Archive for May 2007

May 31st, 2007

…And Your Dreams of Ashley Can Come True

Last week’s entry got me thinking about the only Smashing Pumpkins show I’ve ever seen. Today I think I’ll share with you the story of how I came to attend this concert. Yes, there’s a story there, one that has less to do with me and the band and more to do with my friend Ashley. Perhaps you’ve known a person or persons like Ashley in your life. Ashley (who is a guy, by the way) is always getting himself into scenarios worthy of a TV show or comic strip, sometimes through no fault of his own, sometimes because he really could be a character on a TV show or in a comic strip.

Just a few things you should know about him before we continue:

  1. When he talks, he swears a lot. Like on a Taratino-ian level.
  2. He’s a diabetic.
  3. He’s always hungry.
  4. In college, for every meal, he would go to the dining hall and eat four to five pounds of either pizza, french fries, bacon, salisbury steak, or hamburgers (patties only, throwing the buns away).
  5. He had a bad temper, and if you happened to annoy him, he would unleash a profanity-infused tirade on you.
  6. During said tirades he would say a lot of things he didn’t mean and almost immediately afterwards he’d begin feeling remorseful, apologize, and blame the outburst on low-blood sugar.
  7. He was always broke.
  8. Despite always being broke, he managed to support a two-pack-a-day smoking habit by bumming cigarettes off of every other smoker on campus.
  9. Because of all the bumming, he knew and had had lengthy conversations with everyone on campus.
  10. One summer, he wound up in the hospital when he encountered a thug in his quiet New Bern neighborhood, who pulled a gun on him and cracked him on the head with it.
  11. Having roomed with him for a year, I can tell you: in college, he did not sleep. At least not at night. He slept during the periods in between classes, but was usually groggy and surly during the day.
  12. He once had a redneck get out of his truck and attempt to beat him up through his sunroof when he beeped his horn at him.
  13. For the last two years of school, he was followed everywhere by a short Indian exchange student named Fahd. Fahd came to our country knowing no one and Ashley befriended him. Fahd was polite and quiet when Ashley first brought him by and introduced him to us. After a few short months of hanging out with Ashley, however, he was saying things like: “Ah have soom fooking hahd fooking classes thees mather-fooking sam-estar.”

The following piece of Ashley-lore, however, beats them all:

Right after the album Machina came out, when we were all in our freshman or sophomore years, the Smashing Pumpkins set out to play a series of shows at smaller venues across the US. I believe the shows were announced on a Wednesday, tickets went on sale that Thursday, and the tour started that Saturday. This first show was at The Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill; it was the closest they were coming to ECU. Steph, her roommate Erin, Ashley, and his girlfriend Megan (all of whom were Pumpkins fanatics at the time) decided to go to Raleigh the night before tickets went on sale and camp out on the sidewalk in front of the Schoolkids Records (one of the few places that was selling tickets to the show) to get theirs right when it opened in the morning.

Unfortunately, I must relay a lot of what happened next second-hand, because I decided not to go camp out, nor was I at school when my friends got back on Friday. I had left to go home for the weekend…. Why was I so lame?

After Steph, Erin, Ashley, and Megan’s long and eventful night — evidently it had rained pretty hard most of the time — they returned to school on Friday and hit the hay. On Saturday morning Megan got Ashley up for breakfast and noticed he wasn’t speaking properly. He was acting really confused and slurring his words, most of which were just strings of obscenities (even more than normal).

The four concert-goers went to the dining hall together where Ashley placed his entire order via points and grunts. He sat down, stared blankly at our increasingly-concerned friends for a while, and then got really grumpy and belligerent. He told us later he was frustrated because, even when he concentrated, he couldn’t remember the names of any of the food on his plate or the names of any of the people sitting with him. Something was really wrong with him. Of course everyone assumed it was just Ashley being Ashley. He let out a string of garbled swearing.

They went back to his room so he could take some insulin, thinking his blood-sugar was getting really low. They let some time pass, but he wasn’t getting any better. He was now losing his ability hold onto things, dropping them right after he picked them up. Megan got his RA, who came down to the room, took a look at his increasingly vegetative advisee from out in the hall, and said “Have you tried giving him a candy bar?” Megan called an ambulance.

