The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Brief but Glamorous
By Fay Funk
I went to college in New York City because I wanted my life to be thrilling. It was a captivating, magical place, and I knew it would be life-changing. The music in New York City–that effortlessly cool, impossibly good music–was a big motivator for my move. I wanted to be a part of a musical experience bigger than anything I had done before. I found everything I was looking for, but, not surprisingly, it wasn't what I expected.
Now that I don't live there, I have mixed feelings about the music scene/industry in New York City. I put industry and scene together because they are permanently connected in New York and forever influencing each other. On one hand, the mixture of scene and industry has produced some of the most dynamic and original music ever made. On the other hand, the pressure to succeed often creates musicians who are more concerned with marketing and branding than art.
I had one musician tell me that the F# minor chord was really "in" right now, and all the up-and-comers were playing F# minor chords. Another time I started a conversation about band names with a different musician:
“’The’ band names are not good anymore,” he said, “It’s all about plurals and puns. You don’t want a ‘the’ in your band name.”
It was straight out of Josie and the Pussycats, except this guy was serious.
I also saw plenty of exploitive relationships, intense rivalries, and occasionally even darker stuff, like blackmail, drug abuse, and casting-couch syndrome. It was enough to make me seriously question the city I thought was so perfect.
My time in the New York City music scene was brief but glamorous. The first show I attended was Beach Fossils at Death by Audio. A perfect venue, Death by Audio was a dimly-lit warehouse with colorful murals all over the walls. Beach Fossils was the epitome of a cool indie band: rocky but with a certain amount of lightness. It was a dazzling night of loud music followed by a party with the other bands, ending around 3 a.m., shivering on a frozen rooftop. I soon learned most nights ended this way.
I continued this way for a few months. I saw a band called Beast Make Bombat at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan, I think. I know I've been to the Mercury Lounge, and I know I've seen Beast Make Bomb, I just don't know if it was at the same time. Everything was blending together; my life was so much fun and there didn't seem to be a downside. Beast Make Bomb was a band formed at NYU that made intelligent, cool, Strokes-like pop songs, with two women on guitar and vocals. It was the music I was hoping to discover in New York City.
It shouldn't be surprising, but when things seem too good to be true, it's usually because they are. I felt fatigued, but there was no time to take a break in New York City. By this time I had some close friendships with people trying to start music careers, and I got a sickening feeling every time I heard about what they were doing. They were wonderful people doing what they had to in order to get ahead, but it bothered me. Behind every creative endeavor was the lurking thought: How do I sell this? What's in it for me? I wasn't used to it; I hadn't noticed it before, and it made me uncomfortable.
That's the mindset I was in when I saw Oberhofer at Monster Island. Monster Island is not around anymore, which is a shame because it was a great venue with fantastic murals on the outside. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs got their start at Monster Island. Oberhofer was one of the more successful musicians I saw, specializing in catchy, jangly surf pop. He went on a few high-profile tours while I was still around, which just goes to show the positive power of the music industry in New York. It was refreshing to see him live during a time when I was feeling so jaded. Maybe all the bullshit was worth it. Ultimately though, it wasn't enough.
By the time I saw Babies at Don Pedro, I'd had enough. Babies was a great pop-rock band, featuring members of Vivian Girls and Woods. The song that stuck out to me the most was "Breakin the Law," so much so that I still remember the performance almost three years later. It was so genuine. Unfortunately, seeing such a genuine performance had become a rarity. Every band seemed to have constructed an image. There were no awkward shoegazers, unless awkward shoegazer was your marketing angle.
So I took a break. I stopped going out. I stopped going to Williamsburg. I stayed away from my old friends. I did this for about a year.
During the last year in New York City, I eased back in to music and saw my friend's band, Population Control, at the Freedom Garden. I don't remember where the Freedom Garden is, but it was someone's apartment. During my most recent visit to New York, I was told that the Freedom Garden might be done for, which was disheartening. Population Control, I believe, is still around. They are a group of five saxophone players from the New School for Jazz. There's no need for a band to have five saxophone players; it's intentionally silly. They played "Drunken Sailor" and a few other sea shanties, "The Crawdad Song" and "Amazing Grace," intentionally out of tune. It was the most fun I'd had in a long time, and that playful attitude, I realized, was something I’d pined for.
I missed musicians who didn't care about being marketable, who recognized that even if they were it didn't mean they would make it big. I missed musicians who made music for themselves and the other weirdos they called friends, not for people they had never met and never would meet. I realized I missed Portland. Portland has a great music scene, but very little industry. You go to Portland to make the music you want to make, not the music you want to sell. So from then on, it was decided: I was going home.