Finding Grace with Emily Kaplan: “Gurl Sixteen” Part II

"Gurl Sixteen' Emily Kaplan was fiery, inspiring, profane, whip smart, unafraid and indulgently infuriating, creating passionate drama like a raucous scene from a John Cassavetes movie.

The inspiring, amazing, profane, profound, infuriating Emily Kaplan: Gurl Sixteen

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1980 – Emily Kaplan. She is Gurl Sixteen. Like all Gurls, she is amazing, flawed, beautiful and inspiring in ways even she doesn’t know about. When your humble narrator first met her she lived with her kid sister Beth.

The two of them shared a bond that, if you read about it in an SRL reading lab as a kid or, saw it in some sixties Swedish film as an adult, you’d simultaneously wish you had one just like it and intrinsically despise it with equal fervor.

Emily Kaplan and her kid sister Beth.

At the time, the relationship that was forged in our crucible of youthful shenanigans at the Underground and later at a club called Streets seemed so adult, complete, complex, confounding and ultimately doomed to fail that we both pinged and pinballed through it like characters in our own bad Cassavetes movies.

Looking back of course it was like an episode of Gilligan’s Island. A comic tragedy akin to Aristophanes, “All About Eve” and a raucous meeting of the Allston auxiliary of the Order of the Eastern Star whilst hopped-up on laudanum and limoncello, all rolled into one big ball of lust, loss and legend.

Emily was hired as a waitress at the Underground. It was a shitty gig. You would have to hump a tray of drinks through a sweaty crowd of drunks and guys who would stare at your tits. She was great at it.

She was profane, whip-smart and seemingly unafraid of anything. Like most Gurls back then she was challenging the very notion of what it meant to be a woman in America.

In those daze, the notion of a girl being as seriously into music after the age of fourteen (see Sherman, Bobby etc. as a guy seemed as foreign a notion to most people as a “personal” computer did.

Girls that stayed after any show, music, stock car, rodeo etc. had one role. It was the same role that most women have played for so long that the script they use is almost genetic.

Sadly, for so many Gurls, the role comes as natural as one of the Barrymore’s doing a soliloquy from that Stafford-on-Avon mook.

It flows from Mother to Daughter along with boob size and the right inflection to use on those “gee, I really like that” that society seems to have always demanded.

As mentioned in Gurl Sixteen, YHN (Your Humble Narrator) had been displaced by the City of Boston from the loft in the “Combat Zone” and had been homeless for a bit.

Depending on the kindness of strangers for a place to sleep and, more often than not, simply sleeping in a booth at the Underground, didn’t seem that odd at the time.

The booth next to the bar was the preferred one. You could move the booth’s padding around and have a comfy kip with easy access to the soda guns and the peanut machine.

Emily Kaplan and admirers in the entrance to The Underground.

It was while in that booth and working on creating a new, written language (hello, amphetamine…) that Emily first said hello. Of course, she had not escaped notice.

On the night before she bellowed “eat me” and poured a drink over a friend of the club owner who came down to check out the “punk dollies.”

She pointed out the Sanskrit aspects of the new language that lay scrawled on the various scraps of paper that covered the table and said to meet her at the movie theater tomorrow at 1:30 for a screening of a minor offering from the Miss Marple catalog.

There is very little about the flickering black and white images of Agatha Christie’s sleuth that day that can be recollected.

The feelings though, the solid connections permanently formed in the lizard brain that day are as present as the pain that resides in both hips as this is being written.

The electric scent of her. The galvanic nature of her whispered words about England, expression and everything else. The way she looked with sideways eyes when she thought Margaret Rutherford had captured the complete attention of everyone in the room, killed

She suggested coffee and some left-over pizza at her place before the show started at the club that night. It was a condo in Brighton that she shared with her sister.

It had a weird harpsichord-like instrument that Emily said was from the 1800’s and she also a pretty decent stereo and a shitload of singles.

She played the Undertones new 45. Then she gave me a Patti Smith book of poetry to read. We fucked.

Having virtually nothing besides some battered paperbacks and a bag of weed it didn’t take long to move into her den.

She is an artist. She is an intellectual. She is fucked-up. She was everything that would imagine a modern gal to be at that time.

It is almost impossible to be a punk once you have a syllabus supplied. Understanding things more complex than “fuck you,” “piss off” and “I’m angry” leads to either suburbia, academia or post-punk.

Gurl Sixteen gave direction to a lumbering vessel. Gurl Sixteen gave content to a blank page. Gurl Sixteen bestowed adulthood, the notion that being hurt should not make you hurtful and still, to this day, the best recipe for nussy rice ever.

She also, like the best lovers do, inspired heartbreak, instigated drama and lingers in memory like a fever dream found in Conrad’s Congo.

Thank you Gurl.

No witches were burned nor laundry aired in the writing of this piece.

Your humble narrator Buddy Glass is a minor character in “Franny and Zooey” and is known mostly for his long letters and encouraging people to go into the arts.

Punk rock music can be heard regularly on John Carlucci’s SpeedieJohn program on
Channel 21 of Little Stevens Underground Garage on Sirius XM Satellite radio.

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