A-Team post

Hey guys, I’ve finally put up my A-Team post for this week. It’s a Friday Five, not publishing or writing oriented, unless you count my ramble about The Decemberists’ new album as having something to do with the idea of narrative. Calc-u-later! (Shoot me.)

Have no fear when the waters rise, we can conquer this great divide

I went to the Hanson concert last night and when I got home I was WIPED. And it wasn’t even an “OMG I’m so old I have to go to bed at nine thirty” kind of wiped, it was an “I have a terrible head cold and/or sinus infection and I want to lop off my skull to relieve some of this pressure” wiped. There were so many moments yesterday evening when I considered just forgetting about the $50 I paid for the ticket and going home, that’s how terrible I felt. If it was any other artist or band, I think I would have just gone home, but this is Hanson. I’ve loved them forever and never seen them live, and even though I’m not super into live music, I still didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity, because who knows when they’ll be back in New York?

The show was at the Nokia Theater in Times Square, and let me tell you, these are plush accommodations. One of the reasons I opted to stay was because there was theater-style seating in the back, but not so far from the stage that the guys were tiny specks. I could read during the sets and I didn’t have to stand around (I inevitably wear the wrong kind of shoes to concerts), and I could rest my head in my hands if I needed to, which is what I did.

There were two opening bands, which annoyed me, but they were both good, so that was nice. The first band, Everybody Else, was this fun pseudo-hipstery pop band from LA (I really liked “Meat Market” and “Makeup”), and the second act was this guy Dave Barnes (check out “Until You,” “Everybody But You,” and my personal favorite, “Nothing Fancy”), who was great as well. He was also HOT and self-deprecatingly funny, which made him all the more enjoyable. Thankfully, neither of those sets were overly long, and Hanson came on around 10:30 PM.

They played a pretty good mix of old and new stuff, although several of my favorite songs from their most recent album, The Walk–“Georgia,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and “Watch Over Me”, for instance–went unplayed. Still, they performed “Great Divide,” which, I decided while they were playing it, is my all-time favorite Hanson song. They also played “Been There Before,” “Blue Sky” and “Go,” and it was sort of hilarious because if you listen to the last two albums, even though Taylor is always positioned as the lead singer, they pretty much divide the lead singing evenly throughout the songs. Still, most of the songs they played at the show were Taylor songs, because I guess that’s what everybody expects. But “Go” is a very, very Zac song, and when they were gearing up to play it you could tell that the audience knew he was going to sing lead and everybody got so excited, it was adorable. I never really appreciated “Go” much before tonight, but it really is a beautiful song, so plaintive and sad, and I think I’ll listen to it more from now on.

Hm, what else did they play? They played a few new songs, including this one called “Lay Me Down” which was inspired, they said, by their trips to Africa to benefit AIDS research, when they would see all these little graves and decided to write a song about a parent losing a child. You could tell how important that song was to them, since they’re all fathers now. It was really heartbreaking and beautiful. This is what I love about Hanson–they’re so incredibly sincere with everything they do, and you can see that. There’s no artifice to them.

I can’t tell you how many people make fun of me for still listening and supporting Hanson, and it’s gotten to the point where I just smile and shrug and say, “Whatever, they’re great.” Because they ARE great. They’ve written and performed their own music since they first started, and all of their songs, including “Mmmbop,” display a level of intelligence and feeling that is so advanced for the ages at which they were writing these songs. I mean, most people don’t even know the real lyrics to “Mmmbop,” or what it’s about, which is not entirely anyone’s fault–Taylor is a really garbled singer. A little snippet: “You have so many relationships in this life / But only one or two will last / You go through all the pain and strife / You turn your back and they’re gone so fast…In an ‘mmmbop’ they’re gone.” I read once that before the music industry got their hands on it, “Mmmbop” was a slower, more contemplative song about trusting people and connecting with them and then losing them, and the uncertainty of relationships you so badly want to count on. It’s still about that, but of course more upbeat and frenetic, which is fun, too. You can get the original on iTunes–it’s on their 3 Car Garage indie album. And they did play it. And it was AWESOME.

