When it comes to rock music, the surname “Smith” almost always makes me reach for my bird-flipper, as it’s most commonly associated with Patti (with an “I”), Robert (with a fright wig), and fuckin’ Morrissey (with no dick up his ass where at least one really ought to be).
Now I’m not going to declare that the Patti Smith Group or the Cure or the Smiths as quote-unquote “BAD” music, per se.
It’s just not for me.
Because it’s Chick Music.
And Chick Music is just fine.
Like celebrity gossip, astrology and the pre-coital claim “I don’t even think I CAN get pregnant,” stuff like Patti Smith, The Cure, and Morrissey is, you know… for Chicks.
Into that ghetto, I’d also cattle-car Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen—or, as I call them, Chicko and the Bunny Non-Men—and pretty much the entirety of ’80s European new wave, maybe most especially Depeche Mode.
Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode. That’s what I say.
But then I also say that KMFDM is also, very much, Chick Music.
Of any gender.
I write now though, to single out music that most definitely did not deserve the Chick Music pass—or any other kind of pass—but to which I not only acquiesced … I actually maybe pretended not to despise it.
Because a lady and/or ladies might have been present.
And if music be the food of love, I’ll lie for a mouthful every time.
I’ll rattle these off in backwards chronological order, roughly descending from least to most pathetic.
If you’re me.
Gerard Cosloy was playing at The Cooler, a basement club in New York’s Meat Packing District.
Gerard was one of my heroes: founder of the record label Matador, publisher of the landmark music-hating music zine Conflict, and an unvarnished New York media curmudgeon who endlessly offended terribly sensitive whom I enjoyed seeing offended.
Gerard also played guitar in a band called Envelope.
Envelope was some of the most deadly awful shit you could ever hope to not hear.
So at least, at the Cooler this one night, it was just going to be Gerard solo.
To accompany me, I asked this Nordic pixie-type with sawed-off Tomahawk Missile warheads in her Bratmobile t-shirt named AHH-NA. Her name was spelled A-N-A, but she pronounced it like that: AHH-NA.
When Gerard hit the stage, AHH-NA seemed enraptured by his guitar playing, which was caterwauling nonsense that managed to somehow be, at once, flailing, chaotic, and petrifyingly boring.
Regardless, I told AHH-NA that I dug the G-Man’s way with an axe, too.
From there, I bloviated about how much I loved the bands on Gerard’s Matadorlabel—and that was true in the case of Unsane and Flipper, and it was as blatant a lie as could exist in regards to Liz Phair, Pavement, and Yo La Tengo
That prompted AHH-NA to announce that REM was her favorite band of all time, and I didn’t make fun of her.
In fact, I said: “Cool.”
That was right before I passed out, though. Which I took as proof that alcohol loved me.
Some point later, I woke up. AHH-NA and Gerard were long gone, and I rode the subway home by my lonesome.
A couple of days later, AHH-NA left me a voicemail asking if I wanted to go to a photography exhibit that Friday with her.
AND Gerard Cosloy.
I hope they didn’t have very much fun.
Sue was a funny, charmingly dorky redhead from New Zealand with boobs the size of basketballs who liked the way I belted “Fox on the Run” along with the Downtown Beirut jukebox.
My one and only crack at Kiwi casaba, then, occured during our date to a keg party on the Pratt campus.
“I had the BEST day!” Sue beamed on the way in. “I bought an omnidirectional microphone from Radio Shack this morning and used it to bootleg a radio station concert. Then I just kept the tape and brought the mike back for a refund.”
“Ah!” I said, admiring her grift. “Who was playing?”
“TOAD THE WET SPROCKET!” she exclaimed. “They’re my favorite!”
Now… does anyone here remember Toad the Wet Sprocket?
They had a limp trickle of lite-rock radio hits in the 90s that doesn’t even qualify as Chick Music.
Your great-grandmother who’s a nun would call “pussy music.”
But it’s not EVEN pussy music, either.
It’s pussy-FART music.
“Righteous!” I said, straight-faced. “TOAD THE WET SPROCKET! All right!”
My friend who was DJing happened by and asked if we had any requests.
