I Remember the Squeezebox Days -- Printed in Blackbook's 10th anniversary Fall issue, 2006
In a salute to this magazine I am going to recall its birth year, 1996 in the East village – a hotbed of hipness at the time -- When Rent! Was born and all us locals rolled our eyes, when yoga classes became expensive, men wore nail polish and eyeliner, and I still believed I was going to meet my husband in a gay bar. Everything was so freshly trendy then. Who knew that our little scene would spark so many minor style points like skinny jeans, distressed tees and trucker hats. And who knew that in just ten years these styles would become the aesthetic norm. Who knew, too, that our grotty coffee shops would multiply and become fast food franchises, that our yoga classes would multiply like coffee shops, and heterosexual emo musicians would proliferate and also start wearing eyeliner and nailpolish.
Most significant, 1996 was the height of the gay East Village rock n roll fag social scene when we collectively realized that we didn’t like dance music, worshipped Blondie, and could wear worn-in 80’s concert t-shirts and instead of worn-in sports team shirts and baseball caps – the uniform of Chelsea – which we considered confining and unsexy.
We would go to East Village bars on nights with such names as “Studio Filthy Whore,” “Cream,” and “Sperm” stand there and listen to Hole and Portishead, or watch Mistress Formika, emitting a violet-hued rebellious aura, lipsynch to Jefferson Airplane. Sometimes there would be a Hot Ass or Pretty Penis contest, and polaroids would be taken of someone’s anonymous body part and strung up on a clothesline for the crowd to judge. I guess this could be considered a cultural precursor to our current shameless internet sex age, where people constantly cavalierly display their anonymous body parts. Now shamelessly named gay raunch-nights exist every night of the week, in New York and in other cities, too.
People will tell you the watermark of the 90’s gay scene was Squeezebox: a Friday night outlet for multi-sexual rocker style, where bands such as the Lunachicks and Toilet Boys played, John Cameron Mitchell developed Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and punky stars like Courtney Love and Licv Tyler would visit. Skinny young gogo boys and girls dangled above on platforms and bartops while Nick Zedd projected his weird films of burn victims and porn stars and burn victim porn stars. I wish I could gloat about it, like so many people do about other social landmarks: The Mudd Club, Studio 54, Max’s Kansas City, saying that I am somehow superior to you for having experienced that scene. But honestly I don’t remember much about it, except maybe getting drunk and feeling disappointed that my future husband(s) were usually just two month affairs or simply one night stands. But I did have a lot of fun – its just a vague blur like recalling a playground from elementary school. Maybe this is what everyone else from every other florid supercool time feels, but they are just good at nurturing their memories, or they have a lot of photos.
I can proudly say I was the first person at Squeezebox. I walked in there on the first Friday it opened with my roommate Jill and my friend Larry. We arrived dorkily at 10.30. No one was there, the lights were bright, and the music seemed too loud for the empty space in filled. We stayed there for a second and then left. Of course in just a month, it became crowded, dark, and hugely influential.
One day my friends and I heard that Williamsburg was becoming cool and artsy too, and was having its first Arts Festival. We took the wobbly L train one stop into Brooklyn and emerged onto Bedford, which at the time was a series of Polish storefronts and Dominican delis. The street was blocked off for art: a few stalls with paintings and tables with objects I can’t recall. Someone put a kiddie pool in the middle of the intersection of Bedford and North 6th. The pool contained a bedraggled baby doll sputtering red liquid out of a small hose (perhaps a statement about abortion and the woman’s right to choose?) This was the beginning of the Williamsburg art scene.
If I can draw a conclusion to all this, it is that whatever you see or experience now will most probably become a huge trend in about ten years. And I mean everything: that skirt, tiny Peruvian restaurants, your omelette. The old pharmacy you pass every day, with its sad, faded birthday cards and nauseatingly floral medicine smell will be gutted and turned into an exclusive club that only allows Mary Kate and Ashleigh entrance. The non descript block you never thought would be a destination will become packed with howling drunk youths. It will all become fantasically hip and you will be at its white-hot center, you just don’t know it yet. Enjoy it while you can.