Two wobbly girls stumble by, giggling and listing drunken demands to a friend. A couple makes out unrelentingly in the backyard. Twenty feet away, a few guys pee in the bushes. "You might want to use the bathroom now because it's broken," a young woman announces to her companion. Amid horseplay, a man is shoved into the front window, shattering the glass pane.
It's Saturday night, and we're at the Found Magazine party.
I should not, by most standards, be seeing the things I'm seeing. Locking lips is usually private business, and urination, as I've observed elsewhere, isn't something too many men share. Much less should I be deliberately committing these scenes to memory, sharing snippets of people's quasi-private lives with the readers of the Nashville Scene. But what can it hurt? Everyone's anonymous.
At least that's the logic behind Found Magazine, a Web-turned-paperback periodical devoted to collecting notes, doodles, photos, to-do lists and greeting cardsin short, says foundmagazine.com, "anything that gives a glimpse into someone else's life." And it's the same paradoxical tensionthe private harmlessly made publicthat allows people to slake their curiosity with a shot of victimless voyeurism, imagining anonyms' stories, the absurd and painful and mundane and beautiful situations that produced many lives' artifacts. Though these artifacts are sometimes poignant and even disturbing, it's only tolerable to intrude because they are now separated from the contexts that give them meaning.
In the comfortable privacy of your living room, you can look over the breakup note that led to a decade of distrust. Or casually scan the photo of a family torn apart by suicide. Or chuckle at the homework assignment of a kid whose life later derailed soon.
Found Magazine can at times be lighthearted, a funny collection of scribblings and ramblings. It can also be a casual exercise in imagination and storytelling. But at its most compelling, where it uncovers deeply personal communications between two peopleor sometimes a note meant only for oneselfit can be unsettling, a glimpse too close into that part of someone not meant for us to see. It reminds us of our own idiosyncrasies, our secrets, our insecurities.
But as a public act, at a Saturday night party in a basement on Acklen Avenue, a reading of found texts can seem downright cruel. Maybe it was the young, hip crowd that was so busy maintaining a safe, ironic distance between themselves and the art. Perhaps it was the stand-up comedy-like presentation of Found founder Davy Rothberg, the punch line commentary and mocking voice he thoughtlessly used. (It could also have been his soul-chafing laughif the word snorgle existed, his audience would know what it means.) But most likely it was a combination of the aboveand of my tender feelings.
Found's is a particularly ruthless brand of postmodernism because it actively divorces the objects it represents from the human beings that produced them. Desperate pleas were rendered hilarious Saturday night in front of a chortling crowd. Sincere emotions were derided. At least on the Web site, I like to think, people have more humane, compassionate responses to the heartfelt emotions of others.
But if sincerity means the gooey slop Rothbart's brother Peter played on the guitar post-reading, I'd choose the distance of irony, too. Apparently Peter gets inspired by the found stuff and writes generic "folky" (Spin's word) ballads about it. My word for it is "bad," and strikingly ill-suited to the mostly twentysomethingish scenester crowd on hand. But it's possible that perpetual man-behind-the-curtain Chris Davis added another layer of irony to the mix, one that totally passed me by.
The local music, however, made the night worthwhile. The Privates took the stageactually, they occupied the basement rugand launched into a tightly played bundle of dance-worthy and otherwise intricate tunes, both sonically and rhythmically. The band certainly had energy, along with abundances of volume and musicianship, hitting a trifecta that couldn't be derailed by inaudible vocals. Never mind The Alarmists, from Portland, which I heard only a little of; their lead singer was flapping her arms like chicken wings, a pantomime that never fails to make me laugh when it's done with a straight face. The Privates were consummate indie rock professionals, limiting their antics to perspiring and the seismic writhing of frontman Dave Paulson.
So Saturday night was not lost, even if the public reading of Found's treasures isn't for me. We Founders drank keg beer. (Some brought bottles of wine or toted tall boys.) We had funthe cold ironic kind folks our age are so known for. It was a scene, a house party, a good party. (Come on, a window got broken.) And folks there, though they laughed when I think they should have cried, were good people. The kind of people who minded peeing in bushes less than voting for one.
At least that's what I found.