[July, 1995] Sassy Magazine and The Cure

March 23, 2014 2 comments
The Cure, before Robert Smith became a caricature of himself.

The Cure, before Robert Smith became a caricature of himself.

7/26/95

A crazy story that is the sum of its parts (two of them). Anita and I go to Record Rabbit frequently. There is this very nice guy who works there. His name is Nathan and he is obsessed with The Cure. He’s very nice and we sometimes chat. He recently came back from Belgium where he saw his 41st and 42nd Cure shows.

Then there is this article I read in Sassy years ago about a guy obsessed with (duh) The Cure. I remember this story so well because I kept thinking “wow, could I ever get like that?” and then when I went through my U2 phase I did get like that so I thought of the article more. Well tonight I dug out the magazine while on the phone with Anita and what do you know: Nathan Greenblatt is the name of the Cure fan. My mind was reeling. I was blown away.

It didn’t take much to blow my mind back then. A well-placed coincidence could do it. Before we get to the musical addiction side of things, let’s talk Sassy.

The best teen magazine that ever was.

The best teen magazine that ever was.

For those unfamiliar, Sassy was a magazine for young women helmed by Jane Pratt, an editor-in-chief who always gave off the vibe of being your smart older sister. She later went on to start Jane magazine and currently runs xoJane.com, both also great, but Sassy was where it all began.

Back in the 90s, I read a number of teen magazines, including YM and Seventeen, and there was always a cookie-cutter aspect to them, encouraging you to look and dress and be a certain way. Sassy did not have the homogeneity of  these other publications, and not only showed more diversity in the types of models and content it featured, but dealt with teen issues in a no-nonsense way and promoted self-acceptance, instead of setting unattainable glossy standards. It’s the only magazine aimed at my demographic I read back then that didn’t make me feel bad about myself.

From time to time, I came across a story in the magazine that particularly resonated with me. The one about obsessed fans was such a piece.

There was always something about that kind of music fanaticism I found utterly fascinating. The idea of devoting your time and disposable income to dedicate yourself to a particular singer or band was insane, the stuff that restraining orders are made of. And yet, it’s the kind of madness I could buy into. There was something strangely admirable, like being a monk or disciple, except instead of Buddha or God, you had Bono or Trent Reznor or Robert Smith or another dubious object of worship. And I think that’s what it came down to, that level of infatuation, that passion that bordered on the mentally deranged stemmed from music being the closest thing many of us had to religion.  Song lyrics were our scriptures and concert halls our churches.

Meeting someone like Nathan was like meeting a true disciple. As extreme as my own musical obsession(s) may have been, this guy was even more devoted and hardcore. So, coincidence or no, I felt an immediate connection to him and truly believed fate had crossed our paths for a reason.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was also pretty cute…

[July, 1995] Phone Stalking Trent Reznor (and Others)

7/9/95

“But you were so different
You had to say no
When those empty fools
Tried to change you and claim you
for the lair of their ordinary world.” – Morrissey

Well this log isn’t the only thing I’ve been ignoring (try all of my writing, except for letters). I did start one story but we’ll see how it goes. But this just makes me feel guilty so I will talk about happier things. For example:

I like to think this is exactly how Trent looked during our phone call.

I like to think this is exactly how Trent looked during our phone call…

I SPOKE TO TRENT REZNOR.

The story will be told without exclamation points. His number was listed in a ‘zine so I dialed it on my Dad’s cellular phone. This woman picked up and I asked for Trent. She called out,

“Trent it’s for you.”

And he came on the phone saying something like “Trent here. Hello,” in this booming voice.

I began breathlessly talking about how I got his number from a ‘zine and that I didn’t call him to tell him how cool he was or how much I loved his music, but to talk about Clive Barker.

He said something like “can you call back tomorrow?” and the line was silent. He probably hung up but the battery on the cellular phone was running out so that could have been it too.

I called again tonight and (to my immense surprise) got the machine. Of course I did not leave a message.

