There are a handful of songs that come to my mind when I think of my favorites of all time. On that list is Radiohead’s Blow Out off of Pablo Honey, Losing My Religion by R.E.M., Trucker Atlas by Modest Mouse, Hey Jude by The Beatles, and Velvet Waltz by Built to Spill.
Built to Spill continually grew on me over the years. It started with Carry The Zero back in high school. They had been around for years, but my knowledge of music was slowly growing and I was far behind. The first time I saw the band was in Long Beach, CA at the ATP Festival. Spoon, Modest Mouse, Iggy and The Stooges, The Shins, Mars Volta, !!!, Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Mission of Burma, and scheduled to perform, Elliot Smith. He sadly stabbed himself weeks earlier.
This was the same show that I danced, drank, and made out with Anna, the exotic curly-haired blonde whose journal I wrote in. I almost missed the show thanks to the week’s prior events. Halloween in San Francisco kicked my ass. I was ill for a week and told my childhood friend Sam I would not be able to make the festival. I rallied and we took the old BMW down to the Queen Mary for some partying.
As the years continued I tried to see Built to Spill when I could. I followed my love for guitar and kept showing up to their shows. The more I played guitar the more I wanted to see the band play. There is something to be said for 3 guys making 18 strings sound so good together. They were flawless.
Whenever they came to Portland we were fortunate enough to have a two-night stand from the band at the Crystal Ballroom. I smoked and listened, imbibed and listened, drugs and listened, and soberly enjoyed their music. I mixed it up, but as far as the music goes, I always wanted the same thing. Then I saw them at The Independent in San Francisco on September 19, 2007. They were playing a small club show before their set the following day at Treasure Island. I knew that they were only allotted 55 minutes at the fest so I had to take advantage seeing them perform for two hours in the city.
Sam and I struggled for tickets to the show. I had found one on craigslist but Sam was still seeking her golden ticket. We had faith and took are chances, showing up to The Independent minutes before the opening band played to score our second admission. We headed down Divisadero to grab some beers and made a quick stop at Popeye’s to soak up some of the liquor we had been consuming.
I ran into Doug before the show and told him I would move to Boise if they played ‘Life’s a Dream.’ They did, but maybe they already had their set list drawn up. Now this wasn’t Built To Spill’s most amazing set list, but it exposed me to the song Velvet Waltz. The set started slow with Liar, Source, and Time Trap. Velvet Waltz started and I swayed side to side for the first few minutes enjoying the lyrics. It was about four minutes into the song that I experienced something that has only happened twice before at a show, I touched my face, mouth agape, anticipating a life changing moment. It was about a minute later it all happened.
The five-piece from Boise became an orchestra conducted by my imagination. Everything I wanted to hear was heard. When I wanted a fill on the drums it was filled. When a chord progression needed to match the bass players rhythm it followed, when the overdrive and reverb needed to form a layer for a guitar solo, it was perfectly laid out. I was still.
As the song came to an end I could not help but ask Sam if she just saw what happened? I couldn’t believe it myself and had to be reassured that what I saw was not all a dream. My life just got better.
Since that night I live for the live performance of the song. I continue to see Radiohead, but I know that they haven’t played Blowout since July 2, 1997, so the odds of seeing it live may never happen in my lifetime. Trucker Atlas is almost as rare. Hey Jude will not be the same without the full band, although a young Japanese kid does a great performance of it, and Losing My Religion is within my sights as long as Michael Stipe keeps touring.
I left San Francisco with a greater appreciation for life and music. I remember leaving Sam’s and taking the MUNI to connect to the BART. On my way to SFO I must have listened to the track six times. I was lucky enough to have had my Bose headphones, allowing me to capture almost every detail of the live performance. That song pushed my mind and willpower. I made it my daily soundtrack and it helped me become stronger when times were tough. By tough I mean I was due for a bone marrow transplant within the month, and San Fran was my last hoorah before heading up to OHSU for an autologous bone marrow operation that may have taken my life, but more importantly, my soul.
I remember hearing the news from my doctor and playing this song. I was house sitting and I began to cry because it was the happiest I had been since I heard this song in San Francisco.
Four months later I had the chance to thank Doug Martsch personally. It was night two of their shows at The Fillmore. Again I was in San Francisco and I was having the time of my life. Sam opted not to go the second show and I was left alone in an attempt to do something that some might find strange. I listened and loved the show. I had come to know that after the shows the band would sign LPs and give fans a moment to chat and maybe snap a photo. I waited for many fans to say their hi’s and byes, have shirts and posters signed, and an occasional photo with Dug. I chatted with Bret who I had become familiar with from prior shows and we laughed about stupid fans. The Fillmore was near empty and there was only one-person left that wanted to speak with Doug Martsch. After he left I asked Doug if I could talk to him for a minute. He didn’t hesitate to say yes and I explained my disease and what I had endured the last two years. I wrapped it up by thanking him for his music and what he meant as a musician. I described my chemo treatments and the meaning I found in his songs. He had a happy look of sadness and gave me a hug. I took a photo with him and he told me to go live my life. To this day he still asks about my health when I see him at shows. That is why Built to Spill is my favorite band.
Earlier this summer the band had announced that they were going to tour and perform their 1997 masterpiece, Perfect From Now On at the ATP Festival in New York. It wasn’t long after that they announced a tour, and it wasn’t till a month prior to MFNW that they were added to play the Wonder Ballroom.
Velvet Waltz came halfway through their set and sent me back to Divisadero. I knew as soon as they finished I had to see it again in Eugene the following night. I said hi to Brett after the show and Dug saved me from being kicked out by an asshole security guard. This dickless fuck was yelling at me as I was waiting. He wanted me to leave a near empty building. As he started yelling I told him I was waiting and he began cursing. That’s when he tried forcing Calvin Johnson and myself out of the building before Doug told him we were with him. This asshole rent-a-cop felt like the worthless fuck that he was and walked away. Dug asked about my health and was glad I could make it. I told him I was considering the Eugene show and he took out a marker and wrote my name down on his pack of gum +4, so I would be on their guest list.
Eugene was the same set at much smaller, less crowded venue. When Velvet Waltz was on deck I noticed the guy next to me got his camera out. He filmed the entire song, and all I could think was, “God I want a copy of that.” Well it was just a few weeks ago, after continuously searching Velvet Waltz on youtube that it finally appeared. Here is Built to Spill’s Velvet Waltz, live at the McDonald Theater in Eugene on September 6, 2008.
if there’s a word for you
it doesn’t mean anything
I’ve got some words for you
they don’t offer anything
you cold called everybody
but you haven’t sold a thing
a bad idea gone funny
a pinch felt in a dream
you thought of everything but some things can’t be thought
you thought of everything but one thing you forgot is you’re wrong
and you better not be angry
and you better not be sad
you better just enjoy the luxury of sympathy
if that’s a luxury you have
and you know no private bad
you know that that’s the meaning of you’re done
in a world that’s not so bad
in a world time was killing in the sun
in a world that’s not so bad
in a world time was killing in the sun
in the sun
in the sun
you took all that moment
and you kept it in the sun
now it’s gone because you left it in the sun
was a brave idea
didn’t mean no harm
now it’s burnt because you left it in the sun
was a grave mistake
but how could you have known
the temperature, the distance of the sun