Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back by Popular Demand

A few years ago, I posted some videos onto YouTube. Filmed on the cheapest webcam extant, they portrayed a pixellated image of me wearing two buttoned-down shirts -- a black one with epaulets superimposed atop a blue one with white pinstripes -- bashing through acoustic cover versions of a handful of popular songs: Springsteen's Factory; U2's Van Diemen's Land; the slave ballad Old Black Joe; Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel; and the traditional Irish drinking ballad Whiskey in the Jar, in the somewhat grandiloquent baritone I was affecting in those days.

The audio and video were improperly sync-ed, the performances were too fast, and the guitar playing was hopelessly thrashy, max-ing out the levels and tipping the sound at certain important junctures of each song into that peculiarly wicked digital feedback that sounded like that moment in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Infocom game when, with the aid of the Infinite Improbability Drive, you wound up materializing inside of your own brain.

I received a surprising amount of feedback, a striking share of which did not consist of race baiting and abuse, and thousands of hits. It was a small satisfaction for a period of life in which there were no larger satisfactions on offer. It was understood by all, and most of all by me, to be a fairly pathetic thing to do -- on YouTube, one could participate in a perpetual coffee-house amateur hour to no tangible end, broadcasting around the globe the image of the earnest loser one no longer had to fear becoming, having become it -- and an even more pathetic thing to derive one's satisfactions from. But I was coming to understand that one would have to take whatever satisfactions one could get in the form that was given, and the Internet was rapidly extending the range of miniscule, nugatory, and ultimately self-undermining satisfactions which one would not have the self-possession to refuse.

You see, the videos went up right around the time it was clear that I was never going to attain the very modest ambitions I had once attached to music. I had pursued them desultorily, and without the requisite spirit of enterprise, and yet with a certain belief that I did, in fact, as a performer and songwriter, have something to offer the world. If you Google my name, you'll see that I am credited with my writing partner, G F McN, with a song that aired on the pilot of the television show the Gilmore Girls. I wrote, performed, and recorded that song. It's pretty good -- as competent and well-crafted as any album track on any of the large majority of major label releases; indeed, probably better than most. We recorded more than 30 songs on 4-track tape and even a handful at a small project studio run by a locally successful Central New Jersey band.

We were not good enough, maybe, to have made ourselves the next whatever whomever. But we were good enough to, you know, maybe do some regional tours, release some records on some indie labels, perhaps, even engage in the intermittent act of sexual intercourse -- disappointing in itself, but gratifying in what it signified, or in any case, gratifying inasmuch as it was preferable to its alternative (masturbating alone, desultorily, but then oddly, unaccountably, in tears) -- with a fan. We did not look like anything that anyone was going to pay much attention to,

and we did not sound like anything that was presently in vogue,

and the combination of our sound and image did not tap into some deep structure of shared desire among the sensitive liberal youth who would have been our prospective audiences, if we did not abhor them even more than we did the mainstream audiences who seemed so distant from us in sensibility that their existence could easily be forgotten. There would always be some male music nerds -- short, black-clad, pudgy but solid -- who would give us respect for sounding like we did, without any real passion, and then the beautiful girls -- neurasthenic, with diaphanous skin, invariably trailing some haughty ephebe -- who would watch for a while, and then turn away.

Right around then, these bands were emerging in New York City -- principally the Strokes -- who were creating a gorgeous pastiche of everything that excluded us. They were rich and urban and sophisticated, smart but anti-intellectual. They hung out with models and fashion people, while we were awkward, angry, suburban, and thwarted before we had even entered the contest. And we knew that they had everything that was going to rocket them fame while we could only remain forever mired in obscurity, and we had admit that some of their songs were just perfect, and so good that we were never going to match them.

There will be more to say about all of this, and further documentation of it all, when I can figure out how to post music and pictures, but for now, what I'm getting at is that I'm back up on YouTube. You see, I bought this great new digital camera, and the video I took has all these different shades of mustard and amber, and is pleasing to the eye for that reason.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Delightful Afternoon

This was a spontaneous gathering of young people on Lafayette Street. It emerged that all of them had something strongly in common that drew them to stand in single file, gesticulating toward an imagined crowd of of onlookers, and beaming those inimitable smiles. Maybe it was the cheerful and complementary colors of their swimsuits, the very small breasts on the women, or the highly toned mid-sections of the men, none of whom had done so much as a sit-up since passing the President's Commission on Physical Fitness in the eighth grade. But glimpsing one another in that transitional stretch of road between Prince and Spring Street, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, their pale bodies glistening in the sun, all of them felt drawn to one another and came to understand, instinctively, that they would share a common destiny.