2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 2
by Steven Spoerl
Yesterday, it was my distinct privilege to start running pieces that were contributed to Heartbreaking Bravery for a long-gestating project. A long list of some of my favorite writers, label heads, music video directors, and musicians (many of whom have had their work covered here in the past) were kind enough to contribute pieces focusing on some of their favorite moments in music over the course of 2014. These pieces will continue to run throughout the week and I’m unbelievably grateful for everyone involved. Below, David Anthony fondly recalls taking in The National with someone of great importance, Quinn Moreland muses over her peers’ achievements, Gabriela June Tully Claymore tackles Bad History Month’s “Staring At My Hands” and its many personal connotations, Jesse Amesmith covers a particularly memorable show, Katie Capri rails against false assumptions, and Jeff Bolt revisits a show with The Marked Men. So, once again, it’s an absolute honor to present 2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories.
A Night Out with The National
While I consider myself lucky to have several moments rush to mind– seeing American Football’s “secret” reunion being the closest runner-up– the experience that will stick with me the longest was seeing The National with my mom. Sure, that might not be the coolest answer in the world but there was one small exchange that made it, unquestionably, the most memorable musical moment of 2014.
First thing’s first, I have to tell you a bit about my mom. She’s always been into music of varying kinds. Some of my earliest memories are linked to her blaring Springsteen on Saturday morning, listening to Dookie as she drove me to school, or her cleaning the house to Sam Cooke. The second, and perhaps most important point, is that my mom is a saint. If she were to detail the number of ‘90s pop-punk bands she took me to see while she stood in the back of dingy punk clubs, I’m fairly certain you’d agree. It’s these circumstances that make this National show stand out to me. It’s a moment where our interests overlapped and instead of her having to stand in the back of a dive bar- or me uncomfortably sit in the nosebleeds of an arena- we could meet in the middle and enjoy music without any pretenses.
The show itself was as good as any other National show I’ve seen, but it was the band’s encore that sealed it. When vocalist Matt Berninger jumped into the audience and began walking across seats during “Mr. November” I saw my mom’s eyes light up. She grabbed my arm and looked at me with the biggest smile, and in that moment I felt like she understood what’s made music such an integral part of my life. She was raised on stadiums and rock stars, so seeing a front-person become one with the crowd gave her the same feeling those pop-punk and hardcore bands did for me over a decade ago. It may have only been a brief moment, but it reminded me why music is so vital. At its best, it brings people together and allows them to feel part of something bigger than themselves, even if it’s just for a second.
-David Anthony (Digital Manager, The AV Club)
Peers in 2014
2014 was weird and crazy and cool in so many ways, it feels impossible to pick one or even two or three specific #FavoriteMusicMoments. However, I can summarize many moments with one simple Frankie Cosmos lyric: “My heroes are my friends / my friends are my heroes.” My favorite musical memory of 2014 was any time I was blown away by my peers, whether at a live concert, on a recording, or even a YouTube video (this is so cheesy, I’m sorry). Just a few people who turned me into a starry-eyed Q are the entire Epoch crew, team Double Double Whammy, the staff and writers at The Media, the Alex G gang, Jawbreaker Reunion, Girlpool, Frankie Cosmos… that’s more than a few but not nearly everyone. I was inspired by anyone (minus total jerks or sexist assholes because there were a lot of those too) who was involved with music in any fashion in 2014. So I guess my favorite musical “moments” were the times it was truly evident that my peers are my heroes.
-Quinn Moreland (Associate Editor, Impose)
Bad History Month’s “Staring At My Hands” and Learning to Breathe Easy
I turned 21 in a bar on June 15th, sandwiched between the almost shockingly audacious advances of a former coworker and a girl that I had befriended at school but still didn’t know all too well. I had been in Buenos Aires the day before, saying goodbye to the uneven cobblestone streets, the violent rainstorms. I found myself back in New York unmoored and uncertain—an official Grown Up without an apartment, without a job, and without any sense of who my friends were. Here, I pause to examine my existence as a total “post study abroad experience” stereotype—alienated from my homeland, and in turn, myself. I was in free-fall, descending too quickly into the real world, and in those first few days I thought that the turbulence would kill me.
