Next Stop, New Delhi
It’s a Sunday night with heavy bands playing to a light crowd when I meet Cary to talk before his set between bands. The main space of The Meatlocker is too loud for an interview, so after opening various hidden doors, we find a quiet corner with seats. “See Patrick! All it takes is a little faith,” Cary says, now overjoyed to participate in a proper interview; and that’s just how Cary is—enthusiastic. Generally jolly, surprisingly, for being tightly associated with New Jersey’s hardcore punk scene. The association, though, is mostly history.
Cary grew up as an active player in the scene (and while it may be esoteric, this is the scene that people remember and wish the current music scene would emulate). If New Jersey Hardcore were a family, Cary would be the younger brother always wanting to be involved. But this was not the jolly Cary we know today. This Cary was angry. “I was an angry, bitter kid,” he says, “and hardcore helped me deal with that. Every kid who listens to hardcore has something wrong in their life.” Cary furthers the point, referencing Fear Factory’s frontman on the band’s breaking up, when lead singer Burton C. Bell said, “I’m not angry enough.” The genre, by nature, carries great intensity, as do Cary and its fans.
The NJ Hardcore family lived in a home called Bloomfield Ave Cafe, not far from where The Meatlocker is today; a maroon awning over the sidewalk still bears the name of the once prominent venue. Living within walking distance, Cary spent most of his time at Bloomfield Ave, usually six nights a week, eventually performing on four of those nights regularly. He’d parted ways with the local scene before the cafe finally shut down, but its closing still him unsettled: “I never thought it would actually close,” he says, “I couldn’t imagine a scene without it.”
Though he initially wanted to be a musician, Cary struggled to find bandmates. An off suggestion to do a stand-up routine for the cafe’s comedy night in 2002 put him on a new path as a solo artist. “I actually wrote the entire set on a plane to Mexico. The jokes weren’t that great and got old pretty fast, but they were my bread and butter for seven years.” In that time, Cary had grown significantly, eventually becoming involved with friend and alternative musician Vic Chestnutt, and channeling his frustrations with the world into an album in which he and Chestnutt collaborated.
Chestnutt, suffering his own complications, wheelchair-bound from a car accident many years earlier, passed away in 2009, sending Cary into the unfocused fray of depression. It was not until he met Paul Chesia, now known for being the second half of Melissa + Paul, that Cary returned to the music scene with passion and a level-head. Without a name, the duo dove headfirst into Cary’s original desire—to be a musician. Their first gig had them scheduled for a twenty minute set. But an overly emphatic Cary dragged the show on. “I played for an hour,” he says, “I had no idea. Paul didn’t know what to do other than to keep playing.” Oddly enough, though Cary had gotten what he wanted – a band – it was the length of this exercise on stage which led him to realize he wanted to get up and talk to people.
Starting up again, reinventing himself once more was difficult at first. His comedic past had left him pidgeon-holed within the scene. He remembers, “People thought it would be a joke. Oh he’s doing ‘spoken word.’ They didn’t understand how tough writing is or how tough performing a show can be.” Setting aside public ignorances, Cary pressed forward, stealing the microphone between sets at The Meatlocker and ultimately catching the attention of Dan Rivas, the venue’s booking agent, who offered him an unofficial residency, saying, “Play here anytime.”
Let it be known: Cary Goldberg is not a poet. “Poets live in Brooklyn and listen to Bukowski on tape. They publish shit and I make records. I tell crotchety old people who don’t understand what spoken word is that I’m a poet, but I’m just an artist,” he says, “I want to be open to anything.” Still seated in the back room of the Meatlocker, tired from standing most of the day, Cary begins contemplating his coming set. He knows which pieces he’ll read already, but takes time to think about it anyway. To date, Cary has written too many pieces to count. “Some works are bastards and some are honors students. All of them are my babies, though I don’t perform the real bastards.” Of those he likes most, Cary explains, “Anything I have on my albums or read live, I like. And there is more stuff that what’s on my albums still un-bounced on The Meatlocker’s computer.” From the whole collection, two pieces stand out as significantly important: Once More With Feeling and Next Stop, New Delhi:
Once More With Feeling I wrote after a show at The Meatlocker. This bigger band, I won’t say who, wanted me to shup up so they could star their set early. They were pulling rank and I wasn’t having it, so I told the crowd “I know you like this band now, but in two years they’ll be pumping your gas.” Next Stop, New Delhi is really important to me because it mentions my friend Aaron from the band First Step, a post-hardcore band from D.C., who went off to become a monk. I gave him my demos at CBGB’s when I was sixteen and he never forgot me years later. It also brings up a heroin addict I met outside of Port Authority, and is overall that I hope people aren’t having to struggle, outside in the rain, like her. A lot of people are in trouble.
Cary claims a lot of jazz as inspiration for his writing, noting Gil Scott Heron and Saul Williams, and The Fugees hip-hop rhythms for developing flow. But the music that draws out his emotionality comes from two specific albums. “When I was fifteen, I bough two CDs in the Amsterdam airport before my flight home: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs. The song “Anywhere I Lay My Head” brought me to sobbing tears..That never happened to me before.”
The distorted band echoing in the background fades and Cary shuffles in his seat. “They’ll probably want me to read soon,” he speaks softly. Cary isn’t performing his own set, but is reading between sets—he isn’t even on the bill. He wants to change that in the future, though, hoping to some day set up a backing band, experiment with noise music alongside his spoken word, maintaining the stance that his art be fluid and flexible; “have freedom to it.” He explains, “Part of me wants to be in a band and part of me just wants to work with me. I like calling the shots.”
Cary stands. Focused and ready for what seems to be a short straw deal, smiling, he takes a deep breath. “Cary,” I say, “Thank you for the interview. Is there anything you want to say before you have to go?” He replies:
My art is everything I have, and I open for bands. They don’t open for me. After ten years in the scene, it’s easy to feel forgotten. But my CD release was huge! I cried three times. I’ve never felt so much love before. I don’t make art because I want to or just like to write. I do it because I need to. So when people tell me they like my stuff, it makes everything worthwhile.
At that, Cary took his leave for the stage, empathetic to a crowd that wasn’t for him, and calm—perhaps imagining his next stop would be New Delhi.