12/4/19

The last Phish show I saw was one year ago today.

It’s sort of a strange show, and the past year troubled its emotional grip even more. As we drove home in a blizzard that night, who could have guessed what we were moving toward (away from)?

I haven’t listened back too much, but at times this is a richly textured night of music. The core of the second set runs through a weird/moody sequence: Runaway Jim > Ghosts of the Forest > A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing > Prince Caspian > Fuego > YEM, and certain jam segments feel almost “watery,” like we’re coursing through submerged wreckage in some exotic gulf.

The memory is hazier than I’d like to be, frankly. Despite the goofball bustout encore, I feel like I left good friends on an odd note. That’s how it is sometimes, though, innit?

All that being said, the first-set Halley’s jam is some of the most chilled-out groovy funk I’ve heard from the band in recent years (outside of Tube, of course).

My 10 favorite albums of 2020

Frances Quinlan – Likewise

Eerie Gaits – Holopaw

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Phish – Sigma Oasis

Aesop Rock – Spirit World Field Guide

Porridge Radio – Every Bad

Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall II

Hum – Inlet

Oddisee – Odd Cure

Golf

I broke 100 yesterday at St. Denis in Chardon, Ohio, and it feels good. That was one goal I’d set this season, with the other as-yet-unachieved goal of no 8s on a single scorecard. That one will have to wait until next year.

Who knows? Maybe the weather will stay mild and we’ll get out again in December. I shot my best game in 42-degree weather (and that was with two 8s on the day), so maybe this cold is helping stiffen my swing or something. Whatever happens, I know I’m staring down a long winter of reading about golf and watching Youtube videos and planning, to one degree or another, some sort of springtime trip. A new putter is in the cards for sure. Maybe a gap wedge to round out my 56 and 60. Maybe an M2 driver to complement the new irons and move on from my intermediate Pinemeadow driver that causes me either terrible suffering or, sometimes, boundless joy as I drill a perfect shot down the middle of the fairway. I still haven’t figured out how to get off the tee box in any consistent way, but that’s a surprise to no one.

Anyway. Here are the courses I played in 2020, and a few highlights:

Grantwood

Sleepy Hollow

Briarwood

Royal Crest

Brookledge (x2) — The new “home course” since we moved to Cuyahoga Falls. I’d planned to get out here more this year, but it seems 2020 golf was more about breadth than any real depth. That’s a big goal for 2021: play fewer courses and get to know each one in detail.

Fairlawn Country Club

Madison Country Club (x2)

Pepper Pike Club

Bob-O-Link

Lost Nation — A classic muni out by the Willoughby airport. We play this one each August in an outing hosted by my friend’s wife’s cousin, so it’s become a nice annual stalwart. Nothing fancy, but home to many fun memories, etc.

Ironwood

Raccoon Hill

Elyria Country Club

Bunker Hill — This is a long-standing favorite from my early days of golfing, and it’s lately become the home of the Cunningham Classic, a new Labor Day tradition-ish on B’s side of the family. Super fun, very hilly, laid-back staff. It’s hard to ask for more.

Ridge Top — A total unknown until the morning-of. Very cool, wooded design that’s not overly simple and not overly challenging. This is southern Medina, so it’s a little out of the way but that also became a theme this year for a number of reasons.

Sugarbush (x2) — Just a beautiful course with enough vistas to make it seem like you’re a day’s trip outside of good old Cleveland. The last foothills of Appalachia, trickling into the Chagrin River valley, thereabouts. The variety here is top-notch and not totally unforgiving. It’s as well-rounded a course as I’ve played in Northeast Ohio.

St. Denis (x3) — I think this course comes in at No. 1 on the season for me. Not only did I hit my 99, but I shot a 102 on my second game here: a much-needed sign of progress. On my last two games here, I dialed in my drives in a way that I’d been hoping to see all year.

Manakiki

Pleasant Valley

Sweetbriar

Talib

From the archives of Talib Kweli’s Tumblr, a list of vital verses that put Shakespeare in the shithouse.

