Saturday, December 31, 2022
Small Things - Billy Collins’ “Musical Tables"
Saturday, December 24, 2022
Tony's Top Five* Albums of the Year 2022
We can debate whether or not that's true or if I was just seeing stars after the long, long drive, but one thing I am certain of: Will Sheff's first album under his own name (I'm loath to use the phrase 'solo album,' he was such a commanding force of the revolving door at Okkervil River) is a pastoral masterpiece of music. I had hesitated to dive into it, having been burned by previous Okkervil albums, but man, oh man. In the title track, Sheff sings:
there was treasure we'd claw our way toand we'd know it by the gleamwe had seen inside some dreamthat was beamed through our boyhood bedroomswhen we were nothing special
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
5 (Not Quite) Albums of the Year 2022
This is more like my list of albums I think would have been the back half of my top-ten for 2022 if I'd had time to listen to more, or if I'd been more fair to artists not named Jack White/Coheed & Cambria, or, if The Weeknd's Dawn FM had come out deeper into the year than week two that I will probably come to love, eventually. In the case of one of these entries, I have in the first two weeks of December listened to and enjoy conclusively enough to put on the ReAl LiSt, whatever that means, but out of fairness cannot call an album that came out in April (hint!) that I only started listening to on the last pages of the 2022 calendar an aLbUm Of ThE yEaR, whatever that means.
I did listen to a cartoonishly large amount of music this year, it just wasn't a very wide variety of artists (read: just one guy), I also read a fair bit (didja notice I'm sort of reviewing books on this blog? check out some recent poetry and a collection of non-fiction I wrote about). Cut me some slack: I moved, have a kid, started a new job, and so on and so on. It is hard to get into new stuff, and its hard to stay current with old stuff. Some of the records I wrote about last week I didn't remember even getting this year until I sat down to write about them. Hoping for a more normal 2023 to stay more "hip" and have a routine listening ritual, namely, a 4 day a week commute without blessed endless hours of live Jack White to listen to.
So, I present to you something like the 5 - 10 albums of the year, probably, if I would just sit down and enjoy them more than I already have:
The Loneliest Time - Carly Rae Jepsen
I am famously a Carly Rae Jepsen fan. In fact, the worst I ever got grilled by a college student was in early 2020 when I name dropped Jepsen and the class was like, "isn't 'Call Me Maybe' 10,000 years old?" and I told them yeah but Carly is still active in fact she just put out a CD last year and they couldn't decide which was more embarrassing: that I was actively listening to a meme artist like 10 years after the meme song came out or that I bought CDs so, like any good student does, they picked both options and I didn't hear the end of it.
Speaking of being torn between two options, Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift both released subdued, introspective, mellower pop records on the exact same day this year. Speaking of memes, I made this about it:
Jack White Released 2 Studio Albums This Year and Went on a Cartoonishly Large World Tour, What Am I Supposed to Do Other Than Write 1,882 Words About It?
I read this really good book awhile ago. It was called Federer and Me, by William Skidelsky, and it was sort of a biography about the tennis player, Roger Federer, but it was mostly about Skidelsky's obsession with the tennis player, and more than that, it was a reflection on obsession itself. What does it mean to be a super-fan? What did it mean, for Skidelsky to go watch Federer play while his wife was in the hospital delivering their first child? What does it mean that she not only anticipated that, but encouraged it?
