Can I Quote You: Thom Yorke

“You will become a hypocrite, you’ll become a liar. You’ll try and paper up your own cracks… and that’s what being an adult is all about. Then you have babies and… *shrug* that’s it.”

The 6 Best: My Favorite Albums of 10 Cities/10 Years, So Far

As I head into my 7th year of a 10 year project, I’m looking back on the art that I’ve discovered in my first 6 cities.  I’m examining the music, films and literature that have had the greatest impact on my life throughout the previous 6 cities.  In doing so, I’m only discussing the albums, movies and books that were released since June 1st, 2005, the official start of the project.  My intention is not to proclaim these as the greatest works of art in the past 6 years, but rather to spotlight the art that has had the deepest, most consistent effect on my life and the entire 10 Cities Project.

Regular readers will probably recognize a few of these from previous posts.  But maybe a few will surprise you.

Listed in order of release date.

Albums

Sufjan Stevens – Illinois (a.k.a. Come On Feel The Illinoise)
Released: July 4, 2005

How I came across it:  I was living in Charlotte, the first city of 10, and a girl I worked with gave me a burnt copy of it.  The rest is history.
Thoughts:  What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said a million times?  It is a masterpiece, best album of the year and in top running for best of this (still young) century.  If you haven’t given it a chance yet or if you have and haven’t fallen in love with it, nothing I say is going to change that.  I just feel sorry for you.

Margot & the Nuclear So And So’s – The Dust of Retreat
Released: March 28, 2006

How I came across it: I was living in Philadelphia, my second city, and a lot of my online writer friends were raving about a few of their songs.  I liked what I heard, so I tracked down the whole album.
Thoughts:
  Probably the most obscure album on this list (not counting a couple of the honorable mentions), but among a certain subset of Indie folks, this is a holy work.  But don’t let that turn you off, because this album has an emotional resonance that most of the Too-Cool-For-School type albums couldn’t touch.  Nothing the band has done since has been even a tenth as rewarding, but at least we’ll always have this one album.

Thom Yorke – The Eraser
Released: July 11, 2006

How I came across it: I was working at the infamous used CD store in Philly when this album came out.  Being a huge Radiohead fan, I tried to get the store to bring in a few copies.  After waiting a week, I grew impatient and bought it from another store down the street.
Thoughts: Some might be surprised that Radiohead’s excellent “In Rainbows” isn’t on this list.  Well, I truly love that album and it almost made it to the top 6, but while I was thinking about it, I had to admit, this album has engrained itself into my life and memory so much more.  Perhaps it was getting to see Thom Yorke and his Atoms For Peace band play it live, or maybe it was just listening to the album while I walked the streets of Philly alone, but this album is an indelible part of my past now, a landmark work for me and 10 Cities.

Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Released: September 25, 2007

How I came across it: This album had been out for probably a year before I bought it.  I had an mp3 of standout track, “Boy With A Coin,” on my computer and loved it, but for some reason it took me months and months to pull the trigger.
Thoughts: Idiot!  That’s all I can say, because I should have had this album in my life for a year longer than I have.  Oh, how I have deprived myself!  Iron & Wine has always been a band (or act) that I’ve liked, but this album truly transformed my feelings into love.  Yes, it’s more produced and filled out than earlier albums, but contrary to common opinion, I don’t think intimacy and beauty can only be achieved by lo-fi recordings and poor sound.  This album deserves your time.  Don’t make my mistake.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Released: February 19, 2008

How I came across it: Another album where I had songs off of it for a few months before I bought it (thanks to Paste).  I can’t remember when I bought it exactly, but since it was released in 2008, I must have been living in either Costa Mesa or San Francisco.
Thoughts: Like Sufjan’s album, there is nothing I’m going to say about this album that is going to convince anyone to give it a chance if they haven’t already.  And also like Sufjan’s album, this is one that has become so big it’s broken out of the arena of strictly Indie kids.  And good for it.  I’m not one of those scenesters that needs my music to be obscure.  Great music should belong to the world, and deservedly this album has found a large audience.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Released: March 3, 2009

