Nostalgia works in strange ways; sometimes, it comes to the surface in conflict with itself, yielding something other than what’s expected. The crowd gathered at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on Thursday evening had done so to see two former members (guitarist Eric Erlandson and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur) of the band Hole in conversation, with music and readings interspersed throughout the night. The age of the crowd varied wildly, from those old enough to have seen Hole live in their mid-90s heyday to those who would have been barely walking when 1995’s Live Through This came out. The crowd was a friendly one, and when onetime Hole drummer Patty Schemel (briefly discussing her documentary Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel) walked onstage, it was to rapturous applause. The event also took place on the eighteenth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death; between that and Erlandson’s debut book, a collection of prose poems called Letters to Kurt, mortality and muses were never far from the surface.
In conversation with host Katherine Lanpher, Erlandson cited Jim Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin as an inspiration for the structure of his own book. The three poems that he read were free-associative and at times awkward in their imagery, referencing everything from the music of Epic Soundtracks to self-help books on tape to the aftermath of Cobain’s suicide. Though some of the poems’ images were memorable: “the Melvins doing life-threatening Vivaldi,” for one. Erlandson’s demeanor was , sometimes reluctantly offering memories of his time in Hole, at others offering manifestoes and charged aphorisms. (“Everybody talks about the puppet, but no one talks about the hand!”)
Throughout the night, Auf der Maur and Erlandson teamed for a total of three songs, including a Jacques Brel cover, and “My Foggy Notion” from her solo debut. Erlandson began the night playing banjo, which prompted Erlandson to quip that Hole had been “known for its use of traditional instruments.” The mood of the night’s conversation ranged from collegial to cathartic; though their time in Hole had brought the three former members together, all three seemed much more eager to discuss their current projects than revisiting the past — even if, for two of the three present, those lines are somewhat blurred.
Lanpher made an unintentional “live through this” pun partway through the night, which led to an uneasy pause, followed by some awkward laughter. And at the end of the evening, Erlandson and Auf der Maur closed things out with