Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

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Carl Sandburg – Chicago

March 11, 2010

Chicago

by Carl Sandburg

via carl-sandburg.com

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Bareheaded,
Shoveling,
Wrecking,
Planning,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Tomorrow I will get on a plane, fly six hundred miles and land at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, which I have considered to be my second home for nearly two decades.

I could have probably gotten away with spending my Spring Break in Florida, or California, or Nashville, or somewhere else just a little warmer and more picturesque. I wouldn’t have gone to any of those places if someone payed me. I love Chicago and I love flying in from over it, looking at the lights that seem to extend on forever in one direction and cut off at Lake Michigan in another.

I think there is a lot of truth in this poem. Chicago is definitely wicked, crooked, brutal. It is often an ugly city; deteriorating structures, regular murders, corruption, pungent smells rising from the sewers. It is a flawed, extreme environment. But I think all that is part of what makes it truly alive, and in a way humanistic. I don’t think there is more of a realistic amalgamation of what life in the world is really about, with its beautiful sights, ugly blemishes and all.

I will stay for a night in the city proper, go to an Irish punk show on St. Patrick’s Day, and go to the Art Institute of Chicago to look at Monets and Renoirs the next day. I couldn’t be more excited.

This post will be cross-posted on my American Literature class’s blog, You Made Me Theorize.

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Stationary/Moving Pictures

February 24, 2010

It is early in the evening and I am reading John Dos Passos. And I am listening to Stars of the Lid, because Stars of the Lid make the only music that I can listen to while studying. Their drones and long-held notes frame my existence for short periods of time before they shift into another form.

I have been extremely tired lately. Tired, apathetic, lethargic. But not depressed or anxious, which is a big change. But my limbs are very heavy, I don’t have much motivation to do much, and I can’t seem to get excited about anything. This is not to say that I feel that things bore me or that I feel as if I’m above being excited by anything in my life right now. I realize that this is a personal problem and I would like to rectify it, but I’m not sure what I can do. Exercise is a possibility, but the thought of going to the gym makes me tired and uncomfortable, but it would still most likely be a good idea. In any case, I just find myself wanting to retreat to bed almost all the time, and when I have time planned to do something like study, read or write, I’m often just stricken with a really overwhelming sleepiness. If I then do go lay down on the couch or my bed, I can’t close my eyes and go to sleep, and so I get bored, get out of bed, go somewhere, and the cycle begins anew. Writing and music are still things I spend time on, but mostly because I’m bored, and they don’t really excite me like they used to. Maybe someone would just call all of this laziness, and it very well might be, but that I haven’t really pinned it as this makes me think there is more to it than that. My psychiatrist didn’t seem to take much notice of it when I told him about it, but my counselor did. I’ll ask my psychiatrist about it again when I next see him, and I’ll continue to explore the issue weekly with my counselor.

I feel like I need to remove myself from this time and place. I can’t do either but I can at least pretend, and maybe that would make me feel somewhat better. I’m going to take a cheese grater to my jeans tonight. I’ve been showering every other day, and I don’t find myself to be smelly. I’ve been listening to Love Battery and Hole, and Nirvana are beginning to excite me again. I’m going to buy converse sneakers, next time I need a new pair of shoes. I’ll probably buy a pack of Turkish Golds and get rid of the pack very, very slowly. I’m wondering why it is exactly that I want to do all this. I’m thinking there may be a deep seeded reason, some kind of desire for a certain culture that I never got to experience. A lot of people may call it pretending to be something I’m not. I don’t think that. I think it’s finally becoming someone I want to be. My biggest hate is people pretending to be someone else. “Myself” is someone I know deeply and closely, and it’s about time I let him out as much as humanly possible.

This week I’ve been reading Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” for my class on American Literature from 1865 to the present day, and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it. Granted, the thing is exhausting. I can typically only stand to sit and go through about five to ten pages at a time, because the way it is written is exhausting and hard to follow. But it seems pretty self-evidently brilliant. Faulkner’s characters are just incredibly human, despite the fact that their actions and the way they are written is quite surreal. The story seems to be viewed through a blurred looking glass, the immediate, stream-of-consciousness perspectives of individual characters. It is a willfully difficult story and Faulkner clearly knew this, but still there are many rewards to be found here, though I’ve yet to isolate more than a few of them, and there are no doubt more. I need to teach a class session on this book, and I’m looking forward to that. I think it will be refreshing and informative to have a conversation with my class about this book.

