Category Archives: Essays

The Mountain Goats: Some Moments Last Forever

It’s nothing I haven’t told most people, but my father was an angry and abusive man. Although he was only violent infrequently, his brand of abuse came in the form of emotional neglect. I have been told that, up until I was around 6-years-old, he was a very good father, but past that, his interest in me as a person began to quickly dwindle. He took very little effort to ever care about me, which was something I tried to defend, saying, “We just enjoy different things.” It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that not being there in any way can be just as emotionally crippling as the volatile temper he possessed. Our relationship since has been a process of atonement, one that hasn’t worked out so well for anybody involved. It is only very recently that I began talking to my father again, after a two-year span of silence that began with me telling him, “If you don’t have anything productive to add, you should probably just fuck off.” For those of you reading this and wondering why, exactly, I’m talking about my relationship with my father, don’t worry: there is a point.

In my younger years, when looking to get into a band, I would find the album with the most songs. It was a bit of a character flaw which only served me well with Sebadoh’s Bubble & Scrape. When looking to get into The Mountain Goats, I was lead to the b-sides compilation Ghana, which I mistook for a proper album. I got through exactly one song (“Golden Boy,” which I still do not like), and decided that I was not a Mountain Goats fan. No harm done.

I was looking through the recommendation section of Amazon one day, and was pointed to The Sunset Tree, the most recent Mountain Goats record. I downloaded a copy on a whim, where it sat on my hard drive for a few months. One day, I decided it was about time to give the record a listen. To my surprise, this was nothing like the rough tape-hiss infected early output of John Darnielle; this was part of a new path he had been forging in recent years, most specifically with the semi-autobiographical We Shall All Be Healed, a long tale of drug addiction along the western coast. I was sucked in by the lush production, its gorgeous and understated orchestral swells on songs like “Pale Green Things” were perfect against Darnielle’s nasally singing voice, which became more and more infectious with every listen to the record. Still, there was never quite a point where the record clicked with me in the way that I was looking for, as a whole.

That was when I began to really listen to the lyrics and start to break them down. During this process I learned that The Sunset Tree was also autobiographical, this time about the abuse that Darnielle had suffered at the hands of his stepfather. Suddenly, the album came into clearer focus, and all of the tiny moving parts became one big thing, and this happened very quickly: the metaphorical “Lion’s Teeth” painted a stark picture of a vicious drunk, as did lines like “as i pulled into the driveway, the motor screaming out, stuck in second gear / the scene ends badly as you might imagine, in a cavalcade of anger and fear” in “This Year.” The comically dark lyrics of “Dance Music” (“…while my stepfather yells at my mother / launches a glass across the room straight at her head”) became a portrait of something familiar: a child using music as a salve, praying that it was enough to keep the demons at bay.

As I obsessed over the record, I buried myself in its first half, in love with the barking “Up The Wolves” (pardon the pun) and the tense cello stabs of “Dilaudid.” It wasn’t until I had become satisfied that I focused on the darkness that lay past “Lion’s Teeth”: “Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod” is crushing at times, being one of two songs on the record that doesn’t bother with the messiness of metaphor, and please forgive me here, because the only way to really capture the song is to recount the entirety of it:

You are sleeping off your demons
when I come home.
spittle bubbling on your lips,
fine white foam

I am young and I am good.
it’s a hot southern california day.
if I wake you up, there will be hell to pay.

And alone in my room,
I am the last of a lost civilization.
and I vanish into the dark
and rise above my station.
rise above my station.

But I do wake you up, and when I do
you blaze down the hall and you scream.
I’m in my room with the headphones on
deep in the dream chamber.
and then I’m awake and I’m guarding my face,
hoping you don’t break my stereo.
because it’s the one thing that I couldn’t live without
and so I think about that and then I sorta black out.

Held under these smothering waves 
by your strong and thick veined hand,
but one of these days I’m going to wriggle up on dry land.

“Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod” is the spiritual sequel to “Dance Music,” where the kid who would drown out his parents’ fighting with his record player is a teenager who understands the limitations of things, and realizes that there are certain things in life that make life worth continuing, even in the face of everything else.

