Everyone has different preferences in strippers. Beverly likes the girl with blown out flower tattoos and cheap hair extensions who looks like a biker’s girlfriend. Also: the pale, thin, red haired girl with a mole on her tiny ass. One friend likes the tattooed babe with the mohawk, and actually gets a lap dance from her, which he enjoys. Drummer Cory tells me he is an ass guy. “I think smaller breasts are beautiful, larger breasts are just fine…I like ass.” It appears to be his lucky day.
I am at Pumps Bar in the culmination of many hours of after-partying with Cult of Youth, a goth band in the broadest, sloppiest, most catch-all sense of the word that cringes tastefully (and probably correctly) if you call them that. Everyone is having a good time, but it was not always a foregone conclusion that we would end up here. It took several hours of drinking beforehand.
Let’s back up. We’re at 285 Kent and Cult of Youth are playing a visceral set of their tough-to-categorize music. Some of the band’s members have that “Hitler youth” haircut favored by industrial dudes everywhere, but their sound is more dark neo-folk. At times during the show, barefoot frontman Sean Ragon sounds like he could be singing an Irish drinking song, a suggestion to which he will later reply, “Well, I am from Boston.” The post punk bass lines, dissonant chords and distorted climaxes balance out his warm singing and occasional screams. Like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, it appeals to my gothic sensibilities without being specifically of the genre.
After the show, we mill around and decide where to go. I float the idea of Pumps, which is always a good idea when trying to jumpstart some fun with new friends. Bassist Jasper and his wife are immediately psyched. They don’t often have Saturdays off and haven’t been to Pumps in forever. Some of the other guys think it’s cheesy. Instead, we decide to go to The Flat for a friends birthday and free drinks.
We arrive at The Flat, where dubstep music blares at an unpleasant volume (any). Jasper and his wife sit in the alcove located as far from the speakers as possible, and Jasper tells me the story of when he last went to Pumps 11 years ago. A friend of his from the band the Casualties had to make a quick stop before dropping him off at home after a wild night out. “I thought he was getting milk, but he was going to Pumps, and when we walked in, the music stopped. It was not cool. I actually don’t remember much past that. I’m assuming he bought me drinks. It was terrifying.”
Jasper’s wife has her own strip club story. She says once, when she was in New Orleans, a friend bought her a lap dance. The stripper danced for the wrong person by mistake, a prude who didn’t exactly appreciate it.
Singer Sean once went to a strip club in Portland on mushrooms, he says. “I felt like if I made eye contact with someone, I had to throw them money, so I just sat at the bar and watched Family Guy … then we just ran around Portland, swam in some weird river and broke into an abandoned stretch of highway … but from experience, mushrooms and strip clubs, not so good for me. It gets dark.”
As the dubstep begins to switch over to hip-hop, we talk about the myths of rock and roll. Sean says he identifies more with the initial idea behind industrial music. When Genesis P. Orridge started Throbbing Gristle, he says, “the idea was that rock and roll was a cultural perspective that was equivalent to what people were getting from newspapers and from this and from that…and they wanted to start something that was like pure information that had no political bias, no social bias and no cultural bias.”
All those images of things like fascism, serial killers, sexual abuse, “things people had very strong opinions on … the idea was to deprogram people and destroy their cultural beliefs, so that you can build a better human being once their conditioning is stripped away. The idea of rebirthing yourself to have no cultural bias is kind of this really profound concept,” he says. (Note: contrary to the vague noises of controversy surrounding his band, Sean is not a fascist, but someone who believes taboo symbols have a place in art.)
I say that I’m pretty confident in my current stance on fascism, rape, etc., and that I think forming opinions on things is part of what makes you a person, and not necessarily something that needs to be undone. But we are both tipsy on free vodka and continue to talk about meditation, states of near death, the reptilian brain, societal conditioning, Ian Svenonius (thumbs up), Kanye West (thumbs down) and Sean’s distaste for politics, the enemy of art. “The only purpose politics have ever served is to oppress people,” he says.
Now some booty rap is playing, and everyone is into it. Most of Cult of Youth and their black clad friends are getting down to various degrees of swagginess, and it’s a beautiful sight to behold. Trever Millay of the band YOU is especially into it.
“I’ve never seen this many punks on the dance floor in my life, it’s awesome,” says Sean’s fiance Beverly Hames.
By the time 2:30 rolls around, everyone has lubed up quite a bit. We are primed to go to Pumps.
As attractive women of varying shapes and sizes alternately dance on the pole and present their boobs to us (into which we must insert dollar bills), I ask guitarist/synth guy Christian how he likes being the only single person in Cult of Youth. Are the hot darkwave women just tackling him in the streets or what?
“It’s good. Is that an appropriate way to put it? Everyone else is married or engaged now, so I … I’m just living in a world where, to be perfectly honest, I feel I should be getting laid more than I am, but I’m so weird about it that I…” he trails off.
I ask if being around all those happy couples makes him want to get married.
“No. I was in a relationship for five years, and I’m thoroughly enjoying not being in a relationship anymore. How well does this work in bars?” he abruptly asks, pointing to the iPhone I am using to record him. “I’ve used this in Danish churches, but never in bars before.”
The music is notably worse than at The Flat, a combination of Linkin Park and bands that sound exactly like Linkin Park providing the soundtrack. “This is like a punk rock nightmare,” says Sean. Do we think the mohawked girl dancing to Korn really likes Korn? Responses vary. “She is the most attractive woman in here,” says Christian. A different girl presents her cleavage, and he inserts two dollars. “The worst thing is, now I just want to put another dollar in her tits,” he says, motioning toward the mohawked fan/not fan of Korn. That’s how they get you.
Things fall apart, but not in the manner of journeyman revelers who’ve never stayed out until the wee hours before. Most of these people are in their 30s, and theirs is a mature inebriation. Despite the crowd of Saturday night regulars, Cult of Youth’s entourage has really filled up the small bar, and there are just as many goths (or whatevers) as thugs, bikers, and seemingly lost bridge and tunnelers. I bring up the idea of strip club as safe space for drug use and Sean tells me he used to have a serious drug problem, but that if it’s not ruining my life, I should have fun.
Before we know it, it’s 4am, and the bouncers are turning on the lights on us, threatening to take our drinks, and hustling us out onto the freezing sidewalk. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. A few people mumble about where to go next, but a critical mass of these folks know when to call it a night, so everyone vies for a cab as politely as possible. As it turns out, the desolate block where Grand meets Metropolitan is not a prime spot to catch a ride.
Trever and I climb in a random yellow cab with some people visiting from the Hamptons who were very impressed with the quality of adult entertainment at Pumps. I tell them I did mushrooms on the beach in Montauk once, and they tell me a story about how they, too, once did mushrooms on the beach and liked it. I feel we’re not so different, Williamsburg fashion goths and Long Island mall shoppers. Trever is silent in the front seat. He and I jump out at a red light, he walks me to my house, and we solidify plans to do crimes together for journalism at some future date. He might not remember it tomorrow, but my recorder is working.