Certain Songs #1180: The Miss Alans – “State of Grace (Fresno, 12-26-2010)”

Video, 2010

And so after Ledger, nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true: there were the Super 5 Thor records, full of beauty and atmosphere, cool vocals and trippy guitar. But missing the crack rhythm section that put so many Miss Alans songs over. And after the turn of the century, those dried up, as well, as life took over.

So we all grew older and apart, as was to be expected, wrapped up in our individual lives and jobs and families, and the memories of our crazy past got blurrier and probably a little bit sweeter, and new people we met maybe didn’t quite understand some of the stories from our youth we told them, or if they were young, rolled their eyes, and that was the way it was supposed to be.

And then Facebook happened.

Now I know that Facebook — and social media in general — is probably a net negative for society as a whole, but I would argue that it’s allowed good things to happen on a much smaller, more personal level. Like the Displaced Fresnans Society reunions. At some point, in order to share pictures and stories of the old days, Sonya created a Facebook group called The Displaced Fresnans Society, and in 2008 — realizing that many of us came home for Christmas — organized the first reunion, held at Tokyo Gardens, naturally.

It was so successful that there was a second one, and that was where the Miss Alans reunited. Not to play any music, but it was the first time all four of them had been in the same room since April, 1995, and as Manny joked at the time, they might have played a song or two, but nobody could remember how they went.

Of course, another thing that had happened in the early part of the 21st century was that the music the Miss Alans made kinda disappeared. Since every single one of their releases was on a different label that really didn’t exist anymore, their records didn’t really make the transition into the online age, and it was kinda like they’d never even existed. Which is why years ago, Kirk and I started bugging them about getting their music back out into the world, but to no avail.

Even more so, while the four CDs still existed in the wilds of used record stores or online shops, Bus, of course, had only ever been a cassette. It hadn’t even made it to the 1990s, really. So in late September, 2010, I decided it might be fun to post the entire thing to my Soundcloud account, and post one song a day on Facebook with a little paragraph commenting on it. That way people who remembered it could download it or at least listen to it.

To a man, the band was excited about this, and as the week went on, they were already talking in the comments about reuniting. Maybe it was jokes at first, but at some point after that, The Miss Alans decided to reunite and play their first show in over 15 years. At this time, Scott & Manny had boomeranged back to Fresno, and Ron was only a few hours drive, so Christmastime was a good time for Jay to make it out from New York.

And so, a couple days before Christmas I got to sit and watch the Miss Alans rehearse — in a space secured for them by Victor, of course — and I was immediately flooded with memories: at Ron’s parents house, watching The Wayne Foundation put songs together; at the warehouse in Clovis where sometimes the rehearsals and the parties were interchangeable; the space on Belmont where you could sense the crime raging all around on the outside; that dark room near the Wilson Theatre on the ever-more-sporadic nights as the early 90s got ever more complicated.

Home
That’s where I’m headed
And you know my head hurts
Yeah, my head hurts

Sure, at first it was a little rough: you try picking up something where you left off 15 years prior, and jumping back into it, but slowly, you could see them regaining their groove. One of the things they’d all learned in that 15 years was that the musical chemistry they had with each other was unique and irreplaceable. And still there.

The show itself was was held on December 26, 2010. The Olympic Tavern where they played their memorable New Years Eve shows had become Club Fred where they played their final show was now Audie’s Olympic — one foot in the past and one foot in the future.

Quite naturally, we went down to Audies for their soundcheck — Audies is a bar, so it was already open for business. And a funny thing happened at that soundcheck: people kept showing up. It wasn’t like we were all on some giant texting chain, but it was rather a more spontaneous thing: let’s go watch the Miss Alans do their soundcheck, and say hi to the band before the show, grab some dinner and then hit the pre-party at Cindy’s house before heading back to the show proper. After all, it’s been over 15 years.

There’s a scene in Mark Shipper’s great fictional Beatles biography, Paperback Writer — a Top 5 rock ‘n’ roll book for me — where the the four Beatles, having decided in 1977 to reunite, are alone in a room together for the first time since they broke up, and they all start giving each other shit, and Shipper points out that it wasn’t so much the Beatles reunion, but rather, the Beatles reunion, a re-discovery of what they loved about each other in the first place.

In the case of the Beatles, of course, it could only be the four of them, because being a Beatle was the the most isolating thing in the world. But in the case of the Miss Alans, the Miss Alans reunion had to include family and friends, because the Miss Alans themselves had always included family and friends, from the very start.

Like the time that I left her
Now i’m feeling better
I’m feeling better

State of grace
State of grace

The show itself was fantastic. The best thing that happened in 2010 which didn’t involve baseball. Surrounded by people who never thought this day would happen — friends, family and other local musicians, the Miss Alans fed off of the energy of the crowd and delivered a near-comprehensive overview of their career, hitting on the highlights of Bus & Blusher and going deep on Smack The Horse and Ledger, which technically was the album they were touring, just 15 years later.

A couple of hours later, it was over. Sure, I’d danced myself through two shirts and to the point of dehydration (in 2017, I made sure to drink more beer than whiskey and maybe even some water), and while of course I wanted more, I was just so damn glad it happened in the first place, even if they only played two songs — “Crushed Impalas” and “Hard-Kissing Harold” — from my favorite period.

