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3/19/18

Is it true what they say, that all good things must come to an end? It’s at least half right; all things must end, at whatever time their end is met, whether they’ve been good things or bad things or anything in between. So it is today, from a one-room home in Phoenix, that I will write a final entry in this here blog, nearly 10 years after beginning it from a tiny third-floor bedroom in a Georgetown row house.

This ending is not meant to signify an end of my love for music, songwriting and active listening — nor will I end my exploration of these things in written form or otherwise. But this blog, this forum, this means, is something I can no longer commit creative energies to. And that’s OK.

I thought today was the right day to write this farewell because I listened to the new record from The Decemberists, and was immediately hooked on the opening lines from track one: “Oh, for once in my/Oh, for once in my life/Could just something go/Could just something go right?” Backed by acoustic guitar, highlighted with harmonies the second time around with a quick pick-up from the tambourine, it’s a beautifully crafted and powerful song — and such a perfect sentiment to hear put to music as I begin a new chapter, with so much ahead of me and so much to leave on the cutting room floor. I’m taking the best from the old world while I begin the new, as we do with any change in life, and to be accompanied by greats like The Decemberists is a warm comfort. The record, I’ll Be Your Girl, is rich and layered, edgy and nerdy, in true Decemberists form, and I’m looking forward to playing it again and again.

I’m still forever struck by these moments of musical magic, even if I no longer write about them. I like to think I’ve reserved a special place in my heart and mind for hearing the right song at the right time, and that I’ve documented enough of these moments in a decade to see some through-lines. Like what it means to be stilled to the bone by someone’s work, how it feels to be frozen in your tracks when something fits just right. How the proper amount of sadness can somehow cure yours. How the loudest volume on earbuds can hurt so good. How the right words and the right notes can turn your outlook around on a dime.  These moments have stunned me, surprised me and saved me — and even if I’m not writing about them anymore, I’ll be looking for them on every next listen.

Until we meet again,
MD

 

“Oh, for once in my
Oh, for once in my life
Could just something go
Could just something go right?

I’ve been waiting all my life
I’ve been waiting all my life
All my life
My life
All my life
All my life.”

~Once In My Life

The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl

9/11/17

I have to apologize to/forgive myself for the lack of posts lately — I think the past month was the longest I’ve gone without posting in the nine-year history of this blog. It wasn’t because of lack of new music to love — if anything, the amount of music I’ve been getting lost in has peaked for the year and I couldn’t decide where to begin or what to get done first (The War on Drugs! Iron and Wine! BRAND NEW?!?!?! More on that TK).

But this day, this historic day, this anniversary of the tragedy that changed the course of human history, is a day that I do not let go by without getting some kind of words down. I remember pouring out poetry in the days that followed 9/11, scribbling stanzas into agenda margins and in fur-covered novelty journals. None of it was very good. Much of it rhymed. All of it was my personal plea for the world to heal and to love itself, a hope I held onto well into my adult years. I’ve tried to remain the sociopolitical optimist, retaining some idea that our best selves would come forward in the name of Doing Good and give us something to aspire to. Suffice to say, that hope today is as dim as ever. With so much hate and divisiveness, that hope is a flickering wisp of a flame.

The cynicism of our times is well-earned and understandable — how can anyone hold onto hope when the world feels on fire? Yet the glimmer of our best nature provides little victories, when you can find it: the song that brings a tear to your eye, the paragraph that distills exactly how you feel about something or someone, the kind stranger on the subway who holds open the door as someone runs to it, the volunteers helping those who lost everything due to natural disasters.  I remember feeling that glimmer one day earlier this year, on a Saturday in January when millions of women and men flocked to my neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles to let their voice be heard. I stood on a sidewalk with my headphones on and played Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” on repeat, feeling full and raw and revealed and at home. I felt comfort in chaos. I felt inspired to let love of humanity inspire me again, and allowed it to beat back the cynicism, if only for those minutes.

No matter the size of the struggles that are behind us, they pale in comparison to the greatness that comes after. It feels, to me, as if the struggle that began sixteen years ago is still working its way through our politics and our culture and our world. I hope to one day see the other side.

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight…”

~The Rising
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

6/20/17

Anyone who put out their best songs or albums of the year lists before listening in full to Lorde’s Melodrama is most definitely missing something. She’s created one of the most stunning pieces of art to hit mainstream audiences this year — especially from a female artist. She offers a reclamation for any girl that’s been described as “crazy,” “intense” or “too much,” any girl who was burned for feeling out her own human experience.

