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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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Tuesday
Sep062011

In Which John Cassavetes Keeps A Part Of Himself Alive

The Defenseless Thing

John Cassavetes' 1974 production of A Woman Under the Influence represented the pinnacle of his artistic collaboration with Gena Rowlands. He wrote her one of the most complex and dramatic female roles in cinematic history: Mabel Longhetti, a "mentally unstable" wife to a construction worker, mother of three, Los Angeles housewife. The echoes of time have ensured that her performance, ostensibly an alienating portrayal of a "crazy woman", possesses the characteristics of a far more nuanced individual. In his notes about the production of A Woman Under the Influence, Cassavetes muses at length about how his relationship with his wife informed the writing of the role, creating a shadow puppet theater of his own life. He begins by describing the differences between himself and Gena.

I know when I was not working, and Gena was working for me, I was a pretty good housewife and everything else. But I didn't really have the same reactions as a woman would have. Mainly because I didn't have to be a housewife the rest of my life. I didn't have to think into the future of when I'd get older or when my attractiveness would fade, or when the kids would grow up or when the baby would cease to cling to you, and you're not really a mother then, and you have to think, well, should I be the friend or should I be the mother?

Gena and I were speaking about the pictures we were going to make, how the roles are so thin and everything is made so a narrative can work. We were talking about how difficult love was and how tough it could be to make a love story about people who were totally different culturally, coming from two different family groups that were diametrically opposed and yet still regarded each other very highly. I kept thinking about that. Gena and I are absolutely dissimilar in everything we think, do and feel.

Beyond that, men and women are totally different. When I started writing the scripts, I kept these things in mind and didn't want the love story easy. I made a lot of discoveries about my own life.

I absolutely wrote A Woman Under the Influence to try to write a terrific part for my wife. Gena wanted to do a play. She was always complaining we're living in California, she loves the theater and everything. Gena really wanted to do a play on Broadway. And I had always fancied that I would write a play. She wanted something big. She said, "Now look, deal with it from a woman's point of view. I mean deal with it so that I have a part in this thing!" and I said, "OK," and I went off and had been thinking about it for a year anyway. And I had taken seven or eight tries at bad plays and came up with this play, which was not the play the movie was, but it was based on the same characters.

And Gena read it and said, no, she wouldn't do it. And I'm very stubborn so I didn't realize that she liked the part but that on the stage, to play that every night, would kill her. I had no concept of that because we're all obsessed, everyone's obsessed, that is, in this stupid thing. And so I wrote another play on the same subject with the same characters, deepening the characters and making it even more difficult to play. And I gave it to Gena and she said, "I like that tremendously. I like the first one too, but I don't think I could do that on Broadway." So I wrote another play, and now there were three plays! And I took them to New York and I got a producer to produce the plays on Broadway and I thought it was a terrific idea to do these three plays on consecutive nights with matinees, see?

Gena's not a particularly ambitious woman in the trade, as it goes. Although, if she sees a good part, she'll kill herself for it, but I mean kill herself performing it, but not getting it. I mean, it's either given to her, or she'll play with the kids or do something else or go out. When Gena read the plays she said, "No one could do this every night!" She feared they would take her to a sanitarium if she became that keyed up over a long period of time. So then I said, well, all right, let's try to make it a movie.

I can't just go out and make what I want. I have to go through a whole big process of crap, talking to people, proving to them that whatever we are going to do is going to make money. If I can prove to them that my intentions are to make money, then they will let me make any film I want. But it becomes increasingly more difficult to tell them that since I'm not concerned with making money.

You con people and you lie to them. You try to keep a little part of yourself when somebody says to you, "You figure it's the greatest picture ever made?" You try to keep a little part of yourself alive.

 

So I went through all the processes of calling people in Wisconsin and Idaho and, you know, big industrialists, and trying to find out how to raise the money. And we couldn't raise anything, not anything!

Gena tells everyone it's hard to live with me because there is nothing she can say that I don't write down. I see Gena around the house and with the kids and I tape record what I see. I do tape record things and exaggerate them and blow them up and the incidents are not the same. I mean, I'm not a writer at all! I just record what I hear. As prattle. What people are concerned with in a day's living. I have a good ear for prattle. Every line in your life is eaten up by the movies you do.

