This piece is part of the Algorhythms project: artists telling stories about music they discovered from humans. Because where we discover music is an important part of its impact, and not all music is discovered through an algorithm.
Dreamscapes are just what we need in 2020. Despite the fact that The Moonless Nights’ first EP was recorded before the pandemic hit, its beauty proved to be just what we need in a year gone wrong.
The Moonless Nights is a collaboration between Adam Arcuragi and Jesse Epstein. Both respectable songwriters in their own right, the pair were introduced by a mutual friend who insisted they sit down together to see what they could dream up. The result was a lush folk record to soothe the soul, with melodies and lyrics to float the mind far, far away from this world.
Adam is a prolific composer, writer, and performer who has been involved in a myriad of facets of the music industry for the past 12 years. He has worked with the likes of Ringo Starr and Eric Burdon (The Animals) but is best known for creating the genre of death gospel. Jesse is a singer/songwriter who has found critical acclaim under the name of Imaginary Future.
For The Moonless Nights’ Algorhythm, Arcuragi talks about the impact just one person can have to change your life forever.
Eric Gruber was the coolest guy I'd met up to that point in my life. He was Jonathan and Justin's older brother. Justin was a year younger than Jonathan and me. Eric was three years older than us. He might as well have been ten years older than us. As far as we knew Eric had never made a single wrong move in his life in terms of being cool. He was a towering giant of a young man with a strong, handsome jaw and dark eyes. His hair was perfectly wavy and he had it cut short on the sides but let it become a tousled mess on the top much like a subdued version of one of the Reid brothers' haircuts. This guy was unflappably cool like what we imagined James Dean must have been like when he was alive.
Eric had been to Europe already. He played bass in a band, he stayed up and out whenever he wanted, he had cool clothes from companies we'd never even heard of that he'd bought from stores in New York. Somehow all his clothes made him look like he had just stepped out of that photo of The Velvet Underground; the one where Lou Reed is sitting on an amp and the rest of the band are lined up and there are silver balloons in the shot. Eric's girlfriend, a gorgeous blonde named Cynthia who was a photographer and was in almost every way the woman Astrid that the Beatles knew in Hamburg, was allowed to sleep over...on school nights! Eric always got the upper hand in any verbal back and forth. He had a tattoo. To top it all off, so long as we stayed out of his room when he wasn't around, he was nice to us. He never picked on us or made fun of us.
But we of course used to sneak into his room when he wasn't around. It was always just to look around. We never took anything and definitely knew not to move anything. It was as if the things he had in his room were treasures from an ancient tomb in The Valley of the Kings. As if we could discern his alchemy if we could put the pieces together. Photos of his girlfriend at a waterfall, a little skull, an incense burner...
He had two 'no smoking' signs, one from a cafe in Paris and from a bar in Berlin. He had posters from David Lynch's Blue Velvet, a promo poster from a record store where his friend worked for the release of The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psycho Candy and two Sonic Youth posters; one for Bad Moon Rising and the other for Daydream Nation.
If Eric came home we'd immediately stop whatever we were doing whether it was playing video games or reading comic books or, heaven forbid, playing with action figures. We'd immediately ask him what he was doing and very carefully follow him around the house, from a respectable distance, for as long as we could. We imagined that this was the equivalent of getting to 'hang out' with the coolest guy we knew. We'd always get to just outside his room and then he'd throw a Doc Martin boot at the door, shutting it in our faces and yell "You guys can't just come in here.". You were only allowed in Eric's room if he called you in. One night he let us sit in his room and tell him whether or not we thought his outfit was 'working' for his date with Cynthia. They were going to see Slowdive in Asbury Park and were going to stay in a hotel...together. I remember how nervous I was to answer as he stood on the edge of his Stussy shirt and pulled up on it. "Is this too short? I want it to hang over my belt." he said. I had no idea a t-shirt could be too short so I just looked around the room and waited for someone else to answer.
