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I’m not in a particularly loquacious mood right now, but I’m listening to #1 Record by Big Star and this, the second track, is really floating my boat. I like Big Star and all but I’ve never quite heard what other people hear in them that makes them such a big big big deal. I think maybe I’m getting it. I wonder who/what “El Goodo” is and why this song is the ballad of them/it.
Right now, Big Star is singing this:
I’d like to go to India
Live in a big white house in the forest
Drink gin and tonic and play a grand piano
Read a few books
Far from what saddens my heart
Try to live away from it
I won’t bore you with all the details, but this was a particularly fun Bostonian weekend. On Friday afternoon, I decided to kill some time at Bukowski while I waited for Aaron to get out of work. A couple of cool things happened. One: After she got a couple of Tears for Fears songs out of her system (ain’t nothing wrong with that) the bartender played like 90% of The Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head, which is like a milestone-level important album to me. It’s a cornerstone in my ten-year friendship with Scott, whose wedding I best-manned earlier this year, and in my relationship with music in general. “You can’t front on that.” R.I.P. MCA. Two: A 40 year old man from Portland, Oregon named Eric boldly interrupted my reading to strike up a conversation. He was wearing a backwards cap and traveling in Boston on business. Eric told me he’d found Bostonians to be friendly, which I was glad and surprised to hear. He said Portland was just like it is in Portlandia. He bought me a beer! Set a great tone for the fun days to come.
Raymond Carver has been killing me. He writes with the precision of a surgeon; the details he leaves out are almost more significant than the stuff he includes. I have been obsessing over his short story Why Don’t You Dance? Read it here. I’m downright evangelical over it. It’s a quick read, and I promise it’s worth it. Why are all the best short stories so sad? There are a lot of great novels that aren’t sad (aren’t there?) but all the short stories I’ve ever loved have been just absolutely devastating. Can anyone direct me to a great happy short story? I’m just going to keep reading Raymond Carver in the meantime, crying into my oatmeal and wishing I had a bloody mary at hand (assuming I’m reading at breakfasttime).
Definitely see Spring Breakers.
Here’s a picture I took today from the top of Peters Hill in the Arboretum:
Last year, I got to interview the filmmakers of Don’t Think, the Chemical Brothers’ concert film, for the Together Guide, which supplements Boston’s annual music+art+tech festival. It was my first (and, so far, only) interview. These dudes were presumably somewhere in Britain and there was a crazy time zone mixup so I got the call from whatever PR people were connecting us like 6 hours before I expected it. I didn’t have time to print the questions I had prepared and I conducted the whole thing by the seat of my pants from the bathroom stall of my workplace. Not to mention, I hadn’t even received the DVD of the film yet. Baptism by fire.
The piece turned out good enough that I was asked to help out the Together folks again this year. I’ll be blogging for them on Fridays for a few months. My first post is about Drinkify and Music Hack Day. Check it out!
I had today (yesterday, as of a few minutes ago) off in remembrance of Evacuation Day, which is one of two Boston-only holidays that are still observed by the city, despite a lot haters’ best attempts. I like to pretend it marks the evacuation of Boston in the wake of the Great Molasses Flood, which is a real thing and my favorite historical event of all time, but it actually has something to do with the Revolutionary War. According to Wikipedia, “The holiday commemorates the evacuation of British forces from the city of Boston following the Siege of Boston, early in the American Revolutionary War,” and “It is the same day as Saint Patrick’s Day, a coincidence that played a role in the establishment of the holiday.” The other Boston-only holiday that city employees still get off is Bunker Hill Day, which is another Revolution thing. As they say in America, “America!”
Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, this is not only the first year in a long time that I didn’t celebrate it recklessly, but also the first year in my 25 years that I barely acknowledged its existence. Growing up, my mom always used to make what we called “boiled dinner,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: a bunch of vegetables, like cabbage and carrots and potatoes, meat, and some other stuff boiled together in a pot and served with mustard. The one thing is that she (and my grandmother before her) inexplicably use kielbasa instead of corned beef or smoked shoulder, which is super weird (but also super delicious because, you know, encased meats). I never thought twice about it until I left home and I really ought to ask someone how/when/why/where they made the switch. Kielbasa in the boiled dinner is exactly the sort of random-ass left field substitution that turned me into the kind of monster who always tries to order what he’s “supposed to” get at certain restaurants. But it’s also good! So what’s my problem? We’d always bring some Irish soda bread to my Irish grandfather, too.
