Sunday, May 21, 2023

20 Notes on The White Stripes' Elephant for its 20th Birthday

The White Stripes released Elephant, their forth studio album, on April 1, 2003. Recorded over the course of two weeks mostly using analogue equipment in Toe Rag Studios, Elephant doesn't have the enduring legacy of a quick trip to the studio in between arduous tour dates in the U.K. and Europe around White Blood Cells. Instead, Elephant is The White Stripes' most celebrated album and includes the 21st century's biggest guitar rock song.

  1. Let's get "Seven Nation Army" out of the way. It is, after all, track one. The balls on this band to put the biggest rock and roll song of the 21st century as the prelude to the 13 Elephant tracks that follow it!
  2. Jack White often says in interviews "Seven Nation Army" was his go at writing a Bond theme, which he ended up doing later with Alicia Keys for Quantum of Solace with "Another Way to Die"
  3. While it isn't a Bond theme, "Seven Nation Army" can be heard in most sporting arenas globally so it is, in a way, more thematic than if it were a theme song. If it were the theme song to an existing James Bond movie, it would obviously be Die Another Day which is, as far as I remember, the only Bond movie where Bond squares off against a nation's actual army in any meaningful way.
  4. The album does boast a soundtrack song: "The Hardest Button to Button" gets a memorable joke and White Stripes cameo in The Simpsons:
  5. Elephant might have the all-time best side-a/side-c opening tracks for each LP: "Seven Nation Army" (speaks for itself) and friggin' "Ball & Biscuit"? No contest.
  6. Okay enough "Seven Nation Army," let's talk about covers. If you count b-sides, Elephant has two: the excellent Brendan Benson song "Good to Me," that had been percolating in White's live repertoire since the mid 90s in Detroit, and Burt Bacharach's "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself." Their take on Bacharach's cut is the album's second single, bridging the bombastic tracks and the more mellow, polished songs of Elephant.
  7. Speaking of polish, man, if parts of White Blood Cells distanced The White Stripes from their garage rock roots, Elephant by a lesser band would have been totally dismissed as a sell-out album. Move Jack & Meg back a decade and the scene would have turned on them.
  8. Instead, Elephant (which, by the way, is not lacking rough edges - have you heard "Black Math"?) is an album by a band fully in its ascendency. To wit, it was the 2004 Grammy Awards' Alternative Album of the Year.
  9. I do not remember the first time I heard Elephant in its entirety, nor do I remember which songs from Elephant were on a formative mix cd from my uncle, but I do remember "Ball & Biscuit" was one of them, and that I didn't like it, favoring the more punchy White Stripes tunes featured ("Fell in Love With a Girl", for example).
  10. Now, "Ball & Biscuit" is probably a top three White Stripes song for me.
  11. This is best understood in the live setting, and while I never got to see The White Stripes, I have seen White play this song many times with his various solo backing bands (best performed on the Lazaretto tour IMO) but the semi-unofficial Elephant concert album Under Blackpool Lights best captures not only the power of the band's live prowess in this era, but also the uniquely Britishness of the record. 
  12. If pressed to expand on that, all I could say was how strange the Holly Golightly feature in "It's True That We Love One Another" is at the closing spot on the album.
  13. The Record Store Day 2013 edition of Elephant was the first White Stripes studio album variant I had, and I needed a roommate to go to Amoeba Haight-Ashbury to pick it up because I was in the Middle East when it came out.