On the same vein, can I just take a tangent for a minute and discuss how much I admire them for extracting themselves from a bad situation by breaking with their label and starting their own when Island Def Jam didn’t promote their second major studio album (This Time Around), pulled funding for their tour (which they did anyway, on their own dime), and restricted their creative freedom such that they refused 80 plus songs from them because “they felt new material lacked marketability,” according to my trusty friend Wikipedia. Which, as a writer, really grosses me out. The fact that they, at such young ages, realized that they were being treated by their label as a commodity, not as serious musicians, said, “Okay, well if that’s how it’s going to be then we’re going to go do our own thing,” and did just that is pretty amazing to me. There is a documentary about their break with Island Def Jam Records, Strong Enough to Break, available for free on iTunes. It’s named after a song off the Underneath album (their first independent release) about the process of leaving the label.

Anyway, back to the concert. They also played some really great songs from back in the day, like “Where’s the Love”and “A Minute Without You” (before “Great Divide” my favorite Hanson song) from Middle of Nowhere (the album that “Mmmbop” helped climb the charts), and “This Time Around,” “If Only,” and “Can’t Stop” from This Time Around, and “Strong Enough to Break,” “Penny and Me,” and “Hey” from Underneath. They actually ended the show with “Hey,” which was weird, but I guess it’s a high energy song with possibility for audience participation

As to appearance, Taylor is still the hottest one. Isaac has been wearing his hair in a buzz cut, and he kind of looks like John Corbet, but in a good way! And Zac…well, Zac is good-looking, they all are, but his hair needs a cut (didn’t it always though?) and he’s got some mad ugly fauxial hair going on in the chin region. He’s definitely my favorite, though, and probably always will be. They’re all really thin, though. Eat a sandwich, Hanson boys!

Just for funsies, I thought I’d post my ideal Hanson playlist. You can download all these fantastic tunes on iTunes or, well, basically anywhere else I’d guess.

1. “Great Divide” – The Walk
2. “Save Me” – This Time Around
3. “A Minute Without You” – Middle of Nowhere
4. “Lost Without Each Other” – Underneath
5. “Georgia” – The Walk
6. “Strong Enough to Break” – Underneath
7. “If Only” – This Time Around
8. “With You In Your Dreams” – Middle of Nowhere
9. “Penny and Me” – Underneath
10. “Fire on the Mountain” – The Walk
11. “This Time Around” – This Time Around
12. “Madeline” – Middle of Nowhere
13. “Get Up and Go” – Underneath
14. “Watch Over Me” – The Walk
15. “Mmmbop” – Middle of Nowhere
16. “Been There Before” – The Walk
17. “Where’s the Love” – Middle of Nowhere
18. “Love Song” – This Time Around
19. “Yearbook” – Middle of Nowhere*
20. “Go” – The Walk
21. “Optimistic” – The Best of Hanson, Live and Electric

This is getting long, so I’m not going to gush about all the philanthropy and donating and activism they do, but do check out their website if you want to know about that and how you can help.

*Do me a favor: go to the website and listen to this on the 10th anniversary acoustic re-recording of Middle of Nowhere they did last year and I DARE YOU to tell me it doesn’t give you chills. This song reminds me so much of All Unquiet Things; I listened to it over and over and over again while I was writing the manuscript last year. Just replace “Johnny” with “Carly” and it’s almost a perfect match.

Music to write by

Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series (like you didn’t know that), famously writes to music. It’s not like she’s the only one (I would venture to say that a lot of writers write to music), but she posts playlists for each of her novels after they are published and thanks bands in her Acknowledgments and dedicated Breaking Dawn to the band Muse and took Justin Furstenfeld from Blue October on book tour with her, so…I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Meyer has music flowing through her veins.

