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is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Friday
Sep042015

In Which There Is A Common Thread In All These Epilogues

Nearly Contagious

by MARK ARTURO

for B.

With distressing clarity, I recall the first time I saw her. Blonde hair was tied back unceremoniously, a glut of premeds shuffled back and forth to obstruct my view. A TA named Avad tapped on her bony shoulder and said, "I hope you're feeling better. I didn't think you were going to make it."

My sophomore year of college had dissipated all the excitement of the previous spring. My new residence was further from the center of campus, yet I felt no escape. My favorite freshman, Amil, was rooming with a goofy CS major named Sanja who was planning a startup that allowed you to watch other people using their computers; they called such invasions "veeping." Amil was also slowly dating every Jewish woman in the junior class.

As a consequence, I was left to my other friends, with whom I alternately felt a great kinship and, intermittently, disappointment. One was a lanky homosexual whose boyfriend was so glorious looking he could not be spoken to without laborious pauses. After awhile, it was obvious our interests had largely diverged and we had only Iris Murdoch in common.

My other roommate was the scion of a wealthy and influential family who unsurprisingly was about as self-aware as a horned toad. He was dating a girl from a local junior college who looked like a shaved weasel and laughed at all the correct times. Last year, I heard she became a gastroenterologist.

I would not say I felt alone; rather I simply felt apart. I only went to the dining hall at odd times: after lunch, or before the dinner rush, so that I could eat alone and read as I had done since I was a boy.

It was there I saw her doing the same, eating by herself. I have always been a complete expert at knowing exactly how to observe someone without them knowing. I was doing so, but she was onto me in mere more moments, and I felt exposed.

Information about any one undergraduate was not hard to come by. My friend Audrey spent most of her free time, in between extensive conferences on the ills of various disadvantaged people, collecting such information in the carrels of the library.

In that prosaic place there was always a disturbing tendency for people to share adderall and complain about the hours they spent in the place complaining about the hours they spent in the place. Extracting gossip from Audrey was never tedious, since her charisma was nearly contagious, her judgments were sharp, and her sexuality was so broadly appealing it could never be precisely honed in on, just appreciated from afar like a Vermeer.

Audrey's roommate was a prickly pear named Lauren who wore a thick winter coat even on the cusp of summer. The trouble with obtaining information from either of them was that it was just as likely to make it back to the source before you made use of it yourself.

Once I had tried the opposite tact, signaling a lack of lack interest in their wide knowledge, and that had turned out just as badly for me. I believe the woman I ended up offending now clerks for a justice in the court of appeals.

I devised a better, finer strategy. I swore Audrey to secrecy and pretended like I was going to cry. Probably the vow meant nothing, but it was better than giving her a license to deal.

My remote dining companion's name was Kay, and she was from Montana or Idaho, most probably the latter. Can you imagine? Audrey told me faux-breathlessly. Kay had been dating a guy expelled from school for hacking into the school's advisor program and switching some assignments around, for what reason Audrey did not know. He still lived on campus but they were very definitely no longer together. I tried to swallow this bitter pill and I knew Sanja would have all the information I required about such a person.

Braving the small room he and my friend Amil shared was ever a pain. It smelled of pot and semen, not actually a terrible smell, but never an expected one. The two of them were constantly on their personal computer, and it could never be said they did not practice what they preached. They exclusively listened to remixes of familiar electronic songs, and were willing to explain at any given moment why the guys in Justice were the finest musicians ever to live among mortals.

I heard the rest of the story from Kay herself. They had actually come to school together, against her parents' wishes. From what she hinted at, the attraction was mostly animal, and she subtly suggested she had never been with anyone else, although I never knew if that were truly the case.

Kay's roommate was the daughter of a fairly prominent New England politician, and the girl never went to class, preferring to smoke opium and watch reruns of Adventure Time. As it happened, she was a very talented artist and I judged her far less harshly than Kay did. I think she is married with two kids now.

Kay and this grizzly beacon of sexuality - even I had to admit he was sort of beautiful, in a wild way - had not broken up over this scandal. Instead he had been cheating on her with the daughter of a diplomat. Even though this did not really bother her for no reason I could fathom, apparently her boyfriend's guilt had corrupted what still existed between them. He works for the Obama administration now.

