You probably want to know how a goddam jerk like me got into Yale. What my Common App was, that crap. I’m sure you heard about how I got kicked out of Pencey Prep — gee, I reckon every high schooler in America’s heard that story by now. That and “Kill The Mockingbird” or whatever. That’s all phony, though, and you know I’m right. Half the kids pay people to write their Common Apps. That stuff bores me to death. I’ll just tell you about this lunatic night I had at Toad’s on a Wednesday.
I was drunk as hell off the IPAs I told my FroCo to buy me. I swear to god, when I’m in a mood I’m a swell actor. I can get people to do all kinds of things. Me and this girl Emily walked over and I danced the whole way there. I was wearing this tweed cap I yanked from my dad’s closet, and it was corny as hell, but at least no one would say I was an Econ major. I thought athletic New England high schoolers were the phoniest bastards in the world. I was wrong: It’s Econ majors. They have nice hair, though. Handsome as hell.
Emily was real sweet. You’d like her. That night, she had this make-up on, and it just killed me. She was pretty old, but she had this terrific figure, and if you really got her going, you’d see she was a genius. When we got to Toad’s, I realized I was real tired. I wanted a coke, or a hiking trip or something. I felt so lonesome, all of a sudden. I almost wished I were dead.
“Hey, do you wanna go to East Rock or something? The cemetery’s real easy to bust into,” I said.
“Holden, I just want to dance. Can’t you stop being so juvenile, just for one evening?” said Emily. Strictly a phony.
I certainly began to feel like a prize horse’s ass, standing there in my brown shoes.
“Please. I’m lonesome as hell. No kidding.” I laughed, so she didn’t think I was in love with her or anything. Then we went inside. The whole thing was fun, but if you think about it too much, it’ll depress you. I danced like a maniac, like I was a bull in Spain with a spear in my ass. Then I went to the bathroom. There was this giant mirror, and I pretended all the sweat patches I saw in the mirror were bloodstains from gunshot wounds. I staggered around, like some punk had just plugged me in the guts. I was sort of crying. I don’t know why.
I went back to the dance floor. There was this girl with pink hair that I was hot for, she was dancing, but I felt like such a sonuvabitch that I couldn’t let her see me. Besides, I was concealing my bullet wounds. I figured I’d go outside and buy flowers for Emily. In case I died and all, and I never got the chance to let her know she was a genius. God, when I saw how much they charge you for any old crap at G-Heav, I could have smashed the whole shop up. So I just stole a bouquet. They didn’t catch me, but I wish they did, in a way.
I came back to Toad’s, but they wouldn’t let me in. I saw Emily on the corner of York and Elm, and she was necking this guy with the squarest jaw you ever saw. It was sort of funny, in a way. I wondered if my architecture professor was awake. I was gonna give her the flowers, as a joke, so I walked to her house. Instead I wrote “Fuck you” on her door. As I walked back past Toad’s up to Yale Health, it started to pour rain. I was only wearing a shirt, but I wasn’t cold. I had a crazy headache. And I think I was more depressed than I ever was in my whole life. I put on my sunglasses so I could feel like a kooky Harlem jazz piano player. They’re the supreme phonies, really. I laughed when I got to thinking how the health center overlooks the cemetery.
My ass was all soggy when I sat on the grass across from the new colleges. The construction site — those new colleges —- that’s crazy. You see all those cables and pillars, going up and across and nowhere. I felt in my pocket and found a damp oatmeal cookie I’d swiped from the dining halls. I ate it and sang to myself a little. God, I wish you could have been there.
Sam Tsui ’11 is living the dream: After graduating from Yale, the YouTube sensation moved to Los Angeles and started a career in music that has already led him on a tour across Asia and spawned two full-length albums. It turns out he was perfect while he was at Yale, too, juggling roles as a campus tour guide, member of the Duke’s Men, classics major and all-around dreamboat. He picks up the phone while stuck in L.A. traffic on his way out of a session at the recording studio and talks to WKND about Yale, stardom and life on the West Coast.
Q: So you were a classics major here at Yale. If you hadn’t gone into music, what would you have done with that?
A: Classical Greek, actually — I didn’t think just classics was specific and useless enough. The plan was always to go into music. It was what I loved and why I came to Yale: so that I could pursue my weird academic interests and also take part in the great music scene. The plan was always music. If I hadn’t done it, I guess I might have gone on, gotten my Ph.D. in classics or something, taught and gone into academia. I still do love it.
Q: When did you know you wanted to go into music full-time? Was it scary?
A: I had always planned to, in a general and vague sense. From when I was very young, that was the assumption, even though initially I thought maybe I’d do musical theater or be a music writer or something like that. But there was a moment when I actually came to realize that that big, general dream was actually, in the practical world, coming true. I guess the pivotal point was graduating from Yale and deciding where I was going to move, and the fact that I chose to move to LA, where I’d officially be an independent musician out here — that was the moment of choice. I was super lucky that by that point I’d already built up this following online and had a support system of managers and people who knew what they were doing. Graduating from school and coming out here was the “Holy shit, this is real” [moment].
Q: How has your vision for yourself and your music changed since you started out?
A: One of the most exciting things about being in music, especially right now, is that the entire industry is in such a state of flux … Everyone’s vision of what form this whole world is taking has changed a lot in just the past couple years. Obviously when I first moved out here, in the back of my head I thought, “I’m gonna move out here, I’m gonna get signed to a big record label and I’m gonna tour and put out albums.” One of the coolest realizations I’ve been able to make is that right now really is an age for independent musicians. The tables are turning, and it’s in a lot of artists’ best interests to be independent. I’m very lucky that I get to go into that with this incredible fan base and awesome social media presence. I have a lot more agency personally, which is very cool.
Q: How was the experience of getting famous different because it was via YouTube, and you were still a student?
A: It definitely changed my day-to-day experience of it. It was so different. New Haven is not LA, and YouTube and the digital space already kind of allow someone to connect with people around the world, even though your day-to-day is not necessarily anything like that. You’re going to school, you’re in this bubble, and yet all of your content is being viewed by millions of people all around the world. Initially, it was very jarring to be a student and be going to classes and a cappella rehearsals and going out to Toad’s and whatever, and meanwhile there was this whole world of content online that I was putting out and at the same time concurrently building this whole brand. So at first it was very strange. It’s still weird just because a lot of what I do, and what a lot of us in this space do, is we’re with our team making our videos and doing our stuff at home, and yet to be stopped on the street or to go on tour — it’s like, oh yeah, this stuff we’re doing that feels like it’s on a very microcosmic scale actually has a life of its own.
Q: How did other Yalies react to your newfound fame?
A: As stuff started happening, as we got to be on Ellen and all these things, I think the reaction from most of the people who just knew me as Sam from the Duke’s Men or from classics was a lot of loving teasing, like, “Oh, you’re doing your videos again,” and all that stuff. But then it was funny that there was one newer class who didn’t know me before [I got famous], and they came my senior year. I was a tour guide, and on the tour they would be like, “Oh my god, I’m such a big fan,” and there was no irony in it — they just kind of appreciated what I was doing. Whereas everyone else was like, “That’s just Sam, doing his YouTube thing.” But always in a loving way, of course.
Q: What is the most surreal moment you’ve had since becoming famous?
