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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2001/06/19
by Jesse Jarnow

Goodbye, Cleveland

The other night, for the first time, I made peace with Manhattan. A gigantic
storm seemed poised to roll in, so I turned off all the lights in the living
room and waited. The apartments in the building are staggered, so – sitting
at the little office I’ve set up on the table in the living room – I can
look out two sides of the building; across 6th Avenue on one side and down
13th Street, towards the Hudson River, on the other. A flamboyant lightning
storm moved over the city. Every few moments, a flash lit up the sky – more
and more frequently – with articulated bolts shooting back at each other
while thunder peeled somewhere in the distance.
As the storm started, I cracked one of the windows to let in a little bit of
the breeze. When the wind shifted and water started blowing in through that
window, I shut it and slightly opened one that faced a different direction.
But only slightly. If I opened it anymore, the cat might jump up on the
ledge and slip out, down 15 stories, splayed across the street like an
exclamation point in the dreary sentence of 13th Street (to steal a phrase
from M. Doughty). For a while, with each lightning bolt, there was a whine
of sirens from somewhere below, as if they were whistling in response to the
New York City is high status. It’s related to the idea that it’s impossible
to find an entirely quiet spot. The possibility for being anonymously
watched always exists, even if it’s not actually happening. The storm was
the first thing I saw since I’ve been here that the city seemed to be at all
phased by. For the 20 minutes before the rain began, after the whistling
sirens ended, the car horns were respectfully silent, as if they were
somehow preparing in awe for the storm. Once the rains arrived, the city
suddenly woke up violently. It sounded like all hell was breaking loose down
there — complaints rising up through the thick air.
Part of me wanted to put music on. There were some CDs I needed to review,
but I didn’t particularly feel like listening to any of them. There were
some things that I would’ve liked to hear, but they were packed up – with
the bulk of my music collection – in milk crates, presently sitting the
living room of the house where I grew up on Long Island. Maybe it’s not even
a night for that. What is it a night for? Sedate journal writing, perhaps;
wine, if I liked it more and had some; a flashback to Cleveland.
During every road trip to New York City that I took over the past four years
while living in Ohio – lurching out in a blast, accepting endless
Pennsylvania with the frustration of a student of Zen about to have his head
chopped off in a koan – I’d listen to Dylan, to Just Like Tom Thumb’s
Blues, and sing joyously along, pumping a fist. "I’m goin’ back to New
York City, I do believe I’ve had enouuuuugh." Now, I’m back and Cleveland is
gone. Goodbye Cleveland and good riddance. Over four years, I grew to love
Cleveland for what it was, but once I accepted that – which was really only
this spring – I was just about ready to put it behind me.
I’ll defend Cleveland to the death. It’s a city with character, which is
more than I can say more most of the revitalized so-called "new" American
cities with gentrified waterfronts and shopping districts, towering hotels
and big plans for future renovation. Nah, fuck all that. I mean, Cleveland
has certainly yearned for that, but it’s always failed. Cleveland, despite
any attempts towards anything else, has character. Maybe not moxie, but
character nonetheless.
Bands play a specific kind of show in Cleveland. Cleveland, despite all
claims to the contrary, is not a rock and roll town in the glittering sense
of the phrase. When touring acts come through, it’s generally near the
mathematical middle of their tours. Either that or the end. Bands come to
Cleveland road-weary and tired. To them, I always imagine, Cleveland is the
ultimate faceless city, the ultimate rock clichBands play their weariest,
most average shows in Cleveland: the median. In that, the city is a paradox
so far as rock music goes. Nobody creates spectacle specifically for
Cleveland. For that, the performances contain a certain kind of honesty.
New York can do that, too, but in a different kind of way. I saw the last
Ominous Seapods show in New York the other night. By the end of this summer,
the band will be on hiatus. It’s unfortunate. They’re a good band, but one
that has never quite made it so far as popularity goes. Perhaps 150 people
showed up to see their show at the Lion’s Den, perhaps less. The Lo Faber
Band – featuring former God Street Wine guitarist Lo Faber, along with three
of the ‘pods – opened up. In Cleveland, that would’ve been acceptable. In
New York – a town they’d been playing for nearly ten years, and headlining
for nearly five – 150 people on a Saturday night is positively brutal.
The rain definitely put a blanket of quiet on the city, the apartment silent
save for my typing, the sound of my shirtless back sticking to the chair as
I lean forward, and my foot tapping an unsteady 4/4 rhythm that sped up and
slowed down depending on my interest in the sentence. That’s not to say that
the peace would hold up, or even exist outside that night, but it was a nice
feeling, floating in the darkness, 15 stories up. No plot was expected.
Nobody was going to whirl in off the street and drag me out to an adventure.
Nam June Paik has a piece called, I think, "Moon Was The First Television",
that is composed of pictures of the lunar cycle. The change outside felt
similar. All noises, sped up, make some kind of pattern. Take the car horns
of the city, for example. They peak at a certain time of day — say, around,
5 pm. Naturally, it would seem that they wouldn’t begin or end abruptly,
there would be a logical curve up into the sound, a bell. Record five days
of city noise, condense each day into a minute of sound, and listen to the
rhythm and arc of it all. Car alarms probably tend to go off between 11 pm
and 5 am. Thus, in the downtime, those noises would occasionally pop
through. The city is chaotic, but also rhythmic. The city in rain is a
special song, a rare bust out, where the sounds are different.
I got up and watched people in other apartments for a while, watched them go
about their evening routines. I think perverts give voyeurism a bad name. To
me, it’s just abstract dance. It was so damn surreal to watch people moving
around without sound. At one point, I saw a man go to his window, watch for
what seemed like five minutes, stick his arm out and let the sparks of his
cigarette get blown away by the wind. It was peaceful and lovely.
Jesse Jarnow woke up sucking on a

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