On the Eventfulness of Pre-Eventified Incidents

Yeah, I met Lou Reed and Patty Smith

It didn’t make me feel different

Conor Oberst

I visited China a number of years ago with a highly ranked member of my university structure and a flunky. My own participation was last-minute as I was filling in for someone else. I guess in a way I was a flunky too. Certainly it was the big man’s show from start to finish.

We visited a number of schools and also met with a business guy who was working very hard to transact with our group something so complex that I never even began to grasp the shape of it despite sitting in a series of meetings around the matter.

The trip was interesting for a number of reasons. The big man barely spoke to me for the first few days despite spending all day together. The schedule was brutal. I was reading Jung On Art on my phone as I was enrolled in on online course I never finished. Jung On Art is great and spends a lot of time on the surrealist painter Yves Tanguy. Yves Tanguy is totally worth checking out. Finally the big man took a long look at me and said (in Japanese) “you read a lot, don’t you?” I confirmed this, and after that he spoke to me a little more.

The flunky was an archetype of the species. He handled the schedule, made the trains run on time. He did nothing else and deferred to the big man on absolutely every non-schedule related matter. My own strongest contribution to the proceedings was occupying the attention a friend of the business man during an excruciatingly protracted whisky drinking session so that the business guy and the big man could talk turkey. I am not a great whisky drinker for some reason and making sensible small talk for three or four hours over whisky took a truly heroic effort.

The business guy had a kind of a house in a kind of a hotel, it was hard to say. A full staff was on hand to serve us a full course Chinese meal with white and red wine. This was before the whisky. It was a scene, all the way.

Anyway, all of that is context. I want to write about a specific incident that occurred when we visited one school. The principal who received us knew the big man and we were received by a group of about 8 people. We got the school tour. Now, school tours are an occupational hazard in my line of work, and I have trained myself to be a durable recipient. But I don’t really like them. We went through the formalities which predictably took forever. I daydreamed about Yves Tanguy and bed.

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On the Song “Dylan Thomas” and Comments on Ryhme

A few days ago I posted a brief review of the new record from Better Oblivion Community Center in which I wrote a little bit about the song “Dylan Thomas” from their record. In the 50 something hours since then I’ve listened to the song about 100 times, literally, which is a lot. So I thought I might have something more to say about it.

For the uninitiated (which is probably everyone reading this–after I posted my review a friend texted me a funny article from The Onion entitled “Study: No Two People Have Listened To Same Band Since 2003”), Better Oblivion Community Center is Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers. “Dylan Thomas” is the single, or at least the song they just played on Jimmy Kimmel. You still won’t know them.

The reason I want to write a little more about the song is it has a killer structure. The structure is based around a neat rhyme scheme with fabulous use of “near rhymes” and also around a see-saw in the verses between fairly pointed political commentary and apolitical hedonism. As with all interpretation, I can’t be sure that what I hear was intended, but what the hell–communication is what the listener does after all.

Now, a lot of songs, most, rhyme. That’s obvious. But not too many songs really hold up on the page as well, as poetry. I think “Dylan Thomas” does and I’d like to explore why.

Verse I:

It was quite early one morning
Hit me without warning
I went to hear the general speak
I was standing for the anthem
Banners all around him
Confetti made it hard to see

So the first verse clearly alludes to our political moment–it appears politically engaged to some extent. The reference to “the general” is redolent of South American politics (I am reminded of the fabulous Drugstore song “El President”). The rhyme scheme is tricky–it’s AABCC(D), where (d) “see” almost rhymes with “speak” in the delivery although the words don’t actually rhyme, instead being only vaguely alliterative.

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Jerome: A Poem

Note: This little poem is one of the first things I wrote that I liked–I wrote it in high school. At that time I was deeply influenced by limericks (both dirty and clean) and nonsense poetry like Edward Lear. I still love nonsense poetry. Like anything good, I have no idea where this kind of content come from.

Jerome:

In a glade near his home

Roamed a boy called Jerome

When he met with the sight of the devil

Who asked for his soul

In a Tupperware bowl

In a voice smug and typically level

Though of manner quite mild

The cunning wee child

Prepared a surprise for the devil

Who felt sorely deceived

When the soul he received

Belonged to the neighbor’s boy, Nevil

New Albums for January 2019: Better Oblivion Community Center

Well it’s a new year and we already have a nice batch of cool new records. This year I’m going to work on staying on top of new releases each week and listen to more new music than I have since 2003. That’s the goal. I won’t post super long write ups because the point here is just to flag up some good stuff for your consideration.

