Art that simply cannot be art

About a week ago I gave this article by Allan Kaprow to the people I am teaching this semester. The piece is called “Art Which Can’t Be Art.” In the article, Kaprow talks about the experience of brushing his teeth and wonders what it might be like to give that activity the attention of art making. This attention would not be given in the context of a gallery or museum, like Duchamp, but would rather be right there, in the bathroom, as he is actually doing the necessary act of brushing his teeth. As a result of this attentive brushing, he thinks:

“I began to pay attention to how much this act of brushing my teeth had become routinized, non-conscious behavior, compared with my first efforts to do it as a child. I began to suspect that 99 percent of my daily life was just as routinized and unnoticed; that my mind was always somewhere else; and that the thousand signals my body was sending me each minute were ignored. I guessed also that most people were like me in this respect.”

I gave this to the class because their final assignment is to create a personal narrative of sorts and so many of them told me their lives are boring. Maybe they are, who am I to say? But I, like Kaprow, think my body is sending me thousands of signals and maybe I am not exactly ignoring these signals, but I have certainly turned the volume down on them. Sometimes, through a sort of severe act, the volume comes back up. I told the class about how when I have sprained my ankle I get kind of angry with everyone else walking normally–like, don’t they know how good they have it? I told them this because it is (kind of) funny and I know at least a couple of them will laugh. It seems to be good way to get the point across without being overly didactic or emotional. But this time, I carried it a little further.

I don’t remember when or how I learned to brush my teeth. But here comes Miles. Over the last couple of years Shannon and I have been working with him on this whole process. We bought an electric Winnie the Poo toothbrush (this was as about as corporate and gender neutral as I could stand) and appropriate kids toothpaste that can be swallowed. We showed him how to hold the toothbrush and helped him put the toothpaste on it. It was kind of a train wreck. Toothpaste would go everywhere and he would just sort of hold it on is tongue or in one spot and then claim he was finished. Shannon or I (mostly Shannon) would have to come back in and do the whole process again. Slowly, he caught on. Now he can kind of do the process himself, especially since the dentist walked him through some of the finer points of the whole endeavor just a couple of weeks ago. Miles also got his picture on the no cavity wall, so everybody is happy.

So I told my class about this a little bit and how, truth be told, this has been almost a 2 year plus process to get Miles competent at brushing his teeth. Hopefully, one day Miles will be sitting some place like they are right now and have no idea how he brushes his teeth, he will just know that he can do it without much thinking at all. And then, because everything is always right under the surface for me, I started to tear up just a little bit. I thought about his effort and I how proud I was of it. I also thought about Lena and how she is experiencing everything still for the first time and her resilience in the face of so much that appears daunting. I guess they don’t really perceive much of a choice in all this right now, but I am so proud of them nevertheless. And all this effort and pride is in the service of something that will someday be second nature to them. I also felt pride in myself. I never really thought of myself as being patient, but being a parent has granted me the ability to practice being patient time and time again. It has also asked me to be quicker to forgive. Maybe I could have eventually gotten here on my own but I have little doubt that the kids largely made this a quicker possibility. Out of the ordinary experience of something like brushing your teeth I found something that is so simple suddenly so profound. It dawns on me: Allan Kaprow is a genius.

Maybe this is art. Maybe its mindfulness and Jon Kabat-Zinn books. Maybe its being present in the classroom or at home or in the studio. Maybe it’s philosophy, or good fiction or those sublime moments in John Jeremiah Sullivan essays. Maybe its just being kind to others and myself. Art as a term holds the most capacity for me professionally so I use “art” here, but I am working on becoming increasingly comfortable with it just meaning that I am being human. It’s not perfect because there are flaws present, its just that the flaws don’t really seem like flaws.

Again, words fail me.

I guess this means I have failed.

Well, I need to pick myself up and look towards the youngest person in our house and draw inspiration from her slow, defiant, steady attempts at walking. There is a art lesson there too.

Gratuitous Picture of the Day (Skeleton babies are the scariest babies/This kid has no cavities edition):




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Daylight Savings

I always have loved fall daylight savings. The past tense is key here. If my love of fall daylight savings were an actual sentient human being, it would have died, suddenly and without warning, in 2011. Devoted reader(s) of the blog will note that this was shortly after Miles’ first birthday. He hadn’t been sleeping through the night all that long by this point and the time change that I knew as the night I got an extra hour of sleep simply ceased to exist. Now it just meant that Miles had no idea what time he was getting up or going to bed. Child parenting sites will offer helpful tips like: “Increase or decrease your child’s bedtime in 15 minute increments until they adjust to the new schedule.” Thanks internet, but I want to sleep now.

It was not always so. Once upon a time, when I lived in Louisville (City of Problem Drinkers, Est. 1778), fall daylight savings gave you an extra hour at the bar you definitely didn’t need because bars already stayed open until 4 and the Tavern opened back up at 6. Just thinking about a burrito from Labamba’s (“Burritos as big as your head”) makes my stomach hurt. As I got older and seemingly busier, the extra hour in the day allowed a little time for relaxation. Work on the Sunday after daylight savings got done a little earlier. The novelty of darkness creeping up at 5:30 felt fun, especially when we lived in North Carolina. I realize this is all a state of mind but that doesn’t seem to relieve the very real stress of the approaching time change.

