One Year

In early March 2020, I traveled to the Mono Basin for a solo retreat. As I drove east, then south, news stories on the radio about COVID were reaching what seemed like a crescendo.

The rental was offgrid. No TV, and only satellite internet. I’d download (slowly) news-update podcasts, and periodically sit in my truck out in the cold, heater blasting, listening to CNN and NPR on SiriusXM.

I tried to work on music. Attempted to write. And read.

During my six-day stay, the news became more frightening. Trump claiming everything would be fine. Then the news about lost opportunities getting the virus under control due to CDC chaos and botched testing rollouts.

The mantra: flatten the curve. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Socially distance.

The second portion of my trip was to Independence, the Inyo county seat. I stayed in a double-wide AirBnB on the Paiute reservation just north of town.

The first morning, I was awakened at 5:45 by someone’s muscle car. I’d slept maybe five hours. I struggled from bed, got dressed, made coffee and a sandwich, and drove south to Manzanar for the first of two days of work.

In the parking lot, no one shook hands, although it had been months since we’d see one another. We smiled wanly in the 7am chill, stamping our feet and talking about COVID. Less than half the volunteers had shown up.

We tried staying six feet from each other, but it was difficult while digging with a partner in 8 x 8-foot plots, and manning two-person sifting stations. I was the only person wearing a mask, and it was mostly due to the dust.

On the way out, I stopped at the visitors’ center and bought some books. There were tiny origami birds on the counter. The woman at the register urged me to take one.

“They’re free.”

I got back to the rental and switched on the TV, but the news was disturbing, so I turned to a channel airing The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone, and Carol Burnett reruns.

I ate something. Made a stiff drink.

Then another.

The phone rang. It was Kate.

“I just went to Safeway. There’s pretty much nothing left on the shelves, and the lines were the longest I’ve ever seen. I turned around and came home. I wanted to have food for you when you got back.”

I looked at Whole Foods’ delivery page on Amazon as we spoke. We put together an order. The site was slow, and I had trouble getting the order to submit. Finally it went through, but it wouldn’t be delivered for two days.

We talked about my day at the dig, then my plans for day two. The conversation didn’t take long. I told Kate I’d return early. I had more N95 masks in the truck, and rubber gloves, and hand sanitizer. I promised Kate I’d use them when pumping gas.

That night I messaged my friend, Roger, and apologized for missing the second day.

The next morning I packed up and headed north. I stopped at Manor Market in Bishop and bought ice, and filled two coolers and a shopping bag with food.

(In the coming weeks, carloads of people from Tehachapi, Bakersfield, and LA would follow, and do the same, bringing the virus with them, and emptying the shelves of every grocery store on 395).

I began the 7-hour drive home.

It was Friday, March 13th, exactly one year ago. When things got weird.

I still have the origami bird. It’s been riding with me in the truck for the past year.

It’s faded, and somewhat rumpled. When I drove with the windows down last summer, it nearly flew out the window more than once.

Maybe I should let it go.

Recent Acquisitions

17 Pygmies Jedda By the Sea LP (Resistance Records, US) used, 2nd pressing

Marc Barreca The Empty Bridge CD (Palace of Lights, US)

Biosphere Angel’s Flight LP (AD 93, UK)

William S. Burroughs Curse Go Back LP (Aloes Books/Paradigm Discs, EU)

Sarah Mary Chadwick Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby LP colored vinyl (Rice Is Nice / Ba Da Bing! US)

Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit ‎A Full Circle 2x 10″ (Grönland Records, Germany/EU) RSD reissue

Fripp & Eno Beyond Even (1992 – 2006) 2xCD (Discipline Global Mobile, US) reissue (used)

Seymour Glass “Daily Account Sheet” FLAC (My Dance the Skull, Italy)

Hauschka with Rob Petit & Robert Macfarlane Upstream LP (Sonic Pieces, Germany)

Heaven 17 “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” / “Decline of the West” 12″ (Virgin UK) RSD reissue

K. Leimer Found Objects CD (Palace of Lights, US)

Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um 2xLP (Get On Down, US) (RSD reissue)

Pergolisi Stabat Mater/Concertino Armonico No.2 Felicity Palmer, Alfreda Hodgson, The Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge, The Argo Chamber Orchestra, directed by George Guest LP (Argo, UK) (used)

Somei Satoh Emerald Tablet / Echoes LP (We Release Whatever the Fuck We Want Records, Switzerland)

