Friday, February 22, 2013

Where I find My Music

    The other day I was hanging out with a friend. She had a pandora station playing. I think the song "Two Atoms in a Molecule" came on which led to me remarking, "I really like Noah and the Whale." My friend asked me then, "Eric, where do you find your music?". To which I glibly replied, "The internet." and we both laughed. And my answer was half true - as vague and as much of a cop-out as it was - I do find a good portion of the music that I listen to on a regular basis from the internet. But the thing to remember is that the internet is huge! Its like an ocean; you and I may have both been to the Atlantic or Pacific in our lives, but that might be the only part about seeing the ocean for both of us that was a shared experience. We were both at the ocean, though perhaps you saw a shark and I got salt water in my eyes. That's similar to how we're both on the internet right now, but after that our experiences are probably differing in some way.

Noah and the Whale
2 Atoms in a Molecule
     Whoa, okay, I think I"m straying a little bit from where I want to go with this. I'll try to reel it back in. Let's start off with a different question: where did my love of music come from? The answer to that question would probably be my family. I remember from an early age that there was usually some sort of cool and strange sounds coming out of either the stereo or the car speaker's on road trips. My parents introduced me and my brother to Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Van Morrison, Supertramp, Bing Crosby, The Cars, The Clash, The Talking Heads and a bunch more. Later on I learned a little about punk and ska from my brother with bands like Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, Lucky Boys Confusion, The Ergs as well as other stuff like REM, The Hold Steady, Ben Folds Five and Modest Mouse.

The Talking Heads
This Must Be the Place

    From there I began to decide which bands I, myself enjoyed. Like They Might Be Giants, years before my brother and I used to rock out to Dr. Worm, but it wasn't until around junior high when I heard their song "Prevenge" on the radio that I realized that a) I loved this strange and wacky band and b) that they were the same ones who sang Dr. Worm and also that they did the theme song for Malcolm in the Middle. Or The Decemberists, who I first heard when the local college radio station played their song "16 Military Wives". For one reason for another that song has become one of my all time favorites, along with a large portion of their discography. In the past six or eight years my family and I have seen The Decemberists play live four times. They put on a hell of a good show.

The Decemberists
16 Military Wives

    I think a big factor in where I or anyone finds music is whether you are an active or passive music listener. A passive music listener might be someone who listens to the radio every day and enjoys that experience, but for the most part takes it no farther than that. An active listener on the other hand might hear half a song played as the outro for a hotel commercial and immediately head to the internet to investigate just who might be the author or composer of said song. I realize these are gross over-simplifications and generalizations of how people feel about music and for that I apologize. That being said, I think I fall under the definition that I just gave of an active music listener. For example in High School my family and I took a weekend trip to the Detroit Auto Show. First of all, it is a really cool auto show that is definitely worth checking out, this is from someone who doesn't know that much about cars(one might say I'm a passive car driver...). The booth for Volkswagen was playing some very dancey music. More than that, it was dancey music that I had never heard before. I wrote some of the lyrics down and looked the song up when we got home. I found out the band was called Chromeo and the song I had heard was called Needy Girl. And with that I became a fan. I would still really like to see Chromeo live; I bet they'd be fun to see. 

Needy Girl

    Now back to the internet. At the end of high school I started frequenting a variety of blogs which hosted reviews and samples of singles from upcoming albums. How did I find these blogs? I'm not quite sure anymore. But one would always link to others, so discovery then led to discovery. Most of the ones I used to go to are now defunct, such is the shelf-life of most things on the internet. For awhile though I learned of bands way ahead of their actual release or rise in popularity. Such cases include Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver.

    I am also almost always on Youtube. Either to DJ songs a few at a time for myself while I'm working, or to find awesome music videos to share, or sometimes one song links to another that is just as awesome and I make a note. Back when I worked at the radio station we had to do rotation hours to go along with our specialty shows. This was a little like having to come in for a shift at a job, except for the most part this was actually fun. You got to find out what new bands had gotten added to the rotation, and which ones had left to be added to the stacks. I tried to play one artist from the stacks that I was unfamiliar with each time I came in. Which is how I found out I liked Georgie James and Hot Chip and The Fruit Bats. And if I played a song I didn't really like all too much, well, no big deal it was only one song and besides there was an average of only 1-2 people listening during rotation. Oh! The other major way I have found bands that I enjoy has been through friends making wonderful mixtrapes/CD's. If there's one thing I believe in, it is the power of a good mix. It's like a letter written in sound, full of inside jokes, winks, memories, and love.

