Indemnity And Cookies
Last Friday night I went on an unplanned DTLA pub crawl. I drank a little more than I intended. So on Saturday I chose to relax at home and prepare a nice dinner. I found a recipe for slow-cooked balsamic chicken with loads of herbs and spices, and paired it with seasoned brown rice. Then I received a phone call asking if I’d heard Adult Swim was streaming the Season 3 premiere of Rick And Morty several months earlier than its anticipated airdate. Game changer. A few quick texts altered my plans for the night. Screw going out for a beer or a glass of wine after my meal. I did the dishes as quickly as possible, sat down on the couch and got baked.
Several hours, a couple records, a Dave Chapelle stand-up special, and an episode or two of The Twilight Zone later, I was hungry again. When I opened my snacks cabinet I noticed a gift I received a couple months as a job perk. Naturally these things are bound to happen when most of your clients are famous, social media influencer types. The gift? A “baking lover’s” set from Thoughtfully that included a cast iron skillet and all the mixes, frosting and sprinkles one needs to make a giant chocolate chip cookie or brownie. Now, I’m not a baker. I’ve never even purchased pre-made cookie dough before. But the instructions for this cast iron cookie were so easy even a blazed imbecile could follow them.
Originally I combined these photos/captions with yet another solipsistic soliloquy from my personal life. Then I deleted the original entry because you must be tired of the woe-is-me stuff by now. So instead of reading several paragraphs on the psychology of loyalty, I’m going to share some of my recent excerpts from the Swan Fungus A Song A Day Project on Facebook.
By the way, are you still following A Song A Day? I missed a couple weeks there because I was out of town and starting a new job, but I’m trying to back into the routine this week. Today I listened to Excuses For Travelers and then Ask Me Tomorrow by Mojave 3, The Violet Hour by the Clientele, Yoko by Beulah, and then The Meadowlands by the Wrens…so it should be pretty obvious which of those is going to be highlighted on today’s post. It’s gotta be “She Sends Kisses” by the Wrens. I love that song so much. Although “Wipe Those Prints And Run” is one of my favorite Beulah songs. You’ll have to follow Swan Fungus on Facebook to see what I have to say about whatever the song of the day turns out to be.
A Song A Day 67/365. “The Donor,” by Judee Sill is one of those songs that will always haunt me. It has an unmistakable eerie quality to it: eight minutes of complex arrangements, multi-layered piano, bells, timpani, harmonies chanting in Latin “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord Have Mercy”), heartbreakingly sad and startlingly beautiful at the same time.
Sill once explained the song by saying, “Most of my songs, I always try to write them so they’ll make people feel better, or make them feel that their warm, human spirit is affirmed… but I thought one day when I was depressed, you know when you’re real depressed and you see everything comes to nothing, well, I thought, maybe I ought to take a different approach, and write a song that, instead of directed at people, would somehow musically induce God into giving us all a break, cause I was getting a little fed up by this point. So I put some combinations of notes in there that I worked on a long time hoping it would work… since that time I’ve decided that I shouldn’t get any more breaks, cause I already squandered them in weird places. But I’d like to sing this song for you in the hope that you’ll get a break.”
After a series of car accidents, a failed surgery, and struggles with drug addiction, Sill left the music industry. In 1979, six years after the release of HEART FOOD, she died of a drug overdose. And so “The Donor” is technically the last song on a Judee Sill record. Fitting, eh?
A Song A Day 63/ 365. Oh, what a day I had today. Awoke after just a few hours of sleep and had to take my car in for service. Walked home from the mechanic, fixed myself some breakfast, and decided to brew an IPA. I spent the majority of my day slaving away in the kitchen while a couple records provided the soundtrack in the living room. Christian Fennesz’s VENICE was there. The new Planning For Burial record BELOW THE HOUSE was there. And to kick things up a notch, there was Deafheaven’s ROADS TO JUDAH.
Ian turned me onto Deafheaven, and to this day the first song of theirs I ever heard — “Violet” is still my favorite. There are a couple of tracks on SUNBATHER that come close, but Goddamn if “Violet” isn’t a flawless composition. As the first song on an album that — for me at least — sounded like an entirely new approach of metal, I’ll likely always consider it the most memorable of their tracks.