Somei Satoh Mandala Trilogy 2xLP (We Release Whatever the Fuck We Want Records, Switzerland)

Dustin O’Halloran Piano Solos LP (Splinter Records)

Dustin O’Halloran & Volker Bertelmann Score from Ammonite FLAC (Milan/Sony, US)

Dustin O’Halloran & Volker Bertelmann Music from The Old Guard LP (Lakeshore Records US)

A Winged Victory for the Sullen Invisible Cities CASSETTE, LP (black, clear, beer-colored vinyl editions), FLAC
(Artificial Pine Arch Manufacturing, Belgium)

YMO BGM SACD (GT Music, Japan) reissue

Various Artists Ambient Layers FLAC (7K!, Germany)

Things I Liked During 2020

Kate Burkart “Twisted Wind” FLAC (Luckystar, US)

Svengali/conflict-of-interest alert: Kate‘s my partner.

Like all musicians, she misses practicing with her band, and playing live. Being homebound, however, just means you have to get creative — both with your art, and ways to go about ensuring it’s heard.

This song was born on acoustic guitar via a voice-memo iPhone demo. James DePrato then, remotely, took the project under his wing with impressive one-man band instrumentation via Dropbox. Kate added a distanced vocal performance in an isolation booth, and the result is “Twisted Wind.” Kate’s son, Will, put together the video using some of my photos.

Kate deftly distills — and, exorcises, perhaps — the pandemic-related internal conflicts many of us are feeling…in her characteristically direct, yet nuanced, manner. Please check out the song, and tell your friends.


Brian Eno Film Music 1976 ~ 2020 2xLP (Opal Records/UMC, EU)

It’s always good to have newer (or, at least, unheard) material from Eno; there are seven previously-unreleased tracks here. “Blood Red” is among my favorites; it’s more compositionally dense than most of his instrumental work, and doesn’t particularly sound like the Eno I came to love around the time of Music for Films. Appreciation to Opal/UMC for, again, including a download coupon for a full-resolution .wav copy of the album. And the LP presentation is wonderful: a gatefold laminate-stock sleeve emblazoned with a colorful collage; extensive notes on sources are included. No one can collage disparate yet simple sounds into an intriguing and beguiling whole the way Brian Eno can, and the packaging elaborates upon and reinforces that point.

Brian Eno Rams – Original Soundtrack Album 2xLP (UMC, Opal Records, Film First, EU)

In the next month or so I plan to see the Dieter Rams documentary ($4.99 to rent on Amazon) for which this music was composed, if only to gain some context for the sounds.

While possibly not relevant to the finished project, I wonder how many of these tracks were collected from Eno’s hard drives full of random sketches…and how many were composed especially for the documentary? Regardless, there’s some good stuff here, context-less as it is for me at the moment of this scribbling.

Clarice Jensen The Experience of Repetition As Death LP (Fatcat, UK)

Among a disappointing (yes, an understatement) year, one particular — and, admittedly, relatively minor — downer was A Winged Victory for the Sullen canceling its April tour stop at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. Opener for that show would have been Clarice Jensen. We can take some consolation from her indescribably otherworldly album of experimental — yet lovely, and listenable — instrumental cello compositions. Along with Hildur Guðnadóttir, Jensen is moving the cello towards the 22nd century, centering innovative recording techniques with a focus on expanding the possibilities of her instrument.

K. Leimer A Figure of Loss CD (Palace of Lights, US)

K. Leimer Slight, Far FLAC (Longform Editions, Australia)

Loss is a contemplative musical meditation on the current socio-political climate in the US (and the world). There’s a sad stillness to the presentation, but, taken as a whole, there is a sense of hope, as well.

Slight, Far is a single 32-minute track. It reminds me a bit of Eno’s Thursday Afternoon: an unwavering, higher-pitched, airy drone is the backdrop. In the foreground are gently percussive sounds and floating keyboard pads. There is tension, but the piece also works as a relaxing ambient/environmental piece.

Less Bells Mourning Jewelry LP (Kranky, US)

One of the top instrumental albums of 2020. Something about this release has the same subtle vibe as certain Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani material — a uniquely aural take on the enigmatic beauty of nature, wrapped up wordless voices atop organically arranged keyboards and synthesizers. Less Bells’ Julie Carpenter is based in Joshua Tree, and you can sense the quiet loveliness of desert dawns and dusks in these compositions. A truly gorgeous album, one you can easily lose yourself within, and I eagerly look forward to more.