Okay on to other things. Two words: OPERATION BLANKENSHIP. Silly name yes, but the gears are turning and it should proceed rather smoothly (oh let’s hope let’s hope). No exclamation points there either, I’m not in the mood for them and besides I’m writing in obscure terms.

So I called Tim last night. Very cool chat as usual.

Saw a free concert They Might Be Giants gave in Prospect Park. How fun was it. The conga we all did (at the band’s insistance) was a blast. Also saw Adrian there and we stood listening to the last part of the show occasionally talking or having strangers come up to him, commenting on his appearance.

Gotta go call Anita now.

It figures that my first dropped call on a “cellular phone” would also be during the one and only time I got to speak with Trent Reznor. Except that it’s more likely Trent hung up on me. Which is only slightly less embarrassing than the time I interrupted Conan O’Brian talking on a pay phone to get his autograph (also some time in the mid-90s; Anita said he was visibly annoyed). 

This is probably closer to how Trent looked when I called him.

… but this is probably closer to how he looked when I called him.

So, wow. Where to even begin. I do remember the ‘zine that regularly posted phone numbers for celebrities. It was called Popsmear and I’m sure was responsible for pissing off quite a few stars (if I remember correctly, the ‘zine published angry letters from the celebs themselves occasionally). Usually it was just people like Lisa Loeb or Juliana Hatfield, so there was no urge for me to pick up the phone. Until I say Trent’s listed. Then I just couldn’t resist, especially when I saw it was a New Orleans area code, where he lived at the time.

I still didn’t think it would actually be Mr. Nine Inch Nails himself until I heard his voice on the line. It had an understated aggression to it, unless it was mere irritability at having a strange teenage girl from Brooklyn calling him up to randomly chat about an author we both liked. I can’t really blame him. What did I expect, that he’d drop everything to discuss the Books of Blood with me and then fall in love with me over the phone and eventually marry me? Um…  

As for “Operation Blankenship”… I left out a few of the journal entries mentioning him, but I was still crushing on my broody penpal Tim Wunderlich and we were having more frequent phone chats. I was determined to visit him in the obscure town he lived in surrounded by closed-minded folks and finally meet him in person. I don’t know what kind of elaborate plot I was concocting to get parental permission to take a bus out to see him, but I would find a way to make it happen.

The only think hotter than Adrian Brody is punk rock Adrian Brody.

Dreamy.

And I still remember doing the conga at that They Might Be Giants show, and was actually recounting that story to someone the other week. I was never a big TMBG fan, but they were a fun band to see live. I don’t remember Adrian being there, though. Undoubtedly I felt really cool hanging out with a punk, especially one that I had smooched. That actually may have been the last time I saw him. 

(Years later, when I watched Spike Lee’s film Summer of Sam, Adrian Brody’s punk character reminded me so much of that cute punk boy I peripherally knew in high school. Which is why I call him Adrian in this blog. So you can stop losing sleep over that one.)

[June, 1995] Carnival and Catherine Wheel

January 26, 2014 2 comments

6/8/95

Wow, I almost felt like I was starting a letter (I must comment on how annoyed I am that I haven’t gotten any real letters in a while. I just know I’ll get about 8 in the same day). But now isn’t the time to be sarcastic because it was a beautiful day. Carnival was great even though all I did was sit there and talk and sign people’s yearbooks and sit there trying not to melt under the sun. It was great.

There is a strong possibility that I first owned this album on cassette.

There is a strong possibility that I first owned this album on cassette.

Then (w/Anita) on to Tower Records in the village to see a free concert by Catherine Wheel. Very good they were*, bought the album then & there (I love the single “Waydown” so much, I wouldn’t mind if it was that song over and over). Got yet another set list which was signed by all the band members this time (very nice people, a British band).