I don't think obsession is something only one person can hold. For example, back in October when news broke that 1996 cinema masterpiece Twister would be getting a sequel - tentatively titled Twisters (lol) people popped up out of the woodwork to share that news with me. People I hadn't talked to in years remembered that I was obsessed, that obsession in some way effected them, and here we are, years later, talking about a blockbuster movie about an unlikely storm cell and how it rekindled a love gone cold. Another, perhaps more pertinent example, would be that Jack White released two new studio albums and went on a cartoonishly large world tour this year. The first handful of times I left Ben at home to go do something that wasn't work or getting him diapers or us food, was to wait in line outside of Third Man Records Cass Corridor for some Jack White vinyl, or, twice in one weekend, to see Jack White open the Supply Chain Issues Tour at the Masonic Temple. There wasn't really much conversation about it; Rachel knew I was going, I knew I was going, so I went. I like to think I made it up to her staying up a little extra in the nights leading up to, and after, those shows. But I also like to think she was happy to see me happy. Even after we left Detroit, friends in the orbit of my obsession were running down to the record store to get exclusive copies of singles, of albums, of printed lyric hymnals (thank you Aunt Nicole, Ayah, and others!). Shit, my local record store dude even staged some pictures of me and a very special Jack White fan at Spoonful.
This is all to say, I'm glad my obsession isn't a secret, I'm glad everybody I know who knows me is in on it, because I really, really am obsessed with Jack White, but I'm also obsessed with the love of my friends and family. Its nice to live with both.
It should be a surprise to exactly nobody that I really, really liked April's Fear of the Dawn and July's Entering Heaven Alive, but that wasn't what I spent most of 2022 listening to. Here's the part where I sound like I'm doing a sponsored post, and I wish I was! because I'd love to get some free shit just for writing about the music I am obsessed with! but I'm not, I promise this is genuine. A few years ago Jack White got into the Nugs.net universe of high quality concert "bootlegs" available to stream or purchase. At first, Nugs was a good place for obscure White Stripes shows (many of which I wrote about a few months ago) and digital version of otherwise vinyl-only Vault releases. Now, the platform itself sucks: the app is slow, the website is prehistoric, but on April 8th, when I was leaving the Masonic Temple having seen Jack White debut new songs, propose to Olivia Jean during "Hotel Yorba" and then come back to marry her during the show's encore, I was handed a postcard with a Nugs.net code on it making the bold claim that all of the Supply Chain Issues World Tour would be archived on Nugs for your listening pleasure. Holy shit. Obviously I couldn't chase the tour like I did in 2018, but now I could listen to every single Jack White live show in the comfort of my home, my car, or my headphones? Holy shit, yes. And sure enough, my old ritual of checking what crazy deep cuts Jack would pull out in setlists each morning-after became sending Rachel off to work and listening to the newest show's bootleg with Ben throughout the day. I was ignoring new music, old music, skipping podcasts. Listening to one 100 minute concert isn't that much of a tax on your music time, but, a whole tour? Dozens and dozens of 100 minute concerts? Suddenly the summer was gone and I hadn't listened to anything but Jack White live!
Of the one hundred and four shows this year, I have listened to sixty-nine* of them (as of this writing). To put that into (or out of? hard to say) perspective, if you compile every live Jack White song I have listened to this year (as of this writing!) that's 1506 songs totally in 98 hours, 13 minutes, and 12 seconds of blistering guitar solos, wailing screams, and tender acoustic ballads.
- Fear of the Dawn
- Entering Heaven Alive
- The Supply Chain Issues Tour / Masonic Temple, April 8, 2022
- The Supply Chain Issues Tour / Masonic Temple, April 9, 2022
- Live from Marshall Street
- The Supply Chain Issues Tour
*71, but I'm not doing the math.
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Shot, Chaser: Isaac Fitzgerald's "Dirtbag, Massachusetts"
- the essay about masculine body dysmorphia? read it!
- the essay about being antiracist in white male spaces? read it!
- the essay about The Hold Steady? read it
- the essay about Fight Club and how Fitzgerald's knucklehead friends used to beat the shit out of each other that possibly was the inspo for the book's title? read it!
Friday, December 16, 2022
Kaveh Akbar's "Pilgrim Bell" - Delayed Gratification and Cotton Candy
I was a big fan of Kaveh Akbar, though I am not sure how that came about. It was as if he emerged as an established and essential contemporary writer. His debut chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic absolutely floored me when it came out in early 2017. Akbar had (deservedly so) real literary bona fides, he was getting buzz in all the "right" journals, and in what seemed like fifteen seconds, his first full-length (Calling a Wolf a Wolf) was out (later in 2017) on Alice James Books. I even got to see Akbar give a reading in Detroit the morning of Jay Z's 4:44 tour stop at Little Caesar's Arena, which I only mention to say the poet in a humble arthouse living room was the better of the two performances I saw that day (not a slight on Jay Z, mind you).
