Next sunday I have tickets to go and see ‘Breadcrumb Trail’, a documentary film by Lance Bangs about Slint and the Louisville scene they emerged from. I’ve been waiting 2 years to see this film. In March 2012 I went to ATP and saw excerpts from the film and it literally changed my life.
You’ll have to forgive the hyperbole, because it isn’t actually hyperbole – watching those film clips directly led to me making huge fundamental life-changing decisions.
Let me explain.
I was at Butlins in Minehead for the Jeff Mangum curated ATP with my then partner of 5 years and a couple of friends. My partner was an alcoholic with some pretty heavy mental health issues exacerbated by drinking, and attending ATP with him was always scary for me as there was no normal life schedule to keep him under control – he could literally drink all day and all night if he wanted and that would appear to be socially acceptable behaviour to the casual observer. I won’t go into too much gory detail here but suffice to say he was ruining the weekend for me – getting frighteningly drunk, becoming by turns argumentative, self-pitying and dizzyingly ecstatic and then losing consciousness – it was an exhausting fucking roundabout of doom for me – especially the part where I had to conceal how unhappy I was about his behaviour in order to avoid a confrontation. Anyone who has been partner to an addict will recognise this behaviour – how you become complicit in the deception that nothing is wrong, because confronting it is just too fucking hard. So you perpetuate their fantasy that everything is fine and no-one has noticed they’re a fucking mess.
So you have the context. By the sunday afternoon I’d had more than enough and just wanted to be away from him. I wanted to see Lance Bangs’ and Spike Jonze’s documentary about Maurice Sendak and as a Slint fan of 20+ years I was also dying to see the promised excerpts of his movie about them. Luckily, my partner didn’t want to go with me, so I happily trotted off to the cinema alone. The cinema at Butlins is pretty shoddy – quite a few of the seats don’t have actual seats attached to the backs, so people were squatting, sitting and crouching on the floor in the dark but I managed to grab a precious seat-with-an-actual-seat. The Maurice Sendak movie was wonderful – extraordinarily insightful and funny and moving – I highly recommend it if you get the chance. Sendak was a mischievous, rude and profound man – fucking adorable basically.
You can see a clip here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_AfLYtJ7FQ and you can watch the full movie on iTunes.
Next Lance talked to us a bit about the Slint documentary he was about to show us. He told us how he first heard Spiderland, around the time of its release, and how he became obsessed with tracking down the already-defunct band, driving 500 miles up to Louisville at weekends to hunt them down. Lance himself is likeable and funny and highly articulate – conjuring up his awkward teenage self for us – then he played some sizeable chunks of the movie. They began with Britt Walford’s parents, Ron and Charlotte, sitting on a fabulously garish midcentury couch in a sunny living room. “It was always Britt and Brian, Brian and Britt” they say and we are treated to footage of 2 goofy pubescent boys larking about with video cameras, looking like the happiest teenagers on the planet. What followed was a tender and often fucking hilarious portrait of a band (there’s a lot of poo jokes – always a winner in my book), but also a love letter to the city and the scene they grew up in and out of. And I was smitten… with Louisville (although I did admittedly also develop a fairly monster crush on Britt Walford at the same time). For the rest of the weekend I could barely think of anything else. I wanted to rush home and listen to Spiderland on repeat and dream of Louisville. And when we finally got home on the monday that is pretty much what I did for the next month.
So how did this change my life? You’re probably still wondering. Well it gave me a vision of a different life – a life in a different city, a different country. It gave me a private world to retreat into when things at home were scary and unface-able. I could see myself driving down a wide sun-bright street listening to Axons and Dendrites by Shipping News like the final scene of a movie. A fucking feelgood movie. Ultimately, it let me imagine a life outside of the one I had become trapped in. And that was something I’d been unable to do for years. I now had an escape route in my mind and it helped me to formulate one in real life.
It took a few months and things got a lot worse before they got better – breaking up with someone who has no impulse control whasoever is actually pretty terrifying. But 3 months after I ended the relationship I got on a plane on my own and landed in Louisville in blazing August sunshine, greeted by the sound of cicadas and the sight of vultures wheeling in the sky above the airport. I met up with my friend Sam at the Greyhound Bus Station – he was already in the States travelling about and ‘finding himself’. Together we found Utica quarry and swam in its dark depths (or rather, Sam did – I was too scared). The city welcomed us with open arms – the people we met had a warmth beyond anything I could have imagined in my tepid, sarcastic British heart. We made friends and found new bands to love. We ate like kings and drove a ridiculous muscle car. We learned the value of air conditioning. We smoked too much because fags are so cheap over there. We got bitten by tiny mosquitos that left bites the size of tennis balls. We swam in another quarry. We spent too much on Louisville-themed T-shirts. We swung on porch swings in muggy twilight. We took a day trip to Cincinnati and spent the whole day missing Louisville. We drank a lot of lemonade and ice tea. We met dogs in bars and cats on porches. We met some musical heroes too.
And I finally stopped feeling afraid. I relaxed. I actually fucking relaxed.
When I came home things got bad again for a while but eventually my ex-partner was arrested and banned from having any contact with me. I suffered a bout of PTSD and had a lot of therapy. Things got better. In August 2013 I went back to Louisville with my current boyfriend. It was even better the second time around and we made more friends and strengthened existing ones. We’re going again this summer. I’m trying to hatch a plan to move there and make a life.
So I’d like to say this to Lance Bangs – ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ literally changed my life.
Me at Utica Quarry, August 2012