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Intentionality

Sasha Frere-Jones
I remember wanting to be in a band when I was nine.

Sasha Frere-Jones

Sasha Frere-Jones in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, 1974; photograph by Robin Jones

I remember writing The Mouse Who Lived at A&S when I was seven. I remember wanting to be in a band when I was nine. I remember my mom making a Tribble for me and staining the fake fur with coffee to make it look right. I remember seeing the spray-painted marks left by surveyors in the grass and following them like I was one of the Hardy Boys. I remember eating chop suey out of a can on a Thursday night while my parents were practicing with the choir at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. I remember my parents having Beatles albums even though they had no other popular music. I remember my dad bringing home three Moog albums from the Stereo Review discard pile. I remember playing “Johnny B. Goode” in the gymnasium at church in my mother’s most sparkly shirt. I remember our pastor looming above me with his strawberry face and hissing at me about liking music more than the Bible and me saying “Eat a bug” and running downstairs to play pool. I remember going to Gage & Tollner for my birthday and wondering if it was actually like that in the nineteenth century. I remember buying Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” instead of the Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” because I didn’t know which song the DJ was referring to. I remember throwing a garbage bag full of water off a roof on Clermont with James Hoins and watching it hit the only parked car on the whole block and learning it was his dad’s. I remember Barbara asking me out in sixth grade in the gym while I was waiting to take a free throw and saying no because I thought she was making fun of me. I remember making a Heathkit radio with my dad and how the solder smelled when it pooled around the resistor. I remember smoking my first menthol cigarette with James. I remember smoking my last menthol cigarette with James. I remember the offbeat clicking of the fare box on the B38 and the pause between lights as the undercarriage of the bus rose above the potholes of Tillary. I remember my dad cooking his version of Chinese food and crying to opera broadcasts on Saturdays. I remember the people who would put sign-language cards on everyone’s knees in the subway car and then come back through collecting the cards unless somebody bought one but nobody ever did. I remember starting a vocabulary list with John Cullum and adding new words to an onionskin sheet with the typewriter and thinking I should read Pynchon since all of John’s words seemed to come from Gravity’s Rainbow. I remember winning the first Bad Brains ROIR tape from WNYU and it taking weeks and weeks to arrive in the mail. I remember being a messenger in the summer of 1983 and listening to Crash Crew on my Walkman and hoping I would get a delivery on the West Side or Queens so I could take the F and get some AC. I remember buying Bits & Pieces by Big Apple Production and wondering if they were in the Yellow Pages. I remember wanting to write more plays and be in more plays. I remember going to the weed bodega on Myrtle and seeing the single roll of Charmin in the window right next to the single box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. I remember buying Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and Exile on Main Street at the same store on Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street and being confused and delighted by both and not being 100 percent sure I liked weird old-people music as much as I liked disco. I remember going with my family to Philadelphia and buying the first Specials album, the first Pretenders album, and Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle and sitting in a Holiday Inn and wanting very much to get back to Brooklyn. I remember worrying that not being in a band during high school meant I would never be in one. I remember going to visit my dad’s work friends and hearing both Edgar Froese’s Aqua and Eno’s Ambient 1 and being terrified by how good the music felt. I remember listening to The B-52s and Buzzcocks and Wire at Ben’s house and wishing his hot older sister would come home. I remember John playing me Brain Salad Surgery in his room and being jealous of his nice stereo and also wanting to love the album as much as he did. I remember filling out J-cards for my mixtapes with a Rapidograph and struggling to get the uprights of Haircut 100 all smooth and even. I remember buying one of Paul Winley’s Super Disco Brake’s on Fulton Street and being pissed at how bad the pressings were. I remember my dad’s work friends sneaking me into the Ritz to see the Specials and thinking their underwater sleepwalk music was magical and that small clubs were a lot better than hockey rinks. I remember hearing “Somebody Else’s Guy” on the radio all year