Can I dance in a pair of your shoes?

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cat on a leash

Tame Impala – Let It Happen

I’m in a loveless marriage with this girl named Wilson. On the rare days we don’t hang out, she calls me on her drive home from work, just to recount the day. She’s headstrong and pushy and passionate and makes all the decisions for both of us. I no longer have to choose what to eat after work or where to go on Saturday afternoon—a million oppressive decisions spared. It’s been soothing and comforting and safe in ways I didn’t know I wanted.

One lazy weekend morning, we were making omelettes at my place, all sunlight and white walls. I started cooking, because she was still Tindering on the couch. Eventually, she moseyed over in one of my baggy t-shirts and commenced micromanaging me. She had specifications for how to brown the meat, for how fine to dice the onions, for when to flip the eggs. I paused, spatula in hand, to turn and face her. I’ve been living away from my parents since I was 8. I’ve been making my own omelettes since age 10. I’m a competent and accomplished adult. I can fry up my own damn onions. But just when I opened my mouth to say all this, I realized: That’s the trade-off. All the tiny tedious decisions I no longer have to make, well, the same way I way I got out of them also means I don’t get to decide the shade of the outside of my omelettes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about control lately. Who we give it up to, who we exert it over, when we try to cling to it, and what all that says about us.

valle de los ingenios

Majical Cloudz – Control

Recently, I snuck into Cuba illegally with a girl I barely knew. Let’s call her Murry. She knew Spanish, so she became the de facto decision-maker simply because she had more information. She could ask people questions, learn facts, gather intel, while I stood by, smiling mutely. She was a terrible leader, never including anyone else in decisions or disseminating information. By the end, I was jumping into cabs and then asking, “Uh, where the fuck are we going?” I got grumpy and shut down, stopped talking to anybody in any language.

Then, just as I was about at my limit, we got sick. We didn’t notice a water bottle had been previously opened until too late. I spent 18 hours in a hostel bed in Trinidad, waking up only to diarrhea and shower periodically. Murry spent the night vomiting, dozing off on the floor of the bathroom. In the morning, I awoke more or less better, if slightly weakened from not eating for 24 hours. Murry slept on, so I slipped out with the driver to explore.

Our driver (it was cheaper than renting a car) was a quiet kid who didn’t speak a lick of English. I pointed at him and at me and said “solamente.” He said, “Que?” I repeated the gesture. We got in his ’52 Ford and drove.

For one glorious morning, I was in charge.

I saw two tourists, each with his right calf fully tatted up. I wondered if their friendship produced the similar tattoos or if the matching tattoos produced the friendship.

I touched the skull of a cow in the crumbling slave-owner ranch house of an old sugar plantation.

I pet a fat puppy and he waddled around after me as I wandered the plantation.

I drank guarapo, sugar cane juice.

I watched two kid goats prance around their mother and then suckle on her udders.

I went inside a discotheque carved out of a cave.

I saw the blackened, scorched top of the mountain where a brush fire had kept us out of the cave disco the night before.

I saw a woman wearing a Whatsapp tank top.

I saw a kitten on a leash secured to a cement wall.

I saw a European woman with a braid of hair down to the small of her back. I wondered how she put on the hood of her sweater. I wondered how nectar-sweet it would be to be her, with her life, and her hair braid, and her individual worries. I wondered if she wondered what it would be like to be me.

I saw two horseback cowboys, jean jackets and cowboy hats, carrying a goat carcass and waving triumphantly at their friends as they rode through town. I saw their dutiful dog trotting behind, the goat’s skull in his mouth.

I swatted a fly that kept landing on my arm in the car. I remembered an old lady I met once, deep in the the Borneo jungle. She wore only a sarong and sat calmly on the wood floor of her house as mosquitoes sucked her blood. Meanwhile, I kept frantically slapping at my skin, waving my hands in the air.

In some ways, the battles we choose not to fight are a type of control.

Bay of Pigs

Mogwai – The Lord Is Out Of Control

Later, on the way home, I saw birds flitting around inside the Havana airport terminal. I wondered if the expression “free as a bird” applies to the ones stuck in an airport.

When we landed in Cancun, the entire plane erupted in applause. The man sitting across the aisle crossed himself and kissed his fingers, glancing upwards toward the heavens that we had just descended from. I smirked at the Latinness of it all, but I also became acutely aware that, for the duration of the flight, no one in the cabin had had any control.

[Currents, Are You Alone?, Rave Tapes.]

Mad sounds in your ears

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Arctic Monkeys – Mad Sounds

Peering over her teal, leather-upholstered desk, Dr. Meier’s secretary found her attentions flickering between the several stacks of paper in front of her – assorted patient files, an order confirmation for new waiting room chairs, late wedding RSVPs – and the doctor’s next appointment, [redacted], seated at the far end of their moderate office. Dr. Meier had implored her not to pay much mind to their patients outside of the expected professional courtesy. In her second week he had stood in the hallway clasping a mug of tea, observing her as she locked the door behind the last patient of the evening, “You know, some of them have enough trouble focusing on their own space, never mind feeling like somebody is focusing on it for them.”

