefully I will soon depart the Southwest. Bazan has just released Control, and it is a relatively shocking record. Musically, it is swirling rock and roll, with only hints of his prior Bedhead inspired numbers. And, lyrically, it is pretty much a culmination of every indignation and disgusted criticism he has been hinting at for five years, this time without self-imposed censorship.
In many ways a “Dear John” letter to his past, specifically to his original fans, Control is also an invitation, albeit a conditional one. He has seen through more lies, discovered new information and new trains of thought, new injustices to wrestle with, new hypocrisies to be angry at, and new stories to tell. And if one wants to come with him on this new level of exploration, they are more than welcome. But if they do not want to think or suffer or deal honestly with reality, then they are no longer his concern. His terms have become much more rigid, and his self-determination more manifest.
And while Control has spiritual themes and religious criticisms, like all Pedro the Lion albums before, it is primarily a sociopolitical work. A pointed story throwing hooks at people of any background who refuse dignity, honesty, and justice—it is an indictment of Modern American Man. It is also a candid examination of Bazan’s own duplicitous nature.
When I see him play his new songs at Emo’s he looks slightly embarrassed of them and his large backing band, but performs well. He has been doing a “Q&A” segment during his shows for a little while now, and tonight he patiently fields loaded questions about his religion and politics. In a few months he will trade the quaint “Q&A time” for unabashed rants against the Bush administration and his perception of perverse American entitlement.
You’ve been very vocal lately with political commentary. Have you always been politically aware?
“No, it was the WTO riots that was my alarm clock. I didn’t really know anything about the WTO…. Friends of mine [went to the Seattle WTO protests], and I was like, ‘What is this WTO thing?’ They gave me some books, and I just started reading and everything the far left was saying made a lot of sense to me.”
After learning a lot more about history and political realities, did you feel like you were lied to most of your life?
“Yeah, definitely. You look back at civics and history class, and it’s appalling. It’s really easy to buy into conspiracy theories right off the bat, because you’re like, ‘Why the fuck didn’t anyone tell me this? Why was this so hidden?’ Then when you start to communicate that to others, you have to choose your words wisely, because people think you’re crazy….”
What did you do with the conflicts from all that new information initially, and even now?
“Initially, I was in the middle of Winners, and I decided the next record was going to be about it, but then I realized that, like writing so straight-forwardly [about religion], I didn’t think writing about politics [in that manner] was smart either.”
But Control was very political.
“Yeah, it was very political. I mean, it was meant to be more political, but I decided instead of being so pretentious about it … if these things are so important to me, I’ll think in that direction, but then I’ll just write and what comes out comes out—knowing that political things will come out if they are meant to.
“Then 9/11…. We’re going to do a single [called ‘Backwards Nation’ that didn’t make it onto Control] with a Neil Young song called ‘Revolution Blues,’ which when I listen to that song it reminds me of the first time I listened to Fugazi. There’s a line that he says, ‘I see bloody fountains and ten million dune buggies coming down the mountain,’ and, ‘They say that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, but I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars.’ That song jams! Leon helms is playing drums on it with this seasick kind of beat. I wrote [‘Backwards Nation’] right after 9/11, and I thought [9/11] was sort of a wake up call, but people were so indignant and called on God in such an inappropriate way.”
Aside from your creative outlets, what do you do with the frustration of what you are learning and starting to observe more clearly?
“Well, I have violent fantasies…. I don’t know. I’ve thought a lot recently about what keeps order, and it seems it’s the threat of violence. And in that sense it’s someone’s responsibility to maintain that. People like to say that violence isn’t the answer, and I can’t say I agree with that, because historically it has been [necessary] … but it isn’t always. When you talk about someone using soldiers as pawns, that’s one thing, but sometimes physical violence is the answer. In a case like George Bush, though, putting him in jail or picking him off isn’t going to solve anything….”
Yeah, his kind seem to breed like rabbits….
