“warning sign” by rick moody

It’s the seventies—New Year’s Eve, 1978—and we’re making for the show at the Beacon, there’s a bunch of us, dressed like we don’t know how to tuck anything in, and no one has slept with anyone else yet, because we aren’t smart enough to do that, we don’t even know if we have endocrines yet, doesn’t matter, because this is a big show, not only the biggest show yet so far by this band called Talking Heads, biggest gig here on home turf, but also one of the biggest by any of the bands that came out of the old downtown NYC punk thing, which none of us saw, in its original incarnation, because we are too young, we were fourteen when that stuff was happening, even if we did get the Sex Pistols album right when it came out, pissing off our classmates, who listened to Little Feat and the Doors. We’re pissed, too, that we weren’t at CBGB’s back when Television played there every week, back when Patti told jokes between songs, or when the Talking Heads were a trio, but we’re not those kind of kids, we are the kind of kids who come later, we’re seventeen, and we’re the bunch of kids that get the shit beaten out of us for knowing the answer to every question and who are not any good at sports, and what we love is whimsy, and falling apart things, especially on the cheap, we like the cheap, we like people who don’t show off on their guitars, because we would not show off, we’d just get beat up for showing off. We appreciate how love is a ridiculous line that gets sold at dances by people who never had to worry about a thing to people who never had a thing, and we never expect life to work out, we expect bad luck, like you get after Watergate and during high inflation and gas rationing and international instability, but what we also like is to dance. We get washed up like empty Clorox bottles on the beach of every new movement, and we have figured out about this Talking Heads thing, like we figured out about the Iggy Pop thing and the Sex Pistols thing and later the B-52s thing, and what we like is the song called Warning Sign, we recognize everything in this Warning Sign, the whole argument for what is happening to us, which is partly that we are growing up and partly that we are soon going to pierce our ears using ice and safety pins, though we could probably just go to the mall, and we are going to leave the safety pin in for a while, and we are going to offer some of our blood to our confederates, and we are going to shred perfectly good garments that our parents bought for us, and we are going to get the cheapest everything, and we are going to dance up and down on the contradictions, like Warning Sign really does, we are going to dance up and down on the hostage crisis, we are going to dance up and down on the election, we are going to dance up and down on Mutual Assured Destruction, etc. We recognize the phase shifter thing on the vocals, we recognize the skepticism, the disgust, the coiffure, we recognize this because we have stood in front of the mirrors, and we have fleetingly believed in ourselves in front of mirrors, this is a good narcissistic thing, this is a stupid bit of delusion, and we were on a lot of drugs at the time, as we are now, while standing out in front of the Beacon Theater with this crowd of other kids. The city is no longer in default, not entirely, and all the girls seemed to be wearing striped tights or black jeans, and it’s almost overnight that we are not wearing anything but black ever again, fifteen years before the first thing that’s not black gets put on our bodies, and by then we will have taken a lot of drugs, but that doesn’t matter, because the color is black, and the color is Mutual Assured Destruction, Warning Sign is a premonitory thing, a forecasting tool, and what it predicts is things to come, and what the things are that are coming are kinds of delusion, which means that the kind of drugs that we are taking are not the kinds where you feel really nice in your body and your mind when you are on them, but the kind where you can dance really fast, or the kind where you are lying on the floor convulsing, but tonight we are just listening to way the guitars go together, which is to say that we have stood in front of the mirror and considered what Warning Sign means, and what it means is that things are on the cheap, and things are American made, and there are two guitars, and there are no guitar solos. Anyone could play the musical part of it, and this is a good thing, and now this guy on the lead vocals keeps saying okay, a lot, like he has assessed the performance of the enterprise and has determined that it meets the standards of quality control, okay, and now let us dance, let us dance, let us lose ourselves in dancing, for there are these emanations on More Songs About Buildings and Food, these emanations which are bits of weirdness, which are also bits of weirdness in our skull which indicate that all things are not as they appear to be, and we know about this, we just know, and we don’t try to tell the girls, because the girls do not care about emanations, the girls care about whether they can dance, and whether by the time midnight comes we will be sweaty and will have experienced ecstasy, here’s that rhythm again, indeed, for what is this ecstasy, what would ecstasy be exactly for us, what would ecstasy be exactly, because it cannot be the legitimate ecstasy of gospel music, no way, because that belongs to someone else, and we don’t want to steal that thing from the somebody, not a genuine thing, and anyway, we are not sure that the agency summoned in the gospel songs exists, and we don’t think ecstasy is in some guy wanking the neck of his guitar endlessly, and we don’t think that ecstasy is in disco, because that’s a cool medium, that’s guys from Queens with their hips moving and wanting to show that they are wound up by the girl’s outfit, surface temperature not sufficiently high, surface temperature must be superheated. What is genuine tonight is a bunch of white guys, and one white girl, playing a bunch of songs about wanting to know what’s true out here at the beginning of a new year, when the air is cold, and everywhere are signs and portents that the new is going to be worse than the old, and this is a pretty good piece of prediction. The ecstasy is in the wanting to say something true, for example that your love song is a marketing tool, don’t be an idiot, or that the middle of the country hates us, or that artists are vain and conflicted, or that I’m stuck in front of a mirror looking at my bad my skin and my hair that just will not do anything that makes any sense, and the only way I can make these clothes fit is if I try my hardest to make them look bad, and this is a kind of ecstasy, which is a kind of superheated realpolitik, which is about not separating the kids from their money and then bullshitting them, this is a different kind of ecstasy which is in the vocabulary of the R&B singers but is not R&B, because that would be stealing, rather this is in the vocabulary of bubblegum bands, this is like Crimson and Clover in the Beacon Theater, hot as hell, convection has begun, a rolling boil, and now this band called Talking Heads is playing their old song about the Psycho Killer, which is a song in flames, and even though they can’t really do a guitar solo, it’s similar to a guitar solo, in that they’re going around and around on this chord chart, and we are in the back, we are kids in the back of the concert hall, we are in the last row of the Beacon Theater, can’t get any further back than we are, and so we can verify that the concert is sold out, because if we are sitting there then it’s sold out, because there are no other seats beyond us, and we aren’t sitting, no, we are jumping up and down in the last row, and we are wondering why we never experienced any ecstasy at other concerts we went to, because now we are experiencing ecstasy, and it is okay, and the ecstasy is that this is a Warning Sign, and this is for the kids, this is for the homely beautiful lonely kids with the bad wardrobes, the rest of the people, not the boys in the leopard skin tights with their blow dryers, not the titans of high school with their halcyon years ahead of them, not even for the guys in the black leather jackets and torn jeans, who are too cool for our school, but the rest of the people, the people who live in this city, who have been watching it come apart, we’re like that, we’re a little group of kids wanting to be heard, part of this group, jumping up and down till our lungs collapse, someone’s speaking for us, not saying Buy My Dream of Mass Produced Domestic Stability, no, and after the guitar solo which is not a guitar solo, the guy who keeps saying okay says the only thing he says all night, which is, “Uh, I guess I should say Happy New Year.” And so welcome to the beginning of the end of the seventies.

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