and i said
^a modest mouse song
art by rose tatarsky.
During the summer between 10th and 11th grade, I was in training. After playing junior varsity soccer for the first two years of high school, it was time to try out for the big leagues: the varsity squad. The varsity coach came from a track background, so part of the tryouts was a mandatory run. We had to do the 800m (twice around a standard track) in something like 2:20. If you couldn’t do it, you couldn’t make the team, simple as that.
So I spent the summer going periodically for runs. I would lace up my shoes, run down the road for a while, then run home. I did this kind of a lot, I don’t know, I mean it felt like a lot. I absolutely hate running. When we had to run on the JV team, these long cross-country 5k type runs, I would hide behind a car with my friend the goalie after the first turn took us out of eyesight. Then we’d just catch up as the group came thumping back around. The junior varsity coach, Gilbert, was something of a space cadet.
Running for me, in all the sports I played, was never connected in any meaningful way to being successful in games, scoring more goals, whatever. I’ll compete until I collapse, but when I run it’s just me and this little voice on a loop in my head: “this hurts, I can’t breathe, this hurts, I want to stop, let’s stop.” It was something I was forced to do, all the god damn time, for soccer, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, every god damn thing, and mostly by men who were overweight balding alcoholics, men who enjoyed yelling like drill sergeants, men whose own glory days had ended with their proms. Maybe that’s not fair. The point is I hated it. I still hate it.
That summer wound down, and eventually it became the week before tryouts. An old friend of mine, a year older, happened to be at the track one day when I showed up to run. He’d made the leap to the varsity squad last year and knew the deal, so he offered to time me. As I came around the home stretch, he held up the stop-watch and started yelling out encouragement, and I found myself running like I’d never run before, rounding the final corner, gulping breaths like a drowning man. When I crossed the finish line I crashed down and collapsed, helpless, on the red rubberized track. From my wheezing vantage point on my back, unable to speak, the look in his eyes was worrying. When I caught my breath and managed to ask, he told me, tactfully, that I wasn’t even close.
A week later, at tryouts, I tried. Really I did, but what I had learned that day was that this run required basically sprinting the entire 800 meters. To my genuine surprise, the jogging I’d been doing all summer had been woefully inadequate. Given my apparently lackluster training routine, I simply wasn’t physically capable of it — without a time machine, it wasn’t going to happen. So I tried, and I failed, and I packed up my things, and I went home. For the last two years of school I played tennis. The tennis coach didn’t give a shit about running.
I say this a lot, and I’m sure my friends and family think I’m being sort of a dickhead every time, but I really believe it: there is metaphor in everything. It’s the great gift I’ve taken from writing, a wisdom that extends beyond poetry, the idea that there is connection and meaning and symbolism everywhere, not just in art, but in life. Awareness cuts both ways though, and metaphor doesn’t discriminate between happy or sad, good or bad; these are human concepts. Metaphors are just connections, lines between two points. And this one really haunts me.
I think I’m trying. I really do, and I find this life incredibly difficult, every day is a struggle inside myself. And yet for all that striving, there’s precious little to show. I’m 31 years old, living in an un-insulated room, with no career, a handful of crumpled dollar bills, and a pile of little arts that I find beautiful but nobody sees. When I reflect on that honestly, there is a part of my brain, a part that I hate, that wonders:
am I just… jogging?
My empty living room in Brighton, my empty campsite in Yunnan, my empty house in Tanzania, my empty bedroom in St. Louis. I have danced naked to this song on four continents. That’s about all I have to say about that.
After making that first EP out of voice memos and laptop synths, I realized I had a pretty serious input problem. So I went on a targeted consumerism spree and dropped a ton of money on a beautiful keyboard (w/ a MIDI pad for drums) a hyper-cardioid microphone for playing live, and an audio interface to capture it all directly into Ableton. After much failure and quitting and naked wrestling with Windows’ sound drivers (WHY, WINDOWS? WHY!?) — now, when I make loops in my room, I find myself at the helm of a fully functional musical death star.
Please, for the love of god, do not listen on phone speakers. I mean, I can’t stop you, but you’ll be missing entire frequencies.
Cover art is by Salavat Fidai (check him out), appropriated and altered by me without consent. My bad, dude. To be fair, it’s all sort of stolen from Rodin.
At the beginning of quarantine I finally got into Ableton seriously, went into a fugue state, and woke up ten days later holding an album made out of voice memos I’d had on my phone. The art is a picture I found in the philosophic collection I’ve been working on these past five years. There’s no real identifying information, but presumably that’s a shot PB took in Tibet or Mongolia in the early 20th Century. Or somewhere else, who knows — it really doesn’t matter. I’d like to stop talking for a while.
