Author Archives: Jorge Farah

About Jorge Farah

I am the opposite of Prince.

Mr. Programmer, I’ve Got My Hammer: Five Ramones Gems Worth Revisiting

I was in the middle of writing this blog post when news broke that Tommy Ramone passed away. His death coincides quite freakishly with a sudden surge of enthusiasm for the Ramones’ music– I wrote about it last week–  that I have no real explanation for. This made me very sad. I really liked Tommy. He always struck me as the most mature of the Ramones. He lacked most of the neuroses and anxiety that seemed to afflict the rest of the band, so in a way it made a whole lot of sense to have him manning the drums. He may have only occupied that spot for a few years, but he played on their three biggest albums: Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia; albums that essentially kickstarted a musical revolution both stateside and abroad.

Those first three albums are absolute masterpieces. Though most folks will talk about that first record (and it is a fine record), my personal favorite is Leave Home, an album which more accurately reflects their live sound, without the pronounced channel separation of their debut. I wrote a bit about Tommy last week, and posted what I consider to be their greatest live document: a video of their legendary (and riot-inducing) 1977 performance in London’s The Rainbow. But I also wanted to discuss some of the unheralded Ramones classics that Tommy wasn’t a part of. Of course, everyone knows “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away”, but I thought I’d take a look at some of those later songs that nobody really talks about. So for your listening enjoyment, here’s recorded proof that the band just wouldn’t let up: five Ramones gems you probably haven’t paid much attention to.

“Questioningly” from Road to Ruin (1978)

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Easily the poppiest, most melodic, most unabashedly sugary out of all the songs from the first four albums (save for maybe their wonderful cover of Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzche’s “Needles and Pins”, but that’s a cover so it doesn’t count). This beautiful little number was overshadowed by other Road to Ruin cuts like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Don’t Come Close”, but to my ears it’s much more affecting. Penned by bassist Dee Dee (mind you, the same person who’d written earlier songs like “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”), this song displayed a sense of romantic vulnerability that, while somewhat present in earlier songs, was buried under buzzsaw guitar riffs and ridiculously high tempos, as well as the band’s trademark sense of humor. There are no yuk-yuks here. This is a strikingly earnest song about regret, heartbreak and lost love, which is underlined by everything from Joey’s vocal performance to the song’s country-western ballad production flourishes. Johnny Ramone, the band’s guitarist and steadfast disciplinarian, reportedly hated the song.

Road to Ruin was meant to be the band’s big breakthrough in the US; they spent more time on it than on any of their previous albums, making sure the arrangements were lush and radio-ready. It only really became considered a classic in hindsight, after a remixed version of “I Wanna Be Sedated” for a Greatest Hits collection gave them some modest chart success in the mid-80s. When it came out in 1978, it received very little radio attention and lukewarm reviews. Mainstream radio’s indifference was a crushing blow to the band’s morale, and led directly to one of their most controversial  albums…

“I Can’t Make it on Time” from End of the Century (1979)

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In light of Road to Ruin’s disappointing chart performance, the band decided to work with their first celebrity producer, the legendary Phil Spector, on their follow-up album End of the Century. Look, this should have worked. Phil Spector, pop producer extraordinaire, a master at crafting songs that jump out and pull you in, inventor of the Wall of Sound. And the Ramones, a band whose vocal melodies were always deeply rooted in the radio pop of Spector’s era, and whose straight-ahead overdriven buzzsaw guitar attack was their own rudimentary approximation to Spector’s orchestrated Wall of Sound approach. This should have resulted in a pop album for the ages. This should have been the record that finally earned the Ramones some commercial success. This should have…  sounded better.

Unfortunately, the end result to the long and arduous recording sessions, fraught with tension and reportedly even threats of violence, was an album that neither matched the raw power of the Ramones nor approached the transcendental pop stylings of Spector’s best work. In fact, it clearly displayed that Spector had no idea how to produce hard rock music: the arrangements were a mess, the drum sound sloppy, and Johnny’s guitar paper-thin and anemic. The two songs were Spector’s approach actually worked were perhaps the album’s most famous tracks: lead single “Do You Remember Rockn’roll Radio” and the plaintive ballad “Danny Says”. The rest of the album sounds bad, even though the songs are good. Take “This Ain’t Havana”, for example, a rollicking two-minute blast with a ridiculously infectious melody that would’ve sounded amazing in Leave Home or Rocket to Russia. Or this song, my favorite song in the album, “I Can’t Make it on Time”, with its irrepressible shout-along chorus. Look past the tepid sound and you’ll find a stone-cold Ramones classic, and a great pop tune. This is true for the other songs as well. There’s a great album here, ill-served by the bizarre production choices of a veritable madman.

The saddest part? It didn’t even chart.

“I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” from Brain Drain (1989)

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By 1989 the dream was dead. The Ramones had floundered for most of the 80s in an effort to gain commercial relevance within a pop culture landscape that had no space for their ilk. They had attempted big-name producers, recorded absurdly catchy songs, collaborated with some of the biggest artists of the decade yet continued to operate well below the radar. Aside from the aforementioned remix of “I Wanna Be Sedated”, their 80s singles were crushing radio bombs, and their albums were uneven; you had the choppy pop exuberance of Pleasant Dreams, the stripped-down proto-hardcore of Too Tough to Die, the bizarre mish-mash of punk rock and synthpop stylings of Animal Boy. Still, as much as their 80s discography felt like increasingly erratic attempts at radio success, each record yielded a few gems that approached the intensity and fun of their 70s output.

For my money, the best album from this turbulent period was its very last one: 1989′s Brain Drain. I purchased this at the height of my Ramones fandom, maybe about 14 years ago. This track was an instant favorite. “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” is a dark and feverish song about romantic obsession, with a suitably dramatic performance by Joey. It has about 9 words in it, because that’s all it needs to have. It captures the overall mood of the album, a dark and murky record filled with angry and desolate songs. From the impassioned opener “I Believe in Miracles”, to the sparse and deceivingly poppy “All Screwed Up”, through roaring numbers like “Learn to Listen” and “Zero Zero UFO”. It’s honestly one of my favorite Ramones albums, and one that rarely gets talked about.

(This was also Dee Dee’s last album with the band before he left to pursue his hilarious rap career.)

“Tomorrow She Goes Away” from Mondo Bizarro (1992)

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Dee Dee’s replacement was CJ Ramone, an enthusiastic young Marine who’d grown up a diehard fan of the band, and parfticularly of the man he was replacing. CJ felt, and sounded, like a breath of fresh air for a band that had grown creatively stagnant. CJ’s presence brought a much-needed levity to the group, which had become embittered and resentful towards each other. His studio debut with the band, 1992′s Mondo Bizarro, featured a band that sounded vibrant and hungry for the first time in many years. It contained some of the band’s catchiest songs in a decade: tracks like “Censorshit”, an open letter to Tipper Gore with a devilishly hooky chorus of “aw Tipper come on, ain’t you been getting it on?, Other highlights include the demented rave-up “The Job That Ate My Brain”, the soulful lament of “Poison Heart”, and the tender country ballad “I Won’t Let it Happen”. The songs were sharp, bright, well-crafted and with a healthy dose of macabre humor; this was a welcome change after the stark murkiness of their last couple of albums.

“Tomorrow She Goes Away” is probably my favorite track from the entire album, capturing the youthful enthusiasm of this era. There was a lot of that going on; the song “It’s Gonna Be OK”, a love letter to Ramones fans, featured the lines “got good feelings about this year; all is very well, CJ is here”. For the first time in years, the band was back to their early-career optimism, making public declarations about how this felt like they were at the precipice of something big, Well, they were. They just didn’t know it wouldn’t really include them. 

“Born to Die in Berlin” from Adios Amigos (1995)

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1994 was a big year for punk rock music in the United States. Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, Rancid, NOFX– all bands that had been massively influenced by the Ramones– all attained a level of commercial success that had so far eluded the band that inspired them all. And even earlier, before that, the early 90s also saw an explosion of bands that were name-checking the Ramones in interviews: Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana. It felt like the time was finally right for them; the pop culture landscape had caught up, people were finally listening to their brand of distorted, melodic, fast-tempo music. But… it wasn’t their music. Ramones guitars were all over the radio, yes, but it wasn’t the Ramones playing them. It was everybody else. It was bands that had been inspired by the Ramones approach. Meanwhile, their own albums Mondo Bizarro and Acid Eaters (a really great cover album featuring punked-up 60s songs) had failed to capture the public’s interest. People were just not paying attention. Success just wasn’t for them.

Adios Amigos was their farewell album. As the name implies, the band had decided to call it quits after decades of struggling commercially while being heralded by every rock musician and music critic as the greatest band in the world. They’d just had enough. And their last album reflected that; the songs were full of anger and bitterness, from “It’s Not For Me To Know” to “Take The Pain Away” and “She Talks To Rainbows”, it was a sound of a band that had had enough of giving their heart and soul to a public that just didn’t seem to care. It also kept some of the traditional Ramones pep and snarkiness, of course, but even those tracks seemed fatalistic: “I’ve Got a Lot to Say”, “Life’s a Gas” and their cover of the brilliant Tom Waits song “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” (which sounded like it was written to be a Ramones song in the first place).

The Ramones finally received the recognition they deserved, yes, but many years overdue. Ramones t-shirts are a common sight these days, and it seems every indie band in the world has played a cover or two of their songs. The public seems to have a pretty good idea of who they were, thanks to books, films, television and the Internet. They finally permeated into pop culture. In their lifetime as a band, however, they were the start of something big, but went largely unheralded and ignored. The last song of Adios Amigos, and as thus the final track in the Ramones studio discography, is one of my all-time favorite Ramones songs, the furious “Born to Die in Berlin”. Roaring guitars over a plaintive, soulful chorus: “sometimes I feel I just can’t win”. The bloody, screaming death of a mighty beast.


… And Then There Were None. RIP Tommy Ramone.

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More than any other band I’ve ever called a favorite, loving the Ramones feels like a lifelong allegiance. You’re making a pledge as part of something bigger than yourself. You take a stand with the underdog– the rejected, the dejected, the downtrodden and beleaguered. You celebrate everything that is wrong with you and everything that makes this mess of an existence so uniquely beautiful. You laugh and you cry in equal measure, but you’re glad because you’re out there feeling. This is what made their music so vibrant and so enduring. In all its malformed simplicity and unabashed goofiness, it was loaded with heart. When you declare yourself a fan of this band, you know that it’s about more than the catchy and energetic tunes, but also the fact that the dysfunctional weirdos who made those tunes were able to rise above their maladies & sundry neuroses to make something this joyous.

