Two 4″ Tweeters

I’m driving laps around town. Yesterday I replaced the dash speakers in my 4Runner and the new sound is, well, so much better.

At 24-years-old, the stock speakers assaulted any music they played. Frayed copper wiring strangled bass. From dust-caked diaphragms, rockstar voices cracked and soloists fumbled. The result was moods worsened, passengers underwhelmed, silence. Serious stuff.

I will say — like listening to an orchestra in Royal Albert Hall or a psych show at Red Rocks — 90s rock plays terribly well on tinny little car speakers. What else should I be? All apologies. What else could I say? Everyone is gay. Suddenly the Old Port was dangerous again. The Speckled Ax Cafe went back to being Norm’s. The girls less numerous, more approachable, just as disinterested in my truck.

There are more speakers to be replaced in the back. But that project requires aggressive disassembly – removing seat belts and side paneling. Joe at adult ed showed me how to solder electric components. His hands shook but his eyesight was sharper than mine. I’ll bet Joe has the right tool for those belts.

Somewhere, my little brother is driving as well. Ohio maybe? Somewhere outside Chicago? He’s driving to Bozeman. I wasn’t really listening when he laid out his route at breakfast. Did it even come up? We were distracted. I was picturing his truck from above, one of the toy cars you see beading along a highway from the window of an airplane. He was seeing his truck from below, bent underneath, calculating the perils of rust and rattling exhaust. Our grandfather kept repeating Bozeman in a funny voice. We liked the way it sounded.

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modern mixtapes

I flick my laptop open.

Music, stifled when the screen was last closed, resumes abruptly. It’s jarring when a song launches from the middle, like waking up mid-flight, momentarily unsure of where you are, where you’ll land.

I smash the pause button and punch in my password.

Unlocked, my screen is a collage of open windows, half-formed thoughts. Chrome with a stack of tabs – maps, unfinished articles, shamefully titled porn, swell reports, the Aftmth – all of which I close rapidly, not wanting to be reminded of yesterday’s highs and lows.

Spotify looms in the background.

I bring it to the front and scan the listening activity of my Spotify buddies – D-man‘s deep in an ambient playlist, flowebrother‘s stuck on some bad 90s rock, which I’ll give him a hard time about later, el gringo is doing his stomp and holler thing, Francois is playing Ciara, odd for him, but then again, the guy listens to a bit of everything. Most people are dialed into new Travis Scott.

I think about listening alongside D-man but quickly reconsider, I’m feeling too blue for the ethereal sounds of Tycho. If I go down that road I’ll probably end up with a joint in my hand and really turn my day upside down.

Nope. Instead, I scroll through my playlists, our modern mixtapes.

For decades, friends, crushes and lovers, shared albums and made mixes. We, music listeners and music lovers, expressed ourselves by cassettes, or through the prismatic shimmer of a scratched CD.

Now we use playlists, which allow for shared, disparate listening. Two people, or millions, worlds apart, can simultaneously jam to the same set of songs.

Which, of course, brings me to her. Back to her playlist. It’s what I select now, what I knew I’d be listening to before I opened my laptop.

Her playlist… it’s a mountain of alt-rock, that, according to time stamps, she’s been consistently piling for the past couple years. I tuned in a couple months ago, after meeting her briefly and finding commonality in our musical affections.

We have no contact outside of Spotify. We’re not familiar enough to text back-and-forth and I’m not engaging in the flimsy like-this, like-that tennis of social media. Our only connection, the only signs of her being out there at all, is every couple days she adds a song to her playlist.

And when I listen to that song, her newest jam, latest anthem, I find myself above my desk, a thousand miles away from Portland, somewhere in her atmosphere. I hear RKS wail and I can’t help but imagine her working in the coffeeshop she described, or aux-ed in on the drive to one of the weekly folk-rock shows she goes to. And overtime, patterns emerge. Moods take shape. This music, her playlist, is the soundtrack of her days. It stethoscopes her nature. She’s happy, she’s sad, in love, heartbroken.

In college, I’d sometimes ask girls I was sleeping with, or wanted to sleep with, what they were reading. That way, when time passed inevitably, and they disappeared from my twin bed or from that semester’s class, I could pickup the book and share with them the words on the page. To read the words they’d read was to participate in something together again.

Sometimes, feeling pathetic about my musical voyeurism, I snap shut my laptop. Get a life, quit listening to someone else’s. But curiosity and catharsis bring me back. Music has the capacity to fill (and yes, also widen) the voids of longing and loneliness. Not with her in mind or body, I can be with her in the shared experience of her playlist. In memories made, in futures possible, and now, above my desk, silently listening to the musical choreography of her days.

She’s just added a song. Let’s listen together.

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

Watching the River Freeze

I moved in August to a little apartment alongside the river. The river is wide and fast flowing. It’s the vein through which industry and pride pumps into and out of this region, from the time of trappers and traders to battleships and cruise vessels.

My new apartment has a big glass door that faces the river, unobstructed. Best damn view in the city said the elderly homeowner before me, boxing his model trains.

And so, day in and day out, I watch the river. In late summer, full of boats. In fall, reflecting the colorful canopy of its bank. And now, in winter, I’m watching it freeze.

Being a wide and fast river, it will not freeze easily. It will take a fearsome cold, months of fearsome cold. But winters here can be fearsomely cold. To watch a river freeze is to watch elements wage war. Ice conquers water from the shore, near and distant, while that fire in the sky liberates.

