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I Hate the Nightlife

Lavay Smith

The trendy art of hanging around the house

By Richard von Busack


I don't want to go out
I want to stay in, get things done
--David Bowie, "Modern Love," 1983

About eight years ago, a woman named Faith Popcorn--not a name that I made up--was proposing that the phenomenon of "cocooning" would be the next lifestyle choice for America. Thus, if you didn't leave your house because you were afraid that you'd be lassoed into the next trend, you could stay at home and be enlisted into a demographic group without even having to change out of your pajamas.

The best aspect of the word cocooning is the way it pegs sloth as an organic process. As we learned from the Kafka story, a pupa doesn't plan for metamorphosis; he just wakes up one morning and finds himself changed into a bedridden bug. Or, to discard the entomological jargon, you find yourself swaddled in a couple of children, a wife or a boyfriend or something. It's a cozy way of life, even if you're nagged by worry about what exactly it is that's gestating in that cocoon. It probably isn't a social butterfly.

My wife feels a little wistful about it all. When she was a teen, her father's favorite way of getting her blood to boil was to ask her, "So, are you going to spend a nice quiet evening at home?" It was the tedium of those quiet evenings at home that most made her want to go hang out in Monocacy Park with all of her other psychedelic juvenile-delinquent buddies.

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What would you do on a night at home?

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Older now, she, like a lot of other people, seems to have lost the impetus to go outside and face the world. If you have a mate, why stay out to all hours searching for one? And the privilege of getting older is having an apartment you'd rather bask in than get the hell out of. Anyway, I may not get out much, but I know what's going on--there's tachycardia-inducing electronica music in the clubs. We know electronica is special because it's from England!

There are transgender discos where they sure don't want to see my hetero-vanilla face ... and of course I watch the TV news' carefully selected array of all the murders in a 250-mile radius, to convince myself that I'll get capped if I set foot outside the metal maximum-security gate. So I stay home and read the weeklies to find out that The Moaning Groaners or the Dog Whistles are playing at Sleezbo's tonight, and I learn that these bands sound a lot like the Byrds or R.E.M. Which brings up the question: Why not just stay home and listen to the real Byrds or the real R.E.M.?

Outside that self-same slamming metal door, I'll never find a lounge with more unpopular music, a bookstore with more unbestselling authors or a repertory theater with more movies that didn't make a dime. Here I can stage my own multimedia performance by thumbing through an issue of Eightball comics while listening to Sing, Shepherds, Sing: Folk Music From North Albania and watching (with the sound turned off) one of those interleague baseball games that make you think you're on Parallel Earth. (The Eastern European keening adds a note of mourning to the discouraged watercooler kicking of the losing team.)

Meanwhile, for refreshments, I can feed from a kitchen where you can get seconds and don't have to worry about being charged extra for the parsley.

Lavay Smith
TV or Not TV: Lavay Smith takes advantage of an evening off.

My social skills are falling apart, but I'm really learning about Albanian music. Or look at this one (he said, holding up a CD for the reader): Play the Juke Box: East Coast Blues 1943­59: This particular track is "Better Get Ready," performed by Elder Roman Wilson and his family: an a capella vocalist singing over three harmonicas and that's all. Recorded in Detroit in 1952, this self-produced 78 record dwelt for years in an unguessable limbo of attics and thrift shops. Somehow it survived in that discarded, impossibly fragile state, sailed across an Atlantic Ocean that Elder Wilson probably never saw and ended up in the hands of a collector in a place called Crawley, West Sussex (this name, like Faith Popcorn, is on the level), to be rerecorded and pressed into a CD in former Czechoslovakia, where life is cheap, and then brought back through other channels to my apartment. I'm not a musical snob, I'm a fetishist--thinking about this stuff excites me. If I leave the house, where am I going to hear something like this?

And another thing. Hiding in the house is something I'd recommend to anyone who has an artistic bent. Mom always said: Fools' names and fools' faces oft appear in public places. Culture fermented in a nightclub doesn't seem to live as long as the work of some solitary demented geniuses, from Edison to Ed Kienholtz. These people knew something that young Miss Artbabe and young Master Trendfancier don't know. At the risk of sounding like Jiminy Cricket, the most important thing an artist has to learn--and this is impossible to convey to young hyped-up art students, writers and musicians--is to cultivate that all-important iron-assed quality as early as possible. You have to learn to sit still at home or the studio and work, instead of trotting off to some bar to see and be seen.

As consolation for being a shut-in, remember the example of Faith Popcorn, who made up for being born with a funny name and an even funnier face by finding a cool-sounding nugget of jargon for the practice of slouching around the joint in your underwear. Call your apartment a "salon," a "satire lab," "a social research center," "a private-membership drinking establishment and supper club" or, if you're that lucky and boastful about it, "a sexuality workshop."

Whatever you call it, you'll probably want to stay indoors until the latest trends blow over.

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From the July 1997 issue of the Metropolitan.

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