Tonight, along with many Portlanders, I will be seeing The Vaselines -- a short-lived, retroactively seminal band from Glasgow whose songs were thrust into the mainstream by Nirvana. It's likely that you have heard "Molly's Lips," "Son of a Gun" and "Jesus Don't Want Me for a Sunbeam" as sung by Kurt Cobain, and less likely that you've heard these tunes sung in the sleepy, sexy and insouciant style of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee. Even less believable is that you saw The Vaselines live during the band's first incarnation, somewhere between 1986 and 1990. I certainly didn't see them play, though I have friends from Olympia who have, and did, and who will wear this fact like a badge of honor until they breathe their last breath.
I never loved The Vaselines -- at least not in the way I loved their contemporaries and fellow countrymen in The Pastels -- but their songs made me feel content and inspired. I imagined Kelly and McKee never leaving their apartment, listening to The Velvet Underground and Scott Walker, making out, plugging their amps in and writing. All day long.
The fact that The Vaselines are playing again, and have been since a few years ago, doesn't really feel like a typical reunion. In some ways, it feels more like a debut. After all, most of us have nothing with which to compare these current shows. There won't be any of the usual "They were better back in the day," or "I remember when I saw them at a small club before they got huge," because they never did get huge -- and, well, they might actually be better now than they ever were.
If I feel any trepidation about seeing The Vaselines, it stems from the fact that some bands stand up better in one's imaginations -- as some sort of mythological creature -- than they do in actuality. Sure, there are plenty of bands that I'll never get to see live, because they're broken up or dead or half the original members are recuperating on llama farms somewhere. And I don't regret most of those missed opportunities, at least not in any way that keeps me up at night. And the reason I'm fine with missing out is that my imagination -- in addition to the lore, the stories, the legends -- can make up for it.
Especially when it comes to the small bands, the mostly undiscovered and nearly forgotten ones, part of the enjoyment of unearthing these artists is knowing that you share both a sense of loss and of discovery with all the other fans out there. There's a feeling that the remnants are all you have, and you build something out of those fragments and you fill in the gaps. Your discovery becomes part of the story of the band, and there's something wonderful about knowing that this band will continue to be found over and over again, like an adding on of layers, making the legacy of the band bigger and stronger.
So to get to see one of these heretofore-invisible legends -- these Bigfoots, these Loch Ness Monsters -- is to reveal a truth about them that may or may not need revealing. Seeing The Vaselines might be an unnecessary denouement at the end of what was already an intriguing adventure. On the other hand, maybe I'll see The Vaselines and realize that I've only ever known half of the story.