Not It

I had one of those old man yells at clouds moments the other day, when thinking about how easy it is to find media these days. When I discover a song in a TV show or movie or out in the real world — that last one, admittedly, being less likely these days for all kinds of reasons — it’s no big thing to find out what the song was, who recorded it, and buy it. All it takes is a Google search of some lyrics (assuming, of course, you can remember some of the lyrics at least close to correct), maybe a listen on Spotify or YouTube, and then a click to whatever music purchasing platform you prefer to use.

I like to think that I would’ve loved that a good 20 or so years ago — hell, make it 25 years — when my music buying was at its peak. At that point, it felt as if I was surrounded by music and still hungry for more, with a significant amount of my free time spent in record stores, rifling through the bins in the search for the next thing to get obsessed with.

Much of that rifling came from attempts to make connections between things, or search for the origins of particular sounds or elements. (I spent far, far too long trying to find if Badfinger really was the originator of the close harmonies of bands like Queen and Jellyfish, to my shame.) Much of the delay came from the fact that I’d think I’d have tracked down something I wanted to hear, but wasn’t willing to pay the money for a complete CD, or album, or whatever, if all I really wanted was one song, leading to a lot of back-and-forth while wondering if I could afford it, or wanted to.

What made this low level of obsession worthwhile, of course, were the mistakes and misfires, the things I bought by mistake and then realized that I loved even more than I could’ve expected, or the B-sides and album tracks that quickly became favorite songs. That, more than anything, is what I find myself missing today: The happy surprise that rewards the devoted search. Is there some way to recreate that these days, I wonder?

Have I Stood To The Side Aware of The Tide

I’m paying half an eye’s worth of attention to the British election results as they roll in today, and thinking about how strange that country’s political landscape feels to me now, after nearly two decades living in the U.S.

It’s not just that there’s multiple political parties compared to the United States’ ridiculous, archaic two party system. (There’s an argument to be made, I think, that the U.S. doesn’t really have a two party system as much as a system that thinks it’s a dichotomy but is far more complicated in practice. But I’m sure that, if I made that argument, it would lead to being disagreed with at high volume by self-proclaimed experts, so maybe not.)

Even considering the many, many parties that hold some level of power, however — be they the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, UKIP, and so on — it probably should be noted that the political reality of the U.K. is far more complicated than it seems on the face of it. The Labour Party of the United Kingdom isn’t really the same as the Labour Party of Scotland, and Scottish Labour and “Labour” Labour are different again from Welsh Labour. The same with… well, every single different area in the country.

On paper, they’re the same parties, or at least affiliated with each other, but in practice… not so much. And so you end up with something that is unfolding today, where Labour Labour is losing seats while Welsh Labour is making big gains and Scottish Labour is less successful in a country predominantly left-leaning than the right wing Scottish Conservative Party, because the SNP has taken that demographic for themselves, and and and…

I feel as if things were simpler back when I lived there, but that might be a combination of nostalgia and fooling myself. Maybe I was just paying more attention and not an ocean away, trying to figure out if what was happening was a good thing or not and failing quite so hard.

It Must Be Morning Again

There was a point, early in lockdown, where things were so locked down that there were almost no cars on the road; I remember taking a walk in the middle of the road one afternoon, and it being almost supernaturally quiet. In later weeks and months, things reasserted themselves and I can remember wistfully remembering the time when I didn’t have to worry about a speeding car cutting me off with almost no warning.

This comes to mind when I think about the fact that we’ve started going for early morning walks in the last few weeks, Chloe and I; it started when Spring started to sprung and things started to get sunny, and it very quickly and entirely unintentionally became a tradition from that point on.

It’s a particularly pleasant, gentle way to start the day. There’s something unique about the light as the sun rises for the first time — a way in which it catches the leaves in the trees surrounding us that feels particularly colorful and beautiful — and something about the stillness all around us as we walk through streets and a city that’s not quite awake just yet.

It’s not just that the roads are, for the most part, empty of moving vehicles, although that’s part of it. It feels as if we’re exploring something together, even as we move through areas that we’re all too familiar with because we walk them every few days. The lack of other people, of other motion, outside of the animals and the birds, feels as if we’re experiencing something particularly rare and somewhat special.

(And there are plenty of animals… or, at least, there are plenty of squirrels and cats, at least. Saying hello to the neighborhood cats, or even better, meeting brand new neighborhood cats, is a special thrill of each morning’s adventures.)

The feeling of quiet, of being alone in a good way, is such that, when other people start emerging from their houses to head to work or go for their own walks, we know it’s time for the walk to be over. It’s a transition point; a time when the world goes from ours to everybody’s. It’s the start of the day for everyone else, and we can go eat, knowing that we’ve laid claim to the best part already.

Should I, Dear, Come Up To You

Ever since watching Lovers Rock — part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe collection of movies from last year, and easily the movie I’ve been most moved by in the last few years — I’ve been left with two particular thoughts circling back in my head over and over.

The first is that the song “Silly Games” by Janet Kay is a stunner, and has been on rotation ever since I heard it for the first time in the movie.

The second is that Lovers Rock brought back feelings and nostalgia for parties I attended when I was in art school, and did so in such a way that felt entirely authentic and honest, without any of the usual artifice that movies about house parties tend to produce.

Part of that comes from the unusually slow pacing and meandering plot of the movie. I’d be tempted to say that Lovers Rock doesn’t really have a plot, if that didn’t sound like more like an insult than it’s meant to be. (It’s not meant to be an insult at all.) On numerous occasions, the movie plays out more like a documentary — or, perhaps, a series of shots from a movie before they’ve been edited down to get to what most films consider the story. In each and every case, this is to the movie’s considerable benefit.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in two extended sequences of people at the party dancing to the music. In both of them — the “Silly Games” sequence, and the “Kunta Kinte Dub” sequence — the song plays through in its entirety once, with no dialogue to distract from the music or the sights of everyone dancing… and then the scene continues, magically, as the song loops around because of the energy of the party. In the climactic “Kunta Kinte Dub” sequence, it’s because the crowd is so energized that they demand it gets played again, and then a third time.

In the “Silly Games” sequence, though, it’s something else. The crowd goes from singing along to the track to, once it’s over, just singing it en masse a capella, over and over. It’s something surprisingly, beautifully intimate, and hypnotic. It felt as if I was right there, and it made me remember countless late nights when I was younger and my heart (as another song puts it) was an open book.