Goodbye To All That

I met him in our old meeting place,

the newly re-tiled hospital room

with the new heavy curtains,

the kind that trap light

like a hotel room.

And anyway he said they had to use

the defibrillator last night

asked me to turn the TV down

said he needed a cigarette

said he like really really needed a cigarette.

And in that moment I hated him

for what he did to him

and all the things he did to him.

And also myself

for what I did to him

and the things I could not prevent.

But who would I have been

telling him about his vices

when I had plenty

of my own?

The King is Dead

On “The King Is Dead” the new Decemberists album due out January, ’11, the band returns to their “roots,” putting out a straightforward acousticky country folk collection. And upon first listen it is good, for the most part. Some of the songs are flat, but some are completely great. Check out both January Hymn and June Hymn for reference.

What I find most notable about it is that the Decemberists record it is most comparable to is not a Decemberists record at all but the posthumously released Colin Meloy pre-Decemberists band Tarkio.  It has acoustic guitar, accordion, twangy lap steel, harmonica(!!!!) and fiddles and endless, endless hooks. It is everything a traditional Decemberists fan would hate.

However, I would argue that returning to these supposed roots is the best thing decision Meloy could have made at this point in their career. They were following a long, annoying trajectory whose novelty ran out a while ago. On “The King is Dead” they are doing what they do best; writing good music and letting the story-lyrics stand on their own. There are elements of story, but it’s more subtle. It’s a story, but still retains some of its universal appeal and relatable-ness. Like, “This is how I feel, and I am probably a character in a story.” This is just good songwriting, and not different from what any other songwriter does, be he John Darnielle or Bruce Springsteen.

Ever since Picaresque The Decemberists have just become bloated, inflatable versions of The Decemberists I truly love, where the songs, instead of telling a story are just winking and nudging you, completely aware that they are telling a story, if that makes sense. They haven’t been subtle and have been beating you over the head with the fact that it’s a narrative. More like, “I am a character, this is my setting, here are the themes of my narrative, these are my motivations, here are the other characters, now some shit is gonna go down.” I guess I just feel like they have been trying to hard to be The Decemberists instead of just writing good music and songs in a more natural way.

Here Meloy and co return to let the songs speak for themselves and let the stories do the work. The lyrics are more in the tradition of songs like The Bachelor and the Bride or Shiny. And this fan could not be happier. Sure, it doesn’t sound like The Decemberists, but the songs are overall stronger because of this. And it’s pretty, which I like.

edit: it has now reached the point where I appreciate the album more for what it is doing than for what it is not doing. well played, Meloy.

Places

A thing that is true about me is I get particularly annoyed when people have an irrational competitive positive team-spirit attitude about the city or state or country they are from. So part of me wants to identify this Chicago winter we are now knee deep in as specifically worse than in other regions of the country. But that isn’t true. There are other places that have it worse. But it is my tendency to do so.

I’m from Iowa. Growing up there, we talked endless shit about it. We hated the towns, the country, the geography, we hated the weather, the people, the economy.  We had no love.

But when I moved to Minnesota, and people would scoff at me for being from Iowa, (I would get the condolences of Minnesotan strangers when I told them where I was from) as if Minnesota is better… I wasn’t expecting that. My attitude could best be described as, I can say what I want about my brother, but don’t YOU say anything about my brother. Also, their arguments against Iowa weren’t valid. It was stuff like, “Ya’ll fish in the ditches, don’t ya, cuz ya’ll are stupid,” and “Ya’ll don’t drive so fast, huh.” Minnesota is geographically identical to Iowa.

But it made me appreciate Iowa more. We don’t give a fuck where you’re from. We’re gonna be nice to you or silently judge you. We don’t have this forced bullshit love of our hometowns that other places seem to have. We don’t sing our school fight song when we get together. That’s not a thing that happens. What does happen is we will visit our hometowns or our college towns or places we liked once, find the one thing we liked about it, and hold onto and savor that one thing until the juices have been sucked dry. And then we will mourn the loss.

When I moved to Chicago, they didn’t have the same attitude toward Iowa that Minnesota has. And no one is really from Chicago, anyway. If they’re not from the suburbs, they’re from other states and don’t care about Iowa anyway. It’s just another place that fills in the blank of “where are you from?” when making small talk at parties. There’s not a competition.

Though there was this attitude of “Don’t you love it here? Isn’t it totally awesome here?” which wasn’t really how I was feeling then. I didn’t know anyone or know my way around and I was sort of just waiting to start sticking basically. So any enthusiasm I had for it at first was forced. Though, obviously, since being here I have created nodes and different niches and found things I loved and began to surround myself with those things. And it’s gotten to the point where I can’t realistically imagine moving anywhere else. It would be a great sacrifice. It has everything I could ever need.

But where I wanted to go with this is… Chicago winters are goddamn cold. They are not more cold than your winters. But goddamn. It’s cold. And my tiny apartment is doing this thing where the ceiling area will be really hot, and I will be sweating on top and have to remove a layer. But my feet are fucking freezing. Like. They are in pain because they are cold. And if you touch the floor, you will need to get up and wrap yourself in a blanket.