Whenever I make voice memos in my bedroom, my phone thinks I’m playing at Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop downstairs. I try to keep up with re-naming them, but at this point there’s just too many. I don’t have anyone in my life to share art with anymore, which is bumming me out, so I’m just going to put them here, for the crickets. Hello crickets. I’ll share them with you.
god damn it, you have to be kind
just another lonely disease vector
This morning I was thinking back to those heady days of the internet’s infancy, when people thought, unironically, that Facebook would be a universal public good. I mean it made sense, the progressive nature of major cities, now on a global scale! Hate breeds in fear, fear breeds in ignorance, and the original internet appeared in schools as a vehicle of education. We thought this spread of contact and knowledge would democratize the world, ushering in an elevated age of information and openness and understanding.
Instead things got weird. You know this already: we made little echo chambers, which then became cavernous echo chambers, and the once-defused information highway became a handful of enormous one-stop corporate content aggregators, each with their attendant influencers, and we all slid slowly to our chambers of choice. There we did our human thing, the thing we always do: we formed clans and made mobs. In-groups, out-groups, misinformation, hate, fear, and of course the people in power who smelled opportunity and harnessed it. It gets dark, direct democracy, quickly, and anonymity did us no favors.
I was on a date with a girl once and she, for all her erudition, her literature degree from Berkley, spent a lot of time watching the YouTube channel of a trans woman doing makeup. I did not understand. We watched some of it, and I tried, but I just did not get it. It felt like this enormous vacuous time suck, a simulacrum of actual human interaction, the whole experience frankly kind of mystifying.
But then a couple months ago I started watching play-throughs of board games, games that for various reasons of complexity, expense, and sheer lack of like-minded friends, I would never get to play. That’s what brought me in, but now I watch this shit all the time. There is something supremely comforting about it, and it comes from the fact that, without realizing it, I went there because I was lonely. And what I got, tucked secretly inside that board game content, was human contact. Simulacrum or not, I get it now.
So here we have this global pandemic. More than the sickness itself, the honest danger of this thing is the pressure it’s putting on our already cracked and straining societies — In the US we look for leadership and we get a gutted CDC and a president that stands at the podium with CEOs instead of healthcare experts. The strategy of taking over government, breaking it for profit, then pointing at it and calling it broken has come to its logical conclusion and now we’re in a crisis without command.
The virus will eventually settle down, and we will return to a “normal” of sorts, but this is all unsustainable, and always has been. Endgame Capitalism is not an equilibrium to which anyone who cares about human dignity aspires, and yet we’ve got a liberal front-runner candidate with a literal slogan of “return to normalcy.” Give it some time and this crisis will all have been a trial run for climate change, and when that hits for real, there will be no more “normal.” In the end, it’s all the “normal” we demanded and keep demanding that got us here in the first place. All this “normal” is driving our species to the brink of extinction, and nobody in power seems to give a shit. We’re on our own.
And yet something of the old optimism has been creeping up on me. All that crushing alienation, the feckless indifference of the wealthy for what they are doing to all of us, the retreat of people to the internet for connection they weren’t getting in the lonely waste of their wage-slave lives, prepared us for this. Suddenly internet culture has a whole audience in quarantine. Watching some of these streams that are popping up, seeing people connect and comfort each other through this ready-made medium, in this time of fear and the failure of institutions, has my scarred cynic’s heart feeling something about the internet, something about all the weirdos out there, that surprises me.
The internet, no shit, is a source of hope. The world we grew up in may be falling apart around us as we stew in the anxiety of individual isolation, but here I am, watching frightened humans find each other, and be kind to each other, and execute the promise of what this could have been all along. And despite all the danger signs, all the ways in which we’re sliding towards extinction, right now? Just in this moment? What I’m feeling is warm, and bright, and good. Sartre only had it half right. The best and worst part of being a person is other people.
I’ll let Loop Daddy handle it from here:
Edit: So, I thought that was the story. I wasn’t wrong, exactly, but something happened last night. I’m not deleting the original though, because, well, wait. Let’s back up:
Marc Rebillet, aka Loop Daddy, is basically a wizard. He takes topics from the audience and creates songs, whole cloth, on the spot — lots of comedy, lots of filth and nudity, lots and lots and lots of talent. It’s about the music, first and foremost: his percussion and rhythm are razor sharp, his bass lines sublime, and the extended piano chords he layers over everything make it all sing. He’s a special keyboardist, as well as a serious soul singer vocalist, and has samples for any mood under his fingers at all times. It’s music nerd porn at its finest, doubly so for folks like myself who do live looping. Anyways, after his Australian tour was canceled due to the virus, he said he’d do 4 live-streams from his apartment in Brooklyn. The first three were all excellent.