How I came across it: I’d been loving on Neko since Philly.  When this album came out, I think I probably bought it the first day.
Thoughts: Frankly, even I’m a little surprised that “Fox Confessor Brings The Flood” isn’t in this place, but I have to face reality.  While “Fox Confessor…” is the album that introduced me to Neko, and my favorite Neko song, “Star Witness” is from that album, I have to say that Middle Cyclone from beginning to end is the better album, and many of the songs on it have embedded themselves into my mind so deeply, even a hint of a melody from them can evoke an emotional response.  An album that deserves to be loved as much as “Illinois” or “For Emma, Forever Ago.”

Truly Honorable Mentions:

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Florence + The Machine –  Lungs
The Mountain Goats – Get Lonely
The National – Boxer

Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Paul Duncan – Be Careful What You Call Home

Radiohead – In Rainbows
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Next:  My Favorite Films of 10 Cities/10 Years, So Far

The Music of 10 Cities

Memories are the backbone of this 10 Cities project.  What do I remember, what can I remember, what should I remember?  I don’t ever want to get so bogged down in nostalgia that I forget to live in the present, but reliving and retelling the stories of my time on the road are what give this whole idea everlasting life.  Of the 5 years, there is far more that I have forgotten than I remember.  Reminiscing with old friends always brings back something that had been lost in my back storage.

But memories are flushed out in many different ways.

It’s said that of our sense memory, smell is the strongest.  A whiff of a particular perfume, the aroma of a familiar food, we are suddenly transported back to another time, another place.  It can be a surprisingly powerful experience to be thrust back in time by the wafting cilia in your nose (I have no idea if cilia actually waft… artistic liberties).

But, for my money, nothing evokes a stronger flash of memory like a song.  Almost every one of the nearly 8,000 songs in my music library is tied to a particular moment, place, event or person.  Some more tangible than others.

Music is like that for all of us and it’s why songs can be such affecting stimuli.

Because of my frequent moves, I have to work hard to hold onto the past, lest the experiences in new cities demolishes the memories of the past.  I take photographs frequently for this very reason, as much an artistic expression as a bookmark in my ongoing memoir.  It’s music, though, that will forever tie me to a city.  Just as Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” still takes me back to my college years, there are songs and usually entire albums that will forever be linked to one of the 5 cities I’ve lived in so far.

Sometimes, in those moments between waking and sleeping, if one of those songs comes on, I’ll be so thoroughly transported, that coming back to consciousness will feel like I’ve stepped back out of time.

As I prepare for my sixth city, I’m indulging in some nostalgic peeks into my rearview mirror.  We all have those songs that link us to a person, maybe a best friend or an ex-lover, but these are the songs that serve as my bridge to the cities I have loved, each in their own way:

Charlotte


While I was living in Charlotte, a friend of mine and I exchanged pretty well our entire library of music on multiple CDs filled with mp3s (remember when you used to put mp3s on CDs and not Ipods?  Simpler times).  From the trade, I found new favorite bands and a plethora of more music from groups and people I already liked but of whom I had only a small selection of songs.  (RIAA, you can’t prove nuthin’).  From all of that music, one band stands out as the group I listened to the most that year:  The Decemberists.

Specifically, their two psuedo-sea shanties:  “A Cautionary Song” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” (from “Castaways and Cutouts” and “Picaresque,” respectively).  Admittedly, these are probably odd songs to remember North Carolina by, but it’s that oddity (and, thus, rarity) that makes them stand out.  I hear those songs and I remember hanging out with one of my best friends in Chapel Hill and driving to Red Lobster with her group of friends because she had a craving for it.  And really, what better music to listen to on the way to Red Lobster than sea shanties?

