riptide

“A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drownded, for he will go 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

it was the nature of things

“His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.

All were in sorrow, or had been, or would be.

It was the nature of things.

Though on the surface it seemed every person was different, this was not true.

At the core of each lay our suffering; our eventual end, the many losses we must experience on the way to that end.

We must try to see one another in this way.

As suffering, limited beings —

Perennially outmatched by circumstance, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces.

His sympathy extended to all in this instant, blundering, in its strict logic, across all divides.”

–George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

a Townes Van Zandt song

cheree

Ever wondered where LCD Soundsystem got their… sound… system?

Alan Vega: sculptor, painter, musician — artist.

Have yourself a little Suicide:

metamorphosis

“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back.  

That is the point that must be reached.”

–Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms

birds of a feather

Vulfpeck could very easily have been promoted as an Antwaun Stanley vehicle, pitched as the background faces in his travelling band. That’s where the studio execs would say the money is, and honestly he’s that god damn good. Watch Jack’s face (he’s the one playing pancakes) after that little improvised vocal riff at 4:02. It’s perfect — Antwaun really is the truth. I’m sure there’s a conference room full of suits somewhere that has suggested he be the face, repeatedly, and as far as packaging for profit potential, well, they wouldn’t be wrong.

BUT, Vulfpeck is decidedly NOT just an Antwaun vehicle. Instead, he remains one of a number of continually-invited guests, and the stars of the show remain the four kids who created it at music school. And really, as composer and ringleader, Vulfpeck is Jack Stratton’s baby, despite being by far the least virtuosic of all the players. It’s about his compositions, and Joe’s bass, and Woody’s keys, and Theo’s vocals, guitar, and drums. Unlike so many of their contemporaries, this world-famous band’s sound and image are in no way the brainchild of a PR team. It’s the result of a bunch of music nerds in Ann Arbor who were studying music, then making music, just for the joy of it. The product is pure and sweet and potent: kids who have retained their smiles while attaining master-status skill in their art. Hell, just look at the people who want to play with them. Their giggling enthusiasm is infectious.

In this day and age of making art to make money to have power to make money to have money to make power to have power to make money, Vulfpeck is a magic portal into pure music nerd wet dreams. They’re already becoming a legend in the making in their own time. So many artists compromise the purity of their vision in an attempt to cultivate appeal, and there is nothing sadder than someone who has done that and still failed. If you compromise for the wrong reasons you’re lost, even if you win, because what you’ve won isn’t what you actually wanted.

What gives me heart as an artist in the venal wasteland that is our current corporate century is that selling yourself bald isn’t the only way to win. Once in while an artist makes a pile of money doing only and exactly what they wanted to do, and for Vulfpeck that’s sit around the basement and make music with their friends. That’s literally what all of their music videos look like. Everything they produce is handled with care, curated for maximum irreverent beauty, and executed with an auteur’s flourish. Even the comment sections on their videos are bright and warm and delightful. How refreshing is that? They knew who they were, and what they wanted, and now they are who they wanted to be.

“And I’m
Learning the hard way
To be true…”

woman

I’m real sweet on Angel Olsen. She got her start as a hand-picked backup singer to the Duke of Darkness himself, Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy), and you can see it in her eyes and hear it in her moans.  Her band are all super reserved professional studio hands who add no more than is absolutely necessary to serve her incredible voice, and who use just the right amount of pressure to build these shattering vocal crescendos out of nowhere. She may or may not be a closeted lesbian, singing gorgeous lesbian heartbreak songs.

Me, I’m just another cis-normative, mostly-straight white male, who enjoys the hell out of identifying with gorgeous lesbian heartbreak songs.

Yeah, I’m real sweet on Angel Olsen.

Love, and the tragedy of love, are universal constants.  

“What makes me a…”

porko rosso, or: that one time i got way too stoned

Muscle memory from a misspent youth has gotten me into trouble an embarrassing amount as an adult.  At some point in my late-twenties I had returned home, to scrape together some money and lick my wounds, and there was a Hayao Miazaki / Studio Ghibli run going on at the Cornell Cinema.  So I met up with some friends to go see Princess Mononoke, and they were, of course, packing a bowl.

