a post I wrote up for Thought Catalog.
1. The Magnetic Fields – Strange Powers
The Magnetic Fields are impossible to hate on. While most people go for 69 Love Songs, I’m a bigger fan of Holiday. Stephen Merritt’s signature sarcasm is a little toned down—possibly even bordering on sincerity?—and each song is a brilliant little pop gem. What a weird and wonderful love song this is.
Our hair in the air, our lips blue from cotton candy
When we kiss it feels like a flying saucer landing
And I can’t sleep, cause you got strange powers
You’re in my dreams, strange powers
Makes me feel young again. Younger, anyway.
2. Def Leppard – Animal
I really thought I hated Def Leppard. I was like, if I walk into one more fucking karaoke bar and hear “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” I’m going to throw my drink on the sound system and hopefully electrocute myself and whoever chose it. Well, like most of the opinions I formed when I was 15, I was wrong. If you want to listen to the ultimate bombastic 80s rock ballad, this is the song for you. It is the absolute perfect niche-filler for a lovelorn, Aquanetted, tank-topped hero.
3. Twin Sister – Kimmi in a Rice Field
Twin Shadow, Cocteau Twins, Twin Tigers, Ying Yang Twins—can one have too many twins? I was late to this ethereal groove, which happens to have an equally mystical video. Disco for ghosts.
4. Earth – The Driver
An Earth track that is more sexy than stoner (although still plenty puff-friendly). They should really make a super-dark interpretation of The Hobbit (alternatively, The Never-Ending Story) and let this album be the soundtrack.
5. U2 – Numb
In a car full of alleged U2-haters the other day and this song came on the radio. We were all like, oh yeah! This song! This song is sickkk! And then I Shazam’ed it and it was U2 and everyone looked so ashamed of themselves. Guys, it’s okay to hate Bono but also believe that not all U2 songs are pieces of garbage. Also, if it helps, The Edge is actually the one doing vocals on this track—as well as participating in a Marina Abramovic-like performance in its video.
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.
1. Friends—The Way
I’ve been really enchanted by the work of Dev Hynes/Blood Orange ever since the Solange/Sky Ferreira one-two punch crashed into dimly lit bars all over the Western Hemisphere. This track has the same candlelit, turn-of-the-90s sexuality as his previous offerings, but with an aching guitar riff that conjures a Swayze-film-like sensibility. If slowdancing could be brought back, “The Way” would be the song we’d all want to sway to.
2. Pink Floyd – On the Turning Away
Just read a legitimately charming news piece about Seattle police handing out bags of Doritos to stoners at Washington’s Hempfest in order to familiarize them with the specs of I-502, the state’s marijuana legalization initiative. One of the Do’s and Don’ts from the nacho-cheese-powdered rulebook: “Do listen to Dark Side of the Moon at a reasonable volume.” Pink Floyd is often pegged as a “suburban dad” band, alongside The Eagles or something, but their catalog is really incredible, especially when you hear the diversity among tracks like Meddle‘s “Fearless,” Dark Side of the Moon‘s “Any Colour You Like,” and this song.
3. The Spinanes—Noel, Jonah, and Me
The Spinanes fell right between The Breeders and My Bloody Valentine in the 1994 sweet-girl grunge library; dreamy, suburban, and worn in like a flannel. Should have been on the soundtrack to The Adventures of Pete and Pete.
4. Lee Michaels—Do You Know What I Mean
When I was a teenager—and actually, to this day—I had this vision of adult freedom that involved cooking eggs in an oversized men’s button-up shirt, cigarette dangling from my lips, blasting some quality rock ‘n’ roll out of a boom box on the kitchen counter of my sunlight-drenched apartment. This song would be ideal for that purpose.
5. Guided By Voices—The Best of Jill Hives
What can really be said? All hail GBV. Every time I think I’ve found my favorite song of theirs, I run across another one I like even more. (Previous faves include “My Valuable Hunting Knife,” “Game of Pricks,” and “Everywhere with Helicopter.”) Jill Hives, whoever you are, you’re lucky to have this one named after you.
1. Brian Eno & John Cale – Spinning Away
Last night, I was outside of Men Oh Tokushima Ramen with a group of friends, talking about our mutual interest in seeing the recent, disastrous, Lindsay Lohan-fronted film The Canyons and waxing about how despised it has been by critics. (We watched it later in the night, and for the record, it is exactly as bad as it is claimed to be, not even so-bad-it’s-good.) On the topic of movies that got terrible reviews but that we actually liked, the 2000 movie The Beach came up. It was a crudely executed platform for Leonardo DiCaprio to run around all sexy and shirtless on a very scenic Thai beach, but it had a high entertainment value and a pretty great soundtrack for that era (Underworld, New Order, Blur, Leftfield, Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti even does a track on it with Orbital) and nestled amongst the tracks was Sugar Ray of all godforsaken bands covering this Eno/Cale masterpiece. Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself. And don’t tell anyone, but their cover is not half bad. Anyways, it reminded me to listen to the original, which is amazing.
2. Willie Nelson – Last Thing I Needed the First Thing This Morning
“What do you listen to?” “Oh, I like everything. Well, everything but country.”
No. Fuck you. Get some Willie Nelson in your life. Cozy up to a box of Kleenex for this one.
3. Gerry Raferty – Baker Street
I’ve taken to listening to the “Classic Rewind” station nonstop for the past week (I recommend weaning yourself off of Spotify’s teat of predictability and letting the gods of the radio airwaves endow you with whatever treasures they will) and holy shit, no one tells you how good saxophone-driven ballads sound blasting out of your car in Los Angeles after dark. Seriously, crank this with your hair swept back and do 50mph on Sunset and tell me that you don’t feel like a private investigator who always get his guy.