ANYWAY. I also write to music! Actually, not really. I don’t usually listen to music while I’m writing because I’m easily distracted. But I do a lot of work in my head, on the subway or walking around town, and I do all that work to music. I did a lot of work on AUT as I trudged the two miles (coming and going) to class every day last year. So! If you’ll look up at the top of the blog, I’ve added a tab for AUT. I can’t talk much about it right now since J has started submitting to editors and I’m a “better safe than sorry” sort of person most of the time. I didn’t think it would hurt to put up the playlist, however, so it’s there in all its glory. Some of those songs have been with me since the very earliest days of AUT, when all I had was my protagonist (who has remained mostly the same throughout) and the title (which has never changed). “What a Good Boy” by Barenaked Ladies and “At Your Funeral” by Saves the Day were both suggested by IDK my BFF Cambria, who has patiently suffered through many revisions of AUT and who woke up sick and delirious yesterday morning to find MB sitting in her inbox.

There are some problems with the Playlist.com player at the moment. It won’t show up on the page, so in order to listen to the songs you have to click “Pop-Up Player”. I’m listening to it right now, so that’s at least working. However, I must warn you that some of the songs have errors and won’t play, which I’m going to try to fix. Also, some of the songs have explicit lyrics, and I’ve put a label on all of those songs in the written playlist. If I missed something, please do email me and let me know.

It’s a hit

So last night I went to the Rilo Kiley show at Terminal 5, which is, as it turns out, like, right next to the West Side Highway. Walking to the venue was sort of like walking to the end of the world? I felt sort of like we might fall off Manhattan, but we didn’t! Anyway, Terminal 5 is this weird old warehouse with many floors and chandeliers and freakishly clean bathrooms that have lollipops and peppermints as parting gifts. I don’t know.

Anyways! I made a new friend, Katie’s ex-coworker Jamie, who is pretty much one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met, funnier than me, and I don’t usually think a lot of people are funnier than me because I’m an unrepentant narcissist. She has this very sweet apartment in Midtown, where she’s lived with her family for a lot of years but now she has the apartment to herself. In a town full of transplants, I don’t often meet people who grew up here–and by “here” I do not mean New Jersey. Jamie went to a posh private school on the Upper West Side and then to Brown and is pretty much the epitome of what I believe a real New Yorker my age to be except that she is totally awesome and I have honestly suspected that such people might not be awesome, but I gathered from the way she talked about her compatriots that maybe I was right and that she is a righteous exception.

We got to Terminal 5 around 8:30, and the opening band, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, was in the middle of their set. Katie (or Jamie? Somebody) said, quite rightly, that Thao was a bit like Björk, or “an unintelligible Cat Power”. Hee. Marisa gave me some of her songs, and I have to say, apropos of almost nothing, what is with so many people covering “You Really Got a Hold On Me” these days? And by “so many people” I mean Hanson and this Thao girl. I mean, I like the song, but it seems to me like sort of a weird choice? Or, maybe a little obscure for several people to choose to cover it? I don’t know. That really was an observation with no teeth. Unlike vagina dentata! Which we ended up discussing kind of a lot after the show. That was sort of my fault. Whatevskies! They made it into a movie, so it’s an appropriate post-show chat topic.

Um…so, Rilo Kiley went on at about 9:45 and played a pretty amazing set. It was a nice mix of old and new stuff. I might be the only person I know who actually likes most of Under the Blacklight; I’ve had several people tell me they do not know WHAT is going on with the album after, say, “Dreamworld” in some instances, “Smoke Detector” in others. I’m not the biggest fan of “Dejalo”, but I like almost everything else, although “Give a Little Love” seems out of place, and I guess “Smoke Detector” does too. “Dreamworld” isn’t my fave, but live it’s okay. Songs they played from Blacklight: “Silver Lining”, “Close Call”, “Moneymaker”, “Breakin’ Up”, “Dreamworld”, “15”. I was sort of surprised/disappointed they didn’t play the title track.

They also played some really great old stuff, like “Capturing Moods”, “A Better Son/Daughter”, and “With Arms Outstretched” from The Execution of All Things, and “It’s a Hit” (hence the post title; I love that song), “Does He Love You?” (another of my true faves), and “Ripchord” from More Adventurous. They finished it up with an encore that consisted of “I Never” from Adventurous and Marisa’s favorite double-header, “Portions for Foxes”/”Spectacular Views”, which apparently have the same chords or something music-y that I don’t understand but which made it REALLY COOL. I might have missed some songs, I haven’t seen the set list yet (if anybody knows where that is on the interwebs, shoot me an email at anna [ DOT ] jarzab [ AT ] gmail [ DOT ] com)*, but Brooklyn Vegan has some amazing pictures.

