Story 2: We Could Have

The light of the sun began to bleed into the night. It was cold in the car, and I wondered if it were colder outside. The car had been running for hours, but Sarah and I were so preoccupied that I didn’t notice it was on or that the heater was off or that my phone was still playing music. I let go of Sarah’s hand to turn the heater on low. I didn’t want it to be too loud. She grabbed the box of tissues, nearly empty now. Our eyes were red and swollen. We’d been drained dry. My soul felt flushed, and she must have felt the same. We had little else to say.

I sat back to feel the warmth and looked out at the horizon, now a light orange, casting a soft shadow from the mountains onto the lake. The music was soothing, and it healed me as slowly as dawn bled over the sky. Sarah held my hand again, and her cool fingers were smooth against mine. I looked at her, but she was looking forward, just as I was. Her gaze was wide, searching for something that wasn’t easily detected. She seemed to be looking through the mountains. I looked out again.

“Do you think we could have made it?” Her voice was hoarse and tired and broken.

We could have, I thought. If we were truly honest about how we felt from the beginning, before any of this, we could have avoided digging the hole we were stuck in now. Resentment and mistrust were poisons that killed us slowly, but we could have found a cure sooner. We could have held each other and told each other about all the stupid thoughts we had and all the irrational things we tried to rationalize and all the people whose stories revealed us to ourselves. We could have forgotten about the meteor shower and gone straight to the restaurant. We could have avoided all this if she or I decided that enough was enough, that life as we knew it wasn’t what we were promised in those thoughts and rationalizations and stories.

“We could have.”

The sun peeked over the ridge of the mountain and the light hit Sarah’s eyes. They were vibrantly brown. The first time I saw her eyes in this kind of light was the first time I told her I loved her. Could I say it now?

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Song Spotlight 6

“Paradise” by Coasts.

Coasts is an English rock band. This record was one of their singles for their second album, called This Life, Vol. 1 (2017). Their eponymous last record contained songs like, “Oceans,” and “Your Soul.”

I just want to start with how much I enjoyed their first album. I didn’t love it all, but the songs I did enjoy were pretty incredible. “Oceans,” “Modern Love,” and, “Wolves,” were some of my favorite songs last year.

I chose this song because I’m hearing it now and it strikes me as the kind of song that will resonate within me for probably as long as I’m alive. It’s not as uptempo and high energy  as, “Heart Starts Beating,” (my other favorite from this album) but its steadiness and melody fit like gears. The arrangement is more electronic than their usual record, which is a nice sign of variety and balance. The chord progression only includes chords from I-IV-V-VI, which makes it easy to love but also to fall into the trap of sounding like many other pop rock songs out there. Honestly, this song is a pretty stark departure from their bigger hits, but I really enjoy that the elements that make their band’s sound discernible are still present in this track. It makes the song, despite its difference, feel like inalienable part of their discography.

“We come to life when we’re side by side,” is such a brilliant first line. I’m positive it’s been written somewhere else in the annals of prose and songwriting, but that doesn’t make it less ideal in this song. And the line that solidified this song’s place among my lists: “I’ll play your favorite record on repeat.” Because who doesn’t want their partner to know their favorite record AND play it on repeat when it fits the moment?

I have a playlist of songs that sound like summer, songs that I want to blast while I drive down the California coast on a warm day with the windows down, songs that I imagine I’ll hear in my head when I’m holding a pretty girl’s hand. This song is on that playlist.

Thanks for the tune, Coasts.

Story 1: Bless You

I felt the sneeze welling up behind my nose, so I quickly turned, just barely remembering to hope that no one or nothing would be where my sneeze trajectory would traverse. But hope wasn’t enough.

I turned to sneeze, and it cleared my sinuses so powerfully, I was tempted to focus on the effectiveness of that sneeze rather than on the mother. And the baby. My vision was just coming back to me when I realized just what it was that my eyes saw.

I just sneezed on this baby.

