The Secret History of My Favorite
by Celeste La Coca
The trains to New York were painfully slow. Double decker diesels designed to rattle the dreams right out of you. They stared out the window at the asshole of suburbia. Through chainlink and barbed wire there appeared a landscape of glass and neon, plastic and dust, piled up against the graffiti strewn backside of so many half empty strip-mall towns whose very names required your face to form a frown in order to pronounce them.
Eventually they piled out at Pennsylvania Station, relying on the remaining half inch of tread on a pair of black Converse All-Stars to deliver them downtown. There at Rebel Rebel, they flip through 12 inches from the otherworldly stars of the British indie charts. Intoxication is tempered by a gnawing anxiety over their own lives. They are mute and invisible tourists from a crass and laughable sliver of the earth. All the rain in the world would not turn Long Island into Manchester. The beauty they see in the subdivided acres around them is impossible to describe, at least for now. But sometimes even the worst stutterers can sing for their supper. Michael went to the Radio Shack in the Sunvet Mall and bought the cheapest microphone he could find.
Michael spray-painted his hair silver, in an attempt to look like Andy Warhol, but it only made him look like he had just seen a ghost, which he believed he had. He listened to The Smiths, Joy Division & The Velvet Underground. He met Andrea that year, impressed by her conceptual wearing of a "Les Miserable" t-shirt. Andrea would attempt to lure him out of the house to socialize amongst the living. Once there was a terrible incident revolving around the proposal of a round of mini-golf. The only kids not perplexed to the point of contempt by his oddness were a group of glue-sniffing skate-boarders he would drive to Taco Bell every morning during free period. He hated them, but he sympathized. In each one he saw a scabbed up James Dean. In this way a fast-food parking lot became his Griffith Observatory. His notebook began to contain more than just doodles of vampires and Molly Ringwald. He inherited a Casio.
Andrea's parents moved to Florida, and she did a year in Purgatory, sitting under umbrellas in the searing sunlight, listening to The Cocteau Twins with a bunch of switchblade-wielding Goths who drove around in a hearse. She hated them, but sympathized. She took a photo-class and danced at a club called Visage where she once met They Might Be Giants. She finished high school half a year early and returned to her friends on Long Island. Living in a rented room on the wrong side of the tracks, she took buses to the drugstore, where she worked as a clerk. Her bed was beside a stack of the landlord's romance novels piled so perilously high, that she was in constant danger of being buried alive beneath the pathetic fantasies of the working class. She could sing a little, though she was painfully shy. Michael could empathize.
Darren lived a bottle's throw from the highway, on a street full of kids who looked like extras from Over The Edge. If it wasn't bolted down, it was thrown off the overpass. He hated them, but he sympathized. Michael had been to his Kindergarten birthday party and they had once again become friends in their teenage years. He quit the football team and spent afternoons playing guitar. He liked R.E.M's "Fall on Me". His older brother left behind a stack of New Wave records which sounded much better without him around. Though no one would confuse the dirt on his jeans with the broach on Michael's sweater, the things they held in common were the things they held most dear.
Gilbert went home sick one day from High school, and did not return. The diagnosis was "clinical depression," but most thought he just liked to sleep in. He would carry a tennis racket around with him, though no one quite knew why. Michael went by his house one day to cheer him up. He lived in his parents attic full of plastic furniture from the 60s. He had a poster on his wall of a Picasso depicting a girl who seemed half human and half statue. He smoked out the window. After witnessing him play "Just Can't Get Enough" on his parents out of tune piano, Michael asked him to join his band, which at that time did not exist. He preferred New Order to Joy Divison, and soon Michael sort of did too. He had been to France.
It took a year to find Tod in the dank dormitories of The State University of New York at Stony Brook. The gang had managed to crawl all of 15 miles away from their hometown to the once respected but now blighted state school. Misfits of the working class are often unaware that they'd be better off at an art school in Northampton. They'd be better off anywhere but here. Instead they stick together like a provincial pack of hungry dogs. Tod played drums like Budgie and had a Soviet flag hanging above his bed. He would later come up with the name "My Favorite," and Andrea has yet to forgive him. He looked kind of Goth, but watched One Life To Live all afternoon and then listened to Slowdive records. No one knew his last name. He was engaged in some form of criminal behavior, judging by the company he kept, but then again most people at this concrete crater of a college were. You had to do something.
