Monthly Archives: January 2004

Something Old

In a surreal moment last night, I ordered a ticket for the Cracker/Camper van Beethoven show. At the Crocodile. In Seattle.
It seemed an appropriate birthday present to myself. I’m going to visit the Emerald City for almost two weeks in February, which includes a lengthy stay at the Green Tortoise hostel in downtown Seattle. If I cook and clean for two hours a day, I stay for $50 for the whole damn trip, free breakfast included. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s definitely copy.
Forecast there for the next 8 weeks: 50 degrees, rain. Give me a cup of good espresso and sign me up.
Moving involves downsizing, and a lot of it. When my parents moved, they dumped all my childhood stuff on me that I had to sort through and decide what to do with. Most of it got thrown out.
I have a million photographs in boxes and boxes, stacks of albums. Last night I was ripping through them, ankle deep in outcasts, picking only prime pieces. I have this obsession with media, with freezing time. As I pored through all these boxes, I found audio, video, sketches, photographs, words – all trying to hold on to that exact moment. For a while I carried around a tiny tape recorder and constantly interviewed people. When I was in my car, I’d set up my minidisc and turn the drive into a monologue. I still do that sometimes. I wonder if it detracts from being present in the moment or helps me experience it more fully. It’s certainly not very Zen.
It was a toss up with photographing shows for a while. Sometimes I felt myself learning the musicians, watching their moves so closely so I could capture it on film. It felt weird to go to a show without my camera. But then I felt like it was taking away from the experience so I stopped. I still watch shows and hear the shutter in my head of when I would have taken a picture. A lot of times I wish I had.
But those weren’t the photos I was ripping through and tossing. So many photos from high school, from college – you could look at the pictures and simultaneously listen to those little recorded tapes for a full multimedia experience. A few weeks ago I finally got a battery for my little camcorder that I haven’t been able to use in years. Without the battery, I couldn’t turn it on, so the tape trapped within went unviewed. When I finally got it running again, I watched the video. It was Mighty Purple playing a sold out show at Toad’s Place in New Haven — the Bohica record release. I was sitting on the stage between the monitors videotaping. Kids in the front wearing flannel shirts, Doc Martens, moshing to “Wail”. It was 1993.
Part of me wanted to climb inside the photographs for one minute, just to touch that world for one second. Sophomore year of college. Rolls and rolls of film of my Japanese twin Eisuke and I, hiding in my womb of a room, speaking our half-sentences. Sprawled on the floor, his blue hoodie covering his eyes, making me listen to Mogwai, blowing bubbles into the smoky air. My feet up on the window sill, hair in braids, making him read the Japanese newspapers to me. He called me his Soul Sistah. There was always candles, there was always Camel Lights. It was always warm and dark.
With just the photos I could romanticize that time, idolize him, be in love with that slice of my life. But then I look at the photos and read the journals with the same date — all those words about loving someone so much it hurt, and resenting them because they tried to save you from yourself.
The manic pictures from later on, when there were 15 or 20 people in my dorm room — I don’t even remember these people. I don’t recognize their faces. It’s bizarre. But the videos are priceless, running around the streets of New Haven, getting kicked out of stores that don’t even exist anymore, all the shows, the parties.
My life right now is so tame. I have no idea how I survived 18-24. No wonder I’m so exhausted.

It’s Up to You…

Freeform. Friday. Transcribed from the Interstate Archive:

There is a message written carefully in blue sharpie on the third turnstile in the Harvard Sq. T station that says, “Easy now.” I slide my pass there every time I go through because it makes me smile. It’s been there for weeks.

I love that Google celebrates holidays and historical events.

Who, for the love of all that is holy, allowed a Morphine song to be played in a BMW commercial? Buena? I think not. Poor Mark Sandman is rolling over in his grave. Please pause for a moment of silence.

I want to do a photo essay of people’s faces as they miss the subway.

I received anonymous chocolate via inter-office mail today. It’s probably not from my sweet, unavailable coworker with whom I would like to go make out in the stacks. But it warmed my little heart.

I made Mon Frere sit still and listen to the entire fifteen minute explosion of “Infinity Bitch” off Los Halos’ self-titled album. It sounds like the best sex and worst fight you’ve ever had. Whenever it ends in sweeping, victorious climax, I need a cigarette.

Three months, two weeks, two days, 17 hours, 40 minutes and 13 seconds. 1616 cigarettes NOT smoked.

I won’t tell you what coffee shop I’m going to be working at. You’d probably not like me anymore.

I put new strings on my Takamine last night. My fingers hurt. It’s a sweet pain. When I get to Seattle I’m going to form a Go-Go’s cover band. Chasing Chaos, my front porch summer band, will no longer exist because, well, it won’t be my front porch anymore. Besides, who the hell needs acoustic when you’re West Coast? It’s all about Superfuzz and Bigmuff, my friends.

Mon Frere and I have recruited Nathan Bright Autumn Sky for our cross-country drive in June when he gets back from saving the world in Guatemala. More to follow.

NYC: T minus 3 hrs. Start spreadin’ the news.