I was 14 when my mother and I moved from Seattle to Oregon, and from April to September of ’05, I was alone with my thoughts. It was during this time that I discovered The Sunset Tree, when I was at my most vulnerable: everything I had known in my life had been uprooted, and I was told that it was for the better, but I found this sentiment to be something of a fabrication. I took solace in my stereo, because it truly felt like the one thing I needed to stay alive at that point in my life. I have been told that misery loves company, but to me, it loves it in a completely different way: we all need someone who understands us sometimes, and I found that someone in an extremely unlikely place that understood that misery, enough that it made me realize that it was what was making me miserable in the first place.

The Sunset Tree ends on a relatively positive note with “Pale Green Things,” the other song on the record that drops the theatrics and just tells a story. In the song, Darnielle recounts a time where he spend a morning at the racetrack with his stepfather, and how this was the one experience that he could remember, when his sister informed him of his death:

My sister called at 3 AM
Just last December
She told you how you’d died at last, at last
That morning at the racetrack
Was one thing that I remembered
I turned it over in my mind
Like a living Chinese finger trap

The moments before this stanza came into focus were the last moments I spent where The Sunset Tree was only a record I enjoyed. The moment that I realized the weight of Darnielle’s words when he sung “at last” was the moment that every misplaced and unknown negative emotion I’d felt in the years leading up to that not only stopped being unknown, but but began being somewhat tangible things that could be worked out and fixed. I spent a lot of time letting that in, and once I did, I felt like I could begin healing. It was one of the first big steps that I took to not being a confused teenager.

During the month of this writing, I will likely be seeing The Mountain Goats for the very first time. I’ve had countless opportunities up to this point, but until this point in my life, I have found myself too scared to be in the same room as John Darnielle. More than almost any other musician (with the exception of Isaac Brock, perhaps), it is very likely that I owe my him my life, because that record allowed me to examine my own nameless struggle, give it a name, and begin to put it to rest.

Sleeps With Electric Guitars: A Story About Pavement

I do a thing, and I don’t know if anybody else does it, mostly because I don’t talk to people about it: I will decide, spur of the moment, to get into a specific genre. I did this with emo (not the kind you’re thinking about; I even started a website based on this), dubstep (the kind that Brits are making in their bedrooms for dark basements, not the overblown kind), and, when I was younger, lo-fi. At the time, I was a member of a music message board (I don’t recall which one), and I asked a humble question: where do I start with lo-fi music? I got two answers that stuck with me, though they are part of two different stories. The first of which was being told to listen to Mountain Goats, and the other was a very simple response: “Pavement <3.” So, I went to Amazon and looked to see which album had the most tracks on it (a thing I did a lot – this will come up at another time), and downloaded it. This album was the deluxe edition of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I burned a copy of it, labelling it Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain (because I am slightly dyslexic), and listened to it exactly once. It wasn’t for me. So I put it on a shelf.

Several months later, I lost all of my downloaded music. Our hard drive crashed, and with it, a couple years worth of being best friends with Soulseek went out the window. What I was left with was stacks and stacks of CD-Rs, burned and forgotten, to give a chance to. Or, at least, that was my plan. When searching through the stacks (probably for White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan or Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight), I came across Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain. I listened again. And then again. And a month’s worth of times more.

Living in the internet age means that the best thing about getting into Pavement at the beginning was gone. I never got try and learn all I could about S.M. and Spiral Stairs, I only ever knew Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg. I could listen to everything Pavement had ever made, whenever I wanted. But for me, it was all about that one record. In that record, I was a 90s kid; I burned copies for everyone I could think of. I gushed about it to everyone. I made friends because I met people and thought they would enjoy it. When I gave a copy to my classmate, and he didn’t like it, I told my English teacher (who was the kind of guy who wouldn’t let me live down that I’d missed seeing Arcade Fire the last time they were in town) what he had said, and he sighed, saying, “He doesn’t like Pavement? What a douchebag. They were the best band of the 90s.” I gave my closest friend my copy of Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain, and he became enchanted by the mystique of that record. There was something magical in that disc, and none of us could figure out why, but it was not the kind of thing we wanted to go away.

Pavement were the kind of band that you put on for road trips, for mowing the lawn (I imagine – I haven’t had a lawn to mow since I was 12), for gardening, for doing the dishes, for every single occasion. To this day, I still haven’t managed to connect with any other Pavement record like I did with that one – even Slanted & Enchanted, the other Everyone’s-Favorite-Pavement-Record. It was like a child to me, and I could never part with it. My friends and I would obsess over the most pointless details: how silly the song “5-4=Unity” was as an instrumental breakdown, how the line “‘Cause you sleep with electric guitars” in “Elevate Me Later” gave us goosebumps, and how insanely funny the delivery of the line “I’d like to invite you to taste of my chalice / it’s a special one / it’s made of gold” on “Filmore Jive” was. I learned to play “Cut Your Hair” and would play it when we hang out, and would put “Unfair” and “Gold Soundz” onto countless mixtapes. It was such an amazing record to us, it seemed wrong to not share it with everyone around us.