Stevan was Michael's best friend and a local celebrity equally famous for writing a novel in a weekend and having sex behind the coat rack at the local discotheque. He was still at the tender age when alcoholism could be used to accessorize. He played guitar. Michael and their friend Lambert slept on the floor in his parents house for the first semester of college after being ousted from the dorms for dressing like Soren Kierkegaard. They sat around the breakfast table with their shirts off eating Count Chocula. People found this arrangement a bit odd. But they did not.
Once all together, they proposed an art project. "My Favorite". A gesture to all those around them proclaiming why the strange and beautiful things they horded in their rooms mattered. Why they would not grow up, and get jobs in the Industrial Parks like their parents. Why they fought with townies in the streets when they got called fags. Why they just did not care for Nirvana. They drew on themselves, and their clothes, and sides of buildings. My Favorite Forever.
Andrea and Michael listened to Sex Pistols and Jam bootlegs, got all riled up and decided to prove all naysayers wrong. They would play, and sing, and write songs, and be a band. This would be the ritual that connected them metaphysically with the world beyond the one they knew. Darren could play guitar a bit. Gilbert picked up a bass and did his best, and Stevan became the rhythm guitarist. Tod was brilliant on drums, if he'd just give the rest of them a chance. Andi sang in the school play, though only with her eyes closed. And anyone as miserable as Michael had to be capable of generating some kind of soulful sound from the diaphragm. Plus he had a Casio. They became the most curious of art-school ensembles, rejecting the sounds around them, and instead casting themselves as the band in some imaginary film set somehow both in the past and the future. They were cult heroes without followers. They were stars with no charms beyond their radiant dislocation and loneliness. Michael's lyrics also blossomed with the bitter fruits of their low expectations. A noir videoscape emerged, full of restless skinheads, moping ghosts and fallen debutantes. Michael's bandmates themselves wondered how a boy who rarely left his house could fashion such a far away world.
For the first year, the gang played shows alongside punk and hardcore bands at shitty all-ages nights at Long Island bars. Michael wore boxing gloves, and painted backdrops for shows. One such backdrop depicted a decrepit looking radio tower, and the light from the adjacent neon Budweiser sign gave the entire thing an eerie glow.
Andi & Michael and a few friends started doing a zine/manifesto called Absolute Beginners and drank cappuccinos in strip-mall pizza parlors with an "X" on their hands and their heads full of European dreams. A skinny skinhead Michael knew killed a boy with a knife behind a gas station, prompting Michael to let his hair grow out a bit. But he would still kick a soccer ball against the chain-link fence behind the old Saint Sylvester church. Stevan, Gilbert and Tod were not straightedge, and not drinking cappuccinos. The student houses which all of them hung around were full of drugged out philosophy majors strung around the rooms like so many dimming Christmas lights. One of them overdosed, and died on the filthy tan rug in the den. All this caused alienation within the gang, since headmaster Michael's ideology at the time was nothing if not sobering. Darren meanwhile drank Yoo-hoo with no sense of irony about it.
Stevan soon quit the band and moved home, rarely leaving his room and fashioning some profoundly disturbing soundscapes on his 4-track. Michael also moved home and retreated back to his room, leaving New York City to its own devices. Leaving the mods he never knew to the discos he could never find. Haunted by a pair of dead teenagers, and the sense that it was safer back at the old house with the two people he loved most...Andrea and his brother Joseph (quite possibly the only person in central Long Island more depressed than he). They had a turntable. The three of them watched art films and ate frozen yogurt. The days became quiet and indistinguishable, as Michael finished an art degree, and Andrea studied to be a Librarian. They knew somewhere in their guts that their youth was now passing them by. But then again, they'd had their fill of what it had offered up till then. Michael's introduction to American indie music was a review of a Bratmobile 7" in Sassy magazine. The cover of the record featured two girls mid-drifts with "Brat" and "mobile" scrawled across their bellies with a black sharpie. Michael thought he was the only one prone to communicate with the world via smudgy black words scrawled across various body parts. He was in love. Before that, indie music seemed an exclusively British concept to him. Felt, The Wedding Present, Brilliant Corners and of course Sarah Records. His only reference point was the NME. The only action he could conceive of before this revelation, on this side of the pond, was to hurtle their demos at the Sire Records building with the tepid dream of being the next Ocean Blue. They had a new model now. They recruited Matt "Spike" Kelly to replace Stevan on rhythm guitar. He had been in the army, so the band presumed he could possibly kill a man if need be. He really like the Chameleons. He worked at the Music Den record store with Michael.