I am looking for things to take pictures of. I want to get through this last roll so I can develop what I have and get back the pictures of the snow filled Washington DC. It is supposed to snow again tonight, a lot. I’ve heard upwards of a foot. Maybe more pictures? Hopefully my aunt will send me the old camera soon, the antique. I would love to take pictures with it. I want to pursue photography now that I have a camera, even though I’m not in a photography class anymore. If you would let me take pictures of you, please let me know.

For now, more Stars.

Best

ATB

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Stay Focused

January 27, 2010

As just sort a cosmetic comment, I really don’t like the way that wordpress auto-formats stuff. Maybe I just haven’t figured everything out yet- upon copying and pasting this work from a word document that it has added spaces between the lines. Which I don’t really like. Does anyone know how to fix this?

But relating more to the work at hand, this was the last fiction I wrote before I had a breakdown some time ago.

 

Stay Focused

by Alex TB

And then the fortune cookies come to the table, with the check

One, already cracked open.

“Stay focused; keeping to your goals will lead to success.”

Lucky numbers.

The other, absent.

A shrink wrapped packet of air.

Nothing, but it floats in my glass of water.

Thoughts of imported beer, primetime, a rave, the cat, the cubicle.

I was thinking about something else that seemed important, but I’ve forgotten already.

Denise fiddles with her fork in noodles with one hand while doing something on her phone with the other.

I tell a joke, but she doesn’t get it.

I begin to try to explain, but I stop in the middle of the sentence.

“Nevermind. It’s not really funny.”

A TV behind the bar silently shows static.

It’s late, but there are many people.

Chattering, passing plates, eating and drinking, laughing.

The sound levels out into a quiet drone.

I ask her,

“What do you want to do now?”

As I take out my wallet.

“I don’t care,”

she says, without looking up.

Jackson takes care of the bill and we walk.

Grant takes care of a little black dress.

Hamilton, a pack of reds

and Lincoln two scoops of ice cream,

one vanilla and one chocolate.

Below us, vents emitting warm air,

we stand in front of a wall of screens,

licking at the remainder of the cones.

It occurs to me, as I watch them, that I haven’t blinked in minutes

and I don’t feel the need to.

Little faces moving their mouths,

not making any noise.

Wheels spinning, smiling teeth

Fires, stock prices scrolling.

The colors blur together and I space out.

“Remember when George passed out in that alley?”

she says, giggling.

“No,” I say, in honesty.

“I don’t. When?”

“Oh, I don’t remember when. It was a while ago. I thought you would have remembered.”

I try to remember,

try to think back.

Alleys?

It sounds familiar.

I remember a circle of light.

Later, after I finish

she rolls over and falls asleep.

I thought that was my job.

I get out of bed

The room is cold.

I flick the light on in the bathroom and it hurts my eyes, unadjusted.

I open the medicine cabinet

then close it,

and my eyes meet my reflection’s.

We both look down, away.

Little numbers and letters.

I don’t know what they mean.

I pop it anyway and look at the reflection again.

He doesn’t look familiar.

I want to say, “you look different,”

but I know he’s thinking the same thing.

We laugh a little.

I feel like we have to.

I flick the light switch and he goes away.

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Love

March 2, 2009
Love

Love

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Washington DC

November 9, 2008

I have lived in Washington DC for nearly three months.

I find it difficult to even begin to sum up how I feel about my new life and this new city. In some respects I am extremely happy, slightly uneasy in some others, indifferent in others still.

If someone I know asks me how I like my new school and Washington DC, I tell them I love it. This is the truth, no distortion. I do love it here.

Somewhere along the line things started to go extremely right for me. I don’t think I could mention a specific point in time when things started to go very well for me, but it was around the time of Thanksgiving 2007. I was no longer depressed, and I started to find beauty in little things. Insignificant things. Life became poetry. Details fascinated me. I was learning things about myself and the world around me rapidly and appreciatively. I still feel this way now.

Things began to go really well with my friends. I started going out with my lovely girlfriend. My family started to seem less fucked up. I got into three colleges. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, American University, and the George Washington University. I always counted out GWU because it cost so much, but then I got the scholarships, and the financial aid, and my future didn’t seem like so much of a stretch anymore. UofI gave me $500, while American and GWU gave me thousands. It seemed as if something wanted me to go to Washington DC. So I did. I saw the fireworks on the Fourth of July, and then I just continued to do what I was doing, and here I am, walking on solid ground and doing what I do.

