It was then I heard some words in my head. No, not heard. It wasn't like, voices in your head. It was more like having an idea, like when I get an idea for a story, but these words were a string of repetitive, simple rhymes. Words that stumbled through my head, changing a syllable here and there, as if guiding themselves through a very limited narrative. It became a game I could play with myself: first I'd get in t hat hazy blue head-space and then the words would come along, different ones but mostly simple, repetitive mutations of a phrase -- "I send my love to you, I send my shades to you, I send my hose to you, I send my nose to you." Silly stuff like that . The words weren't exactly the ones I would hear years later on a Palace Brothers record, but the form and cadence were the came.
I realized later that hearing these words was sort of a premonition, a habit of mine that would follow me thr ough adolescence. At fourteen, lying spaced out on my bed, I suddenly got the idea that my mother would die of cancer within a year or two. I didn't tell this to anyone, naturally, but I wrote it in my journal, and I believed it, and it was like a ter rible secret I kept to myself until she did indeed die, not of cancer but in a car wreck in a blizzard on Rabbit Ears Pass, coming home from a ski weekend with her sister. And it's still a secret. I never told anyone that I knew she would die, just as I've nver told anyone about the words I heard as a twelve-year-old. I'd rather justkeep my life the way it is, and continue, as I always have, to tell my secrets to my notebooks alone.
The first time I heard the Palace Brothers record t hat had those words on it -- the words I'd received that day -- it blew me away. I loved that record anyway -- it was their second one -- and when I recognized those words it was as if a prayer, a forgotten one, was finally being answered. I cried wh en I identified the words to "I Send My Love To You" as the ones I'd daydreamed into my head years before. It was like a message from my mom, or a message I'd sent to my mom.
As I grew up, I ached to be able to feel or see beyond this world, fantasized about it always, was crazy in love with Tabitha from Bewitched, all that. But these scattered premonitions I got weren't as exciting as I'd hoped, and after Mom died (I though it was my fault, of course, even though if I'd told her -- or anyone -- it wouldn't have changed anything), I tried to avoid having those kinds of thoughts. Then I got to be about fifteen or sixteen and found that drinking beer made it so wouldn't have many thoughts at all, especially the kind I got in that trancelike state.
So I forgot about what-was-to-be-the-Palace Brothers for a while. I got through school, got my degree and moved here to Seattle and got haphazardly going on what appears to my "career" -- music, I guess. Playing it, writing it, writing about it, selling it in record stores. Anything to keep me around music, all the time. It must be pure luck, or more likely the work of whatever body governs premonitions and clairvoyance, that I never wrote a song with those Palace Brothers lyrics. What the hell kind of copyright laws would come into play there?
Then, in my late twenties,ÊI actually got to interview the Palace Brothers. Specifically the singer, who called himself Push, although according to every article I'd read his name was Will Odham. But he really wnated to be called Push. The editor I was writing the piece for was bugged by that, and also by the way he kept changing the name of the band -- on the first two records it was Palac e Brothers, then the third record and one of the singles were credited to Palace Songs, and right around when I interviewed him, things were just starting to say Palace. In fact, they even changed the title of the second LP. The first copies said simpl y Palace Brothers, but later editions were titled Days In The Wake. Will explained in the interview that he didn't figure out the title until after the record was released. I liked that, because even though they kept changing everything slightl y, it was obvious that it was the same band or at least the same project: Will's songs were so strong, and his voice and style so recognizable, that it was almost pointless to give them a name at all. The Palace Brothers' music drew on a rich traditi on of storytelling song, like Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Kris Kristofferson. Funny how the hippest "indie rock" band of the day reminded my mostly of stuff my dad used to listen to. There wasn't anything particularly amazing about i t, except the pervasiveness of the feeling the music gave me, and also Will's voice, which was pale and crackly, decorating his melodic delivery with reedlike overtones.
I had been warned by other writers and editors that Will didn't like to talk about his music in any specific way, just as he didn't like to be called "Will," and insistently denied any connection with Slint, an entirely forgettable mood-rock band that he or someone else in the band had been involved with. Also off the rec ord was his earlier movie acting career, which, again, I had only heard about, and in which I didn't have much interest. Since I enjoyed the idea of having a pleasant conversation with the guy, I resolved to follow all of his rules, and to keep to myse lf what I knew, about his words, in my head.
When I saw him come into the club that afternoon, I got up and walked across to him and said, "Are you Push?" He looked at me with the most curious blend of relief and disgust I'd ever seen -- lik e while he was happy that people were following his little preferences about his pseudonym, it also repulsed him that actual human beings, in order to get their day's work done, had to make decisions like this: I will call him Push. I wil l avoid Slint questions. Even though I knew he was doing this to make people fucus on the music instead of the usual luandry list of questions about previous bands and other bullshit, it still seemed to perpetuate the myth of the rock star vs. the critic, a dichotomy which, as a musician and a writer, I found particularly tiresome.
At that point, though, I didn't really care: I was pretty much finished with rock journalism. I was tired of the self-perpetuating repetition tha t seemed to prohibit any kind of creativity or expansion in a medium which you would expect to foster such creativity. But rock journalism relies on the ever-renewed innocence of the reader, the writer, and the subject -- and as a writer, either you s uccumb to writing the same piece over and over or you constantly attempt to find new ways to write about music. I found the former impossible, while the latter entailed a lot of work for almost no pay -- and then no one liked it anyway except the occas ional adventurous editor. The readers, the bands, and of course the publicists, all wanted to know what I was on about. How the hell were they supposed to use my literary experiments to sell more records (which is in the last resort the function of roc k writing, like it or not)?
