Scene queen: Author Leslie Simon selects Lawrence as one of nation’s most influential music hubs in travel guide
While working as a self-described “peon” at Alternative Press magazine eight years ago, Leslie Simon happened across a CD by a rising Lawrence band. The disc ended up having a major impact on her life.
“I was given a copy of ‘Your Majesty’ by The Anniversary, and I don’t think it left my CD player for two years,” she says.
From that time on, Simon says she fostered “a long-distance love affair with Lawrence,” leading her to become engrossed in the city’s fertile music environment.
Simon recently found an outlet for this Lawrence infatuation in her latest book, “Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide to Your Favorite Music Scenes — From Punk to Indie and Everything in Between.”
She devotes a chapter to each of the 11 cities she considers “the most influential and awe-inspiring music scenes in existence today.”
Lawrence joins such metropolitan brethren as Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
“I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve never been to Lawrence,” Simon admits.
“I have this image in my head of what it’s like — a mystical place where there are musicians on every corner, independent bookstores and record stores abound, Skittles grow on trees and unicorns run through the fields. … Maybe it’s a very warped version, but that’s what I close my eyes and envision Lawrence to be.”
Except for Seattle, Simon has spent time in all the other featured cities while researching the project. (Others explored include suburban Florida, Long Island, N.Y., the Bay Area, the Twin Cities and Omaha, Neb.)
“(Lawrence) is a tight community. By no means do I pretend to be a part of it,” the 30-year-old writer explains. “I think it’s almost better that I’m not a part of it because over the years I’ve been able to see things with slightly objective eyes.”
So how does Lawrence measure up in “Wish You Were Here”?
She writes: “Though most consider Kansas to be as wholesome as apple pie, the Lawrence music scene is inexplicably riddled with college dropouts and angst-ridden suburbanites who would rather smoke some grass than husk some corn. Oh yeah, it’s also home to some of the most influential second-wave emo bands of all time.”
Simon traces the roots of that scene, focusing on esteemed local acts formed in the mid-’90s such as The Get Up Kids and Vitreous Humor. She provides an Essential Lawrence Album Guide that praises Coalesce, Reggie and the Full Effect and Ultimate Fakebook (which she cites as perhaps the band most emblematic of the overall scene). Also included are crucial peripheral ingredients of the culture such as Black Lodge Recording, Hammerpress, Love Garden Sounds and even Local Burger.
“I wanted to make sure each scene was a very distinct individual and stood out from every other scene,” she explains.
“I wanted to be able to touch on all of your favorite bands from the indie scene, the screamo scene, the hardcore scene, and have them all together in as complete a collection as possible. If you like diverse music, it’s kind of like your iTunes, but with a little bit of a Zagat spin.”
Josh Berwanger, former singer-guitarist for The Anniversary, ran across a copy of “Wish You Were Here” at Barnes & Noble in Kansas City. (The book hit shelves April 7.)
“I think it’s awesome Vitreous Humor and Boys Life got mentioned because they never get enough credit,” Berwanger says. “But overall there seemed to be more detail on other bands from the other cities.”
Berwanger met Simon in 2002 when The Anniversary was playing in Pittsburgh. (“It was the night the KU Jayhawks lost to Maryland in the Final Four,” he recalls. “I remember we played a really short set because I wanted to see the end of the game.”) Berwanger still keeps in touch with Simon even though he has retreated from the music industry since the birth of his son.
“Obviously, everyone always complains about Lawrence not getting any props in general, but at the same time, if you’re from there you shouldn’t have to complain because you know how cool it is. But if you’re going to write something about it, I would like you to dig deep,” he says. “I guess it’s me being picky wanting to see more details.”
Simon grew up in Cleveland and contributed to various school papers through her college years at Miami University in Ohio. On a whim, she applied to be a stringer for MTV, which led to jobs with the network in Cleveland, Cincinnati and New York.
“I don’t necessarily consider myself a music writer; I just love to tell stories. And it just so happens that the people I’m writing about are in bands and have these amazing stories,” she says.
Her work has appeared in Kerrang! and Alternative Press, and she is currently a senior editor at Buzznet.com.
In 2007, Simon released her first book, “Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide to Emo Culture.” She views “Wish You Were Here” as a companion piece.
“It’s the same tone and same general layout in terms of chapter ideas and sidebars. … But I think this steps past the emo boundary. It’s way more diverse in terms of musical genres and subcultures and lifestyles. I don’t want to be a one-trick, flatironing emo pony.”
Simon partnered again with Connecticut-based artist Rob Dobi, who also created the images in “Everybody Hurts.” The Lawrence section displays his interpretive renderings of The Get Up Kids, the beloved punk venue The Outhouse and even a cat from Love Garden Sounds. (Berwanger called the drawing of The Anniversary utilizing a fashion time machine “hilarious.”)
Also prevalent in both books is Simon’s distinctive voice, which is often characterized as “snarky.”
Simon doesn’t retreat from the description.
“Snarky is a very sharp wit with an edge of affection,” she says. “I have a tendency to be a little hard on people, a little mean, a little snarky. But at the very core of everything, I love what I’m writing about. I love all of these bands. With that foundation of respect, it’s all in good fun.”