Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Noah Eli Gordon, On Reading

"I’m watching a recent episode of That Metal Show online, co-hosted by Eddie Trunk, Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson, who interview mostly forgotten heavy metal stars. That the show focuses on a genre that peeked in popularity two decades ago fills the whole production with an air of dejection. Every conversation here hinges on nostalgia; it’s all past tense. Tonight, one of their guests is Sebastian Bach, Skid Row’s original singer. In a segment called Stump the Trunk, where audience members ask Eddie Trunk obscure metal trivia questions, Bach suddenly skitters across the set to stand next to Jim Florentine, who is taking questions from the audience. The move seems unscripted, and although Florentine appears a little surprised, he offers Bach the mic.

Okay, I have a question for Eddie. Eddie, you used to work at Atlantic Records, right? Megafocre, part of…they were distributed by Atlantic. Okay, so you signed Ace Frehley. Is that correct? Correct. I would like you to name the three songs that I sing on Ace’s record Trouble Walkin’. Eddie answers, but he can’t name all three, so according to the show’s rules, Bach gets to reach into what’s called Eddie Trunk’s Box of Junk and pull out a prize. These are mostly promo materials, new CDs, box sets, musical biographies. Bach reaches in, rejects the first few things he pulls out. Okay, Jim Norton’s Disciple, I’ll take this, he says, tapping the CD cover. Yeah, that’s a good one, Florentine interrupts, His new CD, Despicable.

Disciple. Despicable. I feel an instant kinship and affection for Bach, who appeared not to have noticed his mistake. Ten years ago, on stage at a karaoke bar, surround by other grad students, I belted out as best I could Skid Row’s power ballad '18 and Life.' What I lacked in skill (any sense of melody and the ability to carry a tune) I more than made up for with gusto—throwing a fist in the air and swinging the mic stand as though each gesture were a giant, tactile exclamation point for the lyrics flashing from white to yellow across the monitors. I didn’t have to read the lyrics. I knew all the words by heart. I still do. Although I wouldn’t have admitted as much when the song was first released in 1989, a year I was dead set on developing what I then thought of as taste—the ability to carry a dual-consciousness, projecting one set of values publicly, while cradling an often incommensurate, personal, and private stance on the very same things. In other words, if it’s popular, it’s obviously bad, so don’t let on that you’re among the unenlightened lumpenproletariat, no matter how much joy you get from singing along to Skid Row in your mother’s basement.

Disciple. Despicable. Bach glanced at the cover of the CD in his hand for just a second, just long enough to read the text there, but he got it wrong, and with Florentine’s correction I felt something else, even if Bach didn’t—shame. Bach’s mistake is the same one I’ve made again and again. In the classroom. At meetings. Among friends. The mistake that’s lead me to shy away from reading publicly anything I haven’t already gone over in private. At the bar, it didn’t matter what words were scrolling across the monitors. I’d already committed the song to memory. It’s all past tense."

Noah Eli Gordon is the author of several books, including Novel Pictorial Noise (Harper Perennial, 2007), which was selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series and chosen for the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, and The Source (Futurepoem Books, 2011), a book marking the results of a multi-year investigation in constrained bibliomancy and ambient research. He's an Assistant Professor in English at CU-Boulder's MFA program in Creative Writing.}

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