Syd Barrett Will Save Your Psychotic Soul

Re-posting an abbreviated version of this one, which I was fortunate enough to have featured in The Junction. The full essay now appears here.

It’s no good trying to say what went wrong with him.

By all appearances, Syd Barrett — original frontman of Pink Floyd — lost his mind. But whether he was schizophrenic as rumored or on the schizo spectrum or otherwise porous to effects of the psychoactive buffet of the day or once got hold of some diabolical drug in hippie drag or had a mood disorder with psychosis-mimicking features or was just a genius and fuck you if you can’t keep up, none of us know.

Hell, don’t know and it wasn’t so long ago I saw the guy in Starbucks. Though — and here’s an important caveat to that and future notes — we do know about me.

syd
Syd Barrett, photographed by Mick Rock (1969)

My own beast of brain (schizoaffective disorder) doesn’t result in full-scale visions left and right, but when it crests, its sweet spot is intrusive daytime images roughly the clarity of hypnagogic hallucinations. Graphics of dialed-down opacity that last about as long as a John Irving double-semicolon sentence. So it isn’t only when one takes the form of a resurrected rock star that they tend to be distinguishable from the flesh-and-blood set.

To contextualize, then: I don’t mean I saw Syd Barrett but he said nothing illuminating because there was so much else to discuss (Roger Waters touring solo, the fickle zephyrs of Bitcoin, etc.) so not even I know. I mean I saw Syd Barrett recently so I’m a fucking loon, and not even that qualifies me to say what was what with him.

The data available on what was eating Syd Barrett at this point is vulnerable to compiler’s bias; my own information comes from qualified and unqualified corners of the web along with the biography Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake.

Even sidelining the popular notion that Syd had, at minimum, a psychological predisposition that LSD acted on like a bank-vault explosive, madness is a good lens through which to review his album The Madcap Laughs and, specifically, “No Good Trying.”

Read the rest in The Junction.

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Confessions of an Unhappy “Recovered” Schizoaffective Trainwreck

I don’t know what to write. And not just for this post — anymore.

It’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve had to admit in years, and it comes on the heels of a worse confession: I am unhappy. Not dissatisfied for an afternoon. Not vacationing in a grump, soon to return to an optimistic home mood. Not bummed for tidy reasons a, b, and (you guessed it) c.

This is the unhappiness that taps your shoulder like a bratty cousin who won’t stop until you explode, WHAT IS IT. WHAT DO YOU WANT. This unhappiness worms its way into your bones until, appropriately, you feel a crawling, grimy sensation from the inside out. But actually, more accurately, this unhappiness is no metaphor; poetics and comparisons offend it. Try to drown it out by blaring your creativity, and it reaches over — quietly, authoritatively — to turn down the dial. Feel good about the words you’ve used to describe it, and while it doesn’t exactly call you names, insult your mother, or accuse you of sounding like a soaps-and-candles copywriter suffering Red Bull withdrawal, it does ask questions.

How is it that you know which words to string together to pleasing effect? Who are you to judge quality and relatability? Isn’t writing something of a pipe-dream at this point? Doesn’t it feel roughly as mature as spending insurance money on My Little Ponies? Aren’t your creative reservoirs drained now? Hasn’t there been enough evidence now that writing is a waste of your diminishing energy? Wouldn’t now be a good time to stare into space, hyperaware of the ellipses between your thoughts? Aren’t you ready for a nap by now? Who are you now — now that you’re not a writer anymore?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

My unhappiness came about gradually but inexorably as I medicated the symptoms of my schizoaffective disorder. For those who aren’t familiar, schizoaffective is the teaming up of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; and this team has resided in my head from the time I was a little girl, hearing phantom carnivals and seeing the sky turn into a conveyor belt and often feeling a bone-chill more appropriate to tenants of a haunted house.

The disorder faced an arsenal of medication, each new prescription wounding some gnarly aspect of it until, at long last, every last psychotic manifestation was squashed and the one-time jostling of my mood had settled down. This new space I existed in looked more like a cure than anything I’d experienced since the lithium, neurofeedback, and mountain marijuana of my early twenties.

But either the cure had overreached, wiping out details of my personality that it mistook for symptoms, or so much of what I had considered personality was actually illness. Either way, the disease was gone and so was basically everything I considered germane to my identity. Which is how I word it to force some objectivity, but here is how it felt: the disease was gone, and so was I.

Not that my life apart from mental illness had exactly been a rainbow glitter castle with unicorn-horn spires. Feeling insecure with the lack of stability in my day job of ghostwriting, I had been looking for a 9–to-5 to no avail. I was poor. Whatever money I made was absorbed by pressing debts in the first weeks of the month; by the latter weeks, I was paying for McDonald’s coffee with quarters. I was worried about needing to move for work if/when the right work surfaced. And the ramifications of that. Getting my daughter enrolled in a new school. Being far away from my son, who lives with his father.

