The other night I went to the Black Cat to hear John Grant, who was the opening act for Midlake. Grant is a singer-songwriter who used to be in one of my favorite bands, the Czars. (I still recommend the Czars’ The Ugly People vs. the Beautiful People to anyone who ever asks what I like to listen to. It would be among my favorite albums ever, if I could even begin to make a list. It can most definitely be on the playlist while people wait around for my funeral service to begin.)
John Grant has one of the most beautiful singing voices on the planet, I think.
Janet Duckworth and I remember reading somewhere online that he really started singing when he was laid up in a hospital somewhere, in an empty ward, and could hear his voice echo off the tile floors and walls. I gather life hasn’t been easy on him, or else his songs wouldn’t be so awfully sad and broken — and it seems like his career should have gone better, but who’s career doesn’t?
He has a new solo record out, called Queen of Denmark. I bought it at the show. The songs are bolder and more playful than the Czars days. It has this sort of almost-Harry Nilsson quality of larkiness and bluntness to it, not afraid to be goofy or strange.
I don’t write about music for a living, and there’s a reason. I love a song on it called “Silver Platter Club,” which is a bitter apologia from us guys who aren’t very good at pleasing our fathers or anybody else, and we wonder how come we’re the ones who ended up short on confidence and can’t reach that happily oblivious state that blesses so many men who are good at being athletic, oblivious and cool. It starts with something unchangeable (“I wish that I’d been born with skin that turned to golden brown while at the beach relaxing in the summertime,” Grant sings) and then of course, there’s sports (“I wish that that I was good at football, baseball and lacrosse; darts and basketball and poker, golf and chess…”) And there’s this great, sing-along chorus:
I’m sorry that they didn’t hand it to me
On a sliver platter like they did for you.
I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to become
The man you think I should aspire to.
But it goes on. He sings: “I wish I had the genes of Eduardo Verastegui / That I was effortlessly masculine as well. / I wish that confidence was all you could see in my eyes/ Like those interviews in locker rooms with talented sports guys …
I wish I had no self-awareness like the guys I know
Who float right their lives without a thought
That I didn’t give a shit what anybody thought of me
That I was so relaxed you’d think that I was bored.
This song is worth, like, three-and-a-half therapy co-payments. Happily, it turns out, Grant sings as well onstage as he does in a studio; and it also turns out he’s one of those beautiful people who probably thinks that he’s ugly people.
And it seems like he’s ready to sing lots and lots about his failed relationships with … men. (He has a song on the new album called “Jesus Hates Faggots” that’s pretty wowza; a couple others, such as the title track and “Leopard and Lamb,” feel like they might have been torn from a diary I wasn’t aware I’d kept in a long ago era of bad dating.) This gay angle first dawned on me when the Czars released an album of covers wherein Grant did not change the girl parts to boy parts, such as a ballad version of Abba’s “Angel Eyes” or in Nina Simone’s “Black is Color (of My True Love’s Hair).”
I take it from the seeming lack of gay indie hipsters at the Black Cat on Sunday (and I can always spot them a mile away) that this either hasn’t caught on with that niche crowd, or they’re not into it. I’ll tell you who’s also been overlistening to John Grant all these years, though. Richard McCann, that brazen so-and-so [hee-hee], waiting to talk to Grant after the show and getting him to autograph CDs, and then giving Grant a copy of his very good, very like-a-John-Grant-song novel, Mother of Sorrows. I mean, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! (Would that I had written a sad novel to give to John Grant. Sigh. Unfortunately, I’m sure he doesn’t need a non-fiction book about suburban Christmas excess — although I will note here that Queen of Denmark was recorded in that curious, indie-rock incubator known as Denton, Texas, which is spittin’-distance from Tammieland! Same county, but utterly different worlds.)
Whatevs. I’m so not a reliable source on anything cool or gay or indie or live-music. The John Grant show and the Soft Pack show last week have been my first bar shows in an age. (Actually, Michael and I saw Dengue Fever at the Mint bar in L.A. on New Year’s Eve, but that was more of a flukey thing.) I would go to more shows, and hope to — at both shows, I couldn’t help recalling how many shows I used to go to, especially in Austin, where it’s what one must do. I feel ready to go back to the clubs and hear music. I forgot how happy it makes me, even when the songs are so sad.
The whole point of this entry? Thank you, John Grant, for years and years of drivin’ and cryin’.