  14. Since we're talking about me, I'll just briefly add that Mort Crim's long introduction to the bonkers "Little Acorns" (which, if not for that long intro, would be a top White Stripes track in league with "Seven Nation Army" or "Hardest Button") plays a semi-significant role in my dissertation.
  15. "You've Got Her in Your Pocket" is a transcendent slow jam. Never heard a venue so quiet, an outdoor venue no less, than when White pulled this out during the Boarding House Reach tour in summer 2018.
  16. "There's No Home For You Here" is the only White Stripes song I *almost* don't like. There's some nice guitar work, but the introduction is loud and annoying, and I'm not alone in that. It didn't chart. In an interview, Jack White said that the song was an experiment "to see how far we could go with an eight track recorder, and I think how far we went is too far."
  17. That's as close to a skip as Elephant gets though, and its nestled between two of the album's best songs ("Black Math" and "I Just Don't Know...")
  18. Actually that's a lie, "The Air is Near My Fingers" is also almost a skip, and the low point of the back half of the album, which hides another White Stripes secret weapon: "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine," a song which I remember hearing Jack White say somewhere was too mean.
  19. It is a nice plug for migraine medicine, which makes it prescient lyrically to me.
  20. Elephant is in a strange place because while it has some of the objectively best White Stripes songs ("Seven Nation Army", "Hardest Button...") and my favorite ("Ball & Biscuit", "Black Math") it is also, to my ear, the least album-y White Stripes album. On any given day I will tell you my favorite album of theirs is De Stijl or White Blood Cells but maybe White Stripes being the shot heard 'round the world is the top of the pops or no hold on Get Behind Me Satan was my first new White Stripes album as a fan its that. I will tell you, regardless of the day, that Icky Thump is my least favorite White Stripes album, but I somehow never mention Elephant at all. Their biggest album. Still, even twenty years later, still a little quiet to me.
It is, after all these years, such an excellent album from such an excellent period of the band's history. Live cuts from 2003 are impossibly good. Look no further than the 20th anniversary edition of the album, which features a colossal performance from the Chicago Aragon Ballroom (that was formerly a vinyl-exclusive release) to hear a band capture lighting in a bottle song after song. Or, check out the new Vault-exclusive mono mix of Elephant that makes these big songs even, somehow, bigger. or, just listen to these songs, loudly, and be sure to yell happy birthday over the reverb.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

21 Firsts for "Second Stage Turbine Blade" [repost from old blog]

Note: this was originally posted last year for SSTB's 20th.

Falling in love with a band means a lot of firsts: there’s the first song you hear by them (“Welcome Home” in the Rock Band video games, also, any alternative rock radio station from 2005 to 2008), the reluctant “okay I’ll track it” tracks from the seasoned band veteran putting you on to something magical (“Blood Red Summer” and “A Favor House Atlantic,” all-knowing Bryan), or later the first album they put out once you’ve become a fan (Year of the Black Rainbow). There’s the first time you saw the band (Starland Ballroom, 2009), the first time you play a song that passes the band onto yet another new fan (“Gravemakers & Gunslingers”), and many, many more. The worst is the first time you outgrow a beloved t-shirt, but that’s a story for another time.

One of the best firsts with a new band is when you discover with an album that feels like your own discovery. Not the superfan’s patient curation of playlists and mix CDs, not the consensus favorite album, not the latest. The first album you really, truly connect with, which is this case is also Coheed & Cambria’s debut album, Second Stage Turbine Blade, which turned twenty years old today.

  1. For all my pompousness about collecting vinyl (I’ve moved enough in the last five years to be sort of off this tip) and owning music not streaming it! and still (still!) rocking with an iPod classic and a robust catalogue of MP3s, I came to owning Second Stage Turbine Blade in a most unlikely fashion: purchased from the digital market at Amazon Music. I did this at the office computer of the Otterbien Campus Center during one of the summers working the desk for long, boring shifts. This would have been 2009, early in my life as a Coheed fan, and SSTB was the first full album I bought, living off of mix CD tracks from my Coheed guru, Bryan, ripped onto that trusty iPod. This meant SSTB was distinctly mine. Not Bryan’s favorite, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: III. Mine. It, living in an Amazon Music folder on my work computer, was my favorite.
  2. “Time Consumer” and the instrumental opening were my first favorite Coheed & Cambria songs. 
  3. Like an asshole, I fell out of Coheed during their 2011 “Neverender” tour where they played the album front-to-back. Stupid. Having went all in on Year of the Black Rainbow the previous year, SSTB fell back a few slots in the power ranking.
  4. Disregard what I said earlier about scaling back my vinyl collecting; I was greatly punished for missing that tour having resorted to a secondary market purchase of the Second Stage tour pressing. The white LP is such a stunning contrast to the yellows and greens on the sleeve, still boasting my favorite Coheed & Cambria album art.
  5. However, my mania was back on in 2012 with the announcement of the Afterman double-albums. I learned a little bit more about my roommate Calvin after discovering our shared love of the band, his: the early pop punk roots of the group, me: the proggy No World for Tomorrow and YOTBR. He was a “God Send Conspirator” guy. Literally sharing a dorm room made it easy for that back half of SSTB to open up for me. It was nice to have something connecting me to home all the way out in California.
  6. “33” and “Neverender” were favorites in late 2012. 
  7. At the Warfield, in San Francisco, early in the Afterman tour, they played exactly zero songs from Second Stage Turbine Blade. Like me in my little journey on the West Coast, Coheed had been looking towards the future, not the past. 
  8. The problem is our pasts are crucial. Lessons we learned are in our past. People we love are in our past. Beloved memories are in our past. “I’ll miss you when you’re gone,” I bitterly remember how much I missed my wife after moving, “Forget your son when he’s out on his on,” I bitterly remember how far from my family I had to be on that expedition. There, at the end of the continental United States, I remember mornings so alone watching the fog pour into the bay. “When the day begins to break / like the tears that run across your cheek.” Still, things come back to the way they could have been: each subsequent Coheed & Cambria record echoing the tinny piano that opens the album, that opens up the whole Amory Wars world. That fog echoes, 3000 miles away when I wake up 3 inches away from my life. 
    I am trying to say it works out in the Neverend.
  9. This is where I pivot to talking about being a father instead of talking about SSTB. I shouldn’t like the album at all, especially having read the comics. In the fictional Amory Wars universe Coheed & Cambria’s concept albums narrate, the titular characters are duped into murdering their children. This is a convenient fact to skip when I’m listening to the album, which I gotta admit I do sparingly. Their catalogue having doubled since 2012, there’s just too much, which is a good problem to have except when the band has an hour and fifteen minutes to fill with ten hours of incredible music.
  10. The highlight the 2021 tour was, sad to say, not a choice cut from SSTB. I’m big on adding meaning to events that are seemingly insignificant. For example, the last road trip my wife and I took before our son was born, it was for a Coheed & Cambria show (she stayed home). During the “truth be told the child was born” line of the tremendous set-opener “In Keeping Secrets,” fireworks went off at the nearby baseball stadium. Pretty good for a first concert during the pandemic. 

