“So you say you like my shirt”*

When I die, I will leave behind a cool collection of t-shirts (including the one I may be wearing at the time, circumstances allowing). No one will appreciate it – certainly not my kids, who will likely be the ones to have to sort through my belongings, though I hope they will have fond memories of some of the shirts. The same holds true for my record collection, which the kids will certainly dispose of without much nostalgia.

On the one hand, the point of owning this shit isn’t to leave behind a legacy that others will be frozen in awe over. The point, of course, is to enjoy it while I can. My shirts are fucking awesome. My record collection even more so. I like the value they add to my dim, scant life. What happens to them after I am gone, I don’t really care.

On the other hand, it is pretty pathetic that what I leave behind is some shirts and plastic discs that no one gives a shit about (as well as the novels I’ve kept and the artwork I’ve collected). No house, no inheritance, no fine china, no heirloom furniture. Nothing substantial for someone to attach memories to (or even leverage somehow). Just the barest remnants of a life spent in solitude, and the undeniable, silent indictment against unrealized earning potential. As well as the stark consequence of squandered emotional potential. This is what is left behind when a heart goes unfulfilled:  nothing. When capacity goes unused. Emptiness endures.    

*Anna Waronker (that dog.)

“I play it all night long / It makes me want to kill myself”*

I’ve just about reached Cinerama in this project, which has created some difficulties. I predicted a specific trouble going in – I own both the initial singles collection, This Is Cinerama, and the first studio album, Va Va Voom, and there is some overlap between the two, and while neither is obviously better than the other, I can’t really justify owning both. I had encountered this conundrum long ago and tabled it, but now it seems that the time has come to make a decision.

Or has it? Because as I listened to This Is Cinerama (the first half of which is excellent), I realized that I am not in the proper frame of mind for this music, and likely will never be. Cinerama is unabashedly romantic. It billows with love and pulses with desire and backs it up with stirring, gorgeous arrangements, resplendent with strings and woodwinds. In other words, this is not something to listen to if you are desperately lonely and starved for affection, companionship, and physical touch. While music generally is something of a balm – earlier today, I was thoroughly enjoying Black Tambourine and Beat Happening (well, maybe not “thoroughly” as to Beat Happening, but “Godsend” is an amazing fucking song) – Cinerama now too starkly reminds me of what I am missing.

Yes, other bands write about love and sex and romance. Obviously. But few lyricists are so deft as David Gedge. And not many are the bands who pair such acutely rendered sketches with music that strikes you in the heart with deadly accuracy and unstoppable force.

Take Beat Happening’s “Godsend,” for example. A love song – sweet and vulnerable and celebratory – and never once losing focus or momentum over the almost ten minutes that it lasts. Key to the song’s immense beauty and power is the simplicity of the lyrics (“It’s just the things you do / You make it true / You’re a godsend”); these sentiments are superficial in their presentation but through that format all the more communicate the inexplicable, overwhelming intoxication of love. Feelings aren’t reasons. You can list why you love someone, but you can’t always explain why you feel the way you do. And the music is a hypnotic, jangly mix of guitars playing the same three chord pattern over and over. This song mesmerizes me and produces a sense of awe, and you know, that’s good. That’s a good thing.

Cinerama’s songs do not have the same effect. Gedge’s words are too precise and direct, and the music is too expertly played. I can’t get lost in it – instead it just makes me think, and that’s always a recipe for disaster. Cinerama makes me so sad I want to die.

*Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields)

“We are ugly, but we have the music”*

The democracy of music is refreshing. I’m not talking about the punk DIY aesthetic of opening the making of music up to the untrained and even the untalented. No, I mean that the most wonderful music in the world is . . . available. You don’t have to earn it. Or deserve it. It is not kept from you because you are a bad person or a failure. There is no competition, no ranking, no judgment, no value, no obligation, no prerequisite, no credit check, no application, no interview, no investigation, no gatekeeper. You can lack every redeeming quality in nature, and be deservedly unloved, unwanted, dismissed, ignored, and shunned . . . and you can have music. No matter how degraded your life, how worthless you are as a human specimen, how little anyone else holds you in regard, music will be available to you if you want it. Exempt from the cost of being you, is music. And what’s more – the real fucking kicker – is that you can KNOW that you don’t deserve anything good, and also KNOW that you can have music. You can realize what a piece of trash you are and hate yourself with the intensity of two atomic nuclei fusing together in a hall of mirrors, and music is still available to you. It’s amazing that I get to appreciate the beauty and wonder and grace of music, just like everyone else. It may not be fair, but I’ll take it.

*Leonard Cohen

“Her life was saved by rock n’ roll”*

I’ve been doing a lot of reading the last few months. And writing, obviously. Perhaps one feeds the other. A literary waterwheel, where the words are emptied out as soon as they are taken in. Not that the words being produced are anything like the ones being absorbed, at least not if I’ve chosen the right books. Which I haven’t. I’ve been stuck in a miles-long bad luck streak of subpar novels. A few have more than merited the time spent on them – Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler – but many have been second-rate or worse. Several I have given up on. Many I have given up on far too late. I used to have a 50 page rule, adopted from someone wiser than me (which doesn’t exactly narrow down the list, does it?):  if I didn’t like the book by page 50, I would set it aside. The idea being that life is too short to read shitty books, and there are actually more good books than you will ever get to before you die, so you should work that ratio as favorably as possible before your own story comes to a close.

I have strayed from this practice recently. Intentionally, I should add, but not out of any sense of enlightened purpose or intellectual rigor or dogged self-improvement. Rather, it was out of cowardice and resignation, which shouldn’t come as any surprise, nor should the ultimate revelation that this was a stupid approach. No, I stuck with these middling, meagre offerings because my life seems too long, an endless slog, a violation of the laws of physics to say nothing of the laws of decency (which I am pretty sure don’t actually exist, which maybe is part of the problem, but whose problem I am not sure about, which is also probably part of the problem). I figured that I had lots of time on my hands – so much time alone that it hollowed me out – and that I might as well fill it reading even bad books. Nothing mattered more than ticking off those minutes. Nothing mattered more than doing something other than thinking about how I was living. Or that I was living. Neither of which I feel good about.

But that was a flawed strategy. Because I wasn’t enjoying that time. And the best books actually are enjoyable. That’s why they’re the best books. Tonight I finally cast off some thick tome that I could barely stay awake for and whose characters I did not care for – resented even – to the point that I couldn’t remember their names or how one related to another. And then I picked up Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin – a book I’d been wary of due to its subject matter – and within a few pages, I was in awe. I was dumbstruck. It was fucking revelatory. The words on one page are worth all the combined words of the last 10 crappy books I’ve read. And it struck me how wrong I’d been. How pointlessly stubborn I’d been to persist in reading books I found dull and uninspiring.

And Kevin isn’t going to change my life. It’s not going to make me happy. It’s not going to bury my loneliness in some remote location and burn the map so it stays hidden forever. That’s too much to ask for (whatever the problem is, at least I understand that much). No, Kevin will function much like these albums I am writing about (one of which, Wilco’s Summerteeth, I was listening to as I read). It will allow me to appreciate beauty and artistry and skill and the divine ability of someone to do something so much better than someone else with the same set of limited materials:  26 letters in the English alphabet; 12 tones in Western music. And during that brief time, I will be able to focus on those things and ignore other things, and if the latter are never going away, well, neither do the former have to. It’s not much, but it’s not nothing either.

*Lou Reed

An A-to-Z Conversation with the Blogger

ARE you kidding me with this nonsense? 

No. But, this is not about you at all. This is about me, having a lot of free time, and trying to cope with depression and crushing loneliness through my love of music. Thanks for the attitude, though!

BUT how is this supposed to help? 

I have no idea.

COULD you maybe just go out and make friends or exercise or something?

I’ve tried that. I exercise. I have friends.

DOES your therapist know about this?

Depending on various factors, I may or may not have a therapist. Who may or may not know about this.

