Long Way Down and a Love Letter To Stephen Svacina
By Jay Armstrong
“It is easy,” you might say to toss out a few positive words about a band, a record, a song and call it a day. What is the point in being sincere when it will probably come off as contrived anyway? You would be right I suppose. To you Missing Pages might just be another band; Long Way Down just a solid 7″; 12XU just another local label with decent enough tastes. You would be wrong but sure what is the point of sweating ones brow early in the morning when the world is calling to be ignored under a blanket in a perpetual nap instead of staring at a blank screen once more trying to find the right way in going about appreciation and respect with words interesting, involving.
I’ve been going about this review for a month now, slipping other articles ahead of it and can’t quite nail down why. Usually putting on a record and going off on a thousand words a minute is second nature, with Missing Pages I keep coming up with dead space, nothing. The feeling blocking me is close to disappointment but that could be misunderstood. Front person Stephen Svacina is one of the more engaging leads to be seen, doing it without subscribing to any gimmick beyond playing it straight. Every band his hands have been in are gold (Sweet Talk/Jonly Bonly/Uptown Bums/Mind Spiders/probably forgetting seven other great bands on this list no doubt). Now he has moved off to North Carolina leaving everyone in Austin’s favorite person Ali Ditto, and the other two members who are seemingly equal in humble comforting euphorically pleasantness Garrick Thurston and Gabriel Pastura here in Austin. Although as a band Missing Pages are still working out full album plans, upcoming tours, SXSW shit, etc, it has nothing to do with the band not being a cohesive whole for the time being stirring the bums and nostalgia inside myself. What I can’t shake is the creeping feeling of something coming to an end.
People come and go around this town. In this circle of which we are lucky to belong most of us are defined under the banner of transient road-worn seekers in love with being without anchor to a place yet it seems all the pessimism in the past easily deflected– the ever changing face of rock n roll turning away from “us” blah blah blah– may have come up as shadows of truth. I’m not falling on defeatist idealism here. This concept something is over or gone in the sense of art is not worth waxing over. Rock n roll will be fine. Creatives always find a breathable space to coexist. I have a hard time sitting through both sides of Long Way Down though and not getting rolled in remembrance. I should just let it go. After all you came over to this article to get a paragraph on a band and now I’m going into a diary entry you couldn’t care less about.
Don’t be dismissive so soon, what Missing Pages represent to me is different from you certainly but it is our individual comparative stories which traded give this thing in this life timeless unchangeable meaning. No single band anywhere is worth chasing from one end of the continent to the other. There was though a spirit crying out to us from the wilderness of our small nowhere nothing nobody towns which tempted us to risk the comfort of the familiar to land in a foreign place of culture shock and suffocating all alone and to know even on the darkest defeated nights that if we kept looking we would find IT. And we did. The worth was and will always be enough for five lifetimes.
I think back to getting pulled over around midnight with my headlights off making a deposit at the Chase on the UT campus. This was years ago. I had closed down the pizza joint I was working at and feeling a terrible hurry in my bones to get to Beerland one night for whatever reason– I didn’t know who was playing, just something told me I had to go. I pulled out onto Guadalupe and hit my headlights after merging. Wrong place. Wrong time. A bored cop across the street wasn’t about to let it slide. So there I was with expired plates, no license, my heart in a panic, all from being in a careless hurry for no real reason. The paranoia was consuming; I was going to jail, my car was getting impounded, I made eight-fifty an hour and was barely covering the cost of renting a room in this creepy guys house off of Berkman, this could make me homeless. And then for no reason other than my optimism and a strange way of having been able to talk myself out of anything my entire life I was handed a warning ticket for the headlights, a cautionary verbose explanation followed on how I was to get my license paid up to get valid, and I was sent on my way. Part of the bullshitting to get let go was the story being that I had to drive the car to make the deposits or I would lose my job (fact) and that I was heading straight home (bullshit). I was left with a decision. If this cop saw my spray paint green 89 Toyoto Corolla hatchback parked off Red River or heading home after bars closed I would be fucked no doubt. What life is worth living that isn’t done dangerously? Are you even living if you don’t feel alive? Of course I went to the show.
At Beerland it just so happened to be the Sweet Talk record release. The show was perfect. The problem with explaining a great show is it all comes down to how it makes you feel so you’ll just have to take me at my word. Perfect. Turns out one of my other homies in town Casey Casstevens (Pharaohs) had been in Uptown Bums which we talked about the next day at work. When I moved a month or two later my roommate Jordan Rivell ended up playing bass in another one of Svacina’s bands. That night was the seed of what came to be my experience and how my life ever since has gone with loving bands. No longer is the putting on of a great record shrouded in mystique, what I experience is so much more, it is not a them on one side of the line and me living in a lesser reality on the other, now we are a communal US in a bond unimaginable to the person I was when this journey began.
