We’ve already made two batches of donations! Snares’ funds are going to back Democrats taking the Senate back and the album is going to the ACLU! I’m prepping all the pre-orders any day now, so if you want some extra notes or fun stuff, pre-order it right now at: https://premiumheart.bandcamp.com/album/kosciuszko
When I joined Premium Heart, I hadn’t written a song in a really long time. It had been quite a few years since I really took a lyrical queue in my head and pushed a whole song through it. But while we were writing and demoing the record, I felt like the themes that were already there, most of which were written by Nick, were so clear and inspiring that I knew I had something to say, and few of my contributions ended up meaning as much to me as what I wrote for The Credit Reel.
At its face, the song is about climate change. But that was only the lens through which I tried to express a larger feeling that I’ve been having for years now. Moreso than just the fear of a world burned up and barren, this song’s about the overlying existential dread a lot of us have been feeling since Trump came down that escalator, announced his candidacy, and declared Mexicans were rapists and criminals. It’s about the uncertainty I’ve been feeling; just when are we going to bottom out and things are gonna stop getting… worse? And clearly, we’ve still found new lows to fall to. Luckily, Nick was there to write some of the more optimistic parts, about being in this hellhole together, but also keeping it on my level by adding some really scary biblical stuff. Part of a complete breakfast and all that.
I used to consider myself an optimist. That people would rally together and do the right thing when it really mattered. Clearly that was an idealism born of privilege and a naive view of just how broken our system and culture is. America’s power structure and “majorities” have done such a wonderful job at showing us just how little they care about anyone but themselves. “Yeah, that’s rough, but not for me and mine.” Education, health care, human rights, a cleaner and safer environment, diversity, and the list goes on, have all become part of a “liberal agenda” and have become polarizing to the point that in our system of electoral delegates, they don’t even warrant a vote in the Senate. We’ve been protesting that Black Lives Matter for almost 7 years, and Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, Jamar Clark, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Stephon Clark, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Amaud Arbery, and so many others are dead. And for what progress? Colin Kaepernick took a knee and was lambasted by the majority for it. What progress has this, primarily peaceful protest movement made in almost a decade? How long are people expected to just deal with a broken system when it not only doesn’t improve, but worsens? It doesn’t matter how much you point out the hypocrisy or try to make an example of someone clearly guilty of not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Just last month, the sergeant from the Parkland shooting, who waited outside while children were murdered had been fired, sure, but the police department waited two days longer than the mandatory maximum waiting period for repercussions provided by their contract, so he’s back on the job. What a coincidence that that happened to line up so well for him, who’s now been reinstated! With similar contracts around the country, even when “bad apples” are made examples of, the repercussions are rarely permanent, even more rarely causing any systemic reform, and only serve to further rot the corrupt system we have. It isn’t until protests garner national attention does anything happen, and even then, it’s often marred by specific protections that prevent justice from being served.
I know this isn’t a new problem. I know that so many people deal with this every single day, in ways that are much deeper than I’ll ever experience. But this time feels even worse. Maybe it’s just the pandemic getting to me. Maybe it’s that we’re approaching the 4th anniversary of Trump’s god-forsaken escalator stunt. I don’t know. But the juxtaposition of three major events has really broken the final shreds of whatever optimism I had left.
First was the Breonna Taylor murder in Louisville, Kentucky after police kicked in the door to an apartment that the suspect they’d been looking for, who was already in custody, had never lived in just because she knew him two years prior. One of the officers was already in the middle of an ongoing lawsuit regarding abuse of power. She was shot eight times.
Then in Minnesota, after the horrifying murder of George Floyd by a police officer who kept his knee on George’s throat for 9 minutes over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill… not quite the same reaction. Timelines are always hard to track from the outside in instances like this, but from what I can see, most of the severe escalation we’ve seen has been after tear gas was used to disperse crowds on the second night of protests. “THUGS,” says Trump, while repeating the catchphrase of Walter Headley, a segregationist police chief who tried to put down the civil rights movement, and later said by George Wallace, a segregationist presidential candidate of 1968.
Side note: I’m not going to weigh in on the role of outside agitators and white supremacist infiltrators, as that evidence is not clear right now while the Governor investigates. I don’t want to blindly adopt a lot of rhetoric that gets tossed around about the role of protests and violence in times of severe injustice.
I just can’t stomach seeing all of the exact same people who ripped apart Colin Kaepernick (who, by the way, is paying legal fees for protesters) and other types of peaceful protesters once again screaming that these people, who are so sick and tired of all of these injustices, should be more like those people, who just a few years ago were, to paraphrase the president, “sons of bitches who shouldn’t be in this country.” After almost a decade of these organized, focused protests at these injustices, it’s so clear that there’s nothing that people fed up with injustice are allowed to do except lay down and die at the hands of a system that keeps the majority of the country comfortable and safe.
Unless it’s about a pandemic and stay-at-home orders or asking people to wear a mask. Then it’s fascism? I don’t know, these fucking people don’t believe in anything except their entitlement to comfort. It’s a waste of time to argue or even think about their arguments. They’re nothing but selfish assholes and they’ll never be anything but.
Anyway, having said all that, I think it’s important to stay empathetic and compassionate to the actual victims of our system. I have no patience left for the perpetrators and supporters of injustice and the class hierarchy we have in America, but that doesn’t mean we can’t care deeply for the people who keep getting shoved under the knees and boots of the oppressors. We need to support them at every step of this. That’s why we’re releasing our first single, The Credit Reel, on Bandcamp, for pay-whatever-you-want and all of the money we get will be split between Black Table Arts* and the Louisville Community Bail Fund. As we saw, live on CNN, the Minnesota police are just indiscriminately arresting innocent people. And in Louisville, they’re shooting them with pepper balls or rubber bullets and not all of the people there are lucky enough to be reporters, live on TV, so they’re still sitting in cells they don’t belong in, victims of a de-funded and abandoned support system that prioritizes harsh punishment over ground-up community building. A system that silences the voices of those most affected.