It’s Cold: Story at 11

Oh my god, people. Don’t get me started. Okay — I’m started. Front page of all the newspapers, right under the headline that I wore lipstick to work on Friday, in 60-point type: “COLD SPELL blasts the Northeast!!!!” Holy shit — it’s snowing? In Massachusetts? In the WINTER? What’s going on here?!
I don’t know why this takes everyone by surprise each year. And I don’t know why when someone comments on the cold and I say simply, “It’s winter,” I get an offended glance. I hate polite elevator discussions.
The fruit guy wasn’t in the subway today. No bananas for me. His absence made me sad.
Boys wearing jewelry is sexy. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about thin bracelets and shiny silver rings that turns me on. Maybe I was a crow in a past life.
Does anybody need a piano? I’ll let it go for $500. I can’t fit it in my Altima. It’s pretty and it sounds nice. You’ll have to pick it up though — especially after the ordeal I went through in July.
I have Monday off so I will be spending an additional day in NYC after the Los Halos show, which buys me more time to find that perfect deck of Tarot cards that I’m still searching for. After the realization that I will not, in fact, be made a millionaire by relocating to Seattle, I booked my tickets on the Chicken Bus for $20 round trip to NYC. I have such issues surrounding the Chinatown bus. It’s been a toss-up between supergood and horribly inconvenient and uncomfortable.
Last time on my way there, I ended up sitting next to a guy who was — and I’m not exaggerating — six foot seven. It was the last available seat, and I’m like, who gets more legroom? Usually, at six foot one, I take the cake in that competition. But I spent the whole ride in fetal position since the passenger in front of me decided to recline for a full night’s sleep. On these trips, I just end up taking a handful of Dramamine so I don’t barf and passing out with my face squished against the window. Someone wakes me up when we get to Chinatown where I peel my cheek from the puddle of drool. Then I can’t walk or speak for a good hour or more, until I’ve at least had a cup of coffee. Michael always remains good natured through the whole thing.
Someone raised the issue about community food being a giant bowl of contamination — which I had not previously thought about. I’m already paranoid enough to constantly be packing a bottle of industrial strength hand sanitizer. Today I’m taking Vitamin C and Echinacea to ward off whatever beasts I contracted at that party Saturday night. And I can assure you there were many. And they were wearing leather pants and purple velvet capes. *shudder*
Fucking A with the Rilo Kiley show sold out. I hate my life.
I think I need more time in front of the Happy Lite®.

10 Shows, 1 Year

I go to shows. That’s what I do. It’s a full time job, people. I only work to support my music habit. Normally I’ll hit two shows a week. On a particularly noteworthy week I’ll hit five or six. So 2003 had a lot of truly amazing experiences. I whittled it down to my Top 10. A few of them were more than just the best of 2003 — they were the best so far.

While compiling this, I realized I do an awful lot of crying. I dont’ think it’s a bad thing; it’s balanced out by the amount of smiling I do. I emote. That’s what I do. It’s a full time job, people.

10. Interpol @ Avalon, Boston MA – 03.06.2003 {Review}:Say Hello to the Angels

9. Postal Service @ the Middle East, Cambridge MA – 04.19.2003

The Postal Service show was originally booked for the Middle East upstairs. I saw it in tiny print during my weekly show-seeking, and couldn’t believe my eyes. My first reaction was to wonder how the hell they were going to do that shit live. I bought a bunch of tickets, and it sold out in three days. So the Middle East moved the show to the downstairs, which accomodates an additional 550 people, and they managed to keep tickets available for another few days before that show — and the second night they booked — sold out. I didn’t even think anybody knew who this band was. And when they came out on stage, they were amazed to see us all there. They didn’t know who they were, either.

I had no idea what to expect. But there’s little Jimmy with a laptop, and Jenny Lewis on vocals, bass, guitar, and keys, setting wind-up toys at the mic and looping it. My favorite part of the show was Ben Gibbard leaping off the mic, throwing down his guitar, putting on headphones and jumping behind the drum kit during each song to play over Jimmy Tamborello’s synth beats. God that kid can drum. Most heart-breaking moment: Jenny and Ben singing their duet, playing to each other, leaning forehead to forehead.

The whole show was a multimedia extravaganza. There were colored lights and disco. There was a scrim and a projector showing the most random images and supercheese Powerpoint-esque song lyrics behind the band. An entire song was played during the video of a cup of coffee in the microwave. This show was hysterical fun. Dance, smile. Smile, dance. Lather, rinse, repeat.

They wanted to play longer, but they only have 12 songs. So at the end, they announced that they were going to do a cover. I think everyone expected it to be a Death Cab cover, but when Ben started singing, it clearly was not. It took me a whole verse to place the song. I knew it. Everyone knew it. But when something is that out of context… the projection at this point became a fifty-something couple walking on the beach and making out or some such nonsense, and then the verse comes: “Take a look at me now, cause there’s just an empty space / And you coming back to me is against all odds and that’s what I’ve got to face.” A Phil Collins cover? Postal Service? What are you kids smoking?