I hesitate to talk about this kind of stuff because it sounds like exactly the kind of pseudo mystic bullshit that people come up with as a way to introduce themselves into the narrative of somebody else’s tragedy, but I think I’ve accumulated some goodwill in the pages of this here webrag. And let me also preface this by saying that I am 100% certain that this is nothing but a crazy coincidence; I don’t believe there are cosmic forces at play here, there’s no great wind upon which we are being carried, putting each factor into a specific order as part of some greater meaning. This is just what I consider to be a remarkable coincidence.

I love the Ramones. They are, and long have been, one of my all-time favorite bands. But sometimes I’ll go through long stretches of time– months, even years– when I just won’t feel like listening to their music. It’ll still be there in the background, I’ll still smile whenever I happen upon one of their songs, but I won’t actively seek them out. This is pretty reasonable; for as prolific as they were, there’s only so many times you can listen to the same bunch of albums, the slight variations in barr chord sequences over and over again. However, every once in a while, I’ll go into a Ramones frenzy; an extended period– usually weeks, sometimes months– when they’re all I’ll listen to. Whether it’s the later stuff or the old classics or the unfairly maligned middle period, I’ll go through these sudden bursts of Ramones enthusiasm where all I wanna hear is the sound of that buzzsaw guitar, those crude & angular basslines, and Joey’s soulful vocals singing teenage love songs or songs about getting lobotomies. Alright, now here’s the creepy part…

The last three of these Ramones frenzies have happened to coincide with the death of one of the original band members. No, I don’t mean it was their death that prompted me to listen to them– rather, I’ll have a sudden and inexplicable urge to listen to their music for weeks, at the end of which the news will come out that one of the four original members has bitten the dust. It happened first with Joey, during the early days of my Ramones fandom. Soon after that, Dee Dee. And a few years later, Johnny. And for the first time in years, I had one of these Ramones frenzies recently; for the last month or so, I’ve been listening through their full discography, and re-reading my books about them. I was even in the middle of writing a blog post about some of their overlooked gems (proof). And just a couple of hours ago, I find out that Tommy Ramone– their first drummer, and their last original member– has passed away at age 65. Beyond the sadness of his loss, I find this coincidence unnerving.

(I shared this phenomenon with a friend recently. “I’ve been listening to nothing but the Ramones for the last few days,” I said. “The last few times this happened, a band member has turned out dead.” “Maybe you should stop listening to them before you kill them all,” she joked. For the sake of remaining members Marky, Richie and CJ, maybe I should. Although they were not part of the original lineup, so perhaps they’re safe.)

Tommy was their drummer from 1974 to 1978, playing on their first three albums (their biggest and most influential). He was also a producer for several of their later albums, having left the band due to a distaste for touring. From everything that I’ve seen in interviews and read in books, he was a kind and funny guy, with a level of self-awareness that perhaps eluded the rest of the group. He wasn’t a showy drummer, but he understood exactly what his drumming needed to be. He understood that Ramones songs were really just pop songs set on fire. And since my upcoming post is about their overlooked gems (and there really aren’t any overlooked gems in their first 3 albums), it felt strange not to pay my respects to a man whose role in forming the band and setting them on their course contributed to the shaping of my teen years and my musical identity. So long, brother, and Gabba Gabba to you.

Here’s Tommy in his prime, playing a legendary gig with the Ramones at The Rainbow in London, 1977.


Everyist Blogcast: The Co-Hosts that Never Were (with guest Nate Dunaway)

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Boy, it’s been quiet in here, huh? Call off the search parties, though, rein in the hounds; I’m just a little busy. And busy is good. Busy means money. Busy means I’m out there doing more than just lie around in bed all day weeping while I listen to In the Wee Small Hours for the 5032nd time– which doesn’t sound so bad, but money is better.

In this edition of the blogcast, we continue our exploration into the minds and ears of a wide array of music listeners from all over the music spectrum. Last time around, Rease Kirchner served us a hefty dose of guitar-laden indie rock. This time, I’m chatting with Austin’s own Nate Dunaway, a thespian with a proclivity for the rap genre.

A long time ago, Nate and I had the idea of starting a podcast together. Now, unfortunately, we’re both pretty creative people, and creative people are often kind of flaky. After weeks of deliberation, we couldn’t come up with a compelling enough premise, or more specifically, something that hadn’t been done to death in the already overcrowded world of podcasting. We thought about it real hard. So hard, in fact, that we wound up not doing it. So this here pod is a taste of what could’ve been.

I tasked Nate with coming up with his idea of a perfect playlist, and Nate wowed me by producing perhaps the most gloriously disparate list of songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Here’s Nate’s playlist:

Danny Brown ft. Purity Ring- “25 Bucks”
Animal Collective- “What Would I Want? Sky”
Death Grips- “Takyon”
Talk Talk- “Inheritance”
Jonny Greenwood- “Sweetness of Freddie”
ASAP Rocky- “LVL”

Click the embedded player below to listen to Nate’s soothing southern tones as we discuss my precarious knowledge of the hip-hop genre, sing the praises of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 masterpiece, whine over our failed podcast pilot, and talk over each other a lot. All of this, and the songs listed above, for the low low price of one mouse click. Hit it:


Download: http://jorgefarah.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/natepod.mp3


Come Over Da House: The Beautiful Absurdity of Baman Piderman

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This is a picture of me and my best friend Caropi hanging out with Baman and Piderman. It was drawn for me by Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera, creators of the show “Baman Piderman”. It’s the background image on one of my work monitors. It’s nice to be greeted by a silly piece of art that lifts my spirits and makes me smile. Even if the smile dissipates just as quickly as it appeared, when you move past it to actually start working, when you’re confronted with the sometimes unbearable ughness of everyday existence.  It just…  helps, somehow.

“Baman Piderman” is a wonderful animated show on the Mondo Media network (makers of Happy Tree Friends and Dick Figures, among other things). It stars Baman and Piderman, two oafish and childlike next-door-neighbors. Baman and Piderman occupy an alternate dimension, ungoverned by conventional laws of physics or logic, a blank canvas world where raindrops are shards of glass, snowflakes are monstrously gigantic and houses can be steered away from danger. Despite what their outfits may suggest, Baman and Piderman have very little to do with Batman and Spider-Man; instead, those characters were a mere starting point for something much stranger. Baman is an amorphous blob with the ability to grow extra limbs. His best friend Piderman is hapless and given to panic attacks. They share their world with Baman’s girlfriend Tuba (an actual sentient tuba), their friend Pumkin (a mild-mannered and vaguely hipstery pumpkin, with a body), Pumkin’s love interest Squib (a genderless mess of green tentacles from another dimension). a couple of basement-dwelling “villains” (named That Guy and The Other Guy, too dumb and affable to be actual villains) as well as a few other supporting characters. The show follows Baman and Piderman as they plop around laboriously, give each other presents, go on adventures in alternate dimensions and escape the cakes.

I have a hard time articulating what I find so compelling about this relentlessly bizarre show, so I invite you to watch this video; it compiles the first 15 episodes of the show:

There are 8 more episodes after the ones collected above, and they’re great– arguably the best of the series. You can find those starting here. If you’re initially put off by the nonsensical stories and non sequitur dialogue, stick with it. It gets progressively more layered and story-driven; as Lindsay and Alex grew as animators and storytellers, their vision for Baman Piderman also became more refined. The episodes got longer and more elaborate, displaying a surprising amount of depth and character development as well as a remarkable sense of in-universe continuity. In short, it gets better the more you watch.

At the heart of it, beyond its pop culture appropriation and clever trope subversions and deliberate kookiness, it’s just a sweet show about friendship. The kind of unconditional friendship and support that most people want to have but is actually pretty fucking rare; where all the platitudes about how “friends are the family you choose” ring true, almost painfully true, beyond the level of feel-good Hallmark greeting card fluff. In all its stupid simplicity, it touches on something profound: how that childlike level of devotion fades slowly as we grow older and more cynical, and friendships become more about posturing and killing time and networking. Baman and Piderman need each other in a very real way, a very pure way, and every character they welcome into their absurd social circle becomes another set of arms to lean on (except for when they don’t have arms, like Tuba). I know it sounds ridiculous for a show that, on a surface level, doesn’t look like much more than a parody of two ridiculously ubiquitous comic book characters that have already been parodied to death, but it really did evolve into its own, uniquely beautiful thing.

The show was woefully put on hold by Mondo in late 2012, and it’s laid dormant ever since. Today, however, Lindsay and Alex unveiled a Kickstarter campaign to fund the show’s final five episodes and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. They’re also releasing a staggering amount of sweet merchandise as perks to campaign donors. If you dig the show, if you dig animation, surreal stories and ukuleles and cake, please consider donating to their Kickstarter page (also, be sure to watch the campaign video, which is wonderful in its own right). Everything comes to an end, yes, but some things deserve to end the right way. Tuba, enjoy your dinner.


BAFICI Report: Days Four, Five & Six (The Mid-Festival Slump)

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A festival like BAFICI, which prides itself in its wild eclecticism and its ability to signal-boost tiny little art films from far-off lands, is clearly going to have some clunkers as part of its vast lineup. But the disappointments are part of the joy of a film festival like this, a veritable smorgasboard of cinematic expression– the “disappointments” are as much a part of the experience as the amazing discoveries that were smattered throughout its impossibly wide (500+ films!) selection. I never really walk out of a BAFICI screening thinking “wow, that was a waste of time”, even if the movie was absolute garbage. I’m glad for the experience of being exposed to accidents and misfires and risks that ultimately don’t pan out. It’s a wonderful freak show.

It just so happened that days four, five and seven of my BAFICI experience this year were littered with these aforementioned clunkers– a couple of flat-out bad films, a couple of underwhelming “meh”s, and one astounding discovery. Days seven, eight, nine and ten were much better– we’ll be covering those next. For now, here’s what was on deck for my second batch of films (following the first three days, which were covered in this post).