I do not mean to make this an essay about “poor me” but rather one about “poor us,” when we lose sight of who we once were and have no idea who we want to will ourselves to become.
My readjustment period of several weeks expanded into a month, then into a summer. The morning after my birthday, I awoke to the news that a friend had unexpectedly died. I was told that he drowned in a pool- and my ribs began to crack open to make room for an inexplicable emptiness.
What followed can only now be described as farce. I learned that the former friend subletting what was supposed to be my room was refusing to move out. After spending two weeks on another’s couch, I moved into my future roommate’s room while she was away in California, and I got my old restaurant job back. A week later, I awoke to find my body covered in small bumps—rows of three that trickled down my arms my legs, my brow-line and eyelids. I found one bed bug crawling across the sheets that morning. I found another when I stripped the bed, and dozens as I peeled away the plastic corners of the box spring that didn’t belong to me.
I spent the next two months in motion as little bits of my stunted world continued to fall apart.
In an effort to recover what was left of my sanity, to remember who I had been and what I had enjoyed before I left New York, I tried to burrow myself in a familiar musical landscape. I remembered that I liked going to shows, I liked the familiarity of dozens of strangers swaying alongside me. I had loose plans for the future and an obscenely long list of goals. I didn’t really believe in God but I believed in something undefined. I was motivated without subscribing to a concrete belief system. I did’t keep up with the local scene while I was away, but somehow I found myself listening to Famous Cigarettes, a split EP that the Boston-based band Bad History Month (formerly Fat History Month) released a month before. Rather, I found myself listening specifically to “Staring At My Hands”, the lead-off single, on repeat.
“Staring At My Hands” begins with an almost imperceptible, echoing thud. A heartbeat. It’s a slow build that Jeff Meff’s wayward lyrics eventually weave themselves into. Instrumentally, the song is so textural it’s practically tangible but the almost desperate proximity of his voice never feels jarring. If anything, the introductory moments of “Staring At My Hands” carry you beyond stripped-back skin, dipping into a single strand of streaming consciousness. Meff sings, “Inevitably all my molecules dissolved and then my problems/ Were all resolved/ I spent a lifetime deciding which way I should go and now that I’m gone/ I finally know.”
I first listened to “Staring At My Hands” in the apartment that was not yet mine, the subletter who was supposed to be gone skulking around in my room. I was probably waiting for an exterminator or examining the dishes that had amassed in the sink while I was away sleeping on couches and in beds that I shouldn’t have been in. I spent an excessive amount of time on the train that summer, attempting to seamlessly transition to and from the various apartments I was staying in, figuring out what clothing to dry for approximately 25 minutes on the hottest setting so as not to spread the infestation along with my miserable disposition. Never entirely sure where I would end up each night, I started carrying a backpack containing a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and a book with me everywhere I went. In transit, I listened to “Staring At My Hands” or I didn’t listen to anything.
Making my way back to a friend’s apartment for the night, my throat began to constrict when Meff wailed, “Staring at my hands and picturing them decomposing/ Feeling my existence as a ripple on an endless ocean/ Not even a drop/ I will take no substance with me when I’m gone.” All summer I felt like a ghost—another person on the subway, face glued to the window, watching for passing graffiti. “Staring At My Hands” is about being lost in the space between, and my own feeling of absolute transience accompanied by the song’s oceanic thorough line forced me to imagine and then reimagine what drowning in an ocean, or in a pool, must feel like. I wondered if there was any difference and then, wishing for nothing but numbness, I wondered if that mattered.