I imagine that when Catholics get to see the Pope visit their city is akin to how it felt for us if Eric ever said something to us. There was always the odd shout for Jonathan or Justin which invariably was a precursor to one of them being chased around for having transgressed, in the way that brothers seem to be sometimes. One time he asked Tony if his sister was feeling better because she got really sick one year with a bad flu. Once Eric asked me, in front of Cynthia, if I "was really learning to play guitar" because Jonathan had mentioned it to him. I got a huge smile on my face and said that I was, in fact, learning how to play guitar. He asked what songs I was learning and I told him I'd only learned the chords to Cat Stevens' Morning Has Broken and he chuckled. Not in a mean way. Eric was never cruel. Cynthia smiled and looked at Eric. I was immediately embarrassed because even though I still think that is a great song, in that moment I knew something was just slightly off about my selection of repertoire. Cynthia saw the look on my face, which must have been utter dread and embarrassment, and she immediately softened her doe eyes and said "That's really cool." with that willowy voice she had that sounded like the flutes in Everybody Sleeps.
After the two of them left I sat back down at the kitchen table where I had been looking through skateboard catalogues with Jonathan, Justin and Jon Jon. Justin looked over at me and laughed "Morning Has Broken? What are you, forty or something?" I got up to run around the table to tackle him but I was still so deflated from the earlier exchange of being humiliated in front of the royal couple of cool that I just went upstairs to use the bathroom.
Since everyone in the house was downstairs and Jonathan's mom was still at the hospital (she was a full-time ICU nurse) I figured I could slip into Eric's room and, if I didn't touch or move anything, no one would know I was there. I remember the feeling of absolute spasmodic joy I felt as I walked slowly into Eric's room. Generally if we were to sneak in while he was away it was always as a group so that there was always someone close by the door to listen for boot steps. But it was just me this time. The room still smelled vaguely of paint. The week before Eric and Cynthia had painted his room to look like Dorothy Vallens' apartment in Blue Velvet. I mean, come on, the most I was allowed to choose at this point in my life was maybe which sneakers I got?
I went straight to the tape rack he had mounted up on his wall. It was a wooden rack with horizontal slats so the tapes could sit laying down and you could read the spines from left to right. I was going to figure out what was cool. What song I could go home and learn so that the next time Eric asked me in front of Cynthia what song I was learning they would be so impressed that I'd get invited to be in the band and Cynthia would give me a very generous kiss on the cheek for being the coolest little kid they knew.
I remember only reading two titles. One was Sister by Sonic Youth and the other was She Hangs Brightly by Mazzy Star and then I heard "Adam, what are you doing in there." Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jonathan's mom, Janice. Instinctively I simply took one step to the right so that I was out of her eye line, but I knew I'd been caught so I just simply said "Nothing, Mrs. Gruber, I was just...looking at Eric's tapes.". If I felt foolish in front of Eric and Cynthia earlier I felt dread and shame now. I'd been caught by an adult doing something really sneaky and completely forbidden. My chest and my neck felt hot. I think I started to sweat. She took a step into the room, holding a laundry basket full of her clothes and looked at me. She saw how mortified I was. Janice knew me to be Jonathan's friend who was 'the good one'. I never swore in front of adults, I went to church and got decent grades. She looked up at Eric's tapes. "Did you take any?" At first her question didn't even register. I stared at her for a second while my adolescent brain caught up "No, ma'am. I didn't." She kind of looked bored at this point and just said "The boys are downstairs. I think you should join them."
That was it. She didn't yell. She didn't tell me to go home.
A few days later we were sort of skateboarding in front of their house and I only say "sort of" because Jonathan and Jon Jon were the only ones who could do any tricks. Tony, Justin and I were really just there because that's where we spent every day during the summer and there was always the chance that those two would get bored and want to either play Street Fighter Two or Wiffle Ball out in the cul de sac. We were watching Jonathan and Jon Jon each alternate attempts to do flip tricks when someone put their hand on my shoulder. It smelled vaguely of apple pectin (Eric's hair styling secret that we would all subsequently copy later that summer before we all went back to school) and before I turned around he said "Hey, man, take these. I think you'll like them." and he thrust two tapes toward me. I took them without thinking and stammered something like 'thank's man' at his back as he went back into the house without turning around.