This year, I drank one beer, and it wasn’t even a Guinness. I drank no Jameson, nor carbombs. I ate no soda bread; no corned beef or cabbage. I wore no green. I didn’t force The Pogues on anyone. (I’ve never understood why I am always made to feel like I’m the only one who wants to listen to the goddamn Pogues on goddamn St. Patrick’s Day, but so it is. I think it’s the Dropkick Murphys’ fault.) The baked potatoes Becky and I made on Saturday were just a coincidence. I didn’t even call my Irish grandfather. I wish I called my Irish grandfather. There has been an undeniable backlash among forward-thinking folks in recent years who want to put as much distance between themselves and drunk white people on what has basically turned into National Drunk White People Day as possible. I get that — Jesse told me that on last year’s St. Patrick’s Day he had the unique privilege of running into a girl who was both peeing and vomiting, at the same time, on the street, which we concluded was some surreal Dawn of the Dead-type shit — although I have been known to be a drunk white person, on occasion. My lack of celebration was not in protest; I just didn’t feel the need to make it a thing this year. It barely registered. Walking around the usually tranquil Upper East Side with Becky, watching the decked-out day drinkers spilling out of/cramming into every single bar was totally bizarre. It was way more Jersey Shore than Brendan Behan, whose name, I will admit, I only know because there’s a bar named after him. But still.
I’m up late because there’s a snow day tomorrow. Impromptu four-day weekend: very exciting. A lot of people have a lot of nice things to say about writing late at night. I’m chasing that mythical place where the quiet and the dark and the fatigue all coalesce into something sublime or at least good and I believe it exists but I don’t think that I’ll ever find it. Writing this late, as you may have noticed, just makes me lazy and rambley. Writing about writing is a bad look, unless (and sometimes even if) you’re Charlie Kaufman. I only pulled, like, one all-nighter in college. Then I rewarded myself by ordering a buffalo chicken pizza from BHOP at 10:30 in the morning. I may have eaten the whole thing. It was incredible. One thing I sure can’t do this late is focus. I’ll cut to the chase: Everybody’s talkin’ about this new Beyonce song, so I went to see if it was on Spotify yet, and it wasn’t. But I found something that’s just gotta be better: Apparently, there’s a version of Irreplaceable, which was, like, my favorite Beyonce song already, with Ghostface on it! Maybe it’s just my tinny laptop speakers speaking, but his verse doesn’t add a whole lot to the song — I think I’m more into the idea of it than anything else — but Ghost does manage to fit the word “unjustifiable” in there, which might be a rap first. The man’s just got so much soul! I wouldn’t be mad if he recorded a verse in the middle of every R&B song from the last 20 years.