First up is:

Better Oblivion Community Center, s/t

A two-hander between the young and super talented Phoebe Bridgers (of boygenuis) and Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes). This is an efficient and across the board excellent set of songs. The duo harmonizes beautifully with Bridgers taking the lead on more than the half the songs. It has Americana tinges and fits nicely in Oberst’s canon, however also at times sounds more like the experimental indie rock on a band like The Walkmen (See “Exception to the Rule”). I miss the Walkmen.

The lyrics are excellent, raw, personal. The band sets the tone on the first song, “Didn’t Know What I Was In For” where we have this tongue in cheek verse:

I didn’t know what I was in for
When I signed up for that run
There’s no way I’m curing cancer
But I’ll sweat it out
I feel so proud now for all the good I’ve done

Followed by a quick retraction:

I didn’t know what I was in for
When I laid out in the sun
We get burned for being honest
I’ve really never done anything, for anyone

On the uptempo “Dylan Thomas” the band seems to nod to the angst-filled zeitgeist like a lot of art these days, but in a refracted, allusive, and clever way:

These cats are scared and feral
The flag pins on their lapels
The truth is anybody’s guess
These talking heads are saying
“The king is only playing a game of four dimensional chess
If it’s advertised, we’ll try it
And buy some peace and quiet
And shut up at the silent retreat
They say you’ve gotta fake it
At least until you make it
That ghost is just a kid in a sheet

It’s every bit as good as it sounds.

This record features plenty drinking, heartache, self-loathing, and snark–in other words all of the great themes of rock ‘n roll and there isn’t a down song in the bunch.

RIYL: Bright Eyes, Phoebe Bridges, Dawes, The Walkmen.
Start With: Didn’t Know What I Was In For, Dylan Thomas, Dominos.

My Favorite Albums of 2018

This is a simple overview of my favorite albums of 2018. Naturally I am only able to comment on those albums that I had the time to listen to and to find my way into. Many lists have albums from Mitski and others on there that I just didn’t totally get into. The list that follows is a mixture of albums that a lot of critics adored and others that just stood out to me. You probably won’t like all of these, but I’m pretty sure you can find something here that turns you on.

#13: Deafheaven, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. On ANTI-.

Deafheaven’s first record since 2015 sees the band moving into more melodic territory, sort of. Deafheaven is basically black metal mixed with a little Slowdive and a little Sigur Ros. The songs are often long–the opener “You Without End” runs 7 and a half minutes and the showstopper “Glint” runs over 10. The album is said to be based on Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and you can certainly hear ordinary corrupt human love in the lyrics, or you can just sit back and bask in the sound. Basically, cool people like Deafheaven. Do you want to be cool? I thought so.

I’m by no means a black metal completist so the comparisons won’t be perfect but…

RIYL: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Jesu, Pelican, Sigur Ros
Start With: You Without End, Glint, Honeycomb

#12: Metric, The Art of Doubt. On MMI/ Crystal Math Music.

I just love Metric and Emily Haines, so this is an easy one. Fantasies is a top 30 record of the millennium. The Art of Doubt doesn’t quite rise to that level, but it’s a kick-ass rocker through and through and “The Risk,” holy lord:

Was the risk I sent to you received?
All the words we say to be believed?
I’m already over the thrill of pursuit
Where can I take this risk I took with you?
Send this kiss to someone new?

Metric is historical high-level. I’m a Gemini sun with Mars in Leo in my 10th house. I am, basically speaking, not afraid of people. What you got? Yeah, color me impressed. However…there are three women I would be a bit daunted to meet. In order:

#1: Brit Marling, actress and creator of The OA.

#2: Emily Haines, lead singer of Metric.

#3: Kristin Stewart, actress in Personal Shopper.

RIYL: Chvrches, Broken Social Scene, Emily Haines, Lower Dens
Start With: The Risk, Dark Saturday

#11: Bad Moves, Tell No One. On Don Giovanni Records.

I wrote about Bad Moves extensively here: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/16/crushes-and-crushing-with-bad-moves-and-swearin/. Bad ass power pop with attitude, class, and sweetness. That’s quite a combination. And Emily Park is stunning. That’s my opinion, and I am correct.

RIYL: Dirty on Purpose, Daddy Issues, Swearin’
Start With: Crushed Out, Missing You

#10: Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer. On Bad Boy Records and Atlantic Records.