Roedelius Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe LP (Bureau B, Germany)

The Selbstportrait series’s unfailing beauty, now in its fifth (!) decade, continues to delight. There is a certain out-of-time element to these instrumentals; many sound as though they could’ve been performed in the late seventies or early eighties, while also retaining a modern approach and appreciation for all that’s passed under the musical bridge since then. Fans of Jardin au Fou and Lustwandel, too, will find much to love here. This release confirms Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a treasure in the pantheon of keyboard musicians.

Best reissues

Be Bop Deluxe Modern Music 4xCD + DVD + book (Esoteric, UK)

A many-layered, many disc’d reissue of a seventies classic that reveals more with each listen. Some may posit progressive/art-rock hasn’t aged well. Modern Music remains relevant and, yes, fresh, year after year. “Timeless” and “essential” are words tossed ’round lazily and frequently by the most recumbent of rawk journalists, but they’re two very appropriate adjectives here.

Haruomi Hosono Philharmony SACD

The 1982 solo album from YMO founder Harry Hosono is a techno-pop masterpiece, and the SACD mastering gives the work a tight, deep sparkle that makes it sound all new. “Living-Dining-Kitchen” and “Sports Men” dazzle, and the instrumental tracks presage the ambient direction Hosono honed on Mercuric Dance. Sample-heavy interludes “Picnic” and the title track are early examples of how the human voice can be keyboard-manipulated in a manner most pleasing. Classic.

Bill Nelson Transcorder – the Acquitted By Mirrors recordings (2xCD)

Following the disbanding of Be Bop Deluxe, and his Red Noise project, Nelson embarked on a solo career — one which continues to this day. Beginning in 1982, these four-track recordings were included as 7-inch singles in his self-published Acquitted By Mirrors fan-club publication. The series still sounds amazing, especially “Sleepcycle”, “Konny Buys a Kodak”, and “The Beat That Can’t Go Wrong Today.” A very-necessary and long-overdue compilation from one of art-rock’s most imaginative and prolific visionaries.

Best digital remaster for vinyl:

YMO Technodon SACD, LP

This 1993 reunion album was a thing of beauty when released, and, having never been available on LP ’til now, sounds even better on this analog remaster. Few, if any, of YMO/Yellow Magic Orchestra’s recordings come across as dated; Technodon ‘s electro-dub/pop remains most salient, adventurous, and eminently listenable.

Books

Kendra Atleework Miracle Country book (Algonquin Books, US)

This book is a wonder and a whirlwind, among many other things.

It’s a love letter to the desert and mountain landscapes of the Eastern Sierra. It’s a rumination on land, water, and climate policy. It’s a family history. It’s a political, social, scientific, and cultural examination of the complex, and often violent, conflicts that distinguish the Owens Valley as a place borne of plunder and displacement.

Atleework weaves — with irresistible momentum and poetic flair — historical context and insightful literary references with personal experience, and crafts a diamond of a memoir that succeeds on each of its myriad facets, while also cohering into a satisfying — and, often, magical — whole.

It’s a work that will occupy a worthy place on your bookshelf, adjacent to Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

Abraham Hoffman Mono Lake: From Dead Sea to Environmental Treasure book (University of New Mexico Press, 2014)

A modern history of my favorite place, with emphasis on mining and agriculture in the 19th- and early-20th centuries, and (somewhat futile) efforts to make the Basin a recreation destination. An expansive, yet detailed, overview of an area that will always inspire and enthrall me.

Richard Powers The Overstory book (W.W. Norton, 2018)

This is a book that won’t allow the reader to be lazy. If you’re not fully engaged, you won’t appreciate it. I’ll try not to spoil the approach for those who’ve yet to experience it, but it involves interlocking stories — many that could stand alone — tracing lifetimes. The theme: Trees. I was spellbound.

Bruce Licher Savage Impressions: An Aesthetic Expedition Through The Archives of Independent Project Records & Press book (P22 Type Foundry, US)

A near-overwhelming retrospective covering the output of Independent Project Press (LA -> Sedona -> Bishop), Savage Impressions is a pulchritudinous object, itself, as all essential coffee-table books should be. From Bruce Licher’s early days at UCLA, through his founding of Savage Republic, and up to and including his present letterpress print shop operation and art gallery in Bishop, CA, it documents a life devoted to music, culture, and beautiful printed things. Disclosure: I would say all these things even if Bruce wasn’t a friend.