Then you can go back and delve into Beyonce’s immaculate rap&b (ugh) track record. There aren’t a whole lot of her tracks with raps on them, but the ones that exist are momentous: Bun B, Andre 3000, Kanye, Jay-Z (doy). Remember that Destiny’s Child had a song with both T.I. and Lil Wayne on it all the way back in 2004! It’s not like it’s a deep cut — in fact, it was a huge hit — but the fact that those guys would go on to rule the world makes it a pretty exciting listen in retrospect. I remember talking to my friend Tank, who was the only person in my high school who took rap as seriously as I did, and he was quoting Lil Wayne’s verse in this song: “Cash money is a army,” and all that. He used to give me Southern Smoke mixtapes and I would call them “big dumb rap” to make myself feel comfortable about listening to them. I was part of the problem, presenting myself as some superior authority, all, “Whatever man, rap from the south sucks!” But by the end of the year, I had already bought The Mind of Mannie Fresh. The next year, The Carter II came out, and the rest is history. But what I’m saying is, Tank was right. Not only right, he was downright prescient: Somewhere in a closet in Raynham is a physical copy of Dedication 1 that he gave me in a big pile of mixtapes like it wasn’t even special! Lil Wayne was just some dude to me, and to most of the rest of the country. The more I have learned about regional rap, the more I have realized that Tank knew way more, and had way better taste, than I did. How did he get that way? What was his source? Everything I was reading and listening to was reinforcing the regressive, damaging notion that conscious/old school/New York was the only way to go. Where was he buying actual mixtapes and learning about UGK? We grew up in suburban Massachusetts! I tried to keep in touch with him in college — I remember trying to talk to him about Hell Hath No Fury (predictable) and he wasn’t really trying to hear that — but we drifted apart, as you do. Tank is married and — I’m pretty sure — a Republican now. For all I know, he doesn’t care about music at all anymore and/or he lets his wife listen to the country that I unfairly assume she’s a fan of. But I hope sometimes, maybe on special occasions, he still rides around and listens to songs about rims at high volume (preferably, in residential areas).
Wrote about some pretty advanced music visualizations for Network Awesome. Don’t worry, I mentioned Winamp.
Yesterday, I had to take an 11am Lucky Star back to Boston because the New York <-> Boston bus scene is in shambles in the wake of Fung Wah’s early demise. R.I.P., Fung Wah — we barely knew thee.
Top 5 reasons the Fung Wah bus was the number one bus (copied and pasted from an email to Scott):
1. Bus ticket prices will almost definitely go up. [Note: As predicted, Lucky Star ticket prices have already increased by 10 dollars a pop, which is an outrage.]
2. Fung Wah was the fastest way to get to New York! I know this is because the drivers were speeding, but it’s also because other buses drive all the way through the Manhattan clustercuss to get to their stop, whereas Fung Wah dumped us right off the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
3. Fung Wah stopped at a McDonalds/Subway/pizza/convenience store rest stop. Bolt and Megabus stops at fuckin’ Arby’s. Lord knows where the other Chinatown bus, Lucky Star, stops. [Note: Lucky Star stops at a Chinese buffet in a Big Y plaza in *Haven, CT. This is great if you happen to feel like Chinese food, but pretty bummy otherwise.]
4. Fung Wah dropped me off right near a Subway line straight to Becky’s apartment.
5. You need to buy tickets for Bolt and Mega in advance because they sell out. Fung Wah runs every half hour or hour so all you have to do is show up at the booth whenever you wanna go and you’ll be on a bus within an hour.
Anyways, leaving New York so early was a real bummer, but, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I still had some Daylight left over when I got back to Boston. I texted Phil, “Had to take an 11am bus this morning because the rest were sold out. It’s pretty nice out in Boston. And still sunny! What should I do?” and he texted me back, “Wow plenty of day left! Is your bike in working order?” So I hopped on my bike and headed down the road to fart around on Centre Street for awhile. This song was playing when I walked into Boomerangs, and it grabbed me right away:
It’s always thrilling for me to recognize part of an otherwise unrecognizable song — a section I’ve heard sampled in a rap song or, as in this case, a familiar lyric. But the really thrilling part of hearing this song was realizing how awesome it was. I can’t claim to be knowledgeable in any capacity about reggae, but reggae covers, as I had known them before yesterday, were pure novelty; “Jah Side of the Bong,” or something. This is great. What do I like about it? For starters, that descending riff that comes in after most of the choruses. I don’t know how you describe that sound, but that’s my sound. Fuzzy? Three tracks later, there was a cover of “For What It’s Worth” that just didn’t do it for me, but maybe I’ll go back to it.
I didn’t get anything at Boomerangs, but I bought two books at Goodwill: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I am going to read one of them after I finish reading Becky’s favorite book, which is John Irving’s A Widow for One Year. That one’s just ramping up; I might have more to say about it later. So far, it has been about a failing marriage and a very horny sixteen-year old named Eddie.
