Friday, November 2, 2007

#24: Forgotten Classic>Firehose>If'n

Artist : Firehose
Album : If'n (2nd Domestic LP)
Release : 1987
Year Founded : 1986
Label Name : SST
Catalog # : 115
Packaging Type : Single-Disc Jewel Case
Members : Ed Crawford, George Hurley, Mike Watt
Runtime : 39:02
Sound Season : Summer, Autumn

I first encountered Firehose by being completely obssessed with an 1988 skate video called Streets on Fire, which was Santa Cruz's balls-out, badass sequel to Wheels of Fire. It starred Jason Jesse, whom I idolized at the time, and featured on its soundtrack almost all SST records bands such as Black Flag and Sonic Youth and had heavy doses of Descendents, Minutemen and Firehose throughout.

My brother and I watched this video incessantly and devoured every trick, every note, every goofy moment. We would pause and rewind and pause the credits over and over again to find out who did our favorite songs. Firehose was the clear winner for us across the board (Minutemen became huge for us only after Firehose). The greatest thing about it was that all the other bands were really pretty harsh, and then here was this band playing this rhythm-heavy folk-rock. It was epiphanous for us that music could mean so much without being so overtly rebellious.

It was around this same time in that our pépère (grandpa, for the non-french) had suffered a stroke. He had survived it, but was never able to make a full recovery. I remember visiting him in the hospital and seeing how confused and scared he was. He often couldn't remember his own sons and daughters. I had to be reintroduced to him. He had to relearn just about everything, which meant that he became a new and different person, often not resembling the pépère that I had come to know and love, although I knew that he was still in there somewhere. A short time after Thanksgiving, we got the news that he had died. Both versions of my pépère were gone.

The day of his wake, my brother and I came home from school and waited for our parents to come home early from work. I'm not sure how or where or who he got it from, but my brother J had come home with the If'n record. We had waited so long to hear it and here it finally was. We put it on the player in the living room and listened quietly while we stared out the window, waiting and watching for car lights coming up the driveway.

In the video, the songs were so exuberant and celebratory. They underscored the freedom and the kinship exemplified in the scenes of Ben Schroeder and Klaus Grabke traipsing across Western Europe or of Natas Kaupas tricking off of everything in San Francisco. They were like a rallying call, a musical "carpe diem!" "Windmilling" was particularly joyous.

Two of us windmilling, swirling in another time
Let my feet touch the ground, the doors revolve and choirs sing
Two of us windmilling, wheels in motion
What life you draw through me, the doors revolve and choirs sing
Two of us windmilling, wrap me in barbed wire
You bring out the sting in me, the doors revolve and choirs sing

But in the fading daylight of that gray day, they had become more like pleas and eulogies. The wistful "In Memory of Elizabeth Cotton" will always bring this moment back.

Every song on the record is brilliant in its own way from the morose "Backroads" to the jabbing "For the Singer of REM" to the dark chant "Thunder Child." This was a band that existed and subsisted on heart and soul. They were blue-collar, modest and, above all, honest.

And If'n is forever a wonderful way to remember.

1 comment:

J said...

This is great man. I forgot about that day with the record. I must have brought it home from college... from the radio station at UHA. That's where I got all my records. I don't remember buying it. We don't hear honest music like this too much anymore. And I often wonder if I will have these sort of moments anymore, as I'm older and music in general seems to mean less... or at least, it doesn't occupy the same space in my life as it once did.