May 21st, 2006

Too Much Information

This guy is also in Wikipedia. I first learned about him because I took a two-semester Honors composition class with his then-girlfriend, with whom I became close. She made him sound really intense. She also complained that her roommate in the dorm, a hard-partying Asian woman, would watch them have sex during his visits to town and then proposition him later when she was in the bathroom.

I once visited the home he shared with his mother and spent time in his bedroom. I got crepes with him, that same girlfriend, and his girfriend's ex-boyfriend in Rehobeth. And then I did it a few more times. I learned about Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Cabaret Voltaire and a number of other bands from him before meeting cpratt, who took over the responsibility of exposing me to unusual subgenres. Once, when my relationship with Annalee was over, but I was still sharing her apartment at 1890 Arch Street, I went over to his girlfriend's place to hang out. He called from Pittsburgh and told her to send me home, because he was worried she might want to have sex with me. She told me this instead of telling me to go. I went anyway.

Later, when he had moved to the Bay Area and was living with that girlfriend, I borrowed a bicycle from them to take to Mendocino on my first trip there with Kim. I gradually lost touch with his girlfriend and, by extension, him. But I'd see him striding down the path in front of Moffitt Library periodically, his long black hair and blank trenchcoat cutting an impressive figure.

Years later, when I got back in touch with his now former girlfriend, she explained to me that they'd broken up not long after I'd borrowed the bicycle. They stayed in touch, but he was bitter towards her. Since he'd become one of the lead programmers at Netscape, though, that bitterness, which was, to be fair, already deeply rooted when I first met him, was tempered by wealth.

In recent years, his name has popped up a few times in conversations with my ex, who now writes about technology and sex and other matters identified with San Francisco. After getting out of the computer industry, he purchased the DNA Lounge in the "SOMA" portion of the City. Kim read at the DNA Lounge once, on a bill that included other performance poets promoted by Stephen Parr, including his girlfriend Danielle Willis. It was a big deal. She read the poem she recited from memory on the night we met. "Say you're 16 and never seen a gun/I mean a real gun. . ."

I try not to lose touch with people, because I fear that I will not be able to reestablish it. At least, that has been my guiding principle over the years. With the internet, though, that fear makes less and less sense with each passing year. Not only does this guy have plenty of press on the Web, he also has a Live Journal that he updates consistently. I can learn a lot about his current interests that way. I can also marvel at the extreme disparity between the list of "Friends" he selected and the list of people who have made him on of their "Friends." Clearly, he is famous in some of the circles that make heavy use of Live Journal. He even has a series of notable quotes linked to his Wikipedia entry, for goodness sakes.

But I'll always remember him as the astonishingly intense and seemingly angry young man who never seemed to trust me fully -- perhaps because his girlfriend admitted being attracted to me -- but who still did a decent job of showing me respect and, particularly on our Delaware trip, a good time. It doesn't really surprise me that he ended up wealthy and well-known. After all, he was programming LISP in high school. Still, it does disconcert me a bit to know all these things about his past that have nothing to do with his present.

I tend to remember too much of other people's lives. Maybe all my years on the margins of social situations made me a little too attuned to detail. As I type this, I can picture the approach to his Pittsburgh house, the way his mother looked when she opened the door, the barely suppressed rage toward her that he made us feel when we were up in his room. But I don't need to know any of this anymore, do I? I think I'll go stare at his home page for awhile in the hopes of dumping the contents of memory once and for all. . .

Life in a Northern Town

Paul Morley of New Musical Express fame has a long piece in today's edition of The Observer in which he reflects, in a rather rambly and rosy-tinted way, on his experiences in the Manchester and, to a lesser extent, Liverpool music scenes in the wake of punk. The ground he treads is already so smooth with wear that it would make sense if nothing were to grow there for decades. But there are moments of such fine writing in his piece that I don't care that it's the antithesis of new. Take this paragraph on The Fall, for example:
By mid-1977, the instantly intimidating and incendiary Fall were blasting tinny sound into cryptic song, fronted by that creepily normal looking maniac first spotted violently heckling Paul Weller - 'fucking Tory scum' - when the Jam played the Electric Circus. The Fall's first show seemed to be played in front of an audience that consisted entirely of the Buzzcocks. Mark E Smith's earliest performances, where he was often playing in tiny clubs or rooms that sometimes seemed to be where you were actually living were possibly the angriest thing you would ever see in your life. It seemed he was being so angry on your behalf. You sometimes didn't think he'd make it to the next song, let alone 30 years and 30 albums, some of which sound like they were made before they even existed. Through a harsh northern filter, the Fall channelled into their songs a night's John Peel show from the mid-Seventies, one of the darker, stranger ones on which he played rockabilly, dub, psychedelic pop, garage punk, New York punk, English punk, Canned Heat, the Groundhogs, Peter Hammill, Henry Cow and Faust. The Fall might in the end be Manchester's greatest group, if only because there have been at least 20 Falls, one leading to another, all of them with the same lead singer, who's always the same and never the same twice.
I love the mind-bending inspired by, "some of which sound like they were made before they even existed." And that description of Mark E. Smith certainly places the recent furor chronicled here in perspective. You could learn a lot about how to make music sound exciting by reading prose with this much pith. I like to think I already have.
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