I could accept that my work was ultimately used as advertisement, but I couldn't write it that way, and it ended up burning me out, to no one's dismay. There were plenty of young writers ready to take my place, wi lling to say: "From a myriad of influences, they carve out a niche all their own" and all those inflated pleasantires that puncuate the raging tide of mediocre rock journalism like so many B7-Emaj resolutions in an endless, self-congratulatory white-b oy blues jam.
Rock journalism. That term baffles me, as do the writers who actually think they're "reporting" something. Here's the big story: Band Makes Music. Releases Record. The rest is ephemera, detail, and creative writing. B ut hardly anyone seems to realize this, and the rare writer who turns the art of writing about music into a process as powerful as music itself (or writing itself) is often frustrated, overlooked, and quickly forgotten.
So my attitude at the time I interviewed the Palace Brothers was problematic. It helped, I think, that Will had the same feelings about the whole thing. He was better at being vague than anyone I'd ever met. When I asked him where the band usually played, he replied (and I quote from my transcription): "The only time we play is when we go out somewhere. We've gone to different parts of... uh, different parts of the country." Beautiful. An empty answer to an empty question.
And on top of our merging disi nterest in the process in which we were engaged, I was also dealing with the deja-vu-like euphoria mixed with discomfort of talking to a guy whose songs had inhabited my head for as long as I could remember. I wished more than anything that I could tel l him somehow, that maybe he had an answer or a clue as to how such a thing could happen. But here's the rub: these people don't have answers. In fact, they don't know a goddamn thing that could help you. It's utter coincidence that a song someone wr ote manages to make you feel sometihng powerful. If it has to do with anything specific, it's musical structure, tradition, and your personal, ingrained musical background. The creator of the music could be anyone, and expecting that they'll know the a nswers to your troubles simply because they've moved you with notes and words is a fatal mistake.
Will and I did have a pretty nice interview, after all, even though I answered as many questions as I asked and didn't get much to use in any kind of article, at least not one that anyone would print. At one point, I asked him vaguely about influences -- another empty question -- and he countered by going into a discussion about artists' previous work and the way it reflects off their current work.
"Like, Cat Stevens," he said. "He is a different thing now from when he was 35 or 36, and up until he was 19 or 20, he was a different thing as well, and then there was a middle time when he made music, and luckily there 's no information available about him from before or after, I don't know what he is now..."
"He's sort of..." I mumbled, trying to remember exactly what Cat Stevens had turned into.
"You know a little bit," said Will. "But do you admire him, or not admire him?"
"Do you allow his present circumstance to affect your appreciation of the music he made before?"
"It's almost nice that he so cleanly cut it off," Will said. "He doesn't allow you to compare or relate the two."
"He himself rejected it."
"He rejected it, but almost in a way that supports the songs. He didn't reject the songs so much, because they're still there. It's more like he's not them anymore, so his acti ons can't affect what they were."
I realized afterwards that it may have seemed to him that I was trying to lead him into a discussion of his pointedly unacknowledged previous work. I wasn't, and in fact it was he who started up that discuss ion, so maybe, I thought later, he was trying to see how close we could get to the subject without actually involving his own music, the supposed subject of our conversation. I understood his resistance to the usual interview style; we agreed, I assum ed, that most of the information usually passed along in a rock interview was useless, tangential detailing that only served to construct a false, handily chronological narrative convenient for magazine readers and press releases. I remember hearing in terviews with two fiction writers at the time who each expressed it well. One was Martin Amis, who I used to think was a bit of a pompous ass. In a radio interview, he explained how he regarded the literary biography as a "dead medium"; that it only se rved to inject cause-and-effect where there was none. Then there was Russell Banks, who described in another interview his efforts as a writing instructor to give his students (most of whom were incarcerated young men) the power to inform their own na rrative of their lives, instead of being forced or tempted into accepting one of the "standard narratives" that people seem so eager to fall into.
Look at what I am doing now: attempting to connect events in my adolescent life -- my druggy l ittle "premonitions" -- with the artistic work of someone with whom I have literally no relation. Is this any more ludicrous than the usual rock interview, which attempts to comment on musical style by attaching previous events and bands to tired comp arisons and buzzwords?
There I was, sick of interviews and not looking forward to trying to turn this vague, slumbrous exchange of words into a coherent piece of prose.
And there he was, bored, tired from driving and touring, unintere sted in interviews, doing all he could to politely derail my questions. On top of it was my unspoken secret about my premonitions of his lyrics, a situation which seemed simultaneously trivialized and deified, right there in the air above us, as we s at at that table outside the cafe on East Pike, watching the boys and girls amble by in their spring finery. It was an exercise in futility, and I was glad to be a part of it; it sealed the deal. My last interview.
That was so long ago. It was the last I ever heard of the Palace Brothers, because when I quit writing rock criticism and went back to just writing stories and just playing music, I stopped getting free records from the labels. I was so determined to escape the churning en gines of the music business that I stayed away from record stores, whose purpose sometimes seemed to be to make you believe that you were hopelessly without music, that there was so much to be heard that you could probably never catch up.
Bu t even now, decades later, I still listen to Palace, especially that second LP, which, I am convinced is somehow my elegey to my mother, even though it was created without my input, in another part of the world; most of it written, Will said, while he was in Russia for a few months. It could not be further from my hand; yet I feel that I have touched it, and that it has touched me. I could not explain that to anyone, ever. I have never tried. What would it mean? Whose belief would it strengthen?
Nothing. No one's.