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This Recording

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
Apr172015

In Which There Are Absolutely No Substitutes

photograph by jerry siegel

Notes on Changing Direction

by LAUREN CIERZAN

When I was young, magnolia trees were synonymous with South. Even though one dove over the driveway of our Wisconsin yard in a frozen, fat-blossomed wave, shedding petals as thick as tongues onto the concrete, the books I read pinned magnolia trees to plantations, weeping Spanish moss, the hot air sick with their perfume. They shaded dust-choked cotton fields and country roads parched by a year-long July, a world thick with grotesques — deaf-mutes, Boo Radleys — and manic preachers, dark secrets and surges of strange violence.

At some point of middle school desperation, I fell hard for Southern Gothic. Stories that moved and unsettled me, writing that, in all its gloriously creepy thematic splendor, was a teething ring for teen angst. I read Wise Blood on the bus. A frenzy of Capote, Jackson, and McCullers that ended shell-shocked over The Heart is A Lonely Hunter in the school library. Through them, the South was slicked with a cartoon glaze, its whimsy grim enough to make depression seem cozy. I considered it an anti-Disneyland, real enough to claim a spot on the map yet doused in a thin magic you willed yourself to believe. The dry facts were skimmed over in history class. Fiction alone informed my understanding of life across an invisible line, the ghost of the Mason Dixon.

+

I was thirteen the summer my parents unfurled their plans for a proper family expedition. Not five hours tracing the shoreline towards Canada for a sunburnt week in a cabin. Not us, not this time. We were going to drive to South Carolina, our van pinballing its way through landmark cities in the process. Thrill and dread unspooled in my chest. I anticipated a modern version of what I knew South to mean — drawls and Civil War monuments, miscellaneous macabre activities — only now swimming in plenty of asphalt and fast food chains. I wasn't entirely wrong. In memories, most of these exist dimly, spectators that circle a disaster unfolding in slow-motion.

The Trip, and it more than earned its capital letters, will forever exist in fragments. When strung together, these excerpts read like a script, or more specifically, National Lampoon's Vacation as ghostwritten by Flannery O'Connor and directed by David Lynch. It opens at dawn on Family Vacation, Day One. My sister begins retching before our tires touch the street. A flu bug bends her in half, head buried in the bathroom trash can pinched between her knees. Miles pass at a hitching rate, a few hours going, a few hours stopped to sight-see and breath clean air, her misery more infectious than any stomach virus. In the Appalachians, we swelter in stand-still traffic that lasts through an afternoon. Car doors splay open like wings and people wander along the side of the road, queasy from the altitude.

Following dinner at a local restaurant, food poisoning strikes with a vengeance. My mother and I twist in sweaty knots on the bathroom tiles of our hotel. A rooming mistake in Charleston lands us in a party-torn suite, its broken lamp leaning dejectedly in the  corner. We eye the mysterious hubcap-sized stain on the carpet and elect to sleep on top of the beds. Bad luck edges into darker territory.

While touring the Biltmore Estate, my mother goes momentarily blind. What she blames on the sun is, in actuality, a small stroke. Relief requires too much effort by the time we finally touch the ocean. Perched on a sweeping beach, the resort is peaceful, its rooms tidy and smelling sweetly marine. We loosen our shoulders and pick along the sand, hoping to swim, as thunderheads roil merrily behind us. The next three days are a solid unbroken rain. On the fourth, we turn home under a suddenly clearing sky. Fade to black. The End.

There is a particular strangeness to experiencing what you have only read about. Words written and moments lived merge like bodies in a crowd, milling together into indistinguishable details. I remember very little of our surroundings during those two weeks. There are exceptions; Charleston's slicing heat, the view from an Appalachian road, but the rest recedes into shadows skirting my family's immediate chaos. In our time there and afterwards, my impression of the South dissolved further, into something more like a dream. It was the backdrop of a story rehashed at Christmas dinners, it lived in the novels I fell in the love with and surfaced occasionally on the television screen, but otherwise escaped my awareness as anything tangible. A blank plain yawned below the Illinois border, a sketch erased and waiting to be reshaped.

+

In the lull of this past winter, my boyfriend and I deliberated where to relocate after his graduation in June. It could have been anywhere, but our individual preferences were clear. I missed Chicago. He lobbied for Nashville. We were both surprised when I agreed.

After years circling Lake Michigan, an attempt to settle elsewhere seemed to steady my restlessness. The decision felt like an accident, not in the way of regret but in arriving of its accord. I tried to imagine what a day there would be, the light striping my face as I woke to an strange ceiling, and I realized again how little I knew outside Midwestern life.

Twice in the spring, we drove to Nashville to scout for  housing and visit friends. I tried to shake free of the vacation haze of time off work and nights curled, drunk and satisfied, on an air mattress and make note of this new place, allowing its features to ease slowly into focus. What I saw, what I still see, is a city decidedly in-between. True middle ground, pinned towards the center of the country's chest. Its sprawl spills into the foothills, the simmer between flatlands and the mountains' rolling boil, a landscape that oscillates between marshy groves and sloping rock.

The population is wildly outsourced, natives swallowed by a widening stream of transplants. Music hopefuls and artists, immigrants, entrepreneurs, form a tributary that eddies an indeterminate local culture. I wonder at the result — a pidgin of national identity fed by American's full spectrum, with certain regional distinctions rising more deliberately to the surface. Northern and Southern sensibilities meet and muddle. Tradition keeps anchor in a tide of new ideals. I warmed to the idea of 'Yes, here,' charmed by its confusion, the erratic beating of its heart.

+

The differences are subtler than expected. It's the heat mostly. All the finer details stem from its heavy pulse. I keep track regardless, slipping every nuance into a mental pocket. The crazed plant life is a marked change, unfamiliar vines and shrubs and low-bowing trees clambering all over each other, made ruthless by the warm damp. Thick boughs muscle their way onto sidewalks and claw desperately towards the curb. A snaking bush ripped our back gate clean off its hinges.

The insect world breeds with the same deranged abandon. Spiders, fat and round as robin's eggs, dangle above doorways on legs substantial enough to be small fingers. If garden variety spiders spin lace, these ogres weave like looms, stretching thick yellow swathes across stray branches. Paper wasps the length of my finger Houdini their way into our apartment. Likewise with tiny ant battalions and enough flies to work a saint into a blind rage. To them, RAID is an adorable joke. I've learned to read the cicadas in the way I once glanced at a thermometer. There isn't a word existing that bottles their sound, the way it swells with each rising degree. Keening comes close. A drone, a grinding of teeth with no teeth to speak of. In the end, it's too alien. I'm spooked by the noise despite small efforts at acceptance. What I hear is a warning, inescapably ominous, like the whisper of something coming. Menacing, simply because it's anonymous.

I slip my fingers through the blinds and peer out at the air cooking above the empty street or the house next door with its own drawn shades to prove to my knotting shoulders that there's no threat at all. Windows are almost always covered here, as if everyone feels under the same siege. In a way, they are. Curtains bunched tight, sheets haphazardly hung and shivering from some unseen fan, anything imaginable to block out the sun. The indoors is sacred ground, blessedly air-conditioned. Outside, even in shade, humidity is as merciless as a wool glove. Porches gape sulkily, empty of anything but a few jilted chairs, a crouching table with a coffee pot glowering at a closed front door. Every house keeps its secrets until sundown. Afternoon cools to evening and windows fly open like eyelids, lit rooms lively with shadows as dinner is made. Figures bathed in porch-lights' murky gold tangle voices and flash the glint of raised bottles. Night feels thicker. Moonbeams clot in the dark air, palpable enough to cup in open palms.

photograph by jerry siegel

+

It is hard to see the truth of a place through the coating of assumptions. The presupposed smears vision like a dirty pane, enough for me to doubt my observations. Are they honest or influenced by words I clung to more than a decade ago? Down the street, a house built into the hillside stands on a broad, well-kept lawn. Someone has mown the word HOPE into the manicured grass, each letter arching 12 feet long. I stare each time I pass by and fend off a conviction that is this somehow significant. Yards in the city's satellite neighborhoods often dwarf the homes they belong to. The buildings themselves squat low to the ground and bob at the edge of their private expanses like rowboats in a bay, the disproportion a truce with the undergrowth snarling along property lines.

I speculate about these things. I imagine. I swear to myself that the light here is more yellow, that there is a certain weight of mystery that belongs to this climate, this region that has a shared yet separate history to the states that I know well, and then remember that all of it is only unfamiliar. I've romanticized the South with a potency that lingers. It will be winter soon and I wonder how that sense will shift with the seasons. An urge to venture downward and deeper — weekends in Baton Rouge, wandering to Little Rock, Savannah — stirs quietly in me, an emboldening and a need for experience uncolored by outside opinion. First impressions are their own brand of fiction. Stories are held captive on shelves for good reason.

+

Nowhere is without lacking. I miss the lakeshore, the waves and the wind's cool stroke. Rhubarb and lightly sweetened tea. Wine is no longer bought with groceries; liquor laws confine it to specialty stores that are few and far between. While there are no substitutes, fresh discoveries fill those gaps, things that will become new longings when I leave here. A month has come and gone and I sit motionless in our living room, listening. Underneath the cicadas' whine, I am beginning to hear a song.

Lauren Cierzan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about claustrogoraphobia. She is a writer living in Nashville. She tumbls here.

photograph by jerry siegel

"Saturday Come Slow" - Massive Attack ft. Damon Albarn (mp3)

"Paradise Circus" - Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval (mp3)


Thursday
Apr162015

In Which We Are Hoping This All Works Out

He's There

by TAYLOR HINE

Jackson Browne hasn’t changed his hairstyle since the 1960s. It’s remained roughly shoulder-length, parted in the middle, and has retained the slightest wave. The farther back in time you go, the more gentle, carefree, and innocent his countenance becomes; he sometimes looks like he’s forcing seriousness. But he probably isn’t.

+

His first wife, Phyllis, committed suicide soon after they were married, and his third studio album, The Pretender, was released later that year. The song “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” was written about the incident:

Never should have had to try so hard
To make a love work out, I guess
I don't know what love has got to do with happiness
But the times when we were happy
Were the times we never tried

Phyllis’s suicide didn’t initiate his introspective songwriting. Songs like “Song For Adam” (about the death of a close friend) and “Doctor My Eyes” (about growing up and seeing the world through eyes that inevitably don’t retain their youthful innocence) are two of the key thematic songs from his self-titled first album. Despite the personal tragedies that seem to haunt him in his songs, he’s remained incredibly private about them. He doesn’t advertise his life through song; he processes it.

+

My mother didn’t let me ride in the front seat until I was almost in middle school. I would ride in the middle of the backseat, leaning forward with my elbows on my knees to listen to whatever cassette she decided to put in. We were on our way to the grocery store one hot morning in Louisiana when she asked me what I felt like listening to. I was four.

“Hmmm,” I said dramatically, pretending to consider this heavily. “Jackson Browne.”

“Okay.”

She put in a collection of his greatest hits - The Next Voice You Hear - and it was during “In the Shape of a Heart” that I first remember registering a tone of desperation, a plea for some sort of reconciliation between lovers.  I thought that he may have been singing about my own parents, asking them in so many words not to fight anymore: “There was a hole in the wall/Left from some ancient fight/About the size of a fist/Or something thrown that had missed.” I asked my mother if he was singing from the speakers in the car - if he was actually inside them, along with his band. I very much wanted him to be.

“No, honey,” she said. “He’s not there. But his voice is.”

+

My mother told me a story some years later about the time Jackson Browne flirted with her. It was the late seventies or early eighties - I can’t remember which, but it was certainly quite some time before I was born - and she and a friend had somehow managed to sneak backstage at one of his Red Rocks shows. My mother had on a long-sleeved midriff shirt, a short white skirt, and wore her hair down to her waist. She was rail-thin - 110 pounds at most - and her legs were miles long. She and her friend - blond, tan, a few inches shorter than my mother - peeked around a lighted corner and there he was, wearing a dark blazer with a t-shirt and blue jeans. He picked up his guitar and slung it around his shoulders by the strap and a woman approached him with a makeup compact in her hand. Everyone was bustling backstage, moving drums and guitar cases around, wearing headsets and shouting for mic tests. Some people laughed together and a few frowned down at their clipboards.

“Come on!” her friend said, afraid of being caught. She started to make her way back the way they came. But my mother didn’t budge. He looked her up and down as makeup was dusted onto his face, and he smiled and gave a little wave.

I never asked my mother what year this happened, exactly. I like to think that “Somebody’s Baby” was written about her - a song about wanting to approach a beautiful woman but being daunted by rejection: She’s got to be somebody’s baby; she’s so fine.

+

Throughout his career, Jackson Browne has sung first and foremost about matters of the heart. Often, for him, this includes politics. It’s been easy for me to skip past most of his more political songs; they had no effect on me because, well, I wasn’t interested in politics, and I wasn’t exposed to those particular songs when I was younger. My mother skipped over them, too.

This is popular opinion, though it has never swayed Jackson. In an article from The Telegraph late last year, both a reflection of Jackson’s career and a review of his most recent album, Standing In the Breach, Martin Chilton wrote:

Many of his most memorable compositions from the Seventies were deeply personal love songs, about pain and death and desire, but since the Eighties Browne has been one of America's most vibrant political songwriters.

He talks with passion about his frustrations with the present state of affairs. ‘America is not really a democracy at the moment and things that don't serve big business are thrown under the bus,’ he says. ‘It's not surprising that political issues find their way into songs. I think that is true of every singer and every band, because everyone has got something that they feel that strongly about. Bruce Cockburn, who is one of my favorite singers, is able to condense ideas and get to the heart of a political question in a song, but it is not easy. There is a limited audience for that compared to more universal or general subjects such as love. And I try to write about everything that goes on in life.’

Standing In the Breach, released late last year, has a few political songs on it. “Which Side” asks the listener to decide whether s/he is fundamentally passive or active. “Corporations attacking the natural world, drilling and fracking” may sound a bit extreme to some, but I have a feeling that he doesn’t mean for blunt lyrics like these to piss anyone off, and he certainly isn’t trying to preach. They’re meant to make us think about the world rather than simply hide in it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve admired this sentiment more and more. However, it still remains a sentiment rather than a way of life for me - the stuff of songs that is on my moral to-do list. It’s not easy to stimulate, much less initiate, political thought and conversation. But what better way to try  than through song?

+

My parents and I took a road trip from Denver to Santa Fe in early summer, at the tail-end of my freshman year of high school. This was a time of unsettlement and unrest in their relationship; they broke up just a few months later. We took several day trips up to the mountains that summer, too. We also took a road trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and visited Mount Rushmore, staying in a remote cabin in the middle of the woods for almost a week. My father was, he says, trying to bring some sense of fun and togetherness into the family; we weren’t exactly known for spending a whole lot of quality time together, especially away from home.

For the road trip to Santa Fe, my father made a mixed CD. On it, surprisingly (he isn’t a huge fan of Jackson’s), he included “Sky Blue and Black,” a song about lamenting the loss of a long-ago relationship, reflecting on what went wrong, and what could have been done right. The drive south along the Rocky Mountain range was overcast, which, to my mind, predicted a sense of truth about this song in particular. Something just didn’t feel right about the whole trip; it all felt forced and uncomfortable. My mother still has this CD, but she can’t bring herself to listen to it anymore. She’s convinced that the songs - and that one in particular - were included as a message to her. The CD ended with “All Good Things,” from his 1993  album I’m Alive. It all had to come to an end sometime.