When I sat down to write this story, I thought about the profound effect it had on my life, and all of the wisdom I gained from it. But then I remembered the fact that I didn’t get any of that out of it, at least nothing that could be marked. The effect has been gradual, rather than violent and immediate. I realized all of the charms in jangly guitars, and slacker singers, and lyrics that didn’t make any sense. This was a time when I was steadily learning to be a social human being, and it showed me that there was a different way to go about it: you don’t have to care, and you don’t have to pretend you do, and if you follow that, things will fall into place. Stephen Malkmus might be my favorite rock band singer, not because he is especially good, but because he sings like he’s a slacker. He was the kind of hero that I didn’t need, but still found, at that age: when asked about the songwriting on their next record, Wowee Zowee, he responded “I was on a lot of grass back then, but they sounded like hits.” To a kid who was drowning in hormonal angst, he was exactly the kind of cool that I wanted to model myself after.

I never did, though, because fat Jews from Seattle aren’t very good at playing the Cool Gangly Slacker From Stockton angle. But it never changed my perception of the perfection in that copy of Cooked Rain, Cooked Rain. One of our other friends accidentally shattered that CD, and we gave it the funeral it deserved. I bonded with a lot of people because of that record – and I still do. I still think S.M. is one of the coolest guys around – even if, when I told him how dorky I felt for being so grateful for his record, he told me that he felt like a dork being so grateful for all of his fans. It’s as if he was proving his superiority to me by not being superior. It was crazy to me.

I got the opportunity to see Pavement back in 2010, on their reunion tour. The first thing Malkmus said when he walked on stage, to a hillside covered in rapt, adoring fans, was this: “You never thought this would happen. Pavement! Playing at Edgefield! I went to a wedding here once. It was a good wedding. Though I don’t think I’ve ever been to a bad wedding.” It was just silly enough that nobody could help but remember exactly why we were all drawn to his band in the first place. Everyone in that amphitheater likely experienced the same love of that band that my friends and I did, and singing loudly in the early-September heat to “Gold Soundz” made the whole thing perfect. They closed the set with “Range Life,” featuring the line that was always so evocative of the band: “Don’t worry / we’re in no hurry.” In that moment, hearing S.M.’s signature drawl spill that line out, 10 feet from me, I remembered how wonderful it was to be 16 and in love with the idea of a band changing the world – even if it was only your world.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Modest Mouse: I’m Angry That I’m So Damn Angry

Isaac Brock was born in 1975 in Helena, Montana. When he was 11, he moved to a small town in Washington, called Issaquah, which is famous for little more than its salmon hatchery. In 1993, he formed a band with his friends, like every 18-year-old dreams of doing, and remarkably, that band stuck around for a good long time. To date, Modest Mouse has put out five records, six EPs, and two rarities compilations. They’re also pretty famous for one of the best songs that you’re supposed to be ashamed that you like, “Float On,” which proved to be an incredible, super-massive hit for the band, over a decade into their career. However, if you are reading this, chances are you didn’t need any of that info because you already knew it, and have read the book, and know the songs, and own all of those recordings (except for the Interstate 8 EP, which you probably consider to be a white whale).

I was born in Seattle in 1990, and lived in and around it until I was 4, when we moved to Ravensdale, WA. We lived there for  nine years, until we moved to the nearby town of Maple Valley, which was better, in that if there was a power outage, it was taken care of that day rather than that week. All of this is significant to this story because, as I learned midway through my obsession with their fourth album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, I learned that Isaac Brock was from the small town located just 15 miles from where I lived then. We’ll come back to this in a bit.