I’m including the song here, but please, I implore you to give what you can to help the people who need it the most right now. The Boston Tea Party was a riot, the suffragettes rioted, Stonewall was a riot. Apparently, it’s the only way to ever get anything done.
A plethora of angels, no more snowmen left Too old to wish for much, but summer break would never end Cake’s run out of candles, be careful what you’re hoping for Second coming’s much more often now Seeing shadows never more
Let’s run out the clock together
Paper says wait till tomorrow Credits atrophy and die The whole world burns just like a dumpster Yeah, that’s rough but not for me and mine Class is cancelled due to apathy Armed and tragic and willfully blind Hope is a barren harlot Why don’t we run out the clock together?
Let’s run out the clock together
Light from the snow reflects through our window On we, for whom it’s reserved The blackness, the darkness forever Empty and without form
The original column was published on January 15th, 2020 and can be found below.
Read all the pamphlets and watch the tapes. You turn 25 and now you’re all out of escapes. Hey, the rock writer told me to tell you: “though you’re great and you’re brave You still lack that which makes you a star.” Read all the pamphlets and watch the tapes
I can’t stop thinking about creative growth and how much it ties in to our intellectual curiosity. As I get older, I’m more and more disheartened to see people just… stop learning things. Obviously, you can read a whole slew of political commentary into that concept; people refusing to grow past the status quo they’re most comfortable with or learn to accept people that previously made them feel “weird” about how different their lives and experiences are. But we’re in the Trump era and Biden’s the national frontrunner in the Democratic primary, so there’s a billion think-pieces on that. So let’s talk about music. Let’s talk about punk music.
Since I started listening to music, I’ve listened to punk. Pop-punk, ’77, and some early hardcore are my specialties. But around the end of high school, I started to kind of fall out of thecontemporary punk scene. At least in the scene I was in, heavier punk and metal merged a little too much for my tastes and got too… macho, the same thing that turns me off from a lot of 80s hardcore. Pop punk got too overproduced and started to drift away from the “my friends in their garage writing songs about girls” sound that I fell in love with of the late 90s/early 00s. So I fell out of it and started listening to a lot more indie and alternative.
But recently, I’ve started to fall pretty hard into post-punk. I’m new to it, so forgive me if I’m wrong about any of the details, but it seems like post-punk (and no-wave) seem to embody the DIY, relatable punk ethos, but without the cliché, trappings, and narrow genre focus of punk. I’ve been all about bands like Siouxsie And The Banshees, Sonic Youth, and Joy Division for the last few weeks after my guitarist gave me a path to delve in to. And man, it rules. It’s got that “garage band with friends” sense of freedom, but with a much bolder and unexpected musical direction. It really opened my eyes up to the idea that I don’t have to “leave behind punk” when I get bored of it, but I can just make different punk music. The punk ethos isn’t just about fast and loud guitars, but it’s just that, an ethos. The punks grew up and I had missed the whole thing for decades. This is the exact kind of music I want, no, need to be playing right now. Being an artist in 2020 has to be about inclusivity instead of gatekeeping. It’s all about making art for the right reasons, your reasons, not about following the structures set by the generations before us. Punk was punk because nobody had done it before, not because somebody did the exact same thing 40 years ago. And that brings me to LCD Soundsystem and their second album, Sound Of Silver.
LCD Soundsystem had been recommended to me a few times over the years, but I never really gave them a shot until this week. The aforementioned guitarist showed me a few songs and I wasn’t really wowed at first. But then I listened to this record and I was immediately won over. It really captured the exact feelings I’ve been having about making music today. So many songwriters just try to capture the sound they listen to instead of trying to do something new, something risky. I try to approach any creative project by first answering the question, what can I offer that no one else can? If this was just a straight album review, there are a million people way better than I am at talking about or analyzing music, so I try to focus on my reaction to music instead. Why would I want to make music that just sounds like a watered down version of someone I loved? Someone who I loved because of how groundbreaking and new their sound was when it came out? We have all unique voices, experiences, lives, why waste them?
If you aren’t familiar with LCD, they’re a bit hard to describe. They’re… dance-punk, I guess? A lot of the instrumentation is electronic and synth-driven, but James Murphy clearly comes from the New York punk scene. It sounds like a fun dance album, but lyrically, a whole lot of the record, probably because it is, seems like a punk record of the Bloomberg-era (Your mild billionaire mayor’s now convinced he’s a king). I’ve never heard a band that sounds like LCD Soundsystem. And that’s the point. It sounds strange at first, but doesn’t everything that leaves a mark? Everyone should have something to say no matter how hard to describe their voice is. If they think they don’t have anything important to say, maybe they should start to really think about why they feel like their voice doesn’t matter and who made them feel that way.
New York, I Love You, But you’re bringing me down. Like a death of the heart. Jesus, where do I start? But you’re still the one pool. Where I’d happily drown And oh… Take me off your mailing list. For kids who think it still exists Yes, for those who think it still exists Maybe I’m wrong and maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m wrong and maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m wrong and just maybe you’re right And oh.. Maybe mother told you true and there’ll always be somebody there for you And you’ll never be alone But maybe she’s wrong and maybe I’m right and just maybe she’s wrong Maybe she’s wrong and maybe I’m right and if so, is there?