+

Aside from demonstrating pure and introspective songwriting talent, Jackson practices humility like it’s a religion; for him, these go together like nothing else can. In the documentary Going Home, Jackson doesn’t point to his influences as mere inspirations or muses; he talks about them as friends, as peers from whom he drew a bottomless well of support. He does not mention that his “Take It Easy” rocketed The Eagles to fame, nor does he take credit for writing and playing several songs on Nico’s Chelsea Girl. He doesn’t claim Warren Zevon as his protege, even though Jackson signed him with Asylum Records and helped produce his first two albums, including Excitable Boy. His achievements can be listed for pages and pages. But they’re scattered here and there, recorded by both casual observers and lifelong fans alike.

Jackson thanks God often for having been able to spend his life producing art that he loves, and being able to share that with others who similarly share that love:

Pages turning
Pages we were years from learning
Straight into the night our hearts were flung
Better bring your own redemption when you come
To the barricades of heaven where I'm from

He knows that despite the fiscal wealth he thought he may have yet to accumulate and the lessons he has yet to learn from giving himself wholeheartedly to his art (he wrote this song about, and perhaps to, his 16-year-old self), he remembers that, when it all comes down, he will need to earn forgiveness, whether it be for himself or for a higher power - or perhaps both.

Taylor Hine is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Asheville. You can find an archive of her writing in these pages here.

"These Days" - Nico (mp3)

"The Fairest of the Seasons" - Nico (mp3)


Wednesday
Apr152015

In Which We Save All The People Of This Land

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,

In February I started seriously dating Kayla. Before we became exclusive, she had told me that she had hidden the use of drugs, mostly cocaine from me, because she feared I would disapprove. Because she was honest about this, I don't want to accuse her of lying to me without proof. She knows that I don't do drugs, however, and she is not going to want to tell me if she does. How do I encourage her to be honest with me, and is there any way to prevent her from using with her friends?

Ben R.

Dear Ben,

Forget the cocaine for a second. The idea that you can save someone from what she is doing is pretty much a waste of time for both of you. Let's look at whether one person in a relationship has ever saved another throughout history:

Virginia Woolf? No.
Cleopatra? I'd have to look it up, but I'm going to say no.
Jesus died.
Demi Lovato? Jury's still out.
Rachel McAdams? No.
Owen Wilson? No.
Chris Brown? No.
Henry VII? Again, I'm an advice columnist, not a historian.

The point is, people can only save themselves. But if you really care about her, then just ignore her when she is on coke and say absolutely nothing about it. Stressing her out about the subject is only going to push her closer to drugs and the people she does them with. Have you considered an apple farm? 

Hi,

My friend - let's call her Jill for anonymity's sake - spends a lot of time on the internet, and it gets into her head a little bit. Somehow, her life has led her to the point where she had a reddit account. Anytime she comes across something the least bit interesting she forwards it along to me, even when I have made it clear I don't want to see this kind of material.

She constantly refers to the things she finds on the internet or "on a podcast" and it gets a little trying. I also use the internet, and I've already seen it before most of the time, or I just don't care. How can I change this behavior?

Ellen T.

Dear Ellen,

Remember the days where people used to have entire posts of links to other things on the internet, because the only person with social media was Ezra Klein? Now, it's difficult not to be bombarded by awful things such as that life-size doll you linked to or a podcast about the international drug trade.

As always, the best way to get someone to change their behavior is to put them on the receiving end of it. Absolutely flood her with links - here's one you should probably include just to be comprehensive - and begin every sentence with those fateful words - "I was listening to a podcast." That's actually how the reverend at my church started his sermon this week. He was shouted down, not unlike Jesus. I made a video of it. I'll snapchat it to you.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording's mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

 

"Seventeen Years" - Ratatat (mp3)

"El Pico" - Ratatat (mp3)