When We Were Lost
Three hours a day is a lot of time to just space out, so I like to find
productive uses for my commute to work. Yesterday I read a book. The day
before was a winner-- I stared out the window while listening to Clinic's
"Porno" on repeat. This morning, I decided to write a review of the Lofty
Pillars' When We Were Lost on the train. The Pillars (who should have
thought of the fact that they'd be called "The Pillars" for short when they
came up with such a dumb name for a band) decided to write my commute instead.
Super, less work for me!
A few notes as preface before we get on the train with the Lofty Pillars:
1. Like the half-empty or half-full glass, a commute can "suck" or it can
"give me time to read or think."
2. It's obvious to the Pillars that the glass is half-empty, but they don't
care. That glass is a lie, and if you love it enough to clutch it tightly,
it will break, cut you, and leave you cold and wet.
3. They don't sing about trains (okay, one song) or glasses of water. They
sing about misery, abandonment, and being lost in rain, ice, snow, and hail;
in other words, they sing about the monsoon called life.
Ho-Ho-Kus => Ridgewood
I'm fortunate enough to catch the 7:32 Main Line Express in a town called
Ho-Ho-Kus (that's ho-HO-kiss). I suspect that a very long time ago, the
town was named under the influence of "the wacky tobaccy." The train makes
stops in Ridgewood, Glen Rock, and Fairlawn before arriving at the Hoboken
terminal around 8:00 a.m.
We all board the train. Me, the suits, and the Lofty Pillars, who drag much
more than a guitar, bass and drumkit into the passenger car. As with every
Wednesday, the conductor says, "Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. It's
hump-day!" The passengers glance around at each other nervously-- not only
are the Pillars terrible "hump music," but an accordion, bassoon, pedal steel
and dobro guitars clutter the aisles.
Michael Krassner, best known for directing the Boxhead Ensemble, is clearly
the leader of the Lofty Pillars. But Will Hendricks shares songwriting credits,
and Fred Lonberg-Holm arranged the horns and strings which feature Julie
Pomerleau's expert violin, and himself on the cello. This lends a fuller,
almost orchestral sound to Krassner's country-tinged '70s pop-melancholia,
which seems more appropriate to Krassner's songwriting style than the more
sparse arrangements of Krassner's self-titled debut.
Ridgewood => Glen Rock
I've found that if I engage in mysterious feminine rituals (read: apply
mascara) while the suits decide where to park their palm pilots, no one
will sit next to me. Unfortunately, this morning, I've forgotten my
lash-o-licious, so not only will my eyes "lack definition," but also I'll
have to share my seat. A man in a suit sits down next to me just as the
Lofty Pillars begin playing their opening number, "Lost." It begins like
every track on the album with "chopsticks macabre" plunking quarter-notes
in a mournful key.
Suitmann: "I get lost in your eyes."
Rockermann: "Yes, I forgot my mascara. Did you know that Debbie Gibson and I
have the same birthday?"
Suitmann: "Yes, I did."
[At this point, Michael Krassner belts out, "The frozen hands left in your
coat/ Clutching to the faded note/ A memory when things were right..." which
causes an awkward pause in our conversation.]
Rockermann: "Sir, could you please throw me from this train?"
Krassner continues singing a couple of seats back: "With everything in this
world so cold and brutal, too/ What have we done to become so black and blue?"
I notice I do have a few bruises on my goosebump-covered knees. I repeat my
Rockermann: "Please! Don't you see that this album demands it? Throw
me off! The world... it's so cold and brutal..."
Suitmann: "Actually, I think it's you who is missing Krassner's vision. He
doesn't hate life, the guy lives for this stuff! The way your mother loves
to cry at sad movies. That's why he's drawing upon nostalgic and melancholy
genres not only lyrically, but in the song structures and arrangements. I
suspect this is Krassner's idea of a good time-- the Lofty Pillars are into
it! You've got to get into to it, too! That's the only way we're going to
make it to the end of their train line.
"I'll do my best," Rockermann says, as Krassner wails, "I am the curtain that
has been torn!" and the train rolls into Glen Rock.
Glen Rock => Fairlawn
The Pillars are playing music that reminds me of nostalgia-soaked film themes,
so I direct my gaze to the landscape they seem to narrate-- passing time,
passing lives, passing clothes-lines and junk yards. As we approach the
Fairlawn stop, it's started to rain. A girl is standing alone by the tracks.
The Pillars being crying "Wannalee!/ Wannalee!/ Wannalee, come in from the
pouring rain!" After a moment, I translate "Wannalee" to "Oh, Anna Lee."
It's both the most over-the-top and definitive moment of an extremely
sentimental and melodramatic record, and for some reason I'm loving it right
Fairlawn => Hoboken
"At the Station" begins. "When he arrives at the station/ And greets your
tired eyes/ You're the one who has come/ So far." And I guess I have.
Somewhere between Ho-Ho-Kus and Hoboken, I developed a soft spot for the
nostalgic drivel on When We Were Lost. Somehow I think that if
Krassner seemed more from this world, the album would make me want to puke.
Instead, it's a seamless and sad, old movie from the '70s-- its stories
about trains and little girls left in the rain told in warm sepia tones.
The train rolls to a stop, and I look out the window at the real world-- the
cold and brutal one we left back at the beginning of the record. I continue
to sit as Anna Lee and the others file out while Krassner comforts, "December
came too soon/ If you're cold, I will carry you... If you're cold, I will
Whoa! Fortunately, I snapped out of it and stood up. There's an oddly strong
pull towards Krassner's twilight winter, and I'm not going back there alone.
Consider yourself warned.
-Kristin Sage Rockermann