And not on the shoulder. Not on the arm. I sneezed directly (but without malice aforethought) on the face of this woman’s new child. For a small fraction of a second, I caught the face of the baby as I sneezed onto his face, and he reacted pretty normally considering the social magnitude of this faux pas—his face was stunned, he had a small pause to comprehend what just happened as much as a baby can comprehend this, and then he began to cry loudly, most likely due, in addition to many, many other things, to the sudden shock and the loud noise I just made, inches from his face. I looked to the woman holding him. His mother was absolutely appalled. Disgust was painted, nay, sculpted, on her face—in the form of excess sneeze debris.

Very unfortunately, I began to chuckle. This is how I’ve always reacted to non-lethal mishaps that I’ve witnessed or experienced. I’ve learned to enjoy how ridiculous the things that happen to us can be, to take it all in stride. Somehow, this felt like the perfect and the worst time to laugh. Perfect because this seemed as ridiculous as a scenario can get. I mean, what. are. the. chances.

Worst because this was a Christmas party. It was a semi-formal event. Professionals, coworkers, families, and significant others were all here, dressed better than they would for a dental appointment (but worse than they would for a gala).

“I. Am so. So. Sorry.” I tried to plead to this woman holding a wailing baby, wiping my nose with a napkin from my pocket.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” She whispered very loudly at me. She may as well have yelled it loudly. There was nothing else the people around us could assume she said to me at that moment. What else can you say to someone who sneezes on the fruit of your loins?

Song Spotlight 5

When I Needed You” by Carly Rae Jepsen.

Carly Rae Jepsen is a singer-songwriter from British Columbia, Canada. Her more famous tracks include, “Call Me Maybe,” and, “I Really Like You.” “When I Needed You” is a track off her third album, Emotion.

This song. This song, dude. This freaking song, home slice. This, for me, is one of the best 80s pop revival songs in the last few years. Obviously, I haven’t listened to every song released in the last few years. I wasn’t born long enough ago to be able to accurately determine what actually was the definitive 80s pop sound. I have to base my opinion on things I’ve read and heard from secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc, sources. I don’t think  I’d be totally wrong to say that this song is pretty 80s pop though.

ANYWAY. Regardless of what it’s categorized or described as, it’s such a fun song. It takes a less-than-ecstatic topic (unrequited support) and makes a jubilant anthem out of it. It’s my ideal approach to writing a fun song meant to be a sort of “fuck you” to someone. The bass line that kicks in at the beginning of the first hook is fantastic. I wish it were deeper and more pronounced.

“You come to me / In dreams at night” is sung so very old school. It’s not particularly melodic, wispy and wide. “Where were you for me / When I needed someone” has a pretty anthemic rhythm. And then it goes into the howling, “When I needed you.” I’ve seen videos of this song performed live, and it looks (and sounds) like it really fills the room. It’s easy to sing along to and makes reliving a painful memory way more enjoyable than it has to be.

Go listen to Emotion Side B if you like this song. If not, listen to it anyway. At least once.

Thanks for the tune, Carly Rae Jepsen.

Song Spotlight 4

“Giving Up” by Ingrid Michaelson.

Ingrid Michaelson is a singer and songwriter from New York. This song was released on her third album, Be OK, which was released in 2008. Her bigger hits include, “The Way I Am,” and, “You and I.”

I chose this song because since the first day I heard it, I knew it would never stop being a good song. It is very spare. It’s just her and a guitar and, on occasion, a backup vocal of herself (which I guess makes it just her and a guitar). The pace is steady and the melodic and chord progressions are simple.

The melody is so, so sweet. She doesn’t do a lot in terms of making the music dynamic, which makes it feel a lot more like a confession or a small monologue rather than a song.

The writing is absolutely phenomenal. Absolutely. Phenomenal. I want to incorporate all the great lines into this post, but at some point I’d just be posting all the lyrics to the song. Instead, I’ll use the lines that made me realize I loved this song when I heard them.

“I am giving up on greener grasses.” Michaelson says this song is the good kind of giving up, which really doesn’t get enough credit for all the insanity its prevented since the beginning of cognitive awareness. This line is such a succinct way of saying, among other things, that sometimes the grass is greener, but we don’t always (or ever) need greener grass. Sometimes we just need grass. Or sometimes we need rocks or gravel or tanbark or concrete. It says that sometimes maybe you actually do want greener grass, but, more often than not, you can miss out on your own good lawn while yearning for someone else’s. It says that comparison won’t keep her from realizing what she has. It says you have to be realistic, which may sound negative, but a good, real thing is much, much better than a better, imagined thing.