Video

After Life (Netflix)

Ricky Gervais doing some serious method; this, and a terrific ensemble cast, means season 2 is a must.

Anne with an E (Netflix)

The second and third seasons, especially, struck me as a tad too sledgehammer-y in their reverse-anachronism moralizing, but the series, as a whole, is elevated by emotively believable acting from a well-cast array of talent.

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn (HBO)

Ever since seeing HBO’s Angels In America, I’ve been fascinated with the complexities that were Roy Cohn. His connection to Trump, detailed here, is just the rancid icing on a very evil cake.

John Was Trying To Contact Aliens Matthew Killip (Netflix)

I wanted it to be about six or seven times longer than it was. If you have 15 minutes to spare, please watch this.

Patton Oswalt I Love Everything (Netflix)

Another tarnished jewel of a performance from Oswalt. Painfully hilarious insights result in consistent belly-laughs throughout.

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)

We’re watching one installment every Sunday night, and only four episodes in… we look forward to this every week. It’s a narrative that’s irresistible, with a unique plot line, and uncannily stunning acting, all showcased with impeccable art direction. I would never have thought watching people play chess could be this entrancing.

The Last Days of August (podcast, Jon Ronson, 2019)

A harrowing examination of the circumstances and personalities leading to the 2017 suicide of adult film star August Ames. Ronson tells a complex story with grace, integrity, humility, and sensitivity. The extended podcast series is a lesson in journalism and storytelling, as well as expectations; you think you know where it’s going, and how it ends. You don’t. The resolution is riveting and devastating.

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Goodbye:

Kobe Bryant
Harold Budd
Spencer Davis
Kirk Douglas
Andy Gill
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Olivia de Havilland
Buck Henry
Terry Jones
Toshinoro Kondo
John Lewis
Little Richard
Barry Lopez
Lyle Mays
Ennio Morricone
Neal Peart
Charlie Pride
John Prine
Bill Rieflin
Diana Rigg
David Roback
Florian Schneider
Matty Simmons
McCoy Tyner
Eddie Van Halen
Andy Weatherall
Leslie West
Ian Whitcomb
Fred Willard
Hal Willner
Bill Withers

Harold Budd (1936 – 2020)

Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Daniel Lanois, presumably during the recording of The Pearl circa 1984. Photographer unknown.

Harold Budd died yesterday from complications due to contracting COVID-19 during his recovery from a stroke in early November. He was 84.

I was entranced by Pavilion of Dreams when I first heard it in 1980, a couple years after its release. Later, his two collaborative albums with Eno were an awakening, and his solo works displayed still more depth and breadth of emotion.

He was the master of stillness and contemplation, yet his approach was defined by an unsettling aura, an intangible tension that belied — yet, somehow, reinforced — the pensive beauty of his music.

Can music this quiet be subversive? Yes.

He hated being pigeonholed as “ambient,” or, even worse “new age.” He was his own genre.

There will never be anyone who can come close to Harold Budd.

Today Bill Nelson posted a touching remembrance of his friend.

Harold’s music was sublime, poetic, warm, achingly beautiful, but also intellectually sharp and precise, like ice carved by sunshine into delicately adorable shapes. His touch on the piano was sensitive and subtle, capable of the greatest tenderness. He often spoke of the ‘loveliness’ that he was chasing, an absolute and undeniable affirmation of transcendent beauty. I was privileged to sit alongside him and add my guitar to his piano playing, but as wonderful as those moments were, my most precious memories of Harold are those when we spent time together as friends. We always found something amusing and enlightening to spin tales about. He was a beautiful soul and I will miss him profoundly.

Kate Burkart “Twisted Wind”

My partner is Kate Burkart. She’s a musician and a mom. She’s many other things, including my sweetheart. Together, we try to make sense of the world, and our lives, since March 2020.

COVID-19 has affected so many, in so many different ways. We feel fortunate that we and our loved ones are healthy, and still with us. Many have not been so fortunate.

Last week California went into another lockdown, as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rose. We’re dealing as best we can with the fear and the disruption, as are so many others. As before, there is science to be taken seriously, and there are precautions to be taken, and blessings to be counted.

Kate can’t practice with her band, which had been gaining momentum earlier this year. Before March, there were rehearsals. And gigs. And more gigs. Kate misses playing to people, as, I imagine, most musicians do. In April, Kate took to our “music room,” where she sat with her acoustic guitar, sketching out ideas over the weeks.