For anyone joining the game late, I was a big penpal nerd in the ’90s and continued to be so in my later high school years (I’ll spare you additional gushing about how superior paper letters were to electronic correspondence—this time!—and direct you to this earlier blog post for more background). Inevitably, no matter how I tried to space out my letter-writing, I’d usually get responses in bulk, despite the letters coming from all over the world.

Carnival was an annual event that I imagine most schools have a version of (booths with games, food, etc.) so I’ll spare you details, but mostly because that particular year I didn’t do much more than “sit there” and call it “great” (can’t you tell I was an aspiring writer from that vivid description alone?).

Before delving into the show itself, a note for the younger readers: once upon a time there were these places called “record stores” where they sold music in physical form, on vinyl, cassette and these small plastic discs called CDs. Some of these larger shops, like Tower Records, hosted musical artists from time to time to do in-store signings, and sometimes the bands would also perform a 20-minute mini-concert to promote their latest album. 

Anita and I had a previous adventure in New Jersey seeing Sponge at a different Tower Records, but it was nice to be able to attend another in-store closer to home.

Somehow this photo of Catherine Wheel manages to look both extremely spontaneous and staged.

Somehow this photo of Catherine Wheel manages to look both extremely spontaneous and also staged.

To this day, Catherine Wheel is one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen. For those unfamiliar, their sound is a shoegaze/rock mix with a dash of dirty guitars (I initially wrote “grunge” but couldn’t live myself for labeling them that way). They also sounded better in person than they did on any of their albums (one of the few bands I could say the same for is Pearl Jam).

Catherine Wheel had some brief MTV success with the single for “Waydown” but never made it really big like—Radiohead big. (Fun fact: lead singer Rob Dickinson is the cousin of Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson.)

It’s a shame they weren’t able to find a wider audience, because I think they put out of lot of solid music and put on great concerts. And while it was nice to see them perform at smaller venues, they deserved more wide-spread attention and success than they ever received. The album I bought referenced in this entry, Happy Days, is pretty good, but Chrome and Adam and Eve are even better and some of the most underrated music to come out of the 1990s.


* No idea why I decided to sound like Yoda there.

[June, 1995] Out on a Limb

January 20, 2014 2 comments

[When you read through this entire post, and then see how it relates to the title, you may find it corny or even a bit offensive. I am both sorry and not sorry. I certainly don't mean any insensitivity, but I also couldn't resist, even if it's a terrible joke.] 

[It may not have been as architecturally striking as Hunter, but it did have more windows]

[It may not have been as architecturally striking as Hunter, but it did have more windows]

6/3/95

It’s late and I want to read, but I also wanted to talk about going to Murrow, Anita’s school. I really liked it (Anita said more than I should’ve). Maybe it was because it wasn’t Hunter and it was bigger. I don’t know (okay, yes I do, I’ll talk about it in a minute). Darby spent D-band (they’re periods are bands) with me and we went out to the courtyard for a little while, it looked like a deserted lot (well, except for the students in it).

Then during another band, which Anita had opta (or free, as we Hunterites would say) this guy Jonah hung out w/us.  He’s really cool. Anita was right, he does look sort of like Trent Reznor’s younger, cuter brother. Likes NIN, too (very into Nirvana though, not that that’s a bad thing). Is in a band, Silkweed (writes, plays guitar, sings—though badly, he says). We played poker, but mostly talked (the three of us).

All in all Jonah was a very cool guy, and I don’t like passing up opportunities to get to know cool people. So I’m creating one. Yes randomness will strike again, but this time if it doesn’t work out I won’t ever have to face him. “Nothing to win and nothing else to lose.”

Further proof of what a nerdy weirdo I was (“Was?” people who know me today may be asking): In addition to cutting class occasionally in my later high school years to sneak off to haunt the record and bookstores of the Village, Anita and I also skipped out on class to visit each others’ schools. We only did it a few times, but I guess there was a novelty in peeking at a different high school life.

