Watch closely! Change is afoot—and it’s coming straight from California. . . .
Watch closely! Change is afoot—and it’s coming straight from California. . . .
Jeff Mangum had grown a beard in his long absence from the spotlight, a voluminous and gristly thing bursting from his face. The crowd roared as he stepped without ceremony from behind the curtain and took his seat in the folding chair on the carpet, center stage, reached for one of his acoustics, and laid into the first chords of “Holland 1945″. Here was a man whose music and poetry have moved me deeply for many years, strumming and howling away through a song that has been played by every aspiring acoustic guitarist in the western hemisphere, and I could only recognize him as some guy. It may have been his curious lack of stage presence, the way he seemed to stumble upon the concert and just happened to have a guitar and a few songs on his mind. Or the meekness in his voice when he spoke to the crowd. Or the way he seemed to belong somewhere else, on a street corner or a rooftop, on a raft in a river, on a forgotten back porch with no audience.
It was halfway through the set before I began to feel a surge of those feelings In the Aeroplane Over the Sea always conjures in me. Probably during the first high-pitched verse end of “Two-Headed Boy Part 1″: “I am listening to hear where you are. . . .” All at once I was struck by the beauty of the man’s voice. He sings like a full horn section, a mighty operatic wailing that dips in and out of the darkest corners of every chord, filling vast harmonic spaces with his wavering tenor.
Jeff Mangum’s songs have permeated our culture, have been passed and passed on from one amateur guitarist to another. Everyone plays them, everyone loves to sing them. These are true folk songs. A friend once told me: Guitarists, shit man, you can spit and knock three down. He was right. There are many guitarists. But so few bards.
It is Tuesday afternoon here in VIII Nothing’s Austin headquarters. Three days ago I became a 25-year-old man (as opposed to a 24-year-old one), and so I am still getting used to this feeling. The thing about January is that, in addition to putting up with what is typically the darkest, coldest, loneliest month of the year, you must also get used to writing out the new year and, in my case, remembering your new age—all in the span of 30 days! So now it’s 2013 instead of 2012. And 25 instead of 24. And the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon. (I don’t mind that part.)
Things have been quiet around here—but only on the surface. John tells me he has finished his novel, and has been spending every night hunched over his laptop editing the damn thing (with a cup of straight whisky to aid him along, no doubt). As for me: I have been battling my own novel for some time now. The thing is, whenever I go to edit or change something, I end up writing two or three thousand more words. Injury & Aftermath is quite long at this point. I’m going to spend the next week chopping it down and we’ll see what I end up with.
As far as publication goes, we’re aiming for March—probably later in the month. I have been spending my lunch breaks at work pricing various printers, so that will be decided soon. It is important to me that the book itself be a nice thing to own. A creamy matte cover, nice paper, good ink . . . all of this will be carefully considered! Too many no-budget, self-published books are complete crap—and that’s before you even read a single sentence. Rest assured, I will not sleep until this book is as close to perfect as possible. (I’m already not sleeping on account of this book, actually. . . .)
In other news: Please welcome photographer Tom Wolff to the list of People Who Do Things at VIII Nothing. Wolff is a longtime chum of John’s—the two go to school together, for God’s sake. I had the pleasure of meeting him in Boston last month, where he showed me around and even walked me to a Deer Tick show in Cambridge. He’s a swell guy. Welcome, brother!
I will put up the second part of my Providence story tomorrow. As for Boston, well: That’s the next Starsailor Newsletter. Look out!
“The older one grows, the more one likes indecency.”
Adeline Virginia Woolf was born 47,847 days ago today. She would have been 131 years old.
Woolf was a prominent writer of the twentieth century, and one of the leading voices in modernist literature. During her lifetime, she produced nine novels, nearly four-dozen short stories, five short story collections, three book-length essays (notably, the seminal feminist text A Room of One’s Own), three biographies (including Orlando) and countless other essays and essay collections.
I, Ryan, became enamored by Virginia Woolf during my senior year of college—when I took an entire seminar on her. During those four months, I read every one of her novels, most of her longer essays and a good portion of her various diaries. To the Lighthouse is still one of my favorite novels. Every other day it seems like passages from it still float through my head. . . .
Happy birthday, Virginia.
The following is the first of three parts concerning Ryan Starsailor’s New England adventure, which occurred over the Christmas holiday.
In Providence the wind was harsher than it had been that morning in Baltimore—and even earlier in the darkness of Annandale, where dear cousin John Blacksher dropped me off at the Metro station. The night before had been a mirthful one, and I had met many people who knew of my existence by reputation alone. They called me “Mr. Starsailor.” I thought about this as I stepped out of the airport and into that glacial New England air, scanning the sidewalk for a bus that would take me into the city.