4. King Krule – Easy Easy
How is this dude 18-years-old? Kid’s got the deep guts of someone three times his age. He’s like Tom Waits, Billy Bragg, and Elvis Costello in the body of The Breakfast Club-era Anthony Michael Hall. I fell into a King Krule k-hole the other day and never looked back.
5. Van Halen – Why Can’t This Be Love
We’re all aware of Fleetwood Mac’s comeback in youth cultural vocabularies, as well as the Millennial adoration of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, etc. So where’s Van Halen’s moment? Every single one of their goddamn songs is a stadium-worthy anthem. Listening to this song is like shotgunning a can of Red Bull on top of a mountain with lightning striking its pinnacle and the love of your life standing before you. I’m not even messing with you. I often wish rock ‘n’ roll was still epic like this and that 14-year-olds were having romantic moments to this kind of shit in parking lots instead of giving each other handjobs to Bruno Mars or whatever they’re doing. Till then, I’ll just be lip syncing to this on my own.
It’s 1:07am, and I’m driving down Sunset Blvd listening to Dire Straits, “Skateaway.” Crumpled in my passenger seat is a paper bag full of crumb donuts. I am heading home from a new friend’s backyard, where we ate watermelon and sipped beer by candlelight. And I can’t remember why I ever hated Los Angeles.
You know she used to have to wait around
She used to be the lonely one
But now that she can skate around town
She’s the only one
No fears alone at night / she’s sailing through the crowd
In her ears the phones are tight and the music’s playing loud
She gets rock ‘n’ roll / and a rock ‘n’ roll station
And a rock ‘n’ roll dream
She’s making movies on location
She don’t know what it means
In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’ve spent 25 of the 27 years of my life, Los Angeles is forever the butt of a variety of jokes. Too shallow or too crunchy, too smoggy or too gaudy, it often feels like our embarrassing, try-hard cousin that can’t seem to get a grip on reality. We see it as the kingdom of the Kardashians, the purgatory where overtanned lemmings with fake Prada sunglasses line up for 35 minutes to get frozen yogurt. An overhead map would reveal a bellowing cough of carbon monoxide air sludge hovering on Medusa’s tangled freeway system, with a cacophony of honks marking the collective frustration of crawling along in a vehicle that could, in theory, be going 160mph. In short, we feel too cool for it.
But I’m here to admit that I was looking at LA all wrong. Sure, there’s the traffic and the surreal celebrity aspect, but they are by no means the dominating feel of this sprawling, shape-shifting Southern California world. Instead, I’ve found here a more Lebowskian universe, one where there’s always a bowling alley open somewhere, where weirdos are welcome to indulge all of their lifestyle fantasies in a way far less pretentious than the freak show that is SF, and where it’s perfectly comfortable to be shopping for kitchen sponges at the 99¢ store at 2pm on a Monday. There is no rush, as there can be no rush. Time operates like honey being poured out of a jar in a slow, measured gallop—you’ll get there, but you learn to watch and wait. Everyone here likes to go on hikes, from my laced up friends who work at big-name studios to my thoroughly punk rock pals, and there’s space.
There’s space between me and the next person walking down the street, space for me to stretch on the living room floor, enough space in the 1-bedroom apartment we’re subletting that I have to shout in order for my roommate to hear me from the kitchen. There are floor-to-ceiling windows, scattered palm trees, warm breezes, taco stands, nail salons, and chihuahuas. I came home at 2am the other night to find half a dozen of my neighbors out in the street, shining a flashlight up a telephone pole to watch two raccoons fight to the death. It’s a place to make and tell stories. I can hear things off in space, echoing off the corners of different galaxies; I heard The Cars’ “Drive” softly from the distance at 4am the other night while I was sleeping with the windows open.
I know that it’s un-PC to like driving—whipping around in an exhaust-spewing thing when I could be biking or bussing or whatever. But I love riding in my car, humming along with my radio, looking for a diner that’s still serving when most of us are sleeping. I’ll soon be abandoning it for subways and leather jackets and bagels, but right now, this place ain’t half bad.
Betraying of my post-punk tomboyishness, my love of daisies has been lifelong. Bury me under a field of them. Tie them into my hair. Print them all over my clothes.
Ain’t nothing wrong with being cute.
As a big fan of juxtaposition, I would pair any of the babies below with serious boots or a trusty leather jacket.
(Has anyone else noticed how Forever 21 and Nasty Gal are virtually interchangeable lately?)
In mid-2013, is there any girl who doesn’t want to embody Stevie Nicks? Putting aside the insufflatory drug use and personal afflictions, her combination of unmatched sincerity (nonexistent in today’s meta-ironic cultural wasteland) and je ne sais quoi has afforded her a golden resurgence in recent years.
On top of that songbird voice, Nicks is a wild heart, an ignited femme. She is strong, but vulnerable; pained but hopeful. Fragile, but set ablaze with her convictions. (Her only worthy contemporary in these respects would be Kate Bush. But more on her another time.)
Forever draped in velvet, metal, and lace, she is a hippie, a Victorian, and a moon child. And a blonde, to boot.
That’s not to mention that her iconic sartorial sensibilities.
It’s difficult not to want to chase after her mystique. From my own efforts, I offer the following, most of which I cannot afford.
Wrap around your dreams.