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[July, 1995] Sassy Magazine and The Cure

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…

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[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] 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.

[March, 1995] closer (further away)

...

3/15/95  

The song I’ve been identifying with today is “past the mission” except maybe not as much the chorus. The second verse especially.

I keep spacing out when I should be doing productive shit.

Darby and I are going to start a poetry ‘zine and at my insistence the title will be “closer (further away).” I have a lot of stuff for “faraway, so close!” (oh the confusion, I love it!) but cannot even begin to think when I’ll put it together.

A few words on the Tori Amos song, “Past the Mission.” It was from her second album, Under the Pink, which I semi-loved, but not full-on loved as much as her first, Little Earthquakes. One of the highlights was this haunting almost-maybe-sorta-murder ballad that had whispery back-up vocals by none other than Trent Reznor. Two objects of my obsession for the price of one! Here’s that second verse that was stuck in my head on that spring day 18 years ago:

She said they all think they know him
Well she knew him better
Everyone wanted something from him
I did too but I shut my mouth
He just gave me a smile

My connection to these lyrics of course had everything to do with Neil. He, Claudia and I often went to lunch together and I lived for the tight hugs he gave me when we parted. I don’t remember the details of his life, but he was a troubled kid with a turbulent (negligent?) family life, who got into trouble at school and, true to the punk credo, took issues with authority. I was fascinated with this kid, so cynical, so indifferent with what the world thought of him, yet with sweet and goofy moments that showed traces of the relative innocence a 13 year old should have.

Actual cover of said poetry zine

Actual cover of said poetry zine

Let’s talk ‘zines, which I will refer to as zines because that apostrophe isn’t doing it for me. For those not familiar, long before blogs or e-publishing, people would create their own magazines and sell them, in local shops, by mail, and whatever other pre-Internet channels they could find. It was quite an undertaking, involving content creation, formatting layout, printing, distribution, marketing, you name it. My first foray into self-publishing was with “Faraway (So Close!),” a U2 fanzine I made that was even listed in their official fan publication, Propoganda. I spread the word through my penpals and actually sold somewhere between 10 and 20 copies of the first issue (I started putting together the second one but never completed it).

With the poetry zine, Darby and I planned on taking it around to local record stores to see if they’d carry it on a consignment basis. It was nothing fancy, some photocopied black and white pages stapled together, but we worked put our hearts into it and were proud of our DIY efforts. Because I am a hoarder nostalgic, I still have a copy. Darby did the cover design and the contents featured several of our own poems, along with others (I don’t remember if we got permission to use them all, probably not). I was going to excerpt one of my poems, but I’ll spare you (this time… you’re welcome). Instead, here’s an excerpt from the intro I wrote:

Hello and welcome to the poetic (well, we try to be) world of “closer (further away).” Oh, I insisted that this is waht we call the ‘zine, because it doesn’t really mean anything and sounds nice—to me anyway (it’s also the name of an NIN B-side). I suppose this is where I should tell you about one of your co-‘zine-putter-togetherers (that would be me).

[paragraph about my background]

I better finish this up. Enjoy the poetry. People worked hard on theirs, so don’t be too brutal. I love [double underline] getting mail so if you have anything interesting to say, have decent music taste (no Z100 listeners, please), or whatever, write.

And they wonder why print publishing is dying.

[January, 1995] Sponge

September 4, 2012 3 comments

I still think of this album cover when I see candy corn.

1/21/95

Anita and I went to Tower Records in Paramus. The Q104 people were there and I got a hat, after identifying 3 DJ’s (including my favorite one, Trent Tyler). First they quizzed the crowd on what bands they play.

“Do we play Metallica?” they shouted.

“Yeah!”

When they asked, “Do we play U2?” I shouted “You should.” And some people replied “Yeah!”

So the guy asked “Should we play U2?” and at least half the people yelled “Yes!”

Then Sponge came out (the drummer wasn’t there though). Vinny (lead singer) played percussion for the first two songs (“Rotting Piñata” and “Molly” or “Drownin’.” I’m not sure about the order. “Plowed” was last, though). For the other two, he got a boy from the crowd to do drums (the first was good, the second a little off, but he wore a Pretty Hate Machine t-shirt).

I was afraid they wouldn’t sign stuff after they performed but they did, and we were near the front of the line. They signed our cardboard flats of the album and Vinnie signed my Converse (the toe of it). I asked them what bands they liked and the blond guy answered “Live.” They were so nice, Anita and I hope they tour soon (and I know their music’s good because I got Rotting Piñata today—I heard it before at Anita’s though).

I got Afghan Whigs’ Up In It today. Very screamy, I can get used to it. Can’t wait to get Congregation

Over the years, I’ve seen a fair number of musicians do record store appearances. Since many were cataloged in my diaries, I’ll leave out the full list, but I did get to meet Cyndi Lauper at a Tower Records about ten years ago, which was a special moment for my not-so-inner ’80s fangirl, and a future journal entry (spoiler alert!) almost certainly describes having a famous ’90s singer/songwriter sign my yearbook. There’s something a little odd about the experience, even though it makes sense for a band or soloist to meet (and often perform for) their fans in the establishments where their music is purchased. But on the other hand, squeezing people in among racks of CDs is awkward at best, crowd control can get tricky, and sightlines can be a nightmare depending on where you end up. Nevertheless, there was something terribly exciting about meeting musical talent that you’d seen on MTV in the flesh, even if it was a band that wouldn’t go on to super-stardom and few would remember years later. Even if it was a band like Sponge.