“There is a [political] structure in place that is long-lasting. The infrastructure for those people to do what they are doing has been in place for a couple hundred years in this country. But revolutions come and go, and I’d like to see it go down in a big ball of fire. And I’m willing to give my life to see those people take it in the ass.…”
It’s 2000, and for God knows why I’m back again at the Midwest pig farm turned music festival. This time Bazan is playing a bigger tent, with a bigger backing band, at a cooler time of day. This tent is just as full as the smaller one a year ago. And Bazan is telling new stories, his back erect, his eyes forward, his guitar turned up, his voice emboldened. NPR reviewed his latest album, Winners Never Quit (a story record about a corrupt politician and his fuck-up brother), earlier in the day, and I notice that there are small pockets of shit talk and hipster posturing around the tent this time. How is Bazan feeling now—now that we are trying to own him.
I find him later that day for an interview. I tell him he’s changed. He seems more externally sure of himself, much less modest or timid than I have ever seen him behave. I tell him his increased confidence looks good on him, but I wonder how it will effect his growing popularity. I don’t say it aloud, but I suspect some people have been drawn to him very much because of his self-effacing demeanor in the past, and will not abide their “pet prophet” growing beyond their own speculative egos. He grins. I see the flash in his eyes again. I can tell that my question is irrelevant to him, even as he offers a sufficiently diplomatic response. I wonder, does he intend to rattle his followers before they get a chance to forsake him?
His sharp criticism of American religion was just the beginning. He’s been thinking a lot. He’s learned a lot. He’s making enough money from his music to do it fulltime. He’s got a liberal record deal that lets him create and say what he pleases. There should not have been any doubt. He’s definitely still in control.
What has trapped you over the years?
“I don’t know, growing up Christian definitely has had a bit to do with it. There’s a lot of fear and guilt that motivates a lot of behavior choices people make. Those ways of thinking, just being afraid….”
Was there a lot of fear in the first couple years of Pedro?
“Yeah, just trying to make sense of what I could say and, this sounds kind of strange, the sincere desire to do what was right. Though Christianity is a deeply frustrating and embarrassing thing, I still believe there are things that are ethical to do. Just a desire to see my way clear … there was pressure I put on myself, but there was also pressure from the community I was existing in. People still had pretty strange ideas about what the purpose of music was, and in all honesty a lot of the people I know still see it as an evangelistic tool, which is unbelievable.”
At one time, did you care what people thought more than you do now? Have you stopped caring about the hangers-on-ers?
“Yeah, that’s been a big deal…. Some people don’t get bogged down by that, and from the time they are a little kid they couldn’t give a fuck, but for some reason I was such a social animal that I really cared. I mean, I find myself now around strangers thinking, ‘What if they think this, or….’ But then I think, ‘What is the matter with me?’ Yeah, that’s been a big part of it. I can just enjoy the process of making music and not worry about the final product.”
Is it like finding a right to exist … is that what you’ve gone through over the last 5-6 years with your songs?
“That rings a bell. Just feeling like, regardless of what people say, what you’re doing is valid even if it’s not the hot shit at the time. Everybody is on a journey, and your journey is legitimate, and your engaging and documenting it is valid … looking at bands who are way better than you, songwriters who are doing shit you wished you were, and knowing that’s OK. I write the songs I write, and if I am freed up enough to write without fear then I will become better…. Maybe by the record after next I’ll know my voice and be comfortable.… The vulnerability that comes along with statements like that is a little strange, but I’m far less afraid of the consequences than I used to be. This record is just what it is, and I had a blast making it.”
What do you think of the listener?
“I really don’t know what to make of them. I don’t know who listens to [my records] besides my friends, and even then, if they didn’t know me, I don’t know that they would listen.”
Who do you make records for?
“Now, it’s for me. That’s been hard won, as well. Like I said before … being afraid of what people think … but you have an audience in your head … but with Winners and Control, my perception of who listens to Pedro is so scattered that I don’t know who listens. I thought I knew who the listeners were, but I had the rug pulled out from under me in that regard.”
When did you first start playing in a rock band?
“It was ’91, and I had just moved to Seattle. I was a sophomore in high school. Damien Jurado went to Shorewood High School. We ran into each other in the hallway, and we were both listening to a record by a band called the Crucified. He was playing hardcore music, and I was just like, ‘I play drums, and if you ever need anybody….’ And he was like, ‘You know, this friend and I are going to play music this afternoon. You should come over.’ From that day on, for the next maybe eight years, Damien and I were in bands together.”
