michael's communiqué #2|
Absolute Beginners again,
I had green tea Pocky for breakfast. The sun was warm as I walked to my car, and children swarmed outside the school across the street from my apartment. They were doing their best to obliterate the starched silence of their British style school uniforms by shouting, groping, twirling, sparring and generally engaging in all matters of undignified behavior...which in all fairness... is the god given right of all 12 year olds.
I left my best bowling-bag full of half my earthly possessions at the club in Williamsburg we played at last Saturday, and need to retrieve it. I've felt like I needed a good cry since the finale of Dawson's Creek last week. I'll probably have one after the season finale of Buffy the Vampire tonight. I don't watch much television, and my place is a mess. This is probably all you need to know about me right this moment, but since I'm here I might as well, as I often do, go on a bit...
I know I've been lax updating this communiqué, but for once it's not due do depressed inertia, but rather a lot of all varieties of work coupled with a slightly worn-out mind and heart. But since the last thing I want to do is disappoint the punters, I have given myself a metaphoric kick in the ass. If I'm going to spend a good portion of my bright summer days holed up in a tiny office on a college campus not worth naming, then I might as well use the time to write...
"The end of an era." It can be quite a potently meaningless phrase. I've never exactly known how long an era is or was, or how to distinguish between one era ending and another starting, as opposed to the era in question just becoming quite crappy. But a couple of things worth mentioning have come to an end, and me being as pathologically sentimental as I am, feel the need to mention them here. I have no idea if any of this is of interest to any one but me, but if you don't care for it you can always go kick a soccer ball around...
The first ending I open with is the closing of the Music Den record store in the old Jeffries shopping center on Nesconset Highway, Port Jefferson Station Long Island.
Music Den was a classic 80's suburban small business, squeezed between...as if by a vice...a crummy deli and a pizza parlor in a sprawling half-empty strip-mall on a sprawling half-empty highway. As the years went by, the strip mall became even more of a ghost-mall as the rise of corporate uber-stores like Target, Borders, and Kohls sucked away businesses and customers alike. Ironically, the more empty a strip-mall gets, the more accurately it aesthetically captures the feeling of being in one. Thus the decline becomes a type of poetic acceleration. Music Den was and will always be the semiotic retail equivalent of my friends and my lost youths on Long Island. Aside from us sharing the same dire setting of which I have just described, Music Den was...like us... in a constant state of compromised subversion.
The store itself was part of a chain of three owned by a hippie "Outlaw Biker" looking entrepreneur named "Bob". Not since Twin Peaks had a "Bob" been more unpredictable, unsavory and downright scary. He seemed to know nothing and care nothing for music, except as a means to getting wrinkled Twenties. He paid his employees off the books, at an hourly wage defiantly below the legal minimum. He probably assumed the employees stole to make up the difference...they didn't. The store made the bulk of its money selling bad club music to downtrodden Long Island wedding deejays, and selling bad classic-rock to glue-sniffers from the wrong side of the tracks.
Somehow, the Port Jefferson Station branch of the Music Den empire came to be managed by a man-child named John, who though probably 10 or more years our senior, was imbued with a gracefully gentle state of perpetual adolescence. He hired as his staff, a string of the most awkward, beautiful, reviled, and clever punks, goths and whatevers on Long Island... including yours truly. But I was merely a minor character. Chris Kelly, Matt "Spike" Kelly, "Marshmallow Bunny" Don, Nick Fury, Industrial Aaron, Kurt Brondo and a bunch of other pale faces in black t-shirts whose names escape me, were the guts of the operation. It was like a halfway house for post-punk rejects, and I am proud to have counted myself among them. Two thirds of the store was filled with the aforementioned club music and classic rock, but the other third contained glorious towers full of new wave, obscure electronic and goth music, hand picked by John and the rest of the gang. When Spike Kelly and I worked there, we started an indie section full of Huggy Bear, Unrest and Saint Etienne records. It was solely for us, our friends and the handful of witness-protection program hipsters who found themselves at The State University of New York at Stony Brook. It, and to a lesser degree, the goth and synthpop sections, were subsidized by the boring records which actually sold. It was a defiantly marginalized coup de ta. A stolen corner of nowhere for ourselves. Something bright beneath the flickering fluorescents. But still, in the end, part of an obscure and invisible blemish upon the earth. And thus, in this way, Music Den and us were one.
