Tag Archives: Jack kerouac

Top 20 Albums of 2011 (So Far…): 10-1

Amidst my rambling to introduce 20-11 of my “Top Albums of 2011 (So Far…)” list, I forgot to post my list of honorable mentions. Below you’ll find some wonderful albums that almost made the cut.

Honorable Mention:

Alela Diane “Alela Diane & Wild Divine”

James Blake “S/T”

Earth “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1”

Paul Simon “So Beautiful or So What?”

Skull Defekts “The Temple”

Thao & Mirah “S/T”

Mike Watt “Hyphenated-Man”

Yuck! “S/T”

And now, the Top 10 Albums of 2011 (So far…):

 10. Bill Callahan

“Apocalypse”

[Drag City; 2011]

Truman Capote once dismissed Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness approach saying, “It isn’t writing at all – it’s typing.”  I suppose he would have the same response to Bill Callahan’s “Apocalypse.” I say this because of the album’s rambling lyrics that wander about like a Bedouin in the desert. Prior to “Apocalypse,” Callahan used themes as a scaffold to his stories; on “Apocalypse” his stories wander in search of a theme, sometimes never arriving at their destination.  This experience is often close to the heart with Callahan singing about his own confusions or channeling those emotions through his characters.

Callahan has never been one to follow songwriting norms, and on “Apocalypse” he has stretched his terrain to the unexplored. His songs are sparser, more personal, and more perplexing than anything he’s done since his days with Smog. He rarely aims to give us answers but puts us in his mind’s eye, giving us the task of trying to answer them ourselves. Whether its his personal story of seclusion as a musician on “Riding For the Feeling,” or his tale of a lonely cowboy on “Drover,” this is an album about the “Apocalypse” within; the endless, draining apocalypse of our heart and soul and how “ this wild, wild country/ It takes a strong, strong/ Breaks a strong, strong mind.” If that’s not songwriting, I don’t know what is, Mr. Capote.

“Riding For the Feeling” tells of Callahan’s disconnect from both his fans and himself:

9. TV Ghost

“Mass Dream”

[In The Red; 2011]

Last weekend, while visiting my friend PthestudP in Omaha, I played TV Ghost’s “Mass Dream” for him, knowing he’d like its chaotic take on post-punk. Within the first 40 seconds of “Wired Trap” I could see his eyes light up with excitement.  Half way through the song though his take on the album had been altered, “I really like this, but I don’t know if I can handle it right now.” I wasn’t offended; I knew exactly what he was talking about.  He was feeling that same combination of excitement and fear that I’d felt upon my first listen. Plus, sitting in a car and listening to “Mass Dream” is like drinking a 5-Hour Energy and watching “Antique Road Show.”  You can not sit still and listen to this album, and if you do, seizures are probably in your future.

Just when it seemed the post-punk rebirth had run its course, TV Ghost’s take on the genre has tossed expectations for a loop, the church organ moaning behind the shrieking, surf guitar riffs, and the ballyhooing of singer Tim Gick.  His voice, a combination of David Byrne’s nervous, jerky shouts and David Yow’s tortured, muffled howls, provides the mad scientist to this seance of terror and trepidation.  You cannot resist the supernatural powers of “Mass Dream,” so just let the music grasp your soul and shake it.

As frenzied as “Wired Trap” starts out, the organ riff that surfaces at the 2-minute mark calms your nerves, if not for only a moment:

8. J. Mascis

“Several Shades of Why”

[SubPop; 2011]

When I first got J. Mascis’s “Several Shades of Why” I didn’t expect much. Mr. Mascis without his trusty Jazzmaster and his wall of Marshall amps is like Samson without his locks. Or at least I thought as much. With all the distortion and guitar soloing gone, Mascis’s true strength is finally revealed: his songwriting.  Neil Young has said that all great songs should sound just as good without effects and Mascis proves this sentiment with 10 delicate songs of love and loss that are warm and welcoming.

With effects all but gone, a vocalist’s strengths or weaknesses are put right out there for all to hear. But as we’ve learned over the years, Mascis’s distinct croaking vocal style is strangely an asset. On “Seven Shades of Why” this is especially true with it being backed by the pairing of an acoustic guitar and strings (I can’t help but wonder if Mascis’s friend Thurston Moore had a hand or at least an influence on this album).  Don’t worry, Mascis guitar prowess is still on display, in this case, finger picking his way through one bittersweet ode after another.  Then again, one of my favorite moments on “Seven Shades of Why” is when Mascis’s guitar returns to the stomp box for a quick Dinosaur Jr guitar solo at the end of “Where Are You,” just a quick reminder that he still has plenty of Guitar God power in his back pocket if his long silver locks ever do get cut off.

I’ve been trying to post only audio clips as not to slow down my page, but I couldn’t resist displaying Mascis’s trippy video for “Not Enough”:

7. Fucked Up

“David Comes To Life”

[Matador; 2011]

I have to confess that Fucked Up’s “David Comes To Life” shouldn’t be on this list.  While coming up with it, I made the rule that all albums had to be released before June 1st in order to be considered, just to make life easier. “David Comes To Life” came out on June 7th of course, so what gives? For one, I’ve actually been listening to several of the tracks off the new album plus a handful of other rarities for a couple of months now. The Montreal-based band is so fan friendly that they gave free downloads of rare material for those that pre-ordered the album.  But that’s still no excuse.  I guess it boils down to this: with something this great, I couldn’t just sit on my hands until December.  That would be, dare I say, fucked up.

Now that I have the entire album, my adoration for this hardcore-rock-opera has only grown more.  In 2008 I placed the band’s “The Chemistry of Common People” in my top 10, saying that it saved hardcore. The band is back to their savioring ways, this time resurrecting rock n’ roll.  The riffs on “David Comes To Life” tear out the speakers with sharp edges that cut their way into your brain.  This is the type of riffage you’d find on a Bon Scott era AC/DC album, and the wall of guitar carnage is comparable to the multi-layered assault of Queen’s Brian May. Unlike May, who sat in a studio for weeks at a time recording a guitar over a guitar over a guitar, Fucked Up utilize three guitarists, often recording all together in one take. It’s truly teamwork at its finest with each guitar not simply backing the other up, but providing flourishes to fill the entire canvas.