And if ever I ran out of these especially pertinent what-ifs to worry about, I could always worry about that bright but short-lived day when the sun would explode. Because there’s one thing medicating away the majority of my symptoms had taught me: some mental obsessions run deeper than disease. Some bad habits of thought — constantly worrying, waiting for the bottom to drop out whenever things feel fine — are tacklable with lots of therapy and grit, perhaps, but not with dopamine blockers.

I had so many poor habits of thought. So many “life things” stacked against me. Such an uphill battle before I would ever get ahead, whatever that meant. And separately, I was watching my personality evaporate within the stern heat generated by risperdal and lithium. But I wasn’t ready to admit it was all catching to with me; I had promised myself years ago I would always be sufficient for whatever came my way, and that equaled a heels-dug-in sort of happiness. At my delusional, homeless craziest, I’d never put my hands up, and it felt like that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I admitted it:

I wasn’t happy.

 

I was in the library to rent a book on the keto diet. Having read about a handful of cases in which it drastically improved schizophrenia, I thought, What the hell. Actually I’ve never thought what the hell in my life. I thought, Here’s a sparkly fresh cure I gotta try because it might eliminate the no-self lows of medication and the cerebral chaos of life off the meds, which would better position me to find a job, get my daughter successfully transferred to her new school, magic-mend the situation with my son, start putting aside some money in savings for the kids’ college, unexpected expenses, and retirement — and to do it all without landing myself on the receiving end of a sedative drip.

So, this was no casual trip to the library. This was fix-the-broken-world book browsing.

It was while I was in there that it occurred to me to pick up some funny, or at least snarky, book of essays. Catch a little entertainment while caulking my brains’ plethora of cracks. It was then that I thought, I don’t really like reading humor. It achieves nothing. Why should I read it now?

And it was then that the sentence appeared on my thought screen, fully formed and undeniable. Becauuuuzzzah . . . I’m not happy.

Maybe there was something about being in the library, where you’re expected to remain composed and decorous despite your personal epiphanies, but for some reason, in that moment, I was able to accept it. And accordingly, everything attached to it.

I wasn’t happy. Newfangled keto dreams aside, I had no idea how to cure myself. I didn’t know if there was a cure. I didn’t know if I’d be able to muster the energy, stick-to-itiveness, and mental calm it would take to get through the rest of the summer; my reserves of all those things felt depleted. I doubted if the off-brand band-aids in my defense depot were enough to stop existing fissures from getting longer and deeper. I was overwhelmed. Lost. And goddamnit, at the moment, I didn’t have the fortitude to concern myself with big fixes. I just wanted a book of lighthearted humorous essays. C’mon Sloane Crosley. It was time for a little wound licking. It was time to distract myself for the hell of distracting myself.

 

There may be something in the human repertoire more powerful than honesty, but if so, I’m not familiar with it. It would be an exaggeration to say that all I needed to do was admit the damage I’d suffered, but it did make a difference.

As soon as I confessed to myself that I was hurt — and not on the mend — the constant roaring in my head quieted down a little. And although I had been undergoing some form of treatment for schizoaffective disorder since 2017, and had first dabbled in therapy and medication when I was seventeen years old, it felt as though I had just realized something was wrong.

I think that, up to this point, a large part of me had always regarded mental illness as both a challenge and an interesting-enough facet of my character but not as a PROBLEM. I think if I’d ever stopped to admit it was a problem — the serious sort, without a predestined cure I just had to tap into — I also would’ve had to face the scary possibility that I was outfoxed by my own genes.

For years and years, I had been so focused on overcoming the challenge of the way I was born that I hadn’t been honest about what that “challenge” entailed. I had needed to triumph so hard — for my kids, for the future, for the yoga and yogurt lifestyle of wellness — that I hadn’t let myself feel the fear, hopelessness, and even anger that existed just below the surface.

Admitting I was unhappy — and afraid and overwhelmed and sometimes royally pissed off at my brain’s proclivity to spaz out when bathed in dopamine — gave me a much-needed minute to breathe. The bratty cousin who’d been tapping my shoulder let up. Said, “I just wanted you to quit pretending you didn’t see me.”

I still felt largely uninspired when it came to writing, and more than mildly terrified about that personality sinkhole. I still had to keep Amazon’s stand-up station blaring in my car to stave off the sucking emptiness that seemed to be nourished by vehicular quiet. I still felt roughly as frangible as tissue-paper papier-mâché.

Strangely enough, given all that, it felt as though I’d in some way progressed. I was no closer to answers, and perhaps further from a plan of action than I’d been at the start of the day, but I’d been honest (possibly for the first time) about what I was up against. Did acknowledging how very much was outside of my control allow me to finally see, with some confidence, what I could control? Did loosening up my intense grip on results allow me to focus on, again, what I could control? Did all this focus on my true realm of control effectively shrink the world so that its scope became less intimidating?