  11. Still, I copped the yellow Second Stage Turbine Blade hoodie, one of many pieces of merch commemorating the album available during the tour.
  12. My wife’s water broke five weeks early. I was out and had to rush home so that I could rush her to the hospital. Once we got checked in and confirmed that, while everything seemed alright, the baby was in fact coming in a matter of hours, I ran back to the house to collect a more meaningful supply of clothes, toothbrushes, and the baby’s car seat. I was hysterical. I played “Delirium Trigger” and screamed the lyrics into the black of the night and the empty highways. “Oh dear god, I don’t feel alive!” I howled trying to split the difference between the stupid Hawaiian shirt I’d been wearing in my old life and frantic hoodie I’d thrown on running out the door into my new life.

    I let the twisting syntax of “Everything Evil” distract me, trying to match Claudio Sanchez’s cadences: “I, I felt much better than this before,” “come write me a letter, and paste it on my refrigerator door” (how is this an honest-to-god song lyric?), and yelling, really blowing out the car with it: “would you run? Would you run down past the fence? Would you run!? Would you run, down past the fence!” Red in the face I made myself chuckle thinking Travis Stever and Mic Todd’s “let me out’s” being a little on the nose for a delivery room track.
  13. At some point “Everything Evil” was also a favorite Coheed song. The catharsis, whether you’re on your way to have your first child or not, is almost too much to handle. Anthemic, it asserts what I’ve needed to feel many times, what I definitely needed to feel that night: “I wish, goddamn it, we’ll make it if you believe.” I pointed to myself in the mirror of the car: we’ll make it if you believe. 
  14. Back in the hospital I sat in the carpark for a beat, trying to catch my breath. I listened to “Away We Go,” which is not a song from SSTB, but it calmed me down, made me feel confident. Not like the distraught characters in the messy fiction in Coheed’s first act; more composed, prepared. I imagined my wife: “you are my holiday, “believe me, take my word, I’ll never break your heart;” I imagined her as a mother, us as parents. I shut off the engine, letting the radio play a few more beats in the quiet: “believe me, take my word, I’ll never break your heart / and away we go.” Headfirst into Labor & Delivery ward I ran.
  15. For all this talk of firsts, I want to share one last. This is the last picture of me before I became a father:

