In Joseph Conrad’s brooding novella Heart of Darkness, protagonist Marlow sums up the fleeting nature of human existence in five words: “We live in the flicker,” he says. ”May it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling
A foggy morning and a 3 a.m. bedtime have a lot in common. They’re both fuzzy and opaque and make you swell with possibility. Each one is a still-life of a clear moment, a snapshot of certainty and acceptance. Both are marvelous.
I first heard Wilco’s “Impossibly Germany” through tinny laptop speakers, sitting at my dorm desk about a year and a half into college. To a passive listener, the song might be mellow, unruffled, “fine.” Jeff Tweedy sings a sleepy melody through waves of guitar bits that weigh less than air. They float.
About four minutes in, I wondered if I was still listening to the same song. The nodding-off melody suddenly jolts awake courtesy of some frisky guitar solo lightning bolts, and the tune is renewed. If you were asleep or close to it, now you’ve perked up. At my wooden desk in my third-floor room, this collection of organized noise ended quietly at 10 in the morning, but I still remembered it by 4, and certainly still by 3 in the morning. Continue reading
When you’re in college, procrastination is Public Enemy No. 1. You despise it like the metaphorical grizzled escaped convict who threatened your family, yet you can’t seem to shake it. He follows you, stalking your every mouse click and keyboard clack.
He typically struck me with his (again metaphorical) rusty switchblade when I’d languidly reach page three of a monumental ten-pager. I could get through the first few pages just fine, but once the blinking black cursor touched down on its third one, it was all over. I eventually made it into a game so as not to be utterly incapacitated by my dangerous enemy — if I was going to procrastinate, it would be with something productive, damn it all!
Which brings me to an unforgettable occasion last December: I sat coiled in a library cubicle struggling to muster the enthusiasm to dissect the vague beast of globalization over a ten-page spread. Instead of researching reasons on how the swell of technology has led to an increase in online information gathering and subsequent sharing, I decided to lurk the annals of YouTube for forgotten demos of songs by The Mountain Goats.
Picture it: eternal man-child Adam Sandler leaning up against a black ‘79 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a jean jacket and an REO Speedwagon T-shirt. Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” thumps through the stereo inside. Our hero licks his lips to prepare for the feast of eyes and attention guaranteed to fall upon him within moments. Only one problem–it’s 1995, not 1985.
That scene from Billy Madison always kills me. It’s a live-action display of the Code of Cool’s primary rule: If you try to be cool, you’re not. In the movie, Billy (Sandler) just doesn’t get it. It’s not about effort; it’s about not giving a shit. In high school, girls dig guys who eschew academics in favor of parties, or so the stereotype goes. Billy pays the price for his overzealous hair-metal bravura and ends up with his tail between his legs. Continue reading
So here I am in the post-coital glow of Spring Weekend, my school’s post-classes, pre-finals celebration. Last night, some brawny fellows across the apartment quad lifted their couch onto the pointy roof above their door. It stayed there until this morning when it drooped to the right, then the boys ditched it in a dumpster. Half-crushed beer cans litter the lawn like rotten silver leaves too bulky to be raked. There’s no more booze left in this town. The dull silence of hangover Sundays is amplified to a migraine-level pierce.
David Byrne wrote a song in 1982 called “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” and included it on his band’s Speaking in Tongues album the following year. “Home is where I want to be,” he sings over a thumping worldbeat of drums and flute and synth whistles. “Pick me up and turn me round. I feel numb, born with a weak heart,” he continues. “I guess I must be having fun.” Continue reading
If you’ve ever listened to The National before, you might have taken note of their gloominess. These are not typically happy guys. Singer Matt Berninger often sounds so broken, you wonder how the rest of the band were able to peel him off the floor next to the toilet. Mood-builders and twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner build a powerful grey wall of sound for Berninger’s words to lean up against as they slowly spill out of his mouth like teeth in a bad dream.
Though, and this is important, The National are rarely ever unlistenable. Sure, there are some caustic tunes, especially on the earlier albums. But overall, listening to The National is a pleasant occasion, even if the music suggests sorrow. You’re in the moment, enduring Berninger’s pain as he walks with the quiet company of spiders on “Terrible Love.” You feel his desperation when he promises, “I’m Mr. November! I won’t fuck us over!” in a hearty bark. You seethe with him as he wails that “a voice is swallowing” his soul, that he’s “afraid of everyone.” Continue reading
I graduated high school in late June 2008. We had our last day of class at the beginning of that same month. In that three-week span of empty space, we seniors became something else entirely: not quite graduates but not quite high schoolers, either. We were a lost generation.
Some absconded to the parentless suburban homes of their peers to drink cheap beer and rediscover those who’d fallen in the invisible gulches of grades nine through twelve. Some went on whims and impulses to these same gatherings to be rediscovered. I treaded a balance beam of both.
What followed was a puzzlebox of exciting new experiences and drunken last hurrahs. Every cheap beer party at a stranger’s house had a corresponding final hazy afternoon lap around my best friend’s street. I was 17-and-three-quarters with a hole in my stomach that just couldn’t seem to be filled, no matter how much Keystone Ice I swigged down. And people wanted to talk to me—an intoxicating mirage doubly potent with the addition of alcohol. Continue reading