Pink Eye’s vocals are the one piece in the band maintaining that hardcore sensibility, barking out one anger-laced tale of heartbreak after another. Unlike “The Chemistry of Common People,” this album never rests to take a breath. It is one backbreaking anthem after another for 80 minutes straight. As you’d expect, this can be a bit daunting, yet it’s totally fulfilling (if you can survive the Armageddon).  Any other band would have cut out songs or saved half of them for the next album, but Fucked Up aren’t like any other band.

“The Other Shoe” will have you nodding your head and pumping your fist as you sing along to the chorus of “Dying on the inside!”:

6. Death Grips

“Exmilitary Mixtape”

[Third Worlds; 2011]

Not only is “Exmilitary Mixtape” the best rap album of 2011 so far, it might be the most unique rap album of the past 10 years. Death Grips is the side-project of Hella drummer Zach Hill, and his mastery of the “unpredictable” surprisingly translates well to hip-hop with 48-minutes of nightmarish madness.  The beats are glitchy and jittery, the bass lines booming and foreboding, and the screaming vocals violent and cannibalistic: basically, it’s an Aphex Twins album for the world of hip-hop.

The entire album plays like a mix-tape (because it is I suppose) with each song blending into another vicious attack, resulting in a nonstop assault on the listener. Hill’s love of music is apparent with samples from all ends of the spectrum: Pet Shop Boys, Link Wray’s “The Rumble,” Black Flag, and even audio of Charles Manson. The use of the Manson audio to open the album is no mistake.  “Exmillitary Mixtape” resembles what is probably going through Manson’s head at this very moment.

This past week I watched the entire first season of “Game of Thrones” and as I revisited “Exmilitary Mixtape” for this list, I couldn’t help but thinking of Khal Drogo: savage, fiery, and sadistic.  Stretching boundaries like Tribe Called Quest did in the 90s, Death Grips could easily be called Tribe Called Dothraki.

I’m not quite sure what a “Death Yon” is but I’m definitely feeling it:

5. Snowman

“Absence”

[Dot Dash; 2011]

When I finally figured out this mid-year list, I was a bit shocked that Snowman’s “Absence” ended up being this low due to how often I’ve listened to it over the past few months. Although the albums ranked above it are masterpieces, “Absence” is no slouch. It’s depressing to think that this is their last album, breaking up before it was even released.

A month ago I wrote of “Absence”: “An easy approach to reviewing an album is comparing it to what has come before. Whether it sounds like Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” or Ziggy Stardust, the use of compare and contrast helps guide the reader toward what they are in for with a certain album. With ‘Absence,’ my guiding light is, well, absent.  It is both brooding and sinister like Earth and Pyramids, but you’d be hard-pressed trying to find any distortion here. It’s filled with harmonizing, ghostly vocals, but it is far and away from anything resembling Bon Iver or Panda Bear.  It has the synthy pulse of Four Tet and Flying Lotus, but the drumbeats take more from tribal territories than dance clubs.  There is no need to pigeonhole it: this is Snowman; this is ‘Absence’.

The atmosphere of Snowman will have your mind reeling with visions, your heart beating with anticipation. I realize that the word ‘atmosphere’ gets thrown a lot in music reviews (it’s become somewhat of a crutch for me) but in this case, it truly transports you to a temple of both solitude and mystery. It somehow calms the soul, yet builds a tension within.”

“A” will catch you off-guard, so prepare yourself:

4. Destroyer

“Kaputt”

[Merge; 2011]

Last year on his EP “Archer of the Beach,” Dan Bejar included the song “Grief Point,” an eight-minute ramble about his confusion on the role of music in his life and the lives of his listeners. Fortunately he had one more album for us all to enjoy, and he’s made sure not to follow expectations.

While many artists draw their musical inspiration from 80s sounds such as new wave and post-punk,  Destroyer borrows from the most unpopular of 80s music forms – smooth jazz. Yes, smooth jazz: electronic piano plinks, cheesy saxophone solos a la Kenny G, echoed trumpets, and new agey synth walls fit for a massage parlor.  Rather than going with lo-fi which he perfected decades before it was cool, the songs on “Kaputt” are done in the most produced of all musical forms.

He’s not using the form ironically like Beck used funk for “Midnight Vultures.”  Bejar’s said in interviews that this album is about America, and if so, the smooth jazz form conjures up the 80s, a time of superficiality and indulgence, both prominent attributes of “Kaputt.”  Despite these two unsavory elements, Bejar has created one of the most honest albums of 2011 via one of the most superficial genres.   He sings with confidence on songs that will make you feel like you’re alone, roaming city streets in the fog at night in search of something: a taxi, another drink, or a long lost love.  When he sings that “we built this city on ruins,” he’s not only playing off the Jefferson Starship song, but he’s also making a statement about the state of our nation today. As expected, Bejar is still writing tongue in cheek lyrics that are both amusing and insightful. Let’s just hope this isn’t the last we get from one of America’s finest songwriters.

“Song For America” would probably be Patrick Bateman’s favorite song:

3. Fleet Foxes

“Helplessness Blues”

[SubPop; 2011]

The first time I heard the opening line to “Helplessness Blues” first track “Montezuma,” I couldn’t help but have an emotional reactio: “So now I am older / than my mother and father / when they had their daughter / Now what does that say about me?” A few weeks back a friend of mine on Facebook posted the exact same lyrics, and I wondered how many other aging drifters out there connected to Robin Peckfold’s tender lyrics.

I think that’s what makes “Helplessness Blues” such an incredible album. I’m not sure if it’s the lyrics, the guitar arrangements, or Pecknold’s soft voice, but I listen to this album and feel like it is a private, personal experience. The fact that thousands across the world are having that similar encounter tells me that this is more than a simple folk album. It somehow creates community through intimacy, if that makes any sense.

I often listen to music too much with my ear, analyzing them more than necessary, but with Fleet Foxes, I listen with my heart. I can’t necessarily break down what they do that is so great; okay, I could (harmonizing, break-downs, etc) but I don’t want to. The songs stir up the nostalgia and regret felt with old age, yet for some reason I don’t find it to be a total bummer of an album.  Despite song after song of depressing tales, I sense in Pecknold’s voice a grain of hope. By the time the final track arrives, “Grown Ocean,” the narrator has realized that he can’t change his mistakes, so he continues on as the wide-eyed walker introduced on “Battery Kinzie,” always moving forward toward an unknown horizon.

