Bruise Cruise: A Supposedly Punk Thing I'll Never Do Again Sailing away on Carnival's indie-rock fun ship

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Photos by Darrow Montgomery

On a cruise ship, you learn to read a situation by its conga line.

It’s my third day on the 2,000-passenger, 855-foot, 70,367-ton Carnival Imagination. Standing on the veranda, I scan from aft to bow—from the ship’s piss-spiral water slides and massive, whale tail–shaped funnel to its scarlet-cushioned jogging track and nine-hole miniature golf course. Everything about this boat is insane. The unquenchable consumption. The pricey monotony. The fact that presumably sensible people with real jobs have actually allowed themselves and their families to be transported via a floating hotel with a water park and casino and shitty food to an island also containing a water park and casinos and shitty food, and the fact that they have paid to do it.

A famous novelist once wrote an essay about this experience. He’s dead now.

But here’s what’s especially insane: From my perch, I’m watching the flailing of a conga line on a cruise billed as a “three-day tropical rock ’n’ roll vacation,” a chance for cool people and cool bands to steer a pirate ship full of subversion out into the Atlantic. This is not Kathie Lee Gifford’s cruise. It’s Ian Svenonius’.

Literally: Svenonius, the provocateur laureate of D.C. punk rock, is the official “cruise director” and MC for the Bruise Cruise, which stars nine bands, one DJ, a puppet show, and 380 scenesters, who make up about one-fifth of the population of the Imagination’s Miami-Nassau-Miami weekend round trip. I’m a fan of the bands, who can largely be filed under garage rock. But I’m really here for the sociological fireworks.

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The same thing, as it happens, fascinates Svenonius: the clash of culture and sub-culture. A few days before embarking, we meet up at a D.C. Starbucks. “Nowadays, if you go to New York or Portland, it’s like Logan’s Run or Zardoz, like we’re living in the bubble of Zardoz,” he says. The cruise “is a diversion from the rigmarole” of modern-day, independent rock ’n’ roll.

The quip pops into my head as I ponder this latest onboard conga line. “Feelin’ hot hot hot” pumps from a P.A. on the main pool deck. You can imagine the ship’s punk contingent mocking this middle-American leisure activity. But there, linked hand-to-shoulder with the Imagination’s rotund majority, is a group with about six inches less meat on their waists and many liters more ink on their skin: the Bruisers. They drink, they smoke, they rock, and, it is now clear, they conga like a bar mitzvah crowd, too.

Over the weekend, I see many other compelling images: Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley launching his instrument into the sea while shooting a music video. Surfer Blood singer John Paul Pitts hunting for a hot blackjack table. Former MTV News anchor John Norris, on assignment for noisevox.org, interviewing pool-bound members of Vivian Girls while a Fellini-esque cast of hipster paparazzi snap away on SLRs. And finally, in Nassau, four of the cruise’s acts—Black Lips, Vivian Girls, The Strange Boys, and Turbo Fruits—playing to a crowd of Bruisers and fratboys and bachelorette partiers at the least punk rock establishment in any port of call in the entire Atlantic Ocean: Señor Frog’s.

“I think a lot of people on this cruise hate us. I think they think we’re gay,” Swilley tells me on Sunday. “I was drunk last night walking through the hallway, I only had my underwear on, and some guy was like, ‘Get back in your room, faggot!’” He points across the pool. “Some guy who looked like that guy, with the backward visor.”

I believe Swilley. But at least during daytime hours, there’s little other friction between Bruisers and Cruisers. My informal polling of Cruisers says as much: They don’t mind the tattoos. They’re curious about the music, at least sometimes. For the most part, they’re indifferent.

In fact, the regular vacationers seem to have a magical effect on the sailing scenesters: Onboard, the Bruisers become more like the Cruisers with each nautical mile. Sure, they’ve watched multiple sets by their favorite bands. But they’ve also danced happily to lousy ’90s music in Illusions, the ship’s onboard nightclub. “This cruise is kind of everyone having their guilty pleasures realized,” says Michelle Cable, who runs the agency Panache Booking and helped organize the Bruise Cruise. It’s hard to keep your fingers crossed while you’re tanning on the Lido Deck.

