Wednesday, June 10, 2009

City Center - City Center (Type)

Fred Thomas and I were both 21 years old when we met. At that age I spent a lot of time working out complicated inside jokes, oftentimes absurdly exclusive, i.e. I never explained them to anyone. My favorite at the time was to reply to the question, "how are you?" with the answer "never better." The idea was that people would think I meant "I've never been better!" which is the popular usage but in my head I was actually saying "I never get better." A really tidy way to hang onto teenage horror without letting anyone know. I felt like, if I explained the joke to anyone or actually clarified my meaning it would spoil it forever, but through some instinctual force I knew that it would make Fred laugh so I let him in on it. It became a constant call between us; at one point I think he wanted to call a Lovesick record "Never Better" but decided against it.

Last week I bought the City Center LP on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I also hid out in my room and stumbled upon the above pages from Graham Greene's A Burnt-Out Case. Greene's doctor makes a similar joke to "never better" but with a much grimmer outcome. But he was also 56 when the book was published. Life can get grimmer sometimes. Most of me doesn't want to overthink it; however I am aware of the fact that part of the key to "never better" is the idea of making something pretty to the world at the same time that you're being honest with yourself.

Fred just made a website with all of the lyrics to accompany the LP and it struck me that he figured out a way to make something pretty at the same time that he's being honest with himself. It's a dark record if you read the lyrics, one that begins with "the places we are are cold and slow" and ends with "say an unfinished hex over me." But I don't hear a dark record when I play it; I think there are definitely thunderclouds and wet eyes but mostly its a shimmering, light-hearted joy. I don't mean light-hearted like not serious, I mean it literally, like I feel my heart lift in my chest. When I first saw City Center play as a duo, Ryan jumped up and down as he played the drum and it made me so crazy and borderline jealous at his energy. That is like the embodiment of the record, a leaping, insistent and brave gesture. I'm okay checking out the darkness that's lurking in the record, I understand that there's a reason it's there but it's also really nice knowing that I can engage the spirit of the record and believe that the message is "never been better."

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