Newish piece by yours truly on VICE, plus two more in the works
Holla at a Cheesy Gordita Crunch.
Newish piece by yours truly on VICE, plus two more in the works
Holla at a Cheesy Gordita Crunch.
Everyone told me that I would hate winter on the East Coast. My poor father was certain that by mid-November I’d be calling nightly, begging for a ticket back to our perma-65-degree corner of California. To be fair, I thought I would too—two years in Washington state had me practically on the verge of suicide. A choking, damp grayness never seemed to lift; my shoes always felt like they’d been sitting in a leaking refrigerator. But the East Coast has a different kind of cold that doesn’t seem to wrap itself around you … it seems properly old, intentional, romantic. I’ve actually been sort of swept away and charmed by the leafless trees and the whiteness and the scarves and all.
For Thanksgiving, I visited my aunt Sarah and her family in a small town in Massachusetts, one that the Native Americans once entirely burned to the ground and left only a single barn standing. I threw rocks on a frozen pond with my 60-year-old uncle, who insisted that we eat the chocolates that we’d brought for Sarah before even making it to her house because he felt “hypoglycemic.” Seemed legit.
We went for long walks around her neighborhood and saw a beaver swimming under ice. I had never seen a beaver in person before; they’re big and slick and alien-looking. The woods around her house are Blair Witch-y and were covered in crispy leaves, which produced a thick crunch with every step of my boots, and are littered with stumps from where beavers feasted on tree bark to the point of destruction.
I wished for snow. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve looked out of windows every place I’ve ever lived and just wished for a quiet, pure white blanket of snow. There’s some music in this world that you know just won’t sound good unless it’s snowing, and some thoughts that you can’t extinguish in their longing. And so, finally, it snowed.
I didn’t know that it makes everything glow like dawn, even at 3am, transforming even our dirty Brooklyn streets into something entirely innocent and peaceful and blank.
I woke up on Saturday morning at my friend Mark’s house and it took me five or ten minutes to glance out the window, and there it was again, piling up, and Mark put on Kate Bush and she sounded really great right then, at 10am with a dog sniffing my ear and his roommates drinking coffee and all of this snow.
I never wore headphones until I moved to New York. In my previous life, my designated music-listening time was in my car, which I will admit that I miss terribly even though I often just went on drives for the sake of leisure (“greenness” be damned). In San Francisco, I’d ride my bike to work in less than ten minutes, usually so deep in my own head that I could barely hear anything—maybe the birds if I was paying attention. It has only been when trying to cope with the cramped cacophony of the NYC subway system that it has appealed to me to tune things out. But I’ve come to like it, pumping in your own soundtrack while speed-walking across platforms or chasing up and down staircases. It makes it awfully easy to pretend you’re at the end of a film, and any second, a lost lover will come running after you in a last-ditch effort to make things right. Any minute now.
But these two things, snow and headphones, go very well together. Maybe the novelty will wear off, but right now this is when I feel the most human; walking at night under the glow of street lamps that bounce gentle, glittering white onto every surface, feeling like a song is following me in fog.
I made us all hot buttered rum and I’m going to cut a giant hole in the wall with a chainsaw and fill it with logs and make it into a fireplace. We’ll all lay on the ground in front of the fire very close together, our faces only inches apart, and tell each other all of our secrets.
We’ll wake up late in the morning and laugh that none of us noticed each other, all falling asleep at the exact same time.
This looks exactly like my dad.
Note: I realize that there are worse things than what I’m about to describe. Cancer, the Steubenville rape case, paraplegia, the 2008 financial crisis, etc. But honestly, I think more people have nightmares about this than any of the aforementioned.
Friday began as a day like any other. I woke up exhausted and shuffled blindly to the subway, where I saw a stray rat dragging an unidentified foodstuff through the tracks and felt very glad that it was 20 or 30 yards away, pacing in a valley where I was untouchable. I took the elevator to my office, ate Raisin Bran with almond milk at my desk while hunting through infinity-googol-plex photos of pumpkin pie slices on Getty, and listened to the same Mission of Burma song four times in a row on the subway. I invented the thoughts and desires of fellow commuters while picking lint off of my boiled wool sweater, got off two stops from my house and pretended that it was exercise. I went inside, listened to A$AP Ferg and drank a glass of Vouvray with my roommate, and suddenly remembered that it was my turn to take out the trash.
Taking out the trash is a somewhat involved process at [my address]. One must:
1. Drag the usually-exploding garbage bag down the stairs (leaking quinoa and crumpled paper towels along the way)
2. Throw open the quick-slamming front door
3. Walk about 10 feet to the right
4. Properly insert and turn a small gold key into the large, locked padlock on the plastic dumpster. Remove the padlock and open ‘er up. The dumpster also opens from the front, but typically one only needs to raise the rather heavy dumpster-lid and…
5. Aggressively throw the trash bag into one of the large silver cans within. Shut the lid, relock the padlock, get outta there.
Everything was going according to plan until I reached step 5.
The bag was heavy. Our recycling regimen had really fallen off the rails in past weeks, and glass bottles and jars added serious pounds to the vegetable matter and god-knows-whatever-else that creaked within the thin white plastic. I aimed and hurled the bag at the closer trashcan, but it fell to the side against the edge of the dumpster.
