Where to begin? Well, once upon a time there was a sensitive young man from Greenwich Village named Alex Garvin, and though he was a bit of a prig, before he completely fell off the face of the earth he had at least one undisputably brilliant idea, which was to have a Big Star-esque pop group that played only toy instruments.
Alex wrote earnest, catchy songs about his bohemian life and he took the whole thing quite seriously — he didn’t make a big camp joke about it, but played things (mostly) straight. He looked at the band as an art project and he was genuinely interested in the unique, off-kilter moods that could only be generated using Toys ‘R’ Us gear. I thought that was genius. That group was called Pianosaurus, and I had the great good fortune to spend a year or two banging on a Smurf guitar with Alex and his cohorts, drummer Steve “Reno” Dansiger and keyboard player Bianca “Flystrip” Miller.
Alex and I didn’t really get along, which is almost certainly down to my bad personality in those days, but after he kicked me out of the group (which happened one night on stage at Folk City, where I finished the set drinking at the bar) at least The Nightmares got a drummer out of it, and for awhile I continued to cover Alex’s pretty song “Eleanor Day,” the title of which was a pun on the actual name of a Philadelphia art-school classmate of his. (And while we’re at it, I also used to cover Bianca’s sucker-punch Devastionalist classic, “Red M&M’s,” which I still do sometimes. Man, I love that song.)
Anyhow, this is all sort of besides the point, which is that around the same time I was in love with a completely different girl named Eleanor who wrote and sang these really strange, beautiful, bad-dream kinds of songs. Which is not to imply that Eleanor and I were ever a couple or ever much wanted to be. Nothing really “happened” between us, and we were both involved with other people. Our romance, such as it was, consisted almost solely in drinking and music and the bond that is forged when two people can listen to, say, a Pretenders song with single heart.
But from a certain point of view, that’s everything right there. Locked inside certain songs are entire universes of information, and when you share the key with someone else — and when that’s your principal way of knowing yourself and the world — it’s insanely seductive. Certainly at the time I thought so.
Our attachment was no less deep or intense than other, more obvious kinds of romance, and our “break-up” continues to haunt me. I still miss her sometimes. The best I can figure in retrospect, our crash was inevitable — too much anger, meanness and self-destructive Devastationalism was mixed into the glittery glue that held us together, and when we both wanted to get better we could only figure out how to do that apart.
Afterwards, too much reflexive fear accumulated over the years around the (unfounded) belief that renewing our friendship — that secret language, the understanding we shared — would mean diving into all that again.
But for a good, long run there, we lived the days of wine and roses together. (Indeed, with me and Eleanor the question was never, “Should we take a cab there?” but, “How many six-packs will we need for the cab ride over?”)
Muse, I think, might be a good word for what she was to me. This is one of many songs I wrote with Eleanor in mind. The Nightmares, from the B-side of “Baseball Altamont.”
Hold On and Pray
Sitting in a restaurant
On West 4th the other night
All the pitchers of sangria
No they couldn’t put it right
‘Cause you’re a crazy mixed-up darling
Though I’m with you all the way
Now let’s hold on
Hold on and pray
Took a cab to Georgie’s
It was an uneventful ride
I just wanted a nightcap then
To warm me up inside
Back in my apartment
I lit a smoke and drew the blind
Cracked a final tall boy
And I threw on Chrissie Hynde