When the paramedics came, Ashley was not in the mood to cooperate. Mustering what I’m guessing was all of his cognitive skill at the time, he told them he was fine and he couldn’t go to the hospital because he was going to see the Smashing Pumpkins that night. He jumped up, grabbed his towel and soap and shampoo, and took off down the hall, for the showers, fully clothed. They apprehended him just before he made it in.

Saturday afternoon, Steph called me at my parent’s house from the hospital in Greenville. She walked me through the day’s events up to that point, and told me they thought Ashley might have spinal meningitis. If it was that, there was a good chance he could, well, die, so this was pretty shocking. (Thankfully, it turned out not to be that. They eventually determined, a few days later, that it was a less serious infection that had affected his brain function only temporarily. It was likely caused by prolonged exposure to a certain kind of fungus that grows on certain kinds of trees. Ashley had spent most of Thursday night sleeping under a tree on Hillsborough Street.)

Ashley, who was having spells of clear-headedness by that afternoon, told Steph to use he and Megan’s tickets and take me and our friend Nicole to the concert. (If you’ve been reading this and wondering why we were friends with such a weird jerk of a guy, it’s because, secretly, he was a really nice person). So Steph asked me if I wanted to go. I had already been feeling pretty bad about not getting involved in this event, which obviously meant a lot to her, so I wasn’t about to turn down the second chance.

That evening Nicole, Erin, and Steph swung by and picked me up in Cary on the way to Chapel Hill. The vibe inside Nicole’s Ford Explorer was one part worried about Ashley, three parts worked up about getting to see the Smashing Pumpkins. Or I think that’s what it was. “The Everlasting Gaze” was blasting out of the stereo so loudly that I couldn’t hear a word anyone was saying.

There was a long line at the door to The Cat’s Cradle when we arrived. Steph and Erin were like old army buddies with half the people there, having stayed up all night crouched on a sidewalk in the rain with them. Everyone wanted to know where Megan and Ashley were. We filled them in on the situation. As we inched closer to the door we saw big signs that read “Jimmy Chamberlain is experiencing health problems and is unable to perform. Tonight’s show will be a solo acoustic performance by Billy Corgan. If you do not wish to attend this show, full refunds will be given at the box office.” The mood was now elevated to hysteria. Evidently this was a big deal, ’cause Billy Corgan rarely did things like this. I’d be interested to know if anyone took them up on the “full refunds” offer. I’m guessing, if anyone tried, they were blugened to death by the masses on the way to the ticket counter for not being true fans.

We all filed in, and Billy came out and started playing his songs to the very excited crowd. As we got into it, the event took on an “Ashley Memorial Concert” feeling. And I don’t mean just to me. Several times I overheard people in the crowd who I don’t think had ever met Ashley before, saying “I hope that guy Ashley’s going to be ok” with deep sincerity and conviction. I began to wonder, was I was going to see “Save Ashley” painted on the water tower on the way out of town?

Then it all came to a culmination. For his encore, Billy told us we were all going to write and perform a song together. He picked a guitarist, keyboard player, and singer from the crowd and had them come up on stage with him. He then asked the audience what we should write a song about. “Unrequited love!” someone bellowed. “Life on the road!” shouted someone else.

“Jesus Christ, I think that stuff’s have been covered, hasn’t it?” he replied. Everyone laughed. That Billy. He’s a comedian.

In her strongest, most penetrating yelling voice, Steph then exclaimed: “Our friend Ashley!!! He was supposed to be at this show!!! But they had to take him to the hospital!!!” The portion of the crowd that heard this erupted. Billy turned in our direction. Then Steph and Billy Corgan had the following exchange (for the full effect imagine nasally Billy Corgan saying the Billy Corgan parts, and for Steph’s parts imagine the whiny, high-pitched voice that I use when I am pretending to be Steph):

Billy: “Wait, what was that?”

Steph (excitedly): “Our friend Ashley!!! He was supposed to be at this show!!! But they had to take him to the hospital!!!”

Crowd (loudly): “WOOOOOO!”