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Our Readers Say

So this cruise was like one of those nights when you get really high and think "oh shit, it'd be hilarious to go to Adams Morgan and laugh at all the douchebags and douchecunts!!" but then when you get there it's just sad and depressing and you end up leaving after five minutes ... only in this case, you were trapped in Adams Morgan for an entire week. Horrible fucking idea.
In general, you'd have to pay me to go on a cruise. You might have to pay me slightly less to go in this one, but you'd still have to pay me.
Trapped in Adams Morgan in a friday night hell - minus the racial diversity. mcdonald coin bathrooms, fights, and sexual diversity.
Ian Svenonius? Didn't he front one of those god-awful Dischord bands years ago?
After halfway reading this' I felt ill. Think I'm going to the bathroom to throw up.
Svenonius is a bore? Completely unsurprising to anyone who's ever spent more than thirty seconds around him.
As a Bruise Cruiser, a person who was on the ship, attended every show and who got what they paid for, I'd like to put this review in question. 
It appears to me immediately that this is an embittered piece by a frustrated journalist who went on the ship expecting a shit show, a general failure of the festival and ultimately the end of Bruise Cruise. At the same time you were supposedly there to help promote the festival, the bands and garage rock in general. 
Had the Bruise Cruisers been running thru the ship naked, destroying their rooms and drawing negative attention to the Bruise Cruise and thus preventing further Bruise Cruises you would have had a colorful piece about how hipsters ironically came into conflict with typical retired and underage cruisers and how entertaining and sociologically enlightening and affirming it was to see the incongruence of these demographics.
To your dismay, the cruise was a total success. 
This piece wasn't a reflection on the quality of the festival, the bands or the average Bruisers experience. 
This is a piece by a journalist who came in the interest of gossip, not in the interest of furthering (garage) rock n roll. 
Please consider that before you judge what you haven't experienced yourself. 
@Bruiser #1: "At the same time you were supposedly there to help promote the festival, the bands and garage rock in general."

So, a journalist's job is to promote? Interesting, I thought that was a marketer's job.
Bruiser #1: Aside from misunderstanding the role of the writer in this case (and perhaps journalism in general), you apparently failed to absorb any of the nuance in this account.

Which is a shame, mostly for you. And not just because you seem not to have gotten much out of it, but also because others who read the story and then your comment will probably notice that your characterization of the author as an "embittered" hack, contriving to depict the event as a "failure" in hope of sabotaging future Bruise Cruises, is pretty clearly inconsistent with passages such as this:

"[T]he consensus is the Bruise Cruise has been a success. I agree. The bands are all very good, perfectly suited to the 30-45 minute sets they’ve been limited to. Cable and Stein tell me later that they may actually break even. I’d come aboard expecting to see an embarrassing case of alt-rockers reduced to lounge acts to make money. But the bands actually accepted less than their usual fees for a weekend of notably easy relationships between fans and rockers."

Perhaps the humility, goodwill, and thoughtfulness brought to bear here and elsewhere in the writing are discernible only to those who brought the same to the reading.

No matter to you, Bruiser #1. You, unlike the author, did not care to sign your own name to your work. I guess troll is the new punk.
Sounds like a bunch of losers who think they are cool went on this. suckers!
@Steve Kolowich: It's true that the writer eventually said the cruise was a success, but if you only read the first 95% of the article, you'd have never thought that paragraph would exist in the article.
Sounds like the worst of America...hipsters sold out long ago. Real punks (like me) could never afford a cruise.
This cruise is nothing like what goes on in Adam's Morgan -- well, maybe Adam's Morgan circa 2000. Even then it's a reach.

You don't have to love this article's subjects. I'm certainly not indie or hipster in any way. But please get a clue. If you don't know what you're talking about, please don't comment. Spare us.
OK, now I want you to go on the Lynyrd Skynyrd cruise, that would be hilarious.
You all are right about my misuse of the word "promote" in referring to journalism. But if journalism is about reporting the facts then don't come with an agenda. And thank you, Mike.
I once ran into Ian Svenious walking down the street with Thurston from Sonic Youth. I naturally asked Thurston for an autograph. Ian Svenious made a face like he was gonna be sick. Looking back a few days later, I came to the realization that he was upset I didn't ask him for an autograph. Ian is a never was, and not a has been.
The impression I got was that the journalist rather enjoyed the cruise, despite the attempt to re-create the original tone of the DFW essay.
Sounds like a fun time was had by all. I, like you do not relaly like cruises. Not enough time.Tight lines
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