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.