In the past, I’ve posted this mid-year list at the beginning of June, but I decided that to truly be a mid-year list, I needed to post it in July. This is list is comprised of some of my favorite albums released between January 1st and June 15th (there is a two week window in June because I didn’t want to put anything on the list that didn’t have time to marinate). 2017 started slowly in terms of great releases, but the past three months have been chock full of great work by both up-and-coming artists and veterans who have returned with outstanding offerings.
Tag Archives: aimee mann
In this month’s episode of the BDWPS Podcast, we take a look at some of my favorite albums of the year so far, including Alex G, Juana Molina, Aimee Mann, Blanck Mass, Fazerdaze, At the Drive-In, and Pissed Jeans. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or GooglePlay.
Check it out HERE, or better yet, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or GooglePlay (search: BDWPS).
(Sandy) Alex G “Powerful Man”
Juana Molina “Cosoco”
Blanck Mass “The Rat”
Aimee Mann “Patient Zero”
At the Drive-In “Governed by Contagions”
Fazerdaze “Lucky Girl”
Pissed Jeans “The Bar is Low”
King Crimson “21st Century Schizoid Man”
Bob Dylan “One Too Many Mornings”
On this month’s episode we jump between new music from Woods, Hamilton Leithauser, Spoon, and Open Mike Eagle to classic tracks from Soundgarden, Aimee Mann, Wugazi, and Bob Dylan. Check out the new episode HERE or suscribe on iTunes (search keyword: BDWPS).
Woods “Moving to the Left”
Hamilton Leithauser “11 o’ clock Friday Night”
Soundgarden “Girl U Want”
Spoon “You Do”
Aimee Mann “Save Me”
Open Mike Eagle “Golden Age Raps”
Wugazi “Another Chessboxin’ Argument”
Bob Dylan “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind”
On this episode you’ll here a United Kingdom-centric playlist (unintentionally) with new songs from Future of the Left, Alt-J, and Bat For Lashes. Canadian metal also makes an appearance with Bison B.C. and Menace Ruine. Sweden’s The Amazing and American born artists like Aimee Mann and Titus Andronicus round off the last podcast of 2012.
Songs played on this episode:
Future of the Left “Notes On Achieving Orbit”
Aimee Mann “Charmer”
The Amazing “Flashlight”
Bat For Lashes “Horse of the Sun”
Bison B.C. “Finally Asleep”
Titus Andronicus “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Plate”
Menace Ruine “Salamandra”
Bob Dylan “Winter Wonderland”
Subscribe at iTunes (look up BDWPS) or listen here:
“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Once Aimee’s amazing set finished, we decided to leave. Old bullet head Marc Cohn could never upstage her performance. Before heading out, I stopped at the merch-booth. Since my mom is also an Aimee Mann fan and her birthday was coming up soon, I wanted to buy her a t-shirt. I looked at the options available, but they all featured the title of her latest album “@%&*! Smilers.” Since I couldn’t imagine my mom walking around small town Iowa in a shirt that basically said “Fuck Smilers”, I opted for “Bachelor No. 2”, the only album my mom doesn’t own.
Walking back toward the car, I pulled my phone out to see I missed four calls during the show. They were all from Jon Jon. I called my voice mail to see what his urgency was all about:
“Hey you mother fuckers. It’s Johnny. God damn it, why didn’t you faggots tell me you were going on a road trip. I’m off this week and taking my bike up to Montana. Call me back.”
This message was followed by three others, all Jon Jon expressing the same sentiment, although with his voice becoming more and more slurred with each. He obviously tipped back a few whiskeys while awaiting our call back. Jon Jon grew up in the same rural area of Nebraska as Paul. I met him eight summers ago when he joined Paul and Carl on their road trip to Des Moines. They met up with Tony and I at the Iowa State Fair where we watched Bob Dylan mumble through his hits. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Johnny more and more each year at South By Southwest (he has attended six of the seven years that we’ve gone).
Paul called him back and soon got a garbled earful about our inability to inform him of our trip. While Paul tried talking down the inebriated babble, I drove north towards Longmont. Our plan to hike Long’s Peak the next day now seemed up in the air – Jon and his girlfriend Tiffany were setting out on a motorcycle trip through Montana the next day and wanted to meet up with us in Boulder.
Once off the phone, Paul and I questioned whether or not we should change our plans. We definitely wanted to see Jon and Tiff, but we didn’t know if we should take his word: it was midnight, he was drunk, and he had to work the next morning at 4 a.m. Would he be up for setting off on their trip in his inevitable hung-over, exhausted state?
We decided we’d make our decision the next morning. We had more pressing issues at the moment: where should we stay for the night? Driving through suburbia at midnight, our options for camping were few and far between. I also didn’t feel like setting up camp by car headlight again. Our only options were sleeping in the car or getting a hotel room. The idea of sleeping in an air conditioned room with a bed sounded nice, so I told Paul to pull into the next motel he saw.
