This is a weekly newsletter where I send out a new “nice sounding” track, some writing, and a picture of something I saw. It’s also one way I let people know what I’m up to otherwise. Thank you for reading. You can hear every single My Big Break track in one playlist right here.
Good morning ~
I wanted to make something gentle but firm, both comforting and reassuringly muscular, so the bass frequencies on this track swell and throb like a river running over its banks. I feel as if I have more-or-less made this track before - the spacey electric piano, the droning sample of my own voice played on a broken keyboard in the background - but, using that river metaphor again, sometimes it’s nice to try and step back into the same one and have a look around.
That photo is from my living room where I have been spending a lot of time lately, and also where I’ve been playing a lot of video games. I took that photo while my roommate Matt Evans was setting up for a livestream. I’m glad we have streams but they’re really not the same as having a show (real question - should I do more? I can’t tell if it’s something that people want or not). Matt has a really good record coming out next week on Whatever’s Clever - - he put out a really sick music video for one of the tracks this week, you should watch it. And maybe pre-order a copy.
What a strange time to be a musician (what a strange time to do anything!). I don’t have anything to plug necessarily this week but I just want to say - - please continue checking out/being interested/listening to Youth Pastoral, if you are so inclined. Thank you very much.
On one sunny afternoon, when for just a moment you have almost forgotten about the current predicament while lost in a repetitive task, your roommate comes up to you to ask you a question. It is a beautiful day, the windows are open, it feels both still and active in the house. He says, do you want to celebrate tomb sweeping day? You say yes, then ask, what exactly does that mean? And he explains that it is a Chinese holiday, where normally you go to the tombs or the graves of your ancestors or your dearly departed and burn effigies of various things that might be useful in the afterlife, especially cash. This time of year in Chinatown you can find easily flammable paper versions of just about anything overflowing from the various shops. But you can’t go to Chinatown, not really, and you can’t go to visit the ancestors directly. So at the appointed time, in the mid-afternoon, you and roommates gather at the kitchen table to draw versions of things you imagine your grandparents are missing from our realm: citrus fruits, and enormous jug of Carlo Rossi wine, a reasonable hatchback, an iMac, a large bowl of noodles. You sit quietly at the kitchen table with your two roommates using colored pencils to illustrate these little sacrifices - the grain of the table prints itself against the back-and-forth strokes of your colored pencil, so your mandarin orange (you draw the green little leaves) looks like it’s made out of both wood and paper. And will in fact be turned to ash shortly. The three of you descend - you’re wearing sweatpants and birkenstocks - down the stairs from the tiny back patio of your apartment. You lift the safety gate that keeps the manic, vocal pit bull from coming up to your back door carrying a mini-barbecue left by some previous resident of the building. Your roommate carries enormous sticks of incense - comically large and purported to smell of “kush.” The bodega on the corner - which is your favorite - has unceremoniously closed in the last couple of days with no note and no notice, and when you roommate tried to go there he found the metal roll gate down. So he got the incense elsewhere, they’re two feet long, and the three of you take out three sticks each and mash them together against the lighter, waiting for them to catch. One at a time, you approach the mini barbecue, semi-ceremoniously set up on the skewed slabs of concrete in the rear of the downstairs neighbor’s backyard. You each bow three times, and stick your incense in the semi-wet mud under your feet. You notice how the trees are blooming, you remark on each one in sight. You gather around the mini barbecue and begin lighting your various drawings. They catch slowly, curling first in the heat and starting to smoke before the first lick of flames appear. The fake hundred dollar bills - leftover from a music video shoot or maybe a drag performance your roommate did - are first to go, and the smoke rises from then gently at first, the insistently, and your roommate tosses the first few into the mini-barbecue almost as if bitten by a snake. Then the reasonable hatchback, the jug of wine, everything is thrown in the mini-barbecue, all becomes smoke and ash, spiraling up to heaven along with the smell of kush. You are all laughing and having a good time, it feels surreal and otherworldly, but surreal and otherworldly in a way that your day-to-day life does not, in other words it feels like other worlds are actually possible, that there is life and other days and a past and a future to grab hold of just beyond the fence line of your backyard. That there is a heavenly dome towards which to send these objects via fire - the swirling smoke just barely contained with the black, rounded lid of the barbecue feels like the promise of something else. And as you depart, the barbecue still warm in your grasp, you step directly in dog shit - an encounter with the outside world.
Later that same week (how is this possibly true) you are invited to participate in a digital seder. There are a number of these types of Passovers being planned but this, the seder held by the family of your departed friend (the one who you considered drawing a juul pod for on that sunny afternoon but - you were embarrassed, somehow, and also is a friend an ancestor? Does someone younger than you - someone who will forever remain younger than you - qualify as someone whose tomb can be swept? You realize as soon as the ceremony is over that of course they are, a friend is someone who precedes you on your walk towards becoming kind to yourself). You are touched by the invitation, and though you and your friend are intimidated by the many-hours-long itinerary provided by the family day-of and decide to participate in a limited capacity, you prepare your meals, set up the gear, and begin beaming your voices and images into the many collective dining rooms of the gathered clan. You’ve missed most of the ceremonial proceedings but the family is happy to see you, warm and inviting, but not so excited that they make a huge deal out of it. They make it feel like it is perfectly normal for you to be there, and in this way you are welcomed, even though the connection is kind of awful and you can only make out every third word or so. People talk over themselves and they talk of normal, boring things - what’s everyone watching on television these days - but it is the kind of gathering where, besides the haggadah, what’s discussed isn’t really the point - the point is having gathered, and the 40-or-so people in the video call are there, struggling to effectively communicate but singing happy birthday to the 70 year old nonetheless. Many have provided their own candles to hold and blow out on his behalf, and he seems happy if a bit embarrassed by the cake set in front of him. Dogs are presented, everyone loves it, somebody asks you about the short shorts you have chosen to wear to dinner.
Though you are happy to join - honored, really - the proceedings, particularly the tuneless singing of certain parts of the text, fill you with a tremendous longing. A longing for actual bodies in a room, for the company of your chosen family, to hang with your friend (whose mannerism you recognize in the faces of her brothers as they swap out backgrounds on the call), for ritual and regularity. Jewish things also fill you with a certain feeling - you think of your Dad’s family, completely unobservant but decidedly Jewish, your Grandpa allegedly only spoke yiddish until he was five, but you never went deep on the traditions, never learned the gestures, never read from right to left. In some history-sweeping echo they are your people, you feel drawn - like a dowsing rod to water - to these practices and communities (you are, also, perhaps a bit surprisingly in this context, extremely disappointed that a man who sounds like your uncle will not be elected president this year). These thousand year histories, these escapes, these prevailing encounters from millennia ago with execution plagues. These people, half your people, lived to wander through a desert. And you, too - surely - will once again have the rest of your 400 years, dogshit in the tread of your Birkenstocks.
What are the ceremonies you are performing? What are you burning and sending to heaven? Are you watching the smoke rise? What bitter herb are you eating? Is a toothpick the best way to get the shit out from under your shoes? What echoes are you hearing when it all gets quiet?
Thanks for reading. I hope you feel the love in this email, and I hope you send it on back to me.