Radiator Hospital made one of my favorite albums of 2013, Something Wild. Earlier this month, I saw them for the first time at Glasslands. It was a terrific show, incredibly catchy and energetic; I’ve described Radiator Hospital’s music to a few friends as finding a good space somewhere between The Weakerthans and The Microphones, and that aesthetic was definitely present on the night I saw them. After the show, I went over to the merch table to see what they had. I ended up picking up two zines from Cynthia Ann Schemmer, who plays guitar in the band (as well as Heavy Bangs): Secret Bully and Habits of Being.
Secret Bully takes its name from a Joan Didion quote. The first half centers around Schemmer’s decision to move from her New York home to Philadelphia; some of the essays are juxtaposed with quotes about the concept of nostalgia. Gradually, the subject evolves: Schemmer’s own nostalgia finds her exploring both her family’s history and different corridors of New York, from Dead Horse Bay to a news clipping about the Greenpoint of decades ago. (As a fan of New Yorks Forgotten and Underwater, I should state that I am never not fond of the idea of reading about these kinds of things.) Schemmer has a good eye for detail, whether it’s the mannerisms of a family member or what it feels like to traverse a new region by canoe. There’s some fantastic writing to be found here.
Habits of Being centers around histories of three women living at the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Unrest Home, described as “a women’s intentional community” located in Ohio. These narratives are juxtaposed with Schemmer’s own memories of her life. On the most basic level, they’re about the discovery of oneself: the growing awareness of one’s political consciousness, and how that relates to other aspects of daily life. Schemmer’s descriptions of life at the community are brief but concise, focusing on images or salient details about each of the residents interviewed. (There’s also an audio edition, which I’m eager to hear.) After reading it, I felt as though I’d been given a window into the lives of several people, and made aware of experiences I would not have otherwise; reading an oral history such as this, one can’t hope for more than that.