Of course, it is not like I am simply walking on sunshine every day. I definitely am not. I have good days and I have bad days. What is still particularly disconcerting about this is that the good and bad days seem to have no specific cause. Some days, everything goes right and everything feels wrong, and on other days I feel unstoppable despite the fact that I am followed around by my own rain cloud. I don’t understand it and I hope to ask someone about it sometime soon, possibly my psychology teacher. I have obviously been able to manage very well but it bothers me not having control over my mind.

Which is why I don’t drink or do drugs. We talked about drug abuse in abnormal psychology. Barbiturates, hallucinogens, narcotics. Occasionally I have headaches so bad I wish I was high, or take enough allergy medicine to feel delusional, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I am well on my way to becoming a caffeine addict, but my mind is already fucked up enough as it is, and I see little good in causing it any more stress by adding any serious substances to the equation. It means I don’t have as much fun at parties, and I don’t go to them much, but I don’t really care.

When I want to lose my head, I climb the stairs to the top of the parking garage and look off at the city. Sometimes I climb the little ladder to the very top, before I am silently scrutinized by twenty somethings in their Mitsubishis, and I get a view of the Virginia skyline, which is quite beautiful. The buildings are much taller than the buildings in Washington DC.

But they don’t have to try too hard. I noticed several things within the first week of living in DC, one of the first of which being that the buildings here are very short. At least compared to the buildings in Chicago. The buildings in Chicago literally scrape the sky, but the ones here are very stout in comparison. To some extent I miss the cold of Chicago, the cold that comes up from the buildings and whirls and cuts right through you. Washington DC is a southern town, so it stays warm for a long time, and that cold is yet to come. I miss the weather back in Illinois. It doesn’t feel like home here, in that respect. I think it has the potential to be able to, but when it is still seventy degrees in November, it feels like someone has given the city painkillers and it has numbed to this unnatural warmth.

Another thing I noticed is that the animals aren’t afraid of people. In the suburbs of Chicago and even Chicago itself, the birds and squirrels do not let you get close to them. Well, the pigeons do, but it’s really only because they are dumb. But here the swallows line up on the fences as people walk by, and sometimes only barely hop out of the way of your feet on the pavement as your feet swing in time. The squirrels are insane. Rather, nuts. They will run out in front of you, jump on and off of tree stumps continuously, and just generally be very weird.

I also experienced the first time I ever really felt like an adult. I didn’t feel like an adult when I got my drivers license, or got my first job, or graduated High School, or turned eighteen, although all of these experiences still hold significance to me. But putting my absentee ballot in the mailbox made me truly feel like I was participating in the world that I live in. I think these milestones come at different times and in different places for different people, and they seem to be unexpected.

The experience of watching the election returns and watching history be made was unforgettable. It was by far the most distinct memory I have had here so far. The College Democrats’ watch party was fun, but what was really the highlight of the night was when what felt like every college student in DC (all the liberal ones, anyway, which would be a vast majority of them) ran down to the White House and partied outside the front gate. It was an experience to remember, with lots of celebrating, cheering, rejoicing, chanting, and all around good energy. A couple camera’s got up in my face and me and my friends ended up on the Associated Press as well as BBC news.

Whose house?

Barack’s house.

I’m here for college. I love GWU a lot. Maybe I just got lucky this semester. It seems like I keep on getting lucky. All five of my classes are excellent, and I would consider all five of my professors excellent too. I don’t always get great marks on tests, and I don’t always study enough. But it seems like I get it right more often than not, despite the fact that I always underestimate myself. I told people about this problem. This complete certainty that I don’t have things under control despite the fact that I seem to. They told me to roll with it. If it’s working, don’t fix it. I guess that’s what I’ll do.

I sign up for next semester’s classes tomorrow. I’ve got a flexible game plan together, but I really want to sign up for a University Writing class called Write of the Living Dead, which focuses on horror film. I also would like to get Statistics out of the way. I want to also take Social Psychology, which pretty much epitomizes the focus of my college studies, and do the second half of Introduction to Western Art. The fifth class is up for grabs. Possibly Anthropology, or Astronomy, or whatever else fits. But those first four I really, really want to take, and I’m going to wake up very early so that I can register as soon as the website opens to ensure I get them.