On “Lorelai” he compares old age to being trash on the sidewalk, yet the guitars, melody, and mandolin only cause one to smile:

2. PJ Harvey

“Let England Shake”

[Vagrant/Island Def Jam; 2011]

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t pay attention in history class during high school. I could blame my lack of historical knowledge on my mediocre teachers, but it is entirely my fault for being too preoccupied with girls, sports, and rock and roll.  Now, when in a discussion with others that pertains to anything in history (American or world) I find that I know almost nothing.

This lack of knowledge becomes even more frustrating when listening to “Let England Shake,” PJ Harvey’s intricate collection of songs about England’s history. The songs focus primarily on WWI, although the remnants of this war have apparently cast a shadow on modern Britain (this is an assumption based on PJ’s lyrics; not on anything I learned in history class).  I find myself listening to “Let England Shake” again and again due to its collection of memorable songs, each distinct in its own way.  And although I don’t know anything about the Gallipoli campaign, the Anzac trench, or Battleship Hill, PJ provides enough hints for even a dolt like myself to grasp the message within her imagery of  “a pile of bones,” “Deformed children,” and soldiers that “fall like lumps of meat.” The lyrics read like a book of Wilfred Owen’s war poetry.  Harvey creates a unique dichotomy by pairing her gruesome descriptions of war within high-spirited songs that range from reggae, pop, and folk.  As a result, the ugliness of war is anesthetized and treated in the same way it is in a textbook, revealing the facts in a way that is disconnected from those that lost their life.  In the end, that’s the message of the album; all the soldiers died so that the ideal Britain could live on, when ironically that British ideal is now dead itself.  I guess I learned something after all.

The lyrics to “All and Everyone” had to be taken from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” I swear it!: 

1. Kurt Vile

“Smoke Ring For My Halo”

[Matador; 2011]

  Was there any doubt who would be at #1? Anyone who follows my blog knows how much I adore Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring For My Halo.”  I over-killed this album so severely that I hadn’t listened to it for three months in fear of ruining my enjoyment forever. Yet, for this list, I knew I had to revisit it in order to see where it placed.  Fortunately I wasn’t disappointed and found the feelings associated with this album quickly resurfacing.

Here’s what I wrote of the album back in March: “On the surface, Vile’s album doesn’t seem like much more than a collection of slow strum-bling and mumblings of a sarcastic, disaffected youth.  But this isn’t just some jangly, patch-work of songs; a closer analysis and you’ll quickly see that every song is intricately constructed within a lush, cave-like environ that only magnifies the creaks and buzzing of Vile’s acoustic.  While he seems all alone with only the ghosts of his band the Violators hiding in the background, the production hugs his vocals and creates an ambiance that is one part groove, and one part melancholy.  Much like Neil Young’s ‘On the Beach’ or Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ each song on ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ is distinctly different, yet they all feel to be a part of the same world. It never feels like Vile is giving much effort, but don’t be fooled. This man is wearing his heart on each note captured on this album.

Vile’s lyrics also portray this feeling of indifference, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that there is a lot of pain being masked behind his nonchalance. For example, on ‘Ghost Town’ he mumbles: ‘Raindrops might fall on my head sometimes / but I don’t pay ‘em any mind. / Then again, I guess it ain’t always that way.’ Instead of a message facing adversity with ‘I will survive,’ Vile’s lyrics convey a feeling of simply giving up and continuing his journey of ‘Sleep walking through a ghost town.’  These white flag mantras are throughout the album, whether it be giving up on religion, society, love, or life.’

I’ve read several articles that compare Kurt Vile to Tom Petty, and although I don’t totally see it, “In My Time” is pretty damn Petty:

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13. Road Trip 2008: Day 11, Zen and the Art of Hiking

“When you get to the top of a mountain, keep climbing.”

Zen saying

Paul roused me from my slumber saying we had to get going in order to beat the weekend rush.  We quickly tore down camp and returned to the crossroads where we decided to head up the path leading to the mountain’s peak.  I struggled the first hour of hiking, plodding a distance behind Paul from the lack of both a good night’s sleep and a fresh cup of morning coffee.  When we came upon a stream, we refilled our water bottles and I splashed my face awake.  Still needing a kick in my step, I pulled out my i-Pod and put the Pennywise discography on random. There’s no point in picking one particular album with Pennywise: all their songs over the past 20 years feature the same up-tempo beat, grinding guitars, and political fervor.  The relentless tempo kept my feet moving at a pace up to Paul’s standards, and I nipped at his heels for the next hour.

“Go Straight Ahead – not a bad anthem when hiking up a mountain:

As we came around an upward curve in the path, we caught sight of a herd of elk sunning along the mountainside.  The elken flock seemed to stretch all the way down to the forest edge.  Paul pulled out his binoculars and counted 44 elk in all.  Some roamed around grazing on the mountain grass, others bathed in the sun’s rays, while others tended to their calves stumbling about on fresh legs.  I pulled out my camera and began snapping photos of the amazing mountainside scene when the “battery low” light began blinking and the camera refused to take anymore pictures.  This was a major problem with the awe-inspiring mountain top scenery still ahead.

 

One of my final pictures before my camera died; at least I captured this scene.

We sat down for about 20 minutes, admiring the elk at home in their natural Eden. To see such a large group of animals this high up on the mountain was truly astounding.  Paul told me he had climbed Long’s Peak many times and had never seen anything like what we saw that afternoon.

With the day quickly passing us by, we continued on our climb, eventually approaching a large rock field.  The cool wind seemed to pick up.  With the stones becoming larger, we were no longer hiking but hopping across the taller rocks.  The path disappeared and soon we were following the mini-rock totems set up to signify the right direction.  The rock field gave way to a camping area, furnished with toilets and all.  Each camping area featured a rock barricade reminding me of the snow forts my brothers and I built as kids.   I decided the barriers must be there to keep those pesky, toe eating marmot away.

"Foolish kids! Snow walls and moon boots can't keep me from feasting on your tootsies!"

When we neared the central area, Paul went to take his morning crap in the man-made stall. I sat down on a large rock and began to read more out of Dharma Bums. Just when I reached the section where Japhy and Ray (Jack) start their hike, a hippie woman sat next to me and began talking at me.

“So, you climbing the entire way?”  I tried acting like I didn’t hear her.

“How rude?” I thought. “Can’t she see that I’m reading?”

The last thing I wanted to do was chit-chat with a stranger. “Hey, are you climbing the entire way?” she reiterated. I couldn’t deny her persistence.

“Yeh.”