“What if your eyes close before mine?” Talking about the death of your partner to your partner is, I imagine, a bit surreal for a younger person. It opens up a lot of little used avenues of thinking. But I like it. Thinking about how I’d feel if / when my partner dies makes me more aware of how I feel about them now. Obviously, things can change over time, but that’s beside the point. I imagine that if / when I choose to marry a woman, I’d like not to feel more than just (all forms of) sad after her death. I’d love to feel love and warmth because I had her, even if it wasn’t always. And I’d love to feel faith in the idea that people are more than just humans on a planet, that they can create a sort of magic.

Thanks for the tune, Ingrid Michaelson.

Song Spotlight 3

Tell Me How” by Paramore.

Paramore is a band originating in Tennessee, currently consisting of Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and Zac Farro. They’ve just released their fifth album, which I’m not really going to review. I will, however, say that it is, at minimum, quite good. Among other things, it has a lot of what I, in my head, refer to as “surf rock” sounds (there is probably a better phrase out there), which is particularly fantastic for summer. (The band Coasts has a lot of this sound. Which is probably is the birthplace of my phrasing.)

This song is the last track on the album. It was written by Williams and York. It’s a pretty sharp digression from the general pace of the album while keeping a lot of the elements that make the album feel cohesive. I’ve chosen to single out this track because I don’t think it will get the widespread recognition it deserves; its popularity will either fade or take a backseat to bigger hitters like “Pool” or “Fake Happy” or the singles.

I’ve always considered honest, self-reflecting, and vulnerable writing among the highest forms of expression. In that regard, “Tell Me How” is a monument. I’ve tried to consider that perhaps this track is just unusually resonant with me and my own experiences. It’ll take some time to know whether it truly is a marvel or just a flash of brilliant light. I like to think that my recognition of good writing is pretty firm and honed, so, if that’s true, then this song is well-written and will not ever stop being well-written.

The first five lines resonate with me remarkably, which is why I feel this song is so well done. There is a certain taboo, I feel, with the heartbreaker being heartbroken; the logic seems to be that, if you’re the one who breaks the bond, you have a lesser right to feeling broken. Obviously, I don’t agree. I adamantly believe that feeling is feeling and the expression of feeling is unrestricted, and the only thing that can be criticized is if our own expression is unchecked, particularly if it affects others negatively. But there is a reason that breakees are encouraged to do what they want in response to the breakup, whereas breakers are just encouraged to go on living their life. Breakups tend to yield more sympathy for the victims. There is a weird stigma for breakers that the breakees don’t seem to have to deal with: since you called off the relationship, you don’t really get to be sad. That’s where this song comes in.

As I interpreted it, which may not be how it was intended, the song was written by the breaker. Whatever the relationship was (platonic, romantic, etc.), this person broke it. I think if you’ve ever broken up with someone that you loved, for whatever reason and in any capacity, this song provides a very honest depiction of what a breaker thinks in those days and months and years afterward. It’s certainly what I thought.

There are also two more lines that are so candid and so simple, I’m upset that I didn’t write it myself: “I guess it’s good to get it off my chest / I guess I can’t believe I haven’t yet”. It doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but let it dig.

Thanks for the tune, Paramore.

Song Spotlight 2

Lost Boys” by Ocean Park Standoff.

 

Ocean Park Standoff is a band from Southern California, consisting of Samantha Ronson, Pete Nappi, and Ethan Thompson. “Lost Boys” is the first song off their eponymous EP, which was released in March 2017.

The song has been one of my favorites since finding the EP under “New Releases” on Spotify a few months back. As such, I’ve tried very hard to curb my urge to listen this song in an effort to prevent over saturating my ears and brain with it. It makes me feel too good and is too easy for me to like to risk disliking it for a reason as mundane as, “I’ve heard it too much.”*

The lyrics are pretty carefree; they’re indicative of young, wild, and raw energy. The story is inviting the person to whom the writer is referring to embrace the possibilities of an unplanned future. It seems that nearly every line is predicated on the notion that a life can be so much more than a life, and it starts with a night that can be so much more than a night.

