Flavor of the Week: Love is a CMJ Badge

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:11

    The annual CMJ Music Marathon has been a bastion of undiscovered talent for 28 years. The untold story is that it’s also a hotbed of hookups, and my mission this year was to take part in the less-reported aspect. I was going to find myself a boyfriend at CMJ.

    It’s common knowledge that Friday night is the best night of the festival. Tuesday and Wednesday everything’s just warming up, Thursday’s a school night and by Saturday, everyone—except the college radio station managers—is too exhausted and hung over to do anything crazy like talk to strange girls in tight jeans.

    I chose Mercury Lounge, where Ambulance LTD, Delta Spirit, Eagle Seagull and the Virgins were set to play. In case of emergency, I also jotted down the lineup at Pianos, since it’s usually filled with good-looking hipster boys—CMJ or no.

    The second I boarded the L train, it was on. I spotted a blondish dude in an army jacket across the way and proceeded to test my mojo by making shameless eyes at him. He looked back a few times, and with each glance, I felt closer and closer to getting a Missed Connection.

    I transferred to the M14A and headed down to Houston Street. Bolstered by my successful subway eye canoodling, I strutted toward Mercury, thinking about how being a journalist gives you a legitimate excuse to go out alone. You are “checking out a show” because you are “researching a story.”

    Outside the Merc, a group of depressed-looking smokers with CMJ badges dangling from their necks formed a haphazard line. WTF? The doo-rag wearing doorman informed me that they were “at capacity” and weren’t letting anyone else in. No amount of pleading got me through the front door. Flushed with anger, I stomped down Allen Street to try Pianos, where I was sure I’d be received with open arms.

    Like most Friday nights, Ludlow Street was filled with carousers. I strode through the guys from Oxford Collapse and their roadies, who were unloading a van. I flashed my pass at the door, my ID was checked and I was in. YES. Here we go. On my way to the back room where the bands were playing, I caught the eye of a tall boy sipping seductively on a clear beverage and gave him a little smile. Bachelor #1?

    Outside the back room sat a goofy-looking kid in Where’s Waldo glasses and a shallow-brimmed tweed cap, and a pale, twitchy girl. I flashed my pass and a smile. Waldo said, “Um, we’re not taking badges.”

    “OK, right,” I tossed back, sure he was kidding.

    Pale girl piped up.

    “For real. No more badges.”

    “But it’s 9:30…you’re joking, right?”

    Holy flames of hell. These two gentle bouncers were thwarting my chances of future happiness! I spun around and headed toward the exit, nearly knocking over Bachelor #1 in the process.

    Where was a lonely music journalist to go to satisfy her ever increasing needs: music, cute boys and a cocktail? Aha! Arlene’s Grocery! Though reading through the lineup of singer-songwriters chalked onto the signboard outside left me nearly brain-dead, Arlene’s was the site of some of my CMJ shenanigans last year, where I befriended a cute band and exchanged numbers with the bassist.

    By some miracle, my pass worked and I got straight in. The bands were switching over, so I made my way to the bar and retrieved my notebook. I started taking notes: The place is as crowded as it is on Monday nights for Rock ‘n’ Roll Karaoke; the drinks are weak, etc. Suddenly, my foot was stepped on. When I looked up, a young Tom Waits apologized and smiled. Hello, Bachelor #2.

    He spoke. “She’s amazing.”

    What? Oh yeah, the band. “Cool! Who is she?”

    “Brooke Waggoner. You’ll love her.”

    No, I’ll love you, I thought. Brooke started banging on her electric piano. After only a minute, I had found myself trapped in some kind of earnest, female singer-songwriter hell. Arlene’s was the place for rock, not wannabe Tori Amoses, right? I sucked down the rest of my drink. As the object of my affection moved closer to the stage, I realized that if this is the kind of music he liked, we could never have a meaningful relationship.

    At this point, I needed some rock. Something loud. And more drinks. On to the Bowery Ballroom!

    My badge had retained its magical powers, and in I glided to the strains of what sounded like a super-loud Oasis cover band. I threaded through the hipsters and aging LES rock dudes up to the balcony, where last year I was accosted by a drunken DJ with whom I flirted heavily.

    I bought a weak drink and took notes while standing against the back wall looking for victims. Bachelor #3 was a teenager in a stovepipe hat set way back on his head a la George Michael in the “Monkey” video. Naw.

    I stuck back by the bar (this was becoming a theme) as a black-T-shirted band of young British boys took the stage. By this point, the Bowery was vibrating with energy. Drinks were being spilled. The band, White Lies, plugged in and released a wall of driving rock akin to Arcade Fire at its most chaotic. It was loud, and my second drink was strong, and as I let White Lies ring my tympanic membranes, I spotted Bachelor #4.

    He was tall, resembled k.d. lang and was staring at me from the other side of the bar. I smiled. The White Lies singer wailed like Robert Smith caught in a bear trap: “Let’s go home together!” How perfect: Even the band knew this was my man. Everything was dark, loud and romantic. When I looked up again, I noticed that two very short girls flanked Bachelor #4. This created a problem—could I really march up to a guy with two girls? Nope.

    I finished my drink and checked myself out of the Bowery. I decided to try one last time to get into Mercury to see the Virgins at one. Hell, if I wasn’t going to find a boy, at least I could see one band I really wanted to see. I had just inhaled a slice of pepperoni pizza and was reapplying my lip gloss in line at Mercury.

    “No passes. $12.”

    “Are you fucking kidding me?”

    After I was escorted out of Mercury Lounge, I thought: Fuck CMJ. So I high-stepped it eastward on Houston to the Parkside Lounge where my friends were holding court at the foosball table. I stepped inside, ordered a vodka tonic, and took a look around in a last-ditch effort to identify Bachelor #5. Led Zeppelin churned from the jukebox. My gaze rested on a lovely young thing with a gigantic cream-colored knit cap perched atop a cockeyed mound of white-boy dreads. It could have been the Burning Man–hangover vibe he gave off, or maybe it was the realization that my CMJ experiment had been a total bust, but I couldn’t even bring myself to smile. Moments later, as I twirled my foosball figurines and high-fived my friend, I realized that sometimes you find what you’re looking for as soon as you stop looking.