This Saturday, August 4, some still very active leading lights of the Hoboken, New Jersey music scene of the ‘80s will be bringing new projects to Rosendale, as East of Venus and the Thousand Pities appear at Market Market. In case you were wondering about the bona fides, East of Venus alone features key members of the Feelies, Luna, the Bongos and Winter Hours (Glenn Mercer, Stan Demeski, Rob Norris and Michael Carlucci, respectively). Some of that scene is local to us now, some imported from the source.
Based on the sound samples available online (East of Venus does not yet have a proper release), the unmistakable aesthetic of Hoboken lives on. The Hoboken sound was contemporaneous and congenial with the sunnier ‘80s music emanating from Athens, Georgia: jangle, cascades of bright arpeggiated electric guitars and tambourines tangling with soaring, Byrds-inspired melody.
But in Hoboken, it was a stern, less-generous jangle: a jangle schooled in Minimalism and New York intellectual primitivism. In the great tradition of Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison, David Byrne and Jerry Harrison, Verlaine and Lloyd, the guitars were dry and plainspoken, the rhythms more Afro than anything REM or the dBs could have approached. The lyrics and their delivery, in retrospect, are of a piece with the prose of Raymond Carver, the pathologically concise layman darling of the literary scene in the early ‘80s: realistic, reportorial and whatever the opposite of florid is.
East of Venus’ wonderful basement recordings suggest that, as these gentlemen have grown, they have forsaken some of the edgy astringency of their signature sound and have embraced a little more of the sunshine and air of Southern jangle and the garage psychedelia that started it all. The Hoboken sound has worn extremely well, and in some respects because of its terse modesty, its unwillingness to pronounce that everybody hurts; a stinging, concise jangle pop tune sounds about as fresh and awakening now as it did in 1982.
And it figures that Hoboken, New Jersey would have had an important music scene: Any place with “hobo” in its name has a running start. Someone should write a book or commission a study about the social conditions that precede and produce important music scenes. Someone certainly has. One factor is affordability (which is code for either boring or dangerous). Slackers and dilettantes must not starve there. Scenes transpire against ramshackle backdrops: the tiny sweet spot on the economic curve where a place that you want to be meets a place that you can afford to be.
Scenes are thus always incipient, always imperiled, never established. An “over-before-it-even-started” apoptosis is a recurrent part of scene mythology: As soon as people start coming for the scene, there is no scene. The deity has fled the church, which is now a boutique haberdashery. Have you been to Hoboken recently? It is very nice.
And while you’d think that there is a totemic advantage to having famous forbears, like Seattle and Hendrix, Hoboken aptly illustrates Criterion #2: The great scenes come from the places from which nothing great ever comes – except, say, rubber. Think of all the revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll – the Pretenders, Père Ubu, Guided by Voices and many more – to come from Ohio’s industrial cities and their hardscrabble scenes. Think of how the quiet people of the corn – Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Bright Eyes – dominated the Indie of the aughts. They may own Brooklyn now, but they did not begin there.
In the mind, a music scene is a teeming, hivelike thing. A certain cultural and geographic density is critical: proximity of venues and resources, transportation, employment, education. Population density is a must also because of the antitheses that it creates. Scenes are for some things and against other things; they all need to be rubbing shoulders and creating the friction that sparks self-definition.
The elephant in this room, of course, is an audience. A scene must have one, a real one – not just an expedient collective of music-makers playing audience for each other. That kind of tactical, illusory scene might work for a while, but will ultimately reveal itself to be an unsustainable insular loop, like Creative Writing MFA programs.
“All bands, no fans,” a bandmate of mine once mused on a slow night. Many have observed that distance and dispersion stand between the mid-Hudson Valley and a coherent scene, and I think that there is some truth to that. Others note that the scene here may be somewhat tyrannized by a too-important past. What we are, or are becoming, in my opinion, is a scene Diaspora – a post-scene scene. We are surrounded by accomplished and recognized talent, still working and still vital, most of whom made their names as scenesters elsewhere: Lower East Side. Boston. Hoboken.
East of Venus and the Thousand Pities will be appearing at Market Market in Rosendale on Saturday, August 4. The Thousand Pities will play at 10 p.m., East of Venus at 11. Admission is $10. Market Market is located at 1 Madeleine Lane in Rosendale. For more information, visit http://marketmarketcafe.com. For more on the bands, go to www.facebook.com/events/215782981877643.