My musical taste up until 2004 was checkered, to say the very least. I went through phases that gravitated around what was on the Top 40 charts at the time (this swung from an undying obsession with the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys, to the same passion and obsession with the artists on the 8 Mile soundtrack, until my father discovered just how profane Obie Trice could be with the song “Adrenaline Rush”). Then, one day, I discovered the local “alternative” station, 107.7 The End, and its wealth of angsty, bitter songs that I had never, ever heard. I heard “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Black Hole Sun” and “Add It Up” for the first time, listening to the station on the portable CD player/FM tuner I carried around with me (a very old sentence, when you think about it) while in summer school. It was around this time that I needed songs like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” the most.

I was a great student until the 6th grade. Until then, I was the best speller in the class, which was my only claim to fame. I was a social outcast, and really only had one good friend, so I found solace in learning. When the 6th grade rolled around, I began to take stock of my life, and the things around me: my father was abusive, and my parents, who fought constantly at this point, had decided to divorce. We were being forced to move out of my childhood home, and I didn’t really have anybody to share any of this pre-adolescent angst with. As a 22-year-old, I have yet to fully recover from those formative years, but something in the music I heard in those years kept me sane, and most importantly, changed me into something different entirely.

I heard “Float On” on that CD player, and I was immediately take by its jangly guitars and its despite-everything-optimism, to the point that I forced my mother to buy me that CD. I took it with me for a late-night walk on the trail near the apartment we had moved into, and began to take it in. The batteries died partway through, and I still remember where: halfway through “Bukowski,” just around the line “I can’t make it to your wedding, but I’m sure that I’ll be at your wake.” The words on that album grabbed onto me, hard. I learned later on that most Modest Mouse fans felt a decent amount of distaste for the pop sensibilities that their favorite musical outcast had adopted, but for the 14-year-old listening to those words, it was absolutely perfect. Modest Mouse was the first Mature Band that I ever really clicked with in that way (I bought the White Stripes album Elephant the year before that, but it never resonated in the same way, at least not until I was much older), and they inspired me to buy my first copy of Rolling Stone, specifically for an interview with Isaac Brock (for those wondering, the cover story was an interview with Doonesbury writer Garry Trudeau). This was a period with a lot of firsts.

Good News isn’t my go-to record anymore, even in the Modest Mouse catalog. As I worked my way backwards in the band’s music, I found a lot darker things to grab onto in my teenage angst, having abandoned the ability to really take solace in the pop songs on that record. It is not a bad record, by any means: “The World At Large” is one of my favorite songs, and “Bury Me With It,” “Dance Hall,” “Bukowski,” and “This Devil’s Workday” got me through a lot of tough times, being in my room, screaming the words at the top of my lungs. I remember my mother’s perplexed and disapproving looks the first time she heard the line “I JUST DON’T NEED NONE OF THAT MAD MAX BULLSHIT!!” and how equally perplexed she was when I nailed the high part on “Ocean Breathes Salty.” It may not be my favorite Modest Mouse record, but for what it’s worth, it is the one I love the most.

Listening to that CD player, I heard the Muse song “Time Is Running Out.” You know the one. It’s the one with the really killer bassline at the beginning, and the snaps. I loved that song, and under pressure from my friend (who I don’t even remember, now that I write this), I went to buy Absolution. Standing in the Target CD section, I found the album, and continued to browse. There, I found the cash-grab remastered edition of The Moon & Antarctica, the Modest Mouse record that had come out four years prior. “You can only get one,” my mother told me. So I made a choice that, now that I’m older, means that I am a completely different person. I realized this recently, that the months I spent obsessing could have been with a completely different record by a completely different band, one that valued sheen and hooks over content. And, considering my More-Alternative-Than-Thou brain, those are the values that would likely have stuck. There was a fork in the road, and I went left.

I got the album home and gave it a listen. The first thing you notice, hearing that album after Good News, is that those are two albums made by two different bands. “Everything that keeps me together is falling apart,” Brock sings right off the bat in “Third Planet,” “I got this thing that I consider my only art, of fucking people over.” “Third Planet” and “Gravity Rides Everything” are undoubtedly beautiful songs, and hearing them serves as a palette cleanser, leaving you fresh for the songs that come after it. The Moon & Antarctica is an album that helps you reexamine the tenants of loneliness and isolation: “The Cold Part” plays like a suicide note from a man who has chosen to set himself adrift on a chunk of ice, and “Lives” is that man’s eulogy: “You were the dull sounds of sharp math when you were alive / no one’s gonna play the harp when you die.” That descent is slow creeping, giving us little reprieve as you inch your way down (“Wild Pack of Family Dogs,” “Paper Thin Walls,” and “I Came As A Rat” always seemed so misplaced, but when you think about it, they’re wholly necessary as a way to turn back and glimpse the light before going any deeper), until the clanging finale, “What People Are Made Of.”