What were they all?
“The Guilty, Linus, Coolidge.… That was pretty much it. I played in this thing called Empire State for a while, and I played guitar and drums for [Jurado’s] solo stuff, mostly live.”
Do you think you’re hard to work with?
“I don’t think so. I think this thing…. I guess I’m trying to respond to the motive of the question….”
I don’t have a hidden motive. I’ve just noticed that you’ve gone through a lot of players.
“The main reason why there’s been so many members is that for ninety percent of them, the intention was not to be permanent. There are, I would say…. The first four, besides myself…. I kind of started the thing and got them involved, and they kind of stepped down when they saw I wanted to be serious about it and viewed it as … not really a career, but invest in it as it were. After that, there was a lot of fill-in type people. I think I was pretty clear about it…. That’s one of my main flaws … it would be like a boyfriend who would say ‘I love you’ but there wasn’t really a commitment behind it. I think I just…. Like, if I’m on the road with someone, and I want to talk about the next record, I won’t be like, ‘This doesn’t involve you,’ or whatever. I would just start talking about it and make people feel included, when that may not be the case. That’s really stupid.”
That’s hurt some feelings?
“Yeah, I may be wrong here, but I think there’s been five guys that when they stopped playing it was a bummer, because I imagined them being longer term. Most of them technically quit, though it was complicated when it happened. But all of them are friends. Although, one of them is pretty fresh and painful still. I mean, one of them I rent studio space and a house from. So, that’s been the hardest part of this project, and what stunted it the most—my inability to keep my shit together.”
Are you just really sensitive about saying ‘No?’
“I don’t know. After Control I’ve tried to be really clear, and I’ve even failed then. But it’s hard, because the thing that complicates it is that people can make money playing in Pedro. There are a lot of reasons to want to do it. The music’s not super challenging, or whatever, so you can pick up and come on the road. It’s great fun to be on the road and come back and you’ve made a hundred dollars a day. That’s a lot of money. You don’t have to get a job. There’s a lot of reasons to want to play, because people want to stay in a situation like that.”
But there’s never been a mistake that Pedro is your idea and rightfully a dictatorship?
“Oh, yeah, sure, none of the people who’ve been in the band like the democracy rock band. It’s worked so rarely, and even from song to song, record to record, there has to be one person who prevails. There’s never been a mistake about whose band it was. In general it’s usually fun to be in the band, but it’s pretty insecure because I’m all over the place with plans, with schemes and ideas about what we’re going to do now.”
It seems you’ve been able to keep a lot of artistic control. Not just with your players, but with the music you put out. How do you feel about that?
“There’s a lot of guys that do this now (gestures to his studio equipment), just sit and multi-track an entire song by yourself. It makes it to where you have a lot ideas. You’re also able to communicate those ideas, and people can take those and embellish on them.”
It seems like you’ve basically learned your craft from the ground up. A lot of young rock bands want other people to do everything for them, and a lot of times they end up thinking they are being taken advantage of at some point, but they go in with a willing ignorance that provides opportunity for exploitation. Do you think you’ve kept control of your music and career because you chose to learn the whole process?
“Liking the process of recording is really helpful. Pedro is just a glorified four track project. That’s the way it started out, and what it’s always been. I’ve just been willing to make the compromises [that come with] me recording [my own] stuff. A lot of engineers like Control and It’s Hard to Find a Friend, but they can’t really listen to it at their studio because they just sound terrible to them. They sound like mid-fi, not hi-fi or lo-fi, or the best parts of those. In that way, too, I’m just learning, and I like that. This time around we did a pretty good job with it. Then we got someone to mix it that we liked. I have another guy here that’s helping with the recording who’s really good—TW Walsh.”
