14 November 2008

Music Can Make You Stupid

That was the title of my old gossip column in Lookout magazine. Well, I call it a gossip column now, but at the time it was meant to be cutting edge music coverage, and to some extent it was, since the local bands I wrote about each issue were mostly from the Gilman Street scene that would soon be making big news all across the country.

But of course none of us knew that at the time, so what it really amounted to was rumors, gossip, and the occasional news item about a very tiny fish pond and the even tinier fish who swam there. Anyone who wasn't intimately familiar with Gilman and its habitu├ęs shouldn't have had a clue as to what I was banging on about.

And yet for some reason they read it anyway, and in many cases took it very seriously. Soon half the letters I got became variations on, "Why didn't you mention my band?" or "Why did you mention my band (if you haven't got anything to say about them?)".

During this same period Lookout's circulation grew from a few hundred xeroxed copies given away for free in the Bay Area and the Emerald Triangle to 10,000 printed copies, sold all over the country (but still given away for free in Northern California). I imagine this large leap in readership owed far more to the meteoric rise of Green Day than to my silly little gossip column, but now that Lookout and Gilman and the East Bay had become equated in the public mind with "next big thing" status, people combed through "Music Can Make You Stupid" all the more avidly, as if it were their own set of private tea leaves through which they could prognosticate the industry's (or, more to the point, their own band's) future.

I'm not sure I've ever written anything else that popular (apart from the Laurie L. "My Adventure With Green Day" parent-killing story in the liner notes of Kerplunk, of which there are more than a million copies in print), and the only explanation I have is the stylistic approach I took (because, let's be honest, it wasn't even a particularly accurate source of information; I was never all that big on fact-checking or objectivity).

But what I usually did with MCMYS was to write it as a version of the society columns I had always puzzled over as a kid. Why, I used to ask my parents, is it in the newspaper when Mr. So-and-so goes to a party or on vacation? I mean, there were never any stories about my family getting a new (used) car or when our cat had kittens, both of which seemed like far more important events to me.

"Oh, that's because they're part of high society, dear," my mother would explain, but it still never made sense. What was so high about their society? Their lives didn't sound any more interesting than mine, and that certainly wasn't saying much. Later on, when I heard my friend Flam's theory that we counterculturalists/mistfit/sociopaths/whatever were actually "aristocrats in exile," I decided that there was no difference, or if there was, it was merely that the denizens of so-called high society simply had a better press agent.

So I decided to become press agent for the obscure, downtrodden, overlooked, and alienated (i.e., myself and all my friends), and began reporting the most mundane development as though it were a breath-taking revelation: "CHUCK MONSULA (names always in bold face and caps) made an appearance at Gilman wearing a funny hat! LENNY ISOCRACY and PAUL POULTRY MAGIC thought it was hilarious!!!" (The sharp-eyed and/or long in tooth among you will note that this particular item is chronologically unlikely if not impossible; it's meant for illustrative purposes rather than historical ones.)

The formula proved to be a winning one, if having my stuff and nonsense taken seriously by my readers can be called winning. On the plus side, it definitely generated interest in the bands coming out of the East Bay and playing at Gilman; on the maybe not so plus side, it helped inflame egos and fan rivalries that, while often highly amusing, ran counter to what Gilman was supposed to be about.

It wasn't that different, I suppose, from what happens on internet message boards and Myspace pages nowadays, albeit not nearly so instantaneous. Before long I was getting letters (remember those?!) from kids in Connecticut or Croatia who'd never been within three thousand miles of Berkeley but who were as well versed as I was, if not more so, in the ways, wiles and tumultuous interactions of the various Gilman personalities. I began to feel like Charles Dickens might have when readers would besiege him with letters demanding to know whether their favorite character was going to prosper or die.

Ah well, that was then and this is now; here we are on another coast and in another century, and this time I promise you the unadulterated truth about the bands and people I'm about to mention. First off, the musical news overshadowing all other musical news locally this weekend will be of course the last shows by New Jersey's ERGS!, who for reasons incomprehensible to most of their fans, are breaking up.

MIKEY, JEFF and JOE are going out with a big four-show bang, the first being the "secret" one (in that nobody but the band's friends and about 3,000 subscribers to the PPMB knew about it) that came off tonight at The Parlor in New Brunswick. Friday night will be at the Khyber in Philadelphia, and Saturday will see two shows, an all-ages matinee at midday and a late-night blowout, both at Asbury Lanes on the Jersey Shore. Tickets to any of these are, to put it mildly, extremely difficult to come by, with the late night Saturday one being by far the most sought-after.