So it is with great joy that I announce daylight savings of 2014 began swimmingly. Sure Lena woke up a little early but Shannon and I quickly decided just to bring her into our bed and hope that she would sleep a little more…which she totally did. We changed Miles’ clock the night before so he wasn’t too thrown off by the whole thing. We made breakfast, I moved some stuff around, the kids went down for naps; it was nice. And then it wasn’t.

Both kids woke up early from their naps. Lena had what we will delicately call a bathroom emergency. Miles decided naps are for losers and yelled, “When will it be wake-up time?” about 1000 times in a row; that kid is nothing if not persistent. Miles started helping me move books around the house until I realized a pen had exploded in the pocket of my favorite pair of pants. When I started to clean them he helpfully offered, “You are really sad because you ruined your pants and you ruin things all the time.” Thanks buddy. When we went upstairs to play with Lena, Miles hit her, on accident, with a block but it sounded like a bat hitting a coconut and Lena did the silent cry until she realized people need oxygen and most definitely decided not to silently cry anymore. When I went to bed last night, I forgot to change our clock so the alarm for my run went off at 4:30, which I realized shortly before Lena started to cry for her 6 AM feeding not realizing it was still well before 5. Our car was at one auto repair shop so I walked the kids to daycare while Miles told me his legs were tired the whole way even though he was riding of my shoulders. I came home to find that Winnie had puked all over the carpet (this cat!) and that I had to take our car to a different repair shop because of the computer and now I am sitting in the waiting room listening to Paula Cole sing, “I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over…” which is one of my least favorite songs ever. To top all of this off, I am sick right now and am going to die someday. All of this I pin on dead-to-me daylight savings. But, once again, this is only a state of mind.

So let me try to change it. Before the pen blew up in my pocket yesterday, Miles looked at all my books piled on the floor and said, “Look at all these books! This is wonderful! It’s such a mess and I feel like I could do anything!” Last night Lena had one of those spells where she only wanted to be held by me. She just sat there, sucking her thumb. I lost my voice teaching on Friday and its still not all the way back but Miles and Lena laughed this morning at me trying to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and not being able to hit any of the high notes, so I did it a bunch of times in a row. Shannon made cinnamon rolls last night, and the house smelled amazing. We have an honest to goodness date tonight and it looks like we may actually be able to do this despite having to cancel our past couple of dates because of sick kids. It’s warmer outside than I expected it to be. The sun is shining. It is kind of a sublime moment if I really take the time to think about it. I just have to remember to take that time, really take it, and hold onto it in the way you hold on to time: you know you can’t hold it, not really; you just try to notice it’s there and feel thankful as it gently passes you by.

Gratuitous Picture of the Day (Halloween Edition: Miles the tree frog and Lena the lamb):Halloween

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I’m around


Michael Namkung, Baby Pictures 36: December 23, 2012, 20 Weeks, 8 minutes –(you may not believe this, but I spent a lot of time helping out when you were babies)

A few weeks ago I was attending the Southeastern College Art Conference and wandered over to the member’s exhibition to see what was around. I saw this piece and spent some time with it before I read the tag. I felt like it had to be about a baby because the scale seemed just so, but the tag confirmed it. I started to well up and had to sit and take a deep couple of breaths. I took a picture of the tag to see if I could find out more about it, which is a good thing because I remembered it wrong; I thought the subtitle said “I was around more than you realized when you were young.” Ok, so I wasn’t close on the title but I do like mine and maybe I will use it for something down the road.

The next day, I actually was watching a session where Michael spoke and he was pretty smart and funny. This series is from him placing a piece of paper on an inked up plate and then putting his son on the paper for some tummy time. He did the series until his son scooted over to the edge one day and tore the paper up. I saw on his website that he published a book of the images, which I imagine is great and meaningful and will only gain meaning as his son gets older.

I have been thinking about all this because of Lena. I feel like she has gotten some of the second child treatment. Some of that has been good; Shannon’s recovery from labor and birth was so much better this time around that I think the maternity leave was a more pleasurable experience for both Lena and Shannon. But I haven’t written anything on the blog about Lena since I started, and eventually finished, the story of her birth. I could chalk this up to a lot of different things (dissertation, gallery shows and art stuff, teaching, failed job applications, general laziness), but maybe its just different the second time around. The structure of our days wasn’t a huge personal shift for either Shannon or I this time around; Lena just fit in.

But looking at Michael’s piece in that Florida gallery gave me a little bit of a vocabulary to talk about some of the stuff I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on.

