Archive for January, 2015

They Move on Shafts of Ever-Lasting Light

Posted in Prose on January 26, 2015 by sethdellinger

I woke up today January 26th feeling uninspired.  It was dreary and wet and there was lots of snow in the forecast, the forecast, the forecast.  I had fallen asleep while watching something on Netflix about the Presidents, I dragged myself into the shower thinking about poor James Buchanan, with his bachelorhood and his rumors of homosexuality and eternally perched on the edge of the Civil War which he might have prevented but he didn’t, he didn’t, and so many people had to die, including Abraham Lincoln with his top hat and beard.  Oh, the Civil War! I bemoaned as I turned on the hot water, allowing it to bounce off my freshly-shaved scalp.  Hard to imagine so many people dying, so brutally.  My scalp burned as the water found the knicks I had inflicted upon myself the night before.  Even after shaving your own head hundreds of times over the course of decades, it is still never quite easy, and cutting that skin is worse than cutting the skin of your cheek.  It’s so sensitive.  Paper-thin.  Sometimes I feel as though I can see my skull under there, like my scalp is some sort of rice paper or cheese cloth.  It’s a skeleton, you know?  This thing that you are directing around through the world every day, it’s a freakin’ walking skeleton.  You still have all your flesh and whatnot on it, but under there is a skeleton that you yourself own.  And you’ll never even get to see it!  Sure, you might have some x-rays done at points in your life and you might experience that otherworldly thrill of seeing your insides, of meeting your skeleton, but that’s hardly the same.  That’s hardly the same as seeing your skeleton hung up on a hook in some old-timey medical office, some turn-of-the-century museum of curiosities.  I’d sure like to see that.  I stepped out of the shower and dried off with a towel still damp from my shower the night before and counted the minutes until I absolutely had to leave for work, counted the minutes until I passed that point of no return.  Who knows what life should really be like—many people seem to think we shouldn’t have to work at all, and that does sound awfully nice, but then I wonder exactly what we would do all the time and what we would find to dread and try to escape from, because we probably need something to dread—I certainly have no idea what life should be like.  It just probably should be fun and filled with a lot of love and maybe perspiration and something to think about, every now and then.  That sounds about right to me, but I can’t speak for anyone else.  After pulling on the appropriate work clothes I made my way down my steep and narrow stairs and was made to think (how? from where?) of the old horror flick The People Under the Stairs, which seems to have come out sometime in my early teens.  I can’t actually remember anything about the movie—not a single thing—I just remember the title being scary and the title alone being capable of filling my young impressionable mind with all kinds of terrors.  I didn’t even know I was scared of under the stairs until the movie came out and then it was obvious to me.  Many movies to me are like this; the specifics of them matter very little, but it is just the memory of them, the impression of them, the knowledge of their existence that matters.  They are, after all, just light and shadow; some of them end up residing solely as ideas, they move on shafts of ever-lasting light, that mystifying globe behind our skulls.  Opening my front door, I stepped out into the damp, gray morning.  Snow was gently falling in what looked like  thumb-sized clumps.  The temperature wasn’t very low so there were puddles of water on all the corners.  Ice falling into water, ice falling into water.  All everywhere the molecules were moving slowly, even inside my body, even inside my blood.  I walked the three blocks to the main thoroughfare and immediately hailed a cab.  Normally I’d be riding my bicycle to work but with the snow on the way, you have to plan ahead.  The car was blue and maroon with a huge Liberty Bell on the hood and the words Freedom Taxi on the door.  As we snaked through the city toward my place of employment, I was struck by how many people were standing out on the sidewalks.  It was so cold!  They were out there waiting for buses, most of them.  Working further away than I do, or not able to afford a cab, or simply just accustomed to the routine.  They stood along the curb, craning their necks, looking down the street as far as their eyes could see, like they were looking down a long dark tunnel, or into some ever-increasing middle distance, the abyss of anticipation.  They were all so bundled up in layers.  They needed protected from the world, from what this little blue globe can do to us, can inflict upon us little sufferers.  I watched them as we whizzed by, the Mexican and Cambodian immigrants in their large kit wool caps, puffy Gortex coats, the breath coming out of their mouths in temporary miniature clouds.  Skeletons, I thought.  They’re all skeletons.  They think they’re cold but they’re not cold, they’re just here for a second and then gone, here and gone, here and gone like the rest of us, so temporary, so temporary skimming the surface of this little blue globe, we’re here for a second like the little clouds of breath, and then gone but we leave a skeleton.  They’re not cold, they’re barely here. After six or seven blocks I imagined we must have passed 40 or 50 folks waiting for the bus.  It occurred to me that compared to the soldiers who died in the Civil War that figure was almost literally nothing.  Their bus fare will get them nowhere.  Like a movie plot forever forgotten, like the brigades drowning in a river of blood at Gettysburg, even James Buchanan can’t stop the tide of time.  I swiped my card through the cab’s card reader—apparently cabbies prefer cash but I always tip better with a card—and I stepped out once again into the melty snowy world, ready for another day of work.  The minutes had counted down and here I was.  And we’ll all do it again tomorrow.