The PPMB crew, not surprisingly, is in a tizzy and an uproar - honestly, the last time I saw this kind of hubbub over a band breaking up was when OPERATION IVY called it quits - with a slightly-more-manic-than-usual CHADD DERKINS trying to organize a mass tattoo-in in which attendees at the matinee will use the down time before the late show to have the Ergs! exclamation point inked somewhere on their body (and Chadd himself will join in, he promises, if only somebody will pay for him). The STEINWAYS' GRATH McGRATH has been mocking the tattoo people, accusing them of succumbing to the same sort of hysteria which in his view accrued to PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA in the recent campaign. Perhaps he's merely upset that his recent trial balloons about bringing the Steinways to an end soon didn't result in a wave of penguin or zombie hamburger tattoos.

Speaking of which, the Steinways will be playing an early afternoon show this Sunday, along with THE UNLOVABLES, FOR SCIENCE, FULL OF FANCY and the LOST LOCKER COMBO, which should be almost as hot a ticket as the Ergs shows, not because as many people will turn up (though those who've flown in from other states and countries to see the Ergs will swell the numbers), but because the Cake Shop's basement is INFINITESIMAL, and also because For Science have just announced that this will be their last show, too. Something about a singer getting wacked out on acid and disappearing Peter Green-style to Hawaii, and when's the last time you heard about anyone getting wacked out on acid, let alone have it majorly impact on their lives? For Science have always had a serious 70s vibe to them, but this might be taking it just a little farther than necessary. Their live shows have, thanks to various forms of substance abuse, tended toward the shambolic, but their recorded output has won them lots of fans, many of whom will be lined up outside the Cake Shop come Sunday. No advance tickets, so getting there early is advisable.

So much going on in the New York/New Jersey (I'm nowhere near finished) may prove to be bad timing for BEN WEASEL, who along with Brooklyn's THE CHALLENGED is playing a couple of shows at Reggie's Rock Club in Chicago on Friday and Saturday. His last two appearances there were sold out months in advance, with people flying in from all over the country for the rare opportunity of seeing Ben perform live, but you might actually have a chance of getting a ticket should you be somewhere in the vicinity of the Midwest this weekend. Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, we have a two-fer and/or a pick'em for Friday night: in Williamsburg, at Death By Audio on S. 2nd Street, there's a show featuring LEMURIA (who were absolutely sensational at THE FEST last week), CHEEKY, GORDON GANO'S ARMY (who also won Fest raves) and GET BENT. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But wait... across town we also have what promises to be only the second appearance ever by THE THORNS OF LIFE. Who they, you ask? Just a little old Brooklyn house party band featuring some people you may or may not have heard of: BLAKE SCHWARZENBACH, AARON COMETBUS, and DANIELA SEA. I could list the previous affiliations of the first two, but it would probably be as pretentious as it would be superfluous. As for Daniela (formerly Danyella in some circles), she used to be in a Gilman band called the GR'UPS. Oh yeah, and a TV show called THE L WORD.

This band has been in the works for a few months now, something I knew but was sworn to secrecy about, which became rather annoying when everybody else started telling me the latest gossip, and even more annoying when I missed their first show last weekend. Perhaps they thought that by excluding me they'd be able to stay out of the MCMYS column, but no chance of that, boys (and girl). Anyway, sometime before tomorrow night I'll have to make up my mind which of these I'm attending, unless of course I end up sleeping all through the evening because I stayed up so late to write this column, which is a real possibility. Especially since I'm getting a new bed tomorrow, my very first bed, in fact, since I left England. Yes, it's true, for over a year now I've been sleeping, and not very well, I must say, on a futon on the floor. So if this bed turns out to be as good as I'm hoping, I may sleep right through the entire weekend and someone else - probably RAZORCAKE columnist JOEIII will have to fill you in on all the amazing developments, which in Joe's case will consist largely of a JUNK FOOD JUNKET to all the worst eating places in New Jersey. Some men see themselves atop Everest or K2, but not for Joe the safe and easy challenges.

Is there more stuff and gossip happening in NYC this week? Absolutely, but you're going to have to wait for the next edition of MCMYS to find out, or better yet, if you're worried that I might miss something or put an insufficient spin on just how great your band your scene is, better write to me and tell me about it. Or don't, because I'll probably find out anyway! Okay, unless it's a secret Thorns Of Life show. You got me there.


LMB said...

Lemuria posted some videos from The Fest performances at their MySpace

I saw Lemuria last month at a tiny all-ages place, they were quite good.

Anonymous said...
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Jonny said...


Indeed, I have been pricked by the thorns of life!

Ted said...

THE POTATOMEN now have mesh farmer/rancher/trucker caps on a web site near you.