I’ve written a lot about legacy and nostalgia in these columns, too, and I’m not disregarding those! There’s nothing wrong with showing your influences or writing a throwback. But we should always strive to keep our art honest and personal. You can write about and with nostalgia and still have something new to say. Keeping your influences clear as a bibliography to fully understand the artistic curiosity that led you to create this piece in the first place is great! But there’s a big difference between continuing the collective narrative of our society’s artistic story and just being derivative. We should always remember where we came from, but never at the expense of where we need to go, no matter how untraveled that path forward seems.
The original column was published on December 15th, 2019 and can be found below.
Workin’ in the fields til’ you get your back burned Workin’ ‘neath the wheel, til’ you get your facts learned Baby, I got my facts, learned real good right now Poor man want to be rich, Rich man want to be king And a king ain’t satisfied til’ he rules everything
Lately, I’ve found a lot of new appreciation for late 90s/early 2000s political critiques. Too often, and I’m guiltier of this than most, we become enamored by deconstructions of post-9/11 American domestic life and foreign policy and forget that there was plenty of division, strife, and protest in our “contemporary” society before the Bush Doctrine ramped it all up to 11. 9/11 was such a glaring and brutal bullet point on the American timeline that it’s easy to forget that a lot of the issues we still argue about were actually worth arguing about before we were shocked into the “modern American” mindset. A few of the things I’ve been thinking of are:
Christopher Priest’s fantastic 1998-2003 run on Black Panther, which serves as a stark critique of Clinton-era foreign policy.
A realization that the Star Wars prequels are secretly good and have a lot of very prescient things to say about America’s soon to start wars in the middle east.
And Bruce Springsteen’s late-90s output, specifically the live record documenting the final leg of his 1999 reunion tour with the East Street Band, Live In New York City.
When I started this column, I did a lot of soul searching on if I should include albums that weren’t just standard studio albums. Compilations don’t quite capture the moment in time and emotional thru-line that I try to focus on. Live albums have a similar problem, in that a set list might be pulling from songs that aren’t relevant to now or songs that are still popular and people want to hear. But in a live setting, older songs can be re-framed, in a new narrative, and given a new context to help us appreciate what they were trying to say all along.
Bruce is someone who I’ve never really listened to and I think it’s a great disservice to what he stands for that I took so long to really listen to his lyrics and realize what he was trying to say. I always knew he was a “blue collar” songwriter but I somehow missed just how much he spoke about so many of the economic issues we constantly talk about in modern political discourse.
From the Monongahela valley to the Mesabi iron range To the coal mines of Appalachia, the story’s always the same Seven hundred tons of metal a day, now sir you tell me the world’s changed Once I made you rich enough, rich enough to forget my name
I mean come on, this is basically the script to an ad about the divide in the Democratic Party about trade deals in the Trump era. But with a bit more… realism and bite.
When I die I don’t want no part of heaven, I would not do heaven’s work well I pray the devil comes and takes me, to stand in the fiery furnaces of hell
And that kind of aggressive populism, raging against the rich who look down on all of us is present throughout the entire show. Even when they’re dressed up in folksy Americana.
But that’s not why I’m writing about this specific record. I was originally going to write about Born In The U.S.A.
Born down in a dead man’s town The first kick I took was when I hit the ground You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born In The U.S.A. was the first Springsteen album I really loved. I put it off because I absolutely can’t stand that every nationalistic xenophobe since Reagan has played it at rallies. But then when I really listened to it, I realized the obvious. That it’s not some beautiful anthem on American exceptionalism
Got in a little hometown jam So they put a rifle in my hand Sent me off to a foreign land To go and kill the yellow man
It’s a harsh critique of our imperialism at the expense of not only the people we go over to kill, but at the young men and women who are forced to enforce America’s will abroad only to be shunned by the people who sent them over there in the first place. The pro-war hawks are almost always slashing funding, limiting health care, and destroying the VA so they can hold it up as an example of how “government doesn’t work.”
Come back home to the refinery Hiring man says “Son if it was up to me” Went down to see my V.A. man He said “Son, don’t you understand”
I had a brother at Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong They’re still there, he’s all gone
The version of “Born In The U.S.A.” we hear here is a somber one, stripped down to a 12-string acoustic guitar, reflecting the severity of the issue we were about to ramp up to 11. Just two years later, we started sending troops to fight the two longest wars in American history, with an economic recession just behind the corner, waiting for the lucky ones to come home to.
The hypocrisy of those in power really brought me to what may be the most powerful song for this whole show, the only song that was new for this tour. In the weeks leading up to this run at Madison Square Garden, Bruce and the E Street Band debuted a new song, “American Skin” in Atlanta and the lyrics leaked online. This song was in response to the Amadou Diallo shooting in the Bronx earlier that year. Springsteen had written political songs throughout his career, clearly, but this one sparked a bit more outrage, especially from the NYPD.
41 shots, and we’ll take that ride Across this bloody river to the other side 41 shots, they cut through the night You’re kneeling over his body in the vestibule Praying for his life
I spend a lot of time thinking about protest and the most effective way to do it. I struggle with it a lot, especially since my life is pretty privileged and most of the things I’ve protested haven’t directly affected me. I constantly hear criticism from the right about how you’re supposed to protest. Our country was founded on protest, but so many people who support the status quo keep themselves distanced enough so they don’t have to confront that they would clearly be loyalists to the British during the American Revolution. Protesting is great and American, but you shouldn’t destroy property. The Boston Tea Party. They wouldn’t have gotten killed if they just listened to the police. The Boston Massacre began as the follow up to a British customs officer when he shot and killed an 11 year old boy during a patriot protest. A week and a half later, a protest turned violent when a British officer stabbed a protester with his bayonet. The rest is history.