Fine, I thought. No problem; I’ll just open the plastic doors at the front of the dumpster, shimmy inside a bit, and push the bag into the can. Be a good citizen and all. Obey the wishes of our landlord, Auggie, who once told my roommate that his goal in life was to make her happy. Also might have tried to kiss her on the mouth one time, which was pretty inappropriate. Whatever.
But then … the worst thing ever happened.
As I swung open the front doors of the dumpster as though entering a ghost-town saloon, the absolute most atrocious smell that my nostrils have ever beheld wafted right up into my face. Hear you me when I tell you that I have smelled some really bad smells. I’ve worked at dive bars, grown up with boys who don’t believe in hygiene and don’t understand expiration dates, and lived in Tacoma, Washington. But you know in Auschwitz documentaries when the survivors are like, “You never forget the smell of burning/rotting human bodies mixed with excrement?” That was my immediate thought when I encountered this smell. It was almost visual in its potency and had the presence of the poisonous green cloud that cursed Sleeping Beauty. Confused and repulsed, I froze.
And then, very suddenly, I felt a strange, warm, scratching and rustling sensation about my feet and legs. I looked down and covering the bodily area between my toes and my knees were NEW YORK CITY RATS. MANY MANY RATS. Probably more than half a dozen huge, brown, hairy, yellow-toothed rats. And while I’m certain that they actually intended to get away from me, they were doing just the opposite. Their little nails clung to my jeans. Their shit-matted fur brushed against my favorite boots. It all happened in a split second that somehow lasted forever.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to provide a visual so that you can understand why this was the worst thing ever.
Their tails are horrible, scaly, leathery, bitten-off. Their eyes, beady. Their skin mottled with … conditions. This is how the spend most of their lives:
I was not reminded of Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was reminded only of the bajillions of rats that I have seen running around the crudded veins of the subway tracks, noshing on KFC bones and human entrails, threatening to climb up the platform and ever-so-gently brush their bubonic-plagued bodies against us. But we thank our lucky stars that they never really do (or we at least should). There are between 8 million and 32 million rats in New York City, and they mostly keep to themselves … until now.
I leapt back and, in a way that I didn’t think I was female enough to be capable of, emitted a high-pitched scream that caused all of the mutant rodents to leap from my gams and scatter. I stood there paralyzed, backing away from the dumpster and hyperventilating while a group of Puerto Rican men laughed their asses off.
“I … DID YOU … DID YOU SEE THAT?” I asked them.
“What happened, mami, some rats? Rats in the garbage?”
“YES … RATS … THEY TOUCHED ME … THEY CLIMBED ON ME.”
One of the men came over and calmly shut the dumpster for me. I wondered if trash rats had ever climbed all over him and traumatized him beyond repair. Clearly not, I thought, as he fearlessly threw the plastic doors shut. Or maybe he just figured that all of the rats had already attacked me and were ready for a siesta. I owed this man thanks but was unable to form words.
“I WAS … THE RATS …”
“I seen some rats in there, little mice too, you know. Better be careful.”
I stumbled back up the stairs and into my house, trying to think of ways that I could sterilize my entire body. I had bought these particular jeans literally the day before and would risk ruining them if I washed them in hot water, and my boots were beyond beloved to me. I had resoled them three times; throwing them away was out of the question. But how could I possibly be cleansed of this incident? So far all I can think of is washing my hands for 2-3 minutes after touching either garment.
A year or two ago, I came across a photo of a truly behemoth rat allegedly found in a Foot Locker in the Bronx. I have left it behind a link so that you are not involuntarily plagued with the same nightmares that I was after seeing it, or if you are, you were at least warned fairly beforehand. I saw this photo long before I had decided to migrate to the East Coast, and I thought that it was merely photo witchery or alarmist propaganda.
But I take it all back. If the End of Days is near, New York rats are leading the way. They’re powerful, and plentiful, and I think that they’re hoarding dead human bodies in our dumpster.
On the bright side, at least they weren’t tarantulas or cobras. That’s the only way that I can think sunnily about this thing that happened, this terrible, horrible thing. This worst thing ever.
It’s 11.11. Make a wish or forever regret it. Wishes are like lottery tickets—maybe they’ll pay off, maybe they won’t, but if they do you’ll be glad you invested.
So, onward. At this point, seeing blue-haired, two-bunned, Kate Mossy birds floating around on street corners (combat boots a’ clompin’) or walking into a dive bar to find it entirely flanneled have become entirely commonplace experiences. The Nirvana nostalgist movement has been steadily growing since 2007ish and may have finally reached its pinnacle. Last night, I walked into a party of fully grown’s and there were upwards of half a dozen girls in crop tops and mom jeans.
Why is 90s nostalgia so rampant at this moment in history?
I have some theories.
Theory 1: Manifestation of childhood idols and ideologies. Generation Y/Z (older “Millennials,” pardon my vocab) grew up listening to “alt rock” and watching My So-Called Life. Our malleable little brains were conditioned to drool over Zack Morrises, Jordan Catalano’s, and River Phoenix’s (maybe the occasional Layne Staley [RIP] on a bad day). But then we were swept away into the early 2000s and the horrors of überfemme boy bands, ill-fitting Express tops in orange and magenta, low-rise flare jeans, frosted tips, etc. How and why the hideous trends of “the Britney era” arose, we may never know. Soon after came the proto-hipster, wherein trucker hats, bandanas, skinny jeans, gauged ears, and Suicide Girls took over. But now that has been washed away too (except in LA, mysteriously), and those of us who were mentally indexing House of Style and Beavis & Butthead at age seven have suddenly come to and found ourselves 25-30 years old, in the position where suddenly we are the ones who dictate what is found on the pages of NYLON or music blogs.