This scene was both routinely normal and highly unusual for me at that point, as I had quit smoking weed some three years earlier, while living in Taipei.  I had been a habitual, unquestioning stoner for many years, but for whatever reason of change or perspective, it had started to slowly dawn on me there that the worm had turned.

When I first started smoking it was a joyous discovery, mesmerizing in its ability to get me outside of myself and away from my anxieties:  Touching, tasting, listening to music, watching a cool breeze run through the grass and ripple the blades, feeling its chill wash across my skin in a wave of goosebumps — Seeing the world not from the hazed depths of myself, but from a lifted vantage up and out, through a giggling kaleidoscope of vibrating color and sensation.

Somehow though, in a twist of actual irony, it began to take me not out, but straight down and in.  I would smoke weed with people, and then immediately become not just self-conscious, but self-critical.  It was terrible, pure paralytic self-loathing anxiety.  Eventually I reached a point of deciding to only smoke alone at home, as I had convinced myself I needed it to sleep.  Then of course, I just started having these downward spiraling anxiety attacks by myself, alone in my rooftop apartment in Taipei.

Eventually, in what would become one of my first real moments of maturity, I decided to stop.  I realized I was paying money — and in Taiwan, it cost kind of a lot of money — to be unhappy.  So I stopped.  And it turned out I didn’t need it to sleep at all; it was just like having a fan, or the humming of a fish tank in the room — it was simply something I had gotten used to, and it took a surprisingly short time to get used to its absence.  Of course drinking then took off in a major way and became its own spiral, requiring its own epiphany, but that’s another story.

Anyways, I was at my friend’s place, before the Miazaki film, and they were packing a bowl, and I figured heck, if ever there was a time to get stoned again, it was before sitting in a dark theater and watching a beautiful animated movie that I had already seen and loved.  So we were talking, and I took the bowl, and I took a hit, and I passed it, and it came back, and I took a hit and passed it, and so on.  Muscle memory took over completely, and I was taking massive “get-fucked-up” pulls on this thing, repeatedly, as I had once done on the regular, every day.  Unfortunately I did not have the tolerance of my youth.  I got WAY too stoned.

So we drive up there, and I’m in the back seat fidgeting uncomfortably.  And we’re sitting in the theater, and I’m super conscious of how my legs are crossed, where my hands are falling on the arm rests, wondering whether I’m taking up too much of my neighbor’s arm rest, feeling the eyes of everyone on me, feeling like I don’t know how to arrange my face, feeling like I don’t like my face, feeling like the world is closing in one me, like everything is raw unbearable discomfort, spiraling downwards all over again, feeling like…

and then I noticed there was a piano on the stage.

The Cornell Cinema is actually a beautiful theatrical space, with a big red velvet curtain, and there was a piano on the stage in front of the curtain, and a young asian woman walked out and sat down.  As the hum of people continued around me, the scope of my focus narrowed suddenly to a tiny circle of light:  Her sitting down, her opening sheet music, her opening the piano and adjusting her seat, her laying fingers on the keys, her closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.  Her beginning to play.

She played the opening music to Princess Mononoke, live, on a grand piano before a red velvet curtain, and I was suddenly exactly as stoned as I was supposed to be.

Never before or since have I had such a movie-going experience.  She played the whole thing, then got up, bowed briefly, and walked off stage.  The curtains opened, the lights dimmed and the movie began.  If you aren’t familiar with studio Ghibli, I strongly suggest you acquaint yourself.  Miazaki can be a wandering storyteller, but his films are rich, vibrant, heartfelt, and gorgeous.  And the music?  Well, have a listen to the ending credits of Porko Rosso — one of his earliest and least known works.  Miazaki and his composer Joe Hisaishi’s meeting was a glorious accident of fate, and their constant collaboration has been a thing of shining wonder, spanning countless projects, characters, childhoods, decades.

I don’t smoke weed anymore, and honestly I far prefer my life this way.  But if you feel like having a joint, for old-time’s-sake, I can say with some authority that there is still a place in this world for the reckless choices of childhood.  Sometimes, even still, way too stoned turns out to be just right.

composed by Joe Hisaishi
for Studio Ghibli / Hayao Miazaki

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