memoir

Story Behind the Setlist: The Swell Season — April 2008, Oakland, CA

My fondest memories revolve around live music.

That statement may mean nothing to you, but to me, it’s everything. See, my memory is not what it used to be. (Of course, how would I know?)

Maybe my memory was always lousy. Maybe I didn’t eat enough pistachios as a kid. I’m not trying to be melodramatic; I don’t think there’s anything medical going on. The truth is that my friends will reminisce, or my wife will remind me of some place we visited a few years back. I will eventually recall, but the memories must be coaxed, primed. It’s like turning a page in a novel with two pages stuck together: I just need a minute to get them unstuck.

But music? Now that’s something my memory can get behind!

SIDE NOTE: My theory is that since everyone around me has always had amazing memories, I never felt it necessary to encode much to long-term. I saved this brain power for much more important things, like charming women and learning guitar.

Concerning concerts, I can tell you who I’ve seen, how many times I’ve seen ‘em, and which song stuck out the most. I can hack any musical memory and transport myself back to the venue, where all of a sudden I’m wearing the moody, black emo-clothing of my high school years, and I’m praying to God that the drunk stranger standing next to me will stop singing so damn loud.

Fair warning: they say every time you access a memory, you alter it. With great trepidation, then, I’m going to go ahead and access a memory for you — a really, really fond memory, one of my favorites — knowing that I might wreck it in the process. Wish me luck.

*Closes eyes, knocks on the door of his mind palace* (more…)

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Borrowed trouble: My 30 days inside a payday loan office

The cursor blinks and a man hovers over my computer. American flag t-shirt, sleeves off — he coughs into his hands and rubs them together. He’s nervous. On my desk lies his bank statement, three pay stubs and a driver’s license. They are the only items he has in the world.

“You can do $200?” he asks. “All I need is $200.”

“I can do $200,” I say, but I’m falsely distracted: I’m typing — clicks and clacks without regard to timing or rhythm. The store is stuffy today. I’m thinking about going home. Or crawling under my desk, holding my knees and rocking. I’m feeling loansome: i.e., the mental weight from a month’s work of digging irresponsible borrowers under insurmountable debt.

“Yeah,” he says, “that all?”

Sam, who sits next to me, swivels over. She reaches to tap my computer screen, making the monitor shake, her chubby finger with a fat force. Where she taps it reads,

TOTAL LOAN AMOUNT APPROVED: ………………. $750.00

Sam turns her head, smiling at me, nodding, as if to say, “Go ahead, Kevin, you got this. I believe in you.” So I swallow. I have to find my voice again, like a shy 12 year old being forced to sing the National Anthem in front of his friends; it’s in there, but it doesn’t want to come out.

Below my computer screen is a motivational sign:

GOAL: 100% of TLA

Next to the letters is a picture of a steaming coffee cup with a pastry.

The man, waiting, now growing impatient to my silence, stretches. He looks to his right, at the signage hanging on the wall. Big, beautiful green letters,

BE A RESPONSIBLE BORROWER, TAKE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED.

“You’re approved for $750,” I say.

He pretends to think about it: “Yeah,” he says. “I’ll take it. All of it.” (more…)

Eat, Sleep, Repeat

There’s this album I used to listen to named Eat, Sleep, Repeat. It’s a downer record, for sure, as you can imagine by the title. Lyrically, it explores the cyclicality of life and also the meaninglessness of it.

(I was emo when this came out so BACK OFF!)

The thought of a single human-life being summed up by the words

“Eat

Sleep

Repeat”

can kind of be frightening.

Life can be like that though, so cyclical it often feels purposeless.

Eat, Sleep, Dance!

I’ve realized since the album’s release that the singer (or character of lyrics, maybe) wasn’t condemning routine; he was just down. He was in a valley. He was also an artist.

(Foolish, I feel now, after adopting his outlook as doctrine).

Artists tend to overanalyze life (or under-analyze life) into whatever they want it to be. If they want to be stuck in a hamster wheel, they will build themselves a hamster wheel or color the world as such. There’s an obvious temper of youth which cloaks the music and message; it’s crazy what you identify yourself with when you’re a kid.

