September 11, 2013

Chapter 5: Prince Caspian

The Athens of Georgia

Caspian Quinn was born on a commune near Boulder, Colorado; a few years later his father committed suicide by driving off a mountain. Not long thereafter, his mother remarried a studio musician from Los Angeles, and they moved to the suburbs of Denver. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the musician had demons of his own, which periodically boiled over into violent rages, but during calm periods he taught guitar chords to his stepson, who proved to be not only naturally talented but also obsessive, inclined to practice every waking hour that he wasn’t in school. “I suppose in retrospect that I was probably looking for some kind of structure as well as for a way to get out of my head,” Caspian would say later in interviews. “My childhood was what some people might call Dickensian.”

By the time he was 14 he was playing shows throughout the Denver metro area with older friends. At 16, he became legally emancipated from his mother and stepfather and went to live with his high school English teacher, who introduced him to modern poetry, including the work of Robert Bly, whom Caspian would credit as an important early influence on his lyrics. A year after that, he began a relationship with a woman 10 years his senior, which would last until his early 20s, by which time he’d released two modestly successful solo albums and a handful of EPs on small labels and signed with Warner Bros. He never spoke about her in interviews, but he didn’t deny that the bitter, harrowing songs of Iphigenia were highly confessional. In New York he’d formed Waning Gibbous with Asher Michaels and Bob Barstow, Georgia natives who were playing with now-defunct psych-folk outfit Gurdjieff. In 2010, between their first and second albums, all three of them moved to Athens.

Now Caspian was standing in front of Casey, listening politely as Genevieve and her friends talked excitedly about all the 40 Watt shows coming up in the fall, trying to act like it was no big deal to them to be out in public with Caspian Quinn.

After finishing their drinks at Magnolia’s, they started toward the west side of downtown. “That’s where we usually hang out,” Genevieve explained to Casey. “College Avenue is pretty much the dividing line.”

“There are a few places I go on this side,” Caspian said mildly. From the little smile on his face it was clear he thought it was a young person’s conversation to have. “I’ve survived.”

“Whatever,” she said and smiled at Caspian. He grinned back and pushed his hair out of his face. The trees rustled above them in the balmy night as they headed down Washington Street, and the sound of a band warming up carried on the breeze and floated over the din of the crowds packed up against the railings outside the bars.

Casey was feeling a little drunk and increasingly disturbed. On one hand, Genevieve had introduced him to her friends as “probably the coolest guy at Northwestern” and told them that he was going to be the next Jack Kerouac. On the other, from the way Caspian was looking at her and kept finding little ways to touch her and from the way she smiled at him, Casey was fairly certain that there was something going on between them, even though they were careful to talk to all the others equally. The two of them walked in front of the group as they navigated the packed sidewalk, while Casey fell into step with Jackson, the nice guy with thick glasses and a missing front tooth. Three more guys whose names Casey couldn’t keep straight trailed behind them.

Did Genevieve really not have one single female friend in Athens? he wondered as Jackson prattled on pleasantly about all the newer bands in town that were about to break onto the scene and about UGA’s chances against South Carolina. He was in his fifth year of undergrad and wasn’t certain that it would be his last. “I’m thinking of adding a double-major in philosophy,” he explained. Casey wanted to ask him what happened to his tooth, but didn’t.


Caspian wasn’t conventionally good-looking. He was an emaciated beanpole with lank hair and knobby knees and a large nose and dark circles under his eyes. At 31, he was practically a decade older than the rest of them. But his intense face and intelligent eyes and grave manner generated a certain star power that made him a mesmerizing presence on stage and a rather daunting rival in the loud darkness of Max, where they’d ended up going.


Photo Credit: Kelly Hart

“So, what made you choose Athens?” he asked Casey seriously after they’d bought beers and settled at a table outside.

“I just wanted to try moving somewhere completely different. I knew there was a good music scene,” he said. He was hardly going to say that he’d come because of Genevieve. Caspian nodded. “What kind of stuff do you write?”

“Journalism, but also short stories.”

After listening to a particular download of one of Caspian’s live shows so many times, it was disconcerting to hear the familiar voice directing questions at him. Casey kept expecting him to shout Thank you, Brattleboro in a very specific cadence. But it was undeniably exciting to be the focus of Caspian’s attention.

“Have you been published?” It wasn’t a challenge, Caspian just seemed interested.

“My articles have. No stories yet.”

“Well, good for you, moving somewhere new and practicing your art. Just make sure you’re putting yourself out there as much as you can.”


“Did you ever consider moving to New York?” Genevieve asked Casey. “Isn’t there a lot of publishing stuff there? I thought that’s where you were supposed to go if you want to be a writer.” She leaned on her elbows and smiled at him, her eyelashes fluttering. Whatever number of beers she was on, she was obviously tipsy.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Anyway, I don’t like the crowds.” The question maddened him; she’d been the one to suggest he move to Athens in the first place.

“You know, I read a quote from Patti Smith a while back saying that New York is no longer a place for young struggling artistic people to come anymore like it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Caspian said. “I thought it was pretty apt.”

“I’ve read that too,” Casey said.

“When we were just there, we had a blast,” Genevieve said. Caspian looked at her sharply. “We stayed in Brooklyn with Caspian’s NYU friends, and it was super chill. I’d love living there.”

Everyone at the table looked at her, but she seemed oblivious as she drained her PBR. Jackson’s mouth hung open a little as his eyes darted between her and Caspian.

“I went up there to do a few shows and go to some meetings,” Caspian said awkwardly. “Some friends from Athens came up as well.” His pale eyes flashed with irritation.

Genevieve’s eyes widened for a moment as she realized her mistake. “Yeah, there were a bunch of us there,” she said hastily. “Anyway, I actually could see you really liking Brooklyn,” she said to Casey. “You should really consider it if Athens doesn’t work out.”