EVERYONE who sees this is going to worry, right? 

Probably not. There are worse ways to cope with mental illness. This seems benign, even if falls short of constructive.

FOUR-letter words abound in your entries, to the degree that suggests that using profanity might even be a crutch for you, no? 

As far as I am concerned, any profanity in this blog is a feature, not a bug.

GOING back a bit, what are your ground rules for this project?

I am reviewing all the albums I own, working from each end of the alphabet (though that may change). I am not reviewing discrete singles, EPs, bootlegs, box sets, or anything that I “own” in digital format only, or anything owned just on vinyl (which is almost nothing).

HOW long do you think this is going to take you?

Assuming I ever finish, it will take probably three years at the earliest.

IS there anything else you like to do?

Yes, but doing most of those things alone, as I find I often have to, makes me sad. Writing is solitary already, and therefore I don’t feel as depressed when I am writing.

JESUS fucking Christ.

I know.

KNOWING people might read your entries must impact how or what you write?

Maybe. I try to provide context and I do some research, which I would not necessarily do for my own purposes, but my reaction to and description of the albums is authentic.

LOTS of the blog entries do seem celebratory.

Well, if I own an album, it’s because I like it. I might even love it. Taking the time to carefully relisten to the albums and put down in print what I like about them, and why, helps to remind me what I find appealing about them, perhaps in ways I had not consciously considered before.

MOST likely, people will be largely unfamiliar with a percentage of this music, wouldn’t you say?

Probably. If people don’t want to read about Evans the Death, that’s fine with me. If someone reads about Garageland and checks them out and ends up a fan, then that’s cool, too. But I am not here to either offer popular content or convince anyone of anything.

NOT a lot of new music on here, though.

My music collection is what it is. Most albums I bought after high school and before having children; as I have aged, I have less time and desire to find new music.

ONE could argue that instead of retreating into the past, you should open yourself up to the future and spend the considerable energy this project is taking on discovering and enjoying new music, and in fact, that this blog is emblematic of both the perverse comfort you take in being trapped in your damaging thought-patterns and your overwhelming fear of breaking free of them.

Aren’t you insightful? Look, I am doing the best I can. It’s a miracle I can even get out of bed and go to work in the morning. I say with no arrogance that I am actually extremely high-functioning, professionally and arguably as a parent (to say nothing of as a blogger and self-interviewer, obviously), despite everything. I submit that I actually have no control over my life, and all I can do is react and endure. If good things happened to me, then I wouldn’t be depressed. If I could make good things happen, then I would. But I can’t, and they don’t.

PERHAPS you should reconsider therapy or medication?

Neither therapy nor medication will alter the reality of my life. The facts are the facts. Unless and until those realities change – again, realities that I have zero control over – then I see no hope, and therapy and pills end up being a waste of money (which I don’t have to spare – reality) and effort (which I can barely muster), to say nothing of the horrible and not fully known side effects of medication.

QUERY that you might lack the proper perspective to be making these assessments?

I might be wrong. And in humble recognition of that possibility, I have attempted therapy and medication, and at best they did not help and at worst they made things worse.

REALLY, you need to talk to someone about this.

Disagree.

SO, what is your plan?

White-knuckle it until I die. 

THIS is a difficult interview.

There’s a simple solution to that problem . . .

UNUSUAL doesn’t begin to describe it.

That’s not a question.

VEXING, in fact.

*Yawn*

WE’RE getting to the tough part of the alphabet.

The “W” was the easiest of this last string of letters – who?, what?, when?, where?, why? – and you blew it.

XYLOPHONES featured at all in this blog?

Maybe on a Violent Femmes albums, or Vampire Weekend, but I would need to verify that (update: Yes! See Violent Femmes), because it could be a vibraphone instead.

YOU are a perplexing man.

*No response*

ZEALOUS commitment to your own sense of damage is not a great principle to design your life around.

“Design your life” – LOL. As if I would have chosen this horror show. But for the sake of completeness, I agree.

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