“I am not a chilled person.”
“I don’t see you on here” said the lady behind the desk.
“I should be, my reservation is right here” I reply, holding up my phone showing her the screen with my flight itinerary.
“Oh that was yesterday hon…”
My hands got shaky and for a second I went beet red. I fly almost once a year, how the hell could this happened to me; the most organized person this side of chaos?! Dammit!
“… OK then. One ticket on the first plane to San Francisco please.”
“Sure thing. That’ll be $70 for the ticket and $25 for your luggage.”
“Double dammit! … OK…here’s my card.”
Swipes card. “I’m afraid it’s not going through…” Triple dammit!
Thanks goodness my friend Jason had offered me a ride to the airport and was there—he and his working credit card…I hugged Jason for being my savior but what I really wanted to do was punch myself in the face for being an idiot. I bought the ticket, went outside and chain-smoked three cigarettes said my goodbyes and dragged myself to my gate, flustered and swearing obscenities under my breath. I am not a chilled person.
But wait a minute, what the hell am I doing away from MRR anyway? Why am I even outside San Francisco? I never leave; I’m the coord who hasn’t even crossed the Golden Gate Bridge yet (sad but true). I get separation anxiety every time I leave the compound for more than a few hours. (Man, this must be what having kids is like… Glad I’m never having any of those!) To maintain my sanity, I needed to get away for a while, recharge my batteries, then come back and get knee deep into it again. “I’m not looking for escapism, I just want to escape.”
I was originally going to go on tour and help roadie, but that kinda fell through, which is fine really; I looked forward to a week of having nothing to worry about except whether or not I have enough cigarettes in my pocket. So I booked a ticket to NYC, my favourite place in the whole wide world (so far!) Thankfully I have awesome friends and Ermis and Afroula (and their gorgeous cat Eddie) let me stay with them for a few days. Yessss! This was really going to happen!
San Francisco is changing faster than you can say “gentrification,” which means that all the cool things that made SF a colourful, creative, radical city are being whitewashed by yuppies, techies, trust fund students and rich families. That aside, SF is too small for me. When I lived in Athens, a city with a core population of over 3.8 million people, I felt it was too small for me. SF, which has a core population of just under one million people, its metro population just over 4.5…still too small for me. I need some place where I can go up onto a steep hill and look down and see a city that goes as far as the eye can see. I need a metropolis to fit my busting personality, my endless thirst for discovery. SF is truly beautiful, but, if I didn’t have this über-demanding job at MRR, I think I would eventually go mad living in the Bay Area as it is right now. I am not a chilled person.
Friday went like most: On the floor by 10am, a full coffeepot awaiting my consumption, the inbox refreshed, the lists all updated. Then the doorbell rang; once, twice, three times. Then the phone. Then the mail arrived, then a couple shitworkers; then more punk guests to check out the compound. By 8pm I was nowhere near finishing all I had to do before safely being able to exit the building. By 11pm I had finished my emailing, by 1am I was done with editing, and by 3pm I had showered and packed my bags. By 4.30 when the shuttle bus arrived I was wide-awake, ready to finally get on that fucking flight to NYC. I am not a chilled person.
On Saturday Jason picked my up at JFK (he really is the best) and we headed straight for Brooklyn. As we rode over the BQE and talked about Spike Lee movies, I said I wonder where Queens Bridge is. He said he was surprised I even knew that place. I said “I get a lot of my New York references from Beastie Boys songs” and started to rap, “We’re doing fine on the 1 and 9 line. On the L we’re doin’ swell. On the number 10 bus we fight and fuss. Because we’re thorough in the boroughs and that’s a must.” He laughed and pointed towards Manhattan as it slowly rolled past us on the right. Man, I have to move here one day!
Our first stop was to get a traditional cheese slice (yum!), then check in on the felines he was cat-sitting (both adorable). Then we met up with Jason’s friend, Rugrat, who took the bus (!) all the way from Columbus, Ohio (!) to come with us to the show and hang out (punks have no qualms when it comes to traveling for punk, I love it!). Despite already counting about 36 hours without sleep I was feeling surprisingly chipper—dazed and still slightly nauseous from the plane but definitely standing. We headed to the Acheron (which people mispronounce all the time, something I as a Greek find quite entertaining), chatted about the current state of NYC punk, and hung out outside, beneath the graffiti-filled buildings, smoking, laughing, yelling at each other and generally looking like a scruffy bunch of delinquents. The Black and Blue Bowl was happening right around the corner, with bands like Agnostic Front, Biohazard, Madball, 7 Seconds and apparently the next night Discharge too!