The freeze weaponizes night. It wins territory while the sun is hiding somewhere beneath the horizon, resting before tomorrow’s thaw. Day arrives and the sun fights back. It’s tenacious, the sun, even during the coldest of months. The freeze is relentless; however, and by December, ice that was once wafer thin and broke like fine china condenses into ranks of hard purple. But this beginning is merely a skirmish, launched by an icy vanguard, and at the turn of the new year begins the all-out assault.

For ten days the temperature doesn’t rise above -10° at night or above freezing by day, the longest cold streak in forty years. The sun hangs perilously low in the sky, bleeding dull warmth, gasping last gasps. The ice fortifies its position on both shorelines and charges across, clamoring to meet in the middle. By the tenth day, a ribbon of blue, no more than a few yards wide, traces a line between sheets of white. A last stand.

And then the gods intervene.

The USCGC Penobscot Bay, an 140’ icebreaking behemoth, with a kettle black hull capable of cracking ice 30 inches thick, steams upriver, past my glass door. I run outside, overcome with excitement, crushed by disappointment. I don’t know which. The tug claws through the ice and around a nearby bend, out of view, onward to the river’s source.

That afternoon the carnage floats downriver. Goliath icebergs, shattered and drowning, exhausted from months of battle. The survivors will be dragged until the salty, temperate waters of Casco Bay melt them like hubris into humility.

New York Part 2

D-man went to New York to see old homies and unhinge to the riffs of reverb-soaked guitar; I went to get laid. Too crass? I went to make some love that lasts. Better? Maybe.

h/t flowebro

It was a Thursday and it was snowing. Blizzarding, actually. I think we got two to three feet in as many days. Our bus driver plowed fearlessly through the storm, past rest stop scrums of eighteen wheelers and snow blasted billboards. My mom always says that some people were put on Earth for a reason. Well, I swear our bus driver was put on Earth to pilot Greyhound buses through blinding snow storms. After seven hours of certified rotten movies on mute and the intestinal cramps that accompany brake lock-ups, we were unceremoniously dropped off in the middle of Manhattan. That’s not true, the unceremonious bit, we – us riders – clapped when the bus slid to a final stop. Good job, boss, I got a lot riding on this.

I’d taken the weekend off. Sort of. I told my boss my grandfather was having a procedure done in New York City and needed me to accompany him. ‘Bad juju, man,’ D-man once told me when I pulled the same stunt to beatjuice around San Francisco with him. It’s one thing to drag your brother’s health into the karmic doghouse, but now your grandfather’s as well? Shit. Whatever. I’d had New York and its… colorful potential circled on my mental calendar for months. Girls from college, one in particular. I must have choreographed the reunion thousands of times in my head, during the purgatory of early-morning commutes and late-night, stare-at-the-ceiling boredom. Time to act, BopPop would understand.

 

I am acutely aware that my daydreams often play out less shapely and conclusive than the versions I conjure on the movie screen of my imagination. Especially the sexual ones. Oh, but it played so well in test screenings, my make-believe critics remark after each flop. I suppose that one scene was a little ambitious. The ice cube? That was never going to happen.

I pull my duffel bag from the snowbank where our bus driver had enthusiastically deposited it and begin down the street, blissfully ignorant of my location within the city, unabashed to be lost in the romance of no return ticket. Pulling out my phone, I announce my arrival in the city like a Cessna pilot carving a vapor trail message in the sky. Except by taciturnly worded text, not prop plane.

 

Wait, but that message wasn’t supposed to go out until later tonight, or even tomorrow, when forwardness is blunted by several scotch & sodas. Look at that, I’m already aberrating from the script. This screenwriter sucks anyway, I tell myself, hasn’t written a hit in years. Cars, plows, people, music, shouts, murmurs and light of all colors throb through the streets I tread like blood flow in our veins. Eight million heartbeats or just one? I can’t tell. I’m drunk on New York without taking a single sip. Time to be lucky.

The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.                                                        – E.B. White

Leaf Blower Epidemic

Sometimes I imagine sound as a spectrum with music as one limit and silence the other. Everything else – conversation, rural and urban ambiance, leaf blowers – exist somewhere in between.

To exist – to hear – exclusively at both limits might be bliss. Or suffocatingly lonely. But we ingest the full spectrum, which I suppose makes every sound an amalgamation of music and silence.


Theoretically, there is no such thing as silence, right? Every sound, even perceived silence, roars as compared to a smaller resonance or heightened listener. Should I have been a physicist? Should I smoke less weed?

Best for last:

Oxymorrons // Fantastic Negrito

I was in the bookstore today and it seemed each author on my list defined classification. Would Sebastian Junger (nods to D-man) be shelved in Philosophy or Journalism? Are the stories of Norman Maclean considered Autobiographical or that smoky Non-fictional style that turns my pages?

My grandfather was frustrated by the ambiguity, I was charmed.

Good music can sometimes share the same categorical equivocation and increasingly I value artists that headbang and headbutt cataloguing. Here, I think, are two:

Oxymorrons are genre-bending brothers from Brooklyn, whose most popular song, Hello Me, plays like a reincarnation of DeVotchKa and Kid Cudi.


Fantastic Negrito (makes for an an interesting, if not self-aggrandizing, read) “is black roots music for everyone, Blues with a punk attitude from Oakland.” His sound in soulful and spiced with heavy doses of rasp and rad.

I found some Junger in Northeast Maritime. Who knew?

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