Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: David Anthony

2016: A Year’s Worth of Memories

Heartbreaking Bravery recently went offline but all facets of the site are back to being fully operational. Apologies for any inconveniences. All posts that were slated to run during that brief hiatus will appear with this note.

Once again, I’d like to start off with thanking the 2016 crop of contributors for A Year’s Worth of Memories: James Greer, Lindsey-Paige McCloy, Amanda Dissinger, Loren DiBlasi, Katie Preston, Erica Sutherland, Nicola Leel, Jesse Amesmith, Phil McAndrew, Lindsay Hazen, John Rossiter, Sonia Weber, Lily Mastrodimos, Eric Slick, Jerard Fagerberg, Megan Manowitz, Amar Lal, Phyllis Ophelia, Elise Okusami, Isaac Eiger, Alisa Rodriguez, Ryan Wizniak, Nora Scott, Natalie Kirch, and Jessica Leach. There aren’t words powerful enough to adequately convey my gratitude for your efforts, time, care, and consideration. Apologies to anyone that may have contributed something that got lost in the shuffle (if this is you, please send me a note and we can try to work something out for next year).

As you may have noticed, every single entry into this year’s edition of A Year’s Worth of Memories (this one included) either ran or is running with the disclaimer up top. At the start of the year, Heartbreaking Bravery was effectively forced into a hiatus to work out technical complications that occurred due to what essentially amounted to a correspondence glitch. All sorts of things went haywire and reconnecting all the wires was a surprisingly difficult task. A number of things got lost in the shuffle.

For a brief time, I thought about ending the site permanently but reading back through the material that was still left on the table — as well as some of the material that was posted in the past — dissuaded me from calling it quits. These pieces needed to be published and it felt important, maybe even necessary, to continue this site.

While the timing may have rendered the 2016 installment of A Year’s Worth of Memories a little less timely than I would have liked, the pieces themselves largely transcended the time capsule-style trappings typically attributed to these types of works. Many touched on lessons that seemed timeless. All of them made me question what I’d eventually choose to write about it and how I’d present it whenever I did choose. The piece I wrote last year  was outrageously long and I didn’t want to go through something that exhausting again.

Eventually, I decided the best route would be to combine some of the common traits laid out by the 2016 series: splitting the piece into four pieces, focusing on personal triumphs while making room for gnawing anxieties, visual interludes, and paying tribute to the people and events that are worth celebrating. All that and more can be read below.

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SMALL FESTS & SHOWS

2016 was the year of small festivals; I’d always preferred them to the spectacle-laden retreats that seem to dominate the news cycles every year. Many of these small-scale events I’d been trying to see for years and 2016 just wound up being kind enough to allow me access to events like FRZN Fest, Wicker Park Fest, and Eaux Claires, among others. Unsurprisingly, each held its own share of memorable frustrations and scintillating highlights. In no particular moment, here are some of the standout moments.

Chicago was atypically warm for last year’s annual Music Frozen Dancing, which saw Muuy Biien, Meat Wave, The Spits, and the Black Lips playing outdoors to a packed crowd outside of the Empty Bottle. While all of the bands were good and the Black Lips, as they always do, managed to invoke the high school memories of discovering and participating in that genre of music, nothing could’ve topped Meat Wave unveiling “Glass Teeth” from what would eventually become their next record.

Ragged and sick, the band tore into the new material with the kind of excitement reserved for new material. It was a standout moment of a day that refused to end (my friend Josh and I wound up taking three different forms of public transit after the trains stopped running) after an off-the-books Heavy Times show wrapped in the early hours of the morning. It was a surreal moment and allowed for an extended view of Chicago at night. Exhausted, content, and desperate to get back to our sleeping quarters, it was a difficult night to forget.

Months later, I’d return for the unreasonably stacked Wicker Park Fest, excited to see a long list of friends and more than a few bands that had been on my bucket list. The weather had different plans. Not only did getting turned around on the way to the fest’s first day wind up forcing me to walk a few extra miles before being saved by a generous taxi driver who offered me a free ride after the first rain of the weekend started descending, more than half of the bands I’d intended to see got cancelled because of storms on both days.

Nearly as soon as I got through the gates, I was already rushing to take shelter with a bunch of other festivalgoers who had effectively sequestered themselves in Reckless Records, which would eventually lose power and offer up a faint glow with candles set up in various parts of the store People browsed records, reading materials, and gathered by the wind to watch the storm lift tents out of the ground and send them ricocheting down Paulina St. There was an odd magic to it all.

