Okay, truthin’ time. I was bawling like a baby writing this part, with Rocky meeting New York City for the first time. Because I wish this was how it had been for me, I wish that my life had gone right, early, hadn’t gone off the rails in so many ways – some of them just accidents of birth, some of them my own personal fuckups. But still.
They say you can’t go home again, blah blah BLAH. You can’t go back in time.
But you can. Writers are sorcerers. Today I went back and rewrote time, rewrote history the way it could have been, should have been. In linear actual time I can’t fix what I did or didn’t do. But I can create Rocky, this avatar of me, and give him the life I should have had…and by giving it to him, I give it back to myself, every missed chance, every ordinary youthful joy, everything.
Rocky raised his hands in the air like he just didn’t care. Those around him, raised with a painful self-consciousness of their Place In Cultural History As A New Generation, smothered by their over-nice sense of irony, assumed he shared their pose, because he too was mocking the cliché.
But he wasn’t. He had no idea it was a cliché. He was…yes, say it, he thought, do it, blaspheme away. He was in heaven.
It was his first rave, his first dance party, his first night out in New York City. All around him young people were grinning furiously, sweating profusely, the drugs they’d taken lifting them up to where they could touch the music, the communal vibe, leave the Earth behind.
Rocky didn’t need any drugs. Appropriately enough, the song playing now was by a band called The Rapture. Back at Family Victory Church, they had raised their hands in the air, swaying gently to the spirit. But this, this was the real spirit, this music, this crowd, these lights…this was God’s touch, if anything was. What a pale copy they were content with back home!
“Gonna get myself into it, gonna get myself into it, why not help me do it?” The crowd roared Hey Hey Hey back at the speakers.
Two days in the city and already Rocky felt like an egg that had hatched at last. His years hanging out at Korey’s house had introduced him to rock, funk, soul, and disco; his first semester in Athens, GA had introduced him to punk, grunge, and emo, but what he was hearing now? He knew Gang of Four, he knew New Order, all the bands whose propulsive, dancey hooks had been pushed aside in the 90s, in favor of fuzzy guitars and flannel shirts. The rhythms of the city, black and gay, fell out of favor, symbols of shallower times, shallower tastes.
But now that was changing. Fun was back in music, and there was no shame in the word “disco.” Korey had baptized him in the Church of Murphy, and James Murphy’s DFA Records compilations and LCD Soundsystem singles were his Great Awakening.
The Bravery’s “An Honest Mistake” was up next, its opening and bass lines making shameless references to New Order’s classic monster dance anthem, “Blue Monday.”
Korey was dancing next to him, sweating, eyes glassy, on some designer drug or another. Rocky had refused everything but water – he had wanted to feel this, the music, the dance, to see just how powerful this drug was on its own.
“This is what I want to do!” he shouted at Korey.
“You’re doing it!” Korey shouted back, twirling like a dervish.
It wasn’t the time to have this conversation. But his conversion experience was complete. He was done with sadness, done with songs about anger and suffering and loneliness. He wanted to DANCE. To have fun, to make music that was fun. To live in moments like this, forever.
He forgot Nico, he forgot his father, he forgot everything but his feet and his arms and he shouted, and he’d never shouted in his life, and everyone around him shouted back, with the same sense of raw, animal glee.
“So what’s your name?” a girl asked him the next night, another attendee at the never-ending party in the warehouse where Korey lived.
“No, your band’s name.”
Rocky looked at his friends. “Umm…” They didn’t have one yet. Hadn’t been anything more than a bunch of guys hanging out, playing music.
Sam and Jet and Rick looked at him. And he realized, this was the moment. If there was to be a band, it was up to him. Somehow the dynamic had set him up as The One, the best musician, the best singer. The Front Man.
He was already getting irony, its role in this place and time. He was too innocent and inexperienced to participate in it, yet. Almost.
He broke into a smile. In a perfect Emperor Palpatine voice, he said, “Your Pitiful Little Band.”
His friends roared with laughter, and he knew he’d hit it.
“And together,” Sam began, and the rest of them joined in to complete the quote, “we will rule the galaxy!”
