Shake the Sheets

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I bought Ted Leo’s Shake the Sheets a few months after its release–which would have been early 2005. I picked it up at Val’s Halla Records in Oak Park. This was the original location that smelled like Marlboros, dog piss, and dust, right off the Green Line. I spent hours there after school, usually Friday nights, talking to the two guys on staff, James and Shane. Shane was a big goth guy with a penchant for Steely Dane. His hair always looked like a bomb went off in his face and he chain-smoked all the time. James was the token gangly punk dude who was in a band called Blasted Diplomats. And it was James who got me into all kinds of bands. He was my second access point to the punk canon.

Anyway, when Shake the Sheets came out I had no idea who Ted Leo was. I was moping around the shop with what little money I had from my weekend job at Gem Comics. James recommended I pick up the album. James was a human library of music info and a lot of it centered around rock’s underground history. But at this time, poptimism, the reframing of pop music history from the perspective that pop music was serious and should be appreciated as such, was gaining steam. Rockism, the old guard’s view that rock was the lens through which pop music history should be viewed, was dying out. Goodbye Lester Bangs, hello Pitchfork.

It didn’t dawn on me that this was happening. Rockism was how I implicitly viewed the word without knowing it thanks to music journalists/historians like Mike Azzerad. I bring this up because I got a hold of a large portion of my CD collection from high school and I’ve been listening to this record a lot lately. These were the last few years when indie cred might have actually existed. But it was in its twilight. It was also Bush’s second term, and that’s all over this record.

I put Shake the Sheets on recently to see what it was like to listen to something that was, for me, totemic of the Bush era now that Trump’s president. We were at war. The administration had a startling carte blanche to do whatever it wanted and that was confounding for almost everyone around me. Weren’t protests supposed to end a war? What kind of contract had we with the state anymore? Why didn’t it matter that everyone knew Operation Iraqi Freedom was a crock of shit propped up on grandstanding and lies? And who elected this dumbass–twice?

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But Really It Was Like That

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I work at a bookstore. I try to stay as far away from the kids’ section as possible. Not because I have anything against children’s books, but because it is an organizational nightmare. Despite my efforts, I often have to shelve there. I found a book written in the 1950s, maybe, by some curmudgeon. I can’t remember the title. It praised the boredom of childhood. Boredom, the argument went, is the impetus for all that is creative and independent in children. Unsupervised kids find a way. On some level, my parents concurred. Their parenting style boils down to what my mother terms “loving neglect.”

I don’t disagree with the premise. Staring at the wall and milling around empty cul-de-sacs looking for something to do was instructive. It prepared me to be a writer, a dubious profession that entails a disproportionate loafing/writing ratio. And it taught me how to notice. My childhood was not overscheduled like many of my friends’ lives. I didn’t have a crisis of parental absence in college.

Yet the drawbacks are clear. My mother grew up in Detroit where neighborhoods were cohesive social units, even if they were fraught. My father grew up in Georgia where the same was true even if neighbors and schoolmates lived farther away. Some of this was true for me. We lived two doors down from Washington Park, something I’m grateful for. My childhood best friend, Evan, lived behind me. I was not isolated, is what I mean. There were block parties.

Still. American suburbia is a disconnected space. There was never a sense that we did indeed live in a community. Suburbia is also non-evental. I believe these things are related. In her essay, “The Importance of Being Iceland,” Eileen Myles writes, “Really, if you travel here outside the interesting American cities and ignore all the natural beauty of our country you’ll see that America is rapidly becoming this place which is nothing…” There is, I confess, little natural beauty to acknowledge or ignore in suburban Illinois. There is a quality of sameness. In Zizek’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real, a collection of essays about 9/11 and its aftermath, he draws an interesting parallel between Cuba and the post-industrial West, of which, I would argue, American suburbia is the symbol par excellence. While, in Cuba, time seems unmoved because they repair and rebuild what they already have, time also seems unmoved in the post-industrial west because of the obsessive process of making everything anew. “In Cuba, revolutionary mobilization conceals social stasis; in the developed West, frantic social activity conceals the basic sameness of global capitalism, the absence of the Event…” Anyone who came of age in the sweet-spot of post-Glass-Steagal repeal and pre-2008 financial meltdown can easily recognize this. Safety and peace in America are defined solely as an absence of threat and an absence of conflict, respectively. Suburbia was meant to be the safest and most peaceful place in the world. In such an anesthetized and antiseptic milieu, what did it mean for things to happen?