There were bright musical spots in the midst of all of that chaos, though, including an unbelievably explosive Jeff Rosenstock set that saw the songwriter leaping over the barricade gap, guitar still attached, to crowdsurf at the end of an abbreviated set. The whirlwind nature of Rosenstock’s performance, which came after the storm delays and restrictions were lifted, felt like an appropriate maelstrom of energy; a whirlwind performance driven by some unknowable force.

Five or six songs in length, it’d wind up being the highlight of the festival. Somewhere nearby, one of the trains on the blue line wound up getting blown off the rails by the intense winds and caused festival organizers to proceed with extra caution on the second day, which was hit with an even worse run of weather.

I spent much of that day with Sasha Geffen — the fist young music journalist I can remember truly admiring — who was with me when I was forming the initial idea for A Year’s Worth of Memories and was a vital part of its finalization. We took in great, sunny sets from Bad Bad Hats and Diet Cig before the storm reappeared and spent a lot of time in a powerless Emporium Arcade. During that run — which forced cancellations of both Pile and PUP — I was also fortunate enough to meet A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor David Anthony.

The last memorable moment of that festival caught me paralyzed in between two stages, with Ought ripping into “More Than Any Other Day” on one side and Alvvay‘s launching into “Archie, Marry Me” on the other. I took in both, unable to choose between two of the best songs of the past ten years before rushing over to Ought, who had their industrial sensibilities enhanced by their backdrop, trains running along the blue line in the background while being cloaked in a calm, post-storm glow. It was a perfect way to cap a very chaotic festival.

Three more small festivals had their fair share of spectacular moments as well: Bon Iver debuting an entire record at Eaux Claires, sending chills down my spine for the entirety of “715 – CR∑∑KS” while crickets audibly chirped on the forest perimeter, their sound elevated by the reverential silence of a crowd of thousands. Tickle Torture playing shortly after that set and delivering a slew of the festival’s best moments, including a finale that saw bandleader Elliot Kozel (formerly of Sleeping in the Aviary) getting completely naked while screaming “MY LOVE!” at the top of his lungs. That day starting at the gates, listening to the sounds of an expanded Tenement lineup blowing away a festival crowd and spending that day in the presence of some of my favorite people, including A Year’s Worth of Memories contributors Nina Corcoran (who I wrote about for my piece last year) and Sam Clark (who has played in more than one band with me).

Turkey Fest’s final day had a stellar lineup boasting four great acts: Wood Chickens, Trampoline Team, The Hussy, and Nobunny, with the latter two delivering incredible sets full of ridiculous high-energy antics. FRZN Fest had more than a few moments that wound up being burned into my memory. None more frustrating than an infuriatingly chatty crowd refusing to give Julien Baker anything beyond a modicum of courtesy. None more exciting than a characteristically perfect Charly Bliss set that had me continuously grinning while singing along to songs that comprised the best EP of this current decade and will litter one of 2017’s best records.

As much as I love both Julien Baker and Charly Bliss, though, there was something about Torres‘ set that felt almost holy. Playing after a good Eternal Summers set and the best Palehound set I’ve seen to date, Torres dove headfirst into a set that alternately gave me chills, lifted my spirits, calmed me, and — almost inexplicably — at one point had me on the verge of tears. To top it all off, Torres’ goosebump-inducing one-song encore wound up being tantamount to a religious experience that included a lovely moment between bandleader Mackenzie Scott and my friend Justin. I was fortunate enough to capture that moment in full and revisit it frequently.

For individual shows, there were a number of great outings that were peppered with heartening moments lingering around the peripheries of the main event. Walking into the High Noon Saloon to be greeted with an onslaught of hugs from my friends in Yowler, Eskimeaux, and Frankie Cosmos, only to be whisked away for a coffee reprieve in a nearby shop by Gabby, Greta, and A Year’s Worth of Memories contributor Athylia Paremski, before circling back to a powerhouse show. Charly Bliss and PUP combining for what was, bar none, the most intense show I’ve ever experienced (at one point I was nearly choked out by a girl clutching the neckline of my shirt to keep herself upright in the swirling sea of chaos behind me).