I really liked her last record, and her new one is a huge step forward. Janelle is a star, no question about it. This is a rollicking record with breadth and depth and takes multiple listens to plumb. Janelle is living in public with no apologies. The record is long and dense and encompass a range of moods. The best places to jump in are the fist-pumping tracks like “Django Jane,” which sees Monae spitting fire:

Yeah, yeah this is my palace, champagne in my chalice
I got is all covered like a wedding band
Wonderland, so my alias is Alice
We gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot
Or we gon’ have to put them on a pussy diet
Look at that, I guarantee I got ’em quiet
Look at that, I guarantee they all inspired

I can’t wait to see her live as soon as possible.

RIYL: Lykke Li, Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Lady Gaga
Start With: Crazy Classic Life, Django Jane

#9: The Hold Steady, Confusion in the Marketplace/ The Stove and the Toaster b/w Star 18/ Eureka b/w Esther.

This one is a bit of a cheat as it is not actually an album. These are the three two-song releases from The Hold Steady in 2018. If you aren’t a hardcore fan you these might have slipped beneath your radar. That’s a shame because there are some classic Hold Steady songs and some killer Craig Finn lines in these songs.

“The Stove and the Toaster” details yet another bad deal gone down, a classic Finn theme.

Got some new information from the chef and the chauffeur
The put the stash in the stove they keep the cash in the toaster
Down in Las Cruces they don’t play with jokers
I hope I still know you when this is all over.

Needless to say, the narrator and crew get burned by the chef and the chauffeur in the end. Yeah, it’s sort of Finn-by-numbers, so, basically the kind of lines other songwriters would kill for.

My two favorites here are #2 “Esther,” and #1 “Star 18.” Esther is a great song about a week long romance. It remains totally remarkable how much detail and color Finn can get across in a 4 minute song.

The party ended suddenly, suddenly it’s over
That left me and Esther all along and getting older
All alone and getting older and smoking in the street
Now everything is Esther and it’s been that way all week

Esther follows the transcendent “Tangletown” from 2017’s We All Want the Same Things as a precisely executed x-ray of a complex adult relationship. I like it a lot.

Best of all is “Star 18,” a top 10 all time Hold Steady track. It’s an upbeat rocker that would fit on Stay Positive (still my favorite record by this great band.). A tongue-in-cheek commentary on the music scene and a come on song at the same time, Star 18 features lines that help make the case for Finn as the greatest living lyricist under 70.

Sorry I’m late, I got caught in the mosh
With this dude that said he used to play with Peter Tosh
But he never brought it up again once I said, man, I don’t believe you

And

Hold Steady at the Comfort Inn
Mick Jagger’s at the Mandarin
Once you get good, you can get it wherever you are.

The Hold Steady gets it wherever they are, believe me.

RIYL: Rock ‘n Roll
Start With: Star 18

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The Thin Man, a Birthday Party, a Guardian Angel

Note: This is the final installment of the Thin Man in Singapore. You can read earlier installments here:

Chapter 1: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/10/16/the-thin-man-walks-into-a-bar-a-wee-legend/

Chapter 2: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/11/15/the-thin-man-on-assignment/

Chapter 3: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/05/the-thin-man-on-assignment-part-ii/

Chapter 4: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/30/the-thin-man-implements/

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You clean yourself to meet/ a man who isn’t me
You’re putting on a shirt/ a shirt I’ll never see
With letters in your coat/ and no one’s in your head
‘Cause you’re too smart to remember/ you’re too smart
Lucky you
The National

Dateline Singapore, Saturday 13:06 PM

The phone rings, jarring the Thin Man out of sleep. “Where the/ what the/ who the…” Images in shards–his grandmother’s house and he is six, sun streaming through a late afternoon window. He rolls over. No by god, a bed, an adult body within. He picks up the phone. “Uh huh?”

“It’s Alejandro. Your passport will be ready tomorrow morning and you’re on an Emirates flight to Rome via Dubai tomorrow at 9 PM. In the meantime Alice is having a birthday party and you’re invited.”

“Alice?”

“Miller’s secretary. You might have heard the rumors but she’s a cool cat and it’ll be fun. 17:00 at Chijmes. Be there.”

“Seriously? I don’t know Alice and, I’d rather just rest up you know.”

“Not an option. You’re not invited, more required. From Miller directly. Buck up man and see you at 5.”

Holy Jesus, another evening. The Thin Man rises, splashes cold water on his face and when this doesn’t do the trick, fills the sink with cold water and plunges his face into the water, eyes wide open. He exhales; water goes everywhere. He dabs at it with a hand towel. Breakfast is long over–lunch is a maybe. 20 minutes later he has showered and shaved and limps downstairs.