8.   Blonde Redhead @ the Paradise, Boston MA – 02.26.2003 {Review}: I Get Rocks Off

7.   Built to Spill @ the Paradise, Boston MA – 09.09.2003 {Review}: Distopian Dreamgirl

6.   Jump, Little Children @ the Paradise, Boston MA – 11.13.2003 {Review}: Make a Habit out of Me

5.   The Frames @ the Paradise, Boston MA – 10.09.2003 {Review}: From Absorbing Everything

4.   It’s a tie! Jon Rodgers @ The Space, Hamden CT – 06.13.2003 / Andrew Bird @ Middle East, Cambridge, MA – 06.06.2003 {Review}:Wordless

3.   The Damnwells & Mr. North @ the Bowery Ballroom, NYC – 08.24.2003

The Damnwells kick ass and I’ve seen them a thousand times. They never disappoint. But this particular show they played with Mr. North, who I’d never heard. I went to the show in NYC with my friend Michael who lives there, and the Damnwells were opening. After they play, he asks me if I want to stick around for the next band. I didn’t really feel like it, but I figured I’d give Mr. North a song or two and see what happened.

What happened was that they absolutely blew my mind to pieces.

I can’t really tell you why. Sometimes I go to a show and my head and heart are just wide open and waiting for inspiration. This was such a passionate show, and the audience was so into this band, which created this frenetic energy around us. I just stood there, and after the first song, I came out of the trance and was like, “Oh shit — I’m a body.” I had gone off someplace beautiful. Michael looked over at me to see if I wanted to leave and my mouth was hanging open. I couldn’t even speak.

I remembered walking through the New York night afterwards feeling like I was in a dream. And we took a cab up to the West Side and I had my head against the half-open window, watching the city scream by, feeling changed and new. I went back to the apartment and wrote about the show, but my hands didn’t move fast enough.

Driving that night in the back of a speeding cab, window open to the fresh night, Manhattan whipping by, I sank fully into that moment, hands open, and felt it. At the show, in the cold club, watching him sway on the mic stand, dancing, the scales, unexpected goldthroated voice, I was thinking: Free yourself. Keep moving forward. New York owns me tonight. I belong to it.

2.   Daniel Barrett @ Namaste Cafe, Newton MA – 06.12.2003

I’ve seen Daniel Barrett and Mike Meadows play in their band porterdavis more times than I could count. Literally. When they played the subway in the morning, I would always stay for at least two songs, sometimes five, depending on how late for work I was willing to be. I saw them play every week at their Toad residency, their P.J.Ryan’s residency, at the Lizard Lounge, the Kendall, and Quincy Market. I never got tired of the songs. I can tell what song they’re going to do by the percussion instruments Mike chooses from his massive spread, where Daniel puts the capo or what tuning he uses — before they even start playing. But this show was different. It was the first and only time, in the two years that I’ve beein going to see Daniel perform, that I ever saw him play by himself.

It was a little acoustic show in a yoga studio in Newton. He started right off telling us he wasn’t going to talk — he was just going to play. That amazed me in itself because he is such a performer on stage. He warms the crowd, gets people involved, often using his self-deprecating humor to temper the passion of the songs, or just to make conversation. He tells funny stories about their adventures and anecdotes about the songs. All that was gone that night. He stopped being a performer and just became a musician.

He had his mandolin, his ukelele — he smilingly played them both, turning his bluesy foot stampers into charming sweetness. And his voice sounded so rich and beautiful in that room — standing on its own undiluted. I remember thinking that we were getting to hear the songs as they were when he wrote them — when he was sitting there in his house with just an acoustic guitar, before they became band songs and were recorded and produced on CD. When they were just his, in their naked newborn form.

He sang 15 or more songs but it wasn’t enough — even with the Townes Van Zandt cover. When he did “Dark End of the Street” I lost it. Fully just crying in the front row. He disappeared into the song and when he came back, for one second, he looked surprised to see us all sitting there.

I recorded the show on minidisc, and I went home and listened to it for three days, feeling heartsick. It was amazing. “My Jolene” is impossibly moving, and it’s been my shower song for a few weeks now.

Not only was this a straight-up brilliant performance, but it hit me so hard because it was also an incredible experience for me to see someone I respected as an artist, a musician whose songs I know note for note, pull something totally out of the ordinary.

1.   Andrew Bird & Jon Rodgers (together!) @ the The Space, Hamden CT – 09.21.2003 {Review}: Give Me Some Space

2004 has a lot to live up to.

10 Albums, 1 Year

I decided to do a Top 10 list. In traditional Joyful style, I can’t keep my trap shut. It was going to be a simple Top 10 list like everyone else’s — and maybe just a sentence of explanation. But as I was trying to write that one sentence, I realized I truly needed to detail why this music is so important to me. You know by now that my reviews are rarely technical; I mostly write about how the songs make me feel and the associations I have with them. I used to think that was a cop-out, but you know what? The Boston Phoenix ain’t payin me shit.

Also please note not all of these albums were released this year. But they are the best ten I purchased this year.

Check back later for my Top 10 shows of the year. That one was a lot more difficult. I saw about a hundred. Okay. Here we go:

10. Turin BrakesEthersong

I was surprised that this album ended up on my Top 10 list. I kept taking it off but it kept showing up again. These Brits grew up since their meandering sound from the last album to which I became severely attached, The Optimist. They’re one of those bands that seems to put out haphazard records when the mood strikes; fistfuls of EPs, singles, and unreleased tracks that are eventually released.