I have no energy to rant about New York concert-goers here, so just read my Tumblr. Because I’m cool like that, I’ve made a Muxtape especially for my favorite Rilo Kiley songs (except the ones I don’t have in mp3, sorry, maybe I’ll add them later). Feel the love.

*ETA: There’s a set list in the Brooklyn Vegan post comments, but for those who are curious enough to read this post but not curious enough to click another link, the set list was as follows:

Close Call
The Moneymaker
Capturing Moods
Breakin’ Up
Does He Love You?
The Absence of God
With Arms Outstretched
Hail to Whatever
It’s A Hit
Silver Lining
I Never

A Better Son/Daughter
Portions for Foxes
Spectacular Views

Ready? Let’s roll.

Like I said last week, since I moved to New York I’ve been inundated with music suggestions from every corner, which is totally awesome. A few days ago my friend Nikki emailed us all, ecstatic about the fact that one of her favorite Austin artists was playing a show in New York and inviting us all to come along. I went into this concert totally blind–er, deaf, I guess–because yesterday I didn’t even have time to listen to the artist’s music on MySpace or anything…I just bought my ticket and then headed out at 6:15 to meet the ladies for drinks and dinner at Nancy’s Whiskey Pub in TriBeCa. If you come to New York, you must visit Nancy’s, if only because the beers are $2.50 and the bartender is KERAZY!

Anyway, eventually we headed down to the Knitting Factory to see Bob Schneider. Let me tell you, I felt instantly at home. Why? Because, as I learned, a Bob Schneider show is basically a frat party. Thinking back to the last few shows I’ve been to, other than City Breathing every one of them (Regina Spektor, Tegan & Sara) has been, if not “girly”, then at least attended by a larger proportion of women than men. Tegan & Sara–all chicks, seriously, even though the hardest core Tegan & Sara fan I know is a guy. So it was a little strange to be surrounded by drunk straight guys who kept screaming at Bob to run his fingers through his hair and stuff.

Schneider’s music is sort of an eclectic mix. I’m sure he (and his fans) would be offended by nearly all of these comparisons, but he reminded me at various points of Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Dave Matthews, but with an edge (read: swearing and sexual content) that none of these performers usually display. Actually, the artist he most reminded me of was the Getaway People, the now-defunct Norwegian band I was obsessed with for quite a while in late high school/early college. The sad thing about the show was that all my favorite songs–the GP, rap-sounding ones–are unavailable on his albums, to my knowledge. Schneider had a couple of crowd-pleasing numbers, including the “sing-a-long” song “Tarantula” and “Sons of Ralph”, which he played last and is totally the FRAT BOY THEME SONG with its references to puking and drinking and having sex. I really enjoyed the classic “The King of the World” and two unreleased tracks (which you can buy off MySpace), “Ready Let’s Roll” and “The Assknocker.” If anybody was at the show and bought the live CD (my feet were so cramped up and we were so tired that we just booked it home after the show; the Knitting Factory is mercifully close to my train), please post the song list (or the songs, if you’re feeling frisky) on the internets so I can know what they all were…my very sketchy method of just going through his MySpace and iTunes, trying to remember which songs I liked, isn’t working very well.

(Oh, and another way the show was like a frat party? Everyone was really really disrespectful of the space, and lots of times of other people. Like, halfway through the show Cambria realized that someone had put empty beer bottles in her tote bag. I actually thought that was pretty funny, but she was grumpy so I tried not to die laughing.)

