New York Groove

Illustration by Ashley Elander

It’s been two weeks since I moved to New York City, and taking the time to write this feels like the first stretch that I’ve been able to focus on one thing in quite some time.

In short, it’s been a rush, but completely magnificent.

Really, this is a hell of a place. I understand I’m still wide-eyed with the newness and excitement of being in a different place, but I think that’s something that even the most hardened New Yorker doesn’t actually forget. This place feels endless. It’s like a theme park with all these different rides, and even if you have been on them a million times already, they never get old.

Most people from back home approach me here with a bit of tenuousness about my experiences here thus far – and that’s understandable, because I have a less than stellar track record when throwing myself into a new situation. This time, though, I’m not writing to detail my feelings of nervousness or anxiety, mainly, because they have been minimal. Since I got situated here, I’ve really felt one thing.


Besides the initial first-day “WHAT DID I JUST DO?” after I moved in to my apartment, it’s been really fun. In my free time, I’m constantly moving about Manhattan and Brooklyn, learning the subway lines (and all of the transfer points, natch), stopping at bodega after bodega for water (the heat wave here has been totally insane – moving day, it was over 100 degrees out) and any pizza joint that looks remotely decent. I’ve had arepas from an Argentinian restaurant, taken advantage of being geographically close to a Pinkberry, and devoured Tastycakes Kandy Kakes that are available at Duane Reade.

I don’t think I truly understood how much of a cultural melting pot this is. There is really an insane division of people here. Chicago, it’s more or less black and white (literally and figuratively) but here – I don’t think I’ve heard so many different languages in an enclosed space.

There’s something about New York City that separates it from any of the other cities I’ve visited. It feels so huge, so self-contained, like it’s completely independent from America and operates as it’s own country. I don’t know how to explain it other than recommending a visit here. You’ll feel it soon as you hit the ground. It whacked me in the face when I was sitting in one of the pedestrian plazas in Times Square last week. It’s weird to feel so alien and so home in one place.

We’ll see where it goes from here. There’s still a lot of this story that has yet to be written. I’ve found plenty of things to do, may it be shows that pop up, places I want to visit for the first time, or people to see that I’ve met through my various travels over the years. I’m excited for what’s to come and I think that’s the best attitude to have going forward.

Visit Ashley’s site here.

A Case For Hair Metal

My favorite bar in Baltimore is Rocket to Venus. It’s a hipster enclave smack dab in the middle of the working class neighborhood of Hamden. The people who hang out in Rocket are pretty cool. The jukebox reflects the sophisticated taste of the clientele. John Coltrane, David Bowie, The Replacements, the Descendents all share space in the box. I was there with my friend Brad for happy hour, and we were drinking and having a good time. My hipster guard was up at first, namedropping trendy bands like Los Campesinos!, The Hold Steady and the old standby of Bob Dylan. The drinks continued to flow and I was feeling rather comfortable. I was so comfortable that I forgot to be cool. Suddenly I found myself discussing Faster Pussycat.

Just mentioning Faster Pussycat in hipster circles is bad enough, but I was writing a dissertation. Here is a reenactment.

“I’m telling you Brad, Faster Pussycat’s first album is a CLASSIC! It’s sleazy from start to finish, and most of the songs are about strippers! Their second record, Wake Me When It’s Over, has its moments, but the first one rocks like a motherfucker!”

Brad has been a close associate for several years now, so he is used to my ramblings about hair metal. Most of my friends are. It comes with the territory. If you become friends with me, three things will probably happen.

1. I will ramble about hair metal at least once a week.

2. I will send you a YouTube video link at least once a month. This month’s selection is “When the Children Cry” by White Lion, because the solo is awesome.

3. I will drag you to a show, where you will pretend not to be embarrassed as I pull out old Ratt records for Stephen Pearcy to sign.

Hair metal is the red-headed stepchild of rock n’ roll. Critics hate it, most people grow out of it and today’s generation sees it as a joke. I understand why people make fun of it, because it seems silly and frivolous, especially when compared to Nirvana or Pearl Jam. As a young adult, I understand the need for people to relate to a band. It’s such an exhilarating feeling to listen to a record and say to yourself, “Wow, that guy knows exactly how I feel.” However, if you are looking at hair metal the same way you look at R.E.M., you are missing the point entirely.

