Archive | June, 2012

Summer Livin’: America’s Birthday

29 Jun

 

Editor’s Note:  Summer Livin’ is a segment in which we ask our friend Steed to offer some words of wisdom on how to best enjoy certain staples of the summer months.  For further reason as to why this should be appointment Internet all summer long, check out the Introduction.  On to the easy livin’. 

“Can you feel it people?  That little breeze in the air that tickles your face like a kitten’s whiskers?  That tingly feeling that started in your toes a few days ago and has now worked its way up to just above your belly button?  A growling in your stomach that no food can calm?  Yep, me too.  And that can only mean one thing.  June is coming to a close, and America’s Big Day is almost here.

The Fourth Of July.

I love Christmas, I love Halloween, I love Valentine’s Day.  But the sum of my appreciation for those and every other holiday does not match my balls-out love for America’s Birthday.  For me, July 4th is a chance to celebrate the Freedom and American Way I love with family, friends, neighbors and lovers.  Publicly, and preferably as loudly as possible.

Fourth Of July 2012 is shaping up to be another epic Freedom Fest, and to offer some inspiration for the rest of you party people out there, I decided to disclose my current itinerary for the day.  Obviously things can change as the day goes along, and all of these plans could go out the window.  I’m a free form partier.  Like Parkour.  But this is a basic blueprint I’ll be jumping off from.

8:00AM – Getting up a few hours earlier than normal.  I’ll probably be wide awake by like 6 AM, but I’ll try to stay in bed until 8, so I can get as much rest as possible.  I’m gonna need it.  After getting up, I’ll fire up the grill and make some steak and eggs for breakfast.  Every meal today will be grilled.

9:30 AM – Post power breakfast and a vigorous shower/grooming session, I’ll put on my outfit for the day.  American Flag bandanna.  Custom-made tank top with bald eagle on the front and epic wolf on the back.  Custom-made jorts with USA stitched on both back pockets.  American Flag Converse Chuck Taylors.  Outfitted.

10:30 AM – After getting dressed and cracking the first brews (Bud Heavy) of the day with the roommates, I’ll head out for a quick visit over to my neighbor Timothy’s house.  Like I always do on the 4th,  I’ll remind Timothy that he was born in Canada and that his ability to celebrate today is a privilege, and not a right.  AKA if he abuses that privilege, like call the cops on my party, there’s gonna be some problems.

11 AM – 12 PM – In another 4th tradition, I’ll pull the trike out of the garage, set up an American flag to flap majestically from the back, and set off for a cruise around town.  I’m currently trying to fashion a holster for my iPod speakers on the trike, so if I can get that set up, The Boss will be obviously be soundtracking my cruise.  The purpose of the trip is 1) to get out and see how everyone else is celebrating, and 2) to scope out any party people who look like they would be good additions to my party.  Sometimes I’ll come across people I know, and sometimes it will just be total strangers wrapped in American flags who’ve got that ‘look’.  They’re getting a print-out that has  my face, party info, and directions to the house.

12 PM – 6 PM – Party Time at my house.  18 and over.  This is the place to be in town.  I rent out extra grills, so I’ve got four going at all times.  The pool has a ‘shirts optional’ policy.  I have a local cover band set up to play Born In The U.S.A. in its entirety, several times through.  There’s a standing order with Rusty Pete’s BrewPub down the street so that anytime we run low on kegs, they’ll send one right over, already tapped.  Red, white and blue body paint is kept readily available throughout the party.  People fall in love left and right, enchanted by the atmosphere.  Overall, it’s  the best way to spend your 4th Day.

6 PM – At 5, I shut the cover band down and take the small stage myself.  I plug in Hot Licks (what I call my electric guitar, she’s a beaut) and play the National Anthem, Jimi Hendrix-style, while my buddy Tobias sets off fireworks behind me.  There are usually a few people crying in joy during this emotional moment, and it serves as an ending to my day party, and a kick-off to the rest of the night.

6:30 PM – 10:30 PM – After I burn things down with the Anthem, I herd everyone out of the house and lead a procession down to the waterfront area in town.  On the beach, I’ve paid several young teens in cigarettes and cash to hold prime spots all day, so when we get there, we have a great view of the eventual massive fireworks show that the town puts on.  I have a gentleman’s agreement with the local beat cops, so we’ll keep the kegs flowing all the way out on the beach.  The  fireworks show kicks off around 9 PM, and this is usually the time when I make my move on whomever has stolen my heart at the time.  When the fireworks are bursting over your blanket in the sand?  That’s when magic happens.

