You know how much I love The Magnetic Fields (am I the only one who doesn't mind the excess of 69 Love Songs' 69 tracks?), so of course I really dig Distortion, which was just released this week. Notable songs include "Drive On, Driver"; "The Nun's Litany"; and this, "Too Drunk to Dream":

And now might be a good time to revisit an epic entry about my trip to a Magnetic Fields concert more than three years ago....


An Epic Entry About an Epic Night
July 21, 2004

I am not one of The Crazies. You know who The Crazies are. The Crazies line up early in the morning to get U2 tickets, donning Bono T-shirts and faking Irish accents. The Crazies sleep in tents on the sidewalks of Pasadena the night before the Rose Parade, visions of, well, really gay floats dancing in their heads. The Crazies put on costumes and stand for hours to get into midnight showings of The Lord of the Rings movies, occupying their wait time with epic D&D battles and conversations about acne scarring. And, of course, you can insert your own sentence about Star Trek conventions here.

I mean, I can see getting in a ridiculously long line for something like, oh, I don't know, having sex with Diego Luna, but like that'll ever happen. (Yes, it happens in my dreams regularly, but I don't think that counts. To anyone but me. And to Diego Luna. And it would only matter to Diego Luna if he Googles himself and finds this. One can only hope.)

However, this past Saturday Loren and I had concert tickets for The Magnetic Fields, who were performing at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, a venue usually reserved for Korean flutists and Russian contortionists and the like. But this night, mastermind Stephin Merritt and his merry little band (pianist, banjo player, cellist) took to the stage with their eclectic mix of songs, marrying lowbrow and highbrow pop music to create something sublime.

In 1999, 69 Love Songs was released, and that gargantuan three-disc masterpiece won them a shitload of new fans. Yes, that's right, it was 69 songs about all different types of romance, stylistically ranging from rock to country to folk to punk to jazz and so on. It tackled straight love, gay love, dog love, everything. I bought those CDs, songs unheard (is that the aural equivalent to "sight unseen?"), after a particularly painful break-up, which I don't even remember today.

I was floored by the project's hugeness and ambition, as well as its wit and musical genius. "Papa Was a Rodeo" is perhaps the greatest love song I have ever heard, and "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" is one of the saddest, as well as one of the funniest. And the list goes on and on.

I have overheard more than one person remark, rather snidely, "Yeah, 69 Love Songs is good, but it should have been more like 23." Which is missing the point entirely. Look at the people you love. You love them despite the things that annoy you about them. Somehow their faults and their imperfections, when taken in context, become irrelevant in the face of your love for them. And taken as a whole, they are perfect. So shove your 69 Love Songs criticisms up your ass. Sure, there are songs that I skip, but I challenge anyone to create a work of art as beautiful as this.

All this is to say, of course, that on Saturday I adopted some behavior that is usually reserved for the aforementioned Crazies. I forced Loren to go to the theater five hours before the show was scheduled to begin for several reasons: 1) I had never before seen The Magnetic Fields live (nor had I seen Stephin Merritt's other bands: The 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, and The Gothic Archies), and 2) since seating was general admission, I wanted to insure that I was one of the first people to have their pick of seats. I like sitting up close, but I had also read that The Magnetic Fields play rather quietly. Difficult to let the music wash over you if you're stuck in the balcony with the slackers and potheads.

So there was absolutely no one at the theater when we got there. I didn't have to be the first person in line, so we kept going away and coming back to check and see. During our little jaunts, we had Vietnamese noodle soup in Koreatown (which reminds me of Jonathan Rockett: "Can't the Vietnamese come up with another name for their restaurants? It's always Pho this and Pho that. I mean, c'mon, have a little imagination!"); we visited the largest 99 Cent Store (where the hell is the "cent" symbol on the friggin' keyboard?!) I had ever been in; and we peeked inside the now-closed Johnie's restaurant, which was prominently featured in one of my favorite movies of all time, Miracle Mile, a nuclear war thriller/love story that you probably have never seen.

About two hours before the show began, a line had started to form, and Loren and I were near the front. The mostly attractive crowd was a mix of alt-rock teens, cool hipsters, homos in love, music-geek 30-somethings, and the KCRW set (you know). We sat in the third row center orchestra.

And there are no words to describe the concert.

However, I will give you a moment. They performed "Papa Was a Rodeo," and I cried. And I could not stop crying. And I can never listen to that song ever again. Ever. It would just pale in comparison and ruin that truly exquisite experience of seeing it and hearing it live.

Maybe The Crazies aren't so crazy after all.


  1. Duddddeeee, Diego Luna is a cutie. likey. I'll get in that line with you.

    Fo sho'

  2. Clearly not crazy at all

    (after all these years)

    Thanks for the story BN.