Which is oddly enough also how my microwave is. I will cook something and part of it will be burnt to a crisp, black and splitting, and then another part will still be cold. And there’s nothing I can do.

Anyway. Just an observation.

Top 10 Albums of 2010

I contributed my top ten albums of 2010 over on the chirp blog.

Check it out.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Guilty Confession

As it turns out, Kanye West’s new album has entered my psyche in a way I was not anticipating. As a pop culture icon, Kanye is not someone I find myself identifying with or sympathizing with. Also, I am not a hip-hop fan*. It’s taken a lot for me to both admit this in my adulthood and work through it. And I think I have figured out why; hip-hop is mainstream music.  I think I was afraid that by admitting I wasn’t really a follower of the genre that that said something about me as a white person, but then I remembered why I rejected hip-hop in the first place: it was what the popular assholes were listening to in high school. There was nothing attractive about it for me. For me, it was all about punk (which I mistakenly believed was more politically conscious (which it is in some cases and isn’t in other cases)). And then there is Kanye. He has produced an album that has caught my attention in a huge way that few albums have this year.

Once I found out that there was hype about his new record, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy my curiosity was piqued and I had to have it. I had heard his music before but am not closely intimate with his previous work, so I don’t really have that to work with. But the first listen through I was not impressed and was disappointed that something undeserving was getting such hype (10 out of 10 on Pitchfork, #1 Billboard). So I kept listening. And listened again. And made other people listen. And soon (within days, actually) the imagery and the ideas and the hooks were sinking in.

Now I am able to pick apart things I genuinely enjoy about the album. Basically I like it when people are able to take all the ugly things about themselves, the things they don’t like, the character flaws, and work through them as a form of catharsis to make something positive, to make art. The best books, the best music, the best movies, are always from some dark personal place you don’t so much like talking about in public.

In particular, the song “Runaway,” he acknowledges he is terrible with women and cites specific reasons why, up to and including infidelity and an inability to see past his partner’s superficial problems.  He calls himself a douchebag, an asshole, a scumbag, a jerkoff.  Kanye West, the performing artist that our president publicly wrote off as a jackass, is working through some very heavy burdens on this record. And rarely on it is he the hero.

Another song that has been haunting my nightmares the past couple days is “Blame Game,” where he characterizes a romantic disaster / doomed relationship with possibly the same girl featured in the other songs. At the end of the song he is trying to call her and her phone accidentally calls him back and he can hear her with another man. The voice of the other man is Chris Rock in an oddly hilarious but horrifying monologue where he reveals all the things they’ve done together.

I find myself quoting it out of context to my friends and then have to explain what it is.

Below find “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I guess the song is one he performed at the VMA’s or something, but I hope you will be able to listen to the song in its own context.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IN8thsv67Sw

*It should also be noted that since getting involved with CHIRP hip-hop has been winning me over more and more, as we have conversations about its history and what role it plays in American culture. Word.

Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?

I wrote another thing for the CHIRP blog. Another installment of Rediscovering Our Record Collections. This time Harvey Danger “Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone?”

Portrait of a Thumb

I wrote this story some time ago, in 2006, when I was living in Rochester, MN and working at Super Target. It is one of the first stories I wrote after graduating college with intent to publish. I submitted it to Glimmer Train’s short fiction contest. I paid my $15 entrance fee and was either rejected or ignored.

I read it aloud a few weeks ago for the Two With Water reading series at Beauty Bar in Chicago. The theme of the night was “B(u)y Product.”