A: This summer I did a tour in Asia, and we had a show in Hong Kong. My dad is from Hong Kong, and I still have a ton of family members over there. Obviously with college it becomes harder to visit Hong Kong, because it’s on the other side of the world, so I hadn’t been for a handful of years. There were a bunch of cousins, aunts and other people that I just hadn’t seen for a long time. So to get to come back and see them in the context of, “Oh, I’m a touring musician, here, come to my show,” and to have them show up and [see] thousands of screaming fangirls — it was super surreal to get to invite my family to that. Especially being the half-Asian kid, there’s that element of bringing honor to my family that was awesome. I got to be like, “This is what I do.” My dad and mom and brother flew out to Hong Kong for the show as well, so it was like a family reunion.
Q: What was it like getting to do the YSO Halloween show cameo last year? You’re up there with the likes of John McCain and Woody Allen.
A: Oh my gosh — yeah, that was super cool. Likewise, it was one of those surreal moments where [the Halloween show] is just something that I have so much love for; it was such a part of my college experience. So to get to be considered by my peers and colleagues as someone that would be worthy of making that kind of cameo is awesome.
Q: If you could go on tour with anyone, who would it be?
I’m a huge fan of Jessie J. She’s, like, my favorite ever, so I would say her. To get to go on tour with her would be awesome. [Editor’s note: this interview was held before this year’s Spring Fling lineup, including Jessie J as the headliner, was announced. WKND is crossing its fingers for a guest appearance.]
Q: What advice would you give to Yale-student you?
A: It’s going to sound super cliché, but seriously just taking advantage of all the talented people around you and all of the resources. One of the reasons I was able to do what I was able to do is because I had access to Yale’s recording equipment. So there were resources on a practical level. But it’s also the one time in your life where you’re just surrounded by a critical mass of insanely awesome people. And I think going into the real world, and coming to LA, as much as I love it — that is definitely something that is not quite the same. There isn’t this constant energy or creativity and being surrounded by amazing people who are making you do your best work. So just doing as much as you can. That being said, I look back at myself and all the nights where I’d just chill and watch Netflix at my apartment and think, I should have been doing more things. But I guess that’s always the case. You can always do more.
Q: What is the best New Haven pizza spot?
A: Everyone likes Sally’s and Pepe’s, but they’re so far from campus that I went to each of them, like, once. Yorkside was my go-to. I think it was just a sentimental thing. I can’t tell you how many nights after Duke’s Men rehearsals, we went to Yorkside and just got buffalo chicken tenders or whatever. I guess I’m biased. I guess if we’re talking pizza I’d take my family to, [I’d say] Bar. Yeah, let’s say Bar. Maybe I’ll sound cooler if you say Bar.
Q: Why did YOU choose Yale? [Tsui, along with Allison Williams ’10, appeared in the notorious “That’s Why I Chose Yale” admissions video.]
A: I did a summer program at Yale when I was in high school — I took ancient Greek at Yale the summer after my junior year. I was that kid. I was such a nerd. But I just fell in love with it. [And] I really do believe that Yale has the best undergraduate arts program of all the Ivy League schools. The fact that I could be part of this old, historic classics program, and also be part of this vibrant a cappella scene and do the Dramat shows — there was just such a culture of creativity that I found to be way better than anywhere else.
Q: The newest Whiff class was tapped this week. What advice would you give them?
A: Believe it or not, I didn’t do the Whiffs. I was in the Duke’s Men for three years, and then I technically graduated a semester early. Since I had done summer session, I had enough credits. I was totally torn at that moment, because doing the a cappella thing as a guy, you’re like, “Of course, the Whiffs — that’s why everyone’s doing all these a cappella groups.” But at that point I had momentum with all the other stuff I was doing, and I couldn’t afford to take an extra year off. That was definitely the hardest decision I had to make at Yale. I definitely am glad I moved to LA, but I was super bummed I couldn’t do it. So my advice is definitely do it if you can.
Q: Would you ever come play Toad’s?
A: Oh my God, I would absolutely love to. That is one thing I’ve talked to my agent about — definitely on my next U.S. tour I want to come and play Toad’s. That would be so awesome. I did a tour two summers ago and we played [a smaller venue] in New Haven that was a little ways from campus, and it was the summer so no students were around. So my mission since then has been to make a show at Toad’s happen.
It was the winter of ’15 and I’d just come crashing down from San Jose in a beaten-up Hudson with three college kids who only wanted to live and die. I swung by Dean’s pad — he was a freshman who talked Nietzsche and Marx and Duke Ellington, man, and he said Toad’s was the place to be on a Wednesday night. I didn’t ask questions because questions are odious. It was the kind of Wednesday, a bellicose, gray Wednesday, that makes men wage war and waitresses run away from home and drive across the country (which I’ve done loads of times, by the way).
I found myself sprawled on a shredded couch at Dean’s. We were drinking this poison called Dubra and man, it was the realest thing I ever drank. I saw a lost girl dancing in the corner of the room. Her eyes had only youth in them. She was exactly 19. I thought about how much I wanted to have a clothing-optional Yab-Yum session with her — that’s coitus between Wisdom and Compassion, by the way — recite the mantras, my own Bodhisattva right there, enlightenment in a temple of flesh.
Then the sickness overcame me: how weary the need of body, how desperate the need of extinction. So I looked for nirvana in the bottom of my glass. Then, Dean, the Lost Girl and I swung by Yorkside and I had a cheap slice of pizza. (It was the realest pizza I ever ate.)
Toad’s was a scene, man. There was music and sweat and people and dancing and music. Man, was there music. I returned in an effluvium of memory to that jazz club in San Francisco, when the night was hot and the arpeggios were burning. (I’d just driven across the country. That’s something I do.) I couldn’t find any saxophones or trashed pianos but I found love in a hopeless place. Over the basslines and the unruly rhythms, the Lost Girl asked me if I wanted a cigarette. I asked her to marry me in my head. We went outside.
“Got any Luckies,” I said with quixotic confidence.
“No. I have American Spirit.” (Oh baby, did she have American Spirit.) “It’s a brand? Of Tobacco?”
“Right. Yeah. Cool.” We shared a cheap cigarette and it was the realest cigarette I ever smoked.
Then, we went back in and Beatific Beyoncé showed me the ragged, ecstatic joy of being. I was afraid to dance but I was more afraid to die so I danced. One precocious cat who was known in the town for his fine spoken word came up to me.
“Man, there are some gone girls here. Gone, like the color blue. Gone, like America.”
I thought about telling him to maybe read books before he wrote them, but his turtleneck covered his ears. The beret disappeared into the crowd. I never saw that cat again. (Apart from once, when I was driving across the country.)
I finally beat myself up enough to go over to the Lost Girl. With religion in my bones I said, “Hey, let’s buy a piece-of-shit car and pull outta here — go to Mexico, go to Wyoming, go anywhere.”
She ran ink-stained fingers through her living hair, shrugged her Hepburn shoulders in her denim jacket, looked at me with the kind of eyes that make a guy understand sex and death, and said: “I have a paper due tomorrow.”
So, Dean and I slipped out, sex-crazed and self-loathing. I was restored to factory settings. He said, “Hey man, you can’t give a Dharma talk if you’ve shot yourself for one lost love.” (Dharma talk is Buddhist discourse, by the way.) So he took me to Ivy Noodle and we filled ourselves with hot Lo Mein. It was salty, fatty, and man, it was the realest thing I ever ate.
I stood on the corner of York and Broadway and saw hipsters and gone girls and geniuses and mad ones with man buns and I thought, Maybe I won’t go West anymore. Maybe the life force is here, on the East Coast. That feeling didn’t last: In the spring of that year I drove across the country. But that’s another dream, man.
