What does it mean to be an expat? Like, I know what it means in the traditional sense of the word– you’re a stranger in a foreign land, taking residence in unfamiliar soil– I get that. I am that. But what happens when you stay past the honeymoon period— when the thrill of the tourist gives way to the soft focus of mundanity and you suddenly find you’ve planted yourself so thoroughly in this new life that you’re effectively a stranger to your roots? It’s an odd feeling, man, not quite belonging to either place, stuck as a forever-in-betweener, so enamored with your new digs that you’re content to feel a bit like an exiled phantasm that keeps gliding back and forth between planes of existence. And when you manage to bump into someone in a similar situation, you immediately gravitate towards that person– “ah! Another willful deportee! Let’s be friends!”. That’s the best explanation I have for why still, after over a decade of living in Argentina, my social circle here consists of about 30% foreigners.
Billy Roche is one of those people. We met each other a couple years ago and immediately hit it off, bonding over our shared love of music and the extremely odd experience of setting up camp in Buenos Aires for such a ridiculously long amount of time (he’s actually been here about 3 years longer than me, which I think technically falls under the legal definition of mental insanity). For the longest time we’ve been talking about getting together and recording a conversation, and we finally got to do so last week. I had to do my best to overcome my hangups about trying to play radio host next to someone who’s actually been one (radio DJ is one of the several hats Billy has worn in his life), but he made it really easy to feel at ease. I guess that’s part of what a radio broadcaster does– maybe one day I’ll get to make other people feel at ease instead of anxious and exasperated.
In this podcast we play some tunes Billy selected, and we discuss subjects such as growing up in a multicultural environment, what makes a great bassline, and why reggae’s recently-acquired reputation as music for drunken frat-bros is kind of missing the point of what was originally meant to be vibrant, subversive, politically-minded protest music.
James Brown- “The Payback” Bob Marley- “Lively Up Yourself” Aretha Franklin- “Rocksteady” Jeff Buckley- “Last Goodbye” Everlast- “Children’s Story” Rage Against the Machine- “Killing in the Name Of”
Someone’s papering all of Buenos Aires with Jim Carrey stickers. It started with this one, on a lamp-post right around the corner of where I live. I was taking an afternoon stroll through the neighborhood when I was confronted with Jim Carrey’s dead-eyed visage. Oh that’s cool!, I thought. How whimsical. Soon enough I started seeing more of these terrifying photos pop up all over the city; on bus stops, mailboxes, street corners. There’s no accompanying text. No explanation. Just Jim Carrey’s toothy grin, and those eyes. Oh God, those eyes.
I’m dusting off the cobwebs of my blogcasting shoes to bring you the inaugural 2016 edition of this bloated, misshapen approximation of a podcast. Yes, it took five months for this to happen. It’s embarrassing. But things are looking up. A new post schedule is coming soon– one that will be sustainable and fun and won’t result in my crashing and burning in a big bad way– and so this is a kind of celebration.
On a completely unrelated note, I should probably also mention that a sort of extension of this blog has been up and running for several months over here, where I tackle a new Elvis Costello song every week with my friend and collaborator Kevin Davis. I’d been meaning to tell you, I just… I just didn’t know how.
The tunes have been selected and arranged for maximum listenability, with no particular criteria beyond “these are some songs I’ve been into lately”. I keep my talking to a minimum, but I do chime in every few songs to remind you that I exist. The announce at the start, middle and end is the great Jake Glazier, the official voice of the internet. Click the embedded player below to be taken on a journey, of sight and sound, of exasperated sighs and impatient groans. Do it.
It’s December! The magical time of year when music journalists everywhere put on their thinking caps and start making “Best Albums of the Year” lists. As I was trudging through the process of putting together my own, I came to the realization that a big majority of the 2015 albums I loved feature female vocalists, either as solo acts or as part of a band. I decided I’d put together a playlist made up entirely of female vocalists. At first, I thought I’d keep it strictly to 2015 releases, but more and more I found spaces where older songs fit perfectly, like puzzle pieces. Despite a few touches of hardcore and a couple experimental pieces, I stuck mostly with crowd-pleasing rock and pop of recent-ish vintage.