But, 2017 was also the year I
fell out of love with poetry stopped writing poetry. Something happened that both was and wasn't grad school, which I started in August of that very same year. I want to say I was "too busy" for poetry, but I wasn't. I want to say I was "too focused" and writing from another perspective, but I wasn't. Allow me a digression:
In early 2014 I applied to PhD programs as a solution to a problem that a PhD program wouldn't solve. I needed something to do, and in February of that year, I was still six months away from announcing to the Pacific Ocean that "I didn't get an M.F.A. to teach" (still one of the all-time dumbest things I ever said) and thus began my long, miserable slog to listless service industry life in San Francisco, then Oakland, then extradited back to Ohio. Sometimes I try to indulge in self-pitying reminiscence, but when I finally got a job teaching freshman composition at University of Michigan Dearborn, it felt earned through the self-destructive oblivion I had wrought for myself.
Not to be melodramatic, but when Akbar writes about his alcoholism, though I am not an alcoholic myself, I can relate - in the most Catholic sense - to the guilt he writes from. In Pilgrim Bell's titular poem, he writes:
To be forgiven.
A sturdier soul."
I needed "a sturdier soul" to rediscover poetry, maybe I felt like I needed forgiveness for the stupid shit I had done to myself and to my loved ones. I thought of poetry, between 2017 and 2022, as a vector for teaching. I wrote a little, published a few poems, but was mostly focused on poetry as a means for exciting young writers into, well, writing. Any means necessary.
I distinctly remember being excited at the beginning of the pandemic (hold on this will make sense) for two reasons: first, I had finished coursework and with a lightened teaching load at my two campuses would have more time to focus on my own dissertation writing and, second, a bunch of good poetry was coming out and I would finally have time to get back in the habit of reading poems and writing poems of my own.
Turns out writing a dissertation is hugely difficult and all-consuming. Pilgrim Bell came out in August 2021, two weeks before my defense. One week after my defense I started a new job. Two weeks after that we bought a house and moved into it. Two weeks after that I began looking for a permanent job to replace my one-year visiting appointment at Detroit Mercy. Two months after that Ben was born. Turns out having an infant is hugely difficult and all-consuming.
In another of the sequence of titular poems in the book, Akbar writes: "The self I am today. / Involves me. / As a lake. / Involves. / Its cattails. / It bears me."
Early in my M.F.A., I had been so concerned with what poets were instead of what poets did (write poems, dumbass). I wish I'd approached my craft back then with the same no-bullshit I approach teaching, which was to lean into the many selves I could be while being Writing Teacher. That made it effortless, enjoyable, natural, rewarding. It's why I know my students like me, it's why I can leave every morning happy, it's why while I might come home depleted, my spirit is still full.
The self I have been since Ben was born involves me as a father, which itself involves many, many things. Recently, I have been reading him books to sleep, but since Ben hasn't acquired language yet I can kind of read him anything I want. Star Wars fiction, card game rule books, and lots of poetry. Turns out "the sturdier soul" I needed, to rediscover that love of poetry, wasn't my own. It was his.
And to him, while finally digging into this book that I had been so excited about by a poet who excites me so greatly, I found tremendous delayed gratification in the work. Pilgrim Bell crosses the impossible threshold that Portrait set, it floored me almost on every single page. The work is humble, and sweeping, and generous, and selfish. It is confessional, and honest; it is what my poems aspire to be. Its hilarious.