It also made me wonder how my adolescence would have played out if I didn’t spend the bulk of it in the academically-rigorous brick prison that was Hunter College High School. Edward R. Murrow High School was a short subway ride away from where I lived (instead of the hour-plus trek I made to the Upper East Side), full of thousands of students (instead of the same ~200 I was stuck with from 7th-12th grade) and boasted Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys as one of its impressive alums (instead of Young MC as one of Hunter’s, which was far less bragworthy).   

In deciphering my journal code, I’m guessing “randomness” stood for “getting a crush on a boy and doing something nutty-and-bold-but-passive-like-writing-him-a-note about it.”

[For those not familiar with Joel-Peter Witkin, this is one of his tamer photos]

[For those not familiar with Joel-Peter Witkin, this is one of his tamer photos]

I’m surprised that I left out the most unusual detail about Jonah, which was that he was missing either all or part of a leg, and had a metal prosthetic in its place.

I might have neglected to mention this in my journal because I didn’t want it to seem like it was a big deal or something I found distrurbing. While I certainly didn’t have any problem with Jonah’s missing limb, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I found fascinating and was deeply curious about. Not to any sort of extreme degree like those people who worship amputees and end up chopping off their own limbs, but there was a certain amount of intrigue there for sure (maybe looking at all those Joel-Peter Witkin photographs had something to do with it). If anything, it made Jonah more unusual and memorable to me. I’ve had crushes on lots of boys in my lifetime, but he was the only one-legged boy.

Alas, there is no further mention of Jonah in any subsequent journal entries, and if I remember correctly, the next time I visited Murrow, he wasn’t in school, so if I did try to spark some kind of correspondence, it never panned out.

[June, 1995] Radiohead. Ah, Radiohead.

January 5, 2014 4 comments
Actual t-shirt I got at the concert. 18+ years later, it's still one of my favorites.

Actual t-shirt I got at the concert. 18+ years later, it’s still one of my favorites.

6/2/95

Radiohead. Ah Radiohead.

Wearing the t-shirt as I write this. We got to Tramps fairly early (20-30 minutes). There were already people lined up against the partition (that metal thing between the stage and us with a gap to catch crowd surfers and such) so I was at least going to be in the second row. Then a guy in front of me left and there I was, holding on to the metal bar with an unblocked view of the stage.

David Gray (the opener) wasn’t too bad; played a little too long, though.

They made announcements of upcoming shows at Tramps and when they said Afghan Whigs I positively freaked out.

Radiohead came out later, started out w/”The Bends.” I was between [facing] Thom and gorgeous guitarist Jonny Greenwood. They were great. I didn’t even notice the absence of “Stop Whispering” until Anita mentioned it on the way home. “Anyone Can Play Guitar” was wonderful.   

Radiohead Tramps 1995 Set List

I’ve still kept the set list, too.

I asked a roadie walking around onstage if they gave out drumsticks and he said only if they’re broken. Then he went looking for one w/a flashlight around the drum kit. He came back, trying to hold the drumstick by his side so as to hide it and said, “sh…” as he handed it over to me. This guy next to me (not the set list guy) asked if he could touch it and I let him.

Then Anita and I just walked around Tramps a little until I spotted an Afghan Whigs poster. I ran over and started spazzing about how much I had to go. This really stoned blond guy who was standing there jumped up and took the poster down, handing it to me. I thanked him profusely for it and then he started saying how he wanted it. No matter, it’s mine, I’m going to hang it up along with my set list which was autographed but I’m getting to that.

As we kept walking (still inside) I spotted a roadie who had hit his head earlier while setting up for Radiohead. I started talking to him and he was really nice (had a very cool accent), pretty cute too. He let it slip that the band would be coming back here in about 8 weeks. Then Anita saw Jonny on stage and I rushed over calling his name.

He came down to the gap between the gate and the stage and shook our hands. He’s quite beautiful, amazing bone structure. He signed my set list. Then I spotted the bassist, his brother Colin, all the way on the other side. He signed my set list too.

It was a glorious night, a most amazing concert experience. Hope I have this much luck at the Whigs show (please oh please let Greg be very social and hang out afterwards).

