Page 112 of the April 1993 issue of Spin magazine, embedded above for your reading pleasure (and because this entire post depends on you being able to read it), is not, I hope, too difficult to navigate. If you get lost, go to Google Books and search Spin Magazine, Jim Greer, New Market, in [...]
Page 112 of the April 1993 issue of Spin magazine, embedded above for your reading pleasure (and because this entire post depends on you being able to read it), is not, I hope, too difficult to navigate. If you get lost, go to Google Books and search Spin Magazine, Jim Greer, New Market, in that order. Capitalization is unimportant. Otherwise you should be able to zoom in, up, and around the article at will. Which you should do, because this was like the Rosetta Stone of magazine-based April Fool’s jokes. Which is to say, this happened, man. (I am employing hyperbole in the service of irony, if you’re taking notes.)
Editor Craig Marks had an idea for the April 1993 issue. Because of the way magazines work, or used to work, he had this idea in January 1993. I was driving across the United States of America at the time. (Have you heard of this place? It’s wild. It’s untamed. It’s really boring almost always, except when it’s not.) At one of my stops, Craig called me and asked if I wanted to write a fake scene report about a random town in Anywhere, U.S.A. We were in the middle of the post-Nirvana goldrush, and anything or anyone equipped with musical instruments who could be categorized as “indie” or “alternative” was being signed by the major labels (there was more than one back then) at an alarming rate. This explains, but does not excuse, the Lemonheads—whose singer, Evan Dando, was featured on the cover of this same April issue tongue-kissing the actress/director Adrienne Shelley (many years later tragically murdered, which is in no way anything other than horrible, horrible, horrible)—in one of the most repulsive covers in Spin‘s long (some would argue too long) history.This was neither Evan’s nor Adrienne’s fault: whoever thought up the idea; whoever took the picture; whoever approved the picture for use as the cover of a rock ‘n’ roll magazine is/are to blame. These people know who they are. Probably.
As it happens, I had been passing the long hours driving from New York to San Francisco in part by making up band names. I don’t know why. It was just something to do. I was traveling solo, and listening to a lot of American Music Club, one of my all-time favorite bands, who had also recently signed with a major label, entirely justifiably if not entirely happy-ever-afterly. When Craig suggested the fake scene report thing, I started coming up with different anagrams of “April Fools” or April Fools Day” and so on, because I think I’m in love with anagrams. Only one of those (I think) remains in the article—the name of the record label “Flap Or Soil,” which I thought was a dead giveaway, but no. The rest were either inside jokes or just names I thought were a) funny or b) plausible.
Mid-January, dead of winter, is a stupid time to drive cross-country. I was in Wyoming traveling along I-80 when a blizzard hit, closing the interstate. I was lucky enough to snag one of the few remaining rooms at some dreadful sub-Motel 6 otherwise populated by truckers and people who should have been truckers, and possibly cannibals, at the last exit before the highway closure. Stuck for two days, I wrote the fake scene report and somehow figured out how to fax it to Spin HQ using nothing but chewing gum and two paper clips.
I had set the piece in Omaha, because I had recently passed through Omaha, but Craig, who apparently used to spend his downtime scouring atlases (this is before Google Maps, if you can even remember back that far), discovered a town called New Market, Virginia, and thought that a better fit, both as a tell and for irony’s sake. It was an inspired choice.
What neither Craig nor I expected was that anyone would take the story seriously. Nonetheless: I have it from reliable (second-hand) sources, people who live or have lived in the New Market/Harrisonburg area, that at least one A&R guy from at least one major record label flew all the way there looking for the imaginary bands I discussed in the article. The town’s Chamber of Commerce was apparently flooded with calls fielded by confused officials who tried to explain that there was in New Market no diner called “Happy Chef,” or club called “Stinky’s.” Amazing.
I’d like to think that this article in some small way contributed to the downfall of the parasitic major label system, but that would be giving myself way too much credit. I will say that if only one A&R guy wasted his company’s time and money on a fruitless search for a scene that did not exist… Wait. That pretty much describes every major label A&R guy in the history of rock. Never mind.
Sloe-eyed through the sun-loved streets, winding her hair around one winding finger, walks and walks on sandaled feet a small thin girl. Pastel houses pass in succession, peopled by darkly gazing men with small thin mustaches and almond-shaped eyes. She feels their eyes on her but does not respond. Heat rises in slow layers [...]
Sloe-eyed through the sun-loved streets, winding her hair around one winding finger, walks and walks on sandaled feet a small thin girl. Pastel houses pass in succession, peopled by darkly gazing men with small thin mustaches and almond-shaped eyes. She feels their eyes on her but does not respond. Heat rises in slow layers from the cream-colored street, admires itself in a series of wavering windows, stretches towards the glassy sky.