I was too out of it and engrossed in conversation to catch the first two bands (though Ajax sounded great from outside) but of course I headed in for EU’s Arse, who were pretty darn incredible! The singer has a temperamento that is magnetic and engaging, as he squeals, screams and wriggles on stage. Sure, maybe the young kids have all the gimmicks and béret-props, but what EU’s Arse were playing in Udine, Italy back in the ‘80s is still what the young kids are playing today. It’s not boring or overplayed, it’s classic and inspiring.
On Sunday I rolled out of bed pretty late for CET, so we just headed to our friend Leda’s house, a punk we all knew from back home in Athens who moved to NYC a few years ago. We rolled cigarettes and played Cards Against Humanity outside in the sun, downing beers, then coffee. At some point I heard a strange, sweet tune wafting through the air. I had heard that tune before, I recognized it from the movies: it was an ice cream truck! (Yes, those things actually exist!) We spoke of the differences between Athens and NYC, and SF and NYC, and SF and Athens, and even though I still have not put my finger on what it is that makes this country so surreal (too many things probably), I was feeling more at ease in NYC, no doubt. Something about the smells in the air, the 24-hour diners and cheeky rats make me feel right at home. I am not a chilled person.
That evening I also met up with a newer writer punk friend, AC. We met by Peter Luger on Broadway, and walked to one of the Art University campuses, where we strolled through the outdoor art exhibits and counted stray cats. The night was starry and mild. We sat under a statue with a yellow balloon tied to it and talked about the joys of writing. I tried to suck the helium from the balloon and recite Bill Hicks in a squeaky voice, but all I managed to do was inhale some random person’s second-hand breath. Oh well. We continued south of Williamsburg and headed towards AC’s warehouse bookstore. It was quite a way down, so I balanced on the back of his bike as we rode past the waterfront, the Manhattan city lights gleaming in the distance, the Brooklyn bridge every bit of majestic you expect it to be. The warehouse is simply huge and reminded me of the kind of place you’d hole up in in the event of a coup d’état, or if the zombie apocalypse finally came. I think the people in charge have the same idea. Rows and rows of household materials, antiques, ornaments, furniture and every other thing you could imagine: from bathtubs, marble sinks, ceiling fans and picture frames, to chandeliers, rocking chairs and coffee pots. And of course, in amongst this paradise of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was AC’s little bookstand. Four or so bookshelves and one display table; set up looking like the world tiniest bookstore, perfect with its dusty carpeting underfoot, rusty chandeliers for sale up above and the hand-written section signs pinned to the shelves. Lucky for me, I was gifted something special: The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde and a night of great conversation.
We had no supplies, so headed out in search of some coffee and beer and slowly walked back through the warm night and empty streets. Back at the warehouse we were greeted by Bagel the cat. We listened to a little transistor radio (the kind that fits in your breast pocket) and priced used books, shared stories and listed books we hadn’t yet read. Around 3am we headed back north, made food and more coffee and listened to the Sun Ra special on WBGO on the little transistor radio. The sun had started to come up and was reflecting off the buildings and through the trees. I got some writing done, as did AC, a compulsory need writers have in order to move on with their often-hectic lives.
Later on we headed to the local library in search of some maps. Alas they had none so we strolled through Prospect Park. As we walked past a junior baseball league match, I heard an ice cream truck’s tune somewhere in the distance yet again. It started to rain, so out the other end we went and ducked into a perfectly scruffy little diner for coffee and donuts and talked zines, punk, MRR and the oddball opportunities life throws you. By that time the clouds had cleared and the sun was out again; setting just as I crossed the bridge on the J train back home. Overground trains are so much cooler than underground trains.
The next day I woke up so hungry I demanded we go to a diner for brunch. When in Rome… naturally we went to Astoria. When the waiter came to refill my coffee I almost squealed with joy—the land of bottomless coffee cups! After brunch we walked into a corner store to buy cigarettes and I found out they make frappe! So, one glyko me gala (sweet with milk) and off we were to Hell Gate, a picturesque arch railway bridge that goes through Astoria, across the East River and into Queens the other end. It was warm and sunny, the park was full, an ice cream truck was serving cones to the kids and the Triborough Bridge loomed in the distance, suspended and impressive.