So, with the acknowledgement that gender is a social construct that limits and oppresses all of us, that’s what you’ll hear in this installment of the increasingly sporadic podcast portion of the site. A man finally shutting up long enough to let women do the talking (well, except for the rambling intro, and the few occasions in which I pop in, say a thing, and sulk back into silence– but I assure you these are few. Promise).
Here’s the tracklist, with links to each band’s website (or bandcamp, or soundcloud, or really whatever comes up first when you do a quick Google search in a hasty attempt to put this post together). Be sure to seek out and support them. They’re awesome.
There was so much I wanted to put here. I had to stop myself at 30 tracks. Music is the best.
I was a teenager when I first arrived in Buenos Aires, a jumbled mess of anxieties and aspirations. It had been a particularly grueling trip, with an inordinately long layover in Caracas Venezuela. I was past the point of exhaustion. It took everything in me to drag my enormous travel bag, and my own languid self, along the halls of Ministro Pistarini International Airport. I remember thinking it was too crowded for 2 AM– my very first taste of Argentina’s bizarre schedule. I pushed through the throng to find my Mother, who was living here at the time. We took a taxi into the city, which sparkled like no other city I’d ever lived in. We went into a café on Santa Fe avenue, the street that has in one way or another framed my existence in Buenos Aires ever since. I thought, “this feels right.”
I lived in three different hostels during my first full year in Buenos Aires. Hostels were quick and convenient– I wanted to avoid committing to a lease as I was unsure exactly how long I’d be in Argentina. They also provided ample opportunity to socialize with folks from all over the world, which was extremely valuable to me as a gregarious young dilettante. The first hostel I lived in was called El Gauchito Urbano, a boho-chic little dwelling on Gallo street that was run by two cantankerous middle-aged women. In actuality, they were probably around the same age I am now; I always perceived them as middle-aged on account of their tendency to react to just about everything with a kind of muted exasperation, as well as some gnarly skin damage. I remember this hostel had a huge living room filled with dozens of pillows. Me and my new international buddies would have regular asados and rent movies every day; I barreled through a considerable chunk of the Criterion Collection during my first month there, thanks to my French cinephile roommate Aliocha. I fraternized with people from all over the world, hooked up with pretty girls with nothing to lose, and dove head-first into the filmography of Andrei Tarkovsky. It was my teenage self’s idealized version of what adulthood should be. I was insufferable, but I was having fun.
I was eventually kicked out of the Gauchito; this was in large part due to a convoluted personal conflict between one of the owners and my Mom, who stayed over a bit too often for their comfort (her own apartment being in the outskirts of town) and whose domineering personality clashed with their own. I drifted around town for a few weeks, wandering in and out of the lives and apartments of my Mom’s friends. This was a weird period for me, the closest I ever came to calling things off and flying back to Colombia. The comfortable familiarity I’d settled into was replaced by this disquieting sense of unease that permeated the entirety of my days. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back and live off my Dad’s money until my mid 20s? What was I trying to accomplish here? I was thrown into what I can now identify as a deep depression; I was despondent and slack, often asking myself why I was even there at all. It’s kind of silly to think of now, but it really did feel like I had lost something substantial, and though I assured my Mom that I didn’t mind moving around a bunch while she found me a place to live, it all felt pointless. It was my first Argentine summer, and the city smelled like piss and soot.
Curiously, when I think back to this time, one of the things I remember most vividly is the sound of keychains. During these few weeks, I was often clutching someone else’s keys after they’d begrudgingly agreed to let me crash at their place for however long. For some reason I remember the loud clang as I slammed them repeatedly in and out of their keyholes (it didn’t help that Argentine keys are oversized monstrosities that I still, 10 years later, struggle with). At this time I was listening to The Postal Service’s album a lot. I often dismiss that album now, and haven’t listened to it in forever, but at that time it felt enormous. I remember listening to “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” from a rooftop overlooking Coronel Diaz street, and that sentiment– “I am a visitor here, I am not permanent”– resonating strongly with me. I felt like a ghost, wandering in and out of the rooms of an enormous, empty house.
