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Forged in the Smiffy of My Soul

February 14, 2014


food you can read is rarely worth eating

–from “Restivo Watch Day 10: The Tenth Day” (2/14/11)

About last night.

As an American the music of Tom Petty is my birthright and the basic architecture of my existence, and whenever I wander away from the left side of the radio dial in search of the sounds of the common people it is never long before I come across his strangely unforgettable handiwork. But I am not one of those ardent Pettyman who actually know the names of his songs or whether or not he is still alive (although I can tell you that, strangely enough, Mickey Rooney still is, as of today). So I was not sure what to expect with American Girl. Can something so general, like air or asphalt, be made particular on the stage of the Main Street Annex? It turned out those songs can actually be played by people for people in a reasonably sized and non-archetypal room, and they sounded pretty good. The only real disappointment was that Tyler was a no-show as a backup singer. Fortunately Maxx was more than capable of handling all the backup the evening required. Fronting were Jarrod and Jesse, and they were each clearly not digging deep to discover their inner Tom, but picking it up naturally from what was near at hand, because that is where the Petty lies. The whole group, grizzled veterans of Charlottesville music, displayed an easygoing yet anthemic professionalism that would do the great son of Florida proud.

Dwight Howard Johnson played a variety of covers from a variety of artists and a variety of times, leaving me with no hook with which to pretend to address their performance.

The Smiffs were devastating. One of the saddest experiences of my life which did not involve anyone dying or coming close to it, or a disappointing pizza. That so many people seemed to be having such a great time made it all the more poignant. All these people who trudged through the snow or risked their lives on the roads to be there, these stalwarts of Charlottesville, Smiffians casual and obsessive alike, they didn’t even know, despite the guy with the microphone pretty much spelling it out for them, the depth of the sadness that was the essential condition of their existence. And then when I went to the bar again they were out of PBR, and the bartender said Coors Light was the same price, and I heard a voice order that, and it was my voice– for the first time ever I ordered a Coors Light, and paid money for it. It tasted like cold water. And I remembered the first beer I ever had was a Coors Light, rescued from long neglect in the back of the refrigerator where surely no one would ever notice it gone, and wondered to recall how strongly awful it tasted to me, so much that I had to mix it with Sunny Delight to get the whole can down. Now it was just offensively tasteless.  Like everything seemed to be. Empty, distant, speaking with the mocking voice of a dying enemy, one you will miss as desperately as you hate.

But then something happened. It may been that weak right-wing Colorado brew, which apparently does contain some actual alcohol, despite itself. Whatever the reason, a little warmth entered my bloodstream. Not much. But enough to see through that sadness to some fragility, and in that fragility a touch of grace, and in that grace, love. It was not in error that I looked upon this crowd and saw monsters, grotesque meat puppets barely keeping in the stink of their decay, vacant grinning zombies too stupid to notice their own soulessness. That was there, what we are, that was the truth. But there is some charm in it. Like how parents of weird deformed kids can still love them. Can even call them “special.” I knew that this was a special night, one that I might soon forget but never cease to relive.

Some girls are bigger than others.

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