Maybe. Probably. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m no longer answering my fears with apothegms borrowed from motivational posters. And even if I can’t trust that my unhappiness is certainly conquerable, I can trust myself to be honest now.

 

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Almost Unknown: A New Era of Writing

Illustration by Daniella Urdinlaiz via flickr. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

When I was in my mid-twenties, something slipped out of sequence and I became a teenager. Not in the sense that I experienced a hormonal tsunami reminiscent of my literal teenage years. Not in the sense of dying my hair too dark, slavering over stupid-fast cars, and picking up a guitar — I’d wait to adopt those emblems of the midlifer’s zombified adolescence until my early thirties. I mean in the sense that I fell in love with rock and roll.

And, in full second-time-teenager mode, I would’ve characterized this felicitous turn as discovering the patchwork genre christened by Alan Freed way back in the early ’50s. Same way one discovers Salinger. Discovers Jim Jarmusch. Discovers that all the crunchy-kale eating and NPR listening in the world won’t save you from alienating friends if you keep claiming to discover things that are right the hell there.

It started with Almost Famous.

Oddly enough for a milestone like this, I can’t remember the first time I watched it, but meaningful rewatchings are highlighted in my memory. The movie’s now been with me through good times and bad, celebratory phases and those lows that left me feeling too old too soon, voiceless, spayed, Trumped, excluded from some exciting zeitgeist by virtue of having missed the only train. To me the movie was always pure excitement and I watched it eighty, ninety times and I named my daughter after a character in the movie.

I Googled the song playing in that car scene with William and the band and found out it was “Misty Mountain Hop” and thought so that’s the famous Led Zeppelin. (Forgive me fathers and mothers of rock, for I knew not what you did. My musical upbringing was the stuff of pop-country ignominy.) I listened to Led Zeppelin until I’d fostered a nearly seamless love-hate for them. I listened to the Guess Who because Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie) liked them, and I realized I liked ’em too. I also listened to Heart’s full catalog and their Kicking and Dreaming audiobook, as Nancy Wilson handled the Almost Famous soundtrack. Etc., etc. For a while the whole sound and style of rock was, for me, confined to the waning heyday memorialized in a movie released in 2000.

I would go on to write for Modern Rock ReviewClassic Rock ReviewCover MeThe Spill, and wherever else would let me express my opinions on who rocked and why and just how big. I would stay up late at night writing annotated essays about how Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett’s life mimicked art and vice versa and about how the popularity of Greta Van Fleet signaled the happy-go-lucky end of the world as we know it. I would discover a whole part of my writing identity that had been there, barely buried, waiting to be unleashed by a movie with the just-right soundtrack and ’70s vibe.

For me, even with plenty of publication credits, it would always be a matter of being almost unknown as opposed to almost famous, and that would be perfectly fine. Because in the run time of Cameron Crowe’s fiction-glazed autobiography, I had found not only my new favorite movie but also, a la rock writing, a new way to be happy. It gave me, as a wise man once said, “a place apart from the vast, benign lap of America.”

 

This originally appeared in The Junction. If you liked this post, join me on Medium.

Watching the World Burn With Greta Van Fleet

“I’m Gen X — I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” — Kenan Thompson (SNL skit)

With some bands, music reviewers’ consensus becomes so confused that it reads less as a critique, more as an ode to the asshole you hate yourself for loving.

We’re not talking mere mixed reviews. We’re talking about the useless gray truce you eventually get after yin and yang have violently disagreed— “useless” being the optimal word. Because at this point, the critical contingent’s no longer shedding light on the band, not even if confusion seems to be a congenital part of the band’s whole thing, as a person might argue it does with those over-the-topridiculouscocksurewretched, vampiricundeniably talented new gods known as Greta Van Fleet.

But then, critics’ say has historically meant little where it’s concerned those bands that struck the public like lightning: because with those bands — who cause the brightest flash and rumblin’est thunder — you can’t talk about them without talking about us.

Who we were when they made it big. How we paved the way for such a phenomenon. What whisper in our undercurrent the band caught sound of and then amplified until it was loud enough to rattle ribs.

In the ’60s and ’70s, the undercurrent was whispering messages of dramatic naturalism and lust, Led Zeppelin heard it, Led Zeppelin thrust a megaphone in front of it (ever the world-class thrusters, them), and through their megaphone the whisper that had always been there started to sound like a shout. An existential scream. A rebel’s bellow. Aaaaaaaaaaah-ah, ah!

The number-one criticism about Greta Van Fleet seems to boil down to this: they’re perceived as seeking to follow in the footsteps of those who rocked instead of seeking what they sought. And because the band has mostly been dismissed as Zeppelin’s counterfeit or praised as their heir apparent from the beginning, it’s been easy to overlook what their notoriety says about us.