But it was a struggle this week. The wedding was two Saturdays away and she had been at the end of her tether, organising the finishing details for the biggest one-off event she would probably ever organise. Unsurprisingly, Callum had been little help. “You’re better at these kinds of things,” he had said, smiling wryly and gently brushing his thumb against her cheek. Sure. Better. All this experience I have with organising a few hundred people into a room where they’ll silently judge us, the entrees, the seating arrangements, everything – both sides of our families whispering amongst themselves. She hadn’t said that to him, instead grasping his thumb with hers. The mood between them had been stressed, but she hadn’t been sure if that was the impending date or the natural tensions that arose in day-to-day living. Either way, she found her mind wandering more often these last few months.

[redacted] was a returning patient. He had a younger man’s frame, gaunt and thin, but the deep, bluish bags around his eyes and ever-reaching crow’s feet surrendered his years. He sat quietly, playing with his thumbs. Through his headphones, she could hear some garbled instruments – maybe a guitar? – but she didn’t recognise the song. She had made it a point of principle not to look too deeply into patient files, worried that her eyes might betray a sense of concern or sympathy when she called them into the doctor’s office. She wondered what he was there to discuss and dissect. Most times [redacted] wouldn’t say much outside of hello, thank you, goodbye. He had once asked if she knew when the next bus into the city might be, to which she apologised, explaining that she drove most days and couldn’t be sure. “Thanks anyway,” he nodded, producing a thin-lipped smile.

Callum had never been much for music. She knew he liked it, sure, but they had never spoken about it in any meaningful way. Sometimes when they were driving he would tap the steering wheel in time with a song on the radio, humming under his breath. But he didn’t own a pair of headphones, rarely used the speakers in the living room. In fact, she couldn’t recall any songs that weren’t chosen by her on a playlist she kept for listening around the house.

The phone rang, shrill and demanding. “You can send … [redacted] in now, Samantha … thank you” mumbled Dr. Meier, having just finished lunch and audibly chewing on the remnants of the sandwich she had ordered in. Normally, she would call out to patients alerting them to their appointment, but she felt a twinge of guilt at the idea of pulling [redacted] away from his music. Walking over from her desk he hardly shifted as she approached, still playing with his hands. Coughing softly, she touched a hand to his shoulder. As he looked up, she motioned to the doctor’s office, offering a hand outwards. Pursing his lips, he stood, mouthed a silent “thank you” and strolled towards the office, closing the door behind him.

Returning to her desk, Samantha stared at the sum of her day waiting unfinished in front of her, wondering what song [redacted] had been listening to that had demanded his attention before anything else in that moment.

[AM.]

Where’s your ‘We’dom?

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MIA - Borders

MIA – Borders

Within her musical output, Maya Arulpragasam has proven reactive to our flawed, shifting societies (“Galang”), predictive of unscrupulous politics (“The Message”), and unflinching in her storytelling reach (“Bad Girls”), while functioning as a vehicle for the most obscure of music’s narrators (“Lovealot”).

Where the academic, journalistic profferings of media agencies leaves me intellectually provoked to the point of prostration, proving an impediment (to what I’m unsure, but something), I’m privy to a private, visceral experience when listening to MIA. I’m constantly made furious.

Her music, for me, is a rejection of non-violent protest. It’s a fuck you to our own wrongdoings and our own inertia, and it’s a fuck you to music’s apolitical setting.

Only recently, Thom Yorke said, “If I was going to write a protest song about climate change in 2015, it would be shit. It’s not like one song…is going to change someone’s mind.”

Shouldn’t stirring the populous, even inciting the crowd, be the aim of the artist, though? Deemed defeat should not justify inaction. The correct response, surely, is any response.

Yet, subsequent to Europe’s most recent horrors and in response to the ongoing refugee crisis of Syria and the world’s rejection of same, MIA released “Borders”. Void of a lyric sheet the opening lines are obscure, but, “Freedom, I’dom, Me’dom / Where’s your We’dom? / This world needs a brand new Re’dom / We’dom–the key / We’dom the key’dom to life” proves an extension of her less creatively executed Twitter proclamation:

To be bland, it’s here where the MIA experience comes upon a crossroad. The listener may opt to side with the supposed feeble influence of music and its conspirators, or it may ride the brave wave. The bass is aptly murky, serving its creator as a platform for protest. Rhythmically, it’s a smoldering pace. There is a pulse, but it’s ooze-like, functioning as a transporter from one memorable refrain to the next. And when she levels her torment to our ears (“Borders: What’s up with that? Broke people: What’s up with that? Boat people: What’s up with that?”) she does so with clarity and poise. There are no particular theatrics, as if the words carry weight–and they do.

It’s an assured presentation, no more apparent than in the song’s visual partner where MIA performs, self-directed, like a still-life piece. Musically, “Borders” emanates from a world of a single inhabitant: MIA. It’s void of genre or place; its only comfort lies in it being undisputedly modern. Lyrically, it exists in the same world. Alone. MIA is a unique, single voice in a generation masturbating its self-awareness.

“Your future: What’s up with that?”

[Fly Pirates. Eye Tunez.]

I will wait for it; you won’t for me

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A photo posted by @zacleerigg on

Twin Shadow – Half Life

On Thursday, Nov. 13, I attended a Twin Shadow concert in the back yard of the Thompson Hotel.

