2005 Year End Thoughts
Drunk on Mead: The Year in Review
emerged from the anachronistic line of urinals inside the “privy” and heard the best song I’d heard all year: my friend Jeff aimlessly blowing a wooden whistle. He sat hunched over on a tree stump, handsome carpet-as-cape draped on his thighs. It was a tough act to follow, having just watched a plump, rosy woman in a dark green frock do some pretty goddamn enchanting hurdy-gurdy work, but his aberrant breath control and stumbling lyricism broke me. We had gone to Pennsylvania for the renaissance fair(e) that morning; I had already eaten a large leg of turkey, gotten drunk on Mead, befriended an indecipherable wizard child whose only parent appeared to be the festival itself, and followed a man dressed as fox dressed as an archer.
What’s strange, even ironic to me about the potency of that particular recollection is that only a few of my memories actually reflect the fact that this year, I listened to more and learned more about music than I ever had before. I guess this is saying a lot (and my mother would agree, remembering me at 15, lying around on the carpet ensconced in headphones with stacks of LPs spread around the floor commingling with algebra homework, making messes only considered charming because they expressed the disorder of love, not carelessness). Then again, I’ve got a bad memory, something I’ve actually cried about before. I think. I don’t know. Memories are overrated; blood rushing to an area of pinched skin, ignorant of everything around it. You think a greyhound would keep chasing a rabbit if it left the track? I don’t want a conch to remind me of the ocean, I want a river to walk along. And so forth.
Anyhow, in October 1999, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother thinking about where to go to college. I thought I had gotten on very cleverly; I felt like an aberration: my stoner friends were awkward around my ambition, the Dudes thought I was moody and effeminate if genial, I thought the achievers were stimulating to my mind if a little boring to my soul, and a handful of times, I had the privilege of attending AP classes drunk. I would go to music school on Saturdays in Manhattan with the style-less achievers and we’d transcribe melodies from hearing; I’d sneak away between sight-singing and whiplash lessons with my craggy viola professor and listen to Terry Riley in the upstairs library; at night, Andy and I would drive to construction sites listening to Atom and His Package (again), get there, smoke a joint, and do something romantically uncool, like look at the stars and listen to Aphex Twin. The whole thing was gorgeous.
So I said I don’t remember music; I remember it then. I went to college where Dave Berman, the singer of the Silver Jews went to college. At the time, it was also the place where Steve Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich of Pavement went; still, Berman’s the brook that some strain of my mind runs along. I remember him then because I had heard American Water a year or so earlier and it cracked the world open for me. In 2001, the year Bright Flight came out, we thought we had found the answer to our Bourbon problem; the first time I heard the album, we were drinking Fighting Cock out of coffee mugs and dallying by the train tracks with a boom box and mouthfuls of cigarettes. My friend Josh said, “I want to drive to Nashville, find his house, and knock on the door. When he opens the door, I want to give him a big hug and tell him everything is gonna be okay.” It wasn’t because we felt bad for him. It’s because we thought we knew how he felt; it’s the same thing that we’d do for each other. A year later, Joe put a sign above the doorway that served as a choose-your-own-adventure for depression: “Buck Up or Fuck Up.”
In 2005 I wanted to hug Berman more than ever, but never had he felt further from my arms. I was up to my ears in records I’ve since forgotten, caught in a stream of catch up; when Nick Southall wrote the first Soulseeking piece about overconsumption, part of me wanted to punch him in the face a little because I knew exactly what he was talking about. It made me feel bitter, it made me feel defensive. The first time I finally heard the Silver Jews’ Tanglewood Numbers in early fall, it was Just Another Record; in 2001, Bright Flight was like a chapter in a manifesto.
Now, Tanglewood Numbers is really the only musical event I remember well from this year. Wood whistle Jeff has a beard, so does Berman. Coincidence? Sometimes Jeff gets high in the morning; once he called me to tell me he had followed a fleet of cops on motorcycles with his bicycle. When they got to a dead end, Jeff just said “what are you doing?” to which one of the guys responded “we’re tryin’ out the new bikes.” I thought that was hilarious. Things were different with Berman this year. I remember when he was hilarious, too. Now, he mumbled world-weary things like “‘Happiness won’t leave me alone’ said the bird in his nest”; I got anxious and scared and thought of another Berman line, from The Natural Bridge: “Your laughter made me nervous, it made your body shake too hard.” I shook harder when he confessed: “I saw God’s shadow on this world.” I think I might’ve seen it once too, but I went back to staring at the sun.
Berman was sweet when he said that thing about, what was it? “I’ve been workin’ at the airport bar, it’s like Christmas in a submarine / Wings and brandy on a winter’s night, I guess you wouldn’t call it a scene.” It’s two days from the rebel Jew’s celebrated birthday and I’m down to one memory; I made it myself: there’s Dave Berman, looking out the window at fresh snow falling; the whole room glows orange, he stoically dries out pint glasses with a smooth, white towel. There’s Jeff, sitting at the bar with his whistle. Dave thinks Jeff’s cape is ridiculous—it is; Dave won’t interrupt him to tell him, because after the song’s over there’ll be another, and we won’t remember that one either.