After all, a band that triggers unhinged favor and loathing is one that struck societal-whisper gold and had the right sort of megaphone. And that’s true whether or not we like how the one-time whisper sounds once it’s shouted. Oooooooooooooh, mama!

What GVF, and the critical reception we’ve given them, says about us is not just that we’re individuals with variable audio palates.

What it says about us is that nostalgia has gotten so big it’s no longer just a recurring trend — it’s a tone; it’s an age. It also says that Greta Van Fleet has nostalgia like Zeppelin had big-cocked flower power: it’s their connection to the pulse of an era.

And we do not feel just one way about that.

The Age of Big-Cocked Nostalgia

If radio itself offers few clues about why GVF is resonating hard — or what sort of social undertow even exists for them to resonate with — retail is more forthcoming. Anthem of the Peaceful Army, their first full album, was released into a rewound 2018 in which Target was selling tube tops, Teddy Ruxpins, and Taylor Swift on vinyl.

Though, it’s not like it’s unusual for us to come down with a case of the ’members? Even in society’s resting state, nostalgia doesn’t seem expelled so much as latent, following a tidal pattern like any mood or function that answers to the moon. What’s worth discussing regarding the current iteration is its staying power — how it’s outlasting normal expiration windows for fashion trends or collective middle-age crises — and the depths it has managed to reach. The fissures it coincides with, unveils, or causes. The catchall it’s become, ferrying trash as well as treasure back to the future.

Here and now, three years out from the point when WaPo journalist Hank Stuever diagnosed us (re: Fuller House) as having reached “the point where nostalgia becomes more like necrophilia,” a pro-resurrection mood is still going strong.

In a different time, Greta Van Fleet’s style-to-substance fealty to the climate that inspired their parents’ favorite music would probably disqualify them as voice of a modern undercurrent. Which, many would claim, would disqualify them from rock altogether.

Image: Troy Larson [CC BY-SA 4.0]

But even when you factor in their relevance to the ongoing revival spree (RoseanneWill & GraceMurphy Brown, Cabbage Patch Kids, high-waisted jeans, wide-leg jeans and bell-bottoms, record players, etc.), there’s still an argument for dismissing or outright ostracizing the band. Anybody who detests this whole trajectory is likely to see Greta Van Fleet as hucksters of retro geegaws who need to be squashed before a thousand copies of copies occupy modern rock, thereby cumbering technical progression within the field.

The fact that they’ve gotten this high-profile, for doing that music, certainly raises questions.

What does it mean for the current punching-bag saviors of rock that nostalgia has unforgiving parameters (parameters that will logically restrict their evolution)? How will rock, the genre born to be dangerous, weather its so-called revival as a rear-view mirror? But perhaps most importantly this:

Why, on the brink of a future of unparalleled opportunities, are so many people looking backward so hard?

Yes — Your Grandmother’s Rock

Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Ever look at a group and — if it is thanks to the stylists, the lighting, the props, the marketing, the etc. — feel a flicker of that worldwide-movie-premier bigness, that inexorable drama, you maybe once felt about the biggest rock acts in the world? That drama that seemed to exist in concert with but (barely) distinguishable from the more contemptible side of the sky-high self-regard of rock prima donnas?

Don’t get me wrong — it was fallible all along. It was a seducing bellow for US and against the ENEMY but it was also self-righteousness with a glass ego and a temper built of napalm. Plenty of times it was the establishment profiting off the masquerade that it was anti-establishment. It was reckless in a neutral way: it was road-in-front-of-you/wind-in-your-hair reckless and it was taking-advantage-of-young-fans reckless. At points, the clearest balance it seemed to strike was between self-abuse and abusing those who loved it. At points, loving it meant seeing something shiny at the bottom of that heap.

And (shout out to my Firefly people) rock sure could, and can, be shiny.

Because it was also being there. It was bearing witness to the reigning frenzy of the day with a young, thudding soundtrack in the background. It was the junction between peaceful loving tidings and angst; it was reverently listening to your elected representatives when you felt voiceless. In the present it’s also what all objects of nostalgia are — it’s a thousand memories.

For those who first heard Greta Van Fleet on their local classic rock station, the fact that they tap into the sound associated with this second set of qualities is justification enough. Nostalgia isn’t always complex; it’s often simple longing for when things were fun and easier or at least feel, in the present, as though they were.

The fact that Greta Van Fleet invoke classic rock’s more admirable traits but exist in a world that doesn’t tolerate many of its ol’ harrowing flaws qualifies them all the more as beloved artifacts. Rosy retrospection — in which our evaluation of an event is more positive in retrospect than when it was occurring — is real, and it stands to reason that many people would welcome whatever factors assist their memories in further rosying up the past.

