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Wide, Empty Boulevards and Generous Armchairs

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan



I wanted to write to you about how I used to love disco as a kid, how I had a CD compilation called Pure Disco Volume II that I made my mom listen to in the car every morning on the way to junior high before I discovered the vile male anger of early 2000s alternative rawk, before I tried to pull of a version of “Adam’s Song” at a talent show but after I performed the first ever song I wrote, which was about Jesus and I couldn’t get through it without crying at Christian summer camp, Santa Barbara, the year 2000. I loved three types of music earnestly at that particular age, Christian contemporary, Romantic classical cello, and Pure Disco. I knew all the words to “I Will Surive” and I once sang a karaoke version of “It’s Raining Men” at the Orange County Fair. It was a contest and I went to the finals, sang in front of a hundred or so people in a gazebo, braces, but the song selection in the finals was limited and I lost because I couldn’t quite pull off a convincing version of “I Want it That Way.” But I loved disco, the music made me happy plain and simple for whatever reason. And it seems so tragic to me now that I waited so long - 15 years, by one count - to let that music earnestly move me again, to earnestly bop. I’ve been interested in disco, disco adjacent music - have long stopped preventing myself from absolutely loving ABBA, wrote my senior thesis for undergrad on the music of Arthur Russell which included a loving but incredibly sloppy attempt at recreating his full moon avant vibe with a 12 piece band (why didn’t I ever do that again? I should do that now. Do you have a pair of congas?).
I felt very free recently, I cried and smiled and hooted on the dance floor, I put my hands in the air earnestly (just like I was back in youth group, “forever my love, my lord,” but more so, praying to Diana Ross). Paradise Garage reunion show, the best night of dancing I’ve had all year and I’ve done some very good dancing this year (have I mentioned the last night of winter, 9am jungle? The restaurant that looked like the Guggenheim in North Carolina, ferries and aerialists abound?). All around me Sunday night tall lotioned men in their 50’s were shaking tambourines and blowing samba whistles and one man barked like a dog, like DMX, along with the four on the floor. A man in a leather vest who smelled deeply of old cigarettes shook my hand for no reason while his wife in matching leather vest smiled at me. We were grooving. Everyone who tried to squeeze by (it was packed) gently touching you on the shoulder, giving you a smile, all types of people. The DJs campily mouthing the words and pointing robustly, full arm points - they’ve dropped these songs a million times and they only get MORE powerful, they remember who they were with the night they danced to this particular 12” in 1987, in 2003. Confetti in their hair, stuck to their foreheads with sweat, trying to kiss but missing each other’s mouths because they cannot stop moving to the beat.
Come to think of it the two big loves of my life I can remember vividly on the dance floor. Kissing for the first time draped under a sheet of plastic in the middle of a huge crowd, catching a glimpse of her square dancing through a window in the door, walking endless blocks in another city to find her on soul night confused and drunkenly fitting the key’s into my aunt’s front door. I wind up unaccompanied on these nights out I’ve been having lately and I imagine someone locking eyes with me and smiling and that is how we find each other. My heart swells as does the fog machine or maybe the disco ball starts spinning at the exact moment. I want someone to pluck me out of a crowd, to pick me off of the vine and devour me whole.
In high school in the middle of that time I was trying to be cool I went to an LCD Soundsystem concert with my buddy who was always very dedicated to stupid ideas, so we went to the show in gym shorts and sneakers and sweat bands because we wanted to dance and also we wanted to be idiots. And we danced very hard, we got people to dance with us, it was fun and sweaty and performative in a way that I loved but was afraid of and we were delighted later that week to see that the local music journalist had devoted a good amount of his review of the show to our antics. He called it nerd prom and talked about our shorts. I am searching the paper’s website for the article. I am using the Wayback Machine. I am trying to dig out and preserve this tiny needle in the haystack of my life. I’m getting drunk on a bottle of white wine alone on a Wednesday evening and listening to my own music, combing through articles from over a decade ago, looking for any nugget of something that proves that this happened. It was October 13th, 2005. I promise you that it did. We were in the paper, our hearts burned true and bright. My friend months later tried to get a job at the Urban Outfitters at the Irvine Spectrum and the hiring manager recognized him from that show. We felt like stars. We felt like we had done something important. Because when you dance the world wants to dance with you, you can feel it, when you’re spinning around and sweating and smiling with glistening tears in your eyes the people at the edges of the room unvelcro themselves from the wall and they yearn to be with you, they yearn to be just like you, they want to be that beautiful, they want to shed their terrible anxieties and preoccupations and move their tired bodies for once with abandon.
That friend and I do not talk anymore after what feels to me to be a very complicated series of events. Maybe one day I’ll tell you.


from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018


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Ben Seretan Troy, New York


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