City Girls

RogerClyne-thumb My best friend got me into The Refreshments in high school. This was right before it became impossibly easy to learn about and acquire new music, and getting a new album meant actually, physically buying one. When I realized the band had a second (and final) record, I felt as if I'd made some discovery born of my own hard work.

The same thing happened to the band that happens to so many others: They just didn't spark, and they broke up. Guitarist and lead vocalist Roger Clyne took drummer P.H. Naffah and formed a new group, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, that delved deeper into the country-rock sound that The Refreshments had flirted with on a few songs. That best friend was the one who brought me to Clyne's new music. He got us tickets to see the group play at a bar in San Antonio on a weeknight, maybe a Wednesday, which meant leaving our college town of Abilene and barreling four hours through the Texas desert to make it in time for doors and the opener*. That trip was the first time I'd actually heard Clyne's new project, and my friend played the Peacemakers' first and then only album, Honky Tonk Union, over and over on the drive to San Antonio so I'd be familiar with the songs when I heard them live that night.

(*The opening act turned out to be Slobberbone. It's probably the only show I've ever been to where I actually enjoyed the opening act as much as the headliner, and I got into Slobberbone's music then, too. That band has since broken up and reconstituted itself as The Drams.)

The show was one of the best I've ever been to. I've seen better bands, sure, and I've been to better venues. But the band's low profile meant the turnout was pretty moderate, and my friend and I were able to stand closer to the stage than I ever could have dreamed. The show also resonated in a special way because the band felt like it was ours. That's a horrible cliche, and something people say about every band they like regardless of its hits or pop culture influence, but it felt true then and still holds today. This was the band we'd listened to in high school that no one else seemed to know or care about. These were the songs — earnest, rocking, lyrically flawed — that played in my younger life and would continue to spin for years. Clyne's words have never quite lived up to the standard he holds for himself, and the mix of fun wordplay and genuine angst often buts against some truly heinous puns and rhythms, but that fuzzy attempt to get the words right just made the songs that much more appropriate for me. I was young, and I didn't even know what I didn't know yet except that it was often all I could do just to try to get the words out in rough shape. Clyne was rough, but so was I.

After the show, my friend and I were keyed up and blissed out on rock and youth. We went by my parents' house, though they didn't even know I was in town. My friend and I got to their house around midnight, and I called them from the living room to prove I was actually there. They were nonplussed but accommodating. We left and went to my friend's parents' place to spend the night before heading back to college. The round trip didn't take 30 hours.

My friend and I stayed tuned into Clyne for a while, but our interest eventually waned. We saw him play the Viper Room when I moved to Los Angeles after graduation, and we journeyed from Tucson to Puerto Penasco, Mexico, for one of his epic-length biannual beach shows. (After four hours of music, I gave up and went back to the hotel, passing out half-drunk watching some disturbing Mexican game show featuring a man in a monkey suit.) Clyne's successive albums devolved in tone, style, and quality; he began his new band with an ear for rocking alt-country, but he morphed into a latter-day Jimmy Buffett enamored of songs about margaritas and beach parties. He changed, and we did, and that was it.

Hearing those early Clyne songs now is almost surreal. They were tied so tightly to a specific time in my life, but more than that, to a specific stage in my life. I was alone and lonely, drunk and worried, unsure of myself and unaware of the life-changing mistakes I would soon make. In other words, I was in my early 20s. To hear songs of barroom romance and cowboy-lite wanderings now is to be transported into the skin of a different man. I wonder if this is the way it is for everyone. You never love any music like the stuff you did when you were young — my sister very astutely observed that whatever you were listening to when you learned to drive will forever be a part of you — and it's interesting that what that actually means is that you never click with anything else the way you did with the stuff you heard when you were just learning to walk on your own in this world. The soundtrack of your disappointments will always stick with you, long after the failures have faded. I can still touch the feelings I had the first time I heard these songs, and I recoil from them as if shocked. Some music grows with us, some of it's timeless, and some of it will always and ever take us back.

So every now and then I'll put on Honky Tonk Union. I've got a few of Clyne's later records, but listening to them is a different experience. They sound like remnants of my past, dusty but harmless. Honky Tonk Union, though; that one came from my own hand. I want to tell that kid to hang in there, but I know he wouldn't listen, just grin and turn up the volume.