10:30 PM – ? – When the last firework sparks have faded in the sky, it’s time to head over to Sandy Guppy’s, our favorite bar near the beach in town.  The owners know to have Flaming Flag shots lined up for me when I get in, and after those go down, things usually get a bit hazy.  The main goal at this point is just to stay out of jail.

Well that’s the rough outline for my Very Special Day coming up.  Do with it what you will.  Use it as inspiration for your own plans, or if you’re going to be in the area, just make sure to be out and about when I’m cruising on the trike.  If you’re the party people I think you are, I’ll recognize a like-minded soul and will toss you a flyer.  Until then, be safe and get ready. ”

 

Personal Soundtrack

26 Jun

 

The Song

Leap by The Cave Singers

The Cave Singers’ frontman Pete Quirk has a guttural, ragged voice that sounds like it was birthed in an unnamed swampy backwoods hollow.  There’s a timeless feel to his ragged vocals; it’s easy to imagine some bearded frontiersmen sounded the same way as they sat around the fire singing whiskey-fueled songs about grizzly bears and loose women in the 1800s.  The Cave Singers’ woodsy, raw sound comes through prominently with Quirk’s voice, and the band behind him utilizes  a mix of twangy guitar lines, propulsive drum stomps and the odd fiddle or harmonica to further this sonic theme.

“Leap” begins with the simple combination of Quick’s restrained vocals and a bubbling guitar line before building momentum behind some brisk drumming and harmonica flourishes.  Every part of the song picks up energy as it goes along, culminating with Quick alternating vocal and harmonica runs in one yearning ode to ‘flying free.’

The song’s title isn’t mentioned once in the lyrics, but all it takes is one listen to understand why it was named “Leap.”  The band creates the pure feeling of leaping into something – the slow build of momentum in the approach to the edge, and then the joyous, unhinged rush of finally jumping.  Whether that leap is a literal one or figurative one, it doesn’t matter.  The basic feeling is the same, and The Cave Singers would like you to feel it with them.

The Activity

This is it.  This is your last chance.  The ferry terminal is coming up on the left.  Why is your heart pounding like it’s fifth grade again?  Fuck.  Fuck.  Say something.  That you want to see them again.  That you may be in love.  No.  That’s weird.  Tone it down.  But something.  C’mon!

…..

Well that was just sad.  Capped off that amazing conversation with a simple Goodbye as the coolest person you’ve ever met just walked away and on to a ferry boat.  You only got a first name.  Will probably never see them again.  The universe gave you a gift – you both happened to be on the airport arrival curb at the exact same time, waiting for a cab at the exact same time.  Making small talk, finding out they were going to catch the ferry right by where you live.  You, on a whim, offering to share the cab that pulls up right then.  With a knee-weakening smile, they agreed.

The rest of the ride passed in a blur – connections like that are only supposed to happen in movies and trashy e-books.  And all you could muster at the end, as they looked like they were maybe, just maybe, waiting for something more, was a Goodbye.  And now they’re off to the ferry, ready to take off to another life while you head back to yours.

Now all you can do is listen to the ferry horn sound out, mockingly, as the cab sits in traffic.  This is going to bother you for a long time….No.  Not today.  The second ferry horn sounds out, and you look back – the boat hasn’t left yet.

What have you got to lose?  You either slink away or go down fighting, yeah?  The third ferry horn sounds.  It’s about to leave.  Fuck it.  You toss the driver some money, throw open the door.  Grab your bag – all you’ve got is a carry-on to worry about.  The universe knew.

Take off running.  Boat’s not moving yet, you’re still good.  What are you going to say when you get there?  No time to think now.  Through the Walk-On tunnel, heading to the boat.  Were you supposed to buy a ticket there?  No TIME TO STOP.

Someone’s yelling at you – probably the ticket-taker.  Hopefully you aren’t breaking any federal laws here.  Hop over the divider saying “BOAT FULL”.  The horn sounds for the final time.  You’re on the walkway, you can see the cars on the bottom deck of the ferry.  The walkway shudders as the boat detaches from the dock.  There’s now open air between the walkway and the boat, and it’s getting wider by the second.  You’re almost at the end of the walkway and haven’t slowed up.  Full speed.  There’s no one there to stop you – it’s just open air between the walkway and the ramp on the ferry.  They haven’t closed the gate yet.  Quick calculation – can you make the jump?  Too late to crunch numbers.  It’s just water if you don’t make it.  Time to leap.

