Meeting at St. George's




St. George's in Philadelphia, on 7th Street between South and Bainbridge, was a bar that had an upstairs which could be used as a performance space. One night in the late summer of '99, within a few days of shifting to Philadelphia from Manhattan (briefly stationed in Glenside before the move to 21st and Race), I got the tip-off that a bunch of acts were putting on a show at St. George's (I was at Philly Java). It was a sultry night, and cloudy, threatening rain. As I ascended the stairs, I looked and saw Matt Stevenson, who I had met at Robin's Books a little less than a year before at the last Siren's Silence reading, hunched over his keyboards/effects boxes rig, and Lora Bloom reciting into a microphone. This early, "pure" version of Radio Eris, as a duo, remains my favorite. Matt was short and stocky, 5'7, wore spectacles, had a slight hobble, and topped it off with a kind of inverse sartorial splendor, making semi-rags look as unique as possible. His speaking voice was rich and memorable, and he spoke quickly and articulately, even when stoned, which he often was. That's why, at a later date, Penn kids had a problem with Matt Stevenson- when a seeming stumble-bum could out-argue them, they became visibly uncomfortable.

If I felt a certain urgency about talking to Matt at length for the first time, it is because an intuitive call had been sent out from somewhere in the universe to me- Philadelphia was going to be a cultural monster, one way or another, and it was my responsibility (and Matt's, if he cared to join me) to start the ball rolling. I managed to convey this to Matt at the upstairs bar, and began to learn Matt's quirks- even when he was deeply interested (and he was), Matt Stevenson had to be a cynical bastard. It's just that I had him, and I knew it. When we looked at what was happening onstage, it was obvious that something magical was there- as Dave and Nemon Buckery played, the skylight above them was wild with windy rain and lightning, and the phantasmagoric effect was intense, the little crowd there assembled rapt. It spoke to me as a metaphor for what Philadelphia could be culturally, and it did so with the spacy, chiaroscuro, eerie ambiance of Philadelphia at night I was already in love with.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Matt and I were joined by a third attendee. He introduced himself as Dan Baker, painter and musician. Dan was another lanky six-footer, with flaming red hair cut into a bob and a red beard to match. Dan was a transplant from Chicago, and (he inferred instantly) underworld-consonant. You could feel the dangerous edges all around him. For all of Dan's musical involvements, with Dan (for me) the paintings are the point and, for their elegant simplicity, will eventually come to light. As I left St. George's that night, forced to walk to Market East Station sans umbrella, I felt something click that was like having a sudden million dollars in the bank. In the days that followed, I moved my stuff from Glenside to 154 North 21st Street. The flat was studio- but, because the front/facade of the apartment faced east (lots of morning sun) and was all bay windows, and the living room space had loft-level high ceilings, it felt much spacier the right way. I was to live in "2A" until mid 2008. I also had a gig working at Great Scot Rittenhouse Market off of Rittenhouse Square- B & N would come later that year.

I had Matt and Dan's contact info, and other things going on- Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and I were hosting readings in Philly Java's back-room, where the Siren's Silence readings had been in '96-'98. Jeremy and I, oddly enough, knew each other from earlier in the Nineties- when, on semester breaks, I would hang out with Chris DeFranco in Manayunk, I met Jeremy and his Villanova-based "D" Magazine posse. Jeremy's unique self-presentation- Al Pacino meets Oscar Wilde, in Smiths-land- was difficult to forget. The night of St. George's, I had probably started with Jeremy at Java before migrating over. Perhaps St. George's was not posh enough for Jeremy; I had (and have) a ratty streak, and no such scruples. In fact, Aughts Philly depended on most of us having a ratty streak most of the time. Penn notwithstanding, we weren't rich kids, and didn't always bother to cultivate rich contacts that much. A perfect moment in Aughts Philly could happen anywhere, at any time, and we were all attuned to that wavelength.