The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber has been accused of having a bit of an… obsessive personality. Each week in Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and most obscure bits of comics and pop culture that he can’t get out of his head.
I took last week off Silber Linings for Thanksgiving, but I’m thankful for something that happened to me last Tuesday, and figured my column that’s ostensibly about finding positivity in pop culture was as good a place as any to write about it.
These past few months been pretty rough for me. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s harder to think about thankfulness when you’re on the verge of another panic attack.
But life goes on, and when my friend Grant DeArmitt (whose work has been spotlighted here at The Beat) got sick and asked if I wanted to temporarily fill-in for him at a few Brooklyn bars where he usually hosts trivia, I took him up on it. I never saw myself as much of a public speaker, even for a small crowd at a local bar. But I needed the money, and as you may suspect from the fact that I write a weekly column that regularly celebrates obscure pop culture ephemera, I genuinely love trivia. I am nothing if not a wealth of useless information.*
(*Editor’s Note: It’s true. -JG)
Plus, mostly by accident, I’m slowly becoming more comfortable speaking in front of an audience. I moderated my first (virtual) Comic-Con panel over the summer, followed by moderating my first in-person panel in front of attendees at New York Comic Con. I was even invited onto one of my favorite podcasts, Progressively Horrified, to talk about the 2018 film The Golem mere hours after the publication of my NeoText Review essay on Judaism in horror films (my episode, which also features fellow Jewish lefty pop culture buff Elana Levin of Graphic Policy Radio, should be published by the time this piece gets published). Growing up with a lisp and a mild stutter had long since convinced me that public speaking was not my strong suit, but it seems that people are starting to disagree.
So there I was, feeling more than a little sorry for myself with a microphone in my hands at a Williamsburg bar, but trying to put on a brave face so a bunch of 30-something hipsters wouldn’t make me feel like I’m back in high school. Perhaps in part as a defense mechanism, I’ve taken to approaching my trivia hosting duties a bit like a stand-up comedian.
“Rule #2: don’t cheat. I am not a religious man, but I do believe that if you cheat you will be punished by whichever god you worship,” I said, and it got a few laughs. “Also, why would you cheat at bar trivia. The stakes are incredibly low. Who gives a shit.”
Between rounds, I chatted with a few friendly contestants. A pair of men gave me a heads-up that they’d have to leave the game early for a concert.
“That’s cool, thanks for letting me know,” I said. “Who are you guys seeing?”
“Nice! If I hadn’t just gotten laid off, I’d be there in a heartbeat. They’re starting their residency at Brooklyn Steel tonight, right? Like 20 shows.”
“You listen to LCD Soundsystem?”
“Oh yeah, all the time.”
“Well hey, I dunno how long this game is, but we may have an extra ticket if you want it.”
“Uh… yeah! But, wait, you don’t have to… I wasn’t asking for…”
“No you’re good. We wouldn’t want it to go to waste. There’s this girl who was gonna come with us but she’s on the fence now. If she decides not to come it’s all yours.”
I thanked them profusely, reiterating that if their friend wants to join them after all I’d totally understand, and we exchanged information. It was touch-and-go for a while as their friend kept waffling over whether she’d stay home from the show, but I had a trivia game to finish up hosting anyway. Even after it ended, I chatted with a few contestants about The Green Knight, and how the problem with the way we teach classic literature in this country is that we take it too seriously, and how even Shakespeare works like Romeo and Juliet had jokes so filthy I still don’t feel comfortable repeating them in polite company.
Finally, by around 9:45, I got the text that their friend was indeed sitting the show out, so I ran as fast as I could from the bar to the venue. By that point, LCD Soundsystem was about 4 songs in, and I missed one of their most famous songs, “Daft Punk is Playing at my House” as I went through the metal detectors and had my vaccination status checked by security. I was so late that they wouldn’t even check my shoulder bag at the coat check. It’s a big bag made heavy by my laptop, chargers, Nintendo Switch, and several comic books. Had I known two strangers would give me concert tickets, I would have packed lighter.
It was awkward being forced to keep something so bulky by my side during a show where everyone else was dancing and moving around the whole time, and it was disappointing to miss a large chunk of the show, especially when I missed one of my favorite LCD Soundsystem songs. But it’s hard to complain when you got a free (and presumably rather expensive otherwise) ticket to one of the most legendary New York bands of the last 20 years or so.
By lead singer James Murphy‘s own admission during the show, this performance was a bit of a mess. After a spirited performance of “Tonite” in which he forgot the words and broke into laughter mid-song, Murphy referred to the show as “the longest soundcheck, in front of the most people ever,” as multiple other songs had been affected by technical issues. But honestly, I barely noticed. The band played right through the setbacks, and I was having too much fun to care about the little details.
And perhaps more importantly, I found good company as the guys who gave me the tickets asked me to find them in the crowd and spend the show with them. I thanked them with a round of beers and sang and danced along to songs like “You Wanted a Hit” and “Dance Yrself Clean.” By the final song of the evening, the nostalgic and bittersweet “All My Friends,” it really did feel like I had made new friends… even if just for one night.
After the show, we walked back to the bar where I had hosted trivia just hours earlier and chatted some more. We were soon joined by the man and woman who had been that night’s winning trivia team. The woman told me that she “never met someone so committed to trivia” in her life, which is a pretty validating thing for someone like me to hear when so much of my life and career has been dedicated to the pursuit of useless information.
As much as I was enjoying the beautiful randomness of it all, as the night wore on I started to feel pangs of guilt and anxiety. It was hard to shake the voices telling me that I didn’t deserve this fun, unexpected night out. Not while I still hadn’t bounced back with a new full-time job after my recent layoff, or still fighting the harsh childhood memories telling me I wasn’t cool enough for strangers to invite me to party with them. Feeling another panic attack coming on sometime around 1am, I said goodnight and thanked them profusely before heading home.
As I waited for the subway, I experienced a crushing sadness. I just had an objectively great night. Why was I punishing myself for it? The guilt about feeling bad about feeling bad spun out of control into a vicious cycle that I couldn’t get out of until I put my headphones in and started playing LCD Soundsystem. I breathed deeply and tried to let myself absorb the music. Emotionally, I was on the brink of self-destruction. But intellectually, I was deeply grateful for the unforgettable night I just had. I tried to focus on the gratitude.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I’m thankful for those guys, I’m thankful for that bar, I’m thankful for LCD Soundsystem, and I’m thankful to live in a city like New York where I can experience crazy, unexpected nights like that.
I’m also thankful for The Beat, I’m thankful for Heidi MacDonald for talking me into starting this column, I’m thankful for Joe Grunenwald for editing it every week with such patience and care*, and I’m thankful to each and every one of you for reading. Happy belated Thanksgiving.
(*Editor’s Note: ….shucks. I’m thankful for you, too, Greg. -JG)