Friday Relief

22 Jun

 

Today is the last day of school for a lot of kids across the country.  The last day of school always had a special energy to it, as the sun was usually shining, everyone at school had mentally checked out several days earlier, and the long, hazy days of Do What I Want summer are literally hours away.  We can remember several Last Days of School that included 3pm beer bongs in the park.  It’s that kind of day.

Even if you’re no longer in school and have moved on to the working world, there’s no reason you can’t still celebrate the last day of school and the start of summer.  Yeah, you’ve got that pesky day job to worry about for the summer months, but you can still go into full-fledged Summer Mode after today, as if you were back in 7th grade again.  It’s all a state of mind.  Put sunscreen on every day, have some BLLs at lunch, take impromptu midweek road trips, stay out late in the hot nights.  Why not?  Start today by taking that briefcase and throwing it up in the air on your way out of the office.  Just like you’re emptying out the locker.

No movie has ever been able to capture the essence of this unofficial holiday  like Dazed and Confused does, so we offer it up here to help everyone celebrate.  While you’re at it, might as well just watch the whole movie.  It’s only one of the greatest ever made.  And, also, we reserve the right to name our upcoming holiday party “The OFFICIAL 4th of July Brouhaha.”

Summer Livin’: Camping Trips

21 Jun

Editor’s Note:  Summer Livin’ is a segment in which we ask our friend Steed to offer some words of wisdom on how to best enjoy certain staples of the summer months.  For further reason as to why this should be appointment Internet all summer long, check out the Introduction.  On to the easy livin’.  

“There’s one summer tradition that has gone down every single year of my life.  The camping trip.  Or trips, if you’re lucky.  My parents were avid summer campers back in the day, and they took us out into the great outdoors at least a few weekends every summer.  They taught me the basics of campground livin’, and I’ve continued the tradition on my own, throwing in some updates and personal touches where I see fit.

It’s no easy task to execute a successful camping trip, no matter who your fellow campers are going to be.  Sure, on the surface it looks pretty simple, and in some ways it is.  You need a tent, hopefully a nice lake or river nearby, some food to grill, some beer to drink, some stuff to burn.  But getting the right mix of all that, with the right people and in the right setting, is like a goddamned science.  And I’m a camping science wizard.  Let’s take a look at some of the tricky ingredients I work with.

Group

Before you start planning for any camping trip, you need to figure out who’s going to be coming with you, and what the collective mindset of the group will be.  You could be the head of a beautiful family of four, heading out with a couple other families.  In that case, you’re going to need an area where kids can play safely with minimal supervision while the parents get the margs flowing and make halfhearted passes at the other spouses.  Fun for young and old.

Things are a little bit different if you’re a young buck, hot-blooded and single, and you’re getting your like-minded friends together for a rowdy weekend in the trees.  In this case, you gotta decide if your group is going to be just you and the guys (or you and the girls, whatsup ladies) or a mix.  If it’s just unisex, then you’ve gotta make sure to find a social campsite somewhere, where you can meet and mingle with other groups of party people.  If your group is already a mix, then you can think about finding a more secluded camping spot, where everyone can allow the outdoor setting to bring out some freak flags.  Can you fit three in a sleeping bag?  You tell me.

Supplies

Since the whole point of your camping excursion is to get away from this material world we live in, you’re ideally going to be posted up somewhere without access to any stores, restaurants, or bars.  So you’re gonna need to pack everything you’ll end up needing.  First up, food.  You can’t really go wrong with a bung of dogs, burgs, and chicken.  You can get creative with it, by bringing some crazy BBQ marinade that a hot babe posted on Pinterest, but at the end of the day, you really just need some sustenance.  If it tastes good, point on you.  But don’t get too fancy.

Second up, most important – party supplies.  As awesome as camping is, you will eventually get to the point in the day where there is not much else to do besides sit around with your family/buds/potential lovers.  If it’s night time, then you’ll have the campfire to stare at, but the essence of the situation is still the same.  Getting away from the material world means you don’t have all your typical distractions around to take up your time.  So what do you do?  Drink my friends.  And maybe smoke a little something, if you’re so inclined.  That is the beauty of camping – it’s really all set up in the end for everyone to get blissfully buzzed (and beyond) among the beauty of nature.  So DO NOT forget the drinks.  Whiskey is usually a great option for warming yourself by the campfire, and then of course, there are the dirty 30s, of which you will need upwards of seven.  [Ed.’s Note: 30 packs of beer]  I’m a Schlitz man myself, but really anything sudsy will do the trick in the woods.  If you want to spice it up with some tequila or homemade sangria, then by all means, go crazy.  There are no laws when you’re camping.  [Ed.’s Note: There are]

Music

Another basic ingredient of any good camping trip is also the basic ingredient of any good social gathering – music.  There are a few options when it comes to crafting the perfect soundtrack for your nature excursion.  First, because of the wonderful and mysterious tech times we live in, you can bring out some iPod speakers and show off your diverse music library to everyone within hearing range.  This is probably your best bet, or at least an option to always keep around.  With all of your music at your finger tips, you can shift the entire feeling of your camping trip with the press of a button.