This week has included a lot of last firsts: my last first day of school; my last first scramble of the semester to score a place in coveted seminars; my last first Woads.
These last firsts have found many of us oldies, more commonly known as the Class of 2015, jokingly nostalgic; we’re facetiously lachrymose over penny drinks that evoke memories, clouded by a Dubra-tinted haze, of all the questionable decisions we’ve made at Toad’s Place in the past 40 months. We’re bent double at the very thought of the silly things we used to care about as freshmen (and maybe secretly still care a little too much about now). We chuckle with the lofty wisdom of hindsight about that time that we thought we could be econ majors. Ah, to be young again!, we cry. But obviously we’re much smarter now.
Of course we cannot simply let ourselves fall into musing on our bright college years — there are practical matters of great urgency at hand. We must ensure that our final final exams (if we are so unfortunate as to have any) do not clash with precious Myrtle time, and one cannot forget the extensive strategizing that must go into planning our invites for Last Chance Dance, not to mention our drinking schedule for the remainder of the semester. It is essential that we attend every senior event and promise to be Feb Club All-Stars because OMG guys what if we never see each other again?!?
Yet behind our frivolity is what can only be described as a typhoon of conflicting emotions. When I imagine what lies ahead, the seemingly endless possibilities and paths to take — most of which (Hallelujah!) do not involve a letter grade —I’m genuinely overwhelmed.
20 years from now I could be a high-ranking officer in the Army, or running a modern speakeasy tucked away in the heart of a major city, or working on marine conservation in some gorgeous coastal town.
Or maybe I’ll be on Wall Street making the big bucks.
I can see glimpses of Maybe Future Allie living a million different lives, each with its potential ups and downs and gray areas, and I spend hours wondering which is the one I’m supposed to be living — but of course life doesn’t work like that. Who knows where I’ll be a few months from now? Forget years. I could be anywhere, and the thought of this utterly terrifies and excites me.
We, the senior class, stand on the very precipice of that Great Other: the world outside of Yale. This precipice requires that we actually plan for our futures, not just daydream while we should be paying attention in lecture – and holy crab cakes, is that scary.
But what if I make the wrong choice?
I ask myself this question at least once a day. Objectively I know that the end of college does not mean the end of all that is good and fun. I also know that Yale was and is not a perfect place, and that change is often a good thing. But as we stare over the edge, challenged to take that inevitable plunge into the abyss, it’s difficult to prevent the complete uncertainty of impending real life from fazing you.
I do, rather shockingly, have a plan for post-graduation life. It has changed more than a few times in the last years, but at least for now it would seem I’ve figured out my not-so-distant future. My friends often remark on how impressed they are with my sense of direction, how clearly I’ve set a path for myself, and oh how they wish they had the same commitment to their own futures! I nod and give them a small, knowing smile, sometimes saying: “Oh, I’m just lucky.” Little do they know that I’m navigating uncharted waters on a rickety dingy with naught but a shot glass for a compass.
Nevertheless, much like Captain Jack Sparrow, I hold onto the belief that I will end up where I am supposed to be, even if the path is more winding than expected and my destination (or destinations, as the case more likely will be) is not perhaps where I intended to go.
For now, I plan to enjoy the second semester of my senior year. I’m making time with friends to — as my former Dean and forever idol John Loge liked to say —“really figure stuff out,” to bring some closure to our late-night dorm-room conversations. I’m making time to finally do those things that I’d put off either for fear or inertia. And most importantly, I’m making time to get my weekly groove on at everyone’s favorite amphibian dance club.
So on that note, see you at Penny Drinks every Wednesday ‘til May 18th!
When does Yorkside close again How many drinks is What was her name the girl the Girl whose face was demure and innocent whose skirt was cheap? The bouncer’s felt marker cross on my hand the ash of my forehead Ash Wednesday, Toad’s Wednesday … Woad’s — Wash! The black of the marker on my hand is ash on my forehead is a crucifix. I am the resurrection and the life. I am become the Word I am become the Woad.
The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. I’m so fancy, you already know, cries the siren, heard but not seen. As my heart once danced upon her movements like a cork upon a tide, so my limbs now dance to the beat, dirtier than the DKE basement. Trapped in trap music, I myself am hell, but the orgiastic riot is rapturous. On the floor the Yalies come and go, talking of “Directed Studies, bro.”
I grope in the darkness of my own state. Until the groper becomes the groped. Does it have a name, this thin creature with hands and a fecund, swaying waist, that moves ever closer to me? The neon of her bootyshorts sways me to kinesis. She goes by Mary. Virginal? Alas. Ascending to heaven on a greasy pole.
— Kiss me, she said.
Ravished over her I stood, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the pizza warm and chewed. Joy: I ate it: joy.
Joy jogging jogging up to East Rock Hill with you, Nora. Memory in the strobes and blackness took me to you, when the trees were in their Autumn beauty, the woodland paths were dry, when I was conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of your yoga pants ass. I am unfaithful! Liberame domine!
An exile from boarding school, silent and cunning, I am broken by college, by Dick Pic Yik Yaks, by unfiltered Internet at ungodly hours. Animus bends to corpus, as my prick bends towards her in the Woad’s heat, alighting my loins … Phototropism! Chem 110 imbibed my pores with understanding. Now they leak sweat and sin. But I am stultified by desire.
Take me back to the pregame, safer than the womb of my mother, wet amniotic. IKEA cushions scatter a dorm clad with Bob Marley “Pulp Fiction” posters, ironic beyond irony? Naughty little gin sloshing in my gullet, spills on my shirt. EDM trickles out of the infant speaker
— Is she coming tonight?
— I know her from Tinder!
He that swipes right sitteth at the right hand of the Father
— She has a paper tomorrow, has to work
— What about him?
— Already there
— Hey pass me a cup. Can we play pong?
The pain which will inflict my damned soul in hell is the pain of conscience. 18 years on this earth, yet I brandish a plastic rectangle claiming 21. Faithful to the one, yet lusting after the many. Damned by numbers! From my waist I can feel now I am harder than my math midterm.
Hurtle out of the cave, free of the noise. Stumbling now, drank those drinks. Drinked. Drunk? Bouncer, bumped. Excuse me. Breathless in the new air, the cold air. Sidewalk streetlight city traffic cone blare and din of sirens. Sickly feeling. Gin. Gut. Gulp. Hold it back, hold it back now. This unholy baptism brought to you by Budweiser riddled with Pabst Blue Ribbon spewed up on the sidewalk. Static society, slimy sobriety. Snotgreen vomit chunks ooze down my shoes.
Woad’s is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake.
Mr Toad in top hat, ash cane imminent, croaks a goodbye. To bed, to Berkeley, to section on Thursday. A holy communion of flies and bile. On Wednesdays, we pervert the Sabbath. This is my body. Take, eat in remembrance of me. Will I rise and return in seven days? Yes I said yes I will Yes.
It is Friday night here at La Plage, a Bordeaux nightclub boasting five separate dance floors. Clutching the hands of my travel companions, I squeeze through the thudding labyrinth. We press on into the Third Room (the Third Circle of Hell, perhaps), a cube that backs into a massive shrine to our god, the DJ.
This deity chants “LADIES!” for reasons unknown, every seven seconds. Soon enough it blends into the background thump of his 2009 remixes, whose beats reverberate off the concrete walls and all the way through my fingertips.