41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school She says, “On these streets, Charles. You’ve got to understand the rules If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite And that you’ll never ever run away Promise Mama, you’ll keep your hands in sight”
My point is not to weigh in on specific cases of brutality or not, as I haven’t done the due diligence to discuss this case at length. My point is that if people have and they’re pissed off about it, that’s ok. I’ve seen so many people go so far out of their way to make sure they have no acceptable way to voice that disbelief. Street protests just get in the way of people trying to go to work. Public displays are inappropriate, and god forbid anyone kneels during the anthem. (As an aside, the Department of Defense spent millions of taxpayers dollars making the NFL more “patriotic” and players didn’t stand on the field for the national anthem until 2009). Celebrities are supposed to stay in their lane and entertain us, mindlessly, with no regard for or mention of their personal beliefs. One of the greats, Bruce Springsteen, has a huge reunion tour and comes out with a statement that he thinks is important. And he gets called a “floating fag” by the police and told to go back to singing “American flag songs and all that stuff.” If artists can’t protest through their art, how the fuck are people supposed to protest? If someone with a platform as large as Springsteen is called a dirtbag and told to shut the fuck up, how are regular folk supposed to stand up to an unjust system? That’s the trick, they aren’t. They’re supposed to just sit there and hope that the status quo deigns the downtrodden worthy to receive a blessing from above. If only everyone could be so lucky.
The original column was published on November 15th, 2019 and can be found below.
Should we talk about the weather? (Hi, hi, hi) Should we talk about the government? (Hi, hi, hi, hi)
Currently, I’m in the final stages of a new music project that I’m so excited to release and it’s a great new direction for my writing. I’ve dabbled in political songwriting in the past, but I usually fell short and started feeling that when you make a political message the main focus, the song too often becomes more about sending the intended message over writing a great song. Sacrificing catchiness for importance. Placing relevancy over memorability. But this time, helped by the fact that someone else is writing most of the music, we’ve really crafted a record that I think is about some really important things, but never at the expense of making a great record that people will (hopefully!) want to listen to. And nobody balanced those two things half as well as R.E.M. did, especially on their 1988 album, Green.
Sometimes I feel like I can’t even sing (Say, say, the light) I’m very scared for this world, I’m very scared for me (Say, say, the light) Eviscerate your memory, here’s a scene You’re in the back seat laying down (Say, say, the light) The windows wrap around to the sound of the travel and the engine
Green was released on November 7th, 1988, the day before the 1988 American Presidential election. R.E.M. was very outspoken at the time against then-candidate George H. W. Bush and supported the Democrat, Michael Dukakis. Using their first major label release to raise their platform, it was clear that this album was going to be even more political than they’d been in the past.
Green is an interesting album in R.E.M.’s catalog. They’d been primarily playing in minor keys with more traditional instrumentation, but with Green they somehow managed to be more mainstream, while also becoming more experimental. Their songwriting became more major key and accessible, but their instrumentation was becoming much more diverse. This album features a lot of mandolin and pedal steel guitar, played by Peter Buck, and it layers the record in an eerie, but deeply, beautiful way. The higher string instruments interweave perfectly under Michael Stipe’s voice, which was reaching new highs with each new album, of which Green is no exception.
This is my world and I am the World Leader Pretend This is my life and this is my time I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit It’s high time I raised the walls that I’ve constructed
It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize (Empathize) This is my mistake, let me make it good I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down
You fill in the mortar, you fill in the harmony You fill in the mortar, I raised the wall And I’m the only one, I will be the one to knock it down
Just about every single song on Green deals with some sort of bigger picture. They all certainly resonate with me, but the diversity in the messages, alongside the diversity in the musical directions the album pushes into, help make Green a truly iconic album. I never really hear anyone talk about R.E.M.’s influence on music and pop culture, but they’re a real benchmark of the transition from the punk-focused Reagan-era of political music, back into a more mainstream level of politics in popular music. The most famous song on the record, “Orange Crush” doesn’t shy away from the explicitly political message at the heart of Green.Everybody knows “Orange Crush,” but I don’t know how many casual listeners realize what it’s about. It’s not soda, that’s for sure. Right underneath the endlessly catchy hooks is a story about Vietnam, specifically the chemical weapon, Agent Orange.
High on the roof Thin the blood Another one came on the waves tonight Coming in, you’re home
“We would circle and we’d circle and we’d circle To stop and consider and centered on the pavement Stacked up all the trucks jacked up and our wheels In slush and orange crush in pocket and all This here county, hell, any county, it’s just like heaven here And I was remembering and I was just in a different county and all Then this whirlybird that I headed for I had my goggles pulled off; I knew it all, I knew every back road and every truck stop”
(Follow me, don’t follow me) I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush (Collar me, don’t collar me) I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush (We are agents of the free) I’ve had my fun and now it’s time To serve your conscience overseas (Over me, not over me) Coming in fast, over me
This record really captures the dichotomy that I struggle with every time I put my creative voice into a project. I always want to be fun, optimistic, and inspiring, but I, more often than not, end up just wanting to unload all my anger and angst. I just want to shake people and yell at them to give a shit about whatever issues are really stuck in my brain at the time. To just berate them with rhetoric until they finally feel what I feel. But too often, it just comes off callous and angry. Maybe it’s better to give a more empathetic message, giving the audience the opportunity and the agency to come to some insightful conclusions on their own. And if you can put it all in a super catchy single, that definitely won’t hurt. You catch more flies with honey and all that.