The structure of the production is so fun and easy. The chord progression is simple and easy to listen to. The sound is large, and lulls are far and few between. It’s high energy for a large majority of its 3:49 runtime. The fact that most of the lyrics are layered by multiple voices, a sort of choral effect, and the use of words like, “let’s,” and first-person plural pronouns, “we,” and, “our,” give the impression of charisma, a characteristic that inherently connects people. Using welcoming phrases like, “Let’s go,” is similar in function to, “Come with me,” but through reflection, I can see how the difference can be quite stark. This difference lies in the nuances of language, which I do not think I am qualified to explain.

There are a lot of coming-of-age novels and stories wherein there is a scene / act of some youngsters that explains how a person feels as they’re doing something really new or exhilarating or special in any way, shape, or form. The instance that comes to mind is the act in Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky when the narrator, Charlie, is with his friends. They’re in a pickup truck, and he raises himself into the breeze of their motion as they traverse a tunnel. He then describes the grand emotions he has as they exit the tunnel and the lights of the city reach him. I imagine that if those emotions had a sound, it would sound exactly like, “Lost Boys.”

*Part of this logic extends into my disdain for the radio. It’s not that radio / mainstream music sucks in any particular way. I just don’t want the songs that are more easily digestible for a widespread audience, myself included, to be sullied by its own overabundance. In any case, this song is, in my opinion, too good for the radio.

Thanks for the tune, Ocean Park Standoff.

Song Spotlight 1

Slow Down” by EMBRZ.

The first in a series that consists of what I hope is at least several songs.

EMBRZ, whose real name is Jack Casey, is a musician from Ireland. This is one of his earliest releases on Soundcloud (this is the Youtube link, in case you prefer that medium); he posted it about three years ago.

He sampled Paramore’s song, “All I Wanted,” the final track off their third studio album, Brand New Eyes. More specifically, he sampled a couple lines, not borrowing too heavily from the melody of the original song as a whole. “Think of me,” and, “Remember to slow down,” including some echoes and fills of Hayley Williams’ singing, are the eyes of this dreamy tune. It’s said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, right? While I don’t much believe in that, I am also a firm believer in the fragility of absolutes. With that in mind, this metaphor is particularly applicable here.

There is a solid amount of evidence that points to the importance of the human face (and, by extension, the eyes): the number of muscles in our face to depict subtle changes in emotion, our own somatotopic brain organization (basically, in terms of how much of our brain is allocated to analyzing sensory information from different parts of our body, our faces and hands use up a lot of brain bandwidth), the amount of brain dedicated to our vision alone, the sensitivity of our facial skin (acne sucks), etc etc etc. (That’s me running out of good, concrete reasons.)

Anyway, all I’m really trying to say here is that the eyes are pretty significant for many large animal species, and EMBRZ made a pair with some of the nicest irises you’ll ever see. And the lyrics he chose to single out very well could have been disastrous. However, he went with some established writers in some band some people have heard of, and, in combination with his very soothing production, he basically took a second and turned it into a minute. I know, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but making sixty more of something out of one is harder than you think. (One of the better known cases of this kind of multiplicative work was done by a guy you may know as Jesus.) I would say he had a pretty complete reimagination of the original song, but I don’t think that’s completely accurate because that’s implying that he took the whole song and gave it a new house. Rather, what he did was that he took a room in that house and gave it a vast makeover, on a scale that would make HGTV envious. And now he lives in that room. And that room is probably where he produced, “Slow Down.”

The environment he gave to these forcibly orphaned lyrics is inviting and warming (this idea will come back later) and sentimental but in the best way. It’s upbeat poignant, which can likely be contracted into a more succinct word that I would like to know but don’t. It sounds like how I feel when I wake up in the morning and I can already see that the sky is blue and clear and the warmth of the sun has begun to fill my room. It sounds like how I feel when I’m driving on a warm day, in no real rush to get anywhere. It sounds like how I feel when I’m with my family or friends and we’re all laughing and I remember Andy Bernard, of The Office fame, who remarked, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them.”