“Got any TOAD THE WET SPROCKET?” I said, in a real haw-haw tone that I was hoping would work both ways.
“Uh… no,” he said. “I sure don’t.”
“How about the Cranberries?” Sue piped in. “Or, ooh, Jesus Jones!”
And, alas, my palms and Sue’s regulation NBA hoop-sinker appendages never the twain did dunk.
The first girl I ever called up and asked out on a date was named Ann Butler.
I was eighteen and terrified and I had just gone through freshman year at art school where I’d had nary a nibble of female interest.
Ann had long, dark hair and skin the color of Liquid Paper and she dressed in all black and she smoked a lot of cigarettes and she told me that her saddest childhood memory was the day she lost her favorite rubber spider.
Plus, each one of her breasts should have been licensed with the FAA as a full-size replica of the Hindenburg.
So you can imagine the degree of psychopathic preoccupation I bore for Ann Butler.
She and I went to see my friend’s hardcore combo at a little Brooklyn bar, and it was kind of too loud to talk, which was fine, and I drove Ann home afterward and I asked her if I could ask her out again.
“Uh… yeah,” she said. “Okay.”
I figured on a movie for round two. The splatter horror hit Street Trash was playing at midnight on Saturday or maybe she’d want to see some European flick in the Village or I could even try to blow her mind with a triple bill on 42nd Street, but when I offered her those options, she said: “How about we go to the Alpine on Sunday afternoon?”
Okay. That was cool. Except for it being completely un- fuckin’-cool.
The Alpine was the local theater in our Bay Ridge neighborhood, and Sunday afternoon hardly made for prime “let’s go park and make out afterward” time.
“Ah, sure…” I said. “How about Back to the Beach with Frankie and Annette? Pee-Wee Herman’s in it, too. He sings ‘Surfin’ Bird’!”
“I think Can’t Buy Me Love looks pretty good,” Ann said.
Can’t Buy Me Love was a PG-13 teen comedy about a nerdy dude who pays a hot chick to pretend to be his girlfriend. Now, I’m all for high school prostitution—both in and out of the movies—but Can’t Buy Me Love had and air of Fox Kids Club meets John Hughes about it, and I was neutral on Fox Kids Club, but I really fuckin’ hated John Hughes. And I still do.
“Sounds great!” I chirped.
Walking up to the Alpine, we ran out of conversation kind of quick, until I said something disparaging about the film St. Elmo’s Fire.
“I LOVE St. Elmo’s Fire!” Ann gushed. “I even bought the soundtrack on both album AND cassette!”
Remember my earlier reference to the Hindenburg? That great airship’s fiery demise roughly equated what I suddenly felt in my heart, mind, and libido.
The movie St. Elmo’s Fire is ungodly abomination enough, but what, I wondered, could possibly be on that soundtrack that possessed her acquire it in every available format this voluptuous, clove-puffing vision in Wednesday Addams braids to?
Was it “Man in Motion” by John Paar?
Was it “Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire” by David Foster?
Was it “Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire (Reprise)” by David Foster?
What did it matter?
What the fuck kind of bait-and-switch shit had I just been subjected to?
Here’s this chick who looked, as my friend Fischel Bocephus put it, “like Russ Meyer had cast Lemora the Lady Dracula” and I’m all prepared to pretend I can tolerate Clan of Xymox or Love and Rockets or Gene Loves Jezebel or whatever, and instead she’s dropping John fuckin’ Paar on me?
And it not even the John Paar of “Naughty Naughty” (which is actually a great song)—it’s the John Paar of “I’ll be where the eagle’s flyin’/HIGHER AND HI-YUH!”
We went to see Can’t Buy Me Love and I hated it and I hated my life and eventually Ann went off to her college and I went back to mine and I wrote her a lot of annoying, unwanted, and unans
wered letters as though she was the person I was hoping she was to begin with and she, of course, never was at all, and we all know there’s two ways for that to end:
A) in a restraining order, or
B) Mr. Creepo gets over his fear of beer and starts getting laid and eventually gets on with his life.
I mean, there was a suicide attempt and a mental hospital stay in there, too, but, anyway, my record’s clean.