More than anything else, R.E.M. is pure honesty. Green was the very first album I listened to when I got my own car and I’ll never forget the rush of hearing the album blaring (through a Discman, powered by two piggybacked AC adapters and a cassette converter) as I slammed the clutch, shifted into third, and merged onto the expressway for the first time. It was a relatively new album for me at the time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to listen to anything else. It was such a perfect blend of angst and optimism. Relevance and memorability. Catchiness and importance. It so perfectly encapsulates my constant struggle between trying to bring everyone up and to make sure everyone knows how important it is to get up and stand for something. The world makes me want to scream every single day. But those screams are not uniform. Screams of joy, screams of pain, screams of love, screams of hate. And that’s ok.
The original column was published on October 15th, 2019 and can be found below.
Do you hear me out there? I can hear you. I got you, I can hear you alright. This is so strange, I want to wish for something new. This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Who do we think we are?
It’s always been really hard for me to feel like I truly belong. I always get close, but I always feel like I’m just outside the core people who deserve their place in the inner circle. Lately, I’ve really been trying to take that big jump into the deep end and stop feeling like an awkward observer but own my role as a central figure in my own passions. And one of the things that really helped me re-focus my efforts is one of my favorite albums from the mid 2000s, Angels And Airwaves’ 2006 debut, We Don’t Need To Whisper.
Leave your pain on the bedroom floor again, bring a smile to survive And do you think that you have that in you? If you’re here and you’re all alone tonight, then I’ll give you a free ride. Take a chance ’cause I know you want to.
blink-182 was the first band I ever really loved. The first CD I ever bought, the reason I bought a bass, the first songs I ever taught myself, the reason I started my first band. There are plenty of pictures, videos, and recordings of me at 14 playing blink songs with my friends. Plenty of people fell in love with blink in the 90s and 00s, so this isn’t all that rare of a sentiment. But even among blink fans, there’s a lot of camps you can fall into. Those who consider them a punk band, those who call them pop, and the in-betweens. Scott or Travis? Is the Skiba stuff really blink? +44 or Angels? It goes on and on. But none are more pressing than the debate I hear more than any other. Mark or Tom?
For those who don’t know, Mark Hoppus is the bass player and one of the singers, and Tom Delonge is the guitarist and other singer. Tom’s the one with the voice. Where are you and I’m so sorry and all that. I will always love them both, but despite citing Mark as the reason I play bass (and for what it’s worth, I do crib a lot of his fifth-based melodies and chord structures), I’ve pretty much always been firmly in camp Tom… and boy, oh boy, have I gotten a lot of shit for it. How much that contributed to my feelings that I was always just a little bit of an outsider, I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t help.
In 2005, when blink broke up, everyone blamed Tom. And then when Angels And Airwaves debuted, it was pretty divisive. It sounds nothing like blink, even with Tom’s voice fronting the record. It’s got these long, atmosphere-building songs, U2-inspired guitar sounds, lofty lyrics on war and grandiose takes on love. Tom took a whole lot of chances when he reinvented himself this way, and not everyone liked it. But man, I ate that shit up. At 15, We Don’t Need To Whisper was a permanent fixture in my stereo and quite a few of the songs made it into my band’s setlist. That June, I saw them with Taking Back Sunday and hearing Tom play the verses of “Down” by himself was the first time I ever cried at a concert. It was truly a defining moment for my teenage years.
But even then, I still had this… tinge of outsider. After the Angels set, people in our section, as well as the whole coliseum, stormed the floor to hop the wall and get on the floor. And I couldn’t. I just kept thinking, “wow, those people are so cool, I could never do anything like that. Those are real punks. If I did that, they would just think I’m some poser.” And this was a pretty common feeling for me, and to be honest, still is. Fast forward a little over a decade and I’m married to a girl who was also at that show and actually did jump over that guardrail! And she even had the same poster in her bedroom that I did, a very dramatic Angels poster from the liner notes of Whisper.
But my struggles with this kind of thing needed more than just the coolest girl I ever met to tell me I wasn’t a loser (though that helped). Recently, I’ve had a lot of small moments really stand out as validating that the less uniformly popular things I liked and chances I took were the right ones. When a lot of my friends were full on mocking Tom’s new “super-serious” band, I was hyping up the record and burning copies for everyone. Just last month, an old friend I haven’t spoken to in years reached out, thanking me for all the music I gave him after school and how much that shaped who he became. What I thought was just me doubling down because I’m defensive about Tom Delonge ended up meaning a lot to both of us. We even saw Angels together on their second tour in 2008! As a defensive aside, Tom still gets a whole lot of flack for his weird alien stuff, but hey, he actually got the government to admit some weird Navy stuff was a UFO, so jokes on all of you. He was right and I was right to believe in him.
The ash set in then blew away. It’s getting lost into the sea. I grew so close to all the thoughts I had to leave forever I left the chill and voice of screams and kids and ran for shelter. You know, I won’t say sorry. You know, I won’t say sorry. The pain has a bad reaction, a blend of fear and passion. You know what it’s like to believe? It makes me wanna scream.
But even more than that, I’ve had a lot of my creative outlets feel a lot more real than they used to. I recently re-started an old collaborative relationship with one of my most beloved artistic partners. And even though our new material is very different than what we used to make, that familiarity has put our old work on my mind again. I used to feel like my ideas weren’t good enough to mention or push and that I was always part of some B-tier. But this time, I’ve really made an effort to express myself more openly and honestly and I’d like to think the work is better for it. And right at the same time, I have had several people come up to me lately and tell me how important our old work was for them and it shaped the types of songwriters and musicians they’ve become; adding how excited they are to hear what we do next. Something I never once expected and still don’t quite know how to internalize.