This is a relatively recent upgrade to the whole camping music thing, because back when I was growing up, we didn’t have anything close to this.  We made do – Dad was a big time Van Halen fan, so he had each kid learn a musical part of the entire Van Halen album, from vocals all the way to guitar lines.  When we were out camping, he’d shout out a song title, like “Feel Your Love Tonight,” and we would drop everything and perform the song on the spot.  I usually shifted back and forth between doing David Lee Roth’s vocals and Eddie’s guitar licks (with my voice) so it wasn’t a bad way to go.  Just got tiring after a while.  So I’m glad to see the iPod speakers these days.

The second way to go with music on the camping trip is to befriend someone who is really good at the guitar.  When the stars come out, the fire gets lit, and your thirteenth beer is cracked, the acoustic guitar sing-a-long is the greatest thing in the world.  The guitar player needs to be okay with granting shouted song requests, and should ideally be able to keep it together from a musical standpoint when the whiskey comes out.  And he should be able to play “Crash”.  If I can’t hear “Crash” at least once around the fire, then the entire trip is ruined.

Those three basic elements are really all you need to worry about when putting together a great camping trip.  If you get these things figured out, then everything else pretty much falls into place.  The camping trip is really one of the most American things I can think of doing during the summer, and I will be venturing out to the woods several times this year.  If you happen to be out enjoying nature as well, and come across a campsite decked out with mansion tents, dirty 30s, and “Running With The Devil,” come join the party.  There’s always room for one more around the fire.”

Personal Soundtrack

16 Jun

The Song

Pyramids by Frank Ocean

 

With “Pyramids”Frank Ocean pushes beyond the sonic and temporal constraints of the standard R&B song and reaches for an epic scale.  Over the course of it’s nearly ten-minute running time, “Pyramids” journeys from the nightclub, to the night streets, to the bedroom, to Africa, to the pyramids, to a fantastical land populated by Cleopatra and cheetahs – all on the back of Frank’s silky smooth voice.

As the subject matter of the lyrics shifts, so too does the musical style and tone of the beat and vocals.  Early on in the song, a pulsing electronic hook takes over for a few moments, and it’s an early sign that this is not your typical down-tempo track.  This part of the beat wouldn’t sound out of place on a straightforward house track, but in “Pyramids” there’s something about it that’s mysterious, echoing, and expansive.  As if it were sounding out in the desert night.

The best part of the song comes near the halfway mark, when Frank shifts into a vocal style that’s very near to rapping.  Lyrical hooks come fast and furious, and the whole thing sounds as if the narrator of Usher’s “Nice & Slow” dropped E and went to the club instead of driving straight to pick up his lady.

It’s easy to make comparisons between the smooth voices of Usher and Frank Ocean, but the awesomely weird self-indulgence of “Pyramids” does a lot to set Mr. Ocean apart as a wholly unique artist.  With this song, Frank creates a track that doesn’t sound like anything else out there.  This is not a radio-ready track, even though there are sections of the song that could theoretically be cut and edited and released to popular acclaim on your local Hot 100 station.  No, this is a deep album cut, an artistic statement that showcases Frank’s beautiful croon, his ear for sneaky hooks, and his weird, freaky sensibilities.  “Pyramids” not only sets the stage for Frank’s full album, Channel Orange, dropping next month, but it also raises the appeal of catching him live.  Will he turn “Pyramids” into a 20-minute long showstopper?  Wouldn’t be surprised.

The Activity

“Mmmm.  B, where you going?”

“What?  Go back to sleep, baby.  I’m not going anywhere.”

“Fuck that.  I can see you in the mirror.  You just put your panties back on.  Those cheetah print ones I got you.”

“Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.  You caught me.  But I need to go.”

“What?  Where?  You can’t just leave like that.  Especially after what just went down in here.”

“Mmm.  Yeah.  But I really need to go.”

“Well, fuck.  Where are you going?  And what time is it?

“It’s almost midnight.  And don’t worry bout where I’m going.  I just gotta take care of something.  I’ll see you soon.”

“Whoa.  Slow up.  Are those six-inch heels you’re putting on?  Oh, fuck, babe, really?  The Pyramids?  I thought you were done there.”

