Please, Just Leave Me Be

Watching the second season of Killing Eve, I had the most unexpected sense memory. Despite the fact that I, too, have been to many of the glamorous locations in the show — despite not being a psychopathic assassin with exquisite dress sense — it wasn’t seeing Villanelle or Eve wandering the streets of Paris or Rome that made me feel the pang of nostalgia, but instead a scene of Villanelle lying on a hotel bed, MTV on in the background.

There was a period in my life where I was traveling more than I do these days — which is to say, barely, and only ever for work — and I’d find myself in hotel rooms in countries where I didn’t speak the language on multiple locations. Every single time, I’d end up finding MTV on the television and basically living with that as the soundtrack to my stay.

It wasn’t the music that I wanted, many times just the opposite, with me complaining internally about the videos on rotation — MTV Europe still favoring music videos at the time I’m talking about; I don’t even know if it still exists. What I wanted, simply, was the voices saying words that I’d understand. It grounded me in a strangely reassuring way, despite how banal and meaningless what those words might be when strung together in that particular order.

I would rarely actually watch what was on MTV. It was background noise, there to reassure and little else. It became the sound of me being out of touch with the world and needing something to ground me, just a little.

With that in mind, the fact that I found myself searching out, and being disappointed by, MTV the last time I was back in Scotland and on my own for a few hours feels as if it’s saying something important. I’m just not entirely sure what.

But It’s Brilliant Anyway

It was a tradition that happened every July 4, for a number of years: My putting on Elliott Smith’s “Independence Day” in the morning, and enjoying the repeated “Everybody knows,” as if it’s some kind of mantra that completed the day the same way that Christmas only truly becomes real when I’ve listened to Low’s “Just Like Christmas” or Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody.”

It’s not a song that’s actually about July 4, of course; the only one of those I can actually think of comes from Holiday Inn, a genuinely wonderful song with at least one genuinely terrible moment of cringeworthy racism: The blackface number, “Abraham,” which also happens to be one of the most catchy songs of the entire movie.  But nonetheless, “Independence Day” became something that I did for years every July 4, just for myself. A newly created tradition I gave to myself when I arrived in the States and enjoyed the day for the first time, and the following years. A way to make the holiday mine, as opposed to finding it off-putting and alien.

(As someone who came to the States, the patriotism displayed on July 4, or at other specific times and situations, can be disorienting and confusing, if not accidentally disturbing and/or hilarious.)

This year, I listened to it again. The first time in years, as it happened; it felt like something I needed to do, a promise to myself fulfilled. I didn’t realize how much it meant to me until I heard that “Everybody knows, everybody knowseverybody knows,” with the harmonies gliding in, once again.

Cat, People

Recently rescued from what, I assume, is now a dead and gone Flickr account, this is Lunacat. (“Luna,” for short; it was, as you might imagine, her full name to begin with, but then “Lunacat” took root and replaced it.) She was a stray who followed us home in San Francisco, years and years and years ago — it was close to 15 years ago, if not more — and ended up living with us all the way until her death, after Portland had become home.

She had cancer, in the end. In fact, these photos are from her surgery to remove a tumor, when she was given six months or so to live. (That’s why she’s been shaved so oddly; it’s where the surgery had taken place, and also on her leg, where the IV had been put in. It’s also why her neck is so big; it was a side effect from the anesthetic.) She survived for years after that, too stubborn to give up, and too filled with love to say goodbye.

Losing her was, still, one of the saddest periods of my life, and I still miss her all the time. Pets become part of us in a way that few people do, perhaps.

I Am Dented And Spent With High Treason

Elton John was very much not my bag, for a number of years; he was one of a number of bands and singers that I’d decided that about, for reasons that didn’t amount to much more than, I’ve seen them or heard them when I was a kid and wasn’t into it, so I guess they’re just out forever. In my defense, I grew up in an era where Elton John was releasing things like “I’m Still Standing,” and then “Sacrifice,” or worse, the Princess Diana version of “Candle in the Wind.” He didn’t really feel like someone worth re-evaluating, not when there were a million other records to be listened to and enjoyed.

It changed for me as the result of reading a biography of John, not that long ago; I read it because I was oddly interested in his 1970s persona without having listened to that much of his music from that period, and even that, not too closely. There was an explanation about the level of his output at the start of his career, and the level of his success — 5% of all worldwide record sales belonged to him! That remains absolutely ridiculous to me — that I thought that I probably should take another listen and see what I thought.

I’m not sure what it was about “Take Me To The Pilot” that caught in my head; the stumbling piano at the start or the propulsive sound of the whole thing that feels as if the whole song is just charging forward, determined to get to the end come hell or high water.

There’s a dynamism here — a hunger — that was entirely at odds with my idea of who Elton John was, and a sense of fun, as well. It’s clearly the work of a younger musician than the one I knew, but all for the good. Things are more rough and less fully-formed, but more playful and less precious, as well, and I found myself responding really strongly to that difference. This was someone I wanted to hear more from, and someone I wanted to follow to other songs.

That the lyrics are, to be polite, absolute nonsense, helped considerably: at first, I strained to understand what John was singing as if there was perhaps some arcane code or wisdom to be ascertained, but the reality, the realization that, no, this really is just a bunch of meaningless words strung together, felt less like a frustration and more like a strange gift waiting for me at the end. Somehow, everything was more playful than I’d imagined.

This is a song that I can imagine people falling in love with, and expecting great things from the performer going forward. Even more than the album version, the live version released a handful of months later. Who wouldn’t want more of this? And suddenly, Elton John came alive, finally, for the first time.