One of the things you notice on your first listen through is the stray lines that are so impeccably written, and it was one of these that flipped a switch in my head: “Well you cocked your head, to shoot me down / and I don’t give a damn about you or this town no more.” I knew that Brock was from a place so close to me before this, but hearing that line made me realize something very, very powerful: you don’t have to like anything about your upbringing. You’re allowed to hate where you live, who your parents are, what their values are, and the stupid grins of the people who don’t see who you are on the inside. In that line, he made it okay to rebel against things, and make your own life out of the weeds. He made me okay with my disdain for my parents’ divorce, and my father’s anger, and the looming threat of money troubles, and the fact that I had to move to Oregon soon because my grandfather was dying of cancer slowly, uprooting everything I had grown to know, even if it was everything I had grown to hate. In those words, he taught me it was okay because he knew what that was like. The musicians I had listened to for my 14 years leading up to this didn’t prepare me as an emotional being: they just wanted to tell a sk8r boi “see ya l8r boi,” rather than give my heart and soul a steady footing. And who could blame them? Eminem was a savior to a lot of kids, but I was a kid with emotional eating issues from a mossy mountain town in Washington, I was never going to be able to learn to rap my way out of that. I wasn’t going to be able to take part in five-part harmonies to get out of it, either, like the well-groomed Backstreet Boys (or the varied-in-their-grooming Spice Girls). What my savior taught me was that the best way out was to scream about it, and hammer on a guitar until your fingers bled.

Earlier this year, several hours after a horrendous attempt to remove a kidney stone (because I am 46, apparently), I had the pleasure of going to a fundraiser where Isaac Brock was performing. Right off the bat, he played “Trailer Trash,” a song off of The Lonesome Crowded West (An album I love, but one I won’t get into in this already very long essay). If you don’t know the song, look up the lyrics, because I can’t quote a single line from it without quoting the entire thing. It was incredibly moving, especially because I watched him perform it maybe three feet in front of me. After he was done playing, I took the opportunity to tell him about the impact he’d had on my life, and how his music kept me alive for those years when it felt like the world was against me. He thanked me for my story, seeming taken aback by it. We stood around outside, talking and smoking, and before leaving I shook his hand, and my friend gave him a fist bump. Brock made fun of him for it. I told him, “I’m worse, I’m a hugger.” “Yeah, that is way worse,” he said, right before demanding that I give him a hug. In hindsight, it seems impossible to me that I kept my composure throughout all of this.

I still live about 15 miles away from Isaac Brock, and his music is still an incredibly powerful force in my life, even though I don’t listen to those records as much anymore. I have a son of my own, and I’m going to make sure he never needs a musician to keep him alive. But when I was young, confused, and alone, that band did that for me. The music was my religion, and Isaac Brock was the best savior possible for a kid like me, even though (or especially because) he was so bitter.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Notes From An American Film Nerd

I’m not going to recap what happened in Aurora, CO. If you’re reading this, you know what happened, and if you don’t, I’m sorry you’ve been locked in prison for the last few days. I’m not going to refer to the perpetrator by name, because that gives him a small bit of power, a thing he does not deserve. I’m not going to blame gun laws, because that’s not what went wrong, and we all know it.

The things I’m going to talk about are three things I’m very familiar with: cinema, America, and poor mental health.

The Dark Knight Rises is going to be forever scarred by what happened. This is, of course, not the biggest part of the tragedy, but it is a different piece of what went wrong. It is superficial and silly, but film is an art form, and the movie happens to be a great piece of art. What this means is, because of what happened, that bit of art is going to be ruined in a big way, likely permanently. Batman, Christopher Nolan, and everyone involved are, more likely than not, going to be blamed just as frequently as the guns used, which is truly a foolish thing. It’s also very likely that a very large amount of people the world over won’t be seeing the film. Again, this sounds superficial, but there is something familiar at the heart of that newly-found fear of the cinema.