I’m going to put the drumstick (not broken at all but sort of gnawed-at looking) near Trent’s guitar pick. The set list will be hung up near the autographed Sponge flat. I’ll be able to open up my own museum w/all this stuff soon!

What can I possibly add to this thorough account?

I have to admit, I still hold it as a point of pride that I got to see Radiohead so early on in their career, at such a small venue. Total capacity for Tramps was around 1,000 people but it felt even smaller that that, like you were watching a show in somebody’s basement. But then to be in the first row of people, too, was just incredible. I don’t think I ever saw a band perform at a better venue in the ’90s, at least in terms of intimacy.

And it was definitely memorable show in terms of getting not only a great piece of memorabilia but having two members of the band sign it, too. And it’s awesome to be able to have an account of the songs they performed that night. The letters at the bottom stood for the four songs they performed as the encore: “You”, “Bulletproof..I Wish I Was”*, and “Street Spirit.”

I don’t think I ever could have predicted Radiohead would have become as big as they were. I would have guessed they’d go the way of Belly or Catherine Wheel, moderately successful for a time, a decent amount of MTV and radio play for a couple of years and then a fade into obscurity. I certainly wouldn’t have expected their music to take such an odd and esoteric turn after that concert and yet still continue to grow their fan base.    

In any event, if I could have created a blueprint for the perfect concert when I was 17-years-old, seeing Radiohead at Tramps would be the closest thing to matching it.  

* I only just noticed that the song title is missing an extra period in the ellipsis and I’m trying not to let that drive me crazy.

[May, 1995] Not Just The Weather

December 29, 2013 8 comments
paris texas wim wenders

I watched this again recently (all the way through this time) and it really is excellent.

5/12/95

I feel like hell. I don’t know what this is but last night this odd fatigue came over me and I got a sore throat. My throat’s better now but I still feel strange.

I saw “Paris, Texas” last night, but only really paid attention to the last hour, which was really good. I’ll have to see it again some time. And I want to still see “Until the end of the World” as well as any other Wim Wenders movies (films actually because they’re too deep to just be called movies) that I missed.

This is a bad day. Two more classes left and chorus (don’t think I’ll sing today though).

“We scratch our eternal itch
our twentieth century bitch
and we are grateful for our iron lung” – Radiohead

Reviewed The Bends for the Observer. Raved about it.

I think I want to see “Wings of Desire” again. I’m sort of in the mood for it.

I’m reading The Bell Jar which my English teacher said would fry my brain. That, combined with getting 3 more Cure tapes isn’t the best thing for lightening up my mood. I think it’s just the weather.

Warning: This book *will* fry your brain.

Warning: This book *will* fry your brain.

It wasn’t just the weather.

I still vividly remember my English teacher’s warning about the book and how I dismissed it. After all, this was the same teacher who did not give good grades on papers that disagreed with his viewpoints and managed to ruin  The Great Gatsby for me (luckily I reread it again years later and it became a favorite). So I was looking for a reason to contradict him and was determined to enjoy the novel without absorbing any of its darkness. That didn’t work out so well, though, and I still slipped into a depression for a good week or two. Though watching a sad movie like Paris, Texas (even if only the second half) and listening to lots of The Cure probably contributed to that some.

[I just need to pause here to comment on my use of the word "film" over "movie." While I still make that distinction from time to time, I cringe at the way I corrected myself in this journal entry. This is me rolling my eyes at my pretentious teenage self.]

While I could never read The Bell Jar again knowing what it did to me, it wouldn’t be the last time that my emotional state would be profoundly affected by something I read, watched, or listened to. I saw Requiem for a Dream in the theaters and cried for days. When the DVD came out, I watched it again and was plunged into another depression and finally made the connection.

Maybe it’s the mark of a work of greatness or maybe I’m just too damn empathic. Either way, I always find it remarkable when a creative work could provoke such an intense emotional response. And while I still find a natural allure to dark and disturbing things, sometimes I have to proceed with caution so that I don’t end up in my own bell jar again.