I had some thoughts:

  •   Somehow my friend Alice got us on a list, so it was free. I’d been sick for a week, just sitting around in my own germs in my apartment, and didn’t want to drive. We had some weird texts back and forth until I remembered she lost her license so that’s why she didn’t want to drive us either. In the end, I got an Uber to swoop by to pick up her and her boytoy, Shannon. We arrived an hour early and they didn’t even check our names, so we could have bluffed our way in anyway.
  •   I hadn’t seen any of my friends in a week, so I was mostly just excited to be alive and outside. Still, I skipped the $15 drinks, instead opting to spit phlegm into the bushes every couple minutes.
  •   The Thompson Hotel is pretty gorgeous. I’d never been there before. Alice had. That was the night Fides passed out on a bench and her and Figgy skinny dipped in the pool and then someone moved their clothes so they were wandering around naked looking for them. The next day Fides looked at the map on his Uber receipt and realized he had taken both of them home, so that was good of him. I couldn’t tell if Shannon was amused or annoyed by this story.
  •   We got there at 8 when the doors opened because the email said it’d fill up quickly. Band was scheduled at 9. They went on at 10. Meanwhile we’re all tapping our wrists where watches used to go and muttering about bedtime. “I’ve got some NyQuil shots to take,” I said.
  •   Rayner showed up and showed us pictures of the house he’s buying in New York on his phone, and then smoked from a stubby one-hitter. An white guy maybe in his 60s danced very awkwardly next to us. I kept getting fever sweats and having to lean back and concentrate on the breeze. I felt old, but then realized old people are still allowed to go outside and dance badly and smoke drugs too, so maybe it’s okay.
  •   Alice is from Australia and has a thick accent. She told an extended story about Gray Stones, an artist who used to have to sneak out of her religious home and dress in drag to perform. And then her family disowned her when she made it big. I asked if she performed under the name Black Rock. Alice asked if the story made me think about Gray Stones differently. “I’d never heard of her before tonight,” I said. “You’d never heard of Grace Jones before?” she asked, incredulously. “Oh,” I said. “Oh.” I tried to explain: “That’s why I made the black rock joke.” “Oh!” Alice said. “I thought you were just being racist.”
  •   Rayner kept marveling at the legs. A lot of hipsters came out for this one, the kind you don’t see around Miami too often. One was wearing overalls. “Am I allowed to wear overalls in public now?” I asked. Alice didn’t seem to recommend it. Rayner kept talking about how beautiful everyone is. I feel about Miami how like old family members of monarchs must have felt about coastal towns. There’s no culture except for rare visits, but goddam if life isn’t wonderful there, the wine freely flowing, the women gorgeous, the sea gorgeous. Things are slower and matter less. I think it’s a worthwhile trade. But maybe I’m wrong. I’m moving to Los Angeles in two months.
  •   Oh, right. The band. They eventually came on, so Alice and Rayner pushed to the front. I stayed seated at the back. The treble was too high. It was a terrible mix. Like atrocious. Up front all you could hear was the keyboard. In the back all you could hear were the vocals and bass. They sounded like muddled versions that just made me want to listen to the recorded songs.
  •   Between songs, the singer talked about one song and how the 75 in it was I-75. He said something about how if you’ve ever been 17 in Florida you know what it feels like to drive down I-75 rolling on molly. I’ve never been 17 in Florida.
  •   After a half an hour, Alice came back and asked if we wanted to go. We all left. I took two shots of NyQuil and went to bed.

[Eclipse.]

We’re all gonna die

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sufjan olympia

Sufjan Stevens – Fourth of July

I attended a Sufjan Stevens concert in the Olymipa Theater on Saturday, Nov. 7. It was a positive life experience. Here were my thoughts.

  •   I picked up my friend Dubs at his apartment. His gf bought the tickets for his birthday (even though she liked the latest album far more than he did, so it was more for her), but then ended up going on a work trip for two weeks. I bought her ticket off him.
  •   We listened to the new Grimes on the drive and talked about Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix show. Dubs told me to watch out for Aziz’s appearance on Stephen Colbert later this week, and recommended the Fresh Air interview by Terry Gross. I felt very American, or at least that I had a good handle on a specific genre of American culture.
  •   Olympia Theater is this old school movie theater, the first building in Florida with air conditioning, that’s been preserved as a venue. It’s always fun to go to, until you remember how steep the seating is, and your shin hits the chair in front of you for the duration of a show and hurts by the end. Still, the sound is crisp, so I don’t mind gigs there.