Georgie James
Cake Parade

Those are the ways that I find music. Although I'm always looking for more music, anywhere I can.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Almost Not Quite 4: Shell Games

   Again, before I get into this, I would like to say all the artists I have featured are ones that I really enjoy listening to. Its just that I have a love for well done music videos and I get disappointed when the video doesn't live up to the song that it goes along with. This also reminds me that I've been meaning to start a segment where the video is just outstandingly wonderful.

  Connor Oberst, the man behind Bright Eyes, started as a young song writing virtuoso.  He recorded his songs himself on cassettes and toured close to home while he was still in school. through the years he has been a part of more than a handful of bands and has had a successful solo career as well. He's used his slightly nasal voice to weave melancholic lyrics through rock, blue grass, electronic, and strange avant-garde landscapes.

  I really liked the last album from Bright Eyes entitled "The People's Key". The album was released back in early 2011. It features a spoken word intro and outro by a shaman giving a few kernels of wisdom on life. Also there are songs that bounce along, some that rock, and others that just seem to strike the right chord

   The song "Shell Games", the first single off the album, is about the general futility and mystery that are experienced through life. One of the prevailing themes of both the song and the album as a whole is that this whole thing called life is too difficult to do alone. We all need help now and again, we all need companionship. There's a line in the song that goes, "My private life is an inside joke/ no one will explain it to me". I love that line, even if I can't quite articulate why. Maybe its because that line portrays how we think everyone else seems to have it more together, but really, inside we're all just as lost.

  And that's why I like both the song and the album. The video for "Shell Games" in my opinion, is a little underwhelming. Shot on 8mm film, the video is dim from lack of any real lighting. To add to the lack of clarity, there are several long cross fades, with one shot hazily running over top of another. For the most part the video consists of the band playing the song in a living room, then playing around in the snow outside.  On one hand, I'm a bit thrown off by the confusion that is created by the fact that you cannot really tell what is happening. But on the other hand, maybe , maybe that's the point: using the lack of lighting and overlaid shots to illustrate the uncertainties of navigating the waters of life. things are murky, mysterious, and constantly changing.

Bright Eyes
Shell Games

video directed by Nik Fackler

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Party to Your Abuses

Maybe I am
just a party
to your abuses

Sitting idly
on broken floorboards
near rusted pipes

I'd listen
as you spouted forth
empty rhetoric
   and shot up
   clear poison

On and on
it went
until I'd find
my fingers snapping
  trying to summon
   a stray melody
   trying to remember
      a lost thought

   Maybe I am
    just a party
to our lack of ambition

Sitting idly on broken dreams
watching the seconds
    fly away

On and on
  it'll go
until I'll find
my hands creating
shadow puppets
  trying to remember
    how to spell beauty

Monday, February 11, 2013

Oregon Trail via Trans Am

  When I woke up there was 1 new envelope on my phone, indicating a new message. It read:

                               "Meet me by the cobbled path around four"

   She meant the cobbled path that starts on campus then meanders through the park, around the lake, into the woods, then back again. Its quite scenic, especially for people-watching what with all the people out walking and biking. I got to the beginning of the path early, which meant waiting. If I can be honest here, waiting idly has to be one of my least favorite things. I'm not one of those people who bring little activities like Sudoku or Jacks or a Rubiks Cube for these moments. Plus I start thinking about how awkward and or creepy a guy standing or pacing by himself in a random place must be. I think how I could be taken for a killer planning his next mark by scouting for coeds. Do I look like that type? Lord no. But that doesn't stop stray thoughts.

