July 17, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
THE HOUSE WAS haunted. It was like Halloween in May. Someone kept leaving Please Kill Me around it ended up by the stove flipped open to Jim Carroll or Richard Hell, and the pasta turned to jelly while I read quotations adrift from context, bleary interpretations, complaints and reversionings by ex-junkies and self-absorbed scenesters. My roommate recited Iggy anti-epiphanies. We talked about Lou Reed too much; conversations trailed off despondently in unanswered questions about the mullet years. I started taking it personally that V.U. had a bad time in California. The place was full of nostalgic, swaggering rock and rollers trying to get their stories straight. It was like an episode of VH1.
Old realities are so appealing. Maybe everything is that was never true; maybe everything is as long as it's in the hands of a good liar. These people were bad liars. It was absorbing, hearing all the punk rock gossip out of sequence, the way people saw it, from the vantage point of no longer being quite so addled, young, bored, stupid, overcome by fame or the desire to fuck a star. But I wouldn't want to have been there. Which is strange and enlightened because usually I do.
A crowd of people get in a closed room where a band is playing or a record is spinning in the dark. There's no oxygen, and everyone has their performer dial cranked up, and something makes the egos explode and splatter all over the wall. The mood gets so thick you believe this is what everyone's life is like, what life might be like. It's too hectic a scene to stand up to daylight, but you get carried away. Enough of these nights in the same town, and people start talking and telling stories.
Unfortunately, my standard for atmospherics is largely based on nostalgic movies and old albums, the best of liars. I have nothing to complain about yet pine for earlier eras the swinging '60s, and glam London, and mid-'70s lower Manhattan. I learned about the birth of the teenager watching Absolute Beginners and Fire in the Streets. Christian Slater taught me how to dance to "Love Comes in Spurts" in Pump Up the Volume, where I first heard Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and I've seen Velvet Goldmine too many times to admit in print the opening scene with the bright kids running down the street to the concert just kills me. Sometimes I play Taking Tiger Mountain and Here Come the Warm Jets for days, mulling over events that took place in a screenplay, about some made-up day in 1970 while I lay suspended in amniotic fluid and my mother strummed "It Ain't Me Babe" on acoustic guitar.
It doesn't seem right. But I was only six when Blank Generation came out and 18 when Pump Up the Volume did, and what better age to draw a zero in the sand? Luckily, as Slater's character understood, the blank generation goes on and on.
Now I'm listening to Autumnfair and the Subtonix, two more defunct bands with new releases and a way of setting a scene you can play in your own head if that's all that's on offer. I've never seen either of them on celluloid, but they make moody music that darkens a room. I found Autumnfair's self-titled album (on Mobilization) at Aquarius Records, which is where I go to learn about everything I missed the first time around in this case a life span involving a 1991 EP and some unreleased tracks they were probably playing in some dank L.A. club while I was wondering what other band could make me feel the way Joy Division did.
The Subtonix specialized in rock shows that felt like really bad dreams, something that's hard to do now that everybody's seen it all; something I for once can attest to, since they haven't been broken up for long. They called their album Tarantism, after a "nervous affliction characterized by melancholy, stupor, and an uncontrollable urge to dance." Maybe I'll write a book someday and put them in it, so somebody can make a movie and ruin some other girl's life.
And maybe the Subtonix will one day rise from the dead to perform midnight rituals and fight for the soul of Jessie Trashed, now playing in the Vanishing, a band I saw for the first time after a Werepad screening of Charm, an anxiety-driven gorefest by Sadie Shaw (also in the band, along with Brian Hock) and Sarah Reed. Jessie Trashed stood up there like a sexy zombie and transmitted indecipherable warning notes, an echo effect on her mic and her eyeliner, while we all watched after-trails of gore, the blood drained from our faces. We stood in rows and looked like zombies ourselves after listening to the sounds of familial alienation and unpleasant people being eviscerated for an hour and a half. I felt like a killer all night and had terrible dreams.
My editor tells me V.U. made up all that hippie stuff and sounded terrible live. I'm sure he means I should make the best of my decade, make plans for the new century, and buy new albums by living, breathing bands. Few of them will be good enough to set a scene that never even happened. These things take time. But some bands make music you want to dream to no matter how bad it gets. E-mail Lynn Rapoport at firstname.lastname@example.org.