One of her ideas, inspired by the pandemic, developed to the point where she sent a voice memo to her friend, James DePrato. James put a simple demo track under her vocal and sent it back.

Kate liked what he had done. The demo was fleshed out into a fuller arrangement. Kate did a scratch vocal on top of it.

In late summer, Kate went to a studio and, socially-distanced, put a final vocal on top of James’ backing.

Kate worked with her son, Will Burkart, on a video that incorporated Kate’s song with some of my photography.

This is the result.

If you’d like to stream or buy Kate’s song, you can do so on Bandcamp.

There are many key elements that will help us through this ongoing, uncharted, frightening experience. Music will be one of them. Kate and I will never take music for granted; it’s never let us down.

Thank you for listening.

Recent Acquisitions


100 Flowers Drawing Fire (expanded) 12″ clear vinyl (In The Red, US)

Aix Em Klemm Aix Em Klemm LP (Kranky, US)

Autistici Volume Objects FLAC (12k, US)

Damm Nautical Dawn 2xLP orange vinyl (A Strangely Isolated Place, US)

Brian Eno Rams – Original Soundtrack LP white vinyl (Opal, Germany)

Robert Fripp Exposure 2xLP (Panegyric, UK)

Global Communication 76 14 2xLP (Evolution, UK)

Global Communication Chapterhouse Retranslated by Global Communication – Blood Music: Pentamerous Metamorphosis 2xLP (Evolution, UK)

Goldmund Corduroy Road LP (Unseen, US)

Jóhann Jóhannsson with Hildur Guðnadóttir & Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe End of Summer LP (Sonic Pieces, Germany)

Loscil Adrift FLAC (self-released, US)

Loscil Coast/Range/Arc// LP (Kranky, US)

Joni Mitchell Early Joni – 1963 LP + prints (JMA/Rhino, US)

Toshihiko Mori Jinen LP (Biophon, Norway)

New Order Power, Corruption, and Lies box LP, CD, 2xDVD, book (Warners US)

Erik K Skodvin Anbesa LP (Miasma, Portugal)

Ryuichi Sakamoto Hidari Ude No Yume/Left Handed Dream 2xLP incl instrumental LP (We Want Sounds, Switzerland)

Snakefinger Snakefinger – Who Do You Love (B-Sides & Rarities) LP neon violet vinyl (Secret Records, US)

A Winged Victory for the Sullen The Undivided Five LP clear/silver marbled vinyl (Ninja Tune, UK)

Neil Young Archives Vol. 2: 1972 – 1976 10xCD + book (Reprise/NYA, US)

Neil Young/Crazy Horse Return to Greendale 2xLP, 2xCD, Blu-Ray (Reprise, US)

Various Artists From Brussels With Love LP, cassette, and CD + book (Les Disques du Crepescule, Belgium)

An Occurrence at Lee Vining Creek (with apologies to Ambrose Bierce)


Paul,

Our editorial team has reviewed your Lee Vining Creek story and we regret to inform you that we did not select it for inclusion in an upcoming issue of Overland Journal.

While running into unappreciative recipients to our help on the trail can be an unfortunate reality, we prefer to stay on a positive course, emphasizing the rewards to helping someone on the trail.

We greatly appreciate your interest in working with us and hope to see you submit more stories for consideration.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

Aw jeez. That old negativity bugaboo again. I guess that means I’ll have to post the story here.

A true story, actually, that happened in March 2016.

==================================================================================

An Occurrence at Lee Vining Creek

I was driving Picnic Grounds Road on the west shore of Mono Lake, heading north — my first time in that particular area. Smooth road, graded, not too much dust. Pleasantly tired. Excellent view. Appropriate music on the stereo. That sort of thing.

It’d been a long day of driving, but a good one. I’d left Sorensen’s on CA88 around 10am and hoped I’d gotten some good red-tailed hawk pics near Gardnerville. Saw a bald eagle, too, but, alas, no pics. I’d found some new (to me), secluded forest service roads at Mono, with some great scenery.

60+ degrees, clear, perfect weather.

I was approaching Lee Vining Creek from the south side, just before it transformed into a small delta leading into Mono Lake.

A sign read “ROAD FLOODED”.

I slowed when I saw a rental camper on a turnout. Straight ahead, just above the creek, a guy was pulling a rope up the road towards me.

