Photos by Zohra Atash
When I was 15, my parents did what parents do; they got divorced. It was fine and I was fine, generally inured to middle class burden, open to few human emotions besides envy and greed, I continued on my merry way, slaying Kobolds on single player Dungeons and Dragons modules and shoplifting Penthouses from the Imagine That! used bookstore in Pittsfield, Mass—take that, world. I’d probably be doing that to this day, however, if my dad’s boyfriend hadn’t tried to win me over by giving me a Dead Boys record. Don’t worry; I won’t be claiming that vinyl saved me. Like I said, I was fine. But I was 15 and, all of a sudden, there were a lot vinyl records given to me—The Dead Boys, the first and only seven inch by The Normal, The Shaggs—and that sent me in a direction, and it’s the direction I ended up in, so to not be grateful would be churlish. So thanks, dad’s boyfriend, marital breakdown, vinyl.
I recently visited my various parents in Massachusetts. My mom gave me a king’s ransom in chocolate chip cookies and my dad’s husband gave me his record collection. I loved both gifts equally, but if you want to hear about the cookies, you’ll have to check out my other blog, Well Fed (on cookies) Fuck. For now, I want to tell you about the records. It was a seriously intense collection. They were spanning from the art rock of the early '60s through the punk and disco of the '70s and up through the late-'80s Tommy Boy releases. In other words, it was wicked awesome. They were also completely covered in mold.
As I my original idea for this week’s column fell through (apparently, someone else already wrote a piece blaming the world’s interns for file sharing. Sucks.), I decided to invite all the musical personages in a six block radius to come over and help me clean records in exchange for tequila and whatever House music 45s I wasn’t planning on selling to the Japanese. I got Josh from Wierd Records metal band Vaura, Christiana from Cult of Youth, Jay from Violent Bullshit, Todd from Pendu Sound Recordings, Zohra from Religious to Damn, and rounded the party out with Zana Bayne, Ellie Shively, and photographer and noise music lady about town, Nikki Sneakers. Then we got tipsy and Zohra took pictures of everybody.
The overriding theme of the evening, besides free labor, was the overlap between dance music and rock. When my dad’s husband, Joe, was a kid in NYC in the ‘70s, he’d start the evening seeing the Ramones and end it at Studio 54. That’s swell and all, but I romanticize nothing. That "bridging the gap" has been a constant in New York. When I moved here, it was in the much maligned Electro Clash and it’s continued through LCD Soundsystem and through NInjasonik and onto, well, whatever the fuck 20-year-olds are up to and not telling me ‘cuz, really, why would they? I’m old. But I don’t doubt for a second it exists.
While listening to Dan Hartman’s “Light My Fire” and taking a break from making fun of Christiana for being too young to know who Big Audio Dynamite was (the joke was maybe on us on that one), Jayson and I talked about the weirdness of those who gave him shit for his more recent involvement, as the former singer of Orchid, with a scene that, because it had beats and gays and blacks and shit like that, was somehow less “authentic” than hardcore. He told me “I play in a hardcore band and I DJ dance music and to me, there isn't really a difference. I think, like most people who really love music, that rarely are you bound to one genre. My friend said it best when asked why hardcore fans get really into dance music, and he said it boils down to the fact that both genre's fetishize vinyl and both genres make the crowd as important as the artist in terms of participation. True or not, I just want to listen to everything. Counterculture is counterculture and I'm obsessed with all of it.”
That still didn’t keep him from receiving emails that said “You used to be skramz as fuck but now you’re old and soft.” I love that email. If I could travel back in time and actually graduate from high school, I would totally use it as my yearbook quote.
We went through and cleaned about six large boxes of records, and the theme of genre mixing kept reoccurring. I now have both way more Lou Reed than I’m ever going to listen to and more Madonna than I ever thought I’d possess. It was like the soundtrack to Judgment Day come to life. The warped Chic "Le Freak” promo was a heartbreaker, but the Bow Wow Wow Studio 54 promo 45 more than made up for it. The Bar-Kays were filed with Yaz was filed with Alice Cooper was filed with Teena Marie. I got mocked by everybody for asking if they’d heard of Alphaville and we all discovered KK Records. By the way, if anyone knows anything about KK Records, hit me up. That shit was sick. We also started to get a little sick from the ammonia and mold combination that was filling the air. But I was paying these jerks in S-express records, so I really wasn’t hearing the whining.
The greatest revelation about the collection was the absolute absence of comfort zone. There wasn’t any sense of “I’m gay, so I like this” or “I’m white and like drugs, so I like this.” I realize the counterculture—whatever that may mean, if anything—is as safe and addicted to pabulum as the culture that resides above it; instead of Bill O’Reilly we have Juno and @JADEDPUNKHULK, prickly but essentially cute lil porcupines that tickle our bottoms and tell us how clever we are for knowing what’s up. I’m no different. I want a hug and a medal every time I bring up Wallace Shawn. It’s cool. But—and maybe I’m already repeating myself in this column—I’m glad that, tedious and predictable as we may be in every other aspect of our lives, we can still wild out a bit in our music. So I hope you’re inspired by the photos to expand your disco collection and please check out some of my brave helper’s music projects, there’s a pretty decent mix of contemporary NYC craziness, and I promise next week I’ll have a column that isn’t just me bragging about how many Whodini records I now own. (Answer: A couple!)
...And thanks to Joseph Wheaton for the records.