Wednesday, August 4, 2004

alt rock never dies

My grandma's house was huge. She had nine kids and I remember looking at all the photos hung on walls throughout the house, especially between the kitchen and the dining room of my mom and my aunts and uncles as kids in their first communion outfits, at lakes in swimsuits. Some cool seventies outfits. Everyone's bedrooms still had touches of their old selves. The basement was filled with an old nostalgic smell that I cannot really describe other than the smell of a grandma's basement, of what life may have smelled like at one point, or at least a stagnant version of that time, a fragrance that has sat for a while on the shelf. There were old toys; old books covered with dust, perhaps containing treasure maps; more recent ones that amused my sister and I like The Preppie Handbook, which taught us that a Melvin was an idiot, and we used to jokingly call people Melvins for years after reading that. It was in Minneapolis a few blocks away from Lake Harriet, and we used to walk around the lake just about every day. We would go out there just every summer when I was kid. Years ago, kids all grown, she sold the house and moved into a condo with lots of other old people in Edina, Minnesota.

We never really used the front door at that house. There was a back door that went into the kitchen that was the real entrance to the house. When I was volunteering on Bill Bradley's campaign in New Hampshire, going door to door, in lots of areas we were instructed not to knock on the front door, to knock on the side door because they didn't use the front doors either. I don't know why, but this morning, I found myself thinking about this and nights spent at Denny's in high school with friends, hanging out for hours, talking about nothing but thinking that it wasn't. I am reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, loaned to me by Dara, published by MTV books and which the NYPL has classified as a YA book. And for those of you that never worked in a library, that is Young Adult. At first, I was resistant to the book, thinking that it too easy, too filled with all those teen morals and lessons (the afterschool special type). I was very tempted to quit it, but decided that I should read it all the way through. And now, I cannot put it down. Yes, even Publisher's Weekly, notorious for writing fluff for publishers to blurb, called it "a trite coming-of-age novel," but I have a soft spot for those teen movies and all things whose subject is adolescence. It is a fun, sentimental read that has me recalling my own family memories and my own memories of high school, which is good since lately I have been vaguely brainstorming how to write something about adolescence without it being YA.

I have been thinking about this subject for a while, sort of inspired by recent trends in visual art that deal with adolescence in thoughtful ways, and wondering what the literary equivalent would be. A few days ago, James Iha, came into the Strand, and I did not know his name at the time, but I knew he was the guitarist for the Smashing Pumpkins and had this confirmed by some other employees (who knew his name), and I was astounded, was again a fervent masturbator, a nerdy high schooler listening to alt-rock late into the evenings on a low volume after even after everyone else had gone to bed. I looked at him as he walked around the store in this the year 2003 and tried to think back to what was it, ten years ago?, when this same person was what I listened to for hours on end, stretches of days, feeling comfort in my then otherwise comfortless world, and this was the person responsible for that noise. It was his hands (albeit on a guitar) that guided be through awkward teenage years.

I am thinking about these things on this early day in August in my apartment in Brooklyn.

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