No matter how you slice it, what happened was domestic terrorism, without question. We may see that as a smaller thing than foreign terrorism, but it’s all the same. In the wake of 9/11, President Bush made an oft’ misunderstood speech, concerning what the typical American should do: keep going out, keep enjoying things. The point he was making was this: the heart of terrorism is fear, and if you don’t fear things like terrorists, then they have no power. And so, in the case of this bit of terrorism, I have this to say: go to the movies. What happened was nothing more than one disturbed individual taking fear into his own hands as a weapon, one meant to hurt us, and everyone who was there that night. So you know what? Fuck that guy. Fuck him right in the ear.

But, really, the fact of the matter is, terrorist or not, what happened was perpetrated by one disturbed man. America has only begun to see that mental illness is a thing that should be cared for, rather than ignored, and this weekend has proven that. Mental illness is a disease that spreads if left unchecked, and even though not everyone will decide to gun down moviegoers, it’s clearly not a thing that is impossible. The man who did this called himself The Joker, and if you’re reading this, you know exactly what The Joker (of the comics and films) stands for: chaos and entropy.

And so, I make this humble request to you, dear reader: remember who can defeat people like The Joker: the dark knight, who can overcome loss and pain to defeat anyone who threatens him. You may scoff and find me less than serious, but if you take anything from this, it should be this: be The Batman. Stand up for what is right. Help those around you, because any of them could be the one who needs it more than the rest. Keep fighting, and keep living.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

In Memoriam

Photo by William Basinski

I know you don’t want to listen to anything else about 9/11. Bear with me, please.

I spent a good chunk of time listening to William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops over the last couple days. Basinski performed the first part in New York on Sept. 11th, a performance all too fitting. Basinski unwillingly married two two things together with The Disintegration Loops, at least in my mind. For those who don’t know, I’ll be brief: Basinski completed the project on September 11th, 2001, and played the pieces for his friends on the rooftop of his building as the towers collapsed. Because of this, one cannot help but imagine the things we’ve seen, in our mind’s eye, when listening to the piece.

What is remarkable, ten years on, is exactly how vivid those images are. I remember everything about that day. The one thing, though that stands out is how different my morning was from that of everyone else I talk to. Everybody that I know went to school that day and nothing got done, because teachers just put the news on, and talked about it with the class. I was in the 6th grade, and in my small town (I hail from Maple Valley, WA originally), there was a pall of denial. My family and I left for a trip to Crater Lake the following day, where the events were never discussed, and when I returned to school they were never discussed, leaving my young brain (I was 11 at the time) to believe that what we had witnessed wasn’t really that bad.

It’s possible that it was never discussed there because there was a perpetual state of fear in the months that followed, a state that has never quite dissipated. Tragedy effects small-town life in surprising ways, and only as I write this do I process that denial itself is the very first stage of grief. The spot where the World Trade Centers once stood is 2,844 miles from my original residence in Maple Valley, proving that sorrow travels at extraordinary speeds.

We have all pressed on since then. I am a man who enjoys making jokes about tragedy, but in reality it’s because I am someone who uses comedy to cope with things. You can banter on about how that day is meaningless since it happened, but to say this proves that an event of that magnitude is much too big to ever completely take in. It’s possible that this is why it took so long for everything to sink in afterwards, because the human mind simply cannot process everything at once. Perhaps a decade is not enough to truly process it.

The refrain following the reveal that the events were caused by radical fundamentalists from across the sea was that we should keep living, keep shopping, keep going to work and loving each other, “or the terrorists win.” “…Or the terrorists win” has since become something of a punchline, harking back to when we had a leader too scared to tell his people that they should be scared. In reality, however, what nobody realizes is that what he was saying was completely right. Terrorism is an act that doesn’t destroy tangible things exclusively, and the terrorists would have won if we had not proven that we are human, and that we would carry on, no matter what. The act of destroying the lives of so many people was to cripple a nation they thought to be impure, and strip it of its humanity. In hindsight, President Bush made a great many mistakes in the years that followed, but the one thing he does not get credit for is the fact that what he was saying was exactly what needed to be done. Because, really, who here among us could handle a situation any better? Could any of us do something besides sit silently in a classroom for several minutes, while the news that people had taken violent steps to destroy the country which you personally lead, sank into your very soul? Bush did a lot of terrible things as leader, but he will never get the credit he deserves for holding strong in those days.