Ethersong came out as a double CD, which was ambitious. In the end, I loved it intensely and then abandoned it, over and over. For me, this band is like a sibling you love deeply by nature, but they irritate you because you see too much of yourself in them.

The album is poppy goodness, and the harmonies are beautiful and make me sing out loud. (Which is not always a good thing.) It was my summer soundtrack, driving barefoot up the gleaming coast with the sunroof open. Surprisingly, there’s ass-kicking, anger, and all-out partying from the band I’d known as Olly and Gale, the acoustic duo that crooned about love, addiction and suicide.

I was completely freaked out over the summer to see their catchy single “Pain Killer” from Ethersong appear as the theme to a Volvo commercial. Want to hear something hysterical? They only played the refrain, which features the innocuous lyrics: “Summer rain… dripping down your face again…” The verse that follows is about oral sex and Catholic guilt: “My love giving me head, feeling very guilty, breaking the bread / Losing my attention, taking the world on / So batten up the hatches, here comes the cold / I can feel it creeping, it’s making me old / You give me so much love that it blows my brains out.

Nice.

9. Iron and WineThe Sea and the Rhythm EP

A small, decent follow-up to The Creek Drank the Cradle — one of my favorites of 2002. My affection for this CD is probably my adoration of Sam Beam spilling over from last year. I simply love the feeling of barefoot banjo and whispering vocals. It sounds like sleeping outside under the stars.

8. ElbowCast of Thousands

I can’t do heroin anymore, so… Elbow’s a smack band, and they’re too original for me to say they pick up where the Verve left off before Richard Ashcroft went into rehab. Guy Garvey’s staggering lyrics shine on lead vocals and Pete Turner pours in the slippery bass lines. Their sound is dramatic and almost theatrical in a painted face, velvet-suited way.

They can’t help it; they’re from Liverpool.

7. Rilo KileyTake Offs and Landings

“I should have known, with a boy like you, your middle name is Always. I’d always love you oooh oooh oooh…” With the first listen, that climactic pop anthem re-ignited my lifelong desire to play bass in a Go-Go’s cover band. Love me some Jenny Lewis. She proves that passionate female songwriting can be gutsy without being petulant and sweet without being girly. Amen, sister.

6. CallaTelevise

Brutal lyrics. Brooding, moody, dark and lavish, like blood-red velvet. Aurelio Valle sings: “I can get the same effect if you strangle me.” This album is deep. It hurts because there’s such disenchanted feel to many of the songs. It feels like break-up sex. Fucking to get back at someone. Fighting because it’s the only way you know how to communicate with someone you love.

Calla playing at T.T. the Bear’s would have gone on my best shows list, but the lyrics were lost in the poor sound mix there. Wayne Magruder was playing the drums with maracas or something similar — whatever he was doing, I’d never heard it before and it was amazing. He tosses in a sharp snare marching beat and Aurelio swoops in with these enormous, pained, chocolate saucer eyes. I wanted to just make everything okay for them but then I realized they wouldn’t be able to make music this gorgeous.

A bonus? Sean the bass player and I have the same last name. We may be related. I wonder if that would get me on guest list.

5. Postal ServiceGive Up

Who knew?

SubPop bedamned! I swear, this album exploded all over everybody. And the best part is, it’s total cheese. It is the ultimate bubbalicious indulgence. And why is it so good? I don’t even know. Aside from another stunning appearance of Ben Gibbard cheating on Death Cab for Cutie (post-All Time Quarterback), something about this album made it irresistible to me last spring.

I heard “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” on WERS one morning and immediately recognized Gibbard’s voice. But what with the synthesizer?! What??? Anyway I bought the album and that stupid “Such Great Heights” is the best song I’ve heard all year. “The freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.” How can you argue with that?

Then Mon Frere stole the CD from me and I was left with only the “Such Great Heights” single which is not enough Postal Service for me — even if it featured a stunning cover of the song by Iron and Wine, and a cover of “We Become Silhouettes” by the Shins.

The best part about this album’s success is that it crossed from indie to mainstream; there is something for everyone. I am truly hoping it helps spread the word about Death Cab so they can earn enough money to come play the Northeast and stop making love to Seattle so damn much. But here I am talking about DCFC again. I can’t help it.

4. Starlight MintsBuilt on Squares

Absolutely off-the-wall. Crazy harmonies that yank the sonic rug out from under you. Ingenious percussion created by sampling subways, tap dancers, and barking dogs. It’s trampy and vampy, loose-limbed and sassy. Think flavor-striped pants and chartreuse platform shoes.
Good Saturday night cruising around the mad city music. Unless you have a car stereo like mine and no screwdriver to get the tape out when you’re done listening.

3. Los HalosLeaving VA

In a few words, this is how good Los Halos are: Hearing one song, I bought the album. Hearing one album, I bought them all. Hearing them all, I booked a trip to NYC to see the band play live.

I got Leaving VA on a dismal day when I wasn’t sure which end was up. Actually, all ends were all down. I was feeling dragged out, broken and faithless. Art was dead. This album turned me around the first time I listened to it. Partially because there’s hope in it, and partially because there’s empathy in it. If I’m not inspired that someone else has found happiness, I’m consoled that they’re pissed off and in pain too.

It made me want to believe in something. Anything.