The politics of labels like K Records, Kill Rock Stars and Teenbeat seemed more in line with those of his beloved Sarah, and more importantly, the Marxist student group, the "Red Balloon Collective" with whom he had thrown in with. His father had disowned him for reading "The Workerıs Vanguard" newspaper at the dinner table. Lower-middle class Italian families don?t look kindly upon teenage Marxists who major in Printmaking. Thus "Doing it yourself" appealed to him much more than the prospect of propositioning Seymour Stein, or listening to his dad. The gang recorded four songs and called it The Brighton Riot Tape, and took a bunch of photos of themselves dressed in AC Milan soccer jerseys. They sent these to a handful of small indie labels in America. Of the few which responded, many did so in a way which could best be described as unsupportive.
One label however called "Audrey's Diary" passed the tape to Jennifer Silver's small label called "Swingset." Chip Porter was ending Audrey's Diary and thought Jennifer might like them. She did, and put out a notorious pink sleeved single called The Last New Wave Record which featured the songs "Go Kid Go," "Absolute Beginners Again" and "1986". Both Chip and Jen became true friends and confidants for the group. They had recorded the single with the producer Kramer, who had done the Galaxie 500 records which Stevan and Michael had been quite fond of. The record was then played on the John Peel show, so the band naturally assumed fame was waiting in the next room.
They were now playing with proper "indiepop" bands like Heavenly, The Magnetic Fields, Holiday, and Papas Fritas. A scene full of smart and well-off kids from a variety of coastal colleges. Although some times crowds stared at them as if they were some kind of low-rent Duran Duran, overall they were happy to be part of any kind of community. It was as if they had entered the Ivy League through some service entrance door that had been left ajar.
Tim Alborn, an Assistant Professor at Harvard who had been the first in America to release a Magnetic Fields single, contacted the band about doing a single on his label Harriet Records. Since Michael had been obsessed with the book Harriet The Spy, the labels' namesake, in elementary school, he believed the coupling was fated to be. They recorded the 7" record The Informers & Us, which was a self conscious "disco" record about AIDS and poverty and a bunch of other untenable subjects. It made its way onto the CMJ monthly sampler disc alongside Blur's "The Universal" and received a handful of glowing reviews from people who were still struggling to grasp a young band doing moody plastic pop during the height of grunge. Two more split singles followed, and the band would occasionally turn up at various art schools, playing on the floor of the student lounge in exchange for beer and Indian food.
The rest of their history is not so secret. The partnership with Peter Green and Double Agent Records leads to the long awaited debut record in 1999, and the recordings which bring us to now and The Happiest Days of Our Lives. They've had too many breakdowns, and inexplicable disappearances. The self defeating psychology of their class. There was the year and a half in which Michael spent in convalescence feeding ducks. The Faustian year recording demos for a label which must have mistaken the gang for White Town. The year the lads spend scrapping, until they finally learned to love and forgive each other...and agree upon Stella Artois as the band intoxicant of choice. The last year has found them emerging like Pulp once did, outsiders finding their way inside from years in the wilderness. Their gesture remains in its own way quite fierce, as though toughened by the days spent transversing a barren landscape of signs and memories. The art project has become the most dangerously beautiful pop band in the world. The cult heroes have a cult. They are desperately needed. They have become their dreams.
Everything else you need to know is in the songs themselves. Or ask Michael; he's known to be a talky lad if you catch him in the right mood.
Celeste La Coca is a freelance photographer and writer living in Rome. She studied at The State University Of New York at Stonybrook with My Favorite and remains a confidant. She is currently working on a photo-essay about Roman dead-end streets.