Our creative minds have been wiped Men in Black-style by the low frequency radiation emitting from our cell phones into our skulls, and we find plaids, angora sweaters, and ying yang paraphernalia to provide strange vibes of comfort—to evoke simpler times before Chris Hansen was needed to stop 30-year-old men from distributing six-packs of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to preteens.
Theory 2: Sincerity. Well, wishing for sincerity.
As we collectively emerged, blinking and disoriented, from the aforementioned “Britney era,” we were so repulsed with ourselves for giving so much money to Abercrombie & Fitch that we slipped into a sort of fugue state revolving entirely around irony. See: all of those American Idol contestants who became famous just for sucking (cough William Hung cough), resurgence of Native American headbands even though we all know it’s kind of offensive, VICE Do’s and Don’ts seeming to deliberately select people with mental health issues as “Do’s”. Mullets and bowl cuts were in vogue; just think about that. I theorize that we all became starved for honesty during these years, as we no longer had to consider what we actually liked—there was simply preoccupation with finding stupider and stupider things to “like” and more and more subcultures to appropriate. This is why Tumblr was invented!
But we’re tired. Perhaps a little weary of pretending that every single Aaliyah song was a masterpiece (although that’s not to discount her actual musical triumphs) or that anyone actually even watched Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger besides the occasional wife-beatered beer guzzler who worked a night job and became addicted to daytime television. Really sick of the Chuck Norris thing.
Our lives basically became as phony as the infamous Lexicon of Grunge. And after at least half a decade of arguing back and forth about the nature of irony, we now wish we could just be dorks again and reclaim the right to like whatever we want without having to weigh whether we really like it, or we just like what it stands for as a bookmark in pop culture history. By “we,” I might be referring to hipsters, but seeing as hipsterism is merely a grab-bag term used for anything trendy these days, I will say young adults as a whole.
Conclusion: Maybe it’s C) all of the above. But I believe that this is a good thing. There will always be “coolness” and there will always be phoniness, and those two concepts will always have a complex relationship. But to wake up and just enjoy things because they feel good to you—well, that’s learning how to be happy. It may be silly to project our thumb-sucking longing for childhood innocence and excitement onto the 90s, since they were just a decade like any other, but we can still seek a little bit of solace in a song that we’ve known all the words to since we were 11. Obviously, this week’s playlist will be all songs from the 90s, and I genuinely like all of them, ya lamestain.
1. Nomad—Devotion (1991)
In the Bay Area in the late 90s, there was this pretty incredible time capsule of a radio station called Z95.7 that played loads and loads of Eurodance hits—I mean, all of them. Real McCoy, La Bouche, White Town, Corona, Culture Beat, you name it. A few years ago my friend Jackson started a night in SF djing that stuff, and it was like the freshest breath of fresh air—straight up Dentyne Ice commercial status. Because its fun! What’s fun anymore? Maybe because the nose drugs were so pure and rampant back then or because people weren’t yet finger-scrolling Facebook drones, but listening to this stuff feels like getting cuddled by an entire litter of Pomeranian puppies. More about this in my favorite Vice article of all time, “RAVE AND HARDCORE YOUTUBE COMMENTS WILL RESTORE YOUR FAITH IN HUMANITY“. Ugh, it’s just great, the whole thing is great.
2. Slowdive—Machine Gun (1993)
There’s this passage Mary Karr’s teenage memoir Cherry about her first kiss with a boy she liked.
“There’s a TV commercial for some thick green shampoo that they drop a pearl in to show how rich and heavy it is, the pearl falling through this heavy green goop. And that’s what John smells like. Prell, it’s called. All of the cut grass in the world gets mashed into a bottle of this stuff. And the time we move into is that slow-fallling, underwater shampoo time. John does not hold my elbows like he’s scared to get too close. He makes a cage of his arms I step right in (colt in a corral, I think). He tilts his head and says with a breath like Juicy Fruit right before he kisses me, ‘Is this okay?’ Before I can say yes, we bump teeth a little, then he’s breathing the Juicy Fruit right into my mouth, my lips, and his lips come closer till the softnesses match up.”
And that’s basically how I feel when I listen to Slowdive. Slow-falling, underwater shampoo time.
3. Sebadoh—Skull (1994)
Lo-fi indie that still sounds really good. Oh, Lou Barlow. Between this and Dinosaur Jr., we really owe you one. I wish that this song wasn’t about smoking heroin, but I think that it is. I’m just going to keep pretending that’s it about a late-night crush at a hazy party. I always fall for the songs about being gentle. Gentleness is underrated.
4. Third Eye Blind—God of Wine (1997)
The cult of Third Eye Blind continues. Have you ever notice that if you mention any song of this album, even the non-singles, you’re guaranteed to make someone stoked? It’s because this is a front-to-back perfect record. I couldn’t conceive of music that better evokes, cornily or not, the experience of a young, sometimes-drunk, sometimes-high, struggling, loving, fighting 20something in San Francisco (reformed as I may be) (and somehow I loved this record just as much when I was 11 years old and had never experienced much of anything). I acknowledge the insolence of Stephen Jenkins and his personal goal of alienating all humans on the planet. Writer Marc Hawthorne describes his guilty-pleasure love of Third Eye Blind thusly: “It’s like living with the shame of having webbed feet, then meeting other people with webbed feet, and inevitably every time you get together you end up talking about webbed feet. And loving every minute of it.” And he’s right! Every time this record comes up in a group setting, I find someone else amongst us who is equally obsessed with it, and we literally just sit and pore over how good every single track is. “Good,” I know. You may disagree. But you can’t take “God of Wine” away from me.