Once he found a Super 8, I went in to purchase a room. $110 dollars later, we were in our beds, fast asleep. Up to that point in the trip, we had spent zero dollars on lodging, but in one swipe of my credit card, our spending jumped up 110%. Fortunately, I was too tired to care.
Since John told us that he would have his cell phone on him at work and that we should call him early to figure out our plans, Paul called him that morning. Of course when we called, he didn’t answer. Irritated and uncertain whether we should go with our original plans of hiking, we went to a bagel shop to get breakfast. An hour later we still hadn’t heard from Jon, so we drove to Target to restock our trail mix supply. We decided Jon was bluffing and that we’d stick with our plan to hike. We chocked it up to John being lost in drunken reverie the night before.
Or at least we thought. Just as we pulled out of the Target parking lot, ready to conquer another mountain, the phone rang. It was Tiff. Jon didn’t bring his phone to work, but they were still planning on coming to see us. In a moments noticed, our plans changed for the third time in an hour. We decided to push our hiking trip back a day. To pass the time, Paul suggested we hang around Denver awaiting the arrival of the biker couple. Paul drove us to downtown Denver to visit Twist and Shout records. For years, he had raved about Twist and Shout, claiming that it’s the most spectacular record store he’s ever been to. Finally, I would be privy to its greatness.
Inside, the aisles of CDs and records seemed to sprawl for miles. Part of me was excited to scour the racks for hidden gems, but I also dreaded the afternoon ahead of me. Paul is the worst person in the world to go to a record store with. In a small record store he’ll spend at least an hour. Looking around this Mecca of music, I feared our day would be more strenuous than our eight hour hike up the Sphinx.
I took my time, examining almost every CD in the store, even perusing the vinyl. After killing an hour, I finally approached the counter to purchase a handful of CDs. I didn’t feel like exploring the store for Paul knowing he was probably lost somewhere between World Music and Prog Rock.
Earlier, we agreed to meet up at the book store next door. I think Paul foresaw the grueling afternoon ahead of me. I looked through all the music magazines, studied the Tolkien section, and even roamed through the children’s book area downstairs. I finally grabbed a book with tips for songwriting and found a table to sit at. Some of the tips were useful, but I couldn’t help but get annoyed by the attitude of the writer. The heart of the book seemed to be on making money off your songs. One chapter focused on connecting with Middle America, another talked about finding what genre or even specific artist you wanted to sell your song to, while another talked about how lyrics should be literal and straight forward. It all kind of irritated me. What about the songwriters who are writing for the love of music, not for the paycheck? What about the songwriters writing songs as a means of expressing themselves, and not as a device for connecting with truck drivers nationwide? Sure, I want my friends to enjoy my songs, but in the end, I do it for myself.
Despite my irritation with the book, I ended up reading 100 pages. In fear of adhering to the money-making psycho babble, I put it back on the shelf and found a clock to check the time. Paul’s record store romp had reached hour number three and I was running out of reading material. When I discovered a comfy love seat surrounded by book shelves, I plopped down and stared up into a nearby book case. To my surprise, I had sat myself down right next to the Jack Kerouac section.
I began looking through the large selection of Kerouac books, when I noticed the cover of “Dharma Bums”: photographs of mountain peaks reminiscent of the ones I saw in Montana. My old roommate Richard always told me I had to read this book, but I had no idea it dealt with Kerouac’s adventures in the wild. As I flipped through the pages, Paul walked up, ready to finally leave. I knew my chance run-in with Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums” was not a coincidence, so I bought a copy before leaving the store that served as my hostel that afternoon.
Driving back north to Boulder, Paul called Tiff to check on their progress. They were just about to leave from Lyman. They said they wanted to stay in a motel, which sounded like a good idea despite the price I knew that awaited us. At least this time it would be split between four people. As we continued up the interstate, I grabbed Paul’s paper sack of CDs and began looking through his 15 purchases: Free Design, Nadja, Gentlemen’s Pistols, Food Brain, Nachtmystium, Anne Briggs, Art Bear, Euphoria, Orange Goblin, Gilbert Gil, Twink, High Tide, Roy Harper, The Groundhogs, and Extra Life. Of the 15, I only recognized three of them. I like obscure music as much as the next music snob, but Paul’s expeditions into the unknown ceases to amaze me.
In Boulder we drove around for an hour, trying to find a motel. We stopped at a few, who of course didn’t have any open rooms, but they directed us to one on the edge of town where we got a room for $95 dollars. We only asked for one bed. I figured we’d slept on nature’s ground for a week, a motel room floor wouldn’t harm us (minus the dried cum and all). As if on cue, Jon and Tif called while we unpacked the car, and once they had directions, Jon’s rumbling motorcycle came rolling around the corner of the motel. We threw all their bags into the room and headed out for some food, brew, and good times with old friends.