Then last night, as he was about to go live on his fourth and final quaranstream, I sent the link around to a bunch of people with the cryptic message “loop daddy is live.” I figured they’d figure it out. Instead he absolutely loses his shit. After a succession of terrible callers with terrible topics, he stops struggling with a loop that won’t work, turns to the camera, and drops into free fall. Fucking free fall! Live on camera! In front of 10,000 people! And I KNOW that feeling, so well, that everything you do is shit, that nothing is original or interesting, that you’re just repeating yourself in a nauseating pattern of blandness and vanity. My move then is always to get up and walk the hell away; but of course he couldn’t just walk away from thousands of people. So you get to watch him, in real time, try to somehow repair his stalled engines and pull out of this disaster. His usual shtick is such a caricature of bravado and sexuality, that stripped of his confidence it’s like seeing this famous near-nudist actually naked for the first time.
It’s hard to recommend this experience to people. You would need some familiarity with his normal work to really see how wrong this all this, before even beginning to engage with what I’m describing. I recommend at least the first song of Day 2, embedded above. After that, Day 4 will take another TWO HOURS, big bunches of that time spent in straight up cringe and struggle. But if you watch it, for real — maybe smoke a little bowl, relax into what’s happening and let it unfold — you will be rewarded with the most powerfully affecting art experience I’ve had in years.
The show becomes itself, against his wishes, a performance piece on the creative process, the real creative process, on confidence, support, and fucking failure. Real, live, this actually sucks, failure. Watching this incredible artist go into free fall and somehow pull out of it was a narrative arc better than most movies. Certainly more honest. And if you stick around, if you make it to the end, the final song is straight delirious absolution: Rising and triumphant and real and incredible. I cannot, absolutely cannot recommend this two hour train-wreck to anyone.
It’s so good.
If you need it
A couple weeks ago I sat down with my telecaster and pedals, and Steph got set up on a midi pad, playing drum samples through pocket guitar amps. We made a pair of one-take, improvised voice memos in my bedroom. Then Rose drew us some beans.
life is beautiful after all
We are my new favorite band.
I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of music school kids at this point, and the tools they’ve acquired through thousands of hours of struggle and practice and strain, while incredible, and frankly intimidating, are in themselves simply tools. What’s done with those tools remains up to the individual, and there’s much room for misfiring, for competitive wankery, for making discordant sounds, weird sounds, unsettling sounds, sounds designed for ears that have tired of obvious melody. A whole huge generation of kids have now gone and gotten trained and appeared on the internet with their new tools, and while the output of that much training is always impressive, at best I usually find it interesting. Very rarely do I find the Louis Coles or the Hiaitus Kaiyotes of the world moving.
This cover though, of my first and still favorite Vulfpeck song, is weaponized music school. Arranged by Ryan Lerman (the guitarist hiding behind her right shoulder) the alterations to the original are all excellent, unobtrusive choices: those two guitars, the close mic on the piano that catches the pedals, the little chromatic walk downs, and of course her VOICE! Her fucking CONTROL! Everything here is so carefully cultivated, the arrangement pays such homage to the original, that despite being clinically, technically precise, they make it all feel relaxed — easy. They’ve nailed the whole point of the song. This. This is why you go to music school.
I call it the Amadeus Effect:
When a new artist enters your orbit and everything else abruptly pales, listless, lifeless in comparison. DakhaBrakha fucking Wolfganged me. They sucked the air out of all other music, my own efforts included, and left me swooning in grateful, helpless, head-nodding admiration.
Everything about this band, from their cultivated visual aesthetic, their Slavic folk lyrics, their internal rhythm and delicately deployed multi-instrumental capacities, their multi-part chanting harmonies, down even to their origin story in the Kiev theater scene amid the political tumult of modern Ukraine, it’s all exactly right. I’m sure this will pass, I’m sure I’ll be able to appreciate other artists, other kinds of beauty again, but…
God damn man.
This shit is electric.
“None is poor, O Bhikha,
everyone has rubies in their bindle;
but how to open the knot,
they do not know”
“…Farewell happy fields
Where joy for ever dwells: hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater?
Here at least
We shall be free;”
–John Milton, Paradise Lost
a Postal Service song
Things have been bad lately, and I’ve found myself sinking deeper, losing light, forced to explore down here in the darker places. On a recent deep dive I stumbled upon the influences of the Postal Service, and discovered there something gorgeous.
