Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York City in the ‘90s

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Why do we do this, this writing? To communicate, sure, but to whom? For writing is a strangely solitary art, fundamentally unlike dance or music or theatre. You sit alone. You arrange words into lines and blocks. You reach some level of satisfaction or weariness, and then what? For unlike the collaborative arts, there is no audience in the act itself. Once you’ve done it, you have to activate a whole other universe of skills to engage someone in it. And why? For approval? Agreement? Badge and Honor? The simple self-deception that the insight you’ve sat alone teasing out of your brain might flicker in other minds as well?

In its way, this is what Poseur is really about. Not the bands or the drugs or the women or even New York City – though there are copious amounts of all in it. It’s really about someone who discovers (or believes) early in his life that he has some sort of way with words and who spends much of his subsequent time trying to figure out why that matters – to himself, his peers, strangers – and more importantly, what he can get out of it.

Combined with this early realization is a passion for music – by and large the contemporary rock of the time (what we used to call “alternative” or “college radio” or “not what everyone else is listening to”) – and his almost subsequent realization that while it speaks deeply to him, he has little hope of ever making it himself.

Thus Mr. Spitz embarks, after false starts, twists and turns (all chronicled here), on the career (his 90s self would smirk at the term, his current one probably not so much) of a music journalist, the kind of person who, as Frank Zappa said, “can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.”

But to be clear, Mr. Spitz – a former Senior Writer for Spin, and author of novels, plays and biographies – can write, which he demonstrates time and again. The section about being in New York City during 9/11, for example, is honest and terrific, and his description of crack is as funny (yes, funny) as it is fascinating.

However, readers are forewarned that since the book is deeply steeped in a very particular set of cultural icons, bands, artists, movies and ideas from a very specific time, if you do not have more than a passing awareness of them, the genius of some of his lines may be lost on you.

What do I mean? Well, about a third of the way in, while recounting one of his forays and wanderings through Los Angeles (yes, it’s not ALL about New York City), he describes one of the bands he encounters this way:

“While they weren’t as talented as The Breeders, they weren’t The Shaggs either.”

If that line makes any sense to you, you’ll do fine. If not, you’re going to struggle.

And while there are many terrific observations here from the nature of music fandom (his writing about “event records” is spot-on) to taking meetings in L.A. (“It seemed like people took meetings just to take meetings, to say they’d been active, to move their lips and breathe in and out. They didn’t produce anything but noise, then long horrible stretches of silence.”), to how the music press was made obsolete (which will resonate particularly with people in advertising) and beyond, I would be remiss if I did not point out that, as interesting as Poseur is, it is so rife with typos and editorial errors of the most fundamental nature that it makes reading it an exercise in frustration.

And yes, I know I sound like your mad Aunt Maude, but really, when the book misnames one of Trent Reznor’s songs – one of the biggest hits of this fairly substantial artist’s career – right in the middle of making a point about how frustrated that artist was – it demonstrates a lack of craft that we’d expect from 90s-era Marc:

“I never let on that I had any regrets about some of the choices I’d made in the effort to become what I thought was a real writer and the kind of character people can’t ignore. Regret wasn’t rock.”

But not the 21st century one:

“We all still wanted to be more like our heroes, no matter how much we accomplished. It never ends. Maybe it’s the only reality there is – our frustrated selves”

And it is that second Marc Spitz, the one with perspective, the one not ashamed of insight, the one who realizes, as he writes elsewhere that “the rocker is always the problem, not the rock”, that makes Poseur valuable. Particularly for anyone who works in the volatile and slippery field of professional creativity.

Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York City in the ‘90s by Marc Spitz was published by Da Capo Press on 02/28/2013 – order it from Amazon here or Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).

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