Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins

I’ve been reading about the tragic deaths of Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins today. The story, which involves an avalanche in Montana and a suicide, is just heartbreaking.

Kennedy wrote a powerful essay just two weeks before those events, and his words ring loudly in the wake of his and Perkins’ deaths. He wrote about a climb that took place several years ago, and about the passing of two friends.

There’s too much to get into right now, but it’s really worth a bit of time to read through his essay.

I see both light and dark in climbing. Through this recognition, true learning begins and a full awareness of the brevity of our time becomes clearer. It’s difficult to accept the fact that we cannot control everything in life, yet we still try, and maybe our path changes to something totally unexpected.

I am still in the process of finding my own path, and I’d be lying if I said these deaths haven’t affected its direction. How does climbing fit into “real life”? If we only take the surface level experience—endlessly chasing the next hardest project, the next most futuristic alpine objective—then, in my opinion, climbing becomes too much of a selfish pursuit.

Maybe the most genuine aspects of any tale are the sputterings and the silences, the acknowledgments of failure, the glimmerings in the dark. And maybe one genuine reason to try to share our stories about days we actually send something, when we are alive and at the height of our powers, is to try to bring back what’s past, lost, or gone.

Perhaps by doing so, we might find some light illuminating a new way forward.

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Five musical moments

  • Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides came out 18 years ago yesterday. It’s a dynamite album, of course, but I’ve always loved “Mathematics” in particular. When will its lyrics drift into irrelevancy in America? (Never.)

 

  • I think Alfa Mist’s Antiphon is my favorite new album of 2017. “Created around a conversation with his brothers, Alfa blends melancholy Jazz harmony with alternative hip-hop and soul.”

 

  • “Here’s a song for my honey.” Leftover Salmon comes to Kent, Ohio, next week; their recent live album, 25, is a true delight. “Keep Driving” is a really great song, and the dynamics on the 25 version are spellbinding at times.

 

  • I’m just now seeing that the Barr Brothers put out a new album. (!) They’re a wonderfully eclectic folk-ish band out of Montreal, spawned by the brothers themselves, Brad and Andrew, who anchored the jazzy soulful Boston-based jam band The Slip in the 2000s. (And — look-ee — they’ll be at the Rex in Pittsburgh on Dec. 5. I have no choice but to attend.) But while we’re here, I need to point to The Slip’s “Before You Were Born,” an absolutely endearing love song.

 

Painting the walls

For a while, from probably 2012 to the summer of 2014, I listened to Phish with an intense and focused passion. I had been listening to them since 2006 and going to shows since 2010, but finally the interest crystallized into obsession. I took notes and spent long nights diving deeper into the mythos of the band. This is one page of my Phish journal from that time:

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It’s not organized in any particular fashion, except I’m clearly highlighting “full show recs” and ambient jams on this page. Beyond that, it’s just a list of specific jams from over the years that are worth listening to. From there, I began to develop a sense of how these guys communicated and what differentiated their improvisation, say, in the summer of 1995 from what they were doing in the fall of 1997.

I couldn’t get this band out of my head. Learning about the drivers behind the band’s history made the surface-level moments that much more special. It was a certain form of love, I’d say, and the process of falling into it.

These days, I participate in conversations on phish.net’s forum; on r/phish; and on a private listserv called JournoPhish, where journalists from around the world geek out on their favorite band’s latest shows and past high-water marks. I’ve devoted my time and faith — and I continue to — and now I bask in each tour, each moment.

I’ll be attending the four-night New Year’s Eve run in New York City once again, and those shows will bring my love for this band into starker contrast. Each show changes my life in incremental ways; sometimes, it takes years to see where Phish has caused me to take a turn in my own personal narrative. The impact of the Baker’s Dozen hit me immediately, and I’m so glad I made the trip up to New York for part of that run.

Right now, I’m fixated on the 7/19/17 Mr. Completely. I’m studying it, sure, here and there, but I’m also just loving it. Glad I was there for that one too.