  16. The morning after Benjamin was born I held his impossibly small body against my chest. I wondered if he could hear my heart exploding between my ribs, or if he could tell how terrified I was. Still, something stronger gripped me: love. I hummed to him while light poured in from the 11th floor hospital windows: 
    “good morning, sunshine / awake when the sun hits the sky”
  17. Over and over I murmured the opening lines to “Junesong Provision” to him, promising to myself and to him the rest of that verse would never, ever happen. In the parking structure, alone I installed the car seat we’d be using to take him home in a few hours. I was gone from the room for maybe twenty minutes, tops, when I got back rushing back to him, I asked his mother:
     “has he been a good boy since the day I left?” 
  18. Spoiler: he was and is a good boy. The best boy.
  19. We brought him home on November 9th. Intrepid Coheed & Cambria fans will remember what happened on November 11th: the release of “Rise, Naianasha (Cut the Cord).” A far, far more suitable song for the boy than anything from SSTB. But that’s the thing, when he’s ready to roll his eyes at dad’s music collection, Second Stage will be there with the rest of it, waiting to be discovered, just like it was when I found it. 

  20. Now that he’s getting bigger, he’s learning how to use his arms, hands, fingers. Sometimes, when he and I are home alone listening to music and his head is nestled against my chest, I’ll feel his tiny fist open, his fingers extend, and “grab on to my sleeve.”
  21. Now that he's getting even bigger, he's learning to say words, to walk, he has an entire world happening behind his eyes while the whole world happens in front of him. When he grabs on to my sleeve now its to show me something he discovered. And we run. We run down past the Fence.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

2011, 2023, The White Stripes Forever


It was a cold day in Columbus, Ohio, on February 2nd. I woke up early - punishingly so, like maybe 7:00 a.m. - and got in a van to go to the airport. I imagine my flight lifting off maybe 90 minutes later. I imagine myself pretending I'd read. I imagine dozing off to something playing on the reliable iPod Classic I still to this day have.

One hour and thirty-five minutes later (approximately) I am in the gilded terminal of Ronald Regan International Airport in Washington D.C.. The view of the frosty Potomac tells me its just about as cold as it was where I left. So be it.

My phone starts buzzing, an archaic thing: physical keyboard, no apps, cartoonishly small mega-pixel camera. You remember those days. There's an unusual number of texts from an unusual number of people. "Are you okay?" "So sorry to hear the news!" "Let me know if you need anything." Unusual theme in these texts I got while in airplane mode on an airplane. Someone sent me a link to a Pitchfork article, somebody else a tweet, a Facebook post. I open the first one I land on and see this:


It was a cold day in Columbus, Ohio, on February 2nd. I woke up early - punishingly so, like maybe 5:00 a.m. - walk the dogs, turn on the Keurig, tiptoe to not wake the baby. Crawl back into bed, lifting the dogs carefully as to not push on their now-full bellies. In my head I hear "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn" by The White Stripes. On second thought, its Benjamin, ready for breakfast. With grace, I hear Rachel rise to meet him. Tomorrow, I am going back to Washington D.C. for my nephew's baptism. Very different circumstances than the last early February visit to the city, though, featuring many of the same players.

I imagine 24 hours from then I will be driving back to the airport, cutting through the first wave of commuter traffic passing through downtown Columbus, skipping the exit I'd take to get to Ohio Dominican University; an exit I passed hundreds of times when I was an undergrad at Otterbein. I imagine I will get a breakfast sandwich at Sheetz, I imagine - or rather, fear - I will lose that bagel and sausage to a bout of anxious nausea. I am not the cowboy I used to be.

I imagine arriving early, breezing through the parking structure. I imagine making a joke about not being quite as fat in my passport picture to the TSA agent, who, I imagine, will not repay the warmth. I'll sit at the terminal, praying the Xanax starts working. I imagine I will open my book, unable to read a single word leave it open like the world's worst mirror, staring back at me.

I imagine putting on The White Stripes. No, I can just about rely on that happening tomorrow morning. I'll settle for their final album, the live Under Great White Northern Lights, a record that chronicles their 2007 tour of Canada. I resent the album, it being a totem to the straw that broke the camel's back for Meg White. Then I hear a voice in the terminal calling a boarding group well beyond my budget. I understand her fear. I turn the volume up as I'm shuffled into my seat.

One hour and thirty-five minutes later (approximately) I will be in the gilded terminal of Ronald Regan International Airport in Washington D.C.. The view of the frosty Potomac will tell me its just about as cold as it was where I left. So be it.

My phone will start buzzing, but only a little. "Ben's drop off was okay." "The dogs both peed." "Hope you are alright." I'll read that last one a few times, tethered to the things that have changed in the last ten years: Rachel, Ben, the dogs, my nephew; tethered to the things that have not: the winter, the old iPod Classic and all the songs it plays, me and all the old songs I remember and still sing, The White Stripes, forever.