“Lunch is still open?”

The man’s smile masks a scowl. Rolling into a buffet that closes at 14:00 at 13:46 is no way to endear yourself to staff. He takes a seat by the window, wanders the buffet. Two bowls of mushroom soup, two watermelon juices, a roll with butter, salmon sashimi and an Americano. Vague feelings of humanity follow.

On his phone the Thin Man peruses “The Essentials of Casino Game Design” as he eats. This is more out of habit than interest–he has no desire to re-enter the gambling demi-monde. Reflex is a bitch. The waiter circles, pressing his point from 5 feet away. “I got you babe,” thinks the Thin Man. He makes marginal eye contact, figures he has another 20 minutes give or take. He resolves to relax into the spacetime as fully as possible before the waiter pulls rank. He has no desire to make trouble but at the same time, a customer is a customer and soup is soup. A game for two players. Eventually, he makes his move before the waiter is forced to make his.

“On my room please, 727,” he says, with studied nonchalance. Everything takes all afternoon.

Alice’s Party:

It takes 123 drinks/ and now she’s not so frightened
It takes 4 and 5 and 6/ and then she’s sick
But in the hour in between/ she feels holy and redeemed
Blessed and blissful/ painless and serene
Craig Finn

The Thin Man has a lot of flaws but he does clean up well. That’s a skill, a blessing, a bonus. Re-showered, shaved, and an app-assisted breathing exercise later, he shows at Chijmes on time and on point. Miller himself greets him with a slap on the back.

“Mr. Bishop, your work is appreciated. Much appreciated. I heard that you will be staying with the firm. Rome is beautiful this time of year. You are a lucky man.”

“It is my pleasure to be of service.” The Thin Man is not serious, yet not unserious. The work is the work and he has no other. “Anyway, happy birthday to Alice hey?”

“Hehe, haha. Alice, yes,” salivates Miller.

Another day, another passport thinks the Thin Man. Several people he doesn’t know are there. The crew moves to an outdoor restaurant; the usual wrangling over orders ensues and Long Island Ice Teas appear. There is no drink more perfectly positioned to cause trouble than a Long Island Ice Tea. The Thin Man downs two before the Nachos arrive. A waitress circles. “White or red,” she asks. “Both please” replies the Thin Man. It’s early and he has no intention of sticking with this group after dinner. Why not make the most of the moment.

The food is a B- at best. The drinks are loaded. The sun shines in the late evening. The usual Singapore rain squall has not appeared today. 6 PM, the magical hour, and the Thin Man begins to fade into the perfect liminality that only occurs between drinks three and four.

Titters from Alice. Winks from Alejandro. Miller sits straight up, what a spine. The Thin Man is bored. Time passes; the sun sets.

“One more?” asks Miller.

“How about the hotel bar?” says the Thin Man. The sooner near home the better. Miller covers the bill and tracks are made.

The Hotel Bar, Circa 20:10:

The Thin Man and crew enter the bar and the mood is boisterous. The Thin Man feels as thin as paper. He needs an ally. As his party makes its way to a table, he approaches the barmaid. Her tag identifies her as “May.” Always approach service workers with kindness and respect–they get so little of it it goes a long way.

“Good evening May. My friends and I are looking to enjoy the bar tonight. Only, I have been on the road for weeks and I’m a little tired.” He slips her a $50 bill. “I know bars don’t love to serve water, but if you could keep an eye on me and refill my water glass I’d be in your debt.”

May looks him up and down. “No problem,” she says. “Rely on me.” The Thin Man makes it to the booth where Company X holds court. Miller and Alice’s hands dance a protracted duet. Alejandro sits a foot away, just keeping an eye on things.

A round of drinks, another. May keeps her end of things and the Thin Man hydrates, for a while. A woman called Marta had introduced herself at dinner and slides into the booth next to the Thin Man.

“How do you know Alice?” she asks.

“I don’t.”

“Oh. I have a bet with Jeffrey over there. He thinks you are on his team.”

“On his team?”

“You know,” she drops into a stage whisper, “Jeffrey likes men.”

“I see. I don’t have a team,” replies the Thin Man. “I’m a free agent.”

“Not so fast,” interjects Alejandro, who seems to register everything that is said at the table. “You are on our team. You have a contract.”

“A contract? I haven’t seen anything like that. And besides I don’t see how that would be possible. Text is dead, or that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Don’t mind him,” says Alejandro, “he likes being heavily humorous.”

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