It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been back to New York City three times since leaving in 1999. The first time was the summer of 2000, not even a year later. It felt exactly the same as before; there hadn’t been enough time for it to change. The second time, in the spring of 2006, was a fun long weekend trip back to my past. I visited my old coworkers at VH1, had drinks with most of an email list I used to frequent, and visited a bunch of record stores. However, my third trip back – in the summer of 2007 – was when the change first became palpable. For one thing, I spent more time in Brooklyn than Manhattan for the first time ever. For another thing, the people I’d expected to hang out with were, all of a sudden, not as available. Like me, they’d gotten new jobs, had children and moved out of the city. Fair enough; I’d spent the previous decade or so trying to evolve past the overgrown child that I was in my 20s and 30s. But for some reason, it was unexpected to see other people do the same thing.
I tried to get back to NYC for this week’s shows honoring the 20th anniversary of Chickfactor zine. My time living in Manhattan coincided perfectly with Gail O’Hara’s move to town and the beginning of her widely-read zine. I started doing a new zine right around the same time, and I always considered Chickfactor to be friendly competition. OK, that’s not entirely true; I hated on Chickfactor for the first two issues, maybe up to the third. But Gail, Pam and cohorts were never anything less than friendly and welcoming to me, so at a certain point I had to drop the envy and just be glad it existed. On the rare occasions I sat down to put together a copy of Caught in Flux, I had Chickfactor and Paul Lukas’ Beer Frame in mind. Those were the zines whose writing styles and depth/breadth of coverage challenged me. Those were the people I wanted to be my readers.
One thing I never had in common with Chickfactor was the ability to put on events. I suppose I was well-connected in my CIF days, but it was mostly a far-flung virtual network of friends and readers in Scotland, Australia, Japan, and random pockets of North America. (This is why the Internet made perfect sense to me immediately.) On the other hand, there was Gail putting together marathon bills at places like Under Acme and Mercury Lounge, with nothing but quality acts the whole night through. I think I went to every one of her shows. It was at these and similar nights that I found my musical peer group.
So perhaps you can understand how disconsolate I am. At this very moment – I know because the photos keep popping up on my Twitter and Facebook accounts – half the people I ever met in NYC are gathered at the Bell House waiting for Small Factory to perform. Like me, most of the people at the Bell House have different lives. Even if they’ve stayed in the NYC area, they’re not going out to rock shows on weeknights anymore. I feel as if I’m missing a gathering of friendly faces that I’m not likely to ever see in one place again. Intuitively, I understand why I’m not there – plane tickets are expensive when you’re on a strict family budget (I know, I checked), and the money just wasn’t there right now. But it doesn’t take away the achy feeling in my chest right now, and I suspect YouTube clips are going to make me feel even more distant.