Toil and trouble

I’ve been recently reinvigorated in terms of writing my novel. It’s an idea that I’ve been kicking around since 2008 or so, slowly molding it into a coherent and mindful story. The plot involves a strange degenerative disease that is afflicting a small population in northern New Mexico — a disease that nearly wiped out the region two generations prior, for reasons unknown. A drifter’s car breaks down on the main road into town, and his presence stirs long-subdued forces that twist and collide over the course of five days. Through many unsettling interactions with the town’s residents, we tackle a number of grand questions about, e.g., the meaning of time, the ease with which the mind deludes itself, the difference between the past and the future, and what to do when you stab yourself on a head full of acid. It’s a thrill!

This song, by Grouper, heavily influenced the early outline work. I’ve thought about this story in cinematic terms, and her music served as a good soundtrack when I needed help in defining the narrative arc. (I used to just hit repeat on this one and let the strings and reverb and vocals guide my sense of story.)

How? And why?

From journalism scholar James Carey, as relayed by Roy Peter Clark in the wake of Las Vegas:

“How and why are the most problematic aspects of American journalism: the dark continent and invisible landscape. Why and how are what we most want to get out of the news story and are least likely to receive or what we must in most cases supply ourselves. Both largely elude and must elude the conventions of daily journalism, as they elude, incidentally, art and science. Our interest in ‘what’s new,’ ‘what’s happening,’ is not merely cognitive and aesthetic. We want more than facts pleasingly arranged. We also want to know how to feel about events and what, if anything, to do about them. If they occur by luck or blind chance, that is a kind of explanation, too. It tells us to be tragically resigned to them; indeed, luck and chance are the unannounced dummy variables of journalistic thought, as they are of common senses. We need not only to know but to understand, not only to grasp but to take an attitude toward the events and personalities that pass before us. But to have an understanding or an attitude depends upon depth in the news story. Why and how attempt to supply this depth, even if honored every day largely in the breach.”

Guns

I’m not a “gun guy” by any means. I don’t like them, and I find their presence an alarming undercurrent in American culture. They’re an obsession for large swaths of the population — and while I generally love obsession as a narrative device or as a personality trait, I’ll never get over the fact that guns are designed only as tools that kill things, that take life away from something that has it. I don’t like that at all.

That said, I spent time in 2014 with a former Baghdad-based security contractor named Stony Smith. He lives in Lakewood, Ohio, these days, and he took me to his shooting range in Lorain. We shot handguns on two occasions; he showed me all the basics and taught me about the history of each gun we fired. The one that I enjoyed the most was the CZ 75. That gun originated in the turbulent nationalization of the Czechoslovak arms economy. Stony reviewed the context of each handgun as he pulled them out of a massive bag, before letting me hold the thing and get comfortable with it and fire it down the range.

And I say enjoyed because we had a good time of it, after all. This was marksmanship education on a very rookie level. I was a good shot. (And now that I’m thinking about it, I should update this post later with photos of my first few targets. I impressed myself greatly.)

The point of writing this today is that a friend of Stony posted this piece on Facebook. The idea is that the more “liberal” gun control proponents — the anti-gun crowd, generally — would do well to talk with gun owners. Maybe even shoot a few with them. Learn the definitions behind the words that surround the gun control debate in the U.S.

I’d love to have a frank conversation about gun policy and violent crime in America. But first the other side has to learn the language. Or at least hire an interpreter.

You know before you hit “publish” that you don’t really know what you’re talking about, right? So why not reach out to someone who does?

The writer isn’t wrong. My perspective on guns grew more informed because of those interviews with Stony. And I could use a refresher conversation with guys like him. Because I’d like to see reform legislation, sure; I might even argue for a repeal of the Second Amendment and, like Michael Moore has proposed, passage of a 28th Amendment that addresses, e.g., automatic weapons, storage, fingerprint ID technology on triggers, etc.

But I’m probably more woefully uninformed on the subject than I’d like to admit. I don’t want to argue from an emotional standpoint anymore. And certainly not when the matter at hand involves guns, death, tragedy and certain inalienable rights.