This album is superdynamic and shows a sprawling range of sound. Lush, rich, sparkling, soulful and plaintive. You go through all of the emotions. It’s like a forty-five minute relationship.

Acoustic guitar gives way to slide gives way to distorted electric that lifts into an enormous wall of pulsing sound. “Reasons to Smile” is one of my favorites: the full-tilt old blues riff complete with cowbell and chunky guitar over tuned-down acoustic — it makes me want to toss it all to the wind, drive recklessly with the top down, screaming down the highway with catharsis for all the pent up frustration in the world.

And there’s the biting “The Back Home”: “The loneliest people I’ve known keep a match … and happy people don’t need cigarettes…” (I have to confess that song made me want to smoke again so bad and I had to skip it at first. Especially since the liner notes include Camel Lights in their gratitude list. I myself keep a match.)

As always, it is the tiniest details that get me — the very beginning of “Lioness” with two harmonizing bass lines and shimmering cymbals, and Samezvous exhaling at the end of “it’s like a shot gun…” and pulling himself back together for “…pointed at my heart.” The sound of someone walking across a hardwood floor and closing the door during the recording abruptly spins my perspective, reminding me that this music was made by a real human being in a room somewhere. It’s like the ambulance going by in Smashing Pumpkins song “Starla.” The piano embellishments sound remarkably like the old upright in my room that I can’t afford to tune.

But mostly what makes this album so brilliant is the vocals. So delicate, so bruised, so aching. Until Samezvous is screaming and then you know he won’t be fucked with. There is nothing weak in his tenderness. He’s a tiger playing nice.

I’ve got Leaving VA on my walkman and it’s causing me problems because I can’t stop listening to it. And every time someone gets in my car they say, “Who is this — it’s amazing! — and what have you done with Interpol?” Turn on the Bright Lights was lodged in my tape deck for nearly a year until I took the thing apart with a screwdriver. It was mandatory that I cram Leaving VA in there because it’s the soundtrack to my winter.

The only flaw of this album is that it’s only eight songs.

Tease.

2. Death Cab for CutieTransatlanticism

There are so many layers to this album — musical, emotional, mental. I pre-ordered it and then when it was finally released, I didn’t listen to it for a week. Death Cab was a flawless band to me. Perfect. And I was terrified they’d ruin it for me. I let my bands grow and change. I even stayed with Catherine Wheel when they started writing three and a half minute candypop radio songs, because true love expands to allow for such growth. But I wasn’t sure I could forgive Death Cab for Cutie if they released a bad album.

Obviously I was not disappointed.

The album will forever be October 2003 to me, just as their previous CD, The Photograph Album, is October 2002. It is walking to work in the chilly morn with my headphones, shuffling ankle deep through Harvard Yard, and the day that I got my digital camera and took pictures of the red leaves on the grey sidewalk.

My favorite part of the entire album is in “Lack of Color” when Ben Gibbard sings, “If you feel discouraged and there’s a lack of color here / please don’t worry lover, it’s really bursting at the seams from absorbing everything / the spectrum’s A to Z.” I love the idea of getting something completely wrong — you think nothing’s happening but really everything is happening and you just can’t see it — and that’s exactly how nature intended it. Such poetry from eighth grade Physics class.

1. Andrew BirdWeather Systems

Andrew plays violin. His voice is golden feathers. There are no other words for God.

Post with the Most

I recently came across someone who has had an impact on me for years. There’s a lot of history there, and he doesn’t really know he’s a part of it. I tried to tell him not too long ago, but he said his memories were hazy.

This is my version of our story.

We lived at the Wonderland Records practice space in high school. All of us. One legendary winter night, Mighty Purple played a show in New York City, where they met Jaymiles. They liked him a lot so they brought him home with them. He never left.

The day we found Jaymiles should be established as a national holiday.

Jay brought with him pure and uncensored insanity. He also brought Ugly. One day Jay innocently opened the tape deck, inserted a copy of a demo, and started a chain events that began with a painfully beautiful song, climaxed with a surreal show in the Little Theater, and ended with Charlie Post dropping his pants in a roomful of 16-year-old girls.

But before Charlie did all that, we loved him blindly.

Jay told us, “This is my friend Charlie from D.C. and he has a band called Ugly.” From the first note of the first song, Ugly had us. Jay passed the tape on to the rabid throng of us, and the audience grew. I got a copy. I made copies. We made copies of copies of copies. It was a rough, single-track recording with talking between some of the songs. The quality was awful to begin with, and got progressively worse. But Ugly’s music stayed beautiful.

There was the acoustic guitar, sometimes biting and aggressive, sometimes bright and sweet. The hand-drumming. The irresistible rhythms. But it was the vocals and lyrics that got me. Charlie’s voice was rough and sweet, like wood and wine. Deep soul belly sound. He caught me in the throat, in the heart.

In the morning before school, I drove to the beach in the rain and parked at the edge of the water to listen, because being late and getting in trouble was a fair trade for a few more minutes of Charlie Post. “Daisies” was my favorite:

It kicks my ass to wonder
what goes on inside
where the darkness meets the light
did I tell you
when you wore my boots
well it makes me cry
And though I’m talking about my favorite sex position
I’m dreaming of you and your fingers
And your smile and the light
and the way the darkness holds me when
There’s no one to hold me left
No one to hold me when you’re gone.

