Good morning ~ ~ ~
I wanted to make something this week that sounded like it was just barely being held together, like a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter in the rain. I twisted the delay knob on my new little keyboard and let the notes warp. Almost a week later I wrote about hearing the sounds of people’s voices in the distance, bent by the speed of the roller coaster they were riding. I didn’t realize these things were similar until just now, when I brought them together for you. The image is from a long day of assembling LP inserts - - they’re almost ready for you.
I hope you enjoyed the new song I put out this week. It’s been really wonderful sharing this stuff with you, with everyone, and I really appreciate the time and attention. I thought I’d write more in depth today about (one aspect of) that song, and maybe I’ll spend the next few weeks using the songs from the new record as prompts. If you missed it on Tuesday, this is “Am I Doing Right by You,” the song I’ve written about below.
I really can’t believe it but we’re just a little over two weeks away from Youth Pastoral coming out. I feel sort of pleasantly surprised we’ve gotten to this point. It’s really, actually happening and you will hear it soon. That date is Feb 28 (again) ~ ~ I will certainly let you know when we get there. And if you’re in NYC, please consider coming to the release show ~ ~ ~
Also - this coming Sunday there’s an incredibly good show at Tortoise Town (also known as my living room). rbke will be playing an actual harp live (!! and her recent EP is extremely good), the cello-and-guitar duo Quarterly will be playing (!! an actual cello live), and Pat Kelly will start us of with some of his songs. Starts around 8pm, ask me for the address if you’d like to join ~ ~ ~
Am I doing right by you?
I remember the room where this song first started.
It was late afternoon in late summer and I was in a cute hotel room in Vienna that overlooked a long, lovely running path, lined with trees. The light was nice, vividly yellow-orange and slanting onto the bedspread. Just beyond the greenery was the Prater amusement park, filled with carnival games, bumper cars, fried foods, and that enormous, famous ferris wheel, featured on every postcard of Vienna and, menacingly, that one scene from the Third Man. From our room we could hear the sound of clanging metal and distant screams bent by the motion of the roller coasters and, just below that, muffled European pop. We spent a lot of time that week drinking coca cola mixed with a weed tincture brilliantly concealed from travel authorities in a bottle that formerly held a Mario Badescu skincare serum. We'd get incredibly stoned, the kind of stoned where walking somewhere requires consciously acknowledging each portion of each motion - first I lift my foot, then I push it forward, then I transfer my weight. At night we'd gingerly plod around the Prater, mutely receiving the rhythms of the blinking lights. Those were the rare moments of peace, the rare moments when we weren't fighting, the rare moments there was no drinking.
We were unbelievably travel weary at this point and could no longer stand each other, much less regard each other romantically or sexually. The week before we arrived in Vienna we had traveled to to the island Santorini, all bright blue domes and donkeys clopping on cobblestones. Though it was easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been there was an evil wind that gusted through our tiny stone rental, slamming the wooden shutters again and again. We drank our instant coffee as the sun rose over the ocean before us, growing smaller and smaller as we were dwarfed by exhaustion. Before that we had been in Athens, where we never learned to use public transit. We walked everywhere, sweating prodigiously, our feet sang like tuning forks and our inner thighs chafed. Before that we had been in Ioannina, and on the island in the center of the lake in the center of town I remember after walking around with my shirt off aggressively chugging a cheap, skinny jug of ouzo, tipping the bottle with furrowed brows and anger and frustration welling in my chest. I was drinking at this person, and I realized she had been drinking at me for months. Before that we had been in Albania where wild dogs ran rampant in the capital city. I played a show on the lawn of the National Gallery for 100 Euro. I was ostensibly on tour and did play many shows (on the roof of a bookstore at dusk in Greece, for example), but in our attempts to make the airfare and the trip over worth our while we stayed as long as we could. Which turned out to be much, much longer than we ought to have stayed. Sometimes I think we thought that the time together and the many, many train trips and the dark sweat stains left on our bodies where our backpacks rested would fix what had gone wrong between us, would correct the path, make us less despicable to each other. That's not exactly how it happened.
Once, at dinner, before it continued to get worse, I was talking about whatever I was writing in my notebook that day. Not a particularly interesting topic, sure, but I wasn't getting any response at all from the person sitting across from me, just scornful silence. She continued eating, tightly jawed, as if I wasn't there at all. I'd ask a question and she wouldn't look up from her plate. I got increasingly desperate to be heard, I was thrashing internally, starting to lose my shit, and then increasingly desperate to be loved, in that ugly, hyperventilating way. I’m not proud of this. I started saying, louder and louder, you have to LIKE me you at least have to LIKE me you have to at least pretend and let me believe that you LIKE me. She looked up from her plate, making eye contact for the first time, and didn't say a word. It was enough to let me know that we were beyond pretending.
This desperate, alienated atmosphere is the air we were breathing that afternoon in the hotel. There were still little pleasures - we kept making use of the free espresso machine in the cafe downstairs and we'd eat little spicy handfuls of arugula straight from the bag as the amusement park churned in the distance. We had seen so much over the course of the trip, we had seen a big chunk of the world and each other's deepest vulnerabilities, we had exhausted our voices from screaming at each other under the pretense that our language wouldn't be understood in a foreign country (but everyone understands a couple arguing). We had weirdly grown comfortable in the tension. Though I could probably count on one hand the number of times we had any mutual spark of desire we were completely dependent on each other and even more intimate. So close that we acted as one, and we both kind of hated ourselves. Inextricable.
By that point on the trip I was rarely picking up my guitar for any reason other than to try and make a little money at a gig. But in that moment of afternoon repose, for whatever reason, I started strumming on it, empty of mind. I played the first two chords and started singing to myself what became the first line of the song - she's my good luck and my bad luck following me around, I could hear you pulling away from me when I tried to pray. I snuck the melody onto a recording on my phone.
Months later, after even more turmoil following a deeply unsuccessful attempt to reintegrate into a more normal life together back in New York, I listened back to my long list of voice memos. I heard that first line, I heard that rising melody, and I no longer knew exactly what I meant. To whom was I praying, via what method? What cosmic force was pulling away? I felt for the first time the venn diagram overlap of an immovable partner and an impenetrable void left by a departed creator. I remembered the song I had written about being baptized in the ocean, I remembered the song I had written about my hometown, I remembered the new songs I was writing about the surreal, dreamlike clearing I had found recently myself (like a fire alarm suddenly turning off, you can live in the negative space). I saw that this song was a hinge, the point of confrontation, the place where the phrase "oh, my god" loses all meaning, no longer a burp of supplication, no longer an exclamation, just sounds and syllables.
Thanks for reading ~ ~ more soon.