A photo posted by @zacleerigg on

  •   Our friend While met us at the show and stole someone’s seat the row in front of us. We talked about how Aziz treats old people in his show. Dubs told us about watching the show with his grandparents, who he had visited for four hours that day. His grandma has memory issues, but his grandfather finds it hilarious whenever TV shows talk about sex. “You would too if you grew up before that was allowed, or before there was TV,” Dubs said.
  •   In the off chance you didn’t read any press about Carrie & Lowell, SPOILER ALERT, it’s about Sufjan’s mom dying. I wondered aloud how one tours with an album like that. “He doesn’t wear wings for this tour, does he?” I asked.
  •   A band named Gallant opened. I liked their vibe and aesthetic much more than their actual songs.
  •   Okay, fine, I’ll just tell you. Sufjan leaned in. He and his band dressed all in black and didn’t talk throughout the set. They played nearly every song from the album. The lights behind them were incredible but tasteful. At several points, they projected old home video behind the band. It was very somber, poignant. “That took me to an emotional place it’s difficult to get to,” Dubs said. It wasn’t outright sad (I didn’t see anyone crying), but it was heavy.
  •   I liked the arrangements. They were understated (nothing ever felt extraneous), but the builds were large, and some of the new syncopated beats they added really drew out the songs. They closed the set with an extended instrumental song that I hadn’t heard before. I really enjoyed it. It made me think that if Sufjan put out an EDM album or had a deejay set, I’d want to hear it. I think he’s incredibly talented. It used to be I thought he should abandon all the excess instruments he threw in his albums and just sing sad songs on acoustic guitar. But I was wrong–about that and other things too.
  •   In “Fourth of July” they extended the ending. The whole band kept singing “We’re all gonna die” again and again, louder and louder. I thought about self-awareness. I mean, Sufjan has to be self-aware enough to acknowledge that that’s weird, right? Maybe not weird. But that it’s a Thing. To go see a band and they sing “We’re all gonna die” repeatedly is a Thing. And he has to be aware of its thingness, I think. Anyway, I liked it. That moment stood out.
  •   Sufjan is, as While put it, “Hand Guy.” He does weird boxy dances with his arms whenever he doesn’t have an instrument in it. He’s a terrible dancer. It comes across so bro-y. I had difficulty marrying this thoughtful, intricate songwriter with this dude bro-dancing. If you can, try to never see him dance in your life. It’s for the best.
  •   Since this is Miami, there were a lot of Woo Girls. I found this inappropriate. This dude is up there singing about his mom dying, and women are saying, “Woo!”? Rude. I think the worst instance was when Sufjan sings, “There’s no shade in the shadow of the cross,” and a girl wooed loudly, right before the song ended. It undercut the line. Eventually, people got annoyed and started shushing. And then people would shush the shushers. There would just be shushes and ironic shushes circling around the venue. It was weird. I sighed and shook my head a lot.

  •   After the set, the whole band came to the middle of the stage, bowed, and walked off. The house lights stayed off, so I took the opportunity to rail against encore culture to Dubs. I just think it’s such a facade. We all know you’re coming back for some more songs. You know we know. Let’s not kid each other. We’re all adults here, so why don’t you just keep playing fucking songs until you’re done, instead of wasting my time? Dubs laughed at my hawt take.
  •   But then a weird thing happened. As I was ranting, I had a thought. Encores give shows a very specific structure. You have the bulk of the show in one sort of emotional or even narrative arc, then you take a break, and you come back for a few songs that have their own arc. Structures aren’t inherently good or bad, it’s what you do with them. And Sufjan did something beautiful with his. He came back with a colorful jacket and red beanie on, and played a much more upbeat second set of old songs. He chatted with the crowd. Everyone sighed, relaxed, and loosened a bit. For one night only, I was thankful that encore culture exists.
  •   “It sucks doing this show,” Sufjan said. “It’s like a funeral.” Then he talked about what it felt like to explore his sadness in the open in front of the world. How relieving and healing it was to him. It felt good, he decided, to hoist his grief on us, and we laughed.
  •   “I never thought it’d be a relief to play this song,” he said. “This is my murder ballad.” Then he launched into John Wayne Gacy, Jr., and it was a relief. I still remember the first time I heard that song. I was in college, listening on a compact disc with the lyric sheet in front of me. I was on the bottom of a bunk bed outside of Chicago, my brothers scattered in other bunks, as we visited my aunt. I read the last line, “Look beneath the floorboards, for the secrets I have hid,” and gasped audibly. Then I hit ‘back’ and listened to the song again. Then again. And again. Very few songs have hit me so hard immediately.
  •   The only non-Carrie & Lowell song I registered in the first set was Vesuvius. The second set was mostly his quieter songs. At one point, three of them picked up guitars, and Dubs said, “Bet they play Chicago.” I said, “Bet it’s Romulus.” He said okay, and we set the stakes: loser bought the winner a Martinelli’s apple juice. They played Chicago. “I can’t believe you thought they were going to play Romulus,” Dubs said. “I didn’t. I just like being argumentative,” I said. “Well, I’m glad that caught up with you finally,” he said. “It catches up with me daily,” I said. Later that night I bought him an apple juice at a wine bar and we sat grinning like idiots holding our plump little bottles as the women around us chatted and spilled Pinot Grigio.
  •   They closed the second set by inviting Gallant back on stage. Sufjan apologized for not having any happy songs of his own, so he had to borrow one. “If God is my copilot, then Drake is my ____ ____.” (Dubs heard “little horse,” but I don’t know if that works.) Then they played Hotline Bling. Don’t get me wrong. I love Hotline Bling. I think it’s the catchiest song going right now. But this was not a good cover. It was sloppy and slapstick. Sufjan kept doing his horrible dancing. Also, he invited everyone to stand, something I absolutely do not do when asked. I understand the desire to leave the show on that tone, I just thought it was sloppy and under-served the previous two hours.

  •   When the song was over, I stood, and walked out, thinking of all the things I want to tell my mother.

[Carrie & Lowell]

This heart, this heart, this wilderness

Written by

Bruce Springsteen – Lift Me Up

“This heart, this heart, this wilderness.”

