Shortly after arriving here that summer of ’93 with diploma (written entirely in Latin, for some reason) under my arm I was feeling a particular strain of loneliness reserved for those like myself who had not the wherewithal to plan that next step in life. My dual gigs of busboy, on the one hand, and “Contract Marketing Specialist” for a small bilingual theater company on the other, afforded me the opportunity to have plenty of time to just sit and think. Surely a double edged sword, that is.
I needed to connect with a college friend, via the phone at the very least. I made a quick call to my friend Matt B.- among the biographical information my memory is able to impart is that he was the grandson of some Dupont chemical wizard of days of yore. He was from Lewiston, NY- outside of Buffalo and just barely on this side of the border from Niagara Falls. My first recollection of Matt was watching him sailboard around the track that encircled the Garcelon Field, just to the North of my freshman dorm. I had no idea it was called sailboarding, it just looked like a windsurfing sail stuck into the front of a long skateboard. To me, they were just an odd combination of two things I had never done.
We soon learned that we were both volleyball players, he an outside hitter and I a setter. That’s one of the best things about volleyball-- all it takes is a ball and another person and one can really get down to business. A net doesn’t hurt either, but even without, a good athletic time can be had. I don’t expect many to understand, but the setter/hitter relationship in volleyball is akin to the one of the artist and his muse, the photographer and the model, perhaps. The offensive attack is a visual art of sorts, an ivory orb floating without spin through the air, reaching an apex, and then in its denouement crushed by the palm of a hand, accelerating to the floor in a lightning strike of athleticism. There Matt and I were, two minds and bodies connecting via a leather, 18-paneled medium, over and over again.
In a matter of just a couple of months, we decided to get tattoos together, in the same place, on the meat of our left arms, just below the shoulder. We both knew exactly what we wanted, too-- which was even more odd. On a particular return trip from an all-day volleyball tournament at MIT in a gym across from a warehouse where if the breeze blows your way you can (make that could- looks like it relocated in 2003) smell NECCO wafers—we decided to cash in a favor owed my dad and showed up at some random parlor in Seabrook, New Hampshire as instructed.
I went first, and although it was painful, it was over in 35 minutes. There, on my arm was the tattoo I knew I would always get, ever since that first year of Temple Beth El Hebrew School, circa 1976. My distinct lack of self control in class oft ended in relegation to the library, which had a healthy dose of Shel Silverstein. Every time I went there, the first book I picked up was The Giving Tree, and now I had on my arm the emblazoned image of the boy beneath the tree, ready to catch the apple, arms outstretched, in his overall shortset and wire-haired glory.
Matt and I talked about post-graduate life that day on the phone, he from his PhD program at MIT (totally unrelated to any volleyball played there, they just had a killer Chemistry program) and I sitting at 348 Madison NE, in a smoky fog of odd jobs, lack of goal-setting, and the jukebox at Jack’s. He asked me what I liked about Albuquerque and one of the things I mentioned was the bars and clubs downtown and how they seemed to be tapped into a burgeoning indie rock scene, and the great local bands that played there as well.
But I prefer to re-read this article that captures the same material with a narrative flair.]
At this point, being the master of conversational transitions, he asked me a key question that would help shape the next 6+ years of my musical and lifechoice directions here in Albuquerque.
“Hey, speaking of bands, do you remember Matt G. who quit school and moved to Chapel Hill?”
“Oh yeah, sure.”
“Well, he and some friends started a band and you should keep your eyes peeled, they’re really getting big, and they’re gonna tour like crazy.”
I was pretty incredulous as to the general tone and direction that Matt was going. I mean, how many times have people had this conversation? How many “local bands” just languish, even after considerable local buzz and subsequent thankless touring in a rigged up Chevy panel van?
“OK, what are they called, I’ll jot it down, let me get a pen.” says me.
“You’re not going to need one- the name of the band is hilarious and you’ll never forget it.” says Matt.
“OK, I’ll bite, what is it?”
“Archers of Loaf”, he says.
I saw the Archers later that fall, and a few more times through the mid-late nineties, mostly at the Dingo Bar, tours supporting Icky Mettle, Vee Vee and All the Nations Airports at the very least, and Matt G. the bassist and I got to reconnect and stay in touch a bit, over a (free for all touring bands) meal most likely consisting of a veggie sandwich in one of the booths at Fred’s Bread and Bagel. We even saw each other after the band broke up, at Matt B's wedding in Jackson, NH.
The Archers of Loaf’s stuff has really held up, for me at least. Even the title track from the final “departure” album, White Trash Heroes, with its slow and brooding rhythm.
You know what else has held up? That Giving Tree tattoo. I still love it, and it still says “me” to me.
Is there any indie rock or tattoo that says "you" to you? Confess, and embrace the cliché in the space below.