For all the hype it gets, and all the hipsters who have moved there, you’d expect Williamsburg to have more than three crappy bars. After going in circles for 30 minutes around Lorimer Street, we eventually found somewhere with a garden out back to wet our whiskers. Two drinks were not enough, so Jason and I headed into Alphabet City, found Joe Strummer’s mural on Avenue A and 7th and got cocktails at Niagara. (when they’re well made like those ones, I love me a cocktail, or four.) Through the window we could see Tompkins Square Park, aka (what once was) The Punkest Square in Manhattan. We sat there for a while afterwards and, even if we were the only punks there, it felt great to sit outside and soak up the night. We had one of those deep conversations you often have when forming a new friendship. We laughed at the people and situations that made us grow, worried about the ways in which our lives would be changing over the next year (for vastly different reasons) and for a moment silence fell; the kind that two people can share and actually enjoy. A silent ice-cream truck drove by. I told him how I wanted to move to New York. He told me he’d been thinking about moving to the Bay. “I know it seems that way, but I am not a chilled person. I’m a West Coast person trapped in an East Coast body.” As we headed our separate ways we both recognized our position in our respective presents, and realized that the future isn’t as scary when you have friends to hang out in parks with.
A little earlier he had told me a saying from the ‘80s people had about Alphabet City. Avenue A you’re Alright, Avenue B you’re Brave, Avenue C you’re Crazy, Avenue D you’re Dead. I thought about this as I noticed the street sign above my head said Avenue C and 3rd. After leaving David the punk lawyer’s pad (who owns an original Minor Threat EP, which I got to touch and smell!) I had intended to walk down to the Bowery area to catch a nightcap before catching my train, but had drifted off to the right somewhere by mistake. It was past midnight and I was still in my T-shirt. The rats crawled between the rubbish bins, the kids played basketball in the outdoor courts and the bars and shops were all still open. There were old ladies buying groceries at midnight on a Tuesday! Fantastic! I continued to roam until I stumbled upon a wine bar near my station. Unfortunately the place was almost closing for the night so I chugged my overpriced glass of rose, scribbled down some notes at the bar and bolted. As I walked towards Essex Station I saw some tourists point to a gutter and shriek in mock horror. Yeah, we are all in the gutter, but I am not a chilled person.
I was still on West Coast time so even though my SF-conditioned body woke up at 8am, it was already 11am in Brooklyn. Afro and I got some coffee and donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts (I know, the worst, but it’s actually kind of the best) and talked about New Yorkers. Have you got anxiety because you live in New York, or do you live in New York because you have anxiety? Most people would coil up at the sight of hundreds, thousands of people walking down Lexington Ave., but I relished in it. I had missed that feeling, of being able to be a nobody, an anybody (a somebody?) as I walked side by side all these complete strangers. There is a sense of destiny in the air, as if something strange and magical can occur. Like spinning tops, people are constantly trying to avoid crashing into each other, lest their precious time is wasted, their important schedule affected. Yet when two of them do collide, just by accident, because of some unlucky series of events, their courses alter, moving into a new, shared dimension that never would have existed otherwise. Social entropy.
David the punk lawyer grew up in Manhattan and spent many of his early years exploring Grand Central Station. So when we met beneath his office at 51st and Lex, it seemed like the appropriate place to get some gelato, coffee and postcards. It’s a massively huge station; a little city beneath the city, with shops and restaurants, news stands and shoe cleaners (yes, those still exist apparently); the terminal area alone expanding for almost one square mile, with 44 platforms serving 67 tracks! Over 20 million people go through it on an annual basis and I was one of them.
Dinnertime was rolling around and I was to meet Ermis in Chinatown for dumplings and teriyaki chicken, which was, of course, delicious. Drinks at the Cakeshop with Stav were up next. (I walked by ABC No Rio but still haven’t managed to catch a show there yet! Ugh! It’s been added to my Next Time list.) I know Ermis because along with another eight or so punks we used to run a tropical wet hole/show basement, called Katarameno Syndromo, in the shittiest part of Athens. I know Stav through a different group of friends (hi Elly!), also from Athens. Ermis and Stav are both Greek artists (comics, painting, sketching, tattoos) who have lived within a few miles of each other in Brooklyn for the past four years or so—but had never met! So when I was there last December I insisted they do! And now we were all hanging out together—don’t you just love how small the world can be sometimes?
