Buffalo, Then (Part One)

Certain neighborhoods can be a magnet to those that inhabit them multiple times over several years. Main Street in Buffalo is no exception. Specifically the section located between Hertel Avenue and Niagara Falls Blvd.

In the 1990’s, Main Street was a destination for high school and college students alike. The main meeting place was a coffeehouse called Stimulance. Inhabiting the space next door to Talking Leaves bookstore, Stimulance offered not only some of the best coffee and bagels in town (they mixed, boiled, and baked them in house) but also events that were geared toward the teen and twenty something Gen Xers that were hanging around at the time. This was before NYS passed the no smoking laws so a night at Stimulance could include not only the stimulation of an espresso laden beverage, but also a pack of smokes which you could buy on the premises in the old fashioned cigarette dispenser between the two unisex bathrooms, located across from the counter.

Upon entering the space, one would be greeted immediately by the friendly, hipster staff. For regulars, a specific coffee cup and a seat at the bar awaited them. A refuge from the cold weather or the aggravation of the daily grind was something that could always be found there. A small area with couches and coffee tables was situated up front, to the left of the door and a stage was setup in the back right corner. Open mic night and poetry readings abounded in this space and most Music and English majors from Buffalo State, UB, and Canisius eventually found themselves on the stage singing or reciting poetry and prose.

Staying open late into the next morning was a feature of all the coffee houses during this period of caffeine excellence in Buffalo and Stimulance was no exception. Patrons would shuffle in from the local bars, after a night of drinking, and sober up over a pack of Marlboro reds and a cup of Fair trade Sumatra. Stimulance was one of the only establishments to brew beans that were ethically sourced and they led the movement to get other coffee houses on board as well. Always forward thinking, the owners were happy to provide the best quality products and stressed the importance of these items in the greater landscape of the coffee industry.

When the smoking laws began kicking in, Stimulance tried to keep up by enclosing the front room for smokers. Once the full indoor smoking law was passed though, Stimulance could no longer remain open. Coffee and cigarettes were so intertwined that they lost large swaths of their customer base causing them to sell the business and move on. Much like Java Temple, Topic, Cybeles, Coffee Bean Cafe, and 3Bs, Stimulance was an institution of coffee in Buffalo that will never be recreated. The 90s were truly a golden age of coffeehouse culture in Buffalo and no matter how many pour overs one ingests it can never replace the feeling one obtained from sitting at the bar at Stimulance, smoking a cigarette, reading the artvoice, drinking a quad shot mocha, and talking about the latest news in the world of culture, activism, or music with a truly interesting barista. Those days are most certainly gone and all that remains are the memories of a better time in Buffalo.

Tech Reliant

When did I become so reliant on technology? I feel like I cannot do anything without some form of tech assisting me or literally doing the thing for me. And so when access to technology is taken away from me (cell service drops, wifi isn’t available, laptop crashes, etc.), I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know how to function without the tech!

I wasn’t always like this. I used to resist technology. I waited as long as humanly possible to get a cell phone and to transition to an mp3 player. And while I understand that cassette players and landlines are still technically technology, I felt safe in the world of analog. If you need to get a hold of me call me at home or at work or just come find me. Does anyone remember how it was before cellphones? At the time it was normal. At the time it was just how it was. We didn’t need to be in contact with all the people all the time. We didn’t have social media. We had socializing. We didn’t have Google Drive and iTunes and Bluetooth. We had notebooks and shelves full of records and really long extension cords. But then one day I turned into this person who can’t leave the house without his iPhone. I’m that guy who shares pictures of every meal he eats with the world. I am the one who needs to be available to anyone who may possibly want to get ahold of him at any possible moment—whether he’s in the middle of something or not.

It’s easy to blame the tech manufacturers. They’ve made it impossible to not need their technology. It’s almost impossible to find cassette players anymore, not to mention actual cassettes. Everything is digital in this day and age. And if your email doesn’t come straight to your phone, then what the hell are you doing with your life? How are you even functioning in this world? But the truth is we’ve all allowed the tech to control our lives—despite every Terminator movie and at least one Joss Whedon television show and most Doctor Who storylines and the entirety of Black Mirror showing us how dangerous it is to so.

BUT IT MAKES LIFE SO EASY.