His song “Tired is a Man” became my anthem in high school. I got it. Struggling with the meaning of self, trying to stay your own person. Feeling alone because of it. Jon Rodgers played it at open mic nights on the patio of Dakota J’s downtown and made it his own.

We became convinced that the name “Ugly” was meant in self-deprecating irony, and that the whole band was drop-dead gorgeous — and wouldn’t that be such an amazing thing when we finally met them? I told Jay earnestly that I was going to ask Charlie Post to marry me. He suggested I hold off until I met the guy.

So we mobilized our mission. It would be quite and undertaking and it would involve a lot of coercion and planning. But we convinced Jaymiles that Ugly had to come up to New Haven and play for us.

The night of the Little Theater show, in November of 1994, we were unbearably excited. I sat in the parking lot of the Little Theater with Ula, waiting to go in, butterflies in my stomach. When we finally crowded inside, the was dark and cool and smelled like an old church.

The songs lived in our blood and when Ugly began, everyone jumped up from their seats, singing, dancing, and smiling. Charlie later told us how amazingly bizarre it was to look out at the crowd, playing an album that had never been released in a city to which he’d never been, and see everyone’s lips moving to the words of his songs, turning in the music, losing themselves in the sound they knew like their own name. He was trying to figure out how all these kids had heard the songs he recorded on a four track in the garage.

There was no irony to their name. The band was not pretty. And they were at least ten years older than us. Our teenage hearts forgave them beause the music was just too damn good.

My expectations were exceedingly high, and Charlie’s voice fulfilled every hope I had about the magical show. Watching him on stage, I decided I was indeed going to ask him to marry me. I’d met him as Jaymiles suggested, right?

Not quite.

Elated and buzzing, we piled into vehicles and flew back to the Space, where all of us, the band included, were staying. We madly awaited the arrival of the boys who were loading out of the Little Theater. They were taking a really long time.

We were sprawled about the room, on the couches, smoking and chattering. Jon was stumbling around wearing a kilt and drinking Bailey’s Irish Crème out of the bottle. Dave Kone was wandering around with electrical tools installing locks on the filing cabinets. Victoria was provoking Christy, who was sitting on a stool next to the autographed life-size cardboard cutout of the band James from the Laid tour featuring Tim Booth eating a banana. Everyone else was sprawled on the couches, the chairs. I could feel the warm happiness on my skin, the satisfaction of the show, the excitement of the impending bonding session that would begin when our favorite musicians finally arrived.

I was in the room, sitting quietly in the corner like I always did, my magenta hair covering one eye, taking mental notes so I could write about it ten years later. I heard crashes downstairs as one person fell into a drum kit and another fell into a garbage can. There was shrill cackling laughter, and the raging voice of the man who just an hour before had been cradling our melodramatic dreams.

He was swearing like a truck driver and drinking like a fish. And Charlie Post tripped up the stairs into the loft and dropped his pants in greeting.

My little heart broke. I wanted my dear, sweet Charlie to put his clothes back on.

He tossed himself on top of us on the couch and tried to get the girls to make out with each other. When he’d had his fill of pseudo-lesbian tongues, he began to detail his photo album of nipples he kept from each show they played. He asked if anyone would agree to participate. I extracted myself from his surly grip and crawled back to the corner of the room.

Christy offered to strip for him if he would play “Salvation.” So they went downstairs and she took off her clothes for Charlie Post in the dirty practice space, by the red light of the Exit sign at Wonderland Records, while we sat upstairs listening.

The demo eventually disintegrated because everyone played it to death and the actual tapes broke apart. But they released some of the songs on the CD Round Boy Laughing. I hadn’t heard it for years and while at Victoria’s not too long ago, the topic of Charlie Post came up, and I told her I’d lost Round Boy Laughing. So she gave me a copy, and I went home and listened to it with new ears.

I understand him better now. Life is not black and white. I was a little girl, and I wanted to believe in the fairy tale. The poor boy had a lot to live up to. I was shy and his passion frightened me. I see now how much more alive the world can be. The world where you swear and fight and cry, you act selfishly and love carelessly. The world that makes the singing sweeter.

That album still gives me shivers when I play it. But I think it’s for a different reason now.
Deep down I don’t think I ever got over Charlie shaking up my view of blind love. He personified that intolerable conflict between the chaste and the vile. Simultaneously exquisite and grotesque.

For years it drove me mad and I didn’t know where to put it. I couldn’t believe that someone that crass could make such tender music.

I figured out how to resolve this Charlie Post conflict last month. I put him in my novel.

Blissboy

“I want to smoke cigarettes with you,” he said.

It was two Augusts ago, I was sprawled on my bed in the torrid night, wearing nothing but a telephone. And the voice on the other end was 300 miles away.

“I want to smoke cigarettes with you,” he said, his voice full of yearning. I thought it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard. Now I realize it meant he refused me in his life, but was willing to die with me.

And now New Year’s — seven days ago. My friends and I were planning on going to the Good Life, an annual tradition. The four of us never made it. The mood in my apartment had been chill, candles, dinner, an acoustic guitar making the rounds, warm quiet. A crowded bar no longer sounded like a good idea. We decided to roam the city with our cameras and capture the night. But it was cold and my body was filled with searing pain.