Music recommendations

As I build up a bigger circle of friends in New York, I build up a greater music collection, which is really a two-fold blessing. This week, after an iTunes snafu in which I thought I had pre-ordered an album but wasn’t charged for it and it wasn’t available for download, Marisa brought me her copy of The Weepies’ new CD, Hideaway. It is so amazing you guys! For those who don’t know much about The Weepies, it’s this band fronted by singer-songwriters Deb Talan and Steve Tannen, whose last names sort of rhyme and are married and have a baby if you can believe it! They were originally solo artists, then met and discovered a profound musical connection, which translated to the formation of The Weepies and the release of their first album, Happiness, which according to Marisa was just for all the happy songs they’d each written that didn’t have a place on their more sombre solo collections. Happy because they were in love! Or something. Anyway, it’s adorable music, heartwarming without being cheesy and completely intoxicating. My current faves (the whole album hasn’t really sunk in yet) are “How You Survived the War”, “Can’t Go Back Now”, “Orbiting”, “Not Dead Yet”, and the title track “Hideaway”, which is amazing.

Also, I must again encourage you to check out City Breathing. My current favorite of theirs right now is “We Can Retrace the Sinking Sky”, which is romantic but not heart-grindingly so. I’m looking forward to seeing another one of their shows at Matchless this month, and encourage any New York-area readers to go.

My new guilty music pleasure is the most recent Timbaland album, Shock Value, which isn’t really that shocking but is really good. I love how he’s kind of the Santana of hip-hop, and also that he and Justin Timberlake, besides having similar names, are also sort of musical soul mates. Timbaland’s fingerprints are all over FutureSex/LoveSounds and Timberlake is a collaborator on more than one song on Shock Value, but so are random bands like She Wants Revenge (“Time”), Fall Out Boy (“One and Only”, a favorite of mine), 50 Cent and Tony Yayo (“Come and Get Me”, another of my favorites, although I feel compelled to point out that “ghost rider” and “tostada” don’t really rhyme), and…Elton John? Yes.

Happy listening!

My Brooklyn weekend

Wow! This was the most inconvenient weekend of my life! The MTA has seriously jumped up to #1 on my Enemies list after the last three days of subway hell. And, ironically, this was the weekend where I had to be in Brooklyn like the whole time. Not that the people who read this blog read it to hear me whine ad nauseum about the New York public transit system, but bear with me, I promise it won’t happen again (for a while).

So, here’s the thing about the subways here. During the week, they run with regularity; trains get a little spotty at night on some lines, but all in all the system is pretty reliable and it runs 24 hours to all but four stations. Sounds pretty good, right? Okay, but on the weekends, everything goes absolutely berserk. And I know this. I’m prepared for it. I expect to get on a 1 train and hear a garbled announcement informing me that it will be going express for four stops or skipping every other station or waiting for five minutes while another train passes. I’ve gotten used to it. But THIS WEEKEND? It was like the entire subway system had spontaneously combusted.

So, Friday was the only day this weekend that I didn’t spend in Brooklyn. My phone was dying, so it was pretty tough to get in touch with people and I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but I ended up at Cooper 35, an Asian pub in the East Village where I had four dollar bay breezes with Katie and Nikki and their work friend Vivian. Later, we went to Phebe’s, a bar near there, and then after that Cambria and I wandered over to the Washington Square area and had chicken strips and French fries before heading home. We also met this guy in a band who asked us to stand outside and watch his stuff while he brought out the rest of his drums or whatever. It was odd.

Saturday, my friend Brigitte and the rest of her friends from Minneapolis came into town and we met up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Courbet exhibit, which was pretty stupendous I must say. You know what wasn’t stupendous? Forgetting my phone at home and then going home after the museum to get it only to find the 79th and 86th St. subway stations closed. I was not going to walk another 10 blocks to 96th St., so I got on the very crowded and very slow M104 bus. I got home right about the time I was supposed to be at dinner. IN BROOKLYN. So of course I just called and said it would take me forever, but due to the aforementioned MTA meltdown my friends were having a hard time getting around, too, and everyone was late. We ended up going to a very tony restaurant in Williamsburg called My Moon. The bread was good, but I only had a side dish of asparagus because nothing on the menu looked appealing and I was trying to conserve cash. The asparagus was good. Afterwards, we walked to Monkey Town, a restaurant/bar in Williamsburg, for a City Breathing concert. The place was really odd and hard to find. Once we got inside, there was all sorts of goofy shit hanging from the ceiling–I think it was supposed to look sort of jungly–and there was a restaurant and a bar, but it was pretty small. The back room where the concert was was really interesting. It was a square room with huge screens on each wall and against each wall was a couch that spanned the length of the wall and really low tables. The band set up and played in the center. We were sort of squished on the couches despite having made reservations, but it was really the perfect setting for the music; we just sort of leaned back and closed our eyes and let the music wash over us, every once and a while looking at the video projections that were accompanying the playing. City Breathing is simply amazing; go on their MySpace and download their album, then if you’re in the area come to Brooklyn any Wednesday in May at Bar Matchless in Greenpoint.