So Lena, if you’re reading this several years from now, I was around more than you might realize. At the beginning of July I kept you and your brother home with me for the rest of the summer. You didn’t start at North Broadway with Miles until the day after Labor day. I got to see you scoot around the floor, we listened to a crazy amount of music, and spent more time at the zoo than one should if you find the zoo like I do–which is to say that I am kind of unsure about the ethics of the whole enterprise. I can tell you that one of my favorite things this summer was wandering into your room in the morning, pulling up one shade to let the sunrise in and watch you wake up and smile at me. My least favorite thing happened about 6 weeks or so ago when you decided, rather than nap when you were home sick, you would pull yourself out of the crib. The sickening thud I heard from my room and the fact that you still hadn’t cried when I got through your door–you were still making that scream face where nothing comes out–is burned in my memory. I’m sorry.

You have been home sick a lot from daycare. Your mom and I knew that would happen, but it still feels like it has been a little on the extreme side of all this. We both know it will pass, but I think I have gotten mostly used to it. While its inconvenient right now, its not for forever. Over the last couple of days you have had a hard time sleeping and to help you out, I have been holding you tightly in my arms with our head cradled on my left arm and your body and legs on my right. You squirm for a moment and then find your left thumb to suck on. While you fall asleep, your right hand plays with the back of my left arm, like you are rubbing my arm for luck. I never felt like I was able to calm your brother down when he was your age, but I can calm you. It’s wonderful when it happens.

I wish I had found more time to blog and write about the first time you fell asleep in my arms on our back deck after we had dinner with some friends. I wish I had chronicled the exact date when I made you laugh for the first time, or how much Miles made you laugh in your first year, or how you always seemed to just sink into your mom’s arms when she held you. I wish I could have chronicled all those moments when I whispered into your ear about how much I loved you. And I wish how I could have peeked out from under the loads of laundry, dishes, and stupid, stupid housework a bit more and relaxed. I tried my best to just be present around you and I wish the same thing for you that I wish for your brother: your home was warm and you are loved, deeply and unconditionally.

I want to find something slightly sarcastic or funny to end with here, so that there aren’t too many feelings in one spot, but I am not going to do that. Lena, Miles, Shannon, I am around; I hope that was enough, even when it wasn’t. Love you.


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The same thing, but different

On January 7 at 4:25 PM, Eleanor Blythe Kellner came into the world a wrinkly, squished, bloody, crying mess; she was perfect.

Wait, let me back up.

Shannon had been having contractions on and off for weeks. Like so many things, this was a different experience from when we had Miles. With Miles, Shannon never had any of this stuff. Time just kept on passing and she kept on not being in labor. Which led to an induction and 22 hours of natural labor and pushing before taking an epidural, more pushing, and then a c-section. This time, with Eleanor, Shannon had varying degrees of contractions with no real, consistent pattern for weeks. We had doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment as Shannon went to 3 cm dilated to 6 cm dilated with no active labor in sight. The worst feelings we had were in the run up to the end of the year when the differences between yearly insurance deductibles and tax rebates appeared overwhelming. Sometime on the 30th or 31st, Shannon made peace with the whole process.  I did too. Anyone who has a kid knows you can’t be in it for the financial benefits, focusing on that will only lead to stress and misery.

On the morning of Tuesday, January 7th, we learned, first hand, that diesel gels at colder temperatures. I went out to warm the car out in sub-zero weather only to hear it turn over but never fire up. Most days I walk Miles to daycare but it seemed too cold to do that, so I assumed I was having a battery issue and went inside to call AAA. I was informed that I would have a ten hour wait. Not content to sit around, I went out and pulled the battery in impossibly cold conditions. It really did hurt. As I finally got the battery out of the car, my phone buzzed, telling me our technician was 15 minutes away. When he arrived, he told me he has no idea how I showed up on the list so fast; his previous call had been waiting since 4 in the morning. He charged the battery and we were able to get the car moving. I drove it around for a while before coming back home to put the battery cover on in the driveway. It was a little after noon. And as I was completing these last steps, Shannon banged on the window yelling, “My water broke!” Apparently in her rush to find me she was also attempting to call my phone, only to accidentally call our animal control expert. We are unaware if she actually left the message for him that she was in labor; he did continue to catch the raccoons living under our porch, though I am not sure the issues are connected.

You might ask, why was Shannon banging on the side door window to announce Eleanor’s impending birth? Well, since Miles couldn’t go to school due to problematic transportation, he was in Shannon’s care. He decided that he needed to poop and wouldn’t surrender his position on the toilet when Shannon thought her water broke. Shannon, well aware of the ancient rule of “I was here first”, caved on her demands to acquire the toilet through imminent domain and fled for the basement bathroom where she saw me out the door window, puttering away in the driveway like a buffoon. I came into the house finding Shannon on the phone with our doula, Jen. Jen advised Shannon to take a shower and get some lunch; we were not to rush to the hospital. I fired up our now-working car and drove down the street to pick up our friend Verónica so she could sit with a napping Miles until Shannon’s parents arrived. After some small talk with Verónica, Shannon told me to get our bags that had been packed for three weeks into the car and that, perhaps, we should get going.

I should say that I have been working hard on my conceptions and notions of gender identity…but I must admit have never felt more like a man than when I drove Shannon to the hospital. I was in charge, damn it. I used the turn signal like a total pro and I made jokes to Shannon when she needed jokes and comforted her when she needed comfort. When I pulled up to the valet and found that there was no place to leave the car, I made my own spot, and confidently sauntered into the hospital to tell the attendants that my wife was in labor and what, exactly, were they going to do with our car while I finished being the best husband ever.

