Summer Brain Dump

I have no way of prefacing this except by saying it’s July now, and I haven’t written or debriefed about life in a meaningful way since May and a lot has happened in that time. And tonight I finally felt like writing it all out.

I have to move again, which sucks. No other way to put it. Our current landlords raised our rent $900/month ($300/person/month next year) so we had to find a new place. The good news is, our new apartment is in the same neighborhood. And, our rent will be cheaper. And, I get to stay with my wonderful roommates. The bad news is, we have to move everything from one apartment to the next. Little expenses keep coming up for things we took for granted in the old place that don’t exist in the new (like a toilet paper roll holder!). Plus, it’s summer and it’s hot and miserable and all your stuff is getting moved around. I sound really grumpy about this, don’t I? Well, I am a little. I told my roommates that if, this time next year, I have to move for any dramatic reason (i.e., another massive rent hike), I will recognize it as a sign from God that I am supposed to leave New York City. No sane person can tolerate four moves in as many years.

Perhaps moving is a little bit of my motivation for writing tonight. All my stuff is in boxes. Evidence of an upcoming transition is right in front of me. I want to write down what’s happened lately so I don’t forget it once things start to change.

So, item #1. Summer obsessions. I never notice it in the moment, but with a few years, months, or even weeks in the rearview mirror, I start seeing how clearly defined a certain time was by the cultural obsessions gripping me in that moment. At the beginning of June, I started an obsession with the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, which has carried me through the entire summer so far and taken up a lot of my cultural-obsession real estate. It started with Maron’s interview with Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air. I’d known about WTF for awhile, even listened to a couple episodes, but the show re-entered my mind when I was doing some podcast research for work and I decided to listen to the Terry Gross episode on a run. They’re magic together, and it was the first time I appreciated Maron’s real skill as an interviewer. I was hooked.

The podcast has been a welcome companion on some of my summer travels. I got to visit LA for work and polished off his chats with Jason Schwartzman, Parker Posey and John Mulaney on the plane. I was in LA the same day he interviewed President Obama and relished the national conversation surrounding that episode. I started my Maron fandom just early enough that I could listen to the Obama episode as a devotee, not a bandwagoner. (Recent gems have included his interviews with Constance Zimmer, Ed Asner and Vince Gilligan, and the Obama post-mortem episode he recorded with his producer.)

Sir Ian McKellan is the guest on today’s episode, and he asks Maron about who typically listens to his podcast. “I don’t think I have a demographic; it’s more of a disposition,” Maron replied. I smiled when he said that because it made me think of a paragraph that caught me from his email newsletter earlier today: “It rained a lot here in LA the other day. We needed it. I get weird when it rains. My mind drifts. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s not great. I can’t really put into words what happens but there is sort of a romantic, hopeless feeling to it all and it’s okay. I need it. It’s a deep feel. I don’t think I could live somewhere where it rains all the time though. It would be hard not to become goth.” I pretty much identify with every sentence there, which I think means I am of the target disposition.

 

 

Another cultural interest this summer – I don’t know if I’d call it an “obsession” per se – has been the new movie crop. It’s a good summer, in my estimation. To date, I’ve seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Love and MercyInside Out and Amy and would recommend each one. (I saw Amy just this past weekend and it’s all I can think about, really. Incredibly well-told and sensitive, but watching it, your heart breaks for the brilliant Ms. Winehouse.)

To mark my 25th birthday earlier this month, I made a list of 25 things I want to accomplish in my 25th year, and one was to write about each new movie I see this year – whether it’s a new-new movie like the ones listed above, or a new-to-me movie, like Philomena, which I watched on the plane ride home from my trip to London and Paris (more on that later). I have some catching up to do in the writing department, but I feel like I’ve seen some meaningful films in the last couple months.

Item #2. The Europe trip. It was freaking amazing. I’d never been to Europe before but had been dying to visit. I really need to write a whole post about the trip – I have notes and thoughts scribbled everywhere but I should pull them together before I forget too much. Already, I find myself remembering little things here and there that I already started forgetting – meals we ate, cool subway stations I liked, that kind of thing. But the larger feeling is still intact. I hadn’t really gone somewhere new since moving to New York three years ago. I went to Disney World, or Portland, or Chicago – all places I’d already been. So it was invaluable to experience something completely new. To be somewhere with a language barrier. To spend almost two weeks away from the city, all its responsibilities and assumptions.

The place that felt newest was Versailles. Of course London and Paris felt new, but they were still cities. I could at least understand how they felt, in a way. Versailles was out of this world. I couldn’t believe I was on my own planet. There were gardens that stretched on forever and rooms walled with marble in a shade of purple that I can’t get out of my mind.

What struck me most about London was the constant juxtaposition of old and new. You get that in New York to a degree, but in London it’s amplified. It’s an awesomely designed Tube station in the shadow of a tower built in the 1000s. And it’s like that all over the city.

I fell in love with the museums in both cities. The Victoria & Albert Museum and Tate Modern especially drew me in during our London leg. In Paris, the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay. I discovered some new-to-me artists whose work I want to further explore, like the illustrator George Condo whose wry sketches fascinated me at the Tate, or the post-impressionist Felix Vallotton at the d’Orsay (that museum in particular had a layout conducive to better understanding the timeline of certain artistic movements).