Safety and peace in America are defined solely as an absence of threat and an absence of conflict, respectively. Suburbia was meant to be the safest and most peaceful place in the world. This concealed much more than a “sameness of global capitalism.” In such an anesthetized and antiseptic milieu, what did it mean for things to happen? I’ll spend more time developing the problems of “eventalism,” concealment, and disconnection in suburbia, or “The Suburban Question,” as I call it. I plan on giving it its own series as I do more research. The question, for now, is small. And maybe, at first, silly. What does any of this have to do with Mirah’s album you think it’s like this, but really it’s like this?

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The Molony Files #1

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I was president of the arts and letters club in high school. Club IDEA–Ignatians Determined to Express Art. Mostly it involved a variety of dejected kids of varying social capability screwing around with art supplies after school. The most serious thing we did was a cringe-inducing gallery showing coupled with a live performance. My thing was slam poetry, then in its heyday. I loved music more than anything but had zero chops. I hated and envied every guy I met that could actually sing or play an instrument. The live performances were the only time my writing could ever hold a candle to what music did. Otherwise, it was just me sitting alone in my room doing this dumb thing that didn’t make girls like you. There’s a Wells Tower story where someone describes himself as “a bumblebee trying to fuck a marble.” That feeling has always marked my relationship with the written word. Now, it’s the difficulty of it that sets my teeth on edge. Back then it was the privacy of the whole endeavor. For me, Club IDEA was rife with all the pettiness and exhilaration endemic to adolescent desire.

Every club had an adult “chaperone.” If you were club leadership, you had to meet with the chaperone if you wanted to get anything done. It’s hard to imagine anyone kinder or more supportive than Ms. Futerer, our chaperone, in the Development Office. Once I was elected president, I had to make my way up to the offices behind the fourth-floor library. Here’s a photo of that, by the way, because it’s bananas to think that this is where I went to high school.

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Tom Molony’s office abutted Ms. Futerer’s. I had to walk passed his desk to get to hers. After my first meeting up there, I saw a messenger bag with a familiar logo on it.

“Is that  an Alternative Tentacles bag?”

He turned and cocked his head, “You like punk?”

“That’s a Social Distortion jacket.”

“Can you be here this same time tomorrow?”

“I have this period free.”

***

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Sucks to Be You

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The internet was still pretty new when I was a kid. AOL sent you CDs in the mail. Livejournal had just come out. Myspace hadn’t happened yet. In fact, when I was in junior high you had to have an invitation code for livejournal. That wasn’t the case for deadjournal. I had one of those for maybe a year, then livejournal opened up its gates. Sites like Pitchfork were also in their nascency, though in a few years indie music sites became a kind of cottage industry.

This is all to say that finding new music was a different experience. Maybe more direct than it is now. I don’t know if that’s bad or good. But there was something, looking back now, I cherished about the experience of discovering new stuff.

I spent a lot of time pouring through rock encyclopedias, pulling out weird looking CDs at Borders and used CD stores wedged into anonymous strip malls, and trying to find other kids who looked like they were into similar stuff. This third one was really important. If you looked normal, you probably were normal and into Top 40. But if you had plaid bondage pants and a mohawk, then like-minded people found you and you found them.

That’s how I found out about Rock Hard Video. I floated between the metalheads, the punks, and the indie/emo/posthardcore kids. I was hanging out with the metalheads, probably watching gore movies at this kid Dan’s place, when I heard about RHV. We’d pile into Dan’s basement and watch stuff like Black Christmas, Bad Taste, Dead Alive!, the silent film version of Nosferatu someone found in a bargain bin that had a bunch of Type O Negative tracks dubbed over it.

Rock Hard Video was hosted by a blue collar Chicago dude named Mark Mensching. He played metal videos, popular and obscure, foreign and domestic, for an hour or two on Saturday nights on Channel 18. In between, he’d run these goofy segments called Mark’s Stupid Death Files (which was later named Sucks To Be You), Word of the Day, and fake/real request phone calls.

He actually makes a Wayne’s World joke in that Stupid Death Files video.

I loved this show. I didn’t always like the music, but the fact that I got exposed to so much through it was enough. I first heard Danzig, Type O Negative, and Children of Bodom there. But I also liked how it was this secret thing no one else knew about. No other kids at school, since I went to Catholic school while most of my friends went to public school, watched it.