long and hoping every time it wouldn’t be the version with the terrible rapper. I remember finishing high school and assuming theater would be my future. I remember trying to put on Pinter’s The Birthday Party with Karla Schickele but students weren’t allowed to book the theater and do their own plays. I remember sitting on red stairs in the lobby with Dara and wishing I could turn eighteen during high school instead of after. I remember leaving the Rock Hotel after the senior dance when I was a junior and making out with Krisztina and thinking, “Ah yes adulthood has begun I should make business cards.” I remember typing up all of the Velvet Underground’s lyrics on my dad’s IBM Selectric. I remember going to the emergency room in Providence with a Cornish game hen bone in my throat and telling the nurse I loved her after she gave me intravenous valium. I remember Butthole Surfers played a show at 6:00 PM just to confuse people and being grateful someone at the Living Room tipped us off. I remember someone writing that Kool G Rap and Kane and Rakim were equally important contemporaries and thinking, “No, that’s wrong” and wondering if I should write about it. I remember Deborah coming to my apartment in Brooklyn for the first and only time and saying the traffic on Flatbush was too loud but she liked the potpourri I put in the bathroom. I remember Deborah telling me about the summer she lived with Madonna and how Madonna never refilled the ice trays. I remember listening to Excursions in Ambience in the loft with no heat and seeing my breath while I made the big signs that said WILL YOU and MARRY ME and then hung them from the ceiling in the back room. I remember listening to the Grifters and drinking champagne in our nightgowns the day after we got married. I remember writing my very first pieces for a zine and not thinking it was weird that my editor called me at noon and yelled at me even though it was the best time to talk and then finding out she’d been on heroin the whole time. I remember going to an older rock critic’s house and him calling me a “pamphleteer” because he thought I was writing about my friends even though I did not know Roni Size and Aceyalone personally. I remember Deborah imitating Mary’s Australian accent and saying, “There are lovely noodles on the balcony.” I remember sitting in the Civic and listening to the tape called ’99 and hearing Damien Jurado’s “Honey Baby” with Sam in the car seat and feeling as full as a person can feel with some kind of water running through me as we sat and rattled. I remember asking our tour manager why the cars in Rome all had dents in the back and him saying “When we stop, we kiss the car.” I remember being a judge at the DMC Finals and feeling deeply unqualified to be judging a turntable competition of any kind. I remember being tired and scared at the Paradiso and then turning on the amp and smelling the tubes kick in. I remember playing a gig at the Roundhouse in London, a club full of people who loved us, and striking our gear and coming back to an empty room because of some cabaret law. I remember the military police in St. Petersburg asking me over and over “Drugs? Guns? Drugs? Guns?” and then giving me my passport back and speaking English out of nowhere. I remember going to see Bob Dylan in Washington, D.C., with John Bennet and watching him pull a Bible-sized brick of cash out of the trunk because he maybe might I don’t know buy a guitar. I remember Deborah’s father, Doug, getting sick and finally teaching me how to put drywall up because there wouldn’t be another chance to pretend he couldn’t. I remember the woman who lived in China writing “I fell in love” on her blog instead of telling me directly and then showing up at my apartment. I remember when the rock star assumed I was a woman and wrote to me and mocked my name. I remember doing a reading in Chicago and thinking it might be time to get sober because I’d volunteered to read Burroughs without remembering I don’t like Burroughs. I remember falling asleep on the couch during the first half of roughly twenty movies with a sandwich from a place that rarely made sandwiches. I remember my new boss asking me if I knew the band who played the Bataclan and could I talk to them “as friends.” I remember the nice doctor at NYU Langone asking if I wanted to go to the psych ward and me saying yes even though I meant to say no. I remember seeing Deborah on the lawn in Connecticut sitting on the same spot where we got married twenty-six years earlier wearing her second wedding dress and looking infinitely more beautiful than she did the first time. I remember looping through the Financial District on my bike during the pandemic and missing my dad and Deborah and wondering if delivery guys cry whenever they want because they’re always alone.

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This essay is excerpted from Earlier, published by Semiotext(e) on October 10.

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