There is oh-so-much-more to talk about when it comes to that trip. It whet my appetite for travel and I can’t wait to visit Europe again. In the meantime, I’m trying to take the wonder of that trip and apply the same feeling to my normal life. That’s going alright so far.

As “summer things” go, those are the biggest items. My head feels clearer having them down on the page. And now I need to finish packing.

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Christmas Break Catch-All: Movies, Books, 2015.

Time acts in strange ways. Certain days can last forever, certain weekends are gone with the blink of an eye, certain months can feel like they never even happened. What always seems strangest is when time makes you feel as if you’ve lived whole lives between a point A and a point B, when in reality, that span of time only lasted two weeks.

That’s how I feel about this holiday break. I am lucky to have a job where things slow down around Christmas and the New Year, so I spent a week at home in Oregon and then spent a few days hanging out back in the city.

Before I forget them (though I’m kicking myself for not doing this even sooner because now the Oregon portion of my break seems like a long time ago), here are a few highlights from the holiday…aka a rundown of the books and movies and moments I most want to remember.

1. Me Before You

In my parents’ neighborhood, there’s a house with its own little library out front, where people can take and leave books as they please. I passed it while on a walk with my mom and sister, and I took Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, a book I’d pondered buying before but held off because I was in the middle of something else. I was pages away from finishing Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and this was early in my trip, so I figured I could polish off Moyes’ book in time to return it before going back to New York.

Maybe it sounds dumb, but this book became like a friend to me. I just wanted to spend time with it. Before this book, I’d read the first two Hunger Games books (sounds easy, I know, but fantasy/dystopian books are just not my cup of tea) and A People’s History of the United States, so in hindsight I realize I was probably just overjoyed to have a book I could breeze through. But it was more than just an easy read. It was a delight. Just about every night I was home, I’d stay up late and read it in the light of the Christmas tree.

I’ve had a serious crush on England for the last year and a half, so I loved opening it to find the prologue set in London and the rest in an English country town. All its characters were distinct and developed, and the central romance was sweet – obvious the whole time, but built to in a much more satisfying way than I could have anticipated. Even cynics like myself need a good love story every now and then.

2) New Movies

Since I had some time on my hands the last few days, I wanted to get a jump-start on watching some great new movies in 2015. Instead, I mostly ended up re-watching old favorites (more on that below), but I did watch two movies for the first time and quite enjoyed both: Pulp Fiction and Thank You for Smoking.

Sometimes I view movies as opportunities to understand more cultural references. It seems like I hear about Pulp Fiction a lot, so I thought I’d watch it to expand my pop-culture horizons. I think I need to watch it again and again to pick up on everything, but I love movies where you just get swept into it, where you’re not realizing it but an hour has gone by and you’ve just been enjoying the story. That’s kind of how I felt about Fargo, too. You’re not expecting it, but you’re sucked in.

And Thank You For Smoking. Jason Reitman’s Juno and Up in the Air are two of my favorite movies, but this was the first time I’d watched his debut feature. I don’t know if it’ll become one of my favorites like those other films, but I still thought it was great. Dripping with cynicism, urging its viewers to question everything, filled with the same quick, intelligent dialogue that made me love the other Reitman films.

And since awards season is right around the corner, I saw a few movies in theaters over the break, too: The Imitation Game, Into the Woods, and Whiplash (which was by far my favorite of the three).

3) Old Movies

I’ve taken the last couple days to catch up on random stuff in my life – unpacking, cleaning the kitchen, organizing storage drawers, etc. – and it’s hard to watch new movies while doing those tasks because I can’t devote my full attention to the film. So I re-watched some old favorites, most notably Good Night and Good Luck, LA Confidential (clearly there’s a David Strathairn thing going on) and Manhattan.

The first time I watched LA Confidential was on a bus back to NYC after visiting Boston for a weekend. And I liked it even then. But this time, I appreciated so much more. Like Kevin Spacey. How did I not recognize its true greatness in my first viewing? Spacey’s is my favorite in a movie filled with incredible performances.

Before I went out to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I turned on Woody Allen’s Manhattan. I first saw it almost two years ago but since then I think I have developed a better appreciation for films and a better understanding of what it is to live in New York. The beauty and intelligence of the opening sequence was apparently lost on me the first time, because I hardly remembered it. Now, I just want to sit and watch it on loop. It’s breathtaking.

Other lines I loved: Tracy joking about not knowing who Rita Hayworth was, then Isaac reprimanding her. “Of course I’m joking!” She says. “You think I’m unaware of any event pre-Paul McCartney.”

And Isaac describing Mary as “the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald Emotional Maturity Award.”

4) 2015

It is now 2015, and I can’t say anything feels much different. Maybe that’s good, though. Maybe the years where it doesn’t feel like much will change or improve are the years when big things happen. Or maybe by saying it out loud, I’ve ruined any chance of that. There are 361 more days to find out.