Downloaded

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I should start out by saying that the above picture is not a still from Downloaded. I couldn’t find any good ones online, so I decided to simply honor the director by putting up a picture of Bill & Ted. And I know, I know, the whole film is actually posted online, I could’ve gone on the stream and simply captured a screenshot from it… but I just kinda wanted to post a picture of Bill and Ted.

Look, whenever you’re dealing with a topic as complex and as polarizing as “downloading culture”, you’re going to face the challenge of whether to give your film an ideological bent at all. Does your documentary have a thesis statement, or do you aim to simply present the facts and perspectives as objectively as possible from both sides of the argument? One is infinitely more entertaining and engaging than the other. Of course, it would be a terrible thing for documentary cinema in general if the filmmakers’ only concern was to push an agenda onto the audience, but with a topic as (relatively) banal as illegal downloading? Take a stance, man. This film is fine– it’s entertaining, it’s incredibly informative, it’s most definitely worth a watch. But it’s not particularly gripping, it’s not particularly powerful, and it doesn’t tell me anything I haven’t already seen in the comments section of a Trichordist blog post. Solid, but you could reasonably expect better from Alex Winter.

How to Disappear Completely

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Harmony Korine’s 2008 experimental VHS film “Trash Humpers” is the last time I remember leaving a screening feeling so bewildered, confused and ill at ease… and that’s a film about old men having sex with trash cans in a post-apocalyptic future. That now-overused message board expression “what did I just watch?” is completely apt for something like this. An absurd, decidedly surrealistic, sometimes claustrophobic mood piece that weaved oneiric passages into traditional narrative in a way where they seemed to struggle for dominance. This film is visually stunning, but ill at ease; compelling at times, but ultimately tedious. I’d like to watch it again, though not exactly for pleasure. Mostly I just want to make some sense out of it.

Gente en Sitios

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Semi-improvised slice-of-life reenactments by sundry Spanish pseudocelebrities. Platitudes and self-conscious quirkiness. On a bad day, I’d call this tiresome, gimmicky bullshit. But there are a few things I enjoyed about the film: the theme of a “country in crisis” removed from the realm of the abstract and presented in the form of real people, which makes for a powerful statement. Also, there’s a palpable warmth to the proceedings, like a group of friends putting together their annual talent show. There are bemused chuckles scattered throughout, like a less clever Jarmusch film. But yeah. Tiresome. Tiresome is the word.

The Wait

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Execrable. Easily the lowlight of the festival. A film so dull, so clumsy in its execution, so flimsy and inconsequential and empty that I’d almost completely forgotten about it the next day. Awkward, pointless and excruciatingly dull, its only saving grace being its cast. I’d almost prefer an offensively terrible movie to something so staggeringly mediocre; at least I’d have been entertained, rather than just feeling like I’m watching a work-in-progress where the final act is missing. The final act where something actually happens.

Mistaken for Strangers

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Talk about a sharp contrast. This was easily the best movie of the “mid-festival slump” and perhaps one of my favorite films of the entire festival. This movie is an embarrassment of riches: laugh-out-loud hilarious, deeply affecting, incredibly clever and poignant and real. A film that had every opportunity to be a run-of-the-mill “rock doc” about a band on the road, but through luck and consequence ended up being something much more engaging, much more honest.

The premise is simple: The National, one of the most successful “indie rock” bands around, is going on tour. Lead singer Matt Berniger brings his brother Tom along to help as a roadie. Tom is an aspiring filmmaker and decides he wants to take the opportunity to make a documentary about the band, but he also happens to be an oafish manchild who straight-up sucks on just about every level. It becomes instead a documentary about this really lonely guy, with huge potential, who simply let every opportunity pass him by, and his resentment towards his brother’s success. It’s a sweet, sad, hilarious and poignant story about disappointment and anger, with The National and their music as a framing device. I don’t want to write much more about this film now, as I’m going to be including it in a future installment of Music Documentaries About Failure & Disappointment (read the first installment here), but this is genuinely one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Just beautiful.

Un Chateau en Italie

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A mostly lighthearted, mostly inoffensive little movie with some nice dialogue and some genuine familial warmth. Pleasing cinematography, likable characters, delightful humor, whimsical plot, some dashes of piquancy and melancholy– not too much of either, just enough so that it doesn’t feel too much like a family film. I have nothing negative to say about this movie– it’s well-meaning and well-made, if perhaps a little too cutesy? I don’t know. Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of modern independent cinema, but maybe that spectrum is a lot wider than I give it credit for. Hey, I liked it. It put a smile on my face. The older ladies in the audience were absolutely smitten.

Algunas Chicas

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A meandering rumination on… what? Man’s carnal nature? Excess? Violence? The futility of human relationships? The darker corners of our psyche, where we fear to tread unaccompanied? I’m not really sure. Whatever it is, it was glamorous as all hell, and it looked absolutely gorgeous. But then foreboding doom and listlessness have always looked great on camera.

Days seven, eight, nine and ten will be posted soon. It got a lot better!


Everyist Blogcast: Would You Eat a Dinosaur? (with guest Rease Kirchner)

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Making friends while you’re traveling is a weird thing. It’s a different kind of friendship than the ones that happen naturally, under regular circumstances. There’s an intense, almost instant bond that occurs because you’re together in a foreign land; this odd, survivalist sense of “us vs. them” takes hold very quickly. And they burn so intensely, in part, because it is understood that they have a built-in expiration date; after a few days you’ll go your separate ways, perhaps maintaining casual contact through social media, but never really returning to that initial level. It’s a short and fleeting thing.

Sometimes, though, you find yourself reuniting. Sometimes those “temporary friends” return, pitch a tent in the campsite of your life and become fixtures in your everyday existence. And so you find yourself in this funky situation of rekindling that initial intensity, while trying not to deplete yourself emotionally. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it results in you driving each other up the wall. Sometimes it’s both.

Rease Kirchner was one of those friends for me. We met at a grungy Buenos Aires hostel a long time ago, remained Internet buddies for a while, and then became part of each other’s everyday life when she moved back to Buenos Aires. She lived here for about two years– two of the strangest, funnest, most frustrating and ridiculous years I’ve ever seen anybody live through. As a travel blogger, she has dedicated herself to capturing the joy, pain, and sheer absurdity of cross-cultural exchange through traveling, and keeps a blog titled Indecisive Traveler, a kind of ongoing celebration of happy desultoriness. Since we’re so dissimilar in so many different ways, yet so close as friends, we have an interesting almost brother-sister rapport, so it was a natural fit to have her on as a guest.

We talked about the weirdness of her time in Buenos Aires, being hit on by incredibly creepy Argentine dudes, and the joys of ice cream, among other things. She also put together a playlist of some of her favorite music for us to listen to. Here are the songs Rease chose to feature in this episode:

Death Cab For Cutie- “Crooked Teeth”
Pedro the Lion- “Priests and Paramedics”
Rise Against- “Bricks”
The Weatherthans- “Aside”
Against Me!- “Sink, Florida, Sink”
Wilco- “Hummingbird”

Listen to our conversation by clicking the player below:

Follow Rease on Twitter here, and again be sure to check out her blog Indecisive Traveler.


I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came (Birthday Acknowledgment Post)

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I turned 27 years old on Friday.

When I was a little boy and I found myself faced with the question of what I would do when I grew up, I wasn’t ever really sure what the answer was on a professional level. An abundance of possibilities, but no clear vision of what I would be doing as a job. One thing was always very clear to me, though: I wanted to be married and have kids by the time I was 27. This was a kind of ultimatum I’d consciously set for myself because that was the age my parents were when they brought me into the world. Every daydream I ever had of myself as a grown-up was basically emulating what my Dad did, because I thought he had done a pretty great job at it.

For most of my early life I saw myself, quite proudly, as a carbon copy of my old man. Everybody would even comment on how much we looked like each other. We had the same sense of humor, the same steadfast sense of right and wrong, the same overall demeanor. I was a bit of a giant, like he was. I would feel happy whenever I caught myself displaying some of his mannerisms. There were entire conversations at the dinner table about how much I was like him. I’d be beaming while my other siblings sat there, annoyed by our celebration of my genetic predisposition.

One of my first reality checks came during my teenage years, when I found myself feeling increasingly oppressed by my Catholic upbringing. When I started to veer away from the path, Dad wrote it off as a phase. When it became clear that I had truly abandoned the flock, I had to sit down and have one of the most difficult conversations I’d ever had. My father, a lifelong Catholic, struggled with the fact that his firstborn was grappling with his faith in this way, and the fact that he might even abandon it altogether must’ve felt akin to an act of deep betrayal. In hindsight, I could’ve handled that whole situation better, but petulance is inherent to the teenage condition.

My relationship with my father remained strong over the years but there’s still that weird little bit of lingering regret that pops up every once in a while, in the nooks and crannies of my psyche. Sitting together with my Grandmother last year, he asked her if she thought we still looked alike. She said “a little bit.”

I turned 27 years old on Friday. Buenos Aires gifted me with friends, joy, love and laughter, as well as the first few whispered hints of the coming winter. I pull my collar up as I count my blessings and move forward.


BAFICI 2014 Report: The First Three Days

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BAFICI actually officially started on April 12th, which I don’t understand because nothing really happened that day except for an opening ceremony and a single free outdoor screening of some animated movie (I think?). To me it’d make more sense to open the cinema doors that same day instead of making a big announcement and then waiting a full day before people can start bingeing on indie films from all over the world. Anyway, here are the films I watched during those first three days of the festival– my hope is to jot down my thoughts on every single festival movie I catch this year, so they don’t slip through the cracks of my increasingly dilapidated mind palace. Yes, I have a mind palace. Like Sherlock. Except mine is just crowded with useless movie trivia and empty boxes of Chinese takeaway. Don’t judge.

(Also, full disclosure: I missed my first screening of the festival– Laura Checkoway’s documentary “Lucky”– due to waking up with a mystery hangover. I call it a “mystery hangover” because I didn’t have a drop to drink the night before. What a ripoff. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, on with the bleating.)

Planta Madre

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A narratively disjointed Argentine film that has a lot going for it, but even more working against it. The plot follows Diamond Santoro, a washed-up former rock star who travels through life in a sort of catatonic haze, reacting to everything from a distance. He travels to Peru to complete a journey laid out by his younger brother Nicolas, whose death at the height of their success pushed Diamond into early retirement. He reconnects with his brother’s former girlfriend, who has taken up residence in Peru, and heads into the Amazonian jungle in search of a mystic shaman to perform an ayahuasca ceremony… for some reason. On the way, he finds himself involved in a bizarre, genuinely over-the-top tale of drug trade, murder and revenge that feels plucked out of an entirely different movie.

