Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Gavin Friday: My Musical God

So, the other day in my post I mentioned where I was going to be Sunday night. And I promised to give you a full review of the show when I got back. But first... (eye rolls from my regular readers, saying to themselves, “Of course, there’s ALWAYS something to say first”) some background.

The year: 1987. My husband saw David Bowie for the first time. Being a lifetime Bowie fan, but only being 15 at the time, he missed the Thin White Duke, and the Glass Spider Tour was the first time he’d see him. It was exciting, but he was at the CNE Grandstand (Canadians who remember that venue typically remember it as crap) and he couldn’t see very well.

The year: 1990. My husband and I were now dating (yeah, we’ve been together forever) and he went to see Bowie’s “Sound + Vision” tour. Bowie came out on stage behind a white sheet and did a dance, and then the curtain dropped. My husband had great seats and there was Bowie, standing before him for the first time. My husband’s heart nearly stopped, and he couldn’t move. He came home and described it as a religious experience at a concert. I was jealous.

The year: 1988. I was reading a biography of U2 called “The Unforgettable Fire,” in which the author interviewed every family member and friend associated with the band, and he referred to “The Village.” This was a group of misfits in Dublin that included Paul Hewson, Dave Evans and his brother Dik, Derek Rowan and his brother Trevor, Fionan Hanvey, and David Watson. With the exception of Fionan (whose name was pretty exceptional), they decided that their names were boring and they needed to come up with better names, pseudonyms they would use in the Village. Paul Hewson was renamed Bono Vox; Dave Evans became The Edge. Derek Rowan was christened Guggi; his brother Trevor was Strongman. David Watson became Dave-iD Busaras. Dik remained... Dik. And Fionan Hanvey was renamed, by Bono, “Gavin Friday.” It was this particular man who captured my attention as I read through the book (which, while I loved it at the time, turned out to contain quite a number of errors, and wasn’t exactly heralded by U2 upon its release). Not only did the stories fascinate me, but there was a picture of him in the book, and he was, in a word, beautiful. (That's him on the right in the second row. BEAUTIFUL.)

The members of the Village loved music, but they realized they liked different types of music. Bono and Edge joined Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. and formed U2, while the rest of them added a drummer and a few transient members and called themselves The Virgin Prunes. U2 were immediately the more commercial band of the two, singing of religion, inspiration, hope, politics, while the Prunes were the darker of the two, perfecting “art punk,” putting on crazed performances that included spraying blood on the audience or marching around with pigs’ heads on stakes. In other words, they made the Sex Pistols look like New Kids on the Block.

In the beginning U2 would only play a gig if the venue booked the Prunes, but after they got signed to Island, that practice had to end, and they went their separate ways. Gavin remained best friends with Bono (to this day) and became a massive influence on Bono’s own stage performance. Bono is the first to admit that everything he’s ever done on stage has been stolen from Gavin. Gavin would walk into the audience and choose someone to dance with on the floor. Bono did that in the beginning until the band became too popular, and then he began pulling women up onto the stage to dance with them. Gavin would climb stage equipment; Bono almost killed himself climbing some of the huge stages that U2 played. Bono’s charisma, long soliloquies on the microphone, attitude – all from Gavin. Even those platform black shoes and black outfits that Bono wears: Gavin was wearing them first. In 1985 the Prunes split, and Gavin began listening to different forms of music.

The year: 1989. December 27, 1989, to be exact. (There are some dates you’ll never forget.) I walked into Sunrise Records on Yonge Street in Toronto and found Gavin Friday’s first solo record, “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves.” (Solo in the sense that he wasn’t with the Prunes, but it’s co-written and co-performed by Gavin’s musical partner, Maurice Seezer.) Hands trembling with this treasure (this was before the Internet allowed you to hear obscure music from anywhere in the world), I carried it up to the desk, where the clerk told me he’d just seen Gavin perform in Toronto two weeks earlier, where he played some cabaret hall with candelabra on the tables. I would have been underage and wouldn’t have gotten in, but I was still bummed to have missed him. I hoped I’d see him soon. (I’d have a long, long wait ahead of me.) I took this CD home and put it on... and 45 minutes later, my life had changed. I had heard some of the most extraordinary music I’d ever heard; mixtures of cabaret, pop, ballads. It opened with three stanzas of Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” set to music, and since at this point I was just discovering my obsession with Oscar Wilde, it was love at first note. This was not the man who stood on the stage screaming and throwing pig’s blood at people. This was a wordsmith, a man capable of writing such beautiful music I felt transported. He could sing beautifully, and then snarl into the mic; he put on personas, and became the very person he was singing about. I’d never heard anything like it.

The year: 1996. Gavin Friday FINALLY comes to Toronto. His third album, “Shag Tobacco” (even better than the first) had just been released, and I was more in love than ever with this magical beast from Ireland who had completely transformed my taste in music. I stood with a smallish group of people in the Rivoli in downtown Toronto, while two people stood on stage, and a spotlight hit the red velvet curtain at the back of the stage. The curtain parted, and there, standing mere feet away from me, was Gavin Friday, with a martini in one hand, and his other arm swept up in the air holding back the curtain. I lost all feeling in my entire body. He stepped out onto the stage and began the first song, and everything and everyone in the room completely disappeared. It was me and Gavin. No one else existed. Nothing else existed. He was singing to me, and me only. After the fifth song, someone said something beside me and I was jolted out of this reverie like I’d just awakened from a deep sleep. I’ve never experienced anything like this before or since. And then I realized: I’d just had my religious experience at a concert. And it was breathtaking.