Love
You said to let go
That’s when I let go
I let go

And here’s the thing: video was taken of that show, but the only song that has ever been posted was “State of Grace,” on some mysterious account that I don’t recognize. I’ve heard tales that a full video exists, maybe on a DVD somewhere, and if somehow that got its way to me, I would make sure the rest of the show got uploaded.

“State of Grace” is the opening track of Blusher, and like “Dying Solace,” “The Shiny Unfeeling” and “Earwig” before it, it sets the tone of the album: fading in like a transmission from a distant uni: huge, gauzy and fuzzy, not quite in focus, but completely assured and taking its damn time to get where it wants to go.

I
Need a place to feel special
Now I’m feelin special
Yeah I’m special

State of grace

In the end, Manny sets his wah-wah pedal to “galaxy brain” and makes massively ugly noises around the army of overdubbed Scott Olivers and it goes on and on until Ron Woods shuts the down with a series of ever-slowing rolls.

Live, however, it doesn’t really have the studio trickery that allows it fade in, so Scott directs us to the Jay’s opening bass notes, which set up the entire band to crash together for the grand long opening, and ride the groove — slightly faster, because it’s live and there’s adrenaline and shit we’re really doing this aren’t we? You can hear it in Manny’s guitar solo, which is trying to get back to the distant universe the song came from in the first.

But that show in 2010 was always intended to an isolated incident, and despite all of the great vibes and terrific fun, remained just that: another memory that was going to get hazy with time, even if there were shitloads of pictures on our phones or photo sharing sites or Facebook or wherever.

So suddenly, much faster than before, it’s seven years later, and after Kirk calls a band meeting on Messenger: yet another reunion of sorts. We’ve realized that maybe the trick to getting the reissues out is to just get the reissues out, and after the usual spate of jokes, he gets everybody’s approval. And a couple of months after that, Miss Alans music finally shows up on various streaming services, Scott’s working on Remnants, and lo and behold, they decide to do another reunion show, this time to be held at Fulton 55 in Fresno, on December 22, 2017.

At first, there was a plan to not play any songs at the second reunion show that they played at the first show, which is awesome and cool, though it would have also meant no “Glamorous” or “Crushed Impalas” or (gasp!) “Shiny Unfeeling,” but that plan kinda fell apart — it would have been too ambitious by half even if they were all in the same city, and so and the setlist for the 2017 show was remarkably similar to the 2010 show: a wonderfully comprehensive look at their entire career.

There was a video shot of the show, but unexpected technical gremlins came in and ate it, much to the sorrow of everybody involved. Except for the technical gremlins, of course, who live for fucking with people that way. I guess they’re gonna have to do a reshoot! What I think that video would have shown was that the vibe of the 2017 reunion show was completely different than the 2010 show — it felt looser and mellower — and yet it resonated deeper with me, bringing up more emotion. Yuk!

It took me awhile to realize why that was: obviously all of the great songs and all of the great playing; obviously the nostalgia factor (look, I’m dancing like an idiot just like I did when I was 25!); but also because it was once upon a time so commonplace.

We used to get to do this at least monthly, often weekly, for years and years and years. For a lot of us, it was the defining ritual of our social group, maybe even the one constant, even as everything else constantly changed. And while we loved it and appreciated it at the time — the clubs were always packed, the dancefloors always jammed and the crowds always enthusiastic — I think we didn’t even realize how much we loved it not until after it was gone, but rather until after it was gone for a long long time. Gone with no hope of ever coming back.

Except that it did come back: the Christmas miracle of 2010. And it was beautiful and wonderful and special, but it also a one-off, an isolated incident never to be repeated. Which for seven years that zipped by faster than they should have, it wasn’t. Then, on the heels of the Miss Alans music re-entering the world, another show, displaying once again how great that music was.

And that’s why the second reunion show felt different. Because it was tied to the long-awaited digital release of Miss Alans music (much of it unheard!) to the world — a release that is still going on — it felt not like another one-off, but maybe the beginning of something. The actual Miss Alans reunion. Obviously not like it once was — those days are gone forever — but maybe something new. Maybe not, of course. But maybe. And that’s incredibly exciting.

And on and on
Moving on
Oh yeah, oh yeah
Alone

But even if that’s the end, I got to do this: write 20,000+ words about one of my favorite bands — and four of my favorite people — for well over a month. There were a lot of people who helped me with this: John Hayes, Linda Cohen & Nate Butler, whose stories gave me backstory on parts of the band’s history I didn’t know. I’ve, of course, been discussing The Miss Alans with Kirk Biglione for over 30 years, and while he’s told me many stories over the years I would never write about, his insights proved invaluable, especially on the often hilarious Messenger thread that started last summer to get their consent on the re-issues, and in that thread Manny Diez, Jay Fung and Ron Woods were generous with thoughts and opinions small and large.

Finally, thank you Scott Oliver, for answering my questions, sending me lyrics, listening to my theories, getting me Remnants mixes in advance — I’m listening to the whole thing as I write this, and it sounds great, a shadow history of the band — and totally supporting what must have been an almost surreal dissection of your art and life.

“State of Grace” performed live at Audies Olympic, December 26, 2017

“State of Grace” performed live at Club Lingerie, 1994

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