A birthday girl cradling a bottle of Grey Goose has hoisted herself atop the table in the “lounge” area. LADIES! A cluster of people is stationed directly in front of the DJ. Their ages range from 15 to 55; some bodies are wiry and spritely, others full and sumptuous. They do not speak. They have nothing in common; nothing, that is, but a true talent for line dancing. Together they bunch and spread, hips gesticulating. They do not smile. This is a Serious Matter. They close their eyes, grimace from the exertion. LADIES!
Drawing from my wealth of international clubbing experience, I compare La Plage to a more familiar haunt: Toad’s Place. La Plage is in ~*Europe*~. La Plage offers us the choice of no less than five bars and five DJs, rather than “Stage, or sticky floor?” The good-looking Frenchman I’ve just met offers me a cigarette, rather than groping blindly at my hips. He invites me to an after-party at 5 a.m., when La Plage closes, a full four hours after the Woad’s DJ graces guests with “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Right now it’s 1:30, past Toads’ and my bedtime, and my ankles, perched precariously atop high heels, are starting to give way. I grasp the sweatered arm of the Frenchman. I admire his scruff and his clove-tinted scent. I’m starting to hate my dancing. I apologize. He’s starting to hate his non-fluent English. He apologizes.
“Oh my God, no way,” I encourage him. “You are so good!”
I hate my hollow response, an octave higher than my normal register, even more than my dancing. I’m tired of talking to him. I scan the room for my friends.
And, just like that, La Plage may as well be Toad’s.
There are a few clumps of males who aren’t yet intoxicated enough to approach the girls they want to approach. Their full cups touch their lips with twitching anxiety, emptying fast. There are several stiletto-girls. They move their hips, eyes darting all around, trying to meet someone else’s. There’s that one short old guy who’s alone. He slithers around the room, grabbing at everyone, spawning equal parts laughter and revulsion.
And there’s me, somewhere in between the periphery and the vortex, searching for my security blanket — my friends — who have dispersed to pursue their own fleeting flirtations.
It doesn’t matter whether the men smell like cigarettes or Natty Lite, or whether that drunk girl is draining Grey Goose or Dubra. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a five-room megaplex on a foreign continent or in a pregame in our common rooms. All of us — the dancers, the drinkers, the floaters, the clusterers, that old guy and me — we’re all here for the same reason.
We’re at Toad’s and we’re at La Plage for that moment when our groping eyes meet another’s groping eyes and, for just that second, we’re assured that, yes, we are wanted. We’re there for that one song that plays halfway through the night; when, for three and a half minutes, our friends are all dancing at the same time and with the same abandon. For those three and a half minutes when we don’t doubt that we are someone who has friends. Best friends.
I have one rule when it comes to places like Toad’s: Leave before the end of the last song. When I hear Bon Jovi start up, I roll out. Fast. I know that it’s superstitious and arbitrary. But I also know you won’t reach that transient euphoria during the last song (especially when that song is literally about clinging to a shred of hope). And you don’t want to be the one whose search was fruitless, who drilled the hope into the ground.
Tonight, at La Plage, it’s not an issue. There’s no way I’ll make it to 5 a.m. I can’t even stand in heels anymore. So my friends and I leave behind all five pounding dance rooms and the sweatered Frenchman. We decided we did not love each other. As we walk out, our eyelids droop. Our makeup is muddled with sweat. Our hair is frazzled. I am barefoot. My feet try to stretch out, padding against concrete.
It’s not the corner of Broadway and Elm, but it could be. The empty streets echo with our laughter. I am relieved because I do have my security blanket. It’s not love tonight, but I did find my friends and we are linking arms and I am not alone. “It was a good night.” We move like blood through a grey vein.
Welcoming its audience to a psychedelic wonderland, Yale’s only tap dancing team, Yale Taps, mashed up neon lights, fluorescent costumes, Disney-themed music and the old-fashioned sound of tap shoes striking a stage, to give their audience “Tappily Ever After.”
Contrary to my expectations of watching an easy to grasp Disney-like show, “Tappily Ever After” has a roller coaster ride of a story, with twists and turns that can leave you falling off your chair — literally. The show begins with two disgruntled Yale students looking for Toad’s. While navigating the streets of New Haven — and failing to find their destination — they magically wander into Disneyland. From there, a pair of Disney princesses takes over and the Yale students fade into the background. The princesses speak to the audience, giving the barest context for each dance before they begin. Between numbers, music from old Disney animated films is played, but the dances themselves happen to the beats of more modern hip-hop.
The show, then, becomes a blend of chaos and extravagance, with a backdrop of brilliant lights and flamboyant dance moves — most based in tap, but executed with energy. As the characters were frequently teleported between New Haven and Disneyland, I too oscillated between states of confusion and delight. I quickly lost track of the plot, but that didn’t matter beyond a point, because I was having fun.
Towards the end of the show, Toad’s Place transforms into Toad’s Palace. Our two Yale students, dressed in sweatpants and sweatshirts, forget all about their ordinary Wednesday night rave, and happily mingle with some really extraordinary Disney characters. Snow White, Minnie Mouse and Aladdin all make appearances, and join together for an exuberant curtain call.
A highlight of the plot, however, was when a Yale student and a Disney princess discover an abandoned shoe onstage. The quest to find the right foot for the shoe leads into a hysterical interplay of tap dancing and comedy. The princess tries on the shoe, and it doesn’t fit. The Yale student insists the shoe is hers, but, before she gets a chance to try it on, they lead into a tap dancing number, forgetting the shoe in the process.
Still, telling a story was less the point than giving a venue for players’ talents. At one point, the audience was brought in to identify dances by the Disney characters. My audience didn’t prove the best guessers, but the solos were fitting showcases for each individual. In a show dominated by group numbers, getting the chance to focus on one performer at a time performer was a welcome change.
But even in these moments, you could never forget that the show was a group effort, a summation of each individual’s skill and group coordination — especially with the show’s lighting. The players’ shoes and heels hit the floor in unity, and clacking of their shoes was in near-perfect synchrony with the blend of colors on stage. The colors — red and black, blue and red, black and blue — danced across the stage, adding drama and charm to the story. There was a childlike innocence to the performance as a whole, the way you ended up most focused on pretty colors and simple rhythmic sounds. It was a primarily visual and auditory delight.
While hard to make sense of, “Tappily” doesn’t claim to offer more than it does: a getaway from the ordinary. So walk into the Off Broadway Theater and let the Yale Taps tap you away from your monotonous existence. Just don’t try to make too much sense of it: This is just imagination.
Tessa Berenson ’14 and Lisa Lin ’14 can’t quite describe Toad’s. Lin looks at her computer screen thoughtfully. Pondering the York Street nightclub, Berenson seems at a loss for words. And then, suddenly, Lin starts and exclaims: “Wait! Remember that article?” Going from pensive to determined, she begins to type. Berenson watches. “Here, it’s called Eight Underappreciated College Campuses You Have to Check Out.”
Lin reads from the Total Frat Move article. “Number six: Quinnipiac University/University of New Haven/Yale.” The post goes on to explain, “the only reason these schools are on this list is because of Toad’s … It’s not so much a bar as it is a massive portal to hell where morality is forgotten.”
When interviewed, Yale alumni speak to a similar vision of Toad’s, sounding amused and even a little wistful. “Toad’s was drunken and crazy. It had a wild hook-up scene,” said Emma Gardner ‘06. “I would definitely say that one of my most distinct memories of Yale is being at Toad’s.” She remembers the “athletes and athlete groupies” at the bar and a ground sticky with urine and sweat. “It was disgusting.”