A forest of stickers were pinned on the wall, and soon my rusted through Pontiac 6000 proudly bore bootlegged Smiths, Jam and New Order tattoos. For heavens sake, you could even put the Cocteau Twins on your rear spoiler. A giant Joy Division poster hung down from the ceiling, along with scores of others, blowing in the air-conditioned breeze, like the flags of some alternate dimension United Nations. John was the first person on earth to own a digital camera, and he took photos of the rogue's gallery of employees and customers who would frequent The Den. He affixed a sprawling grid of photos to the front counter. It was as if, even then, he knew this couldn't last forever, and it was worth remembering, even as we were living it. I distinctly recall certain pictures even now... like the bearded guy from the road crew who would stop in to talk but never bought anything, or Chris Kelly with shaved head and Andy Warhol glasses, or Andrea with a tuft of bleach blonde hair and a big smile poking out from beneath a billowing caution-cone orange ski-jacket. The pictures stayed in my mind, but I don't trust my memory. Some were probably there, and some I've probably retaken in my dreams.
I haven't lived on Long Island for over two years, and it's probably been even longer since I've been to Music Den. The more things changed in the world outside of Music Den, the harder it got to go inside. It became too constant a reminder of certain new wave dreams gone wrong. I preferred to freeze it in place, remember Music Den the way I wanted to. I figured I would return to it someday, a conquering pop-hero, with the big wrong in my life put right. I thought it would always be there like some mystical portal to the past. But despite my best efforts, I could not right the big wrong...and I'm still working on the whole conquering pop-hero thing. But sometimes it doesn't seem to matter. The soundstage has been dismantled. The shooting stars burned bright, then vanished, like dust, into thin air. It is just what shooting stars do. The script is erased and not yet rewritten. Every youth has its record store. Mine is closed.
I picture Music Den now, dim and empty, with a crack in the window resembling that which is upon a broken heart. I did not even stop by to say my final farewells. Too busy, too far a drive, blah, blah, blah. But we all know the real reason. We'd rather say goodbye on our own terms or not at all.
Which brings us, I suppose, to the last episode of Dawson's Creek, a program that I watched an average of 3 times a year, for the duration of it's run. In fact, I only really started appreciating it after reading a brilliant essay by Lawrence Livermore (the founder of Lookout Records) who does the Life With Larry column in Punk Planet (formerly in Maximum Rock n' Roll.) He took me and my type to task for cynically dismissing "Dawson's Creek" as unrealistic and naively idealized. He argued that that is what the show is, but that those were neither unusual nor undesirable characteristics for good art to have.
And that perhaps the detached chic nihilism of certain post-modern attitudes had spoiled the part of us normally able to appreciate something as desperately sentimental as Dawson's Creek. I asked myself, did I really prefer the approach taken in Larry Clark's "Kids"? That film manages to be both unrealistic and ideal-less. Unless your central ideal for living is blowing your trust fund on drugs and skateboard accessories. The essay also made me realize that on another level I was just fighting Dawson's Creek because I refused to believe that anything as "90s" and J Crew as Dawson¹s Creek could be at all redeemable. I was defending the ghost of Molly Ringwald and perhaps even Dylan McKay from a khaki interloper. It was foolish. Dawson's Creek wasn't and isn't great art. But at times it wants to be, and in the context of contemporary pop culture, that is almost enough. With all the fashionable hostility in art today, Dawson's Creek was important if only because it proposed that caring about your friends and the meaning of life was a worthwhile venture. The characters were self-absorbed, but not narcissistic. The shine came from within; it wasn't polished. In this was Dawson's tried to delineate the line between the cool pose, and cool purpose. And for that I appreciate it.
