Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Adendums, Apologies, Afears, More

Still listening to "Elephant Gun", if you haven't clicked yet, please do so NOW...
Am listening like crazy to Songs:Ohia, my favorite voice of Midwestern arrested development and tortured beauty. I wrote Mike today about when I saw him (Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia, not Mike) several years ago at a now defunct club in Carborro, (near Chapel Hill), called GO!, and he was sick, drowsy on NyQuil; the tortured voice of all my teenage fantasies, the manifestation of all my Midwestern longings. He is the songwriter for any girl who knew the beauty of the Ohio, who had dreams of losing your children in the raging river under the rusty bridges, of loving boys you were too smart for but not too good for, the tragedy of the towns near it, over it, beside it, the miracle of coming out clean on the other side. It means a lot to me, it probably means nothing to the rest of you. You just have to grow up there, you just have to understand the finality of growing up somewhere where you can never be surprised because you can see the horizon for two hundred miles. There is a stoicism and a grandeur and a dignity that the rest of the world lacks, in the Midwest. There is the unavoidable realization of death and I think it drives us to be ,pre free and stranger and scarier than the rest of the world. Plus, the corn is so pretty in the summer. We were just there,in Shelbyville, the town I grew up in, and it made me want to weep, in fact I did, often, unsparingly, remembering something so quintessentially Midwestern, to run through corn fields, and trip on soy beans, accrue cuts on my arms and suffer allergic reactions. It made me want to feel something. I don''t know, I really don't but in the words of Lloyd Dobler "At least I know I don't know". We visited my elementary school, now closed and empty. (let's talk about metaphors) all this beautiful marble and granite rests, quiet, stoic, in the dirty and quiet halls of a condemned elementary school. The place where I wrote my first story and recited it to my brother's fifth grade class, the place I made out with Allen Adkins in the closed stairwell to the side of the building , the place where my first best friend left me, because I wanted her to leave her other best friend, the place where I learned my father was missing, the place I learned, on Valentine's Day, he was found. We visited my old house, forever in my mind as 607 Shelby St., but since we moved sixteen years ago, known as 613 Shelby Street. We couldn't, my brother and I, find our initials in the driveway, they had been worn down. or paved over. Talk about a metaphor. We went to the house my mom owned and ran as a Bed and Breakfast, the Store my dad used to own, my Grandparents' house, and then finally, the place they were buried. The headstone is pink and beautiful, and it states the facts: when they were born and when they died, and there are birds, doves most likely, with olive branches in their mouths. Jeff, being a good but uncertain Bagel, asked me if I wanted a picture. I declined, it seemed too ghoulish, strange. I was already crying, unbelieving, it's been seven years since my grandmother died and its unequivocally the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Mostly because my father watched her die, lost his job and because when I saw her last I knew it was the last time. How do you say goodbye to the person who made you who you are? I guess, when it comes down to it, that's the question I've been asking since I've been losing people. I'm crying right now, writing this, it's unstoppable, this faucet, this long montage of Indiana and death and corn and Grandma and regret, of the river Ohio, of brothers lost to wives and friends who have departed and the ones I've done the same to. Chris reached for my hand while tears dripped down his long chin and in the end I turned away, as I always do, and he took a picture on a cell phone, b/c he knew my dad would appreciate it. So did these people, this picture being funny in a Six Feet Under kind of way. He just seems so happy, so positive and hopeful to be in a cemetery.

Also, I finally got to take Jeff to the Cow Palace, the single greatest restaurant of my childhood where they have pork tenderloin sandwiches that are seriously the greatest thing ever. I have been talking about this GD sandwich for almost three years. They don't have them ANYWHERE except Indiana. Very annoying. Sometimes, he'll ask me, "What do you want to eat?" and I'll say "A tenderloin sandwich from the Cow Palace." Of course, that's usually impossible. When we went, we both got one and I nearly had an orgasm at the table. My brother ordered the hamburger, which has its own mythology for him. I also got one to go and ate it in our hotel room late that night watching the Charm School Divas or something on VH1 and it was equally delicious.

