In Which There Are Absolutely No Substitutes

photograph by jerry siegel

Notes on Changing Direction

by LAUREN CIERZAN

When I was young, magnolia trees were synonymous with South. Even though one dove over the driveway of our Wisconsin yard in a frozen, fat-blossomed wave, shedding petals as thick as tongues onto the concrete, the books I read pinned magnolia trees to plantations, weeping Spanish moss, the hot air sick with their perfume. They shaded dust-choked cotton fields and country roads parched by a year-long July, a world thick with grotesques — deaf-mutes, Boo Radleys — and manic preachers, dark secrets and surges of strange violence.

At some point of middle school desperation, I fell hard for Southern Gothic. Stories that moved and unsettled me, writing that, in all its gloriously creepy thematic splendor, was a teething ring for teen angst. I read Wise Blood on the bus. A frenzy of Capote, Jackson, and McCullers that ended shell-shocked over The Heart is A Lonely Hunter in the school library. Through them, the South was slicked with a cartoon glaze, its whimsy grim enough to make depression seem cozy. I considered it an anti-Disneyland, real enough to claim a spot on the map yet doused in a thin magic you willed yourself to believe. The dry facts were skimmed over in history class. Fiction alone informed my understanding of life across an invisible line, the ghost of the Mason Dixon.

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I was thirteen the summer my parents unfurled their plans for a proper family expedition. Not five hours tracing the shoreline towards Canada for a sunburnt week in a cabin. Not us, not this time. We were going to drive to South Carolina, our van pinballing its way through landmark cities in the process. Thrill and dread unspooled in my chest. I anticipated a modern version of what I knew South to mean — drawls and Civil War monuments, miscellaneous macabre activities — only now swimming in plenty of asphalt and fast food chains. I wasn’t entirely wrong. In memories, most of these exist dimly, spectators that circle a disaster unfolding in slow-motion.

The Trip, and it more than earned its capital letters, will forever exist in fragments. When strung together, these excerpts read like a script, or more specifically, National Lampoon’s Vacation as ghostwritten by Flannery O’Connor and directed by David Lynch. It opens at dawn on Family Vacation, Day One. My sister begins retching before our tires touch the street. A flu bug bends her in half, head buried in the bathroom trash can pinched between her knees. Miles pass at a hitching rate, a few hours going, a few hours stopped to sight-see and breath clean air, her misery more infectious than any stomach virus. In the Appalachians, we swelter in stand-still traffic that lasts through an afternoon. Car doors splay open like wings and people wander along the side of the road, queasy from the altitude.

photograph by jerry siegel

Following dinner at a local restaurant, food poisoning strikes with a vengeance. My mother and I twist in sweaty knots on the bathroom tiles of our hotel. A rooming mistake in Charleston lands us in a party-torn suite, its broken lamp leaning dejectedly in the corner. We eye the mysterious hubcap-sized stain on the carpet and elect to sleep on top of the beds. Bad luck edges into darker territory.

While touring the Biltmore Estate, my mother goes momentarily blind. What she blames on the sun is, in actuality, a small stroke. Relief requires too much effort by the time we finally touch the ocean. Perched on a sweeping beach, the resort is peaceful, its rooms tidy and smelling sweetly marine. We loosen our shoulders and pick along the sand, hoping to swim, as thunderheads roil merrily behind us. The next three days are a solid unbroken rain. On the fourth, we turn home under a suddenly clearing sky. Fade to black. The End.

There is a particular strangeness to experiencing what you have only read about. Words written and moments lived merge like bodies in a crowd, milling together into indistinguishable details. I remember very little of our surroundings during those two weeks. There are exceptions; Charleston’s slicing heat, the view from an Appalachian road, but the rest recedes into shadows skirting my family’s immediate chaos. In our time there and afterwards, my impression of the South dissolved further, into something more like a dream. It was the backdrop of a story rehashed at Christmas dinners, it lived in the novels I fell in the love with and surfaced occasionally on the television screen, but otherwise escaped my awareness as anything tangible. A blank plain yawned below the Illinois border, a sketch erased and waiting to be reshaped.

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In the lull of this past winter, my boyfriend and I deliberated where to relocate after his graduation in June. It could have been anywhere, but our individual preferences were clear. I missed Chicago. He lobbied for Nashville. We were both surprised when I agreed.

After years circling Lake Michigan, an attempt to settle elsewhere seemed to steady my restlessness. The decision felt like an accident, not in the way of regret but in arriving of its accord. I tried to imagine what a day there would be, the light striping my face as I woke to an strange ceiling, and I realized again how little I knew outside Midwestern life.