Our first stop was Mountain Sun Brewery. We walked through the door and found ourselves surrounded by hemp wearing hippie folk. The walls were covered by Grateful Dead posters and tie-dye psychedelia. With so many skunky smelling tree huggers, we couldn’t find a table. Since the brewery also sold organic food and tofu based blah, we ended up standing near the bar, ordering up a few drinks. I ordered a Swan IPA and looked around in disgust at the hippie patrons. I don’t know why I hate hippies. I love nature, I’m extremely liberal, and I don’t mind an occasional veggie burger. I guess they just take things a little too far and try to rub it in your face: the 9/11 conspiracies, the shitty jam bands (Phish, DMB), and the mania for all things organic.
And now I had one more reason to hate hippies – my Swan IPA tasted like a dusty rag dipped in castor oil. The other’s drinks were better, so I couldn’t totally dismiss hippy beer. The Thunder Stout Paul ordered tasted especially great, with the coffee overtones and a little splash of fruity sweetness. We ended up getting another round but didn’t scratch the surface of what they had to offer. With 15 beers on tap, we would have spent the entire evening trying to taste them all. It didn’t help that Jon Jon ordered the same wheat beer both times (we of course scolded him for not having beer tasting etiquette by switching it up).
Next we walked up Boulder’s famed Pearl Street in search of B.J.’s Restaurant Brewhouse. The streets were also filled with hippies walking around barefoot. It seemed at every block we were greeted by a dreadlocked hippie playing guitar or an activist asking us to sign an anti-war petition.
We finally escaped hippy hell, finding solace in B.J.’s sterile atmosphere. The waitress led us to a table upstairs, away from almost everyone except a large group of couples dressed to the nines. We ordered up some beers and food, and began catching up on life. We found out that the railroad company Jon worked for had recently been bought out. Fortunately, he was one of the guys to be picked up by the new company. Since his new bosses wouldn’t be taking over for another week, he had seven free days to explore the mountains with his girl Tiff.
All of the beers were tasty, although nothing blew my top off like the savory food they brought out. At the time we didn’t realize BJ’s was a chain, but in recent years, three of their brewery restaurants have opened in San Antonio alone.
We were on our 5th beer of the night when Paul’s voice started to get louder. This is a sign he is drunk, as with most. With the table of fancy pants gone, we were alone upstairs, and he began telling us about an event that happened this past winter. The story entailed an angry girl who didn’t appreciate Paul’s use of the word “cunt”. She told him she’d put a cigarette out in his eye if he used the word again, so of course, he called her a “cunt”. Next thing he knew, the girl stuck the cigarette into his shoulder, burning a hole in his shirt and leaving a small brand on his skin.
As he told this part of the story, his voice got even louder. “The girl burnt a hole in my favorite shirt, so I just yelled ‘Owe, you cunt! This is my favorite shirt!” Right as he reached this part of the story our waitress walked up the stairs. A shocked look washed over her face as she tried to casually clear our table. All of us turned red, except Paul. He just went on with his story, continuing his use of the magic ‘C’ word as if the waitress were a ghost.
Embarrassed by the c-bomb attack, we left the poor girl a huge tip and made our way back out into hippie land.
We were all smiles, buzzing and giggling as we stumbled down the Boulder streets in search of Boulder’s Original Brewpub. I can’t believe how much fun I have when Jon Jon is around despite the fact I barely know the guy. It always kind of has a summer camp feel: you’re best friends for a week, knowing all along that the good times will be over soon.
At Boulder’s Brewpub, the rest of the crew began to slow down, letting their drinks stagnate on the bar while I continued drinking down my dark liquid. At that point, I could no longer decipher between a good beer and a bad beer, but from what I recall, they were all pretty tasty. After finishing my second brew, I realized the rest of the group was still working on their first. I could tell Jon’s day of hung-over work had caught up with him, barely keeping his eyes open as we watched homerun derby highlights (Justin Morneau is God). In fear I would watch all my comrades pass out on the bar, I began chugging down their warm beers one fist over another.
Eventually we stumbled out of the bar and somehow found the Element in a Boulder backstreet. On the way back to the motel, we considered buying more beer, but noticed it was almost two o’clock. Never fear, Paul brought whiskey! Back at the motel, the four of us began tossing back plastic glasses of whiskey waters, continuing our drunken stupidity into the early morning. Around three Jon Jon kept passing out. We of course took this as an opportunity to mess with him, but nothing seemed to wake poor Johnny.
With Jon passed out, the three of us took our party outside, sitting in front of the room sipping our whiskeys and chatting for another hour. At one point Tiff turned to me and said, “Oh, I never told you how much I love your CD!” It took me by surprise; I hadn’t thought about or heard mention of the album of music I had recorded for over a year. Most people got my CD in 2007, but Jon Jon didn’t get his until this spring. Looking out into the city lights of hippy town Boulder, I felt good knowing my music reached another person. I thought back on the book I read on songwriting and its obsession with making money in the business. I’m sure I could throw together some catchy tunes about my love for pick-up trucks and rodeos, and I might even get the Tobey Keiths and Kenny Chesneys of the world to buy my songs. But I’m pretty sure no paycheck can compare to the feeling you get when someone authentically connects to a song you wrote, not for the big paycheck, but for yourself.
