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Beginning to see the light, Long Winters

Magnet, no.60 Sep/Oct '03, by Scott Wilson

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     In the 1990s, it took a certain kind of stubborn to dwell in Seattle without wetting your whistle at the twin fountains of alternative rock and the dot-com explosion. John Roderick has forgotten more about stubborn than you'll ever know.
     Roderick, who leads the Long Winters, spent the decade working jobs and wearing out his shoes abroad. He collects vintage Ray-Bans, not records. He buys cheap Japanese guitars with Frankenstein-style bolts. He ditched college like Paul Westerberg, drank like Bob Stinson and toiled in doomed bands like Tommy Stinson. With one exception, Roderick has never earned more than $10,000 in a year. "The form Social Security sends where they tell you how much you can expect to have when you retire takes on a hectoring tone," Roderick says dryly.
     But the $15.000 Roderick made touring as a keyboardist for Harvey Danger paid for the first Long Winters album, last year's The Worst You Can Do Is Harm. It was the then-33-year-old's first recording, making Roderick the Roy Hobbs of America's other great literature of thwarted expectation: guitar pop. When I Pretend To Fall (Barsuk) doesn't shatter the stadium lights, but it's a stand-up triple that frames Roderick's artless-yet-charismatic voice and pointillist songs in precise, inventive playing. Keyboardist Sean Nelson, drummer Michael Shilling and bassist Eric Corson account for the Long Wingers' regular lineup, but the album also benefits from its Northwest guest list. Pete Buck, Scott McCaughey, the Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer and Death Cab For Cutie's Chris Walla all step in to pinch hit.
     "I'm grateful to have this happening now when I'm a little older," says Roderick. "By the time I was 22 I'd heard 'if we don't make it by the time we're 22 I'm going to move on' so many times. Those guys who were saying that got dot-com jobs and would come to my shows and pat me on the head and go, 'It's great that you're still doing the rock thing, dude.' The dot-com explosion separated the wheat from the chaff. All the musicians who weren't serious about it just disappeared, went and got jobs at Amazon. Now, four years later, the scene is flooded with 34-year-old drummers trying to get bands."
     Not that Roderick has much patience for the musicians whose wagon-wheel ruts are creating puddles on the road he's taken. "The indie-rock thing puts a premium on being almost autistic," he says. "That whole 'I don't know what's cool, I just love things' act - it's as annoying a pose as in hip-hop. People front like they're mildly retarded."


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