On Sunday I was supposed to go to brunch at Bubby’s in DUMBO with the MN crew, but I declined via text message as I knew that I would have to get up really early to get there by 11:00, what with me living on the Upper West Side and brunch being in Brooklyn, which is a slog anyway when the subways aren’t on crack. I had gotten home from the show at about 3:00 AM, also. So I slept until noon and then headed down to the Times Square area for the matinee of Spring Awakening, which was amazing. About half of us didn’t read that little bit in the Playbill where it tells you where and when the play takes place, so we were like, “Why are they all German? And what is this, 1894? What’s with the dumpy FLDS-type garb?” Turns out, it was set in a German provincial town in the 1890s! Apparently, the musical (with music by Duncan Sheik, remember him?) is a slight adaptation of a nineteenth century play by German writer Frank Wedekind; back in ol’ Frankie’s day, Spring Awakening, which deals with teenage sexuality and criticizes bourgeois attitudes towards sex, the play was banned a lot. I don’t know how Wedekind would feel about bringing the play into the twenty-first century by adding dancing and musical numbers with such titles as “You’re Fucked”, but I suppose he’d probably be on board. Anyway, although I really loved it, I left with sort of a creepy feeling that I haven’t been quite able to shake. I think it was the fact that, though the play took place in late nineteenth century Germany, the music and a lot of the staging is so contemporary that it sort of threw me off. Also, the play’s ability to create humorous scenes that, over time, take on greater significance and become fairly horrific is pretty unnerving. Awesome, but unnerving. Also, side note, the nudity’s not that bad but there are some brief explicit sex acts so probs you shouldn’t bring your kids.

After a quick jaunt back to my apartment to put on some pants (spring, come back, where have you gone?!), I hopped back on the effed up subway to go BACK TO BROOKLYN IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT. We went all the way to Midwood (what? yes, that’s what I said too)–that’s the Avenue J stop on the Q, if you’re a New Yorker, although you still might not know where that is, I certainly didn’t–to eat pizza at Di Fara’s. Now, this was supposedly the Best Pizza In New York–they had lots and lots of articles on the wall to prove it, and a plaque from…somebody who gives out awards for good pizza, I don’t know. And the pizza, when we finally got it, was completely delicious. BUT! I got there at 8:00 and I believe we waited until 10:30-ish to eat, a lot of that outside in the cold. Said Brigitte, “Of course it’s the best pizza in New York! By the time you get it, you’re starving!” Also, apparently the bathroom (which you can only get to by crawling under the counter and going in the back) was so disgusting (“Filthiest bathroom I have ever been in,” according to Amy) that everyone who used it practically bathed in Purel after. However, necessity being the mother of invention, the group composed a collaborative pizza poem while waiting, which was then performed various times aloud. Good times!

It was so late by the time we finished eating that we all decided to go home, which sounds lame, but the New York people had work the next day (today!) and the MN people still aren’t quite over their exhaustion from flying out of Minneapolis so GD early on Saturday morning. Boo, jet lag. Anyway, it was a very packed weekend full of Brooklyn, and though I’ll miss Brigitte and the rest of the crew I won’t mind spending next weekend getting a little more sleep and getting a lot less accomplished.

P.S. I’m really struggling to like Brooklyn (my best friend is moving there in less than two weeks and I’m not super excited about it because it’s really effing far from where I live), so if anybody has any reasons for me to like it (“hipster culture” is NOT a good reason) or places in Williamsburg that we might like to experience/explore (again, I’m cautioning against anything that smacks of hipsters), please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or email me. Yay for Brooklyn?

does it matter? if we’re all matter what’s it matter does it matter if we’re all matter when we’re done?

