Against #YouthCulture

The demise of a critic.


In a joke held fondly among Parisians, the city is said to be shaped a bit like a snail: bustling at its center, then unfurling and unfurling along a spiral-shaped course, out into the fringes, away into fist-fights and slurred profanities. One recent evening, a Thursday I think, I was crouched behind a padlocked door in a rickety hotel along the Rue de Seine, where I had taken refuge from a scarlet, anonymous, entity. Back against the wall, there were roaches in my hair, but I didn’t want to scratch at them, because that would also have meant scratching at the places where my once-hair was now wispy, freckled scalp. The big-city snail was alive and well outside my bedroom window, a utopia where there were no roaches or old hags, but cultured 20-somethings (French, American, British) and their drunken, trailing-off sentences: yeh, it was a cold night and Meeshu was there—you’ve met Meeshu, right?—he was there and so was the dog… No, yeah you’re right, Meeshu is the dog, and Y.E was playing, and it was a crazy time, yeh, no, that was the craziest, it’s always the craziest. Young people never have to make sense. It makes me furious. I wish I knew I didn’t have to make sense before I started having to make sense. That evening and the ones preceding it congealed like flesh in a wicked cauldron, multilingual voices trailing off from my window, driving me mad with confusion, but also with frenzied envy. They were young and senseless, but they made more sense than Robert Allen Danzig ever could: while his counterparts were outside rotting with each other, he was inside, doomed to rot on his own.

“As long as the murderous entity is outside, and I am inside, I will be young.”

Robert Allen Danzig arose from the wall that Thursday night and, with a sudden burst of youthful, fuck-it-all nihilism, thrust his hand up to his balding head, plucking away the cockroaches one by one. Some roaches had already sunken their fangs into the places where his flesh, once coated with sloppy black locks, was unobstructed and appetizing. Over the course of his exile to Paris, he’d gotten the hang of this: pinch the wings, hold them tightly, pry the roach away until it lets go, toss it, squash it, use the index finger to check for blood. Scanning his palm in what little moonlight shone into his room, he could make out scarlet liquid on his fingers. Maybe this was what the entity wanted all along: to watch him bleed to death, one bug-bite at a time, slowly but surely. Or, maybe it wanted only to see him suffer. Not every bug bit, and not every bug-bite bled. This was a slow and agonizing existence—consuming only dead phyla, used napkins, and whatever he could convince the room-service woman to smuggle him from down the hall; shitting himself whenever he was too scared to walk to the toilet, which was often; falling asleep with resentment, waking up to discover that the resentment had multiplied—but one for which the alternative was undeniably worse. The entity was standing outside, waiting for him. Robert Allen Danzig wouldn’t budge. As he grew increasingly firm in denying the entity its rendezvous, he retreated further into his dimly-lit encampment, until he couldn’t touch the doorknob, he couldn’t go to the bathroom, he couldn’t mount his bed, I couldn’t leave the wall, I couldn’t move my feet, I couldn’t use my phone, I couldn’t talk for longer than 30 seconds, I couldn’t think about what I had left behind. All youth is—all youth has ever been—is non-death. As long as the murderous entity is outside, and I am inside, I will be young.

The first time I encountered my tormentor, it was neatly placed halfway-underneath my old office door at SW headquarters. Encased within a worn manila folder— “#YOUTHCULTURE” scrawled in hasty sharpie across its front—it was a shoddy-looking vinyl record with a fleshly crimson humanoid, almost as if its skin had been torn off, gracing the sleeve. “Oh joy,” I deadpanned as usual, and delegated it to my corner trash can, which had been overflowing with all the other mixtapes, CDs, and hate-mail from the previous quarter. The room was beginning to reek of plastic and ethylene; I motioned to take out the garbage. I thought nothing of it. But upon my return from the dumpster, in the same exact place—down to the very inch—there it was again: underneath my door, covered in the same window-shaped fleck of afternoon sunlight, a fleshly mannequin glaring up at me from its vinyl prison as if to ask, “What now?” I stepped over it and returned to my desk, but for some reason, I would never be able to shake its eyeless glare: staring out at me from cavernous, coarse skin, perfectly still, leaning back as if stuck in eternal laughter. And it was I, alone, it was eternally laughing at. Daytime strolls through Central Park, late-night 7-train jolts across the Queensboro Bridge, white-knuckle early-morning school drop-offs, red-eye flights from assignment to assignment: everywhere I went, I could see it through the windows, see it through the corner of my eye, hear its footsteps, hear its distant guffaw.