(Note: If I could, [and I guess I technically could, but I won’t] I would also include “The Background,” “Losing a Whole Year,” “Motorcycle Drive-By,” and “Narcolepsy” here since they’re equally worthy in my eyes.)
5. Starflyer 59—A Housewife Love Song (1996)
Is this band Christian rock? If so, can we not talk about it? Not that there’s anything wrong with Christianity. Also let’s not talk about the video for this song, because it reminds me of, like, The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. So instead, let’s talk about how this song has a really thick ugly awesome anchor riff and I like how the vocals are pretty much entirely whispered in contrast. The end!
6. Peter Gabriel—Steam (1992)
Back in the early- to mid-90s, my mom used to buy my siblings and me all of these VHS tapes of random Claymation and computer animation short films because my mom is awesome and actually wanted us to develop “creativity” or whatever. One such tape was called Festival! and was just a bunch of really weird little clips of CGI stuff that now looks hilariously janky but at the time was considered state-of-the-art, and amongst the clips was this super off-the-wall, super sexual Peter Gabriel music video that caused a lot of confusion and curiosity for me. Maybe Peter Gabriel is way more subversive than he gets credit for. “In Your Eyes,” moving, love it, John Cusack does too. “Solsbury Hill,” great. But this song and its accompanying video are where his freak flag seriously flies. Between his over-articulated, wide-eyed expressions and the abundance of pseudo-nudity and Freudian imagery, it’s like an acid trip into the mind of the oddly paternal ex-singer of Genesis. And if you’re curious, here’s an excerpt of more stuff from Festival!—it’s art, bruh, and pretty seapunk. You should absolutely, definitely watch it if you already have enough free time to read my dumb blog.
Remember 2002? Cool, me neither. So when I found this mixtape that I made when I was 16, I couldn’t resist popping it in and seeing what I was listening to 11 fateful years ago. It serves as a cultural relic of an adolescent girl with angst flying in one million directions, lured simultaneously by breakdowns and twinkly bits and gross greasy screaming dudes, bordering on the cultures of 2nd wave Midwest emo, post-punk, and the tail end of grunge and (the dreaded) nü-metal.
Put simply, I was of the emo/indie persuasion. I wore scarves when it was 72 degrees outside, had iron-on patches from Interpunk all over my Dickies messenger bag, and head-surfed at Saves the Day shows. Take it or leave it. If you are averse to this moment in history, you may not want to continue.
Grasping to commandeer the notion of coolness, teenagers like my 2002 self are predisposed to leave behind artifacts—snakeskins—of their ever-shedding tastes. Let’s have a listen.
1. Rainer Maria – Ears Ring
You know, this band is not bad. The singer has the swagger of Karen O., albeit less shiny and more likely to be found at a barbecue in Wisconsin. I feel like if this came out today, people would still be fairly receptive to it—it holds up well in the post-iPhone era. I also love the diner vibes in this video—so trademark of this era. People were just sitting in diners until 3am on the regs, sweating in cardigans studded with 1″ buttons. I think I spent about 40% of 2001-2005 sitting in a fucking Denny’s.
2. Coldplay – Clocks
I know, the word Coldplay strikes fear and loathing into the hearts of hip people. But hear me out. This album had just come out. The only previous impression that we had of Coldplay at this point was garnered from the tepid, somewhat adorable “Yellow.” So cut me some slack. How was I to know about Gwyneth, or Apple, or GOOP? How was I to know about Viva La Vida? I repent, but in all truth, in 2002 this song was considered tolerable at worst. Side note: I’m in a café right now and they’ve played a flamenco version of this song twice since I got here 45 minutes ago.
3. Braid – Do You Love Coffee
Like several of their contemporaries (Joan of Arc being the clearest example), Braid were secretly a math-rock band. Weird time signatures galore coming from these fools. However, this isn’t even close to being their best track. Should’ve picked “A Dozen Roses” or “Forever Got Shorter.” I was just flailing my way through the Polyvinyl discography.
4. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – A Perfect Teenhood
I was about to remark that this band was super-underrated since they seem to have disappeared into obscurity, never to be mentioned again in the American Apparel era, but then I did some research-Googling and discovered that Source Tags and Codes got a 10/10 on Pitchfork, and actually, they were probably overrated at the time. Whatever drugs they were on in the early 2000s were doing incredible things for them, although on second thought it would be hard to imagine them turning out well-adjusted after a decade or so of their habits (the refrain at the end of this song: “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!” etc.)
5. Pedro The Lion—Let Down (live Radiohead cover)
In high school, I was one of those Radiohead freaks who drew the Amnesiac minotaur all over my binders and bought bootlegs of TV interviews with them and stuff. And also, Pedro the Lion was at the peak of their folky sadcore baritone Christian indie act, and this cover is decent. The patience to listen to shaky live tracks of your favorite bands seems to wear thin after age 22.
If you were waiting for the other shoe to drop and the cultural hysteria of the early 2000s to show through somewhere in this post, this would be the place. Remember Orgy? Yes, that Marilyn-Manson-covering-Depeche-Mode-sounding act from the Family Values 98 tour, better known for their asinine cover of “Blue Monday”? Anyways, this was their original hit, and the hook should probably be reworked into a Skrillex song or something. Unsurprisingly, the video involves “technology” and the lead singer wears all white and plenty of liquid eyeliner.