I discovered hair metal a decade ago. I was fourteen. I had a crooked spine, bad hair, braces, completely and utterly uncool. I’d never been kissed, never been on a date, never been invited to a real party. I was stuck in the suburbs, a world of carefully manicured lawns and Dave Matthews records. I was pretty unhappy.
Then I bought a record by a band called Poison. My parents had gotten me a generic 80s metal compilation for Easter, and one track stood out. The song was called “Talk Dirty to Me,” and it blew my mind. The song was about the most glorious, dirty, seductive, sinful, carnal sex I could imagine….and they were doing it for fun. It was so catchy that I bought Look What the Cat Dragged In about a week later and I never looked back.

The album is a fantasy from beginning to end. There is no substance to be found. Bret Michaels and the boys party without consequence for about 45 minutes. Whenever I pressed play, the party started. Whenever the party started, I was always invited. I was a huge nerd, but Bret didn’t care. The Crüe didn’t care either, nor did Ratt. Whenever I listened to the records with a friend, they were invited too. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you came from, you were always invited to their party.

During the height of my hair metal fandom, I did not want to be told that my life sucked. I already knew that my life sucked, so why did I need Morrissey to remind me? The music took me outside of suburban normalcy and into the sleazy glamour of the Sunset Strip. I wasn’t John Nagle when I listened to these records, I was Johnny Toxic. Johnny Toxic dated five Playboy Playmates at once, because he could. David Lee Roth considered Johnny Toxic a close personal friend. Johnny Toxic had the tightest pair of leather pants money could buy, with hair that defied gravity. Johnny Toxic didn’t take any shit from bullies, and if he did…his buddies Nikki Sixx and Sebastian Bach were there to back him up. After they kicked the bullies’ ass, they drove around in a hot tub mobile with several scantily clad women, because they were rock stars.

That’s what hair metal gave me. At a time when I felt awkward and unsure of myself, these bands gave me confidence. I’ve never forgotten that.
My tastes have expanded quite a bit in ten years. Poison is no longer my favorite band. Hair metal is no longer my favorite genre. However, I will always defend it, because it played such an important role in my life. Besides, the first Faster Pussycat record still kicks ass, I don’t care what Rolling Stone says.

John Nagle is a music journalist based in Baltimore, Maryland. He has written for Baltimore Metromix, B-More Live and You can also check out his blog, Rant N’ Rave With John. Mr. Nagle lives in Timonium, where he occasionally pretends to be Stephen Pearcy in the “Wanted Man” video.

Me Versus Me at Fourteen

First things first.

Me, January 2000

Look at that bowl cut! That ‘snowboarding’ jacket was also pretty sweet – despite the fact I never actually snowboarded. I was wearing my trusty grey fleece and Arizona (JCPenny brand) jeans there too. Looking stellar. Don’t those braces just break your heart?

That picture also reminded me of something else: it was taken nine years ago. That’s amazing to me. This year means it’s almost the end of the decade. The year 2000 also also reminds me that I was fourteen that year. What a terrible age. What a terrible haircut. What better way to commemorate it with some of my favorite tracks of the year 2000?

Away we goooo!!!

1. Metallica – Of Wolf And Man – Man oh man, did I love the Black Album. It took me years to realize that it indeed was not Metallica’s masterpiece, in fact, it’s a painfully overproduced record maximized for radio airplay. Regardless in the summer of ’00, this song spoke to me. Need convincing? Look at these lyrics.

I feel a change
Back to a better day
(shape shift)
Hair stands on the back of my neck
(shape shift)
In wildness is the preservation of the world

So seek the wolf in thyself

I was totally was seeking the wolf in thyself. That was a wild summer. Backyard wrestling and all. Powerful shit.

2. The Offspring – Dammit, I Changed Again – If you asked fourteen-year old me where true punk rock came from, I’d probably tell you it was Orange County. These guys played so fast, and with so much EARNESTNESS! So raw. Dexter Holland is hilarious. I want cornrows. I mean, I felt like I was a part of their songs. OMGZZZ.

3. Styx – Renegade

Me, 2009: Hey, fourteen year old me, who is the best guitar player in the world?
Me, 2000: DEFINITELY Tommy Shaw. Haven’t you heard “Renegade”? The intro is THE BOMB! Also, “Too Much Time On My Hands” is like, one of the greatest songs ever.
Me, 2009: You poor, pathetic little boy.

