Say we’re in Ithaca, New York. Or in a bookstore basement in Cleveland, folding metal chairs arranged in a loose semi-circle around an institutional podium. Or even a Chicago Sunday matinee, chairs this time arranged in gunmetal rows.
The trappings remain the same. So does the reception, the usual reliable in each town, former zine contributors, people in bands, friends from school. The odd reader who found one of our books and came out.
These tours – usually during the summer– are inevitably highlights of my year.
Mike Faloon has been at it for years.
During pop-punk’s late nineties heyday, he played first with NYC nerd-rockers Egghead., then with Kung Fu Monkeys. These bands were on the scene, playing shows, putting out records, touring, and making connections.
And somewhere in there Faloon started his own zine, the smart, silly Go Metric! His love of baseball jumpstarted another zine, Zisk, with co-conspirator Steve Reynolds.
All the band and baseball writing was a springboard for some fiction, too. The folks at Razorcake – American’s only non-profit punk zine – put out Faloon’s short story collection The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock on their Gorsky Press publishing imprint. He contributes reviews to the magazine, interviews.
Submerging is the latest publishing endeavor, a lit journal published by Faloon and by Brian Cogan, Brett Essler and Brendan Kiernan, members of Faloon’s long-standing writing group.
And then there’s all the one-off zines, the trial runs for Quinn’s chapters and collections of music columns, printed and small batches and distributed at Faloon’s frequent readings in and around New York City and on tour across the country.
In Damon Krukowski’s The New Analog, the author broadens the hidebound digital-vs.-analog dichotomy by including discussion of signal vs. noise. Whatever we’re receiving – a song, a record, a show — is the signal. This distinction sounds simple, but Krukowski argues that noise is valuable, and the elimination of noise – whether it’s literal, as in digital recording engineers removing anything but music, or figurative, such as the way streaming services strip songs of contextual info, making listening to music an eternal present devoid of history – is part of what he calls Murphy’s Moore’s Law. It’s Moore’s Law that says technology will double every eighteen months, but it’s Murphy’s Law that says anything that can go wrong will. Stripping all noise from signal just accelerates the pace at which society gets fucked up.
There isn’t much of a punk scene in the part of upstate New York where Mike Faloon lives. It’s not far to New York City by MTA under ideal weekend conditions. But seeing a band on a Tuesday, say, is a near impossibility, with the trainride back upstate pushing against two a.m. with a wakeup at six.
But the urge to see live music doesn’t subside.
On tour, Faloon read essays eventually destined for The Other Night At Quinn’s.
He’s a jotter. As long as I’ve known him he’s carried a notebook in his backpack for a quick jot or an extended rumination.
He’s also a voraciously curious about records, books, movies, television. He watches old sitcoms with his kids, keeps up with new punk, reads books on baseball history. Everything gets thrown into the pot.
The musicians Faloon writes about in The Other Night At Quinn’s run the jazz gamut, but tend more towards left-of-the-dial arrangements.
Joe McPhee was the Quinn’s entrance point.
His record Nation Time is revered in certain jazz circles. Not the ones whose Venn diagrams overlap with restaurant soundtracks, either: McPhee’s playing is a little more out there, something occasionally bordering on Forced Exposure stuff, amorphous howl and skronk.
After a forty year career, McPhee became a semi-regular Monday night player at a diner in upstate New York, attracting some listeners, ambushing some diners.
On a podcast with Bill Simmons, Ta-Nahesi Coates talked about living as an artist. Prior to the success of essays like The Case For Reparations and his book Between the World And Me, he was grinding, a working writer without much acclaim.
His work gained a wider audience. So much attention – success, better or worse – changed his life. Suddenly, his house was in the style section of the New York Times, where before even making rent was a struggle. Everyone knew who he was; everyone was looking at him. The eyeballs and pressure were hard to handle after so many years of relative anonymity.
I figured out, Coates said in the interview, that the worst thing that can happen to a writer is that no one pays attention to you. Which happens most of the time. Realizing that was very freeing.
I thought you’d appreciate this, Faloon said on one visit to his house, pointing to a wall of his office.
The small room is stuffed to the gills with an endlessly rotating fascination of media: records and CD’s, books, magazines, gig posters, framed flyers, baseball cards. But it’s not any of this stuff he’s pointing to: it’s a white sheet of paper hung on the wall.
The paper is covered with post-it notes: color-coded, I later find out, by topic. Movies warrant their own color; books, television shows, the live music sets.
How to capture something as fleeting as a live free jazz performance?
Faloon could have recorded and listened to the jazz players he later wrote about, sure. But doing so somehow wouldn’t be true to the form of the music: the performances just wouldn’t translate when funneled through a car stereo some days after. Music is ethereal. The songs were part of it, but so were the performers, the way they gestured and grimaced and sweated and smiled. The way they played.
So many points of reference make connecting and relating easier. And accounting for more than just the music, the part that’s most easily lost in a recording, is an integral part of the equation.
The bits I never heard read aloud are the final additions.
After the essays about performance took shape, Faloon did interviews. Not just with the musicians – though there are those – but with townspeople, folks who have lived in Beacon for years and have seen the ways the town has changed. To a person, they talk about how Quinn’s – essentially a diner – has been a town fixture over the years. A staple.
It makes sense that the humble town landmark would play host to a cast of veteran musicians who have made careers of lurking the margins. Ideas, a place to congregate, an audience – everything a scene needs.
With so much focus on content and clicks, community gets lost. We’re driven to consume. With so many records out there, it’s impossible to hear them all. We want to have conversations, so we figure a broad, thin base is better than deeply diving in to a single thing. We might be able to get involved if a topic is pulled from the superficial pool.
The Other Night At Quinn’s focuses not only on the music the little diner showcases, but the people who play it and nourish it and love it and enable it outside of the typical parameters of success. Sustenance and real connections and long-term sustainability have been pushed to the side in favor of quick click –the new signal in the equation. Luckily, Mike Faloon and Quinn’s and its denizens push back.
 I should mention I’ve been writing for Razorcake since 2013.
The Other Night at Quinn’s: New Adventures in the Sonic Underground
by Mike Faloon
Gorsky Press; 288 p.