For the past, oh, I’d say month and a half, I’ve been listening to two things exclusively at work–the Atonement score, and Andrew Bird. Recently, it’s just been Andrew Bird. I am OBSESSED with this artist. Cambria’s sometime boss Kathy apparently knows him somehow, so I’m trying to figure out a way we can score great tickets through her for his next New York appearance, which I don’t think will be for a while. Step One of this plan–get Cambria into Andrew Bird–is going well. Step Two–get Andrew Bird to come to New York–is going to take a little bit more effort, I think.

Anyway, perhaps I was inspired by Pat’s annual blog post; this year, he talked about some artist I’ve never heard of called Burial, which, as it turns out, is the first thing you get when you type the word “burial” into Amazon. To be truthful, I’d heard of Andrew Bird long before I started listening to him, from this guy who is sort of hipstery and I was just not going to be drawn into that, but I like to stream my friend Marisa’s music via our network when I’m at work and she has a lot of Andrew Bird. She eventually burned me a CD and now, well, it’s all I listen to.

andrew bird

What’s so great about him is that his lyrics are so apocalyptic and bizarre. “Fake Palindromes“, probably his most well-known song, is upbeat and almost cheerful, but if you actually listen to the words it’s quite violent and sinister. The folks at Song Meanings are mostly idiots, but someone over there did point out that it’s got a very horror movie quality, it almost reminds me of Stephen King’s Misery, except the captor/monster is a hot girl instead of, like, Kathy Bates. My stab at what the song means is that it’s about the transformation of someone you think you know into something that rips you apart, perhaps emotionally? I don’t even know, I’m not so good at the close reading (as anyone who was in Veeder’s class with me last year will tell you!).

There’s a very (and I hate to say this) aching, disaffected millennial sensibility to Andrew Bird’s music. I hate to say even more that this kind of stuff speaks to me, but it’s so hypnotic and brilliantly encapsulates all the frustrations of being young right now. “Banking on a Myth” sort of speaks to the way we, as post-college chumps, are simultaneously entranced and repulsed by corporate America. In “Masterfade” he takes on the omnipresent question, “What does it all matter?” by conjuring up post-technological Mayberry imagery, superimposing binary code on the blue sky. “Measuring Cups“, one of my favorite Andrew Bird songs, is a reflection on the people we were raised to be, the heavy expectations, the sanitized version of reality we were fed as children: ” so put your backpack on your shoulder / be the good little soldier / it’s no different when you’re older.”

The post-apocalyptic stuff I was talking about is really evident in another one of my favorite songs, “Tables & Chairs“. It reminds me so much of a Douglas Coupland book I read at the end of last summer, Girlfriend in a Coma, about a small group of friends that survive the apocalypse and how it transforms them and redefines their relationships with each other. Andrew Bird makes it all sound sort of fun–“there will be tables and chairs / there will be pony rides and dancing bears / there’ll even be a band”, he sings–but there’s an undercurrent of dismay here as well–“we’ll trade butterfly knives for Adderall…we were so tired of being mild.” “Plasticities“, too, has a similar feel; a jubilant uprising against the forces of consumption and corporate mind control, one that, perhaps, leads to the pony rides and dancing bears, but then what? “Plasticities” talks about fighting “your own personal Waterloo“, but who are you in that analogy: Napoleon or the Coalition? Someday I’m going to write twin novels based on these two songs–I already have the concepts, plots and characters locked away in my vault–because I think that the pictures they paint of the future are so interesting, at once promising and bleak.

I’ve always had a hard time parsing “Scythian Empires“, but I think what someone said on Song Meanings makes a lot of sense: “I believe Andrew Bird is talking about artifacts, and how ours are made of materials that will be forgotten in a thousand years, unlike the Scythian articfacts, which are beautiful and mysterious.” It’s as good an explanation as any for this song, which is so beautifully sorrowful.

Other fantastic tracks are “Fiery Crash”, “MX Missiles”, “Opposite Day”, “Skin Is, My”, “Imitosis”, “Heretics”, and “The Naming of Things”. I don’t know how the music snobs among my nascent readership feel about Bird, but I don’t really care all that much. I listen to a lot of music, most of it worthless (“Whine Up”, anyone? Love that song), but of the few really talented people I find myself drawn to, Andrew Bird is perhaps the most talented. I can’t wait for another showing from him.