[Edited to add: Anita saw this post and reminded me of another detail about this outing. “Remember that my mom drove us to the mall, where we thought the Tower was, but it wasn’t there? We’d sat in traffic for an hour and she was in such a bad mood that she wouldn’t get back in the car. So we had to walk a mile, along the shoulder of the highway, to get there?” I do remember walking along the highway now (which we had to do there and back). But I’m sure I just saw that as another part of the adventure.]

For those who don’t remember (and/or are under 30), Sponge was an alternative rock band who had moderate hits with “Plowed” and “Molly.” I still feel a twinge of guilt for asking lead singer Vinnie to autograph one of my stinky Converses. He signed his name “Vin-e” so it looked more like the word “vine,” adding curlicues to the first letter. I wore those sneakers for years after.

And gee, I wonder if my favorite Q104 DJ had anything to do with the fact that he was named Trent, much like the object of my obsession, Mr. Reznor.  No matter how many other bands I listened to, Nine Inch Nails and U2 were still my top fixations and any reference to them (even something as small as seeing a boy in a Pretty Hate Machine t-shirt, which could outshine a flaw like poor rhythm) brightened my day.

There are many reasons to lament the closing of bricks and mortars record shops, and these in-store appearances are one of them. I know nowadays social media makes it even easier for bands to connect with their fans, and some large acts still do occasional gigs in smaller venues or secret shows, but there was something special and endearingly dorky about all of us being crammed into a record store like that. There were no fog machines, no fancy lights or costumes, and an adequate-at-best sound system. It was just the performers and us, and music everywhere.

[January, 1995] Like The Breakfast Club

[The following journal entries are sponsored by great big globs of disdain.]

1/13/95

“This is the first day of my last days” – NIN

Roller coaster is beginning its slow descent. At least I might be able to write something decent again. The writing activity helped a little. Actual interesting ideas would help more. Maybe one brilliant line that just sparks an entire story. The first day of Creative Writing we just wrote anything that came into my head and the first thing I put on the paper (which turned out to be a quote) ended up being the opening sentence for Raphaela

Here I am in Physiology watching a ridiculous film on muscle. I can barely see this as I’m writing.

Had a dream with Wonderfully Random, don’t care. There was a round candle lit and I was looking through a couple of CD’s (that were Anita’s friends’ or something) one of which was an old Lemonheads, one of which was an old Killing Joke CD. On the way back to WR’s house we mentioned the amazing way in which the radio switched on.

The mood I’m in now would have been the perfect time to write a letter to Tim, but I already mailed it.

H.S. is so much like “The Breakfast Club” it makes me sick.

Keeping this log is not helping me at all. I hope Ms. Donaldson reads this. 

MS. DONALDSON:

THIS LOG IS NOT HELPING ME AT ALL!!!

[note from Ms. Donaldson in green pen: “This is pretty hard to miss. Perhaps you need to alter your expectations of what you should get out of writing a journal.”]

I stopped keeping a diary for a reason, I hardly ever wrote about nice things. For the most part, it was a depressing read. There are some things I’m glad I wrote about, like events that I want to remember.

Right now I’m listening to “Just Like Heaven,” I never realized that the Cure could in any way be uplifting. Just ordered Disintegration from Columbia House (nasty scam artists). This will have to be my last entry now, seeing that I’m sitting outside of Creative Writing.

“’I wanna be just like you. I figure all I need is a lobotomy and some tights.’” – The Breakfast Club

Writer’s block is the worst. You can try to discipline yourself as best as you can as a writer (never something I did effectively) but if the ideas aren’t there you just can’t force it. When inspiration struck, I could spend hours lost in putting words to paper/word processor (it would be a few years before I got another computer). When it wasn’t there, I endured a limbo fraught with frustration and insecurity that I wasn’t cut out to be a “real” writer. I still get that way today.

Social divisions in school were getting to me, which meant I probably had a crush on a popular boy. Again. The fact that I can’t remember who it was today could only mean he wasn’t that special or worth all the agonizing I did over him, but really, how many unrequited crushes really are? My depressed penpal Tim was another crush, even though I knew he was too gloomy for me.

As I mentioned before, the headline for my high school experience was John Hughes Lied to Me. While the films accurately portrayed high school to an extent — especially the cliques represented in The Breakfast Club — I was growing more dubious that an 80’s magical makeover and/or happy ending was in store for me. I had given up on popularity and tried to take ownership of my misfit-but-not-quite status and develop my own identity. Which would have been easier if I was able to channel continuously channel all that teen discontent into creative outlets, but I was being failed on that front. I had nothing new to articulate, and the journal we had to keep for Creative Writing wasn’t providing any comfort or catharsis.