Otherwise, I'd like to say, about the last post:

The person who hurt me the deepest is someone I haven't talked to in a long time. Someone who definitely doesn't read this blog or the magazine. I might be wrong in assuming that what I have to say about her in that post is mostly (completely by my account, but whatever) true. When I wrote this, it was from a place of listening and missing and remembering what it was like to listen to those albums with you, and without you. those who are you, all of you. I was hurt, I was angry and lonely, that was why I was listening to those albums. I was far from perfect, I was an asshole and a braggart and a liar. But I loved you, above everything, and in the end, it wasn't enough. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, I wish I could get past this moment in my life. I wish we had just drifted, like normal friends do. Instead, it was something so hurtful and ugly, and ultimately untrue that happened, that I can't get past it. If you were tired of me, angry with me, I understand. But the truth was bad enough: I was an asshole. But I did not do the things that I was accused of by this unnamed person, and it hurts me and colors my life in a way I can't get past. I still have to remind myself to trust the people I trust, now, because I thought I could then. It's been ten years, I want to let go. But like High School albums, the people you listened to, hurt you back then, it changes you, for better or worse, and in too many ways for me it's been worse. Fuck it, I'm tired and sad, I miss my grandma. Forgive me for being too blind to see what I know I must see, what I must own up to.
I just wish I could go back, change it all. Be someone different, happier. I wish I could know then what I know now. Stop this terrible sadness, stop listening to the river, floating, singing like a lost voice, older than any of us, older than time.
But isn't the sky beautiful? And aren't all the little cuts on your arms worth it, to lay. undetected, in a field so green it makes your feet itch, your teeth hurt at the though of all that corn?

My Top Ten High School Albums (pt 2)

Again, some of this might seem weirdly obtuse or unnecessary but that's partly b/c this is my column in the July Hatchet. Otherwise it's just because, I am by nature, obtuse and unnecessary. A

For those who don’t know, two months back I used this space as an opportunity to talk about a rash of blogs I had been reading about albums listened to and loved in high school. I also began a list of my own top ten, which, when all is said and done, is more like fourteen but ten sounds better and fuck you anyway it’s my column. You might ask yourself why you should care about albums that I listened to ten years ago. You probably don’t care, but you might find yourself agreeing or vehemently disputing what I have to say, and that in turn might make you think of the albums you listened to and loved, and why you have or haven’t listened to them recently. In my experience when you spend hours listening to Sebadoh in your bedroom while smoking surreptitious cigarettes and pining for boys in Ohio, those songs leave an impression, like a body missing from the sheets. Or they make you whole, or make you miss what made you whole. So, in short,
If you like this list, try these others: (, (high school years 1991-1995) (high school years 1991-1995), (high school years 1988-1992), (high school years 1998-2002)
Or write your own, go remembering, surprise yourself, don’t be embarrassed. AB