Every night I dreamt of bed bugs. I would spastically jolt awake to find myself scratching long after the bites had disappeared. When I didn’t dream of bed bugs, I would lie with my face against a pillow envisioning lungs filling up with fluid, the unbelievable weight of a waterlogged body.
Up until this point I had always considered myself to be “just fine” most of the time. There had been bouts of crippling depression in high school subdued by the cliché remedy of poor decision-making and crappy movies on repeat. That was the kind of depression that could be mended, the kind of sadness that comes with being an adolescent. The kind where you can take your index finger and point at the small things in your life that are making you unhappy. But the feeling of that summer was entirely new. I could point at all of the things in my life that were depressing—and there were a lot—but realizing that I felt hollow, that I couldn’t bare the effort of caring about any of it beyond the surface level of daily upsets, frightened me.
The morning after sleeping on a friend’s couch for the umpteenth time, she asked me to describe how I felt. I told her that every morning I woke up to A Great Emptiness, or what most people would jokingly refer to as an existential crisis. I read Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” in my senior year of high school, right before graduation. I thought it was really pretentious. In that purgatorial academic space, I found the central ideas of Camus’ essay to be objectively interesting, but never personally applicable. Although it’s a fairly complex text, the argument at the center of the Camus’ treatise on existentialism is essentially whether or not one should kill themselves is they believe the world to be devoid of Godliness. Camus describes life as an incessant struggle—Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it tumble to the ground—until we die, our spirit interned along with the corpse. The essay is extensive: written in five parts, it totals nearly 140 pages. I recently revisited “The Myth Of Sisyphus” and couldn’t help but think that Bad History Month explained Camus’ argument better- and in less than five minutes. “Staring At My Hands” is a song about coming to terms with your inconsequential existence and being okay with feeling small. It is about choosing to live.
“Staring At My Hands” references A Great Emptiness as an ocean, the intermediary space that one encounters before arriving at capital N Nowhere (Meff capitalizes the word “Nowhere” on the lyrics sheet that comes along with the Famous Cigarettes cassette). There is a line that I remember hearing very clearly one night in the Bergen Street station. I think it was a Tuesday. I had been reading Junot Diaz’s “This is How You Lose Her”, but decided that I was depressed enough on my own thank you, and put it away. In the moment that I closed the book, Meff’s whispered declaration felt cavernous, “Dying while you’re still alive/ Suddenly you’ve opened your eyes/ It’s only when you realize that you’re going Nowhere that you finally arrive.” I admire the decisive nature of Meff’s lyricism, the absolute self-assurance, the complete sense of control. Every time I listened to “Staring At My Hands,” I exhaled my anxieties and I felt absolved.
I do not know what Jeff Meff looks like, and I do not know how old he is. I know that his real name is Sean but I’ve chosen to hold onto his elusive persona. As I begin to bundle the loosened bits of my life back together, it has become very important that I leave Jeff Meff and his band in the transient space that I found Famous Cigarettes in. For now, I want his lyrics to exist in what he names the “Imagined Separation Between Things.”
Looking for solace in the absurd is an exercise in total futility. Now, I search for it in cadences and honest voices. “Staring At My Hands” is immediate validation that the world cannot produce an overarching, predictable narrative, but the song gives me a momentary sense of purpose. It manifests in small ways. Instead of planning where I will be next year, I plan what I will eat for dinner, or what show I will go to on Friday. I stay late for the extra drink and prolonged conversations- I ignore my intolerably long to-do list to walk the Eastern Parkway. I stopped thinking that I still have time to do the things that I had been “meaning to do.” I am trying to believe less in what might be and more in the immediacy of what I hear. My perception of time elongates and fills out spaces of uncertainty now that I have stopped trying to get anywhere.
Someday, I will be ready for Bad History Month and I to exist in the same world, for “Staring At My Hands” to exit the imagined space and become just another song. Someday, I might see Jeff Meff perform “Staring At My Hands” and maybe my eyes will well up with tears or maybe I won’t feel a thing. For now, the song exists as part of my own consciousness—I tell people to listen to it when they find themselves in crisis, when they need the reminder that everything is not “going wrong,” it is simply “going.”