This is important stuff. I’ve often thought that RA the Rugged Man’s ‘Uncommon Valor’ Vietnam verse is the slickest thing I’ve heard in hip-hop, just a torrential flow of dark imagery and American blood (and it made Talib’s list!). But AZ’s opening verse in ‘Life’s a Bitch’ and Mos Def on ‘Thieves in the Night’ have also looped steadily in the background of my own adventures in writing and life.

I was 17 years old, slinging dishes at Rocky River Brewing Co., and Sammy would put Nas on the stereo while we closed. Anything off Illmatic reminds me of keeping late hours in the kitchen, drifting in between work and school, feeling my way through a whole galaxy of new music (Chris, the prep guy, throwing Sepultura CDs my way and Matt laying some ’97 Phish on my head and Bill introducing me to the Rhymesayers world).

For my money, these days, a personal favorite is Aesop’s second verse on Daylight. I’ve listened to it enough that it’s taken on an identity unique to me, a mirror-pattern sketched across my memories.

Of course, Talib himself is no joke MC—and don’t forget it. “My middle name in the middle of equality.” It’s astonishing. And check this 2002 Kanye-produced cut with Black Thought and Pharaohe Monch.

Talk to teachers

“Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time.”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with James Baldwin this fall—and not for nothing. His words are timeless, sadly, in the broken American construct that rattles and clangs and kills even today. And yet, as frantic as the passing years seem to be, I always find a source of comfort in good writing. Baldwin distills the essence of American energy.

This is a 1963 essay delivered for teachers (you and me and everyone) to draw attention to the long, slow crisis in this country. It’s written for our moment, too. And to anyone who thinks history will leave you alone if you simply tune out the hatred and violence in America, well, the truth will have its way with all of us.

“The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.”

It’s easy to let mass media/social media swarm your mind, but I think this work happens on a granular, individual level. In the classroom, in the local paper, in a book club. When we change ourselves, we change the world.

Silly mountain

I was looking for a poem last night, a short piece written in 1573 by the Buddhist monk Han-Shan Te’-Ch’ing. It took me until this morning, with The Beatles’ “Help!” playing at my desk, to find it. (Overnight, I dreamt that I’d dreamt the poem, a hazy fragment from a mushroom trip or a Tom Robbins novel read long ago. But no! It was real!)

This silly mountain doesn’t go around aping people,

Playing the clown, society’s fool.

It sits here alone, contented in solitude, perfect in peace.

I should be so silly.

The reason I was looking for it last night has come and gone, so I share it with you now. Maybe it will change everything. Maybe it’s the answer to the question you’ve been asking.

The NYT and the case against… something… not quite sure… Trump?

Far be it from me to hoist a New York Times editorial aloft on this otherwise sacred ground, but I do think we can find some helpful language in the board’s relatively searing indictment against our shit-eating president. We can find a sense of the national media’s guardrails, at the very least.

Maybe you’ve voted already. Maybe you don’t give a fuck. But, either way, whatever is going on here in America (and whatever the NYT editorial board is crowing about) is something very deep and hateful and almost mythological in its detail. Something very old, thematically speaking.

Yes, it is a national crisis. And, yes, perhaps, it can be struck down by the electorate. (With voters like these, though…) But I just can’t help feeling/knowing that this is a cultural sickness more than anything. It is metastasizing rapidly, and I’m not convinced that policy criticism or common-sense entreaty will help us here. Not only are America’s perennial truths blooming once again, but the strident hatred and the profit-or-violence construct underlying this country are thrown into the spotlight by a global pandemic and the stem-deep brainwashing of social media. You can start to see the shape of the 21st century, and it is astonishing so far. This warp-speed blending of zoonotic disease and technological advance is cranked up further by the precarious teetering you can feel in the national economy, in the housing sector, in the theocratic puppet show in D.C. this week… People like Trump love this shit. It provides them something to cheer, some primordial source of entertainment. See Asteroid Annihilate.

(And that’s not even addressing the freefall of climate disaster, the great story to be told this century. The death rattle gift we’ll bequeath to future generations.)