It’s 1999, it’s a few hours after noon, it’s absurdly hot, the ground is wet, there are mud patches everywhere that smell like pig shit. I’m walking to the same tent, in the same Midwest field, that I sat under a year ago. This time there is nowhere to recline. There’s not even anywhere to stand within ten feet of the tent’s edges. And Bazan is playing a similar set as last year, in the same manner, but I notice his shoulders are a bit farther back, and he glances up more often. And he connects intimately with however many thousand of them, just as much as he did with a few hundred of us last year. I can’t help resenting that I will never be able to stretch out at a Pedro the Lion show again, whether it’s in a big ass tent or in a bar back in Seattle. But at the same time I am happy for him—it’s nice to see a good storyteller appreciated.
A few months later, I see Bazan again, this time in a very small coffee shop near Seattle that completely underestimated his popularity. There is barely room to squirm, and Bazan and his two backup musicians are compressed into a space on the floor barely large enough for a drum kit and speakers. I ask him for an interview afterward. He politely agrees and we talk in his van. He tells me that he writes pop songs, that he believes God is sick of arrogant, hateful, greedy, and ignorant people using his name to make life hell for everyone around them with bullshit rules, guilt trips, and sophomoric doctrine (and churning out cheap propaganda thinly disguised as art), and that his main goal right now is to make and play music fulltime. I fail to realize until much later that his bigger goal is to be free, from his stifling religious upbringing, his present spiritual and intellectual confusion, his peers and elders’ expectations, and from anyone’s power over him that he does not respect.
You don’t have a problem with individual confidence and ambition, but you have a huge problem with individual and national arrogance, or false pride, is that right? I mean, you respect the person who knows he’s good at what he’s good at?
“Yeah, I mean, obviously, free market capitalism and self expression are two things my life depends on. There are other countries in which there is a patronage system, but I think that’s bullshit, because if I have the ability to go out and make money for what I am doing but I’m relying on someone to give me money for nothing…. I would say what you said is true. When people don’t have empathy, and it’s obvious in their actions, and they aren’t aware of other people and the effect they have on others—it works from the top down—that greed somehow socially needs to be checked.”
But what kind of greed? One that seeks to earn the worth of their idea or their work’s value—some might call that greed….
“I think it depends on what you let people get away with in estimating their value. Because when a person thinks their value is the multiplication of their wit and a hundred workers’ labor, that’s unethical. When a person estimates their value at a hundred times their need as a person, that’s based on the economics of kings…. I think it’s morally wrong. Personal wealth beyond … I mean, that’s subjective, but I think each person knows in their heart what’s right…. For me to have a Lexus, I don’t think that’s appropriate. I think there are industries that exist for wealthy individuals to live beyond their need. Even beyond their comfort.”
True, but it seems to me that if we lived based on just meeting ‘needs’ that realistically there wouldn’t be much ambition to excel and innovate and rise above mediocrity in anything, because there wouldn’t really be a point to excellence if no one was going to benefit from it, and if there was no reward for doing excellent things.
“Ambition for me is wanting to sustain my life and do what I love to do. That making money is now itself a trade—I think that’s fucked up. There are a dozen different trades I’d enjoy and be able to do to provide for my family. You have to be connected with your means of survival. There has to be a correlation between the work you do and your survival….”
So, it’s not necessarily the idea of free market capitalism that you have a problem with—it’s more the unethical behavior going on in the American corporate form of it?
“It boils down to entitlement. In the U.S. we have an over developed sense of that.”
But the means are important to you I assume…. I mean, there’s a difference in a person or company that manipulates their government into attacking another country to gain wealth and the person who invents something of true value to gain it….
“Yeah, there is … ill gotten gain…. If you and I on a personal level were cooking our books, you and I would get in trouble. I mean, manipulating the facts and figures for our own personal gain is wrong, and it just adds up. When you’re the president of a company or a country, and you’re engaged in conflicts of interest that would paralyze any normal person…. I just don’t understand…. They must justify themselves in some measure…. The means of gain—it’s hard for me to sum it up, but just people finding what they enjoy, and just letting them do it. But it’s not going to happen, because as long as there are people who will let themselves be exploited, there will be people to exploit them.
“And I’m not interested in judgment about other people, but there are thieves, there is good and bad, and people who really deserve to feel the consequences of their actions….