Transit-ional writer

The best thing about having an agent–or anybody who is really invested in your novel, who would risk giving you constructive criticism in order to make it better, i.e. not most of your friends–is that they’ll push you to make it that much better even when you think you’ve figured it all out. Over the weekend I figured out a way to fix one of the things my agent thought needed fixing on AUT, which I already thought was okay to begin with but I firmly believe in doing most (read: not all; sometimes you need to fight to keep your vision intact) of what your agent (and, I assume, your editor, although I haven’t yet gotten to that stage) recommends. It’s just that you’re not usually in a place where disagreeing with them is the best idea; you’ve been working on your book for years (six, in my case) and you probably can no longer see it for what it really is–flaws and all–you just think about all the time and energy and thought that went into what it is now, and you have a hard time imagining that it could be any better. But it can. It always can.

Anyway! So. I figured out a way to fix this thing, this problem that I originally didn’t even think was a problem but now I totes do (sorry to be all vague, can’t post a blurb until it’s all done and dusted), and I emailed Joanna for her thoughts. She liked it, and she agreed with what I said about how it tied into Protag #1’s character arc, but she was still subtly pushing me to do more. And I was thinking, “What, this doesn’t fix it? I totally thought it would fix it,” but then, last night, I figured out how to get it to where she thinks it ought to be (I hope). I also, interestingly, think I’ve found a way to fix a big plotting problem I’ve been having with MB, my next WIP, which I’m currently putting on the back burner so as to tend to these edits.

My point in with that little vague anecdote was that all of the revelations I’ve been having recently about AUT and MB have all occurred on public transit. I love public transit–my father is a transportation planner, so it’s sort of in my blood, to the point where I made my friend Kim accompany me to the MTA New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights over Thanksgiving. When I was growing up, the biggest piece of “art” in my parents’ office/bonus room was a giant framed, glassed-in print of the London Underground map. I specifically like that part in the middle that’s shaped like a bottle, and how one of the stations had the same name as our neighbors, whose father was, indeed, British. I do all my best thinking and formulating in motion. If I need to mull over an idea, the last thing I need to be doing is sitting in front of my computer. I need to take a walk or a ride on the subway or bus. Maybe it has something to do with shaking up my brain cells? I have no idea.

When I was finishing up AUT for my MA thesis, I pretty much did all my conceptual work on the 10 block walk from my apartment to campus. Oh, and I must always have music. I try to fit the music to what sort of work I’m trying to do. I have a playlist on my iPod for each project (the AUT playlist is hideously long and bloated–I really need to cull, esp. now that I”m trying to streamline the MS), and there are usually several songs that correspond to specific scenes. For an IRL example, if I want to think about how I can change/make better a scene where Protag #1 goes through a humiliating public breakup, I listen to “Rootless Tree” by Damien Rice. When I’ve been thinking through the party scenes in AUT, I like “Night and Day” by Tech N9ne, “No Retreat” by Dialated Peoples, and “Saturday Night” by Ozomatli. Etc. One of my favorites is the epilogue, which is set partly to “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers and partly to “California” by Rufus Wainwright.

One of the best things about momentarily moving on to MB is that, while it’s still a YA mystery so it has its dark moments, it’s a lot lighter than AUT, so I can listen to more upbeat music. Now, of course, that I’m working on AUT edits I’m back to the gut-wrenching ballads and angry alternative, but eventually I’ll be able to leave that behind, which will give me a much-needed break from all the angst I’ve been pouring into AUT for the last six years.

A coworker / Her friend / Then me

This has nothing to do with writing or publishing or what have you, but I’m going to see Rilo Kiley on June 2. I’ve never seen them before, and they’re playing at Terminal 5, where I’ve never been before, so this should be exciting. Don’t love it that it’s on a Monday, but that’s probably better, and anyway I saw Tegan & Sara on a Monday and got home before midnight so it shouldn’t be a bother.