“Lift Me Up” is one of Springsteen’s many triumphs, involving an improbably gorgeous falsetto over faint guitar and a layer of composed, swelling keyboard synthetic. His voice is haunting and almost unknowable compared to the grit and grunt of famed Springsteen deliveries. It’s a unique instrument, only ever accompanied by the track’s own instrumentation (all executed by Springsteen), never obscured. The song conveys the same sensibilities as “Streets of Philadelphia”, “Gave It a Name”, and “Sad Eyes”; slow, assured and ethereal. Most importantly, it is highly affecting. And Springsteen’s lyrics are compelling. They are curt, and without ever conveying the clarity of storytelling they settle in the bones. The lyrical nuances, the dance between the romantic and the adulterous, make for an emotionally involving, appealingly earnest narrator. I’m convinced of an air of guilt and a sorrowful tone, however; the risk-taker come undone, aiming toward an act of atonement–one unanswered. Whether it’s in the rejection of tradition (“I don’t need your answered prayers / I don’t need your sacred vow”) or the unreliable promises of tomorrow (“When the morning bright / Lifts away this night / We will find our love”), there’s an unresolved struggle between long term and short term happiness.

[Columbia Records.]

I don’t want to die in here

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The Mountain Goats, at the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 7, 2015.

Mountain Goats – Heel Turn 2

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, I attended a Mountain Goats concert in the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It was a positive life experience. Because I process the world this way — and, given the popularity of Buzzfeed, so do you — I will relay the experience in bullet points:

  •   My friends While and Fides met me at my apartment on Miami Beach, and we drove my white Jetta north. Initially Fides sat in the front seat, but then he realized he was too high to navigate, so he got out and swapped with While, who pulled up Waze on his phone.
  •   We stopped at a gas station because my dashboard light was on. While and Fides ran across the street to the Pizza Hut/Taco Bell and returned with several supreme personal pan pizzas. Apparently, both chains (as well as KFC) are owned by Yum! Brands, which peeled off from PepsiCo in 1997. I did not know this. Now I do.
  •   The pizza was greasy and I got some hand grease on the steering wheel.
  •   While and Fides talked about spoarts the whole way up. My friend Fitzgerald called me out for hanging out almost exclusively with women lately. This is why. Spoarts are so fucking basic. They’re the worst.
  •   The Culture Room is in a strip mall in Fort Lauderdale. As we pulled up, While claimed that the only band to reference Fort Lauderdale in a song is Mötley Crüe (in Girls Girls Girls). We talked briefly about the length of Tommy Lee’s penis in the Pamela Anderson sex tape.
  •   To enter, security made us empty our pockets and patted us down. I brought my one-hitter, so I stood out in the drizzle holding my pot between my phone and wallet while some dude felt up my legs. He let me in.
  •   The Culture Room is tiny. I felt uncomfortable lighting up because security would have been able to see me too clearly. I settled for plastic cups of Makers Mark instead, as we posted up against a wall with a good view (like I said, the venue was tiny). At some point, a super tall dude came and stood right in front of me.
  •   I hate tall people.
  •   According to the internet, height has almost no bearing on the amount of sexual partners you will have, unless you are under 5-foot-4 (for a male; 4-foot-11 for a female). So, seriously, fuck tall people.
  •   We moved.
  •   While pointed out that the opening band must have had a lot of turnover, because none of them had the same fashion sense. One of them wore jean shorts and a floral shirt with rolled up sleeves. But all of them had long hair. I am forever jealous of the consistency with which indie rockers can grow full heads of long hair.
  •   We were about an hour late, so we caught the last two songs of the opener and then waited for the Mountain Goats to come on. I sipped on Makers.
  •   Outfits. Darnielle wore a tweed jacket he found in your university professor’s closet. His red shirt read, in old timey font, “I hope you suffer.” His pants were salmon. He did not match. The bassist wore a plaid suit with a tie and pocket square. The drummer also wore a suit and pocket square (no tie). The saxophonist had on jeans and a denim shirt, so he was probably from Canada.
  •   I recently attended a wedding. In preparation I watched several videos about how to fold pocket squares. We have little idea, when we are young, how much effort it takes to look sharp. There are a lot of ways to fold a pocket square, but probably the best is to crumple it randomly and shove it in the pocket. Life’s silly like that.
  •   The other time I saw the Mountain Goats, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, they had a three-man horn section. The addition of a baritone sax was a nice touch this time, but the sound wasn’t nearly as full as in LA. It didn’t help that Darnielle’s guitar was way too loud in the mix and they had other sound issues.
  •   Darnielle is perhaps the best poet in this country. I looked out at the crowd. I saw gauged ears, a black manchild with bleached hair, a girl with a bandanna like Rossie the Riveter. It felt incongruous. Here are Miami bros. Here is poetry set to tender sax about the pathos of professional wrestling in the 1980s. I wanted everyone to be two decades older.