And that’s my point, really. To exist in the fucked-up, scaremongering era that was ushered in post 9/11 is to never, ever allow what happened to sink in so deep that you cannot move on. Some of us have done this better than others, and who could blame those who couldn’t make it? The point is that we are still living and breathing, and we will always carry on. But most importantly, the point is this: these are the days that you should care about. The terrorists really do win when you allow yourself to be apathetic, because not caring is just as good as not existing at all. So, I invite you once again, in the footsteps of a madman with good intentions: you are living, and you are breathing, and I urge you to continue to do so, to live your life, and to let the world at large into your heart.

When Obsession Pays Off: A (Long) Story About jj

You know that dream where you meet your hero, and it turns out that they think you’re just as amazing as you think they are, and even though you know it’s never going to happen, you feel happy thinking that, one day, it could happen? What do you do when it does happen?

Joakim Benon, one-half of the band jj, has just thrown his arms around my neck in a warm, loving embrace. “I love you, I love you,” he tells me while Elin Kastlander, the other half of the band, sings behind him. Everyone around me that I had talked to before the show is, rightfully, just a little bit excited. Okay, maybe a lot excited. And by all rights, so am I. As you, dear reader, may have gathered, I am a colossal fan of the band. When I first came across their debut jj n° 2, I became ensnared in the first true pop history of my life. Who were these people, if it was more than one person? What are they doing here? Why did they cover “Lollipop” by Lil’ Wayne? I had questions, and the band made it impossible to answer them. Then, after signing to Secretly Canadian, their names leaked out, as did photos. The band was added as touring support for The XX, and they released a quick follow up, following a great deal of critical acclaim. Shouldn’t this kill a band’s spirit, as it has with so very many musicians?

Let’s fast forward a little bit. My wife, Kelly, and I are sitting outside the Crystal Ballroom, waiting just another hour and a half for the show that we’d gotten tickets for in very early January. We were psyched, to say the least. I am a fan of The XX, undoubtedly, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t here to see my Then, a woman with impeccably crazy blonde hair, who is called Elin, walks out of the door and to the Chrysler mini-van in front of us. We exchange nervous and giddy glances as she fishes through her car. “Are you her?” I ask, sheepishly. “From jj? Will you sign my records?” “Let me find a pen!” she tells me, and after a full two minutes of fishing through the minivan, Elin emerges with a pen in hand, and acts truly surprised when I produce the sleeves to both of their records. “You bought both of them!” she says. “Well, of course I did. It was all worth every penny!” After signing them, she holds out her arms to give me a massive hug, and stands talking to us for a minute. I admit, I gush a little bit. “Thanks for buying the records!” she tells me, and I nervously tell her that the import price was well worth it to have a copy of n° 2. “You should have mailed us, we would have just sent you a copy!” she says, laughing. We let her go, and go on with our time killing, immensely happy.

This has been unbearably awesome, by my standards, because I love meeting musicians. For a normal person, this is enough, and for me, it is enough. However, it seems that this isn‘t enough for the band.

A blonde man, who is called Joakim, who I recognize from the photos I’ve seen, walks up to the door. I stop him, asking if he can give me his autograph as well. Elin and a roadie come out behind them, and ask if they can get a photo of us. Then, the roadie proceeds to have both Elin and Joakim pose with us for another photo. Nobody has a pen, but Joakim vows to sign my records after the show. “How often do musicians ask to get their picture taken with you?” Kelly asks, shocked and bemused. “I gotta tell you, this is a first time!” It’s impossible, at this point, to shake my joy.

Fast forward to that very same blonde man pledging his love to me during “Into The Light.” I’ve had musicians interact with me before, but never like this. My face is beginning to hurt from smiling as much as I am, between seeing all of the songs I’ve listened to countless times being played two feet from me, and the people responsible for those songs showing me immense affection. Joakim disappears from sight for a minute or two, just long enough for Elin to sing “Things Will Never Be The Same.” He returns, with his sunglasses in hand. He walks back in front of me, kneels down again, and places the shades in my hand. The people around us are going truly crazy at this point. He air guitars his part of “Let Go,” and leans in for another hug and, to my surprise, kisses me on the cheek. “Love me! Love me!” a woman nearby is screaming. Everyone is beaming jealously. As the last song ends, Elin follows suit and gives me another warm hug before high fiving everyone in the front row. Starstruck? Maybe, just maybe.

“That was so cool! How do you know them?” A girl behind me asks. I look bashfully back, “I’ve never met ’em before tonight, I’m just a really, really big fan!” “I think you just made everyone here a really big fan just because they were so sweet to you!” another girl tells me.