A few months later, he announced he was coming back, this time to Lee’s Palace. I was working for the student newspaper at my university, and so I called Island Records to see if I could interview him. They said no problem. A few months earlier I’d bought his biography online from the author, Caroline van Oosten de Boer, who had self-published it, and runs his official website and is like a one-woman PR machine for him (all in the name of fandom). I can’t even remember how I’d tracked it down, but somehow I bought it from her and she’d mailed it to me from Amsterdam. So I contacted her to see if there were any questions I should ask, and she playfully suggested a couple that she said he was often coy about answering.

He called my house and asked for me (hearing him say my name was just... sigh...) and I began. In the beginning, the answers were all “Yes,” “No,” and I thought oh great. I’ve got Lou Reed on the phone here. But you had to earn his trust. And after about 4 or 5 questions, I did. He became animated, talking excitedly about the latest music he’d been writing, and how he’d scored the soundtrack to "In the Name of the Father," allowing the Protestant marching drums in the opening track to be at war with the Catholic hand-held drum, and allowing them to build and build throughout the song until they both just crash into oblivion. He was lovely.

At the show, he got to the part where he’d come down into the audience to dance with someone, often a slow dance. (A friend of ours was with us at both gigs, and he admitted that regardless of your sexual orientation, Gavin was such a sexual creature that just drew everyone in the audience in that it didn’t matter if you were male, female, gay, or straight, you wanted to go home with him.) Gavin came toward me, and the sea of people parted. He got closer, and closer, and I thought my heart would leap from my chest. And then... he chose MY HUSBAND. And danced with him. I’d never been so jealous of my husband in my LIFE. Like, whatEVER, I am so much prettier than him.

Ahem. Anyway.

That was the last time Gavin ever came to Toronto. I joined Caroline’s mailing list to keep up-to-date on his shows, but they were few and far between, and 1996’s Shag Tobacco was Gavin’s last studio album (he’s apparently going to be releasing one in 2010). He never came anywhere near us again, and I would long to go to the shows she’d mentioned he was doing in the UK. Sigh...

Years later, I posted something over at One of the administrators contacted me asking if I was the Nikki Stafford who’d written Bite Me. I said I was, and she said she’d give me a VIP password so my name would show up as a different colour, which was pretty cool. Until then, I (and many of you, probably) knew her only as Caroline. But she emailed me a follow-up from a different account, and that’s when I saw her full name: Caroline van Oosten de Boer. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Let me get this straight: Somewhere on the other side of the world is a woman who believes Gavin Friday and Joss Whedon are the two greatest men of the modern age? I’m sorry... are we twins?! It was awesome.

SO. About three weeks ago she sends out a post announcing that Gavin Friday and his friends would be playing at Carnegie Hall. In New York. Which isn’t that far away, technically. I mean, it’s a 90-minute plane ride. It’s not exactly England or Ireland, here. I forwarded it to my husband, with the note, “Sigh... so close, yet so far away.” He emailed me back, “Let’s go! Just buy them. Let’s go.” I sat on it, and the day they went on sale, I was about to walk into an office meeting at 11. At 10:59, I thought what the hell, and logged onto the site and bought tickets. About 10 rows back, they came out to $500. Gulp... $250 per ticket?? The timer at the top started counting down. I had 10 minutes to make this purchase. I frantically started calling my husband, who, as usual, was NOT PICKING UP HIS PHONE. I eventually decided what the hell, and bought them. The first spontaneous thing I’d done since having my first child. And then I realized I didn’t have a babysitter. After a couple of panicked days trying to get THAT together, everything was a go, and I was off to see Gavin Friday.

Oh yeah, and there were others on the bill, but, unlike 90% of that audience (sadly), I was there to see Gavin, and Gavin only. I couldn’t wait.

Tomorrow: The concert review.


Joan Crawford said...

I agree - you are super cute! If your husband is cuter than you he must be a baby penguin who is holding a baby monkey.

Aww, is that what he is?!

Caroline said...

Hi Nikki, great post. Thanks for your lovely comments. I was never 'president of the fanclub', though. There never was a fanclub. I just document stuff and pass on information.

Nikki Stafford said...

Caroline: Aw, I'm so glad you got to read it! And I'm terribly sorry for the mistake; I've gone into the post and changed it. ;) Sorry I missed you the other night! I would have loved to have said hello in person.

Joan: How did you figure it out? Sigh... yes, he's a baby penguin holding a baby monkey... our half-penguin children are very cute, as they hold their baby kittens. I just can't win there.

humanebean said...

Awesome, Nik. Takes me back to some of my own early transformative concert experiences. My friends all used to (and still do) laugh at the fact that my first concert was Barry Manilow, in 1978. (stop sniggering - my date was smokin') But, the next three were Electric Light Orchestra, Neil Young and Devo! Tremendous artistic and experiential moments (and, hey, Barry was pretty cool, too).

Can't wait to hear more about the show!

fb said...

i know how much you adore gavin friday (i've always been rather partial to him because of his (real) name, heh), so i'm thrilled to hear you and the husband just went for it! :) i can't wait for the full review!