For the past month, I’ve been curiously nostalgic for This is Hardcore, the 1998 album by Pulp. I’ve had various songs from it on rotation in my head all through February, with seemingly no rhyme or reason: the title track, “I’m A Man,” “The Fear,” whatever. There’s seemingly no rhyme or reason for it — they just show up in my head and play for awhile until they’re done, and then disappear as effortlessly and nonsensically as they arrived.
The thing that makes it so strange is that I’m not a really big fan of the album, per se; I don’t even own a copy. (I did buy a bunch of the singles that came from it, though, leading to “my” versions of some songs being the off-model, off-album versions; there was a longer version of “The Fear” in particular that feels right in a way that the album version doesn’t.)
I wasn’t a Pulp fan, not really. Part of that was because they felt omnipresent during the Britpop heyday, a band — and in Jarvis Cocker, a frontman — that was always there, always playing or being talked about, feeling exhausting as a result. This was down to my friends as much as it was pop culture, I know; I was hanging out with a crowd who loved the band far before “Common People” broke through, and even farther before I’d heard the word hipster, and Cocker was pretty much synonymous with cool, not that any of us would have used that word without irony at the time.
This is Hardcore, as it turns out, is an album about all of that; an album of exhaustion and hangovers and realizing that the dreams and aspirations of Britpop as a whole (and Cocker in particular) were hollow and unsatisfying, and wondering what else there was. It’s a melancholy album, one of the reasons I didn’t really like it when it was released, when I was young and still filled with some of those aspirations myself.
In that respect, it’s maybe an old man’s album, which might explain why it’s returned to my mental playlist: I’ve aged into it, and grown into the regret of younger choices that permeates the whole thing. Or perhaps I’ve just realized that “I’m A Man” still sounds great, more than two decades later.
I’ve been sick for the past couple of days. Not just slightly under the weather, but full-on, fever spiking and unable to stand up without wobbling, unable to eat, unable to shit, sick. It’s the second time this has happened to me this year, which is at once a sobering reminder of my own mortality and the sad fact that I’m not as young as I used to be, and also a sign of the fact that there’s definitely something weird going around these days. (No, it’s not coronavirus.)
For all that went wrong this time around — including being unable to eat without making myself extremely nauseous, even though my hunger didn’t dissipate in the slightest, which was a joy — the worst part was, again, the realization that fevers and I are the dumbest possible pairing. When I was fevered and delirious last month, I ended up convinced I had to write some quasi time-traveling pirate story for some reason; this time around, my brain got caught up in the fact that I’ve been binging episodes of the British Love Island from last year and basically wrote some fan fic about the series.
Look. I didn’t do it intentionally, okay…?
There remains something terrifying to me about that state, though — the part where you’re very aware that your brain isn’t working right, but you can’t do anything to stop it or make it work right. As happens, there was a story that I absolutely had to write for THR on the first of the two sick days, and I was both frustrated and horrified just how difficult that ended up being; I knew, objectively, what the story was and what I’d need to do to get it done, and I’d even already written it in my head, but when it came to actually typing it out and filing it, it seemed impossible, far beyond my reach. Words simply wouldn’t come, sentences couldn’t form. I felt an alien to myself.
I write this now at the very beginning of day 3, and I feel… almost better…? The difference between how I feel now and the past couple days is extraordinary, in terms of mental clarity and my body behaving again. I don’t want to say that I’m 100% just yet, but even just knowing that I could actually string those words together makes all the difference in the world.
When a news story breaks and you’re reporting on it, it takes over your life. Last Friday’s story about Dan DiDio leaving DC is a perfect case in point; it’s something that went from is this happening? to this is happening at breathtaking speed, faster than most — easily in single digits in terms of minutes — and from that point on, I was just in the thick of it with emails, phone calls and Twitter DMs.
(Twitter has proven to be one of the primary ways information on stories like this is shared, oddly enough — I learned more through Twitter than I did any other form of media, yesterday, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. It wasn’t even this way a couple of years ago, but I digress.)
Partially, of course, all of this is driven by the impulse of I want to be the one to break the story, and the competitive urge there. I think THR was either first or second (behind ComicBook.com) to get the news out there, and certainly the first (or second) to be able to confirm it instead of speculating. That’s a nice feeling and something fun to boast about, but it also brings a bunch of people asking two things over and over again: “What actually happened?” and “How did you find out?”
Beyond the competitive journalistic impulse, there’s something deeper and more intense: the need to just find out the truth of the whole thing. Again using the DiDio story as an example, I knew he was out long before I knew why, with two very different versions of events having been shared with me by people in the know as the real reason. Obviously, it was unlikely that both could be true, and I just really, really wanted to know what was actually the case.
So, I kept digging and digging and updating the story and learning new things and talking to people about it, and suddenly it was two hours later and Chloe correctly pointed out that I hadn’t stood up or really even moved much for all that time, and that perhaps I needed a break. She was right; I went outside and it felt wonderful, but curiously alien and unusual at the same time.
Breaking news is, perhaps, why we’re in the game we’re in, but sometimes it makes us forget everything else out there.
I’ve been listening to music more, recently, than I have in the last year or so. It’s not that I’ve been against listening to music during that time, more that I haven’t had as much opportunity for all manner of reasons — not least of which has been the fact that I’ve been watching more television and more movies, and there’s only so much time to take in new things.
But I’ve missed music. There was a time, a long, long time ago, when music was my life — I was in my 20s and going to local record stores was a twice a week, three times a week phenomenon. This was, literally a different time, pre-internet, with me listening to the radio all the time to discover new sounds, but the record store served a similar purpose; I’d buy things with abandon based on reviews, half-listens or simply cool looking sleeves and hunker down with them, listening over and over because that was what I did. I studied music, over and over again.
That changed for all manner of reasons; my priorities changed, my life changed. There was less time and opportunity to do what I’d been doing before — I stopped living alone, and merely having conversations and co-existing with someone whose patience for new and unknown sounds was far lesser than mine was something that shifted my focus — and, sure, I missed it but there were other things to focus on, I found.
Plus, it simply got harder to listen to music, somehow; the move from CDs to mp3s and then to services like Spotify ironically paralyzed me a bit. There was so much choice that I’d find myself retreating to the familiar more often than not, and being less likely to find things I’d never heard before, or even listen to things I rarely did. I became my own greatest hits machine, unintentionally.
It was a rediscovery of old CDs that has reignited my interest in listening to music, and prompted me to want to be counterintuitive and buy new ones, burn new ones. To play them in the background again as I do the everything else of life and let the sounds sink in. Perhaps it’s another form of retreat to ways of old, but it feels like one that will let me push forward again; it feels new in unexpected, welcome ways. It feels exciting.