Still, I would not approach Kay at the square tables that held whatever counted as food in this institution. I rarely lingered at the library either, too fearful Audrey would ask me for developments in the case, since I could offer her none.

But the next semester we had a class together. The world was in a better mood; everyone carried a blanket around with them as if a picnic or bath was right around any corner. Irony was employed just as often, but without the jaded aplomb it was accompanied by that previous winter. Churls were absorbed by crowds and campus was taken over by an aromatic, pervasive mien reminiscent of Rome before the fall.

Before Kay had only been a vision of the season, like a clump of snow that might disappear on a wet afternoon. Now I saw she truly had no idea of herself or what she was, and I myself grew cold towards her at that realization, since I believe every thinking person should be possessed of the knowledge of how others view them.

First frost encourages carnivores and scavengers alike, any repulsion is sure to attract the finest of nature's creatures. We are all animals, but some of us have been educated out of our ignorance more precisely than others.

The professor, squat and Jewish like a thumb, saw through me in a very pleasant way, and we shared a common view the comedies are really tragedies, and vice versa. We both hated Falstaff without being able to explain why. It was a small seminar, and I recall the other students well. They took to the material the same way I did, and I cannot watch the ghastly ending of Twelfth Night without thinking of us all there.

A few weeks into the term, Kay began to ask me questions about class and the assignments. The comedies of Shakespeare were probably my best subject. My professor had a border collie named Margarine who sat peaceably in the back of our class. Sometimes I would walk her, since my professor had a bad knee and the happy dog was in her prime. Kay eventually came with me at his request, and I start with anger thinking of his matchmaking.

We spoke of her illness eventually, a yearlong struggle with lymphoma that she had not fully recovered from. She survived, she said, but she was not as she was before her illness, although I noticed nothing of this in all the time I knew her. She speculated at length whether that had been the reason the bearded boy had cheated on her, and shocked me by asking what I thought. My first reaction was one of sympathy or empathy. I have always confused the two, but I hardened myself against that, because no woman desires a therapist, and confusing pity with sexual attraction is a childish act.

Instead I said that I thought someone who cheated was likely to do so when the occasion offered it, and that malice or forethought rarely entered into the equation. At that she laughed.

It seemed like we both liked the idea of being friends, and I am far from ashamed to admit I needed one. I dismissed thoughts of possessing her, but only for a time, the way a pig does not know the hunger for finer meals when he consumes his slop.

Kay always called me on such lazy metaphors. She did not yet consider herself a writer, but she loathed cliche as if she were. Quickly I found out she was a bit more knowledgeable of her charms than I had thought. When she drank, she became an exaggerated version of her considered self, until one night she asked me, in a winning way, why I never touched her.

I suppose I blushed at that, but my skin rarely admits such imperfections on a surface level. There is no good way to answer that question - it was evident to everyone how much time we spent together, and just as clear to my friends that I wanted her. Every time I saw Audrey that spring she would get this mischievous look in her eyes and whimper, "Whyyyy not?"

So I told Kay there was no reason, but isn't it better to be friends? She pretended to agree for a moment, and then was on me. Have you ever held the earth, the soil? It is much the same.

I thought I knew sex, had comprehended its performative aspects. The difference between desire in general and desire for one such as Kay is the difference between the moon and the earth, and I have already told you she was the earth and not the sky. It is one thing to know that a single person, a particular animal is able to please another by putting mouth to cock, or thigh to face, or mingling among each other's clothes and smells. But that is a movement towards intimacy, not the thing itself. The performance aspect so sweetly evaporated, like the discarding of a layer that had always been there, invisible to the eye. What took over then I have never been able to name or recreate except in art.

I don't know what Kay is doing now. The border collie died a few years ago. My professor still teaches, half as many classes as he did. Audrey is the chief of a hospital's geriatric unit, her roommate works for Goldman Sachs. Recovered from his death, Jesus walked the earth. The common thread in all of these epilogues is that we never fully know what will become of those we loved.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Brooklyn. He last wrote in these pages about the other life besides this one. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Theora Hamblett.

"I Put A Spell On You" - Alice Smith (mp3)

"Sinnerman" - Gregory Porter (mp3)

Thursday
Sep032015

In Which She Never Talked About Men Or Clothes

A Thing Worth Cherishing, Worth Fighting For

by SARA BIVIGOU

Nina Simone makes me feel ready. Which is to say whenever I listen to her I spring up — black, female, alive.