My interest in writing has waned, although my interest in music has not. My time and energy has simply been directed towards other things. I have been porting all of my music reviews to amazon.com, and that takes a while. Also, I am going to train to be able to be an intern at WRGW, the University’s radio station. With any luck I will have my own radio show by next semester.

DC has some pretty great record stores, apparently. The area around DuPont Circle and Adams Morgan reminds me a lot of Wicker Park in Chicago. Young, hip, fun, and totally hopping on any given night. My favorite record store is called The Red Onion. It sells lots of old records, CDs, and books at good prices. The employees are nice and very helpful, and the environment is comfortable. Since I got here I have amassed a fairly large stack of CDs that are now on my bookshelf. I’m still an avid music listener and my hobby won’t likely slow down.

I have gone to some pretty great concerts. I saw Broken Social Scene live in Falls Church Virginia, and they kicked all kinds of ass. The Magnetic Fields also played at GW, so I saw them again as well as Shugo Tokumaru, who opened for them and who I have been extremely into for the past month. I had a taste of classical music that I have missed at the Kennedy Center watching the Friday Morning Music Club Symphony Orchestra play lots of good Beethoven. They aren’t quite as good as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but really, who is? They were good, and pianist Wayne Weng was impressive.

The biggest problems I face here are social. I have not had a hard time making friends here, and the ones I have made I like a lot, but it is hard to start on a blank slate and try to give all these new people an accurate representation of who I am. I miss my family and friends from back home. I haven’t seen anyone from my old life in three months besides my mother and my grandmother on parent weekend. I go home for four days for Thanksgiving break and three weeks for Winter Break. Although I love it here, I am looking forward to going back home and seeing everyone again.

The best thing I have to say so far is that I know I am in the right place, going in the right direction. My problems are mostly easily fixed, and I am managing just fine. I have seen and done many things here that I could have never done back home. It was right for me to come here, and I can see myself living here happily and productively for the next four years of my life.

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

August 26, 2008

I know the last thing that anyone needs from me right now is a review of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, and that I am a year and a half late on this, but I simply feel I must address this album.

After thoroughly listening through Person Pitch, Noah Lennox’s third solo album, several times, three things ultimately struck me most.

The first was how quickly this album seemed to pass by. On the first listen, I passively lent it my ears while doing other busy work. I knew I liked what I heard, but it seemed to have ended after fifteen minutes. After looking through the tracklist, I realized that over forty five minutes had passed in actuality. And on many listens since then, I have also felt similarly, even though I have been paying very close attention to the music, that it seems like it must go by in under a half hour.

I can attribute this strange phenomenon to a number of factors, the first of which is Panda Bear’s wide use of sampling and repetition throughout the album. When I saw Animal Collective live at Pitchfork, I found it quite interesting that the show was really just shy of a laptop show; all three members of the band were at one point in front of a soundboard, the Geologist actually for the entire show. Avey Tare was actually quite versatile, sometimes on a guitar or drums. Panda Bear spent most of the show in front of his soundboard, but picked up on percussion a couple times.

What is interesting about Panda  Bear’s behavior as an electronic artist, and I firmly believe he can be considered some type of electronic artist now, is that he actually doesn’t sample more than a little bit throughout the album. But when he does, he combines his sample choices with concocted or found sounds, and he never lets the album be completely electronic or completely organic. He builds up layers of sound much like Animal Collective did on Strawberry Jam, although somewhat less violent here, and then places them carefully over his rhythms. Many of his loops end in dissonant or floaty chords, thus making them that much more versatile and fluid. What many of them reminded me of before anything else was the album Pygmalion by Slowdive, and its accompanying demo sessions. It is only marginally likely that Panda Bear was ever actually influenced by this album, but judging by his use of these floaty vocal loops and many of the subtle melodies buried beneath the surfaces of many songs, it sure wouldn’t surprise me. In any case, all of these elements come together to make a rhythmic result that begs for the listener to do two things at once, relax and listen. In this sense, time is not a concern. Panda Bear does what he needs to do, and lets the songs end on their own. Sometimes it takes twelve minutes, and sometimes four. Perhaps the juxtaposition of long songs next to shorter songs has something to do with my loss of sense of time while listening to this album.