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Eventually the rude bartender shooed us out the door, but not before Paul bought a growler of their ESB. In the car, he grabbed the map and pinpointed Fremont Lake, a state park area just north of Pinedale. Since we hadn’t eaten all night, what with our rush to drink mango beer, we stopped at a gas station and bought chips and water. With food supplies replenished, I drove up a winding gravel road, eventually finding a roadside nature stop where we could set up camp and get some shut eye.
We began unpacking the usual supplies (tent, sleeping bags, matches) when Paul noticed that the flashlight had died. I re-parked the car in order to face the headlights straight into the woods. By car-light, I set the tent up while he scoured the forest for fire wood and rocks to form the pit. Once he finally had a fire started, I turned the headlights off and went to bed.
I slept in pretty late, but finally woke up to the sound of Paul crunching on cereal outside the tent. I got up groggily, and began the habitual act of rolling up sleeping bags and tearing down camp. With everything packed into the car, I got into the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition.
“Chkkkkkkkk……Chkkkkkkk……..” The battery was dead. We only had the headlights on for 20 minutes to set up camp. Could that have been the cause? Or did we leave one of the dome lights on while munching on our dinner of potato chips? Neither of us knew how the battery died and were in no mood to play the blame game. We had bigger issues. How would we find help out here in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness?
We sat on the hitch of the Element for a while, looking out at the distant lake. As beautiful as the scenery appeared, we didn’t seem to care much at the moment. Our plans to see Aimee Mann that night in Boulder were on the brink of extinction.
After about 15 minutes of staring down the gravel road, I could hear the rumbling of a car engine coming around the bend. Paul jumped up and ran roadside, waving his arms at the approaching Honda Escort. The car came to a stop and the window came down. In the drivers seat sat a young teenage girl who seemed scared of the strange bearded men stranded in the woods of Wyoming. Paul explained our situation and she said she’d send someone to give us a jump.
Feeling accomplished, Paul grabbed his Harry Potter book. I remained in the car waiting for help while he went to the edge of the forest, sat on a rock and read his children’s literature. Another 10 minute wait and help finally arrived in the form of a large Ford pick-up truck. The back window was caked in stickers: Oakley, No Fear, and of course Calvin pissing on a Chevy symbol. He stepped down from the truck and couldn’t have been a day over 16.
“You boys need some help,” he said in a fake “I’m a man’s man” voice. When I explained the situation he went to the back of his truck to grab jumper cables. He looked for about a minute, and then out of no where he burst into a barrage of curses, “My God damn faggot brother! He must have fucking borrowed my jumpers. I’ll be right back.” And he was gone before I could get word in. Watching his advertisement laden back window fade away, I noticed an Opie and Anthony sticker in the top right hand corner. I knew this wasn’t a good sign: O and A fans are not the most compassionate, trustworthy breed (take me for example).
I waited and waited, the entire time getting more and more irritated by douchey Paul, contentedly lounging on his rock, reading Harry Potter. Car after car drove by, but no sign of sticker boy. After 30 minutes, it became pretty clear that he wouldn’t be returning. Every few minutes a car would pass. Each time I’d look back at Paul to see if he had any concerns about waving another car down. But no, he was too busy reading about Dumbledore or Veldemort or some other stupidly named wizard in his amatuerish book.
Fed up with our situation, I stood roadside waving down each car that passed. After 10 minutes of standing there looking like a hitcher, a female park ranger pulled over and said she’d send someone up to give us a hand. As she drove away, I wondered if she’d ditch us like the last two cars who had stopped and talked with us.
Fortunately, we wouldn’t have to wait and find out. About 30 seconds later a truck swerved up the hill and pulled into our area. An older gentleman with an obvious sunburn stuck his head out the window. “You guys need a jump?” The truck was packed to the brim, with five teenagers crammed inside. Two of the boys jumped out and goofily fooled around with the jumpers before hooking my car up. And just like that, my car engine began to purr once again. As if on cue, Paul appeared next to me smiling. I glared at Harry Potter boy for a brief moment and then thanked our heroes. They told us they were going on their own mountain adventure that morning, so we wished them luck and let them go on their way. Why five kids are heading into the woods with creepy sun burn man, I’ll never understand.
The battery debacle set our day back an hour, so we didn’t waste time in Pinedale, heading south toward Rock Springs. On the way, Paul suggested we get a shower at a truck stop if possible – our last real shower had been over a week ago in Omaha. I agreed with his idea. With the Aimee Mann concert that night, we would be re-emerging into the public after our hiatus in the wild. Plus, if by chance I did run into Aimee, I would want to be my best. Sure, she’s old, but I still find myself attracted to her. I’m not sure whether it’s her looks, her voice, or her songwriting.