Billy (to the crowd): “Hold on everyone.” (to Steph): “Say that again.”

Steph (excitedly): “Our friend Ashley!!! He was suppos…!!!”

Billy: “Ok, you have a friend named Ashley?”

Steph (less excitedly): “Um, yeah. And he’s….”

Billy: “And he’s a guy?”

Steph (unsure why Billy was choosing to ignore the more interesting parts of this story): “Yeah.”

Billy: “That’s perfect.”

So Billy…. (Oh, wait: resume imagining my sexy baritone voice, narrating.) So Billy and the people he pulled on stage, with plenty of audience participation, wrote a terrible, silly three-line song about Ashley, the guy with a girl’s name who was in the hospital. Then the show was over. We left with instructions from many, many people to give Ashley their best.

After he made a full recovery, I found a bootleg of this part of the show and played it for Ashley. He laughed. “Even better than having fucking been there,” was his assessment.

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May 23rd, 2007

We’re Not the Same, We’re Different Tonight!

So the Smashing Pumpkins are making a comeback! They’re reuniting! Well, some of them are. No James or D’arcy or that other girl who replaced D’arcy. Billy and Jimmy are reuniting, though! Actually, Billy and Jimmy have been together the whole time, working on projects ever since the Pumpkins performed their “last ever show”…how long ago was it? Five, six years…? All right, what’s the big deal about this?

That was a rhetorical question, of course. Whenever “The Smashing Pumpkins” are involved, it’s a big deal. The Smashing Pumpkins were one of those unlikely bands that were able to get into the heads of many, many of their fans and turn their brains to mush. You’ve probably seen these fans in the past, their eyes glazed over, wandering around looking for someone else who has, at some point, listened to the music of the Smashing Pumpkins, so they can work themselves into a frenzy talking about them to that person. There was a gaggle of girls like this at my high school. Everyday they wore Chuck Taylors, torn-up jeans, and over-sized black t-shirts that had nonsensical illustrations and the word “Zero” or “Smile ”printed on them. I remember the day I got put into a group with all three of them to do an English project. “Oh God….” I remember thinking. The first thing the tallest, darkest-haired one (their leader, I assumed) asked me, in an almost accusatory tone, as we moved our desks together was: “Do you know who Billy Corgan is?” Despite the fact that I listened to nothing but Steve Miller and Tom Petty at the time, I did know who Billy Corgan was. I said “yes.” Then they all proceeded to tell me — getting louder and more giggly with each word — about how they went to a Smashing Pumpkins concert and somehow found out he was being taken to the airport when it was over and how they somehow figured out what car he was in and followed it all the way to RDU, trying to get his attention the entire time.

One of the first things I learned about my wife, when I first met her, was that she was an obsessive Smashing Pumpkins fan. “Oh God….” I remember thinking.

So, the Smashing Pumpkins are now going to do two “residencies” in one eastern and one western city, playing a long series of shows on the nights that they’re there. The city in the west they picked was San Francisco. The city in the east? Our own Asheville, North Carolina. And they won’t even be at the large Civic Center in Asheville, but instead at The Orange Peel, an intimate, 1,000-person-capacity club.

Tickets for these nine Asheville shows went on sale at 1pm last Sunday through “TicketWeb.” This “company’s” (which, knowing Asheville, is probably just some hippie with a PowerMac in his basement) servers proceeded to crash almost immediately under the weight of every crazed Pumpkins fan east of the Mississippi trying to snag one of the 9,000 slots. Ticket-selling duties were then handed over to the evil, but reliable TicketMaster, and they went on sale again at 7pm the next day. They sold out in under five minutes.

Obviously there are still a lot of the mush-brained fans out there. Still I don’t think Billy bringing “The Smashing Pumpkins” back was a good idea. “The Smashing Pumpkins” are…1995. Before they “called it quits for good” in 2000, they were already starting to seem dated and less relevant. By bringing this name back and doing a new tour, he’s taking his first steps toward Rolling Stones-dom — or worse, Allman Brothers-dom.