Ms. Donaldson had a good point. My expectations for the journal were unrealistic, much like my expectations for lots of other things (love and life, to name two). I thought the log would be some magical source of insta-inspiration, but it often became a chore to fill those lined pages. Much like writing of any form can feel like a chore. It didn’t dawn on me just how much discipline — and even tedium — was involved in being a good writer. It’s something I still struggle with.

Luckily, I was still expanding my pool of musical muses, with the Cure, patron saints to angsty teens everywhere, entering into the rotation. Nine Inch Nails was my gateway drug into goth/alternative music, but the Cure was another catalyst. Robert Smith provided a musical prism of bipolar despair and a catalog a less agressive than Trent Reznor’s, but more nuanced in its emotion. It was still taking me some time to adopt the classics, but slow and steady I was getting there.

And a film on muscle? 17 years later and that still sounds ridiculous to me.

[January, 1995] Little Fonzies

Trent Reznor and Adam Ant

[arrows all over the place because I couldn’t remember exact order of set list]

“pinion” (maybe)
“mr self destruct”
“sin”
“march of the pigs”
“piggy”
“gave up”
“down in it”
“reptile”
“eraser”
“hurt”
“the downward spiral”
“wish”
“suck”
“head like a whole”
“closer”
“dead souls”
“something i can never have”
“physical” (w/Adam Ant)
“red skeleton” (w/Adam Ant)
“beat my guest” (?) (w/Adam Ant)

1/7/95

“Into the sea of waking dreams I follow without pride…” – Sarah McLachlan

Neck’s a little sore (more than a little). Still thinking about the last concert. It was so fun, I had a time. It was raining afterwards. Walking along the grassy hill, a memory was built. This one wasn’t emotional, just great. I was in a fantastic mood, Mr. Reznor seemed to be as well. That’s it, I have enough to sustain me until Lollapalooza.

Little things: we actually chanted; we did the “help me’s”; we were 10,000 little Fonzies; he switched “i wanna know everything” and “i wanna be everywhere”; he hugged A. Ant. Maise died.

I haven’t been able to write, maybe I can only do it when depressed or angry. Titles come to me more easily than the stories do.

“I know the depths I reach are limitless.” – NIN

The alter I at which I worshiped.

First of all, I do see the irony of starting a diary entry about a Nine Inch Nails concert with a quote from Lilith-Fair-darling, TV-Felicity-favorite mellow-chick-crooner Sarah McLachlan. Really, I do. To explain, the song being quoted, “Possession” is about obsessed fandom, so it’s appropriate. Plus, I thought Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was a good album (though McLachlan lost me on subsequent albums, and to this day I cringe whenever a sentimental TV or movie scene in which characters are parting is punctuated by, “I Will Remember You.”). Not that I need to defend my music tastes or anything… (except that I do)…

If being a Nine Inch Nails nerd is humanly possible, that’s exactly what I was. Despite attending not one but two NIN concerts the previous month, I couldn’t resist buying a ticket when a third show was added. The problem was, I couldn’t find anyone to go to the show with me. Luckily, Claudia offered to let me stay over her place (having a friend who lived in an Upper West Side brownstone and whose parents were never home was the best). So I told my parents I’d be sleeping over there, conveniently leaving out the fact that it would be after I trekked out to Long Island alone at night to see a band whose fans routinely demolished concert seats in their fervor. 

Years later, I told my mom the truth. Mom (who has some serious psychic tendencies) told me she knew what I was up to and spent the night worrying about me. I was a little worried about me too, heading into an unfamiliar part of New York solo, having to take a subway, commuter rail and shuttle, and then later finding my way to Claudia’s house close to midnight (late considering it was a school night and I was an underage kid out on the town solo).

Whatever memory was built on that grassy hill, I don’t remember it now. I remember feeling nervous about not getting lost or mugged.

Chanting was of the band’s name. “Help me” was a refrain from the alterna-hit “closer,” which the audience sang that night. “Little Fonzie” was a reference from Pulp Fiction, which meant being cool, which is not a term I would use in reference to my Trent Reznor fanaticism. Maise was his dog. Adam Ant was little more than an 80’s one hit wonder for me at the time (my deep foray into new wave was still years away), so his guest appearance at the concert was lost on me.

Being able to write more and better under angsty conditions was something I struggled with for many years. Still do. There’s a reason why some of the world’s best creative work has come out of mental/emotional turmoil. In my mind, writing good poetry/prose meant creating conflict and for me real life conflict usually bred inspiration for my own best work. But after years of captivity at the hands of my well-intentioned but overprotective parents, I was finally getting to explore and experience New York, I was in the midst of a thrilling personal musical enlightenment, and my life was finally expanding beyond classes and pining over boys. It was an inspiring time, but sometimes I was too busy enjoying it to find a way to channel it into fiction or verse. Sometimes it was enough for me to finally be out there in the world, having moments where I could believe I was a little Fonzie, even for a little while.