Monday, March 10, 2008

The Imploding Planet

When I was in my club-going 20s, I never really went to neo, a new wave/alternative club in Lincoln Park. I went there once, when I was 21, while I was still a relatively new reporter on the school paper at UIC. A few of us did a bar/club roundup for an issue of the paper, and we hit oh, about a half-dozen bars/clubs in the same night, and neo was one of them. I remember that I wasn't terribly impressed with the place and either that time or sometime after it, on another crazy night out with other drunken malcontents, I wound up there again and at some point a few of us sat on the floor to show our displeasure with the song selection.

My place, my home away from home in my late teens and early 20s was Medusa's, the infamous Lakeview  juice bar/club where all sorts of mis-shapes -- goths, punks, mods, new romantics, or a mix of some or all of the above, gathered on friday and saturday nights, until the alderman and a few homeowners joined to shut the place down. 

I didn't exactly grow out of the new wave stuff, it's more that I found other, newer, fresher stuff to listen to, like electronic things, dance music and loads of what could be called 'chill out' sounds. I hadn't much thought of the music I listened to and collected and which defined me for a handful of years much in my 20s, until, in 2001 and 2002, while working at a stressful and remarkably unsatisfying job at Reed Business Information's Home Books, I decided to check out "Planet Earth," an 80s night at neo. I had gone to Planet Earth, which is DJ Dave Roberts' regular Thursday night 80s party that started out at Club 950, another Lincoln Park bar, maybe a year or two before that, when it was at Spin on Halsted, and it was nice enough, but I didn't know anyone there and I was generally uncomfortable hanging at a club where I didn't know anyone, so I didn't really feel compelled to go back. 

But when I checked out Planet Earth at neo, I was in a different place psychologically, dissatisfied with work and the corporate environment, not quite finding myself personally, and thinking about things along the lines of 'what am I doing,' and 'what do I really want to do?'  I was also swinging a little to the left politically and the punk/new wave thing fueled that. I was afraid of going to an '80s night, since I had been at one or two at some incredibly cheesy bars, and while I heard music I once loved, it just wasn't the same.

But that wasn't the case when I first walked into neo that night some seven years ago. In a sense, it was like stepping back in time, to 1987 or 1988. I heard Smiths and Depeche Mode and Yaz and Joy Division, etc., there were people who were dressed like they meant it, there were goths and mods and freaks of all stripes, and like the punks that I fell in with when I was in college, there were some wonderful, kind and welcoming people there, some of whom I still hang out with sometimes and who I had hoped would be my friends for the long haul. 

I became something of a regular at Planet Earth. My picture appeared in their ads when neo still placed ads in nightspots magazine. When I was laid off from Reed in 2003, Planet Earth became even more of a refuge for me (even if I couldn't spend as much on drinks. But I could stay out later). My weekly visits turned into monthly visits, due to a combination of once again becoming employed full-time, then having two jobs, then three, then getting involved in a relationship, which staying out all night isn't too healthy for, then my visits became even more rare. For awhile, after working the 4p.m. to 12 a.m. shift, I'd stop in at Another Planet, Dave's Tuesday night at neo, which was sort of a Planet Earth lite, more laidback and relaxed and not as crowded, and I'll always be grateful for the times he allowed me to be one of the DJs at the annual Morrissey/Smiths night there. But he stopped doing the Tuesday night gig and it just wasn't worth going there after that.

Well, now it won't be worth going to neo on Thursdays, either, since Dave Roberts has quit the Thursday night gig there. I don't know exactly everything that went into this development, but apparently there were some irreconcilable creative differences between him and the neo management. 

A big part of what makes a club worth going to is not merely the music, but the vibe that the people there create and the people that they bring in. Dave, along with Kristine, made Thursday nights at neo more than a club night -- for some of us, they made it our home away from home. A welcoming, loving place where, when we heard the music that meant so much to us 15 or 20 years ago, we felt at least that much younger. 

I'll miss the familiarity of neo, the big dancefloor, and the carpeted benches that made a semi-circle around it. I regret that there wasn't a big send-off, but I know that there will be another, perhaps better, home for Planet Earth soon. I know wherever Dave and Kristine bring Planet Earth next, it'll have a great vibe to it because they will have more control, and I know that the people who come out every week to see them, hear the music and dance like it's 1980-something matter a great deal to them. Consequently, those of us who have been lucky enough to have been part of Planet Earth adore Dave and Kristine. Until Planet Earth re-emerges elsewhere, I'll still be able to find them on Friday nights at the Holiday Club -- same music, some of the same crowd, not much of a dance floor, but yummy bar food and good company. 

No comments: