On Being a Semi-Retired Libertine


The pleasure of talking with old friends is how they remind you of crazy things you’ve done in the past. Sneaking backstage, making out with abandon, champagne nights and next-day brunches wearing sunglasses and a disheveled vibe: stories like these dot the past like rhinestones from a broken bracelet, crushd on a nightclub floor.

But not anymore. Don’t get me wrong: I love my life now. But sometimes the Stooges’ Fun House pops up on my iPod or I look at my old studded boots or my crazy party dresses in my closet, getting antsy as they wait to retake the stage. Or I uncover a whole sheaf of tickets, old matchbooks, flyers, an old all-access/VIP badge — the mementos of a rock ‘n roll-tinged life. And I miss those nocturnal adventures, the sense of openness and fun that comes from living from your wits, improvising fly-by-night.


I guess I’ve been thinking about my wild nights lately because of the noise surrounding the 10th anniversary of Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights. The record itself wasn’t anthemic for me, but Interpol (and other bands of that time, like the Walkmen, Calla, the Strokes, etc.) came up in New York at the same time I arrived in the city — we are, so to speak, of the same micro-generation. I remember seeing them at mod nights in the late 90s, at Don Hill’s Britpop night, at Bar 13 on Sunday night — the crown jewel of my week back then, when I saved up my money for drinks and saved up my best clothes for stomping around to Northern soul classics with skinny boys in skinny suits and ties.

It’s a weird thing, then, to hear your improvident youth — stomping grounds, bold-faced names you used to catch when reading the listings in Paper — memorialized in an “oral history” of the band and the record. Like looking at all those memories through the end of a telescope, and when you pull away, you realize that time in your life is a land even more distant than you realized. The boat is pulling away from the harbor, not coming in.

Of course, I moved away from NYC, and even if I wanted to live a rock ‘n roll life in the small Midwestern town I live in now, it’d be hard to come by unless I wanted to spend all my time in semi-crappy bars, the dim light disguising papery-leathery skin and a bleary-eyed existential fatigue. There’s always going to be a remnant of my old raucous glam punk self that judges such virtue and good, clean living as boring, I guess — but hopefully she’s in the twilight of the past, turning on her own bright lights somewhere.


I’ve been thinking about 2013 and what I want to create, filling in my little planner for the next year and evaluating this one. And one of the strands that’s been intriguing me is how to carry on the libertine spirit while still being a wised-up grown-up. I don’t want to be unimaginative and ape the past, because that’s uncreative. And I don’t want to mistake the trappings for the core of the teaching.

Underneath the champagne, the late nights and the decadence, the spirit of the libertine is someone connected to joie de vivre, someone with a mainline to pleasure. The libertine isn’t just a good-time girl: she’s keen on fun, on soaking all her senses with the most beautiful sensations and sights possible. She trusts the wisdom of bodies and questions the received knowledge of the world that surrounds her, a rebel of pleasure in a world full of puritans. Both liberation and libertine share the same root: a desire for wide-open freedom and the space to move and create within it. You don’t need a bar, or shows, or even a cocktail for this state of mind — just a trust in the sensuality of experience, an imagination and a love of freedom.

I guess I’m looking for ways to keep my champagne spirits intact, even as what I find pleasurable shifts away from the traditionally hedonistic and the booze-soaked. (Though, don’t get me wrong — I still love myself a fine drink.) I take pleasure now in how I can make basil thrive in my kitchen window; I find pleasure in the peculiar high I get from the 3-kilometer mark when I run a 5K; I like that when I kiss a boy now, I know I’ll be kissing him for a long time. How do libertines grow up? How can you keep connected to pleasure and mischievous adventure, and still live a life full of love, riches, and other wonderful things? I’m thinking in 2013 I’d like to find out…

(My favorite record by Interpol will actually always be Antics, just like my favorite from the Strokes will always be Room on Fire. Here’s “Slow Hands.”)

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