Image: NBC

With Greta Van Fleet, the fact that they’re young and clean-cut AF compared to those they’re always compared to, and that they sing about peace in broad, inoffensive strokes, potentially lends the era they siphon inspiration from a less prickly image. When you look at them, it’s easy enough to see reflections of free-lovism, optimism, the youthful belief that society will just keep getting freer and coming closer together, that everything can be awesome for everybody if everybody keeps the faith — all packaged within the more socially cautious, pro-vitamin humility sanctioned for modern rock stars.

And whether you think it’s good, bad, or neutral that this is happening, it does make sense. But then, classic rock radio isn’t the only place GVF can be heard. They’re one of the few bands to experience the duality of playtime on classic and modern rock radio not because they aged into it but because it’s where they started.

Music for the End of the World

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines anemoia as “nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.” And if the juniors’ aisles loaded with ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s fashions — and the toy aisles stocked with near-exact replicas of toys from a similar range — are any indication, the sorrow isn’t so obscure these days.

Speaking of which, have you been to Target recently? Have you peered at the curtain-print bell-bottoms sized for ten-year-olds and wondered what the deep-purple hell is going on?

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Has it seemed disconcerting to walk twenty feet from these throwback threads to endcap “human interest” magazines questioning the place of human beings in a world dominated by AI? From shag-texture sweaters in the mellowest of yellows to a news mag whose front-cover think piece announces the last year there will be fish in the sea, or life on earth, period?

Despite rationally knowing that every generation has had to drown out its own doomsayers, do you ever get overwhelmed by the scope of the deathwatch now in vogue? Get bummed about the bad news regarding the planet, bad news regarding politics, bad news regarding unity and even civility?

Do you get scared?

There’s a fascinating suggestion by William Strauss and Neil Howe that there are four main generational archetypes (Hero, Artist, Prophet, and Nomad), and that a time of great crisis is what defines the would-be Hero generation: they’re the ones who grow up to solve it. By Strauss & Howe’s timeline, the Heroes of recent memory belonged to Generation G.I., and those naturally next in line are the Millennials.

Whether or not that’s true, there’s no question that Millennials — and all of us — need to remain tuned in to our society’s catastrophes to at least some degree so we can work out which problems we can help solve. And the ubiquity of social media means a whole new level of tuned-inness.

Inasmuch as that leads to the wider dissemination of productive ideas and more real engagement, yay! But there’s no denying the psychological dragthat comes with constant exposure — including screaming headlines during social media time you may have categorized as “recreational” in your head — to the news that the whole damned world is falling apart.

Image: Public Domain

Given the well-documented toll of too much bad news — news about the present alongside gloomy predictions of the future —it would be more than a little understandable if people felt the need to take succor in the past. And as past eras go, one that’s associated with peace, love, and strides in civil rights seems an especially safe haven.

If nostalgia has taken on the tone of a disease recently, that’s certainly not a universal estimation. Some research suggests nostalgia “increases self-esteem, fosters social connectedness, and alleviates existential threat.” It makes sense that the same comforts would apply to nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.

And while the alleviation of existential threat is one potential motivation behind our churned-butter-thick nostalgia, it’s not the only one. In fact, Paulina Martz, writing for The Observer, discusses another name for those born from the late ’80s through the early aughts:

“The nostalgia generation is made up of those kids who saw entire technologies emerge, commercialize and die within their childhoods. Unlike ever before, by the age of 10 most of the kids born anywhere between 1987 and 2000 had witnessed the birth and death of enough technologies to make those 10 or so years seem more like a lifetime ago.” (emphasis mine)

Whatever the cause or combination of causes, it’s clear that the kids — whether they’re alright or not — are definitely wistful. And while I’d be hard-pressed to call myself one of the “kids,” hey, I get it.

Building a Bonfire — ’90s-Kid Style

It was probably my own bout of anemoia that turned my attention to classic rock after (yes) I watched Almost Famous, loved Almost Famous, named my daughter in honor of a character from Almost Famous. As someone with a (long-undiagnosed) serious psychological condition, I knew a thing or two about unforced drama. And to me, rock music, especially circa the late ’60s and ’70s, was the soundtrack of exactly that.

My teen years were filled with radio-friendly ’90s music, where Whitney Houston and Celine Dion sang heart-breakingly beautiful love ballads and everyone else sang about sex. Half the time, in a way that was less sexy and more good-naturedly goofy. In fact, if I could define the popular music of the decade by any one term, it would probably be “lighthearted.”

I usually like to preface whatever I write about generations with the disclaimer that those labels are probably at least 49 percent useless. For most of us, I think it is, as it was for me, having one foot planted in cultural goings-on and one foot in private experience.

Privately, I responded to the epic roughness of classic rock, but culturally, I caught the dying embers of Generation X (well, depending on who you ask — cusp babies are always tricky to place). I vividly remember the day a “motivational” speaker informed us that we should take offense at our nickname, or at least take it as a wake-up call. Because it meant that we were x-ed out. That we were x-ing ourselves out. That we were, in effect, Generation Nothing.

