The Middle East

They’re knocking down the Middle East to put up a hotel. The Middle East is a rock club, but not just a rock club, a legendary music space that has hosted the biggest and smallest bands you can imagine for more than 30 years. I’ve spent a lot of time there. I even played there once or twice. The Middle East being turned into a hotel follows the Rathskeller being turned into a McDonalds. They’re buying up our youth and selling it back to us as the crappiest widgets you can imagine.

It’s a tale as old as time, isn’t it? The fields need constantly to be tilled, turned over and planted with some new crop. Nostalgia is just a rich vein to be mined, smelted, and pressed into current currency. My mistake was in ever falling in love with these, let’s be honest, sorta seedy places with sticky floors, foul smells, and loud, loud music.

My friend Bob said, “This is how it goes. Everything changes.” He’s right of course.

I feel the same way about the local bike shops I see struggling against the tides of internet commerce, consolidation, and predatory lending. They’re destroying the local bike shop to put up a blander version of the same thing, with just one brand inside, really just a satellite warehouse and a service center. Mmmm…tastes like chicken.

The local bike shop and the local rock club actually had a lot in common for me. They were both soulful places where people’s priorities seemed more aligned with mine. Places we would come together to try to experience something really great. Every rock show is an act of creation, like every bike ride. The beer and mayhem are optional.

Bob also said that the new Middle East isn’t a physical space. It’s a virtual one, and our kids will feel just as passionately about it as we ever did over the bricks and mortar that struggled to contain our own youths. I’m sure he’s right, even as I open the front window to yell, “Get off my lawn!”

The original meaning of ‘nostalgia’ was as a mental illness, a severe sort of homesickness that sometimes drove people to violence. Now it has warmer, fuzzier connotations. Am I just soaking in it? Playing a sad song over and over to savor the sweet pain?

As always, the problem is probably me. They’re knocking down the Middle East to build a hotel. I’m going to run down to the bike shop for a case of Malt Nut Power Bars and a salty word from the one good mechanic there. They’ll wonder why I’m standing in front of the small parts case with an old butane lighter held over my head, swaying slightly back and forth. It won’t be the first time I’ve been asked to leave a place.

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  1. erikthebald says

    Jim Baldoni, the salty italophile, Zappa obsessed, artist-cum-salesman introduced me the amazing combination of expired malt nut powerbars (read: free) with coffee in 1992. Don Kresin, the crusty Korean war vet that had never driven a car in his life chain smoked GPC cigarettes while assembling new bikes and complained about the “dumb motherfucking schoolboy mechanics” taught me how to work on bikes. My motivation for not fucking it up was to not have him come over and blow smoke in my face. He also never showered or washed his clothes. “You don’t wear em out, you wash em out” he said. Don said all bikes should be white with gold and black decals and have friction shifters.

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