michael's communiqué #11|
Written in (on) stages.
The Loneliness of a College During Summer. Staring out a square of glass. The old Tudor buildings at the edge of my sight call out to me. I want to quit my day job, and lay on my back on The Great Lawn gazing up at them... imagining them into the setting of some lost Hardy Boys mystery. The Secret of the Tattered Cardigan or something like that. I mean, when the original author dies, they just pass the characters onto some fan/hack to ruin. Why not me? I could do a cross over book They Were Hardly Boys that Nancy Drew. I could drive the franchise into the ground in no time with an unwise assortment of fey detectives in anoraks, cross dressing informants, and haunted diesel trains. Oh give me the power... and I'll make them believe.
The Loneliness of Jazz. Sitting in the local café on Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside. Maybe the jazz is lonely because there are no vocals. I feel their absence. It casts a shadow over everything which presumes to take their place. The saxophone sounds like the low moan of child with a bellyache. I moan back. A large iced coffee and a brioche. Twilight.
I've been thinking about starting a blog. But I hate the word "blog". It's the kind of word which could only be invented Now. But I feel like I would put less pressure on myself if I was just writing random thoughts frequently instead of trying to make these communiqués something worth reading. But then again I don't want to just create more static when I could be making melodies. But lately I just haven't felt like singing all that much. How about static that slowly reveals a tune? Like some avant-garde composition you might hear in a State University graduate music program. I used to hang around the student union with a couple of those guys in my formative years at college. They were in there late twenties, and I was 19 with asymmetrical hair. One guy was always taping a microphone to things... like dashboards, or people's ribcages. I was an English Literature major soon to switch to Fine Arts in order to free up more time for brooding. Those avant-garde music types aren't bad chaps. I used to go to great lengths to help them understand the context in which the word "pop" could be a good thing.
The Loneliness of Everything tonight in Williamsburg. Of high grey walls with half-hearted graffiti. I think gentrification takes the starch out of graffiti artists. There is something pointless about tagging the side of a Thai restaurant that looks like an Isamu Noguchi design for the inside of a space shuttle. We just played a pretty disheartening show at "The Trash Bar" on Grand Street.
This was merely 6 days after we played a heartening show at a disco night called "Trash!" At a club on Greenwich Street in Manhattan. On that night there were a plentitude of kids, volume, and half dressed "performance artists." Desperately Seeking Something . But "Trash" twice in a week? The lack of imagination in naming these soirees can be blamed on any number of things, but please not Johnny Thunders. He probably has plenty to atone for already in the afterlife.
The Trash Bar used to be a club called Luxx, which deep into the past (about a year and a half) used to be the center of the briefly "important" electroclash scene. It had the neon-lit sleazy ambiance of a disco from an 80s b-movie where any variety of nerd had a punchers chance of getting laid through the sexy power of new wave. I think I liked Luxx more than I realized at the time. I was always too busy trying to shout over the trebly cymbal crashes on some Peeches record to actually contemplate it. I also think I secretly liked the Peeches record, but I would never admit to it in polite conversation. I guess that was the whole point of Luxx... no polite conversation.
Well "The Trash Bar" is not an improvement. At least Luxx with its tables behind cages, laughable hype and occasional trannys in training was at least in some small way a glorious mess. The Trash Bar... I think... is trying to be a white trash "trucker" metal bar, but firstly... neither truckers nor metal are all that subversive... and secondly... it's quite incongruous in a non-interesting way, as many inhabitants of Williamsburg have a certain frailness of nature that comes from having your maid wash your arsehole for you as a child. To make a long story short, the sort of "truckers" I observed at rest stops in Memphis would most likely use some of these kids as moist towelettes in a variety of unpleasant ways.
Well that certainly wasn't the most gracious paragraph I have ever written. Perhaps I'm finally rounding into the tabloid gossip hack which Satan has probably fated me to be. Does "The International Socialist" even have a gossip column?
The show its self tonight was a quasi-disaster. Supernaturally angry junkie looking sound-guy who was conducting a counter performance of feedback and neglect during each bands set. I felt bad for The Somnambulants whose release party this was. It was just rough performing in a sea of noise in a club which didn't seem to know what it really wanted to be. Last nights show at The Mercury Lounge was also a little weird. We made a questionable decision to play 3 NYC shows in one week so we could iron out some of the kinks in the new songs before we hit the studio next week. But we probably stretched ourselves and our audience a bit thin. Sometimes being a band in New York is really tricky on a psychological level. A couple weak shows and you feel irrelevantly on the outside of everything "happening". A couple good ones and you feel on the verge of something indescribable. But your band and your songs and your soul... remain the same. But the mind... it can begin to bend like a slab of oak which has been rained on too many times.
The show at Middle East in Boston the week prior was really excellent. Good crowd, good energy and rapport with them. That makes two in a row in Boston. A kind fan bought the whole band a round whilst we were eating falafel upstairs. Much appreciated. Saintface from NYC played also, and were quite good. They are getting a better handle on the whole Shadow Of Moz thing, that I too have had to tackle... in my own way... from time to time.