Seeing this as a sign someone wanted to talk to her, she began rambling about how her friends were climbing the rest of the way, but she was going to hang out here in the camp area all day until they returned.  She went on to say that the climb wasn’t worth the effort.  “The hike is straight up from here on out, and no one returns from it with a smile on their face.  Believe me, I’ve been watching painful faces coming back through here all morning.”

Paul rescued me, but the woman’s soothsayer-like tale of worn down hikers had me concerned.  Climbing the Sphinx was exhausting, but unlike her story of eminent exhaustion, we climbed back down better than we arrived.

We continued on our way, heading upward, hopping stone to stone, with the stones getting larger and larger and the leaps getting more and more difficult.  Coming over a rock mound, we discovered an archway at the top of a steep hill of boulders in the distance. I cautiously stepped from rock to rock in my worn down Nike high-tops, while Paul bounced off ahead of me like a mountain goat.  Every few minutes he would look back at me, annoyed by my dainty pace, but I didn’t care.  I twist my ankle once a week playing basketball; God knows what a careless step in a boulder field would do to me.

To add to my lumbering pace, the higher we got, the harder it became to breathe.  The closer I got to the arch, the more often I had to stop to catch my breath.  I didn’t remember having this much difficulty breathing on the Sphnix – obviously we were already at a higher altitude.  In the back of my mind, I wondered if our smoking exploits had been a bad idea on the eve of our climb into the stratosphere.  “But then again,” I thought to myself,” Carmello Anthony and Allen Iverson play in Denver’s thin air nightly, and they are the cannabis kings of the court.”

"Maybe that pregame joint wasn't such a good idea."

At one point I stopped and sat down, finishing off the remainder of my water while staring off into the wall of rocks that still lay ahead.  I could no longer see Paul, who I guessed had already reached the archway.  I imagined him sitting there in the shade while the sun continued scorching my shiny head.  The sun sat five feet above my shoulders – if I were Icarus my wings would have melted hours ago.

I decided I couldn’t keep Paul waiting longer. I had to toughen up.  I had to fight through the burning in my lungs and move beyond the sight of the searing rays.  I began leaping carelessly up the side of the rock hill, two boulders at a time, not stopping, pushing through the stitch building in my side.  When my hamstring began to act up again, I crouched and walked on all fours, having flashbacks of my high school football coach, Mr. Troug, screaming at me in his booming growl, “Bear crawl damn it!”

Eventually my upper body was doing all the work, gripping, clawing, pulling, relentlessly grasping for the next rock in my path.  I wasn’t going to let anything stall me at this point.  I could relish the pain later.  I had to reach that shady arch: dead or alive.  Higher and higher, aching, burning, heaving, closer and closer, slipping, scraping, sweating, aching…

I pulled myself over the final boulder and was almost knocked backward by both the burst of artic wind rushing through the archway and the magnitude of the enormous mountainscape before me.  The experience reminded me of the final scene in “Vanilla Sky” when Tom Cruise sprints to the edge of the building and is suddenly overwhelmed by his surroundings: the blowing wind and the cityscape below.

A cool version of the scene set to the music of  Sigur Ros:

All the pain I felt only seconds before suddenly washed away. I stood and let the mountain air wash over me for the first time since the Sphinx.

I glanced down to see Paul leaning against a ledge nearby, but I remained in that spot for several minutes staring out into the vast valley below.  Glistening lakes speckled the mountainside and evergreens swayed below, tickling the mountain’s feet.

 

Fortunately, my camera found the energy to take a few more pictures.

Eventually I slid down next to Paul, but we didn’t exchange words.  I could see why Paul loved this mountain so much, despite all its touristy flaws.  I was visiting his sanctuary, and for that moment, everything in the world seemed to make sense.

My solace was broken when I noticed Paul rolling a pebble between his fingers as he looked out toward the scenery.  I glanced down and realized it wasn’t a stone at all, but a small brown nugget resembling a rabbit dropping.  I didn’t say a word and contained my laugher as he continued fingering the turd.  About 30 seconds later, Paul looked down at his toy and had the sudden realization he had been caressing poop in his hands for the past few minutes.

“Fuck man! I was playing with marmot shit and I didn’t even know it!” He tossed the feces over the edge, and I watched the droplet disappear into the great unknown.

One marmot's shit is another man's treasure.

Just as I was beginning to feel relaxed, he told me he was returning to the path.  Since I didn’t feel up to it yet, I told him I’d catch up. He seemed to understand and disappeared around the mountain ledge.  I sat there for a while, wondering if continuing my climb would be worth it.  Could it get much better than what I was looking at now?  The voice of the hippie woman kept seeping into my brain. “The climb is straight up from here on out…” Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, I thought I’d give the remainder of the climb a chance.  It couldn’t get much worse.

The hike turned into a narrow mountain path: one side rock, the other a drop off.  I tiptoed carefully, trying not to look down but still attempting to find my next foothold.  Every few minutes a group of people would emerge from the rocks ahead and I’d have to climb up out of their way so they could pass.  I began to notice that every person that returned bared the same pained look. These people didn’t look enlightened by nature – they looked like they’d just had a root canal.  The voice of the hippie woman continued whispering in the wind “…no one returns from the peak with a smile on their face.”

Coming around a mass of rocks jutting out of the side of the incline I could see Paul up ahead taking a break, sitting on a rock and eating beef jerky.  When he saw me far behind, he waved.  I looked up above him to see that he was about to climb the worst incline we’d faced all day, almost straight up. It was then that I realized I didn’t want to go any further.  I felt guilty leaving the rest of the climb to Paul, but I didn’t see any point in finishing the hike.  I’d found what I was looking for, and from what I had gathered, no one returned from the top uplifted by nature’s beauty.   I yelled to him. “Paul! I’m just going to wait here!”  He nodded, although I’m not sure if he heard me. I knew he probably saw me as a quitter, but I didn’t care at the moment.

I moved up and away from the path to find some privacy. After putting on my earbuds and cueing up Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago”, I pulled out Dharma Bums.  I thought about how all my middle school reading teachers used to profess the importance of finding a comfortable place to read.  Looking out onto my surroundings, I decided Mrs. Jensen would be proud of my “special reading place”.

Along with my “special reading music”:

I sat there reading for an hour or more, and when Japhy and Ray neared the top, the narrative felt eerily similar to my experiences that afternoon.