     In actuality I probably look like any old shmoe waiting for a friend in the park. I try to hold onto that image and cast out the idiotic thoughts by kneeling down and fidgeting with my shoe laces. First untying and meticulously retying the right shoe, then the left. I repeat this process for a bit, trying to ignore the thought that no one over the age of six would have this much trouble with their laces.

   I looked up to see she was standing right above me. I was a little startled, but by now I should have been used to her stealth. She could walk anywhere soundlessly, even in heels. As if her feet didn't quite touch the ground. Maybe she had been a ninja in a past life. We hugged each other and to a passerby it probably looked like two friends reconnecting after years, really we had seen each other last night at O'Smokey's playing pool. This was just how we said hello.

   Soon enough we were walking and talking along the path. Though that makes it sound like an entirely shared endeavor. We were both walking, yes, but she was doing the majority of the talking. Which was fine, I didn't mind listening. She said how you'd think we'd have gotten sick of this path after walking along it so many times. But we didn't. Each season brought something different: the leaves turning beautiful oranges and reds with bicyclists zipping by in the Fall, In the Winter the lake would freeze over enough for ice skaters and along the path professors would puff by on cross country skis, Spring meant budding flowers and countless people laying out on beach towels, hoping to get tan.

  No it wasn't the path she was sick of, and it wasn't me, nevertheless there was something eating away at her. A sort of quiet worry or frustration. She said she was feeling hemmed in and it got worse every time she went home. It was like claustrophobia, she said, like the walls were closing in. As if her old room had been replaced with an industrial-sized trash compactor in her absence. More than anything else, it was an overall consuming feeling of dread.

   She said this feeling had followed her back here to school. She'd considered this crushing feeling inside and out. Her diagnosis was that she was trapped in one certain path to the future. If she kept going it would lead to graduation, then a respectable job, then a family, a mortgage, a 401k, mini-vans, on and on. When she came to this realization of her impending finality, she made a decision. Instead of riding along this preordained road to the future, she was going to surprise it. Hit the future with a sneak attack.

  I asked her if that meant she was dropping out, if this was goodbye. She shook her head. No, that would be too predictable. Her plans were far too grandiose to be predictable and yet they were so simple! I rolled my eyes. Then she began to tell me the real plan. She'd finish up the semester and walk at graduation. There were a few high profile internships she'd applied to and talked up to her parents. This was a cover, she had no intention of finding out a career just yet. The thought of finding one just made the impending feeling of dread stronger.

  She had an uncle out in Montana. He had gotten wealthy after a few very well placed investments on Wall St. He retired early and started a ranch, thinking it might be fun to be a new-age cow boy. There was speculation that his investments had come from illegal insider trading. But that was just speculation.

   He had told his niece that he could always use a few more cattle hands if she wanted to come out and work for awhile. She told me she thought it'd be a grand adventure. Or at least a it might be a good way to get away, surely one couldn't feel nearly as hemmed in out in Montana. If I wanted to come she said her uncle wouldn't be opposed to more help. I told her I'd consider it.

  I asked her how she was planning on getting out there. Her eyes lit up, she exclaimed that was the part she was most excited for. She asked me if I remembered the old Oregon Trail game we used to play back when we were kids. I nodded. After graduation her plan was to take her trusty Trans Am out and follow the real Oregon Trail out there. I objected that it led to Oregon, not Montana; this much was clear from the title. She waved her hands in the air, vaguely brushing away my objection. She said we have modern roads now! Surely it wouldn't be too difficult to make a few adjustments.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ride the Fear

You can't
be so afraid
of those parking lots

Its where
the ice grows thickest
and the ghouls hide
but they're
not there for you

You can't
be so afraid
when it hits you,
ride that fear
like a wild stallion
out on the plains

If you
let the fear take hold
that's when they'll
get you

But its not
you they seek,
they're not here
for you

Monday, February 4, 2013

Half Life of Places

   He stepped into the kitchen, bare feet on cold tiled floor. With methodical precision he removed the teakettle from the stove, dumped the stale water, refilling the kettle with fresh water from the tap. Setting the kettle back upon the quickly heating gas stove-top, he called into the next room, "Arthur! Where do you keep your tea bags, it always seems to slip my mind..."