As meaningful as both of those shows were, though, it would have been impossible for anyone to top an event that occurred early on in December: the official reunion of Good Grief, a band that meant an extraordinary amount to me that was nearly gone forever, taking place in Guu’s, the tavern that’s acted as a refuge for me during my various stints in my home town. People from the shows that dominated my fondest Stevens Point memories from that run all flooded in from various parts of the upper Midwest to see this take place and everyone lost their voices screaming along. Making things even sweeter: an opening set from Heavy Looks, led in part by my friend Rosalind Greiert, watching her hit a stride as both a writer and performer, and feeling an irrepressible rush of a million good feelings as I watched her come into her own in real time.

To see something like that happening (both the Heavy Looks set and the Good Grief set), surrounded by friends so close they’re considered family, engaging in something meaningful is an exhilarating feeling and a lot of people who were present are likely still feeling some of those feelings reverberations. Good Grief weren’t exactly a household name before their dissolution but they were — and remain — one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Get caught up by watching the videos from that reunion set right here:

PLAYING MUSIC

In 2016, I had the good fortune of playing the most shows in any given year that I probably ever have in my life. In addition to finishing writing a (forthcoming) solo record, I was able to play in three different bands with people I respect, admire, and care for deeply.

The band I played with the least was the band that I’d played with the most in 2015, A Blue Harbor. Geographic complications have essentially forced us into a hiatus by the middle of the year but we were still able to play a few shows in support of the full-length we’d recorded in Minneapolis in 2015, including a local show for a pop-up art gallery for an arts collective that made me feel a surge of hope for our small town. As unlikely as it seems at this point, something tells me the things this band has to offer have been far from exhausted (and our guitarist/vocalist, Matty, has been releasing a continuous string of excellent material on her own).

I accepted an invitation to join a new band called Doorstopper and have taken up residency behind  the kit. Jarad Olson, the bassist for both Good Grief and Heavy Looks as well as an incredible songwriter in his own right, had teamed up with our friend Melissa Haack to allow her poetry a musical platform in an odd experiment that’s been paying the type of dividends that I’m legitimately not sure any of us had expected. It’s become a band whose mantra has remained — and with good reason — “let’s get weird.” It’s a band that has been given the tag “premenstrual post-punk” and it’s the type of band that takes a suggestion for a “doom-wop” song seriously. And it’s a band that hasn’t stopped getting better and more interesting with each successive practice.

While Doorstopper has been occupying itself in the shadows, building something interesting, I also found myself being re-integrated into a resurgent Holly & the Nice Lions, who played all over the state of Wisconsin in 2016, with a host of fascinating bands. Some of those bands (Bad Wig, Midnight Reruns) were made up of the people we’ve been close friends with for years. Some of those bands (Young Jesus, POPE, Mo Troper) constitute the best emerging bands America has to offer.

One of those bands (Bully) has earned international acclaim. One of those bands (The Muffs) continues to be rightfully revered as not only icons but living legends. Through all of those shows, the weird parties surrounding them, and everything else that the minutiae of being in band carries, we’ve grown closer as a unit and I’m proud to consider both of the other members as family. Whether we were being towed to a house show after blowing a tire or playing hard enough to generate our own blood, we’ve found ways to continuously elevate each other, keep each other in check, and look out for each other. Show after show, song after song, the band kept getting better and we — impossibly — kept enjoying each other’s company more. It’s hard to imagine a better situation.

MY PARTNER

For all of the memorable things I was able to do in both film and music throughout 2016, by the year’s end none of it felt as meaningful as it would have if I didn’t get to share it with my partner, Simone. Throughout the last quarter of the year, we went from being good friends to being inseparable, willfully colliding at nearly every turn. I learned to rediscover the depths of my love for discovering new music by viewing it through her eyes. I rediscovered the importance of engaging in active good. I made up my mind to constantly strive to better myself in productive ways.

A series of shared trips to the various corners of the state of Wisconsin led to some genuinely unforgettable moments, whether it was carving out new, unbeaten paths in gorgeous parks on beautiful days or getting swept up in the (typically far too humid) intensity of shows in basements, dive bars, or anywhere else we might find people playing instruments (or picking up instruments of our own to play each other Bishop Allen songs). I’ll steal her glasses, she’ll steal my camera. We’ll laugh, we’ll listen, we’ll watch, and we’ll keep moving forward.

