Letter From Home: March '23
Some homebound ramblings
Carson is making a book based on a journal she kept in 2001. Apparently she was worried about a declining memory at the ripe old age of 25, so she decided to write down everything that happened to her, moment to moment, for an entire week. It would be deadpan and fact-based. This wasn’t poetry, it was preservation. I remember when she was doing it. She maybe got ribbed a little bit for it, this sudden worry about memory loss and the brain exercise that might help fix it, but we were all doing weird, spontaneous things back then. We had a lot of time on our hands; we were bored and listless. We wrote music for silent movies, we painted narrative murals on our walls, we half-heartedly started The Jesus and Mary Chain cover bands; we wrote novels and poems and manifestos and we sometimes printed them on 11x17 paper and pinned them around town on telephone poles for some kind of collective art show. It was goofy and pretentious a lot of times, but I expect its the sort of thing that all 25 year-olds should be devoting their time to. Anyway, she kept this journal and we unearthed it a few years ago. It’s about ten pages, single spaced. I remember reading it at the time and finding it laughingly boring. We read it again in 2021 or thereabouts and it was hilarious. It was a perfect encapsulation of that era of our lives.
So she came up with this idea of illustrating it and publishing it, hoping that other people will find it as funny as we did. She’s made a call out to friends who appear in the book, looking for photos. I scoured my photo collection and found precious few photos from that time. This was before we all had cameras on little super computers that fit into our pockets, and before I could really afford a camera. My first real camera, I bought off a guy who stumbled up to the stoop of the Prescott Church in 2004, when we were taking a break from tracking Picaresque. I bought it for five dollars, I think. It most certainly had been stolen. It was an entry level Canon but it had a manual focus and a nice lens. I used it to take some very blurry photos of the recording sessions. Like this one:
But I digress. All the photos I had of that era, the era meticulously transcribed in Carson’s journal, are a small stack of 12 black & white polaroids. They’re very dark and very blurry. Some of them are double exposed, in an arty kind of way. You can barely see who is in the photos, though Carson seemed happy with them.
In a way, I think the style of those photos sum up my memories of that time. Everything was a bit overly arftul and blurred. And there was a kind of darkness that pervaded everything. We were a bunch of 25 year-olds, every year getting farther along into our twenties with less and less to show for it. I was forever on the cusp of cutting bait and going back to school; everyone was so broke. But reading those journal entries sometimes belies memory. There was lots of joy, too, and a kind of freedom that is unique to that time of life, a kind of freedom that felt disposable, then, like we couldn’t wait to just slough it off.
In the Machine Shop (the real Machine Shop, not the virtual one), I’m currently battling a plague of locusts — or, in this case, box elder beetles. They’re getting in to the space somehow and part of my morning routine when I get out here to work is to vacuum up the ones that have accumulated overnight. I don’t know how they’re getting in — they’re pernicious, sneaky things — and I’ve gone to great lengths to stopper up their imagined entry-points: I’ve taped my goddamn door closed and I’ve sprayed foam and caulk into the spaces between the foundation and the walls. If you’ve ever been beset by box elder beetles, please give advice. It’s gross.
I drove to Gladstone yesterday to drop off my car; I had to get the seatbelt buckle replaced. On the way, I listened to Liz Phair’s second album Whip Smart. I hadn’t listened to it in a very long time and it was nice to return to it. I listened to that record a ton when it came out, back in the fall of ‘94. Exile to Guyville, her first record, had been the soundtrack to my moving into the dorms at University of Oregon, the summer before; this one was the soundtrack to my sophomore year, living off campus for the first time. Whip Smart doesn’t have the sprawl and ambition of Exile, but it’s infectious in some ways that the first record wasn’t. These are all neat little pop songs, mostly. There was one song that I loved, though, and that was “Nashville.”
I remember it immediately drove itself into my cortex; it was one of those songs that I would finish and just hit the track-back button and let it run again. It’s got a great build, sounds all swimmy at the top, like it will never land on a beat, but then drops down into this really simple swagger. The bass on that song, is it a guitar? I think it might be some kind of synth bass. It’s subsonic, that bass. It rattles. But there are some great melodic swells in the song — it’s got chill-inducing Everly Brothers vibes on that line “naked, half-awake, about to shave and go to work.” That’s an amazing thing, huh, when something as banal as a morning hygiene ritual can bring tears to your eyes. Then the chorus just kind of meanders1, like it doesn’t know when it’s going to land, or at least we don’t know when it’s going to land, and then you get that gut-punch line “I don’t crack the door too far for anyone who’s pushing too hard on me” and then its boom back to that minor chord. UGH it kills.
It also makes good use of chimes, which I appreciate. Chimes, like the triangle, are the truffle salt of music arrangement. Just a little goes a long way. Though sometimes really leaning into the chimes can be the flavor you’re looking for. Case in point:
There was a lot of discussion during the recording of Hazards of Love over how much chimes should be used on “The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All).” Use too little, and it becomes an incidental thing, a throwaway. We’re creating a fey forest landscape, here, we need those ethereal, shimmering spangles. We ended up erring on the side of too much chimes, using “Plainsong” as our guide. I think we did good.
Anyway, coming back to “Nashville,” it’s always nice to return to a song that slayed you in younger days and discover it still can do it. I thought for a moment that I’d revive the old “Intentional Listening” posts on this website and do a deepdive on this song, but that’s really all I wanted to say about it, so no need for a goddamn college essay about it ffs.
Otherwise, all is well on the farm. Goats are content, llamas are spirited. The chickens are producing eggs and the voles live in terror of Misha the cat.
Till next time,
Don’t let the anti-trans spambots get you down.
Following a variation of the I-V-vi-IV pattern that ChatGPT is so fond of, no less.