There was also a girl I was seeing briefly, an Emo hairdresser who smelled like cigarettes and had an unabashed love for Billy Joel.  Yeah, I don’t know.  We traded music (including her copy of The Shins’ “Chutes Too Narrow,” now permanently in my collection), but while most of what she gave me was of the emo/punk variety, there were two bands she turned me onto that I have loved ever since.  First, there was The Magnetic Fields and their seminal 3-disc album, “69 Love Songs” and then there was Pinback’s lesser known gem, “Blue Screen Life.”  Of the two, it’s Pinback that transports me back to Charlotte whenever I listen to it (probably because it’s the only album of theirs I’ve ever picked up).  It’s so chill and cool, it reminds me of riding around in this girl’s truck (oh yeah, she had a pick-up truck) in the mild Charlotte winter.  I don’t even remember the girl’s last name, but the music sticks with me.

Philadelphia


As I’ve discussed and referenced in numerous posts, when I first arrived in Philadelphia, I landed the seemingly dream job of working as a sales associate in a used CD/DVD store.  It didn’t quite turn out as I hoped, but I did increase my music library (perhaps most prized of all, getting my hands on Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea“).  But of all the music I listened to that year, there is one particular song and one album that evoke walking the grimy, busted Philly sidewalks like I was still there.

Firstly, Neko Case’s gorgeous vocal showcase, “Star Witness” from her arresting album, “Fox Confessor Brings The Flood.”  I already had a copy of the song from the CD Sampler that came with an issue of Paste Magazine and had been obsessively listening to it when one day I showed up to work and found that the (fat, disgusting, smelly, crackhead) boss had picked up a dozen copies of the album for just a few bucks (probably bought it off of a junkie who had lifted them).  I snagged one of them for myself.  I love the album (and her other albums), but it’s that one song that has me walking down 2nd Street again, sweltering in Philly’s summer sun, madly in love with Neko’s disembodied voice, longing for something or someone I lost.

Around the same time I found Neko’s album, Thom Yorke of Radiohead released his solo album, “The Eraser.”  The moment I got my hands on it, I blasted it on the speakers of the music store.  The majority of the people wandering through the store, mostly tourists, ignored it, but some recognized Thom’s distinctive voice, and a few people were even grooving to “Black Swan.”  But again, like with “Star Witness,” what stands out most to me was walking home from work listening to this album, sometimes as late as 2 or 3 in the morning when the only people on the streets were the homeless and the drunk.  It was a fitting soundtrack to that sort of giddy despair.

I was able to see Thom Yorke and his makeshift band, “Atoms For Peace,” perform “The Eraser” here in Chicago, and it was easily one of the best concerts of my life, but that will never change the memory association that I have with his album.

Costa Mesa

Thanks to a roommate who enjoyed hitting the beach during the day and the clubs at night (and the fact that in Costa Mesa there really isn’t a whole lot to do but drink and lay out in the sun), my time in SoCal was soundtracked  by a bit more danceable selection of music.  It was a blast of a year, despite the fact that I could never imagine returning to Orange County.

One of the songs that will always be linked to hitting the clubs in good ol’ Costa Mexico is (I may surprise you here), “American Boy” by Estelle (yes, with Kanye).  My roommate, Amber (check out her site) and our mutual friend Michelle used to blast this song almost every night before we went out and drank ourselves stupid, and though I’m no Kanye devotee, I can’t help but find the song catchy as hell and filled with fond memories.  Specifically, it reminds me of shots of Patron, back alley dancing and ending the night with Norm’s or Jack in the Box.  Yikes, talk about a year of living unhealthily.

But it wasn’t all drinking and dancing that year.  Sometimes I had to wake up the next morning and stumble almost-sober to work.  Rather, bike to work almost-sober.  Despite frequent cop warnings not to listen to music while riding my bike, I always did.  While multiple bands filled my ears, one album stands out as connected to many memories that year:  The National’s “Boxer.”  A nearly flawless album kicked off by the enrapturing “Fake Empire.”

The band will always be tied to a particular girl, but this album represents something simultaneously smaller and bigger than her.  It’s a very personal album, but it also represents the whole year for me, the warm nights biking through the empty streets, my feeling of disconnection from the glitz and superficial artifice of Orange County, yet my feeling of belonging among the fringe elements within that culture.  This album is, for me, about finding your place in a strange land.

