As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours, and when it comes to local venues shutting down, we're currently drowning. Shortly after word broke that local venue/collective hub Little Hamilton's recent state of disrepair would force it to close shop even sooner than planned, it was also discovered that another venerable (to use the word so loosely that it loses all meaning) all-ages music venue would also being going the way of the dinosaur. The Muse, the 11-year-old punk-rock outpost adjacent to a dirty bookstore on Fourth Avenue, is finally shutting its doors.
This, of course, comes as a surprise to exactly no one — not even Scott Buttrey, who had been booking at the venue since 2005. He explained to the Scene via Facebook that "since 2009, it has gotten harder and harder to get fans out to the shows."
Well, yeah. Ever since Rocketown drank their milkshake in 2004, The Muse's concert calendar has been in shambles. For every potentially great gig secured at the venue — including bands like Kylesa, The Dwarves, The World/Inferno Friendship Society and countless metal shows that had nowhere else to go — there was a sad, muddled slurry of Juggalos, the dregs of the local rap scene and acne-riddled Operation Ivy covers. It became a place that local bands dreaded, knowing better than to chance electrocution, double (or even triple) bookings, stolen gear, trigger-happy tow yards, nonpayment and just about every other disaster conceivable.
But that wasn't always the case.
For better or for worse, in high school, The Muse was a crucible for my adolescence. Between 2002 and 2005, I was there almost weekly. It was the site of my very first local show — with a bill featuring Silent Friction, My Epiphany, Submethod and a little-loved high school ska band called Breakdown (they had a song about the X-Men and I was their biggest fan). Before I ever went to Grimey's, I bought Ted Leo and the Pharmacists CDs from the weird little record shop operated by Stacey Fleeman in the back room that always smelled suspiciously of incense. It's where I met my second-ever girlfriend and where we subjected our fellow gutter-teens to some seriously egregious PDA. Sorry about that.
If nothing else, The Muse was unpredictable. Wildly so. These are all things I witnessed or heard second-hand when I queried the Internet:
• Notorious prankster punks Moral Decay lit a broken laptop, soaked in rubbing alcohol, on fire, and we all had to evacuate, fleeing the poisonous fumes. They vented the building with giant fans, and 20 minutes later, we were back in.
• A skinhead broke a fire extinguisher loose at a street-punk show, spraying attendees before being kicked out. The place turned into an enormous Slip 'n Slide.
• I was tapped by strangers to judge a three-legged race (because I was impartial, I guess) before Against Me! in 2003.
• During a Foxy Shazam gig, the band's set was cut short by a drunk audience member (reportedly Jake Omen, drummer for Look What I Did) pissing on the stage.
• Upon discovering that they had triple-booked a show, the venue tried to rectify the situation by having all 12 bands play full sets. While one set up onstage, the other played on the floor. One performer later described the show as "a disaster."
• Remember when a couple of laptops stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission turned up at The Muse a few years back? Yeah. That happened, too.
So The Muse took chances. A lot of them. Probably too many of them. But that's why it worked for what it was. It was the kind of grimy trial by fire that young bands needed. Being there felt dangerous (and perhaps was dangerous), which also felt empowering. The fact that at 15, I was able to convince my parents to let me hang out at a place backed up to a porn store felt like a triumph in and of itself. And that's just from the perspective of a non-musician. For young bands like The Sex (Jake and Jamin Orrall's pre-JEFF the Brotherhood punk freak-out) and Save Macaulay the Band (Caitlin Rose's pre-country anti-folk precociousness), The Muse was an open opportunity that might not be afforded to them in other, slightly higher-class venues — venues, I might add, that The Muse somehow managed to outlast.
I hate to say it, but even though I haven't been there since a supremely depressing WRVU benefit last year, I'm gonna miss the stupid place. Not for what it became, but for what it was: an almost comically unpredictable proving ground for young people. It was like pages of The Perks of Being a Wallflower come to life, in the best and worst ways possible. I don't think I would be the person I am now without The Muse, and that is a horrifying statement to realize the truth in.
Vaya con Dios, you horrible, beautiful monstrosity. I will remember you fondly. Also, not fondly. The Muse may have waned significantly in the past several years, but their chaotic-good influence on the music scene is undeniable.
The Muse holds its final stand on Thursday, May 31, with a daylong blowout featuring frequent Muse performers like local metalheads Look What I Did, punk-tinged rock trio Reverse Halo Effect, horrorcore rapper Stitch Mouth and more. Cover is $10, and until the bitter end, entry is all-ages.
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