Nothing Triggers Memories like Music: A Hoboken Poem

Peter Aaron writes such solid music profiles for Chronogram. His account of Tommy Stinson, who began playing bass for the Replacements before he finished junior high school, sent me back to Hoboken in the 1980s, when their albums owned my stereo for months at a time. For a nostalgia fix, all I need do is put on “Little Mascara” from Tim, my pump-up-the-mood anthem, and I can smell my leather jacket again that I’d pull from the closet to head out for the night. I’ve long thought that the singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg was the genius in this band—a master of ramshackle pop catchiness—but Peter reports that Tommy Stinson was a revered punk bassist: “stage left, with the cheekbones, the spiked-out hair, and the boundless exuberance…In the early 1980s, if you were an aspiring young four-stringer operating at the genre’s more orthodox end, there were four guys to reference: Sid Vicious, Dee Dee Ramone, Paul Simonon, and Tommy Stinson.” Now Stinson lives in Hudson of all places, as does Peter, as does, perhaps, an honest to God music scene.

What startled me in the article was a quote from a fellow musician who knew Stinson in their early Minneapolis days. His band was the Suicide Commandos. My God, I thought, weren’t they the ones I saw one weeknight at Maxwell’s? Here they are in a poem from Love in the City of Grudges.

On the Prowl

Boo Boo’s downstairs sold Jell-O shots
behind neon palms in the window.
McBride’s up the block had used bar light
& sideways stares from the rummies
nursing 30¢ drafts. Out on Washington
Helmer’s drew the jocks shooting schnapps
under a Bavarian clock carved with
a stag antlered head bow tied with rifles.
At Maxwell’s Monday Night tryouts
the guitarist threw his pick to the stage:
only four of us in the audience.
Where were the girls?

The elfin booted blonde with mile long legs
on a Schnackenberg’s stool wiping fingers
between fries to turn pages in Bret Easton Ellis.
After her blue eyed glance knifed my psyche,
I lost an hour on my pair of 50¢ hamburgers.
Or the shag cut brunette in a punk-buttoned
leather jacket down to her fishnets
flipping through record bins at Pier Platters
in search of Darby Crash & the Germs.
She bragged to the clerk she’d once dated Verlaine
before he became a world class prick.
The way she said prick kept me awake for a night.

Or the angel in nylon blue sweats walking her bike
on Waterfront Drive with a white cat cockpitting
a handlebar basket. As the pet sniffed my fingertip,
I noticed its eyes: one orange, one green.
“Your cat,” I told her, “has David Bowie’s eyes.”
“You’d better not mess with Major Tom,”
the angel replied, quoting my favorite radio hit.
How had she landed in Hoboken without wings?
Her cheekbones wore blue dust from the sky.
The wind lifted her blonde hair like a flag.
I knew, if I let her pass by, I’d never be
happy again. Her regal cat yawned.
My fingertip held a blood pearl,
a bite without pain. I asked for her name.
“Sorry,” she said. “Major Tom thinks he’s a lion.”

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The Hudson Valley Poetry Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges.

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