Lou Reed conjured a NYC of which he became the embodiment. His cultishly loyal fans are—must be—attracted to those quasi-mythical neighborhoods the way that fantasy and science-fiction fans are attracted to Middle Earth or galaxies “far, far away.”
Do fans of other critical go-tos create and populate an imaginary physical space? I think so, though your results may vary:
Iggy Pop: You are in a Midwestern dorm room, heavy petting with a sophomore who does not seem to mind your bloody nose—in fact she seems quite excited by it. Your heart is racing because this is the furthest you’ve ever gone, sexually, and because you are fresh from a massive bar fight, which included two rival fraternities and a handful of townies. It is unclear to which group you belong.
(Early) R.E.M.: You are 12 years old. It’s the hottest summer in memory. On a dare, you have entered the dilapidated garden shed of the old man who lives at the end of the one dirt driveway behind the old depot. Your friends wait out by the whirligig festooned mailbox, which is huge but always empty.
The Ramones: You’ve been looking forward to it for so long. You know that your parents are anxious about it, the tension crackles blue around them. You want them to be happy and proud of you, and you get the sense that this is a step in the right direction. But now that it’s happened . . . well. But you’re going to keep it together. You put your hands in your the pockets of your sweatshirt, where no own can see the ritual comforting shapes you make with your fingers. You say in your head, the word that’s become weird magic in your house, “mainstream, mainstream, mainstream,” and look at the blackboard.
The Smiths: “No, look,” you say, trying not to slur. “You’re not getting it.” You set your drink—a Manhattan you mixed yourself with orange bitters, as you’ve explained—on the cinder-block-and-plank bookshelves next to her still-full Corona Light. “I’m not saying I want to. But if I had to, Jeremy Irons is, right, a handsome guy, is all.”
Captain Beefheart: It’s the last package of the day, thankfully. The route is taking longer and longer the closer it gets to the holidays. It’ll be truly frantic in a couple of weeks. It’s weird: You used to appreciate the frenzy. Kept your mind off things you didn’t want to think about. You’d never been much of holiday-cheer kinda guy. But since last year, things have been . . . different. “This is my son,” your dad had said. “He’s a saxophonist. A musician.”
Black Sabbath: It was super cool of them to let you crash, here. Totally true. And you appreciate it. Didn’t you help Ricky assemble his new futon? Don’t you kick in even for gas money on the grocery run, every time? You don’t even plan on staying that long. You didn’t even plan on being here this long, for fuck’s sake. But it’s nobody’s fucking business how much you spend on headphones.
The Cure: You hope he likes it. There’s only so much you can do in such a small space. But now it’s cozier. The fabric and the pillows add a lot of atmosphere, you think. And it helps quiet the noise from downstairs and outside. You can hardly hear the traffic, now. Even the rain is quiet. Oh, you wonder if he brought an umbrella. If the bus isn’t late, you should have time to get downstairs to the bus stop and back before the dinner’s done. You wish he didn’t have to work so late. You hope he likes it. The decor, dinner. Everything.
Big Star: “It’s not a degree,” you say. “Stands for ‘All But Dissertation.’ ” You said you were never going to have this conversation again. Yet, in the slow time after the dinner rush but before the Saturday night bar crowd gets you too busy to do anything but fill drink orders, you find yourself repeating it all again to . . . what’s her name? New girl. Cute. Not a lot of experience. Used to work at a TGIFriday’s. “Literature. Southern American gothic, specifically,” you say, smiling, your stomach going sour.
Sex Pistols: The client is hardly ever right. You know it; he knows it. Hell, he hired you for a reason, right? If he could do it himself, he would have. And, you swear to god, if he mentions his son’s proficiency in Photoshop one more fucking time, you’re going to, well, you don’t know what you’re going to do. “It’s a custom-designed typeface, fuckface,” you say inwardly. You will not pair it with the first stock image of a board meeting he Googles, you promise yourself. You. Will. Not.
Kraftwerk: “It’s pronounced Moog.”