I don’t know about that, but according to Strauss & Howe, Gen Xers are the Nomads. And if someone were to argue that we were the generation between — meaning in between generations with more readily defining characteristics, I wouldn’t not get it.

Just like when Kenan Thompson, playing a game-show moderator who was (sort of) keeping the peace between Baby Boomers and Millennials on Saturday Night Live, said he was Generation X and just watched the world burn — I didn’t not get that.

I didn’t exactly have an oceanside seat to the great wave of American rock and roll, so classic rock isn’t attached to formative memories for me, but I also wasn’t born into the 24-hour doom-news cycle.

This isn’t to dismiss the fact that there were standout qualities about my generation — you you you oughta know, we had plenty of good stuff, from alternative music to Aunt Becky with the good rep — but being a cultural nomad gives me at least some freedom to judge Greta Van Fleet by sound and stage presence alone.

Which doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to pick apart. Because zeitgeist relevance aside, GVF still make an easy target.

Their lyrics range from okay to the lexical equivalent of silences so awkward you can hear the other person breathe, swallow, and comb their dendrites for something to say. They dress in braided ponchos and feather earrings, a detail I believe warrants no editorializing. Elsewhere in the multiverse, the only music their spiritual doubles are making is the rhythm of their knocking on locker doors from the inside so some kind passerby might let them out.

And if I love them with the same love that once inspired my best friend and I to send fan mail to “c/o record company” addresses at the bottom of CD liner notes, it’s because all of that only matters to a point.

Because when I stopped laughing at the seventh-grade-poetry-class lyricism of “Edge of Darkness,” it felt as sincere as a heart-print band-aid handed to me by a toddler when this time I was the one who skinned my knee.

Because the era they’re pulling from is my adopted “home music,” and for my money, they do it well enough that if I’m not careful, listening will leave me in a state of bucktoothed hope, raw and bullyable and giddy all at once.

I like ’em. Hell, I love ’em.

But I’m here less to try and convince anyone else to do the same, more to suggest that their rise to radio means something in light of the world we’re living in.

Maybe “Highway Tune” will eventually prove itself anthem of the Nostalgia Generation. Maybe they’re the natural product of a generation that watched its technologies get born, rise, and die at the speed of sound. Maybe they’re balm for those who are bombarded by empathy-fatiguing news and braced for a future where it won’t matter if AI does supplant them — not when the planet’s in cardiac arrest. One thing they’re not is just a carbon copy of Led Zeppelin.

So if you’re feeling a little nostalgic, or anemoic — if you need a break from engaging with the woes of the day — as the news warns you that outside the world is burning down, pull up a marshmallow-roasting stick and crank up “Black Smoke Rising” and give the revivalist peaceniks a chance.

 

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This article originally appeared in The Junction.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Dave Grohl

  1. Like cats and video game characters, Dave Grohl has more lives than you. It’s why he doesn’t stop the show for broken legs and has always existed.
  2. Dave Grohl loses one life every time someone comments on a Foo Fighters video that the singer looks like the drummer from Nirvana.
  3. Nirvana represents the final goal of Buddhism and is often used synonymously with “heaven.” Note also Dave Grohl’s long, brown Jesus-like hair. However, he frequently dresses as Satan, a popular character from Hell. Dave Grohl likes to keep it interesting.
  4. Dave Grohl and Courtney Love are famously not on good terms. If they buried the hatchet and sealed their truce with a baby named after them both, that baby would be “Cave Glove.”
  5. Dave Grohl is in the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with, among others, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. Josh Homme’s nicknames include Baby Duck, Ginger Elvis, Carlo Von Sexron, and Mr. Lucky. You can remember these using the mnemonic device “Before Dave Grohl entertained, children vacantly stared and mourned life.”

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6. Dave Grohl can do this. Image Vikipeedia [CC BY 2.0]
This post originally appeared in The Haven.

What Skim Milk & Metamucil Can’t Cure, Sushi Can

And other writing and life lessons from rock journalism.

Like many a writer, on my way to rewriting the Great American Novel, I blogged, and blogged and blogged and blogged. Wrote content for brands. Woke sweaty from nightmares wherein I had researched and toiled at phrases for five-plus hours for a freelance copy job that paid a buck eighty. Posted to social media. Blogged. Copywrote. Blogged. Ghostwrote. And blogged. Until the day I bought Lester Bangs’s Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: Rock ’n’ Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock ’n’ Roll.

And then, for a beat, I stopped writing altogether. I had to. Reading somebody whose words flowed like absinthe, or at least like the rock music he wrote about, had made me face something about myself.

