It’s Sunday afternoon, and things have slowed down. The most important thing about cruise ships may be that they are floating temples of gaudy hedonism. But the second-most important thing is they are really boring. At one point, a pair of Bruisers participates in a hairy chest contest on the Lido Deck. For the first time all weekend, I’m losing interest.
Still, the 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. “Ty Segall hugged me for five minutes” Cable says.
But, on the way back to Miami, the Bruise Cruise finally feels part of the Cruise Cruise. After three postcard-perfect days at sea, it’s impossible to remain only ironically engaged in the cruise activities. You have to choose between existential despair and just going with it. I’m trying to do the latter. I know, from that famous dead novelist, how the other way can end.
The folkways of the Imagination haven’t always made it easy. Back on the first night, the mostly Indonesian wait staff provided between-course entertainment by dancing to Flo Rida’s “Low,” singing along in chopped English while the largely white Bruisers cheered. It felt like a minstrel show.
There’s also a strange class dynamic on board. The vibe on the Carnival Imagination is lower-middle-class to middle-class. A lot of Cruisers have tattoos, the un-hip kind, and many of them paid far less than us to be here. So much for fucking up the mainstream: The Bruisers are the ship’s privileged crowd. There’s no upscale propriety to invade.
John Norris relays an observation from another Bruiser. “If you’ve ever been to All Tomorrow’s Parties [a regular, alternatively minded festival set in resorts in the U.S. and U.K.], you understand that kitsch and indie rock go together really well.” But garage rock, in particular, seems well-suited to the Carnival Imagination.
“It’s hard to imagine Animal Collective on a cruise ship,” Norris quips.
On Sunday, the Black Lips finally live up to their destructive reputation when Swilley hurls his bass guitar into the murky depths. Saturday’s Nassau gig was a calm one for a band that’s been known to include fire, urine, and vomit in its live shows. “I didn’t want to fuck around at Señor Frog’s,” says Swilley. “They would kill you.”
For the final night’s performances, the crowd finally shakes out of the morning’s doldrums—which is easy, given that Thee Oh Sees’ early-evening set overlaps with the Bruise Cruise’s first open bar: Bud Light Lime and white wine and a deceivingly alcoholic lemon concoction.
But by the time Quintron and Miss Pussycat begins their cruise-closing set, I’m pretty spent. I’m not feeling their amphetamine organs and ghost coos.
I walk to the other end of the ship. I browse the gift shop. And then I duck into the cruise’s largest show space, the Dynasty Lounge, where a rock ’n’ roll musical revue is about to start. This is most definitely not part of the Bruiser schedule.
A dozen or so dancers emerge in biker gear. “Are y’all ready to rock ’n’ roll out there?” shouts an announcer. They cycle through the canon: “Born to Be Wild,” “Devil With a Blue Dress,” “Rock Around the Clock.” Massive vinyl records bracket the stage. There’s a soul medley, and a country medley, and a Hair medley, and a Beach Boys medley.
At several points over the last few days, I’ve been told the Bruise Cruise isn’t about indie rock, and may not even be about garage rock. It’s just about rock ’n’ roll.
So maybe Svenonius is right. We’re at year zero. Maybe there’s new truth to be found in the Bruisers—these bastard children of punk, revivalism, and consumerism. Maybe the Bruise Cruise is the start of something.
But the same ship is also where music goes to die. In the Dynasty, female performers emerge in beehives and poodle skirts. The men come out in pompadours. The assembled Cruisers are dancing, some in the aisles. And a reedy-voiced announcer screams: “Put your hands together as we continue to celebrate the golden era of rock ’n’ roll!”