The preparations for the scripts I've written are really long, hard intense studies. I don't just enter into a film and say, "That's the film we're going to do." I think, "Why make it?" For a long time. I think, "Well, could the people be themselves, does this really happen to people, do they really dream this, do they think this?"

There were weeks of wrestling to get the script right. I knew hard-hat workers like Nick, and Gena knew women like Mabel, and although I wrote everything myself, we would discuss lines and situations with Peter Falk, to get his opinion, to see if he thought they were really true, really honest. The actors discussed the clothes, the characters would be wearing, the influence of money on their lives, the lives of the children, why they sleep on the ground floor, etc.

Everything was discussed, nothing came from me alone. We write a lot of things that aren't in the movie, as background. So that when we got to the scene, you might rewrite on the spot, but we might have already gone in three, four, five, seven, eight, nineteen different versions of the scene.

In replacing narrative, you need an idea. What you do is take an idea that you have about a situation that seems as normal as everyday life so the audience doesn't see the idea. So it doesn't show. Of course the idea itself has to be good. It really has to be first-rate. And the idea in A Woman Under the Influence was a concept of how much you have to pay for love. That's kind of pretentious but I was interested in it. And I didn't know how to do it, and none of the other people knew how either, so we had to work extremely hard.

I knew that love created at once great moments of beauty and that on the other hand it makes you a prisoner. It just seems to me that women are alone and they are made prisoner by their own love. If they commit to something then they have committed to it and it's a torture. And it's true. I mean, I see it in my relationship to Gena. Within such a system, men have always been in a more favorable position they are allowed to test themselves against the rest of the world since they are in contact with it. But I feel it too. A man feels that also. And nobody knows how to handle it. Nobody knows how to handle it.

There's a very small part of all of us that has any kind of value. I think there's a small part of us that says we'd like to say something better than what is usually said, on the purest level. And the rest of it is con-men and struggling people just like everyone else where you're constantly humiliated and go through life, even if you're not humiliated, thinking you are.

And then you get very lucky and you meet a group of creative people that are very much like you who are locked up in their own selves, trying to come out, trying in some way to express something that is very personal to them.

When Gena was committed by Peter and she went to an institution, and as the film says, six months later she comes out I would have thought that she would be so hostile against her husband. But she comes in the house and she never even acknowledges his presence. She's only considering her children.

And we did a take, and I thought, "Should I stop this? I mean, she never even looked at Peter." She walks in the house and everyone greets her and she never looks at her husband I mean, she looks at him, but she never sees him, yet she's not avoiding him. And I thought, well, that's the defenseless thing carrying itself too far here! What are we doing?

All through that homecoming scene I was astounded by what was underneath people, what these actors had gathered in the course of this movie. And I was way behind them. I was staggered because Gena was so quiet and mild. She wasn't hostile at all. I started yelling because I thought she was acting so the audience would like her, but I was wrong. She was expressing fear, which separated her from the people she loved.

When we looked at the dailies, Gena said, "What do you think? I'm at a loss, did we go too far?" And I said, "I didn't like it, I just didn't like it at all." I mean, I found it really embarrassing to watch.

It was just such a horrible thing to do to somebody, to take her into a household with all those people after she'd been in an institution, and their inability to speak to this woman could put her right back in an institution, and yet they were speaking to her, and Gena wanted to get rid of them and at the same time not insult them. But then I thought what Gena did was like poetry. It altered the narrative of the piece. The dialogue was the same, but it really made it different. I would grow to love those scenes very, very much, but the first time I didn't.

By the time you get him to the beach the beach scene, I think, is wonderful, and Peter is wonderful because he has absolutely no idea what he is doing there. I had the camera down there and they just started walking. I never went near them and they are walking and Peter has some lines and he says the lines and then they don't know what to do. Now I could tell them, but that would kill it. What different does it make what he does? He has to do it. I can't do it. The camera can move. It can follow, you know. So where they play that scene and what they do has to be in their own timing. And when Peter gets there at the end of the beach and he pushes the little girl down, there was a wonderful moment. I see him trying to communicate with his children. I see him trying to touch. I see him not caring.

