Demarest has a way of making creative people somehow better. In the year I was there, I found that my guitar playing was improving; I started learning pieces I would never have considered tackling. It probably helped that my roommate was a musician as well. I even tried learning “Root Beer Rag” on the out-of-tune piano in the main lounge. (My ears, sharper than my fingers, wouldn’t let me finish learning that one.)
I found that year that I had an interest in industrial sculpture, I first recorded music on a multitrack, and I drew my first comic pages (and stopped drawing them quickly when I realized they were terrible). I did a claymation film with a super-8 camera for my section project and organized an open mic.
There’s something wonderful about a place where people are constantly trying crazy things; the community, the spirit of Demarest made me want to do something, anything to participate in that feeling. The art room (then called the “rehearsal room”) is now covered with drawings layered over other drawings, some of them good, some terrible, some obscene, some profound.
Perhaps art is just that: trying new things, crazy things that nobody’s ever done before. The photo below this paragraph is of something that a nameless student drew on a light fixture. Sooner or later, Rutgers Housekeeping will “fix” that light, and that silly drawing will be gone forever. But someone’s silly drawing ended up making for a pretty kick-ass photo. (Auto-contrast in my camera has more to do with the kick-assedness of this than I do.) Sooner or later, random things come together and something beautiful happens.
At the moment, Bishop House, the traditional nemesis of Demarest’s way of life, is clamping down on the dorm more than it ever has before: More than half of the incoming students will have been randomly assigned, and one student leader we spoke to told us that they’re afraid the community is going to die. At the same time, the author and keeper of the site Demarest-in-Exile has announced that he’ll be taking down the site soon. (Against that day, here it is on the Wayback Machine.)
But all that this means is that Demarest is going to change, yet again. When I was there in 2006, the residents seemed utterly uninterested in me, an obviously older man. This time, we were asked about what year we lived there, and someone even asked us into her room to chat and gave us a tour of the new co-ed bathrooms. For Fred‘s sake, they have a fucking dorm historian now.
While I was listening to the stories people gave, something started to shift in my head. I walked over to the rehearsal room–sorry, now it’s the “art room”–and looked at the paintings and scribbles. I jotted down “Demarest–Way Station” in my journal and took some photos of the walls. Today, I’ve written the song “Way Station”, about wasted opportunities and human stubbornness. Is it the best thing I’ve ever written? Probably not, but I like it, and I’ve already recorded it. Names must be changed to protect the guilty, of course, but this is the first song I’ve written in three or four years.
There must be some way of capturing that feeling of experimental anarchism again. I’ve got paintings to paint and songs to write. Demarest has recharged me for the second time, and I have no intention of waiting twenty years for my next fix. I’m going to an art museum this week, and I’m going to do everything I can to help my give that Demarest spirit to my creative friends.