Though, at some point, I did stop watching. Maybe this was around when I got really into indie rock, and then underground hip-hop, and then hardcore punk. I don’t know, it’s all a hellish blur of shifting wardrobes and musical obsessions. I think Mark stopped airing the show during my first year of college–2008 maybe.

This show is still a secret in a lot of ways. Not only was it local, I’m not really in touch with anybody from that scene. Last year, when I moved out west, Dan reached out to me. He and I played in a shitty metal band called Grimoire. For a while, after high school, he was a men’s fashion model. Every once in a while I’d see photos of him from Korea or Germany floating around. Because he’d been one of my heavy metal reject friends, and because we all saw ourselves as broken weirdos, it had never occurred to me how handsome he is. Now, he lives over in Colorado Springs with his wife and kid. He works construction and still has that dry wit that I always loved.

A few years ago, during one of my college summers, I bumped into Tim and Janes. I think it was Janes that introduced me to all of them. Wilder Park had local bands play during the summer. I started talking to Janes because she looked punk and I immediately had a crush on her. And she knew everyone in the scene. This guy Ben Plott’s band played the night we met. That was how I first heard the song “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath. I remember watching this kid with really long blond hair headbang his brains out to it. His name was Bryan and he ended up playing lead guitar in Grimoire.

Tim was really into shit like Nile and Cannibal Corpse. In eighth grade, I did a shadow day at the local public high school. I ended up ditching the person I was supposed to follow to hang out with Dan and Tim. In their computer class, Tim kept showing me brutal clips from European gore movies. He liked the look on my face. I remember some dude screaming as a woman cut his stomach open and scarfed down his bowels. Another clip of someone being held down by their neck while someone else plucked out his eyeballs with a No. 2 pencil. The clip that made me laugh was a compilation of people blowing up sheep with RPGs.

I think Tim was wearing a Nile shirt when I bumped into him and Janes at the Starbucks in downtown Elmhurst. They were smoking and shooting the breeze. I remember it was awkward. Tim was painting houses, Janes still lived at her parents.

“I live to get drunk,” she half-joked. Then she flipped open her pack of cigarettes, “Jesus, this might be another two pack day.”

“How’s college?” Tim wanted to know.

“In Vermont,” was about the best I could do.

I turned around and saw the Walgreen’s where we all used to hang out and get older kids to buy us smokes. One time, I saw kids pass out razor blades so they could start cutting themselves right then and there. That was on the other side of that Walgreen’s in this small alley.

Did I say anything else? Did they? I wonder where they are now. I wonder why it felt impossible to reach back across time and remember what it was like to spend almost every day of an aimless summer together.

That whole era is hermetically sealed, now, and eclipsed with what came–though it couldn’t have come fast enough for us then, and has inexplicably become simply how it is–hurtling towards us.

I don’t know anyone who has ever been prepared for that.

So long, see you tomorrow.

 

Introduction

A few days ago I was feeling blue. I put on some old punk records from when I was in high school to cheer myself up.

My online presence, especially on twitter and facebook, is mostly memes and shitposting. I had a smoke out on the balcony of where I live now and thought maybe I ought to put something else out there.

So, for a few hours, I posted nothing but youtube links to half-forgotten Chicago punk songs and albums that built the world up around me when I was milling around Elmhurst, Illinois as a teenager.

I don’t really know what I expected. Part of me felt embarrassed; it felt self-indulgent for a whole host of reasons. But a fair amount of people responded and told me I should do stuff like that more often. Taking a look at how little fun a lot of my daily life is (fun is not the most important thing and is not the same as fulfillment), and how much fun I had writing those posts, I decided to reboot this blog. That’s why it has a horrible url; a few years ago I wanted to start a political blog. Then I moved to New Mexico, started grad school, and now get paid to write stuff like that every so often.

The project of this blog is not nostalgia. I don’t wistfully wish I was back in high school. Those were not good years. Being a kid is terrible and I don’t trust anyone who says otherwise. But I am interested in things that slip through the cracks and how often that can happen to one’s own life.

This is a way to remember. This is about having an account of oneself. And this will mostly be about music. I remember Jeff Tweedy said that he wanted Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to sound like that space in between your favorite records. I’d like this blog to be that, but for memory and song.

I will post bi-weekly.