I think I was predestined to fall in love with Parquet Courts. I usually ignore the Pitchfork “Rising” profiles because I’m not really that interested in reading at length about artists I haven’t heard of before I even hear their music. Something about that Parquet Courts piece grabbed me, though, during a daily pre-work Internet check. I’m not sure what it was: The name? Pretty standard indie bullshit. The photo? Nah, they look like vegans. I’m convinced it was destiny.
Whatever the reason, I read and liked the write-up, and was compelled to listen to the album on the walk to work. From the first notes of “Master of My Craft,” I suspected I was in for something special. Little did I know I was listening to the first Great “New York” Album since Is This It, probably. They have a certain strain of slacker indie music, for unfortunate lack of a less repulsive descriptor, down to a tee. The common points of comparison among the music Illuminati have been The Fall and Pavement (using one kind of makes the other moot, doesn’t it?), but what I hear in Parquet Courts more than anything else are the deceptively muscular econo-jams and poignant philosophical musings of the Minutemen. Austin Brown and Andrew Savage are brilliant songwriters, and their energetic dueling vocals bring a lot to the party. Their words can paint evocative portraits of urban malaise and have you bust out laughing at the same damn time. Their characters are people I can relate to deeply, whether they’re searching for purpose in their lives or just for some munchies. Their music is rife with moments that get me psyched every single time I hear them — the seamless transition between the first and second tracks, the tight false stops in “Borrowed Time” and the title track, the sublime breather that is “North Dakota.”
I can’t quite figure out why I connect with it so much. They transplanted themselves to New York and started something great, just like I want to do — maybe that’s a big part of it. The lyrics are great, but it’s more than that. I will happily sit through an album of garbage lyrics if the music itself is good enough. The opposite is also true. It’s not like Parquet Courts are the first band to pair literate, evocative lyrics with solid music, but I guess they’re just the first I’ve heard do it in awhile. Rancid was my first favorite band ever, and they do that. The Hold Steady does that. Hell, that’s what rap is all about, sometimes. Lots of artists do that — and I love them all unconditionally. Is it the talk-singing? Savage and Brown talk-sing up a storm on this album. Come to think of it, Tim Armstrong and Craig Finn are all about talk-singing. Sometimes John Darnielle talk-sings. And David Berman. D. Boon from the aforementioned Minutemen. Jonathan Richman! Most of my favorite guys. Well, mystery solved. I guess the key to my heart is talk-singing. I can live with that. Forget everything else I wrote.
In the Spotified world, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to develop anything but a fleeting relationship with new albums. The ones that stick are few and far between — I’m working on that — but when they stick, they really stick, and they stick for a reason. The Parquet Courts might go onto bigger and better things, or they might dissolve, who knows. I hope they don’t, but if they do, I’ll always have Light Up Gold.
Well, it turned out that Fiona Apple rightfully ended up on a whole bunch of year-end lists and I honestly don’t even know what lists I had looked at that didn’t have her on it that inspired me to write that last post, but I’m standing by it because I think it came out pretty well anyway. Forest chest! You know? You know.
Anyway, right now I’m listening to my turntable with headphones for literally the first time, which is crazy for a few reasons:
"It’s that time of year again," a time of year that I’ve probably read best described as something along the lines of "list orgy season." As much as I eat these end-of-year best-of lists up (and I absolutely do) and as much as I want to make sure that Future’s "Turn On the Lights" gets its propers (it probably won’t), I never really make lists myself. Part of that is my aversion to contributing to what is essentially noise, but that’s hypocritical because, as I just pointed out, I love de lists. If you follow this stuff closely enough, it can get really inside-baseball (inside-baseball is my top 1 adjective of 2012, by the way, and year-end-list inside-baseball is the closest I will probably ever get to talking about actual baseball). For example, you might remember that year that Animal Collective, Phoenix, Grizzly Bear, and the Dirty Projectors basically just moved around in the top 4 spots on each list. Four great albums, I agree, but the whole thing stank to high heaven. Groupthink to the max. Not that contrarianism is the answer. That’s how people start riding for Soulja Boy. (He does have his moments.) Life’s great dilemmas.