This is one of those movies that take some time to process. That sit and stir inside of you, like the mystical brew that serves as both a McGuffin and a deus ex machina for our troubled protagonist. The good: this film is gorgeously shot. The crew made the best out of the natural scenery, every shot in the jungle is rich and vibrant with color. The cinematography makes this a genuine pleasure to watch. Also, the film’s outstanding sound design makes for an intoxicating and surreal experience, at times bleeding the sounds of the Peruvian amazon with rock, cumbia and the cacophonous thumping inside our protagonist’s brain. The bad: the plot is idiotic, unbelievable and ninety shades of campy. The dialogue is terrible– stilted, melodramatic and awkward. The acting is absolutely horrendous, especially from the lead, who is wooden, stiff and deeply unlikable throughout. All in all, I guess this is a worthwhile watch, but fails to connect as anything other than a novelty. Not a good film to start the festival on. It’s a shame, too, because it really could’ve been great with a better cast and without all the ridiculous plot contrivances.

20,000 Days on Earth

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There are a few things that I am simultaneously deeply interested in as well as incredibly annoyed by: Cats. Pearl Jam. Essay-length dissections of classical pieces. Tumblr. The ongoing tug-o-war between Perenially Indignant Social Justice Internet Activists and the Idiotically “Edgy” White Dudes of the World. But the one thing that I find most irritating, yet can’t ever resist listening to, is musicians talking about the creative process. Seriously, if you ever find yourself thinking “hm, I just really feel like listening to some overblown pretentious psychobabble right now“, go look at youtube videos of songwriters discussing how songs come to them: it’s always a cavalcade of self-aggrandizing, utterly meaningless platitudes, describing absolutely nothing at all; a desperate attempt to add a layer of mystique to what they know in their heart of hearts to be a very mundane, very boring process. Most musicians just lack the eloquence to describe why songs form the way they do, why the melodies hang or bend in a certain way, why this particular combination of chords sounds like the world is about to crumble beneath the singer. Most musicians can’t explain where it all comes from. Most musicians aren’t Nick Cave.

“20,000 Days on Earth” is an examination of Nick Cave’s career, weaving together strands from the many lives he’s led into a rich tapestry of ghosts, songs and memories. But it’s also a Nick Cave mixtape– not a literal one, of course, but feelings and ideas and themes and concerns plucked together from throughout his career and made into a kind of demo reel of neuroses. And it’s also an examination of the process of songwriting– where the ideas come from, how we stomp them down, how a song takes shape, how we can stretch them some more, why they matter, why they take hold. And it’s about performance– the fleetingness of it all, the theater, the sexuality. And it’s about memories. And it’s about dreams and actions and reactions and consequences. But more than any of that, it’s a breathtaking film, deeply inspiring and satisfying. Just absolutely amazing and revelatory and thrilling throughout. So glad I saw this on the big screen.

Kathleen Hanna: The Punk Singer

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My first exposure to Kathleen Hanna was actually through a pretty vicious put-down in the form of the NOFX song “Kill Rock Stars”, from the album So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes. This song painted her as an embittered, hateful “feminazi” (a term I grew to loathe, but which made a whole lot of sense to my 14-year-old self) who saw no solution to the world’s problems other than exterminating the male species. I now realize this is pretty much the same caricature that virulent Men’s Rights Activists try to paint feminists as– which is not to say that Fat Mike is an MRA (he’s clearly far from it), but back when the record came out, that was the level of discourse surrounding gender issues in the punk world. At 14 years old, I took Fat Mike’s words to be gospel truth– after all, he was pretty much the king of that small group of punk bands I found myself obsessed with during my early teens. And for many years, that’s the image I had of her: a humorless man-hater with nothing productive to say. Man, fuck you Fat Mike.

“The Punk Singer” is not a “rock doc”. It’s an honest look at the life and times of a polarizing figure in the music business who dared to point a finger at the hypocrisy in a subculture which claimed to be about freedom, inclusion and justice, and was deemed a killjoy and a pariah. It’s about empowerment, about activism, about anger, but mostly (and most effectively) it’s about the sheer devastating awesomeness of the music she made (and continues to make) and the causes she agitated (and continues to agitate) for. Perhaps a little too adoring of its subject matter, but nonetheless as magnetically compelling as she is. A fantastic film.

Mujeres Con Pelotas

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I really shouldn’t try to speak for every festival enthusiast on the planet– I’m sure most of them are careful and thoughtful when they assemble their film festival itinerary. And hey, I am too, for the most part. But every once in a while I’ll buy tickets to a movie for no other reason than it happens to fit a movie-sized hole in my schedule, and it’d be awkward to just sit around and wait for 90 minutes in between features drinking coffee or something. This is why I bought a ticket to “Mujeres Con Pelotas”, an Argentine documentary about women’s football (that’s “soccer” for you Americans). Not really a topic that would’ve inspired much interest in me, but it fit my schedule nicely, so I took a chance. And taking a chance on an unknown movie, unsure of what you’re about to step into, is one of my favorite things about this film festival. Sometimes you strike out. When that happens, it’s kind of a bummer, but it never really feels like a waste because at least you got a story out of it. When it pays off, though, it’s a wonderful surprise. And this one paid off.

The story of women’s football in Argentina is actually pretty fucking interesting. There’s a lot of punk rock, DIY spirit in it. Argentina, of course, is a famously football-obsessed country. It also happens to be a woefully chauvinistic country. Women’s football is seen as an oddity, a novelty, even an abomination, and the talk surrounding it is laced with thinly veiled misogyny. This zestful little documentary sheds light on a part of Argentina’s sports history that is seldom televised, often dismissed and inevitably derided. It does so with humor and heart. A real treat. Glad to have caught it.

Tres D

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… And then sometimes the gamble doesn’t pay off. Sometimes you walk into a movie theater without knowing much about what you’re going to see, but sort of expecting to at least derive some measure of enjoyment, or at the very least bemused confusion, out of the screening. And sometimes you feel your heart start to sink as you realize with horror, within 10 minutes or so, that the movie you’ve stepped into is just an incredibly fucking tedious, laboriously mediocre piece of work. You yawn and you roll your eyes and you groan as you see, with stunning clarity, what the filmmaker was shooting for, and how badly they got it wrong with their ham-handed approach. But you’re pot committed at this point, you’ve psyched yourself up for it, so you sit there and you power through a story so tepid and inconsequential, you might as well just see where it goes.

And maybe it’s when you’ve let go of the notion of actually watching a good movie that you can start to appreciate the quiet, unassuming pleasures of a film like this. “Tres D” is an Argentine movie– from Cordoba, to be precise– which tells the story of two friends who work as press for a film festival in Cosquin. My first impression of this film was that it was unbearable film-festival navel-gazing, punctuated by incredibly tiresome conversations between world-weary film snobs talking about the nature of film festivals. It’s a masturbatory affair, with little in the way of an actual, discernible story, but after a while I kind of surrendered to its quiet charm. The lead actress, Micaela Ritacco, is a veritable charm factory, and genuinely fun to watch on camera. Even if we’re watching her do absolutely nothing. Perhaps after a little while it just starts to feel like you know these characters, in their permanent stasis, so it just feels like hanging out with old friends. There’s a strange comfort in that. In the end, this didn’t feel like that much of a waste of time… but I wouldn’t watch it again.

Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie

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What I used to love about Kevin Smith films when I first got into them, back when I was 13, was that they were clever. At least that’s how they came off to me at the time. Every character had an impressive lexicon, they spoke in long uninterrupted monologues peppered with pop culture references and a dash of stoner philosophy, they shared a common universe– characters from one movie would reference characters from another, which appealed to the comic-book continuity geek in me. It was fun to keep track of those interactions. And the ancillary backbone of Jay and Silent Bob, even at their stupidest, were like a Greek chorus of sorts. They never struck me as unnecessarily idiotic, even though they clearly were, because they were surrounded by other elements that had more depth to them and balanced it all out.

Left to their own devices, though, the shtick wears thin fast. And I understand, that’s the point, this is a movie based on a comic book that was supposed to be about these two idiots becoming superheroes; it’s supposed to revel in its idiocy, but this was just way. too. fucking. much. The jokes were painfully, excruciatingly dumb, the animation crude and amateurish, the voice acting… um… functional, I guess? Listen, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. I laughed a few times (mostly at Ralph Garman’s over-the-top performance as a supervillain who is literally just a giant, talking penis). But it veered a little too heavily into the obnoxious, irritatingly sexist and homophobic side of Smith’s oeuvre, which the character of Jay embodies perfectly– which I guess means that’s the point? And I guess it means it’s effective? I don’t know. It was dumb. I laughed.

Afternoon Delight

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Oh, God, this one hit me hard. A movie that is confident enough to let itself take sharp turns from comedy to drama and back again, and to stray into the murky waters of absolute despondency and take up residence there for extended periods of time. Where characters don’t exist merely to serve a dramatic function but to inhabit moments, and to let these fully-formed surprisingly-realized personalities (personalities which would be cardboard cutouts or caricatures in lesser films) react to their surroundings, and let that be the movie instead of trying to manufacture drama. This movie is real, it’s honest, it’s uncomfortable, it’s incredibly fucking sad and it’s also laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it can be all those things and not feel like a nightmarish mess because of three main factors: 1) the script, which is clever and thoughtful and thoroughly lived-in, 2) the direction, which allows for some breathing room amidst the darker passages and never loses sight of the “comedy” part of its description, and 3) the cast, overflowing with warmth and charisma.

There’s a general sentiment, often repeated by so-called screenwriting gurus, that your movie shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone. And, you know, that’s good advice, for the most part, a lot of writers would make an absolute mess of things if they tried to truly capture the vastness of the human experience in 90 minutes. But when a movie can be as relaxed as this one, when the emotional palette of a film is so wide to actually approach the dynamic range of real life and it really does feel like you’ve been given a glimpse into the life of a real group of people, it’s a powerful thing. I can’t recommend this movie enough. Absolutely beautiful.