He took very spartan, very innocuous sentiments and encourages the listener to understand that they are more than the sum of their words.

Thanks for the tune, EMBRZ.

Oh, and that Andy Bernard quote. For those who care to know, I don’t know that it changed my life, but it certainly gave a principle of mine a more concrete, referable form. I live by it, and I would be remiss not to say my experiences have been more enriching because of it.

How my book may start/end

“This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” she said under her breath.

“I think I said the same exact thing when I first saw this,” I replied.

The man on the stage looked like he was just about done pulling anal beads out of his conjoined twin’s anus. I mean, I could only hope he was close to being done; he’d been pulling for what felt like minutes. I know, I know, minutes doesn’t sound long at all, but one must consider the act here: a man is pulling out some anal beads. How long must the whole thing be for it take minutes? Sure, a deuce taking minutes is a person who is too fast or didn’t go at all. Sure, finishing all your homework in minutes means you didn’t have much or you did it completely wrong. But anal beads? Minutes? That’s an eternity.

I talk about important television in my life

Every day, there’s usually one or a few things that remind me of some very important life lesson I’ve learned through TV shows and have been reinforced through very defining circumstances in my life. I want to credit TV shows. It seems they are so quickly and easily dismissed. You watch them and think the world of them, but as soon as you reference them, it suddenly becomes this marker that highlights you a very odd color.

So with respect for all the work that goes into writing, directing, and acting out a truly great show, shout out to: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Boy Meets World, Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, Community, and Dexter. I am positive that most shows have something, or many things, very valuable to share, but these shows have influenced me greatly. If I were to be truly blunt right now, these shows have had the same degree of influence on my character that my family and friends have.

I’m going to try to succinctly sum up the value of these shows in my life.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, (1990-1996): For all that this show was and is and will be (which is, easily, simply brilliance), I think it has shown me how to enjoy everything in life, to see the jokes and the ironies and the beauty even, and perhaps especially, when I’ve lost or am losing something or someone.

Boy Meets World, (1993-2000): This show so easily displayed the value of a group of friends who are decent people that it’s easy to miss it under something like the genius of Mr. Feeny. The show so believed in the power of connecting to someone with whom you resonate emotionally that it makes perfect sense to describe what Mr. Feeny was to the crew, above all else, in one word: friend.

Scrubs, (2001-2010): Somehow this comedy program seemed to be at its best when it was not funny but when it was dramatic and serious and brutally honest. I think, to be as concise as possible for such a great show, I’ve learned about the power and importance of inner thoughts, mental preparation, and honest-to-God reflection.

How I Met Your Mother, (2005-2014): In many ways, this show is very similar to Scrubs to me in that it was at its best when it wasn’t necessarily funny but when it was poignant and hopeful. It has shown me many ways we can have and experience love. More importantly, it has shown me, though naive as it may be, that patience isn’t always rewarded, but the reward can be pretty sublime. And that Puzzles is the perfect name for a bar.

The Office, (2005-2013): “There’s a lot beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?” Life is what you make it. One of the shows I’ve re-watched the most.

Community, (2009-2015): This show was good for many reasons, but I think the strongest among them was that it never seemed afraid to do what it wanted. And through all the straying and experimenting, it was resilient; it always came back to be a little weird and mostly honest and maybe too obscure. I think Abed said it best: “When you really know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn’t such a big deal.” I live by that.

Dexter, (2006-2013): Aside from all the cool kills and amazing timing moments, I think this show has a lot to offer. It reinforced in me the idea that, “Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It helped me understand that I could, on some level, identify with a (fictional) serial killer. It helped me realize that sometimes all it takes to do good is to channel your bad appropriately. It showed me that smart and aware television characters exist. Other stuff, too. But I’m trying very hard not to just keep writing “cool kills, cool kills, cool kills” over and over.

Alright, I’ve finished. I don’t think this list is comprehensive. It consists of shows that have already concluded. If I need to add more shows, I’ll probably start a new list.

Thanks for reading!