We Built This City on Rock and Roll and Also an Ancient Burial Ground

When I look around, I hardly recognize this place anymore. The vibes are way off, to say the least. A lot of that is obviously because of the curse, but maybe—just maybe—it’s also because we forgot about the music, and what it really meant. We built this city on rock and roll, even if we also built it on an ancient burial ground.

I remember when this town felt like the white-hot center of the world. Endless nights and bottomless drinks. Massive speakers blasting transcendent tunes. A sea of people, all of them screaming—and not because a wendigo got them. Sure, things were grimier back then, but we liked the grime. It felt like home. Walk through the right dank doorway and you might catch a secret show by Elvis Costello, long before he blew up. And even though the mysterious explosion that killed Elvis Costello and most of the Attractions last year was clearly part of our dark reckoning, it might not have happened if this city still had any heart.

You never realize you’re in a golden age until just after it’s over. I should have known when greedy developers started putting the squeeze on so many iconic venues that the city I loved was becoming a thing of the past. Rents rose faster than the astonishing body count, and indie clubs simply couldn’t hold on. After those vultures swooped in, then came the actual vultures, which were suddenly everywhere—a phenomenon that urban ornithologists described as “inexplicable.” If you ask me, though, what’s really inexplicable is how a beacon of rock history could turn into hipster Disneyland overnight. Or how running in a crisscross pattern is supposed to save anyone from being mauled by a chupacabra.

Just as all the old dives started changing, so, too, did the people inside them. These watering holes were once packed with starving artists and glorious eccentrics. Now they’re overrun with posers who never would have set foot in them before—trust-fund kids, finance guys, ghost hunters, and priests. Tourists, all! It seems like everyone now wants to claim that they were here all along, back before it was cool. Some of them will even point to a black-and-white photo of themselves at a creepy gala from a century ago, and smirk as though they just blew your mind. Um, you may be immortal or whatever, but it’s the jams that are timeless.

This used to be somewhere people came to make their dreams come true. Now the only dreams that come true around here are ones where a messenger from the in-between place talks about “expiation in blood.” Maybe the real dream, however, was that the glory days would last forever. It turns out nothing lasts forever, with the possible exception of ancestral curses.

The last straw was when we lost Smitty’s Fandango, the hottest spot in town. At least it didn’t go quietly. I’ll never forget how Smitty himself joined the headlining act onstage at the final show, picked up his guitar, and yelled, “This machine kills poltergeists!” It was what everyone needed to hear. For a moment, we even believed it. Maybe the music would prevail after all. Then, of course, a skinwalker disguised as a bear ate Smitty’s face, and all hope was lost.

I still love these city streets, even if “the ground is sour.” Despite what anyone may say, the spirit of the old days lives on. And not just the malevolent spirit of those who have returned to claim what is rightfully theirs, although that spirit is obviously very much also here.

Had I known then what the future held—that so many unsettled souls would come back from the dead just when real house music was about to do the same—I would’ve had even more wild nights. I’d have gone to even more shows. I’d have mined as much gold as I could from that sweet golden age while I still had the chance. If I’m being honest, I guess the one thing I wouldn’t do again is read aloud from that Necronomicon. That was definitely a mistake.

But mistakes are what rock and roll is all about, baby. ♦

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