Literary Review

Music and Sex #7: Battles of the Band

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

As 1980 got going, Walter was distracted from Janie’s absence by progress on the band front. Garrick had found an electric guitarist, Tom O’Reilly. Though still lacking bass and drums, they decided to try putting together some new songs and practicing some covers -- because as TomO (as he styled himself) pointed out pragmatically, a good set of rockin’ covers would get them gigs at the frats that lined the south side of 114th St. Over a round of beers at the Marlin, a brightly lit bar that had less visual flair than a high school cafeteria, but the cheapest beer near campus, they decided to take turns suggesting covers.

Röck Read Röund-Up

As I mentioned way back on this post from 2008, as much as I’ve tried to branch out, my tastes are pretty narrow when it comes to reading material.

I’d love to say that I’m broadly well-read when it comes to the more celebrated books of the day, but it’s just not true. If you’re looking to engage in a discussion about today’s most incisive fiction, you’re much better off speaking with my wife (who works in publishing) than one such as I. Truthfully, I’ve pretty much lost my taste for fiction almost entirely. Unless I have some vested interest (like, say, I know the author or it’s about something near and dear to me), I usually cannot muster up the interest to crack the binding.

Music and Sex #6: New Experiences

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

[Warning: the chapter below contains "adult situations." Seriously, this one's not for the faint-hearted.]

Walter’s new home, Carman Hall, was an utterly soulless pile of cinder blocks. No effort at all had been made, during its design and construction two decades earlier, to build in anything conveying the slightest sense of warmth. No carpeting in either the halls or in the suites, no wood anywhere except the doors, no decorative touches, nothing but bare straight lines. One imagined it had been designed so it could be hosed down with minimum effort between school years to as to be literally as well as aesthetically antiseptic. There was not even any accommodation made for cooking; not only were there no kitchen nooks, even hotplates were forbidden (though, given that they were horrific fire hazards, that made sense, which was not to say that the ban was not widely flouted).

Music and Sex #5: Marching, Stealing, Singing, Puking, Spinning

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

Other opportunities to interact with women included the marching band. It wasn't much of a band, but that didn't bother Walter; it meant it didn't take up much of his time. With the occasional exception, the same songs were played at every football game, so one rehearsal per week sufficed. In high school he'd been the third or fourth best trombonist, but here there was just one other trombonist, and they were on par with each other. If Walter felt like skipping rehearsal one week, nobody cared, since the music was easy and he could sight-read it adequately.

Nor did he have to practice marching formations, because they really didn't bother with that. Their formations were a sort of rebellion, illustrations synced to the smart-ass script read by the announcer, and they merely ran around between formations instead of marching. The announcer helpfully said in advance what the formation depicted -- "The band now forms a door and plays 'I Hear You Knocking'" -- serving to remind the band members what came next while also explaining to the bemused audience what the sloppy rectangle on the field represented and what the cacophony was supposed to sound like.

When they played a new song, maybe there would be an arrangement written out in advance, but more often a couple of trumpeters would play the melody in a comfortable key, the two tuba players would play chord roots, and everybody else would fake the harmony -- not only was intending complexity bound to not come out right, there was more than enough accidental complexity under normal circumstances. Sometimes the announcer would declare, "The band will now form an amorphous blob," a bit of snarky irony, but the music was often amorphous as well, though never announced as such. (Now that would have been funny.) In other words, precision was not prized beyond generally keeping together.

Music and Sex #4: West End Follies

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here).

The bar across Broadway between 113th and 114th Streets, the West End, was supposedly famous. Or at least the orientation materials had seemed to consider it an important part of Columbia history because it had been a hangout for literary figures, some of them Columbia men, though he had not yet read anything by any of them. Of more interest to Walter, there was jazz there. In passing by one Saturday afternoon on the way to Citibank, he'd seen a sign boasting that the Louis Armstrong All Stars were playing.

Talking Back to The Dean

By Robert Christgau (Dey Street Books)

After a considerable dry spell, my reading life has significantly picked up (possibly due to a sorely unsolicited amount of "free time"). I’ve hungrily paged through some great books in the past few weeks like NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980-1990 by Tony Rettman, A Drinking Life by Pete Hammill, Wake Me When It’s Over, the memoir of former Luna Lounge owner Rob Sacher, Diaries 86-89 by Miles Hunt (he of The Wonder Stuff) and, of course, Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. Given my particular predilections, I’m obviously still a sucker for oral histories, tomes about NYC lore and good ol’ rock bios. What can I say? That’s just the type of crap I like.

So you can imagine, then, my enthusiasm upon learning about Going Into The City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man by Robert Christgau, the so-called “Dean of American Rock Critics.” As it’s a memoir purportedly detailing the fabled journalist’s days in the rock trenches as a nascent music scribe in the still-endearingly-gritty New York City of the 1970s, one might be hard pressed to imagine a book better suited to my tastes. Hell, it even boasts a fetching, vintage shot of the Bowery on the cover. Clearly, I was going to devour this book whole.

Music and Sex #3 - in which our hero's long musical weekend continues, etc.

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress by Roman AkLeff (first installment can be read here; second here (the last paragraph of which was moved into this part).

After the show, Walter took Norman to the West End, where Norman marveled at the broad beer selection. As they slowly worked their way through a small percentage of the fifty-plus on offer, Walter lamented how inferior college was making him feel.

"Screw that," rejoined Norman. "Just have fun and keep learning and next year's freshmen will feel inferior to you. If you already knew everything, you wouldn't have to go to college in the first place. Don't tell me about that, tell me about all the cool stuff you've been doing."

"Well, during orientation there was a great band playing outside for free called So What. I know you're not that into fusion, but they were hot. The guitarist, Steve Bargonetti, graduated last year, but some of them are still going here. The drummer, at least, Steve Shebar, is."

Music and Sex #2 - in which our hero is taken down a peg but his weekend is saved by rock 'n' roll

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress (first chapter here)

Walter's biggest adjustment to college life was realizing that he wasn't the hot-shit intellectual he'd thought he was. In high school he hadn't been the smartest guy, but he'd felt like he was up there in at least the top five percent. Here he felt like an idiot at times. Senior year in high school he'd officially been the best player on the chess team, and moreover, first board on the first-place team in their league that year. At Columbia, he lost 24 consecutive speed games to one guy and never managed better than a draw with anybody in the chess club before, feeling frustrated and embarrassed, he stopped attending meetings.

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - first installment

[Editor's note: CultureCatch is going to be supplementing our usual critical fare with more new, previously unpublished creative pieces such as this. We've done a bit of this in the past, most notably with Ken Krimstein's cartoons and Dusty Wright's music; now we plan to increase our publication of this type of content. Please contact us if you would like to contribute original work.

Warning: the chapter below contains "adult situations." But our readers are adults, right?]

Music and Sex: Scenes from a life - A novel in progress by Roman AkLeff

"We only walk by continually beginning to fall forward." - William Gibson, Zero History