7. Deftones—Knife Party at the Niko
Wild horses (or white ponies) couldn’t drag me away from liking this song, even as a Certified Adult who schedules her own dental appointments and saves money and mails things the day I intend to. Yes, the vocals are pretty quintessentially nü-metal (aside from the shrieks and wails of Rodleen Getsic toward the end, which fall somewhere between orgasmic and terrifying) but the chorus is colossal, and on a note of pure nostalgia, my friends Draper, Greer, and Victor and I used to buh-LAST this song out of my Ford Explorer every time we drove home from a hardcore show at The Pound (RIP). I remember once reading a critic calling Deftones “the Radiohead of metal.” Metal as a whole genre, maybe not. But this is like, shoegaze metal.
8. The Used—Maybe Memories
Imagine if your last name was already McCracken, and it was pretty much written in stone that all of the kids at you middle and high school were going to call you “crackhead,” and then your first name was also Bert, and you were a Mormon from Provo, Utah who took a turn for the worse at age 15 and became a methhead. This is your band! You’re the lead singer! It makes perfect sense. This music is like a can of Xtreme Exploding Cheese & Chili Pringles, embedded with market-researched flavor crystals specifically formulated for teenagers who shop at Hot Topic.
9. Elliott Smith—Between the Bars
This mix was made when Elliott was still alive and seemed so promising—it’s strange to think that it’s been 10 years since his death (as of only a few days ago). I don’t care how much of a cliché he is at this point; I loved his music with every hair on my forlorn little head and still do. I could listen to Either/Or at any time of any day and still be just as charmed by and heartbroken over it as I was the first time I heard it.
I’ve been around downtown LA a bit lately and thought about what a weird, seedy place it was—and continues to be, but not nearly as bad these days with all of those galleries and fancy lofts and whatnot—and how that was where Elliott used to hang out, strung out, looking to cop dope, feeling shitty. I really don’t think that anyone in music has filled the void he left. These days, popular “indie rock” is all of this safe, blasé, Starbucks-friendly crap, Arctic Monkeys and the Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, and not to say that those bands have zero merits or that I wish that indie rock was still filled with self-loathing junkies but for Christ’s sake, where’s the edge? And I don’t mean like “Black Lips edge” where it’s like, “wooo, we puke and get naked on stage and we’re so shocking!” I mean representing the human condition in all of its beautiful, ugly, jagged little facets. I’m going to stop now and move on to the next song. RIP Elliott, when I lived in LA I would drive by the wall from the Figure 8 cover every day.
10. At the Drive-In—Hourglass
I feel like if At the Drive-In were invented now, I might find them incredibly annoying, but it wouldn’t be possible for them to be invented in 2013 because that would be like going back in time and killing your parents, or something. What I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty sure their influence extends much further than the direct reach of their music. This ~*~sLoW JaM~*~ from In/Casino/Out is poetic in the cubist, haphazard way that only Cedric Bixler et. al. can be.
11. Joy Division—Love Will Tear Us Apart
Perhaps the most puzzling part of this mixtape is how the hell I was listening to Joy Division, The Used, and Orgy all at the same time without any sense of one being significantly better than the others. You’d think that after hearing a post-punk masterpiece like this I would have considered abandoning everything on Victory Records. But admittedly, I think I just discovered Joy Division from Trainspotting and Donnie Darko, both of which I was watching on a bi-weekly basis between 2002 and 2004.
12. The Ramones—Blitzkrieg Bop
Teenagers gonna listen to The Ramones. They will start with this song or maybe “I Wanna Be Sedated.” In the words of Sully from Degrassi: The Next Generation …
No surprises here.
Drive-Thru Records. Drive-Thru Records. More Drive-Thru Records. Everything on that label was a shaken-and-poured cocktail of pop punk, emo, and radio rock. Also, my college roommate told me recently that he pseudo-interned there when he was 15 and felt like maybe the married, 40-something guy who ran the label was sexually interested in young men. I guess that this makes Drive-Thru the Penn State of late 90s/early 2000s pop punk labels—widely popular, but with a dark underbelly. Finch is actually doing a multi-leg reunion tour for this album (What It Is To Burn) this very moment … which I will definitely not be attending.
14. Bright Eyes—Sunrise, Sunset
This year was the peak of BRIGHT EYES HYSTERIA. Every alt/indie/emo girl was in love with Conor Oberst, carving his name into their forearms with ballpoint pens; every alt/indie/emo dude was getting that Oberst-pioneered Kate Gosselin prototype haircut with the devilock and the short spiky back.
The following is an image that I actually used on my Livejournal during this era. Why I keep these things, I don’t know.
Okay though, at umphundredth listen 10+ years later, Oberst is a decent (if melodramatic) lyricist and the only thing that has aged really poorly about Bright Eyes is his warbling, tears-in-eyes voice, which is simply too much to pipe into headphones or car stereos on our morning commute. Like, cool, we get it, you’re affected.
