Alberto Balsam

Pushing open the door of the Play It Again Sports in Portland, ME, I’m reminded of being a kid, eyeing the Vapor skates displayed on the rack, weighing a Synergy in my hands.

It’s a grey, New England morning and we’re on our way to visit my brother in Vermont, making a quick pit stop to sharpen our skates, and for me, an opportunity to record a Music That Moves Me Segment at Maine Public Radio.

We try on a pair of red and white gloves with an enlarged thumb to ward off vicious hacks, and then it’s time to head over, so I slip out, nervous to put words to something so wordless.

The studio is just two hundred yards from Play It Again Sports. There’s a good amount of snow on the roads so I clomp my boots out front, and suddenly I’m in the studio, in front of a microphone, watching the audio levels rise and fall.

“Want me to read from here?” I say, holding up a crumpled piece of paper.

The producer smiles, as if anticipating the question. “Why don’t you just talk to us.”

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Washtown

To pass the time I scan the wall. Above the coin machine are flyers, stuck with sharp, metal tacks. There’s a poster promoting a liver detox, an ad for arigatou classes, and a photo of a sad-looking cat named Dwight. He’s been lost since Friday.

A woman in a khaki jacket sits across from me. She’s leaning back in a plastic chair, her iPhone perched upright in a wrinkled palm. I insert my ear buds, which are tangled around each other like jungle vines, and hit play on Elder Island’s feverish, twangy Bonfire. 

Inspiration comes at the weirdest times, no? Too often I sit down at a computer to write, headphones on, then headphones off, sitting, then standing, trying to squeak out something new. But when I have the time, nothing pools.

The woman across from me exhales and Jim James’ wobbling Here in Spirit starts to play. Truthfully, it’s the only protest song I’ve ever liked. I want to pump my fists.

The dryers click and whirl. My mind is moving, swishing through avenues of past, present, and future. I find it odd that it’s happening now, in Washtown, details jumping out like fireworks.

Bringggggg!

My clothes are dry. The woman in the khaki jacket coughs, wipes her nose, and heads for the exit. I start to sort through a pile of crispy t-shirts. The fluorescent lights descend and the playlist resumes, shooting me back up into space.

Manchuck’s Seven

I was sitting on a frozen pile of 2×4’s, battling the winter air, a crossword puzzle in hand, a new found way to pass the ‘mud hour’ at work: 4-5pm; most contractors have already claimed a stool at the local bar.

6 across: ‘contains the motherlode’

I began running the basic solving processes through my head: *8 letter word, 7th letter is ‘n’, hmm, motherlode, the name of an old video game my brothers and I spent endless hours on which involved operating a mining vehicle on Mars*

The Aftermath has often discussed ways in which we discover music. It’s become an important riddle for both the basement music scourer and the industry giants, both seeking a way to find the next rich lode, the next profitable source or supply, the next rare gem, the place that will contain the motherlode, the, goldmine.

Whenever a Spotify link pops up from him in my texts, I get excited and grab my headphones. He knows it when he hears it. A similar ear for music and countless memories created through sound makes his read on it a good one. He’s a consistent source and has a knack for finding the gems, a goldmine for my music library:

The Case for Not Knowing

I’ve been wrestling with an idea for a while now and can’t shake it. Our lives have become detached from unbiased experiences.

Yelp tells us if we should expect a good meal, Rotten Tomatoes dictates our viewing choices, Airbnb photo galleries are the basis of lodging selection, dating apps remove any mystery around meeting someone, and Instagram gives us utopian expectations of vacation destinations long before we step on the plane. The list goes on.

Put simply, we actively avoid going into things blindly. And this is a problem. Our bodies and minds need elements of the unexpected and unprejudiced; of this I am certain. Without them, how do we stay sharp. How do we remain curious. How do we feel alive.

Think on this, and dive blindly into the sounds of Volta Jazz. Let it take you wherever it takes you.

Volta h/t Tommy

3 is my guess

“Three is my guess. Three or three-thirty,” said the man in a bright yellow polo tucked into khaki shorts. He drifted by our window, circled his car and stopped to lean against the guard rail. Two older women sat inside — one with a Tom Clancy novel spread across her lap, the other eating a bag of tortilla chips as she searched for a cooler of beer.

“Think they’ll be cold?” said the woman.

The man laughed. “Not a chance.”

Two miles up 1-80, a car was on fire. Behind us, were two more accidents. “That’s what happens when people slam the brakes on a two-lane highway,” said the man to no one in particular.

Beyond the guard rail was a drop off, a steep ravine lined with pine trees bending up to the clear, blue sky. I kicked off my shoes. The hot cement felt good pressed against the arches of my feet.

A car door slammed. A family of three jogged by — sweating. The woman in front of us let out a shrill yelp, tipping a beer can back, frothy liquid dribbling down her cheeks.

“Time to go!!” she shrieked.