I’ll be true again
But until then…
The best thing about the void is that absolute black is the perfect backdrop to feature beautiful things. So I placed my find on that lightless plane, and up from the depths I carried it back, cupped in my hands, to share its warmth and color here, with you.
Whatever he was asked about Zen, Master Gutei simply stuck up one finger.
He had a boy attendant whom a visitor asked, “What kind of teaching does your master give?” The boy held up one finger too. Hearing of this, Gutei cut off the boy’s finger with a knife. As the boy ran away, screaming with pain, Gutei called to him. When the boy turned his head, Gutei stuck up one finger.
The boy was suddenly enlightened.
a Phosphorescent song
I was talking about fruit from the Mac Demarco music tree here recently, and this performance is the prime example. Check out Mac back there in the blonde fan-boy wig, happily playing back-up egg-shaker. He’s much more famous than Connan Mockasin, but here he is on stage without a guitar, grooving and singing along. Watching him back there, just happy to be hanging out, asking no part of the spotlight, really makes me smile.
As for this video, I’m putting it here as much for myself as anyone else. Much of it is from Connan’s second album, Caramel, and the real delights don’t start for me until around the 23:00 mark when they begin ever so slowly to tease out Forever Dolphin Love (30:00), and then again at 51:00 for Megumi (57:00). But if you’re looking for something to put on in the background at home, I recommend it all.
The sound is mixed better than any live recording I’ve ever heard, the aesthetics are on point in all aspects, and they’re just having such a good time together up there. The music is complex and sneakily potent, drawn from a jazz background and then played in an almost lazy, laconic style, like he’s not even sure how his guitar works. Make no mistake though, that weird little Kiwi is a serious god damn musician.
If you’re looking to up your hipster cred, here’s your chance: Connan Mockasin is currently on every indie musician’s list of hopeful underground collaborations (most recently he featured on a James Blake song). What he has chosen to express is undeniably strange, but you can’t argue with his ability to articulate his vision. The guy is a scientific singularity. Though he draws from a thousand influences, you could never mistake him for anyone else.
Full disclosure, it might take some work to get in there. This sort of Funkadelic-meets-Pink-Floyd phenomenon didn’t click for me right away. I recommend taking a maybe counter-intuitive tack and starting your listening with the bass player. Close your eyes and find the groove he’s laying down. Then work your way back through the instruments: bass, then drums, then rhythm guitar and synth, then lead guitar, and last land on the vocals. When you look up and it’s the middle of Forever Dolphin Love, and all that weird noodling has come together and your head is bobbing uncontrollably, well, come and find me — I’ll have Mac get you sorted with a wig and an egg shaker.
Seriously, get involved.
We may have lost today; that’s okay. I’ve lost a lot of days. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow anything is possible.
i can’t stop thinking
about how when you’re standing
on your feet all day they swell
so you lay yourself down
because the idea of pressing
blood against meat against bone
of pressing against the bone
on the bottoms of your feet
so you stay down
and discover the pressure
has just shifted to your back
to your legs to your ass you get
fat you get bedsores and still
wherever you’re making contact
there it is, pressing, so you stand
and then you realize this is it:
i have to shift this weight — i will
always have to shift this weight;
there’s no avoiding it; it’s unbearable
if you think about it too much,
and what is too much? any much.
but you have to work you have to
press something against something
in this life this compression you have
to have a job you have to struggle
to eat you have to age you have to
watch people fall away you have to
shift that weight you have to
walk out into the world
you just have to.
but maybe if we were wealthy
we could commission a vat
full of special buoyant liquid:
a vat to suspend us
and we could live there and work
there and fuck there and eat
there and get out for tolerable
jaunts on our poor compressed
feet then run home and jump
(oh sweet freedom,
sweet airborn bliss)
back into the vat.
but my make-believe vats i know
are for make-believe people — rich
people — and we sick must stand
or lie down or squirm; we must
shift weight we must press meat
against blood against bone
we must press against the bone.
and let’s be honest:
even were we wealthy,
we should not live in vats.
vats are not the solution.
If you ever find yourself wondering what album to play while speeding down the coast of East Africa, high on cocaine and cane liquor, heading to a local white sand beach, feeling cool as fuck in your aviators while the hot wind whips your hair and the thing you love most in the world withers and dies in your senseless hands, well, wonder no more. I got you.
