Perhaps I do not deserve the privilege of eulogizing Campus Club. I did not belong to it; yet, I felt that Campus belonged to me. It belongs to many of my memories, including some of my first and dearest of Princeton, and I mourn its passing for reasons that even its last members might not imagine.
I suspect that few current students consider Campus a great loss; death comes quietly on the Street, with a few souls sitting by lamplight while parties down the block swing into full. Yet, Campus' legacy should not depend on only the three years of memories held by current Princeton students.
From 20 to 12, 11, and now 10 mansions. Maybe those dwindling numbers are the countdown to elitism's final act, but I don't know how a place that welcomed a scrawny freshman in the fall of 1993, fed him and taught him about music could be considered exclusive. Back then, Campus seemed like a safe place for almost anyone, including nervous freshmen and people who weren't quite sure where else to go. Campus had hippies and Deadheads; writers and geeks; punks and vegetarians; quiet sorts who just sought a good meal in a sunny place, and plenty of people who pushed the limits of categorization.
The desserts put PUDS to shame, and Saturday night was more likely to feature a band you'd never heard of than a jukebox playing Billy Joel again and again. I cannot remember the front bricks absent its game of beer frizz. When the rest of the Street was pouring Meister Brau, Campus served Black and Tan, and it never asked anyone to chug one to get one.
While other tap rooms repeat themselves so much that the sum of their parts hardly amounts to more than any one of them standing alone, Campus never felt like anything but itself. It embodied the best kind of diversity: not merely a change of scenery, but also an education.
I can hardly say whether our pursuits were any more rich than those of today. What do college kids do for fun? Now as ever — for better or worse — they drink, and they listen to music. Allowing for great varieties of both, everything else falls into the categories of intangible or unmentionable. Life holds more than drinking and dancing, but Campus harbored the very creativity that the Street is, according to its critics, supposed to lack.
When the raves of the early '90s arrived at Princeton, Campus burst into a constellation of whistles, lasers, big pants and plastic neon necklaces running in place. Arms flailed to music that only a computer could make, when we thought rock was dead but hadn't yet decided what to call electronica.
Other nights, the ska bands came out, and with them the ska kids, dressed like piano keys, dancing with their elbows tucked in and eyes fixed on those old floorboards. And the rest of us watched them for a little while, and then we danced like them too. It was easy: run in place, head down, elbows in.
The immortal Sun Ra played there, and so did Eliot Smith, before he became famous, long before he died. Likewise Bedhead, John Spencer, Hum, Shellac, Tsunami and Superchunk. Anyone who traded the Skatalites for Dean Dollar missed a history lesson and a multi-generational party.
While empty place settings now sit in silent conversation at the corner of Washington and Prospect, I wonder where those people I knew would have gone and what they would have done. Surely the hall is not the lecture, and the living room is not the party. Presumably, creativity needs only the most ephemeral venues to flourish. But without solid walls and a covenant among members, I fear that even the most vibrant characters and most unusual nights can dissolve into the masses or retreat someplace far out of reach.
I hope, though, that I am wrong. Times like these call for action and imagination. They call for students — for you who read this and know little of what you've missed — to make their own fun.
So book Skankin' Pickle for Cannon Green. Go to CBGB, and tell the band about Guyot, the new central Jersey hotspot. Kick it on the ones and twos in the lobby of Woody Woo. Do whatever else had been going on at Campus — and Dial, and Elm ... and Cannon ... Court ... Key & Seal — long before any of us arrived. Revive old traditions; set some of your own. Bring over some ingredients, and fill the oven at 2D with pie. Roll a keg of Yuengling past the guard at Firestone, pour some out for a great old club, and raise a cup to something new. Invite everyone; see who shows up.
Run in place, with your elbows in. Run in place, with your elbows out. Trust me, it was fun. Josh Stephens '97 is a former 'Prince' opinion page editor.
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