15. Cursive—The Night I Lost the Will to Fight
But on the other side of the Saddle Creek coin, we have Cursive, who seemed to have achieved poignancy without preciousness. Domestica, the band’s concept album about a dyfunctional relationship/possibly the Brook Shields child prostitution movie Pretty Baby, is rugged, ugly, whispery, grating, scabby, tender, throbbing, and still really good. It harnesses the Nirvana/Pixies methodology of alternating loud-quiet-loud-quiet to keep you waiting, wanting, and exploding. Is it for teenagers? Maybe. But a lot of good music is/was. Plus, they were pretty great live.
16. The Movielife—10 Seconds Too Late
“THE SMILE JUST MELTED OFF YOUR FACE AND STAINED YOUR SHIRT.”
It’s hard to say whether punk is dead. At the time, I certainly felt “punk” listening to this snotty, snare-heavy ode to love-hating someone and yourself. But what is this? It’s not quite the bojangly, gang-vocally fun-time carousel of pop punk, nor the loathful cries of emo. This is the pterodactyl that came out of the cultural-genetic soup of the early 2000s—kind of like a bird, kind of like a dinosaur, but really just a weird-looking accidental hybrid.
17. Smashing Pumpkins—Set the Ray to Jerry
Still just one of the best songs ever, in this girl’s opinion. Wrote a longer essay about my ongoing, shameless love for this band on Deaf Forever, my old rock ‘n’ roll blog with Laura—”Slackers with a Vision,” if you care to read it. In that post (from a coupla years ago) I describe this song thusly:
Mostly driven by bass and some purring drums, this is a sexy, quiet one. … Definitely an end-of-the-night, about-to-make-out, low-lighting jam. Also definitely seeing the Cure’s huge influence on the band here.
Le sigh. Still hits me.
18. Bedroom Heroes—Second Hand
This must have been a Napster find, because these days this band cannot even be Shazaam’d. Perhaps a rare OOP hybrid of post-rock and emo? Think Dredg. Vocals are so very soft, so so soft, softer than Aubrey Drake Graham. It’s hard to know what I was ~*~so emotional~*~ about during this time that made this kind of stuff sound good, especially considering that at the time I was mostly just drinking Smirnoff Ice and smoking Marlboro menthols with my friends in 7-11 parking lots, making out with the junior boys, eating Caesar salads at California Pizza Kitchen, and trying to build liquid eyeliner finesse. Hormones!
19. Engine Down—Pantomime
Highly forgettable but not terrible post-hardcore band from Richmond, VA. Basically Sparta, but without the cred of having members from At the Drive-In. Got a 7.5 on Pitchfork—my, how tastes have changed. Zero emphasis placed on having decent vocals during this era.
20. System of a Down—Aerials
Oh, hell yeah. Why does everyone nut so hard over Rage Against the Machine and forget about the mania of this band? Is it because they fear the nü metal? Perhaps. No music genre got stuck with a worse rep than nü metal, mostly because it was home to the consistently reviled Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Like Deftones, SOAD was lumped into this category because they were pissed off and had deviant facial hair and proggy bass lines, but their political commentary was legitimate and nuanced, and they weren’t privileged white boys bitching about getting dumped a la Fred Durst.
21. Radiohead—Lift (live)
Moar Radiohead. Always with the Radiohead. From the days when they were still guitar-driven, this one wouldn’t have been out of place on The King of Limbs or even In Rainbows if it had had a little rearrangement.
22. Thursday—I Am the Killer
Oh, Thursday. Every emo owned and ruminated on Full Collapse, whether they would care to admit it or not. Though not a bad album, it was the lowest-common-denominator record for every teenager in 2002 who listened to punk, indie, emo, alt-rock, post-rock, you name it—basically any kid who was dying their hair black. Does it hold up? I wouldn’t be the one to tell you, because the nostalgia it conjures in me is too strong to be able to identify whether its shrieks, screams, cries, murmurs are relatable to post-Arcade Fire teens and Gen-Y-ers. What will become of this music? Is it doomed to ridicule, or will Geoff Rickly and Tim Kasher be living (hopefully) legends to our own spawn?
Tough to say. But if you were there, you were there.
Please pretend that this entire post was in the official font of 2002:
Lou Reed died today.
I’d be lying if I said I remember the first time I heard Lou Reed’s voice. But the last time was just yesterday.
His name flew around my household throughout my childhood; my dad, who in his younger and cooler days was a rock promoter, has a large, hand-drawn poster of him on his office wall that reads “Take a Walk On the Wild Side.” As a young child, I didn’t recognize any of the faces in my father’s clusters of framed photographs and flyers. All I really knew was that the mural of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell in the garage scared the bejeezus out of me.
Seriously though, just imagine staring into a 7-foot-tall version of this at age six:
But anyways, when I began listening to music out of my own motivation at some point during the onset of puberty, I started asking about the photos.
“Lou Reed.” He’d pause, take an intentionally long drag of his Merit. “Great guy.”
Then my mom would chime in. “Really nice. Not weird.”
I had no idea what or whom they were talking about. (Later, when I read Please Kill Me, I would question how it could be possible that he was “not weird” or not generally a gigantic asshole, but I had no choice but to take my parents’ word at this point.)
So I probably first heard Lou Reed’s voice identifiably when I was about 15, around the time that I became both obsessed with Trainspotting and enchanted by a boy from New York who was visiting my friend Lucy. The three of us sat on a hill smoking clove cigarettes at dusk. His hair fell into his eyes and he wore big thick black glasses, which seemed uncommon at the time in spite of its contemporary ubiquitousness.