Released in 1991, and just as important as any Pavement record in the indie cannon, and even more important in my own personal experience. I first found III in 1993, in a used bin in an underground (literally) record store in Bloomington, IN. I was there for Christmas, visiting family and the already estranged friends of my childhood. I remembered this guy Lou Barlow from the then disintegrated Dinosaur albums, and something about the picture, a blurry black and white with a dog and two kids, one on the ground and one in what looks like an ad-hoc Mexican wrestler’s mask. Weirdly homesick for Raleigh, yet in my home state, it reminded me of my brother and I, somehow. Of the memory of us as kids; jumping in leaves and rolling down the hill in front of our house, lounging in piles of raked and gathered foliage at the curb on our street until quiet voices whispering "slugs" prompted sudden and hysterical leaping onto each other and the newly cleaned grass of our lawn. I listened for the first time that night on Discman headphones, swag I got from Christmas, and heard the inimitable balance between Barlow's pot addled lullabies and Eric Gaffney’s electric gallops. This album introduced me to the Minutemen, via "Sickles and Hammers" and it made me miss my boyfriend when I heard "Truly Great Thing" and "Kath". It was low-fi and pretty and yet still kick ass and filled with energy. I bought Superchunk’s Tossing Seeds that day too, and I kept thinking I hit the indie rock jackpot with these two albums. When I read all the other blog posts about high school albums the same phrases kept coming up, "I know all the words to this album" or "I still know every word." It’s true that I still know every word on this album, and the dumb jokes like "Smoking a Bowl" still make me laugh and the bitter confessions like "Rock Star" and "Spoiled" make me long for a time when I was hearing this sound, these songs, feeling these things for the first time.
Bikini Kill
The CD Version of the First Two Records
Kill Rock Stars
Riot Grrrls have suffered from a retrospective lack of respect, a kind of, "I went through that Riot Grrrl phase, you know" kind of chagrin. . If you think feminist is a dirty word or liberal, you should see the reaction when you ask any woman, of a certain age if she was ever a "Riot Grrrl". Seriously? What the fuck is wrong with being a Riot Grrrl? Listening to The CD Version of the First Two Records for the first time in years makes me wonder why anyone would deny the ferocity, the strength with which we held on to that moniker, the pride in belonging to our all girl army. "Double Dare Ya" starts with a howl "We’re Bikini Kill and we want Revolution. Girl! Style! Now!" Kathleen Hannah screams like an injured animal and the adventure begins. I had the pleasure of seeing Bikini Kill at Duke Coffeehouse in 1993. We drove up in Suzie’s sea foam Honda Prelude, listening to Bikini Kill on the way to the show, no doubt. We stood in line behind a girl who looked like the skinny version of Margaret Cho talk about her obsession with Evan Dando. Who the fuck gives a shit about boys?, I wondered, I mean, we were waiting in line to see the greatest female band of our generation! (Ahem…eh, much given to hyperbole, I was) The place was jammed with punk guys, and some girls too, an aggressive punk band was opening for BK. We went in to the bathroom to get some relief from the sweltering crowd. Sara had a nosebleed. We tumbled into the bathroom and inside on the floor were Bikini Kill, we stalled and tried to get the nerve up to talk to them. They gave us a free T-shirt which Sara bled all over. When the show started Kathleen Hannah called for the boys to move to the back and make room for the girls. We cheered and ran to the front to take our places. The music starts and Hannah controlled the stage better than any front "man" since HR of Bad Brains. Prowling like a stealthy cat in ripped black tights and short lime green dress. She was angry. So were the rest of us. She condemned the men that had touched us when we were little girls, the back room deals that kept this shit quiet. The CD Version of the First Two Records gave us anthems like "Liar" and "Jigsaw Youth" and "White Boy". Songs that riled us into a frenzy, that made us mad, that made us not afraid. When Hannah sings, both on the record and live, her voice breaks. She’s not a professional singer, not a professional musician, but she didn’t give a damn. It wasn’t all lectures and politics either, by the way. There is the fun and the "seedy underbelly" of "Carnival", where Hannah introduces the song by way of "This is about 15 years old girls giving carnies head for free rides and hits of pot. I wanna go, I wanna Go!" It was about really being fifteen and saying "I’ll win that Motley Crue mirror if it fucking kills me!" It was about being sexy and not afraid of being sexy, of being girly but not submissive. Like a funnel cake dropped in the dirt, or run and ruined pantie hose. Sweet and vulgar and too damn bad. These women had balls, they sang "Suck my Left One" and lambasted the male audience for making it hard on the girls. They were playing with punk guys in front of mostly male, punk crowds, rife with skinheads and Doc Martens, they demanded the girls get to come up front, dance. She pulled two girls on stage, girls who knew every word to every song. Girls who, undoubtedly, remember that concert as well as I do, know that it changed them, with or without a nosebleed-stained tee shirt. When I hear "Rebel Girl" it still makes me miss that time in my life, when "Riot Grrrl" was the only kind of girl I wanted to be.
The Bends