“I think individualism has ruined our sense of who we are in the scheme of things. It’s so out of proportion…. The signs are there that we are willing to destroy other people to live in relative comfort. I mean, I don’t worry about survival, or where my meal is going to come from. I was poor growing up, but I never worried about that. That’s not normal….”
Is it because a lot of people have perhaps misunderstood a basic precept of individualism—that respect is something to be traded?
“I just think it’s poor self-preservation in general. All of us, our main impulse is self-preservation, and there are people who are smart at it. They realize that if they spend most of their resources helping to preserve the people they find themselves in community with, there will be support there, and they will be able to preserve themselves much better. Because you’re only capable of figuring certain things out, and you have weakness where they have strengths—you can help them and they can help you. Self-preservation in that way is a lot smarter, and I think it’s just a breakdown in wisdom. Like you said, respect is to be traded. When you have someone’s back, they will have yours.
“I mean, we all do a lot of self-destructive things, and when somebody sees I am doing something self-destructive, and they pull me aside and offer advice … sometimes I don’t like it at the moment, but then later I see what they are doing is generosity and not arrogance. You have to go out on a limb. People our age have passive aggressive tendencies, because no one’s willing to take a risk.”
Especially in Seattle.
“Yeah, I guess it’s really bad here. I’ve been really bad about it. No one’s willing to take a risk and be generous with people and have them say, ‘Fuck you, man.’ There’s risk involved with all that stuff…. It creates conflict you have to invest in—you have to deal with that person on an adult level, and not just walk out and say, ‘Fuck you, I never want to see you again’ … or just talk shit behind their back all the time. I’ve really had the hardest time with that. I avoid conflict, and usually I just internalize it.”
Yeah, but as you said, there’s definitely value in a certain kind of conflict.
“Yeah, there is, it’s refining for both people.”
It’s 1998, it’s a little after noon, it’s ferociously hot, but the ground is dry under the grass covered by a striped tent. I’m in the Midwest. I never thought I would be in the Midwest. People from the coasts drive through the Midwest, they don’t be there. Stupid Air Force. Stupid fucking Rapid City, South Dakota, fucking Ellsworth, fucking B-1B-whatever. I had to lie to Captain Dumbfuck and Sergeant Fatass to get this leave, to drive this far, to watch all these shitty bands, to burn like an English blood does when he leaves the Isles or the Pacific Northwest, to sit under this fucking tent.
David Bazan walks on stage with an electric guitar. He has a beard that he wears like a mask and non descript clothing that makes him invisible. He doesn’t look at anyone except for an occasional glance, his eyes darting up and then back to his hands. He quietly asks the soundman a few questions with a lot of “please”s and “thank you”s and “that’s cool”s. There’s only a hundred or so people under the tent built to hold a few thousand. I lie down in the grass. I have heard the Whole EP. I haven’t paid much attention to it yet, but it was enough to make me choose this tent and this shade over any others nearby.
Bazan starts playing his songs. He has a drummer that pretty much just lets the high hats slap now and again. Bazan whispers his lyrics, his guitar is barely more audible. He still isn’t really looking at the small, passively attentive audience. He is telling stories about a junky, a cowardly cheater, an impatient driver being scolded by his father, and mean spirited religion that he is apparently wrestling to conquer or escape. I lay my head back and close my eyes.
It all sinks in slowly and starts to affect me, mystically, intellectually, and foremost emotionally. They are truly beautiful stories I suddenly realize, caustic yet gentle, liberating and gloriously mundane, and the way he is singing them, and even the way he is apologizing for them, has somehow made me forget everything about the rancid environment that surrounds. I open my eyes, and I see that everyone around me has come to the same discovery. This timid, overly polite guy has transfixed everyone within earshot, and he now owns us. Each song’s finish brings increased applause, heightened intensity from what was once a collection of dazed pockets of people. He is becoming our guru for thirty minutes.
He leaves to a roaring applause. He retreats to the side of the stage to sell his new record, It’s Hard to Find a Friend. The boxes empty in ten minutes.
He tries to sneak out the back. I grab his shoulder to be the hundredth person to tell him how great he was. He spins around. And I see it. His meek posture doesn’t betray him, his nervous voice is consistent, but it’s in his eyes—despite the facade, he knows he was in control the whole time.