Disgusting or not, Toad’s has been on the forefront of the Yale social scene since it became a dance club in 1976. With penny drinks and dependable Wednesday and Saturday night emails promising “DJ Action and Mark spinning all your favorites,” Toad’s seems as tightly woven into the fabric of New Haven as Yale itself.
But if Yale and Toad’s are unable to reach a settlement soon, this social staple could be upended. On April 30, 2013, Yale filed a lawsuit against Toad’s for allowing its employees and patrons to trespass onto University property. Toad’s exits spill onto the adjacent walkway leading to Morse and Ezra Stiles, property under the University’s purview. And with the case set for trial as early as April, a majority of Yale students — if the decision goes in the University’s favor — could be forced to find a new place to conclude their Wednesday and Saturday nights.
Yale and Toad’s have found themselves embroiled in this particular dispute for some time. In 1978, Michael Spoerndle, then-owner and operator of Toad’s Place, entered into a revocable license agreement with Yale to allow Toad’s staff and patrons to access the University’s adjoining property in case of an emergency — an arrangement that either side could revoke at its discretion with 10 days’ notice. James Segaloff, Toad’s’ corporate attorney, said Yale offered to extend the license for another ten years in 2008.
Toad’s’ current owner, Brian Phelps, who had taken over ownership of the nightclub by this point, refused to accept the agreement with the revocation clause intact. Yale then terminated the contract on July 21, 2008.
Two years later, Yale filed a trespassing complaint, claiming patrons of Toad’s were using the emergency exits “for improper purposes,” such as “smoking, drinking and littering,” according to the Summary Judgment Ruling released on Nov. 29, 2013.
Phelps is seeking a solution whereby patrons, like they’ve been able to in the past, can exit Toad’s onto the adjoining Yale property in the event of an emergency. Unlike the past, however, he wants this agreement to be set in stone, not tied up in a “revocable clause” with the University. If the two parties cannot reach a settlement within the next two months, the case will go to trial. Scheduled for an April start date, the trial and its outcome will likely determine the fate of a club that has hosted the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, U2 and Billy Joel in its 40-year history.
“If Yale prohibits the use of the side entrances, then Toad’s has no egress,” said Segaloff. “All we are asking for is to use the exit doors in an emergency situation.”
According to University spokesman Tom Conroy, Yale is seeking a permanent injunction enjoining Toad’s and its employees from entering or trespassing on Yale property. He noted Yale is still willing to enter into a license agreement affording Toad’s access for emergency purposes, contingent on the prevention of improper use of the property. Indeed, it’s not the institution itself that has Yale running for the courthouse — “Yale isn’t interested in having any negative effect on Toad’s business,” he said — it’s the question of property rights.
“The purpose of the litigation is to protect Yale’s property rights and to establish that Toad’s may not use Yale’s property without the University’s permission,” Conroy said. “If Yale prevails, there is no reason, in Yale’s view, why an agreement between Yale and Toad’s cannot be achieved.”
But while Segaloff agrees that the issue is certainly “resolvable,” he adamantly disagrees with Yale’s approach to its relationship with Toad’s. “What they did was meaningless for all intents and purposes,” he said. “If you can revoke the agreement at any time, then what good is it?”
The situation in which Toad’s finds itself today is the result of legal disputes intertwined in a storied—and controversial—cultural history.
Michael Spoerndle and his two co-managers opened Toad’s Place in January 1975, replacing the short-lived Caleb’s Tavern with a family-friendly establishment—a restaurant. As touted on a 1975 advertisement, Toad’s offered “the finest continental cuisine” with dishes like Beef a la Wellington and Veal Cordon Bleu.
Spoerndle was a Cleveland chef with big dreams, and when the restaurant proved financially unsuccessful, he added music to the mix. Local Bluegrass bands began performing at lunch, afternoon entertainment became “evening entertainment.” By the late seventies, Spoerndle had renovated, expanded and eliminated all meal service.
Toad’s was officially a music hall. And given its proximity to the New Haven Coliseum—a nationally renowned entertainment arena—big-name artists, like Billy Joel, would stop by the dance club after their performances.
“We were young, and the world was our oyster,” Phelps, enlisted as manager in 1976, said. “We wanted to go for it and bring in the best artists we possibly could.”
Bruce Springsteen was the first superstar Toad’s snagged. “People couldn’t believe that he was here,” said Phelps of the 1979 concert. Billy Joel performed a year later and his first live digital recording featured a song played at Toad’s, “Los Angelenos.” Newer, alternative artists followed suit—both Debbie Harry and the Ramones made their way to the York Street nightclub in 1989.
Toad’s was for locals, a place where “good musicians who [hadn’t] made it nationally [could] show their stuff,” remarked Spoerndle in a 1979 News article. A police officer at the time described Toad’s as “a nice place to go out – lot of the fellows bring their girlfriends or wives here.”
But Yale kids, for the most part, weren’t interested. The article’s headline reads: “Club draws top names, but students stay away.” In the same article, Spoerndle expressed a fledgling desire to branch out and appeal to the Yale community. Students “used to walk on the other side of the street,” he said. “But then some of them came to this side of the street. And now they’re looking in the windows to see what’s going on.”
It seems just the reverse of what the headline might read today—”Club draws students, but top names stay away.”
By 1981, however, Spoerndle had tapped into the collegiate market: on Tuesdays, the so-called “Night of the Toad,” draft beers cost only 25 cents each. According to Phelps, Yalies were “timid at first” but soon enough, Toad’s “became a part of the University.”
With its large capacity and convenient location, Toad’s became an iconic campus bar. Barbara Bush stopped by about three times a week, according to Phelps. And when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 passed, forcing bars and clubs across America into bankruptcy, Toad’s didn’t budge. And in 1989, Spoerndle and Phelps opened the venue to all ages, further securing the bar’s dominance of the Yale social scene. Today, Phelps says Toad’s’ major sources of revenues stem from Wednesday and Saturday night dance parties, adding that the two are key tenets of Toad’s’ business model.
While local resident Edward Cooke remembers the Toad’s crowd in the late eighties as “a melting pot for all of Southern Connecticut,” Amanda Poppei ‘01 found that Saturday night parties ten years later were “essentially populated by Yalies.” Gardner remembers a similar scene during her time at Yale. “It was all just Yale students and Q-Packers.”
Phelps speaks to the notion that, as Toad’s became increasingly popular with students, it also began to forge ties with the Yale administration. When asked how he emails the entire student body on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Phelps shook his head. “It’s a secret,” he said. “I can’t tell you.” He’d been chatting and laughing just a few minutes before, but then he grew terse and said, “if I do the wrong thing at the wrong time, they would shut me down in a heartbeat.” It’s a comment that suggests a long-standing relationship of sorts between Toad’s and Yale. But even in spite of this apparent “partnership,” Yale and Toad’s have been engaged in multiple disputes, even apart from the current lawsuit, for decades.
Yale and Toad’s first went head to head in 1985. Spoerndle and Phelps had leased the 300 York St. location from the Kligerman family, and when “Old Man Kligerman” died, Toad’s was put on the market. Both the University and Spoerndle made competing bids on the building, appraised at a value of $1 million. Although Toad’s offered well under the appraisal at $800,000, Yale offered $1.3 million. Nevertheless, due to a rights of first refusal clause in the lease, the family gave Spoerndle and Phelps 30 days to come up with the difference. They did.
Today’s lawsuit, almost thirty years since this episode, signals what Phelps believes is Yale’s desire to “control” real estate in downtown New Haven. Suing Toad’s, he said, is just another part of this “grandiose scheme.”