I met Nina a couple of months before she died, was introduced to her on a BBC2 music programme which was snippets of archive interviews strung together with live performances. It ran through the ups and downs of her story and showed clips of her most electrifying performances — Village Gate 62, Carnegie Hall 64, Harlem Cultural Festival 69, Montreaux Jazz Festival 76. I learnt what a formidable presence she was on and off stage and what a hard won thing it was to command an audience the way she did. All that childhood rehearsal, all the rejection, everything you’ve got to take from yourself to give to a crowd. (“…using everything you’ve got inside you sometimes to barely make a note, or if you have to strain to sing, you sing” she said, “so sometimes I sound like gravel, and sometimes I sound like coffee and cream.”) That sacrifice as dangerous blessing, exquisite curse. It was transformative for me to see a black woman live her life as art, as a thing worth cherishing, worth fighting for, though the 70-minute programme has a sad closing act — Nina portrayed as a doddery old has-been, her fall from grace exemplified by an incident in which she fired a gun at a boy outside her home in Southern France.

Liz Garbus’ documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? is more detailed but similar in pace to the BBC outing. It whips breezily through the difficult beginnings of Nina’s life until it gets to its textured middle which focuses on her participation in the Civil Rights movement. “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” Nina answers a reporter rhetorically when he wants to know why a sophisticated jazz pianist such as herself has taken to singing protest songs. Nina’s participation in the movement, the mentorships and friendships she forges inside it might make a film all of its own. A narrative that could expand to explore her talent, her work ethic, her demons, her quirks and what it means for any black artist to live in the fullness of loving, creating, fighting for black people. Nina was besties with Lorraine Hansberry and their camaraderie alone would be worthy of 120 minutes of silver screen exploration. “We never talked about men or clothes,” Simone wrote of their friendship in her memoir “It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution — real girls’ talk.”

Nina lived in a Mount Vernon, NY house with 4 acres of land, next door to Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz and their six daughters. There what is loosely described as ‘the intellectual wing’ of the movement — Hughes, Hansberry, Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin — gathered to play, laugh, eat, think, be. I so want to peek in on Nina and her friends at dinner, watch them go about their days in their excellent black bodies. See how they got fired up to do their work and how they wound down from violent setbacks. I want to listen to them pour each other drinks and tell rude jokes.

It wasn’t all good though. Nina married Andrew Stroud, a police sergeant who became her manager. Presumably because he is too juicy a primary source to ignore Garbus lets Stroud hold court in archival footage. He speaks sideways to a blurry lens of managing Nina to success and discouraging her from activism. I’m not objective but Andrew is hard to like. When he’s on-screen I find myself glaring a little, snarling a lot. Andrew admits to hitting Nina. He likens her to a barking dog for the way she “put down white people." He and Nina had a child, Lisa. (It’s important to learn that your heroes aren’t saints but human and capable of the indefensible, which I did while listening to Lisa’s painful accounts of her mother’s abandonment, impatience and violence towards her.)

Garbus shows us Nina’s diary, a series of urgent scribbles reveal Nina’s battles with her depression, how burnt up she was by the twin flames of hope and anger. Her faith in the movement becomes exhaustion. She is unfulfilled in her marriage. She contemplates suicide and then death begins taking her friends. Activist Medgar Evers is murdered, Hansberry is lost to pancreatic cancer, Malcom X is killed, Hughes dies from complications relating to his prostate cancer and on 4 April 1968 Dr Martin Luther King is assassinated. Nina’s bass player writes "Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)" in the hours following King's death. Nina and her band perform it three days later at Westbury Music Fair dedicating their whole show to him. Nina ends "Why"? with a protracted monologue on love and loss. Current versions of the album 'Nuff Said preserve the 6-minute speech in its entirety though for a time, on vinyl, it was cut out.“Who can go on?” Nina asks, her voice crumbling, her whole body sounding on the verge of collapse.

Nina eventually leaves Andrew, writes a note — “I ain’t got nothing to give, Andrew. And I’m too tired to even talk about it. You go your way. I’ll go mine” — and flees what she would from then on call the United Snakes of America.

Nina goes to Barbados and at the suggestion of Carmichael's wife Miriam Makeba to Africaaaaaaaaaaa — which is how Nina pronounces it in her booming near baritone. For two years she lives in Liberia, a country founded in 1847 by former slaves. She is a free black woman in a free black state. No pressure to perform, no desire to please, no white sensibilities to coddle or endlessly confront. Her life in Liberia is one long exhale until she runs out of money.