“and now you’re giving me the look…”
The story goes like this:
During his first marriage, Peter the Great (Pyotr Alekseyevich) took for his mistress a peasant woman named Marta Helena Skowrońska. When his first wife died, he married Marta in secret, she changed her name to Catherine, and would go on to bear him twelve children. Peter spent much of his reign rooting out corruption in his government, and Willem Mons, Catherine’s secretary, was accused of peddling access to the royal family through his position. Catherine supposedly knew, but chose to ignore the offense out of affection for her secretary. After Peter ordered his summary execution Catherine was furious — the couple didn’t speak for months.
The story also goes like this:
At some point during their marriage, Catherine took for herself a lover, a man named Willem Mons. When Peter found out, he had Mons beheaded, and his severed head preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. Then he forced Catherine to take time each day to sit and look at it.
Andy Hull’s song tells the second version, from the alternating perspectives of Peter and the head. It’s almost pornographically gruesome, yes. And there appears to be no evidence for any of it. And I absolutely hate when art requires extensive contextual explanation, or a background in obscure esoterics, before it makes any god damn sense. But this obtuse erotic torture fantasy somehow won me over, because despite all of that, what it really is, is a love song. And it’s just brilliant.
“Oh Catherine tell me, was it worth it for him?”
a Bad Books song
Also, it’s worth noting here that when Peter died he had no male heirs. During the succession crisis, the “new men” whom Peter had raised to prominence, for merit rather than birth, pulled off a successful coup against the return of the old aristocracy. For the face of this new government, they chose Peter’s popular widow. So this peasant woman, born Marta, now known as Catherine, would succeed Peter to the throne of Russia, and rule for two years as Empress Catherine I. As the first female to sit the throne in her own right, she would set a legal precedent for the position that would come to include her own daughter, Elizabeth, and in time her great-granddaughter-in-law, Catherine the Great.
So? How’s that for a happy ending?
Yeah, still pretty dark, I know.
“…and the man goes walking, I go walking, through the forest and I run into five hundred thousand Galicians who are walking and crying. And then I stop (a kindly giant, an interested giant for the last time) and I ask them, why they’re crying. And one of the Galicians stops and says: because we’re all alone and we’re lost.”
Joshua Clark Orkin
On the moon there was neither air nor wind. Its vacuum was perfect for preserving memories unscathed. No one could unlock the heart of the moon. Aomame raised her glass to the moon and asked, “Have you gone to bed with someone in your arms lately?”
_____The moon did not answer.
_____“Do you have any friends?” she asked.
_____The moon did not answer.
_____“Don’t you get tired of always playing it cool?”
_____The moon did not answer.
Tengo had no idea, of course, what Aomame had offered to the moon that time, but he could well imagine what the moon had given her: pure solitude and tranquility. That was the best thing the moon could give a person.
–Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
“Blessed are the anonymous and obscure,
for they shall be least interfered with.”
“and if I squint I can pretend…”
Joshua Clark Orkin
Percy Wakes Me (Fourteen)
Percy wakes me and I am not ready.
He has slept all night under the covers.
Now he’s eager for action: a walk, then breakfast.
So I hasten up. He is sitting on the kitchen counter
__where he is not supposed to be.
How wonderful you are, I say. How clever, if you
____to wake me.
He thought he would hear a lecture and deeply
__his eyes begin to shine.
He tumbles onto the couch for more compliments.
He squirms and squeals: he has done something
__that he needed
____and now he hears that it is okay.
I scratch his ears. I turn him over
__and touch him everywhere. He is
wild with the okayness of it. Then we walk, then
__he has breakfast, and he is happy.
This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.
–Mary Oliver, Swan
“A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drownded, for he shall be going out on a day when he shouldn’t. But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.”
-John Millington Synge (1871-1909)
Joshua Clark Orkin
There was a decade when I only saw
the dawn (that livid blue sky those
pastel pinks and yellows that searing
fresh white sunlight) when I had
been a bad boy; when the drugs
had run their course and anxiety
had spread her wings to rise in full,
to whip and rule the comedown. Those
were bad nights, bad mornings, bad
signs in the maze of that wreckage.
Born blue-eyed and squinting,
I’d always been by nature
a sunset colors kind of boy —
a moon and stars, a fading out,
a darkening down to crispness,
starry night relief kind of boy.
Now that I’m sober I’m not quite
the night owl I was but neither
am I getting up early. It’s hard to tell
when exactly it is that I live. I know
it’s better; that I live without excuses
and without hangovers, with less guilt,
less waste, without comedowns —
But for all its saddening sickness, all
its anxiety and loathing,
I never see the sunrise anymore.
And guilty now I miss coming sick
out of the darkness on some empty
rooftop with fear on my mind, confusion
on my lips, throwing my skinny arms wide
(fingers shaking in the spreading light)
in pain and rage and sudden stillness,
to embrace the fact of my life.