The second thing that surprised me was how accurately the album cover depicts the sound of the album. I can think of several other albums that have done such just as effectively, but none of those other album covers were quite as complex as the one for Person Pitch, making it that much more impressive.

The meat of the album are the layers of sound built in each song. Sounds are built upon each other, sometimes used for one time, several bars, or the rest of the song. The samples and effects come from all different directions, parts of life. Some may sound like the sound of water in a bubble bath, while others may sound like animals, the clattering of chains, the sound that Pop Rocks make in your mouth, fireworks going off, doorbells, and whatever else Panda Bear has found or created. The effects, however, are treated with so much watery reverberation that deciphering them becomes difficult. I can liken this to the experience of seeing Animal Collective live, and not really being able to tell what was going on in the music simply because it was so thick, loud, and confusing. This may have been somewhat of a flaw live, but it sure made the music sound that much more awe inspiring, and on record it isn’t a problem. However, I do find myself unable to pick out what I am hearing much of the time while listening to this album. It begs to be turned up, because you can never really hear exactly what is happening. After you turn it up, you still can’t really make sense of things, but this is an album that grows in power exponentially with volume simply because for every notch on your knob you turn, you are that much more submerged in the music and what is going on.

Lastly, I have been simply amazed at how happy it makes me to listen to the album.

People seem to have forgotten to harmonize their voices with one another. They are getting better with it lately (See Fleet Foxes pretty swell release this year that has been lapped up by the hipster crowd this year, with very good vocal harmonies. Actually, they played on the same stage as Animal Collective at Pitchfork.), but still, people forget that vocal harmonies sell. Panda Bear isn’t the freaking Mamas and Papas, but he harmonizes with himself in lovely ways that we don’t hear often enough. And his smooth, playful vocals are really what make this album the pop gem it is.

Lyrically, Panda Bear has the balls to sing about things that actually matter. And at that, values that his audience might actually need to hear. And the main theme of the album is so basic, so fundamental that most everyone, including myself, have glazed over it in our minds a long time ago. Be yourself. Don’t let anyone else tell you what is cool, what you should listen to, or make you feel inferior. Good Girl/Carrots seems to be the most prevalent in this philosophy. After the whimsical and fun run of “Good Girl,” the next movement “Carrots,” after a heartwarming reference to Mitch Hedberg, rouses a widespread defense against the kind of people who try to tell you what to listen to, to make you cling to a scene. The kinds of people that try to make themselves feel superior by collecting “all those first editions.” Possibly the most affecting line is an indirect put down against “those mags and websites who try to shape your style,” like perhaps Pitchforkmedia.com, or better yet, this website right here. The best and most representative line, however, is sandwiched in the middle of this song; “All I need to know, I knew so early.” These are the kind of lyrics that we heard when we were small children on TV. Why doesn’t anyone sing about these issues anymore?

But what really makes this album special is that it doesn’t falter even once. All of these elements come together to make a collection of seven lovely, moving songs that keep their momentum. The opening Comfy In Nautica sounds like a glorious call over a cliff to some canyon. Then, Take Pills’ two separate movements end up being as wonderful as one another, the first a slow relaxing piece, and then a marching, so-catchy-it-should-be-illegal second piece. And then of course comes the main song on the album, the sprawling Bros, for which my praise cannot be effectively articulated into written word. The almost tropical sounding aural cascades of I’m Not act as the keystone of the album. Good Girl/Carrots comes after it, and is just as moving as Bros. In the final stretch of the album, we have possibly the two most digestible and overall lovely pieces on the album, the ambient sound collage Search For Delicious, and a tiny, quite moving lullaby type song, Ponytail, which addresses the difficulties and wonders associated with change.

I think this is the one album of 2007 that I feel I can be unnecessarily enthusiastic about. It really is that good. Saying it is important or groundbreaking might be a little premature. But what seems to be the trend in pop music lately is either going toward the extremes of wildly experimental or almost ridiculously palatable. Sometimes we get people hitting pots and pans in complex polyrhythms, and sometimes we get The Jonas Brothers. Pop music has become a hedgemaze, and people seem to think that they need to base their decisions on which way to go according to how much is going to sell. Panda Bear, it seems, doesn’t really care. He was just taking a walk, and he stumbled upon the beautiful garden in the center. If any album could introduce free form and experimentalism into the world of glorious catchy pop music, Person Pitch is that album.