I’ve since discovered that life is naturally cyclical, and that’s alright. We can have good days and bad, good years and bad. Many of us see the big picture and can sail steady through it all. I look back at myself and wonder why I couldn’t. I was hyper-responsive, I guess, the type to get stuck in valleys and curse them only to later summit peaks and praise them, all the while missing meaning, missing the purpose of creation, missing consistency.

How are you holding up these days?

One day, I want to write and record another album. I think I’ll title it

Eat. Coffee. Poop. Netflix. Work. Eat. Blog. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. 

And it’s going to be a happy record, one that sees the good in the bad, one that can sail. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Yes. Yes, I think so.

Departing Queries:

  1. Are there any outdated doctrines from your youth that you’re still holding on to?
  2. Do you focus on what is true and noble, or are you living only in response to the temporary?
  3. What are the routines in your life that color your identity, make you who you are?

Copeland_-_Eat,_Sleep,_RepeatP.S. I still really like this album.

Relook: The Perils of Landscaping (Kevin Claud Van Damn it!)

You know that awesome, cliché action-movie sequence where the hero jumps out of a car right before it shoots off a cliff? I’m sure you know what I mean.

I’ve always wanted to do that!

Today was going to be an easy day. You know… day off from my main job at the market, do a little side-job yard-work, get a little sunshine. I didn’t realize I’d be jumping off a riding lawnmower as it plunged downhill.

I should explain.

On Wednesdays, I landscape for a really nice lady named Lois. She lives outside of Coeur d’Alene in the “fancy home overlooking the lake on a hill” district. Every summer she rents her house (or yard I should say) for weddings.

She has a nice riding mow, and I genuinely love the job. It’s outside and beautiful and even fun. That said, every landscaper who works a riding mow will mention a turn that makes their teeth grind. My “turn,” happens to have a hill next to it that dramatically declines into wilderness. No problem.

Today, the grass was wet.

Moments

It’s funny how time seems to slow down in radical moments. Looking back, I felt like I could’ve prepped a tuna salad sandwich with the time I had before the fall, which was really only two or three seconds.

I better Titanic off of this thing!

I jumped and hit the ground, soon hearing the mower make a ‘crunch’ sound. I stood up, as slowly as I could muster, and turned my head towards the direction of the renegade-riding mower. God, I didn’t want to look.

“Oh my goodness,” I said. “It’s fine!”

There, downhill, the mower rested in a safe net of bushes. In fact, it couldn’t have had a softer landing. Laughing, I ran down the hill and jumped on the dusty mower and started the engine. I threw the gear in reverse but it wouldn’t go. It tried, I tried, the wheels turned and all, but it wouldn’t go. After a good ten minutes of this back and forth gear shifting, manually lifting the mower, and pushing and pulling in ridiculous helplessness, I rested.

Prayer

I thought about calling some friends, but everyone I knew lived roughly twenty-hours away in California. Lois was gone for a few hours, the only good thing.

“Lord,” I pleaded, “You gotta get me out of this, you gotta send me somebody!”

The hill looks bigger in person, okay?

During the summer, Lois turns her guest room into a bed and breakfast. I thought the house was empty, but I forgot about the B&B guests! Suddenly, I heard a door open.

“Hey! Hey!” I rushed up the hill to the guest’s door with my arms waving. Flustered and bewildered, the man stepped back and threw his fists into a fighting stance (protecting his wife).

“Do you… I… well…” I was out of breathe and apparently lost my vocabulary on the fall. It wasn’t helping my case that the stranger thought me a lunatic. Thankfully, his eyes looked down and saw the green on my clothes and (eventually) the mower in the bushes.

“Did you ride that down the hill?” He asked.

“No… It rolled down by itself.”

His eyes widened and he made the hand gesture of a rolling car. “It rolled?”

“Well no, it roooollllled.” I made the gesture of a smooth downward drift with my hand. I must’ve looked insane. Crazy or not, this answered prayer of a man helped me pull, push, and lift the mower out of the bushes.

It turned out this guy was a saint.

Fin.

