“It takes two people to live one life.”
Summer’s mom says that’s what she and Summer herself always said about living her own. I think it takes at least two and in our case, in mine, doubtless, three. If that all sounds a bit cryptic, let me try to explain, contextualize.
When last we spoke, dear listener, round about the release of our previous album, Til Morning Is Nigh, I (Michael) was recovering from the events that nearly took (and briefly, actually did take) my life. In the little liner note Christmas ornament that came special with the CD version of the album, we alluded to this.
Adrift in those ten minutes when my heart ceased beating, a pulmonary event nearly always fatal, how “twin angels both celestial and earthly, returned and guarded” me from their vantages “on either side of the divide, enveloping me (and as we wished to envelop all of you with Til Morning itself) in love and protection.”
It’s a dodgy business trying to explain an album. It’s hard sometimes for us to get a finger on it and maybe folly to try because whatever it comes to mean to you, dear listener, is the far more important thing and maybe we shouldn’t be prejudicing those impressions of yours with our own thoughts before you’ve even had a chance to come to it unknowingly on your own. But in the event that it might be of some mild interest, pique curiosity, provide nominal context, we’d like to share a little of our thoughts.
When we finally got out of that awful hospital, limping into the back of a cab, legs attached by hoses to a wound vac, shoulder in a sling, clutching a bottle of blood thinner, and pulling away from the curb, we passed the awe-inspiring sight of the Cathedral of St John the Divine rising above us. Rolling the window down, the air warm and fresh, our first time outside in nearly a month, I heard birdsong and simply began to cry. The sights of the city as we drove downtown toward home, familiar, seemed magical, and later just a few blocks from our building when a song came on the radio from the driver’s seat in front (Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” – ha!), I started singing along. Summer’s mom looked back from the front seat passenger side and Sylvia, next to me in back, smiled, but said, still a bit worried about my heart, “don’t get too excited.”
I did, though. Making my way up the 69 steps dragging the wound vac behind me like a mountaineer, the way physical therapy had had me practice in the hospital’s stairwell, the first thing we did when we got into the apartment was plant me directly in front of the a/c and get WFMU on. Takeout from the Greek place downstairs and that night’s SF Giants baseball game on TV completed the homecoming.
In the weeks ahead, we were determined to go forward with Til Morning, even with me still in a sling, barely able to move my left arm and fret my guitars. Music almost overwhelmed me with emotion whenever I heard it and it became something even dearer than it had been to me before. To be moved by music and to be able to create our own seemed the very reason for, if not simply life itself – what it was to be alive.
By the time we finished Til Morning, releasing it the day after Thanksgiving – Sylvia’s first one (how do we say “giblets”? ) – and a mini-tour of Northern California just before Christmas, we were already thinking about this album.
I know, we’re a thousand words in here and I’m only just turning the corner to the task at hand – how did this come to be? Well, all that precedes maybe lays context, past is prologue.
One of the things I always wanted to do, I told Summer of this, too, and now Sylvia, was to drive California’s Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1), making little stops along the way, folding in visits to some of the famous Missions along the way, and staying overnight wherever we might find wending our leisurely way. Summer & I never got to this, along with a thousand other plans, but we did touch on it when she was working in Carmel, both going back and forth home to San Francisco and alighting there for the month or two she was appearing onstage. Carmel is where Highway 1 really begins its most breathtaking vistas, first as Monterey appears before you en route, and later after leaving Carmel’s gorgeous environs for Big Sur.
Sylvia and I planned to make this pilgrimage, starting out from Summer’s folks house north of Sacramento all the way down to Santa Barbara (where I was born) and back again, over five days. Sylvia mapped the whole thing out – the Missions, the sleepovers, everything – from France before she arrived here in New York just before my birthday. The year before, both mine and hers had been spent in that godawful hospital. We determined to do better this year, flying to California, spending time with Summer’s parents, taking our road trip, finishing back with the Serafins and then returning to NYC.
