(on the left, Victoria, on the right, me, Memphis, 1997)
Last week I missed the one 90s indie band reunion show I thought I was waiting for when the Grifters played in Memphis and I stayed home in Austin. They were my favorite band from 1993-8, I saw them in at least five cities, have a photos and live tapes from their shows, and a fabulous cartoon thank-you note drawn by bassist Tripp Lampkins after taking him out to celebrate his 30th birthday one Halloween night after a show. Dave Shouse played a solo set at my wedding party. They were underappreciated, having disbanded pre-internet, they haven’t played in over a decade, and I always thought they’d be the one reunion I couldn’t miss, until I did.
Being born at the younger edge of Generation X means I was just old enough to see a healthy swath of 90s bands (I was there to see Nirvana fuck up an instore, to see Pavement with Gary Young drumming, to see Come, I was there) and just young enough to miss some important ones. Since 2005 I’ve seen the reunions of plenty of both—Slint, My Bloody Valentine, The Clean, Thinking Fellers Union 282, Pulp, Jesus Lizard—never worrying about being let down or marring great memories. Many of those shows involved air travel, domestic and international, and time off from work.
But this was the one I hesitated to see. When the news hit (not that far in advance) that they would be playing at the Indie Memphis Film Festival, I thought “what,” briefly talked with friends about going, then never pulled the trigger on a plane ticket, forcing me to awkwardly tell my BFF Jennifer, whom I have known since I was 13, that I wouldn’t be making the trip to Memphis with her.
The Grifters hit my turntable via a record store clerk at Austin’s Sound Exchange (the same place and guy responsible for the Daniel Johnston mural) I crushed on because he always put me on to good music, or whose recommendations I heeded because I thought he was cute: hard to tell at 16. He pointed out the Grifters’ second indie release, One Sock Missing, and the fuzzier-than-slanted sound and Delta melancholy interspersed with static-soaked freakouts became my new favorite. I wrote them a fan letter and introduced myself when they came to town in the spring of 1993.
Jennifer and I would go see as many of their Texas shows as we could, talking our way into Dallas and Houston venues or getting the band to sympathetically sneak us in, as we were still teens. Jen and our friend Steve were thrown out of Emo’s in Austin once for underage drinking and I still feel guilty that I wasn’t nabbed, too. In addition to these Texas trips, she flew up to see them in Minneapolis once (the only other time I missed one of their shows. I canceled after being taken out by a cyclist doing tricks at a block party), and I detoured an Austin-Atlanta roadtrip to see them play a warehouse in Manhattan, Kansas, on a bill with Rodan and the Flaming Lips. Finding that show in 1994 required using the primitive methods of calling the band’s label and consulting a AAA atlas to figure out where to go. A couple of years later, I wound up in Memphis for a summer, brought there by the connections I’d made in the city because of them.
The greatest hazard of trying to repeat a good past experience is that it won’t live up to the memories. A lesser one is that it will. In either case, the present loses. This never troubled me when I chose to see other reunion shows, but none of those bands crashed at my house when I was 20. This band and those memories are too real-life to permit me an aesthetic or fan appreciation divorced from the experiences and emotions of those times.