Mourning Magnetic Field: Too Uncool to Be Forgotten


Friday night, two days before the Brooklyn Heights spot Magnetic Field was set to close for good, someone posted a sign outside that read: “Tonight’s show is sold out. Where have you been the past five years?” The good-natured dig was amusing for the club’s stalwarts, who’d long purchased tickets for that night’s double bill of the Condo Fucks and the A-Bones. For the latecomers, however—who’d discovered a few hours earlier that the Condo Fucks were actually Yo La Tengo—it was a sly reminder that they were late to the party. A half-decade party that was winding down over the weekend, and is now officially over. “Besides being open for my lifetime, I think we achieved all that we expected,” says co-owner Lee Greenfeld. “The last week has been very emotional.”

Those fair-weather fans would’ve felt left out anyway. Or at least I did. I’d hung out at the Atlantic Avenue bar a few times and always liked it, but I was not immediately recognized and embraced as one of Magnetic Field’s close-knit devotees upon entry. (In fact, I was recognized as the girl on the press list whose name sounds an awful lot like “Amy Fisher,” which the bouncer found terribly amusing.) Pretty much everyone else seemed to know one another. It was charming to watch. Greenfeld and his partner, William Crane, spent their years at the bar cultivating a loyal base, and I watched as the bartenders filled drink orders that hadn’t been placed yet, sliding over a customer’s preferred cocktail around the same time he was opening his mouth to ask for it. There were half-ironic and wholly misguided fist-pumps among boys who clearly do not fist-pump, and I watched as a girl blushed when her attempt to buy a drink for someone even more awkward than she was rebuffed. (“It’s easier if you just take the money,” he said, handing her a ten-spot for the beer she’d bought him. “I’ll get confused later about who owes what.”) Someone’s parents navigated their way toward the stage, the smells from whatever restaurant they just left clinging to their clothes. Isn’t that the worst? I politely request a seat change if someone near me ever orders fajitas. They’re foul.

My interloper status didn’t matter once Yo La Tengo meandered up to the stage from their spots out among the crowd (yeah, it was like that), and the crush moved forward to soak up the trio’s feedback. They played a slew of covers I didn’t recognize but enjoyed nonetheless—energy was high, high, high—and eventually the A-Bones’ Billy Miller and Bruce Bennett joined Ira, James, and Georgia onstage to further amp up the loud-and-fast factor, while the happy buzz of the crowd multiplied. A Brooklyn five-piece that plays the wild rock ‘n’ roll of years gone by, the A-Bones often took the Magnetic Field stage—as did the Black Lips, the Ponys, Lenny Kaye, and Voxtrot—amid the club’s busy weekly lineup of shows, DJs, and live karaoke. The A-Bones also have another claim to fame: Drummer Miriam Linna and frontman Miller are the brains behind the Norton record label.

Speaking of Norton Records—oh my God, Mary Weiss was there, in black leather and with perfect blond hair. The former leader of the Shangri-Las is signed to said label, after meeting Miller at a Rhino Records party for the girl-group boxed set One Kiss Can Lead to Another, and she’s set to sing live at the 2008 Joey Ramone Birthday Bash at Irving Plaza on May 19. I’m so pleased by this. “You’re Never Gonna See Me Cry,” from last year’s Dangerous Games, is totes on my Muxtape.

Sadly for Magnetic Field enthusiasts, there’s no glamorous story behind its demise (the loss of your favorite bar is always more palatable if evil developers are the culprit). The owners are just both ready to move on to other projects: Greenfeld will devote more time to Dead Flowers, his production company, which manages, books, and promotes the same type of spirited garage rock (Black Hollies, Nouvellas) that Norton reps, while Crane will continue to host the Sudden Death Game Show as his alter ego, Dick Swizzle—it’ll be moving to Union Hall. “Neither of us are at the age where 18-plus-hour days are very appealing at this point,” explains Greenfeld. “And as such, it was time for a change for both of us.” (As for what will become of the space, the owners are still in negotiations.)

I headed to Village Pourhouse after the show to catch the remainder of the KU game in an effort to appease my mother, who thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to meet a nice Midwestern boy with whom I could eventually return home, where I rightfully belong—sooner rather than later, thank you. (The boys were there, all right. And they were cute. But there were some 300 of them, and an equal number of girls wearing pocket-sized versions of Jayhawks jerseys. I both cannot and would not attempt to pull off such an ensemble. No love connections. Sorry, Carol.) But I was sorry to leave Magnetic Field’s cheery, intimate confines—and surprised the next day to read the nasty comments on various blogs’ follow-up posts about the show. “From the earlier thread a big fuck you goes out to Lee from Magnetic Field who posted on there … We all knew it was YLT so why keep up the charade you idiot,” wrote a humorless and grammatically challenged Brooklyn Vegan commenter—possibly one of the folks Greenfeld was hoping would stay away.

“The ‘charade’ was so that the wonderful, sweet folks in YLT could play to our loyal friends and patrons,” Greenfeld responded. “Not a bunch of ungrateful schmucks who are too cool to have bothered with us for the past five years.”

Still, Greenfeld doesn’t want to dwell on the negative. “Besides being a music venue, I’ve come to realize after this week of closing nights that it became a sort of living room for a lot of wonderful people—a community,” he says on Monday morning, the day after they shut down the bar for the last time. “I am going to miss all those folks in my living room more than I can even put into words.”