Stav and Dana live in Green Point. From their sixth floor apartment I can see the Empire State building. We discuss language, politics and “political correctness.” An electric storm is raging above our heads but their two luscious Persian cats, Gordon and Charlie, snoozed under the table, on the sofa, looking completely cozy and at ease. For once in a long time I could relate. I tucked my working friends into bed and settled into the snug duvets myself. The lightning illuminated the room and I counted the seconds between lightning and thunder; the furthest strike about three miles away (fifteen seconds), the closest right around the corner, a mile down the road (three seconds). I tried to sleep but I could feel my neurons fire up, visualizing them spark with every strike of lightning. I was wide awake and wandering down my own neural pathways, but unable to find Morpheus anywhere. So I smoked another cigarette on the balcony, admiring the skyline, feeling electrified. Around 3.30am I finally retired. I am not a chilled person.
The next day I did a spot of cat-sitting while my friends went to work. I didn’t technically need to, but it was wet and dreary outside, so what better way to spend the day than with cats, drinking coffee, listening to records and writing postcards and letters? It didn’t look like it was going to clear up, so I ventured out anyway, through McCarren Park to meet Santi, who does Hysteria Records (he just put out that wicked D.H.K. EP, reviewed further down in this issue). We went to the tasty vegan diner Lauren from La Misma works at (I missed their Bay Area show, I heard they killed it! Hopefully got an interview coming soon!). Then we went to 538 Johnson St., where a bunch of shows happen, most recently NY’s Alright Fest, and climbed up onto its perfect punk roof, talking about new bands and records, up-coming projects and travels. It was still very cloudy, and that only dispersed the light, so everything had a sepia tone, quite cinematic. (hysteriarecords.bigcartel.com)
“Do you have ADD?” David the punk lawyer asked me as we walked towards Time Square, then back again, in search of some grub, my head darting left and right like a pigeon. Everything excited me. I felt alive in all that craziness. Maybe because I felt less crazy myself.
Stav and I hopped a train to Chambers Station for, weirdly enough, more cat-sitting. I got to see City Hall for the first time, got more stamps from a very drunk kiosk guy, and went up seven floors to an apartment overlooking City Hall Park. A tall and skinny silver skyscraper (World Trade 2.0) towered to the left, the park below, New Jersey in the distance, and looming above it all the most vicious looking cloud—sludgy green/charcoal grey with shards of blue/white lightning shooting out at a scarily close distance. It was sick! (yeah, that film Twister? Love it!) We had to bolt, but fuck if the architecture and urban landscape isn’t crazy: one skyscraper reflecting of another, lights glowing, lines and angles merging, materials mixing; shape and perspective take new form, different dimensions skip out from between the buildings, space feels like its constantly altering, you’re over-stimulated and the city shifts and morphs around with you, almost as if it’s pulling you into its alternate reality, simultaneously pushing you to keep moving forward. I like that forging of energies, the mutability, it keeps me on my toes, it keeps me buzzed. ‘Cause hey, I am not a chilled person.
• The Flex and Violent Opposition show in Oakland was great, lots of people went flying in the pit and their energy was quite different, a nice change of pace, and very cool people too. Also, I went to Don Pyle’s photography exhibition at 1-2-3-4 Go! and of course his work is amazing, with prints from the early Canadian punk scene, plus pictures from Ramones, Blondie and Iggy shows in Canada! He’s great at capturing people in their moments of bliss, ecstasy and exhilaration on stage. (Fell in love with Debbie Harry all over again.) If you haven’t already, check out his interview in MRR #350, July 2012!
- MRR is doing monthly shows again! Wanna help out? Suggest a band, out-of-towners included? Get in touch at email@example.com. Also, send your demo tape/CD-R for review, or submit your info for the New Blood section! Do you take pictures? Monday Photoblog your best shit on our website! Are you the next Nick Blinko? Submit your art for the artpage! Do you have a record out, or do a label? Send us your vinyl for review. What gets reviewed is then kept in the vast MRR record collection of about 46,000 records—a punk resource and treasure! You can help preserve it by donating on our website at maximumrocknroll.com/donate.
•We are working on an Iberian punk issue! Submit interviews, scene reports, photospreads, oral histories, guest columns, resource lists; we want to know about bands, zines, labels, collectives, show spaces, and anything else you think we should know about!
•You know you’re addicted to caffeine when at 00.10am you’re forcing yourself to not finish that cup of coffee that’s been sitting on your desk all day, so instead you just bury your nose in it and take a big long whiff of it. I am not a chilled person. firstname.lastname@example.org