Hipsters: Chapter 1
2003: "I'm gonna shoot myself in the pussy"
I started this manuscript during NNWM 2016 (November, to refresh your memories). And years later I thought it was done, but of course it doesn’t feel like it, and in the meantime, other people have started publishing their period pieces about the 2000s. Recently I started to feel a way because a great novelist acquaintance published a book with plot elements that sound a lot like those in my book. I AM IN NO WAY SUGGESTING BITING by the way, I am just saying that parallel thinking happened—and I just don’t feel like my goal of getting this manuscript agented and sold is realistic or even desirable anymore. I just want the thing in the world and I don’t care if it’s to make me money. So I’m releasing a chapter a week of My First Novel.
Chapter 1: 2003
In the year of our lord two thousand and three, Julian Casablanca is singing in Japanese. Because why? Because he can get away with it, because he is a white male, and because Japanese music fanatics are idiots and aren’t offended, but guess what. I am. [Shimada, Alice. "If I Read Another Word About the Strokes I Will Shoot Myself in the Pussy." VICE Feb 13, 2003: Print.]
I swore I wouldn’t write about The Strokes, but a takedown could be a fine exception, right? And well, this is how my public writing career begins, but only an orphan of feminism would write against “the white male” in the so-called post-ironic early two thousands—I refuse to call whatever this is, the aughts. Barf. On the eve of America’s first “pre-emptive war” I was writing the thousandth screed against The Strokes for a free magazine, because I am supposedly thought-provoking but honestly, whatever intellectual sea change I hoped to demarcate with meta-hype was just me being butt-hurt that the Village Voice refused to run the piece instead. The Voice would have run it in print and on their homepage, but VICE (exclusively in print until they got their shit together and started a decent blog ten years late) is nice, as they/I say. I didn’t know if I’d really trust them. Soooo when they “forgot” to pay me for this and then “forgot” to run the three other pieces they made me write, and then rewrite, I decided to run my precious editorials on my own and started a brand new thing: a “music site for females” called XX, because I was not about to waste away the prime of my twenties on a publication that would be lucky to survive another five years.
It took me just three days of chatroom debates with friends who can barely contain their disdain of me, to change the tag line to:
Music Writing From the Future
I didn’t want to paint myself into the women’s corner, but I fantasized about the opportunity to explain the chromosomal significance of the site name if asked later in an interview.
I launched XX in 2004 to a notoriety appropriate for a year glutted with last hurrahs of indie music. I doubt XX would fly as a “women’s music magazine” in ten years; not the least of reasons being everybody’s unanimous confusion upon discovering the band of the almost same name once they launched (and for the record, I loathe falling prey to this discourse, but we did come first). Anyway, XX wouldn’t fly now because no one wanted a gender binary thrown in their face when they were looking for music.
Peter and I launched XX as an e-zine when “e-zine” was still a word people used, and the people uttering it would read print publications for things like album reviews. That is to say, XX , which was run exclusively online before print had really died, was a digital outlier, before anyone was using the word “outlier.”
I didn’t actually think something as inconsequential as “writing” would make XX blow up, rather, our claim to fame would be the website engineered to guarantee unique views and conversions. Peter taught me all these web terms. He was a start-up investor slash restauranteur I’d met in a Swedish language class I took one summer in a hideously misguided attempt to communicate with a metal drummer from Malmö. Misguided, in that he spoke perfect English.
Things didn’t work out with Ludwig but I persisted in the class. Peter was there because he wanted to talk to his grandma, which is really the only reason anyone should learn Swedish.
I struck up a conversation with him after class one day because I liked whatever was on his T-shirt. I want to say it was Mogwai but it could have been Tupac. I really don’t remember anymore.
Talking about music made us so jazzed as long as it wasn’t…jazz. For someone a full ten years older than me, I was impressed Peter was so enthused for loud bands and venues smelling of unwiped ass, without the false nostalgia for Times Square squalor of a bygone New York. The only thing he complained about, that we both complained about, was music journalism. Why couldn’t it be more like the New York Review of Books and less like UsWeekly? Like, why was it always about who and where and not why and how music sounded so brilliant when it did? And why weren’t there more places for musicians to find each other outside of bars in the village? He’d read my one VICE piece and offered to read my screed against Morrissey and before we knew it we were emailing every day and long past the days reading Svenska Utifrån. Filling XX with pithy stories was my idea but “launching a platform” was his. We though it would be like MySpace but 2.0, but let’s face it.
Nothing beats MySpace.
I loved the idea of becoming a digital entrepreneur rather than a whiney blogger, but the success of my rants continued to surprise me with rewards. After an extra-sophistic read on the Japanese Pop Music Industry as model of the future, I’d caught the ear of a producer at NPR, who introduced me as a “music columnist” and thus led me to believe intermittently and throughout my life that maybe I was actually OK at this.
Peter continued to believe it was the website that would bring us success and not necessarily the stories—he always said we would never be bigger or better than SPIN, and he wasn’t convinced my ideas were totally unique. I suppose the success of the magazine depended on the latter fact. If I were alone in all of my opinions about the trajectory of music culture, no one would follow, even if the general direction was a nosedive into the ground. I suppose this is what made him the businessman. To him, it was more important that we sell something like a web address or a new software; we couldn’t really sell album reviews or interview anyone Rolling Stone big. We hired Christine Hernandez to be our webmaster based entirely on the CD-ROM art she sent us when we posted the original job ad on craigslist. It was an interactive musical game, identical to Hungry Hungry Hippo except instead of bubbles the hippos trapped CDs and the hippo that wins starts to dance like the dancing baby gif.
