It's funny how it works: You can spend years with a person and never change who you are. Then you spend a weekend with someone else and come away knowing you'll never be the same again.I guess it all boils down to chemistry. That's a good word for it, chemistry, but it seems inappropriate. Physics -- with its laws of attraction and inertia -- is probably a better metaphor for human interaction. I think we prefer the idea of chemistry, though, because it connotes a selective (and explosive) physics. Chemistry holds out the sexy promise of imminent transformation if the right elements can find each other.
If that sounds familiar, it's because we've seen it in a lifetime of TV shows and romantic comedies. The idea also comes up in all sorts of nonromantic relationships. We have the Beatles catalog thanks to the chemistry of McCartney and Lennon, for instance. And corporations: The buzzword-obsessed business world uses "synergy" to describe the successful merger of two compatible companies. But underneath the jargon, they're still talking about chemistry, just in larger doses.
Friendships, too, are often the backdrop for mysterious chemical workings. Sometimes acquaintances briefly pass through your life, and for whatever reason, they act as the chocolate to your peanut butter. Or the baking soda to your vinegar. You make art together, go shopping, or drink beer. And after each rendezvous you come away abuzz with new thoughts, new possible ways of being.
It usually ends unexpectedly. Ephemerality is part of the equation: chemical reactions can generate great amounts of energy, but they also consume it in equal portions.
I was thinking about all this as I was mulling over the trajectory of the now-defunct San Francisco band P.E.E. The indie rock group was made up of guitarist couple Jim Stanley and Kelly Green, madman drummer Andee Connors, and a changing lineup of friendly-looking bassists. Their sound -- fast boy/girl singing with spiky time changes and melodic sweet spots a mile wide -- was everything I wanted out of music in 1996.P.E.E. had chemistry. You could see it in concerts, where Jim would suck in his lip and lower his saucer-sized eyes and Kelly would glance over at him, red hair and flushed face, both of them changing keys faster than a baroque concerto. You could also hear it in their songwriting. Their first album, Now, More Charm & More Tender was a yin-yanged, call-and-response encapsulation of the reluctant wisdom of the mid-twenties -- a manifesto for everyone coming of age with a passel of unsorted memories and a dread fear that someday soon everything was going to get much, much more complicated.
Now, More Charm & More Tender taught me that the right record can have the same energizing effect as any new friend or lover. In their mathy pop-rock, full of the minutiae of daily life, I was reminded that growing up can be done creatively, loudly, and beautifully. P.E.E.'s music followed me from walkman to boom box to car stereo to my first work-issued computer with a CD-ROM in it. Through a year-and-a-half of changes, P.E.E. was a reassuring constant.
The band put out a second album in 1998, but then Kelly and Jim broke up, and the band went the way of the relationship. There was a final show at the Bottom of the Hill. And then it was over.
Those P.E.E. records sound different now. They're still fun, but it's hard for me to recapture the sense of life enhancement that radiated from them once upon a time. As I skipped through the tracks, I found myself wondering what Kelly and Jim were up to, whether they were still in touch, and whether they had actually felt the chemistry I thought I was witnessing from the sidelines.When I got ahold of Kelly, she was in the Embarcadero, waiting for a train home from work. She seemed happily surprised to be asked about P.E.E. She and Jim both have jobs managing Web sites for CNET, she said, and both have found other people to make music with. Kelly just bought a sampler, and we talked about that for a while. But I never got up the nerve to ask about the old chemistry between the two of them, or whether in their new projects they'd found the catalysts they seemed to have had in each other.
I'm not sure what I would've asked, even if I had been more intrepid. Things flare up and fizzle out, I guess. What can you do but leave yourself open, and hope to someday feel those reactions beginning again?
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