Twice in the spring, we drove to Nashville to scout for housing and visit friends. I tried to shake free of the vacation haze of time off work and nights curled, drunk and satisfied, on an air mattress and make note of this new place, allowing its features to ease slowly into focus. What I saw, what I still see, is a city decidedly in-between. True middle ground, pinned towards the center of the country’s chest. Its sprawl spills into the foothills, the simmer between flatlands and the mountains’ rolling boil, a landscape that oscillates between marshy groves and sloping rock.

The population is wildly outsourced, natives swallowed by a widening stream of transplants. Music hopefuls and artists, immigrants, entrepreneurs, form a tributary that eddies an indeterminate local culture. I wonder at the result — a pidgin of national identity fed by American’s full spectrum, with certain regional distinctions rising more deliberately to the surface. Northern and Southern sensibilities meet and muddle. Tradition keeps anchor in a tide of new ideals. I warmed to the idea of ‘Yes, here,’ charmed by its confusion, the erratic beating of its heart.

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The differences are subtler than expected. It’s the heat mostly. All the finer details stem from its heavy pulse. I keep track regardless, slipping every nuance into a mental pocket. The crazed plant life is a marked change, unfamiliar vines and shrubs and low-bowing trees clambering all over each other, made ruthless by the warm damp. Thick boughs muscle their way onto sidewalks and claw desperately towards the curb. A snaking bush ripped our back gate clean off its hinges.

The insect world breeds with the same deranged abandon. Spiders, fat and round as robin’s eggs, dangle above doorways on legs substantial enough to be small fingers. If garden variety spiders spin lace, these ogres weave like looms, stretching thick yellow swathes across stray branches. Paper wasps the length of my finger Houdini their way into our apartment. Likewise with tiny ant battalions and enough flies to work a saint into a blind rage. To them, RAID is an adorable joke. I’ve learned to read the cicadas in the way I once glanced at a thermometer. There isn’t a word existing that bottles their sound, the way it swells with each rising degree. Keening comes close. A drone, a grinding of teeth with no teeth to speak of. In the end, it’s too alien. I’m spooked by the noise despite small efforts at acceptance. What I hear is a warning, inescapably ominous, like the whisper of something coming. Menacing, simply because it’s anonymous.

I slip my fingers through the blinds and peer out at the air cooking above the empty street or the house next door with its own drawn shades to prove to my knotting shoulders that there’s no threat at all. Windows are almost always covered here, as if everyone feels under the same siege. In a way, they are. Curtains bunched tight, sheets haphazardly hung and shivering from some unseen fan, anything imaginable to block out the sun. The indoors is sacred ground, blessedly air-conditioned. Outside, even in shade, humidity is as merciless as a wool glove. Porches gape sulkily, empty of anything but a few jilted chairs, a crouching table with a coffee pot glowering at a closed front door. Every house keeps its secrets until sundown. Afternoon cools to evening and windows fly open like eyelids, lit rooms lively with shadows as dinner is made. Figures bathed in porch-lights’ murky gold tangle voices and flash the glint of raised bottles. Night feels thicker. Moonbeams clot in the dark air, palpable enough to cup in open palms.

photograph by jerry siegel

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It is hard to see the truth of a place through the coating of assumptions. The presupposed smears vision like a dirty pane, enough for me to doubt my observations. Are they honest or influenced by words I clung to more than a decade ago? Down the street, a house built into the hillside stands on a broad, well-kept lawn. Someone has mown the word HOPE into the manicured grass, each letter arching 12 feet long. I stare each time I pass by and fend off a conviction that is this somehow significant. Yards in the city’s satellite neighborhoods often dwarf the homes they belong to. The buildings themselves squat low to the ground and bob at the edge of their private expanses like rowboats in a bay, the disproportion a truce with the undergrowth snarling along property lines.

I speculate about these things. I imagine. I swear to myself that the light here is more yellow, that there is a certain weight of mystery that belongs to this climate, this region that has a shared yet separate history to the states that I know well, and then remember that all of it is only unfamiliar. I’ve romanticized the South with a potency that lingers. It will be winter soon and I wonder how that sense will shift with the seasons. An urge to venture downward and deeper — weekends in Baton Rouge, wandering to Little Rock, Savannah — stirs quietly in me, an emboldening and a need for experience uncolored by outside opinion. First impressions are their own brand of fiction. Stories are held captive on shelves for good reason.