I should have turned back, I should have known better Than to walk away defeated I’ll say it tonight, I’ll say it forever And this time I really swear I mean it I think I like today, I think it’s good It’s something I can’t get my head around.
When Angels And Airwaves released their first record, We Don’t Need To Whisper, no one knew what to expect and the hype was all over the place. Tom Delonge took a huge chance with it and I think it paid off. Angels showed he was much more capable and talented than anyone ever gave him credit for. I think there’s a lot we can take from that. As long as you’re willing to take that jump and do what you think is important to express yourself, who gives a shit if no one thinks you belong there? Fuck ’em. Take the chance. Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet some aliens. And maybe in the future, your work will have meant a lot more to people than you ever realized, even if the only person that feels that way is you. And as long as you think you belong there, you do.
The original column was published on September 15th, 2019 and can be found below.
Content Warning: this column deals with trauma, September 11th, 2001, and similar topics. All the heavy stuff is prologue to the column, so feel free to skip to the actual album review, starting with the fourth paragraph.
God is on top of it all That’s all We are we are we are
What’s the difference between a timeless legacy and a dated representation of the times? How do we decide what’s worth focusing on when we look back? It sure seems like a random and arbitrarily decided distinction. Sure, some are clearer than others. It’s easy to give credit for era-defining albums or days that live in infamy. Less noteworthy things, like one-hit wonders, are usually revisited as a nostalgia trip, not because they’re still relevant, whatever that means. Relevancy is such a nebulous concept and one that varies so much from person to person. Because of that, this column is going to be a little more divided than usual, focusing first on what’s on my mind leading up to putting this month’s album on repeat before diving into the album itself.
Just a few days ago, we passed the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in New York City. I’m not going to get into my personal connections and memories with the event here, as I think they’re much too complicated to have as a backdrop to a music column. But this year felt… different for me than it usually does. Yeah, every year I see a lot of “Never Forget” posts alongside edgy jokes belittling it, the usual internet discourse ranging from deeply personal to the shallowest callousness and every level of no/half/full-hearted messaging in between. I was surprised, though, to see a lot of people talking about how it’s been so long, why do we still make such a big deal out of it, that it’s no longer relevant enough to justify all this attention. And this year, I saw an elevated level of animosity, which is, frankly, what I’ve come to expect in 2019. Some using it as an example of true American sacrifice, the day we were shown just how at risk the life we had taken for granted was. Others using it as the starting point of the modern American imperial era kicked into effect by the Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Terrorists bill and the Bush Doctrine. Projecting it as the event that jingoists and fascists use to justify their politics. And while I don’t disagree with any of that, per se, I think there’s something deeply personal missing from that dichotomy, a focus on what parts of the event are still relevant and necessary to include in our thoughts on that horrible day.
I’m sure it’s because I’m a New Yorker, but I don’t think enough people give space for the trauma that it caused in so many of us. Yes, it is more important than ever to discuss the politics of the weeks, months, and years after that, especially now that people born after that day are now old enough to go fight in the wars that spun out of it. I was extremely lucky not to lose anyone that day, but knew plenty of people that did. When we look at such a catastrophic event as that day, we too often forget that the people affected are still affected and walk around with that weight every single day. First responders dealing with the mental (and physical) damage from being a part of it. People who were harassed, abused, and worse just because they looked like the people who did this. Children who were forced to confront so many things about the world, prematurely, that Tuesday morning. So many people lost something that day, and even though it’s been 18 years, not everyone’s found it yet. We all need to remember the real people that these macroscopic events touch, the micro reasons why 18 years isn’t nearly enough for these events to no longer be considered… relevant.
So what does that have to do with David Bowie? Aside from him playing “Heroes” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” at the Concert For New York benefit, not much on it’s face, actually. I was stuck thinking about the kinds of legacies that are left behind and how much weight we should give facets of more complex legacies. Whenever I’m stuck in a loop in my own head, thinking about some complicated or challenging feelings, there’s almost always a Bowie record that helps me focus. I think it’s because he reinvented himself so many times. Bowie is always relevant because he was always relevant. In the late 80s and early 90s, he was in a critical slump and a lot of people counted him out after he was unable to match his success of his early and mid 80s albums. But with 1993’s Black Tie, White Noise, he reintroduced himself and kickstarted one of my favorite eras of his career, his electronic house/industrial phase. Fresh off of his tenure in the band Tin Machine and beginning a marriage, this album serves as not only a revamp of what a David Bowie record sounded like, but a goodbye to the Bowie everyone already knew. From “You’ve Been Around:”
The album has way more than just the lyrics to show the bridge between Bowie’s past and future. He considered it a blend of 60s pop melodies with 90s house music. Bowie brought back Nile Rodgers, his producer from Let’s Dance a decade prior, but made a conscious effort to distance himself from that sound. Bowie picks a few covers to include on this album, too, and those choices are very telling. He covers Morrisey’s 1992 track “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side,” which itself was heavily influenced by Bowie’s glam rock era, not least of all because it featured Mick Ronson, Bowie’s guitarist from 1970 to 1973, most famously on Ziggy Stardust. Bowie covers the contemporary song inspired by his classic style, once again merging the past and the present. There’s a very 1993 version of Cream’s 1966 single “I Feel Free,” featuring Mick himself. This was their first collaboration in 20 years, but tragically, Ronson passed away from cancer only 24 days after the album’s release. The inevitability of moving forward is clear on the record, no matter how familiar it may seem on paper. From “Miracle Goodnight:”
Bowie, more so than any artist I listen to, always managed to stay relevant while staying familiar. He always sounded like Bowie, even when what that means is so hard to describe. His catalog serves as a long narrative, with twists, turns, and losses that I find really inspiring. Every few months I do a full listen of his discography, chronologically, and I have different takeaways every time. Sometimes I love the Berlin era most of all, sometimes his early work, this time his 90s stuff. It always helps me to get clarity on complex issues I have, knowing that it’s possible to consider the multitudes and learn more as you revisit the complexities. You don’t have to completely understand every phase and growth right away, whether it be from an artist’s work or your own traumas. Someone like Bowie, someone beautifully expressive and honest, helps to shed light on my darkest thoughts and keep me company in my loneliest memories.
