“I Used to Be On the Scene” by Aaron Wolfe

This is the latest in Aaron Wolfe’s Lines & Notes. To go to the column page, please click here.

Audio Player

“Money City Maniacs” by Sloan, performed by Aaron Wolfe


I used to be on the scene. Not the capital “s” but the little one where the beer tasted good and people still gathered in the back of Mercury Lounge to hear a 20-something work out their nostalgia with an electric guitar. I used to play a gig, go to Katz’s for a knockwurst with Jon and then wander a few avenues over to watch the up-and-coming play the deep-and-heavy. We’d stand in the shadows with a bag of half-sour pickles bobbing our heads to something new and maybe unexpected. It felt good. I liked it.

I’d smoke cigarettes and muse about how we were around the corner from my Grandfather’s monument store. We’d stumble drunk over to Norfolk Street and stare up at the dilapidated sign that once read “Forsyth Monuments” but now had a few half broken Chinese pictograms. I’d tell the story about how Honest Harry Quan bought the building for cash only a few years before the Lower East Side exploded.

We were impressed by history. We played Sin-e because Buckley played there, and we played Arlene’s because it was once someplace too.

Those days I tried different haircuts, which were mostly bad. I stomped and sweated through my shirts. I’d fall in love at every show but always go home alone. In the fall I tried ironic tee shirts, in the winter I tried corduroy, and in spring it was back to sweatshirts. Jeans got baggy, then they got skinny, then they got skinnier.

We spoke about going on the road. Jason bought a van and we headed to Hal Daddy’s in Baltimore. I ate a crab cake by a blown out strip club and worried about my safety. Baltimore was terrifying but Hal Daddy’s was even scarier. Everyone looked like a killer. The opener was a death metal band. Then it was us. Then it was an old man with his teenage sons playing blues tunes. I mellowed out. The road would be fun.

We traveled all over the Northeast. I can tell you all about the rest areas from D.C. to Maine. I can tell you what kind of rug works like a blanket and what kind just feels itchy and dirty. Sometimes people got laid, mostly we got drunk. Rock-n-Roll lifestyle is headaches and neck pain. We slept in the Van a lot.

For three years I never drove into NYC before 2AM. To this day if I arrive back to the city in daylight it feels like cheating. When we’d drive over the Kosciusko Bridge and see all of Gotham and her lights we’d exhale. We called the road “the heart of darkness,” and our city felt good to us.

In New Hampshire I quit smoking twice.

In Vermont I almost broke Jon’s arm.

In Albany we ate wings.

In Poughkeepsie there wasn’t a stage, or electricity, or any clue that a band had ever played there before.

In King of Prussia there was almost a fistfight by the dartboard, which is almost a story.

In D.C. a girl in leather pants kept showing up. She showed up in Boston once, too.

In Providence there was a sideshow and a book mobile.

In Philadelphia we broke a commemorative glass and almost got thrown out of an old friend’s house.

I started entertaining myself by stealing things from bars. Little things, stupid things, like pint glasses, and then drink shakers. We got into fights with each other over nothing. We went through drummers, and we went through jokes about drummers. I started thinking about leaving but the road is a drug, and before you know it you play on the road just so you can stay on the road. I was convinced that if I quit the band would break out the next week.

A few producers told us to write more pop. A few producers told us we sounded too pop. When we started writing songs about writing songs I knew it was the end.

When we broke up, I started over with my own band. The scene was still there, I knew all the bookers, the bar tenders, the backlines, the green rooms, it would be easier this time.

It wasn’t.

You can’t keep asking friends to come out and fans don’t exist once you’re 30. Sin-E closed, Arlene’s became a punch line, and the jeans got even skinnier.

The scene in Brooklyn flourished, but who am I kidding? We played Glasslands once and it was packed. It was one of the greatest nights of my life. A few weeks later it was back to barrooms and a dozen people yapping about football. It’s hard to emote while someone orders extra peanut sauce from the Thai place around the corner.

We stopped rehearsing. I started recording covers. I stopped recording covers. I started work again on my screenplay. I listen to too many podcasts. NPR has ruined me for music.

The other night I went to see Jon’s band. They are good. They played up the block from my Grandfather’s old monument store. On the subway ride home I listened to Fugazi, then I listened to The Cure, then I listened to Sloan.

I got out of the subway and started the track again. Then again. Then again.

More of Aaron Wolfe’s Lines & Notes at Used Furniture.


  1. Awesome, love your column, although makes me sad…

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