Portrait of a Thumb
By Bobby Evers
   
    Rose’s legs hurt. It was age settling in. Annoyed, she tossed her purchases on the dusty conveyer belt; some fruit and bras, pads, batteries for Maria, as well as other varied household items. She was careful not to let her things spill across the hard plastic dividing line into the belongings of the people ahead of her. The beeping of the pricing guns was like the maddening song of robotic birds, chirping out of time. And of course, not a clock in sight. That was to make you shop longer. Tsk. They make you sleepy with their siren song, showering you in sky-high shelves decorated with beautiful labels, and then you lose all track of time. “I must have this!” you say. Then you get home and nothing works exactly to your liking, and everything is just a collection of small disappointments.
     Rose remembered the great package of dog food on the bottom of her cart.
    “Excuse me… sir?” she said, getting the attention of the boy at the cash register. He was a young thing, shaggy hair, bangs in his face. He looked up from his menial work, pulling groceries across a tiny laser, and looked Rose in the eye. “Is there a way you could scan this dog food without me lifting the thing onto the counter?”
    “Yeah, I’ll zap it at the end.” He said it quietly, almost to himself. He was focused on the task at hand, assisting the young couple ahead of her. Not focused. Bored, maybe. In a daze. It was at that moment that something in his face struck Rose. Dammit, if he wasn’t a beautiful young man; a strong jaw, a rigid brow. He had dark eyes, red underneath like a soldier that hadn’t slept since Christmas. And his hands. What large man’s hands this young thing had. How old was he? Twenty? Definitely older than Maria. Maria was fifteen. Maria probably didn’t know who he was. Certainly out of high school. He probably had this job to pay his bills. Rose remembered those days. He was probably an artist, or a sculptor. A musician. Yes, you get blisters from playing guitar strings. She’d heard that somewhere and it sounded true.
    Suddenly it was her turn and the boy made a grab for the pads. She watched him, watched him closely to see how he reacted. Not a flinch. In all her years Rose had never met a man that acted so maturely toward pads. It caught her breath in her throat how he just pinched them like they were nothing. He wasn’t afraid at all. The most natural thing in the world. She’d tried surrounding her husband with boxes upon boxes of tampons, bulk packages of pads. But he never quite adjusted to it. Tampax, Kotex, Always. She tried sending him to the store to pick some up and he somehow always always always forgot. As if a tiny part of him believed it was an imaginary thing he could pretend never existed. And here this man-boy was treating them like just another product.
    Fixing her eyes on his nametag pinned to his red smock, she learned his name was Jay. Oh, Jay. The lemons spilled and rolled across the scanner. Jay fumbled for them, using his forearm to attempt to catch them before they landed on the dirty tile floor. He succeeded. His expression never broke from a stern and affixed gaze. Punching some numbers clumsily on his keypad, he gently put them in the white plastic sack and resumed the mindless scanning. More and more, the scanning continued, pulling, grabbing, tossing. His work was endless. Always, she watched his fingers, dancing across her products like the bones in her body. The way he bent her new red dress with his wrist was the same way he would touch the small of her back when they tangoed. He was quick, but surprisingly gentle.
    Was he a clumsy lover? She wondered about his kisses. Would he plant them on her neck, on her collar bone? Could he look her in the face when he made love to her? Could he make her soar into the tall sunrise like an angel on fire? Or would he balk at the notion of their union? Would he hesitate by the blueprint of her design? She reflected on the two of them standing in checkout lane seven. What were they if not two hearts beating in a great beautiful world of consumerism, pumping blood into a network of complicated machinery?
    Yes, Jay, scan my water softener salt pellets. Ring it up, Sweety, ring it all the way up. You innocent thing, you delicious peach. She wanted to bite his skin. What was it about him she found so endearing, so familiar? He was young enough to be her son, but old enough to give her what she was missing. I could seduce you. I could have you. My bed could be a nest to you, and I could put my legs around you like an egg and I would sit there ‘til you came out of your shell, a beautiful thing I gave to the world. And what a satisfied smile I would have! To give the world something so special.
    Jay scanned her bras next, and with expert fluidity, with meticulous fingers, he removed them from their small plastic hangers. Some transparent, some white, he pulled them all off like he knew his way around a bra. He palmed the lacy cups with one artisan’s hand as the fingers of his other undid bra after bra, as if to undress her, tossing hanger after hanger into the noisy abyss under his counter. She watched him closely.
    It was then that she noticed he was sweating. There! In the mat of his sideburns!
    Of course! Of course she remembered who he reminded her of. Why, it was a face she hadn’t thought of in years, and hadn’t seen in twice that long. When she was Maria’s age Rose spent the summer with her aunt in Guanajuato. It was a summer of horseback riding and mountain climbing. Rose took scores and scores of photographs of the scenery, of the Mexican sunset, and every person she met. She ate a lot of hot food and learned impossible things. There was a village boy that always came up to see her there and they tried to learn the other’s language.
    “Rosa,” he would say. His name was Alejandro and he was a few years older. “¿Cómo se dice ‘bella’ en ingles?”
    He was the boy who taught her how to tongue kiss and had hands just like Jay’s that he knew how to use. The boys of Mexico. It had been so long. How dramatic, always throwing around words like ‘love.’ These romantic notions of passion and idolizations of women that were nothing more than successful ways of getting her into bed. And all she wanted was one picture of Alejandro that she took on the last night she ever saw him. She got off the plane and the very first thing she did was developed the photos. Every picture was a beautiful panoramic keepsake of mountainous countryside. But the only one she wanted was obscured by the bright roundness of her own fifteen-year-old thumb. It was the one physical artifact that remained of Alejandro, ruined. It cracked her chest open. Briefly, she considered removing the thumb as a punishment to herself.
    “Don’t forget the dog food,” she told Jay, hips on hands.
    “Oh, yeah.” He picked up a black plastic pricing gun attached to a curly telephone cord. He looked down past her waist and thighs toward the bottom of the cart. Rose leaned down to adjust the bag so that the barcode was in plain view, as plain as the view down her blouse. She never took her eyes off Jay. Want me, she thought. And yes. She saw him look.
    She paid him. And just like that, the transaction was over. Jay slammed the register closed, rattling the change in it. He tore off her receipt and forced it on her like a goodbye note and told her to have a nice day. It was so abrupt and so strange that she was surprised it had come from him. So impersonal. Drained, she left with a sigh. She had to pick up Maria soon from school. Next year Maria could drive herself. Soon she would be cast off into a thankless world of regret and mediocrity and it broke Rose’s heart to think about the men who would enter Maria’s life, unable to ever be exactly what she needed. Oh well, she decided. No use punishing herself for that.