The Image Revolution

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Not really sure what I expected out of this other than… I dunno… something better. This lightweight, utterly characterless documentary about one of the most overhyped comics movements in the medium’s history falls flat on its stupid face. It looks and feels like a DVD featurette, with little in the way of creativity in its storytelling: basically just a bunch of talking heads with some archival footage and a scarce few artistic flourishes. Nothing about why Image resonated with people when it did, nothing about its style-over-substance approach, nothing about the lasting impact it left on the industry (if it did leave an impact at all). Also, I counted a total of one woman on screen– at least, one woman who wasn’t a brightly colored illustration.

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter

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Breathtaking. Probably my favorite festival movie so far. A really interesting story told in an unconventional, but powerful way. This is par for the course for the Zellner brothers, whose brand of offbeat humor and startling fatalism have always resulted in very effective and memorable films, but this is a gigantic step forward for them in terms of execution, production values and scope. It tells the story of Kumiko, a timid office girl in Japan, who is something of a scavenger, rummaging around the city for treasures. One of the treasures she finds is a VHS copy of the Coen brothers’ classic film “Fargo”. Upon watching it, she develops and obsession with the money that Steve Buscemi’s character hides in the snow, and, not quite able to tell the difference between fiction and reality, decides that it is her destiny to travel to Fargo and find that hidden “treasure”.

Like other films in this festival, this one is quiet, sad, but oddly beautiful in its own way. A pleasure to look at, with lush sceneries that the Zellner brothers had never really approached before, rich with humor and a sweetly sad tale at the heart of it, It’s the kind of movie I hope to find every year in this film festival, and, like the titular character, it’s worth rummaging through the garbage to find something this beautiful.


Getting Lost in BAFICI 2014: The Beautiful Trudge Back Home

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April is my favorite month, man. I realize my birthday is April 11th and picking your birth-month as your favorite month of the year is predictable and boring, but it’s not about that. See, I don’t like getting older. I don’t like being reminded that I’m getting older. I don’t enjoy having to continuously re-evaluate my station in life every 365 days, reflect on successes and failures, project new goals and deliverables, and make a bunch of false promises to myself. That’s what New Years Eve is for. And yet, every April 11th, that’s exactly what I find myself doing. Again.

Yes, April is my favorite month, but it’s not because of my birthday. It’s because every April I get to participate in the chaotic, unpredictable, sometimes terrifying but always exhilarating celebration of cinema known as the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente– which is a mouthful, so it will henceforth be referred to as BAFICI). Each year, hundreds of movies from all around the globe are showcased in this rich and eclectic festival. It features all kinds of styles, approaches, tones and genres– from side-splitting comedies to arduously paced dramas to outright bizarre, inexplicable experiments. There’s a wealth of treasures to be found, some garbage to be scoured through, and a lot of fun to be had in the process.

I am never quite as creatively charged, never as genuinely excited to sit down and just make stuff, as I am immediately after a festival screening. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true; I get a weird high from the whole festival scene. I leave inspired and empowered, aching to vent, ready for the challenge of the blank canvas. That creative boost is enormously beneficial and stays with me for weeks. It dissipates after a while, sure, like every high, but you have something to show for it. It’s gotten to the point where I cherish these walks back home after a film almost as much as I do the film itself. This is especially true about the last screening of the day, when it’s late at night and I’m making my way through lonely streets which would be bustling with activity in the daytime. I soak up the silence; in my every day life, I’d be hooked up to my iPod. Each year during the festival, I leave it at home.

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Juno Temple in Jill Soloway’s “Afternoon Delight”

Because of the sheer vastness of the festival, I’m not able to watch every single film. Hot tickets can sell out in a manner of minutes, and I end up missing out on some movies I really want to see. I usually figure out some sort of itinerary that fits my work schedule and allows me to watch around 30 movies. I realize thirty movies in ten days sounds obnoxiously ambitious, but the sheer excess is part of the appeal for me– jumping from screening to screening, navigating in and out of diegeses, submitting to a new film experience while you haven’t quite finished processing the previous one. It’s an exercise in endurance, yes, but it’s also a thrill in of itself, akin to that weird feeling you get after you’ve stayed up for over 48 hours with no sleep.

So I pick my movies based on what works for my schedule, which means sometimes I’ll walk into the theater without knowing a lot about what I’m about to watch. As you can imagine, this leads to some interesting experiences– I once suffered through an experimental Italian film about a bunch of people just hanging around naked for two hours (not nearly as enticing as it sounds). This year, the lineup includes new movies by Jim Jarmusch, Hong Sang-soo, Lav Diaz and Denis Côté among others. The films I’m most looking forward to are probably 20000 Days On Earth, Mistaken For Strangers (the documentary that’s sort of about The National), Afternoon Delight and Fifi Howls from Happiness. The films I’m most bummed out to be missing are Rebecca Ziotowski’s Grand Central, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves and Gabe Klinger, James Benning & Richard Linklater’s Double Play. Also, for some bizarre reason, The Muppets: Most Wanted is playing as part of the festival, which is odd because 1) it’s not an independent film (what with it being MADE BY DISNEY and all), and 2) it opens properly in Argentina in a month.

Anyway. I’m just psyched, man. This is gonna be fun. And sure, I may kind of resent the fact that I have to turn a year older, but at least I’ll be spending my birthday doing what makes me happy. That feels like a pretty sizable victory to me.

Below is my festival lineup for this year’s BAFICI. Continue reading


Everyist Blogcast: Moderate Aspects (with special guest J. Robert Youngtown)

J. Robert Youngtown Photo Feb 2014

Another…month?… another installment of the “Every Ist and Every Ism” blogcast. As long as I’ve been doing these, I still haven’t figured out a steady schedule for them. And that’s just as well– I’m moving around way too much these days to attempt any sort of consistent schedule when it comes to pumping these out. As it stands, I’m perfectly happy to have the blogcast be a sporadic treat, popping up unannounced and unexpected, like a happy bank error, or an unsolicited hotel room upgrade, or a half-decent simile.

This time around we sat with (or, more accurately, Skyped with) Tasmania’s own J. Robert Youngtown. You know, I’ve gone on at great length about my love for social networking and the power of the Internet in other posts, but I think it merits a mention here, as this conversation wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The fact that our voices travelled more than six thousand miles over the Pacific ocean just to talk about something as silly as rock songs would’ve made Alexander Graham Bell’s head spin. Also of note: there is a 14-hour time difference between James and I, so the logistics of this conversation were a bit of a challenge; in the end, I ended up getting up at an ungodly hour for this conversation, which explains the overall drowsiness and slurred speech.

J. Robert Youngtown is a musician who’s been playing the notoriously barren Tasmania rock scene for several years. He has an album coming out next month titled “Moderate Aspects“, a collection of songs written over the last couple of years and recorded with the help of members of The Posies, You Am I, and Red Kross. I had the chance to listen to the record earlier this week and it’s pretty fantastic– at times bursting with rockn’roll bravado, at times tender and country-tinged, and at times nearly psychedelic in its approach, it is both a throwback and forward-thinking in its own way. The record is available for pre-order at his Bandcamp page, so go check it out.

James and I chatted about the joy of guitar rock, the music scene in his neck of the woods, the hilarious possibility of a Big Star gang, and the myth of the Tasmanian devil as perpetuated by Warner Brothers. We also played some kicking tunes; as per usual, I asked my guest to put together a short playlist of songs that mean something to him or informed his musical interests. You’ll see the playlist below, bookended by two tracks from his upcoming album:

J. Robert Youngtown- “Hypnotised By a Mirror”
The Who- “Dreaming From the Waist”
Big Star- “Daisy Glaze”
Red Kross- “The Nu Temptations”
You Am I- “What I Don’t Know About You”
The Kinks- “Shangri La”
J. Robert Youngtown- “Maybe Tomorrow”

As always, the conversation is accompanied by a bed of unobtrusive background music– this time around featuring stuff by Pure Bathing Culture, Ofuia, Lady Danville, Labyrinth Ear, CHVRCHES and more. You can listen to said conversation by clicking the embedded player below:


Controlled Chaos & Glamorous Damage: First Impressions on Kristeen Young’s “Pearl of a Girl”

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I first heard of Kristeen Young in 2012. Morrissey was touring Latin America and made the unusual decision to play shows in some Argentine cities other than Buenos Aires. This doesn’t happen often; so-called Latin American tours are usually comprised of four or five shows in the key cities and maybe a couple of shows in Mexico before hastily heading back home. Morrissey’s decision to tour several cities within Argentina gave me the opportunity to take a little road trip and maybe get to know a city I’d never been to. My friends and I decided to head on over to beautiful Rosario, a smallish city northwest of Buenos Aires that I fell deeply in love with, and vowed to return to… but have yet to return to. Someday, I’m sure.

It wasn’t until I was already standing in the audience that I wondered who the opening act would be, if there even was going to be an opening act at all. A small but extravagantly dressed figure stepped out onto the stage just a few moments later, quietly greeted the audience, and launched into the first of several musical blasts; misshapen pop songs with serpentine melodies, clanging keyboards atop crashing drums, and a mighty voice that could quickly oscillate between beauty and terror, between punk rock bravado and operatic octave runs, holding it all together. The audience was quickly won over and remained thoroughly enthralled for the rest of her all-too-short set. As quickly as she materialized before us, she was off the stage for Morrissey to perform. I remember looking around and seeing stunned bewilderment. Like a hurricane had suddenly blown through the audience, it took us a moment to compose ourselves and ask “what… what was that?”.

I looked into her career after the show, and found an abundance of riches in her back catalogue, from the ornate pop stylings of V the Volcanic to the brutal dissonance of Music for Strippers, Hookers and the Odd On-Looker, through the fiery drama of Breasticles (what a great album title), her discography is crowded with gems. Her artistic throughline seems to be gladly amorphous (or maybe gladly polymorphous), but one constant I’ve found is that, tonal and stylistic divergences notwithstanding, what pulls these songs through is a strong emotional core: even at her most immediately accessible, you believe every word. Even at her most aggressive and chaotic, it’s never for effect. Her wild stage outfits, a throwback to her glam rock heritage, may distract from the fact that her craft is not dependent on artifice, that these songs are thoroughly lived.

