Springtime is Coultontime: sweater weather, and robins’ eggs; wine coolers in the park on the patchy, muddy grass struggling back to life, and of course, database software.
You will recall that the last time I spoke of Coulton, he had just begun work at a little software shoppe on 22nd Street called “Cluen.” Though the money was flowing in Silicon Alley, Cluen was an old fashioned affair—no big bonuses or stock options, just hard work and at Christmastime, maybe a Fresca. Coulton worked endless hours at his scriveners desk, quilling out recruiting database software under the eagle-eye of old Mr. Cluen, always watching from beneath the brim of his old stovepipe hat he’d made from the skins of child pickpockets.
Coulton was diligent, a dreamer, a prodigy. Those of you who appreciate the gimcrack love of technology that infects his songs will not be surprised that he always knew how to make the computers go. But I was still working in the Olde Media district, pasting books together as a literary agent. Let’s just say, I didn’t “get it.” I had dial-up. I still wore a tinfoil suit every time I powered up my computer. And I didn’t know that after Coulton slaved away at the visual basic, he’d then go home and make a theremin out of twine and pipe cleaners and use it to write a song about it all.
Code Monkey was discovering a new sound.
It was at an open mic night at a sweaty little whiskey bar called McGoverns that he first made his splash. This was a time when downtown pulsed with the sound of young songwriters looking to become contributing troubadours of national magazines.
Neither of us even owned a foil suit back then, and we’d hang over by the pinball machine listening to the punks take their shot on the little carpeted stage, shooting for the big time with their odes to men’s magazines and 8000 word Harper’s think pieces. I still remember that super skinny dude with the snare drum scat singing a little tune he called “Yahoo Internet Life.”
“Hey, you’re hot on the theremin,” I’d say to Coulton as he’d hit the multiball once again. “You could destroy these guys. A magazine would pay literally thousands of dollars for your songs.”
But he just nodded sadly no. He was singing about smart drugs and artificial wombs and a guy who fears his own robot butler. “I’m writing about science,” he said. “What magazine is ever going to care about that?"
Then he’d go up and sing a ballad about DNA that just brought a tear to every eye, while I’d be doing shooters in the back with the “Yahoo Internet Life” guy. “This dude’s the future!” I yelled to Jonathan as we walked out. Shows you what I know.
But Coulton kept on honing his eccentric, illuminating melodies about cyborgs and feelings. It was at a bar called, appropriately enough, Galapagos where Coulton took the next step, performing a song about the Mandlebrot Set before a gigantic projected image of same to a room full of head-exploded new fans: code monkey evolve. He worked the futurist conference circuit, where a few editors at Popular Science heard his robot-like crooning and invited him to join their masthead on the single condition that he a) relocate to the moon; and b) write one song about jets a day. He agreed.
Flash forward to today. McGovern’s is closed now, as is the internet. Old Mr. Cluen was kidnapped by Christmastime ghosts. And while not all of these songs are about technology (most, including and especially that old McGovern’s standby “Madaleine,” are about money and presidents and Tom Cruise and feelings), Coulton’s guitar was now firmly planted in the lunar soil, claiming this new territory for him alone, and pointing to the stars, and the future.
A future that would include Summertime. But that is another story.