The morning light echoes off of the terminal walls, the river outside, a wingtip speeding by. My feet are on the ground. Am I alright? Turning the volume down a little I imagine, my worst fears once again not coming true, feeling just fine.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Fleeting, Sleeting, "Sleeping In" With The Postal Service's live album from their first reunion tour

If you're reading this in Central Ohio, your day began with a fresh coat of snow. Other than scattered flurries and the apocalyptic -30* wind chill of that winter storm right before Christmas, this is really our first nice winter snowfall. When I say "nice snowfall" what I mean is, your lungs don't explode from trying to weasel oxygen out of whatever godless cellular structures make up the kind of 'air' that's -30*, or where there's more cars safely driving on the road instead of 'parked' on the side of it. You know, regular January stuff. Fluffy, fat, perfect for snowballs and the like. Where a scarf isn't essential but still feels nice to wear. Weather that compels you to being cozy.

Today is a day like that, though, as I look out my office window, I'm already seeing snow turning to rain, so today may very well end up a disappointing ice and grass soaked caricature of a Midwestern winter day. The thing about the weather, like most things, is that when it is good, it is also fleeting.

Hey, speaking of fleeting, remember that band The Postal Service? Of course you do. The storied side project of just-peaking-fame Death Cab for Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard and Jimmy Tambarello (who releases music as Dntel) that brought electronic music into the center of indie rock in the early 00s with their sole album release: Give Up (2003). Fleeting: they had their amazing moment, and then it was over.

Until it wasn't. In 2013 the gang came back for a deluxe edition with covers, and unearthed b-sides (no new music in the purest sense) and did a full-fledged tour. It was, for indie rock fans, one of those you had to be there tours. Luckily for the world, in 2020, sort of out of the blue, The Postal Service released a live album from that reunion: Everything Will Change

Luckily for me, that live album was cut at their show in Berkeley, California. It was, for me, one of those you had to be there shows, and I was. And I'm "on" a Postal Service album. After that tour, other than this blip of a release, The Postal Service were once again quiet. Fleeting. Until they weren't.

This year Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service are doing a 20th anniversary tour of their powerhouse albums Transatlanticism and Give Up. So many things changed in the last ten years, to say nothing of the last two decades. Fleeting, at least for me, the tour doesn't even remotely come into my admittedly short driving range for concerts.

But, every since I first heard "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" The Postal Service has been a winter band, Give Up the perfect snowfall album. "We Will Become Silhouettes" a kind of on-the-nose winter track, I mean, look at this single art:

As a listener, this presents an additional sense of fleeting-ness to the record: I only play it a few times a year, only in the less-and-less reliable weather conditions that used to be a given in Ohio, and I only really connect with this music (which beyond "Silhouettes" isn't really about the winter or snow at all) when I look like the dude on the single cover above. But this morning, in that perfect moment where snow meets road but doesn't risk dumping my car into a ditch, Everything Will Change sounded more perfect than anything I have ever heard in my entire life. That show in 2013 was fleeting. This perfect morning is fleeting; emails are already pushing me further away from 'perfect' and the coffee mug is running low, soon the day will be here with a vengeance. But, just one more moment.

"I'll be your winter coast, buttoned and zipped straight to the throat
with the collar up, so you won't catch a cold

I want to take you far from the cynics in this town
and kiss you on the mouth
we'll cut our bodies free from the tethers of this scene
start a brand new colony."

Yeah, that sounds pretty nice. Something I didn't mention: the Berkeley show was in June. It was a hot day in East Bay. I don't seem to recall the 'off-season' ruining the music for me. Maybe perfect isn't so fleeting. When you find it.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, Possibly Others, and a New Years Goal That is NOT AN AD

In my storied history of having lists relating to music, one always seems to uniformly raise the eyebrows of folks kind enough to indulge me in long, largely single-sided conversations about music. The favorite album by an artist who either I only like one album or haven't even listened to other albums. The immediate examples of these are Pink Floyd's The Wall and Billy Joel's The Stranger, which one of my favorite things I ever wrote is about (and available to read here over at Hanif Abdurraqib's 68to05 site).