Soon Japhy was a whole football field, a hundred yards ahead of me, getting smaller.  “How can I keep up with a maniac like that?” but with nutty desperation I followed him. Finally I came to a kind of ledge where I could sit at a level angle instead of having to cling not to slip, and I nudged my whole body inside the ledge just to hold me there tight, so the wind would not dislodge me, and I looked down and around and I had had it.  “I’m staying here!” I yelled to Japhy.

No longer did I feel bad for not finishing the climb. I had already found what I was looking for on this hike, on this mountainside, on this road trip.  Everything else from this point on would just be the an added bonus.  I felt comfort in my surroundings, the natural beauty around me, reading on as Kerouac reassured me that all was right in the world:

“…when Japhy gets to the top of that crag he will keep climbing, the way the wind’s blowing.  Well this old philosopher is staying right here.  Besides, rest and be kind, you don’t have to prove anything.”

 

My special reading place.

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12. Road Trip 2008: Day 10, Rocky Mountain High

It’s Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky mountain high

“Rocky Mountain High” John Denver

The next morning all of us were hurting.  We didn’t start dragging around the motel room until 10 a.m, which gave us about an hour to shower and pack up.  My prospects of getting in the shower were slim, so I pulled on my swim trunks and stumbled out into the morning glare.  After exploring the motel, I found the quaint little 10 x 10 swimming pool.  Without hesitation I tossed my dirty shirt onto the fence and dove in.  Instantly the hangover washed away as the chilling water rushed over my achy body.  As a lifeguard (many, many years ago) I learned the power a morning swim can have over a drink related headache.  Not only did I eliminate my weary head, but I got a quick chlorine bath in the process (my friend Tony takes these exclusively).

Tony preparing for his morning bath.

I swam a couple mini-laps, kick-starting the blood flow in my sore muscles and joints.  Refreshed and rejuvenated, I jumped out and let the air dry me as I walked back to the room.  On the way I passed a gorgeous woman with jet black hair hanging down to her curvy waist.  Her dark almond shaped eyes glanced at me, a dripping mess clomping down the sidewalk.  Once I reached our room, I glanced back to her pushing a cart filled with towels – she was the cleaning lady.

“Hey guys, the cleaning lady is hot!” I announced upon entering the room.  They chuckled and casually returned to their packing.  In fear of irritating the rapidly approaching hot cleaning lady, I tried hurrying up the process making comments like “We’d better get going” and “They might charge us extra if we aren’t out by eleven.” When we finally straggled out, she rolled up to our door, looking annoyed.  I gave her a big dimply smile, but she didn’t share the sentiment.

Probably the most American picture ever taken.

John and Tif decided to follow us up the scenic route to Long’s Peak (the mountain Paul and I would be climbing that afternoon).  They contemplated pushing back their biker road trip a few days to hike with us, but based on the look of the hung-over couple, I doubted they’d be joining us.

When we reached Lyons, we stopped at a coffee shop to get breakfast and of course feed my desperate thirst for coffee.  Armed with a Grande Americano, I noticed an internet ready computer in the back corner.  I realized I hadn’t been on the internet for over a week, a fact that would usually drive the web junky in me insane.  But lost in the joy of the wild, I completely lost track of my life in the digital world.  This of course didn’t keep me from getting online for a few minutes; I hadn’t completely weaned myself from web’s teat.

With tummies full and caffeine rushing through my veins we set out for Long’s Peak, traveling up the winding road lined with signs marking it as Roosevelt National Forest.  I wondered if my old fave FDR was responsible for the grandeur or if my new hero Teddy had anything to do with it.

WE pulled into the Long’s Peak entry and soon after discovered a parking lot filled to the brim with Outback station wagons and Land Rovers.  Earlier in the morning Paul expressed his concern about the amount of people out on the weekend, and he had been correct.  Our hiking experience wouldn’t be as intimate as the Sphinx.

We began filling our packs once again and made sure to include the Cliff Bars we bought at Target.  Paul insisted we buy the high priced granola bars that I’d never tasted before. Paul promised they’d be worth every penny.  Plus, in a recent SPIN article, Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes said he wouldn’t sell any of their music for commercial use, unless it was for Cliff Bar.

While stuffing my pillow into the pack, Jon Jon approached nervously.

“Hey Andy,” he whispered. “I’ve got something for you.” He stuck out his hand and dropped a little self-rolled cigarette into my palm.  “Since I’m not climbing, smoke that for me when you reach the top.”  Smoking amidst the thin air of a mountain top didn’t sound very enticing, but I nodded and held the wad of paper awkwardly in my hand.

“Put it somewhere safe.”  Having little experience with a hand-made cigarette, I put it into my pants pocket.  Upon seeing this Jon gave me a nudge and yelled in a low voice, “I said put it somewhere safe!  Here, I’ll give it to Paul.”  I handed it back over to him like a scolded child and watched him give it to Paul, who placed it into an Advil bottle, then into his pack.  This surprised me.  To my knowledge, Paul hadn’t smoked since high school, so I figured he’d turn down the offer.  My experiences were also few and far between.

Once we had all our gear packed, we said our goodbyes to Jon and Tif, then wished them good luck on their bike trip north.  With memories of Montana still fresh in my mind, part of me wished were joining them.  Around 2:30 they rumbled off into the distance and we began our climb.  As we made the ascension, we found ourselves surrounded by other hikers: healthy old people, hippie youth, and even church-going families.  Everyone was cordial and friendly, but our climb felt far removed from the journey into nature I anticipated.  The peak was obviously a big draw for the area with fences alongside the path, stone stairs on steep inclines, and sitting areas every few minutes.  Even when I did see beautiful waterfalls and rock formations, it seemed like the fake scenery you’d see at an amusement park.

After reaching the top of the tree line, the path split into three options.  We decided to set up camp quick, and then explore one of the paths.  We walked back into the woods and found a nice flat space to throw up the tent.  We had it assembled in minutes and rushed back to the path.  The far left path was the only one Paul had never been on, so we decided to give it a try.

The walk wasn’t very exciting, although I did enjoy the constant appearance of animals.  Chipmunks and marmots skittered across the path every couple minutes and they didn’t seem scared in the least of our approach. An hour into our hike, we began to realize the path didn’t lead to much and headed back to camp before sun down.

At camp, we both grabbed our books, him Harry Potter, me Kerouac (you decide who is the douche).  We headed into different directions, finding our own personal reading solitude.  I made my first venture into The Dharma Bums and quickly found myself once again engrossed in Kerouac’s words.  (I still prefer the depressed, self deprecating Jack of On the Road over the happy-Buddhist-Zen-mad-man of Dharma Bums).