The final third of the film is the story of tragic Nina. So, what happened? Miss Simone was too black and too angry, apparently. So many of the reviews I read pick up that thread. Cool, critical voices calmly conclude that Nina’s blackness and her anger meant that yes, she was destined to be unappreciated, to live unfulfilled. All compounded by her longstanding mental health problems — on unknown meds in the 60s, she was diagnosed as bipolar in the 80s. While it’s true that her world didn’t — our world doesn’t — know how to appreciate black female genius, making that failure the sum of Nina’s story diminishes her. I am uninterested in Nina’s life as a tragedy or worse a cautionary tale. I’m uninterested in the hypothetical fortunes of a less black, less angry Nina. She’s the woman who introduced herself to Dr. Martin Luther King in this way: “I’m not non-violent." (His response: “That’s okay sister. You don’t have to be”.) You hear it in "Mississippi Goddam". That black female anger as textured as it is misunderstood. Nina blew her voice out singing her indictment of America’s racism; it never returned to its former octave.

Garbus’ film barely mentions Nina’s love life, nothing on her first marriage, her affairs in Barbados and Liberia. Nothing of the Nina who sang "Be My Husband", "Do I Move You", "You Can Have Him", "Images", the Nina who trilled of finding true freedom, who had moments of living with no fear. Without real reference to any of this her story feels muted, incomplete, a downer. Maybe I’m taking my fatigue out on What Happened, Miss Simone?, but I am tired of sad tales of talented black lives, all nuance crowded out. I am tired of solemnity, tired of thinking about how black artists (people) suffer. And ugh, how noble our suffering is! Nina has always meant much more to me — and so many black girls — than suffering. We listen to her and we spring up.

Sara Bivigou is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in London. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"African Mailman (Nina Simone cover)" - Lauryn Hill (mp3)

"Don't Let Me Be Understood (Nina Simone cover)" - Mary J. Blige (mp3)


Wednesday
Sep022015

In Which We Find A New Hobby For The One We Love

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

Football season is on the horizon. My boyfriend Stephen is a big NFL fan, and he spends all of Sunday drinking and eating a variety of disgusting foods, while watching no less than three games of what looks like grown men killing each other in order to be the one with the cooked ham.

I struggle to not think less of Stephen because of his interest in this ludicrous pastime, and he dies in occasion make an effort when it is something I am interested in. But the deal is this: I am not sitting through any more Sundays like these; not now or ever. I don't want to take away something he enjoys, but am I wrong to think it is obsessive?

Ann C.

Dear Ann,

The NFL is likely using its army of lawyers to pressure Stephen into watching these dull marathons. The alcohol abuse and obesity they promote is just a delicate icing on the cake of death that is football's final solution.

This habit is unlikely to get better before it gets worse. zunfortunatrly, oversaturing yourself in your boyfriend's hobby is most likely to just make him tell his misogynistic pals how 'luck' he is. Sports not involving Ronda Rousey are just a waste of time.

You could restrict him to two full games a week, and use thst time to write a touching memoir about how your boyfriend became overweight and unattractive as he watches murderers run around in what appears to be someone's yard.

Hey,

When I was young and stupid, I was in jail for three months due to drinking under the influence. I was 20 and it was a harrowing experience, but I have never been in trouble with law enforcement since my incarceration. Am I required to mention this to women I meet, and what is a good time to bring it up, if you think I should?

Sam C. 

Dear Sam,

You should never bring up anything negative about yourself to a woman. Even Nelson Mandela's wife disparagingly called him 'convict' — even though as a political prisoner, this maybe seemed a bit uncalled for.

If she somehow finds out that you were in jail for three months, it can probably be smoothed over.

If you tell her of your own volition, it seems like you ascribing a lot of importance to it, and a curse will befall her and those she loves. If if comes up organically, like if she suddenly asks, "Have you ever been in jail??" you should laugh hysterically and reply, 'Have YOU ever been in jail?" and then quickly switch the conversation to something more neutral, like whether she has ever had a sexually transmitted disease.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

"Almost Home" - Ben Rector (mp3)

"The Men That Drive Me Places" - Ben Rector (mp3)