I see so many things that developed that wouldn't have if you formalized a view of the character through your own mind and didn't allow room for interpretation. I wrote it and as soon as I wrote it I killed the writer. There is no writer because the writer can only make the actor feel insecure. I have been in a lot of movies and as soon as the writer would come on the set everyone died. Because the writer knows exactly how everyone should be played, exactly what the intentions are. But writing is one medium and film is another medium.

You can find Molly Lambert's review of John Cassavetes' Husbands here.

"Repetition" - ZAZA (mp3)

"Sooner or Later" - ZAZA (mp3)

"Always On" - ZAZA (mp3)

Monday
Sep052011

In Which We Find Ourselves Pet Detectives No More

Hazy Days

by DICK CHENEY

Breaking Bad
creator Vince Gilligan

Condi Rice recently lashed out at me because I suggested in these memoirs that she cried in my office. And so what if she did, exactly? I've cried twice this week, and I can scarcely remember seven days that elapsed when I didn't. I cried reading Friday's TR, I cried when Princess Diana first wore a crown (for the death of England, natch) and I cried after reading Ender's Game. For some reason the entire premise of genetically engineered orphans always gets the waterworks flowing.

Here are some of the other times I remember weeping like a baby. (In the Pentagon we called them "wepts", like, "My So-Called Life gave me one hell of a wept last night.")

- When Molly Young deleted her tumblr; I was like, "WHY DIDN'T I MAKE SCREENCAPS"

- Nine times during Brideshead Revisited. Being British, or even knowing a British person, is just about the saddest thing I can imagine. Each time you come to an old townhouse near Shropshire you're overcome, and that kind of vulnerability touches me deeply;

- the homophobic lyrics of Katy Perry;

- The day in 1994 when it was no longer OK to say "Allrighty then" and generally pretend to be Ace Ventura;

- When they freed the West Memphis Three and Eddie Vedder was like, "G chord";

- The idea that Kate Winslet is eventually going to turn into that horrible old woman in Titanic;

- Whenever anyone's an orphan and is taken in by caring parents, especially in the third world;

- Seeing another man cry, especially if he was on CSI;

- Anytime someone reblogs Andrew Sullivan approvingly;

- SIMBBBBBBBBBBBBBAAAAAAAAA!;

- Anytime someone uses the name Robert Downey Jr with a positive connotation;

miss when u weren't trying so hard

- When Jonah Hill got thin and looked like the Scarecrow in Oz and/or the thought of someone caring about his godawful animated series;

- The old West was sad as shit;

- Every single moment Michelle Williams dresses up as a dead or suicided ingenue;

- After the Mission Accomplished banner on that aircraft carrier, but it was tears of joy.

Despite my ample experience working the tear ducts, watching Breaking Bad's Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) do the weeping last night came as something of a shock. One disturbingly emotional moment fuels every man's drive for power. Winston Churchill's entire political career happened because one of his young classmates told him to stick a ceramic vase up his fat ass.

Yes, the traumatic loss of Gustavo's first chemist partner, and possibly his Chilean lover, brought on tears we haven't seen from the man in any previous episode. Gustavo, in fact, never seems to break his steely countenance. He never laughs, which is the one universal sign that the person sitting across the table from you is, in fact, human.

The men and women of Breaking Bad usually make a habit of showing us their humanity. Last night's episode began with Walt (Bryan Cranston) at the doctor for a cancer checkup. As a newly diagnosed patient lapses into reverie about the hopelessness of his condition, Walt disabuses him of his sorrowful notions: "Live life on your own terms. To hell with your cancer. Every life comes with a death sentence." This reality check itself is enough to get most men wet and teary, but not Walt. He's fresh out of salty discharge. Like Gus, he's well into the anger and resentment phase that Jesse (Aaron Paul) expresses by playing video games.

If you really analyze it, there is no human experience without pathos. Just watching John Edwards wake up in the morning or try to rationalize a single thing he's ever done is enough to get a hard wept out of Dick Cheney lately. The very sight of the wonderful new home Jesse made possible for his ex-girlfriend and her son, and the way he is unable to credit himself for doing a good thing is sadder than when all the lower class passengers were not permitted in the lifeboats.

Gus was questioned by the DEA last night, and his ample excuses for the fingerprints they found in the apartment of one Gale Boetticher dimmed the suspicion of law enforcement. His steely countenance as he took the elevator up to the place where he might meet his end was also quite moving.

Maybe I've just gone soft. When I wake up on a typical Sunday, I don't even feel the urge to light my neighbor's copy of the Sunday Times on fire. My wife Lynne said, "Dick, when you don't even want to set fire to a newspaper containing the writing of Paul Krugman, I have to worry about our future together." I said, "Quiet, I'm watching a YouTube of Stevie Nicks lip-synching 'Wild Heart'."

DEA agent Hank Schrader's rehabilitation from gunshot wounds, first inspired by a hospital handjob and then by the potential investigation of Mr. Fring, was enough to get most of the conversatives I watch Sunday night TV with ensconced in velvet tears. Usually it's hard to focus on the episode in my house, because whenever Jesse Pinkman shows up on screen, Grover Norquist is screaming, "Stop whining!" or Laura Ingraham is yelling, "Take off your shirt!"

Last week's amazing sequence, which featured Pinkman telling off the director of his Narcotics Anonymous support group, deserves more Emmys than Matthew Weiner has in storage. This was the best theater since Neil Simon's Chapter Two. I'm considering getting a tattoo of this entire scene permanently inscribed on my colon.

Listening to this scene more than once inspires a litany of different reactions. At first, there is stark approval of Jesse's destruction of the entire therapeutic purpose of a support group. Then, astonishment at the honesty of everyone involved, especially the group's alcoholic leader. Lastly, a hatred of everything that exists to bring about such an annihilating moment.

We think it takes one thing to make us cry, that something sad itself is enough to disturb the calm of our face, the twitching of our ears, tension in the cheekbones. But it is our own mental state that takes primacy: a instinct designed for self-preservation. Nothing, then, could be more tormenting than what we ourselves become in the moment of collapse. To overwhelm the gravity of the feeling, we attempt to transcend it through self-importance. When we weep, we're saying, "Me! Me! Me! Me! Me."

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his work on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about shame.

"Capitol City" - Wilco (mp3)

"Rising Red Lung" - Wilco (mp3)

"I Might" - Wilco (mp3)

The new album from Wilco, The Whole Love, is available on September 23rd and you can preorder it here.

Friday
Sep022011

In Which We Watch Our Empty Silhouette

The Waves on the Sea

by EMMA KEMPSELL

I found an old home video recently. It was of my father’s 40th birthday party, which was also his last birthday.

It was the biggest party my parents ever held and I understood later that its purpose was probably to give everyone the opportunity to see him feeling well for the last time. I prepared myself to hear my fathers voice for the first time in 10 years, poured a glass of wine and put the tape in. It begins with darkness and laughter: the only light comes from the candles on the cake. The camera zooms in and the flames glow and blur, just like the memories of my father do. Everybody sings Happy Birthday without trepidation, but there’s a tension hanging in the air. Amidst the clapping when the candles are blown out, all the kids, myself included, shout for the lights to be put back on. The old dial is turned and the lights flicker on as if they are unsure, as if the darkness was in some way better. Smoke lingers and the camera accidentally zooms in on my dad’s head: on the hair growing back over the new scar above his ear. Five months after the party, the real darkness came.

My father died after a five year battle with cancer on August 8th, 1999. As a nine year old, I had a knowledge about death but a profound lack of understanding about what it really was or could mean.

On the day he died, I walked down the narrow hospice hallway with my mother and older brother. My mother was in the middle with her arms around us both; a wall of crooked heights, we supported each other. When she asked if we wanted to see him, I said yes. Of course I wanted to see my dad. My brother answered no, and so we walked on, my mother seemingly ignoring my answer. I didn’t say anything, and remember thinking later that he got to decide because he was older.