We were a trifecta: editor, businessman, futurist.
Boner Inside You
Negotiating a pair of Xs on the internet was trickier than I’d imagined. Search engines kept suggesting readers look for straight edge hardcore scenes when they entered “XX music.” I only knew that because we’d occasionally see newsletter subscriptions from usernames like earthcrisis82 and bonerinsideyou, though “boner inside you” isn’t strictly speaking, a straight edge reference.
When I told friends about the e-zine, they to a one, would cite the great music journalism I’d compete with and namely cite The Wire and NME. The literal anglocentrism of the argument annoyed me, but alone at night, I too, came up with long lists of superior writers. My success with XX wouldn’t depend on its focus on music, I decided, but its unapologetic attention to the internet.
After a couple years of steadily growing traffic to xmagx dot com, and thanks to the happy accident of an otherwise annoying co-existence with the same-named band of a definite article, I was able to pay Chris a wage to continue developing the website and a rotating intern to proofread and post weekly show listings. I was also able to move the editorial basecamp of XX magazine from stolen hours at the desk of my day job as a PR assistant, to Peter’s restaurant and office. But to be honest, moving into his office was a virtue made of necessity. The publicist I was working for lost her mind and became a yoga instructor in Silverlake, shuttering the firm I’d been working at for the last year, for good.
These changes ushered a pleasant discovery: that I could support myself with a hint of a soupçon of a whiff of an income with no sustainable profit model. The truth was that it only worked because we had no overhead, and sales of the XX T-shirt designed to look like Helvetica pasties had become unpredictably buoyant. I’d accidentally come up with my own version of the Tuxedo tee, after accidentally creating a music site that would presage a sexy British band. There’s my anglocentrism again.
So Peter offered to let me meet writers in the tiny office of his gastro-cafe, Tern, but mostly I’d camp out at the communal table in the main dining room. I’d take advantage of the wait staff and bar between shifts, but made sure to be extra friendly and tip in excess of 100% before closing my phantom tab. A year or so into the launch of the site, we started hosting live readings and interviews, selling ticketed admission so Peter could make money for the actual restaurant instead of charitably housing the magazine, though he’d been only so happy to sponsor us with a venue because he never did any of the editorial work he’d sworn he would when we first came up with the idea for the magazine.
I’d learned as a publicist that there was an amazing cross section of literate New Yorkers willing to sit and listen to people talk, as long as there was cheap slash free alcohol.
It was pretty posh of XX to provide such delicate experiences; for people to eat and drink to intellectual entertainment about music that didn’t necessarily feature the playing of it, but the only time we could afford to host these quirky events and borrow musicians from their busy touring schedule was in the slow in-between hours between lunch and dinner service and without their full stage set-up. Still, it was nice to think people made extremely late brunch a destination activity, and that musicians were content to do it for the promise of a cache of CD sales. I wonder if Peter ever did the market research on these customers. How many of them still love music? How many of them still buy CDs? How many of them still eat tofu scrambles?
Currently, my most viewed article was a speculative editorial drawing a straight line from the Nine Eleven attacks to the launch of the iPod, six weeks later.
What must have been going on in the minds of all the branding experts at Apple when they saw we’d entered an age of war. Could it be they were excited to know they’d accidentally invented the perfect delivery machine for the National Anthem?
People were furious that I’d click-baited with Nine Eleven, which proved to me the point that the iPod had rot us of our ability to see past its milky white marketing, the obnoxious silhouette erasure of what made music so great to listen to.
An argument about Nine Eleven was actually how I’d first become intimate with Peter. I’d had a thing for him from the moment I saw that Mogwai or Tupac shirt. He was beautiful, and eye contact with him made me sick with shame and lust. One day, we were listening to the radio in the restaurant kitchen when it was announced a Yankee pitcher flew a helicopter straight into a building. We all looked around for a minute, thrown into momentary PTSD at the image of anything flying into a NYC building, when one of the cooks said,
“I always wondered what it must have been like to experience nine eleven with the city. I always kind of envied the people who were here.”
I immediately responded,
“No you don’t. Those were the worst days of our lives.”
The cook went back to peeling carrots and I stormed outside for a smoke. Peter followed me and asked me if I was OK. I said no and he laughed. Then he told me I should quit smoking. I glared at him and as I prepared to launch into a tirade he plunged forward and kissed me. I wasn’t surprised, and I wasn’t swept off my feet.
I was relieved. The tension between us was, as they say, tangible. I was elated and it was not lost on me I’d go to hell.
Peter was married with children.
I’d rather believe our courtship was a curse of good timing, than that he would possibly find me attractive. And yet once we started dating I’d just decided it was my right to become obsessed with him.
I might fall prey to the fatality of dating someone so out of my league (and yet technically an adulterer) in New York City, but when I think about the human calculus that drove us into each other, I realize I just didn’t care what happened. It was all very “one step at a time.”
I had a sinking suspicion these were going to be the best years of my creative output and that I needed to take advantage of every edge Peter let me feel. If I was going to make the best work of my life right now, I figured I should also wield the power of coupling upward, with someone who was as disinclined to full-time relationship as I was.