It’s true. And in some industries, technology is a moneymaker. Take the education field, for instance: Most universities have moved to a distance-learning model. These schools are able to connect with students from across the globe in a way they never were before. Sounds great, right? The issue with this is that these colleges see how much money they make from enrolling students who don’t actually have to sit in a classroom and who don’t have to live in their dorms and they start to insist that all the departments have more and more online classes. They can accept more and more students and collect more and more tuition money, without having to build more academic buildings. And at this point, there is no going back.

How would humans handle it if all the cellular and satellite services stopped working one day? Would we find a way to do our everyday activities without our technology? Would we just move on with our lives? Or would we RIOT and DESTROY EVERYTHING because we weren’t able to post a status update?

Trying to Process

 

In my shoes, a walking sleep
And my youth I pray to keep
Heaven sent hell away
No one sings like you anymore

I’ve had a few weeks to deal with it and I don’t think I’ll ever process the fact that Chris Cornell is dead. I’ve read posts on social media, articles on the Internet, and even listened to interviews of those who claim to be close friends or family. None of that has helped any. Talking about it has made it more real rather than provide any kind of distance. Absorbing all of the music he produced in his short life is the only thing that truly helps, but I think that’s only because that fools my soul into believing he is still alive. He lives on in my speakers and my headphones. He can still affect us when we hear him sing and he can fool us all that he’s doing just fine.

His death gave me an opportunity to revisit the music of my youth: grunge. When I was a teenager, one of the reasons I loved this genre is because there wasn’t a clear definition of it. Those who didn’t know would never know and that was fine by me. I knew that us insiders were in the know and this music was ours. We didn’t need to define it or explain it. We just listened to it and that was enough. Twenty five years later, I am trying to create a playlist on my computer I aptly named GRUNGE4LYFE and I have to be honest—I am struggling with deciding which bands should be included! Why wasn’t there a clear line delineated so we knew who was grunge and who wasn’t?

The obvious components are included: Mother Love Bone. Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Temple of the Dog. Nirvana. Screaming Trees. Alice in Chains. Mudhoney. Hole. But it’s at this point I get stuck. STP? No—they weren’t from the Pacific Northwest. Scott Weiland only sounded like Eddie Vedder; he wasn’t actually grunge. Billy Corgan did not play grunge music so the Smashing Pumpkins are out. Who else? Do I put the Lemonheads in? What about Bush or L7 or the Foo Fighters? Was grunge over by the time Grohl started his band? Wikipedia has a list of American Grunge Bands, but I don’t follow that, mainly because it doesn’t follow the classification of grunge I have in my head.

My categorization of grunge is: a subgenre of alternative rock that began in the early 1990s in the Pacific Northwest. While many traditional definitions of grunge embrace the style or fashion that includes baggy or torn clothes, I do not. So bands that were founded in Los Angeles or London or New England are not included in my definition of grunge. Maybe my characterization is too narrow. Maybe I am not being inclusive enough. I don’t care. I am not saying that anything outside of this definition is not worth listening to—far from it. I am just saying this is what grunge is and this is whom I included in my GRUNGE4LYFE playlist. Needless to say Mr. Cornell was featured quite prominently in my list.

As I said earlier, it has taken me a while to get over Chris’s death. And I use his first name because although I did not know him personally, he has been a part of my life since I was a teenager. He and I are part of the same generation. He came with me on road trips; he motivated me when I was feeling apathetic; he stuck by my side when other people in my life didn’t. And all that being said, I don’t think I would have counted Soundgarden and Audioslave as my favorite bands. Back in the day the argument was always Pearl Jam versus Nirvana. You were on one side or the other. Soundgarden was in the background just rocking the EFF out not caring which side you were on. And Chris was in the front belting his words out as softly or as brutally as we needed. As we now all know, he carried the weight of his life on his shoulders. He wasn’t healthy. He was in pain and he needed help. Eventually that all became too much and he needed out. Maybe the reason I haven’t been able to come to terms with this death is because he was the one who stuck around. He was able to drop the drug habits that killed Kurt and Layne in one way or another back in the mid 90s. He made it through his twenty-seventh year. He spoke for Generation X when others were not able to and in a way others just couldn’t. Soundgarden broke up and he was still able to go on to do other amazing things and then ultimately get back together with his bandmates. He made it to his fifties. He would be around for the long haul. Obviously I was wrong.

He left us with hundreds of songs and maybe even a handful more that we haven’t heard yet. After I collected all of my grunge tunes into one list and hit shuffle, the first song that came on was “My Wave” from Superunknown. These words seem somehow fitting:

Cry if you want to cry, if it helps you see; if it clears your eyes…

 

Cheers to you, Chris.