Discover more from Beat Connection
BC040 - Last Thoughts on Night Life
Good night, Eustace.
Well, I tried. It was fun doing so, and lord knows I learned a lot. I don’t think of my time at The New Yorker as having actually been at, or anywhere near, The New Yorker—it was steady work, the only thing of its type I did for regular money for the last five and a half years, but it wasn’t a job, and I doubt many people working there were paying attention to what I did in particular. But I got to do it! I’m thankful for that.
Meaning, of course, that I wrote, more or less, about DJs for the magazine’s Night Life section. Now that Goings on About Town, per the letter the magazine asked its interim editor to pass along to freelancers, has shrunk from six pages to two, written entirely by staff, my services are no longer required, as I found out on the last day of an otherwise glorious trip to Philadelphia. The kicker was that I was planning to utilize what I saw on that trip in my next Night Life write-up, about Eli Escobar, to whom I had danced on the Saturday that my girlfriend and I arrived in Philly.
She had picked me up at Newark Airport and for six hours we were in transit, mainly in New Jersey, her home state. We had met years before at an academic conference, where we’d entered into something like a stare-off, went to lunch, quickly figured out there was no chance to capitalize on our obvious attraction, and moved on, a bit unsteadily. Well, she came to Pop Conference in April, our first meeting in well over a decade, and the attraction hadn’t budged—if anything, it had intensified. Philadelphia was our tryout. We passed.
Escobar was on the decks the first hour we were inside the city’s Warehouse on Watts: He was rough and sharp and populist, the drums were big guns a-blazin’. We’d had quite a first day together; our habits, it turns out, had meshed exactly. It was equally fun to stop at Marshall’s for a badly needed pair of pants (this was New Jersey in late June, so the stock was 99.8 percent shorts) as it was to be finally alone in our Airbnb.
It was equally fun in turn to dance. Once we got our drinks (she had a canned lager and I had canned water) we more or less settled on the far-left side, middle of the floor, closer to back than front. We had more space there, and we utilized it well. Soon we had a fan club. Soon after, we no longer noticed or cared whether we had a fan club. (That phrasing is drawn from hers, after the event.) It was a good crowd, ready to get down, out of themselves. We lasted a couple hours on our feet, went around the corner, got fried chicken, and went home quite satisfied. From all this, I got the final line of my write-up, since his set in Philadelphia was the temperamental opposite of the Essential Mix I used as the blurb’s Exhibit A: time and money I figured were well spent.
Five days later, I got an email.
The details of that day were well reported, and section put into larger context, yesterday by Andrew Federov of The Fine Print, a subscription-based media-watch web publication in New York, a la the old New York Observer. (If you hit a paywall there, try this.) I will point out, for accuracy’s sake, that the reason I thought it was a dream when I was asked is because I was literally half-asleep when I saw the message, and then completely forgot about it until Kelvin—aka K. Leander Williams, one of the most broadly knowledgeable music writers alive, who was briefly overseeing GOAT—hit me back two days later, asking, “Is it something I said?”
Although by the time the invitation arrived I hadn’t lived in New York for two years and wouldn’t visit again until this April, when my girlfriend and I connected again, Goings On About Town gave me the best perch imaginable—I got to highlight something good, something of my choosing, that was happening at the clubs of the world’s biggest city nearly every week. I got to write about DJs for a general audience and I got to use three-dollar words. The sentences had to be complete thoughts and I wasn’t allowed to use unexplained jargon. Metaphors had to survive the copy department’s stare-downs, not to mention those of the editors.
Beat Connection is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Not counting either section editor Shauna Lyon, who directly oversaw my copy a couple of times, or film critic Richard Brody, who did the same for my final two blurbs, I had five editors during my five years there: Williams, Briana Younger, Oussama Zahr, Sheldon Pearce, and Jay Ruttenberg, also quoted by Federov—five great editors. It was not always smooth sailing. When I was neck-deep in writing Can’t Slow Down, my eye was off the ball for a while, and Younger noticed it. I didn’t, until she finally told me, straight out, that my blurbs had all started to read the same way and I needed to vary them, beginning now. She was right; it’s one of the best pieces of editing advice I’ve ever gotten.
Briana was also in charge of the section when COVID hit. It was eerie for me, watching every event I’d pitched suddenly get cancelled, almost by the hour; I can’t imagine what it was like for her. I do know how she, and Lyon, responded—by thinking and moving fast. Within a couple days, the music Goings On would consist of record reviews—a format I hadn’t really tackled in years. It took a while to get my groundings there, and while I haven’t re-read any of my old work, the uneasiness of that period stays with me.
But it was also a way back into writing about more than just electronic music or DJs—suddenly, I could write about rock records or reissues or anything I liked that I was certain others hadn’t pitched, usually correctly. Obviously, this varied. Pearce, for instance, did not allow reviews of physical-media-only releases, nor of straight-up reissues—both things I’d done a lot of with Zahr, his predecessor. I got around this once, with R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi (25th Anniversary Edition), which Sheldon let me do because I concentrated on the second disc, a kind of alternate version of the album, with unreleased or rare versions of several songs.
Illustration by Ricardo Diseño
Mostly, though, I wrote about DJs and electronic music, happily and with relish, from my first piece there, on Robert Hood—whose Mirror Man I also reviewed—to the last, the thematically apt DJ Assault. The latter reads to me like a condensation of everything I got to do in the section: I wrote about something most readers didn’t know about, quoted dirty lyrics, and ended with a three-dollar word (“satori”). In June, I’d even gotten an illustration (see above) for my Danny Tenaglia blurb. I’d written about him before, too—one of the final ever parties at the Brooklyn club Output before it shut down a week later.
Openings and closings—that’s nightlife, that’s New York, and now it’s this. I always thought I was getting away with something by being in the section, and looking back, I was. As I told The Fine Print, the new newsletter format of Goings On seems undercooked, to say the least; the phrase I actually used was “a disservice.” But it was one hell of an opportunity, and like an America against fascism, I’m glad I got to have it for a while.
Two final things. The one time I was in New York while writing for the magazine, I visited but one club: Basement, during a L.I.E.S. showcase. It ended with me taking my companion back home after he’d passed out on the dance floor. When I mentioned to the head of paramedics that I’d written about the place for The New Yorker, she smiled indulgently and asked, in essence, if that was a blog. And lastly, much as I miss writing for the section already, I’m so glad I never have to style it as “d.j.” again.