Fred Again…

The line stretched the entire length of the hanger – a grey warehouse that once stored massive sailboats for San Francisco’s premier sailing event. Like cattle we were lead through fencing and partitions that seemed to have the unintended effect of making us more tenacious. We wanted to jump and run – whatever it took to get closer to Fred.

The lights dimmed signaling Fred Again’s arrival and the crowd surged like a river overflowing its banks. People screamed with joy and terror. Surely, the warehouse would burst at its seams leaving a trail of toppled millennials in high tops and neon tanks.

The vessel was indeed too small. We were clobbered with bass but could barely make out vocals or synths. We jumped up and down to “We Lost Dancing,” but it was mostly just an outpouring of excitement about what the song meant to us. Isolation, a loss of connection, the feeling of being close to someone.

We were disappointed, but it was also clear that something was happening. Fred’s brand of music – charactized by his blend of soul and house – was infecting anyone who came in close contact. I walked off the hours of dancing and took refuge in my dark living room to listen to the live set Fred dropped during the pandemic, a beautiful compilation of songs that is part James Blake, part Swedish House Mafia – and was bowled over at how his music speaks so clearly about mental health.

Say what you want about the millennial generation and our spoiled nature – never have humans been so doted on by technological ease – but we really haven’t been dealt an easy hand. The negativity that pervades society – whether it’s politics, greed, or the planet – certainly colors our experience. The planet is dying. People hate each other. Drug abuse is rampant. Even the most optimistic of us can’t help but wonder where this experiment went off the rails.

Fred Again’s music is surely a reaction to this undercurrent. He doesn’t deny the atmosphere of negativity – it seems woven into every bar of his music. But it also seems to fuel his creativity like a plant turning sunlight into food. And the hope is that this ancient wisdom – that pain can actually be beautiful – is delivering a crucial message to our generation: you can still find hope in music.

Aftermath Media, D-Man

Rufus, a lookback

Outside lands 2021 had all the familiar quirks. There was the logistical undertaking of coordinating urgent bathroom breaks. There were hats. Drugs. Bowls of ramen. And this year because of Halloween, more costumes than ever before. There were endless creative combinations, like Dumbledore getting down to Goth Babe or – tragically for me – my childhood hero, Obi Wan, drunkenly stumbling out of the woods with piss sprinkled all over his robe.

On Sunday night Rufus took the main stage – a band that we posted about in 2014 for their cover of Foals Over Booka Shade. At the time I was living in San Francisco and any show was fair game. Rufus’ Mezzanine set started like most shows on a Wednesday night – a DJ mixing together thumpy tunes, a few tequila sodas, and the anticipation of an unknown entity in the flesh.

Of course Rufus did not disappoint. And seven years later it was odd watching at Outside Lands thousands of yards back. I allowed myself just a few moments to scoff at the crowd around me and made some weird analogy to Rufus being bitcoin – I’d be fucking rich! But mostly I felt happy. These guys were always destined for the polo grounds, ladies on shoulders, and festival balloons floating into the night.

Bangers and Mash, D-Man, Music for Thought

Kareem Ali

Going through the motions – yes sir, no sir, over here sir. Where’s the seamless? Where’s the soft box? Why isn’t this the way it is? Get more of this. Less of that. See these things ahead of time… of course of course. What’s the code? There are three different codes to three different doors. What’s the code to the the app where we store all the codes?

Then I heard it. It coming from Hardy’s laptop, low in volume but massive in sound, like the whole room was suddenly filled with this spine-itching beat.

And what I was supposed to be looking for was the dimensions for a mobile image, but I kept repeating the track ID. Como me siento por ti, como me siento por ti. And then I wrote it down and all was good.

Bangers and Mash, elgringo

You Are Here

The foosball table didn’t work, but that was probably intentional. 

It became very clear very quickly that this wasn’t a typical bar. 

Instead of Snickers and Sun Chips, a vintage vending machine was stocked with science fiction paperbacks and obscure DVD’s. I don’t think they were for purchase. 

On the wall above the bar a large projector screen played The Graduate on mute. 

On a bathroom wall in large capital letters a message said “ask me about my sweater.” A phone number was scratched below.  

In a dimly lit corner a curtain revealed a photo booth – except that in place of a photo booth contraption there was a TV screen playing a black and white documentary on legendary tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy. 

A picture frame held what appeared to be a map from an antiquated alpine motel. A small yellow star indicated You Are Here

Every detail taken alone was the most random thing ever. A scattered mix of retro junk; stuff you’d find in your parents basement. Or your grandparents’ basement. But taken together, nothing felt out of place – somehow it all made sense.  A world dreamt up by a creative, rebellious mind.

If you asked me what I missed during the pandemic, nightlife wouldn’t have been my first answer. I like a night out as much as the next guy, but I did just fine without it. But this place reminded me how awesome a great bar can be.  Plus, it’s all back to normal: a server without a mask, eye contact with strangers, small talk with strangers! It was energizing to observe others; it felt even better to be observed.  

And the cocktails were phenomenal.