We found a truck stop on the outskirts of Rock Springs, so I went in and inquired about the price of a shower. I couldn’t believe the obese clerk’s response. “Eight bucks.” I found Paul in the candy aisle and relayed the roadside robbery to him. He suggested we just split the price. I’d take a shower, and then sneak him in when finished. It seemed like a ridiculous task just to save eight dollars, but the challenge peaked my interest.
I ran out to the car and grabbed a fresh change of clothes, bathroom amenities, and went back inside. I walked down the hallway of showers, eventually finding shower #4. I dialed my code number and entered expecting the worst. It was actually a pretty sterile, spacious bathroom. I peeled off my mountain climbing clothes, threw on some flip-flops and jumped into the warm shower spray. I stood there for an eternity, relishing the refreshing water flowing over my sun burnt scalp. I then commenced taking the most meticulous shower I’ve ever taken, cleaning every crease and crevice of my body three times over.
15 minutes later I emerged from the invigorating waters a new man. I threw on a fresh set of clothes and stepped out of the shower room expecting to find Paul, but of course, he was no where to be seen. “Now what?” I wondered. We hadn’t talked out our plan. I went back into the room, grabbed a towel, and threw it in the doorway to use as a doorstop. When I came out from shower alley, I discovered Paul sitting with a couple other truckers in the lounge area watching “COPs”. I raised four fingers toward him, signaling our shower number, and continued out to the car.
To pass the time I laid back in my car seat and read a couple chapters out of Klosterman V. A while later Paul walked out of the truck stop with his mullet dripping wet. He hopped into the car and said, “Do you want to stop at the brewery here in Rock Springs? We’re making good time and I could use some food.” I agreed. My last real meal was my chicken fried steak in Ennis, two days prior.
After asking for directions at a little white trash gas station, we found Bitter Creek Brewing amidst the industrial district. Inside, the brewery oozed with a woodsy, log cabin feel. We were led to a table in the back and ordered up a couple beers. I went for the Sweetwater Wheat while Paul opted for their Scottish ale, The Wee Bastard. Being located near the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice a voluptuous blond waitress passing us once every few minutes with her bosom leading her around the restaurant. I pointed her out to Paul, but he didn’t seem very impressed. I looked her over again and began to wonder whether my judgment in beauty had been altered by my time away from civilization. Had I turned into a swarthy Neanderthal, ready to pounce on anything that moved?
My wheat tasted great, with a hint of banana. I could tell my trip had already taught me a lot about beer when I commented to Paul, “This must be a Bavarian style wheat, it has a banana-y aftertaste.” He nodded, not even questioning my beer snobbery. Soon we had a couple of burgers brought out to us, which we inhaled. All out of my wheat, I ordered up “A Beer Named Bob”.
When the waitress heard my order she scrunched up her noise and said, “You sure you want that? It tastes like burnt coffee.” I scoffed. Poor girl, she doesn’t appreciate a good stout.
“Yeah, I like the taste of burnt coffee,” I replied.
“Okay then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
She came back with the black potion and set it before me like it was a vat of acid. “Enjoy?” she said as she walked away. Foolish girl. I took a sniff, swirled the glass like a true beer connoisseur, and sipped the stout, letting the malt and hops settle on my tongue. She was right. Burnt coffee. Not strong coffee or bold coffee: burnt coffee. I felt like such an ass, doubting her beer tasting abilities. I drank the rest of the brew like I was a 10-year-old again taking spoonfuls of Nyquil.
Since we had to get going in order to make the night’s concert, we returned to the road. Paul told me to take a southern scenic route because we would be spending time in Laramie in a week. No need taking the same road twice. Paul took a nap, so I listened to the new Wolf Parade while driving through the rocky landscape. When we rolled into Colorado, he woke from his nap and asked what I thought of the scenery. I told him it looked like the fake landscape you usually see at the zoo.
I then had a realization: the last time I visited Colorado was 10 years ago. My friend Justin LeSieur lived in Fort Collins, so Duhn and I road tripped out to see him. We spent a week in the area, visiting a Renaissance Fair, and enjoying the natural surroundings. The first night at LeSieur’s apartment he introduced me to the locally brewed Fat Tire. I didn’t even drink back then, but he assured me I would enjoy it. To this day, Fat Tire is my all time favorite beer, and it has never tasted as good as it did that night out on his patio, looking out toward the silhouette of the distant mountains.
“Hey Paul, the last time I was in Colorado I was 19.”
“Oh yeah?” he answered with disinterest.
“Yeah, I can’t believe that was ten years ago…crazy.”
Paul looked confused. “Wait a sec…10 years ago? 19 years old? Dude, you’re 29!?”
“…yeah, how did you not know that?” I asked.
“Holy shit dude, you’re fucking old! So you’re turning 30 soon?”
“Yeah,” I said, annoyed by his burst of excitement in connection with my age.