There is a moment in “Staring At My Hands” when the heartbeat-like thud falls away, long enough for Meff to sing, “Nervous outside of a bar, focus on a single star until it/ Disappears/ Reaching for the comfort of just how small things are.” This is the definitive centerpiece of the song, muted and astral. It sparkles. Months after discovering “Staring At My Hands,” this line is so peaceful, so lovely, that it’s almost burdensome. As if Meff and I alone have found a sort of antidote, a kind of answer. I left the realm of A Great Emptiness that summer to travel Nowhere- and I accept it.
-Gabriela June Tully Claymore (Writer, Stereogum)
A Show in Rochester
This past July my friends Perfect Pussy and Feral Future were on tour and decided to meet up in Rochester, NY to play a show with my band Green Dreams (and Utah Jazz, an excellent band from Buffalo). There was a miscommunication when the show got booked, and an extra band got added to the lineup. When the band was contacted and told “sorry, misunderstanding, you can’t play” they didn’t take it well, and after begging to play and being told “no”, members of that band and their friends decided to boycott the show.
Rochester has that problem that I’m sure a lot of scenes have: the same guys play in different formations of the same bands playing the same type of music and like to think they have a monopoly on the scene. I’m not saying they aren’t making good music, or that there isn’t space for what anyone has to offer, but I am saying that the cool-kid apathetic circle jerk vibe is toxic and it really numbs my buns. It was important to my friends- and very important to me- that all the bands that played this show have non-male persons in them, and besides… it was OUR show. What they really didn’t like hearing was that it was someone else’s party, that nobody on our end cared if they came to the show or not, and it didn’t go over well. There’s a right way for women in our scene to participate and behave, and then there’s the wrong way. I’ll let you guess which category I fall into.
Haters have always buzzed around my head like flies (cuz I’m the shit! HOHOHO) so I swatted them away and went about my business, getting more and more excited for one of the best shows I have had the pleasure of playing here in Rochester. I bunkered down and made a flyer that was a mash-up based on two of my favorite pieces of art: Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi and Sedmikrásky, a Czechoslovakian art film made by Věra Chytilová. It’s pink and bloody and there are Miyazaki sprites and flowers and fruit all over it. I poured a lot of love and respect for the bands we shared the bill with into making it, and was excited to make prints and have a great time.
As expected the trolls had a field day with my flyer, and jumped on an opportunity to belittle and shame the show and the work I had put into it. GASP! “IT DEPICTS VIOLENCE TOWARDS MEN!” “WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?!” My detractors think that being socially conscious requires some sort of score keeping, that because my politics include intersectional feminism and smashing the patriarchal police state that every action I take should be righteous by all accounts, like I owe it to them to continuously prove myself. It’s exhausting, and I take a lot of hits so that hopefully the next generation of punx in our small city can grow up in a more inclusive, safer space than it is now.
Long story short, I got (and continue to get) a lot of shit for just being myself and wanting to do my own thing leading up to the show. I was nervous. I had put a lot into it, what if nobody came? What if my antagonists show up and start something? What if someone dumps pig blood all over me? The thing about letting the haters get under your skin is that 99% of the time the worst of it is in your head. Nobody can say anything half as mean about you as you can say about yourself when you think the world is against you. The day of the show arrived along with my friends from out of town, and I began to understand that it doesn’t actually matter if some people don’t like what you do or how you do it. My music isn’t for everyone, but the people that it IS for love it and me dearly.
I was surrounded by mutual admiration and support the entire evening. We ran around and took pictures, laughed and told jokes and secrets, caught each other up on our travels and adventures. As the venue filled, I noticed how many young people I didn’t know were in attendance… and I started to suspect that what I had been feeling was exactly right; if your scene doesn’t welcome you with open arms then it’s time to make your own scene. I was so concerned with the people who were trying to keep me down that I didn’t realize how many people were there holding me up, singing along, and cheering me on.