Getting out of the bushes was only half the battle, but I will spare you the rest of that crazy story (it included ‘off roading’ further down). All in all, the mower was fine. I even got it back in the yard and finished mowing before Lois came home. I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. “Hey, I took your expensive (brand new) riding mow on a joy ride to the lake.”

I didn’t say that.

My conscious got the best of me, and I did tell her. She took it great and actually laughed when I gave her the story. She felt bad for me, could you believe that?

Epilogue

What’s the moral to this tale? Hmmmmm…

Watch out for wet grass?

Don’t cut too close to the edge?

God answers prayer?

Before I left, I took one more glance at the spot where it all went down. The soft breeze was blowing and the sun was finally shining. Down the hill, the bushes were tromped and a freshly made ‘mower size’ trail existed, showing my fateful path. I stood and looked, both triumphant and stupid, gazing with astonishment, and thinking only “Man, that was bad ass.”

[NOTE: This blog post came from 7/28/2011. It has been slightly edited and reworked. I hope to get back on track next week and share some new thoughts. Until then, I hope you enjoy some of my older (odder) tales.]

Memoirs of a Music Fanatic

We saw mewithoutYou last night. They’ve been a favorite band of mine for eight years now (geez). My fifth time seeing them and probably my last considering the average lifespan of indie-bands, I was reminded, during the show, of a time when life was simpler, when good music was the priority and everything else was dreck.

mewithoutMe

It started in high school. My afternoons were spent visiting record shops and my weekends spent seeing concerts. It wasn’t just about consumption; no, the music-life was about discovery. I was a California 49er searching for gold—staying hip and ahead of the curve—perusing the used and new-release bins for the unknowns and the yet-to-be-discovereds, old-favorites and new.

When a good group traveled through town I’d buy tickets and request time-off in a second-natured trance. The live-show, you see, completed it all.

What I realized last night, while watching the opening acts (in a dark smelly club I’ve never been to before, and yet, have been to so many times), was that almost all of my favorite groups from the last ten years have gone away. They’ve just left. Soon, I’m sure mewithoutYou will sail into the fog too.

I’ve noticed it before. I mean, I get it. Groups come and go; not everyone’s favorite band gets to be The Rolling Stones.

But what strikes me is the perspectival meaninglessness. Does it all just boil down to a ticket stub in a scrap book, a CD case on the shelf? Is that good enough? I used to pretend it meant something more, the music, the experience, but now, when another favorite band bites the dust, I’m surprised at how little it affects me.

The lead singers, the drummers, the guitar players I foolishly idolized—I’m curious if these days they wonder about me more than I do them.

Diskney 

On the second shelf of my bookcase, here in Rochester, lies two stacks of CDs. There’s maybe thirty albums total, “Quintessential,” I guess. If a fire burned my building tomorrow and I lost them all, I’d be sad, but I’d move on. Sometimes, I wonder if holding on to them keeps me from moving forward.

When we were preparing to move across country, we sold and gave away just about everything that wouldn’t fit in the car. Included was a box of maybe a hundred CDs, a box I had been meaning to donate to the local public radio station but never could.

Finally the day came to move, and they had to go, so I dropped them off. I wanted the moment to be something bigger than it was, a Toy Story 3-esq ending where a young, inexperienced music lover discovers my box of give-aways, presses play and falls in love. With courage, I’d drive away and wave, “Goodbye, pals.”

But that didn’t happen. Instead, a grubby, uninterested hipster threw them in the corner and probably the trash after I left: “You want a receipt?”

Getting older is weird.

mewithoutMe Part 2

Thoughts of meta-meaninglessness and perspective aging filled my brain between every set and song last night, more distracting than a young couple making-out in the front row. Finally, mewithoutYou came on stage and tore into “The Dryness and the Rain,” one of my favorites. At this point the crowd moved, and so was I, remembering—if only for a moment—the key to it all. Music doesn’t need to make sense. It just needs to have feeling.

Maybe that’s a good enough reason for spending a life chasing it.

1170856_567660659938014_1804510262_n

“The fish swims in the sea, while the sea is in a certain sense, contained within the fish! Oh, what am I to think of the writing of a thousand lifetimes could not explain if all the forest trees were pens and all the oceans ink?” –mewithoutYou