“Damn. I hope I’m like you when I’m 30.” I let this statement sit for a moment. I tried to figure out what he meant. He didn’t say it sarcastically. What about me as a balding 30 year old did he appreciate? I didn’t go any further with the age conversation, but I’d like to believe he admired my freedom and yes, my blatant immaturity.
When we reached Boulder, we were once again in a race against time. The Aimee Mann show started at eight, and we didn’t find a parking spot until 7:50. I reassured Paul, telling him we’d just miss some of the opening act. The show was scheduled to take place at the Chautauqua, a historic amphitheatre built in 1889. The theatre was located in the rear of a large park.
We walked into the entrance to the park and saw a scene taken straight out of Pleasantville. Hundreds of people milled around the park, some having picnics, others walking dogs. Frisbees flew to and fro while bikers rolled down the path winding throughout the park.
We didn’t have time to enjoy Eden, speed walking through the hub bub and finding the auditorium up the hill. As we approached, I could hear “Deathly” from the “Magnolia” soundtrack. I turned to Paul in shock. “That’s Aimee Mann! She’s playing already!” I jogged ahead, taking two steps at a time and tossing my ticket to the doorman. Once inside I looked to the stage to find Aimee and her band playing the final chords of the song. Since when do shows actually start on time and why the hell was Aimee Mann the opening act?!
Once Paul caught up with me, we found our seats near the back of the giant amphitheatre. Next up Aimee played the catchiest song off of her latest album, “Freeway”. It’s one of those songs where the lyrics make no sense, yet you can’t help but sing along. I started to get into the performance, nodding my head and singing along. Then I noticed everyone around looking at me in annoyance. I took a look around and found that we were surrounded by a bunch of gray hairs. The old women were decked out in their Sunday’s finest, while the wrinkly old men were sporting their Jimmy Buffet look, floral beach wear and all. I had no idea Aimee had such a senior citizen following. Maybe they were here for the other act? Nah.
Between songs, I grabbed a program see who Aimee opened for. Marc Cohn? “Who the hell is Marc Cohn?” I wondered. I read on to discover he won a Grammy like 20 years ago for the song “Walking in Memphis”. You know the song. The dude puts on his blue suede shoes and boards a plane, then touches down in the Delta blue. Yeah, that song sucks my balls. I thought the “Walking in Memphis” guy got shot or something. And now he was getting top billing over Aimee? Oh the humanity…
The crowd’s faint applause between songs annoyed me even more. I tried to get over the audience and redirected my focus on the band. For such an old structure, the Chautauqua had amazing acoustics. I hate sitting at concerts, but this one sounded so great, I didn’t mind leaning back and soaking in the soothing sounds of Aimee’s heartfelt music. I’ve always loved her self deprecating, genuine, lyrics, laced with the type of imagery that would make Bob Dylan proud.
When the band began playing the song “31 Today”, I was reminded of our conversation in the car earlier that day. I listened to the lyrics, expecting to hear Aimee speaking my feelings like she’s done so many times before:
What a thing to say
Drinking Guinness in the afternoon
Taking shelter in the black cocoon
So far so good, but then the chorus broke in, and for the first time, I didn’t agree with Aimee’s sentiment:
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn
Yes, 10 years ago when I first visited Colorado, I did have a different vision for my life. Sipping my first Fat Tire with my lifelong friends on that Colorado night so long ago, I’m sure I didn’t foresee myself being a bachelor at 29 years old. But I also don’t think I could have foreseen the plethora of life changing experiences I would undergo or the wide array of amazing people I’d meet. Yes, I was back in Colorado 10 years later, and I could honestly say that my life was better than I could have ever imagined.
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street.”
I continued looking out of the tent, searching for some sign of Paul, but couldn’t see much. I decided I needed to do something. I knew I couldn’t just sit there in fear, hoping for his return. I would have to go on a search mission. As I began stepping out of the tent, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye next to a log. I quickly looked over to find a pair of eyes staring back at me. I squinted, and made out the face of Paul, lying against the log, cuddled up in his sleeping bag. He didn’t say a word, just looked back at me in the shadows.
I returned to the tent and zipped up the door. I knew exactly why he decided to sleep outside. He told me he would think of a solution to our bear problem, and he did: he would sleep next to the fire to keep the flame burning. He told me earlier in the evening that bears are afraid of fires (I have no verification on this claim). Nestling back into my sleeping bag, I felt kind of like a coward, letting him lay out there to face the wild beasts of the woods. I didn’t feel bad long though, returning back to sleep, feeling a little safer with a guard outside my tent. The remainder of the night, I woke up about once every hour to the piercing sound of cracking wood. It no longer scared me; in fact it comforted me. I knew it was just Paul breaking branches to feed to fire.
