Neutral Milk Hotel--"King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1" (mp3)
Stephen Malkmus--"Freeze The Saints" (mp3)
In 1976, when I was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, there were several of us from Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh who decided to go across state to Penn. It wasn't easy. One friend, Harold, flamed out immediately and had to keep going home as he tried to adjust to college. I couldn't understand it, but then I was pretty naive.
When I left for Penn in the fall of 1975, of all my friends in a high school with a graduating class of over 750 students, I only knew one guy whose parents were divorced. So, that's what the times were like. The idea that someone would go to college and not be able to cope made no sense to me.
Which takes me to my friend, Bob. Bob was my friend who was the leader in everything in high school--guitar, dating, marijuana, challenging parental control, you name it. Bob seemed immediately to take Penn by storm--quickly, he had somehow landed in a dorm much cooler than mine, had a serious relationship going with a pretty Jewish girl from Long Island, had secured both drug connections and important friendships.
So, it was stunning to me when he, too, left Penn before freshman year was over. Bob had the super achievement-oriented parents that would be de rigeur today, but which seemed to come exclusively (in my experience) for the Semitic community back then. I didn't know the pressure he was under that year, though, of course, I had known what his parents were like in high school. Freshman year, apparently, the last straw for Bob was a Valentine's Day card. I saw the card, just before he left. It read, "Happy Valentine's Day, Bob. We know you'll make all A's. Signed, Mom and Dad."
I'm trying to tell a lot of story quickly, so let me jump ahead and say that within a couple of months, Bob was in the Moonies out in Boonville, California. Those were different times, times as the 70's were winding down, when the idea of a friend getting lost in a cult was shocking, but not unheard of. Charles Manson was only 6-7 years earlier. So Bob left Penn and went to California and, having lost his way a bit, was ripe for the Moonies. For those of you who don't know, the Reverend Sun Yung Moon had infiltrated, especially, California and susceptible young people were sucked into his cult.
But, again, I'm trying to get through the story, so know that Bob contacted me within a couple of months and his girlfriend and I contacted his parents and they had him "kidnapped" from the cult and had him deprogrammed and he returned to Penn by the second semester of my sophomore year. Bob is dead now, a victim of suicide like his older brother, but he did readjust to Penn and finished strongly.
All of which is a very long way of saying that I'm extremely pleased that the Yellow Deli, our local cult restaurant, has come under scrutiny on the front pages of our local newspaper. I'm not happy that young people are getting sucked in, but I am happy that our local university has become disturbed by the Yellow Deli's presence on the fringes of university grounds. Chattanoogans have short memories, like the rest of America, and have been pooh-poohing (even in these pages) the cult connection of this place because the sandwiches are supposedly so good. I don't challenge the quality of the sandwiches; I just haven't eaten there. But I carry a lot of baggage, like anyone else my age, and part of it, as you now know, concerns cults and what they can do to people. And so, the Yellow Deli has been on my radar, and I'm glad it is on Chattanooga's as well.
Neutral Milk Hotel's "King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1" is an underground classic available at Itunes, as is the Stephen Malkmus catalog.