Today I found out that Casiotone Alone, the solo music project of singer/songwriter Owen Ashworth since 1997, is done. Like, Owen’s over it. Which I guess is just fine, I mean, I guess good for him. He’ll move on to new projects that I’ll get to listen to and all, but … wow, it just hit me for a second, okay?
I was introduced to Casiotone by my ex, Jables; he was always putting Casiotone songs on his Unicycles series. I came to love the music in my own right, though, and pretty soon CFTPA songs were going on every few mixes of mine as well. Now, there are a lot of bands Jables introduced me to, but … Casiotone sort of felt like our secret. I know he’s a semi-popular dude, but not popular enough that most people we knew ever had heard of him. We could only count on was each other to be excited when Owen put out a new album or EP. Casiotone fell into the category of “Semi-Obscure or Offbeat Things We Liked Together,” like anise-flavored liqueur and Melville House novellas and Sergio Leone westerns and when Will Oldham appeared in movies.
// I only saw CFTPA in concert onceâ€”it was right after Jables moved into his big, lovely loft on Kent Avenue in South Williamsburg, just after his stint in the McKibben lofts, and the show was in the basement of this place on the edge of Bushwick and Queens called Silent Barn. This was back when Jables still went to concerts, maybe he was even delivering papers for Show Paper still. This was when I still lived in DC, and everything in Brooklyn seemed foreign and magical to me, particularly these “show spaces,” as people referred to them. Up ’til that spring, I’d only seen shows at, you know, concert venues. Legitimate places. Or friends backyards and basements in high school, I guess. These places sort of walked the line between the two, and had names like “Secret Project Robot” and “Death by Audio.” They were dirty and hot with the grossest bathrooms you’d ever seen, if they even had bathrooms. You bought your single beers at the corner store beforehand and brought ‘em with you, or you paid $3 for a warm can of PRB once you were there, or maybe some cheap vodka and kool-aid. I am aware how Un.Hip. I sound talking about these early experiences in Brooklyn, but that is okay. I’ve never really claimed to be hip; mostly, I am excited about things. My first time at one of these places, Jables and Heidi who was briefly a model but then moved to Alaska to learn farming and I saw Knyfe at Death by Audio, and the whole crowd kinda of stormed the stage and people were taking their shirts off and it was a big sweaty dance party as the Sonic Ninja guy shouted about his race and his tight pants. This was in the waning heyday of hipster rap, you know, like 2007 or 2008, back when the kids in Williamsburg and on H Street NE in DC and probably elsewhere but that is only where I know were still wearing Sally Jesse Raphael glasses and brightly-colored high-tops, before (but very, very soon before) we all bought into this back-to-the-earth movement and started wearing flannels and jean shorts and all the restaurants began serving things in mason jars and now even your craigslist lover who is a real estate agent for godssakes has Ronnybrook Farms glass milk bottles on his kitchen counter-tops. When all of this happened, or not long after, Jables stopped going to shows and only half-heartedly put out Unicycles mixes and started eating elaborate meat and talking about organic catering businesses and rooftop farming. I noticed he changed part of his bio the other day from, “has an obscene passion for all things that make noise,” to “has an obscene passion for all things that grow.” Two words. It is funny how fluid identity is. I was so mixed up in libertarian happy hours at the time.
There’s a bit of Bruce Springsteen in Casiotone songsâ€”none of the bigness of the Boss, of course, nor the machismo; but the quiet little narrative details of the songwriting, which tends toward stories about quiet little lives and quiet bouts of desperation. This is from â€œBlue Corolla,â€ off Twinkle Echo (2003):
We used to drive / to Phoneix in the summers
To see your sister and mom / and go swimming in the pool
We’d take the 15 to the 40 / Over to Route 66
Before we dropped out of school
Now you work in a candy store
And we don’t talk so much anymore
But I wonder sometimesÂ / If you’ve still got that same ride,
with the dents on the driver’s side?
That’s one my favorites. But not my favorite favorite. Perhaps my favorite (and I say perhaps because I’m not quite sure I can choose) is “Hey Eleanor,” also from Twinkle Echo:
eleanor it seems / your hearts on your sleeve
and its the reason / you want to leave
so if youre gonna go
you’ve come to understand / that letter in your hand
it came from a boy / who wont be your man
its tragic, yes its true
dont let it ruin this town for you
The song is only 1 minute and 29 seconds long; the longest song on the whole album is 3:45, and it’s one of only two songs over three minutes. They’re tiny. Maybe Bruce Springsteen is the wrong analogy. Maybe Casiotone songs are the aural equivalent of Miranda July stories, minus the occasional mysticism.
For a while, my favorite was ‘Young Shields,’ but that was back in 2005. That was when Jables and I were both still living in Ohio. It was on one of the first mixes he gave me. One of the first 20, at least. The song is sort of a tongue-in-cheek disaffected youth anthem, and I used to listen to it every morning on my way to work at the daily business paper I worked for then.
There’s a shield around us it’s invisible and soundless and we drink too much and fuck too soon smoke cigarettes in rented rooms, we quit our jobs and shoot the moon and cut our writes and sleep ’til noon …
It is probably only because of this line that the song reminded me not of Jables, but of another boy, a lawyer, who drove up from Washington, D.C. one weekend around that time and rented a room at the Hyatt in downtown Columbus. It was non-smoking, but we smoked inside anyway, and had sex, and when he tells stories about that weekend all he can remark on is how cheap the beers at the Columbus bars were.. This lawyer and I had met at a libertarian event in DC. I liked him a lot more than Jables at the time. This was when Jables still wore black-rimmed glasses and band t-shirts, ate a macrobiotic diet and played in a noise band. I was so mixed up in the Columbus theater scene at the time.
// But anyway, back to Silent Barn, back to that Casiotone show. It was a good show. But you know, actuallyâ€”now that I’ve taken such a long, rambling route to get hereâ€”I realize I really don’t have much more to say about the show itself than that. It was a good show, and I remember really enjoying it at the time, and thinking how funny, and also how very Chicago Owen was (though that bit about Chicago sounds much more like Jables talking than me; he has some sort of chip on his shoulder like a bag of kettle cooked, as my friend Charley says, about that city). And we were there with Jeff, who was Jables’ best friend in Cincinnati (they had, in fact, made a pact to move to New york together) and still at the time, but then they grew apart; Jables said it was because Jeff became a douchebag and started only dating actresses and wanting to go out in the city now that he was working for a high-end tequila company, but I think the truth is probably something more nuanced. I was stoned, because Iâ€™d just started smoking pot again and not drinking, and I was sitting in a big orange velour chair in the back corner under a hanging lamp and Jeff took a cool picture of me. I was smoking a cigarette,, you could smoke inside. There was a fridge and a stove behind Owenâ€™s keyboard, because really, Silent Barn was just someoneâ€™s basement. But besides all of that, I can’t really tell you too much about the concert; I guess it was just mostly evocative of a certain time. I was so mixed up in wonder then.
Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a journalist/essayist/poet/blogger and sometimes other things. She is currently nomadic, but has previously lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Washington, D.C. and various cities in Ohio. She blogs at http://elizabethnolanbrown.com.