And so is my record collection—it’s clean of any presence of St. Elmo’s Fuckin’ Fire.
(Please allow me to reiterate: “Naughty Naughty” really is a killer jam)
Between the ages of ten and 14, I loved punk rock. And, for that, I was certainly in the right place, New York City, at the right time, 1978 to 1982.
Then, in Fall of 82, I departed Brooklyn to attend high school across the river in Manhattan, where class warfare played out along music lines.
Outer borough mopes brandished buttons and sneaker scribblings in homage to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Led Zeppelin.
The kids wearing Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys t-shirts tended to be from upper Manhattan or tony Long Island suburbs.
It was a trick though.
The burnouts from Brooklyn and Staten Island actually did listen to heavy metal and arena rock.
But every fancy hair-cutted stool at Xavier High School who drew Black Flag bars on his notebook or slapped a UK Subs sticker on his locker was, in fact, listening to Spandau Ballet, the Human League, Bananarama, Wham (UK), Depeche fuckin’ Mode and, most repugnantly, U2.
Somehow, punk rock had become equivocated with New Wave. And not good, fun, hard-rock-fueled skinny-tie American New Wave, but foofy-coifed, ruffle-collared, de-gonad’ed, synthesizer-secreted Euro-fruit New Wave.
Or, like I said before: Chick Music.
I gazed upon this array of ostensibly heterosexual adolescent males in torn jeans and combat boots grooving to Duran Duran and its various splinter groups on their Walkmen and I pledged my soul to whatever the opposite of that might be.
That opposite turned out to be Pink Floyd and Rush and, eventually, heavy metal and then, even further into the future, punk again.
But come the fall of 1985, at the beginning of my senior year, I had long stood angrily and outspokenly opposed to New Wave and all of its trappings, be they in the form of music, movies, and/or “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirts.
So there I was in my local VHS rental place, Video Stop on Avenue L, when in walked these two with half-shaved heads, clunky shoes, and multiple piercings in each ear. Two girls. They were laughing and giggling and using lunchboxes for purses. And they were right about my age, maybe a year or so younger.
And they were fat, too. Just like me.
The Asian one wore a gigantic oversized sweater that hung down past her knees. The blonde one wore—indeed—a “Frankie Say Relax” t-shirt.
They sped over to the exact titles I expected them to—arthouse fare like Diva and The Hunger and Starstruck and Smithereens—and they jabbered about how cool those movies were. They even gushed at length about Liquid Sky, a film I had made my personal enemy.
Yet as they were doing this—these two arty, confrontational, way-the-fuck-out-of-place weirdies in my stupid Flatbush neighborhood—I realized: “Oh, shit! These girls… are my people!”
Two overweight, teenaged freaky-deakies had somehow found one another in the blue collar, blank-brained tundra of mid-80s South Brooklyn and they were right there, right next to me, not knowing how much I knew about all the movies they loved but how many other movies I could turn them on to and how we could and should and must all be friends and maybe even one or two or all three of us could fall in love and talk about how, really, the leap between the face-paint worn by KISS and the eyeliner employed by Hayzee Fantazee really wasn’t so far removed from one another after all.
How I wanted to explode some form of those words to them.
But… I couldn’t.
So I attempted visual coaxing.
And NOT subtly.
I reached for a copy of Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads concert movie, the existence of which I had decried from the moment of its release until probably one minute prior to entering Video Stop.
With the Stop Making Sense box in my mitt, I commenced strutting around the store, desperately aiming the cover toward the girls’ lines of sight.
“Look!” I thought. “Just look! Over here! Big Boy waving around the Talking Heads! Woo-HOO! Talk to me! Say something! Say anything! SAVE ME!”
Alas, nobody’s life got saved that particular night, Sugar Bear.
The girls ended up renting Liquid Sky and disappearing. I put Stop Making Sense back and wiped my hand on my jeans. I had never seen those young ladies before and I never saw them again.
Except about a million times a minute in my brain for the next who knows how long.
And then again when I wrote this.
And then again maybe forever.
So what’s the moral to all these tales of woe?
Gentlemen, just always be an upfront asshole about music.
Because chicks dig it when you do.