4. Ozzy Osbourne with Primus – N.I.B. – I can tell you with complete sincerity that I actually believed that this version was better than the Sabbath original. No. No. No. No! Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

5. Limp Bizkit ft. DMX, Redman and Method Man – Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle) – A tried and true “classic” off of Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water, which I bought on the day of it’s release – October 17, 2000. Mike Roeser and I were so excited. I remember freaking out waiting outside of Best Buy for his mom to come and pick us up. All I wanted to do was get home and listen to it.

Best line? Meth’s “When these nuts hang, focus, it’s WU-TANG!” Also, this is a bonus track. I once made a music video using it. No, you may never, ever see it.

So Much for Southern Gentlemen

My freshman year of university, my crazy, Californian roommate Katie told me that she is at LSU for her education and her education alone. As soon as she has degree-in-hand, she’s out of here.

We’re nearing the end of junior year. Katie keeps in terrific touch with her hometown friends and has managed to remain romantically unattached with co-eds.

I, on the other hand, am a dedicated sister of Sigma Alpha Iota, loaned my soul to the school paper for one-point-five semesters, jumped from LSU school to school and have had the damnedest time holding onto a solid group of friends.

I learned quickly who to keep in touch with from Chicagoland, and I appreciate every single one of them. We talk when we can but never stop caring. We spend breaks at home together and tell each other every detail of every facet of our lives.

I have had three LSU significant others and one summer romance.

Everything has been trying. And taxing. And tiresome.

With the boyfriends, that is.

A connection in which two people believe their lives are incomplete without each other has been my desire since Kindergarten – at the latest. I’ve been properly seeking it since senior year of high school.

Or … attempting to properly seek it.

This one was supposed to be it. I felt something new; I could actually see myself with him, following our careers, supporting each other’s ventures, traveling, settling in a city, going out when our busy schedules allow. We made sense.

But now things don’t.

Depression, stress, unemployment and boredom have changed the man I believed I could be with.

And I don’t know if he’ll come back.

I don’t know if we’ll come back.

This is why Katie sat college dating out. Work, class and extracurriculars matter right now. We’re here for a degree, possible opportunities.

I just prefer some opportunities to others.

Baton Rouge: A Drinking Town with a … Drinking Problem

T-shirts that end that phrase as “with a Football Problem” cover the upper halves of many a Louisiana State University student and/or fan. And it’s funny – a play on the community’s great love for the Fighting Tigers and the tailgates that precede their matches.

But when does it become obnoxious?

A few of my lady friends and I ventured to Pensacola, Fla., for Spring Break 2007. We stayed for Monday and Tuesday nights, and were baffled that the bars – nay, the streets – were empty.

Baton Rouge is lucky if its god-fearing residents take Sunday off from drinking. Even then, they’ll probably just wait until sundown, especially since the outdated Blue Laws (no liquor sales on Sundays) were recently repealed.

The party really gets started Thursday night, with ’80s Night at a popular bar and some lucky no-Friday-class students ready to start the weekend.

There is always a party in one of the corporate apartment complexes, and if you go late enough no one will probably notice they have no clue who you are.

I’m sure Sorority Row and the Frat Houses are rockin’ on a regular basis, and the various sections of Tiger Band are probably throwing some sort of shindig even though football season ended three months ago.

Every holiday should be celebrated with booze.

Every victory deserves a toast; every loss must be drowned out.

Maybe this is just college life. I’ve only attended one university, but remember that mine is a consistently top-rated party school. People come here to have fun and get fucked up for four or so years.

But how fucked up is too fucked up?

Offhand comments about shaking off a long, stressful week with many a beer may be incorrectly interpreted. Or maybe I’m just paranoid about my Lil’ Sis thinking I am a bad influence of sorts.

I don’t care for relying on anything other than myself – I’ve been let down way too many times, hurt much too much and had more headaches than I should physically be able to get through.

When the thought of curling up with a bottle of wine after a long week of homework, fraternity business, boyfriend troubles and the usual hubbub sounds like the top solution for multiple weeks in a row, something’s got to give.

Is it le joie de vivre de Louisiane? Is it an inability to deal with stress in a healthy manner, the amount of stress or the content of each individual weight on people’s shoulders?

Give or no give, a release is needed.

Outside of hopping the next plane back to Midwest civilization, a bottle of wine is the next best thing to me.

Or a gallon of ice cream … they’re about the same calorie-wise.