Monday, June 23, 2008

Self-Discography #3: "Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine

What the hell is that?

I am in The Record Exchange in Bennington, Vermont, in the fall of 1991, and the squall of an electric guitar has hit me in the head. It sounds like someone has taken a power drill to the guitar strings and begun literally beating the instrument to death. And yet the squall is beautiful. I see the image of of something bright explode in my head and I feel like I am sinking into molasses. It is instantaneous transport to somewhere else.

It only lasts for five seconds before I realize I am surrounded by other shoppers dressed warmly in wool coats and scarves on this dreary, late fall day. We are crammed into a tiny space that is the only retail establishment in this Recession-slammed town that reminds you there are actually two colleges here. It's also the only connection I have at the moment to the music I used to find so easily back home.

I have moved here sight unseen. I only knew three things before I left Portland:

1. Vermont is bucolic.
2. Bennington College has given me a lot of financial aid.
3. I would be far, far away from Oregon.

That meant there were oh so many things I did not know, such as who the hell this band is I am hearing right now.

I amble up to the front counter and ask the guy behind the counter, "What is this?" He gives me a slight nod and hands me a jewel case with a shimmering image of a guitar bathed in what looks like a mixture of blood and strawberry Jell-O.

There is no break between power-drill-on-guitar and the subsequent muted jam of fuzziness mixed intricately with female vocals that seem unable to enunciate consonants. It is, I imagine, what it would be like if I had developed some rare disease in which musical ability combines with a slow deterioration of motor skills.

In other words, it is not Bennington, Vermont.


It isn't that I mind this place so much. In fact, I feel like I am back in Oregon--only now I am surrounded by people who are much more knowledgeable about obscure, literate, and artistic tangents than I thought was possible. I feel a bit like an idiot.

"Yeah, My Bloody Valentine. They're OK. I don't really care for a lot of the album," says Owen dismissively. He owns all the CDs I want. He's much more opinionated about music than I am. I only know what moves me. I feel it in my gut. I don't really care to know more. He can dissect the subtlest chord change and then look at you like you, too, should be able to hear it clearly.

I don't, most of the time.

Sometimes I try to argue with him, but it's like yelling at the wind. Mostly I try to change the subject. Stupidly, this time, I say, "I've never heard anything else like it."

He flashes a smile, but it's not an indulgent one. "Yeah, you seem like you'd like all that shoegazer stuff."


I try to choreograph a dance to "To Here Knows When." Alone in a dance studio at midnight with a borrowed CD player, I feel as disoriented as the song. This could work to my advantage, I think. Like every academic overachiever, I believe I can simply apply hard work to the task at hand and get the job done. But this is like getting hands on an eel. There's a shimmering rhythm here. It drones and undualtes, guitars washing over each other in a way that feels like the music is playing backwards. But it remains just out of my grasp.

About two hours in, I realize that my enthusiasm, the euphoria the music instills in me, even my gymnastics background--none of it can help me. I am floundering on the hard wood floors like a fish out of water, gasping, not a graceful conduit for the music. I don't fully understand the choreography I am trying to jot down on the notepad in the middle of this empty room. All I know is that it's the middle of the night, it's snowing outside, and in here I am getting nowhere.


The apotheosis of "Loveless" is its final song: "Soon." It gives me chills every time I hear it. Its misleading drum beat morphs it into a dance song that is broken every 30 seconds by a towering wave of noise: Guitars. Swooping, echoing voices that run in and out of one's ears. It is primal, celebratory, compulsive. I make my roommate crazy playing it. I make myself crazier by never being able to hear it loud enough.

There's a party tonight and I want the entire crowd to hear it. I want to see all of them dance, happy that it's near the end of the term. I want that revelatory catharsis that you can often only find when you're moving to the music.

It's long for a dance song, but the final 90 seconds of are a loop of drums and guitar riffs--the perfect ending for a drug- and alcohol-fueled evening. I've sheepishly made the mix tape, unsure if I will even be allowed to play it. But that's how it works. You make it, you bring it, maybe someone will be willing to put it on.

I've spent the entire Saturday perfecting the running order of songs so that it ends with "Soon." The rest of it is mostly shameless pop songs--nothing challenging, nothing that will alienate. In fact, it's probably the most upbeat thing I've ever created. And that night, after drinking more than I need to, I approach the guy with the tape, telling him, "Hey! If you can, would you play this?!" He looks at me like he'll consider it. To which I add, still yelling over the noise, "At least play the last song on Side B! It's about 7 minutes!"

I go back to the dance floor. There's the usual ("Sex Machine" by James Brown), the unexpected-even-to-me ("Join in the Chant" by Nitzer Ebb), the predictable but reliable (various Madonna), and then I hear the drum machine beginning of "Soon," squeaking out a surprised gasp to make my way back to the dance floor.

Forty-five seconds in, the beat is buried with the guitar lines and vocals and there's still a group of people on the floor bouncing, the wood springing under their feet.

And then the exodus starts.

Soon enough, only a handful of us remain. And despite the slight feeling of mortification, I am still swept up in the sound, sweaty, drink in hand in the air, spilling vodka on myself, cigarette in the other hand. I still have no idea what I'm doing here. But the bigger picture fades into five minutes of being blissed out. As I'll tell Owen later, this is hardly shoe gazing.