This is probably true. Musicians may be trained to love their fans more than anything, but how many bands actually go out of their way to make that known? Not enough. Too often do bands forget that the thousands of screaming fans are there for them, and forget to give back, just a little. In singling me out the crowd, they set themselves apart from every other band, because they did something to prove that they are just as big of a fan of us as we are of them. And, from the looks of it, I’ve got a couple of really big fans in Gothenburg.

“Did you see the drummer’s hair?” – The effect of music videos on music quality

On a day not unlike the day I start writing this, I showed two of my friends a video by the band Liars, for their song “House Clouds.” I showed them because, knowing my friends, the two would enjoy the fact that, throughout most of the video, the three members of the band are playing with animals, the most prominent being the frontman playing with an almost spine-crushingly cute kitten. During this video, one of my friends stated, jokingly, “Maybe they’re using the animals to take attention away from how unattractive they are.”

The video in question: Liars – “Houseclouds”

Even though she was joking, it seems that this is a major factor in music listening in teenagers, for little-to-no reason. Spending time in the company of teenagers means you listen to a lot of popular music, and thus, you listen to those teenagers talk about those bands. And, unfortunately, the discussion usually centers on the relative attractiveness of the members thereof. “I love blank, he is so hot,” or “He has such a hot voice, I would totally bang him” are the most commonly shared comments on whatever band happens to be on. This is, of course, not a new concept, but it shows a lot about what television channels such as MTV and Fuse have done to the collective discussion on the topic of music.

I myself was not around when MTV reared its big ugly head in the first place, so I’m certainly not a reliable source for how things have changed since it became a force in the listening community. However, it goes without stating that, if not for channels like MTV, the relative “hotness” of these bands would be almost irrelevant, unless you were a showgoer. It seems that, since musicians began focusing more and more on being pleasing to the eyes rather than the ears, the quality of the product being produced has taken a marked nosedive. Musicians (or at least well-known musicians) have ceased to be musicians, but more people with good-looking faces and bodies that happen to put out records.

Would this be to say that, without the invention of MTV, people would still be almost oblivious to the looks of their favorite bands? Certainly not. There would still be magazines and posters to be bought, and even if MTV hadn’t come along, someone else would inevitably have the idea to make it possible to see music. However, it has never been so very easy to see the face behind the voice you’ve been enjoying. Even if you don’t watch MTV or Fuse or VH1, you can simply go online and look for pictures of the bands you know and love, which was certainly not possible (or as possible) when MTV arrived. Though it doesn’t necessarily play a lot of music, when kids watch the videos they do air, they are much more concerned with if they would like to go to bed with the musician, and nevermind if that musician is talented.

I don’t place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the listening community. It doesn’t help that pop musicians have become little more than grinning, handsome spokespeople who are trying to sell you their band. This seems to be the purpose of having your face plastered all over the internet, in videos, magazines, so on: to sell the product. You may think I only think this because 90% of the music I listen to comes from faceless (and usually unattractive) people who play music and little else. But really, that’s what they were hired to do. Music is something you listen to, after all, and it doesn’t matter how cute the bassist is with his hair like that. And it shouldn’t matter to the person making the music how their hair looks: as said: we didn’t hire you to look cute and fun loving. We hired you to play us a few songs and go home.

It seems that music has almost gone the way of the profession of acting: who cares if Heath Ledger was on his way to becoming one of the best and most well rounded actors in the modern era? His position in the world was shown by the overwhelming response I got from my peers: “Why did Heath have to die? He was so hot!” It was not an actor who died, it was a hot guy. And so it goes for music. If the members of a certain band were half as good looking, would it be unreasonable to believe that they would sell less records? Would kids still turn out to their shows like they do now? I don’t believe it would be a stretch to believe that, if musicians were still musicians, rather than faces selling a product, music would still be as good as it was when the only time you saw the person playing was if you went out of your way to do so, by going to a concert, or buying a magazine with said band in it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it somewhat backwards that the faces of musicians sell more records than the quality of the product? Shouldn’t it be more relevant that people in the band can actually use their instruments properly? It is true, people were just as up in arms about the relative attractiveness of, say, Elvis Presley or The Beatles, but it was never more important than the fact that they played pretty good music (even though Elvis didn’t exactly make what is commonly called “good music”). Is it so wrong that I wish musicians would just shut up and play their instruments, like they used to, and stopped fixing their goddamn hair?