Monday, July 22, 2013

on surf guitar and the east side

On the other side of the river there's a suburb that's got a reputation for being openminded and progressive. They're a nuclear-free zone after all. When I think of the song California Uber Alles, I think of that part of Greater Clevelandia, the home of Harvey Pekar, where my older friends would tell me old tales of Coventry back when it was full of subcultural denizens before the city made a concerted effort to apply a veneer of bohemian sheen to what is now mostly chain restaurants and bars full of bros and yuppies and drunk girls.

The hacky-sackers, the buskers, the punks and skins and five-percenters, the guys trading rhymes, those are harder and harder to find down there. Yes, there's still a couple of bookstores that sell marxist lit, esoterica, and Kerouac, and a good music venue there, but it's hardly a bohemian mecca by any means. Trendy boutiques and boomer holdovers perhaps, but not what it once was. It almost makes those aspirations seem crass.

Also, they're the kind of town that loves to distribute parking tickets and tickets for everything. Heaven forbid you don't have a bicycle license. There's no late night greasy spoon diners here anymore, just an IHOP in the strip mall near the Wal-Mart. You can get ticketed for jaywalking. It's still a place to meet up with my east siders, but I find they like coming west now, more often than not.

I used to like hanging out down here, sometimes I still don't mind. We would park at R.'s house and walk over, the four of us, two interracial couples don't raise eyebrows over here, and we'd get dollar cans of Arizona tea and dollar slices of pizza and loiter in the plaza. We went to hip-hop shows in the basement of a shoe store where me and K were the only white girls in the room where a generation of young kids still swore by Native Tongues like we did our grunge bands.

But young black males freestyling in the public space is evidently more threatening than burned-out beatniks so usually they get moved along, and there's signs on the doors of a lot of these venues denying entry to those wearing hoodies and baseball caps and do-rags and whatnot, though if I was wearing a hoodie I'm sure that'd be completely different.

I find the sanctimony of the usual suspects reprehensible but on the other hand, the iron fist in paisley glove somehow bothers me more, be it this side of town or Bloomberglandia. A few years ago, some punkass kids decided to brawl at the street fair and the city council instituted a 6PM curfew. Which sucks if you're a teenager and you live near an area which has places to go out to eat and see good bands and you don't want to be chaperoned or have a note from your parents or saying you're studying at the library or working minimum wage bagging groceries or making smoothies. 

Like most emergency measures that inhibit the daily lives of people for the good of the well-heeled, this curfew is still in place two years later, and it's amusing to me to watch aging boomer liberals justify something that generally seems to single out teenagers of a certain profile, which disparaging my hometown, which, despite its crackerific history, doesn't have such things. And yeah, I've seen some pretty nasty fights go down there, but still. It seems like overkill. And they're not even having the festival anymore, which, despite my not having an affinity for tie-dye and 60's cover bands, is still a bummer.

But I end up here anyway on Saturday night, because one of my homies invited me to see Dick Dale with some of his coworkers. Like most people, I know him for maybe two songs, but I appreciate good guitar work and have a soft spot for surf music, and he delivered, with a good bit of curmudgeon and snark, and some divergences involving banging out melodies on the bassist's fretboard with some drumsticks and a harmonica solo that seemed to leave a lot of people confused. He said he pretty much plays whatever he wants, which he did, from the instrumentals that everyone knows to the oldies the boomers dig and 'Amazing Grace,' and such.

He's an amazing guitarist, and eschewed the wankery that comes with that whole realm of technical ability, and I think I appreciated it way more watching him do those weird harmonics and everything, with no pedals or sonic gimmicks, just an upside-down Strat and some hefty tube amps that were probably older than me. He looked like he was genuinely having fun, and I guess this might be one of his last tours, because the cancer he's been fighting for forever keeps coming back.

Crowd-watching was fun too, ex-biker couples, bros who probably like 'Pulp Fiction,' punk and rockabilly kids, underage kids who look like they stumbled out of an Urban Outfitters ad, boomers on a night out, the local Hell's Headbangers contingent, probably the most eclectic crowd I've seen since Godspeed You Black Emperor ten years ago. I still find it ironic that the guy who pretty much got everyone tremolo-picking is of a nationality that isn't terribly beloved by the more xenophobic cornerse of the black metal world.

We drove back in D's hoopty-jeep through East Clevelandia, where he told stories of delivering black and milds to corner stores and gas stations and he thinks I'll be freaked out, but I'm not, because I've been through here before, my friends live here too despite my lack of criminal teenagehood and suburban-white-girl visage.

The next day I realize that we drove past where they found all those bodies, and when I hear that they're going through abandoned buildings in the area, I wonder which ones, because there are so many. When I get accosted walking past the apartment building full of sex offenders down the street from me, I wonder which of them is plotting something, considering that neighbors said this guy behaved aggressively towards women in his neighborhood. I wish I didn't have to think like this, and I know that to some degree white privilege means I'm way less likely to go missing than the women I see on the corner at 2am and that's disconcerting to me too.


  1. "just enough for the City..."