But according to Douglas Rae, a professor at the Yale School of Management, Toad’s is just one of several business properties that Yale’s Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65 has been “assertive” with in his tenure. He added that Alexander, a senior executive at the Rouse Company for 25 years, has been more vigilant in assessing the loss of property value and rights than those before him.
“My impression is that he’s guarding the University’s legal interests,” Rae said. “I certainly don’t think he’s behaved in any way badly — he may be a little tougher and sharper than his predecessors, but I don’t think that he’s been out of line at all.”
Since the 1980s, Yale has sought to reform nightlife culture in the areas surrounding campus. Following the real estate crisis of the late ’80s, the University bought storefronts along Chapel Street and Broadway — two of the most trafficked streets in New Haven. When Richard Levin became president of Yale in 1993, the administration tried to revamp the Shops at Yale, the retail district near campus.
The University sought to eliminate so-called “bottom-end establishments,” Rae said. Yale gained nearly complete control of the real estate along Chapel and Broadway by the mid-1990s, and according to Rae, was largely successful in “changing the culture” in these areas. Indeed, whereas 1 Broadway used to be a “horrendous bar where people would be thrown out the windows every once in a while,” the street is now home to the likes of J. Crew and Jack Wills.
And while changes like this have been viewed, on the whole, as positive, Phelps has no interest in seeing his institution reformed along similar lines. According to Phelps, Toad’s occupies arguably the most secure nightlife space for Yalies. Unlike spots like Box 63 and Elevate, Phelps believes that his institution caters to Yale students of all ages and keeps them safe while doing so.
“They can have a couple of drinks and be sloppy, but they don’t have to worry about being hurt,” Phelps said. “People feel good about this place — we watch over Yale students, and I think that’s really important.”
For Alex Fisher ’14, Phelps’s belief that Yale students “feel good about this place” is a stretch. With the increasing influx of Quinnipiac students on Yale’s campus each Saturday, Fisher believes Toad’s has left Yale in a less-than-desirable state.
In a Yale Daily News op-ed on Nov. 16, 2011, Fisher accused Quinnipiac students of “creating scenes of squalor.” “Perhaps we ought to send a garbage truck filled with trash, vomit and urine and deposit it outside a Quinnipiac dormitory; this would serve only as minor recompense for what is done to our campus several times a week,” he wrote. Ultimately, for these reasons and the culture of Toad’s overall, he believes the club is “simply an unsafe environment to have in the middle of our University.”
Emma Poole ’17 expressed similar sentiments, noting that Toad’s caters to a warped sense of personal fulfillment. “It’s validation of the most primal kind — like, is the back of my body attractive to a random, heterosexual male?”
A belief that Toad’s is “a citadel of vulgarity,” as Fisher put it, reflects a similar doubt in the venue’s musical relevance. Many students today have trouble reconciling the bar’s illustrious past — The Rolling Stones in 1989, Bob Dylan in 1990, Dave Matthews Band in 1994 — with its current offerings, such as Aaron Carter and Snoop Lion. Of course, booking costs have skyrocketed, and Phelps admitted many big name bands “won’t even look at this place. You’ve got to catch them on the rise.”
Even Poppei, a 2001 graduate, remembered Toad’s as “definitely a place to see great artists, though it had been more so before.” She attended a Dar Williams show as an undergraduate and found the concert incredibly intimate. “I was only 10 or 15 feet away from the stage.” And Cooke, a Connecticut native who missed the legendary 1989 Rolling Stones concert by a matter of minutes, described a Johnny Cash performance three years later as “the best concert I’ve ever seen. The acoustics were phenomenal, you know? It was a night I’ll never forget.”
Today, Toad’s caters to a different set of concertgoers. Many recent Rap and Hip-Hop Grammy nominees have passed through the New Haven venue, including Drake in 2009 and Kanye West in 2004. But while Sophie Dillon ’17, a New Haven native, has attended numerous rap and hip-hop concerts at Toad’s, she still laments the paucity of quality acts.
“People who have never played an instrument before are playing on the same stage as The Rolling Stones,” she marveled.
According to Fisher, this perceived decline in Toad’s’ safety and musical offerings indicates that it’s time for Yale to step in more aggressively.
“Toad’s has demonstrated an unwillingness to acknowledge [Yale’s] basic right [to private property], which shows there is no basis for a productive relationship between the two,” he said. “I think it’s very clearly time to move away from having a place like Toad’s in the heart of Yale’s campus.”
But Yalies like Lin, Berenson and Keilor Gilbert ’14 contend that views like Fisher’s are, for the most part, anomalous. All three cherish their memories of Toad’s, spanning almost four years at Yale.
“I went to every Woad’s last semester,” Lin admitted.
According to Gilbert, “people just fall into this sort of loyalty” to the institution. Berenson added that “Toad’s is important to the culture of New Haven … it’s a Yale staple.”
The three seniors know the concert scene has dwindled. They know that the place gets pretty rowdy. Still, they don’t care — “We go there to dance.”
With the outcome of the lawsuit — and Toad’s continued presence on York Street — still up in the air, some students find it hard to entertain the notion of a Toad’s-less New Haven.
For Thomas Aviles ’16, the possibility of Toad’s’ absence seems unfathomable. “It’s iconic,” he said. “You can love it, hate it or not really care, but you can’t deny it’s a formidable presence on campus.”
Phelps plans to enlist the help of students like Aviles in ensuring that his club remains on York Street. Arvind Mohan ’14, who has served as the Toad’s’ campus ambassador since his sophomore year, controls the nightclub’s social media presence and reaches out to campus groups about renting the space. He is currently working with Phelps to organize a student letter writing campaign for Toad’s to present to the administration.
“The goal,” Mohan said, “would be to raise awareness that students do in fact support Toad’s’ place on campus.”
Ultimately, Phelps is confident in his nightclub’s chances in court. From his office above the dance floor, he recalls the 2010 conflict between Yale and Bespoke, a restaurant on College Street. The two fought over a small slice of property in the alleyway, owned by Yale but used as a second entrance by the restauranteurs, Arturo Camacho and Suzette Franco-Camacho.
“After the trial, Bespoke was broke,” Phelps intones. While a state appeals court ruled in favor of Bespoke in their trial versus the University, the Camachos told the News in a January 2010 article that the high costs of structural adjustments and litigation forced the restaurant to close.
Phelps pauses for a moment, and pulls out photos of the legends that have sold out concerts on Toad’s’ stage. Joan Jett. Bon Jovi. The Barenaked Ladies. He rocks back and forth quietly in his chair, flipping through the thick albums. The fluorescent lights buzz. He holds a Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cup but doesn’t drink from it — after two hours of talking, the coffee has gone cold.
When asked if Toad’s could share the same fate as Bespoke, if the trial could leave him penniless, Phelps shakes his head. “No.”
Behind him, Sterling Memorial Library looms ghostly and stately. It’s 10 p.m. on a quiet Tuesday night. The stacks shine bright. A student on the fourth floor peers down into the office.
“No,” Phelps repeats. “We see this as a fair fight.”
Last May, the class of 2013 donned their gowns and funny hats, gathered on Old Campus and said au revoir to their bright college years. They dispersed to myriad adventures and identities in a place called “the real world.” Or did they? WEEKEND profiles the stragglers that never quite got the message: 2013, time to go.
// BY AARON GERTLER
Graduation is a myth. No one ever leaves Yale. People talk about places like “Boston” and “Hollywood”, and I’m willing to accept that those places exist. But Yale students actually working there for the rest of their lives? I don’t buy it.
