A soaring feeling that something is on the horizon. A mindless, collective enthusiasm between strangers. A perpetual beat. And visuals. Red, green, or yellow. It doesn’t really matter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“You afraid to touch it?” said a guy leaning up against a Ford Mustang.
I said yeah, and looked around my car for something to probe the mouse with. Something like a straw or pen, maybe even an old bank envelope. The poor thing was frozen solid on the windshield. Who knows how many blocks it had sustained that grip, withstanding the force of the air streaming across the windshield of my old Subaru.
The guy moved closer. He had a black sweatshirt that said “Redneck Army.” He was gap-toothed and lean.
“I work over at the Sewer District. I touch shit all day!”
The man clenched his index, thumb, and middle finger like a pair of chopsticks and pinched the soft underbelly of the mouse. It ran off towards the windshield wipers. The man laughed, saying something about the mouse living in the body of the engine.
After it was safely in the grass I thanked the guy, like he’d done some service, some dirty job for me, and then felt bad about it. Like I couldn’t have dealt with a fucking mouse? I thought about my increasing sensitivity as I sanitized my hands with a jelly-like paste.
I buzzed by his Ford Mustang, making sure to turn down the electro house beat I had pumping prior to the whole mouse thing – opting for something a bit more wholesome. Something with guitar. Something with a little soul and grit.
The canyon didn’t look too far off so we thought why the hell not. As we hiked the landscape changed. Unsurprisingly the canyon turned out to be a lot further than it looked. We dipped lower and lower – like water running downhill – and suddenly found ourselves perched at the edge of a steep drop-off.
Staring at all of that sameness reminded me of a sensation I used to experience as a kid when I shut my eyes to go to sleep at night. I called it, “seeing far.”
I would stare at the back’s of my eyes – my mind cruising through the darkness like a spaceship. I expected to bump up against some barrier obstructing me from going further. But there was just space. Limitless, empty space.
When I realized there was no end, I’d pop my eyes open. And yet the expansiveness was everywhere in my room. The corner where two walls met. The hazy outline of my closet. All of it seemed to extend forever. I would start to feel panic-y at being untethered and would hustle downstairs to my parents.
Back above the canyon, I lay down on a rock, and let the sun warm the outside of my body. I shut my eyes and felt a wave of gratitude at being able to drift away from it all – just for a moment. And then my brain turned off – like a watchmen resting his head for a second.
Dana’s husband stood silently next to us. At least I assumed it was her husband. He had a large gut and kept eyeing me wearily. I was talking too much – making too many gestures, asking too many questions.
Dana grinned at me through yellow teeth. She’d seen Marcus King at Jazzfest years before he started to blow up. That’s where she’d purchased her first tee. She traced over the words in large bold font, ‘The Marcus King Band.’ I asked her if it had rained a lot that year and she started telling me about all the good food in New Orleans.
Marcus King strode on stage to massive applause. We danced. And danced. And danced! Other guys in the band jammed out – a drum solo – a bass solo – but really everyone was just waiting for the energy to swing back to Marcus. He stood – knees bent, nodding with a devilish smile spread across his cherubic face – and then leveled everyone with another guitar solo – so ballsy you’d think he was already a rock legend.