I didn’t want to be standing there when the hour turned to midnight. The streets were silent; not another soul in the world. We were standing outside the dirty, deserted Porter Sq. parking lot, across the street from my old apartment, the Nightmare on Elm St. I hit bottom there four years ago. I used to stand on the sidewalk after emptying the tequila bottles down my throat and launch them at the streetlights that glared through the bars on my window all night. The curb is still riddled with broken glass.

We were standing outside that apartment when it became 2004, and for one full minute I held my breath. It wasn’t conscious, but there was some ridiculous dream that he would call. That we could do that again. That I would be at the Good Life like last year, and he would call me at 11:59 and tell me that he wanted to spend New Year’s with me but this was the best he could do. It would be noon in Hawaii, and he’d say he wanted me there — wanted to smoke cigarettes on the beach with me.

It’s been almost a year since we last spoke.

It was suddenly 2004 and a lone guy rode his bike by in the frigid night — a random cook from Picante, and while my three friends called out, “Happy New Year!” I was standing there on Elm St. with 30 seconds of breath left.

He said he wanted to curl up somewhere and stare into me for hours. He said he wanted to sneak out in the middle of the night and meet at a sketchy diner. He’d be waiting, reading Stanley Kubrick’s biography when I came into the restaurant, and we’d drink coffee from thick-lipped white ceramic mugs. We could put our writing desks across from one another and compose until our brains exploded on one another. We shared words and music at a velocity no other human being could survive. He said, “Leave the light on in Boston for me.” He said I was the one he could spend the rest of his life with. He said a lot of things.

We were doomed and insane from the second we met. I have never felt that before — like I was meeting myself. It wasn’t a feeling of “I’ve met you,” but a feeling of “I’ve found you.” There was no getting to know. We knew. We were starved for one another, never satiated. But I see now that he was the one who was starving us. Even when we were in the same bed, 300 miles and one fragile, oblivious girl stood between us.

I deserved more than life as his closet secret. I loved him openly. He could not return the favor. I started feeling like the secretary who honestly believes the boss she’s fucking is going to leave his wife. I’ve seen the movies. He never does.

So I shoved him away with my broken hands, back into hers.

And tonight I know he’s in my city. I heard his voice last night. I can feel him walking my streets. When I’m in New York, I know I’m walking his. Five million people there and I know we would find each other if we wanted to. It’s unnerving. There’s this churning sickness in my stomach that I can’t get away from.

I am still consumed by him. By that unconscious dream. The one that left me blue from sixty seconds of disbelief on New Year’s Eve. Sixty seconds, 300 miles, 437 days; they’re all the same distance.

Sound Bites

Who let me miss Calla playing at the Paradise last night?! Do I have to do ALL the work around here?

The next two months are already full of good music, the majority of which I will be attending, so come along. It looks like I’ll be making two trips to New York this month for shows — Los Halos (who I’ll finally get to see) and the Damnwells (who I’ve only seen 25 times). Just can’t get enough of that Alex Dezen.

I’ll be here:

  • 1/14: Rilo Kiley (acoustic!!!) – Middle East
  • 1/17: Los Halos – Sin-è (NYC)
  • 1/19: Subway Songster Celebration – Club Passim
  • 1/24: The Damnwells – Bowery Ballroom (NYC)
  • 2/13: The Shins – Roxy
  • 2/14: Apollo Sunshine – MidE
  • 2/24: Elefant – MidE
  • 2/26: Brian Webb – Paradise
  • 2/29: Bright Eyes – Somerville Theatre

Also, Death Cab for Cutie will be on The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn 1/19. This should be entertaining.

I’m waiting for some really good show to land on my birthday (February 21st, mark your calendars). It’s going to happen, I just know it. If not, in the end, I’ll take the Bright Eyes show as a consolation prize. Last time they played the Somerville Theatre I went into Store 24, Conor Obherst was in there and I tripped all over myself and in the end didn’t say anything to him. He’s very skinny and not exactly intimidating, but I was at a loss so I kept my mouth shut and just bought my lemonade. It’s weird to see people out of context.

Coming soon to a Joyful Thing near you — my top ten albums and shows of the year. Stay tuned.