Speaking of Morrissey... Boz Boorer passed along word that Morrissey had included "The Happiest Days of My Life" on his pre-performance music mix for his recent tour. When I saw him at The Apollo Theatre I just heard a lot of Serge Gainsbourg... but if that's true... well that's kind of nice on a bunch of levels.
But now I'm on the streets of Williamsburg buying dollar empanadas from a small man with a small red cooler. The night sky is a deep, but lifeless blue. Gilbert, Kurt and I talk with a couple kids out in front of the club. They are in a band... wish I could remember the name. They were very sweet and made us feel better about the show.
I walk to the car and stash my keyboard in the trunk. I drive down a few avenues and meet Todbot at The Metropolitan Bar... a bar for boys and boys only. It's about 3am and there is the same disorientated glumness at The Metropolitan that there has been everywhere else. From the vegan café which specialized in things that look like meat but aren't, to the excessively air-conditioned café on the corner of Lorimer street where I had a coffee and tried to collect my thoughts before the sound check that never was. To the Trash Bar itself, where I put on a humiliating display of bad pool playing in front of a mysterious young lady who was polite enough not to laugh. Much like lunch at the vegan café... everything around me resembled something that... actually consuming it... revealed it was not. New York feels like a sound-stage tonight... not just the tacky simulations of the "Trash Bar". Everything. Out of focus. A late night film one watches out of boredom ... with people acting out their youth with all the enthusiasm of day-rate extras.
I order a greyhound and sit on a stool beside Tod. This is the second time today we have been on these very stools. We were here earlier in the day around 7pm, between the Vegan joint and the first band, when it was just us and a friendly bartender who ran down an unlikely list of all the professional athletes he knew to be secretly gay. He then explained to us how he loved Rock & Roll while prancing about to T-Rex. A disoriented older gentleman staggered in with a battered Fender Squire guitar and asked a bunch of rhetorical questions about it. The Glam loving bartender was just getting off work as we left at 8pm to return to the club. Now at 3am he was still here, milling about the somewhat sparse crowd of boys chatting and posing. The jukebox sighed some predictable synth-pop. The malaise was everywhere. Sometimes New York City is just a put on. A rundown runway show. An invention of Vice Magazine. Nights like this make me long for slow, sweet, claustrophobic days in the coastal towns of Long Island. Where the sound-stage was by design... and you found purpose in chewing the scenery like The Young Brando... in search of a quiet spot to sit down and re-write your lines.
Of course those claustrophobic days eventually paralyze you... play worse tricks on your mind then this city does... and you slowly lose your lust for everything. Your faith in everything. Worst of all... you lose your sense of possibility. Which this city... for all its other crimes... never robs from you. Perhaps this is what happened to The Young Brando. He lost his lust and his faith, and all that remained was his hunger. And all the scenery he chewed now hung upon his once brawling frame like 200 coats of paint upon an armoire... whose finish... once upon a time... glimmered of its own accord.
But as I head back to my apartment at 4:15, weariness making me feel drunker than a single greyhound has rights to make me feel... I think of the days when we beat the suburbs. Wrung beauty out of them like an Arabian nomad wringing a few blessed drops from a damp cloth.
My mind returns to cheap carnival haunted houses... walks through a wooded paths built in memorial of a dead teenager... conversations had while sitting on the hoods of cars in Multiplex parking lots... an elusive Frisbee... French ashtrays in junk-shop windows. Souvenirs of the Life we were imposing upon our own... of a long voyage into a small space... for as long as the illusion could hold. And that strikes me now... as a workable definition of our art.
I've learned of the theological concept of consolation and desolation...
Consolation is the feeling of presence. Of completeness... of whatever spirit is holy to you... walking beside you... arranging what small details he can to help you reach clarity...see wonder... feel strong and loved and on a path paved with purpose. Like the day you went riding with your Bass Guitarist in your mother's car towards the end of a warm and green Island. Eating strawberry rhubarb pie and drinking Coronas... laughter like a secret handshake at a picnic table behind a sea-food shack on the east-end dunes. Finding a hardcover British pressing of Colin MacInnes's Absolute Beginners... a book you've been searching for in bookshops here and abroad for 10 years. Mourning and creating while sitting on the docks at Sag Harbor in cheap sunglasses. Consolation. Broken days made whole... at least for this one.
That was about a year ago... maybe it's time for another drive.
Desolation is the feeling of absence. Of loneliness... incompletion... abandonment... of whatever spirit is holy to you... withdrawing and leaving you with the burden of all your mistakes and desire. The story of The New Testament reveals that Christ himself felt this desolation a number of times... most remarkably... at the moment of his death. Desolation... now... perhaps... inversely in the smallest of moments. Like walking the streets of Williamsburg waiting for a dawn that's late in coming, beneath billboards full of bad news. A long drive alongside an ashen expressway... waiting for the on ramp. A World That Won't Listen.
Like The Loneliness of Jazz in your local café... that tonight doesn't feel like the place you want it to be.
The next track on the acid jazz compilation begins... as the last of my iced coffee leaves behind only ice... and twilight becomes night. A vocal emerges. A weary, but lusty croon. Just one line repeated between piano phrases... but a melody... a voice... an actor... stuck between scenes... waiting for something to hold.
I am a contender...