He asked what music I listened to, and I said something vague and teenage and awful, like “I like Saves the Day, but I also really like punk, but not so much skate punk as like emo, and hardcore, and indie …” But I remember that then I asked him what he listened to, this boy from New York City who seemed so worldly, and he said “The Velvet Underground.”
“But who else?” I pressed.
“… Just the Velvet Underground.”
He made The Velvet Underground sound like the coolest band ever. Based on his delivery alone, I couldn’t conceive of a single band that I had ever listened to my entire life that could possibly be as cool as The Velvet Underground. Even now, knowing what a complete and total mess the band was internally, how they were essentially just super fucked up narcissists who happened to create magical rock songs, I prostrate to Loaded, White Light/White Heat, and The Velvet Underground & Nico. And I watched Trainspotting and The Royal Tenenbaums about a thousand times in a row each, which featured Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and fellow Velvet member Nico’s cover of “These Days,” respectively.
And so my life experience changed rather quickly as I stopped listening to alternative rock and started listening to actual rock ‘n’ roll. I believe that I owe that completely to Lou Reed. Without him, I might have veered in the direction of My Chemical Romance and never turned back.
I saw him play once, in June 2003. When I told my parents that I was going, they were delighted that they had successfully spawned a daughter who appreciated the cultural fruits of their late 70s heyday, demented as that time may have been. Lou was a living legend who had shone his light on two generations of Pollacks. I wish it could have been three. His show was quiet, like a sermon. He was 61 at the time, after all, and just there to sing and play some guitar.
Just last weekend, I was talking with a friend about the strangeness of feeling personally affected by a celebrity’s death. We agreed that Elliott Smith’s death was of paramount hurt, and it was because we felt like Elliott gave us gifts, real gifts, gifts that are better than anything you’re going to pull from under a Christmas tree or out of an Amazon.com package. Through their music, Elliott and Lou had the ability to give us a sense that weird, amorphous feelings that we could never quite reckon with were not just our own. I don’t know why junkies seem to excel at that. Maybe because everything touches them so much that they feel they have to numb it with maximum-strength intravenous opiates.
I listened to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground in a thousand different contexts over the years. On long car rides and at parties, with lovers and with sad, strung-out friends who are gone now. I argued with an ex-boyfriend for a year over whether the Lou Reed version or Velvet Underground version of “Satellite of Love” reigns superior (I say Lou’s solo take, and stand by it), and once, in a print-making class, someone put on this song and literally every person in the room stopped what they were doing to listen to it:
Of course, Lou Reed was just a man with problems like any other. But what he gave us, the songs that he wrote and performed and all of the songs that they inspired in turn—they’re immeasurable and priceless.
Sincerity is awkward in the age of irony, but I just wanted to write for a minute about how my life was bettered because Lou Reed created things. We all die, but it’s sad when that day comes for someone who truly has done so much for us, even if he didn’t know it.
May he rest in peace.
“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.“—Brian Eno
“Modern music begins with the Velvets, and the implications and influence of what they did seem to go on forever.”—Lester Bangs
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WELCOME TO NEW YORK.
(I’ve heard that a lot the past few days.)
On Wednesday, I moved to New York. Well, to Brooklyn.
New York City is a place that I’ve long peered at with endless fascination, a hive of both strangeness and obviousness (like, they aren’t lyin’ when they say that it’s humongous, and there truly does seem to be an unparalleled concentration of pizza and saxophone players). Also, it is clearly the best place on the continent for people-watching.
When I was a kid, maybe six years old or so, I learned of Brooklyn through a combination of the Super Mario Brothers series and cop shows. My impression consisted of an assemblage of very large, very impressive brick buildings filled with brave, mustachioed, virile Italian men with caring grandmothers. When I told my mom that I wanted to live there, she laughed at my naïveté. Brooklyn was a different place back then, a far cry from the mixologized leather-bag craft fair and emporium of long-legged women with competitive sunglasses that it has become in the post-American Apparel era.
In my teen years, I developed a new mental archetype of New York based on my obsession with The Ramones and Lou Reed. This time, I imagined an endless sea of tough-talking ripped-jean ugly-hot 20something men flicking cigarettes into gutters, tinkering on drums in warehouses, breaking hearts, and generally being “cool.” You know, occasional knife fights, The Warriors, that sort of thing. This concept is actually considerably closer to the modern reality of Brooklyn, but with fewer shankings and face-paint gang wars due to Giuliani’s much-discussed transformation of da big apple.
I never quite shook the desire to “check it out,” and when my 27th birthday passed, it became clear that my opportunity to experience it—even in its current incarnation—wouldn’t last forever. So I quit my emotionally crippling job, packed up, hopped a plane, and here I am.
Here is a list of the emotions that I’ve experienced since I arrived: enthrallment, anxiety, terror, joy, depression, exuberance, wonder, fear, sadness, excitement, happiness, exhaustion, and mostly being totally overwhelmed by everything.
The day before I left to come here, I finished a mixtape that I had been working on for weeks for someone very dear to me. I had made mixes for this person before, but this one would be different; it would serve as a physical embodiment of our goodbye. I deliberated over the inclusion of each song, the flow from melody to melody, and the imagined experience of listening to this musical sequence in a variety of contexts, even if most of them are unlikely. I don’t know how often this person will listen to the mix that I made for them, but even if they skim it and bury it, I find comfort in having made it, in trying to please someone other than myself in spite of the pretty selfish act I’ve just committed; the act of following some strong but abstract whim and leaving behind many people that I love beyond words to join a crowded ant farm of hustlers.