The rope was wrapped around the bumper of his pickup…which was stuck in at least a foot and a half of rushing snowmelt in Lee Vining creek.

I rolled my window down. The dude near the camper trotted up. “I was gonna try to pull him out with the camper. But you’ve got a winch…”, pointing at the front of my truck. “He’s been spinning his wheels in there for twenty minutes. I think he’s dug himself into a hole.”

Camper guy was Australian, probably about 65, skinny, in shorts and sandals. His wife stood in the door of the camper, looking doubtful. They didn’t know wheel-spinning dude. They just happened to be hanging out when he tried to cross the creek.

I got out and looked at the guy’s truck. It was an older stock 2WD Ford with a camper shell.

His girlfriend sat in the passenger seat, staring at her cellphone.

The creek was moving fast, with big, loose stones rolling around. It wasn’t exactly white water, but there were riffles. There was no way I would’ve chanced crossing it, even with 4WD.

The guy didn’t look relieved, or smile, or ask if I could winch him out. His face was blank.

I asked him what he’d twisted around the bumper.

“A climbing rope.” He held it out for me to see.

“If you use that, it’s gonna snap, and anyone on either end is gonna end up unhappy. Put it away.” I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic about wading into snowmelt to feel for places to wrap a recovery strap under the dude’s truck. I turned to camper guy. “If we rope up the bumper, all it’s gonna do is pull his bumper off. Does he have any real anchor points?”

The Australian seemed to know his stuff. And had a high pain threshold. He waded into the freezing water in his sandals and shorts and found a place around the T-bar where we could hook to the winch rope via a strap. It wasn’t optimum, but without scuba gear, we didn’t really have a choice.

I thought about turning around and hooking a tow rope to the rear receiver hitch on my truck, but the graveled slope leading down to the creek was steep. I’d just spin my wheels trying to drag him out.

I chocked the front wheels, yanked up the parking brake, and put the thing in park. I’d draped stuff over the synthetic winch rope in case it cut loose and went flying.

I opened my hood to protect the windshield, told the guy to get behind the wheel, start his truck, put it in neutral and steer straight ahead. I yelled at the Australian guy to get behind my truck.

I gunned my engine and pulsed the winch rope with the remote, all while peeking around the side of the hood. The rope went taut.

I kept clicking the winch control slowly.

My truck’s suspension started moving forward. The back end reared up. The winch motor strained and whined. The wheel chocks dug in.

Nothing happened.

I kept pulsing the winch in short bursts.

Slowly, grudgingly, finally, the guy’s truck budged, then lurched forward from the middle of the creek.

We yelled for him to shift into drive give it some gentle gas.

After about 15 seconds — it seemed much longer — he reached the dry part of the road on our side.

His rear passenger wheel was flat. He emptied a can of Fix-A-Flat into it, then we used my portable compressor that I’d hooked up to my battery.

Flat-tire man got in and rolled the truck forward a few dozen feet, then back, at my urging.

We watched as air mixed with Fix-A-Flat squirted out the valve stem. The tire was flat again within a minute. While spinning his wheels in the creek, a rock had probably knocked the valve stem loose.

He had no jack or tool to lower his spare. We tried using my Nissan jack screw, but it didn’t fit. His spare was flat (of course) but I figured we could fill it with the compressor — if he could get it lowered to the point we could get at the valve.

I gave him some tools to try to jerry-rig lowering the tire. No dice.

He even tried to cut the chain that suspended the spare with some pliers. Didn’t work.

He stood staring at his cellphone for a long while. I assumed he was looking for someone to tow his truck, or fix the spare. But I overheard him tell the Australian, “I’m searching online for people who’ve posted ideas about how to bypass lowering the spare.”

Oh. OK.

He got back under the truck and fiddled with the spare again. Finally, Australian guy pushed him aside, crawled under and felt around the spare. He called me over and I got down on my knees and looked where he was pointing.

He found a three-inch slash in the sidewall he could stick his finger through.

No-spare guy again huddled with his girlfriend and their cellphones.

I retreated to my truck in an attempt to put the backseat back together — I’d ripped all my packed stuff out getting the jack key and wheel chocks. There was also now a mess in my recovery/rescue Tuffbin back in the bed of truck, and I needed to wipe down, dry, and re-spool the winch rope.

It beat standing around watching this guy flail about.

Australian guy came over and helped me get my stuff re-organized. He shook his head and stage-whispered “this person…no manners!”