Step on the Gas and Get in the Limousine

Editor’s Note: I haven’t followed the Oregon baseball team closely enough this year to devote a whole post to their playoff success (they won their four-team regional this weekend), but what’s better than your team handing you opportunities to watch live baseball for free? Yay for a Super Regional.

Baseball note aside, this post is really about the Beatles since that’s pretty much all I think about these days. (Though I have devoted a little time in the last week to defending my Honors College thesis, which, after a few revisions are made in the next few days, will pass with honors!)

Since we talked about it in class Thursday, I’ve wanted to write about Abbey Road – specifically, the album’s 16-minute ending medley. Though I’d now consider Sgt. Pepper my favorite album, the Abbey Road medley is probably my favorite “chunk” of Beatles music. (Some people have favorite songs, I have favorite chunks. Reading it back, that sounds pretty gross.) Before I launch into exactly why I love it so much, hear its brilliance for yourself:

“Changed perspective” seems to be the theme of my experience in Beatles class. “You Never Give Me Your Money,” the medley’s opening track, has long been a favorite jam of mine, but more for the EPIC guitar section (2:09-2:28) than anything else. Paul McCartney wrote the song as everything in the Beatles’ world was going to pieces (the “you” refers to Allen Klein, their manager at the time, whom McCartney distrusted). To give you a sense for how depressing the time was, Ian MacDonald, author of Revolution in the Head, says this: “To anyone who loves the Beatles, the bittersweet nostalgia of this music is hard to hear without a tear in the eye.” I’m not crying over this music, but the joyful innocence was gone once I understood its context.

That aside, this song contains one of my favorite Beatles lyrics: “One sweet dream/pick up the bags and get in the limousine/soon we’ll be away from here/step on the gas and wipe that tear away.” I have no idea what these words really meant to Paul, but to me, they’re a symbol of freedom: escaping a dreary situation by getting in a fast car and riding off into the sunset, toward your dream.

I don’t want to ruin the medley by picking apart every song, but I will say I’m partial to Paul’s contributions. “Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” (all John’s songs) are alright, but “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” (Paul) is another favorite, especially because I now know there actually was a girl who came through the bathroom window of Paul’s house and stole a picture of his father.

MacDonald calls “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” the “heart of the medley.” I remember the latter tune being a favorite when I was younger, before I understood its place in the medley, and I still love it today for the way it incorporates sections of “You Never Give Me Your Money” while featuring all four Beatles in the chorus vocal.

Writing about “The End” depresses me. Its final line is arguably the Beatles’ most famous, but what I really love is the opener:  “Oh yeah/alright/are you gonna be in my dreams tonight? Paul’s rock n’ roll voice gets me every time.

Of course, “Her Majesty” was tacked on as a hidden track so it’s technically the end of the album, but man – what a way to go out. I almost feel guilty for analyzing the medley as much as I just did. Sometimes, you just have to sit back and listen to that 16 minutes of musical brilliance.

While nothing can really top that, I had to toss in a few other highlights from the past two weeks (and no, this was not a conscious attempt at writing the longest blog post in history):

Highlight 1: We Have a Crush on Paul McCartney c. 1967

My friend Kelly (also in the class) and I have come to terms with the fact that, to meet our biggest celebrity crush, we’d need a time machine. Any out-of-class conversation devolves into gushing about Paul’s status as the handsomest and most important of the Beatles. (Why am I admitting this?) Anyway, we just can’t get over this video of “Hello Goodbye” from 1967 (the Beatles recorded it for the Ed Sullivan Show in lieu of performing live). Watch and see how Paul is obviously the most endearing.

We also think Paul is the highlight here (His meta-reference to “Fixing a Hole”? Adorable!):

Highlight 2: The White Album

I was disappointed we didn’t spend more time on this one in lecture, but in listening to the album on my own, I found two songs I always knew existed but never really listened to: “Martha My Dear” and “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” I now count both among my all-time favorites.

Paul is the only Beatle performing on “Martha My Dear”; since the band members worked separately on much of the White Album material, Paul recorded this in a day with the help of session musicians. No one considers it a standout in the Beatles’ catalog, but I think it’s beautiful (and for whatever reason, I envision it as theme music to a Mary Tyler Moore Show-esque sitcom).

Opposite the simplicity of “Martha My Dear” is “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” a Lennon song. It sounds like three songs in one, and I really love Lennon belting the title lyric in his best ’50s do-op impression (around 1:38).

Highlight 3 – The Rooftop Concert

The Beatles’ rooftop concert is an iconic image for any music fan, but I never understood the circumstances under which it was played. On January 30, 1969, during the Let It Be recording sessions, they decided to play an impromptu concert on the roof of Apple Records’ building, without announcement (or the proper permits). Police shut them down after a few songs, but what a set. This footage of the concert (later included in their Let It Be movie) is awesome, but the true brilliance is in the footage of office workers and cops on the street finally catching on to the madness.

Tuesday is our last lecture and we’ll cover the band’s legacy. If gleefully writing 1,000 words about it is any indication, I’m not ready for that class to end! If you have a favorite moment/song/video from the Beatles’ later years, or would like to divulge your embarrassing Beatle crush details, I am eager to hear.