“Just listen to our fucking album and we’ll stop, geriatric fuck.”

Robert Allen Danzig had been quite accustomed to this, but never to this extent. When he began working at Sammy’s World, then a “hip” MTV competitor, in the late 1980s, he quickly garnered a reputation among the nation’s youth as a brash music critic who could decide that anyone was a legend, and have all of America believe him—much to the appeasement of upstart adolescents who drove their parents’ vans to the nearest post office, toting lazily-packaged mixtapes and cassettes addressed to “R.A.D. / SW HQ / 151 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036 / Please listen to our shit.” Adjacent to the office space in his not-bad-for-the-area Bowery apartment, Robert Allen Danzig devoted another, larger room to the growing mountain of fan-mail that came from his fastly-growing readership: some begging for reviews, others begging for explanations, a few hoping to arrange interviews with local bands. At the height of his celebrity, he was profiled by the New Yorker; the 13,000 word mega-report featured interviews with Bill Clinton and Madonna, the former of which declared himself an avid reader, and the latter of which tearfully begged for him to return her letters. Robert Allen Danzig never wrote back to Madonna, because Robert Allen Danzig was a man of his own unpredictable, sought-after, singular vision. He engaged with what he wanted to engage with, and everything he touched turned to gold.

But as time went on, and the Sammy’s World 80s fizzled into the Rolling Stone 90s, Robert Allen Danzig’s celebrity—and his youth—dwindled as if infected by an aggressive, bloodsucking cancer. He would spend the final decade of the 20th Century writing here and there, mostly as a one-off guest contributor to national magazines, while putting the heaps of money from his prime towards settling down for good. He married Fernanda Gordon Danzig, a longtime morning-commute companion of his; they had two daughters, Kim and West, two years apart. As the family ushered in the 2000s, Danzig remained a senior writer at SW, now a childish WordPress website with minimal if-you-know-you-know readership, where he remained until he was no longer a celebrity at all—and eventually, not much of a writer, either. Which was why, in January of 2023, four decades after the New Yorker profiles, the heartbroken Madonnas, the Bill Clinton endorsements, the mountainous piles of fan mail, it was strange for someone to not only know where his office was, but slip an album beneath its door—every single day.

“He was never one to let anyone—let alone a mixtape—conquer him. But as this #YOUTHCULTURE  package slithered its way further and further into his family’s private life, he was scared, and it was beginning to show.”

As January melted into February, and winter gave way to spring, the manila folder would manifest itself, with increasing boldness, in a growing number of locations: from Danzig’s doorstep to his desk, from his desk to his bag, from his bag to his house, from his house to Fernanda’s chester-drawers, from Fernanda’s chester-drawers to the kids’ backpacks, from the kids’ backpacks to underneath Danzig’s covers, snuggled in the crawl space between its target and his wife. Robert Allen Danzig could feel the humanoid’s eyeless gaze piercing him through its sloppy casing. He was never one to let anyone—let alone a mixtape—conquer him. But as this #YOUTHCULTURE  package slithered its way further and further into his family’s private life, he was scared, and it was beginning to show. 

A week or so before he left New York, and his family, forever, a disembodied voicemail from an unregistered number announced itself from the house phone, rattling off the hook with every word: “Just listen to our fucking album and we’ll stop, geriatric fuck,” it said, sounding barely human. Shivering, the washed-up music critic peered out at the telephone from his bedroom door. At its base, there sat the manila folder, now with a set of veiny, fleshly fingers grasping at its hinges from the inside, freeing itself like a gangly penguin stumbling out from an egg. He certainly couldn’t listen to the album—finally engaging with something by external force, rather than internal intuition, would invalidate his entire legacy as a music critic, and Madonna would piss on his grave—but he also couldn’t stand that this was happening in his own house, to his own wife and children, all equally vulnerable to the sentient mixtape’s murder scheme. Soon, he was on a solo flight to Paris, bare essentials stowed away in the bowels of a Boeing 787. Somewhere in his padlocked suitcase, a manila folder Robert Allen Danzig did not place there sat in wicked silence.

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