The survival of Heartbreaking Bravery can, in many ways, be directly attributed to her involvement in my life. All of the frustrating, terrifying events that have happened over the course of the year’s last stretch seemed easier to weather with her at my side and she’s constantly given me at least one major reason to celebrate the future. I’m thankful, grateful, and unbelievably lucky.

A STEP FORWARD

By the end of 2016, Heartbreaking Bravery had gained additional purpose. In the face of one of the most anti-arts (and anti-press) administrations in America’s history, the need to fight back by any means necessary increased. Even before the election, the fact that the current president’s campaign had carried him so far was troublesome. With a milestone rapidly approaching for the site, that happening at the forefront of the nation’s political landscape (and, more directly, America’s landscape), and an unending desire to be productive and actively contribute to good causes, I chose to resolve all of my feelings into one massive project: A Step Forward.

At first, I only expected a handful of people to be interested in contributing to the project. More than half of the artists I reached out to responded immediately and gifted the compilation, designed to serve as Heartbreaking Bravery’s 1000th post, incredible material. In a matter of weeks, I had more than 50 songs kicking around in my inbox. A few months later, my finger was lingering above the publish button, set to release 100 songs from 100 artists that had, in some way or another, been involved with this site’s history. By that point, I’d enlisted the help of Jes Skolnik to locate worthy causes and had struck up a correspondence with the Chicag0-based Rape Victim Advocates. All of the money made from the pay-your-own pricetag of A Step Forward would be going towards that organization.

Looking through all of the songs, whether they were demos, early mixes, new songs, remixes, or old favorites, and all of the artists who had chosen to give me a part of their lives because they believed in the things I was doing and the causes I was supporting was an overwhelming feeling. A lot of people that have had near-death experiences have described the sensation of seeing their life flash before their eyes and, in that moment with my finger hovering over the button to release this compilation, it was hard not to take stock of everything that had happened in my life over the course of this site’s existence. It was a jarring feeling but one that filled me with hope and with love for the people who have supported this place, stuck by my side, and lent their voice to any of the various projects to have run on Heartbreaking Bravery.

I was on the verge of tears when I woke up to the flood of responses the compilation had elicited and how much it had generated for people who put the funds to good use. I’d stayed up for nearly 50 straight hours getting the preparations for the project in place. Cody Dyb, one of my closest friends, was kind enough to let me use his internet to upload the materials (the internet at my house is obscenely slow) and I’d collapsed into a deep sleep shortly after returning home. Phil McAndrew, one of my favorite artists working today (and a regular contributor to this series), contributed an original piece to the project that has become one of my most-treasured renderings.

In the weeks leading up to A Step Forward‘s released, I’d done an ink sketch of what would become Heartbreaking Bravery’s logo. Petite League’s Lorenzo Cook — another Syracuse-based artist whose band contributed an incredible song to the compilation — meticulously tightened and superimposed the logo onto the image for the album art and the banner that can be seen at the top of this segment. I’m unbelievably grateful for both of their contributions and am lucky to count them both as friends. I also have to give special mention, once more, to Fred Thomas.

For more than a few years, I’ve considered Thomas to be one of the best lyricists in music (2017’s Changer finds him attaining stratospheric highs). When I reached out to him about the project and he suggested a song tackling the weird inter-scene dynamics that occur around someone being outed as a sexual predator, I wasn’t just flattered, I was flattened. That the ensuing work would be one of his strangest — partially inspired by S U R V I V E’s outstanding Stranger Things score work and a nice (if unintentional) nod to that particular act’s name — felt appropriate. “What Happens When the Costumes Come Off” is a song that perfectly embodied the tumultuous events that led to the formation of A Step Forward in my mind and has resonated with me ever since my first, oddly disorienting listen. There’s fear present in that song, there’s an incessant questioning, there’s a feeling of damage, but — most importantly — there is a feeling of resilience.

It’s that final feeling, resilience, that I’ve chosen to carry into 2017. With what America’s currently facing, resilience will be necessary. I’ve already been inspired by my friends’ resilience and generosity and I’ve vowed to carry on that spirit as best as possible. I’ve vowed to both make more room for and to elevate the voices of the groups who have been unfairly othered due to location, socioeconomic standing, or — infuriatingly — appearance, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Historically, the people that have followed this site have shared a similar mindset and I’m constantly humbled by their company. We’re all in this fight together and it’s important to listen to the fears, concerns, and desires of the people that have been denied a platform for the worst reasons all too frequently.