The Oatmeal Version of a Moist Harry Potter

Posted in Snippet with tags , , , , on January 25, 2015 by sethdellinger

1.  I seem to have become obsessed with eating oat and oat-related products.  It’s no big secret that I’ve been on a big oatmeal kick on and off for a few years now (although the kick has now been “on” for about 8 months and shows no signs of slowing) but I recently starting branching out into even bigger and better oat products.  I discovered Muesli and, in a trick almost nobody saw coming, I actually put it on my oatmeal.  I also eat it dry, right out of the bag.  In addition, I now buy granola, of all kinds.  I also have been known, like the sly fox I am, to put that on my oatmeal.  Then yesterday I found this new hot cereal, “brown rice farina hot cereal”, which my genius girlfriend immediately identified over the phone as being “basically a gluten-free form of Cream-of-Wheat”.  I haven’t had it yet, but it looks delicious, and I look forward to throwing some other form of grains on top of it.

2.  I have been playing an awful lot of this hip new app game, Trivia Crack (yeah, do I hate that it’s named after a crippling and deadly addictive drug?  I sure do), which is just a trivia game you can play with your friends.  It’s mostly horrible and is a huge time waster, but yes, it IS highly addictive.  Now, any time one plays a trivia game, one is bound to have complaints about the nature of the questions eventually.  Even the best version of Trivial Pursuit eventually shows a weakness of some kind.  But can I just say, I am sick to death of Harry Potter questions.  Seriously, I get it, it actually is a pretty big event in our culture.  One should have at least a small passing knowledge of Harry Potter.  But it seems as though this app wants us to have approximately one-eighth of our general knowledge of human beings to revolve around Harry Potter.  It’s kinda sorta a little enraging.

 

3.  How is it that every winter I refuse to acknowledge how badly I need to moisturize myself until winter is half over?  Granted, it wasn’t something I ever had to think about as a younger man, but now it’s pretty evident.  Sometime at the beginning of December I start to notice the skin on my arms getting ashy, and then a few weeks later some spots of my skin actually begin to hurt.  At this point, I know my skin has become dramatically dry and is in need of moisture, and yet I soldier on, taking long, hot showers–often two a day–and spending plenty of time outdoors.  I have plenty of lotion that I simply ignore.  Then, usually sometime mid-January, it gets to the point I can no longer ignore it, and I break down and just lotion the whole body up.  And EVERY YEAR, I just freakin’ love this.  It feel like a new man!  And every year, I say to myself, ‘Geez, why weren’t you doing this all along?  Next year, we’re gonna start moisturizing right away!’  And yet, here I am, having just moisturized for the first time last night.  It has seriously affected my whole day, in a positive way!  I feel incredible!

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Music of 2014

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2015 by sethdellinger

Here we go again.  This yearly list is one of the last remaining rituals from when this blog was much more focused on reviews of and discussions about current art and media; I used to post frequent movie and music reviews, and slowly over the years it morphed into a much more personal blog.  Early on, I posted multiple year-end “favorite” lists (I avoid calling them “best of” lists, but only because it seems to piss some of you off).  One year I went as far to make a Favorite Poetry, Favorite Television, Favorite Magazines, Favorite Movies, and Favorite Music lists!  The last 3 or so years, I have only made a music list.  I still like to closely follow new-release movies, but I can no longer make a pointed effort to see enough of them in a timely fashion to make a comprehensive yearly list.

If you have any interest, you can see past year’s music lists here (they did go even further back, but they were on MySpace blogs that have unfortunately disappeared):

Favorite Music of 2013

Favorite Music of 2012

Favorite Music of 2011

Favorite Music of 2010

Favorite Music of 2009

As per usual, if you are a person who routinely gets mix discs and other neat stuff from me in the mail, a mix disc featuring a selection from all of this year’s listings is already in the mail on it’s way to you.  If you are not one of these people and want to be, leave a blog comment/ send me a Facebook message/ text me/ call me/ hit me up on Tinder (huh?) and I’ll put you on the list!  Now, the winners:

This was an especially fertile year for music for me; I’d estimate I listened to approximately 80 new-release albums this year, and really loved about half of those.  This was by far the most difficult year I’ve had when it comes to narrowing down my selections!  Some of my favorite artists had no releases this year, so it was easier to not play favorites and just judge what moved me the most.  Here are the top fifteen, in order:

15.  Modest Mouse, “Lampshades on Fire”

This is the first time in the history of my lists that I have included a single song instead of an album, but I didn’t see as I had a choice.  Modest Mouse’s new album doesn’t come out until March 2015, but this lead single, which was released about 3 weeks ago, has been almost the only thing I’ve been listening to since it came out.  An absolute piece of snarling perfection.