Take, for example, "Cotton Candy" which opens with a John Donne quote: "To go to heaven, we make heaven come to us" and begins with the line: "yes John I tried that the results were / underwhelming my liver practically / leapt out of my body." That's bleak, sure, but its also very funny. This poem, fixating on Akbar's mother as many of the poems in the book do, ends with such a tremendous image that I hope sits with you as long as it has sat with me:
my mother hated rides
she was happy to buy me cotton candy and
sit on a bench
she'd watch me eat the whole bag
I think of fear, and guilt, obsession. I watch Ben doze. Reading him these poems while he is too small to understand them is a bag of cotton candy I will watch him eat every night. Smiling. Forgiving myself. Fortifying that sturdier soul - one which is lightened - as new loves (sons, fatherhood, poetry) flood back into me, familiar again.
Thursday, December 15, 2022
A Round-Up (In No Particular Order) of Albums I Liked Enough to Buy on Vinyl* But Not to Rank on a Year End List This Year
Asphalt Meadows - Death Cab for Cutie
This album got dealt an unfair hand, it came out (1) the week I had COVID and (2) during the first week of the semester. This being my first ever semester at Ohio Dominican, while I couldn't resist the urge to keep a record player at work, I could resist the urge to blast all of my LPs at full bore. You guys hired me? Time for some mother f**king Coheed guitar solos! This, fortunately, did not happen.
This politeness kind of sucked for Asphalt Meadows because it is an album that starts really loudly. "i don't know how i survive" and "roman candles" which are as good as any of the best Death Cab songs are punchy, noisy, Narrow Stairs meets Kintsugi studio fuzz. They rule, especially "roman candles" which I think is my favorite new Death Cab song since the title track of 2011's Codes & Keys. As the needle moves inward on side a, though, the album gets softer. This is to say, at least on vinyl, I basically did not listen to Asphalt Meadows.
Which is too bad. Album #10 for the Cab-crew shows signs of growth, not signs of age. Not weary ones, anyway. The band, including new members Dave Depper and Zac Rae, sent files back and forth using Dropbox during the pandemic to lay down demos for these songs and that distance doesn't show in the tracks. You can really hear nice synergy between Depper, Rae, Gibbard, Hammer, and McGrerr on bops like "here to forever" which is also a bitchin' track. I will not, however, talk about "foxglove through the clearcut." I think a semi-spoken word track is cool, but if this was a CD I'd skip the track almost every time. It isn't bad, and its possible live this might be a neat song, but its kind of boring. Gibbard's voice is this band's greatest weapon and he shouldn't put a silencer on it!
Not to dwell on it, but flip the record (which is an adorable shade of pink) and you get "pepper" that showcases no cracks in Gibbard's perfect affectation. God he sounds good! This song rules. "Kiss me just this one last time / show me that your love was mine." Are you kidding me? Vintage DCFC! "i miss strangers" also rocks. I'm kind of selling myself on this LP lol.
Still, RENAISSANCE came out on a Friday I was going - by myself - to Youngstown, which meant I could hear these songs they way I believe they are best served: very loudly, and in one continuous listen. As soon as "SUMMER RENAISSANCE" ended I immediately tapped play on "I'M THAT GIRL", totally floored (as I am right now, listening to it loud in my empty academic building while students shuffle around campus from exam to exam).
Certain recent challenges, some unique to myself and some we have all shared, but particularly the passing of my dearest friend, have forced me to recognize not only the precious and fragile nature of life, but also the interconnectivity of all life. Loved ones we have lost are really not lost at all, as they, and we still living, are all component pieces of a far larger continuous organism, which both precedes and succeeds our illusory individual selves, united through time by (you guessed it) the will to live.
Recognition of this self-evident truth demands that we extend the same empathy and compassion we would wish for ourselves outward to every living creature, even to those we would label our enemies, for we are all cells in the same body, sprung from a common womb, devoted to the common cause of survival.
Naturally, though, our long-suffering narrator can only arrive at this conclusion through a painful and arduous odyssey through Hell itself—this is a Titus Andronicus record, after all.
|prettiest albums of the year anyway|