I had to agree. I’d realized I hadn’t heard so much as a thank-you, or even been on the receiving end of a wan smile.

Finally, flat-spare-creek-stuck dude trudged up and asked if one of us would give him a ride to the Shell station in Lee Vining so he could bring the tire in to be patched.

The Australian immediately shook his head no.

“You don’t have a jack,” I pointed out.

I did, but I was no longer feeling all that benevolent at this point. I’d been there over an hour. Suddenly I felt sunburnt, windblown, thirsty, tired, and hungry. And fed up.

“Just call Shell. They’re 15 minutes away. They’ll come down here, tow your truck in, and fix the spare.”

The guy looked glum and nodded.

I got in my truck. I smiled at the Australian guy and told him “safe travels, mate”, did a three-point turn, and drove away.

On the way back, I stopped at the Shell and gassed up. As I was pulling out, a gentleman in overalls came out of the office and headed past me towards a tow truck. I stopped and rolled down the window.

“You going down to the creek to fix that guy’s spare, by any chance?”

“Yeah. You the one who winched him out?”

“Yeah.”

“Guy gave me some attitude. Got short with me and demanded I come down there right away because he has to get to work tomorrow.”

“Just out of curiosity…what do you charge for a tow?”

“$160 an hour, including travel time.”

“Another question – does it still count as “paying it forward” when the payee is a sullen, ungrateful little bitch?”

He laughed.

Don’t You Ever Learn?

Foolishly, I decided to throw all reason to the wind, and ordered an LP from Amazon.

This is how it was shipped — in an 18 x 18-inch box, four inches deep, with no padding.

Miraculously, it wasn’t warped, or damaged.

I hereby resolve to NEVER order music from Amazon ever again.

If I lapse, and feel the urge to do so again, please feel free to slap me upside the back of the head.

Recent Acquisitions

Dewa Alit & Gamelan Salukat Genetic LP (Black Truffle, Australia)

Robbie Basho ‎Songs Of The Great Mystery 2xLP, clear vinyl (Real Gone Music, US)

Robbie Basho Venus In Cancer LP (Traffic Entertainment Group, US)

Roger Eno and Brian Eno Luminous 45 RPM EP black vinyl (Deutsche Grammophon, Germany)

Roger Eno and Brian Eno Luminous 45 RPM EP yellow vinyl (Deutsche Grammophon, Germany)

Ron Geesin Pot-Boilers Ron Geesin Soundtracks To Stephen Dwoskin Films 1966-1970 LP (Trunk Records, UK)

Gone Beyond, Mumbles ‎Notes From The Underground LP (Content (L)abel, US)

Jon Hassell Seeing Through Sound – Pentimento Volume Two LP (Ndeya, US)

Inventions Continuous Portrait LP (Temporary Residence Limited, US)

Joy Division Closer LP, clear vinyl, 40th anniversary remaster) (Factory, EU)

Takashi Kokubo Digital Soundology #1 – Volk Von Bauhaus LP (Glossy Mistakes, Spain)

Less Bells Mourning Jewelry LP (Kranky, US)

Mariah Utakata No Hibi 2×12″ (Palto Flats, US)

Quiet Places Volume 1 2xLP (A Strangely Isolated Place, US)

Arvo Pärt Works For Choir Vilnius Municipal Choir LP (Cugate Classics, Netherlands)

Christina Vantzou Multi Natural LP (Edições CN, Belgium)

Taylor Swift “folklore”

This past Saturday night around 10:30 I was scrolling on Facebook, and a post by Clarice Jensen came up. She mentioned playing on the new Taylor Swift album.

I did a double take.

Jensen linked to an Instagram post by The National’s Aaron Dessner, who mentioned some other guest players, including his brother, Bryce.

I fired up Tidal and streamed the album. I listened to it twice, on headphones. I liked it. It’s a fairly easy-on-the-ears release. The songs are catchy.

A couple minor things did bug me during the initial listens:

    * The lowercase album title and song titles. Again, minor, but an affectation.

    * That track with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. As soon as the insufferable baritone drone made an appearance, I hit “skip.” I mean, we do need to draw the line somewhere.

The next night, I played the album loud on the living room hi-fi.

I began to notice other things.

This is a wordy album. The sounds are seductive, but the lyrics are foremost.