Lorde’s songs on this album are equal parts vulnerable and empowering. She’s lamenting love gone away, but she’s not about to feel sorry for herself. At first listen, I jumped around on the tracks, and “Hard Feelings/Loveless” was one of the first song to really stop me in my tracks, with vivid descriptions of conversation and feeling. She nails internal emotional strife with visceral and meaningful metaphors, (“Cause I remember the rush, when forever was us/Before all of the winds of regret and mistrust”) over a mixture of beats and synthy tones that feels very now. “Writer in the Dark,” with its piano backbone, is a vigorous and powerful kiss-off that culminates with a falsetto-driven refrain, and a truly honest ode to the damage left by a broken relationship and the way one rebuilds.

“Liability” might be one of the best songs I’ve heard all year, a sad and strong tale of being cast aside. “You’re a little much for me/you’re a liability,” she sings from the voice of others. But something in her perception has such a confidence, as if he is more cognizant of the others’ own shortcomings instead of whatever of those are perceived in her. It’s the perfect anthem for anyone who has felt like their emotional well was brimming over their edges, so much so that others had to turn away as if the problem was in their feelings and not someone else’s inability to empathize. I can’t help but listen to this song and think of all the times I felt too much feeling, as if I couldn’t keep it inside my own skin….Lorde know this feeling inside and out, and she shares it freely with her listeners, an understanding delivered in sheer poetry.

The hype around this album was a rare instance where it was well-deserved. Every word that is written or spoken about this album ought to give credit where credit is due, for someone to open up a vein like this and pour it all out, leaving a beautiful mess for the rest of us to reflect on and bathe in. It’s inspiring, really, what she has done here and the way she carries herself, the way she moves other, the way she is so true to her identity a writer above all else.

“Baby really hurt me
Crying in the taxi
He don’t wanna know me
Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm
Says it was poison
So I guess I’ll go home
Into the arms of the girl that I love
The only love I haven’t screwed up
She’s so hard to please
But she’s a forest fire

I do my best to meet her demands
Play at romance, we slow dance
In the living room, but all that a stranger would see
Is one girl swaying alone
Stroking her cheek
They say, ‘You’re a little much for me
You’re a liability
You’re a little much for me’
So they pull back, make other plans
I understand, I’m a liability
Get you wild, make you leave
I’m a little much for
Everyone…”

~Liability
Lorde, Melodrama

1/30/17

Ever see a project or a performance and think to yourself, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?!” Last last year, punk news outlets bubbled up with postings about a fellow who wrote a screenplay off of one of my favorite albums: On the Impossible Past by The Menzingers. What a concept! OTIP is a deeply literally, emotional ride of a rock record, and writer Adam Reiss took its core meaning and messages to develop a plot and  characters for “On the Impossible Future.”

I read through his screenplay and immediately reached out to Adam, wanting to learn more about how he let his imagination run away with him to create a love story between Greg, a down-on-himself Philly boy and Casey, the spirited waitress who gives him something to live for and love, inspired by these songs that have come to mean so much to me over the years. I was also curious about the feedback he received to this project, knowing that fans can be pretty touchy about their sacred songs.

Talking with Adam (who turns out to be quite the intrepid world traveler) over the past few weeks was a treat — what follows is a lightly edited transcript of a Q&A. Check out his screenplay, or at least play “After the Party” real loud while reading this. Thanks to Adam for opening up to me and for The Menzingers for bringing us all together.

First off, how did you discover The Menzingers/On the Impossible Past? What spoke to you in their music? 

I first heard the Menzingers when “A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology” came on my Against Me! Pandora station and I was into it because it kind of reminded me of old AM! But I didn’t get super into them until OTIP came out. I remember checking out the punknews.org stream (which, by the way, was terrible quality) as a casual fan, more curious than anything, and when I got to “Casey” I had a “woah, this is something special” moment.

I was 22 at the time, in my last year of college. It was an emotionally turbulent time for me and all of the themes of the album fit with what I was going through — feeling like good things only fall apart, getting high all the time, self-loathing, falling in and out of love, drinking a lot, going to shows, constantly wanting to escape to somewhere far away. “Casey” is probably my favorite track because it has all of those things and wraps them up in a way that is painfully romantic. And man, what a catchy chorus. Favorite non-OTIP track and criminally underrated Menz song: “My Friend Chris.”

When you first started working on this, what came easily? What was a challenge?

The easiest thing was probably creating Chris’s character. He’s such an outrageous person, always saying something vulgar — and he’s kind of a dick to be honest. But I’d like to think he’s a lovable dick and he serves to off-set a lot of Greg’s mopiness. I partially modeled him after a friend of mine, so a lot of writing his dialogue was just thinking “What would so-and-so say here?” Any scene with Chris was a blast to write.