“Frankie, baby, I’m sorry.  But you know how it is.  I have an obligation.  He’s the pharaoh.  As in The Pharaoh.  I thought you understood that.”

“Babe, there’s no reason you have to leave.  You’re with me now.  Fuck that Pharaoh title.  Listen to that jazz playing.  I got rubies in my damn chain.  My bills paid.  My whip ain’t go no gas tank, but so what?

“Frank, don’t do this.  I gotta go.”

“Fine.  I’m running a bath.  If you’re not back in an hour I’ll find someone else to share it with.”

“Frank!”

“I’m done with this conversation.”

“Don’t be like this.  I’ll see you later.  Okay?”

“Air guitar.”

[Door Slams]

“WhoaaOhhhhhhhhh…………”

Friday Relief

15 Jun

For some Friday Relief this week, we wanted to pass along a strangely awesome little piece of cinematic history.  There we were, sitting down to enjoy The Long Goodbye, an old 1970s crime noir/comedy film that follows a carefree private investigator through the surreal world of 1970s L.A.  The Robert Altman film offers a great look at the 70s weirdness of L.A., and the movie was a noticeable influence on the Coen Bros. when they made The Big Lebowski.  It’s a great movie.  But that’s not the point of this.

The point is, towards the end of the movie, the movie’s protagonist is brought to the home of a crime boss, who’s surrounded by his henchmen.  We’ve seen this crime boss, and we’ve seen these henchmen before.  Except for one guy that we haven’t seen.  A musclebound deaf/mute bodyguard who looks like….no….is that a mustache…..Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger.

It takes a few seconds to make sure it’s really Arnold.  Because this is a rambling, verite-style movie that is not at all like Arnold’s beefy action flicks, and you don’t expect him to be anywhere near it.  And because the look of young Arnold is so awesomely different from that of eventual movie star Arnold.  He looks like David Wooderson from Dazed And Confused suddenly quit his job working for the city and put on 25 pounds of solid muscle.  He looks like he loves to party.

And in the weirdly enthralling scene that follows, Arnold somehow manages to get his shirt off, and half of his pants.  It only takes him 30 seconds!  And we say half of his pants, because he manages to pull them down just low enough to show off some neon-yellow Spanx that proceed to take over the entire scene.  It’s a truly odd and memorable movie moment.

Go forth and enjoy your weekend like Party Arnold would.

 

Full Scene:

The Sun Rises Twice

13 Jun

“We’re going trout-fishing.  We’re going trout-fishing in the Irati River, and we’re going to get tight now at lunch on the wine of the country, and then take a swell bus ride.”  – Jake Barnes

In a busy modern life, time is a commodity, and when it comes to finding the time to read a book, potential readers can be put in the rushed mindset of buy, consume, repeat.  As soon as you’re done with the book, throw it up on the shelf, add to your trophies, and start on with the next one.  There’s no time to stop and reflect.  There’s no incentive to go back and re-read a book years later, because it’s already on your shelf.  You’ve already finished it.  That re-reading time could be better spent on a trophy you don’t yet have.  And that’s a problem, when you don’t go back to a great and timeless novel years after your first exposure with it.  Because the experience of coming back to a book opens you up to one of the important things about great works in all areas of art – your life experience, your emotional and mental position at that moment you encounter the art, can be transformative in the way that you understand and appreciate the work.  A painting that bored you when you were 18 could move you to tears when you see it again at 30.  A novel that gave you one experience in high school can offer up an entirely new one when you come across it as a young adult.

And so it is that I experienced Ernest Hemingway’s debut novel, The Sun Also Rises, for the second time.  My first encounter with The Sun Also Rises came right in the middle of an Ernest Hemingway binge.  This was in the early part of high school, and the full-fledged plunge into Hemingway began with the first piece of his I had ever read, The Old Man and the Sea, and lasted for about six straight novels and stories before my hunger, for the time being, had been exhausted. The motivations behind this sudden interest in Hemingway varied, and they initially affected what I felt and understood about the author’s work.

The first motivation, and the factor that led me to start reading Old Man in the beginning, was the locale of the stories and novels.  The exotic and occasionally tropical setting of novels such as To Have and Have NotIslands in the Stream, and The Sun Also Rises represented an alluring escape as I was making it through another gray winter in the Pacific Northwest.  Hemingway’s ability to evoke the essence of the cities and countries in his stories made reading them exhilarating for a kid with limited travel experience, even if the subjects of the novels were often somber and tragic.  The chance to go from rainy Seattle to balmy Cuba with the turn of a page was something I couldn’t get enough of, and it drove me to seek out more experiences with the author behind it all.