14.  Real Estate, Atlas

If you have any idea what “shoegaze” rock is, and you haven’t heard this album, may I suggest you stop being an idiot?

13.  Phish, Fuego

Finally a return to form after a number of disappointing releases, Fuego finds the band weaving tight, crisp jams over sparse but giddy lyrics that start to hint at the pains of being post-middle age, with a little bit of supreme confidence thrown in for good measure.

12.  Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea

This New York post-punk-post-pop-pre-rockabilly (huh?  Here I am just joking; the music media loves to label Parquet Courts in so many ways it is ludicrous; they just make “rock” music, albeit kinda…punky?  Amateury?) really hit their stride this year, releasing two back-to-back masterpieces (the second, Content Nausea, being released by their alter ego band, Parkay Quarts).  These taut, coiled, short screeds blast at you like beautiful insults; they are loveable songs that you want to run from.

11.  The Orwells, Disgraceland

The Orwells steamrolled onto everybody’s radar this year with this unforgettable performance on Letterman.  That song (called “Who Needs You”) also features some truly daring lyrics: “You better count your blessings/ kiss your ma and pa/ You better burn that flag/ ’cause it aint against the law!/ Listen up forefathers:/ I’m not your son/ You better save the country/ You better pass the flask/ You better join the army/ I said: no thank you, dear old uncle sam!”.  When their full-length album, Disgraceland, was released shortly after the Letterman appearance, it didn’t much matter that it was a disappointing collection of small-talent noise rock: “Who Needs You” was a song debut good enough to buy them a few years of grace period.

10.  The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream

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These home-grown Philly boys blew me away with the first track on this album (while not their first album, it’s their first ‘major’ album, and the first I’d heard).  The album is aptly titled, as, if I had to name this genre of rock, I’d call it Dream Rock.  Standout track “Under the Pressure” was my anthem of early summer this year, and provided a soundtrack on repeat for my visit home to Central PA and my friend Michael’s wedding.  I have a clear memory of sitting in my dad’s car after arriving to her wedding, blasting the air conditioning, listening to “Under the Pressure” on repeat, and waiting to get out of the car until I saw someone I knew.

9.  El Ten Eleven, For Emily

One of the more unique “post-rock” outfits in the biz, this duo utilizes looping and custom instruments to create full, intensely emotive sounds.  For Emily is just a 5-song EP, but it is far from a toss-off and there is zero filler.  The production is crisper and cleaner than I’m used to from these guys; I can hear the guitarist’s fingers on the strings, a pleasant departure from the more clinical sound of their earlier (and still amazing) records.

8. Willis Earl Beal, Experiments in Time

The supremely “artsy” blues-psychedlia-R&B crooner of last year’s exquisite Nobody Knows came back right away with a solid follow-up; however, Experiments in Time lacks the urgency and necessity of hisWillis-Earl-Beal-Experiments-In-Time-608x605 previous efforts.  Still, Time succeeds where most artists fail: every moment of this is something that could only have been made by Beal.  Everything he does is unmistakably his, a quality that is more and more rare these days.

7.  Hey Rosetta!, Second Sight

Those of you who have followed my blog for years now may be surprised by this band’s new album ranking seventh on my list this year (they’ve released two albums since I started making lists, each one ranking #1 on their release year).  I continue to maintain Hey Rosetta! as my favorite band (although it keeps being by thinner and thinner margins) and my discovery of them about 6 or 7 years ago remains a defining event of my life; alas, nothing stays perfect forever.  There are lots of moments to like on Second Sight, and a few of these songs would turn up on mix CDs I might make of the band; however, the breathless, emotion-drenched moments I crave from them are a bit too infrequent, and the times the band tries to stretch and evolve often sound too under-developed.  Nonetheless: solid, earnest, and soulful.

6.  Mono, The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness

Mono_Rays_review

The premier Japanese post-rock band has finally made their masterpiece in these two simultaneously-released twin albums; Dawn explores the light, uplifting possibilities of this genre, and Darkness its depressing underbelly. Both albums are instant post-rock classics; when listened to back-to-back, it can be a damn-near enlightening experience.