San Francisco

I moved here with a girlfriend, and we had a very tough year, on a financial level, on a roommate level and on a relationship level.  We survived the year and left it with a lot of memories.  With a year so intrinsically tied to another person, it would be easy for most of the music I listened to that year to be tied specifically to her.  And much of it is.  But there were still some songs and albums that remained connected to solitary memories.

As is a theme with me, a lot of the music I listened to was on my way to and from work.  One of those songs was Val Emmich’s “Get On With It.”  I have never listened to anything else by this guy (this band?).  I literally know nothing about him and only have this song because of one of those Paste music samplers.  There’s nothing about this song that’s particularly amazing, but it always reminds me of getting off the bus and walking down that steep San Fran hill to my apartment, 2 or 4 blocks (depending on the bus).  If I was in a good mood, not stressing money or a fight with the girl, it pumped me up, put a smile on my face.  It was a simple pleasure, but it was mine, and for that five minute walk down towards Golden Gate Park, it was a perfect moment.

I also bought Portishead’s latest album, “Third” while I was there.  It was one of the first and only purchases I made that year while I didn’t have a job and was looking down the barrel of being completely broke.  It’s not even so much the music that brings me back there, but that feeling of ownership, of saying, “I don’t have much right now, but I want this album and goddamnit, I’m going to have it.”  It’s an album that is still growing on me with each listen, but as it does, it brings back memories of driving through the back streets of San Fran, uncertain of what was coming, but slightly calmer with the captivating voice of Beth Gibbons filling the space in my head.

Chicago

This is a little harder to say, since I’m still technically here in Chicago (for 2 more weeks).  It’s difficult to be nostalgic about something you’re still living.  There are a couple of albums that I imagine will always be inextricably linked to my time in the Windy City, though.

Numerous tracks from Yeah Yeah Yeahs “It’s Blitz!” played at my work, and so this album will probably always remind me of my job here.  At the same time, I was already digging this album before I got the job, and the best songs on the album never played at work.  I can’t say for sure that I have any specific memories of Chicago tied to “It’s Blitz”, but it seems to me that down the line, listening to any track from this album will bring me back to my bitter winter working on Michigan Avenue.

The Mountain Goats’ “Life of The World To Come” came out while I was here, and the night before it did, they had a special screening of the Rian Johnson directed performance film with the same title.  I only recently bought the album and haven’t even listened to it much, but going to see the film was the first outing I did solo when I moved here.  In that way, I suspect listening to that album won’t so much conjure up specific memories, but rather, it will likely take me down a path of remembering the many friends I made this year with whom I had plenty of memorable nights (those I can remember).

I could guess about other songs and albums that might forever evoke Chicago for me, but it’s only with time that I’ll really know.

And then there’s Nashville.  What music will remind me of Music City?  Maybe I already own it and it’s just waiting for a chance to be tied to a place or event.  Maybe it’s a band that is only now recording their first album.  I can’t know, but when I’m done with all 10 Cities, it will be a pleasure to go back and make a compilation playlist of all the music that has defined my time on the road.

The soundtrack of my life.

Money, it’s a gas.

So then you’ve got money and you get used to this lifestyle. And you don’t wanna take any risks ’cause they’ve got you by the balls, and you’ve got all these little things that you’ve bought, or you’re attached to. And you start spending all this money… And that’s how they get ya!” ~ Thom Yorke, “Meeting People Is Easy”

Let me boast.  When it comes to money, I know how to budget.

With every move I make, I attempt to save at least $3,000.  Assuming my rent will be in the $500-600 range, with bills of an extra $150, and another $150 for groceries (all of these being an intentional overestimation), that means, if need be and assuming no other income, I could survive for 3 months without finding a job in my new city.  Only once have I gone longer without work (4 1/2 months in San Francisco), but otherwise I’ve always found a job in less than 3 months (and most of the time, right at a month).

If I stayed put for 2 years, kept working the same job for the entire time and maintained my budgeting habits, I have no doubt that I could save nearly $10,000 by the end of the 730 days.  Keep in mind, I work low-paying retail jobs.  Some of you 401K types might not appreciate that amount, but I’ve worked with store managers who still live paycheck to paycheck.  Even those few people I know who have well-paying respectable jobs probably couldn’t claim to have 10 G’s just sitting in their bank accounts, owed to no one.