While I have, here and there, dipped into Pink Floyd & Billy Joel's respective discographies, I am not well listened at all. Case in point: the bulk of the non-Stranger Joel tracks I know are either massive cultural hits (think "We Didn't Start the Fire" or "Piano Man") or from The Boys's soundtrack. Same deal with Pink Floyd: sure, I've listened to Dark Side of the Moon a few times, I know the lyrics from "Wish You Were Here" well enough to have incorporated them into many a cringe-inducing AOL Instant Messenger status, but that's pretty much it.

So I came up with a goal for this year (remember: goals, which I am resolved to work towards - not resolutions - this year): to explore more deeply the discographies of artists who have one or two albums I'd turn red in the face defending. Having already wanted to try to avoid only listening to Jack White & Coheed this year, it seems like the right time to do some exploring, not just of exciting new music (like Fireworks' amazing surprise New Years Day release Higher Lonely Power) but to dig backwards.

Two coincidences helped spur on this idea for me:

First Coincidence

Consequence of Sound, one of the last great music blogs, started a season of their podcast "The Opus" which, as you might guess, is a deep dive on Important Albums. This newest season is about The Stranger so while I will enjoy spending more time with an album I dig, I'm also excited to learn more about Joel, his work, his band, his craft, and extend that into other Billy Joel albums.

Plus, he's out on tour this year. Maybe I can convince Rachel that the Stevie Nicks side of that headliner is worth the ticket price ...

Second Coincidence

Another band I am trying to avoid over-saturating myself with is Animal Collective, who are coming out of a seemingly impossible four year cycle of touring, the release of their album Time Skiffs as well as a release from Panda Bear (with Sonic Boom), and more touring. There seems to be no end in sight, to that one: Avey Tare is releasing a new single tomorrow (if Internet sluths on the fan forum are to be believed, and they usually are) and Panda Bear has another album of material ready to rip (again: if bootlegs from 2021 and internet sluths are to be trusted!).

The other day while I was searching them in TIDAL I ended up hitting the wrong "Animals" in the search results and was taken to Pink Floyd's 1977 (hey same year as The Stranger - that might be coincidence number three!) album of the same name. I figured why not give this guy a shot, I love The Wall so much, why not give another Floyd record a rip. 

And it indeed did rip.

So, I'm excited for doing some deep dives this year. Now, back into Animals.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

San Francisco in Three Articles of Clothing

Today I found myself thinking of San Francisco for no reason at all. Might be leftover nostalgia from reading Isaac Fitzgerald's memoir last month, might be Thom Yorke's Radiohead side-project The Smile putting Thom Yorke's other side project, Atoms for Peace (who I saw at Treasure Island Music Festival in 2013), or, it was that I saw a picture of myself on facebook, meaning to change my seasonal profile picture and stumbling upon a picture from 2017 of me in my all-time-favorite beanie. Here:

San Franpsycho Anchor Beanie

I bought that beanie at San Franpsycho, a brand I became familiar with in 2012, right after moving to SF. They'd had a table set up outside the Outside Lands Music Festival grounds in Golden Gate Park and had a sign above their merch that read: JACK WHITE IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL. White, touring his newly released Blunderbuss was still an unattainable concert goal for me (though a few months later I'd see him headline his own show in Columbus). 

As a Jack White devotee, while I may have been devastated that I couldn't get into the festival grounds to see the show, I could at least check out what a brand called "San Franpsycho" who said JACK WHITE WAS THEIR SPIRIT ANIMAL looked like. Turns out they hit the made for Tony DeGenaro Venn Diagram pretty thoroughly. It was (1) a rad beanie, (2) was a local brand with local iconography, and (3) at the time, Rachel was into anchors and this had a big honkin' anchor on it. Sold. 

Sadly, that hat died in the washing machine a few years ago. I almost bought this as a replacement tonight, but, I can probably find more reasonable uses of $30.

Amos Goldbaum SF MUNI Zip-Up Hoodie

Anybody who tells you San Francisco is cold is 100% not bullshitting you. That Mark Twain quote, "the coldest winter of my life was the summer I spent in San Francisco" is not just a funny turn of phrase. I remember eagerly waiting for the clothes I had mailed myself - hoodies, sweaters, jeans - to arrive at the dorm while I froze to death in my shorts and t-shirts. Tell an Ohioan they are moving to California they will expect Los Angeles weather no matter what.