Descriptions of foreign lands can be found in plenty of stories, however, so while the chance for escape was a draw to Hemingway’s work, it was the characters and the writing style in that work that truly kept me coming back and looking for more.  The characters in these novels, particularly the antagonists, were mesmerizing.  These were men with unfathomable physical toughness, pushing through pain with grit and honor that seemed otherworldly.  Masculine ideals to aspire to.  And yet they also held secret emotional wounds that made them seem vulnerable and tragically human.  To an impressionable and angst-filled teenager, these characters were heroes you could relate to.  The more of Hemingway I read, the more of these characters I found.

The final aspect of Hemingway’s work that initially drew me in so strongly was his style of writing, his voice.  At that point in my life, I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of history’s great writers, and I wasn’t very cognizant of elements such as structure and prose style.  But when I read Hemingway, his work floored me in a way that no writing ever had.  His words seemed so carefully chosen, so perfectly put together.  In many passages, it felt as thought there wasn’t one word out of place, and not one phrase that didn’t belong.  The writing was lean and tough and efficient.  Hemingway conveyed entire themes and storylines without ever addressing them directly; he seemed to be able to describe things without describing them.  It was an amazing thing to discover.

When I first read The Sun Also Rises during this Hemingway 101 period, it stood out to me as containing the most memorable examples of each of the aforementioned aspects of the author’s work – the locations, the characters, and the writing.  The novel’s spare yet detailed descriptions of Paris and the Spanish countryside, the tragically wounded Jake Barnes, and the haunting  evocation of unrequited love are what stuck with me immediately upon reading it.  To me, it was one of Hemingway’s best works, and probably the one that remained on my mind the longest.

During my first reading of TSAR, the element of the novel that seemed the most important and memorable at the time was the relationship between Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley.  Jake loves Brett, and while she also loves him on a certain level, she can never truly be with him because of a war injury that rendered Jake impotent for the rest of his life.  Partly due to the author’s obliqueness and partly due to my own limited knowledge of old war injuries, it took me awhile to fully realize the nature of Jake’s injury on my first reading.  But when I did catch on to Jake’s tragic flaw, it became incredibly poignant to watch the slow burn of his feelings towards Brett.  This culminated in a scene that became for me the most searing of the novel, and one that has stayed with me ever since the first reading – Jake viewing a discarded table through a restaurant window, knowing that Brett just left to go make love to a young bullfighter.  And he can do nothing about it.  That image of the heartbroken man watching through the restaurant window represented what the novel was all about to me.

Somehow, the only Hemingway book from high school that I managed to hold on to through all the years since was TSAR.  So when I recently found myself with the itch to read some of the author’s work again, I decided to go against my normal habits and dip back into something I had already read.  TSAR is a relatively short book, and I figured that it would be a good way to pass the time with some great writing and also give me a chance to re-visit a story that had struck a chord in me.  I did not expect to find fresh insight and meaning in the story.  But that is what happened.  When I finished the book for the second time, it had opened up a part of Hemingway’s world that I had never expected, a part that was incredibly relevant to my current life in a way that modern novels rarely are.  Let alone one that is almost 100 years old.

My second foray into TSAR began with images of Jake’s doomed love prominent in my mind.  Over the years, the themes surrounding Jake’s relationship had come to represent the entirety of the novel in my memory.  As I continued the story, however, another recurring theme began to appear that I had never noticed before, or that I had at least never fully understood.  Alcohol.  One thing about TSAR that had always confused me in the past was the narrator’s constant descriptions of the alcohol being drunk by the characters.  Drinks with all kinds of foreign names are constantly noted throughout the novel, with a dedication that at times seems almost obsessive.  My initial reaction was to shrug it off and focus on the rest of the story – the details about the drinks were just another part of the setting, minor details that served to provide an authentic atmosphere for the characters to inhabit.  Which is partly true.  But upon this second reading, I also began to notice another purpose behind these details.  And while this new recognition didn’t affect the rest of the novel at first, as the story continued it led directly into the completely new understanding of the themes going on behind the work.

The constant notation of the drinks being ordered and consumed by the characters serves to draw and keep attention on this part of the characters’ lives.  Every one of the core characters in TSAR drinks regularly, and to varying degrees, heavily.  As the novel follows Jake and his friends from their homes in Paris to a vacation in the French country and the Spanish town of Pamplona, the presence of alcohol in their daily activities never wavers.  The drinking only increases as the group takes part in a week-long festival in Pamplona, and leads to increasingly frequent occurrences of arguments, fistfights, sickness, and varying other types of bad behavior.