Let me assure all of you would be Identity Thieves: I don’t have that kind of change.  I’m not worth your time.  I definitely don’t have anything worth stealing.  I still wear t-shirts I bought at concerts I went to when I was in college.

I’m not really posting today to brag about my fiscal responsibility, though.  All of my savings are sufficiently blown each year, usually returning my bank account to Ground $0.

My point is, if my goal was to one day pull a Scrooge McDuck through an ocean of dolla dolla bills (y’all), then yeah, I might be inclined to drop the 10 Cities Project, get a real job (or climb up the retail ladder, at least) and fill my money bin.

Fat stacks of cash are not my motivation.

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was in 7th grade, which means I’ve had well over a decade to come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to make much money.  Novelists like Stephen King and J.K. Rowlings are outliers in the writer spectrum.  For the rest of us, well… the phrase, “Don’t quit your day job” comes to mind.  As much as I hate the idea of daily pulling myself out of bed to work in some occupation I care nothing about, I realize that will likely be my lot in life.  Maybe if I were just more photogenic…

I’ve had many conversations with coworkers where I’ve said, “I’ll never make much money, and I’m okay with that.”  Pretty much across the board, the response has been a mystified, “Really?  Why?”  These are people who are working their way through college or saving up money so that their kids can go to college.  These are people with full-time jobs, maybe two, doing whatever they can to get themselves and their loved ones to a place where one day they have enough money to lift themselves out of their station in life.  And I’m not just talking about so-called ‘lower class’ workers trying to pull themselves out of the slums of city life (though, I’ve worked with people in that situation).

Even people who have grown up in relative comfort – middle class lives in a two story house with a parent or two working a steady job – still want better for their own children.  Maybe they couldn’t go to Space Camp.  Maybe they had to struggle through with a Playstation when all their friends had PS2s.  Maybe their pool table needed new felt but they played with a stiff upper lip, ignoring the root beer stain that looked like a silhouette of Woody Allen, all the while holding back tears.  We all suffer in our own ways.

The fact is, there really isn’t anyone who thinks, “You know, when I was a kid, I had it too good.”  No one wants to go down an economic rung.  That’s just not the American way.

But how much money do we really need?  How much stuff?  I’m not talking about living the life of an ascetic.  I don’t think it really qualifies as self-denial if you buy one dress instead of three (even though you would look so totally hawt in that strapless red one).  As much as we can fairly place blame on the financial institutions for the economic recession we’ve been experiencing, it’s really you’re own damn fault if you went into debt buying a bunch of shit you didn’t need and didn’t have the money to pay for.

But I’m not here to rant about Capitalism vs. Communism (Communism all the way), or berate people for how they spend their money.  It is their money, after all.  And I can’t really claim that it’s any more reasonable to blow my savings on moving every year than to buy a new, bigger, flatter, HDer television (at least you can resell that TV).

And let’s face it, money can buy happiness, if you know what to buy.

But it doesn’t have to be the end all, be all of your life.

And for me, 10 years living broke, making friends, abusing my liver, making questionable life decisions is money well spent.

At this moment in life, I have no debt, nobody depending on me, and no desire to own property.  Forget a billion dollars, that’s what I call real freedom.  If 15 years from now, I’m dying with no possessions or money but I’ve got a lifetime worth of experiences, I’d say I ended up on top.

Will I miss out on things?  Sure.  For one, there’s a whole stratum of females who would never even think of sleeping with me unless my Mastercard goes Platinum.  But, I’ll survive.  Just like I survive without Blu-Ray players, iPhones or the Complete Calvin and Hobbes (okay, not kidding, I’d kill for that).  I make do.

Nothing scares me more than the thought of one day making enough money that I’d be comfortable and content, unwilling to take any risks in order that I could hold onto that precious, precious cash.

If that ever happens, you can declare me dead and divide up all my stuff.

Consider this my will.