5.  Delta Spirit, Into the Wide

Finally this band, who I have always loved, completely lets loose.  They get big and epic.  These are songs about hearts as big as prairies, unchecked regret, the loss of innocence, and the decay of America.  The tales are told through booming guitar loops and underlying synth structures, long atmospheric intros and cacophonous crescendos.  Singer Matt Vasquez’s voice breaks in just the right places, just the right amount of times, like a pubescent boy finally learning to control the caged beast within.

4.  This Will Destroy You, Another Language

This year, This Will Destroy You entered the small league of BANDS THAT ALWAYS MESS ME UP EMOTIONALLY.  This intense, emotive this willpost-rock group from Texas (where else have we heard of a Texas post-rock band?) started out my year amazingly, as I worked my way through their back catalog and they made my life better.  I was caught off guard late in the year by the release of a new album!  Another Language doesn’t often reach the sublime levels of their early work, but some standout tracks (“Newtopia”, “Dustism”, “Serpent Mound”) can make a comfortable home with their best material.

3. Stars, No One is Lost

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This band just keeps on growing on me.  They are wholly unique.  They fuse an indie/alternative vibe with a pop sensibility and then throw in melancholy, defeatist lyrics for a sound and feeling you simply cannot get anywhere else.  No One is Lost absolutely has to be their best album yet.  You leave it dancing your ass off, but with no idea what to feel.  The emotional confusion that Stars provokes is completely intentional and positively riveting.

2.  Warpaint, Warpaint

Warpaint_-_Warpaint

The album is self-titled, but it isn’t their debut album (it’s their third).  This album slithered under my skin from moment one.  It is sinister, sexy, and deliciously complex.  It is bombastic, mathematical, dynamic, coiled.  It punches, swerves, licks, plays.  The four women in Warpaint refuse to make “chick rock”, but they also do not ignore that they are women; this is rock music made from a woman’s perspective, but for everybody.  It’s not about being a woman, it’s about the experience of life, of living in bodies, the depth of feeling, the smell of smoke, the touch of a raindrop, barely felt.  This album is a sensual gut-punch.

1. Silver Mt. Zion, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything

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This is not music for everybody.  This band–and especially this album by this band–is a pretty unhappy affair.  It does not focus on the good things in life.  It’s about dirt, pain, rot.  It is, at times, about rising above these things, about triumph–but it is about triumph as afterthought, as happenstance.  This is perhaps not a complete and accurate portrait of life: but it is not a perspective without its truth.

This downtrodden thematic perspective is accompanied by the band’s usual lengthy, repetitive, droning postpunk post-everything mess rock, but with a little (a little) more typical song structure than usual.  Like I said: this isn’t for everybody.  But you know who it is for?  Me.  While not a single song on this album could ever come even remotely close to being played on the radio (I think most radio stations would pay money to keep it away) it is, to me, one of those rarest things in modern music: true art, worthy of museum display.

 

 

A Letter to a Future Version of My Girlfriend’s Son

Posted in Prose with tags , , on January 6, 2015 by sethdellinger

Dearest Z.,

Now that you’re older and maybe what the world calls “grown-up”, we can finally talk about what is really going on here, ie life, the real nuts and bolts of this whole charade.  I think we can all agree on one thing: it aint easy.

I hope things are clearing up for you now.  I know that, last summer, you were going through quite a few strains of some sort (as most of us do in our mid-twenties, and many folks do so forever) and I expect, like many another, you’ll spend your life oscillating between fierce relationships that become tunnel traps, and sudden escapes into wide freedom when the whole world seems to be just there for the taking.  Nobody’s solved it, at least not at your age.  You can solve it as you get older, when you’ve reached the point that you’ve tasted so much that you can somehow sacrifice things more easily, and you have a more tolerant view of things, and need certain things less, and you have a broader acceptance of the pains and the losses.  Then sometimes you can solve the oscillation, but even still.  Life is extreme.  I met your mother when I was 36, but to me, 36 felt like both 80 and 18.  She was roughly the same age–as she still is today–and we felt like the oldest kids who’d ever lived.

That was a very curious remark you made to me in your last letter (where did you send it from, anyway?) about how you still felt, occasionally, very childish, in certain situations, how you are never sure how you are as an adult.  Z., don’t you know about people  this first and most crucial fact: every single one of us is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child.  To get beyond the age of about eight is not permitted to this primate–except in a very special way, which I’ll try to explain.  When I visited you this summer in Adelaide, it was quite obvious to me that in some of the most important ways you are much more mature than I am.  And your self-reliance, your independence, your general boldness in expressing yourself to new people, is the sort of real maturity that not one in a thousand ever come near.  Your mother Karla has it, always has, which is why I can never look away from her when she is near.  You understand.  But in many other ways obviously you are still childish–how could you not be, you alone among mankind?  It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis, a sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master your own inner storms, your unexpected inner storms.  But not many people realize that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them.