Where’s the evidence? Sure, you visit your 2013 friends at their “new apartments”, and they take you to restaurants where they seem to know the waiters. But do you follow them to work? Read their mail? Open their paychecks from “Goldman Sachs”? Slink around the schools where they “Teach For America”? I doubt it. And even if your parents claim to be Yale graduates who settled in California, what makes you think they aren’t part of the conspiracy?
Yale has plenty to gain by keeping us around. It spends four years molding us into ideal citizens of the world, by which I mean citizens of a small kingdom that is almost nothing like the world. We’ve been working Yale jobs and learning from Yale professors. Yale is the only employer fully prepared to make use of our talents, and only Yale can protect us from the dangers of foreign environments like “West Haven” and “Australia”.
It follows that the places hiring “Yale grads” are simply tentacles of our Kraken-like institution. Lots of us go into finance? What a coincidence! It’s not like Yale has piles of spare money to found shell companies like “Bridgewater” and “J.P. Morgan”. And President Salovey — if you’re reading this, and I’m sure you are -— don’t think I haven’t recognized a few of the new grad students from “Oxford”. Carmen Estrada’s new British accent isn’t fooling anyone.
I’m not wrong about this, but if I am, let Yale speak now or forever hold her tongue. Does anyone else have any explanation for the horde of 2013ers in our midst?
// BY JACKSON McHENRY
Who is the only person more exhausted during section than you are? No, not the girl who’s recovering from Woad’s, not the guy clutching his Blue State cappuccino as if holds the elixir of life. Turn your eyes toward the front of classroom and find that pitiful creature, struggling to get you to reference the reading. Yes, Yale’s grad students have just as many struggles as you.
Some of them graduated last year. They marched through Old Campus, diplomas in hand, beaming as their classmates talked about how excited they were to enter the real world. But these kids weren’t about to leave New Haven behind. They were going back to college, and this time they wouldn’t even get dining hall swipe access.
As Liz Lemon says, “Grad Students are the worst,” but maybe they just have it the worst. They’re doomed to years in academia and stints under unforgiving thesis advisors. Once they get their degrees, they’ll trawl across America, searching in vain for that one associate professor job. They dream of getting tenure, but right now, they just want this section to end.
// BY DAVID WHIPPLE
No, they’re not TFs.
Just because their title includes “fellow” doesn’t mean you should expect to see a Woodbridge Fellow collecting problem sets or begging you to donate your thoughts on Aristotle (as if anyone actually did the reading). Handling snotty undergrads with presidential aspirations is so far below a Woodbridge Fellow. They have much more important things to do. Like… you know, stuff.
Yale’s nine Woodbridge Fellows are recent grads who stick around for a year to pitch in with various projects and initiatives on campus, like designing websites, doing research on Yale’s past or orchestrating tours and press releases. According to the University, being a Woodbridge fellow means the opportunity for a “behind the scenes” look at Yale. Which begs the question, what “scenes” are we talking about? Is this all an elaborate ruse? Are we all being “punk’d?” Are the Woodbridge fellows the only ones who know the truth? Probably not. “Behind the scenes” is probably just another way to say, “doing boring administrative stuff that someone needs to do and it certainly isn’t going to be an actual faculty member.” But that’s why we have Woodbridge fellows.
What’s in it for them? The fellowship offers a soft landing from cushy college living. Many aren’t sure what they want to do after graduation, and took the fellowship hoping for something that would bridge the gap between Yale and the world at large. Pun very, very intended. Just because their title includes “fellow” doesn’t mean you should expect to see a Woodbridge Fellow collecting problem sets or begging you to donate your thoughts on Aristotle (as if anyone actually did the reading). Handling snotty undergrads with presidential aspirations is so far below a Woodbridge Fellow. They have much more important things to do. Like… you know, stuff.
What’s in it for them? The fellowship offers a soft landing from cushy college living. Many aren’t sure what they want to do after graduation, and took the fellowship hoping for something that would bridge the gap between Yale and the world at large. Pun very, very intended.
// BY WESLEY YIIN
When you spot them on Cross Campus, you might wave, but they’ll avert their eyes. Pull up their hoods. Walk quickly away from you. If this happens, don’t despair. No, you haven’t gotten fatter or forgotten to put on deodorant (although there’s no harm in double checking)! It’s them. These 2013ers are ashamed because their greatest nightmare — unemployment — has become reality.
Maybe they wasted away every night at Toads, majored in East Bosnian Underwater Basket Weaving, and credit/D/fail’ed “Women, Food, and Culture” only to, well, fail. In that case, we hate to say it, but the struggle is deserved.
What’s more likely is that the world out there is just too damn competitive. They tried and they applied, but by the end of senior year, all they had in their inboxes were rejection emails and unopened Yale e-bill reminders. The Yale bubble abruptly popped, plunging them into the darkness and uncertainty of “real life.”
These guys had no choice but to go home. Of course, the home they chose just happens to be a college campus. If they’re smart, they’ll use this time to rest, reapply, audit some classes and network. But if you find yourself bumping into them again and again at Woads, do them a favor and ignore them. No matter how you view it, unemployment isn’t sexy.
Hooking up with an undergrad
// BY LEAH MOTZKIN
Predatory is not the right word. You saw them all the time last year: sharing a table with their main squeeze at Blue State York, or draping their arm over a shoulder while lounging on cross campus, or buying drinks at Rudy’s. But when you see them walking around campus now, these class of 2013ers make you do a double take. What are they even doing here? Isn’t he working for that investment bank in New York and living in Murray Hill? Didn’t she move home to Westchester, which is a definite 40-minute drive from here?
I will tell you why they are here. They are hooking up with undergrads. I’ve heard it said that college-age students are at their physical peaks, so wouldn’t you want to keep living the dream and keep the flame going with your young sweetheart, even if they haven’t exactly entered the real world? It’s kind of like when you go to college and stay with your high school girlfriend even though she’s not exactly legal. Except that it’s different, in that maybe they’ll spend the rest of their lives together.
We can’t blame them — undergrads are hot! When you see these 2013ers on campus, smile at them and be nice. Yale hook up culture is a lot more liberal than that of the real world, we’ll all learn soon enough.
On Wednesday night, senior reporter Jordan Schneider sat down in Yorkside over buffalo chicken tenders to discuss the illustrious career of Toad’s Thomas ‘DJ Action’ Jackson. He spoke on his early days as a high school exchange student skiing in Austria and what happened after he broke his dad’s record player. The former Quinnipiac physical therapy student, who started at Toad’s in 2004, answered pressing questions about sex on the dance floor and just who the hell is the guy with the giant beard.
Q. When did you first get into music?
A. When I was 3 years old I thought my dad’s belt-driven turntables were the coolest thing … I remember my dad worked nights as a social worker so he worked for Department of Children and Family Services. I would wait on him to go to work on Saturday and as soon as he left there I was down in the basement playing with the turntables. One day he came back, he said, “Have you been messing with my turntables? My levels are off!” One day I broke the needle and stylus … that was the worst ass-whooping I can remember. I took that but hours later, guess who’s waiting for him to go to work and messing with the turntables.
My dad was never a DJ, but he had a huge love for music. You don’t expect a black man in inner city Chicago to listen to groups like Led Zeppelin, the Alex Harvey band, the Cars … I’m sitting here like, wow, this man is about the music.
Q. When did you DJ your first party?
A. In 7th grade I had a boombox. We’d have parties in our classroom, I’d bring a boom box and CDs that I brought from my dad. No mixing, no scratching. I would mix from CD to the radio while I mixed until the next CD.