From here, everything was kind of a blur. I know we walked in and checked in with not much fuss. They wanted to check Shannon before they gave us our room. Her contractions were really starting to ramp up. It turns out that she was already about 8cm dilated by that time and just cruising along with everything. Of course, this was all in my mind. I thought, “Wow, Shannon is doing great.” and I imagine she thought, “Wow, Michael has absolutely no idea what I am actually going through right now.” She kept her humor throughout.

When we finally were assigned a room, our doula joined us. Now let us praise famous Jen’s. In the run up to all of this I wasn’t sure I really wanted a doula. To be completely honest, I thought she would replace me in the delivery room and I would be there, like a buffoon, drinking scotch and yucking it up with the staff like I was in Mad Men or something. I was, as I often am, wrong. Jen was amazing throughout the labor. She made sure Shannon had something to drink. She took notes about every step of the process. She told me what I could do to help Shannon and reassured me that Shannon was doing everything great. It was amazing and I highly recommend Jen to everyone. She is the best.

Shannon was so excited about this whole process that she kind of scared our nurse. I am sure “excited” is not the word Shannon would use, but this whole experience went much, much faster than we could have ever imagined. Shannon was ready to push before our Doctor Ronda Gaiser (also the best) was even there. I could see our nurse freaking out a bit that she might need to grab someone because this was all faster than she thought. But what I will remember more than anything was the look on Shannon’s face when Dr. Gaiser walked in and we were all together. Shannon said, “Is this it? Am I really going to do this?” with a tear in her eye. Everyone said yes and I don’t think I have ever been more proud of someone in my entire life.

I will spare everyone the rest of the details. To quote my friend Aaron: “Birth is a wild scene.” But about 4 hours after Shannon’s water broke, Lena came into the world. She rested on Shannon’s chest and we were able to stay together just like we wanted. And when we walked through the waiting room, my parents, Shannon’s parents and Miles were all able to walk with us to our room. Somethings end up better than I could imagine.

Now we are four

Now we are four

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My year in music 2013- Part 2

Editor’s Note: My daughter, Eleanor, was born this past Tuesday. The next post will be about her but I have been working on this one in tiny chunks for a few weeks. With that said, here you go:

My year in music 2012 was never written. This is probably best because if I had actually taken the time to write, it would have just have been an eight thousand word love letter to the Swans for The Seer. I actually had the chance to watch the Swans in Columbus this year and it was a (very, very loud) pleasure. It was also one of the many concerts I have attended lately by myself. Which leads me to this: Towards the end of the first part of this post I wrote that I find myself sometimes listening to something so much that I love it and don’t care what anyone else thinks and, while this is true, it comes with a large burden. The burden is similar to my dissertation burden. The easiest way to describe this is that sometimes when I am reading for my dissertation–or in rarer cases, actually writing it–I feel both really excited about something and profoundly alone. This is because, as anyone reading this knows, when you really get into your thing, it can be hard to share the very specific ways that something excites you in any kind of short hand way. If you, like me, have tried to describe this specific excitement to someone and the same enthusiasm isn’t reflected back to you, it feels like your listener doesn’t totally get it. The funniest way to demonstrate this phenomenon is to cite The Onion’s “I Appreciate the Muppets on a Much Deeper Level Than You.”

So my experience with the Swans, while great, was also a little hollow because I didn’t really know anyone there. I could have taken Shannon, I guess, but it was definitely not her thing and we would have another “Children of Men” moment (where I loved the movie and she went and sat in the lobby because it was way too intense). Plus we would have had to pay a babysitter, which I feel should just be a free service ‘cuz my kid is the best (The insane economics of raising a child and maintaining a social identity somewhat separate from that child will have to be left for another post). Anyway, I think one of the reasons I come back to writing a list like this is the same reason I go to stores and buy records and like going to shows with other humans–it connects. Shannon might not care for The Seer, just as I don’t get emotionally invested in Call the Midwife (that show, Jesus; it should come with a box of post-WW2 issued tissues), but you might get it in such a way that we both feel a little less alone in our weird, specific pleasures. It is nice to be able to talk about things you love in a short-hand way. With that, onto the list in no real order except to say that these are albums I found deeply pleasurable this past year:

DJ Koze, Amygdala

Every once in a while, many years ago, I would buy an album just because I thought the cover seemed interesting. This cover is awful. I would never buy this. Seriously, look at it. Let it bounce around in your brain. This is the work of a drunk unicorn. And then there is the font; good lord. I lack the writing ability to describe how awful this is and there is no way this is good.

Except it is so great and weird and wonderful that I kind of even respect the cover now; like, maybe Koze is on some next level shit that I cannot even comprehend. This is one of the electronic records I have really enjoyed. I wrote with it on a lot in the background. And then one day, while writing at the coffee shop up the street, all I could focus on was the record. I just sat for about 15 or 20 minutes with my cup of coffee just smiling. My problem with a lot of music like this remains the fact that I find it a little cold sometimes. This is warm. I should have known this was deep when he titled it after the part of the brain that processes memory and emotion. Shame on me, I guess.