It’s hard for me to imagine a time when people thought Bowie’s career was over. But like all timeless art, his time came again, and he was able to reinvent himself and cement his legacy as someone with countless aspects. As we look back through the art we love, the people we idolize, and the events that shaped us, it’s important to try to look at them with the nuance they deserve. It’s always more complicated than it seems on the surface and bullet points rarely capture the whole picture.
The original column was published on August 15th, 2019 and can be found below.
Just a content note, I’ll be talking about genocide, fascism, and political generalizations based on demographic trends, so you don’t have to yell at me if you’re “one of the good ones.”
Mother, did it need to be so high?
I spend a lot of time doing deep dives on music and I try to break open as much of what the songwriters are trying to say as I can, whether it be about themselves or the world around them. But it’s becoming more and more obvious that a lot of people don’t do that, even when they’ve been listening to these songs for decades and especially when they’re really popular. The more these songs are played out and diluted, the less real meaning they seem to have, like an album everyone seems to know, Pink Floyd’s 1979 album, The Wall.
I’ve been thinking about this in the context of older generations lately, after starting to really delve into the solo career of Roger Waters, the bass player and main songwriter for Pink Floyd, primarily Is This The Life We Really Want?, his newest record. I was searching through some reviews for it and came across this one:
If you know anything about Roger Waters, you already know more than “Steve S,” but if you don’t, he’s pretty consistently written political lyrics. Even before the Pink Floyd album I picked for this month’s column, you can clearly see his politics shine through in most of his post-Dark Side Of The Moon work, both solo and with Floyd. Here’s “Sheep” from their 1977 record, Animals.
What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real Meek and obedient, you follow the leader down well-trodden corridors Into the valley of steel What a surprise, a look of terminal shock in your eyes Now things are really what they seem No, this is no bad dream
The entire album is politically driven, from attacking capitalism, media censorship and “traditional values,” to blindly obeying a leader until you realize how far you’ve fallen. The issue we’re seeing today, though, is that so many people, especially when they’re privileged enough to be less affected by day-to-day policy fights, don’t realize they’ve fallen from their ideals at all. They think they’re on the right side of history, but if you were to supplant their opinions now relative to the oppressive power structures back just a few decades, they would almost certainly be the people calling Martin Luther King Jr. a dangerous radical and contributing to the almost two thirds disapproval rating that he had in 1966. They’d much rather just “keep politics out of it” and “talk about something else” instead of standing up for what’s right. King talked extensively about the dangers of these (white) moderates who sit on the sidelines in his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.”
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride towards freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I’m bewildered by the present-day rejection of societal optimism and justice from the generations that viewed their elders as the evil traditionalists standing in the way of integration, civil rights, ending the imperialism of the cold war, alongside so many societal ills that have by no means disappeared. The hippies of the late 60s and the punks of the late 70s grew up and stopped caring about making the world a better place, choosing instead to stay complacent in favor of the status quo that now benefited them. Instead of internalizing the messages of their heroes and inspirations, they became the villains of their favorite stories. They act like children who don’t know better, whether it be by naïveté or ignorance, but refuse to honestly engage with the things that inspired them when they were young, learning all the wrong lessons, just like the generations they fought against.
It’s a rock opera, and like most narrative albums, the plot’s a bit murky, so I’m not going to get into the inspirations on which characters are based on what or the deep cuts behind it. But the main bullet points of the plot are:
A young boy’s father dies in a war.
Daddy’s flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory A snapshot in the family album, Daddy what else did you leave for me? Daddy, what’d you leave behind for me? All in all, it was just a brick in the wall
The boy is left with his overprotective mother, who pushes him to isolate himself from the world around him.
Hush now baby, don’t you cry Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you Mama’s gonna keep you right here, under her wing She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing Mama will keep baby, cozy and warm Ooh babe, Of course mama’s help build the wall
His school teachers’ harassments and cruelties add to his anxiety; they, too, are stuck in cycles of abuse
When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers Who would hurt the children anyway they could By pouring their derision upon anything we did And exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kid But in the town it was well known, when they got home at night Their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives
As he grows older, after a back and forth of infidelities, a divorce pushes him even further into emotional isolation.
Day after day, love turns grey like the skin of a dying man Night after night, we pretend it’s alright But I have grown older, and you have grown colder And nothing is very much fun anymore
Despite that, he becomes a rock star, has to medicate to even function through his anxieties, and imagines a world where he’s a fascist leader, who scapegoats minorities with extermination.
Realizing the monster that lurks inside him, he puts himself on trial within his own psyche and confronts the characters that pushed him to build up his walls.
Good morning, worm, your honor, the crown will plainly show The prisoner who now stands before you was caught red handed Showing feelings, showing feelings of an almost human nature
But in the end he is “sentenced” to let himself feel real emotions again, and tears down his defenses, exposing his vulnerabilities to the cruel world around him, while the album hints at the cycle starting all over again when it ends with a loop that connects it to the opening track.