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Nowhere is without lacking. I miss the lakeshore, the waves and the wind’s cool stroke. Rhubarb and lightly sweetened tea. Wine is no longer bought with groceries; liquor laws confine it to specialty stores that are few and far between. While there are no substitutes, fresh discoveries fill those gaps, things that will become new longings when I leave here. A month has come and gone and I sit motionless in our living room, listening. Underneath the cicadas’ whine, I am beginning to hear a song.

Lauren Cierzan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about claustrogoraphobia. She is a writer living in Nashville. She tumbls here.

“Saturday Come Slow” – Massive Attack ft. Damon Albarn (mp3)

“Paradise Circus” – Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval (mp3)

In Which We Are Hoping This All Works Out

He’s There

by TAYLOR HINE

Jackson Browne hasn’t changed his hairstyle since the 1960s. It’s remained roughly shoulder-length, parted in the middle, and has retained the slightest wave. The farther back in time you go, the more gentle, carefree, and innocent his countenance becomes; he sometimes looks like he’s forcing seriousness. But he probably isn’t.

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His first wife, Phyllis, committed suicide soon after they were married, and his third studio album, The Pretender, was released later that year. The song “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” was written about the incident:

Never should have had to try so hard
To make a love work out, I guess
I don’t know what love has got to do with happiness
But the times when we were happy
Were the times we never tried

Phyllis’s suicide didn’t initiate his introspective songwriting. Songs like “Song For Adam” (about the death of a close friend) and “Doctor My Eyes” (about growing up and seeing the world through eyes that inevitably don’t retain their youthful innocence) are two of the key thematic songs from his self-titled first album. Despite the personal tragedies that seem to haunt him in his songs, he’s remained incredibly private about them. He doesn’t advertise his life through song; he processes it.

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My mother didn’t let me ride in the front seat until I was almost in middle school. I would ride in the middle of the backseat, leaning forward with my elbows on my knees to listen to whatever cassette she decided to put in. We were on our way to the grocery store one hot morning in Louisiana when she asked me what I felt like listening to. I was four.

“Hmmm,” I said dramatically, pretending to consider this heavily. “Jackson Browne.”

“Okay.”

She put in a collection of his greatest hits – The Next Voice You Hear – and it was during “In the Shape of a Heart” that I first remember registering a tone of desperation, a plea for some sort of reconciliation between lovers.  I thought that he may have been singing about my own parents, asking them in so many words not to fight anymore: “There was a hole in the wall/Left from some ancient fight/About the size of a fist/Or something thrown that had missed.” I asked my mother if he was singing from the speakers in the car – if he was actually inside them, along with his band. I very much wanted him to be.

“No, honey,” she said. “He’s not there. But his voice is.”

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My mother told me a story some years later about the time Jackson Browne flirted with her. It was the late seventies or early eighties – I can’t remember which, but it was certainly quite some time before I was born – and she and a friend had somehow managed to sneak backstage at one of his Red Rocks shows. My mother had on a long-sleeved midriff shirt, a short white skirt, and wore her hair down to her waist. She was rail-thin – 110 pounds at most – and her legs were miles long. She and her friend – blond, tan, a few inches shorter than my mother – peeked around a lighted corner and there he was, wearing a dark blazer with a t-shirt and blue jeans. He picked up his guitar and slung it around his shoulders by the strap and a woman approached him with a makeup compact in her hand. Everyone was bustling backstage, moving drums and guitar cases around, wearing headsets and shouting for mic tests. Some people laughed together and a few frowned down at their clipboards.

“Come on!” her friend said, afraid of being caught. She started to make her way back the way they came. But my mother didn’t budge. He looked her up and down as makeup was dusted onto his face, and he smiled and gave a little wave.

I never asked my mother what year this happened, exactly. I like to think that “Somebody’s Baby” was written about her – a song about wanting to approach a beautiful woman but being daunted by rejection: She’s got to be somebody’s baby; she’s so fine.

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Throughout his career, Jackson Browne has sung first and foremost about matters of the heart. Often, for him, this includes politics. It’s been easy for me to skip past most of his more political songs; they had no effect on me because, well, I wasn’t interested in politics, and I wasn’t exposed to those particular songs when I was younger. My mother skipped over them, too.

This is popular opinion, though it has never swayed Jackson. In an article from The Telegraph late last year, both a reflection of Jackson’s career and a review of his most recent album, Standing In the Breach, Martin Chilton wrote:

Many of his most memorable compositions from the Seventies were deeply personal love songs, about pain and death and desire, but since the Eighties Browne has been one of America’s most vibrant political songwriters.