Everyone tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with situations that threaten to overwhelm it.  So everybody develops a whole armor of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outside world, and the immense crush of circumstances we are forced to encounter.  And when we meet people this is what we usually meet: their armor that doesn’t know it is hiding a child.  And if this is the only part of them we meet, we’re likely to get a rough time from them, and end up making “no contact”.  But when you develop a fine divining sense for the child behind that armor, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that, in a sense, everybody becomes like your own child.  Have I perhaps talked you in a circle, Z.?  It’s a very intangible thing I am trying to say.  When you try to communicate with that child hiding inside other people, they, too, sense what it is you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, and you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child.  All of the tremendous things I have been credited with and all the monstrous things I have been accused of during the course of my life have all been the result of me reaching inside my armor to my eight year old–or trying to talk to the one inside others’.

Usually that child is a wretchedly isolated underdeveloped being.  It’s been protected by efficient armor, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs.  It has never properly lived, just crouched inside while the waves battered  it.  That’s how it is for almost everybody.  And that little creature is just sitting there, behind the armor, peering through the slits.  Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self.  At every moment, behind the most efficient-seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging at the brim.

This is what I thought of during your troubles last summer, and as I read your most recent letter.  Of course you still feel like a child.  The oldest man in the world still does; he still is.  The key to dealing with it is to understand it and to communicate with yourself.  I’ll tell you a story, but I’m not sure what it means in this context: when I was very young–maybe 4 or 5–it had just recently snowed quite a bit.  This was when my family lived in the small town of Newville–remember Grandpa and I drove you past that ancient yellow house the April you got married–and the snow was piling up on our front sidewalk.  My mother got me suited up in a massive snowsuit and set me free to build things out of the fine powder.  We had a gnarly old gentle Dogwood out at the edge of our front sidewalk, and I built a big hill of snow up all around it.  I wanted to make a slide that I could zip down (away from the street and toward the house, of course).  I made the hill as slide-like as possible but it just wasn’t slippery enough.  I suddenly had the idea to pour water on it and turn it to ice!  I ran inside and asked my mom for some water.  Naturally she asked me what for.  When I told her my plan, she informed me that hot water would work better.  My mother wanted me to believe that hot water freezes faster!  Of course I didn’t believe her, so she bundled up and came outside with me, with one cup of cold water and one cup of hot water.  I am sure you already know she was correct.  I was baffled, but amazed!  What an odd, unexpected way for the world to work.  For many, many years, this was the most interesting fact I knew.  I don’t remember how my slide turned out (probably poorly, as most things built crudely from snow do).  Of course I now finally understand the mechanism at work there–it has to do with how quickly the molecules are moving and how susceptible they are to change.  Just about everything has to do with this.

I don’t know why that story should stand out to me so, except that as I wrote this letter, I kept going back to that moment.  Z., I suspect that is who I am–that exact boy, outside with the snow slide, learning rudimentary science.  Everything after that has been a construction of an armory around him.

Do not feel so alone, Z., and don’t worry about how old you act.  Your mother and I are here to understand you, even if we are children ourselves.  But to take the first steps, you must feel who you are inside, sense who is peering through the slits in your visor, and then try to find that little child in everyone you meet.  Only then will your experience be real.  And that’s how we measure our real respect and love for other people–by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate and enjoy.  Enjoy it, Z., enjoy it enjoy it enjoy it.

All my childish love,
Seth

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Winter Songs, #4

Posted in Snippet, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 6, 2015 by sethdellinger

Not only does “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes remind me of winter, it is about winter; or at the very least, it involves a memory that takes place in winter.

I listened to this song, and the album it is on, very frequently during the first winter I spent in Erie (a very unique time for me, here are lots of entries about it).  This song will always evoke, in my mind, the images, smells, and feel of driving the pot-hole filled Erie streets in the dead of winter, with ice and snow filling my wheel wells, and a particular afternoon where I drove to a cemetery which sidles a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, and while this song played in the background, I looked out over the vast, frozen lake, and felt sorrow as well as joy.

The song’s simple lyrics go thusly:

“I was following the pack
all swallowed in their coats
with scarves of red tied round their throats
to keep their little heads
from falling in the snow,
and I turned round and there you go!
And, Michael, you would fall,
and turn the white snow red as
strawberries in the summertime.”

 

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