The astonishingly cold weather is amplified the closer to the water you get, so while when the sun is up Treasure Island - the manmade land mass connecting the two spans of the Bay Bridge between SF and Oakland is an idyllic locale for a music festival. Once the sun goes down and the breeze picks up: forget it. Real Estate playing as the sunsets: sublime. The xx playing as fog cuts the darkness like a knife dipped in liquid nitrogen: also sublime, but also very cold.

I think the night I bought the SF MUNI zip up was the night Beck was headlining, which was the same day Danny Brown played an afternoon set. Correctly, I wore a tank top (and a Detroit Tigers hat which Danny Brown noticed and shouted out from the stage). Also correctly, my buddies Calvin and Mick left the festival after Sleigh Bells pumped the last of the warmth into the crowds' bodies for the day. Suddenly, alone and chilly, the tank top seemed like a stupid choice. 

Enter Amos Goldbaum, or more accurately, enter me wandering through the row of band merch and other vendors, waiting for Beck to start. In his own words, Goldbaum is "a line-drawer, street peddler, and muralist" who you can find, and his "wares at many San Francisco festivals." True on all counts. Goldbaum's done a bunch of sweet work, all in the style of the MUNI hoodie, all iconic locations or things from the Bay Area, but none are as idiosyncratic as the MUNI railcar. A real local image, I think.

I was very into zipper hoodies in my Bay Area days, partially out of the extremely casual life I was living as a barista slash graduate student, partially out of the difficult-to-dress-for-weather, but I wore the shit out of this zip-up. The heather grey was perfect: not too dark but you couldn't sweat through it. The yellow details of the line drawing popped but could match anything under the zipper. Just a comfy ass hoodie.

That was a sad day when it shrunk just too small for me to wear. I currently do not own a single zipper hoodie, but if I'm ever back in the Bay Area, I might just seek out Goldbaum's store on Valencia and see about a replacement. 

I might even ride the MUNI to get there.

Misc. Park Life Shirts but especially the bison one

I just the other day was talking to a colleague who had been to SF recently about Golden Gate Park and casually mentioned the bison paddock. Lemme pause here: did you know there's a bison paddock in Golden Gate Park? There is a bison paddock in the middle of Golden Gate Park. He didn't know that. A lot of people, somehow, do not know there is a bison paddock in the middle of Golden Gate Park. I emphasize this because (1) it is fucking awesome, (2) it is fucking awesome, and (3) you can freely wander the miles of Golden Gate Park, the polo fields, hike Mount Tamalpais, visit the tea gardens, see Jack White headline Outside Lands Music Festival in 2012 (unless you're me), gaze upon the majesty of the dutch queen windmill and (in season) tulips, stare meaningfully into the Pacific Ocean, stare condescendingly over the rolling hills of the Outer Richmond, or, go see the bison paddock in the middle of Golden Gate Park.

That was far and away one of my favorite things to do. Walk to see the bison. Bike past the bison. Go running around the bison. What an odd thing!

Anyway, Park Life, a cute but pretentious little art store that had books, apparel, art, and any item you might expect to find in a men's subscription box advertised to you on social media, was right near one of my cafe coworker's apartment. He had this shirt and wore it all the time. The Inner Richmond is where the cafe was, cool little area in the city.

Love the geography of SF's punctuated grid: a cool precursor for another goofed up grid city I would live in after leaving the Bay Area. My favorite Park Life design, other than the bison shirt which I wore to death several years ago, is a shirt that I accidentally misunderstood. In hindsight, it is obvious the oblong mass hovering over "San Fran" is meant to be fog. But, doesn't it also look like a burrito wrapped in foil? And, if you correctly know that Northern California has better burritos (Southern California has the taco game on lock) doesn't it make sense that that oblong mass could be a burrito wrapped in foil, sitting above the name of the city where you can get the best burritos in the United States of America? I thought so. Not enough to buy a $30 t-shirt about it though.

Fighting the urge to rebuy some of this stuff. Here's the sickest song from the Atoms of Peace set I was at (a Radiohead b-side from the Hail to the Thief era), wearing my Amos Goldbaum hoodie, freezing my ass off, trying to imagine what kind of clothes I'd be wearing ten years later.

Monday, January 2, 2023

"The Poem of Next Year"

This is the new year / and I don't feel any different, Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie sings in their 2003 song "The New Year" on their (as of this year) two-decades old album Transatlanticism. Gibbard often sings this on my turntable, or my iPod, or in the headphones connected to my phone while coaxing the dogs to do their business among the chaos of fireworks around town on New Years Eve. Some years I'm entranced by the melancholy of Gibbard's lyrics, Death Cab's lingering emo affectations as they lean into more pop rock sensibilities; other times it is more of a perfunctory gesture. 

