Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Hot Topic: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

I know, I know, once again I've been really lax about posting. I'd promise to do better, but we should all know better than that by now. The motivation for blogging is really low right now, there are just too many other distractions. At least my pals at the Hot Topic have locked me into this weekly discussion.

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From the fevered minds of a loose grouping of self-appointed cultural commentators comes a weekly side-swipe at the issues of the day, providing a pithy and often heated debate on pop culture as they see it.

This is The Hot Topic.

Burning it up this week: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

Conversations within the confines of the crack Hot Topic Team's virtual bunker of a headquarters (underneath the sun farm, just past the cave of the silver-tailed dragon known in some "in circles" as Frederick the Valiant) led to that of place and time, the unique feeling one experiences that may be referred to as a vibe. No, I'm not talking mediums and voices-from-the-far-beyond and creepy dudes with Long Island accents on daytime television telling you that your dead granddaddy had a fetish for grandfather clocks, but more of that specific twinge of fate you feel when you're at your favorite dive, club, bar, venue, coffee house, book shop, or orangutan party suite. You know, like that.

As a native New Yorker, I'm partial and spoiled by the electric energy that eternally charges the city that never sleeps. There was Desmond's, for instance, a no name bar on 5th Avenue in the 20s that likely saw its best days in the 1920s. Dollar specials on draft beers and tequila shots brought us in those days, and no name rock bands – the Redbone Hounds, for instance – that were hungry in all meanings of the word glued us to our stools as an eclectic and truly New York-weird crowd (ranging from motorcycle punks to old white guys wearing sweater vests and trucker hats adorned with insurance company logos) came and went.

That's what I call a vibe: grooving to a scene that no one on else on the planet could truly and exceptionally dig unless they experienced it up close and personal. That's the epitome of hip and experience, isn't it? What Kerouac sought in his quest for kicks and the road across his "groaning continent"?

There were other New York scenes, of course, a multiplicity of thousands, with every night sprinkling the sparkling hope of grand stories both magical and tragic. There was Jewel, the jazz bar in the East Village, Kelly's Corner on the Upper East Side, where the rich kids slummed it, and musical adventures aplenty at places like The Wetlands and The Continental and The Lion's Den.

Of course, now I'm a little bit older and wiser and head out of an evening far more rarely. I also live just outside Los Angeles, and I often wonder if that has to do with it as much as anything else. I've been meaning to ask Frederick about it, matter of fact.

What's your favorite vibe? What's your favorite scene?

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

Ah, the favorite "quiet little scene" of an introvert. A guy who doesn't get out much. A person with mild forms of social shyness that can sometimes swell to nearly agoraphobic proportions. Also, being an inner-directed sort, my love of reading cannot be underestimated. It's an amazing thing. Just the simple act of scanning my eyes over shapes on a page and I can be transported anywhere in the world, from the viewpoint of any person in the world.

So for me, it's bookstores. It just feels good to be in the presence of like-minded book people. I grab a copy of some unknown Bukowski release and sit down with the wife and a cuppa coffee and everything is right with the world. If only I could be paid for such sublime loafing. Oh yeah!

But it's not just one bookstore. No, in my (very limited) travels, I've kept a list of worthwhile establishments. There's Longfellows in Portland, Maine. Village Books way up in Littleton, New Hampshire (bonus points for being one minute away from the fabulous Littleton Diner). For earthy-crunchy-type fare there's Rue Cottage Books in Southwest Harbor, Maine. An enormous used book selection can be pawed through at Old Number 6 Book Depot in Henniker, New Hampshire. Finally, there's my sorta local store, Toadstool Books in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

So it's a quite little "scene," but it's all mine.

P.S. I'm currently reading Manhattan When I Was Young, by Mary Cantwell, (I'm almost always in the middle of some memoir or other) and Ascension: John Coltrane and his Quest, by Eric Nisenson (because Coltrane the man was as interesting as his music).

From: Aaron Fleming

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

My scene? The question is do I have a scene? Is a scene in existence for me? Perhaps you could define it as that of the infamous sit, that beacon of intellectual colloquium between The Duke and myself. The topics raised traverse the very fabric of time, from the exactitude of surname pronunciation, to the amazingly constant state of Michael Moore's beard, from the analysis of hack writer Martin Amis, to the precise nature of Dave Mustaine's sneer. I think this amounts to my scene, for I am but a youthful sort who hasn't really lived yet, hasn't had the opportunity to find that cellar bar in Tangiers, but who has plenty of future aspirations of that sort.

As a supplement to that I'd like to declare a few scenes from the past that I'd loved to have been an active ingredient in (damn fate!):

1) The mighty beat movement. I can fantasize forever about hanging out with Kerouac in some dank New Orleans watering hole, talking politics with Ginsberg, drinking deep from the mugwump sat atop a slightly miffed Burroughs.

2) The French intellectual scene of the '60s. Cafes, Sartre, Godard, Foucault, Truffaut, was there a cooler scene in history?

3) The thrash metal scene of early-'80s San Francisco. Gigs featuring new upstarts every night, minnows like Death Angel rising the ranks, Exodus and Testament headlining, Metallica, Dark Angel, Possessed, all to bare witness to.

4) The surrealism movement. Although not an artist, and lacking in any notion of artistic flair, I'd have loved to have been ensconced within this -ism, this brilliant hive of intellectualism and fresh thinking about art and the world.

From: Duke De Mondo

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

The truth of it all is that I dunno that I’ve felt part of any particular scene ever. I identify with certain folks from certain branches of certain movements, for sure, like a fella walks past with a Dead Kennedys shirt, or a fella with a fringe obviously influenced by Conor Oberst around the time of Fevers And Mirrors, or a lass with a Libertines badge, but I ain’t ever really existed within the ranks of these tribes, in so far as a buncha folks gathered in one place might be concerned.