Her head, its slender brown chin thrust forward in defiance of the heat, does not waver. She moves without obvious effort, the motion of her limbs supple and fluid, each movement discrete, contained, yet inseparably connected to every muscle and thought she wills to stir.
The small thin girl passes by without looking a cafe with three sidewalk tables. Two are empty; at the third, in the inadequate shade of an awkwardly poised umbrella anchored to the ground by a battered tin base, sit two men drinking coffee.
The first is a young man with a deep tan wearing a shortsleeved white shirt and tan pants. He has crossed his legs so that the ankle of one rests on the knee of the other. The second is older, with sparse graying hair and sunburned jowls. He wears a green wool jacket despite the heat, and dabs at his face constantly with a wrinkled handkerchief.
“I’m not sure she has it in her to be faithful,” says the slender dark man, poking idly at his coffee with a small silver spoon. He taps the spoon on the rim of the cup before returning it to the saucer.
“Better, perhaps, to say she has it in her not to be faithful,” replies his companion. “As we all do. Fidelity is not a naturally-occurring condition in man or woman. It requires, I think, an exercise of the will.”
“You think. A pretty thought. So I should wonder instead if her will is strong?”
“She is a woman. Her will is strong. Better, perhaps, to ask the question of yourself.”
The younger man falls silent and his silence is like a parody of thought. At one point he closes his eyes. His lashes are long and curl upwards, and when his eyes are closed look like a collection of tiny question marks.
The small thin girl reaches the end of the street, which deadends on a narrow stretch of beach. A stone balustrade lines the entrance to the gentle slope down to the water’s edge. She leans over the balustrade, into the wind, her eyes closed; she wills the waves to the shore and they come, endlessly. She wills the sun to set and, with great reluctance, the sun describes a slow downward arc in the sky.
My feet are ankle-deep in surf. I watch the girl as she turns and walks back through the town, her sandals flapping on the soles of her feet, on the cream-colored street; she stops in front of the cafe and sits at the table where the two men have just left. Their coffee cups and a few torn and empty packets of sugar are cleared by a waiter with almond-shaped eyes and a thin mustache.
I trace a mark in the wet sand with my toe. A line drawn in the sand is like a dream of impermanence, no less evocative for its overuse. I draw a line, I say “Thus far and no farther,” the ocean takes a foamy finger and playfully erases my hasty sketch.
“The purpose of longing is to teach humility,” says the older man, his jacket now slung over his shoulder as he steps carefully down to the beach, his shoes hanging from two fingers of one hand.
The younger man is three paces in front, and looks back. “But what’s the purpose of humility?” he asks.
The older man chooses not to answer: his eyes have a faraway look, he stops walking and stares out at the sea. His gaze remains fixed for some minutes on the horizon. “Time doesn’t fly, it sinks or swims,” he eventually murmurs, smiling. “No wonder I’m so tired.”
The waters recede, and I draw another line.
- It's a long climb up the rock face at the wrong time to the right place
- James Greer's books on GoodreadsGuided by Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Rollreviews: 24
ratings: 195 (avg rating 3.70)Artificial Light (Little House on the Bowery)reviews: 6
ratings: 71 (avg rating 3.66)The Failurereviews: 9
ratings: 59 (avg rating 3.65)EXPERIENCED: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fictionreviews: 4
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.60)Two Letters Collection, Volume 2ratings: 5 (avg rating 4.60)
Friendly Fire"James Greer, one of the nimblest and most multilayered American fiction writers, has, with his latest novel The Failure, pulled off a sublime and shivery-smooth literary hat-trick-cum-emotional-gotcha. I defy anyone to come up with an equation to explain how this book's first impression as a ridiculously clever, funny crime story can gradually disclose a metanovel built from far more encyclopedic scratch only to reveal upon its conclusion a central, overriding thought so heartfelt literally it trembles your lower lip. This is one stunning piece of work."—Dennis Cooper"James Greer's The Failure is such an unqualified success, both in conception and execution, that I have grave doubts he actually wrote it."—Steven Soderbergh"Greer has done it again: a big-city, techno-jargon-filled thrill-ride with slick medium-brow drop references to our (once-shared) mythological hometown. What could be more poignant?"—Robert Pollard"How do you assess if your life has been a success? For starters, take time and turn it on its head. You'll first need to find its head. Luckily, James Greer's novel The Failure will help--it's a brainy, boisterous, unsettling, and unsettled look at a group of people thrust into the most confounding of existences, complete with petty crime, high science, love, sex, and cars. The narrative winds and darts, gleefully uncooperative. The characters have funny names and sometimes funny existences. Still, you will recognize them. They are us."—Ben Greenman
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