I had gotten so, let’s say, respectful (and let’s say it ’cause it’s a nicer word than chickenshit) in my writing approach that I didn’t sound like myself anymore. For brands, you have to sound a certain way, but I realized I was caving even in my personal writing. Where I told myself that if I was talking about important things (i.e., controversial things, things about which individuals were bound to have varying takes), I had to adopt that aforementioned respectful voice. And brother had I. So tenaciously I could hardly remember what I sounded like when I wasn’t trying to sound like the moderator of a political debate.

Of that realization a crisis was born. When had I last sounded like myself?

Back in the halcyon days of starting Blogger blogs left and right? Back in the Year of our Internet 199Myspace, when I was just weaning off the perspective that posting your diary online was roughly the fuckedest thing this side of scat porn? Way back before recognizing that internet existence was less about personal expression, more about hitching onto an us to mutually hate the maggoty guts of them?

Things can happen when you work (/live) online. You can wind up shedding avatars all up and down social media and caring what happens to them in the way you once fretted over your Tamagotchi’s health. You can internalize the sticky mores of that on-demand form of fraternization. Mindful of commenters and likers and dislikers alike. Carving up your voice on the basis of catchall feedback.

Next thing you know, whatever you wanted to write is coming through so sieved that all passion’s back jamming the strainer. If your voice is still there at all, it sounds narcotized. Like you’re paying tribute to a version of yourself from vivider days but you’re doing so from a lectern. As you sip Metamucil-laced skim milk.

I needed something new to write about. Something I cared about so much my passion would flood right over the rim of any strainer. Something everybody could call me a moron for enthusing over and I just wouldn’t care. Something that brought out the fan and the dickhead in me all at once.

Something like sushi.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

I once knew a girl who visited North Carolina from California and, in the most from-California way imaginable, announced that if soon she did not get some sushi, she would just as soon die. We had sushi, in that part of North Carolina. California rolls even. Maybe not growing in community gardens on lollipop sticks as I can only assume they did in her native land (please just roll with my cartoon hickness for the sake of the story; I had actually been to California at that point. LA even. I’d gone to Frederick’s of Hollywood, where, unless I’m completely misremembering this, I’d purchased a Barbie-size doll of Iron Maiden’s Eddie; I’d met my first Scientologist; I’d lain in my hotel bed beside an SWP — stranger with penis — smoking Djarum cherry cigarettes like an asshole who is such an asshole her underwear probably somehow has elbow patches), but we had sushi. We had it in the weird hibachi place that was mostly American buffet; we had it in the deli at Harris Teeter. We had a fine-eats grocer with all the makings to roll your own. If you were the bad-sushi-is-better type, you were not without options.

This same girl, friend of a friend, would go on to redeem herself with me simply by being one of the most fringe-o-sexland exhibitionist little weirdos the gene pool ever spat out, but here was an early unfortunate impression. Sushi, you just want to shriek as though into the void/ear canal of god. Dying for SUSHI. In a world with steak and cake and vodka?

If you’re an aficionado of standard blog post structure or a fortune-teller of extremely limited talent, you know where this is going. How do these things ever go? What happens when you fall into a high-pitched, concussive rant with self-righteous overtones and undertones of reverse snobbery over slightly less than nothing? You already know that one day, upset at having his ear canal screamed into, the god of the last paragraph spat directly in my face and I woke up zombie-muttering (to the tune of “BRAINS”) “SUSHI.”

I’m afraid that at this point the plot does not grow thicker. I bought a plastic tray of sushi from Harris Teeter. I ate it. All. And it was good.

But I was older then. Wiser. Little more meat around the middle. I’d gone through labor which meant I’d gone through pregnancy which meant I understood what it was to crave certain comestibles in my eyelashes and callouses. To have a blood bond with food. Where plating food becomes porn and not just because plating, like anything else you’ll ever say in your human life, is also the name of a sex act.

The point I’m driving at is that after I’d learned, through the boot camp of pregnancy, what it really was to have an appetite, the goddamn thing would rear its Whack-a-Mole head over the craziest things. Sushi, in a world of steak and cake and vodka.

The beast’s name was craving and IT was driving this boat. And if IT wanted deli-counter sushi, then twelve rolls of seaweed and flecked sticky rice later, I could be found leaning back, obscenely sated and who cared — who cared what anybody else thought. If anyone else had been there before I acquired my prey, I might have said right to their civilized faces that I would DIE, DIE, if kept from my weird fishy pinwheels.

There’s a whole conversation to be had about disjointed desire, what it means to be an integrated human who can connect lusts to cerebral value like the tip of a whip to the wrist that flicks it, but this is not a serious enough post for that conversation. In fact (spoiler alert) there’s no post that’s serious enough for that conversation. This is about what happens when want and need breed, and you become the ass who’s willing to say, or at least think, you’re going to die if you don’t get some fucking _____. And to kinda sorta mean it.