Kristeen has recently unveiled a new track, the first cut from her upcoming album The Knife Shift. The song is titled “Pearl of a Girl” and it’s all I’ve been listening to for the last several hours. An angular, energetic rave-up denouncing the reductiveness of institutional labeling and gender conventions (I think?– I haven’t had a good look at the lyrics), this track is the best kind of earworm: hooky yet confounding, melodic yet otherworldly, with a pervading sense of menace running through its chorus. It’s also, on a base level, just a blast to listen to, especially with Kristeen’s impassioned vocals (and vocalizations), oriental keyboards and the frenzied drumming of none other than Dave Grohl. I mean, damn.

The Knife Shift is produced by the legendary Tony Visconti and can be purchased, on physical formats, at Kristeen’s official store. There is no digital format yet, but I imagine there’ll be an announcement on that soon. In the meantime, you can stream “Pearl of a Girl” from the Soundcloud link below:


Everyist Top 10 Albums Of The 2000s: #4. Elvis Costello- “North” (Guest Post by Kevin Davis)

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Ever since I decided to do a Top 10 Records of 2000-2010 list, I knew there’d come a day when I had to write about this album. One of my all-time favorite albums by one of my all-time favorite musicians. And I knew that I’d struggle. My love for this record is too hard to put into words, its songs too firmly entrenched in the emotional fabric of my life. It’s also an album that, even among Elvis Costello diehards, has been unfairly derided over the last decade, written off as a mere genre exercise or some sort of marital compromise (the album famously heralded his relationship with jazz chanteuse Diana Krall), missing the point of what is actually a stunning collection of songs. It’s a hard record to write about, so I decided I’d call in some outside help.

Kevin Davis is the author of Mystery Pill. He’s also one of two people with whom I’ve been able to gush about North (the other being Wise Up Ghost/The Roots co-producer Steven Mandel), as well as being a brilliant music writer. I was psyched beyond belief when he agreed to write about the album for this blog, and he didn’t disappoint, delivering an eloquent, insightful and unique look at the album. It’s the review that North should have gotten when it first came out, back in 2003. Without further ado, I now cede the floor to KD. Take it away, Kev. Continue reading


How to Be a Jackass (or: Why I Probably Don’t Want to Talk About the New Thing I’m Writing)

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About a year ago I was riding the Amtrak train from Penn Station to Rensselaer, on my way to my sister’s house in Lake George, New York. This was after a grueling flight from Buenos Aires with a layover in Atlanta, on absolutely no sleep. I was beyond tired, nodding out in my seat, not really making much sense out of the chaos surrounding me, but somehow getting by on sheer mechanics. I’ve long been under the impression that my creativity thrives in such precarious states of exhaustion. That the drowsiness and fatigue and general inability to focus somehow result in drawing associations that would’ve otherwise been obscured by the fog of common sense. I don’t know if there’s any science to back this up or if it’s just a holdover from years and years of cognitively reframing my chronic procrastination.

So as I was fading in and out of consciousness in my seat, my creative side was concocting all sorts of strange scenarios incorporating the bits and pieces of information that I was able to discern during each brief moment of lucidity. I suddenly took notice of the train attendant– this waifish, auburn-haired, remarkably attractive young woman wearing a comically ill-fitting uniform. I started to draw up ideas about who she was. What she came to New York to do. Why she was a train attendant. I started to wonder about her family, about her environment, about what she did every day after work, and about all the crap she probably had to put up with on the job. I wondered if she’d ever met any weirdos who developed unhealthy obsessions with her, or if she developed any strange obsessions of her own. If she was perpetually tormented, or a tormentor herself.

She looked nothing like this.

She looked nothing like this.

Within just about 10 minutes, I had developed a rough outline of a story: a farcical comedy-adventure about love and misery and mental illness and trains. It had laughs, romance, international criminal rings, gunfights, sex and all kinds of wackiness. When my sister Cristina and my brother Jonathan picked me up at the train station, I excitedly guided them through this Coen-esque adventure, throwing in ideas as I thought of them, egged on by their positive response. That very night, I typed up a version of this rough treatment and proceeded to send it along to various friends (industry and otherwise). For the rest of my stay in New York, I’d talk about it at social gatherings. I’d bring it up in conversations with new acquaintances, fine-tuning and rearranging the story with every reading. The response was unanimous. Everybody thought it was just great. Everybody thought it was sweet and funny. Everybody was excited. Everybody encouraged me to keep writing. It was great.

A year or so later, that rough outline has built a cozy little nest for itself in the Incomplete folder of my computer documents, with no immediate plans to move out. Stalled, stagnant, flatlined. The momentum had dissipated into a halt. The moment had passed. Why? Why was that initial flurry of creativity suddenly exhausted? What sucked the wind out of my sails?

With screenwriting, as with any art– be it song, painting, poetry or interpretative dancing– there are many possible reasons for coming up with an idea, and many other potential reasons for following it through to completion. Some are guided by whimsy, others respond to patronage, some get a thrill out of audience reaction, others feel this burning sensation from the pit of their stomach which tells them that this thing they’re making is important and absolutely needs to be said, and that it needs to be seen by the world– that foolish but admirably resilient (and remarkably powerful) conviction that there’s nothing more important than making it happen, and that you’ll just implode if they don’t get it off their chest somehow. There are all kinds of variations and permutations and combinations of these motivators, and they’re not specific to the artist as much as each individual project.

Some are motivated by hanging out with their famous friends, like me here with my buds. Look, there's no real use for this picture here, but there's a lot of text and it's a funny picture. Deal with it.

Some are motivated by hanging out with their famous friends, like me and my buds. Look, there’s no real use for this picture here, but there’s a lot of text and it’s a funny picture; deal with it.

The last screenplay I completed and sold was one of those projects that had to be completed, it just had to. I had to get it out, like my chest would start to cave in if I held it in for too long. So I wrote this deeply personal story, redrafted it a few times, then handed it on to languish at some executive’s desk. Boom. It’s out of my hands, but I got through it, and I was able to sell other people on it. This new idea? Nothing like that. It wasn’t tied to my sense of identity in any way. It wasn’t making grand proclamations about the world as I saw it. It didn’t even transmit a clear message. It was just a silly idea I came up with when I was riding the train, and I didn’t feel that deep-rooted sense of responsibility to finish it. Why was I so excited about it at first, then? If it was such a dumb idea, why couldn’t I stop talking about it for weeks? What got me all riled up, drafting outlines and talking about it at length with pretty much everyone I knew?

It was their reaction. It was their positive reinforcement. It was, in essence, the attention.

By talking at great lengths about an idea that I had, but hadn’t actually seen through to completion yet, I was awarded with a barrage of “oh wow how cool!”s and “you’re so creative!”s and “wow, I couldn’t possibly have thought of that myself!”s. Basically, I got the adulation from having made something great without all the hassle of actually having to make it. And once I get that, I am sated, and the desire to actually make the damn thing quickly fades away, like the last remnants of a dream upon waking. Since I’m describing it in the most hyperbolic ways possible, I’m avoiding the risk of nitpickers or negative feedback focusing on the details. As far as positive reinforcement goes, I get all the reward without actually risking a misfire, kind of like cheating. Well, not “kind of”, that’s exactly what it is– it’s basking in the glow of my supposed genius based on a hypothetical, an unfinished draft. Except when I’m talking about it, I’m not actually aware that that’s what I’m doing. It’s an obscure negotiation that goes on in a shady room somewhere in my subconscious. And upon realizing this, I started to think of dozens of other instances of this in my life– ideas that are entertained for a bit, talked about at length, reveled in the positive feedback, and then abandoned. That’s no way to treat a friend.

I didn’t have this problem with the last one because, well, that one was just too big, too important, too me. This one was a passing whimsy. But I want to be able to pursue those, too; if everything I wrote had to come from some place deep in my very being, I’d never come up with anything. I just don’t have too many important things to say. Big or small, I want to be able to chase that elusive muse where it takes me instead of taking shortcuts and detours to get some cheap praise. C’mon. How gauche is that? First you write the thing, then you bask in the glory of your unrelenting genius. So I think, for the time being, I’m done talking about what I have in the pipeline. Wanna find out? Good. I’ll tell you when it’s done.

You can proofread it if you want. Just go easy on the praise, I might never get around to pitching it.


Bedhead Melodies #9: The Rolling Stones- “Moonlight Mile” (1971)

stones
I’m gonna say something now with the full knowledge that it may elicit some eyerolls and perhaps even make me lose credibility for some of you, but I hope, if you’re a regular reader of this webrag, that you know that I say this with utmost sincerity and without any millennial affected jadedness: I couldn’t give less of a shit about the Rolling Stones.

Honestly. And it’s not that I don’t like them. I just don’t think they’re a great band, nor do I think they ever really were. I don’t bemoan their current status as a 100% nostalgia cash-grab rolling revue touring act, nor their gradual metamorphosis into full-on caricatures of themselves. I can’t make it through any one of their dozens of radio standards without feeling the urge to listen to just about anything else. I say this as someone who is completely aware of just how important they were for the musical and cultural landscape of the 1960s. Critical acclaim, obvious artistic merit and far-reaching influence notwithstanding, Exile on Main Street means nothing to me. It just doesn’t grab me. It never did. I don’t hate the band, but I’d be hard-pressed to name another group or musician of their scope and magnitude that I feel so utterly indifferent towards. If we’re sticking to the bands of the sixties, I’d rather listen to Pet Sounds. Or the Velvet Underground. Or The Kinks. Or all the great stuff that was coming out of Motown. Or even (gasp) The Beatles.

There’s always been some sort of roadblock in my appreciation of the Rolling Stones. It’s not that I’m unable to recognize that the tunes are there, and that they’re of some quality, and that for a while they represented rock and roll at its most irrepressibly outward and dangerous. It’s that there’s something in their very essence, their very identity, that is, in some strange way I cannot properly articulate, repellent to me. I guess it was my perception of a certain shtick which permeated the music and colored my every interaction, be it passive or active, with this legendary band. A certain affectation. Testosterone-driven posturing, even in their gentlest of ballads. I couldn’t shake it. Still can’t… not completely, anyway.