With our reading light setting behind the mountains, we began to gather firewood and lit the kindling.  Paul soon had the fire raging, so I put a couple soup cans into the red coals, letting the flames lick the edges of the Chunky soup, performing cunnalingus on Donavan McNabb’s smiling mother.

"Keep toking that fire boys!"

Paul broke me from my soup can fantasy, asking, “Soooo, you want to smoke Jon’s little gift?”  It felt like we were teenagers trying beer for the first time, a combination of curiosity and guilt mixing in our jerky filled stomachs.  I thought it over for a while, and finally came to the realization: why not? How many times in my life would I be sitting on a mountainside with Paul and a little jay of joy.

With only matches to light the cig, Paul unsuccessfully lit it several times before finally succeeding.  Sitting next to the fire, we began trading drags from the little roach.  When there no longer remained paper to hold onto, Paul threw the remainder into the fire and awaited the affects of Jon’s little gift.  The few times I’ve smoked I’ve had the opposite affect from the lethargic, slothful interpretation you see in the movies.  Instead, I become overtly energetic, bouncing off the walls and spouting random, moronic thoughts.

I grabbed the soup from the fire with my BloodRayne beanie/oven mitt and handed one to Paul and then grab one for myself.  I sprawled back onto a rock and stared into the night sky.  The glistening lights above seemed to be smiling down upon us.   I sat up for a moment and opened up my can of soup to enjoy the medley of steak and potatoes.  Out of no where, Paul broke the silence muttering, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if Bono suddenly floated down from above, singing ‘In the Name of Love’?”

“What?” I asked.  This surprised me.  Paul despises U2. He had to be in another state of mind to be dreaming of Bono.

“Yeah, like Bono just floats down, and then Edge emerges from the trees playing guitar.” I giggled at his idea, and added, “Yeah, and then the bears and marmots come out of the trees singing along to the chorus.” Caught up in our imaginings, I stood up and yodeled into the night sky, “In the name of love, what more in the name of love!” We both chuckled at the echo of my howling voice.

I then had a sudden flashback to childhood, remembering when The Muppets performed Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”.  “Dude, dude! I’ve got it! What if Bono and Edge were on the Muppets, and it was like a bunch of puppet bears singing along.”

Paul looked confused (in hindsight, he might have just been stuck in a stupor).  “And then like Fozzie bear comes in and ruins everything yelling ‘Wok ka Wok ka? Eh? Paul?”  He stared at me glossy eyed. I lost him with my random Muppet reference, but didn’t care, thinking back to the classic Muppet scene, hunters and all. I began pacing around the fire, continuing my random ramblings while Paul just kind of lifelessly laid there, much like the rock beneath his head. I looked down at him and asked, “Are you feeling it already?”

“Yeh,” he mumbled.  “Aren’t you?”

Feeling chock full energy, I should have known the affects had taken over, but for some reason I was convinced I remained unaffected. “No dude, this sucks.”  I then continued rambling – talking about what a strange word “pertinent” is, questioning where soup was invented, and spouting off a jumbled mess of ideas for the upcoming Repeater and the Wolf album.  Paul finally broke my stream of consciousness, asking, “Aren’t you tired?”

“No!” I responded.

“Well, I’m ready to crash,” he said, closing his eyes.

“Um…okay.” I looked at the time on my i-Pod, and realized it had already reached midnight.  The night had flown by us, lost in our fire side reverie. I crawled into the tent and laid back, trying to find the calming solace Paul was feeling.  Unfortunately, my crazy legs continued kicking and my brain couldn’t stop wondering where marmots sleep at night.

To help ease my mile-a-minute mind, I put on my ear buds and began listening to some Opie and Anthony, letting their conversation occupy my brain.  I don’t remember much of the show I listened to, but  O and A have never seemed quite as funny as they did that night on top of Long’s Peak.   I’m not sure what time I finally went to bed, but the next morning Paul complained that he could hear my maniacal giggling into the early hours of the morning.

"To answer your question, marmots sleep where ever the hell they want. Now go to sleep before I eat your toes you giggle-y fuck."

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11. Road Trip 2008: Day 8-9, Hippies and C-Bombs

“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).

 

A young Carl, Paul, and Jon Jon in my station wagon in the way to see Bobby.

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.

After eight super days of free "housing", Super 8 decided to rape my wallet.

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.

 

"Paul? Are you out there?"

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.

A sign from Dharma?

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.

 

Cunt-sider yourself, one of the family!

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.

 

Greetings from Camp Drink-A-Lotta

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.

 

Nothing could wake Jon Jon; not even the bald head of a gentleman in the nook of his armpit.

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.

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1.Road Trip 2008, Day 1-2: WWJKD?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Mark Twain

I was sitting on my parent’s deck, enjoying the intermittent glow of the Iowa lightning bugs and the smell of brats on the grill when my mom came outside with the phone in her hand.

“I think it’s Paul,” she said as she handed it over. Paul is my eccentric friend I met my junior year in college at Northern Iowa. Just a goofy little freshman wrestler at the time, crazy Paul kept my roommate Tony and I entertained with his juvenile antics. Of course, our constant goading and assistance in the debauchery department didn’t help matters. Those were great times, but unfortunately he transferred the next year to some community college in Kansas.  I don’t know whether he left because he became homesick for his western Nebraska hometown or if it had something to do with failing most of his UNI classes (I take some fault in his failure, always urging him to skip class so we could play “Mario Kart” or watch “Men In Black” the cartoon).

Instead of receiving his MBA from UNI, Paul got his MIB.

He would go on to attend four different colleges in four different states. After an eight year college career that resembled that of John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky, Paul finally graduated the spring of 2008 with a degree in History and Spanish, hoping to become a teacher/wresting coach. His monumental graduation is what prompted the phone call on that calm summer night in mid-June.

“Dude, when are we going on this road trip? I finally graduated. We have to celebrate.” Since meeting Paul in 1999, he had been bothering me about taking a road trip through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. Two of those summers we weren’t able to take the trip due to Paul serving jail time for one of his many crimes: stealing cars, streaking, and of course a multitude of DUIs. These drunk driving excursions also led to several summers with no license, which would have resulted in driving the entirety of our road trip. Other summers I turned his master plan down due to prior plans or a fear of what unpredictable Paul would do. One summer I even passed up the opportunity to see Neil Young at Red Rock’s because I wanted to attend the wedding of Bobbi Bahr, a former high school classmate. To this day Paul curses, “I can’t believe you missed Neil Young for fucking Barbie’s wedding!”