The show was incredible. People were happy, friendly, and excited to be there. TWO YOUNG PEOPLE MADE CAKES WITH OUR BANDS NAMES ON THEM AND BROUGHT THEM TO THE SHOW FOR US! CAKES!! WITH OUR BANDS NAMES ON THEM! SERIOUSLY!! You can’t make this shit up. There was an all-girl mosh pit. We laughed until we cried and then hugged until we cried more. We made speeches. People made .gifs of us. It was everything I’ve ever wanted or needed in punk: community, passion, forward thinking young people, and cakes. When it was all said and done it stood as the most incredible moment of my past year… because I finally felt at home in my hometown. All it took was stepping back to realize that the scene I needed didn’t exist without me there to fight for it.
-Jesse Amesmith (Green Dreams)
Brooklyn DIY’s Not Dead Yet
2014 is the year I broke a long dry spell with music by somewhat unconsciously flooding every aspect of my life with it.
This year marked a rapid paradigm shift in the Brooklyn DIY community. The closure of 285 Kent, then Death By Audio and soon Glasslands killed Willamsburg as it was/had been. As I got my sea legs as a music writer and musician myself, the moaning about the death of New York DIY was reaching a fever pitch. That volume never seemed representative to me because, honestly, I hadn’t gone to shows at those venues since 2013 anyway. The shows moved further away from Manhattan a while ago… at least the ones I was going to.
The Borough of Brooklyn alone is bigger than the entire city of Philadelphia. Over 96 square miles. Within them there will always be untapped resources. Sure, there are extra logistical obstacles in this city. But giving up the ship because a giant yacht docked on your old turf? That’s just boring.
Stuff had been bustling further from Williamsburg for years but 2014 took a giant leap away from Manhattan’s glaring sheen. To the south and west were Palisades, Silent Barn, Trans Pecos, David Blaine’s The Steakhouse, 94 Evergreen, Emet. These are spaces with poles in the middle of the room, with stages at the bottom of a flight of stairs, in backyards enclosed in a sheet metal triangle or in front of warped glass overlooking the Freedom Tower.
Of the six spaces mentioned above, the last two shuttered in 2014 too. Their organizers, though, found new spaces. Slackgaze (behind 94 Evergreen) opened Nola, Darling in Chelsea, moving against the current Manhattan exodus. The people behind Emet just opened Aviv in Greenpoint, which is estimated to be the largest DIY space operating in Brooklyn right now.
These venues are held together with spit and elbow grease, sweat and most definitely some tears. They’re not fancy, and that’s what makes them so exhilarating. They’re just people and music without much polish. That’s my favorite kind of place to be anywhere, but they’re especially meaningful in New York, a city caked in layers of veneer.
This year was flooded with moments surrounding music, every weekend a new favorite replacing the last. My most recent favorite was in the middle of December. The day after 50,000 people marched through Manhattan declaring black lives matter, I sat under a cellar door on Malcolm X Boulevard watching 90 people host a hypnotic neo-jazz band from Georgia called Red Sea.
The show flier deemed the venue “X”, maybe just for the night or for more shows to come. I’ve learned you shouldn’t count on a “next time” in these situations. The bouncer who ushered us into the unmarked barroom above the dusty basement’s soundproofed ceiling suggested this meeting place had a long underground history. Probably not one rife with experimental rock.
Upstate acts Palm, Annie Blech, Dog, and they city’s own Big Neck Police joined Red Sea that night. Each set’s dissonance seared its way up my spine with every elegantly placed wrong note- another theme of 2014. That basement, though, is what left the biggest impression on me.
