Music News

Bitter Pill

Let's say, for the purposes of this article, that's it's 3:30 in the morning. Only, it's really 4:30 because the clock in your car is an hour slow. Time is of little consequence anyway. What do minutes matter when you're sick with doubt and doubled over by the weight of betrayal?

The predawn air is cool, but your blood, heated by the unyielding surge of adrenaline, is warm. As you drive aimlessly through the night, the deafening silence is broken only by a strange, fractured voice asking the same questions over and over again. That is, until you realize it's your voice and your questions.

Ah, love.

What else would prompt a normally sane person to spend hours cruising cinder-block suburban streets looking for something and someone that's not home -- or worse, at home with someone else?

This is life rendered as a cheap cliché, a lyric from a pop song: I write your name, drive past your house. Your boyfriend's over, I watch your light go out.

In this cynical age, such behavior might be considered stalking, but you know better. What sort of masochist would willfully choose to endure this pain; the internal chaos increasing with every pass by an empty driveway? Madness, pure and simple, exacerbated by the drink and drugs you thought would provide relief.

For all the sad songs ever written -- and that is no small number -- very few have ever gotten this feeling quite right.

To really nail a true sense of heartbreak is practically impossible. It's much easier to romanticize it -- the way Sinatra did, the way the Beatles did, even the way the best country music does. Frankly, it's just so much macho posturing dressed up as genuine pain. And, ultimately, most of it rings false.

Being in love, however, is a different story. When you're doe-eyed and head-over-heels, it's barely a challenge. The dizzying fever of romance is easy to capture. Play a couple of Phil Spector numbers, fall into the welcoming arms of some girl, and that's it. Game, set, match.

But the flip side to that coin is a much tougher sell. What is it they say? Oh yeah, breaking up is hard to do.

It's especially hard if you can't let go, and surely this is one of those instances. In moments like this, when we'd do anything to keep from fixating on the minutiae of a dead affair, relief -- even salvation -- can come unexpectedly. Tonight it's arrived in the form of a Maxell Gold cassette, marked "Juarez -- Self Titled."

At first, there is nothing spectacular about the sound coming from the crackling speakers near the floorboard, but there is something. A quality to the voice perhaps; a lilt to the melody. As it goes on, though, you recognize a bit of yourself in the lines, hear a touch of your own experiences, your deepest regrets.

Gradually, the swirl of the guitars, the halting honesty of the words, the judiciously deployed piano lines make an impression. The forlorn stories of lives drifting apart offer strange comfort and begin to set your mind at ease.

You give up the chase, make the long trip home and fall into a restless slumber. Over the next few days, sleep will not come this easy, but you've been sated, temporarily at least.

Whatever else has been lost during the course of the night -- a lover, a friend, a measure of pride -- you make sure not to lose that tape; you may need it again.

Maryanne's Copper Queen is an old lounge on the eastern stretch of Glendale Avenue near Seventh Street. Tucked behind a service station and a Whataburger, it would be hard to find if not for the garish neon sign out front flashing the word "Cocktails."

It's late Tuesday night, and the place is practically empty; a couple of drunken businessmen in suits hoot and holler as they play darts in the back room; out front a cheery-faced barmaid cleans glasses.

Sitting on a stool in the corner and eyeing a basketball game on TV is Juarez singer-songwriter Brent Miles.

He looks different from the photos that adorn the group's album cover. Gone are the long, bleach-blond bangs and sharp soul patch, replaced by a pomp of black hair and a healthy scruff. As we move to a booth, he casts a quick gaze across the quiet barroom. "This is nice," he says softly. "I don't like a lot of people."

Settling down to begin the conversation, Miles tosses a pack of menthol cigarettes down on the table. Occasionally plucking one out, he finishes maybe half a dozen over the next four hours. It's unusually long for this kind of interview. But Miles is a rare subject. A journalist himself (he's finishing a degree in the field and works part-time as a news assistant for the Arizona Republic), he lacks the strained self-awareness of most artists. There are no preplanned quotes, canned stories or painfully thought-out agendas to be had tonight, and for good reason. After we're finished, he admits, "That was my first interview."

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr