We all want the same things

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When I was 27 I wrote 31 hour-long TV episodes in 34 days over the course of the World Cup in Brazil. It was the most taxing thing I’ve ever done in my life. We scarfed shitty fried foods while standing, not tasting anything. Everyone lost a ton of weight and got their debit cards ripped off. By the time I landed back in Miami, I was a mess of tangled beard and antisocial behavior. It was all I could do to smile at another human, let alone hold a conversation.

When I woke up my first night back in the United States, I walked to the only barber I could find 0n Yelp that accepted credit cards, whacked off all my hair, and then packed and headed for the airport to attend my little brothers’ weddings.

——-

I hate the question, “What was it like growing up in Asia?” Who are you, my goddam therapist? Fuck off. That summer I very quickly learned to hate the question, “How was the World Cup? Exciting?” I had nothing left of me to give, including faking enthusiasm for family.

It was brutal. I remember watching all the tourists walk to the beach in their bikinis, while I stared at a while wall in an uncomfortable plastic chair, sweating and clanking away on my keyboard. I never finished a show with more than a few minutes to spare. We would print scripts and run through the darkening streets of Rio de Janeiro to the tiny studio we’d built along the beach, our control room underground in what used to be a public bathroom.

It’s a weird sensation to listen to waves while you’re permanently stressed out. I started smoking again.

——-

It was a weekend designed to inform me that I am old. Two of my brothers got married two days apart. The day in between was my birthday.

I exaggerate and fiddle with the truth a lot on this blog, but those are the God honest facts.

I missed my layover in Atlanta and was delayed getting in, so I wasn’t there for my brother’s bachelor party. They played capture the flag in some field and used flour in napkins tied off with rubber bands so that when they threw them, it would show up on their black clothes. There were no strippers. There was no booze.

My family is fervently evangelical.

I managed to smile through some polite conversation when they got back, and then collapsed in an overstuffed bed in a corner room upstairs in my aunt’s house in Indiana.

The next day was the wedding. I was in it for some reason, even though I don’t talk to my brothers. The vest I had to wear was blue. The pants were grey.

I don’t remember a whole lot. I remember it was in a megachurch in the middle of some corn fields in Indiana. I didn’t get service in half of the church. The bride’s older sister got real huffy at me when I made a joke about divorce. No one objected to the union, and it was made official.

I assume my brother had sex for the first time that night.

The next morning, my 28th birthday, I borrowed his car at 6am and drove around the tip of Lake Michigan. I parked on the side of the street a block away from the W in Chicago.

I met up with some friends, co-workers who were there to cover the Pitchfork festival. Arielle met me at the beach, and we walked inside and picked up Romi and Di Palma and headed over. They did some interviews while I walked around, and then Arielle and I head-bobbed solemnly to Slowdive together. Di Palma got too high and kept trying to run off and we had to stop her because we knew she’d get lost. She also bought me a Cloud Nothings poster I still have up in my apartment in LA. Kendrick Lamar headlined, and we all screamed “Bitch don’t kill my vibe” as some parents nearby covered their children’s ears.

At some fancy place for dinner—I don’t remember what kind of food—we ordered a bottle of sangria and I spilled some on my shirt. In the Uber back, we heard a song with a distinctive sax line, but none of us knew what it was. Arielle asked her Twitter followers, and one somehow identified it.

It’s still my ringtone. Years later, I bought Di Palma City to City on vinyl as a going away present when she moved from Miami to New York. We did molly on the beach, and she left it behind. So now I own two copies.

When we got back to the hotel, Romi showed us her worst interview ever on her phone. Di Palma and I smoked pot in the bathroom with the shower running. We all kept hum-singing Gerry Rafferty at each other.

I forgot it was my birthday and forgot to stress and worry, and just relaxed for the first time in probably six months.

In the morning I think I gave them a ride to the airport, and I drove back under Lake Michigan, to a small church in Niles my family had attended when I was in middle school. I changed into a suit in one of the back rooms, met the other groomsmen, and then walked into the sanctuary where my father married my other brother. (To his now-wife. My father did not get married to my brother.)

The reception was a potluck in the back yard. They gave everyone small bottles of maple syrup because she’s from Canada.

I don’t remember flying back. I just remember my apartment in Miami, how white and clean it was. I don’t think I left for a week. Eventually I got a new debit card and rebuilt my life and got to the point where I could talk about the World Cup or aging or my loneliness like a sane human being.

I haven’t been back to Chicago since. My last little brother gets married there this weekend.

Someone’s here and then they’re not

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Rawles sat on my lap when we drove him to the vet. Deaf, blind, balding, and with kidney issues, his quality of life wasn't holding up at 14. When we got there and announced ourselves for the appointment, the receptionist said, "Oh, oh. I'm so sorry. Right this way." Rawles was too scared and unsteady on his feet to stand, so I held him. He was quivering. I remembered when I was 25 and all I could think about was killing myself all day every day and Rawles would blissfully jump in my lap and snuggle and I couldn't help but smile and keep living one more day. And then another. And another. Until somehow I made it here, to 30. Theo filled out the paperwork and handed over his credit card. The vet asked if we had ever done this before. I immediately thought to a week earlier, when we had to pull the breathing tube from Theo's infant son. I remember, after he passed, Jessie was holding her boy in her lap weeping. I put my palm on his head. He was so gray. I touched Jessie's shoulder and she looked up at me. I've never seen such raw grief; I hope to never again. She looked like a mother who had to watch her son die. That look, I'll carry it with me to my grave. The vet took Rawles out of the room and gave him a sedative. She brought him back and laid him on a garishly colored blanket. He was relaxed; his tongue hung out if his mouth. I put my palm on his head and cried. Just like I had cried in the shower that morning. Just like I had cried in the shower every morning since their baby died. The vet gave Rawles a shot and then checked his heartbeat with a stethoscope and then he was gone. We sat petting him and crying. Eventually the receptionist came and picked up the body that a until few seconds ago had been Rawles and walked out the back door. He was a good boy. This is my last post on this account. Thank you for following.

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[A Crow Looked At Me.]

Ride the Rodman

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One thing I had forgotten until my recent trip to Malaysia is that the government blocks most porn sites.

Pretty much any of the big flash-based sites don’t work. It’s not like I brought backup pornograpics, but whatever, two weeks without porn is fine.

Back when I lived there for a year, it was a different matter. For a brief spell, one of those shitty ad-infested sites worked. Then the censors found it, and it didn’t. The speed of the internet made it too infuriating anyway.

So here’s what I did: I brought an external hard drive to by buddy Low’s house in the basket of my motorbike, and then created a new folder:

Zac -> Video -> Other -> YeahYeahYeah

And within that, we placed several gigs of pornography that he had painstakingly downloaded over the years on Malaysia’s shitty internet (and occasionally on Taiwan’s wonderful internet). There was a bunch of classic movies from the ’70s, all grainy and with full bush and closeups that linger way too long than is comfortable. There was a lot of hetero girl-next-door clips of very conventional sexual intercourse. There was a bunch of Japanese porn with censored genitals (and naturally some shy chicks getting plowed on public transportation, at first kind of asking not to be raped but then I guess getting into it? And the people in the background of shots at the beginning mysteriously disappear after nudity happens). And I distinctly remember there being one where a bunch of cheerleaders are stranded in a bus and decide to all fuck and they surreptitiously all finish orgasming just moments before the teacher returns from his quest for gasoline. I liked that one a lot.

But the point isn’t to make you imagine me masturbating alone in my office, the ceiling fan circling slowly. The point I wanted to make is that it’s kinda weird to plan your horniness.

Like, you’re grocery shopping, and you get some kale because you’re trying to be healthy, and you think, “Oh, I would very much like to become horny on Thursday, I better make sure to pre-download this 2 hour Cleopatra movie that’s got both old Roman orgies and also weirdly some archeologists (played by the same actors!) finding the evidence and fucking a lot as well. And maybe I’ll d/l some Sasha Grey for when I am overtaken by hormones on Friday as well!”

(That Cleopat one is a real movie Low gave me. It’s pretty good.)

I’m reminded of Rob Delaney buying plastic sheets back when he was a practicing alcoholic, because it was a given that he would blackout and piss the bed several times a week.

“After arriving in LA and securing an apartment, I had dialed 1-800-MATTRESS and ordered a queen-size bed. It was a big step – deciding to stop peeing in a futon and start peeing in a real bed – and I took it seriously. When I went to buy sheets along with a little trash can and a bathmat and such, I knew I’d also need plastic sheets for my queen-size bed. I was a big boy now and big boys pee in big beds! I walked right up to a young woman and asked her where the plastic sheets were. She told me they were in the kids’ linen section with other kids’ things.

“Uh, I’m looking for plastic sheets for a queen-size bed.”

“Oh…”

“Yep.”

“Oh, um, we don’t have those. We could order them?”

“Well, then, yeah. Order them.”

In a moment of utter sobriety, I was 100% at peace with the fact that I was a voluntary, habitual, adult bedwetter and I was comfortable discussing it frankly with a stranger.”

And now here I am, frankly discussing my perverted masturbatory habits with anonymous strangers. (Hi, Dan!)

I’ve still got the hard drive and all the porn Low gave me. Hmu if you have an hour blocked off next Wednesday afternoon to be horny alone.

[Chanel.]

You’re my favorite but we’re phasing

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I recently visited Malaysia on vacation. It was my first time back in five years. Here are some feelings that I felt:

  1. You know how you’re out at a party and you come home and take off your pants and your socks and do that old person sigh/grunt as you sit down on your favorite chair? And you know how you only realize how stressed and emotionally jittered you were by how suddenly tranquil you feel? And how you’re still half-drunk, petting your cat, feeling the smoothness of his fur, drinking a tall glass of ice water and feeling at home, your true self again? The moment I landed, it felt like that. Like I had taken my pants off at home.
  2. Malaysia has changed a lot. There are new buildings and new stores and new roads and new bridges and new museums and new malls. It was like seeing an ex who has a new haircut and new job and new lover. There’s a longing and wistfulness for what could have been. In another life, I would have stayed in Malaysia and been content and watched all those changes from the inside, instead of melancholically seeing them all at once. And then I left, leaving Malaysia to change more without me, while I change more away from it.
  3. There’s a part in those shitty spy movies, when our erstwhile hapless hero suddenly realizes he knows kung fu and how to shoot a very long gun and has been a sleeper cell all along. Like he’s watching himself fight bad guys and is just as surprised as you. If the movie is delightfully trashy enough, he may turn to the camera and give you a little look. That’s how I felt about Malay. I just opened my mouth and language I didn’t know I knew poured out of it. If you had asked me to translate a phrase into bahasa, I wouldn’t have been able to. But put me in that situation and somewhere in my lizard brain is a section that barely lights up anymore anymore, telling me what to say and how to say it.
  4. My superpower: I am capable of being unhappy anywhere. Within a handful of days at my favorite place in the universe, I got grouchy and tired of dumb touristy things. Mostly I just craved a routine and some time alone to process. The chemicals in my brain that make me sad continue to impress me with their potency. I should bottle them and sell them to people to feed to their enemies.
  5. Globalization bums me out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a nativist. Globalization is coming, or I guess it’s already here, and we need to figure out how to mitigate its more brutal effects. But when I see soulless condos going up, blocking ocean views and trampling what used to be dope shit underneath, just so Singaporean businessmen can keep an empty weekend apartment, I’m like what’s the point. There’s an old snake temple, where vipers have lived for generations. Now it’s surrounded on multiple sides by garish buildings 30 stories high and the sounds of construction concusses down into the tiny rectangle of foliage where the snakes climb tree limbs. It’s just a bummer, man. Also, inflation really made me sad, but I think that’s just more a nostalgia thing.
  6. Physical distance from work is key to emotional distance. The farther away you go, the less you’ll care. I recommend going roughly half of the circumference of the globe. As we were flying over the Pacific, I could feel my stressors shrinking. And as we flew back, I could hear their static, like the volume knob on a radio turned up as we got closer.
  7. How do married people do it? I spent two weeks caring about another person’s desires and nearly lost my damn mind. The only thing I wanted by like day 10 was a couple hours to be alone, in quiet, without having to vote on our every damn activity.

[Migration.]

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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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.]