“Moonlight Mile”, however, caught me by surprise. I heard this song long before I ever purchased Sticky Fingers, and it immediately struck me as the greatest song I’d ever heard by this band. Easily the most instantly gripping, and the most nuanced and rewarding of repeated listens. A display of depth and songcraft that I’d no idea Richards & company were even capable of. The song was introduced to me through an episode of the HBO TV series The Sopranos, as a bookend to the season 6 episode “Kaisha”. The Sopranos is possibly my favorite TV series of all time, an achievement in episodic television writing that I believe is still unparalleled (I know, I know, The Wire– still haven’t seen past the first season. I’ll get there someday). Not only that, but it introduced me to a shocking amount of great music. “Moonlight Mile” is probably my favorite of those songs.

sopranos

The source of an alarming amount of music in my library

As far as the subject matter, I realize the “sad, lonely rock star bemoaning his life on the road” fits quite neatly into the Stones’ act. And perhaps the concept is explored in a less lyrically compelling way than something like Jackson Browne’s “The Load-Out”. But it’s such an elegant piece of music, and such a wonderfully understated band performance, that it feels utterly sincere– the weariness doesn’t come off as feigned or disingenuous, but like a brief flash of honesty. A respite from the chest-puffing bravado. From the oblique motion of its quiet, vaguely eastern-tinged guitar intro, to the lush string arrangements that carry the song forward, we are taken on a journey with this song. Charlie Watts shines in particular, his jazz background shining through as the toms and cymbal crashes mark the song’s movements; stopping and starting, tensing and relaxing, contracting and expanding. It sounds so good, too; the studio recording is a genuine pleasure to listen to, especially on a good set of headphones.

Speaking of, I refuse to listen to any other version of this song. I made the horrible mistake once of checking out a live performance of the song from 1999. Oy. It was kind of like what I imagine it would feel to see a loved one after a horrific accident left them hideously disfigured. Heartbreaking. I also refuse to listen to any other Stones songs; while the discovery of this track generated a brief surge of interest in the band, in a “oh my God have I been wrong about them all along?” sort of way, my forays into their catalogue have left me cold as always. I have resigned myself to the fact that this might be the only song of theirs that I’ll ever truly care about.

And you know? It doesn’t really matter. There’s a brief window of time, usually found between 4 and 5 in the morning, after I’ve doffed the burdensome cloak of public persona and retreated to bed; a point where I’ve kicked back enough glasses of wine that my mind’s placidly engulfed in a hazy burgundy mist, and all the pieces fall together beautifully. That’s the moment where “Moonlight Mile” becomes the greatest song ever written, not just by the Stones, but by any human being who ever had the audacity to pick up a guitar. For those brief few moments before I finally surrender to sleep, there’s no song that better captures the loneliness, resignation and muted rage that permeates everyday life as it unwinds and unfurls and finally dissipates into a shrug, and no song that fades more elegantly into its final, stately chord.

Listen to the gorgeous Rolling Stones song “Moonlight Mile” by clicking the embedded player below:

Bedhead Melodies is a seldom-updated post series featuring songs I rediscover late at night, usually right before I fall asleep, usually after some alcohol has been consumed. You can find the past songs in the series here. You should listen to them. Go on then. Do it.


Everyist Blogcast: A Tale of Two Jorges (with special guest Jorge Bedoya)

douchenozzles supreme

Pictured above: a couple of boozin’ bozos doing their best to prove that time is nothing but a measure of how much fatter and balder you’ve gotten since high school.

Jorge Bedoya is one of my best friends. Aside from sharing our extremely-common first name, we’ve gone through a lot together: we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve helped each other through the emotional highs-and-lows of our notoriously melodramatic teenage love lives, we’ve played together in a punk rock band named Local 3, gotten sloppy-drunk and puked on each other’s floors too many times (alright, I did all the puking, but it still counts as a shared experience inasmuch as I shared my stomach juices with his living room carpet. There’s probably still some, you know, puke particles somewhere in those fibers). And what are old friends for, if not sitting around drinking whiskey and awkwardly reminiscing on years upon years of continued frustration and disappointment? All the while recording it in audio form and later posting it for the world to hear.

Fact of the matter is, this gentleman is more than a mere compatriot; he had a very active role in shaping my teenager years, serving as a kind of spirit guide for the beginning of my early punk rock forays, as well as encouraging me to follow whimsies and pursue every creative itch. He continues to be musically active, even as a bastion of the little-understood maritime law. We sat down and talked about the many bands he’s been in, our first memories of each other, and creeping on female musicians on Instagram.

Oh, we also listened to some tunes, as Bedoya was kind enough to put together an 8-track playlist to share with everybody. The tunes in Bedoya’s playlist are:

NOFX- “Hobophobic (Scared of Bums)”
Supergrass- “Mary”
Graham Coxon- “What’s He Got?”
Augustines- “Juarez”
Jack’s Mannequin- “Caves”
Blondfire- “Waves”
Wolf Alice- “White Leather”
Wild Nothing- “Midnight Song”

If you listen hard enough, you’ll also be able to make out some bed music to adorn our meandering chatter. The song selection could be contributing subtle commentary on the conversation we’re having, or it could be apropos of nothing– depending entirely on how I was feeling at the exact moment I was editing the show. Whatever. Just click the embedded player below to listen.


Just a Few Words About Alicia Leonor De Farah (1935-2014)

grandparents
My grandmother was a great woman. She was strong, caring and joyful, with an infectious energy that served as a beacon of inspiration for her peers, and a sense of humor that elicited boisterous laughter from those lucky enough to find themselves in her company at any given moment. She was passionate and forceful, but also compassionate, gregarious and kind. She had a heart that was filled with music and love. She knew the importance of song, of dance, of laughter. She cared, and deeply so.

For the last few years, in my visits back home, I’d witnessed a steady decline in my grandmother’s health and overall wellbeing. Her disposition, once sunny and affable, had dulled into a muted grey from the side-effects of medication and sheer exhaustion. Unscheduled visits to the hospital became a regular occurrence. Sudden and continued health scares led to live-in nurses. Daily blood work. Assisted living. Life became a daily struggle to stay alive, and soon that flame which shone so brightly inside her dimmed into a glimmer. Every once in a while, however, given the right combination of circumstances, like an old in-joke or a funny memory, that flame would materialize itself again in the form of a mischievous smile decorating her weathered visage.

I was extremely lucky to have been born into an environment where humor is such an integral part of our daily lives; where ridiculousness is not shushed or stamped out, but celebrated and encouraged. From both sides of the family, I was surrounded by people who knew how to have a laugh: at the world, at each other, at themselves. My grandmother knew the power of a well-timed zinger, and losing it over a ridiculous pun, and falling over in side-splitting hysterics. She instilled that sense of irreverence and jocosity in all her children, often to the chagrin of her husband.

grandparents2

My grandparents were married for 56 years. Any half-baked cynical bullshit I can come up with about the fleeting nature of human relationships and how marriage is an unnatural societal construct which keeps us from realizing our full potential starts sounding like the embittered braying of a snot-nosed punk when I think about all these two went through together. They were each other’s rock, and for over half a century they kept each other moored and at peace. During her last days, when the stress of constant health scares left her exhausted and weak, they’d take comfort in each other’s mere presence, communicating in absolute silence what a million poems could never say.

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of one of my extended visits, my Dad woke me up and told me my grandmother had just passed away. He was weeping. I hugged him as hard as I could. He’d just lost his mom. I knew that the pain I felt from losing my grandmother couldn’t begin to compare to the staggering heartbreak he was grappling with, having lost his mother. The next few days were a blur of old familiar faces offering their sincere condolences. Words of remembrance and sorrow. A building cacophony of hundreds of different voices offering variations on a single idea: I’m sorry for your loss.

I don’t know much about grief. On a surface level, it seems counter-productive and, honestly, a little silly. But living through my grandmother’s funeral, seeing the amount of people who cared about her enough to make the trek to the outskirts of the city and pay their last respects, was kind of a profound experience. It got me thinking about the ripple effect in motion, and how our actions, however seemingly innocuous, extend way past what we perceive to be our scope of influence. How we can and do transform others’ lives in a million profound ways, and the power that we have to be a force for change in the world. This funeral– this hokey, seemingly archaic and wholly depressing ritual– is, in itself, life-affirming. The deceased reach the end of their earthly voyage, and the people that they marked in one way or another congregate to see them off. In this sense, the use of the word “loss” when referring to the dead starts feeling inadequate, as they remain with us regardless of physical presence.

I think there’s something beautiful about that. Solemnly ceremonial.

However troubled my grandmother’s final days were, the many upheavals she soldiered through, her mark on the world is one of kindness, passion and joy. Of an unabashed love for song, and humor, and Lebanese cooking. Everything she instilled in us will continue on for generations. She taught me more than I was ever able to express to her. I loved her, and I will miss her. But I’m carrying her right here with me, and I’m not letting go any time soon.


Airport Goodbyes & the Malleability of Home & Final Thoughts on 2013

airplaneleaving

Living so far removed from so many friends and family, and coming in contact with as many transient folks as I have in Buenos Aires, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at airport goodbyes. I know to make them quick and lighthearted. I know to keep hugs from lingering for too long, words from getting too ponderous, to avoid getting overly sentimental or hypothesizing on when we’ll see each other again. Airport goodbyes should be treated as casually as a quick trip to the grocery store. One should take every measure to keep mutual misery down to a minimum. This is important.

And the longer the flight, the better– the more tedious the layover, exasperating paperwork, absurd line at customs. Books. Podcasts. Food. It all helps to keep you distracted and functional long enough to keep the avalanche of feelings from smothering you alive. This is how I’m able to get through the increasingly grueling ordeal of air travel without suffocating. Keeping sentimentality at bay, at least until you’re home and partially unpacked. I’ve gotten good at it.

But this past October, as I was hastily scrambling for a decent wi-fi hotspot at Albany International Airport, after saying goodbye to my parents and siblings to fly back to Buenos Aires all by my lonesome, I made the mistake of activating my iPod’s shuffle feature. I was therefore punched in the gut… metaphorically, of course… by an unlikely song. A wistful ballad about goodbyes, departures and heartbreak. A song that brought on all the bullshit I had been trying to avoid; the empty, awful aftertaste of saying goodbye to the people I cared most about to go back “home”. It devastated me completely, and left me an emotional wreck for the rest of the journey back.

The song was Tim Curry’s rendition of “I’m Going Home”, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show original soundtrack.

tcurrygoinghome

It’s a gaudy song from a gaudy movie, but it struck a chord. The concept of “home” has become a confusing one for me. Is it merely where my job is? Is it where my family is? Is it where I grew up or where I found my independence? When I leave Buenos Aires to spend the holidays in Barranquilla, am I coming home or leaving? I think I feel as much of an outsider in either city, just as much as I feel a strong kinship pulling me to them. Somehow, though, it’s very important for me to usher in the New Year in Barranquilla. It just feels weird to start the year elsewhere.