In the morning, I came outside to find Paul eating dried apricots next to the remaining embers of the fire. He looked up and smiled, “Man, do I have a story to tell.” He went on to describe his night. After I went to bed, he sat next to the fire and began reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (homo). While sitting there, he heard strange growls and rustling branches. The noises became louder, but came to an abrupt stop when they were interrupted by a loud thumping sound nearby our camp. He grabbed the flashlight and shone it into the woods.
There stood an enormous elk staring out into the woods, stomping his hoof against a rock in defiance. He seemed to be angry at something in the woods. Paul ventured to guess that some type of beast (bear, mountain lion, bobcat) had wandered into the area, which also happened to be the home of the elk and his family. After witnessing this exchange, Paul’s fear grew, and he decided he better pay up on his promise to “figure something out”. The remainder of the night, he kept our fire raging, collecting firewood whenever he saw it dwindling.
“Dude, I felt like Strider in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. You know, the part where he stays up all night toking the fire to protect Frodo from the Black Riders…oh yeah, you never finished that book, douche.”
While we ate breakfast, he continued telling tidbits from his crazy night including a shooting star that lit up the entire night sky and a moth the size of his fist that flew into the fire and exploded. I regretted missing out on all of the excitement.
Once we had camp all packed up, I grabbed my pack and threw it onto my back. My aching body wasn’t fully prepared for another day of hiking. I desperately needed a cup of coffee and realized how serious my dependence upon the black concoction had become. I began clipping the straps, when I noticed Paul heading toward the path leading up the mountain. I figured we’d just head back down. The walk to our campsite took seven hours alone. Now we were going to go three more hours up, then come back down the same 10 hour walk, resulting in 13 hours of hiking in one day.
“Paul, where you going?”
“…up the mountain?” he answered annoyed.
“I thought we were just going to head back down. If we go up, we probably won’t be getting back to the car until like 10 at night.”
“Whatever,” he said as he turned and continued up the path. I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t even going to be mature enough to have a conversation? As much as I wanted to reach the top, it just didn’t seem feasible with our plans to see Aimee Mann two days away in Boulder. Yet there he was, disappearing up ahead into the trees.
What choice did I have? Start climbing.
While re-treading the same path we walked the night before, I decided I couldn’t be too angry at his choice to act like a child, avoiding a discussion. I mean heck, he stayed up all night protecting me. When someone saves your life, they kind of have the right to do whatever the hell they want.
Thinking of the possibility of missing the Aimee Mann show, I threw on my ear buds and listened to “Lost in Space”. Ever since Paul’s story about the monster moth, I had Aimee’s song “The Moth” running through my head. The song talks about the careless, risk-taking life of a moth, flying straight into a flame without a concern.
The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.
He might get burned, but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in, he can’t go back,
He’ll beat his wings ’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.
Dragging my feet and listening to the song, I thought about how Paul lives life much like a moth, following his instinct, even when he knows he’s probably going to get burned in the end. I looked up ahead and could see him in the far distance, walking into the great unknown, thrilled with the uncertainty that lay ahead.
We eventually passed where we gave up the night before and continued on our way. Soon we were surrounded by snow and mountain flowers. It just seemed like such a strange combination, enemies co-existing side by side. Two hours into the hike my hamstring began to hurt again, forcing me to slow down a bit. I didn’t know how I would be able to walk another eight hours.
As the morning progressed, the peak became closer and closer and my hammy pain disappeared gradually. The grass progressively changed to rocks, and the peak slowly disappeared behind the steep mountain walls. I could hardly contain my excitement: we were almost there.
Coming around a rocky curve, we came upon our first obstacle of the day: a steep wall of snow, smothering our path. To our right laid a steep incline that would take some skillful rock climbing. We couldn’t climb the mountain side with our packs on. We needed to devise yet one more plan. Paul decided he would leave his pack with me, climb up and over to assess the situation. I didn’t mind; it gave me a much needed rest, sitting on a rock and heaving in the thin mountain air. Five minutes later I heard a loud hoot coming from the West. I looked over to see Paul standing atop the snow covered ledge.
“HEY! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO CLIMB UP WITH YOUR PACK! YOU’RE JUST GOING TO HAVE TO TRY CLIMBING ACROSS THE SNOW!”
I looked at the white menace before me, noticing how it went up at a 45 degree angle. I climbed through a lot of snow as a kid, but never in my life had I attempted maneuvering across a steep snow pile atop a mountain ledge. I walked over to the snow’s edge and screamed back, “WON’T I SLIDE DOWN?”
“WITH EACH STEP KICK YOUR FOOT IN NICE AND DEEP AND PUNCH YOUR FIST INTO THE SNOW! YOU’LL BE FINE!”
I walked up a bit to a spot where the thinnest area of snow laid before me, took a deep breath, and began my first ever snow-wall climb. I stuck my left foot into the snow and it instantly slipped out from under me. Fortunately I grabbed a hold of a near by rock.
“KICK YOUR FEET IN!” Paul yelled, watching me on the verge of my demise.