2022 was a Very Big Year, so I'm inclined to feel quite different as we move into 2023. I'm thinking about the lines that follow Gibbard's classic December 31st opening: I have no resolutions / or self-assigned penance / for problems with easy solutions. This gives me pause. I recently read Billy Collins' newest collection of poems, Musical Chairs, and at the risk of sounding like I have the attention span of my dogs when the baby is throwing food from his high chair, was once again struck, this time by the poem "New Calendar"

 The poem of next year --

every week a line,
every month a stanza,

and a tiny sun
rising and settling
in every numbered square.
I'm thinking more in terms of units on the calendar recently: as I plan my syllabus, as I plan work travel, travel for pleasure; for me the New Year isn't so much an abstract occasion for the "new year new me" ethos as it is a fresh start at the halfway point of yet another fresh start. I live on the academic calendar, not the 12 months yearly calendar.

If I am being honest, part of this is because of how much of a routine I've had to jettison. In 2020, I had almost zero responsibilities: having finished coursework, working remotely was well-suited for dissertation writing; my teaching load was the smallest it had ever been and, advantaged with previous experience teaching online, had no trouble with teaching writing virtually. With my spare time, and literally nothing else to do, I ran, and ran, and ran. I listened to more music and podcasts than ever (though this year I might have challenged that enjoying an archive of Jack White's live shows from his 2022 world tour) while running. In fact, I ran four half marathons and a total of 52.4 race miles that year, 20 of those were a single run (which I completed in just over three hours, not to boast!). I bring all this up to say I was in far and away the best shape of my entire life.

Now, I'm not blaming anybody but myself, but in 2021, I had a lot more than nothing to do. Having landed a one-year visiting instructor position at University of Detroit Mercy, that meant my funding clock at Wayne State was due to expire, so I had to sprint to finish. We'd gotten a dog, and she's (bless her heart) needy like me. Our lease was set to expire and we had to move not really knowing how long we'd tough it out in Michigan. Maybe all that work I'd done in 2020 did some damage to my legs and papier-mâché ankles, who knows, but in 2021 I just could not run like I'd used to. Plus I was starting a new job but would have to continue looking for another new job. Oh, and Rachel was pregnant. To me, all legitimate excuses to not spend hundreds of hours running laps around various square miles of Southfield, or later, Livonia, Michigan.

I'll skip this past year, you know how it went: we had moved, we had Ben, I fought against the job market (and won!), we got Poppy, we moved to Ohio, Rachel started a new job, we all had COVID, I started a new job, and that brings us up to January 1st, 2023. Out of laziness (sometimes) and necessity (other times) I ate like shit this year. I did not exercise. Not a lot, anyway. I maybe tried to run three times this summer, but I was either being a dad or it was one thousand degrees outside.

So when I think of the tortured but good natured ritual of New Years and New Years Resolutions, I look down at my bulging gut and fat cheeks in the mirror and wonder if trying to ease off the gas station snacks and fast food between classes is, as Gibbard says, a "problem with an easy solution" or not. If I wanted to be really bleak, I might wonder if the image Collins evokes in "New Calendar" of a "tiny sun / rising and settling" isn't running out of steam for my heart if I don't snap out of it, but I won't go there, not yet.

I look to the dictionary instead. A resolution is "the act of determining" but I'm more of a verb guy, so, to resolve is "to settle or find a solution" or "to decide firmly on a course of action." Now we're talking, baby! No mention as to whether or not those are easy solutions.

It would be trite for me to say I'll go to the gym three times a week or not drink pop/soda/whatever they call it where you're reading this because those are promises I don't know I can keep. But they are goals. I can try to walk on an elliptical and take the dogs more interesting places for walks and not get caught up in a rage over silliness on the internet and can listen more and write more and be more intentional about savoring my teaching and doing research and reading to Benjamin and celebrating Rachel. Those are all goals I can very easily set.

And I decide firmly on a course of action to meet those goals. As a poet, I resolve to write the best possible poem of next year. Every week a line. Every month a stanza. Waiting at dawn for a tiny sun rising and settling in every numbered square.

I know for sure I can do that. Time to get writing, 2023.