Image by PactoVisual from Pixabay

The first time I remember not just wanting to hear music but craving it — feeling a deep ache for a specific song, and it didn’t matter who was there to think it was stupid — it was a rare nonmiserably hot night in North Carolina. I was in my then-boyfriend’s car in the Target parking lot wanting to hear “Something in the Air Tonight.”

The night was right for it. The sky had been clogged with heat forever but now, brother, we had breeze, that feather-light promise that somewhere out there lay an ocean, where it was possible to get wet not from humidity but from swimming. There was a call for music that paid homage to bongos and wind chimes but with a more driving rhythm, because we were about to drive if not fast then at a speed that would feel so with the top down.

He didn’t have “Something in the Air Tonight.”

“But I think I have something that’ll work,” he said. What he had was Fear Factory’s cover of “Cars.” And, indeed, it worked.

Every so often, afterward, I’d need to hear Fear Factory doing “Cars.” From roughly that point, I knew what it was to want music the same way I would want McDonald’s grease on those preggo mornings that started with chalky vitamins and promptly-puked breakfast muffins. And once I’d tried on rock journalism following my little crisis of voice, I discovered what it was to need to write about the same things I needed to hear.

Once pregnancy has taught you to really crave food, your cravings can roam to places your conscious mind can’t follow. Earl Grey tea with red popsicles. Oversalted dry mashed potatoes and a spoonful of dark chocolate Hershey’s. Presenting you with a mystery spun of your own appetites. And so I found it was with music. I could spend hours clicking “replay” and writing like a high school poet in love in search of what made a certain song tick. Or me tick.

Lester Bangs thought that rock and roll was most evident in bands that were so determined to make a singular, contrary noise that their technique was forever doomed to lag behind their ambition — and he thought it was a good thing. Because rock and roll, according to its number-one journalist, was never supposed to be a self-serious art that harangued productions to within inches of both perfection and dullness. The whole thing of rock was putting your voice, and its assertive reaction to living as exactly who you were in your exact time and place, first. Filling in technique as it served.

It’s actually a great lesson for writers who sometimes find their own voices slipping away.

When writing means chasing something you crave to the point it unzips your composure, your challenge will no longer be cajoling your voice out of its blue funk. You’ll have to edit yourself, certainly, because you’ll have entirely too much to say, but what a lucky problem that is.

No matter what sorts of assignments you have to take on to pay the bills, no matter how numbed a tone you assume when writing about matters of capital-I importance, in order not to lose your real voice to the professional coping mechanisms you adopt on an as-needed basis, you have to keep writing about that thing you crave. That thing that makes a mystery spun of your appetites, thereby creating new puzzles for you to answer about you. That thing you’d keep rhapsodizing about if every troll on Twitter graduated from ignoring you to telling you you write like your breath stinks of sushi.

Write what you don’t know. Write to figure out how the hell you could crave some silly song [or insert your own media production, product, or experience] more than you care about cake, steak, dick, or page views. Write for your own company, to hear your voice flowing like sweet vanilla vodka and to recognize that flow as your own.

If you enjoyed this article, a) hi there, freakface and b) here’s more:

Syd Barrett Will Save Your Psychotic Soul (The Junction)

Watching the World Burn With Greta Van Fleet (The Junction)

 

This post originally appeared in The Junction.

“Watching the World Burn With Greta Van Fleet” published in The Junction

“I’m Gen X — I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” — Kenan Thompson (SNL skit)

With some bands, music reviewers’ consensus becomes so confused that it reads less as a critique, more as an ode to the asshole you hate yourself for loving.

We’re not talking mere mixed reviews. We’re talking about the useless gray truce you eventually get after yin and yang have violently disagreed— “useless” being the optimal word. Because at this point, the critical contingent’s no longer shedding light on the band, not even if confusion seems to be a congenital part of the band’s whole thing, as a person might argue it does with those over-the-topridiculouscocksurewretched, vampiricundeniably talented new gods known as Greta Van Fleet.

But then, critics’ say has historically meant little where it’s concerned those bands that struck the public like lightning: because with those bands — who cause the brightest flash and rumblin’est thunder — you can’t talk about them without talking about us.

Read the rest over at The Junction.

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Image: NBC

Mental Health Essay Published by Invisible Illness

If you have an account on Medium, please check out my essay “Internet Cures for Psychosis,” available through the publication Invisible Illness. A preview follows.

“I have schizoaffective disorder. As with most psychological conditions, its composition varies by the individual, but in my case, it means bipolar symptoms (light) tied in grim matrimony to schizophrenic symptoms (much heavier). Because I spent a long time wary of medication and one of the first I did take wreaked its own havoc, it was with no casual interest that I read up on theories of symptom reduction — and out-and-out cures. I found what people with nearly any condition find when probing the digitized encyclopedia of human knowledge: (1) Eeeverybody’s a doctor. (2) It’s dangerous trying to fill the conflicting prescriptions of Drs. Internet.”

Check out the rest here!