Enough has been written about this album that it will suffice to say that this was the soundtrack to the summer of 1995. I remember watching the video for "Fake Plastic Trees" in Laura’s living room in Rochester with Mike and Sara and we all sat with our jaws on the floor. Radiohead, having become what they have become, don’t need me to extol their virtues or explain why you need to hear this album. You already have heard this album. But think back to a time when Radiohead were a fucking joke, man, when the release of this album caught everyone by surprise. This is two and a half years before O.K. Computer, before anyone took them seriously, let alone, waited with bated breath for the next album. It was beautiful, it didn’t sound like anything else, and it made me break out my Pink Floyd records and listen unabashedly, crappy fan base or not.
The Cure
Outside of "Friday I’m in Love" which makes me want to tear my eyes out, this is a nearly perfect Cure record, surpassed only in my book by Disintegration. Like most records I listened to in high school, this one was often heard blaring out of the windows of my friends’ cars or from under the door of my bedroom while I privately mourned my first lost love, my C in Chemistry, jealousies and hurts and the make-up of teenage life. "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea" and "A Letter to Elise" are still two of my favorite Cure songs. It’s just now I don’t cry for boys in New York or Ohio, or, oh, lord it’s true, drip wax onto the pages of my journal while writing (believe it or not) extremely long and wordy poetry about being miserable. In the same vein, Robert Smith seems to have become more of joke than the cultural zeitgeist we considered him then. They parodied him of South Park, fer Chrissakes. Has it become harder to take misery for misery’s sake seriously? I think so. Then again, perspective is often a good thing as we can’t go around dripping wax into our journals forever. But wouldn’t it be nice to go back to a time when you thought you might be the only one doing so? The only one who really got what Robert Smith was saying? The only one who listened to tracks 3,4,5,7. and 11 on repeat as programmed on your boom-box? Maybe not.
Brighten the Corners
Okay, so I’m cheating again and in more ways than one. Technically, I bought both these records before I graduated from high school, making them viable under the terms agreed upon at the Top High School Albums Convention so I’ll include them, briefly, here. As I am an honest person, I’ll also admit that the bulk of my listening was done the summer after I graduated, driving in my first car, a gorgeous little Acura I named Bean. (That smelled like mildewing pineapple due to a problem with a leaky sunroof and some unfortunate air fresheners.) I lost all my friends that summer, not having misplaced them but having them "dump me" because of some dumb shit that I did (like lie about bands I listened to or had seen play) and apparently some horrible shit that I was falsely accused of doing. (By one person who shall remain nameless but who by the way lost that Bikini Kill shirt and the cigarette that Courtney Love gave us after her show at the Ritz) I was lonely. I ate sushi form the newly constructed sushi bar at the TajMaTeeter every night for dinner. I went out with a boy who was clinically depressed and only listened to Brit Pop and made me mix tapes that I still have. I also made a lot of mix tapes myself that summer, and as I did not have a CD player in my car, I often dubbed albums onto tapes, making careful consideration of what albums would compliment one another. As you can probably guess these two albums were one of those tapes and literally, for weeks at a time I listened to nothing but these two albums and Billie Holiday. I listened to these albums so much that I actually had not listened to either of them since that year until this year, when I made my boyfriend listen to Brighten the Corners. Neither band ever achieved a better moment than on these respective records. The misery and longing and pedophiliac lust of Rivers Cuomo finally come to the surface on Pinkerton, an indie rock opera of long distance torment and lesbian crushes and the fact that sex really does get old. Brighten the Corners is the most accessible Pavement record but anathema to indie rock 101 it’s also the best. The wonderful mess of Wowee Zoweee, the low-fi magic of Crooked Rain Crooked Rain are pieces that led to the last Pavement record anyone cared about. (The real last Pavement record, Terror Twilight, is so awful that I can barely acknowledge its existence. Malkmus’ "solo" records are better by far but still not as good as anything else Pavement put out. At least that’s how I feel today.) The paranoia and charm of both these records made me long for people to be close to. Not boys who broke down in my parent’s driveway, not the girls who I thought would be my friends forever and who left me more heartbroken than I have ever been, even to this day. I hoped that college would be better, that new friends would save me and music would save me and getting the fuck outta Raleigh would save me. It didn’t But it’s not all bad.
I have stopped listening to albums the way I did in high school. That’s probably a good thing, as back then I mostly wanted music to make me feel a certain way, sad or strong or not afraid or superior. I stopped letting Pop music choose me, as much as I can, as anyone can, I suppose. I don’t listen endlessly on repeat and I don’t let it get the best of me unless I want it to. But man, there’s something about that time that I do miss, an ability to love unabashedly, with vigor and defiance and chutzpah. I read something Douglas Coupland wrote once, where he said, and I paraphrase, that the thing he was most afraid of was of having no more new feelings, of running out of new ways to feel. When you listen to music you know that the ability to be amazed never ends, that every day there are new ways to feel. I paraphrase another writer though, when I say, man, I never had albums like I had when I was 16. Jesus, does anyone?