I first heard of the band Belle & Sebastian from a John Cusack movie. I know. I can practically see the expressions of shock and awe on your face.
The movie was called “High Fidelity,” a Cusack film all the way from the year 2000. I first saw the movie in high school. Junior Year to be exact. It was the same year I had somehow convinced my mother that I was of proper age to start watching R-rated fare that I had been dying to watch for years but had been unable to watch because I was “just a kid.” The fact that I was in the throes of puberty, and all the joyous awkwardness and heartache and squeaky voiced goodness that that entails didn’t help my righteous cause of proving to my mother that I was no longer a boy, but rather a man. Specifically, a man who Needed To Watch R-Rated Movies In Order To Figure Out How The World Worked. It was that simple. If I was never allowed to watch Terminator 2 I don’t think I would have turned out to be the same man I am today. I would have been weak. Squeamish. Faint of heart. I would have never been able to Get Shit Done unless I was exposed to the wonders of R-rated cinema, I felt. That was my argument I presented my mother. I begged. I pleaded. Finally, she consented.
Woooo hoooooooo!!! I quickly raced to the local movie rental establishment and stocked up on all of the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and Bruce Willis movies my young brain could handle. After a few months of frying my brain on images of violence I finally decided to go for some “lighter fare.” I rented “Rushmore,” and quickly fell out of love with explosions and started tracking down movies with things like “character development” and “witty dialogue.”
One of the first films I rented after my cinema awakening was “High Fidelity,” which tells the tale of an unhappy record store owner named Rob Gordon (played by John Cusack) who, in an attempt to figure out The Meaning Of It All, decides to look up all of his ex-girlfriends and figure out What Went Wrong. Somewhere in between all of the existential angst his character actually manages to play some really good tunes at the record store, Championship Vinyl, that he owns and operates with his two employees Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (pre-fame Jack Black), the “musical moron twins,” as he refers to them.
During one of the scenes at the record store Dick plays Rob “the new Belle & Sebastian record,” which they both listen to quietly for awhile before Jack Black comes in an starts yelling at them for playing such “sad bastard music.” Sad bastard music or not I really liked what I heard. After the movie was done I grabbed a pen and some paper and sat close to the TV intently watching the credits to figure out who that band was that I liked so much. The song was “Seymour Stein” from the album “The Boy With The Arab Strap” by the band Belle & Sebastian.
I hopped on my bicycle and peddled over to the nearest record store and combed the isles for the band. They had one album: “If You’re Feeling Sinister.” I liked the cover a lot. I payed for it and hopped back on my bike and peddled home, locked myself in my room and listened to the album. Then I listened to it again. Then I listened to it a third time. I was in love. I quickly got my hands on every Belle & Sebastian album I could find and listened to them consistently for the remainder of my high school experience.
The band has remained a cherished staple in my musical library ever since. When the rain is coming down and all I want to do is sit on my couch curled up with blanket and a cup of tea, I listen to them. I listen to them when I’m driving and the sun is shining and the birds are chirping.
They remain one of my favorite bands and when I learned that they were finally on tour in the United States (for the first time since 2007) my heart skipped a beat. I was finally going to be able to see them live! They were playing the Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco this year, I learned. I had been to the festival last year and had seen many great bands, including Beirut, Grizzly Bear, The Decemberists, and headliners The Flaming Lips. It was an incredible night and I really liked the venue. Belle & Sebastian was a natural fit for San Francisco, I felt. Plus so many of their songs took place in the historic city.
The concert took place over the weekend of the 16th and 17th, and lucky for me my friends Pat, Adrienne, Steven, and Katie were planning on going and were nice enough to let me bum a ride. Road trips by yourself are not nearly as much fun as road trips with your friends. I know I’m not really blowing anyone’s mind with that Truth Bomb, but I felt like it had to be said.
We were set to depart at 8am sharp on Saturday morning, which is about 4 hours earlier than I’m used to being awake so I set the alarm on my dresser and the alarm on my phone so I wouldn’t oversleep. I didn’t sleep well that night for two reasons: 1) I never sleep well when I know I have to be awake early 2) I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. So I spent much of the evening watching Louis CK stand up clips on YouTube and giggling to myself. I have a pretty loud laugh I’ve been told, so my neighbors must have thought I was going insane or something. Oh well.
When my alarm finally rang I hopped out of bed in a crazed daze. I looked at the alarm and it read 7am. Awesome. I did some mental math. Awesome. I’d got 2 whole hours of sleep! This was going to be an interesting trip. I hopped in the shower, blasted myself with hot water, and then I gingerly packed a bag to last the weekend. It was going to be cold as the Dickens in San Francisco this weekend, I reminded myself, so I packed 3 extra sweaters and my bomber jacket, just in case.
The drive to the Bay was beautiful. It was foggy and wet for most of the morning, which made the Redwoods look all the more majestic as we drove south down the highway, singing along to Belle & Sebastian along the way. Everyone in my group was pretty sleep deprived, which made for great conversation as we all tried to outdo each other in a contest of Who Was More Exhausted. We all tied for first place.