It was only years later that I realised my mother's action, or rather, her inaction, was above all induced by the hope of protection. I didn’t have the capacity to understand that I wouldn't have really seen my father; not the father I knew. There would be no sign of the joke teller, the dancer, or the reader of bedtime stories. The worker in the white shirt kissing me goodbye each morning before school; the man who made me proud in front of my friends was no longer in that room, and hadn’t been for some time. If my mother had allowed me to go into the room, I would only have seen more of the glimpse I had stolen through the curtains: a grey, lifeless, bloated lump. His face would be vacant. Even more so than it had been for the last few months. It would hold no trace of the smile that was previously ubiquitous around us. The trauma that engulfed me throughout my adolescence would have doubled.

Alongside my naiveté, I operated within my childish sense of time, judging it only by the seasons: summer sprawled but was perennially cut short, school started in autumn, winter was too long, and school stopped in spring. I understood that death meant the end of things, but I didn’t understand I wouldn’t see my father again, or that at times in the future I would desperately want or need to.

For a short time after my father died, I thought that what happened to me was normal. I knew that everybody eventually died; my friends’ fathers would die, too. When it became apparent that my situation was different, it wasn’t long before I became bitter. I started wishing that it had been my best friend's dad instead of mine. Her life was so perfect, and mine had been, too, before. This produced another layer of feeling too dense for a child to understand. I knew this was a cruel thought, I knew it was wrong, and on some level I hated myself for it.

Of course I was right that everyone dies eventually, but I was also horribly wrong: what happened to me wasn’t normal. Only 4 percent of children in the Western world experience the death of a parent, according to Science Daily.

I grew up in the middle class suburbs of Glasgow. Within my extended family and circle of friends, there wasn't even a history of divorce. I didn't meet a classmate from a single parent family until high school, and even then, their dads had left, not died. I still couldn't relate; it's not the same. Throughout my teen years I isolated myself because I believed that no one I knew could understand. None of my friends could ever feel the pain or the emptiness I was capable of feeling. This produced an absurd combination of self hatred and arrogance. I was different and no one was capable of understanding me.

My mother told me that when my dad died I became less confident, more angry. I know that I feel owed a debt by the world. Something magnificently integral has been taken from me: what feels like essential organs, my insides, have been ripped out. This should be acknowledged and I should be repaid. So when other significant things went wrong, when my mum moved on too quickly for me, when I felt ignored by my family, or when I was bullied at school, anger filled me. I might have been able to deal with such things if I still had my father. Under attack, I became defensive. I know that the world isn’t attacking me, no more so than it attacks anyone else. I know others have it much worse than I do. The world is simply, utterly unfair. I know this, but I still feel owed.

When someone dies, a common phenomenon is the employment of magical thinking. For example, if I was running a race in the school sports day my inner monologue would read:

Run! Run faster! If you run fast you’ll see Dad!

When you get to the finish line Dad will be there!

Imagine you’re running to Dad! If you win you’ll see Dad!

I would do this with any kind of competition or test, and as a perfectionist, I used it a lot. Of course, these are merely fantastical thoughts. They do not work in either of the intended ways. I knew so as I thought them and I never won anything. I realise now in writing this that the pain of losing was then compounded as it was associated with losing my father and my inability to bring him back.

Another aspect of magical thinking is the ability to imagine seeing the deceased alive again. There can be moments when you see a lookalike across the street and for a second believe that a vast conspiracy is being played out around you, as in The Truman Show. The thought process reads:  

Dad isn’t really dead!

This has all been some weird experiment, and it’s finally over.

Look! He’s right there!

And then the man turns around and you see that the man is a stranger, and you always knew he was a stranger. Slowly, these thoughts become more and more untenable, despite being utterly unrealistic in the first place.

The thought of seeing him diminishes, until it can only be found in dreams, photographs, songs, smells or forced imagination. By “forced imagination” I mean forcing yourself to see something that isn’t there. This is not the same as mistaking a man on the street for the deceased, but rather, projecting his image onto something you know not to be him. For example, I would sometimes stare at the back of my stepfather’s head in the car and pretend it was my dad. This only worked at night because my stepdad is bald, and my dad had a full, thick head of hair.

