Punk Dives and High Fives

I’ve been thinking  a lot about the notion of community, community in the poetry world and the community I grew up in as a teenager, the punk rock scene at the turn of the 20th Century in Pennsylvania. There used to be a number of venues across the state where under 21ers could hang out on a Friday and Saturday night and listen to their best friends’ bands bang away on the snare drum and hammer power chords for a sweaty, sloppy 40-minute set. I had a number of venues that I went to as a teen, Café del Soul in Scranton, Homebase and Café Metropolis in Wilkes-Barre, and after I migrated to Philadelphia, I caught shows a the TLA, the First Unitarian Church, and a number of other venues across the city. I can’t count how many bands I’ve seen over the years, and I can’t say one power chord-charged set stood out to me the most, but what I do remember the most are sidewalk conversations before or after shows. I remember the first time my friend mentioned Emma Goldman outside of Café Del Soul when we were in high school. I know that conversation sent me to the library, where I researched Goldman’s activism and learned that there is indeed a different, better way to live. I remember discussing the first time I heard the Clash, and I remember mourning the untimely deaths of  Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer with friends.

NEPA Scene noted that this week marks the five-year anniversary of Café Metro’s closure in Wilkes-Barre, which was really the last venue standing in the area, and also the longest running, at 14 years. They posted a link to a short documentary about the venue, which you can watch here, and I encourage you to do so.

Following the recession, so many venues nationwide have closed and funding for the arts has dried up. Programs have been slashed from school budgets. I worry about this because where do all of the young writers, musicians, and artists go? Where do they find community? Sure, they are interconnected, thanks to social media, but interaction behind a screen does not compare to curbside conversations and meeting people face to face.

I feel fortunate that as a poet, I get to read in different spaces. I’ve visited a lot of communities where things are happening, where people have taken it upon themselves to really invest in their local art scene. I have seen friends all across the tri-state area and beyond expend energy building something. Due to their inspiration, I started a reading series four years ago that is still going.

But what about all-ages venues for younger folks? What about their scene and community? There are no venues left here, and that is the story of a lot of towns across the country. My hope is that they will start something new and they will grow up to take energy and pour it into something positive.

What Does It Mean to Grow Up With a Band?

The AV Club, a music/culture publication owned by The Onion, has a wonderful new segment called “What’s Does It Mean to Grow Up With a Band?” and the first entry, written by Jason Heller, focuses on the 1990s  indie/punk trio Jawbreaker. The article is worth a read for any music lovers, not just fans of that band or scene. Heller captures the experience of discovering a band for the first time and being so young that you’re sure you’ll be into one type of music forever. His article made me feel 18 again, when I first discovered Jawbreaker’s albums Bivouac and 24-Hour Revenge Therapy, which I still consider one of the best pop-punk albums ever recorded. Like Heller, I was astounded by the band because prior to hearing them, I mostly listened to punk standards The Clash, The Ramones, Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys. But Jawbreaker did something a lot different with that style of music, creating a sound that was even more grizzled and gruff, complimented by the layered lyrics of Blake Schwarzenbach, who later quit music  to obtain a Ph.D. in English literature. When I was in college, Jawbreaker and Blake’s following band, the more tempered Jets to Brazil, were staples for me, constantly booming in my headphones as I walked around campus.  As a literature major, I was in awe of Blake’s ability to spin a metaphor and write about meaning found in daily conversations and occurrences. Heller compares some of the band’s lyrics to Raymond Carver’s stories, in the sense that they often end with an epiphany, sparked by an ordinary occurrence. I was also fascinated by Jawbreaker’s story, how soon they imploded after releasing a major label album, how close the band got to stardom, including opening for Nirvana in 1993.

Like Heller, I eventually left the punk/indie scene behind, exploring other genres of music. Still, I never skip over a Jawbreaker tune when it comes up on my I-Pod, and the music still sounds as fresh, exciting, and interesting to me as it did when I was 18. Like a lot of other fans, I have my fingers crossed that the band will play a reunion show one day, especially since a lot of the albums have just been re-released on CD and vinyl. In the meantime, there’s Blake’s new band to enjoy, The Forgetters.

Hey musicians and music fans!

My friend Conor O’Brien, one of the head honchos at the Vintage Theater in downtown Scranton, sent me a message today regarding an art exhibit they’re having during the month of May that will highlight the musical history of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Basically, he needs some help collecting memorabilia from any of the venues that used to exist around here-Proofrocks, Cafe Del Soul, Cafe Metropolis, Homebase. The goal of the exhibit is to focus on the “history and energy that is the area’s music scene.”

To pull this exhibit off, they’re going to need old flyers, pins, photos, shirts, and any other merch from past shows. I have a folder of flyers, photos, pins, and posters of punk rock bands that swung by Home Base, Metro, Del Soul, and some of the old venues. I’m going to lend some of that stuff to this exhibit. But again, if you have anything, please help out with this event. This area always has had a healthy, vibrant music scene, and some bigger bands have swung through here, too. There have also been bands that came out of this music scene, including Title Fight, Tigers Jaw, the Holy Mess, and my friends in the Menzingers, that have gone on to gain national attention in the punk rock/indie rock scenes. It would be nice to showcase that.

To find out more about the exhibit and how to help, click here.