If You Like Parties…
Hey, it’s a new column! A web exclusive from our friend and yours, Arwen Curry. And there’s more where this came from, so stay tuned to this website…
“I feel no pain.”
—The Guilloteens, “Call on Me” (Memphis, TN, 1965)
“I feel the pain.”
—Big Star, “Try Again” (Memphis, TN, 1972)
I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but can we just not talk about it? I’m always working on three movies and one book. I always have a new band probably. Half of my friends moved to New York or L.A., and it’s sometimes hard to focus when they don’t come around to sit on the stoop. I had my reasons, and you’ve moved on, and that’s OK. But now I have my reasons again, so I hope you’ll read along. I missed you.
So let me tell you about New York earlier this summer. One night toward the end of my stay I went to see a band that used to be from Memphis. I ran into my friends playing foosball in the basement of the club. I was glad to see them, but I didn’t want to be in the basement, although the lighting was nice. They were engaged. Everyone was engaged. I’d spent hours walking up and down Broadway in the rain looking for red shoes to wear while preceding Megan down the aisle when I got home. Congratulations, Megan and John! I was learning to make boutonnieres from tutorials on the internet.
Upstairs, nobody was dancing, even though it was that kind of band. Their sound connects directly to major nerves. It’s organ-rich. Listening to the records, you can feel the heartbeats of the people in the crowd that must be gathering outside the studio to beat time with their heads against the doors. But now the band seemed tired, either that or just not loud enough; it was hard to tell. Their faces were etched, like caricatures of musicians, and their weariness, if it was weariness, made me want to take them out for milkshakes and fries. After a while, though, it became clear that it was not weariness but steadiness. They were in it for the full ride.
The dance floor thawed. Everybody was grinning, sweaty, packed in like sardines. The guy behind me seemed to be dancing pretty close, seemed to be touching me, was definitely touching me, lightly on the hips, like we were posing for a prom picture. It was a strangely anachronistic way to be touched. Was it just creepy, or also exciting? I couldn’t tell. I turned to face the groper and found him modestly good-looking, a total stranger. What the hell is this, I asked with my eyebrows. He smiled and shrugged. Pretty, he mouthed. The band wasn’t breaking a sweat. A gorgeous punk rock girl from San Francisco reached out her hand. I took it and danced off into the crowd. People, you can’t omit both a pronoun and a verb and still expect strangers to make out with you.
After the crowd peeled away I started talking to the singer. He said, “Let’s talk outside so I can smoke this.” We sat on the curb in front of the club and talked about religion and rock ‘n’ roll. He was wearing jeans and sneakers and he stuck his legs straight out into the street like a teenage boy. An intense young videographer, French maybe, interrupted our conversation to ask for an interview. He asked something like, “Would you say the songs are mostly about love?” The singer dropped his cigarette and looked down at his feet while he crushed it out, then looked into the camera and said matter-of-factly that the songs were mostly about pain.
Later I ran into a friend and we split an unmetered car home. But after we dropped my friend off, the cabbie didn’t take me to the place I was staying. He pulled over, leaned over the seat, and said, “I thought you might want to make a little stop.” He had a long serrated smile, actually wolfish. I said, “What the fuck? Take me home.” When we got there I opened the door and put a foot on the street. I asked him what I owed. He smiled again and said, “Whatever you want to pay.” I gave him a ten and got out of the car.
Back in the hot apartment I reminded myself to stop relaxing so much. Then I thought, but at least in New York I know how to relax. Maybe I could unpack, leave a few things here. Leave a few pairs of socks behind the couch, a bottle of pills in the spice rack, something else essential, somewhere hidden. It wasn’t until I was en route to the airport a few days later that I realized I’d left behind the necklace I wear every day, with the aquamarine pendant that my mother said had been my grandmother’s and that my aunt said she didn’t remember.
Back at home, tucked securely in the cloud that rests over San Francisco from June through September, I bought vegetables. I put on my red high-heeled shoes and picked up the wedding cake. I went to see Eddy Current Suppression Ring in a bowling alley, and danced until it felt like summer. Nearly painless.
1. It’s inspiring when a band keeps getting better in ways you didn’t expect. Go see Surrender this weekend at…?
2. Like me, Sam Green lives in San Francisco but hangs out in New York an awful lot. He made the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Weather Underground. His new project, Utopia in Four Movements, is about Utopian projects in the 20th century. (I helped gather archival images for the film.) It’s a “live documentary,” which means Sam paces around and narrates parts of the film live while wonderful co-director Dave Cerf and others play music. It’s kind of like a Mike Kirsch band, minus the anarchy, guitar, and creepy suits. My favorite chapters are about Esperanto and forensic anthropology.
3. Who knew? For the price of two burritos and one domestic beer (per hour) you can take a date to a private screening room at UC Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archives and watch rare films of your choosing, just the two of you, or I guess the three or four of you, in plush red seats with the lights dimmed, breathing in the magic of the cinema, while your own private projectionist expertly changes the reels in the booth behind you. (I went with my boss, so no romance, although it was fun, and I got paid to be there, which is almost as good. not really.)
4. If you do take me up on that awesome date suggestion, and I suggest you do, I further suggest that you request some early films by Rudy Burckhardt, particularly Under the Brooklyn Bridge (1953). The scene in this film of boys diving into the East River is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Beware the later work.
5. Why is it we tend to think of sea horses as “cute” as opposed to other fish? Is it the shape of their heads, or the fact that they swim vertically? Is it an emotional association with actual horses? In any case, it’s weird. I know this seems like a totally random thought, but it’s not; it’s another film thing. You can ask me if you care.
6. From the “Fireworks Update” section of Mothers News, a free monthly one-page newspaper out of Providence:
The best time to light off fireworks is before dawn, as a feeble parody of the sun. You might think that your neighbors will get scared because they’ll wake up thinking it’s gunshots, but that’s why you get the ones that whistle before they explode. Common courtesy!
You can read Mothers News on the internet, but it’s supposed to be read on yellowish paper. If you send them a SASE, they’ll send you a copy and they’ll know you exist.
7. Jessica just sent this picture of me and Mike in full pundit mode in the “First Amendment Area” at Muir Woods. (Take heed of the odd similarity between Mike’s pose and the pose of the boy in Burckhardt’s still above.)
8. On Friday I’m getting the last line of the greatest work of classic Italian literature tattooed on my arm. I speak Italian, so it’s OK.
9. Email me. Letters, too, yes, still to: PO Box 170291, SF, CA 94117.