"Self-Discography" is a series of essays on seminal albums and songs re-reviewed, recalled, and reimagined via the lens of my memory. It is said that smell is the sense most closely linked with memory. For me, it is sound.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I thought of snappier titles, but this one kind of says it all. I cannot believe that I have lived to actually see gay marriage legalized. Yes, I know, it has been in several other places already. But today, California, where I live, started allowing same-sex marriages. Since I am a resident here, I am seeing the effect--the media, people buzzing about couples who are getting married. I've even had an invite to one such wedding. It's kept a smile on my face for most of the day.

Of all the arguments I love when it comes to this issue, it's the one about "history" that makes me laugh. For example, plenty of bigots talk about how "throughout history" and "across continents," marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Um, OK. Marriage was also about property, inheritance, land, and the complete subjugation of women to men. But let's not get into the messy details. After all, we want our bodice-ripper "historical romance" novels to ring "true."

I almost understand on some weird level those who disagree on religious terms--but only because I don't think marriage should have anything to do with religion. If it was only a civil ceremony, then... But that's a whole other story...

The best quote today came from an elected official--Republican Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa--who said he was disturbed that four people (i.e., four state supreme court justices) went against/overrode the will of the people in making this law. This rant could go on forever, but, really, let's be honest: judges of that caliber do tend to be much more intelligent than the general populace (and therefore I'd rather have them making laws since they, um, STUDIED it and PRACTICED it for decades), and they didn't achieve that position by putting daisies in rifles or wearing "No Nukes" shirts. Also, why is an elected official basically admitting by default that he's glad he's dumb, too? Oh, right, the need to look like an Everyman--a man of the people...who can then go against some of the same people who voted for him by telling them they have no legal right to be and love who they want.

So you see...we have achieved clarity.

After all, when you have the most sacred, holy vow of marriage bestowed upon you (as is your God-given right, apparently), then you can do things like this:


NC couple accused of tying son to tree charged


A couple accused of killing their 13-year-old son by tying him to a tree for two nights for punishment appeared in a courtroom Monday to face charges of murder and felony child abuse.

Attorneys appeared Monday with Brice Brian McMillan, 41, and his wife Sandra Elizabeth McMillan, 36, of Macclesfield.

"It's a sad case," defense attorney Allen Powell, who represents Brice McMillan, said after the hearing. He declined any further comment, and the couple did not enter a plea.

The county sheriff's office has said Brice McMillan told a deputy the teen was being disobedient and was forced to sleep outside last Tuesday while tied to a tree. The teen was released Wednesday morning, but again tied up that night for bad behavior.

Sheriff James Knight has said the boy was left tied to the tree until the following afternoon, when his stepmother found him unresponsive. Authorities believe the boy was bound to the tree with plastic ties and possibly other kinds of material.

Macclesfield is about 60 miles east of Raleigh.


Then again, maybe marriage should only be for straight people. We've managed to "take back" words like "queer" and "fag"; can't we come up with a pseudonym for "marriage"? I see why it shouldn't be like that, trust me. And I most certainly see why people like Newt Gingrich and John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, etc. etc. get a chance to try their hand at marriage AS MANY TIMES AS THEY WANT. They're simply better than the rest of us.

Of course, this new right we have as gay Californians could disappear come November when all the right-wing nutballs and closet cases and conservatives who are afraid of anything not sold at Wal-Mart vote to ban same-sex marriage. To that, I say, when you know a party might go on for only so long, you make the most of the time you have.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Welcome to My Home

I realize that very few people I know have been to my apartment. What the...? I guess when Steve was living here with the dogs and so much Chinese furniture, I honestly did not feel much like it was my space. Then, Ryan moved in last December, and slowly, slowly, it's become much more a place I want people to feel comfortable in. So, yeah, I suppose a party is in order. I just need to get a few more things on the walls and that pesky rug for the living room... In the meantime, you get these snippets:

How about that view from the bathroom, eh? When you take a bath in the old seafoam green porcelain tub, this is what you can gaze at. Or, if you prefer, you can see it from the toilet, too:

First off, understand this is a two-story, two-bedroom apartment built in the 1930s with old French windows, hardwood floors, and lots of airflow (thankfully, since there is no A/C). The upstairs hallway is now tastefully decorated with a skull, books, and plants:

Specially for Kathleen: My newly acquired 1940s waterfall dresser is topped off with my old bunny bank. Why yes, it does have eyelashes and a fake fur boa around its neck, thanks for asking. Most people are freaked out by it. Ryan saw it and just said, "That is so cool." First sign he was a keeper. Oh, and those are flax weavings I learned to do when I went to New Zealand. A cool Maori woman fed me fresh fruit as we sat on her floor of her rural house on the North Island and she tirelessly showed me what to do; it poured down rain outside the entire time.

Slowly but surely we're collecting some taxidermy. Here's something tame in that dept.--a cool butterfly display Ryan found in Palm Springs. Also in the main bedroom.

The dining room. Not seen: the 1970s Danish dining room table. Seen: the 1970s light fixture, wall of antlers, and the painting of a boy and his banana. You can take from that what you will.

Sitting on the windowbox sill in the kitchen, we have a sampling of the objets d'art that are tastefully arranged there, including Ryan's bird salt and pepper shakers and the measuring spoons Nicole gave me oh so long ago...

And what house is complete without a Garfield fish tank (the fish will sit in his belly), a reclining glamorous woman figurine, and a coconut mailed from Molokai (thanks, James!)?

I could, of course, take room shots and let you see how pretty it really is. But why would I want to do all that? Then you'd never come over for dinner, drinks, or cards.
You know who you are. An invitation is forthcoming.