Here are five songs that are found on that mix.
1. Julian Lynch—Terra
This is the opening track. I couldn’t remember where I had found this album or this song—I thought perhaps Julian Lynch was one of these cult-followed 70s songwriter types, a Chris Bell or a Nick Drake or something. Then I suddenly remembered today that the person for whom I made this mix actually introduced me to Lynch and that he’s contemporary—Pitchforky, actually. But the fact that this song is timeless enough that I couldn’t immediately recognize that should serve as a testimonial to its qualities. Something about it reminds me of Coltrane, or psychedelic-era Beatles, or looking at pictures of my dad when he was my age.
2. Beach Boys—Diamond Head
Aside from maybe Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” there is no piece of music more relaxing than this obscure, instrumental, hammock-swaying tune from the Beach Boys. An audible piña colada.
3. Lungfish—Fearfully and Wonderfully
This band is beyond underrated. The sense of straining, wanting, trying in every Lungfish song conveys a sense of masculine passion that I can hardly describe. I wish that this was always the second-to-last song at closing time.
It’s very interesting that this song is called “Joy” since its subterranean production seems to convey more of a tone of mystery, even a conversation with hidden subtexts, like staring at a lacy thing through a roughly cut crystal.
4. Fleetwood Mac—That’s All For Everyone
Does anything off of Tusk really need a footnote at this point? I don’t think so. But I will mention that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks went to high school three blocks from the house that I grew up in in Menlo Park, and that for many other reasons it was hard to put the Bay Area in my rear view mirror, even if it’s not forever. I really miss every lovely and terrible little thing, all the time.
One day, when I was 11, I got into my mother’s minivan at the train station—at the time, I made the 15 mile journey to and from school via Caltrain—and saw that she was straight-faced and solemn. My brother and sister and I paused, remained silent, and awaited Very Serious News.
“Grandpa passed away this morning.”
I spotted a newspaper on the floor of the car and read the headline.
“Look!,” I pointed, “Joe DiMaggio died, too!”
I had been obsessed with the Forrest Gump soundtrack, particularly of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” and often dwelled on that line:
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.
As far as I was concerned, he was a mystical overseer of America, a god, though I knew little about his baseball career or relationship with that era’s gilded Lindsay Lohan—Ms. Monroe.
My sister turned to me. “What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you hear Mom? Grandpa died.”
He was my third grandparent to die, but even on the starting line of puberty I couldn’t really fathom what that meant. I couldn’t grasp that he was my father’s father, one of the four fountains from which my blood was poured.
Unsure of why I felt embarrassed, I looked down. “You’re messed up,” my sister sneered. “Grandpa died, and you’re talking about Joe DiMaggio. Who cares?”
The next few weeks were tense. Father was quiet and dark, and started smoking again after a two-year hiatus. There was suspicion that Grandpa’s sinister girlfriend had poisoned him (she had apparently lied to him about her age and about the existence of her three adult children, so there were red flags) but it eventually cleared. I was accustomed to the Irish funerals on my mother’s side, which were about as upbeat as death can be, but my father’s Jewish sensibilities were far more morose. But eventually, the gloomy dust cleared and we were left with one thing: Grandpa’s condo in Palm Springs.
We had never had a vacation home. The condo served as both a silver lining and a constant reminder of the absence of our grandfather. I felt a bit like a ‘tween graverobber, sunning myself on Grandpa’s dead dime.
At first, I detested Palm Springs. The snail-slow pace of life, the old-people smell, the quietness. I begged my parents not to make us go, but to no avail. Time passed quickly and with an unstoppable stream of family escapes to the white-carpeted bungalow.
After three years, I shifted from hating it to tolerating it after finding a punk rock combination boutique and tattoo parlor not far from our condo, and after three more, I found it almost likable after glamorous Uncle Henry began taking winters off from New York to tan there in a minimalist mid-century house in an adjoining neighborhood. I converted further when I appropriated Grandpa’s place as a hub to post up and bake pot brownies for Coachella when I was a high school senior.
Now even that was nearly ten years ago, and the closets are still filled with his clothing, the cabinets contain bottles of whiskey that are older than I am, and the towels are strangely stiff from lack of use. When the house lies dormant and empty, it can be 80 degrees, 90 degrees inside, a giant Easy Bake oven preserving desert-toned pastel bedspreads and half-empty bottles of Vidal Sassoon from a pre-internet Earth.
Palm Springs—although it has become hipper and younger due to arrival of the Ace Hotel and the aforementioned music festival’s annual takeover of the valley—is where I would go if nuclear war or zombie apocalypse dawned on society. It feels as though no one there takes notice of the outside world—only of the Jewish delis, antique stores, Mexican cantinas, and hair parlors lining each of the blacktop streets. There are abandoned malls that no one is concerned with renovating. When I awake and step outside of the condo at 10am, I can walk onto our street in my underwear and see no one, hear nothing except the buzz of cicadas clinging to the palms and the occasional Cadillac passing two blocks over.
Maybe I’m getting old, but having spent the past five years staring into computer screens, toggling apps and virtual windows, circling city blocks looking for parking, and concerning myself with the silly intricacies of 20-something relationships, I am glad to have access to this small and strange corner of the world and embarrassed that I ever took that for granted.
Thank you, Grandpa, and I’m sorry that I said that thing about Joe DiMaggio. I was 11 years-old and knew no better.
It is so quiet and so hot here.