Electric Frozen Banana, or The Dark City

An Unfortunate Yet Blessed Childhood in the City of Brotherly Love

Maybe it’s where I grew up, Philadelphia. Even with my natural bent towards disaster, Philadelphia always did me one better. Teenage years are rough and growing up in a one-train-line-into-the-city suburb of Philly took its toll. I was listening to Journey and Barry Manilow. I also listened to James Taylor, Carly Simon, Bread, and America. Late at night, on Magic 103. No, really. Magic...103. Taking you into the night...with soft music and a gun to your head because oh my god you're gonna wake up cryin'. But that's beside the point.

It is part of the reason, no doubt, I’ve turned out the way I have: soft and mushy. My friend Christina used to say, well, isn't melody everyone's downfall? But there is melody and there is true melody. Musical life before Led Zeppelin was some bad hair (and I mean 80s bad), bad melodies, bad commercials. I read good but listened bad. I was reading my Shakespeare and Pynchon, listening to Melissa Manchester.

Philadelphia in the 70s and 80s was mean, hostile, violent, crime-ridden, dark, and not in a good, comic-book way. Murky city blocks with small blazes of light, fucked-up people doing fucked-up things. And I wanted to live inside those tiny fucked-up pieces of light. I imagined they were life-size dioramas, in a time parallel to mine but distant. There I was, stuck in the suburbs, a million light years away from the Devil’s playground. With this kind of darkness around me, all of the sweet, naive 70s music seeping into the 80s was a blessing. I don't mean to put it down, I loved it then and I love it now. But there was a whole world beyond Magic 103 that I hadn't discovered.

In my 11th grade year, I went to France to visit my first boyfriend, Fredric, who crushed my heart in a vise the second I got there. I spent a month in a house 40 kilometers from Paris, where women weren’t allowed to touch the stereo. Every night, before I went to bed, I crept to the stereo, turned it on, put on headphones and listened to this amazing album I discovered, years after its debut, Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. It was in the original packaging, with the foldout, Bowie a glorious goatman, feather strokes of blue and red, his flesh real, almost warm, on the album sleeve. I traced every line with my 16-year-old fingers. “Lady Grinning Soul”, “Time”, and the title track like nothing I’d ever heard before. The sex was oozing out, mysterious, yet somehow innocent, the hot little red light on the stereo, record going around and around, black lines etched into the plastic. Bowie’s voice, if all teenage girls hadn’t discovered their unformed desire by then, his voice would have brought them there. Ridiculous mixing, levels all off on “Watch That Man”, “Panic in Detroit”, “Drive-In Saturday”, unfuckingbelievable. To listen to those songs for the first time out in the middle of the French countryside, trapped in a house with three French monsters, saved me. Came home, alive, bought every single Bowie album, on vinyl, up to Scary Monsters.

Then came Led Zeppelin. I wore a blue Zeppelin T-shirt like it was a hairshirt until my mom threw it out because it had ripped into pieces like a rag. Never liked Robert Plant much, but worshipped Page like the god he is, with magazine photographs all over my bedroom wall. Along with Bowie, and Axl.

Then it was the 80s and I’d made it into the Dark City. In college, I worked at a goth club called Revival. Everyone was doing coke and getting laid except me. In a way, it didn’t matter. I remember when the second Jane’s Addiction album came out. My friend Deanna and I stared at the mannequins, their hair on fire. Sat in her little room, looking down at South Street, all the harmless goth Bedouins in their plaid skirts and bad Cure hair. Perry Farrell doused us all with heroin and rainbows. We quickly got the first album, ate that up. Velvet Underground relived, an even sadder cabaret with guitar and drums. Axl Rose then saved us all from falling off the side of a melancholy, acid-filled cliff. Thank fucking god for Appetite for Destruction.

And then came metal.

Metal is one of those things you remember from your adolescence like your first kiss - night never becoming day, driving in your best friend Sheila’s baby blue Camaro with that smoke-winged eagle on the hood - blasting Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Roger Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking. Then rock became faster and harder and angrier and Floyd changed to Metallica, Sepultura, Megadeth, and we can't forget Queensryche. We had found our god and we were cruisin all over Nowheres Park, Pennsylvania.

Goth took over with "The Lost Boys" and the gloom of Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Cult, and The Smiths, paving the way for feats of utter annihilation and destruction. It was the Battle of Evil and Evil, dyed-hair zombies with makeup battling it out in a foggy graveyard. Ha! So not. Everything was so tame but seemed so dark. But I can truly say that metal saved my soul. I stand by that. Ozzy Osbourne was the Darth Vader I'd been looking for my whole life. After years of James Taylor and Fleetwood Mac, and then a descent into the bowels of goth dance music, metal was the only thing that made sense to me. The electric frozen banana of music, exploded like a million sticky, glow-in-the-dark stars all over my bedroom walls. It was the glitter ball dressed in black, wearing eye makeup and done over in fuchsia. Back when guitars ruled the world. Finger-lickin good and nothin left but ecstasy and spirals.

In Philly in the 80s, there was classic rock - pop gummy-bear rock we are pansy rock - and goth. And a couple speed metal and punk bands, hallelujah. Oh my god that shit rocked my world in a way it had never been rocked before. And then I got to see it live in action, performances that would make the earth gravitate towards itself and rotate outward - Soundgarden in a tiny club on Arch Street, I worked the door and gave tickets to about 12 people. Henry Rollins on a small stage at Revival, he scared the shit out of me, that blazing tattoo on his back and the crazy man look in his eyes, so I left my ticket booth and hid upstairs. Alice Donut were amazing, careening around in a freaking kindergarten playroom, and bringing New York craziness down to Philly. Sleeping in their van and smelling like cigarettes, beer, and a week’s sweat. Trips to CBGBs to see them and looking around New York like it was god. Faith No More. Saw them all over the Tri-State and they blew smoke every time. Dead Kennedys, never saw anything like Jello, and never have since. The loyalist’s loyal, drenched in 80s political drama and grime. All the other bands I wasn’t lucky enough to see lived in immortality, it didn’t matter where they were they lived in flesh in everything.

Philadelphia is a city studded with iron and concrete. It’s a city but goes far beyond that in its urban mythology. There is this one wall of a building with pieces of colored glass and mirror all over it. That wall is Philly to me, always will be. It’s off South Street and was done by a local artist. Philadelphia in the 80s was the dark pulsation of a star, far out in the universe, unnamed and undiscovered. We all were happy, in the miserable, drugged-out way most people welcomed in the new decade. By the end of it, everyone pale and slimy, in need of a shower and a real job. I myself never tasted a drug and worked my young, little ass off at three jobs, to make money to get the hell out of hell. By 1990, I had moved to San Francisco. Thank the psychedelic, creamsicle gods for that!

A couple disclaimers: not that pansy rock doesn’t have its own merits, it does. – And, – I proudly listen to Fleetwood Mac and James Taylor in high rotation on my iPod. And don't get me wrong - 80s club music rocked and still rocks. Who doesn't love "Love Will Tear Us Apart" in "Donnie Darko"?

- Arielle Guy