THE PUPILS: Holding Eyes and Hands The Decade

Music Features
THE PUPILS: Holding Eyes and Hands The Decade
Jun 24, 2002, 01:31

The sea is a hole in the sky/The sky is a hole in the sea/I am a hole in you/ and you are a hole in me

I am listening to this song over and over, The Mind is a Hole in the Body. The intertwining guitar lines are pretty and simple, shivering and sawing with a rowdy kind of bluegrass joy. The lyrics revel in the cyclical wisdom of a classical fool: Time is a hole in Space/ Space is a hole in Time. The song ends and leads gently into a mournful, righteous ode, an elegy of solemn notes so spare that they might even be notelettes, or notelings. Tiny notes with pointed ears on them. At this point you have reached the end of side two of the Pupils new record, as approached from the middle.

The sky is flying/The sea is swimming/The earth is walking

Which is perhaps analogous to how one must approach the members of the band. Asa Osborne and Daniel Higgs started the Lungfish musical band over a decade ago. Osborne on guitar, Higgs on vocals, Mitchell Feldstein on drums, and, at that time, John Chriest on bass. Currently, Nathan Bell informs the bass and has done so for the past four records. There are eight Lungfish full lengths, with various tracks on comps, 7 inches, and a stray EP floating around the pointed cloud that is their discography. For the past 13 years or so, Lungfish is a fairly unexplored entity in the cosmology of postmodern punk, a field that is itself extremely nebulous. So nebulous in fact it should probably not be tackled. Just leave it alone.

It's good to have walked with you my child/It's good to know that we may walk for yet a while

In March of 2002, Higgs informed me over the phone that Lungfish was a “ghost band.” Not practicing, focusing on other projects, no Word. I was prepared to talk about the project he was working on with Asa; the two of them had recently played various shows and galleries with a pair of guitars and a matching pair of microphones. A photograph  showed Asa and Higgs intently studying their instruments, with no trace of the manic gesturing and impromptu sculpture that became synonymous with the Lungfish live performance and specifically the astral maneuvers of Higgs himself. This new animal was introspective, a little tender, and the only way I would be able to approach a beast that quivers so would be very gently with outstretched fingers, making no sudden moves.

We gird our loins for teleharmonizing/We follow faithful we meander and stray

Our meeting takes place at a small Baltimore harbor coffee shop. Higgs's countenance is a monk in a lumberjack frame, tentative and courteous. Within ten minutes of our interview, he is slowly beginning to bristle at the suggestion that there is an unfinished quality about the music he makes with Osborne that makes the songs sound like constant beginnings. With a decisive curtness, he says he believes me. At first, the interview is two boats who cannot decide whether to race or run parallel; during its course, the shop fills up and the sound of the smoke-eating box overhead matches everything we say with a disastrous hum. Soon, Higgs softens and becomes noticeably more loose, conversational. Here is the nub of the discussion: any and all statements made about the music of Lungfish and the Pupils is correct, as long as it is conceptual and obtuse or at the very least clearly subjective, as long as it is the truth, but the truth cannot be agreed upon necessarily. End thesis statement slash unending personal koan. We weave and dart, arriving finally, comfortably, at the fact that Dan Higgs is not a good interview but nonetheless he is an interesting person to talk to.

You're a trail for the trackless/a toil for the tackless

Lungfish, specifically Osborne and Higgs, does not grant interviews out of self-gratiating selectivity, but rather out of an unwillingness to pinpoint or misspeak. Higgs is noticeably more at ease discussing topics such as raising children and the proper way to approach the world's various music than he is talking about the music he himself makes, even though at no point does he remove his coat. As we part ways, Higgs shakes our hands and tells us what a nice day it has been for him.  It is heartening, after an hour of assorted dodgings, to know that he still had a nice time speaking with us.

You destroy what you save/And then you save it all again

The following afternoon, Shaun and I meet Osborne at another coffee shop in a different part of town. Higgs's interview was conducted across a grafitti-scarred tabletop; here, Osborne sits on low steps as I pull up the cozy end of a chaise and we all share a peanut butter cookie in an appropriately warm accompaniment to a quiet discussion about God and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Osborne seems more interested in talking about Shaun and I then he is discussing conceptual-stage Pupils songs or performances. His neck cranes towards us and his every pore oozes pleasant, earnest concern. In a room with overstuffed chairs and semi-goths interviewing each other about their girlfriends, I start to feel like the three of us should be holding hands and browsing the bookshelves rather than intruding into what is clearly a very personal, amiable affair between two close friends and kindred spirits.

The last law passed will soon be cast away/ Measure what you do and what you say

Osborne's oeuvre is informed by art, Jimi Hendrix and compulsion. Driving repetition underlies much of the Higgs/ Osborne collaborations, as if the entire past decade was spent in search of something: not quite the perfect chord, but, rather, a state of ecstasy attainable via the guitar. Osborne corroborates this suggestion, adding gently that he is constantly learning. Higgs mentioned that he had paper bags full of cassettes of himself playing guitar, practicing and writing songs. He recorded sprawling, scrawly instrumentals with his brother/friend as Cone of Light. In the '99 off season from Lungfish, Osborne recorded an album of creepy, adorable lost-in-the-woods haunters under the name Tear Jerks with Charles Brohawn of The Tinklers, Chesapeake Bay's answer to Half Japanese. Both albums, liberally dusted with themes of nomadic, rural mysticism, came out on the now-defunct Baltimore label Magic Eye Singles. Higgs's burly reticence and Osborne's benign hospitality are complementary, as are their partnered tastes for Indian classical music and Texas psychedelia. They have been toying with what would eventually become the Pupils songs for almost a half a decade. The album sounds, as one might as expect, like a cross between these two recordings. Two people writing notes to each other and to the world: it glistens with the same unpolished dialect that makes Lungfish albums so compelling and obtuse.

The cross takes root in a curl of dust/Under the glass of a shining dome

The Pupils record is a miniature tome of the modern traditional, complete with field-recorded crickets for added rocker-on-the-porch atmosphere. It is also a compendium of mystic symbols, the alchemy of simple verse, songs of double chord simplicity that smell lightly of folk anthologies and the recordings of bands from countries whose names have changed with each regime. The cover of the vinyl album is a new sepia-toned American Gothic. Osborne and Higgs sit in sturdy wooden chairs, looking toward the camera with firm, stolid gazes. On the dusky wall above Higgs floats a small drawing by Osborne, one by Higgs is suspended over Osborne.  The table before them is littered with tools of the shaman: a glass pyramid, a skull, an aloe. How soft these stares became when I discovered that they were simply men in love.

All verse in bold italics from The Pupils self titled album on Dischord records (Dischord 131), 2002.

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