Now that he had finally graduated from college, he found it absolutely necessary that this road trip come to fruition. He grabbed my interest by suggesting we visit micro-breweries along the way and go to a few concerts if possible (the key to my heart comes in a pint glass). These both enticed my nomadic side, but I still questioned whether he could actually afford the trip. I knew he owed Dana College $4000 dollars since he didn’t get financial aid his final semester, and I was privy to his mounting credit card debt, meandering just below the $10,000 dollar range. How could he ever afford a road trip with the outrageous gas prices?

I tried calming excited Paul down, saying, “Yeah, we can go, I just don’t want to make it too long. Maybe we should just hang around Colorado for a week or something, that way gas doesn’t kill us.” This was my nice way of saying, “You’re broke dude.”

“I want to go to Montana though! Montana!  Don’t worry about money, I just got paid $3000 dollars for being a lab rat.”

“What are you talking about?” I knew he wasn’t bluffing as images ran through my head of Loreal products being poured into Paul’s eyes.

“Yeah, I had to take Alzheimer pills for like two weeks and they monitored me and stuff. I’m good to go on money now. We can split the gas right down the middle; I’m not going to mooch off you or anything.”

"Now where did I put my razor..."

As we continued talking, I thought about how he should be using the lab rat money to pay off some of the money he owed. What was he thinking – a road trip amidst all this debt? Plus, being a newborn college graduate, shouldn’t he be using this time to find a job? I spent my entire first summer out of college lost in a sea of job fairs and applications.

I would have pointed these common sense ideals out to Paul if I knew I wouldn’t come across as a preachy douche. I told him I was all in for a road trip but reiterated the fact that driving to Montana may be a bit much. He asked me to keep thinking about it and we’d make a decision in a couple weeks when July arrived. I was off the hook for the moment, but I knew he wouldn’t forget about this trip; not with Montana dreams running through his head.

A few days later, he sent an email featuring a list of all the bands we could possibly see in Colorado and all the surrounding states. As I skimmed the list, I came to a sudden stop when I saw a name in the Montana section: The Dodos. Was this a ruse to get me to go with him to Montana? I had been raving to Paul about the greatness of the latest Dodos album “Visiter” for the past few months. To see if I was being had, I went to The Dodos MySpace and lo and behold, there it was:

July 4th- Bozeman, Montana at the VFW

I read it over and over again in shock. Dodos…Montana….VFW….4th of July…it was too good to be true. I looked up how many miles it would take to get to Bozeman from Omaha and the 1,000 miles didn’t settle well with me. I began to think about how we would pay for gas, which brought back thoughts of Paul’s money situation. Going to Montana and then down to Colorado would suck his lab rat money dry. What should a good friend do: look out for his pal by giving him advice on managing his money or aid his financial demise by joining him on a cross-country road trip? Is a true friend there for support or to join in on the irresponsible fun?

I mulled over this issue for another week. At one point, I wondered what my hero Jack Kerouac, the ultimate Bedouin, would do? WWJKD? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Paul is just like the character Dean Moriarty in “On the Road”, an athletic car thief who spent time in prison, has a mind jam packed with outlandish ideas, and is fascinated by raw, organic music that tests the limits (jazz in Moriarty’s time). Throughout the book, many of the characters around Moriarty find him offensive, rude, and mostly just trouble. But Sal Paradise, Kerouac’s alter-ego, loves Moriarty and his harum-scarum ways.

Sal could have told him it was time to grow up, settle down, and find a real job. But he didn’t, no matter what page of the book you are on. No, Paradise admired his childlike wonderment with the world so much that whenever Moriarty showed up on his doorstep with a big road-trip in mind, Paradise threw his writing to the wayside and joined his wild friend on another joy-ride.

Paul didn’t need me to be his mentor; he needed me to be a friend willing to hit the road without worrying about what lies ahead.

This realization came to me on July 1st, which meant we had little time to reach Bozeman, Montana by the 4th. I called Paul and let him know I was in on the Montana trip, but that we would have to heading out Thursday in order to reach Bozeman in time for The Dodos show. He was ecstatic. I figured out I could pay for the trip with the $600 dollars I got from my tax refund (Paul insisted the entire trip that I thank George W. for each beer I drank), and another $600 dollars from Paul’s friend Mando who bought my electric guitar. I knew with Paul’s lab rat money, we were both set.

"Beers are on me boys! Just put it on my tab."

The next morning I headed to Blair, Nebraska to pick up my comrade. We had planned to use the day for preparations, buying the necessary food and supplies. Once we arrived in Omaha, I took Paul to his friend Lindsey’s apartment where he planned to load my I-Pod with some of his choice cuts (Judas Priest and ACDC?!). After dropping him off I weaved through Omaha traffic to the Honda dealership to get an oil change. Then I had to go return to South O to pick Paul back up.  By the time we were at the grocery store searching for the granola aisle, I was fed up with all the driving and aimless wandering; I was ready to hit the road.

“This sucks dude. Let’s just leave now. We can get supplies as we go. I’m sick of all this traffic,” I complained.

“All of the camping food is going to cost more as we get closer to Montana. I’m ready to head out now too, but we have to get everything prepared.” These were wise words from a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type of guy, but I couldn’t take it any longer.

“I know…I just hate the anticipation,” I conceded.

“Dude, it’s like ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, you know, when there is like a hundred pages on the meeting in Rivendell.”

“Yeah, I hate that fucking part! I’ve never actually read past that part,” I scowled.

“Ahh!  You’re KIDDING! You’ve never even actually read the rest of Tolkien’s masterpiece?! YOU suck. Wow. That’s embarrassing. The entire Rivendell scene is there to set up the rest of the book. Right now, we are in Rivendell. We must prepare before heading out on our quest,” Paul answered annoyed. I didn’t respond. I guess I prefer The Hobbit with its simple premise of a treasure in a mountain. The dwarves arrive, sing a little song about a dragon, and they’re off. Simple, quick, painless.

By the time we did all of our shopping at various stores, we got back to Blair around 10 p.m. It was then that I realized I had forgotten my phone at Lindsey’s. Damn it! Paul called her up and she said she’d bring it over in the morning.

Completely exhausted from the day, I laid down on the couch, ready to pass out. Just as I was slipping into dream-land, the door to Paul’s apartment flew open, and a sweaty, stout little man with long greasy blond hair and a creepy moustache came bounding through the entry way like a Kramer stand-in, holding a giant can of Old Milwaukee.