As captivating a frontman as George is (and he really is one of the best showmen I’ve seen in the last 5-6 years) his lyrics aren’t given nearly enough credit for their depth, honesty, and use of what I’d call genre-familiar tropes as metaphors for more intimate, existential contemplations. Buried deep in the mix, the anger and anguish in his delivery belies the brilliance of his writing. There’s a sense of longing, a search for greater importance, and a lot of romantic imagery that doesn’t closely align with the ideologies or philosophies on most metal records. I mean, “Language Games” talks about swimming in ponds and scraping your knees on the bottom. “Unrequited” is about, well, the title kind of gives that one away. “Violet” is special though. It’s a tiny bit more oblique lyrically, but in a way that is enrapturing as all hell. And musically it fits the oft-used “blackgaze” description perfectly.
There I was, in my kitchen, bobbing my head as I stood over my stove in nervous anticipation. I enjoyed it so much that when it came time to clean up afterwards I flipped the record from side B back to A and started the whole thing again.
Minus the $600 bill from the mechanic, it was a good day.
A Song A Day 49 / 365. Sleep still isn’t coming for me, so I started my day early with a morning run. It was misting and drizzling outside which made for the perfect opportunity to try out my new all-weather, sweat-resistant headphones. I figured if I was really going to put them to the test I should listen to something I’ve heard a million times before, so I queued up Superdrag’s HEAD TRIP IN EVERY KEY.
I started running in the cold, hard aftermath of a breakup in 2011. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d put on a hoodie (the notion of breathable fabrics was foreign to me at the time) and run around Echo Park Lake in the wee hours of the morning. More often than not I was listening to either HEAD TRIP IN EVERY KEY or Frank Ocean’s NOSTALGIA ULTRA. It’s very possible I’ve listened to HEAD TRIP over the course of hundreds of miles in the past six years. It’s an album I know inside and out, as it both propelled me forward while running and propelled me through the tumult of a major life change.
There are a lot of songs on the album I could cite as being favorites depending on my mood, but the one that I’ve always connected to most closely is the album’s final track, “The Art Of Dying.” An ode to the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, the lyrics never DON’T resonate when I hear them. For over half my life I’ve worked to quell my inner monologue, so anytime I hear familiar refrains like, “Let your fragile mind go / Forget you are / Forget you know” it takes me back to exercises I learned in high school to talk myself out of panic attacks. I’ve never tried meditation, I’ve never had a mantra, but hearing “Mani padme hum” and Padma siddhi om” literally a thousand times while listening to this record, they feel like my mantra now.
A Song A Day 44/365. It started with 17 pink sugar elephants. Okay, well, it started with a A song CALLED “17 Pink Sugar Elephants,” which was written by Vashti Bunyan in a moment of frustration with producer (and then-manager of the Rolling Stones) Andrew Oldham. “17 Pink Sugar Elephants” was eventually re-worked, as it fit nicely her pal Alasdair Clayre’s lyrics for a song without music, and became “Train Song.” In lieu of Oldham’s renowned big orchestral productions, Bunyan recorded the song with producer Peter Snell, a session guitarist and a cellist. The result? Magic.
Vashti supposedly claimed in an interview she has no idea what the song is about (which I guess could conceivably make sense since the words are Clayre’s) but I think the story is very clear. I think there narrator is struggling with a deep sense of longing and hope for something they are probably aware they will not find.
At a shade over two minutes, it’s long been one of my favorite songs to play while I’m sitting around noodling on the guitar. I think I even recorded a version of it when I was doing that sort of thing in college, but I don’t quite remember what happened to it. I’ll have to look for it on my old hard drives.
What I do remember is a more recent story, and what will probably be my enduring memory of “Train Song.” For me the song takes me back to a spring night in a little blue house on the border of Sawtelle and Mar Vista. A lost bet led to a home-cooked meal. Two quiet, nervous souls sat eating overcooked steak in an equally quiet kitchen. I set my phone to play some music while we ate. I remember choosing Low’s THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE but self-consciously changing it after a few songs because it was too depressing. The hostess (also the bet-loser and dinner-preparer) and I eventually found ourselves listening to “Train Song,” which I believe she only knew from a cover version she had heard (Feist and Ben Gibbard?). I remember her excitedly scrawling down Vashti’s name and the name of the song because she liked it so much. A few months later, late one night or early one morning when I found myself alone in her room, I saw the note peeking out from her bedside table. I remember thinking, at that moment for the first time, if she kept the note… she might really like me.
And so my Saturday night ended with me eating a giant chocolate chip cookie out of a cast iron skillet, washed down with an imperial stout with cacao nibs and whiskey-barrel aged coffee aged in whiskey barrels. Let me tell you, I slept like a baby that night. I haven’t slept much since…but at least for one night I knew what it meant to be peacefully asleep.
Grandaddy – Brush With The Wild [MP3]
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