I went to see Denali, a band on Jade Tree that I was recently turned onto by a former student -- Brad, who works at the ZIA on Oracle -- and whose new album I am now, as a consequence, slated to review. They would be just another good-but-not-great indie rock band in the Sonic Youth or And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead mode -- both great bands in my estimation, especially the former -- except for the fact that their singer is a woman with a tremendous voice who also plays guitar and keyboards and is pretty good looking to boot.
Going to a show is a delicate thing for me. It's very hard for me to get in the sort of groove where I can tune everything out and just focus on the music. Since I didn't know Denali that well, however, I wasn't keen on zoning out. Sean couldn't go with me, since he's still recovering from surgery. So I went alone.
Once there, I ran into another former student, Brittany, who seems to show up at most of the "cool" concerts in Tucson. I like Brittany. She's smart, silly, and a little too on edge to fit into the dullness that defines the U of A. I might have enjoyed the show a little bit more had I not run into her, but that's not her fault.
Anyway, talking to her helped to fill in the between-acts gap. She had recently returned from San Francisco, where she was visiting her boyfriend. It was her first time in the City. "I always told my friend Sally that I'd go there with her the first time and that we'd do the performance poetry scene together," Brittany said at one point.
Coupled with the fact that she had turned in a paper on Thom Gunn's poetry for her class with me and Eric this past spring and talks about poetry the way Annalee used to when I was dating her, this admission was kind of eery. It's so strange to think that there are college students these days whose fondest dream is to live the life that my poetry friends at Berkeley were living in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
I told Brittany stories about sitting in on Gunn's 143 class when Annalee was taking it and my decision to write a bunch of poems the day before the application deadline in order to get into his 143 myself two years later. And I told her the story about Kim's negative experience with Gunn when, upon asking him why she hadn't been admitted to his 143 class -- could it have been the same semester that Annalee and Priscilla took it? -- he said, of her poetry, "Terribly melodramatic, don't you think? Unless, of course, you've lived that way."
Of course, Kim had lived that way, I told Brittany, explaining that Robert Pinsky had liked Kim's poetry precisely for the reasons that Gunn did not.
"Pinksy is a better poet," Brittany replied, "He's not as polished at one form as Gunn is, but he tries a lot more different things."
I'm inclined to agree. But I have a hard time getting Gunn's beautiful voice out of my head. In truth, I only wanted to get into his class in order to hear him read aloud something I'd written.
During the Denali set, Brittany alternated between greeting various male friends -- gay ones, she told me -- and sitting next to me writing in her journal, then passing it to me for comment. It was distracting, but I'd rather be distracted by someone writing notes or even the draft of a poem than by someone chatting in my ear.
The Denali performance itself was excellent, just like on their two recordings. But that's also a bit of a problem, since I'd rather see a band come unmoored from the official versions of their songs.
To be honest, I wouldn't mind the opportunity to come unmoored myself at a concert. For better or worse, though, the chances of that happening so long as I'm in Tucson are remote. Back when Mudhoney came to Club Congress in January of 2001 -- their penultimate show with the original lineup -- I got closer and closer to the pit and finally joined in during "Touch Me, I'm Sick". It was cathartic, especially since I was only then feeling truly recovered from my November pneumonia. But even at that point, I was acutely aware that the Department's front-desk assistant Allison was in the crowd and had seen me.
Now I can't help but see a former student or two or three or, more often, ten when I go to a show. It makes me feel more public than I like, but there's no remedy for it so long as I'm teaching at the U of A.
It's one of the things I was thinking about while talking earlier in the day to another friend who is an assistant professor. You just don't realize what the pressures of that sort of position are going to be until you're in it. For me, the hardest part is the sense of scrutiny I feel wherever I am in Tucson. I feel extraordinarily self-conscious when I'm out shopping in my gym ware. I worry whether the people who see me at a particular movie are going to reflect on my being there. I even avoid particular locations because I know that they are frequented by students.
There's something bizarre about being a very minor local "celebrity" solely because you teach.
If I only I could return to 1991 or 1992 or 1993. . .
Maybe I should drive up to Phoenix by myself once a month, so I can lose myself in the music without reservation.