Way back in another time and another world, I was in the Music Business program at UGA. We were told to make little standees to put in front of us during every class so the visiting speakers would know who were were and what we were about. I, being always on brand if nothing else, put together this collage of local music spots that were important to me. The R.E.M. steeple, Schoolkids record shop, Caledonia, 40 Watt, Tasty World, the Georgia Theatre, and Nuci’s Space all seemed to fit together nicely. Topping it all off was my contact info (which remains the same if you must know) and a giant heart in case you didn’t understand that I loved these places.
Well, SchoolKids Records closed in 2011. I bought a U2 light box off Ross before he closed up shop. He passed in 2016. Then Tasty World, an important “band’s first venue” closed in 2010. That same year the Georgia Theatre caught fire. Though it was eventually rebuilt into a nice place, ownership changed and the bands started skewing away from what I personally enjoy. The steeple was purchased and is looking better than ever thanks to the efforts of the good folks at Nuci’s Space. Nuci’s is now celebrating its 20th year. The Watt is currently not doing shows but is still around (for now). But then there’s Caledonia.
If you missed Jessica Smith’s article in Flagpole about Caledonia (or my short blurb on the venue), I’d check it out. It’s a familiar and infuriating tale. I’m still just so hurt and confused by it all. We had all wordlessly agreed that Caledonia would be where we’d party once all this mess had blown over. The idea that I will never set foot in that cold-ass, dark, glorious sound box is still something that haunts me.
I just read about Seattle’s Crocodile having to move. The whole “we’re not going to even bother talking about upping the lease” thing hits too hard. Very few local folk can afford to buy the properties in downtown Athens and those that can usually aren’t interested in keeping around a little shoebox venue like Caledonia. I often dream of winning the lottery and buying spots back downtown. They’re just dreams.
The little sign I made still hangs in my home office, just within eye line from my computer. I’ve been looking at it and my Pylon Box set this past weekend thinking about how long it’s been since I was at any of these places, saw or heard any of these people. It’s my birthday this week and I’ll be stuck at home with only a computer screen’s worth of well wishes to make me feel like any time has passed since March. I’m honestly not looking forward to the holiday season either. I’ve never cared about getting older but I feel every last one of my 33 years right now. I’ve also never had true birthday wishes until this year either.
I want there to still be places to go once it’s safe to gather once more. I want to hang out with the few friends I’ve got left in town at a place that isn’t owned by a chain or a known abuser. I want to know that my favorite bands will still play once a month because they can still afford rent. I want Athens to be a more free and equal place. I want us to stay weird and not become the Atlanta suburb that the college kids and their investment class folks wish us to be. I grow tired of large, mostly empty apartment complexes that I could never hope to afford. I am tired.
I know how my younger self felt about those places on my sign. I started AMJ not long after making it. I can feel the heat and the earnestness in those posts. The longing to belong somewhere is there. Hell, I’d say it’s still here. But this loss wasn’t like the others. This year absolutely was not like the others. The memories are more hurtful than comforting at the moment but I’m old enough now to know that will change over time. All I can hope for is that this trip around the sun is slightly better than the last.