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Modest Mouse Biography

Last updated: 08/23/2014 06:15:47 AM

Modest Mouse-photo

A Story by James Stockstill

One evening at Denver’s Bluebird Theater, where Modest Mouse was playing on a bill with fellow Northwesterners Built to Spill, Graham broke a second-floor window and stole into the backstage area. As Modest Mouse came off stage, he was excitedly waiting for them, blood streaming from cuts on his arms and face that he’d received from stray shards of glass. Chanting “This’ll do it” under his breath, Graham introduced himself to the source of his enlightenment.

Here again the facts become obscured. While each band member remembers Graham saying “This’ll do it” repeatedly, they disagree on how he referred to him-self. According to Brock, he introduced himself as “Ugly Casanova.” Green remembers Graham saying “I’m Isaac,” and Judy remembers “I’m Ed.” Perhaps the only deciding factor would have been tour companion Chris Majerus, who had run off to get towels and bandages for Graham’s wounds.

Though Graham was obviously unbalanced—or because of the fact—Brock, Judy and Majerus all took an immediate liking to him. In an enchanted tribute to Graham, Modest Mouse began to use Ugly Casanova as their publishing name. The three even persuaded a few labels to release limited-edition 7-inch singles of the songs Graham had sent them. But after briefly visiting each label in the summer of ’98 to deliver his efforts, he disappeared and has not been seen since.

A year later, in the summer of 1999, the labels received belated thank-you notes from Edgar Graham in enve-lopes that had neither postmarks nor return addresses. At the same time, Isaac Brock received a sheaf of letters which profiled the running mental state of Graham/Casanova. Like the others, these letters had no indica-tion of when they had been written or delivered, except one which had been dated a week earlier. The first fifteen pages were filled with nonsensical rants indicating that Graham had lost all touch with reality. The remaining 13 pages contained 13 songs about Graham’s life and his barren home, his hopes and his delu-sions.

The lyrics and music were practically illegible, but over the next few weeks Modest Mouse tried to make sense of them. Starting from Graham’s scratchy messages, the band began to assemble their new album. Due to that illegibility, the resulting collection of songs have become more a illustration of Modest Mouse’s own musical and lyrical style than of Ugly Casanova’s submissions. But the spirit of the album is believed to be that which Graham/Casanova had meant to convey. The Moon and Antarctica is the name of the album.

Themes of lost identity, spiritual betrayal, social and mental isolation, occasional self-loathing and ques-tions to the origin, nature and intent of fate abound—as do the figurative portrayals of Graham’s own past. The opening track, “Dark Center of the Universe,” is an introduction to the frustration and social isolation felt by a man whose potential search for his own soul resulted in the adoption of all the facets of another’s life. Consequently, the song stands as a realization of the fragility and futility of his situation. Yet the album does not simply dwell on a feeling of isolation, but reveals---just as did Edgar Graham’s letters—the path and progress of his various transformations.

“The Cold Part” is the point of origin, the departure from a frigid physical surrounding and the hope for a change from all which fate has dwelt. “3rd Planet” traces the evolution of loss, as paranoia encroaches upon Graham’s psyche and a distorted vision of creation ends up as a lack of self-identity. While a sense of self-loathing is evident in the only set of lyrics Modest Mouse were able to recover (“I Came as a Rat”), Graham most often expressed a carefree nature in the face of obvious adversity. Always present behind “Paper Thin Walls,” it was this side of him that Modest Mouse first saw in Denver, and the one by which he will hopefully be remembered.

With Edgar Graham’s disappearance came feelings of personal betrayal on the part of one whose emergence had raised so many questions and concerns. Thus ended a melancholy existence, one ultimately led under the title of a “Perfect Disguise.”


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