I Found a Reason to Smile

Thank you, Samezvous.
I have to write through this, if for no other reason than I feel like a hole has opened up in my Milky Way tonight and if I don’t experience it, the entryway that exists only briefly will close. I have to sit here and feel this aching bittersweetness, both to a staggering degree — so bitter, so sweet. Tonight I said goodbye to a blessed friend, my favorite local musician, and someone who has changed my world forever. Tonight over Red Bones cornbread we said goodbye. I thought I’d feel cold and broken. But there was too much sweet for that. I walked out into the freezing rain, tasting my tears, and the sadness lasted only minutes before it dissolved into gratitude and inspiration. Excitement for the future. He’s leaving behind a new project for me. It’s like Charlotte’s Web, but with fewer spiders.
On nights like this I’m grateful that I have the words. They are what I turn to now, always, and somehow putting this whirlwind of emotions into nouns and verbs heals my soul.
I was inspired listening to him, running down South with a hazy plan and a gargantuan moving truck that he doesn’t know how to drive. I’m thinking about how safely I live my life. I get the inspirations. I get that feeling. That have to move, have to start something fresh, that cusp of madness of spinning forward, and out of fear I plant my feet right back where they are. I’ve decided to jump next time. Next time I get the crazy idea to go someplace just because it feels right, I’m going to do it.
New Orleans is that crazy place for me. I have never spent an unmagical hour in that mad city. I want to be painted, covered in feathers, have bells in my hair, beaded lashes, dancing barefoot in the humid night. The music is everywhere, old in your bones music, the words rise up and grow out of my head. I run with them, down to the muddy Mississippi, down to the lap steel guitars, the banjo man with silver fingernails plucking by the riverside, the sidewalk jazz. When I was in New Orleans last, I was kidnapped by an amazing musician named Paul Christian, who held me hostage at this gallery for a few days; I wrote for him, he played piano, and I shot rolls and rolls of film. I stayed with my oldest friend in the world who just bought a house in the ghetto, which looked a whole lot like the Paper St. Soap Company. It was an obliterated mansion with floor to ceiling stained glass windows. There was no heat so we turned on the burners and opened the oven door. My feet were black from the decrepit hallway. But I could hear the music of the night through the broken windows. And it sounded like home.
I’ve been falling madly in and out of love with Boston this year, one minute wanting to kiss it to death, the next minute feeling like the image-conscious conservative bullshit is too much to take. Like life would be so much easier somewhere where I could be myself. I want to go to the place where nobody who fits in, fits in. My own private Island of Misfit Toys.
I was talking to my departing friend about the Universe pushing back. How if you open yourself up, you make a decision and you toss yourself out there, arms extended with every intention of following your dreams, the world opens up for you. I’ve seen it happen, and watching that in amazement as it changes the lives of those around me is mindblowing. He decides one day, I’m going to fucking Austin to make music for a living. And he does.
So I decide today, I’m going to write my own words for a living. So I will. And I don’t mean the crap I used to write for a living. Today in the churning of hellos and goodbyes, swept up and inspired by the artists in my life, I realized that I need to finish that novel. I came to this conclusion this morning on my way to work, and when I got to work, I found that March is NaNoEdMo: National Novel Editing Month. I think that’s hysterical. It’s the next stage of NaNoWriMo, and it’s based on the same concept. I needed a break from my fiction after November, and returning to it after the four weeks has given me new perspective. It’s called Euphobia, by the way. Euphobia is the fear of hearing good things. And I’m in deep with my characters. They make me smile, and make me scream and throw things, take me back to places I’ve been and those I want to travel to. I’m jealous of one in particular. And in love with another. They infuriate me, make me proud, and give me a reason to show up on the page every day.
So this laptop screen is too small for my story, I feel cramped and contained, and suddenly I’m swept up and printing out this behemoth document, hurriedly cutting and pasting the old fashioned way with scissors and pins, crazily covering my cubicle walls with passages, paragraphs, whole chapters… I am smiling, I am elated. I am no longer afraid.
And so many people want to read this book. For all the words in my vocabulary, there are none to describe what that feels like. I’m living in Wishville.
I hand my friend a CD for the road, to listen to on his way to Texas, driving the enormous rig he won’t be able to back up his tiny crooked street. I hand it to him and tell him, “I wrote my book to this CD.” Art begets art. It’s one of the most beautiful concepts in the world. Someone else was inspired and created this music, and just by listening to it my story was born. I sat, fingers hovering over the keys, and the goddam novel wrote itself. Sometimes I lose my way — I get discouraged, distracted. Someone admires my work and I question their ulterior motives. I spend months on a project and just before it’s finished I decide it’s crap. I “realize” I was foolish, mistaken, obviously not being level with myself. But I’m working on it. I’m taking a leap of faith. You go, I go.He played a track for me from another friend’s demo — and as I asked the question in disbelief, “This is brilliant — why isn’t he putting his stuff out there?!” I already knew the answer. I had said it myself a million times. Too busy, too frightened, too tired. Gotta have a real job, gotta visit the boyfriend, gotta gotta gotta. A thousands words for “Just Not Doin It.” I’m doin it. I was just thinking how I could tell that I was getting away from my creativity. That over the past few weeks I was moving toward inertia in a weird way, becoming obsessed with appearance, with television, with upward mobility at work. Being estranged from creativity in any form. I realized this and simultaneously realized I hadn’t been to a show recently.The last show I’ve been to was weeks ago, which is inexcusable. I don’t even remember who I saw. I know that I’ve been in such pain with my back that I’ve missed a slew of amazing rock and roll. But that is the answer. Whenever my head is too full, or I get lost, or I become convinced that proper shoes are more important than my freedom — I go to a show and my priorities are snapped back. My head is blown open, my mind quieted. I am immediately reflected and I see the pale and dead version of myself that I’ve become because I stopped staring at the stars and began staring at the pavement. Those neat little lines drawn by other people. Sidewalks with rails so you don’t stray — so you don’t even have to think about where you’re going. So you will always be safe. But even the black sheep is still a sheep.
I received words of wisdom today from an artist I admire deeply. He reminded me of something important, a truth I’d forgotten. You pour immeasurable energy into creating something, and most of the time nobody gets it. But that doesn’t matter.You do it for you.