We didn’t talk about my dad much after he died because we couldn’t without crying, and we’d done enough crying. I was too young, and I have no real time memories, nothing that isn’t triggered by a photograph or a smell or a song. I can’t play out a scene in my head. I don’t hear my father’s voice until I hear my brother say, “Hello” on the phone, and even after that word, that’s it, it’s over. I rarely dream of him, and when I do living without him the next day is worse than the day before. The absence is intensified. But once that day is over I still long to repeat it. Over and over again, to be with him even for a second in a dream is worth being turned back to the cruel joke of reality. Because that’s where I’d be, anyway.

My life is split in two. Before and after. I have a utopian view of my childhood. Everything until that sunny August day, that rainy funeral and the blur of years that follows it, is perfection. Nothing can compete, and I constantly want to return to that place of home that only exists in my heart. My family will never be whole again, and neither will I.

I live in his absence, in the crater left in his wake. I watch other fathers, and it makes me smile before it begins to ache. At the Brooklyn Bridge Park on a Saturday afternoon I watched a young man play with a child no older than two. Or, maybe older than two, but no bigger than two. (I cannot guess children’s ages.) This is what I wrote:

She is tiny. He spins her around in the air, holding her wrist and an ankle. She squeals in delight and he lays her down softly on the jaggy green grass. She lays on her back and so does he, beside her. After a minute she gets restless and she climbs on his chest, her face in his neck and her legs only reaching where his belly button would be under his shirt. He wraps his arms around her; she is so small that his arms fit around her and himself, and his hands find his sides easily, his finger tips grazing the grass. They lie like that for a moment and I want to tell him,“Don’t let go. Don’t let her go.” But she squirms, and it’s too late, they’re up and she’s in the air, the colors of his red shirt and grey shorts whirring past her eyes.

When the tape of my father's party finished, I took my drink outside and lit a cigarette. It was a summer evening, the sky was pink and warm. I heard someone yell something that sounded like my name, and within five seconds, my mind tried to convince me that it was my father.

Once when I was a child my brother and I ran to meet someone we hadn’t seen for years. I want to dream that it was him. I run down the street that we grew up on. We used to walk it together, his hand enclosed around mine. I see his figure looming in the distance, it has been years, but it feels like forever. My hand drops from my mother’s and my feet slap hard, painfully on the ground, my hair flying violently behind me. Tears are running down my face as quickly as I am running towards him. But it feels like slow motion. Purple flowers in nearby gardens blur and the sun is shining, like it always did, as he gets closer and closer. My blue eyes are swimming. Everything is a hazy mess of gold light, green, and purple flowers. I see him clearly, wearing jeans and an old red sweater that I still keep in my closet. I can almost feel him hugging me. How small I’ll feel, enveloped in his arms, my eyelashes wet, and the smell of his neck. But we don’t live there anymore, and no matter how hard I try, I almost never dream of him.

I am left wondering what difference having a father makes. There are studies that say teenagers without fathers will be more promiscuous, more rebellious, they will do badly in school and they will have a reduced chance at every kind of success. Every case is too different to be comparable. When we are taught that grief ends, we are being lied to. Grief is like a river: it moves through us and through time. Sometimes it is bearable, and other times not; sometimes it feels like drowning. Grief turns us into water: it slips through our fingers but makes us stronger, strong enough to hold up a ship.

I know that the findings in any study are not my story; they are not me. My story is one that I am making for myself, and I can feel it firmly in my hands. I live with and in his absence, I try to live wholly with an emptiness that I try to fill only with success, and with more love. I live the lessons he taught me when he was alive, and those I have been forced to learn since his death: to be strong and to be yourself, and to be unyielding in that; to be sensitive to your own pain and to the pain of others, to live as best you can and to do things that scare you, because those are the best things you can do for yourself. That, and it will all be over too quickly.

Emma Kempsell is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Glasgow. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about ending the cosmic friendship.

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"Solsbury Hill" - Peter Gabriel (mp3)

"Mercy Street" - Peter Gabriel (mp3)

"Losing My Religion" - R.E.M. (mp3)

"Try Not To Breathe" - R.E.M. (mp3)