I gently steered Sylvia away from a stopover in Carmel because I thought it would hurt too much. Days after Summer’s tragic passing in 2011, I’d tried to make this very pilgrimage on my own. I stopped in Carmel – meaning to go all the way on to see friends, shattered, in LA – but taking my things to the hotel room (which I was sure was the very same room in which Summer & I had stayed), walking the little streets there, trying to visit the ocean, I faltered. Ruined, overwhelmed with grief, I couldn’t even make it to the beach. I slumped and hid behind a tree. I passed back into the center of the village, where every place had lost its magic without her, climbed the stairs to the hotel, fell onto the floor and sobbed. I called a friend in NYC who told me just to get out of there, check out of the hotel and drive back to my friend’s house in San Rafael until my flight back to New York a week later. It was the last time, aside from regularly visiting Summer’s parents, that I would ever travel. It had spooked me.
It’s sometimes hard to remember but Bipolar Explorer existed before the tragedy. Summer and Sean and I were working on what we thought was going to be an EP, the material that came to be part of Of Love and Loss. In the years since, today, and forever, this project will be, as we’ve often said “of, for and about her”. But the events that nearly and briefly did take my own life and Sylvia’s selfless emergence, holding me up (literally), in guidance and finding a way together – angels both earthly and celestial, astride either side of the divide – now, forever, fold themselves into our remit, as well.
With Sylvia’s itinerary in hand, we headed down the coast. I’d packed my road guitar and minimal set-up – a bottom of the line echo/delay pedal and a 9 volt mini Marshall amp – and each night I’d play in our hotel room. The record’s first songs were birthed along the way, three of them taking their titles for the places they were born.
The last of them, “Mission Street”, was begun in Carmel – where we wound up going, blessedly, after all, the darker clouds lifting: It takes three people to live one life.
In the morning, Sylvia and I walked down to the beach. We took our shoes off at that very tree I had slumped and hidden behind and shuffled barefoot through the warm, white sands. At a certain point I walked off, shoes in hand, along, alone, down the beach near the water, the tide rolling in caressing my toes, deep in thought, in communion with the other half of my soul. Sylvia, thoughtfully, respectfully, herself full of love and protection, let me wander and took the most beautiful photograph of the very moment. You’ll see it here and may also recognize it as the cover of our first experimental music piece for The Dark Outside.
Indeed, there’s more of that kind of work on Deux Anges – the ambient, the experimental, field recordings sprinkled with instrumentation – as well as the more traditional dreampop songwriting and shoegaze-y underscored spoken word, that has become our kind of signature.
What is the album about? Even Sylvia was asking and she’s as close to it as anyone. “Is it about the accident”, she asked? No, I don’t think so. It’s more of an expression of the wonder of even being here at all. The struggle is part of it, too. The loss, the sadness, the longing, the fitful efforts to find our way. There’s darkness but it’s there where the glimmer of light sometimes glows brightest. That flicker of faith that begins as an ember in the black and grows to overtake it.
It’s gratitude for the people I love. For my angels, celestial and earthly. For Mike & Linda – Summer’s beautiful parents. For everything that opened up on that trip down Highway 1. For “sandos” along the way at San Luis Obispo’s High Street Deli. For the music that touches us and the music that somehow comes out of us, a gift from the beyond, from The Forever. For the people who care about that, for our friends at WFMU and California’s KFJC, for the UK’s The Dark Outside and London’s Resonance FM, The Sound Projector, and Sonic Imperfections, for Germany’s TFSC and Canada’s Limbocast, for The Netherland’s De Mist, for France’s Indiemusic and Raphael Duprez, for Toronto’s Ground Control Magazine and Daryl Darko Barnett. For you, dear listener.
Over two discs and three hours, we hope Deux Anges takes you somewhere, too. Somewhere warm, somewhere you feel home, somewhere thoughts can drift and kindness find you. Ready for a drive? We’ll stop for sandos along the way…
With love, thanks & faith,
(for Summer & Michael & Sylvia)
New York City