Miles’ review: “Why is he talking like that?” whenever the Matthew Dear parts come on.

Julia Holter, Loud City Song

Ok, this cover is better. A couple of months back I wrote about seeing Julia Holter live. It was a treat and so is this album. This one came out in the summer and Miles and I had it on almost every day. The best way I can think to describe the feeling of listening to this record is to say that it unfolds. For me, it balances enough pop catchiness with a classical music sensibility and I think this is an incredibly hard thing to do. One thing that surprised me is how great this sounds loud. Played at a quieter level, the record feels really spacious; the spaciousness of it remains at a louder volume but it doesn’t feel empty, if that makes any sense at all. I also think she captures the “alone in a crowd” feeling just about as well as anyone ever has on a record.

Miles’ review: “We could play that one again, if you want to.”

Anyway, if I was forced to pick an Album-of-the-Year, this would be one of the three I would think about. One of the others:

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

I am a little surprised that I am not sick of this record yet. I only say that because that is the experience I had with their last two records. I listened to them until I just never wanted to hear them again.  This one is different for some reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe because it is so busy in the production; it feels like every song has a million things going on but for whatever reason, it all works. I don’t think they have pulled it off live yet, based on the performance we saw in Columbus, but that shouldn’t take anything away from this. There a thousand people who have written more eloquently about this album than me, so I will just leave it there for right now. As for the album cover? I kinda like it.

Miles’ review: “I want to listen to the rest of the songggggggggggg!” anytime I turn this off in the middle of a song.

My favorite song of the year:

My Bloody Valentine, mbv

No to the cover (that font, yeesh), yes to everything else. As I mentioned in part 1, I first heard this on all the youtube links. While listening, I thought to myself, “Well, good for them. I wonder what they will do next,” and then I got really frustrated with myself for even thinking that.  If I had to make one damning statement about the internet, it would be that I think I am too quick to move to the next thing. For instance, one of my Monday morning habits is to go to NPR’s “First Listen” and blast through everything they post; by Monday afternoon I wonder what will be on their site next week. Someone pours their heart and soul into something (and maybe makes themselves a bit nuts in the process) and I give it 4-5 minutes before writing it off. I don’t know if that is wrong, but it certainly seems wrong. Thank you Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine for a really nice album that splits into thirds in really interesting waysI am glad you made another album and I am glad that I spent time with it.

Miles’ review: “This is too loud. Turn it down.”

Califone, Stitches

I saw Red Red Meat open for the Smashing Pumpkins on the Siamese Dream tour at Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio and I immediately went out and bought their debut record. I then saw them at Sudsy’s on the Bunny Gets Paid tour, where I pretended not to like the show because two of my close friends thought it was dumb. These guys might be a minor band in the big scheme of things but almost ever since I could drive they have been in my life. I really like this record, especially the way that everything counts. I feel like they get the absolute most out of every little thing in their instruments; even their chair squeaks add to the atmosphere. More than anything, it feels like adults with lives making music…and since the Walkmen already broke my heart last year by going on hiatus (or maybe not? NBA all star weekend?) you better not do anything rash Tim Rutili. The album cover is a little hippy-ish, but I don’t mind.

Miles’ Review: “Let’s listen to something else.”

Akron/Family, Sub Verses

I don’t know if you are like this, but I have a few bands that just feel like ‘my’ bands. Akron/Family is one of my bands. Maybe it is because Michael Gira likes them so much; maybe they have just the right balance between chaos and melody; maybe they are just the right amount of hippy, but not over-bearing about it; whatever it is, I will buy anything they put out. This album sounds so good on blast. Just keep in mind that there is nothing really objective about my list on any level. I don’t know what else to say here except that there are few bands that have songs that make me cry and songs that make me want to have the largest speakers in the history of the world so I can really feel the music, man. I told you they are little bit hippy. Album cover? Complete and total indifference, which makes it the antithesis of what happens to me when I listen to it. Guess you can’t judge a book by its cover, amiright? (Sorry).

Miles’ review: “Can we play “Way Up?” I like that one.”

Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold

When I first started buying cd’s, I made myself buy on a rotation so that I couldn’t buy two similar things in a row. My first cd was De La Soul Is Dead, followed by The Violent Femme’s Why Do Birds Sing?,  which I followed with Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings. I had so many girlfriends; why do you ask? I mention all this here because I have been making an effort again to try and purchase things that feel separate and distinct from what I already have in my collection. This fails that test but who cares.  I love this. It is brief, punchy and fun and I really like the lyrics. I almost replaced this with the Savages album here, but I find myself less brutalized by this then the Savages and that is alright with me. I am also so upset I missed them at Ace of Cups, but Shannon was out of town and I didn’t bother to find a sitter. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. (Album Cover? Yes, it looks like a cover from The Fall. I still like it.)

Miles’ review: “Why is he talking all the time?”

Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe

I love loops. And I really love ethereal, sublime experiences. Therefore, I love this record. This is another one that I wrote to a lot since it came out. I just think its beautiful. And that video below, also lovely; what the hell? That’s her iPhone?!

So, to sum up, those clouds will part, the sun will shine down upon you and bathe you in warmth; you have no where to go; you are here, now.

This album cover is stately.

Miles’ review: Shhh. Don’t wake him. He’s sleeping.

Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record

Ok, this might sound extremely shallow, but I want to be honest. I have been really trying to buy more records by women lately. Most of the references that first pop in my mind for musicians or artists are often male and so many of the books I have are by men. I realize whenever I want to address a group of people I will say “you guys” even if it is a group of all women. As a friend of mine would say, “There you go, reinscribing the patriarchy again.” (As an aside, grad student friends are the best/worst.) Anyway, I really wanted to make sure that I mixed up what Miles heard over the summer because I didn’t want him to privilege one group over another (oh, how the white male guilt hurts!). Two things came out of this experience. We listened to an inordinate amount of ESG over these months. Miles got obsessed with it and I got my hip-hop/Factory Records fix without the swears/depression. We also listened to this record by Eleanor Friedberger a lot too. It is catchy enough to dance to at a loud volume and, when played at a lower volume, it can just sort of be there. This made it the optimum record for playing with Miles. I really miss the Fiery Furnaces, but these last two records of hers have been really nice.

There is so much right with this album cover that I can’t begin to talk about it. Ok, well just a couple of things. First, it is eye catching and refined and a little mysterious. See the water stained wall at the bottom? If you leave it in, you see that she is engaged in the act of swimming toward something. She let go and has faith in herself that while she might not reach where she is going, it will not stop her from trying. If you don’t notice the wall, it bears a passing similarity to the old Jaws poster. Here, she is the shark. Either way, I am buying this record.

Miles’s review: “What do you want to build?”

Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels

My friend Jonas said that when we were in college he liked punk and hip-hop because he liked music by “pissed off white guys and pissed off black guys.” I haven’t talked to him much about this record but this must be his sweet spot since it has both. I always love the way El-P’s records sound, kind of like a Bomb Squad, post-apocalyptic kind of thing. In fact, two of my favorite records last year after the aforementioned Swans were the El-P record and the Killer Mike record, both of which he produced. I have to say this album sounds amazing on a super loud, chest shaking volume. I also have to say that I only found a few occasions this past year to listen to this at a super loud, chest shaking volume. Dad life, I guess.

The cover? Cool, I think. It looks like a woodcut that was digitally colored. I can dig that.

Miles’ review: Right. Like I want to try to explain to him what “Producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it so get the fuck outta here” means.

Darkside, Psychic

I got into Nicolas Jaar’s 2011 record a little late but I really liked the mood of it. I was more impressed by this record. The idea for Jaar to take on more live musicians and make this group more improvisational really resonated with me. Since this has come out, this has been my number one album I write to or have on when I am making artwork. This is also an example of a record that I would have never been into just a few years ago. My tastes are expanding, I guess, and that, more than anything, makes me excited for what I might hear in 2014. I really like how warm and trippy this feels, which is why it is the other record I would consider for my album of the year.

The cover for this one just seems odd to me; I have looked at it a lot and I still have no idea what is going on. I guess that makes it good.

Miles’ Review: Kind of speechless; he usually is zoning out when I put this on. Is this good or bad?

They look like they would be pretty interesting live:

Other Albums I liked a lot this year:

Matmos, The Marriage of True Minds

The Knife, Shaking the Habitual

Deerhunter, Monomania

William Tyler, Impossible Truth

Yo La Tengo, Fade

Tim Hecker. Virgins

Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven

Majical Cloudz, Impersonator

The Field, Cupid’s Head

Mount Kimbie, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth

So that’s it. That’s the list. Anticlimactic? How about you?

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My year in music–2013 Part 1

I have spent the last month or so looking at every year end music list I could find, using the internet to track down music that I missed and trying to see what resonated with me. I have some thoughts about music this year, but first, music in general.

I can’t remember who exactly wrote this (if you know the source, could you please tell me? Because it is driving me nuts), I think it was Chuck Klosterman but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, he said something like he always thought he would be best served if he waited six months to buy any album. The thinking here would be that all the hype had passed by and he would be able to thoughtfully consider an album separate from any kind of public relations context. This is really interesting to me. I also hardly do this. Hold onto to this thought for a moment.

