The front landing of the Montauk Club, a handsome brick vestige of 19th-century Park Slope, was dotted with shaggy-haired smokers taking slow, measured drags. Self-steadying or just delaying the inevitable return inside, these clusters would eventually finish up, grind out, and rotate back into the building's receiving area, replacing another group who also, come to think of it, could use some cold air. The front room was shoulder-to-shoulder with seldom-worn suits, all gathered loosely around a photo collage of the suddenly deceased, 25-year-old Ariel Panero–big-deal DIY show promoter and world-class friend-maker–smiling broadly from a dozen separate snapshots. Anyone who frequents even a small sampling of shows in the Williamsburg-Bushwick axis of makeshift performance spaces would have scanned the crowd's faces with vague recognition: the drummer from last week's opening band, that bearded guy who shuffled past you to reaffix a wayward amp cord, the girl who's drawn an X on your wrist maybe half a dozen times. Stretching beyond the familiarity of that natural gathering spot, the long room was overfilled with representatives of most every Brooklyn demographic, sitting in rows four or five deep, standing around the outskirts in deflated bunches. For a kid with an uncanny knack for bringing people together in the strangest places, here was one last unlikely happening.
A lectern, flanked appropriately by a rickety-looking PA system and an unplugged electric guitar, hosted a wide breadth of diverse remembrance. Scene success stories like the Dirty Projectors' Angel Deradoorian gave tribute to Panero's early friendship and patronage; his Tough Knuckles bandmates and show-throwing cohorts from Less Artists More Condos gave testament to a derring-do that pulled off concerts on boats and in dingy, disused rooms. Tales abounded of bluffed competency in front of marquee acts, becoming a self-fulfilled prophecy as things went swimmingly through pure will and great charm. More common still were childhood pictures of a Brooklyn-born kid whose comfort among all types of people let him open up the city like French doors and waltz straight through. These stories were punctuated with real, though pained, bursts of laughter and remembered joy. The words' collective weight exposed a shallowness in common grumbles against a local music scene filled with transplanted dilettantes, hipsters who consume without real contribution. The room was convincing evidence that deep-rooted community can be strengthened, improved and expanded without necessarily being replaced.
From speaker to speaker, an overlapping sentiment emerged: that people loved Ariel, hoped he knew it, thought that he did, but were baffled as to why this teeming mass of goodwill couldn't have meant more in the end. The unmissable drift here being a restlessly creative life ended in a dumbly self-destructive flare. Standing there, my own mind came repeatedly to dwell on music itself, how those of us who love it intensely often attempt to use it as a coat of armor, afraid to acknowledge how flimsy and insufficient its protection can ultimately be.