Friendship of the Future – 2000

By Kurt Hernon, bangSheet, 2000

Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer seem most like brothers linked by a bond that is lost deep within them. Theirs does not appear to be an overt friendship, but rather something as undeniably spiritual as blood itself. Auer sits across from me handling a ridiculous sandwich that has his eyes wide in amazement at its sheer girth. It is a gaudy excess of a veggie snack that stands in stark contrast to the low-key and extremely affable Auer. But, hell, it’s Sunday night after 9p.m. and nothing but the Sandwich Giant was open. Quite the host, I am.

As one half of the Posies (there have been a host of other band members, but in reality Auer and Stringfellow are the Posies) Auer is speaking contentedly about the two-man acoustic tour he and Stringfellow have embarked upon largely in support of, well…nothing really, except the terrific music the two had made together for roughly a decade.

There is a weird and wild flurry of Posies musical activity going on all around them however. Geffen Records (the bands label for most of their tenure) has released a “Greatest” songs (unfortunately, and sadly, “hits” doesn’t fit this bill) type compilation that Auer is pleased with. Particularly since the label – surprisingly – was smart enough to involve Stringfellow and Auer in its conception. Auer says it was all “very cool” and he seems justifiably proud.

There is also a live recording from a show done in Barcelona, Spain during the band’s Amazing Disgrace tour. Auer slips up with a coy smile when this one is mentioned. When he’s caught in this grin he willingly recalls the show as one moment of the tour where things got “pretty loose”. Auer nods, and then shakes his head at the memories rushing behind his eyes. His smile broadens. The show, as heard on disc, is a wild and raucous affair that captures the Posies disintegrating into a drunken folly of rock and roll redemption. Auer cannot stop smiling just thinking about it. “Crazy times” he says as he moves back to his sandwich.

Another recent release (the third for those keeping a tally) is a concert bit from the current two-man-acoustic-revival incarnation of the band. It’s a nice bit of collectible music.

But, the mother of all things Posies has to be the impending NotLame records release of an epic, limited release, four disc box set that cover the bands entire career. Outtakes, B-sides, live bits, bootlegs, and once forgotten’s adorn a meticulously organized package that has Auer and Stringfellow as pleased as any anxiously waiting Posies fan will likely be. And the wait is worth every moment for the Posie connoisseur. Not Lame has produced (musically at least, that’s all I’ve gotten my hands on, but with the job done in the sounds department, I am certain Not Lame’s package will be masterful) a chronological study of a terrific American rock band. The two demo study of the evolution of the classic Dear 23’s “Apology” – one by Ken, the other by Jon – presented on disc one goes a long way toward defining the value of this set. It is certainly not a collection for the casual, oh-yeah-the Posies-I-liked-them type person. But the assortment of rare tidbits and unheard moments is a treasure trove for the Posies completist (as these boxed things tend to lean toward the rabid and not the perfunctory – this is not an exception).

Auer speaks of the set as a sort of essential document that defines a life of trying to make a band work itself into something for time to remember. He’s reasonably satisfied with the whole affair – the host of releases, the current tour, and all – and he quietly talks in amazement about what he and Ken, his friend since middle school, have wrought. Although years of touring, recording, and keeping the Posies alive may have taken a toll on the depth of the relationship between the two, Auer smiles bemusedly when mentioning the undeniable and deep bond between them. The junction of brothers, who may not always see eye to eye; friends who, by going through the fires, became so much more. When the Posies “proper” (as Auer puts it) ended, so did all extroverted pretense of friendship. The spiritual bond of a subtle brotherhood replaced that. They know each other well…too well it may seem.

Ken Stringfellow focuses on his sandwich. Alternately picking and eating at it, there is not much in the way of eye contact. It is Stringfellow who appears to be the business-like one. He willingly comments on the recording industry. He opines on how independent labels offer “creative” freedom, but also strap you with a “limited budget” that potentially hampers some of the creative process. He has no apparent gripe with “major” labels and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to work within those parameters. He expresses befuddlement with the lack of any “mid-level” independent label growth, noting that there are “a lot of very small labels” but nothing in between those and the majors. “There will be, it will happen,” he says, seemingly to himself, with confidence. On a lesser and more important scale (and one that most clearly defines the two of them), Stringfellow gets right down to the business of the band. Handwritten on the back of a sheet that lists the hundreds of songs they can choose from, Stringfellow pours over the evening’s proposed set list purposefully – where Auer had recently spent moments glancing at the list while amiably talking to me. It is indeed a dynamic relationship…but somehow it seems, for lack of any reasonable term, cosmically balanced.

Both Auer and Stringfellow avoid any comment on what this acoustic tour means for the future of the Posies. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they really know of a potential future. Part of them seems amazed at the response the music they once made is getting, and both talk as though they’re just happy to just ride this one out. Beyond their control, Auer happily admits that it’s a one-day at a time, live-in-the-hear-and-now approach. So they proceed – hardly thinking (for even a second) about what it all means, where it comes from, where it will go, etc. The constant questioning about a Posies future can only cloud the enjoyment of this tour and this moment. There’s a show to do tonight, a bit of acoustic reminiscing, and a return from whence Auer and Stringfellow started this long, weird, and incredible musical run. And for once, it seems, the Posies want to enjoy the twinkling of the now.