Chayed Out

The First Post-Pandemic Sauna

The first three minutes go by smoothly. It’s been awhile but there’s a familiarity to sitting cross-legged at one-hundred and eighty degrees. Something in my mind switches on . Or maybe it switches off. Warm air fills my lungs and works its way into my muscles. I’m overconfident.

Five minutes in and I’m starting to feel it. Sweat beads on the back of my legs. Before the pandemic shut everything down I was a sauna devotee. Three or four times a week I’d cram into the sauna at my local climbing gym to sweat it out with total strangers , like the guy who loved to do elaborate, deep stretches — naked—and of course the chatterbox who loved to talk about that one time he was detained overseas in a Panamanian prison.

Then the pandemic hit. You know the rest. Throughout quarantine I tried to find creative ways to get my sauna fix, like taking a hot bath. If you submerge yourself completely with scalding water there’s certainly a bodily release, but it lacks one key ingredient: sweat.

Ten minutes in and I’m starting to reel a bit. My limbs are heavy and blood moves through my head like sap. A metaphor strikes me. A highway with speeding cars. Right now my veins feel less like a turnpike and more like some traffic-infested back road.

Later — certainly not in the moment because I’m totally absorbed in simply staying upright — I’m reminded of running with my dad on one of those punishing East coast summer days when the humidity makes your clothes feel heavy. We start off slow, making our way to a trail surrounded by trees. There’s a bit of shade but it’s hot. On those days, there’s no escaping.

My dad, who has been in a sauna once to my knowledge, bumped his head. He’s very tall and I don’t think he enjoyed the experience. But he’s addicted to these humid runs. By the time we come out of the woods and hit the main road — the home stretch — we’re both drenched. Cars whiz by. High school teachers and friends of friends gawk at the two weirdos performing a masochistic ritual.

Eleven minutes in and I have the acute sensation that I need to find a way out of this heat. I stand up. A wave of hot hair wraps around my head. I touch my toes. Blood rushes. I sit down and throw one leg over the other. I try to look casual hoping my brain will catch on.

I leave the sauna at twelve minutes and stumble drunkenly towards the bathroom door, anticipating the quick release of a cold shower. Within seconds I’m restored to my normal self — with thoughts galore. I wrap myself in a towel and head back to meet the punishing heat.

D-Man, Music for Thought


I’ve been on the verge of publishing this for weeks. Every time I think it’s “ready” I stop and wonder if I’m really able to live up to the standards set forth. Do I come off sounding too high and mighty? Too esoteric? Basically, am I bullshitting myself?

I’ve written about meditation before and the benefits that it can give you but the reality is that I rarely do it. I’m like the guy at a party who says he’s doing dry January and then cracks a beer several minutes in. There’s a difference between saying you do something and actually doing the something.

And yet I’m fascinated by the concept. I read about it, listen to podcasts, and expound its benefits to friends after a few kolsch’s. But the reality is much more complex: sitting with your eyes closed doing nothing is actually really fucking hard.

Sometimes we need a kick in the ass to fully realize the hypocrisy of our own minds. We need a sudden change in perception – like the author deciding to take a minuscule edible and then doubling down.

So there I was navigating the tangly depths of an edible, my mind tilt-a-whirling between different sensations, and ironically, what got me to slow down was re-downloading an app – another munchy brain-bite in a long list that night. Waking Up, by Sam Harris. I’ve mentioned it before and since have fallen off.

I sat in a dark room and listened to Sam. In his meditations he likes to reference the mind as a stage. I like to picture the director. It’s his job to put on a show and when I turn my attention inwards – looking directly at him, he notices and puts his best stuff on stage. The massive project at work struts out. Guilt about a text that hasn’t been sent or a call that should’ve been made comes next. All of these actors are great at holding my attention. They’ve done it for years and know the lines by heart.

Most of the time I’m whisked away by this play. The characters are wildly entertaining. As they should be – I created them. But once in awhile I’m able to lead my mind to a different headspace: a state that has access to a release lever.

I relax the muscles in my face a bit. Feel my skin soften into a less tense position. I loosen my jaw, un-clench my back. Sink lower. My shoulders drop. In a very simple, mechanical way, I relax. I clear my plate or as Sam Harris says in a metaphor that’s eerily satisfying – clear my mental inbox.

Try it. Don’t worry about all the bullshit, self-help mumbo jumbo. Start with one simple principle: for ten minutes watch the theatrical acts that come waltzing across your mental stage – and then let them go. Worst case, you can always go back to enjoying the show.



Deep Cuts

Gap in her shelf

“Careful, this one’s heavy.” I told the Goodwill worker as I lowered the wrong box into her waiting laundry cart. I pitied this woman, collecting and sorting people’s junk on a Saturday. Now she returns the look as I plead, “Just let me bring her here and she’ll find them, all of them.” The woman shakes her head, “Busy day. They’ll be buried. You want ‘em, get ‘em now.”

The depository box is four feet wide, four feet deep and brimming with books. I’m tall with long arms, and with an acute bend of the waist I’m able to retrieve titles from the deepest corners. Physically, I’m the perfect contestant for this Goodwill gameshow. Otherwise, I’m a wreck. Anything but her books.