The other guy's just stared at me. Eric had talked to one of us, unprompted. He'd made the effort to leave his room and come down stairs. What's more he'd given one of us something. He'd given one of us music from his collection! Tony was the first one to break our collective shocked silence. "What did he give you?" When I looked down I couldn't make sense of it. I think I was still thinking this was a prank or some sort of test. But as my eyes came back into focus I read the titles out loud “Ride Smile" and "Mazzy Star She Hangs Brightly". None of use knew those titles nor those bands. I was a shepherd boy standing at the mouth of Cave C having just kicked open one of the jars containing the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I ran home. I was so excited I left my bike back at their house. I ran inside and no one was home. I guess my sister and mom were at my sister's dance school or something and my dad was at work so I had the whole house to myself. Despite that, I still moved my newly purchased tape deck/radio receiver combo system with the detachable speakers over next to my bed. I need to lay down and listen in headphones. I needed complete solitude and a completely placid body so that I could accept and receive whatever message Eric wanted me to have. I put my stereo up on my night stand and plugged it in. I went downstairs and got the good headphones from my parents' turntable (it had a 1/4" adapter that could be screwed off revealing an 1/8" plug) and ran back upstairs. I took off my shoes and unscrewed the adapter. I was so nervous I dropped it under my bed but I didn't have time nor did I care enough to look for it. I plugged the headphones in and put them on. Then I looked at Ride's Smile and saw that it was lovingly rewound all the way starting on side two. I slid it in, laid down and then reached over to hit 'play'.
Now side two of the cassette of Smile starts with the song "Like a Daydream" and that song starts with a reversed cymbal crash. So immediately being a Beatles fan I was on board. Cool Beatles-y sound...perfect. Then drums, guitar, bass and tambourine come in on all down beats, in a percussive riff that shook my little brain so hard I saw colors. This was new. This was the sound of my excited, beating heart when I saw a pretty girl or when the coolest guy I knew gave me tapes from his collection. It was the perfect preparation; an appetizer for what was to surely be an exotic meal whose taste I needed to be prepared for. It let me know, in a stampede of hooves, that something magnificent was coming and I was about to be run over. Then everything drops out except for Mark Gardener's guitar for a real quick, stabby riff which gave a false sense of relief from the onslaught of the down beat riff. Then the song kicks back in with a giant cymbal crash, the interwoven contrapuntal melodies in the guitar parts, the cacophonous drums and bass rolling and cascading around every measure with Andy and Mark harmonizing "aaaahhhhh"s behind Mark and Andy's tight harmonies in the verses that never really resolve into a chorus per se....I was receiving new language. I was Moses standing barefoot in front of the burning bush. I was being given a new directive.
I must have listened to those tapes repeatedly at least six times each that afternoon. When my mom got home later on I sat down on the stairs and said in my serious voice "Mom, I need an electric guitar." She laughed and said "I knew this day would come." Not kidding. She had as much a flair for the dramatic as I did. She was the one who'd given me her acoustic guitar to start learning and was also the one who gave me the Cat Stevens song book and Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 2.
Eric never did ask me for those tapes back. I still have them in a box somewhere with no way to play them. I've bought both albums several times, over several different formats. They are both still two of my favorite records. I still wonder how he knew I'd love those two records specifically and to such a bone-shaking degree. I always wonder if his mom told him I'd been snooping in his tapes. He also never asked me if I ever learned how to play any of the songs (I learned how to play Like a Daydream, Halah, Close My Eyes and Before I Sleep) and we never really talked about music after that. I was allowed to watch his band play that Halloween when they played in the Grubers' garage. I got to sit next to Cynthia on an unused bass amp. It was the first time I'd brushed against a girl's leg. That was until Jonathan came and got me because we had tentative plans to egg a house down the street that had dared to copy the elaborate decorations for which his house was famous for.
I never kept in touch with any of them. I still love them dearly. I wonder if Eric even remembers the day he changed and shaped the future of his little brother's friend's life.
You can hear The Moonless Nights EP on Spotify.
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