By Peter Milne Greiner
Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York City in the 90's
By Marc Spitz
Downtown-before-Now has been amply chronicled these past few years in accounts like Just Kids by Patti Smith, Inferno by Eileen Myles, and The Book Of Drugs by Mike Doughty. The glitzy, dour eras below 14th Street before the year 2000 are coming into focus, and the memoir is its truth-y pantheon.
I'm beginning to think of these tales as an odd form of inheritance, as after-the-fact access points into a New York that I thought I could get to by coming here, but of course can't. That bittersweet quandary is probably true for many; it definitely was for Marc Spitz. In Poseur, the shadows of heroes litter and adorn the streets of old New York. This memoir swimmingly fits the rock yarn bill, and Spitz is every bit the self-fashioned mystic of the city that a Smith or Myles are, but his desperate caper across the millennial barrier is, for all it's dysfunction and feckless abandon, eerily familiar as it stalks and finally collides with the present.
A shambling, sunglasses-obfuscated alt rock golem, ever enacting himself upward toward a voice, Spitz cuts a fearless figure. He's never afraid of portraying success, or portraying cool, or imitating his idols. Making it in New York -- and the concurrent and subsequent self-mythologization so characteristic of rock 'n roll -- for him is a kind of decade-long cosplay in Poseur. And what is making it for Spitz? Leaving Long Island, becoming a poet in Vermont, a novelist in Vermont, arriving in New York a playwright and high-functioning junkie, and finally landing a gig at Spin as a blurbist for its new AOL site. This is not the stuff of legend, but anyone with any ambition at all will recognize it as the stuff of the city. Spitz's myth, his triumphant bildungsroman of artistic ascension, is centered around a cultural moment where the wild, contumacious improv of daily and nightly life in New York as a Bennington graduate in the early nineties segues into a planet Earth on which the Internet is not a fad, and rock's beacon on the horizon is Is This It by The Strokes.
It's a riveting, bleak tale, exactly like the late nineties. There's a girl subplot and a drug subplot here, too, but both are blurry, hoaxy messes that sink and resurface sporadically like lake monsters -- with little significance or believability, even for Spitz. That ambiguity of substance, of a life with content, is absolutely part of the point. It's right there in the first ten pages with Spitz listening to They Might Be Giants -- those champions of the ambiguous -- in the car with his dad. No, he doesn't agree with the lyric, but he thinks it's a good one. If there's any revelation here, it's that against all odds New York can still afford the naïve but driven a little incidental adventure and enough lucky breaks to give a person that big name and serious cred they trekked here to earn for themselves.+