Tonight, we shutter the doors at Moe’s. We’ll try to drink everything that isn’t nailed down and there will probably be a crowbar on-hand just in case the need to drink more arises. I’m sure tears will be shed and the Clean Air Act will float away on an April breeze when the first cigarette is lit up indoors some time around midnight. Photographs will be snapped and queries about the future of that famous velvet painting will number in the triple digits (personally, I think it should be burned ceremoniously in the street - if WE can’t have it, no one should).
I’ve met a treasure trove of wonderful people in that bar - people who saw past race, age and sexual orientation for the love of a fine drink and even finer company - people with whom I now take vacations and celebrate holidays because they have truly become my Family. People whom I love for their beauty and accept for their flaws, because that’s what Family does.
Someone once told me that they didn’t like Moe’s because it was too “cliquey” and I suppose it could appear that way, but it’s just because we’re protective of our kith and kin. A man who I now consider to be one of my closest friends spent over a month of happy hours staring at me sideways. When we were finally introduced to one another by Butch the bartender, we spent the next three hours discussing everything from theoretical physics to fine art. Years later, I proudly stood beside him at his wedding. In fact, not only did Butch introduce several couples who later got married - he even performed a wedding for two of his loyal customers.
You could leave a spare set of your house keys there or have UPS deliver to their address. Moe’s was the perfect place for a pair of pints (two-for-one from 3-8pm) while you waited for your dryer cycle to finish up at the laundromat across the street. It was the foyer where I would welcome out-of-town guests and it was the first place they wanted to go on their next visit. Whenever my friend Vito would give me a ride after band practice he’d always ask, “Are you going Home or to your apartment?” It was only half a joke.
Of course, as with any family gathering, there’s always a couple of assholes who you’re just related to by marriage instead of by blood. There’s the guy I call “B-Cat” who always wears sunglasses at night and screams into his cell phone “I’M A PRODUCER, YO, AND I WANT THAT MONEY YOU OWE ME!” (It wasn’t hard to tell that the phone’s batteries were dead). I remember nearly taking a left hook to the face because a coked-up thug didn’t like the fact that I was talking to a couple of black women. And the list of people who aren’t very good at picking up the social clues that I don’t want to be spoken to after a hard day is a few pages long - but I know that they mean well. After all, you can’t choose your Family, now can you? Even Drunk Old Mel - the closest thing we had to a Bukowski protagonist - could be pretty amusing when he wasn’t wetting his pants or falling off of his barstool. I’ve carried that old drunkard home on more than one occasion. That’s what Family does.
"What are you going to do when Moe’s closes?"
I’ve been asked that question time and time again and I don’t have too many concrete answers. “Drink less and save money” seems like an attractive if mildly unrealistic proposition. “Find a new place for us to meet” seems even less likely, if just for reasons of strategy and geography. I guess I’ll find out the answer tomorrow, provided that my hangover won’t have stripped away all of my mental faculties. After all, there’s no way I could have told you that I’d be inheriting a Family when I walked into that bar eight years ago, so the future is still unwritten.
So, tonight I raise my glass to my Family and to the unbreakable ties that Family creates… whether you like being related to me or not.
"My Lord" by Ballpoint Pens for an upcoming tribute album.
Ross was a member of The Gaskets - a band that was managed by Igor of Driven By Boredom. While they were based out of the NoVA/DC area, I somehow stumbled across a Gaskets show one night at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC. In fact, I think that was the first time I had ever met Igor in “meatspace,” even though we had been communicating online before there were even thoughts about a “Web 2.0.”
I remember that show if only because it made me feel a little old. Here were two tarted-up hipsters (long before that was even a common term) bouncing around on stage while a synthesizer pumped out pre-programmed beats. I remember thinking, “Well… I don’t get it and don’t much like it. But all these morons paid to get in and they’re having a great time, so The Gaskets must be doing something right.”
I didn’t pay much attention to The Gaskets after that night and when Ross started recording solo-material under the name Ballpoint Pens, I think it barely registered as a blip on my radar. That said, I’m listening to his “Symphony” album right now as I type this… and it’s good. Real good - if, ironically, cut too short. It makes me wish that I had supported Ross and his music while he was still alive.
When I was asked to contribute a track to a tribute album featuring Ross’ songs, I jumped at the chance - tight deadlines be damned! Not because he had some profound impact on me while he was alive; I did it because I know what a profound impact suicide leaves behind. Yes, this album is about Ross, but it’s for everyone who loved him.
Maybe I shouldn’t have made the song so bleak. Maybe it appears that I played the role of Monday Morning Quarterback and read too far into the lyrics.
Hell… maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Maybe this is my own desperation coming out. It’s hard to tell, most times.
There’s two kinds of spirituals out there: celebratory spirituals (“I love you, God”) and desperate spirituals (“I need you, God”). Ross’ song “My Lord” is one of the latter and it just doesn’t feel right to sing it any other way.
Three-fourths of my punk band were in a beat-up old Volvo station wagon that was plastered in Pixies and Sonic Youth stickers. We were on our way to school, which was admittedly “un-punk-rock,” but chain-smoking the mentholated cigarettes my singer had stolen from his mother’s purse helped us retain a little bit of self-declared credibility. The tape deck rarely worked, so we were always at the mercy of the radio, but with a gentle hand on the tuning knob, you could usually pull in the “alternative” station that floated across Long Island Sound.
The morning DJ came on the air and said, “I regret to inform you all, but it has been confirmed…”
In retrospect, I’ve only heard a DJ interrupt a broadcast with those words one other time: September 11th, 2001. Although the words that followed in each instance were wildly different, they struck me to the core with the same impact. Perhaps that sounds shallow. Perhaps it’s simply a testament to what was important to my 15 year-old brain. Regardless, the DJ didn’t say “A plane has struck the World Trade Center” on that morning in April.
"I regret to inform you all," he said solemnly, "But it has been confirmed… Kurt Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle."
Everyone in the car got very quiet for a very long time. There was no anger, crying or even confusion; I think most of us had expected him to kill himself, eventually. After what seemed like an eternity, I broke the silence with the stoic sincerity that could only come a self-righteous teenage punker: “Go easy, man. Go easy.”
I remember trying to explain to my parents that this was the Generation X equivalent of John Lennon’s assassination. They had a hard time understanding how there was any correlation between the lush orchestration of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and the “depressed, screaming junkie” (their words) who was behind a distortion-laden masterpiece (my words) like Nevermind. It was a parallel they couldn’t see at the time and perhaps never will see, but the proof is in the history books: Nirvana changed changed the face of “pop music” forever; whether they wanted to or not.
I lost my anti-hero that day, but I also knew that he had lost himself long beforehand. Even with age, I guess my initial words still hold true…