  "Upper right cabinet  above the sink. I'll take Earl Grey.", called back Arthur's voice, disembodied, floating through the flat, away from its owner secure in his easy chair.

  In the kitchen Thom set two tea bags into mugs on the counter, then padded back to the living room to wait for the kettle's keening whistle. "Arthur, would you move somewhere else? Let's say a different flat in a different town."

   "Good heavens, no. I simply couldn't. How could I leave home? I can't even walk out that door on an average day to get a dozen eggs, let alone the abject terror and anxiety that would be compounded by moving even further away. A whole other town? I simply couldn't."

  Thom pinched the bridge of his nose. He took a deep, exaggerated breath. Sometimes having a conversation with Arthur was a trial in itself. "Okay, how 'bout we start small: when was the last time you went out that door?"

  In his armchair Arthur hummed at the thought. "I'd have to say its been at least two and a half years at this point. Mind you the only reason I left that particular day was that there was a different mail courier. Not knowing the routine I had set with William, he set my mail out by the street in the box instead of the door. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving the mail out there when it might rain later, or mail thieves might come by! So I made a dash for it. I was lucky, nothing happened and the mail was retrieved without incident."

  FSSSSSHHHHHHHHHH!!! the tea-kettle cried from the other room. Thom relieved the boiling water from the heat and poured two cups, then took the cups back into the living room. "Can we do a bit of a thought experiment then? Just for a moment? In this hypothetical scenario there would be a way to transfer you to a completely different flat, perhaps on the otherside of the city, or perhaps countries away, without having to go outside. A form of teleportation maybe. Would you give it a shot then?"

  Arthur took a sip of his tea, finding it to still be scalding. He replaced the cup on the table and considered the question. "I...I guess I would in that case, sure. The risk seems fairly low, but why do you ask?"

  "Its just that lately I've been thinking. When you first move somewhere that place is almost completely new to you. So you meet people, discover the many different organizations the town has to offer, and you take walks, exploring every nook and cranny there is to see. But then over time, and this is what I"ve really been caught on, over a series of weeks or months or years, do you gradually suck all the mystery out of that place through experience? Eventually every sidewalk and trail have been walked down, each organization has been joined and numerous friends and acquaintances are met and fade away". He paused, sipping tea and thinking, "I guess what I'm trying to say is once the mystery is gone out of the place, is it time to move on?"

   Thom had given Arthur much more than Arthur had expected with his answer, so for a moment they both sat in silence with their hot beverages in hand. "I think you may have a point there. Once you've exhausted all the mysteries, avenues, and possibilities in a place the answer then is to move on. I think that answer is true, but I also think it is two-fold."

    "How so?", Thom asked obligingly

 "Take me for instance. I've lived here in this flat for over 15 years now.", Arthur gestured to the surrounding rooms. "When you first moved here your domain to explore extended not only through your whole house, but also the entire town and the surrounding area outside of that. My domain on the other hand has always just been this flat, granted my neuroses were less severe when I first moved in. Over 15 years of course I've exhausted all the mysteries there can be in a place this big. But I stayed here nonetheless."

   "Well, yes, though didn't you just stay because of your agoraphobia?"

"Partially yes. The other factor is that over time the wheel comes back around. The loop restarts itself. Even when you've seen everything there is to see, eventually new things appear, or you see things in a new light. For instance I've had these mugs for most of the past decade and it wasn't until yesterday I noticed that there are a series of owls flying between the jumping fish. Never once did I notice the owls, and now they're plain as day. Or on a bigger scale, I didn't know you until you moved in two doors down. Now we have tea a few times a week and that's different and wonderful."

  "So then the only two answers are jump off the wheel and find a new one or stay and wait for it to turn around again?"

  Arthur laughed, "That about sums it up, but no I don't think its just the two, there's always another answer to a question floating out there somewhere. And I believe all the loops - all the places and possibilities rather - are connected somehow."

   "I think I'm okay with it all when you put it like that.", Thom said, scratching his head thoughtfully.

        "Good, will you get us another cuppa then?"