The shows and festivals made 2016, in turns, fascinating, frustrating, and genuinely exciting. The people I was fortunate enough to be playing some of those shows provided 2016 a level of comfort. My partner not only served as a constant source of inspiration but continuously reminded me of the good in the world and all of the reasons that hope should never be abandoned. A Step Forward taught me that I’ll never be alone in my belief that empathy, camaraderie, and compassion will always find a way to thrive and that now, more than ever, it’s important to carry on the work, the ideology, and the spirit of Heartbreaking Bravery. I will do my best to personally embody whatever legacy it may have at every single turn and I will always be honored by the company it’s allowed me to share. 2017 may seem bleak from the outset but I have every reason to find heart in the fight to ensure it’s better than what we expect.

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Of course, this series wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t thank everyone who’s contributed through the years. As I said earlier, all of your contributions — and the fact that you care at all — mean more than I could ever convey with just words. So thank you, again, to both all of those names listed at the top of this post and all of the following names for their past contributions: Loren DiBlasiSabyn Mayfield, Tica Douglas, Fred ThomasIsabel ReidySami Martasian, Ben GriggBella Mazzetti, David Anthony, Jamie Coletta, Chris SutterCole Kinsler, Gabriela June Tully Claymore, Stephen TringaliToby Reif, Elaiza Santos, Amelia Pitcherella, Katie Bennett, Miranda Fisher, Christine Varriale, Sam Clark, Julia Leiby, Kelly Johnson, Jessi Frick, Nicholas Cummins, Athylia Paremski,  David GlickmanSasha Geffen, Jeanette Wall, Eva Grace Hendricks, Caroline Rayner, Joseph Barchi, Edgar GonzalezShari Heck, Michael Caridi, Dave Benton, Cynthia Ann Schemmer, Tess Duncan, Michelle Zauner, Jeff Bolt, Katie Capri, Quinn Moreland, Oliver Kalb, Ali Donohue, Ray McAndrew, Christopher Good, David Sackllah, Rick Maguire, Stephen Pierce, Johanna Warren, and Patrick Garcia.

As always, I love you all.

2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (David Anthony)

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Photograph by Dan Wilcox

Last year, David Anthony (pictured above, second from left) turned in a heartfelt piece about seeing The National with his mom for the first edition of this series. This year, he’s taken the time out of his busy schedule balancing time between fronting the excellent Birches (featured in the above photo) and relentlessly featuring bands over at The AV Club, where he works as an assistant editor, to spotlight another important person in his life: Jamie Coletta. Here, he covers the trail of events that ultimately led to one of 2015’s most exhilarating live clips and ultimately reminds himself to be thankful for his current position, doing work he genuinely loves. Read it below and then find a reason to celebrate the things — and people —  that make life worthwhile.

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The short answer to this question [what was the most meaningful moment for you in 2015] would be one name: Jamie Coletta. There are many great people who work in the music industry — and, though i hope they are being weeded out, a bunch of shitty ones — but few are as passionate as Jamie.

It all started when, in the winter of 2014, she emailed me about a tour she was working on, featuring Andrew Jackson Jihad, The Smith Street Band, Jeff Rosenstock, and Chumped. She asked if the site I work for — The A.V. Club — would be interested in presenting the tour and, given my love of these artists, it was an opportunity I was happy to jump at.

It’d be ridiculous for me to claim credit for Jamie’s work, as she did all the heavy lifting, but together we hatched a plan to get the bandsto do one giant, raucous session when they rolled through Chicago. The result is a wacky video that sees AJJ and Jeff putting together a mashup of songs previously covered in the A.V. Undercover series. While there have been many great Undercovers over the years, none mean as much to me as this one. There was such a pure exuberance in the room that emanates in the video, with the bands rushing through songs, switching instruments, and giving all of themselves in the performance.

This entire experience is something that still doesn’t feel real to me. Even though I only played a tiny role in making it all happen, I’m thankful every day for Jamie giving me the chance to work with some of my favorite bands on this wild thing. And, watching the video now, it still strikes me how lucky I am to even have the chance to work with such amazing people. It’s a feeling that I hope doesn’t fade any time soon.

-David Anthony

 

2014: A Year’s Worth of Memories, Pt. 2

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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)