We went through Hell just to get to Hell


I don't know how Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes met. I know that she didn't learn to play the drums until she was 22, which has always been a particularly inspirational bit of knowledge to me. So after college Janet moved from San Francisco and started playing music with Sam Coomes. And they started this band, called Motorgoat. The third person in the band eventually dropped out and moved away, leaving Janet and Sam. And they fell in love. They made recordings for years in their basement. They released a cassette of experimental recordings made on obsolete keyboards that kept breaking. They worked awful day jobs, Sam Coomes worked at Kinkos for three years while playing music in his basement at night, with the woman he loved. They put out comp tracks and played back-up for Elliot Smith. They got married.

(And doesn't that sound great? It's a real kind of fantasy for a certain type of west coast Americans. For me in high school, it was the description of a dream. Being in love, having a career as an experimental indie musician. Pacific Northwest, man. That sounds great doesn't it?)

Then they divorced each other, and kept the band going. They released R&B Transmogrification, a gorgeous, fuzzy kind of indie-pop record ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP ENDING. It is some of the most beautiful, aching music I have heard. I remember buying it because it came as a bonus when you purchased the LP of their following album, Featuring "Birds", which is maybe my favorite record of theirs. On both albums, there's a kind of musique verité happening. Sam and Janet are writing songs ostensibly about one another. How awful is that? To know that your ex is writing songs about you, but then you're also in the band where they write the songs, and then you PLAY ON THEM. Their stage shows are known for utter chaos and palpable onstage tension. She gleefully drums along, kinetic genius that she is, while he sings "Flesh wound heal, broken bones mend / You're not my friend / I never want to see you again." He helps arrange a mod-ish Janet-penned ditty titled "Tomorrow You'll Hide". He compares her in one song to a chocolate rabbit (sweet, cheap and hollow, natch). This is the sound of an actual break up. This is how wonderful it can sound to stay with something painful and bad. They've released a bunch of records since then, all of which are excellent. In high school I saw them perform and they fought continuously onstage. Sam started to play a song on the guitar with Janet, then announced that it wasn't working, the guitar was fucked, and he wanted to skip it. She argued with him, through the microphone, and urged him to just tune the guitar and play the song. He refused. Try it again. He refused. She played the drum part from the song anyway. He hurled the guitar just past her head, at the brick wall behind her. They moved onto the next song. She mocked him in front of their fans. I was in heaven.

I saw Janet on the street in NYC a few weeks ago. She's maybe my favorite (former) member of Sleater-Kinney because she seems the most down to earth. My friend Cotton does a really good impression of her, which is also an impression of Molly Shannon's character Salley O'Malley on SNL, in which he pictures Janet as continually announcing "I'm 50!"

No comments: