I Need to Start a Garden

I knew bet­ter than to skip out on Haley Heynderickx’s recent live show in Port­land while I was still around, but friends from home were able to see her here, where she appar­ent­ly slipped up on a line once or twice in the most charm­ing way — you know the kind of wor­ry that’s spurned by brute force earnest­ness in the present day: it’s a pan­ic that screams pro­tect the fuck­ing sweet­heart! The mad world is com­ing! Though even if one should wish to belit­tle her so, the chal­lenge would be a steep one. Any human being respon­si­ble for blend­ing such sin­cer­i­ty with metic­u­lous the­o­ry and 100%-fresh song­writ­ing is of a qual­i­ty your lazy ass would be bonkers to deride.

I’m not here to review I Need to Start a Gar­den, because that’d be futile and redun­dant. The estab­lish­ment music media man­aged to see the mag­ic — even NPR pub­lished an album review along with Pitch­fork, Pop­Mat­ters, The Young Folks, and Haley’s home­town Mer­cury. I am here only to make sure those of you like me who are made very uncom­fort­able by most indie folk — espe­cial­ly from the North­west — set aside your assump­tions for at least a few min­utes to give this LP a chance, because it is absolute­ly brim­ming with the sub­stance I spent a whole year whin­ing about nev­er being able to find in Pot­land. Ms. Heyn­d­er­ickx proves through her song­writ­ing, alone, that she has a place among the cir­cle of folk sto­ry­tellers and riv­er sages remain­ing con­tent­ly in the bilges of rur­al Amer­i­ca, but this thing is so much more. She has clear­ly suf­fered, but the insight she’s able to effec­tive­ly con­vey so ethe­re­al­ly is not some­thing young human beings should ignore or take for grant­ed.

I just spent a good por­tion of the night prepar­ing a con­densed mix of the album for a friend’s school album analy­sis pre­sen­ta­tion. As we scrolled through 7 of its 8 tracks, the true tech­ni­cal mas­tery involved in the pro­duc­tion of the work became much more appar­ent than it had been at first lis­ten, just after its release all those months ago. Not that I’m try­ing to sug­gest that the indie scene needs “tech­ni­cal pol­ish” — the mon­ey is in those words and arrange­ments, babies — just that I hadn’t rec­og­nized the scent of obses­sion until I sat down in front of the wave­forms to rearrange the lot. It seems to me that most indie folk in the Unit­ed States right now is com­ing from trust fund hip­pies and asso­ci­at­ed cousins of their par­tic­u­lar hypocrisy. From my per­spec­tive, there’s no way to be a worse musi­cian, and far too much young white breath is blown on a com­plete waste of time, but Haley Heyn­d­er­ickx has some­thing to say which I can stand behind with zero cyn­i­cism or reluc­tance. Instead, it’s impor­tant that we uplift art­work like I Need to Start a Gar­den so that the people’s music can resume aspir­ing for bet­ter health.

Worth It” is our favorite track.

Rebuilding Piano Ties

For over a year, I’ve been work­ing on an essay enti­tled some­thing like “Cel­e­brat­ing Two Decades of Chor­do­phone Sym­bio­sis,” in which I’ve been attempt­ing  to explain an argu­ment devel­oped over my life­time rela­tion­ship with the piano: I am dis­tinct­ly not a musi­cian, which is not self-dep­re­cat­ing, nor irrel­e­vant as it sounds — espe­cial­ly to pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians. The fun­da­men­tal (and ill-dis­cussed) truth in the dis­tinc­tion is that a musi­cian results from a pri­ma­ry focus on dis­ci­plined train­ing with an instru­ment, where­as [title need­ed] like me can­not be made by any­thing but lots of time spent just fuck­ing around.

I don’t remem­ber the orig­i­nal moment of dis­cov­ery, but there are three dis­tinct ele­men­tary school-era instances in my mind of blis­ter­ing my fin­gers from whole after­noons spent pound­ing away in my first two octaves. In all three cas­es, I refrained from stop­ping even after notic­ing them, and — in all three cas­es — blood was the end result. The sound itself was very rudi­men­ta­ry. Dupli­cat­ed hands on a sin­gle-octave spread was all I was capa­ble of. C, E, G, Mid­dle-C, E, G, in the begin­ning. But to coax my devel­op­ing brain to pipe a trick­le of even the most basal uncon­scious infor­ma­tion to the devel­op­ing mus­cles in my tiny fin­gers so that old instru­ment could trans­late it into some­thing I could hear… It’s called impro­vi­sa­tion, and — for me, then and now — it is entire­ly irre­sistible. It is serene.

After dis­cus­sions with musi­cians and enthu­si­asts across the spec­trum — includ­ing one espe­cial­ly-stim­u­lat­ing all-nighter hang­ing with the excep­tion­al Colum­bia Jazz Orches­tra — I believe this con­ver­sa­tion is one of the most impor­tant insights I have to offer. An intense phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al, and intel­lec­tu­al rela­tion­ship with one’s instru­ment like those expe­ri­enced by (espe­cial­ly) pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians requires main­te­nance, and the “art” of impro­vi­sa­tion has tremen­dous poten­tial for reflec­tion and heal­ing.

but when he’d final­ly play, I’d pity
because he must ask first
and his fin­gers are well-read
but they must ask first
and every lit­tle passer­by
draws away his eye
so del­i­cate,
his atten­tion for she that loves him

Scapabo­bidid­dy­wid­di­ly­doobap­bap­ba­pho­bia” by David Blue

After return­ing to my ear­ly adult­hood home of Colum­bia, Mis­souri this week­end after my year spent in Port­land, I real­ized that my own rela­tion­ship with the instru­ment has been neglect­ed more than ever before, sim­ply because I’d had less access to the keys than I have in any oth­er peri­od since I began play­ing as a tod­dler. For my (under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed) fol­low­ing on Periscope, I streamed my first time sit­ting down at my own child­hood upright Bald­win in far too long, and found the ses­sion quite reas­sur­ing. It’s cer­tain­ly not an impor­tant lis­ten — if you real­ly want to hear my impro­vi­sa­tion at it’s best, stop by my Band­camp — but it got me think­ing about what I might offer in future works with­in this sub­ject. To begin, look for an upcom­ing review of the newest album release from the great­est liv­ing cham­pi­on of the improv process, Kei­th Jar­rett, and (even­tu­al­ly,) a com­plet­ed draft of my afore­men­tioned essay.

In the mean­time, I’d love to read any thoughts you may have on the mat­ter, how­ev­er you’d like to deliv­er them.

Indie Folk Battery Burglary

I have to just fuck­ing do it — I’m going to start writ­ing about music in this space. There’s vir­tu­al­ly zero chance that I’ll shout over oth­er voic­es of music crit­i­cism as long as Bilge remains so poor­ly opti­mized for SEO, and Port­land, Ore­gon has been far too con­fus­ing to deprive myself the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work out any under­stand­ing of its youth cul­ture. It’s not a lack of tal­ent­ed musi­cians in the area — the oppo­site is true — but a severe drought of the kind of tragedy and trau­ma which ulti­mate­ly give acoustic Amer­i­can musi­cal expres­sion its whole shit. What I caught of the weekend’s inva­sion with San­ta Cruz musi­cians were all praise­wor­thy, tight and con­fi­dent per­form­ers who’d obvi­ous­ly invest­ed heav­i­ly in their equip­ment and their pres­ence here. Joe Kaplow arrived with a sort of bespoke mag­a­zine rack con­tain­ing 20 neat­ly-arranged effect ped­als, lead­ing me to won­der for a moment if I was about to wit­ness ban­jo pow­ervi­o­lence for the first time, but he explained that he sim­ply pre­ferred their avail­abil­i­ty, and wouldn’t use “more than a few at once,” and seemed almost gen­uine­ly per­turbed by my attempt to explain the spe­cif­ic indus­tri­al­ly-influ­enced involve­ment of audio hard­ware in hard­core punk and grind per­for­mance which I was refer­ring to with the term. (“Pow­ervi­o­lence” has appar­ent­ly become an ambigu­ous one around these parts, and I’m sure he was actu­al­ly just utter­ly unin­ter­est­ed.)

No more than two dozen guests made up their peak crowd of wit­ness­es, yet Joe and his band cer­tain­ly made good on shear effort expend­ed in lay­ing down a hearty, back-to-back recital for us at an unusu­al­ly pro­tract­ed rate, though appar­ent­ly either they, the Get­away Dogs, or The Cur­fews had insist­ed that a “cov­er charge” be col­lect­ed at the door of the house show. It’s not my busi­ness to to dwell on or attempt to inves­ti­gate an unsub­stan­ti­at­able rumor, but I under­stand this could have been a breach of house show eti­quette. What I do know is that one of the vis­it­ing musi­cians stole 4 flat AA bat­ter­ies out of my COOLPIX and appar­ent­ly attempt­ed to jack its ancient Com­pact Flash card, which is only hilar­i­ous because they didn’t suc­ceed. Regard­less, it should be said that Joe Kaplow’s song­writ­ing is more flat­tered by Indie mags than my own ears, though one still wish­es for a more sub­stan­tive top­ic than “I thought it’d be cool make a corn cob pipe, so I did.” Then again, much of what you’ll find at this URL reads a lot like “I thought it’d be inter­est­ing to make a Word­Press blog, so I did.” White peo­ple have tru­ly run out of shit to say, haven’t we?

The inspi­ra­tion that sparked ‘I Said’ moved me like a pup­pet. So much so that I had to pull over at the top of Alta­mont Pass, by the huge wind­mills, and write the song in the back of my van.

Joe Kaplow for Glide Mag­a­zine

Reflec­tion upon just about any­thing can have per­son­al mean­ing, but no amount of musi­cian­ship can mask a stark lack of con­text. I do won­der if Indie Folk should just return to the megachurch, where song­writ­ers like Joe and musi­cians of his crew’s sort are lit­er­al­ly hand­ed a gigan­tic audi­ence of trained experts at find­ing pro­found mean­ing where it prob­a­bly isn’t, along with great salaries, from what I hear. Oth­er­wise, all that tax­ing prepa­ra­tion and expen­di­ture will only lead to more for­get­table per­for­mances. Or per­haps I am sim­ply mis­guid­ed in my assump­tion that artists work exclu­sive­ly to com­mu­ni­cate some­thing last­ing to some­one. Every con­ver­sa­tion I’ve had with Port­landers about Port­land music has been pre­dom­i­nant­ly about what artists and their audi­ences wear and how they behave instead of what they’re try­ing to say. There’s noth­ing inher­ent­ly wrong with leav­ing things pet­ty, lyri­cal­ly and choos­ing to remain con­tent with estab­lished sounds, musi­cal­ly, as long as your work is adver­tised as enter­tain­ment, not per­for­mance.

Before I came North­west, my fiance had been expos­ing me to a vari­ety of its music, which I most­ly tol­er­at­ed polite­ly. Dozens of albums and EPs were played through once and for­got­ten for­ev­er, but when I arrived at a demo tape record­ed by her long time friend’s band, The Cig­a­rette Burns, I final­ly heard some­thing famil­iar, yet vital­ly com­pelling: pissed off punks hav­ing fun. That said, I should admit that I only attend­ed Saturday’s show because he was on the tick­et, and I’m still glad I did.

After what felt like hours of drowsy corn cob pipes, Christ­mas sweaters, and old sweet­hearts at fifty beats per minute (there were lit­er­al­ly two young men sleep­ing with­in 15 feet of the bands for the dura­tion,) Ricky sat him­self on a stool in the midst of Kaplow’s sprawl­ing gear load at 2:30AM with only his gui­tar and his voice. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I’d squan­dered the Nikon’s bat­ter­ies on Cal­i­for­ni­ans (the light­ing was not ide­al any­way,) so I thought I’d share his set on Periscope. Though Ricky had been patient­ly present and atten­tive for the entire night (unlike myself,) those who were left of the enter­tain­ers bolt­ed to the porch for a live­ly dis­cus­sion about uni­cy­cles and quinoa while Ricky told us about hate, jeal­ousy, and feel­ing like shit in a somber ele­gy. Any fur­ther adjec­tives may edge dan­ger­ous­ly close to a half-assed “con­cert review,” which I am not yet qual­i­fied for, but I will say that Ricky’s sin­cer­i­ty made him most engag­ing part of the night, and his frus­trat­ed, con­clu­sive nod to The Cig­a­rette Burns was the first real punk sounds I’ve yet heard in Port­land.

I real­ize shar­ing this small expe­ri­ence does lit­tle to grow the con­ver­sa­tion, but this isn’t a mag­a­zine, and I am des­per­ate for answers about the bizarre real­i­ty in which I find myself. When Ricky ded­i­cat­ed a song to Court­ney Love, one of the male musi­cians(?) yelled “Court­ney Love fuckin’ killed Kurt Cobain!” which was such an unbe­liev­ably cliche happening/decision that I’ll sure­ly spend the rest of my days in this city unsuc­cess­ful­ly attempt­ing to work it out, aloud. I can’t quite recall who it was last Fall that respond­ed to my frus­tra­tion by chal­leng­ing “what if there’s noth­ing to under­stand?” While this may be a rea­son­able con­clu­sion, I sus­pect it’s not one I could accept as long as I remain here with­out los­ing my mind. If Port­land is tru­ly the dimen­sion­less bas­tion of apa­thy and intel­lec­tu­al stag­nan­cy for young Amer­i­cans, I must blog my way out it as soon as pos­si­ble (for Pete’s sake, just give these kids some anti­de­pres­sants,) but I’d still like to believe the idea too oxy­moron­ic to actu­al­ly exist.

Aretha Franklin Built Our Whole World

I was try­ing to fig­ure out why The Queen’s death hit me so hard today — I was embar­rass­ing­ly upset for much longer than I would’ve expect­ed, but the answer for me is like­ly the same as it is for you: she made up so much more of the beau­ti­ful rays of Amer­i­can exis­tence which now seem so impos­si­bly far away. Let me just sim­ply say that she gave so much of the music which I have depend­ed upon most thus far, even as wide of a span it is.

The truth is, she spanned far beyond me; far wider than any­one else has done. I spent a good few hours comb­ing misty-eyed through the mas­sive list of Aretha sam­ples which have con­script­ed that par­tic­u­lar form of affec­tion which only sam­plers can express in such a huge cut of the best Amer­i­cans have done in the past cen­tu­ry: from Out­kast to fuck­ing Drum & Bass.

Think­ing of you, Detroit.

Fresh Air’s Aretha Franklin trib­ute.