At the conclusion of the novel, the long binge that the characters have been on has ravaged their physical and mental well-being, and has even inflicted collateral damage on locals who have  come into contact with the group.  TSAR shows the after-effects of all the festive partying and drunken merriment: the ugliness of people’s true feelings exposed in bursts of violence or sharp words; the hollow feeling that accompanies the hangover when the drinks are gone and people are just left with the wreckage and and emptiness of their everyday life.  The novel covers the entirety of a long drinking binge, one undertaken by damaged and empty people who continue to try and fail to cover up their problems with parties and drinks.

The fact that this aspect of TSAR went largely unnoticed by my high-school self points to the previously mentioned power of personal experience when it comes to encountering and understanding works of art.  As a teenager, I had a very limited experience with drinking at the time I read TSAR.  I could definitely understand that the characters in the novel were marked by an emptiness and exhaustion at the conclusion of the story, and I knew that some of the unpleasant actions of the characters happened because they were drunk.  But several years later, I have now been on my own share of those long drinking weekends particularly unique to life in one’s twenties.

Neither I nor my companions have had crippling emotional injuries or massive drinking problems like the tragic characters of TSAR, but there have been plenty of experiences in which drinking has aroused ugliness between friends.  And times when the hangover that comes at the end of such weekends brings a hollowed-out feeling that has nothing to do with your body just being dehydrated.  Times when you realize that there are things missing in your life that cannot be glossed over with a simple weekend spent out-of-town and out-of-mind.  The knowledge of these experiences was impossible to have when I first read TSAR, but upon my re-reading, it enabled me to find a relevance and honesty in Hemingway’s writing that was much deeper and more universal than I could have imagined.

The beauty of masterful artists like Hemingway is that they can infuse their works with deeply-felt truths about the human experience that can resonate for centuries; the complexity of these truths is such that they can affect people differently depending on who they are and what their life has been like to that point.  And that leads to the beauty of re-discovering artists like Hemingway –  the richness of their work means that there can be much more to find in it than you originally thought.  So while I was moved by The Sun Also Rises as a young high-school student, the experience of reading it in my twenties was a much deeper and more meaningful one.  And it will push me in the future to take more great books off the shelf.

Personal Soundtrack

10 Jun

 

The Song

How Do You Do? by Hot Chip

Like to be able to dance to your love songs?  Hot Chip can help with that.  With frontman Alexis Taylor’s silky falsetto adding a lightness to lyrics that often express a sensitive and passionate worldview, the group’s beat-driven brand of electronic songs offer plenty of emotion to go along with your dance moves.  And there are a lot of dance moves to be found among propulsive anthems like “How Do You Do.”  Starting off with a percolating synth line that brings an alluring edge to the rest of the tune, the song is a joyous celebration of love that bridges the gap between the dance floors of the 80’s and the future.

Clean bursts of synths beam around a spare backbeat like laser beams through the smoke machine of a long-lost night club.  As each new layer of sound is brought in, they come together to form a jam that finally crests in a furious instrumental breakdown that demands to be danced to.  Taylor’s lyrics offer a wide-eyed celebration of his feelings towards a lover, with the refrain “How do you do it? / You make me want to live again” repeating over and over again until the whole thing becomes an anthem.  The high-paced energy of the song slows down at points to let you catch your breath, but when everything starts up again, the dance party has only gotten more furious.

The Activity

You used to think that feelings like this only existed in movies and Hallmark cards, but this full-speed, no-apologies passion that you’re currently harboring is as real as it gets.  It started casually, simply.  Just a locking of eyes across the nightclub dance floor as you both grooved to the DJ’s beat.  But ever since then, as you went from casual texts to frozen yogurt dates to massage trains in the park, your feelings for this person have grown to the point that when you think about them, your breath catches in your throat and you forgot where you are.

You are pretty sure that these feelings go both ways.  But it hasn’t been spoken yet – by either of you.  Things, relationship0-wise, are at a turning point.  It’s still just a relationship, and not a Relationship.  It’s all fun and games.  But you want more, you need it.  If it’s possible.  And the only way you’ll know if it is, is if you put all your cards on the figurative table.  The only way you know how – music.

You spend several days racking your brain for the best, most powerful way to tell them how you feel.  You listen to records and watch romantic comedies, looking for inspiration.  And then finally, you stumble across Say Anything.  The image of John Cusack raising the boom box over his head and letting Peter Gabriel do the talking for him is one that resonates with you.  Your partner in romance has a bedroom window conveniently located in the perfect location for a serenade.  But your burning love is too hot for just a re-enactment of a decades-old movie scene.  You need to do your own thing.