For a brief period afterwards I moved into another hostel– a more professional, industrial affair, with enormous, cavernous rooms and high-vaulted ceilings, with beds stacked upon beds in order to fill every square inch available with some part of a paying tourist’s body. It was the Hi Recoleta Hostel, also located off of Santa Fe avenue but further downtown. At the time it felt like a move up, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was a real shithole. This place was significant, though, as I made some of my most enduring friendships— and lived through some of my strangest adventures— during my brief time there. As crappy as that place was, I’ll always look back on it fondly. After a particularly unnerving security breach, and feeling like I’d overstayed my welcome, I packed up and moved into a place called Kilometro Cero, in the neighborhood of Congreso– probably the farthest I’ve ever lived from Santa Fe ave. Kilometro Cero was populated by what seemed like thinly sketched cartoon characters, but it quickly started feeling like home. This place also yielded some wonderful friendships and zany misadventures, but after several months I started to feel like hostel living was getting to be a bit too rough for me– too loud, too debaucherous, especially after I got a job and started college. There are a number of indignities that you can put up with when you’re just kind of gliding through life like a slovenly layabout, but start taking their toll when you’re dedicating so much of your energy to employment and education. Shortly after my Mom left Argentina to go back to Colombia, I started looking around for apartments, and for the next 9 years I lived in a few different places– sometimes with a roommate, sometimes by myself. For the most part, I stayed close to Santa Fé avenue.
October 26th 2015 marked my ten-year anniversary in this city. This city that has seen me though a series of absurd situations that defy conventional logic, a number of wonderful relationships that have allowed me to grow into whatever the heck I am now, and the polar extremes of exuberant joy and abject depression. It’s a city that remains mysterious, abrasive and majestic to me, and with which I routinely fall in and out of love. It’s still a constant source of inspiration, and of challenges. And though I’m not entirely certain how long I’ll stick around– I’ve been feeling that old pull again for some time– I can say with all certainty that Buenos Aires resonates with me like no other place I’ve ever lived in, and everything about it has become inextricably connected with who I am. Wherever I move, this is still where I’ll think back to when I reflect on some of the most significant events in my life. It is, and will probably forever be, home.
So hey, happy anniversary, mi Buenos Aires querido. Thank you, and I’m sorry, for everything.
Another installment of the podcast portion of the site finds me in my old stomping ground, and oh boy do I stomp. I have a complicated relationship with Barranquilla. It’s a city that I’m not sure I would ever visit were it not for the several wonderful humans who somehow choose to live in it. But every time I’m back, I find myself surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. This particular trip was ostensibly to attend a family wedding, but the fact that I’m choosing to stay for a few weeks instead of bolting immediately after the nuptials tells me that I like it here much more than I’ll admit.
An added bonus? My sister Cristina flew in from New York to hang out with us for a few days. And since we’re so seldom in the same place at the same time, we decided to sit down with a few beers and have ourselves a little podcast. We discussed our upbringing, the pressures of coming of age in this barren tundra, and the horrific traffic accident that nearly cost her her life a few years ago. She also told several embarrassing stories from my childhood and teenage years, including some that I came very close to cutting out of this podcast because goddamn are they cringey.
I asked Cristina to come up with a list of tunes to play on the podcast. Here’s the tracklist for this episode:
Chet Faker- “I’m Into You” The Weakerthans- “Reconstruction Site” The Cure- “Cut Here” The Avett Brothers- “The Perfect Space” Alt-J- “Breezeblocks” Coal- “Stay”
Listen to our conversation by clicking on the embedded player below.
One of my favorite things about birthdays is the amount of ridiculous childhood pictures that my grandmother– who is an avid internet user and way more active on social media than I am– always sends me. Like the above. Standing next to my sister at some playground in Bogotá, draped in denim and sporting an oversized PEACE SYMBOL around my neck. This might be the most 90s picture of me ever taken. And I love it.
It was my birthday this weekend. It’s not anymore. Twenty-seven was a weird year. I’m glad I didn’t succumb to the rock star cliché, but of course that would require me to be a rock star first– and as of right now, I am only one in the eyes of my mother. In celebration, I decided to put together a podcast with some of the tracks I’ve been digging for the last couple of weeks– some loud, some quiet. Mostly loud. It’s really good. But don’t take my word for it. Listen.