Love was a problem for our ancestors, it's not such a problem anymore

In Ralph Lombreglia's fine late-80s short story "Inn Essence," a restaurant owner tells a love-lorn employee, "Nobody understands the boy-girl stuff, Jimmy, not even God."

When I look at the landscape of musicians who've broken up, my heart's with Kim Gordon:  You're dead to me, you stupid, stupid idiot, and I'm going to move on and do better things without you.  Like, that's the dream.  The reality, for me, is a lot more like what Peter Silberman of the Antlers depicted in Hospice:  spend all winter curled up on a pile of dirty laundry weeping.  (I have a whole rant about how terrible Hospice is once you get it, but it is beyond the scope of this little essay.)

Artists often get great art out of bad relationships, but co-creating with the other person produces a special kind of art.  To this day Lindsey Buckingham is performing songs that Stevie Nicks wrote to tell the world what a jerk he is.  And then there's Shoot Out The Lights, an entire album full of songs about how terrible love is, recorded by a couple whose marriage was coming to an end while they were done making it.  (The cover is a photo of Richard Thompson sitting in a room that has a framed photo of Linda Thompson on the wall, because by the time they were ready to shoot the cover the two didn't want to be in the same building at the same time.)

I get that.  That makes sense to me.  What I don't get is Quasi.

Sam Coombs and Janet Weiss had been married for about a year when they started Quasi in 1995.  By the time of the band's second album, they were divorced.  They've been writing music and performing together for twenty years.

Listening to Coombs's songs, it's pretty easy to imagine that being in an intimate relationship with him must be a trial.  They're incredibly gloomy and bitter.  There's a whole lot of anger.  The fact that they're also upbeat, bright, melodic songs makes them weirdly cathartic, which is why listening to Quasi end up not being a dreary depression-fest.  Here's a typical verse:

Common as the cold
Up for sale, never sold
Getting older and it shows
Your disappointment only grows
And no one seems to care
That you never got your share
Who said life was fair?

Now give "Smile" an actual listen:  

You'll notice that the grimness is all front-loaded at the start of the verse - the first four lines literally have a one-note melody.  With the fifth line, the tone changes, and the song becomes much more cheerful and hopeful, even though the lyrics stay relentlessly bitter.  By the time the refrain comes in, there's a beautiful swell of strings, the song gets high and clear, and for a moment, its message, "Smile, it's not so bad," is one that you could almost believe in.  (Don't worry, the second verse will fix that.)

I love this song so much, and one of the things that I love most about it is Weiss's relentless pounding on that snare drum.  She may be my favorite drummer, and if you haven't noticed yet, I do love my drummers.  Janet Weiss is like Keith Moon reincarnated into the body of someone who isn't a goddamned idiot.  She's just as much fun to watch.

Here's an early, messy live performance of a weird science-fiction fantasy about life under the ocean, "Our Happiness Is Guaranteed."  Don't be too dismayed by the noisy Keith-Emersoning at the beginning, it doesn't go on longer than it needs to.  The sound isn't great, but it's good enough.  

Three years after my divorce, I didn't even know what city my ex lived in, and yet here they are.  Nobody understands the boy-girl stuff, not even God.


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