So you spend several more days, writing the perfect lyrics and putting the music together, playing each instrument and recording most of the song.  Most of the song except for the vocals and the keyboard part.  So that when the fateful day comes, and you have your hopeful lover waiting in the window, you can play the synthesized notes yourself.  A live show, for an audience of one.  Just you, the mic, some speakers, and the ‘Board.  And your love.  Does it work?  Do they run down and jump into your arms and start a joyful dance party, followed by some physical lovin’?  Of course.  Music always works.

Summer Livin’: BBQ Season

5 Jun

Editor’s Note:  Summer Livin’ is a segment in which we ask our friend Steed to offer some words of wisdom on how to best enjoy certain staples of the summer months.  For further reason as to why this should be appointment Internet all summer long, check out the Introduction.  On to the easy livin’.  

BBQ Season

“What’s up party people.  I hope you’re as stoked on summer as I am right now.  I just hand-stitched my first pair of jorts for the season, blended up a batch of fresh margs, and I can already see the base tan coming through after the past coupla weekends.  Temps have been high ever since Memorial Day two weeks ago, when Summer ’12 “officially” started.

One quick note on that, actually.  I don’t need The Man to tell me when I can start summering.  I know it’s summer when I can comfortably go for my daily sundown jog wearing my Prefontaines [Ed.’s Note: running shorts] and nothing else.  On that magical night when it’s finally not too chilly, summer says Hey Steed.  Let’s Do This.

But anyways – Memorial Day.  A big staple of this holiday every year is the big summer BBQ party.  Everyone gets the friends, family, and neighbors together outside, pulls out a cooler and a grill, and goes from there.  This year was no different, as there were several BBQs within walking distance of my abode.  I usually try to go all out and throw one myself, but  I took this year off to check out the local offerings.  I hopped on the beach cruiser and made a circuit around the block, ending up at my neighbor Timothy’s party.  Which got a bit out of hand.  More on that in a sec – first a quick rundown on my patented, fail-proof approach to creating the perfect summer BBQ mixing pot.

When it comes to getting my own grill out, I’ve always gone to two standbys for some inspiration.  This year, in a spooky example of the summer spirits coming together for me, these two BBQ muses came together themselves in a glorious pairing.  I’m talking about Bud Light Lime commercials and Will Smith’s classic jam “Summertime.”

Over the past couple of years, the BLL commercials have become a summer staple.  You’ve seen them – full of images of hot bods doing hot things like beach volleyball, ultimate frisbee, or throwing rooftop cooler parties.  All delightful images tinged with green and golden hues that, at least for me, get the summer BBQ juices flowing.  In addition to reminding me to pick up a few sixers of the sweetly-flavored hops, these TV spots have given me great ideas when it comes to attracting and keeping beautiful people at all my summer BBQs.  Plenty of frisbees around, plenty of old-school boom boxes to give that non-threatening retro vibe, and plenty of unisex fedoras.  Does anything pair better with a pair of board shorts than a unisex fedora?  Hell no.

And like I said before, the mad geniuses behind the BLL commercials truly outdid themselves by featuring “Summertime” in this year’s ad spot.  This old school Fresh Prince jam has been providing the soundtrack foundation to my summers for as long as I can remember,  and if I had to die and go to a summer-themed heaven, it would look exactly like the situations described by the Fresh Prince’s verses.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve daydreamed about finding my true summer love just like Will does – “honking at the honey in front of you with the light eyes / she turn around and see what you beepin’ at.”  One hot day in the near future, that’s how I’ll meet my future wife.

That’s the beauty of “Summertime” – the summer vibe that floats through the whole song and encompasses everything from cruising around on a hot day, finding love, and chillaxing with the bros.  That’s pretty much everything I’m looking for in a summer BBQ, so it’s a no-brainer that the Fresh Prince has been the inspiration and soundtrack for every great grill-sesh I’ve ever had.  And when the BLL dudes dropped their latest commercial a few weeks ago and basically agreed with everything I’ve just said, in one sublime 30-second clip?  I thought I was dreaming.  Literally did.  And when I realized I wasn’t, I began planning for the ultimate summer BBQ to go down later this year, complete with a giant boom box and (maybe) the Fresh Prince himself.  I’ve got to at least try.  But in the meantime, for your own BBQ?  Just pop in “Summertime” and go looking for some old BLL clips.  Inspiration awaits.”