It’s 2:30am on a Sunday morning in 2001 or maybe 2002. (These memories are a conglomeration of many “nights out” and not just one.) I’m standing in a bar subtly called The Cock then located on Avenue A in the East Village, New York City. I am sipping a Maker’s Mark and soda, watching cute boys moving through the large crowd and listening to music being played by the expert DJ whose name now escapes me. The music is amazing and partly why I come to this bar. It is a mix of rock, punk, 80’s, old skool, New Wave and rap. I also come to The Cock because it is a liminal space of desire, sexuality, sex, queerness and debauchery.
The bar is somewhat sleazy, but not too much and in a good way: trashy go-g0 boys, some groping as you attempt to move through the crowd, boys kissing and boys flirting both sweetly and aggressively. At one time, there was a dark backroom at the bar which increased the sleaze factor, but that was never to my taste- too impersonal, too anonymous and a bit dangerous. Flirting, meeting a handsome boy, having a chat with him, sharing a drink, followed by some old fashioned kissing was always my thing that could lead to time alone with him or not. If it were up to me, I would bring back the dance cards and cards of introduction from the 19th century: “Kelly T. Keating QUEER”
Drinking my strong bourbon and soda, I am watching the go-go boy who is dancing on top of the bar. I gaze at him with disinterest. He is a prop to occupy my time between bouts of flirting and changing my location in the bar. He’s cute, toned and punky, but he’s really just a mover, not a dancer. Yet, there is always a throng of boys who seem enthralled by his performance, no matter his skill of movement or what he looks like. I guess they are responding to the myth (and sometimes reality) of the go-go boy: his apparent sexual rapaciousness, his seeming willingness to have sex with you for the right price or the right drug, his local celebrity status and the sheer spectacle of an almost nude guy dancing on a bar above your head, his crotch in your face, accepting your dollar bills in his sweaty jockstrap.
At some point in this bacchanal towards its inevitable end at 4am, the master DJ plays “Fuck the Pain Away” by Peaches. It was one of my favorite songs then and is now in its combination of dance, rock, rap, humor and brazen, raw sexuality. There is a vulgarity to it that is delicious; it resonates perfectly with the sexual liminality of The Cock.
The song begins with a hard beat and a prominent, dominating, almost distorted bass line which I feel in my body when the volume is turned up. The song is both sparse and dense in both its music and lyrics. But, it is its angry almost desperate refrain of “fuck the pain away” which kicks me every time. It is repeated over and over again like a mantra (It becomes form and/over content) needed to survive modern life and its inevitable cruelty.
Looking back, I went to The Cock to escape the sado-masochism of everyday life, its petty cruelties, disappointments and loses that have always greatly troubled me. And of course I went to this bar to have fun, get a little tipsy, hear great music, flirt with boys and kiss them. Both reasons are not exclusive of one another; one folds into the other. Going there, was to suspend my daily existence and revel in a space of desire and freedom, not available elsewhere. Even when there was rejection and disappointment at The Cock, it existed alongside and was ultimately superseded by feelings of abandon. I never wanted it to end at 4am. For me, it is the closest I will ever come to heaven. Many years ago, then, that bar was a moment of joy and a rejection of the pain and drudgery of my daily journey.
All of us there to some degree or another wanted to “fuck the pain away”, to experience the “little death” of orgasm when one is momentarily free, released, completely embodied in pleasure, beyond language, society and culture, beyond pain. It is an instance of ultimate bliss.
Now, in 2010, there does not seem anywhere to go for me to fuck the pain away. The Cock now on Second Avenue near Houston Street is still in existence, but it’s not the same for me. I went once maybe 2 or 3 years ago and the guy getting fucked bareback in the corner was disturbing, upsetting and rifled my 19th century sensibilities. No one there was looking to bring back dance cards or cards of introduction. For me, the space was no longer queer, just filthy and not in a playful or transgressive way. As the cliché says, “You can never go home again” or apparently to that bar that used to be my weekly joy and my respite from the horror of daily life.