So, sure, vote! It’s hard to escape the pious clamoring for that old chestnut this fall. Vote! But what’s the deeper question here? How does one steer into the calamity? Steer into it, yes, immersing yourself in the century’s problems but resisting the surface-gleam enticements of hatred and fear. That stuff is too easy to exploit, and I worry that a long, draining election season is just keeping our minds wired on the most obvious fungal node of this catastrophe: the big dumb asshole from TV who now sits in the White House. A helpful course of action is much less entertaining and, often, much more personal. Because what’s left for us to do is move forward and participate and speak and read and write, move forward into our local community and shine a light on darkness, shine a light on meaninglessness. It’s everywhere already, and it’s spreading.

The swarming

This piece nails the tension between history and memory, a tricky landscape that I’ve been trying to write about lately. How do we know where to place ourselves in the past when we’re stuck in the present? What is the real story this year? Life is not a movie, so how are we supposed to make sense of all this extraordinary outrage in America?

“The real question is, who are you?” Indi Samarajivaasks. “I mean, you’re reading this. You have the leisure to ponder American collapse like it’s even a question. The people really experiencing it already know.”

The upcoming election seems like an obvious tipping point, but it’s not difficult to imagine that we’ve been sliding into an authoritarian nightmare for much longer than the past four years. Like so much of history, though, there are no signposts along the way, only the “dull and unlocatable roar” as Don DeLillo would describe it, “just outside the range of human apprehension.”

I’m less interested in laying the collapse at the feet of a chump president and his all-time loser family, but, no, his tendencies aren’t helping anyone. His inclinations and savage outbursts. He is capable of delivering far more damage to the American psyche than we need right now, but so too can the restless and blind-angry society devour its own. Imagine how much worse it can get in America (leaf through history books, pull up some documentaries on Netflix, take a look at all the many examples of collapse in human history), and then add in the particularly flavorful elements of 21st-century surveillance and climate crisis.

I’m not writing this to bring ya down, man, not at all. But I’ll echo Samarajiva in this piece right here: Who are you? What values guide your decision-making? How do you realize happiness?

Digital literate epoch

I’ve long argued that everything you write on Facebook or Twitter or some such social media platform should be considered “publishing.” Much like a newsroom staff, your mind and fingers are “publishing” this status update or that vaguely nihilistic riff or this inane story about how you spilled coffee all over the banana bread. It’s a process that ends with a publicly available creative work. My point, taken from my time in newsrooms, I guess, is that you’re presenting your writing/ideas to a certain marketplace. Act accordingly. Write (publish) with meaning and vision.

Needless to say, I don’t run into this kind of enticing forethought too often in the terrible cave of my Facebook news feed.

And so, anyway, I find this review of The Twittering Machine fairly helpful.

The Twittering Machine is powered by an insight at once obvious and underexplored: we have, in the world of the social industry, become ‘scripturient—possessed by a violent desire to write, incessantly.’ Our addiction to social media is, at its core, a compulsion to write. Through our comments, updates, DMs, and searches, we are volunteers in a great ‘collective writing experiment.’ Those of us who don’t peck out status updates on our keyboards are not exempt. We participate too, ‘behind our backs as it were,’ creating hidden (written) records of where we clicked, where we hovered, how far we scrolled, so that even reading, within the framework of the Twittering Machine, becomes a kind of writing. The rise of print, Seymour points out, played a crucial role in developing the idea of the modern nation, not to mention the bureaucratic state and ‘industrial civilization.’ Now that epoch is ending, and a new revolution in literacy is extending the ability to write in public to billions of people worldwide. What will our new digital-writing culture call into existence?”

À tout à l’heure

A while back, about five years ago now, I was hanging out at a Phish festival in upstate New York when this song came on the event’s commandeered local radio station, The Bunny. Totally entranced in the cerulean-sweet moment and the trippy thrill of the weekend, I snapped into the song and immediately tried to write down the lyrics so’s I could look it up later. Scattered rhymes and a dash of French riffing on a clear blue afternoon. The bass line alone is about as chilled out as they come. This song will always remind me of the past.

And now, zapped headlong into the future-present, it’s a balm for strange summertime violence in America. Like so much of my favorite music, these songs tilt me into some sort of adjacent mindset, a nearby meadow or a backwards-flowing river.

Often, when I write, I loop the same song over and over, letting the reiteration wash over my thoughts as they spill through fingers onto page (screen). It bears the effect of a mantra. It carries me from there to here.