SMOKE AND LIGHTS WORK THE NIGHTS
so some of you may or may not know that i grew up in ohio, in the western suburbs of cleveland. one of my closest friends was, and still is, Danny Noonan. we went to high school together, where i watched him amuse himself by manipulating the entire population of our high based solely on the predictability of their tendency to bully those they didn't understand. it was pretty amazing. he could get people to say and do the dumbest things, just because they wanted to make him feel bad in some way. anyway, i'm getting off topic. Danny also happened to be one of my favorite writers, he did the only zine that i still have all the copies of. recently i received a copy of a different zine in the mail that is a collection of short stories about night walking, "Night Jaunts #3." and lucky for me, Danny was in there as well. he wrote a piece about when he lived at and ran Speak In Tongues, the legendary (in my mind, at least) punk venue on the west side of cleveland. some of my fondest memories and favorite shows happened at that beat store front space. in fact, a photo i took in the basement of Danny ended up on the cover of a book recently. admittedly, this story resonates more with me since i know the places he writes about and have my own memories and associations, but that won't stop me from sharing it. the point being that Speak In Tongues was a great place and provided me with a lot to be happy about, so pretty much anything about that place makes me nice and nostalgic. . . oh to be back when you just didn't know, and just didn't care.
A while ago some of my friends and I had a great place for doing shows. Some of the best things about it had nothing to do with us, but rather the neighborhood we were in. We were one street away from the highway. Only a band who has been on a tour and had been late for a show with vague directions in a shady part of town would truly understand the beauty of this. There was also a twenty four hour greasy spoon within walking distance. Most importantly, directly across the street from our place was a twenty four-hour gas station that sold beer at state minimum prices.
That neighborhood was interesting at that time. Slowly being gentrified. However no matter how many first time home buyers were purchasing great little fixer uppers, nothing was changing the amount of hookers, homeless shelters and soup kitchens that were around. And then there was us. A skuzzy group of punk kids trying to have DIY shows. We were kind of known in the neighborhood. Especially the guys at the gas station across the street. Sometimes if a Friday and a Saturday went by and we didn’t have a show the guys at the gas station would say stuff like “What? No parties.” We talked about how we were against the yuppies and had a good time laughing at them. That however, didn’t change the fact that we were white. And when it comes to gentrification some people only see things in black and white. We spent as much money on fifty cent cups of coffee at the gas station as we did buying cups of coffee at that quaint little café that now offers free wireless. We were different though. Really. Even if we couldn’t dole out some spare change to the bums, we could give them a cigarette and maybe even a can of beer. If we were doing a show at our house our door was always open, except to this one guy named Straight Jacket. He was just a fuckin’ dick head and he could get a little scary when he was drunk. Let’s not forget he was a big racist. I don’t think I will ever forget that time, it wasn’t even a show, just my roommates having band practice, and the bass drum had a “Free Mumia” sticker on it and he flipped out because he “…hated those nigras in prison…” Then there was Blade who was on the other end of the spectrum. Sure he bummed cash, smokes and beer, but he would also show up with giant bags of donuts or frozen chicken to give us. More than once (in less than a year) he showed up with a twelve pack of beer and declared it was his birthday and wanted to finish it. Then there was Gary. Gary showed up to almost every show. Nobody could understand what he was saying yet everyone could figure out he wanted a beer. I’d also see him around the neighborhood and still couldn’t figure out what he wanted to say. After I got a job at a coffee shop in the court house I saw Gary more often. Poor fucker always had a ticket to pay.
I quit that coffee shop and we were evicted from the house. I found another coffee shop and some other kids found a mansion on the other side of town were they could have shows in there basement. I think besides the people who lived there, I was the most excited about the place. For the first time in years I could get drunk and not have to worry about doing sound or paying bands. I could come late or leave early. Fuck, I could do both. I could go on a drug run if I so pleased and instead of relying on the other people I could take my own walks to the store.
On those walks I didn’t have to worry about things like what time I should start the show? What order would be fair to the bands? Was it ok that I didn’t charge the girl I had a crush on but charge her friend? And for fucks sake would it be unethical to take out the money I used to buy the bands beer from of the door money?
No, no, not anymore. I could spend time thinking about things like should I do drugs tonight? (Maybe I shouldn’t. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a Saturday morning instead of a long Friday night.) And shit, let’s not forget about the art of good old bullshitting with your friends. Ah yes I was happy to be a paying customer.
The walk from this new house venue to the new 24 hour gas station was different than back at my place. It was longer (a plus-more time to bullshit with friends, a minus-harder to get said friends to go) and I don’t think the gas station was as good. It could have been that it wasn’t as familiar as the other one, or that they had a smaller beer selection. And the beer wasn’t offered at state minimum prices like the one by the old place. If you have ever felt the feeling of stupidity and slight embarrassment that accompanies spending hard earned money on a six pack of 16 oz. Miller High Life cans, imagine doing that knowing that you are spending a full eighty nine cents more than the state government forces the retailer to charge you. Now, it may have only been me but it seemed like anytime I took that trip with someone who had been to shows at my old place and purchased beer at the old gas station the walk back was a little quieter than the walk there. Maybe it was because we knew we would both be twenty nine cents richer if we had bought our cans of Steel Reserve at the old gas station, one hundred twenty three blocks away. But that’s the past. One should never compare old places and new places. Apples and oranges and all that. Back to the story, back to walking down Euclid Ave in Cleveland, Ohio. Walking back to the show I saw something I just wasn’t expecting. Gary. He was on the wrong side of town, and by a lot. I didn’t even say hello, I just said
“What are You doing here?”
“Ah duhn nuwh. Ah’m jest tying ta git ome. Yu gt a dolla?”
I did and gave it to him knowing full well that the dollar would put him closer to the court house than his house.
That was a while ago though. Nowadays that house isn’t having shows anymore. They evicted themselves and all moved out and moved on. And here I am. Waiting for the next group of kids to find some sort of place to have shows for me to go to. This time when I go to the store to get beer, I won’t be surprised if I see Gary. I’ll have a dollar waiting for him.
damn this made me happy. i had seen Dead Man Street Orchestra a few times before when they passed through nyc last summer. you may remember seeing photos of them here, and a video of them performing this song. i was entranced with their spooky and tragic take on a usually sunny childrens' song (which was my mom's favorite to sing, incidentally). well, thank you to whoever posted this on myspace, you made my day.
• Dead Man Street Orchestra - You Are My Sunshine
look ma! i'm all up in myspace!
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