Weekly E-mail: See the Constellation
April 28, 2024

There is a moment when I saw The Adventures of Pete and Pete for the first time, but I have no idea when it was. I know that I saw it as a child, younger than 13 years old – before the dawn of the new millennium. Maybe I saw it during its original run, when I was 8 or 9. Formative years for a human being – but they span a massive amount of time. It's hard to pinpoint the fulcrum upon which your life changes forever.

I do remember reuniting with the show: James and I were babysitting our neighbor, Sara. She was a toddler, young enough to walk around in her backyard but not old enough to complain when we forced her back inside. You see, Sara's parents had satellite cable and with it, Noggin, a companion station to classic Nickelodeon. James and I cared for Sara, but we also cared about watching reruns of The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

At this time, I'm a high school student – a teenager. And, like all teenagers, I am trying to figure out who I am. Latching onto the shows of my youth becomes an identity. Pennyfarthing covers "Hey Sandy," Pete and Pete's theme song; I buy buttons featuring Ren and Stimpy to wear on my fleece jacket. Of course, I'm also exploring new things. My good friends Jon and Joey get me to go to punk shows at the Harmony Grange. This is where I see Feable Weiner for the first time, on their Chucks 'n' Tux tour of 2003. Shea and Kevin, by school day our classmates in Honors Algebra II, take the stage as members of The August Run. Kevin gives me a copy of their 5-song EP after class one day. It's everything I wish I could be.

About 8 years later, I revisit Elmira College to see good friends. Anthony Martino gives me a $10 bill. He got it signed by the bass player from Jounce, which played in the Campus Center. James drove up from Dickinson to see the band; I had to stay in New Hampshire for some AmeriCorps service-related reason. I'm jealous, but at least I have this autograph. Danny Tamberelli, who once played Little Pete, touched this bill, wrote this message. I will never spend this money.

There's an episode of Pete and Pete in which Little Pete forms a band. He had heard a song – his song – and is trying to rehear it. Allow me to put on my old man suspenders to tell you – to remind you – that there was a time when we didn't have every song available to us at every moment. If you wanted to hear a song and you didn't own a recording of it, you were at the mercy of the radio. And if it were from a local band who didn't have the money or access to a recording studio? Tough luck, blowhole.

So what is Pete to do but to form his own band and attempt to recreate it? This is, of course, what all artists do: find ways to recreate a feeling so they can be understood or, at least, heard. "If I have your attention, I have your companionship." Pete, on guitar, is joined by Clem "Muttonchops" Linnell on drums, Mel Ratner on lead guitar, and Miss Fingerwood on bass. These musicians are themselves played by "I don't know," Marshall Crenshaw, and Syd Straw, respectively.

The world of Pete and Pete intersects with a seemingly infinite number of other worlds. Iggy Pop, Michael Stipe, and Debbie Harry all played characters throughout the show's run. But it's Syd Straw that I'm most concerned with here, as she is connected to another essential Paul Riley influence: They Might Be Giants. She's interviewed in the band's documentary, Gigantic, since she opened for the band on their '92 tour. Syd seems at home in the performance art world, the kind of person whose mannerisms could easily be mistaken for sheepishness by those unaware of just how intentional great artists are. Even a mistake becomes something which they intended to do all along.

The Town and City Festival took place in downtown Lowell this weekend. It's an annual event spread out across multiple venues: pubs, coffee shops, repurposed mill buildings. On Friday, Jackie and I got dressed and walked down to Rizzo's, a pizza and sub shop across the street from Christ Church United. I wore my black Chuck Taylors, shoes that I've had since August 2005. We ate a small pepperoni pizza, drank soda, and hung out until the doors opened. We both knew that this was special, the ability to walk from our home to a restaurant and makeshift music venue.

I'd never really listened to Syd Straw's music. Maybe I've heard some of it along the way. In some ways, it doesn't matter what she sang or if I'll ever hear those songs again. For a little bit of time – less than an hour – I got to spend time with an artist who helped create some of my favorite things.

After the show ended, I stood around. I wanted to meet her, to tell her thank you, to let her know that she meant so many things to me. But I didn't. Lando was at home and needed a walk; Jackie was jonesin' for some brownies. We walked to our home downtown in the cool night air.

-Paul



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