[May, 1995] Awards and the Road to Gothdom

December 8, 2013 2 comments
...

5/5/95

Wow. I won a Gold Award in that contest. I’m going to Washington D.C. to read an excerpt from my story at the library of congress. June 17 (Saturday) there will also be an awards ceremony. The awards will be mailed to the winners by the early summer. I think that means moolah. A scholarship maybe. I still can’t believe it. This is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, winning a National award in a writing contest. Maybe this means I’ll have a good shot at Emerson’s writing scholarship. It’s so great how my parents are leaving this entire college thing to me. I have yet to find a more perfect school for me than Emerson. I think it would be a cool place for Tim too.

The writing award was a pretty big deal and just the affirmation I needed as an aspiring writer. I don’t remember whether I got any scholarship money, though since I was light on extracurricular activities, it was a nice thing to add to my college applications. But I cared less about that as much as this was an indicator that writing was something I was decent at and should stick with. I’ve gone back and forth on that matter in the years since, but at seventeen it was an unexpected and flattering accolade.

It’s funny how I glaze over the parental college issue, because while my mother supported my liberal arts trajectory, my father wanted me to apply to Ivy League schools and refused support unless I was either pre-law or pre-med. As a struggling immigrant, he wanted me to pursue a lucrative career, whereas my mother wanted me to pursue what made me happy.

By the '90s, Robert Smith should have probably started looking into a different look...

By the ’90s, Robert Smith should have probably started looking into a different look…

I told Anita that when the Cure tour again (and since there will be a new album in September that may be soon) we will dress up as major goths and go (It will be so great I can’t even wait!). It will be even more fun than doing the stuff for the NIN-turned-Killing Joke show. I’m getting a lot more into the Cure (talk about them more, want more albums), I’m beginning to also get that feeling again, the same one I had with U2 and NIN. I think that Tim has (at least partially) converted me. Well I have to wait a while to see the effect it has on me.

“I’m bent out of shape desperate to whine screaming so loud that I don’t make a sound
strung out on speed maxed out on lies I know you’re to blame but I can’t say why.” – Moist

I love that quote and wrote it down even though its sentiment doesn’t express my current mood. I feel kind of hyper.

(What I really love is  how I totally missed the reference to methamphetamine in the song lyric, while saying it didn’t match my own hyper mood.)

The musical evolution was well under way, as was the continued flirtation with gothdom.

I was fascinated by the punk and goth subcultures much more than the grunge scene that was emblematic of the 1990s, but I had long since realized I didn’t belong with the punks. And while I loved the goth aesthetic, I was naturally an upbeat optimistic person, and I loved colors, so I didn’t think I’d be suited to the black-black-always-black gloomy world of the gothic people. I also wasn’t familiar with the music beyond the popular bands that fell into the genre’s fold like the Cure, Nine Inch Nails (more industrial, but related) and Cocteau Twins. I also didn’t want to come across as a poseur like I thought Claudia did to me with the punk scene, so I was cautious making any firmly committed affiliations.

One of the most underrated albums of the '90s.

One of the most underrated albums of the ’90s.

I also had it in my head that being goth meant listening to nothing but gothic music, and I still had numerous other bands I listened to (apart from U2) like Belly, Radiohead, Afghan Whigs, and more obscure gems I was happy to discover, like the Canadian band I quoted above, Moist. Terrible name, but their album Silver was an immense discovery to me, full of sharp guitars, vocals on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and lyrics worth scrawling on classroom desks. Being a fan of such an unknown band was both a blessing and a curse, because on one hand they felt like my special secret, but on the other hand, I wanted them to find wider appreciation so that they could tour and release more albums.

And there was also that ambivalent desire for a band to be popular, but not too popular. Belly struck the right balance: they toured small enough venues but had a decent following. But Radiohead… well, I don’t need to tell you about them.

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