Pearl Fabula

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

I had been a fan of DJ Pearl Fabula ever since Alice and I heard him in 1997. Even now, when dance music has fallen out of favor, I have to say that he was really exceptional. He wasn’t flashy; he didn’t scratch or distort much; but he had an encyclopedic record collection, not only of music, but of every sound, it seemed, that had ever been made. People who heard him at the Sound Factory in 1998 swore that Pearl had played a recording of Lady Di in the car. I missed that show, but I’d heard him spin the cries of infants, the creak of doors, the scratching of cats, the crack of thunder, the chatter of typewriters, the hiss of rain. The remarkable thing, though, the really extraordinary thing, was that Pearl made it all hang together. He chose one song, or sound, after another, with unerring consequence, so that you couldn’t imagine them coming in any other order, like the terms in a mathematical sequence, albeit a sequence whose rules were steadily changing, and whose next term was known only to Pearl himself. Each time I heard him, I felt as though someone had taken the mess of life and assembled it into an intelligible form, as though life were a bounded thing, like a record, with an inside and an outside, a beginning and an end.

Pearl’s fame grew quickly. The last show he played in San Francisco was at the Warfield, on New Year's Eve, 1998, then the world got him. Pearl was in Ibiza; he was in London; he was in Berlin. His long narrow weirdly young face was on the cover of Nylon magazine; he had his hands over his eyes. We, his original fans, bought CDs of sets he’d spun in places we had barely heard of, islands, desert kingdoms. When Pearl recorded Not Every Oyster, we wondered if he had sold out. He’d sampled Madonna, he’d sampled Nirvana! We heard his songs on the radios of other people’s cars, then we heard them in restaurants. Pearl, once the foreground of our lives, had become background music; meanwhile people eating lunch in South Park pointed out that the album’s initials were n-e-o: deep! “Edible” was the backing track for a TV advertisement for a new kind of sneaker. We didn’t blame Pearl for cashing in, but we were wistful for the old, private Pearl, the one who, it seemed, had been invented for us, or maybe the one for whom we had been invented.

I would never have gone to the festival in the desert if it hadn’t been for Pearl. It was too far away, too hot, too discovered already, and by the wrong people: first the hippies, then the bloggers. But Erin had heard from one of her musician friends that Pearl was going to play a special set. There was to be no publicity; most of the people at the festival wouldn’t even know he was there. He was going incogito, Erin’s friend said, just like in the old days when no one knew who he was.

I didn’t think to correct Erin’s friend’s Latin. I was thinking about buying a tent, about how much water I needed to bring. I was thinking, just one more time, let me have my Pearl back again.

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