Rossie the Riveter

  •   At some point, Fides walked over to me, kissed me on the temple, and said, “I love you, man.” I nodded. Then he walked back to While with two drinks in hand.
  •   I wanted to dance, but I didn’t dance.
  •   In the middle of the set, the rest of the band left and Darnielle played some slow songs alone. I remember really digging this part the last time I saw the Goats. This time it was boring, probably because I didn’t know any of the songs he picked. He said he likes to wing that section much as possible.
  •   I’m going to tell you how Darnielle introed one song. All of his intros are great; Darnielle is a soul-toucher. When he talks, he touches souls. I’m concerned I’ll ruin the effect, trying to remember what he said this far after the show. So. The one intro. Darnielle was explaining that when he was 19, after high school, he worked at a burger place called Jakey’s. His boss was a lady who got the restaurant as a gift from her husband. “I don’t want to say she was a bad person, but she behaved in a manner that made one suspect she had every capability of being one.” Darnielle worked six days a week. On the seventh day, his boss made him come in for the lunch shift, so he asked if he could get a free lunch. She said no. He called her “sub-human.” He mused about how back then, that was the most freedom he had: to mouth off to his boss a little bit, but not too much. But when you’re in the ring! When you’re wrestling bad guys! Then the glory of your vengeance can be visited upon the audience, and from your trousers you can pull a Foreign Object.
  •   When they played High Hawk Season, I remembered Malaysia, and how I used to shower with the door open, listening to this song. Then I remembered how in Asia they put the light switches outside of the bathrooms. Whenever I got drunk, I would flip off the lights while my roommates were taking shits. Then I’d scamper away giggling. I was young then, with so much of my life still to waste. I’m 29 now. I’ve fired friends. I’ve failed at things I tried really hard at for a long time. I can feel my body sagging. I looked out over the crowd, at how they were all so young, still so far from 30. Sometimes I wish I had that age back so I could be silly and careless. Other times I don’t. But on this night I did.
  •   The set ended with This Year and the encore closed with with Spent Gladiator 2. Both songs are about survival. Both songs mean a lot to me.

  •   Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I have thought about suicide every day for the last six years, essentially my entire adult life. I don’t doubt that one day my brain will kill me. Some days it’s only in passing — the idle blip poking through my warm contentedness, arguing that I should probably end it now because it won’t get any better than this. Other days it’s thick, dozens of times frantically in a row, with specific plans and goodbye notes scrawled out in my head. That’s when I listen to the Mountain Goats a lot. I don’t know any other band that writes anthems about staying alive.
  •   After the show we hung out under an awning while Fides smoked a cig, watching the downpour around us. Eventually we gave up waiting and made a run for it, leaping over puddles and through the strip mall parking lot. I wiped my hand through my wet hair. We were drenched by the time we got to the car, but still alive.

[Beat the Champ.]

I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form

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Bob Dylan – Shelter From The Storm

The stretch of track lines from Wolli Creek all the way through to Central Station, Sydney, has sketchy cellular connectivity. If Spotify holds out, it’s a blessing. If not, aurally the landscape is largely sniffles and sighs and polite, blunted coughs. Visually business suits, freshly-ironed buttoned-down shirts, and backpacks span the carriages. The weary conductor, announcing the present and subsequent stops, crackles over the intercom. Suburb to suburb, he sounds less tired-guy-following-procedure and more like death itself.

I’m sure he’s a nice guy, the conductor. Once, of an afternoon, my friend James and I were shooting the shit at the Marlborough Hotel in Newtown, ordering lunch. Some portly, curly-haired bloke – whose name I can’t recall – was sitting with some people, practicing card tricks the table over. Catching our interest, we ate together. After the usual how-do-you-do’s, one of Curl’s friends discussed his life as a train driver. “Mostly routine,” he said, “but people jump in front of trains a lot. A fucking lot.” The media doesn’t report them all, fearing copycats I guess, and it’s common for drivers to quietly bear the horror and guilt, despite the wide range of support given to employees who experience it first-hand.

I asked him if he had ever hit anybody. He had. He was working a wet line into the city circle and this guy was standing at the platform’s edge holding an umbrella, sheltered from the rain and watching the train approach. He said it was the detail that stayed with him. The man’s expression, watching this angled form of metal and gears and weight coming towards him, as if timing when it was going to be too late to stop. The slump of his shoulders as he fell. Most of all, he recalled that this particular person didn’t let go of the umbrella. It was one of a thousand things that made it difficult to comprehend, but it seemed ridiculous and inconsequential – “Who cares about the fucking umbrella?”

But, if you’re going to kill yourself, why bring it on to the platform? Why hold on to it when you jump? What does it matter?” He said those kinds of questions ring around the inside of your skull months and months later.

To this day I can still tell you the colour of the mohair jumper she was wearing, the colour of her jeans, what shoes she had on, and what injuries she had suffered.”

Curls’ friend also told the story of a former train driver, a man who – at least back then – spent his time far from the tracks. He would wear his conductor slacks and stayed on the payroll, preparing administrative papers mostly. He didn’t know the number of deaths or any more details, but he speculated it wouldn’t have to be many. Even one was already too much.

[Seek help. Find hope. For those in Australia, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 – for anything. Even if you just need somebody to talk to. Internationally, the IASP has a listing for crisis centres across the world. Reach out. You are not alone.]