The last episode was the best one ever, combining postmodern pathos with good old-fashioned after-school special drama into two addictive hours. The finale took place 5 years in the future from the episode before, with Dawson now the writer/director of his own TV show based on his youth called "The Creek", Pacy the owner of a restaurant in the town they grew up in, and Joey as some kind of academic type dating an elitist intellectual. The WB Network sold this final episode as the resolution of the longstanding Dawson/Joey/Pacy love triangle. But it managed to ask as many questions as it answered, even while answering the main one pretty straightforwardly. By series end, we have come to accept that Dawson and Joey are soulmates, just as they themselves do. Their friendship and sense of destiny binds them to a glittering teenage dream. And in a scene from "The Creek" (Dawson's show which is basically season one of "Dawson's Creek" with some funny looking teen actors), which we get to watch along with them, Dawson has the character's representing himself and Joey end up together in a perfectly poetic moment of unspoiled innocence and love. But in real life Joey chooses Pacy, in an unsatisfying yet somehow understandable surrender to growing up. For perhaps in all his desperation and imperfection, Pacy is bound to the corporal plane in a way that the essential artist Dawson could never be. In his immaturity and angst he is like a blank page to Dawson's 1,500 page Russian novel. For the still cocoon-emerging Joey, there is empathy there. Dawson experiences a profoundly beautiful love-affair inside his art, but sits alone at his desk talking to an embracing Joey and Pacy on the telephone as the series ends.
What has always been most interesting about Dawson's Creek is the creator's notion that each character represents a portion of his own personality and life, from Dawson to the doomed Jen. And as my eyes got all watery and stingy at the conclusion of Dawson's Creek, I couldn't help but transpose some of the fragments to myself. Ask the same questions of myself, that Kevin Williamson did. Would I only find love in my art like the detached observer/creator Dawson, or allow myself to struggle in the mess like Pacy and become wholly human. And would I find a love, a "Joey" either place to grow up beside me. Or was I my own Joey, my own innocence and in-articulation waiting to choose, to self-determine, to move on. I really wish I knew. Either way, Dawson's Creek was followed by a Pop Tarts commercial.
Next communiqué, I will discuss Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though I truly fear this turning into a Television Column. As I recall, I talked about a Nicholas Cage film last time around. Jeez I need to get back to Paris...then I'll spend 12 paragraphs describing the color of coffee at Cafe De Flore. Until then here is a bit of an update on My Favorite...
We played a sold out show alongside stellastarr* and others at North Six in Williamsburg as part of the release party for Kanine Records new compilation "NY: The Next Wave" on Saturday May 17. The compilation is very uneven, but tracks by Elefant, stellastarr*, Four Volt and a few others make it worthwhile. Our song is called "My Life With The Living Dead" and is as of yet exclusive and not a part of the Joan Of Arc compilation. It is one of our new "Monster" songs, and it a depressingly jaunty little ditty sung by Ms. Vaughn. Our double disc compilation "The Happiest Days of Our Lives", which compiles the 3 Joan of Arc EPs plus four new songs (the rock n' roll annunciation of "The Happiest Days of My Life", the mope-rock symphonics of "A Cathedral At Night", the home-studio rainstorm ballad "Half There and Dancing", and the Goddard meets Nicholas Ray French disco of "James Dean") and a bonus remix disc is done, and sitting in boxes. We are waiting to see the resolution of a partnership we hope to be entering into with some potentially helpful characters, so it won't be released until the fall. Advance copies may go on sale through Doubleagentrecords.com so keep your eyes peeled. We have some more NY shows this summer and hope to travel to some other American cities too. A trip to the West Coast, UK and Sweden are in the works, but harder to arrange than you might think. We will try, I promise...
Once again thanks for all your support and faith. If this ends up being the year of The Faves, it will have everything to do with you.
Michael "Micky" Grace