Between its crumbling concrete walls, I saw people who play twee pop music. I saw people who play nu metal. I saw people whose music defies categorization. We were all enthralled. We were there watching a community of musicians share their art and host members of a sister community in their own. We were there showing support. Through late-listed addresses, unmarked doors and a few thickets of cobwebs, we sought out that shitty basement in the middle of a borough that the uninspired roll their eyes at. By being there, we know inspiration is still there, still churning out amazing music from amazing people. By being there, we keep it going.
That night I saw what you can’t with your eyes rolled back inside your skull. ‘DIY’ shows aren’t going to die in New York anytime soon. They just don’t have time to cater to people unmotivated by what’s found off the beaten path.
-Katie Capri (Fern Mayo, Impose)
A Marked Men Party
2014 was a great year for me, maybe the best I’ve had yet. I turned 30 this year, traveled a lot, saw a bunch of great shows, and also (most importantly) said “fuck this” to having a boss and started only working for myself. I was trying to think of my favorite memory this year and a lot of things came to mind: Playing a midnight show with Tony Molina and Big Eyes under the Grey’s Ferry Bridge, playing a generator show with Acid Fast and Constant Insult at Graffiti Pier in N. Philly, hanging out with far away friends and eating huge burritos in California, and Tommy Borst’s birthday party in Michigan City Indiana (Tommy walked through fire that night, fell through my drums, tried to destroy his own P.A. and probably made fun of everyone there. Jon [Rybicki] & I took mushrooms way too late in the night and I fell asleep in the basement without telling anyone. Jon thought I walked out to the woods and drowned in the pond behind Tommy’s house).
I’d have to say that my favorite memory of 2014 was playing with the Marked Men on my 30th birthday in New York. The day before my birthday I was helping my friend Tim with some work at his shop. It was a long Friday and I was excited to get home and go see some friends from Ohio who were playing in Philly that night. I stopped by their sound check on the way home to pick up my friend Evan who was on tour with them for dinner. When we got to my house I was very surprised to find it empty- with the exception of my friend Ken from Richmond and one of my oldest best friends, Marco, from Detroit. When I asked “what the hell are you doing here?!” I was answered with “making cookies”. Marco flew in from Detroit and Ken took the bus up from RVA to surprise me for my birthday the next day. Over the course of the evening some more folks showed up and we ate cookies and drank copious amounts of beer. Realistically that was more than enough of a birthday for me but to add the next day’s show on top of it was too perfect. Now I’ll be honest, I fucking hate New York.
I have a lot of great friends there and have had some really great times there- but overall it’s not for me. The show and the people involved and other friends that came made it feel good and right, though. All the bands that played were friends, and a lot of friends from NY and Philly came to the show to hang out (which is all I care about from a birthday, having friends around hanging out). The bill for the show was Worriers, Radiator Hospital, Iron Chic, and Marked Men. I hadn’t seen Marked Men in probably 7 years or so, so I was very excited to see them again. Jeff Burke writes- and has written- some of my favorite pop based punk music of all time. He’s shy and humble, but not stand offish. He has no problem having a great conversation with you but might not be the one to start it if you’re not that close. I really like that about him. A lot of people hold him in a high regard but the ego that sometimes shows up with that stature has never been a part of him.
It was really cool to see Joe again too, he’d booked a show for Swearin’ a couple years before with his band Low Culture (who are amazing) and we had a fun night at his house in Los Cruces. After we played, which was an okay set, not our best but definitely not our worst, I started in on party mode. I tried to keep it together as best I could among all the shots and beers people offer you on a birthday night. I did a great job of it too! After the show we all went to the now defunct Lulu’s down the street for drinks and to continue with the party. After many more drinks and illicit things the night was finally called and we went to a nice un-comfy floor for sleep. It was a nice easy ending to a fun, wild night.
2015 has a lot to contend with, let see what happens.
-Jeff Bolt (Swearin’, Radiator Hospital, founder, Stupid Bag Records)