Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A Tale

Yesterday I twoerted that I like the Antlers album Hospice and that it sounds kind of like a Bon Iver/Secret Machines mashup. I was wrong. It's not a mashup. It is a much more complicated relationship than that.

It's more like Bon Iver and The Secret Machines were seat-mates on a trans-Atlantic flight in the early 80's from Munich to Chicago. After takeoff, they started chatting about this and that and found out that they both lived in the same upscale suburb north of Chicago, right on lake Michigan. In fact, they both knew some of the same people, went to the same dentist and had kids in the same school, though not in the same grades. Bon Iver had kids in 1st and 5th grades while the Secret Machines had twins in 3rd grade, a boy and a girl. They also discovered that they were both Vietnam veterans, Bon Iver an Army officer fresh out of West Point at the time and the Secret Machines an Air Force mechanic. The Secret Machines had been there for the fall of Saigon. As the plane landed, they exchanged phone numbers and made plans to see each other again soon.

Two weeks later, Bon Iver calls up the Secret Machines and invites them and their wife to dinner on Friday. In another strange coincidence, Bon Iver's wife and the Secret Machines know each other. In fact, they were once high school sweethearts so desperately in love they planned to marry at 17. The wedding was prevented by Angie's parents because the Secret Machines were worthless failures who would probably just end up having to enlist in the armed forces because there weren't any other options for no-accounts like them. She cried for days when the Secret Machines DID enlist. But she moved on. She went to college, got a job as a copy writer at a big downtown ad agency and the Secret Machines showed up in her thoughts less and less until she met Bon Iver at a happy hour on the Miracle Mile and all thoughts of the Secret Machines disappeared. He was a handsome, dashing Army officer just returned from Vietnam and Angie liked nothing better than an emotionally wounded man to care and fall for. So a year later they got married. He worked for a big defense contractor and worked his way quickly up the ladder to Vice President in charge of Munitions Operations. They had kids, bought a house on Lake Michigan and everything was beautiful and kind.

But all of that came crashing down as she saw the Secret Machines for the first time in nearly 20 years. They didn't turn out to be a no-account. In fact, they were now the owner of the biggest aircraft maintenance company in the tri-county area. Midway, O'Hare, even Milwaukee all used the Secret Machines for maintenance contracts. Their wife was lovely. No, not just lovely. Stunning. The kind of woman you see on magazine covers or billboards or trading cards if they made trading cards for beautiful people.

At first, the Secret Machines didn't even realize the connection. They were so far divorced from their past as the poor kids from the wrong side of the tracks that everything before 1974 seemed like a dream, or a copy of copy of a copy, or a television show that you forget about as you are watching it, flushed down the short term memory hole. But then, the Secret Machines were introduced (or re-introduced) to Angie and everything that would happen in the months ahead was written on their eyes in that instant.

At dinner, everyone laughed about the coincidence and the Secret Machines and Angie told stories about the old days. Everything was perfect. The Secret Machines felt young again. Angie made love with Bon Iver more fiercely than she had in years that night. He credited the 4 glasses of wine she'd had, but really it was the Secret Machines coursing through her head.

They began a torrid affair, the Secret Machines and Angie did. Lunchtime trysts, "out of town meetings," and soon they realized that the love they'd felt as teenagers was no passing fancy. Or was this just a mid-life crisis? A clinging to youth and power and soul and life that was doomed to burn out? No, it must be love, they told themselves over and over and over. Saying it did help to lessen the guilt a little.

And so the divorces started. Bon Iver, resigned to his fate, parted amicably with Angie, sharing custody of the children. He was hurt of course, and though resigned to it, did occasionally curse his fate. Of all the people in the world to end up next to on that flight, why did it have to be the Secret Machines? Why not John Ritter or even Jack Johnson? Why godammit? He had a good life! A good wife! And now he had his munitions. At least with Panama and Grenada, Libya and Afghanistan business was booming.

The Secret Machines, however, forced an unwanted and devastating divorce on their gorgeous and emotionally unstable wife, Emilia. Two weeks before the divorce was final, she took too many muscle relaxants. Her car was found wrapped around a bridge abutment and her body was crushed inside the Jaguar. Her face, the thing that had attracted them to her in the first place, was untouched however. She could almost have been closing her eyes to listen to a particularly good aria at the Chicago Opera House. It was a wonderful funeral, as far as such things can be wonderful. The kids were crushed to lose their mother and turned to the Secret Machines for more support than ever. They had always been a good father, the Secret Machines, and it broke their heart to think that it was their actions and an internal combustion engine that had pushed Caroline and Jeremy's mother into that abutment. They never told the kids why. The police wrote it off as an accident. So it goes.

And life went on. The Secret Machines and Angie married and moved to a different suburb on the lake. Bon Iver never did remarry. He had plenty of opportunities, but something just never felt right. Maybe she smelled to much like soup. Maybe she stole his cat. It was always something, and as his children grew up, they passed word of his excuses and reasons to Angie when they were at her house. Every time she heard about Bon Iver, she felt a pang of sadness, knowing that she was partly responsible for his emotional state, but the pangs always passed quickly.

The kids grew up, moved out, started families of their own. Grandkids came around every so often, in from New York or Dallas or wherever it was their parents had moved them to now.

Then one afternoon in September of 2008, Bon Iver's phone rang on his mahogany desk in his Chairman-of-the-board suite. He picked it up. The voice he heard on the other end was familiar, but so.....old.

"Angie died last night," said the voice, and Bon Iver knew at once that it was the Secret Machines. He couldn't bring himself to speak. So many emotions were being generated by his glands that he couldn't even breathe. Hate, fear, sadness, schadenfreude, and regret. Anger, panic, despair and the crushing sense of lost hope. For he'd never given up. Like the grown children of divorced parents, his own children, he always harbored a ridiculous and irrational hope, that maybe just maybe she would change her mind. That they would get back together. But now it was impossible. It felt like his life hadn't changed, but somehow the universe was different.

"It was colon cancer. The funeral's next Monday if you would like to come. It will be at Memorial Cemetery on Westminster Street. 1 PM."

And again, silence.

"Goodbye, Bon Iver."

And so he did go. He went and he saw his old friends that had sided with Angie. Everyone looked so ancient, so withered, half-dead and it hit him: that's how I look too. And he realized that it was too late. But yet not too late for some things.

At the wake, Bon Iver went up to the Secret Machines. "I'm sorry for our loss," he said. "Our loss," not "your loss." The point came across clearly. And they started talking. They drank scotch and talked and ate things off trays that the waiters brought around. The Secret Machines told stories, Bon Iver told stories. They shared as only two lonely people at a funeral can.

A week later, the Secret Machines received a call.

"It's time," crackled the voice of Bon Iver over a cellular connection that was interfered with as one of the largest solar flares ever recorded washed over the earth in a bath of plasma and voltage.

"It's time to record an album."

"Let's do this before we die. Let's do this before it all goes black," said the Secret Machines.

And so they did, and that album would sound kind of like The Antlers - Hospice.

Anyway, I give the Antlers 4.5 cuils out of 5.


Ken Tennyson said...

So in headphones the textures of Antlers music comes through powerfully, I am way more excited about this album than my initial listen at DAR. I think over amping their delicate and intricate sound doesn't do it full justice.

Mike Stavlund said...

Not to quibble, but I give Hospice 4.56 cuils out of 5. And I've only listened to it through headphones.