Notes on the Philly Free School and Aughts Philadelphia

About the Philly Free School and class— most of us were raised middle-class. The European classicism we espoused, as one component part of our collective aesthetic, does leave us open to accusations of bourgeois interest and prejudice. A hard-line Marxist would have to say (to the extent that Marxists are worth taking seriously here), that any form of aesthetic classicism is inherently bourgeois. But our demonstrable downward class mobility, inverts this none of us inherited a serious amount of money, and we all lived hand to mouth in Philadelphia in the Aughts. We were authentically Bohemian not ashamed, and materially compelled to work retail jobs and occasionally starve. The whole catalog of our carousing exploits had to happen in this context— and the magic of Philadelphia in the Aughts was that we pulled off these exploits gracefully and unselfconsciously.

For example, during the years we spent bar-hopping, money for drinks made for a semi-empty fridge at home. If I wanted a midnight snack, it would often have to be bread and water. Not to mention that I met Abby and Mary, Mike Land and Nick Gruberg from working retail at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes and Noble in Center City; as I was a conduit for Mike and Nick meeting Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum.

Material perks came in and out of our lives when Abby and Mary were attending PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) in the early Aughts, each was granted a personal studio. I am guessing now that Jenny Kanzler was granted one too. They could both work and crash there. I spent many nights with Mary in her studio, with its checkered linoleum floor and huge bay windows, on Cherry Street. She had a pull-out couch. After PAFA, the pair maintained co-op studio spaces, but never a completely self-run personal studio again.

All of us had good luck with people throwing drinks and drugs at us. The communal vibe in Aughts Philadelphia was very intense; if you were on the inside, and had something worthwhile to offer sexually, socially, or artistically, everyone was encouraged to share their goods and services. This was especially important for Mary, who was not just a pot-head but a fully fledged pot addict. One truly surprising thing about Aughts Philly is that all the different sectors maintained their own classicist ethos— The Philadelphia Independent offered their classicist form of quirky urban hipster journalism; the Making Time DJs were as classicist as they could possibly be about what they played; and us. Sharing your intoxicants expressed complicity with both this gestalt sensibility and the will to get trashed beyond it.

Most of us, in Philadelphia in the Aughts, felt an acute sense of being "in" something. I did, but was circumspect about it, and about expressing this "in" from the inside, because I was wary about jumping the proverbial gun. High art takes time. Owing to a stable, secure body of artistic work having issued from these nexuses, I have more confidence now. This confidence is a compensation for the intense socio-cultural aridity and lethargy of the Recession and 2014 America.

Abs and I were two of the less overtly political Neo-Romantic artists. For myself, I felt that the variegated life I was leading made its own kind of statement in Aughts America, and I'm sure Abs would say the same, possibly with more emphatic force, owing to gender and "queer" issues. Is that what "On the Other Hand" (affixed to this post) is about?