Q. What was your first set of decks?
A. I went to Colby College before I went to Quinnipiac [for grad school in physical therapy]. The school just had a set of three CD players that had a tray and mixer. I would just DJ off of that. Most people end up with campus jobs that pay minimum wage, but my roommate who was a DJ said, “Come DJ with me!” He showed me how to hook up the equipment and before I knew it I was getting requested for all the parties.
Q. What’s your DJing philosophy?
A. It never really mattered what I wanted to hear, it was what the crowd wanted to hear. You put yourself last, otherwise you’re just a bedroom DJ and you play for yourself.
Q. How did you get involved with Toad’s?
A. The Toad’s DJ who was graduating at the end of the year was a buddy of mine who was familiar with one of the promoters at Toad’s and heard me DJ. He said, “Oh man we gotta get you into Toad’s.” But I’d never even heard of the club. I was a graduate student … I was out of the loop! I thought it was the dumbest name in the world for a nightclub. I did the set, and the DJs who were there were really impressed. The guy ended up graduating and I’ve been doing it ever since 2004.
Q. So what’s changed since then?
A. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The party has been the same, the energy’s been the same, the music’s been the same: house, hip hop, R&B, some classics. “Livin’ on a Prayer” is a staple, and if we don’t play it, Brian [the owner] will yell at us.
Q. What are the most outrageous things you’ve seen at Toad’s?
A. Extreme drunkenness. What I mean by that is not just people who have passed out. People do things and appear to have forgotten where they are. For example, people having sex on the dance floor, doing it like they’re at home and no one’s watching them. People having sex in the DJ booth like I’m not there doing my job. And I’m not talking about just heterosexually. When I’m trying to DJ it makes things difficult.
As much as I can appreciate a fine female figure, you can see that the girl is not quite with it. I feel for people’s safety, and I don’t want to see anything bad happen to anybody. The way people dance these days they could be doing it so sometimes you don’t know. But the last thing you want to hear is someone getting sexually assaulted in the nightclub, that you saw it and you did nothing about it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So that’s why I call over security.
I’ve also seen some pretty nasty fights. Back in 2005-2006, back when a lot of the Quinnipiac kids appeared to be juicing, they always had trouble with Yale kids.
Q. What do you think are some differences between Yale and Quinnipiac students?
A. When Quinnipiac kids come in, it’s like they come to impress. They dress to impress, they order their drinks to impress. The average Yale student, they come in in whatever the hell they feel like wearing. You guys kind of don’t care. There’s something really cool about it. For Quinnipiac kids it’s like they’re going to the finest establishment in the city. There’s something cool about that too.
Quinnipiac kids will go nuts to certain records, and Yale will too to the same and some different records as well. You can play older music to a Yale crowd and they’ll still love it — Yale never gets tired of “Livin’ on a Prayer.” One time, I didn’t play it and 20 people came up to me and were like, “What the fuck?” Quinnipiac kids, if they stay that long, are like, “oh, here it comes again.”
Quinnipiac, no disrespect, but truly Toad’s is [Yale’s] club. It’s in your neighborhood. I’m not gonna say [the owner] caters to you more but you guys have always been and will always be the foundation.
Q. So I hear you were a ski racer?
A. I wanted to go to the Olympics so I spent a year in Austria freshman year of high school training with their junior team, and then I went to Salt Lake City and trained with a ski academy for three years.
Q. So who is the guy with the beard?
A. Jim Day. He is the light technician who is often times confused as me. He’s just that guy. He’s just a regular old dude. Nice guy though. I don’t know how long Jim Day’s been there, or what’s up with the beard.
It doesn’t take much to get someone to Toad’s. Past a certain point on Saturday night, it exerts some abnormal gravity over us, and we’re drawn like moths to a flame. It’s understandable: booze, dancing, friends; there’s plenty to be said for Toad’s.
Which is why I was so mystified to see the dance floor half-empty last Friday night at the start of WYBC’s annual Anti-Fling concert. The throngs that usually spill into the bar area were instead confined to a knot pressed up against the stage, bouncing along to a killer set by a freshman DJ. Despite a strong lineup, an evening of live music and — maybe most importantly — a free open bar, Anti-Fling was decidedly off the beaten path.
I’d realized this, to some extent, earlier in the night. My suggestions to check out the free show had been met with blank stares all evening: “Anti-what?” Plenty of people had no idea about the event, and would have remained oblivious if not for my intervention. Everyone I told about Anti-Fling was instantly sold — an open bar will do that — and their enthusiasm for what promised to be a great night was matched only by their confusion as to why they hadn’t heard about it.
I have a radio show, as you may have guessed from the fact that I self-indulge in a music column, and I had the distinct feeling that Anti-Fling was a show for radio, by radio, for the cool kids and by the cool kids. Let’s start with the name: Calling the concert “Anti-Fling” makes it nothing more than the opposite of everyone else’s idea of a concert. It’s something close to a “fuck you” to those poor souls ignorant enough to be content with Spring Fling; if you enjoy Spring Fling, then you certainly won’t enjoy its evil twin, the Anti-Fling. Sure, WYBC did promo: a few posters on Old Campus, a Facebook event. If we wanted this event to be bigger, we could have made it so, and I think we should have.
Because who wouldn’t enjoy Anti-Fling if they went? The show opened with a set from Beat Culture, a Yale producer who’s made something of a name for himself in the open water. Beat Culture, aka Sunik Kim ’16, is the rare DJ who puts on a show instead of just pressing buttons. With sounds just unusual enough to be fresh and an ear for infectious beats, Kim had the crowd just as into his music as he was. His music had both edge and appeal — the essence of Anti-Fling.
But the evening’s most memorable performance would belong undoubtedly to Mykki Blanco, a cross-dressing New York rapper who insists on going by female gender pronouns. Although Blanco toned down her get-up for the show, settling for black lipstick and a basketball jersey that doubled as a skirt for the show’s second half, she delivered a snarling, vitriolic performance that was impossible to tune out, one way or the other. Okay, so it’s not the kind of thing you’d see at Spring Fling — although some of Macklemore’s outfits can border on androgynous. But even if more than a few of the event’s bro-ier attendees might not have expected a cross-dressing rapper, everyone could shout along to the refrain of Blanco’s “Getting Wavy”: “We’re getting wavy, getting wavy, getting wavy.” Like I said, an open bar will do that.
Blanco’s bizarre set led into a performance from Brooklyn band Oberhofer, who played convincing if somewhat conservative indie rock, poles apart from Blanco’s antics. As happens with a lot of bands, Oberhofer lost much of their sound’s glockenspiel-fueled nuance once they stepped out of the studio. Their set was all power chords and fist pumping; I’m not sure if I saw someone break out a lighter, but you get the point. No one at the show was as snooty as me, though, and Oberhofer’s set had enough energy to keep a well-lubricated crowd interested before electronic act Pictureplane closed out the night with some solid spinning.
There wasn’t much “anti” about Anti-Fling. It wasn’t against anything except itself. Why would you put on a great show, pay for an open bar and then spin it as the concert for people too cool for concerts? It makes no sense to use music to differentiate people, for music to be “for” some people and not for others. Obviously, not everyone likes everything, but music itself isn’t biased. It’s not going to make a football player bleed from the ears to hear some indie rock, and it doesn’t make your music better when you’re apathetic about sharing it with people. Music is an inherently communal activity; we’ve been making it in groups for millennia. It shouldn’t take an open bar for music to pull people together.