Heller, Batuman, Moshfegh. Easy ones. Ignore anything hardcover, they weigh down her canvas totes–not to mention the expense. She thrifts for books and spends her tax returns on fast fashion lingerie. The paperbacks last longer.

Karr, Eggers, Vance. She likes memoir as told by underdogs with ugly childhoods. Tyrannical mothers overcompensating for absent fathers. Towns with more pride in public works than schools. And here, bound and well-received, is proof of their ascension. She might be one of them, wants to be.

King James, Bill W. Did a bible-thumping alcoholic die yesterday? Mom would know. Her AA network is comically robust. At the botanical gardens there was a man, a gardener, who popped right out of a bush when he saw Mom. And they spoke in that coy language of colleagues who can’t tell anyone they work together. 

King, Easton Ellis. Not her’s, someone else’s. Superdream tour, she’s dancing. We’re drinking beer from those little transparent cups and that bass is impossible to ignore. Music fucks us both up. Pound, Harjo, her beloved Hass. Definitely her, no one else. She chirped me in the dedication of her chapbook. Called me a procrastinator and gave it to everybody we know. Her words cleave me.

More bibles. I grab a small one thinking she might have kept a leftover from her church days. Last year we watched an overstuffed old man, formerly her preacher, use the funeral of her overdosed cousin as a platform to indoctrinate us mourners on how the ongoing invasion of Israel was a biblical world-ender. I’ve never felt so hopeless.

Housman, Graves, Whitman. The sly look on her face when she first squared off with the literary omnivore I call grandpa. She’d scanned his shelf previously, done her homework. She shouted in his bad ear about history, music and art. He heard every word. Now he forgets to re-up my New Yorker subscription but hers is automatic. 

Vuong, Nelson, Ng. Her world seems sharper than mine, more things to be pricked by and stabbed with. But I was a boy before school shooters and social networks. “That’s not my cause” I tell her too often. She nods and buries herself in an avalanche of activism. When our future is not enough, she crosshairs my past–Kerouac, Frost.

Reclaimed books are piled at my feet. Spines like little trip wires. Yank one and out pours the memory of its reading: a place, a person, a thought. Hard to recollect and sort without the spines, broken or cherished, as totems. And to burn somebody’s shelf, somebody you love and who loves you, well, it’s like wiping out their constellation with a big smokey cloud. 

Morrison, Coates. She might forgive me. For someone who keepsakes movie stubs and trail maps, she’s unsentimental with the irreplaceable. A few months ago, anticipating the death of her father, she uncovered a sleeve of family photos snapped during her childhood. Babygirl strapped to the back of a stranger with familiar eyes. And even those treasures she treats with tender utility, tacked to cork boards or employed as bookmarks (fuck!).

Carver, McCarthy. My gear. I peel open ‘Church’ and see her name, in the same neat script as the love letters I find squirreled under pillows and trapped beneath wiper blades, scribbled on the title page. My throat closes. Cars are lining up outside. The fucking sliding door won’t stop gliding open and shut. This will surely make her cry. Not the movie star tears she rolls, sometimes exploitatively, down a cheek, nor the choking sobs that leave her breathless. This cry will be fearful. She’s afraid that my languid disregard, my stoned obtuseness, has resulted in an act so apathetic it’s cruel. This scares me also. And so I dig.

Chayed Out

feel away (feat. James Blake & mount kimbie)

Before feel away, I never really liked James Blake’s sound. Which is strange because I like haunting, melancholic music. I have an entire playlist of bummer music (private on Spotify of course) for when I want to induce some creative stream-of-concsciousness.

Obviously I know James Blake is beloved and that you’re probably shaking your head. But believe me, I’ve tried. I saw him at Outside Lands and watched the crowd sway – woozy from his mournful crooning. Still, I didn’t feel a thing.

Which is why it’s a surprise that the best song I’ve heard in the last several weeks is James Blake’s verse on a recent release from British punk, rap star, slowthai. The very thing that made James Blake feel inaccessible – his uncategorizable-ness – is what I love about feel away.

“I leave the dent in my car, to remind me what I could’ve lost,” hums Blake.

In feel away James Blake adds a dream-like quality to the song. Half-awake we feel like anything is possible. And maybe it’s partially Mount Kimbie’s doing. Their wobbly synths are all over the track. Whatever it is, feel away has entered the life stage of “endless repeat.” I play it over and over, very aware that I might just kill it.



D-Man, Music for Thought

Ode to slip on vans

It was either the light blue suede or the more standard grey pair. Point for the grey ones for being easy to wear. But point for the faded blue ones because they reminded me of cotton candy or clouds outside of a plane window. I asked the sales guy which he liked more.

“If I walked into a party and you were wearing the blue ones, I’d think you were cool.”

The blue ones did feel cool. Especially the first night I wore them out at a metal bar in the Mission. A woman was wearing the same pair. They looked cool on her too and I liked the idea of a shoe with no boundaries, no agenda – just a colorful foot.

So I wore the cool blue pair to death and now the seams are cracking and the blue is fading and the shoe looks more like wrinkled skin than something cool you’d see at a party. I’ve looked for another pair but honestly haven’t tried that hard. I’d kind of rather just continue believing they’re one of a kind.