We pulled into San Francisco around 4pm or so and stopped at Trader Joe’s and picked up some snacks, all the while marveling at what a magical wonderland Trader Joe’s was. “There must be something in the water that makes everyone who works here so manically cheerful,” I mused while we stared thoughtful at their vast array of hummus.
Pat and I both bought 6-packs of beer for $2.99 because we’re classy like that. Besides, I’d heard that their lager was pretty damn delicious, especially when you factor in the price. Not all cheap beer is bad, I have come to realize. Besides, I was on a bit of a budget because I was “in between jobs” for the first time in over 7 years and I had to be very meticulous about what I spent my money on if I hoped to survive the experience.
After Joe’s we split up into two groups: Team Steven and Katie met up with Steven’s brother and went back to his dad’s place, and I joined Team Pat and Adrienne and we ventured into San Francisco proper to go vintage clothes shopping and meet up with her sister, who was kind of enough to give us food and shelter for the evening.
After spending a good 20 minutes or so looking for parking we finally found a spot to park and proceeded to have a lovely time waltzing around and commenting on the vast array of humanity that is San Francisco. We meet up with Adrienne’s sister at one of the many vintage clothing outlets in the Haight-Ashbury District and went back to her place, which her and her boyfriend shared with two other guys. It was a really nice spot, complete with a backyard in which they raised chickens. I’m being completely serious. Fresh eggs. It was awesome.
We spent the night drinking beer and watching the Giants game. I used to play baseball when I was younger and have always enjoyed the sport, but I realized while watching the Giants beat the living tar out of the Phillies how much I enjoyed the game! The fact that I was actually in SF to watch them win only added to the experience. Plus Brian Wilson’s beard was a sight to behold! “That man is completely insane,” I was informed. Fantastic. I like crazy pitchers. It adds to the drama of the game, I feel.
After the game we talked for awhile and then decided to watch “Hot Tub Time Machine,” which is a hilarious film which just so happened to star John Cusack (it’s interesting how everything is connected, isn’t it?). After the film and it was declared that is was in fact “late,” so we promptly passed out.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of my cell phone ringing. It was Steven letting me know he was outside and politely asking to be let in. It was quite cold out. I yelled at Pat from across the room and he groggily got up and let them in. We sat around for awhile in the comfortable silence of people who not quite awake yet. We had some coffee and a shot of vodka, which seemed like a good idea at the time. “It’s a Russian blanket,” Pat told me with a smile. “Why not?” I said, downing the shot and shuddering a bit. “You only live once, right?”
We piled into Adrienne’s car and she drove us to the shuttle bus, which took us the rest of the way to the island. Once on the island we were greeted with the glorious sight of hipsters in all shapes and sizes. “Wow! I’ve never seen so many ironic mustaches in one place before!” I declared. My group nodded in agreement. “It’s pretty impressive.”
Half of the bands that were playing that Sunday I had never heard of so I was excited to expand my musical taste. Also, I was excited to see the band She & Him play, because I’ve spent the last two years of my life head over heels in love with Zooey Deschanel. Ha. Right. Me and half of everyone else in hipsterdom.
The day passed quickly and before I knew it Belle & Sebastian took the stage and I started screaming like the fan boy that I was directly into Steven and Katie’s ears. Sorry about that, guys. I just got a little too excited for a second there.
The first song they played was the single “Write About Love,” which was from their new album that I hadn’t heard yet, so I was experiencing it for the first time live, which is a blessed thing that I will never forget. Most of their set consisted of their older, better known tracks though, and the crowd loved it. I decided then and there that Belle & Sebastian was like the Rolling Stones for indie kids. We love seeing them live, but we really want them to play the older songs that we grew up listening to. I was especially pleased when they played “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” which is one of my favorite tracks of their “If You’re Feeling Sinister” album.
I teared up a bit during front man Stuart Murdoch’s tender rendition of “Lord Anthony,” not going to lie. Actually, in all honesty I was teared up through most of their set. Tears of joy, really. It had been a life long dream of mine to see them live and here I was, freezing my buns off in San Francisco doing just that. At that moment there was no place in the world I would have rather been than right there, huddled en masse with my fellow Belle & Sebastian fans. It was a moment that I will always remember with fondness.
The band played for over and hour and a half and when they left the stage I felt completely euphoric, as if all was right in my world. It was a precious feeling that I dwelled upon during the drive home, even though Pat and I were blasting 90s gangster rap in our effort to not stay awake on the drive home. Pat was driving and I volunteered to serve as his co-pilot, offering helpful suggestions such as “please don’t crash into that car that is ahead of us.” Everyone else slept peacefully in the back while we told stories of our childhood and pondered our own mortality.
We arrived back in Humboldt around 5:30 in the morning. I thanked Pat for getting us home in one piece, and told everyone that I loved them and thanked them for such a special road trip. I grabbed my bag and headed up to my apartment, barely managing to lock the door before I slumped into my couch and promptly passed out until noon. It was a good night.