In a crackly bark he shouted, “Where’s Paul?”

I sat up like a bolt. The room suddenly reeked like alcohol and cheap cigarettes. Why was there a strange homeless man in Paul’s apartment? Before I could answer, Paul walked out from his bedroom.

“Hey Gale! What’s up man!” Paul knew this guy? Before I could comprehend what was going on, the two had a conversation, none of which I understood, and then the homeless dude was gone.

“What the hell? You let that guy just walk through your door?! He could steal all your crap.”

“Nah, Gale’s a good guy. He lives upstairs and likes to stop by to hang out and drink a few beers,” Paul said as if it was commonplace.  I didn’t feel like arguing, but I did make it a point to lock the door after Paul went to bed. I knew better than to try understanding what had just occurred; Paul has always befriended a strange cast of characters (me included). I quickly fell asleep, cranky and drained from the long day of preparation. I still think Rivendell sucks.

The next morning Lindsey arrived with my phone bright and early, a sign that our day would be much better than the one prior. I started packing up the car while Paul cooked breakfast, when the door crashed open once again. Gale came stumbling in, now holding a giant can of Natural Light. “Wherez Pul?” he howled. He was still drunk or drunk again, not sure which. Without hesitation, Paul welcomed him in and sat talking to the belligerent fool for a while, even offering him a blueberry smoothie.

Gale took a seat next to Lindsey on the couch and began touching her hair. He whispered to her in a gravelly voice, “I like your hair…don’t ever cut your hair…I like loooong hair…it’s bootiful.” She smiled politely and scooted away from him. Like a four year old, his attention quickly shifted to our luggage. “Whar are ya goin Pul?”

Lindsey smiled wryly and said, “Him and Andy are going to Brokeback Mountain.”

“HA HA HA HA (cough cough) HA HA HA! BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN! HA HA HA!” I could hear the phlegm curdling in the back of his throat. Gale then stumbled toward the kitchen to kid Paul about Brokeback Mountain when he caught sight of me looking at him with both horror and disgust.

“What happ’nd to yer head? Where is yer hair? HA HA HA! (cough cough)” Paul began cracking up at Gale’s observation, which just egged the old drunkard on. “HA HA HA! Why don’t you grow sum fuckin hair man? Ha, ha, (cough, cough) Ha, HA! Shouldn’t he grow some hair Paul?” I put on a fake smile and went outside to continue packing the car.  I didn’t have time for this crazy kook.

I may not have as much hair as Gale (right), but at least mine is clean.

Paul later attempted to make me feel bad saying he thought Gale was a Vietnam vet. He of course had no proof to back up this claim; I think he just based it off the fact that Gale is always wearing 70s era clothing and seems to always be drunk.  If that’s all it took, Andy Dick would fit into the vet category.

After slurping up his smoothie, which dripped all over his already stained white shirt, Gale shouted, “I got something for ya Paul!” Two minutes later he returned with a carton of eggs and a handful of firecrackers. “Enjoy! These are for your trip to Brokeback Mount-tin, hehehe.” Paul tried explaining that we couldn’t take the eggs with us, but the lush didn’t understand and left feeling proud of his random act of kindness.

When he finally left it was almost 10 a.m. “Let’s get going!” I said in frustration.

“Okay, okay, okay!” Paul responded, setting the dishes into the sink. After filling the cooler with ice, we threw it in the back of my car and finally took to the highway. Our trip had begun. We had already hit a few bumps in the road, but I knew the perfect remedy for getting our trip rolling on the right foot: The Magnetic Field’s classic album “The Charm of the Highway”.

Soon the smooth baritone voice of Stephin Merritt filled the car as smiles crept onto our faces. With lyrics like “The world is a Motor Inn in the Iowa highway slum” and “Lonely highway, only friend, You’ve got me to keep you warm again”, I knew I had made the perfect musical choice. When “Sunset City” began thumping out the speakers, Merrit was singing for fools like us, throwing caution to the wind and hitting the road just for the hell of it:

Well I don’t care what people say
Life is too short to hang around
So I stay so long in a place
And then move on to the next town

And in the morning I’ll be gone
For other towns and other lives
I’ll catch the first train, bag in hand
And I won’t miss you, and you won’t cry

Oh Sunset City
I’ve got to see the world
Don’t hold me too tightly
Don’t whisper my name

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“One Fast Move or I’m Gone” Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard

“One Fast Move or I’m Gone”
Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard
Atlantic Records

Rating: 6

“One Fast Move or I’m Gone” is a documentary on Jack Kerouac’s experiences at Big Sur, the subject of his last novel Big Sur.  Taking on this concept album is Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, a strange, yet intriguing combination. They created the album in quintessential Kerouac style with the duo writing and recording all the songs within three days, much like the writer’s improvisational writing style. Again, intriguing approach. 

Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t live  up to expectations.  The songs sound like they were written in three days, mostly mediocre strum-athon’s that never really take shape.  Songs like “These Roads Don’t Move” and “Low-Life Kingdom” could have possibly been strong if given more than a few days to ferment.  Otherwise, one song’s steel guitar bleeds into the next, with nothing much standing out or making a statement.

Farrar’s offerings are stronger than Gibbard’s, but I guess I’ve never been much of a fan of Ben’s voice. I can appreciate Death Cab For Cutie, but that’s about as far as it goes. His vocals really don’t work when conveying Kerouac’s words, while Farrar’s gruff baritone seems more up the bedouin’s rustic road.  Gibbard sounds big city; Farrar sounds a little more like a man that has ridden the rails and sat on mountain tops.

The lyrics are taken directly from the book, almost like the two of them sat with highlighters and picked out their favorite lines. Actually, the lyrics might be the one strength to this album.  They are combined in a way that is poetic and free-flowing, like Jack would have liked it.  Most of the lyrics speak of Kerouac’s depression, which is the focal point of Big Sur. It is easily his most depressing novel, focusing on his deterioration toward the end of his life. The once idealistic buddha had turned to alcohol and let life drag him back down to earth. It’s a damn shame.

To capture this mood, Farrar and Gibbard rely heavily on country tinged folk tunes, which I think kind of misses the mark.  Kerouac was all about jazz and its improvisational form.  As far as I’m concerned, a wailing saxophone always trumps a slow strumming guitar when it comes to portraying loneliness.

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