These points I do remember: in his year-in-review column on Grantland, Steven Hyden makes two points that I liked. He thinks the first is obvious, “Ownership as a vital part of music fandom — the outmoded concept that buying a record is an expression of who a person is — being hurried toward extinction is already widely accepted as inevitable and has been for years. It’s also considered a boring topic of discussion, and therefore irrelevant.” Now, Hyden might be right about this–he probably is–but I remain interested in this idea because I am one of those people who still likes to buy records in a store. At the same time I am not a fetishist who lines up on record store day for this year’s “rare, day-glo vinyl, limited to 300 copies, will-give-you-a-backrub” records. I grant you it is a weird space to be in. I like the physical media enough to purchase it as an actual record but I could give a shit if it is actually worth much in ten years because I am not purchasing as a monetary investment. I do this partly out of habit and partly out of my feeling that in buying the physical record I am actually making a statement about who I am as a person. This could go very deep here so I will leave it at this: I like record shops and I like a thing. Take the guy that owns the newish shop down the street from me (Records Per Minute in Columbus). This guy is crazy about music and I love it. Seriously, just go in and ask him about Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden; you will get to witness someone try to express love, beauty, nuance, and craft and radiate enthusiasm while doing it. I like, very much, the idea of supporting that. As for the thing, well, so much of my life feels amorphous and fleeting and holding a physical record makes it a little easier for me to say, “OK, I am here. Now.” I am sure there is a Marxist critique to be made here (I am sure if I gave myself a few thousand words I would make it) but I don’t really care. I like buying records. As Marx would say (not really), “Sue me.”

The second of Hyden’s points goes something like this: the release of Beyonce’s album in such a surprising and unexpected manner at the end of the year caused an interesting phenomenon where people had to buy the record to participate in the public discourse. Hyden points out that Bowie, Kanye, and My Bloody Valentine all did a variation of this model in 2013. My experiences with MBV can testify to this. When the announcement about the record being online came out, I couldn’t believe it. Then I watched in fascination as their website crashed. Then I listened to all the songs on YouTube. Then I decided I would just wait and see if it showed up at a store around me someplace.

All of this comes back to the first point (I think) Klosterman made…I ended up buying the MBV record at Records Per Minute a few months later. I listened to it once, didn’t give it a lot of thought, and then put it away for a while. A couple of months back I pulled it out again and was surprised at how good I found it to be. I would dare say it might be a great record. It is not my favorite of the year, but there is something to the way that I let it sneak up on me that I really like. Contrast that with something like the Arcade Fire record, which I bought immediately and have found it hard to really get excited about past the first few listens. And it leads me to two points about the records I like specifically.

First, my deepest appreciation is for “growers.” These are albums I like at first blush but am not totally enamored with. Over time, though, they reveal themselves to me, to the point where I get kind of obsessed with them. My preeminent case of this would be Destroyer’s Kaputt, which I liked but didn’t love at first. I listened to it again and again. And then it became the only thing Miles wanted to listen to in the car. To this point, he requests “Downtown” whenever he wants “sleepy” music on; of course, he never falls asleep but I find this cute.

I have listened to Kaputt more than any other album I own in the past couple of years, by a lot and, weirdly, I am still not sick of it. If I made a short list of my ten favorite albums since 2000, it would definitely be on that list near, if not at, the top. Whatever hype that might surround these albums (BNM on Pitchfork, “A-” on the AV Club, a nice review on Coke Machine Glow, a positive but obtuse review in The Wire) gets completely subsumed by a sincere appreciation of the album itself to the point that I could give a shit if anyone really liked it too.

But this is not totally true either…perhaps more than any other year, my records have been shaped by context. I have been writing a lot this year on my dissertation and I often go to music that I can play in the background that I can sort of tune in and out with. This has meant a lot of purchasing electronic and minimal techno records than ever before in my life. I also was heavily influenced by my summer. I kept Miles home from daycare this summer. Most days we had music on all the time but with an increased sensitivity to what he heard. What this meant for me was that I listened to far less hip-hop than usual. I don’t know if I am becoming a prude or what, but I have found myself having a deeper appreciation for the carefully placed swear word.

One other thing before I end this post and leave you salivating for my favorite records of 2013–this isn’t music but I wanted to document it somewhere: Paul F. Tompkins is a genius. My go-to podcast to make me laugh has been Comedy Bang-Bang (my go-to podcast to reflect has been On Being). Whenever PFT is on an episode of Comedy Bang-Bang I feel this compulsive need to listen to it before anything else. His impressions are so weird and unexpected and I cannot believe that someone’s brain works as beautifully as this. As an example, here he is reviewing a hotel for Yelp as Werner Herzog:

I have no idea if anyone else thinks this is as funny as me, but I laughed myself to tears the first time I heard this. Humor and music are subjective I guess…until next time.

Gratuitous picture of the day (the baby should be here soon):




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Self-created rules are rules

Editorial note: I am thinking about not posting this blog to Facebook anymore.  I was looking at what I wrote over the last few weeks and it feels insane to post most of this at all.  It is helpful because it does actually make my academic writing easier but I don’t think I need to be publicly accountable in the same way I did when I first started doing this.  So I think I am going to just post pictures from time to time and references to other articles.  I will still update my blog regularly but you won’t know it from looking on Facebook; I still find the writing meaningful and helpful.  So if you like reading things that I find deeply emotional you will know where to find them.  The main reason for this is that I just don’t care about Facebook that much, but I do care about writing things that I am working through.  Below is a letter to Miles.  It is obviously a literary trope to address something that I have been trying to work through but it also feels weirdly personal and I don’t know exactly how to deal with that yet.  Self-created rules are rules, though.  I am not deleting my Facebook account or anything (at least, yet), I think I just want the extra step of someone wanting to find the blog if I am going to continue writing like this.  UGH.  This is diarrhea…speaking of which:

Dear Miles,

If you are reading this years from now, please don’t be embarrassed unless, of course, your embarrassment is an empathetic response to me, then, by all means, please be embarrassed.  I would take your deep, empathetic embarrassment as a sign that I had done something right.  There are so many things that I was unprepared for in being your dad that they appear to form a monolith.  But really it was little things that you were supposed to do that caused me the most trouble.