Since my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear I sentence you to be exposed before your peers Tear down the wall!
The politics of the album aren’t explicitly clear until the latter half, but Waters is saying a lot throughout. Our protagonist, Pink, is constantly blaming everyone around him for his flaws. His father, his mother, his teacher, his wife, eventually blaming anyone “impure.” But throughout all of his projection, empty sadness, and blind rage, he only finds actual growth and solace when he does some, albeit dramatic, self-reflection. He puts himself on trial, not because he’s forced to, but because it’s the only way he can exorcise his demons. It’s not anyone’s fault but his. Sure, he had external struggles, but at the end of the day, he was just an asshole who was turning his daddy issues, mommy issues, issues with women, etc, but most of all his fears into a force to hurt people. Honest self reflection and confronting the internalized trauma, usually ingrained from childhood, are the only real ways we can grow and develop into the people we thought we’d grow into when we were kids.
The people that always look for blame around them, especially when directing it at the most vulnerable, instead of the systems that enable the real villains, should remember what it was like to be that scared kid watching the world change around them, whether it was in the 50s and 60s, or just yesterday. To imagine how the people that inspired them would look down at them now, with disgust, as they’ve gone from the victim of the trauma to the perpetrator. Maybe as an absent father, or an overprotective mother, or a cruel teacher, or maybe simply as a person who’s adding just another brick to the wall. But it’s a much better story if we tear down the walls in the end instead of building even taller ones for tomorrow’s children to have to smash through.
The original column was published on July 16th, 2019 and can be found below.
This album was selected by Will.
Spirit of my silence, I can hear you. But I’m afraid to be near you. And I don’t know where to begin And I don’t know where to begin
Folk music can be a real bummer. Indie folk? Forget about it. Sufjan Stevens? Well, I might as well grab some ice cream because I’ve been listening to his 2015 album, Carrie & Lowell, and it’s a doozy. I’ve only heard Sufjan’s earlier indie-folk stylings in passing, and years ago at that, so I had no idea what to expect when this album was picked for my first requested record. I’d heard he got really experimental with electronica music? Well, definitely not here because this is a real mellow acoustic album and, even with that, it has a lot of weight to it.
I should have known better, to see what I could see. My black shroud, holding down my feelings A pillar for my enemies I should have wrote a letter, and grieve what I happen to grieve My black shroud, I never trust my feelings I waited for the remedy
When I was three, maybe four, she left us at the video store Be my rest, be my fantasy
The album deals with some more complex looks at death than I was prepared for. Sufjan’s mother had just passed away and this record deals a lot with the difficulties he’s feeling, as she was not exactly the most… present kind of parent. But still, when someone’s gone, it has a sense of finality, regardless of whether we’re able to make our peace with them before they go.
When I was three, and free to explore I saw her face on the back of the door Be my vest, be my fantasy
I should have known better, nothing can be changed The past is still the past, the bridge to nowhere I should’ve wrote a letter, explaining what I feel, that empty feeling
This album really made me think about my relationships with people and what it would be like if the current status quo was permanently set as the finale. The album is full of the kinds of solemn regrets that accompany them, but that in and of itself is not all that rare in folk music. The tone is really what sets Carrie & Lowell apart. Sufjan has this atmospheric and airy quality that draws you in and just kinda floats around your head for a while. Even when I wasn’t initially picking up the themes, the intent was clear. I generally gravitate towards much more full and upbeat folk, like The Decemberists, but I still found myself getting lost in the world he was painting, even when the song itself was deeply somber.
For my prayer has always been love, what did I do to deserve this? With blood on my sleeve, Delilah, avenge my grief How? God of Elijah
As fire to the sun, tell me what I have done. How? Heart of a dragon?
One of the things that really stood out to me on this record was how specifically anecdotal Sufjan’s lyrics could be. A lot of folk comes across as “everyman” stories and universal truths, but here, Sufjan doesn’t steer away from specific locales and stories that help build his story as more personal, less universal and help build an irresistible ethos around his narrative.
Emerald Park, wonders never cease The man who taught me to swim, he couldn’t quite say my first name Like a father, he led community water on my head And he called me “Subaru,” and now I want to be near you
Since I was old enough to speak, I’ve said it with alarm Some part of me was lost in your sleeve where you hid your cigarettes No, I’ll never forget. I just want to be near you.
Carrie & Lowell isn’t my usual style and I found myself drawn in a lot more to the lyrics than the more stripped down and slower musical stylings of the record. But sitting with them as I wrote really helped me internalize just how personal and poetic a lot of these songs are. After the first few listens, I didn’t expect to be so moved by the honesty that Sufjan shows about his relationship with not only his mother, but his stepfather who remains a very positive and important part of Sufjan’s life. The difficulties he went through, grieving someone who was not there for him, while still being supported by someone who’s life his mother chose to be a more active part of make Carrie & Lowell an album as complex as it is beautiful and one that’s definitely worth following along with as you get lost in the music.
So can we be friends sweetly, before the mystery ends? I love you more than the world can contain in its lonely and ramshackle head There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking I’m dead
I’m holding my breath, my tongue on your chest, what can be said of the heart? If history speaks, the kiss on my cheek, where there remains but a mark Beloved my John, so I’ll carry on, counting my cards down to one And when I am dead, come visit my bed, my fossil is bright in the sun
So can we contend peacefully before my history ends? Jesus, I need you, be near, come shield me from fossils that fall on my head There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking, I’m dead