SARA IN THE SUMMERTIME: A Brooklyn Writer & Designer Shares Memories of McCarren Pool
Sara Graham grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. When she was a fifth grader she discovered her gateway drug to the cool adult world—St. Louis’s radio station 105.7 The Point. And She was hooked. “I listened to it on my pink Lenox radio while I drew fashion pictures in my room all summer. It was on the Point that I’d first heard ‘Today,’ by the Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Feel the Pain,’ by Dinosaur Jr., ‘The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get,’ by Morrissey and ‘Close to Me’ by the Cure…I painstakingly recorded my favorite songs onto a series of cassettes. Not the best editor, I captured a lot of non-music babble too, as I proactively jammed down the ‘record’ button to catch ‘Longview,’ or ‘Just a Girl’ promised by the DJ to be played after a short commercial break.” It wasn’t until she moved to her own little place in Sunnyside, Queens and ventured out on her own to the shows in wild Brooklyn that Sara came in contact with the infectious aura of great live music…
“I have a lot of sunny, hazy memories from the summer seasons of 2006-2008 and spending every weekend at McCarren Pool for the free concerts Jelly NYC threw. Picture this: a monolithic Olympic-sized pool, emptied of course, crumbling, spray-painted and shuddered since 1984. That was the venue. What could be more rad? In flashes, I remember these summers wearing concert tees with the sleeves ripped off and jean shorts with thrift store pumps. Running into guys who had blown me off and telling them they were losers. Smoking joints and hanging out in the Dewers VIP section. Starting dance circles and watching MGMT in the rain. My friend ralphing in a trash can.
I’d never felt witness to anything culturally important until then. I was always on the outskirts. But I was lucky enough to have discovered some of these shows in their infancy and saw some truly amazing artists without the long lines that the hype of the last season caused. I suppose that made me feel important by proxy, like a lot of audience members feel, especially during certain moments in time (I was there, guys!) and certainly in New York. In February of 2007, I had the good fortune to find a railroad apartment on Lorimer St. right next to the pool and by the time word caught on and it was a crowded scene with long lines, I didn’t have to go. The pool parties were just part of my backdrop. I watched the Beastie Boys from my roof. Had a picnic on the lawn while the Black Keys played. Made omelettes while the Yeah Yeah Yeahs warmed up at noon—I could peer down from my third-floor kitchen and see the stage! It became a familiar part of summers for those three years. Holy shit, I even saw WEEN there.
But, I digress. What I remember most is my first time going. The whole reason I even sought out the Jelly NYC lineup at the pool was like every other great musical discovery in my life—because I was lonely. I’d been living in Sunnyside, Queens for a year, working in publishing and still finding my way with only a handful of acquaintances. I wasn’t meeting any friends and heard if you were 20-something, it was all happening in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And guess what? It was. When I read in the Village Voice that one of my favorite bands from college, Of Montreal, was playing a free show in August of 2006, I decided to find out what the buzz was all about. I mean it was FREE, and New York was expensive so I never went out. No wonder I couldn’t find my people.
I remember that humid, thick day. My hair was huge, a curly mess I couldn’t afford to cut, so I wore it on top of my head in a big hippy rats-nest-bun-thing. Choosing from my not-yet-New Yorkized wardrobe of beat-ass clothes I wore a ripped red tank top and red corduroy children’s shorts that my roommate had bought from Salvation Army. Very tonal. The B24 bus dropped me off outside a grand square structure that spanned nearly a block. There is this amazing Art Deco arched entryway to the pool and I strolled right in with my big-ass hair and my stupid red outfit. There weren’t crowds. There was a dangerous slip-and-slide, precariously thrown atop the concrete. There was makeshift volleyball. A lot of cute guys, a lot of stylish girls.
Then there was Kevin Barnes. Writhing onstage commanding the audience even with his miniature stature. The band was already on, so I strolled right up to a spot about three rows back. Barnes, all glammed up and spidery with his taught body in a harlequin bodysuit and clownish makeup with glittery eyes, was within reach. I was mesmerized. He was an amazing performer—the holy trinity—strange, silly and sexy. At the show, I just remember joy in waves of ‘60s-inspired synths and buzzy guitar hooks and the ramshackle band in mismatched thrift-store gear. The keyboardist kinda looked like me with a mop of hair and a coordinating, colorful ensemble. I was here in the portal—this was the promised land. I was the grown up with the shaggy hair that smoked cigarettes and was surrounded by killer guitar riffs. I felt pretty awesome.
That’s what I remember about that day—it was me and how it felt to be jamming hard to this band that I really loved, that I never imaged I’d see third row, for free in an abandoned pool. How surreal! I danced alone to every single song like a big nerd, most of them from The Sunlandic Twins, in total bliss and no one was looking, no one cared. I actually think it was the first time I danced in New York, it marked a sort of realization that I had found a place to be uninhibited. This would be the first of many dance parties in Brooklyn and at McCarren Pool. I’d create dance circles that would make me friends with strangers. I’d find my picture looking like an asshole (but loving it!) in L Magazine or on the MoMa events page.
The sun set on that late summer day. Of Montreal closed their set and the small crowd dispersed. I left exhilarated. Waiting for the B24 to head back to my multi-family mostly-Korean building in Sunnyside, I vowed that I needed to be where the music was. I moved to Brooklyn the next month.”
* * *
These days Sara is a senior fashion copywriter for a major department store, but music still holds an equal amount of importance to fashion in her life. Last year Sara and a close friend began Two City, an online clothing shop that pairs her two interests, offering a unique take on music and fashion culture. Two City has even partnered with bands on occasion to produce some pretty fabulous merch. Check them out here.