“Your overconfidence is your weakness,” a passing stranger replied, quoting Luke Skywalker’s defiant speech to the Emperor.
“Your faith in your friends is yours!” Jet replied.
Sometimes, it just comes to you. Well, it simmers in your mind for a while, of course. You don’t consciously think of it. But then, one day, there it is. A perfectly formed creative concept.
“Who’s got a pen and paper,” Rocky said. “I just thought of a song.”
The friends…the band, now, retreated to the quietest corner they could find. Jet had upturned one of the buckets used to catch leaks, creating a makeshift drum. Sam didn’t have his keyboards, but he would hum the melody as he thought of it. There were plenty of guitars around, and Rick had borrowed one. Rock was the scribe, thinking and rethinking the words, reworking them to fit the evolving melody.
It couldn’t help but be a tribute to James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem lyrics – he was aiming for that level of sophistication, humor, truth – but, Murphy’s lyrics had the weariness of someone who’d been through the same cycle too many times, and the intelligence of someone who couldn’t fail to see what would be the same this time, too, when everyone else was saying “this time it’s different, for sure.”
Rocky wasn’t weary, wasn’t jaded. He had all the exuberance of youth just coming into its powers. But he wasn’t a stranger to suffering, hadn’t lived in a bubble of financial ease and parental support and unlimited entertainment options. And he knew all too well from his childhood, who would turn their backs on you when you were revealed to be…different. Strange. “Troubled.”
They had the opening, or a version of it anyway. A small group had gathered, listening to them play with it, test it, revise it.
You run into people you kinda know, they go,
Oh hi, oh hi!
And it’s hugs and kisses like long lost lovers
Another year later, there they are, and they go
Oh hi oh hi!
And it’s hugs and kisses like long lost lovers
And it’s good, it’s good enough, it’s good to see you too
It’s more than enough when the chips aren’t down
Look around, don’t look around, don’t think about it yet
Today you’re young and happy and nothing can go wrong
Your faith in your friends is strong.
Rocky looked up. “And then, I don’t have it yet, but, something something, fair weather friends. Because, you know,” he said, smiling at Korey. “Who are your friends, really? Who are the ones who fucking show up when you need them, who don’t use and abuse you, who don’t blow you off in favor of whatever plan sounds better that night instead?”
The laughter around him was the laughter of recognition. They all had friends like that and, of course, they were that kind of friend to others, sometimes.
Korey nodded. “Real friends are a light in dark places…”
Rocky finished the quote from Galadriel. “When all other lights go out. Can we use that, would we get sued?”
“I was thinking about cobwebs,” Sam suggested. “You know, they connect things, but one stiff breeze and they’re gone.”
Rocky wrote down “cobwebs.”
“Right,” he added, “something about that versus…well, not a spiderweb, not with the Galadriel reference, right? Too menacing, not…comforting. But like…a net. Something that’ll catch you and not break.”
It was late when they stopped for the night. So late it was early. But Rocky couldn’t sleep, was too excited, too exhilarated.
He got his coat and went out for a walk. It wasn’t the safest neighborhood, but at 5 am on a winter morning, most every neighborhood is safe enough.
Scattered clubbers were just going home, laughing, too high to be cold. There was already a line of municipal workers and construction workers at the local deli, picking up a doughnut and a cheap coffee in the “Grecian” blue cup that Rocky would come to know well enough, soon enough.
All his life, music and art had been a train out of town, a slow but powerful and inexorable force moving him forward. But here, now, he could jump off the train, and ride a rocket. All around him was the sense that something wonderful was happening, to everyone, all the time. That any minute now, everything was changing forever. And it was true.
The impulse was almost overwhelming, to just chuck school and move here, right now. But he checked himself. No, the best thing would be to have a little more time, to work on polishing their brand new band, out of the spotlight. He’d seen how cruel the “hipsters” could be to young, raw talent still finding its way – as if you should be like Venus on the half shell, perfect from birth.
That was it, he thought. We’ll go, we’ll work, and we’ll come back. We’ll come back and we’ll rock this town.