Sunday, January 28, 2007

tower of babeta

In the Shadow of No Tower
An "industry" piece.

In the winter of 1992, I made my first visit to New York. My body had never ventured that far north before, and it had never experienced such a chill. I became deliriously sick upon arrival, wholly unprepared for such weather (no scarf, no gloves, no wool cap). I was forced to wear the mitts of my young cousin, childlike gloves that barely reached past my thumb. Even now, there was no sensation to equal the brutality of that first wall of wind I felt smack against my body at every turn. Such bluster knifed through my wholly inadequate ski jacket. I was miserable out on the streets.

Most of my trip, I was stuck in the hotel room, weakly gazing out at the Empire State Building's luminance that filled the window. Down below, the Coke sign was but a tiny dance of red lights, the thoroughfare of Broadway like some glow worm. Only a few impressions linger: that New York is bizarrely familiar and mistakenly known after years of witnessing it on TV; that's not steam coming out of those manhole covers. I did nothing touristy, save for a few exceptions: Times Square (bought a porno rag), CBGB's (bought a tee), and Tower Records on 4th and B'Way (bought Lysol by the Melvins, Sebadoh's Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock, the Royal Trux album that has a pile of golden bones on the cover).

Upon my arrival in the city nine years on, I had easily jettisoned such landmarks as well as such purchases. Times Square was odious even then and I made the pilgrimmage to Other Music instead, across the street from Tower. What I bought there remains most holy: Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, the Parson Sound 2CD set, the Disco Not Disco comp (Arthur Russell's joyous tracks soundtracked those heady first months). Still, it was a curious sensation to have the other two institutions slip away last year, though kin more to the passing of your grandmother's neighbor than anything of real resonance. And yet, I knew that they weren't anything other than shadows of a time and place already passed even when I was a tourist. No show at CB's, I bought the namebrand. The titles at Tower could've been found at the Tower in Austin. It was just the pilgrimage itself, the buying of relics. I went exclusively for the ghosts, to hear the echoes of something already dead and cold in the earth.