Saturday, November 26, 2011

Charlie and Nance

I still have a soggy spot in my mundane gratitudes for the U.S. snail mail. I know it's calcified from indifference to credit card offers and the bottomless feeding pile of bulk needfulness. But I also know that we have ourselves to blame for contaminating our timelessness pleasures with our get-it-done-yesterdays. Postcards and letters are not unforgiving of the dues payments and receipts that inspire their send off. What could be more lame than a belated e-card? Starting blocks everybody. The fact that the most important American holiday carries no commercial implication makes us more fidgety than thankful. This vacuum-sucking feast of black Friday holes does not whet my hankering for competitive binges -- on display or piled high on inventories of an internal nature.

It's with that seasonal blessing of my holiday card list that I now pay some overdues to Charles and Nancy Nieland of City Island of the Bronx of New York. They have dwelled there for nearly a quarter century and have their creations and enduring wedlock nestled in their musical sanctuary -- all unraveled cords, milk crate bookcases, and pillars of incense. Charlie and Nance live in the lingering vibrations of smoky club PA systems as well as in heartstrings. I saw them last week in Chicago and here's how it plays out: All the tribulations, street protests, and unresolvable differences in a marriage finding their way to the merciful, symphonic resolution of serenades, bridges, and refrains.

I've moved addresses about 14 times since Charlie and Nance signed their last lease. Since then, jobs, friends, even spouses, have wandered in and out of the place I hang my hat. But Charlie and Nance endure -- not because they chose the predictable path or even the surest footing but because their communication is no more one-sided than a duet.

They don't just play to each other. They adore each other on stage and all the healing that entails within the inarticulate, rule-bound, and unclenched heart of any marriage.  I still remember the first time they played together. Her Vanished Grace debuted in 1988 at the inaugural home of the Knitting Factory on Houston Street -- just the two of them and a drum machine. I still remember Nance having the trembles but her velvety timberance embracing Charlie and his reassurances. They still bask in those same embraces whether it's trading off the arc of their spiraling pulses or just vamping it up in campy swaggers with band-mates Maria Theodosiadou and Billy Loose.

School of marriage rock. That is my tribute to Nance and Charlie. There have been lineup changes. There have been side projects. There have been performance pieces and soundtracks. There have been legal disputes. There have even been collaborations on the pet projects of legacy stardom dwellers that never quite transformed HVG into the top-billing of the chart-bounders. There is no more pretense in covering someone else's tunes than the idea that fame and fortune are on the guest list. They are not only doing what they love. They are expressing their enduring love together while practicing their craft. If there is a higher calling, it exceeds the sonic range of my mixing board.

Oh, and before I stick another stamp on the next return to ancient parcel sender ... treat yourself (my ossified friends) to the newest HVG vintage entitled See the Moon. It puts the Nance-Charlie chemistry within admiration's reach. It may even align you more closely to your own starlit trajectories -- even on journeys plotted so many moves ago.

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