The challenge was figuring out the plot. I really wanted to tell the story that I felt was in OTIP and spent a lot of time studying lyrics as if I was trying to crack a code, to decipher the plot secretly kept inside the songs, but obviously it doesn’t work that way.

My first draft was about 40 pages shorter than it is now and there just wasn’t much story there, I think because I was too focused on directly translating the album into a movie rather than developing a story. Subsequent drafts were each a bit better, but it took a long time for me to feel satisfied with the plot.

How often did you listen to the album for inspiration/what role did it play during the process of writing?

Man, I listened to the album non-stop. I’m honestly surprised I still haven’t worn it out yet. It’s one of those albums where I found myself putting on a specific track to listen for something in the lyrics/to get inspiration and then I’d find myself listening to the whole album all the way through.

Like I said before, I initially tried too hard to translate the album directly into a film. I really, really wanted a scene with Chris and Greg in a CVS parking lot, for example, but couldn’t figure out how to work it in. I also had Casey quoting Leonard Cohen in bed in one draft a la Sun Hotel. Eventually, I moved past trying to make “On the Impossible Past: The Movie,” and started using the album as more of a mood board, as a guide of overall themes and emotions, and that really helped me develop the plot a bit more.

Your description of this project sounds like it was a labor of love. How did you motivate yourself to keep writing? 

I started the project in my last quarter of college and had to complete the first fifteen pages for my screenwriting class, so for the first bit (which sometimes is the hardest part, getting a creative project off the ground) I was lucky to have an entire class pushing me.

After graduation I moved back in with my parents and struggled to find a job. The pairing of these two things left me feeling pretty worthless. I used this project as something I could do every day, some semblance of routine that would also be rewarding and help me feel like I wasn’t just wasting my days as an unemployed piece of shit. And of course, searching for a job, I was hoping that the screenplay would be my ticket to my dream career — getting paid to write. Thinking “this will help me achieve my dreams” is a good motivator, turns out.

Which themes from the album did you want to focus on the most? What lines/verses really drove your plot? 

Definitely the theme of having a relationship based on drugs, alcohol, and punk rock and then having things fall apart. In fact, seeing that written out, that’s basically a summary of the entire screenplay. Also, the theme of escape in various forms.

Going through the lyrics, I really latched onto every line about Casey (anything to do with a waitress, diner, most of the title track’s lyrics) and going to Mexico — and these were probably what made me feel like there was a story threaded throughout the lyrics, what made me want to dig deeper and feel like it was possible to write a screenplay based on the album in the first place.

How did you feel when this was done enough to share for public consumption? What’s the response been like? 

I went through a lot of stages of loving and loathing this project over the past few years. I wanted to move past it and start working on new things, but I also just couldn’t let the thing go. So finally, it reached a point where I felt I absolutely couldn’t work on it anymore without getting outside feedback. I was too close to it and needed a fresh perspective. It felt like it was 90% finished and the last 10% couldn’t be accomplished without feedback (and feedback from strangers, people who don’t care about my feelings).

In that sense, posting this online and getting a response has been incredibly helpful (and cathartic). I’ve gotten a full range of responses, ranging from one guy who went through each song on OTIP and wrote about how he felt the screenplay connects to it, to a girl who told me the entire thing is extremely sexist. I’m nearly ready to work on my next (and potentially final) batch of edits using all of the comments and criticism I’ve gotten so far, which I’m pretty stoked about.

I’m amazed at how attached some people are to the project and I think that speaks volumes for just how meaningful OTIP is for so many people, which in and of itself is a heartwarming experience — to connect with people around a shared appreciation of art and to also feel like my work is having the sort of impact that inspired me to start this in the first place. Even people who have something negative to say, we can still find common ground with how much we love this album and usually something constructive can come from that. No one has just been like “this sucks, quit” and left it at that. Which is encouraging.

Anything else about what you learned as writer/listener?

I learned I really, really like vibrato in punk songs. I learned I love writing dialogue but hate writing action and descriptions. I learned to let go of my babies and cut scenes or jokes that don’t add to the screenplay even though I think they’re amazing. I learned Menzingers fans are super helpful and willing to go out of their way to connect with total strangers. I learned a lot of completing a project is just sitting down routinely and doing work. Even if it’s a little bit each day, that’s still progress. And recently I learned how to make small adjustments to make sure that women readers/audience members don’t feel demonized. All valuable lessons, I’d say.

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