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May 27, 2004
I think part of the reason I don't update regularly is that most of my entries would start out, "Today, on the subway," and before I lived in this great city, I reserved some disdain for New Yorkers who could only talk about New York. The pleasure people seemed to take in speaking of the most efficient subway routes or even naming where things were—"Oh, that place on 71st and Broadway? There's another one in the West Village and it's even better"—always made me want to tell them to get over it. I haven't quite become those people, but I can't lose sight of the risk. I mean, I have had the most efficient subway route conversation before.
Anyway, the other day, on the subway, I saw one of Columbia University's graduates still wearing her cap and gown from the day's commencement festivities. The ceremony had ended hours before, so I supposed it was a show of pride. I wondered if she wanted people to congratulate her. I thought of my high school graduation (I didn't attend my college ceremony, so high school was the last time I donned the graduate's ensemble) and recalled wanting to get out of the get-up as soon as I could. I remember having to hug people I didn't particularly want to hug. I remember sensing that some teachers wanted out of there as much as I did, and that those were the ones I did want to hug, and that their lack of enthusiasm for me was disappointing. They wouldn't remember me as I would them, I thought, and eventually it proved true: last year, I saw my AP English teacher at a Wilco concert, and he couldn't recall who I was, saying only that he "thought I looked familiar."
On the subway, I wondered if, had I gone to Columbia or some other fancy good school, I would have felt more of a desire to bask in the accomplishment of surviving my time there. Since my high school was rather fancy, I assume I wouldn't have, unless I've matured to a point of being able to feel strongly about a place. I always have been sort of suspicious and discontent, wary of how places (schools, employers, worker's unions) might be using me for their own benefit; I always am displeased with policies and usually distance myself from participating in the sense of community places usually attempt to foster. Still, though this wariness was at its strongest during high school, I made most of my best friends there. (This always seems to surprise people -- "You know each other from high school? Wow." Perhaps adolescence is such a transformative and inherently lonely time for everyone that most people don't make lasting friendships during those years.)
Even the best institutions, I'm sure, are viewed with scorn by the people who attend them. We're all going to have problems with our places. But maybe it's smart to show enthusiasm for places; maybe it makes you feel more connected to them and, by extension, to the people there and to the memories of your experiences. And, of course, if you like a place enough, you might be moved to improve it.
May 10, 2004
icy cool flavor
My Friday started at the H&M in Harlem, where I met up with Litza to talk about her state of affairs and collect a couple of summer dresses. The outing was successful on both counts.
Then work happened, and I chatted with my brother over Yahoo about his future as he got drunk and watched TV in his Kiel dorm room. I want him to move to New York, for his sake and mine and WOVO's.
After work I headed over to the Telephone Bar and Grill, where I sat in a dark, cozy corner and drank and read, awaiting the arrival of Steve and Katie and Pgh Andy. They showed, and we ate and poured beer into ourselves and talked about music. Then we walked over to Webster Hall, a sleazy, somewhat ornate, cool old building, to see Todd Rundgren.
My knowledge of Todd Rundgren, like my knowledge of everything, is limited. I own Something/Anything and like it a lot, and he's from Philadelphia, and he went with Bebe Buell for awhile, and Liv Tyler thought he was her dad for the first twelve years of her life or something, and after his earliest albums his music started getting weird and unpalatable. That's all. In my head, he's a goofy, skinny, talented kid who likes to play around with studio equipment.
I expected a level of self-awareness from Todd that, well, he didn't seem to have. There was a Spinal Tap element to the performance, with the band dressed as clergy, each standing in his own chapel-like, pod-like section of stage. At first I thought it was a joke, but as the show progressed, I became convinced that it was not. The first set of songs seemed like they were supposed to be angry; I felt like they were trying to make a different kind of joke (or a sarcastic comment about soullessness, or something) and missing. The sound, processed through a computer just offstage, seemed removed from life. But some of the older audience members seemed to be enjoying themselves. Todd and his backup band The Liars seemed to be enjoying themselves. And people enjoying themselves was the whole point of the thing.
We're all going to get old, if we're lucky, and what we think is cool at 17 or 25 is probably not what we'll think is cool when we're 55 or 75. Why are we as youth so important now that we get to define "coolness?" Todd still thinks he's cool; just because I don't think he's cool doesn't mean he isn't. The problem I have is that some of the coolness he seems to think he has is the same kind of coolness you see younger people trying to pull off now (I'm thinking of a particular screamy, angry, hard-rocky song from his show that sounded, like much of his other songs, cheap and misguided), and it's just more pathetic when it's coming from someone who's old enough to know better. The shameless, genuine geekiness of Something/Anything is much cooler. To me. I didn't want or expect to hear him perform that album; I just wanted to hear that he hadn't lost what mattered from it. On Friday, Todd seemed to be grasping for something he couldn't remember knowing. There was a different kind of shamelessness to the performance, one tinged with jadedness. Once the band changed into pink and purple faux-cool jazz outfits, I suffered through a couple of faux-cool jazz songs and left.