Why Is Modest Mouse Fascinated by Florida?

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Modest Mouse
Photo by Ben Moon
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Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that the indie-rock greats of Modest Mouse have become obsessed with the Sunshine State. Their mastermind, Issac Brock, has found lyrical inspiration in subjects as varied as Charles Bukowski and math equations. But even for lovers of geography who hollered out the names of states (including Florida) in their classic song "Trucker's Atlas," it's peculiar that a band from the Pacific Northwest would have not one, but two songs about the southernmost state in the continental U.S. on its two most recent albums.

The 2007 song "Florida," off the record We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, mixes hyperkinetic madness with melodic calm. Brock uses two different voices, the one where he sounds like an angry Muppet from Sesame Street and a calming monotone, to sing about a protagonist whose dreams don't play out the way he planned: "Even as I left Florida/Far enough, far enough, wasn't far enough/Couldn't quite seem to escape myself/Far enough, far enough, far from Florida." In this track, Florida is a metaphor for well-laid plans gone to waste, with only the single line of "While wearing stains of fresh fruit" hinting that the song couldn't have been titled "Maine" or "Patagonia" and worked just as well.

On the band's last album, 2015's Strangers to Ourselves, Modest Mouse had a song that was more specific to our part of the world and even more local: "Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, Fl. 1996)." The song, which the band made sure to play the last time it was in Miami, has a title that reads like a bibliography entry and a sound that gets Modest Mouse back to its weird, early roots — even if the production value of the song is much crisper with its hypnotic bass line. After a quick glance, one assumes the song is about Andrew Cunanan's claim to fame: gunning down fashion designer Gianni Versace on Ocean Drive, walking distance from the venue where Modest Mouse will perform September 6, the Fillmore. But a good memory or quick internet search will remind you Cunanan didn't kill Versace until 1997. Brock explained the discrepancy in his one recorded interview about the song in a brief track-by-track commentary on Spotify:

"He was nowhere near Miami in 1996. He was somewhere probably in Chicago, Indiana, or Michigan or something like that, but in order to paint the picture I needed for this story, I needed him to be in Miami at that point in time. It's not about him. It's a bit of Bad Lieutenant meets Miami Vice, I guess."

Because of the song's lyrics, which include cocaine, Crown Royal, and stolen wallets, Miami does seem like a better setting for the song than whatever Midwestern locale Cunanan was holed up in before he went on his killing spree. Miami had in 1996 (and still does in 2017) a reputation for being a lawless, hedonistic playground, a place where a sociopath could take off his training wheels and go wild, as Modest Mouse depicts in the song.

But as always, it's hard to interpret a song without psychoanalyzing the songwriter. Could the track also be about nostalgia? It seems to hark back to 21 years ago, when Modest Mouse was the new band on the block and filled with energy after the release of its debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About. The year before Versace's murder was probably a less complicated time, not only for Cunanan but also for the band. The future was filled with possibility, and hangovers didn't hurt so much. Like Cunanan, Modest Mouse was nowhere near Miami in 1996. But in the rear-view mirror, the past always looks sunnier.

Modest Mouse. 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 6, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $46.50 to $55 via livenation.com.

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