I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

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iii Points is a three-day festival in Miami with a lot of EDM, hip hop, and slow, trippy rock. I attended the 2015 edition, on Oct. 9, 10, and 11. Before I explain what each day was like, here’s some background info:

  •   The three ‘points’ best I can figure are: music, art, and technology. There were art exhibits and techy things all over the campus. One of my coworkers hosted a virtual reality booth. Basically, it’s a playground for high teens who want to look at bright colors.
  •   The venue is about a block from the Wynwood strip. Wynwood was the shitty party of town until Miami made a very conscious effort to gentrify it. Now there’s huge graffiti murals and tons of bars and the hipsters congregate every weekend to dance. The actual iii Points venue is an open lot littered with neon pyramids and oriental rugs. There were two inside rooms (the main stage and one for djs), two outside stages, and a line of food trucks.
  •   Tickets, will call, and drink wristbands were across the street in Wynwood Soccer.

DAY 1

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Nicolas Jaar – Russian Dolls

I showed up late on Friday, because I had to make an appearance at Nando’s 30th birthday party. It was surprisingly formal: professionally catered (paella), a bartender, little glittery 30s scattered on the tables. Nando’s mom tried to convince her friends to check out this Bernie Sanders character, who has some really good ideas and you should totally look into. Everyone else besides me (who got an invite the day before over text) wore a button-down. I’m 29 now, bracing for the next birthday. Too old to be showing up to formal events in band t-shirts.

Earlier that day, I picked up Nando from his apartment and was playing Tame Impala. He called it crap. “People don’t sing anymore. What is this breathy, ethereal vocal shit?” I turned on Bob Seger and we sang Against The Wind, loudly.

My friend Freeze and I have an ongoing conversation about the age when one stops searching out new music. It’s different for each person, of course, and dependent on life events. If you have a baby and a career by 25, you probably aren’t spending free time and money on new music. But at some point, nearly every adult falls back on the bands she already knows she likes.

I thought I hit my moment two years ago, when I gave up weekends (and this blog) to run a TV show with Nando. It was worth it. I loved television.

By the time I left the party and made it to Wynwood it was nearing midnight, which isn’t a crazy time to go out in Miami. All the bands I wanted to see that night started after 12 anyway (except Panda Bear, who I had to skip so that Nando could grow old). On my way in, I bumped into Alice, who was leaving. She gave me her folding fan and said the air conditioning broke in the main stage. She said if I got an offer of over $10 for the fan, to sell it and split the money with her.

All my other, younger friends got there after I did. Then it became a maze of texts and missed calls and lost directions as we combined and split up and bumped into each other again. There were too many people in Wynwood so I stopped getting reception. Sterling fed me sips of Jameson from a flask she’d smuggled in her bra. It was drunken and sloppy and people kept getting lost and frustrated.

In this milling about, being pulled around by people and giving up and just going to bands I wanted to see, I ended up catching snippets of Mano Le Tough, Neon Indian, Nicolas Jaar, and DJ Tennis.

I have three specific memories.

  1. I’ve wanted to see Mano Le Tough for a long time. He plays what my friend Arielle coined sadboi techno. I played a song for Brent. “It says: I’m sad inside, but I still want to roll.” This set was more straight-up dj dance stuff. He didn’t sing at all. It made me want to move to East Berlin so I could see him all the time at Berghain. Arielle is the one who got me into EDM. We would go on road trips and she would guide me through the history of deep house, or play all her favorite Italo Disco tracks, or just lull me to sleep with Le Tough late at night.
  2. At one point, the entire group found each other at the exact same time, in front of the soundboard for Neon Indian. There were about 15 of us. Then we looked to our left, and it was a bunch of other coworkers we didn’t know were coming. Then after greeting the new crew, I realized that two of my Miami Herald friends were standing next to them. The world felt very small and manageable.
  3. Neon Indian sucked, so we left to catch Nicolas Jaar. This memory will stick with me. Two very drunk girls led the way to the very front. The room was long and narrow, and the lights splayed out from behind Jaar out toward the crowd. It felt like a movie scene, in the club, where the boy follows some spunky girl through the crowd and throbbing music. It was very surreal, and a touch magical.

DAY 2

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Madvillain – Fancy Clown

On the second day, I rolled two root beer-flavored drops from Denver around in my mouth. They kicked in two hours later. I poured healthy swallows of Sterling’s Jameson into cans of Becks. We were the first two there, so we watched Telescope Thieves. A topless girl in body paint walked by handing out fliers. Later, we saw two more. They were advertising a nude afterparty.

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This is Miami, so clothing is always minimal. Most girls wore jean shorts and sideboob halter tops. I saw one guy with full Miami Vice ’70s ‘fro and mustache, dancing away. He amused me. Everyone else wore what youths wear today.

The group had weaned since day one, so five of us parked in the main stage to see Run the Jewels and Ghostface Killah. Sterling ran off. I later found out two of my other friends were in the crowd, but I didn’t see them.

All the rappers we saw were really sincere. Killer Mike at one point went, “This one’s for Ferguson.” Ghostface mentioned how touched he is that people in every country have Wu-Tang tattoos. The reprieve was MF Doom. He was listed as playing with Ghostface, but they didn’t overlap. Instead, they projected Doom on a huge white sheet and added some grainy effects. Apparently, Doom’s not allowed back in the country. He started by playing bizarre old timey blues stuff, then he’d hit a spliff and wander off camera. In the background palm trees swayed. No one was sure what was happening. I thought it was just intro music for Ghostface, but then it stretched on toward an hour mark. My friend Kit got weirded out and left.

Eventually there was a lot of static and Doom reappeared, still in New York Islanders jersey and orange do-rag, this time from behind his dj set, and he rapped a bunch. It was good shit.