I kicked my foot several times in, forming a strong foothold and made my first step. The difficult part was crossing my other leg over to form the next hole. I continued across, starting to get the hang of it, although my hands started to freeze, gripping onto the chilly snow. About half way, I felt as if my hands were going to fall off. I needed to get across, and quickly. The faster I moved, the weaker my footholds became, and soon my hastiness came back to haunt me. With only a few steps to go, my foot suddenly slipped out from under me. I grasped for snow and dragged my rampant foot, hoping to catch hold of something before falling to my death. With a pigeon-toed stance, both of my feet came to a standstill and calm returned to the mountain peak. I looked over at Paul with my eyes wide-open.
“I TOLD YOU TO PUNCH YOUR HANDS! TAKE YOUR TIME!”
The final few steps I returned to my careful ways, despite my hands losing all feeling. Once close enough, Paul grabbed my hand and helped pull me to the ledge. I looked back at my snow path, proud of my feat and glad it was over.
While rubbing my hands together, he explained his plan. “I’m going to climb back down to my pack, and try doing what you just did.” I told him good luck while rubbing my frost bit hands, and he went on his way.
I turned and took in the view, a breathtaking display of a dozen snowy mountain tops. The ancient peaks sat all around me, like I was the dealer at a poker table surrounded by the most stoic of competitors. Looking down into the green valley, I noticed another path, winding down the mountain side…the other path….the horse shit path! Maybe our climb down wouldn’t be another 10 hours, but four like we were originally told.
A few minutes later, I turned back to see Paul beginning his snow climb. Knowing about my frozen hands, he used two sticks as ice picks. He took a lower path, thinking it would be easier, but as he went along, it became apparent that he had a much longer and more difficult journey ahead of him. At one point, he seemed to be standing straight up and down.
When he finally came to the rocky ledge, he sat down, sucking in air desperately. It was the first time the entire trip I saw him fatigued. We sat down for a while, not talking, just looking around at our amazing surroundings, our composure slowly resurfacing. Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Do you want to climb up a little higher?”
He agreed, and soon we were crawling up the rocky side of the mountain, hopping from rock to rock and occasionally slipping on pebbles. I stopped when I came upon the perfect resting spot: a large pointy rock, jutting out over the valley below. I lay down and looked out on the sprawling mountainside while Paul continued climbing up.
I couldn’t believe I sat here, on this mountain, high above the world. I thought about the rest of civilization, family and friends, all down below going about their normal business. I wished they could be here with me, away from the suffocating grip of modern society. Compared to this place, blessed with the heavens of Montana, everything else seemed so miniscule and unimportant. All of the possessions, all of the worries of daily life, all of it didn’t matter. Nothing compared to where I sat at this moment. It felt like I was in a different world, different air, different smells, different sights. There were no sounds, just the cacophonous whirring of the crisp wind rushing all around me. I gazed up into the cloudless sky, listening to the wind’s drone, speaking to my soul as if it were the voice of God.
After almost an hour, we decided we’d better head back down the mountainside. Refreshed and rejuvenated, we walked to the horse shit path, and began our return trip. A little way down the path we came across a mountain stream, flowing down the valley. Neither of us had taken a shower since Nebraska, five days prior, unless you count our venture into the waterfalls in Spearfish. I took my shirt off and began splashing the icy cold water up into my stinky armpits. I grabbed the soap from my bag, and began washing my arms, then dipped my head straight into the stream, letting the water rush over my face. I lifted my head and felt the tingle rush through my head. I’ve never been so refreshed. Who needs coffee when you can dip your head into a fresh mountain stream?
Once Paul washed his hair, we returned to moving down the mountainside. Our new path seemed to descend much more swiftly, and after and hour it seemed like we were already halfway down. I found the scenery on this path to be more beautiful, although I didn’t regret taking the adventure path less traveled. It made for quite an adventure: fording rivers, fighting off grizzlies with fire, and climbing walls of snow.
With our conversation at a standstill, I pulled the i-Pod out again, in search of the perfect soundtrack for my return trip to civilization. I decided to listen to the “Into the Wild” soundtrack performed by Eddie Vedder. With all of the lyrics dealing with connecting to nature, I knew I had made the right choice (yes, I get the irony that I was one with nature while listening to my i-Pod). No song fit more perfectly as a backdrop for my day than “No Ceiling” and its lyrics:
Comes the morning when I can feel
That there’s nothing left to be concealed
Moving on a scene surreal
No, my heart will never
Will never be far from here
Sure as I am breathing
Sure as I’m sad
I’ll keep this wisdom in my flesh
I leave here believing more than I had
And there’s a reason I’ll be
A reason I’ll be back
The mountain climbing exploit had been Paul’s idea, and I originally felt lukewarm about hiking up into bear country. But now, with the beautiful valley before me and the experience of the mountaintop still alive in my soul, I knew I would return. Maybe not to this peak, maybe not even to Montana country, but I knew I had to return to the wild for another taste of real vulnerability, real adversity, real freedom.