For instance, I feel like we are moving out of a phase right now where your responses to things are only physical and becoming more verbal.  This is a fancy way of saying you are kicking and hitting me less and less.  You are using words to express yourself more and more.  It is really wonderful for two reasons: 1. I don’t like being hit and 2. I like watching you mess with language.  I picture myself in your shoes, fifteen or twenty years from now and feeling deep regret for hitting for me and I picture this because this is how I feel about my past.  Please, that is not what I want.  The expressing with physical hitting and kicking was what kids your age are supposed to do.  I admit, I was frustrated the first several dozen times it happened.  And then, one day, I was talking to one of your teachers at daycare and they said, “Well, this is what kids do at this age.”  That finally clicked with me, and my mind was blown.  You were/are going through a natural developmental process and I was so frustrated that you were doing what you were supposed to do.  I became almost like a zen master in the face of further adversity; until, of course, the next thing rolls around and I have to be reminded of this lesson again (and again).

This is a long way to say that I am sorry I flushed your underwear down the toilet.  You won’t remember this, I don’t think, but for two Saturdays in a row, while your mom was at Yoga, I put you down for your nap and you didn’t fall asleep.  Instead, both times, you poked your head out of your door and told me you pooped in your underpants.  Now, I understand if you feel embarrassed by me writing this but–and I mean this sincerely–it is what you are supposed to do.  I never knew how hard it would be potty trained.  I certainly don’t remember my own potty training.  Gaining some measure of awareness of your own body is kind of an incredible thing.  (As an aside, look at Spinoza, if you are interested; “We do not yet know what the body can do” although I don’t think Spinoza was talking about pooping…but maybe he was.)  This was you gaining some awareness.

I feel like I always had awareness that pooping was some sort of shameful act.  The bathrooms at my high school didn’t have doors on the stalls.  Can you imagine that?  I used to walk in to use a urinal and see some junior or senior sitting on the toilet reading the paper, making unholy sounds and feel equal parts ashamed and awed.  It seemed so private an act and here was this dude (the best possible descriptor here), using that toilet because, well, he had to go.  I didn’t poop at high school; not once in four years.  How insane is that?  On occasion, before soccer practice, I would tear up the road to go to Hardee’s just so I could use a stall with a door.  The first time I saw the kid’s book Everybody Poops, I blushed.  Can you believe that?  As someone who was (probably) in their late twenties, being that embarrassed?  Our bodies are strange, weird, biological organisms; there is nothing to be ashamed of in that.

I admit I was frustrated when you poked your head out and told me what you had done.  This was something I was completely unprepared to deal with and that manifested itself in my voice.  That first Saturday I thought I had a plan and I soaked your underwear in the toilet while I gave you a bath.  Then I scrubbed them once I got you back to sleep and then washed them in the machine on a couple of cycles.  They were now the cleanest pair of underwear the world has ever known.  Kings would feel privileged to wear this underwear.  I felt like I had accomplished something.

That second Saturday, though, I couldn’t believe you did it again.  To reiterate: it was what you were supposed to do.  My thick-headedness never registered that fact, though, and I was frustrated again and I know you heard that in my voice.  I am sorry, buddy.  I tried to repeat the cycle from the week before but this time, while you were putting on a pull-up, I decided to get a jump on things and start rinsing and scrubbing.  I flushed the toilet once to rinse everything and pushed your underwear to the side of the bowl.  I figured I would flush it one more time while I was washing my hands for good measure.  It was on that second flush that you stared at me and said, “Daddy, why did you flush my underpants?”  It was an honest mistake.  I was trying to do so many things and my head was spinning.  The lovely moments of holding you after your bath and singing you, per request, made-up songs about lights and sinks while you were wrapped up in a towel was crashing against the unpleasant task of cleaning out underwear.  The former is sweeter because of the latter; I know that now, but in that particular moment, I felt lost.  I know you really liked that pair of underwear.  I am sorry for my accident.  I hope the replacement pack of Sesame Street underwear made up for it.  I know your mom and I laugh at how cute you are when you sing songs about them and run around in them.  You really are the cutest kid.

I am so proud to be your dad.  And you won’t probably remember any of this. Maybe it will register as a feeling someday like, “I don’t remember anything from being really young, but I do remember feeling loved.  It was warm and enveloping.”  If nothing else, remember these early failings were mine, not yours.  You do exactly what you are supposed to do.  My job is to try to teach you with love.  Sorry when I don’t do that as well as I would like.


Gratuitous picture of the day (Miles-was-frozen-but-I-appreciated-the-effort edition):




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