My relationship with 2013 was not unlike that of a fickle house cat and its owner. Sometimes it would lovingly cozy up by my side. Sometimes it would be an aloof jerk. Sometimes it would scratch the hell out of my arm for no apparent reason. It was mercurial and unpredictable. All things considered, the good outweighed the bad, and I felt myself grow as an individual, inching ever closer to true adulthood.

The bad: I went through a few small professional disappointments. Some of the projects I started the year off with never came to fruition. I went through some deeply unpleasant family drama. I saw the deterioration of my grandparents’ health and overall happiness. I said goodbye to a close friend. I didn’t blog as much as I wanted to. I flaked out on people. I was uncommunicative and withdrawn. I suffered through my first serious bout of abject depression for a couple of months. I drank more than I should have.

The good: I had a lot of fun. I traveled a fair amount. I got to meet some pretty awesome new people. I worked on several projects that were of deep importance to me. I spent a lot of time with my family. I went to Disney World. I listened to a huge amount of great new music. Watched a lot of great films. Regained my passion for storytelling. Completed two screenplays. Went to more concerts than any other year in my life. I laughed a lot. I learned a lot. I grew the hell up. I found that however deep a hole I dig myself into, I can always count on the wonderful people who’ve somehow found their way into my periphery to lift me right back up and towards the light.

And I guess, after all this coming and going, that’s what I’ve figured out about the concept of “home”. It’s not the house I grew up in, or my apartment in Buenos Aires, or even a group of people. Home is not something static, that I can always find in the same place. It’s not a building, or a city. It’s a feeling you can find anywhere you are. It’s safety. It’s comfort. It’s support. It’s the freedom to be gladly and irrepressibly me. And I find that feeling in my nearest and dearest, be it by actual physical proximity or through a phone call or letter or a Skype conversation. It’s shared laughs and comfortable silences. It means the world, and it’s worth chasing after.

I’ll be in Barranquilla for the next month and change, then I’m flying back to Buenos Aires to grab the new year by the face and make it work for me. This time I might let those airport goodbyes linger on for a bit.

Leaving home to come back home. There are worse ways to live.


I’m on Vacation and Forgot to Set an Auto-Reply Email

balcony
This is the view from my family’s apartment in North Miami Beach. I took this picture just a few days ago, as I was unpacking my bags and settling back into that apartment for the first time in about 12 years. I kept thinking about how smell is the sense most closely tied with memory; how that subtle yet immediately identifiable aroma (probably just a mix of cleaning products) wafted from the room as soon as I opened the front door and transported me right back to my childhood. The apartment is empty for most of the year, used only whenever somebody in our extended family is in Miami and needs a place to stay. The decor appears to be forever frozen in the gaudiest part of the early 90s, which contributes to the bizarre feeling of temporary displacement I experienced upon walking through the front door.

Getting there was a bit of an ordeal. I was supposed to fly from Buenos Aires to Atlanta, then take a connecting flight to Miami. Flying from Buenos Aires to Atlanta takes about ten and a half hours, so already I was kind of dreading the whole experience. Nothing could prepare me for what actually went down: the airplane’s left wing was struck by lightning five minutes after takeoff. Now, I’m aware that commercial aircrafts are hit by lightning on a regular basis, and that the passengers don’t usually notice as the planes are equipped to deal with it. However, this actually caused damage on the wing, and it was quite noticeable– I heard a loud BOOM, saw a blinding flash of light, and panicked as I felt the plane flailing about for a couple of terrifying minutes. Upon righting its course, the captain assured us the lightning hadn’t actually hit the plane, it was just very close.

Nine hours of shaky flying later, we made an unscheduled stop in Miami for a “refueling”. After making us wait for the better part of an hour, the pilot finally admitted that the maintenance team had found that we had in fact been hit by the lightning bolt, and we had to deboard for repairs. They gave us new connecting flights and 100$ vouchers (but only after I complained on Twitter). So basically, we flew for 9 hours on a plane with a bum wing that had been struck by lightning. This ultimately worked out in my favor, as Miami was my final destination anyway, but goddamn was it ever scary.

I stayed in Miami for two weeks. The first week was spent attending boring work meetings and bumming around the impossibly hot and humid streets of Sunny Isles Beach. The second was spent with my Dad and my two little siblings, who flew up from Colombia for their first trip to the States. It’s always a treat to hang out with my little brother and sister. Feels like every time I see them, they’ve grown by about a decade. They’re such sweet, energetic, creative and hilarious kids, spending time with them is rejuvenating. I wish I understood the associations that their minds make– or maybe it’s better that I’m so puzzled and amused by them. They’re like little Dadaists.

thesetwo2

We made the drive to Orlando and hit up the amusement parks. Trips to Disney and Universal Studios (and later, Universal Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens) were a huge part of my childhood, and I was very happy to recapture some of the magic in my current state as a world-weary approximation of an adult. More than that, I was excited to experience it all through the eyes of my little siblings. Not only was it their first time in the States, but it was also their first time in any kind of major amusement park situation, so it was all very intense and overwhelming in the best possible way. The weather was not in our favor, but we soldiered on, ignored the rain and hit up every ride we could– even the really scary rollercoasters. I was proud of how brave they were.

After that, we flew to upstate New York to see the rest of my family– my sister Cristina (and her husband Jordan), my brother Jonathan, and my Mom. It’s been so good to have all the family together again, for the first time in forever. We’re all staying at my sister’s place in Lake George, up in the Adirondacks. This is my third visit here. I really love it, even though I can’t see myself living here for any prolonged period of time– my mind appreciates the respite from the chaos of tumultuous, cacophonous Buenos Aires, but it’s that chaos where my heart lives, it’s that chaos that I thrive in. Here? I’m just floating on by, enjoying the scenery, feeling my mind settle into a groove. Like a sort of mental massage, I guess. Priming myself for my triumphant return to Buenos Aires this weekend. I’ll be devastated to say goodbye to my family, but so happy that I got to spend time with them. They’re all pretty great.

Other than that, a few quick tidbits I’m bound to expand on when I get back to the real world: I’ve been enjoying the very excellent album by Elvis Costello & The Roots, Wise Up Ghost. Also, The Electric Lady by Janelle Monáe is flabbergasting in the best possible way. I’ve listened to The Arcade Fire’s new single about a thousand times. I’ve watched a couple of terrible movies. Breaking Bad is still giving me panic attacks on a weekly basis. I’ve been visiting used record stores and scoring the strangest finds in the 3-dollar bins. And finally, the podcast I recorded with Agustín Donati got me listening to the music of Jorge Drexler– his beautiful cover of Radiohead’s much-maligned MOR composition “High and Dry” is posted below for your listening pleasure. It really speaks to me right now.


Everyist Blogcast: Of Guitars, Lighthouses & Whorehouses (with guest Agustín Donati)

agustindonati

Continuing the recent trend in Every ist and Every ism of yielding the floor for other folks to share music that they’re into, here’s a new podcast episode. Agustín Donati is the lead singer for the Buenos Aires-based indie band Vestigios, who recently released their album “Inmortal Fraternal”. The album contains brawny, kinetic rock songs that run the gamut from calm and contemplative to devastatingly violent, with a fluid rhythmic base that pushes the compositions along into often unexpected places. Agustín is also in a three-piece acoustic side project named Che Koala, as well as writing tunes for a burgeoning solo venture. He’s a huge music enthusiast, and a good friend of mine, so I asked him to come along and record a little chat with me.

We got together on a Sunday afternoon to talk about the bumpy road towards musical adulthood, our shared teenage fandom for terrible bands of the late-90s, and the salacious sexcapades Argentine teenagers tend to engage in. I also tasked Agustín with putting together a playlist for the podcast, without any direction beyond “songs that you feel like sharing”.  The songs in Agustín’s playlist are:

Bill Callahan- “Say Valley Maker”
Jorge Drexler- “12 Segundos de Oscuridad”
Ryan Adams- “Carolina Rain”
City and Colour- “Body in a Box”
The Low Anthem- “This God Damn House”
Jeff Buckley- “Satisfied Mind”

Agustín was also kind enough to regale us with an exclusive live performance of two original compositions: “Ciudades Sin Tu Nombre” and “La Cara del Lugar”. You can check that out by clicking the embedded player below:

Check out Agustín’s band Vestigios by going to their Bandcamp page.


2013 Summer Mixtape Blog Ring: Andres Rio’s Playlist

riosummer2
Well, this is a bit of a left turn. I am participating in a blog exchange! It’s very exciting. A music-themed one, too, which is perfect for this blog as I don’t think I have much in the way of recipes, outfits or video posts to offer to the larger “blog-ring” community.

The theme is simple: a collection of songs that have marked your summer. Now, being a resident of the southern hemisphere means “my summer” wasn’t much of a summer at all, and June through September were actually fairly chilly. Still, I put together a collection of songs that dominated my attention for the last few months. My post is hosted at Martin‘s blog, a most respectable web-periodical titled In Pursuit of Expression. You can read that post (and listen to the accompanying playlist) by clicking here. In turn, I am hosting Andres Rio‘s playlist, an intriguing collection of upbeat party romps & youth anthems that smells of liquor, cologne and licentiousness. In his own words:

Hi all, this is Rio here chilling on Jorge’s blog at the moment. I come on a journey, a musical quest you might say, to share my summer songs with you, Jorge Farah readers. This is a mixtape that combines the party essence of a summer concert, the funky sounds of the casual house party, and the sensual flavor of a summer fling. Boo-ya. I had fun putting these songs together, dancing and singing along for hours narrowing down the top contenders.  They all have that “hope this lasts forever” feeling that the season often brings to mind. Hope you listen, enjoy, and bust a move or two to the beat. I’ll be right alongside you.

Rio’s playlist can be streamed here. I tried to embed it in this post, but WordPress wasn’t having any of it. Click it, listen, and enjoy what will probably be the only time that a T-Pain song is ever featured on this site. Also check out Rio’s collected ruminations on music, mathematics and miscellanea by visiting his blog right here. Now back to our regularly scheduled shoegazing over arpeggiated minor chords…


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