Before him was Run the Jewels. I found them entirely cheesy. They kept chanting back and forth in ways that reminded me of Christian rap from my childhood. I was pleased in a way, because I’ve been trying to like them for a while and can’t get into it. Now I know: I’m just not into it.

Ghostface, of course, killed it.

After that, even though it was only midnight, I went home. The edibles had worn off, I didn’t want to see anyone else that night, and I was tired. So, because I’m an old, I went home.

DAY 3

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Jay Electronica – Jazzmataz

Everyone who gave me shit about bowing out early the night before didn’t make it out on the third day. So fuck ’em. I can party just like a youth.

I came with Brown and Miriti, sucking on two hard candies again. We showed up just in time for Jay Electronica, who called a slew of people onto the stage and had two of them spit bars with him. He said the first time he ever performed in front of people, Mos Def pulled him out of a crowd like that.

Again, the sincerity.

Meanwhile, Brown kept making up rhymes and fake words and laughing. It was a lot of this:

Jay Elec went over his allotted time. He apologized to the guys after him, but didn’t actually care enough to, you know, stop when he was supposed to.

The guy after him turned out to be Spooky Black. Brown kept hyping him up. “He’s this white teenager in a do-rag, but then he starts singing and out comes the dope ass R&B.” So we stuck around. Turns out, Brown only likes Spooky Black because he thinks he’s hilarious as a concept. It’s this Jesse Pinkman-looking teenager with an oversized hoodie who absolutely cannot sing, singing what is essentially emo R&B.

This happened:

At one point, Brown just broke down into a full-on laugh. He was doubled over, nearly slapping the sticky floor. I couldn’t help it and burst out laughing too. Miriti turned away and chuckled to himself. It was so bad it was funny.

Now, remember I was pretty high. But it was around this point that the illusion started to fade. Reality curled up at the edges. All I could see was a scared teenager, pretending to be a singer, walking around the stage in a too-big hoodie, the lights and music drowning out his terror.

Then it started to spread. I kept looking around and seeing pimples on teenage faces, silly bikini-bottom costumes, all the pomp that we put on for each other. It felt fake. Who knew if anything was any good. Maybe no one can sing? Maybe we’re all faking it, and sometimes we’re tricked, and other times all the smoke machines and neon lights and sick beats can’t hide what frauds we are.

Between sets, Brown explained the etymology of trap.

We stayed for King Krule, but that kid couldn’t sing either. Eventually we shuffled over to the dj room, and I swayed my body back and forth and closed my eyes. Miriti and I got bored and convinced Brown to leave before Unknown Mortal Orchestra. We’re old. He played UMO in the Uber on the way back.

Post-script

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On Monday I got sick. I’m drinking a glass of Emergen-C as I write this.

Part of the reason I was tired Saturday and Sunday nights was that I’d had boozy brunches both days. On Saturday, I met up with my friend Figgy. She was telling me about this Nirvana documentary she watched, and how it made her nostalgic for the ’90s. She said pop culture was so much better back then, and she missed it. I said she’d be nostalgic for now too, given enough time. She disagreed.

Figgy is wrong. I’ll miss these times, the last fumes of my 20s. When girls’ ass cheeks hung out of their shorts, and Arielle taught me about house, and girls fed me bra whiskey, and I took drugs and listened to EDM and hip hop until way past my bedtime.

I’m still young enough to find new music.

No joke

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Panda Bear – Tropic of Cancer

“It’s all in the family…When they said he’s ill / Laughed it off as if it’s no big deal.”

Tropic of Cancer‘s opening lines are a denial. They are a supine stance in the face of impending familial tragedy, but it’s a stance unshared by the singer: “What a joke to joke. No joke.” The song reaches its most revealing upon the hard K in “joke” at 1:44. It’s understated, easily missed–to be mistaken for a mistake, even–but it’s venomous and indicative of a pain still very much alive, in itself cancerous if unchecked. The moment is transient and intuitive and unnervingly beautiful, one of the most stunning vocalised moments in music. Vsevolozhsky’s sample, looped in dub fashion, is weightless and expertly stretched and decelerated to accommodate syllabic expression–a configured inducement to hear the contradiction that is Panda Bear, an enigmatic artist yet entirely confessional.

Panda Bear has expressly stated that his Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper LP is not about death. Instead, it is a representation of changes in identity. The beauty of music is the ability to project upon it one’s own experience and sentiments. The emotive nature of music can be molded to suit. In a sense, however, we cheat music and the artist’s intentions each time we read into music what isn’t there. Tropic of Cancer‘s beginnings are of death (life reversed), to be sure, but to reject the refrain and what follows is to reject the certainty that with death one is altered; one has evolved.

“And you can’t get back / You won’t come back / You can’t come back to it.” Can’t. Won’t. Can’t again.

Locked in the present and finitely bolted to a future, we’re mandated to carry with us an unchangeable past. This is not to call our journey ill-fated, however. If we’re fortunate to live long into the future, pain will be a staple of our sensation’s diet and death key to our experience, for what we live is a single opportunity experience. To dismiss sickness and death as an anomaly, as impairing our experience, is to shortchange our own fate–our only fate.

“Sick has to eat well, too / Got to like it all / Got to like what kills.”

[Domino.]