(there’s a lyric I want you to remember. It’s from the second song on folklore, and maybe the catchiest track, “cardigan”. The line is this):

When you are young they assume you know nothing

I think Taylor liked St. Vincent’s Masseduction — has it really been three years since it was released? — especially “Happy Birthday Johnny” and “New York”. Why shouldn’t she? They’re among the best songs on the album.

In “the last great american dynasty,” Taylor inserts herself into some history (and its attendant mansion). After the first verse, my partner, Kate, ran into the room and said “this is SO Imogen Heap!” Neither of us knew that Heap has written for/with Swift in the past.

After listening to the rest of the song, I played St Vincent’s “New York” for Kate. When the line so much for a home run with some blue bloods came up, I blurted “THAT’s how you write lyrics.”

I hear a lot of other things on folklore.

Pastiche predominates.

Such a variety of pastiche! And I keep coming back to the lyrics. Not FOR the lyrics. To the lyrics.

“betty” makes me think of the self-absorbed bedroom pop of Her Space Holiday. A couple of the songs come across like the deeper, more restrained tracks on Madonna’s Like A Prayer (listen to the final verses of “my tears ricochet” and tell me it doesn’t resemble a fuck-you-Sean outtake). Lines like “if I’m dead to you why are you at the wake?” sounds like something Mark Eitzel crumpled up and threw in the trash while writing the final American Music Club album.

And while we’re discussing song titles like “my tears ricochet” (heavy on the lowercase, there, brah) I have to address the on-the-nose quality of most of the lyrics.

“illicit affairs” reads like a one-woman call-and-response to Fiona Apple’s “I Know”. Listen to the Fiona track. Then check out Swift’s sledgehammer imagery on illicit.

The majority of folklore is delivered with a breezy, seemingly-effortless vibe, but the lyrics often come across as labored. Nuance, and subtle, impressionistic suggestion aren’t Taylor’s songwriting strong points. And when she drops in coy fucks and shits and so forth and whatnot, the cussing just feels forced.

“the 1”, “peace”, and ‘hoax,” among others, string together passels of clichés. In the latter, she rhymes “my best laid plan” and “your sleight of hand”. In “peace,” she chants “swing with you for the fences, sit with you in in the trenches,” tells us “the devil’s in the details” and coos about “the courage of [her] convictions.”

Swift neglects turning clichés against themselves; instead, she falls back on them as lazy emotional shorthand. And song titles like “this is me trying” aren’t helped by lines like “I got wasted like all my potential.”

“mirrorball” and “august” are video-ready dream-pop fluff, the lightest, easiest (and weakest) tracks, lyrically and musically. “august” is almost bailed out by Bryce Dessner’s deft orchestral swells towards the close, but ends up dumbed-down by rote typewriter rhythms.

So what’s to like about Taylor Swift’s folklore? What attracted me to it in the first place, that night I sat up in bed listening to it on headphones past midnight?

The melodies are engaging, and memorable. Swift’s voice and singing style are self-assured and compelling. The arrangements, production, and instrumentation are usually (and, sometimes, unusually) effective and skilled. The synth collage and SFX gremlins at the close of cardigan, for instance, are wonderful.

folklore will be a big success. The nearly-unanimous opinion among music critics is that it’s a masterpiece. It will attract new, adult fans — not just listeners who grew up with Swift, but grown-ups. Moms. Forty-somethings. Those new fans will include people who might’ve thought that Swift was overexposed, whiny, and predictable. Perhaps some (let’s call them hipsters) who like the album will do so for all the wrong, ironic reasons.

Followers who’ve been with her since the early days will find enough familiar “you didn’t love me and didn’t deserve me but you deserve this bile” material here.

There was a little game we oldsters would play when a new Joni Mitchell album was released, called “who’s this song about?” I wager Taylor Swift would like us all to do the same with her tunes.

Thing is: Joni Mitchell had a poetic soul, could turn a phrase, and paint a vivid, memorable portrait with her music.

folklore‘s wordage isn’t engaging or colorful enough to compel me wonder about the subject matter.

And oh — that lyric?

When you are young they assume you know nothing

Perhaps, however inadvertently, it turns out this line might not be just a pandering wink to her (previous) fanbase. Perhaps Taylor Swift’s next album will bring maturation: fewer clichés and overextended metaphors, and more artistic ambiguity and originality.

folklore, taken on its immediate sonic merits, is a good — not great — album. It works well on headphones. It sounds good in the car. Tap your foot, do the indie-folk sway, hum along.

Just don’t expect timeless lyrics.