I would hope everyone has their moment where what you think of as your nirvanic defined forming nucleus of your community began; having played music my entire life before getting to town, living all over the midwest and east coast, paying rent and getting by on touring, breaking down, being broke, having gear stolen, having friends rip me off. All of that happened more before I got to Texas, yet for all the good times and good stories there are two nights defining me to this life; that Sweet Talk show was the first. I’ve never placed bets on where Svacina would end up or how the path would unfold, it is his fate not mine ya know, but I have always been thankful for having him in this town.
Everyone is woven together, no hero too far out of reach, no boring night without an adventure attached. I’ve hung with my idols, made friends with bands I geeked out completely for back in the midwest, talked shop with my favorite directors and actors. At some point along the way the pedestal your heroes are on turns into common ground and if you learn to play it cool you can live in that space. “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” For so many of us that river in this town has two tributaries; Stephen Svacina and Jimmy Wildcat. You could be reading this in Europe right now and I bet you can touch fingers with either of the two within four people. Their ripples go that far. For all their talent, which could never be measured, there is a shy humor to them both which their facades can momentarily cloak when they are on stage; the two sides of the coin–being the electric nerve-center the entire room sparks to life with guitar in hand and the accepting jovial friendship by proxy comforting warmth they each hand out when their sets are over– one cannot avoid being affected.
Jimmy will be gone for a third of the year recording and touring with The Reputations and Svacina already has a new band playing shows in North Carolina. Things change, evolve, with the correct perspective all of it is for the positive. Letting go has never been an issue for me. Why waste the energy on the things you cannot change? If life is moving on you better move with it. Yet for a moment, listening over these songs, I am appreciative…but nostalgic. For Svacina and the rest of the members of Missing Pages, we barely know each other; they would be surprised by how much having them in this town has meant to me as much as I am, it does seem though that if we were to ask around this sentiment would be far more universal subconsciously than any of us realize. Part of me wishes I knew Garrick and Gabriel better seeing how many people I’ve heard wax poetic appreciation, love, respect for Ditto similar to mine for Svacina. I can’t help but wonder if Missing Pages is an epicenter of spiritual warmth where I’ve had my blinders missing the whole for the one.
On the surface this record is one more example of just how skilled and innovative the people in this town are. One more diagnosis of how insanely unjust the world is for a band this goddamn good to be barely familiar to those not seekers or not on the scene. Austin didn’t need us when we got here and it will certainly remain fine long after the last of us is gone. It is not that we are a dying breed of perfection bestowing our unappreciated creativity on a place we should have been too big for to belong here in the first place, there are a few of us who may have thought it when we threw down stakes, but that is more the arrogance of youth–I hold no ego accountable for who they were at twenty-one. We were though a strange warm accepting place where the only standard to be held to was that you personally had to be about something, ANYTHING, beyond the mundane monotonous nothing we avoided. Hopefully avoid still. We needed each other. We bled and wept and sweat til triumphant over our darker selves. I believe all of this and still the one thing we knew would happen but believed would not, the Peter Pan days must someday come to an end and in the air are hints telling me that I will go on writing and Ditto will go on playing in great bands, and Svacina will go off remaining to be an underappreciated guru for the weird culture but the all-in-it-togetherness just seems to be a relic; photographs with millions of stories filled with friends whose names we can’t quite place; the past for us will forever be beautiful.
These records will be kept safe and played on the perfect days from now til the very end and maybe a little longer. But that feeling we would find each other again at the morning breaking dawn of endless ideas and explosive understandings might just be over. Everyone is on a different trip now. I had hoped The Electric Church might be the next moment to bring us together but it has unfortunately turned out to be just another camp in opposition to the all. Music as with politics continues to factionalize beyond repair. Where is our common ground and what is the purpose? We knew it was magical while it lasted and that is more than enough, more than we deserve no doubt.
Before we fully resolve to old aged letting go, let us speak now of the good ones, the important ones, the bodies of gravity pulling us all to our better selves. There is no reason rock n roll should have been declared anything other than vapid by the point we started picking up Jaguars and trading Reatards records but we without knowing proved ourselves and the gods wrong. I mean have you ever sat down and just thrown on the records our friends made one after the other; Bad Sports, Harlem, Feral Future, A Giant Dog, Manatee Tights, The Golden Boys, Crooked Bangs, Bobby Jealousy, Dumb, The Gory Details, Ditch Witch, and on and on and on all the way up to Loteria, Annabelle Chairlegs and Missing Pages. We were a part of that!
Maybe all of this means nothing to you or maybe I’m coming off as defeated rather than appreciative; last year was shit in a lot of ways for so many of us but recent months have shown optimistic growth. Those I value seem to once more be radiating positives. It isn’t dark yet. The time has not yet come to only look back. That isn’t it at all. There was a time when we seemed to sway in each others arms and Missing Pages in their weird shy no ego way are the last remnants of it. No doubt they will go on with the upcoming album and make more and more believers further and further away. They don’t seem to be carrying the destiny of locals only love. These songs prove they are worth more than that for sure. Who would have thought this band would resonate as a sign post of the past we are leaving behind and the future where everything, albeit less cohesively inflicted, is going to be alright? I never would have until I sat down trying to tell you of how great these songs are and wound up learning to see myself through its reflection. At the heart of our love isn’t that what it has been about all along?