Billy is talented and prolific. Look at Zwan, they were good. Look at his solo stuff, it was…. Ok, look at Zwan. He could have formed a new band instead. If he wanted them to rock like the Pumpkins, fine. Great. Jimmy could — and should — be in the band. They could even play some of the Pumpkins songs. I don’t think anyone would run him out of town for that. Instead, though, he’s going to leverage that old name and that old body of work. Leverage 1995. He knows if he left the “Smashing Pumpkins” behind, he’d have to start over on many levels. It wouldn’t be this easy. Tickets for a limited number of “This new band Billy Corgan put together” shows wouldn’t have disappeared nearly as fast as the “Smashing Pumpkins” tickets did.

All that being said, I did try to get tickets for an Asheville show, ’cause, while Steph’s no longer reciting band trivia on a daily basis or trying to get me to shave my head, I know there’s still a yammering Pumpkins idiot in there somewhere, and I wanted to surprise it and make it happy. And, as you know if you’ve read this oldie, my susceptibility to mob-mentality where live music is concerned means I could really get into a Smashing Pumpkins show. Especially a “limited-edition” one like this. So, I was on right at 7pm on Monday, scrambling through every other date, with Kaiser on the phone, getting the ones I skipped, trying to get ahold of something. No dice.

They’re now going on eBay for upwards of $1,000 a pair, which is too steep for us, so my plan is dead in the water. I’m pretty bummed out about it. You might even say I’m depressed. On an almost melodramatic level. And a little angsty. I should put on some music. I feel like someone has created the perfect songs for this mood, but, for the life of me, I can’t think of who it is.

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May 16th, 2007

Manhattan: The New Greenville

That’s right, embedded video. This place is looking more like a for-real blog everyday. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or not. While you’re doing so, let me tell you how surreal it was to watch this clip.

Late Night with Conan O’Brien was the official show of my college experience. During those prime years (you know, when you’ve made friends and you know the campus and you’re able to really start enjoying it) everyone got really invested in their respective areas of study (those being painting, design, and illustration, mostly). We spent hours upon hours in the art building, toiling away in our studio spaces. When it was time to call it a night, we would walk to someone’s dorm room or apartment to hang out. Conan O’Brien would be on TV.

The lead singer of this band, Scott Avett, went to the ECU School of Art. He was a painting major several of years ahead of us. I didn’t know him personally, just spoke to him a few times in passing. Still, at every crappy eight-band show, senior exhibition, or get together involving a keg, he and his brother played. Then he graduated and they decided to start writing their own songs and touring.

For the past few years, whenever anyone would try to tell me about “this new band they just heard called The Avett Brothers.” I would to tell them all that. Usually in one frantic breath. Recently, though, I’ve stopped. And I’m not going to sit here and claim that it’s because I don’t want to be “that guy.” (The one who has some meaningless connection to some minor celebrity, and won’t shut up about it.) Truthfully, I’ll be “that guy” all day long. It’s also not because I’m some obsessive, weirdo fan that’s keeping it to himself because he doesn’t want anyone else to even think about them, because then they might start to like them, and they won’t like them for the right reasons. (Actually, it may be that, a little.) Mainly, it’s because, if I recited the previous paragraph everytime this band came up, that’s all I’d be doing right now. These guys have blown up.

Anyway, I had to share that clip, because, though I know it’s real, it just feels like a funny dream I had after a house party, anywhere from 1999 to 2001.

Man, college, right?

Musically, I think the Avett Brothers do a lot of things very well, though they do have weak points. Still, I will never stop liking them. Not just because they’re a part of my college memories, but because (in my mind, anyway) I came from the same place they did. I hung out in the same setting with the same people, went to the same classes, etc.

I know, coming from an art school that was located in rural North Carolina (also known as “Nowhere”) — and had major insecurity issues about it — that they heard the “you’re going to sell-out and do work you don’t really want to do and/or move to a legitimate big city like New York” rants that still haunt me today. They made a go of music, of course, rather than design or painting, but point is: they didn’t feel the need to do those things.

I’ve followed these guys for years and their formula just seems to be: create what you want to create, and work very hard (take a look at their tour schedule). To see them get recognition for this is not only encouraging for me, but it actually makes me feel a little better about humanity.

And that’s powerful stuff.

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