Then-current album: Strange Free World
Opening act: Hypnolovewheel
Back of ticket ad: Oh boy, Pirate Radio once more. The likelihood of the Kitchens ever being played on that station was less than nil, and yet.
And back to the browning etc. style of these tickets. The blue color scheme is all starting to blur out in my head but there’s yet more to go.
Meantime, while it’s not funny ha-ha or anything, it’s still a touch amusing in retrospect to realize that this show soundtracked a date between a straight couple, if only because of the identity of the band. But just a touch.
I could — but won’t — go into everything regarding questions of sexual identity as I grew up and socialization for gender norms and much more besides. I won’t go into it because some of it’s totally private and some of it is just kinda boring, but by the time this show came around I was still working out shyness on some fronts but pretty clear on others, one of which was clear since puberty hit, namely that I was straight. Oddly enough — to me at least, but maybe not to others — I kept running into random situations where it was assumed I wasn’t. Sometimes it was just somebody being randomly insulting at a San Diego mall (really happened! I just smiled and thought “Uh, okay.”), sometimes it was the fact that one of the last purchases I made before going to college for the first time was Richard Ellman’s biography of Oscar Wilde, sometimes it took stranger forms.
During the academic quarter this show took place at, one of the key classes was an excellent one on post WWII American gay lit, where I encountered the work of Gore Vidal, John Rechy, James Baldwin, Michael Nava, Edmund White and numerous others for the first time. (Christopher Isherwood too now that I think of it — A Single Man was the book read, recently adapted for a movie.) This class is actually a pretty crucial one in terms of the course of my future life, as it was a revised version of the paper I wrote for it, comparing Baldwin’s Another Country with Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, which resulted in my being accepted for grad school at UC Irvine. I enjoyed the whole experience but there was one bizarre, jarring note — one night at the apartment I answered the phone and it proved to be some guy making what I seem to remember were these weird slurs about how I was gay for taking the class. I don’t remember the details but I remember crossly telling him “I’m not gay!” — obviously in a bit of unneeded defensiveness, and yet I remember that I wasn’t insulted by the claim but simply irritated that this guy had made an incorrect assumption — and his response being a confused “Oh…you’re not?” I have no idea who it was or who did the calling but it was just one of those very strange moments.
Talking about music and sexual identity and identification and packaging, well, you don’t need a blog entry for that, you need several conferences, a lot of books and constant study and engagement to the present day. So the simple and stripped down version in my case is to say that by 1991 I knew that a lot of favorites of mine were either openly gay or hiding in plain sight (sometimes to the point that I needed someone else to point it out to me — I think that was the year that I first encountered the idea that the Pet Shop Boys were gay courtesy of my roommate Steve’s boyfriend, having written about it in a paper for a class). And by the time I heard about the Kitchens of Distinction and got interested in their music, I knew that Patrick Fitzgerald was both open about his own sexuality and weaving it into the themes of many of his songs, and that had to have been at least part of the reason the band caught my attention somewhere along the way.
Why does a band capture the interest, in the end, and what sustains it? I’ve been fairly open over the years about the fact that for me it’s always been primarily about the music and much less so with the lyrics, but I always hold to the idea that a really good lyricist and/or singer will make the lyrics stick, make them truly stand out as opposed to making them simply be useful timekillers or signifiers of feelings or situations. So the Kitchens arguably had that going for them, in that Fitzgerald’s big-themed yet conversational, moments-in-time portraits — about how, to use the cliche, the personal really can be political — were near unique in the context in which they appeared, UK indie rock of the time and place and following on years of alternative/indie culture in general. I say near unique because who knows the reality, but from my terribly distanced perspective they seemed unique, but also clearly were talented, that Fitzgerald’s voice, a little dry but with its own gentle power, was as strong as his words.
And then of course the rest of the band, drummer Dan Goodwin and especially Julian Swales. That huge, huge guitar sound he came up with, its richness! The cover of Strange Free World, the band’s second album and the one they were touring behind here, was a deep blue depiction of the classic Hokusai wave with Mt. Fuji in the background, and by god if that wasn’t what the band’s music, especially Swales’s guitar, sounded like, a series of awe-inspiring waves endlessly cresting and crashing. Even if they weren’t shoegazers-as-such — they were well under way by the time MBV ended up on Creation and went nuts — they had that same feeling of overwhelming you, but if bands like Ride aimed to obliterate and zone, the Kitchens brought in space and arcs. This in turn informed Fitzgerald’s singing and words, creating something that was definitely unique rather than seemingly so. No other band had such a spot to themselves in both American and UK terms quite like them, certainly not on a major label at the time. (Morrissey, Bob Mould, REM? All candidates but all addressing those issues in their own ways as they chose.)
So as I said, this soundtracked a date — Angela and I’d met in an English class and kept talking after that, and ended out going to several shows over this year. She was more of a metal person, I remember, but was open to hearing anything, and I think I just must have talked about these guys really sounding good. Would I have brought up the focus of Fitzgerald’s work? Did I think it was important? I honestly don’t know. It’s interesting how these issues feed into the things we are supposed to like and enjoy, how we conduct ourselves socially — some are more comfortable with just being themselves than others, and I make no great claims at being so comfortable then, but I like to think I was better than some. It’s another dim part of the puzzle to me that is the past now.
I mentioned the Ride/Lush show being the first time I went to the Roxy; this was the first time at the Whiskey a-Go-Go and all the history there, but like the Roxy I was less impressed with that than the fact it was a small club to see a show at. We ended up going upstairs and getting a table overlooking the stage, chatting and chilling and watching both bands as they appeared. Hypnolovewheel were good fun — they were on their third album, looked like a bunch of music/comic nerds because they were a bunch of music/comic nerds (at least one of them was part of the overall Marvel team), had an easygoing time on stage and played some sharp songs. A classic opening band, you could say, but I think they would have been cool to see on their own.
The Kitchens appeared and nothing was volcanic about how they got into it, they just were, and I remember that Fitzgerald was smiling, confident and at the same time not trying to be anything more than, well, a regular guy who happened to be on stage, wearing unremarkable clothes and sporting his glasses and just being him. It’s not a new move but he wore it more readily than many others, he might well have been dressed in a plain buttoned shirt, and it suited him, even as Swales led the band with his sweeping, swooping guitar. I don’t watch musicians for their own sake, I suspect, at least not consciously, but from the angle we were sitting at we could see him concentrating on his playing, hitting his pedals as needed, coming up with those rich parts on songs like “Railwayed” and “Drive That Fast” with a seeming effortlessness, as Fitzgerald sang about love and life, sometimes between a man and a woman but more often than not between men, their joys and their own losses, photographs as lingering memories, raging against injustices yet never with a scream.
I remember Angela and I leaning in close together, across the table, as we watched and enjoyed, exchanging the occasional comment. Was it so strange to have that show soundtrack a date? I don’t think so, others might think differently, I would hope most wouldn’t. I certainly didn’t think I was doing anything remarkable and I don’t think it is remarkable, but then again, my viewpoint isn’t the world’s.
Otherwise, I would have missed this show and missed a good date, after all.
As a quick bonus, something a friend found just the other day — a slightly blurry but complete videotape of a Toilets of Destruction show from later that year in London. The Toilets were the Kitchens’ slightly goofy alter-ego for performing cover songs and the like, and this one’s a treat.