A kindly bus driver waved me aboard his vessel and told me where to catch the 99, which, he said, would take me to Hope Street. That was where I needed to be. I had booked a room with a kindergarten teacher and a postdoctoral research associate a little ways north of the downtown area. I knew there would be a warm bed waiting for me when I got there. I was badly in need of a safe place to rest for a little while.
When we arrived at Kennedy Plaza, the driver tipped his hat and said I needed to change bus routes. He wished me well into the new year, which was a little over a day and a half away (I had almost forgotten), and I departed from him and found my place in the Plaza. There was a foot of snow on the ground from a winter storm I had unintentionally avoided from the day before. The trees were still loaded down with the stuff and I knew it hadn’t been there long; the wind had not yet had a chance to blow it away. I huddled inside my heather pea coat and awaited the 99, resolved to go wherever it took me.
I got off at Hope and 8th and walked a half mile to my bed and breakfast. Little had been done to clear the road of ice, and with my enormous military-style pack slung over my shoulders, I feared a quick and painful route downward—I could only helplessly envision broken tail bones and twisted ankles. But I carried on, weak for want of sleep, hungry for want of food, until I found the number on the mailbox that matched the number in my brain. Outside I saw a man in a baseball cap who at once resembled both Wes Anderson and Jeff Mangum. His name was Ben. In Ben’s hands was a large square box. He saw my face and knew who it belonged to.
Ben lead me into his charming little home, showed me where the bathroom was, and, once we were inside my room, he briefly explained the amenities and told me to take a load off. I thanked him when he left and shut the door. A little caramel chocolate was on my pillow and I ate it. Once my clothes were stripped from my pale skeletal frame, I burrowed beneath the comforter and closed my eyes. I could hear the creaking of the radiator and trusted it would keep me warm. I slept like the dead.
In the evening I braved the cold and took the 99 bus into downtown Providence. Most everything was closed, but I pressed on until I found an open Indian restaurant near Brown University. I stayed for an hour and ate enough food, my server told me, “to satisfy three average-sized humans.” I left him a $10 tip and explored the dark snowy streets surrounding the school. A homeless man approached me shivering, asking if I had any change. I gave him a folded Lincoln note and wished him well. He hurried off into the blackness of an alley and I was alone again.
Walking down those ice-slicked streets, I couldn’t help but feel as though my being there was absurd. I could scarcely explain to the server at the Indian place why I was in Providence (“If you don’t know, then you should come back for a few beers!” he had said). I dismissed these thoughts after an “a-ha” moment. The answer was obvious, and consisted of three syllables: “ad-ven-ture”. Once I knew that, what did it matter? I was having a good old time there alone, and I was going to see my favorite band at the end of that cold night.
Yes, Deer Tick was playing at a place called Fête. I figured that was why I was there, too. Months before I had bought a ticket fearing the show would sell out (it did), and Providence being Deer Tick’s hometown, it wasn’t all that surprising to me that the place would be packed to the gills when I got there. Rather than wait around for the bus, which wouldn’t come to the Plaza again for another hour, I decided to walk. One foot in front of the other, I made my way through the slush until I got there. In total I walked three miles with minimal discomfort. After a half mile, my face was completely frozen and numb, and so the dull pain of the frost hardly registered in my brain.
Standing outside of Fête, flurries gently falling from the sky, I saw the enormous line snaking around the building and knew it would be some time before I got in. I studied the crowd and deduced that no one else had come without a friend. Men and women held hands, some people were huddled into small groups, rubbing their arms for warmth, talking about the night to come. In some sense I felt as though I was in my element: alone in a strange city, on what I kept telling myself was an “adventure”—hoping to talk to new people and have them talk to me. And if they didn’t, there was always the warm comfort of my brain. I crossed a great patch of ice and took my place in line, watching my breath as it escaped my body and turned to nothing against the black sky. . . .
To be continued in part II: “I AM PROVIDENCE“.
In the year 1900 visionary Nikola Tesla published an essay called The Problem of Increasing Human Energy, which encounters the possibility of a sustainable and progressive existence for the human race. Tesla dedicated his life to exploring the limits of scientific reasoning and experimentation, and what’s more, he saw the potential for humanity to rise above animalistic tendencies and grow into something beautiful. We have the means, he tells us, to ascend into a symbiotic relationship with the universe. Tesla was a scientist and artist fully aware of the empathic connections that bind us.
Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable.
In this way he states (some four decades before its emergence in the writings of Sartre) the ethical responsibility inherent in every individual existence to the race as a whole. Human Energy is to Tesla the impetus of our ascension, the variable that will determine whether we burn or blossom. His is a simple philosophy: discipline, morality, balance of mind and body, moderation, creativity, ingenuity, and empathy.
Allow this disillusioned romantic a humble invocation of Wordsworth:
Tesla! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:
The world hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters. . .