I been in and out of a few, granted, the one that probably made the biggest impression being the kinda semi-muted half-burp of Local Bands that cropped up in my hometown a few years ago. A local bar, The Bush Tavern, overnight turned into some kind of breeding ground for folks with aspirations involving the G C F, where any number a local louts high on Cobain ripped the bejeesus outta Lithium three times an hour, and also, occasionally, a few folks from further-afield drafted in, the UK Subs, being one such bunch, and The Dangerfields from Belfast.

And of course me and the fellow drunken rapscallions who made up Julian’s Boyfriend.

Only recently, though, have I felt any sort of pull towards a particular scene of any sort, and a lot of it has to do with The Libertines, that community vibe they went ahead and instilled in everyone who came near them, physically or sonically, that seems to have had a really wide reaching impact, seems to have brought a lotta folks together in some sorta manner, buncha musicians and writers and gutter-poets and plenty crack-fiends, for sure. A kinda melding of literary concerns (folks fried on de Sade and Blake), with that feisty ol’ Punk Rock spirit, yes.

And what with The Libertines being the best band since The Pogues, it all stands to reason.

(And course now you can’t move for bands who sound like The Libertines, these masses crawlin out the taverns a Camden, and fittingly, they all carry around their own guerrilla mobs, these mini-scenes existing for folks who’ve never saw the light of the Top 40, a truly glorious sight to behold.)

And I only just realised how much is going on in Belfast, how back-breaking the vibe there really is, if you look in the right places, and for sure, like all worthwhile things in life, the realisation arrived in the glimmer of a lass’s eyes.

And surely the whole blog phenomenon is some kinda scene, or at least will be recognised as such when we’re all too old to remember we never met.

From: Bennett Dawson

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

For me, the scenes nowadays are so far removed from the typical that they bear no comparison, but back in the day...

Mabuhay Gardens, Broadway, San Francisco, 19 and 81.

Black walls that disappear under the black lights. T-shirts, teeth, and the rare bra strap glowing almighty in the darkness. Music so loud that the fillings in the teeth loosened, the ears ringing for days a given, the aspiring rock bands bemoaning the ruptured stage monitors, the microphones that shock the lips, and the band member that failed to show. A pack of misfits fitting into one of the most thrashed clubs to grace the down and outs of the Bay scene. Half pints of whatever from the liquor store across the street powering the energy, and smoothing out the rough spots.

Wait a minute, am I high? I'm pretty damn sure I took a hit or two before coming in here, but surrounded by the strange, everything seems calmly normal. I love everyone, it seems, so something must be working on the basic hostility of a 22-year old garbed in torn jeans and black leather. Wait a minute, am I high? I ask again, and receive no answer. Is that a shimmer in the air?

A walk is in order, between bands, to catch a breath of the fog-laden
breeze whipping through the skyscrapers of SF. Ah, now I know what it is, as the street lights waver, and the passing cabbies leave streamers of light in the stench of the Broadway air. Damn straight, buzzing as can be, whacked with the medicine of visions and madness. I grin, happy to be invincible, young, and blasted. Enough of this air I say, back into the depths of black. Back to the teeth of strangers standing out in the darkness of another face I'll never know. Back to the music that drives my ears into another world. Back to the bizarre that makes me feel sober, but loving.

It was a memorable scene.

From: Mat Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: What's Your Vibe, What's Your Scene?

The scene. Oh yes, there was a scene. What it was, man, I don't even know, but what a time we had.

I don't have the hip cred of Berlin diggin' on the East coast and the West. New York and LA! Dig that hep cats! I sure wasn't in no band, makin' my own scene like Bennett either. But a scene was had by me. Maybe just a little scene, over in the corner or something. Not bothering anybody.

Back in Montgomery, Alabama, during my college years there was this little bar right across the street from the school. Cat Daddies they called themselves, like it was some hip blues joint. Most people called it a dive, heck it was a dive, but we still used to go on the weekends and listen to all kinds of local bands.

There was this one band, Dave P and Friends, that we used to catch every time they played. It was there, listening to Dave P that I first heard Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." They laid that song down just beautiful. The thick smoke cleared, the bells rang and I saw god, and his name was Bob. I don't know how I knew that song was from Dylan, I just did. After the show I dug out a friend's Dylan tapes and found the song again. It's been a staple on mix tapes ever since.

There was another band, whose name I forget now, made up of some blues loving R+B-playing dudes. They used to rock the whole town from that tiny little stage. When they played Mustang Sally, I believe the ghost of Wilson Pickett himself was right there with them. And let me tell you, there is nothing like sitting in a crowd of people simultaneously shouting:

Ride Sally Ride

Thems were times right there.

There was another joint in Joplin, Missouri that we used to perform karaoke at on Thursday nights. They put the DI in dive. It was connected to some pay-by-the-hour roach motel. It was never happening, but they had cheap drinks and free karaoke. Me and a dozen or so buddies would crash the joint and sing cheesy songs until we fell over.

The odd assortment of hookers and drunks sitting around usually had a laugh at our expense, but we never cared. I once even managed to pull off a full rendition of American Pie, which is no small feat in itself, if you ask me.

All of this makes a fella feel so old. Now, I sit at home and watch videos with the wife when she's not studying for some exam or grading papers. Then I just read a book and go to bed early. But those memories, man, they put a sly grin on a fella's face, just the same.

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Team Hot Topic has had its say – now it's your turn to hop in!

As you can see, there're a thousand crooked avenues and twisty turns to take on this little journey into the scenic past and vibe-ic present.

Next stop? Nobody knows!

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