today’s track features Gabriele Turcinovich on guitar :)
There are eerie moments when your experience in life feels suspiciously neat, tidy in a way that feels like whoever is stringing circumstance and coincidence together has run out of ingredients. And when it happens it sometimes makes you think that the world is made of cardboard and house paint, a cheap little illusion, you could blow the next block over with a deep enough breath.
In the fall of 2009 a college buddy of mine used his status as a very occasional freelancer for a DIY music website to get press passes to a wildly stacked weekend music festival at a rundown resort in the Catskills. He invited me along as his photographer, which was funny because I was neither a photographer nor did I even own a digital camera - we borrowed his sister's and I read articles about "how to shoot concert photography" in the car on the way.
It was a tremendous weekend of music - there were Japanese psych-rock blowouts and all-white grand pianos and mosh pits and strobe lights and two old men playing the loudest music I have ever heard. It was grueling and wonderful and overstuffed and our ears and backs ached and I took some truly horrible photographs that we sheepishly turned in to the editor. And among all that wonderful, one performance really stood out. They weren't a legacy act, it wasn't some gimmicky, elaborate production. They were just a really fucking good band - tight, polished, fierce, and having the time of their lives. The best thing I saw all weekend was a three-person band called Akron/Family.
They blew us away - their set was jammy and chaotically improvised but full of seamless transitions and feedback and perfect three-part harmonies and drum machines. They were spectacularly in their element and enjoying themselves more than anyone else I saw in those shabby, rundown rooms. And, to our great surprise, the bassist agreed to talk to us for an interview. He was so fucking cool about it, he talked to us in the carpeted lobby for over an hour, telling us why he felt what he did was valid, and why he loved doing it, and he made sure to know who we were and why he was talking to us. His name was Miles.
In the following few years I continued seeing his band and listening to his records whenever I could. Our paths kept almost crossing - we even regularly recorded at the same studio in Greenpoint. I always wondered if he'd remember talking to an overeager, younger version of me in the Catskills.
I started putting out my own records, and through my having some extremely good luck via online music piracy I started playing a lot of shows in Italy. I was touring there a lot in the mid 2010s and earnestly considered relocating. When I mentioned this to some of my Italian friends they said it might be a good idea, take a look at Miles from Akron/Family - he just moved here. I started seeing his name just before mine or just after mine at venues and festivals - he'd play there one week and I'd play there the next. We even recorded live videos from the same exact warehouse. But our paths were parallel - - they never crossed.
A few years later I spent a year more or less stuck at home, just like everyone else. Prior to quarantine I was possibly unhealthily obsessed with going to the gym and running on the treadmill. The pandemic felt a lot like being thrown from a treadmill, actually, and of course I stopped going to the gym six days a week. Then I twisted the goddamn shit out of my ankle and exercise was impossible for a while. I gained weight, moved north out of the city, and got snowed in for weeks.
My partner is a sculptor whose work is constantly crossing or erasing the boundaries between digital objects and real objects, so it makes sense that she would start working in virtual reality. She got one of those funny VR helmets to wear and work in and started making things in VR space and then 3D printing them in physical space. Eventually she figured out that people were using these funny VR helmets for exercise and she started messing around with VR kickboxing. She immediately recommended it to me, hoping it might scratch that obsessive-exercise itch of mine. And she was totally right. I got deep into the helmet.
Anyone who has had a verbal conversation with me in the last two weeks has heard me talk about how incredible and surprisingly hard it is to work out with the video game helmet covering half of my face. I'm doing about an hour a day of various games and sweating as hard or harder as I ever did when I ran on the treadmill for an hour. There's one program in-particular that I find super effective. Basically, well, you, uh - - there are these black and white targets that fly at you and you have to hit them with these VR bats, but then there are also these pyramids that come flying at you and you have to squat or lunge, and then all of this stuff can come in 360 degrees, and also there's really loud music playing (today I did a workout program to Blink-182 and Paramore, it ruled). Also you float on this platform and there are all these really beautiful, immersive places that look surprisingly real, although sometimes they're alien planets. And for every workout there's an actual trainer person who actually appears in a video to warm you up and cool you down, then the whole time you're working out they say encouraging things and tell little stories about how much they like the music.
It's really dumb, and if you think too hard about what's happening it feels like a cheap, cardboard trick - you could knock it right over. But if you can forget how wildly stupid you must look punching the air in your little helmet it can be extremely fun, and fun is hard to come by these days, plus my butt feels really strong after a few weeks of this.
One night recently I was innocuously looking at social media and saw some terrible news - word was going around that Miles from Akron/Family, that band I loved so much and still do, had passed away. Details were scant but it seemed to be true. I was really taken aback, and started reading whatever I could find to confirm the story and confirm my own feelings. I looked at pictures from that weekend in 2009, I listened to his tunes, I tried to remember what he had told me ten years ago that made such an impression and found that I couldn't piece it together. But I kept listening to the music, and that said enough. I heard it loud and clear.
A few days went by. I was looking for advice on how to keep my helmet from fogging up while I was doing my VR workouts, so I checked the official online community to see if anyone had found a solution. But instead of practical advice, I saw a tremendous outpouring of love for one of the trainers in the app - one that I feel particularly connected to because she keeps talking about how much she loves house music. Everyone was showing concern, something terrible had happened but I couldn't figure out what. It's a strange thing, putting on this helmet really makes you feel like you're there in these digital places, and it really makes you feel like these trainers are with you, whispering encouragement through every squat. I don't know these people, but I feel that I do. And they are actual people.
I found a post that this trainer had written - identity, avatar, digital, blur. Tragically, her husband had very unexpectedly been in a fatal car accident. He was an amazing guy, she wrote, and wanted to tell this funny community of exercisers a little bit about him. He had had a tough life but he was still full of joy and wonder. He was an amazing person. And he played in a band called Akron/Family, his name was Miles.
Our paths almost crossing once again in this wildly corny virtual space, a place that brings me real movement and joy. Tempting to think you could blow all the cardboard over. But what it really is, I think, is that goodness pools, and those who inspire lightness and euphoria in other people are remembered well, and that the eerie connections are there if you are open enough.
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good morning -
Thank you for letting me untangle what feels like an extremely wild confluence of interests, events, and persons this week.
I am VERY HAPPY that my dear friend Gabriele Turcinovich lent me his lovely guitar playing for this week’s track. He’s such a sweet dude, and his playing here is so nice, just the right amount of bite.
I’m starting to integrate performances and recordings from friends and strangers into these weekly tracks - - I’d love to make something with you, please get in touch if you’d like to make something gentle together.
A plug: this coming Sunday is the one-year anniversary of my record YOUTH PASTORAL, so instead of wallowing in how I haven’t really played a show since I’m going to celebrate the evening with a livestream via bandcamp. Paid subscribers of this newsletter are entitled to this for free (message me!), otherwise you can get a ticket right here. Here’s a fun flyer I whipped up:
But what about you? What paths are parallel? Are you punching through your enemy, not just to them? Are you telling everyone you encounter what you believe?