He talks with passion about his frustrations with the present state of affairs. ‘America is not really a democracy at the moment and things that don’t serve big business are thrown under the bus,’ he says. ‘It’s not surprising that political issues find their way into songs. I think that is true of every singer and every band, because everyone has got something that they feel that strongly about. Bruce Cockburn, who is one of my favorite singers, is able to condense ideas and get to the heart of a political question in a song, but it is not easy. There is a limited audience for that compared to more universal or general subjects such as love. And I try to write about everything that goes on in life.’

Standing In the Breach, released late last year, has a few political songs on it. “Which Side” asks the listener to decide whether s/he is fundamentally passive or active. “Corporations attacking the natural world, drilling and fracking” may sound a bit extreme to some, but I have a feeling that he doesn’t mean for blunt lyrics like these to piss anyone off, and he certainly isn’t trying to preach. They’re meant to make us think about the world rather than simply hide in it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve admired this sentiment more and more. However, it still remains a sentiment rather than a way of life for me – the stuff of songs that is on my moral to-do list. It’s not easy to stimulate, much less initiate, political thought and conversation. But what better way to try  than through song?

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My parents and I took a road trip from Denver to Santa Fe in early summer, at the tail-end of my freshman year of high school. This was a time of unsettlement and unrest in their relationship; they broke up just a few months later. We took several day trips up to the mountains that summer, too. We also took a road trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota and visited Mount Rushmore, staying in a remote cabin in the middle of the woods for almost a week. My father was, he says, trying to bring some sense of fun and togetherness into the family; we weren’t exactly known for spending a whole lot of quality time together, especially away from home.

For the road trip to Santa Fe, my father made a mixed CD. On it, surprisingly (he isn’t a huge fan of Jackson’s), he included “Sky Blue and Black,” a song about lamenting the loss of a long-ago relationship, reflecting on what went wrong, and what could have been done right. The drive south along the Rocky Mountain range was overcast, which, to my mind, predicted a sense of truth about this song in particular. Something just didn’t feel right about the whole trip; it all felt forced and uncomfortable. My mother still has this CD, but she can’t bring herself to listen to it anymore. She’s convinced that the songs – and that one in particular – were included as a message to her. The CD ended with “All Good Things,” from his 1993  album I’m Alive. It all had to come to an end sometime.

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Aside from demonstrating pure and introspective songwriting talent, Jackson practices humility like it’s a religion; for him, these go together like nothing else can. In the documentary Going Home, Jackson doesn’t point to his influences as mere inspirations or muses; he talks about them as friends, as peers from whom he drew a bottomless well of support. He does not mention that his “Take It Easy” rocketed The Eagles to fame, nor does he take credit for writing and playing several songs on Nico’s Chelsea Girl. He doesn’t claim Warren Zevon as his protege, even though Jackson signed him with Asylum Records and helped produce his first two albums, including Excitable Boy. His achievements can be listed for pages and pages. But they’re scattered here and there, recorded by both casual observers and lifelong fans alike.

Jackson thanks God often for having been able to spend his life producing art that he loves, and being able to share that with others who similarly share that love:

Pages turning
Pages we were years from learning
Straight into the night our hearts were flung
Better bring your own redemption when you come
To the barricades of heaven where I’m from

He knows that despite the fiscal wealth he thought he may have yet to accumulate and the lessons he has yet to learn from giving himself wholeheartedly to his art (he wrote this song about, and perhaps to, his 16-year-old self), he remembers that, when it all comes down, he will need to earn forgiveness, whether it be for himself or for a higher power – or perhaps both.

Taylor Hine is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Asheville. You can find an archive of her writing in these pages here.

Photo on 4-5-15 at 6.02 PM

“These Days” – Nico (mp3)

“The Fairest of the Seasons” – Nico (mp3)


In Which We Save All The People Of This Land

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

In February I started seriously dating Kayla. Before we became exclusive, she had told me that she had hidden the use of drugs, mostly cocaine from me, because she feared I would disapprove. Because she was honest about this, I don’t want to accuse her of lying to me without proof. She knows that I don’t do drugs, however, and she is not going to want to tell me if she does. How do I encourage her to be honest with me, and is there any way to prevent her from using with her friends?

Ben R.

Dear Ben,

Forget the cocaine for a second. The idea that you can save someone from what she is doing is pretty much a waste of time for both of you. Let’s look at whether one person in a relationship has ever saved another throughout history:

Virginia Woolf? No.
Cleopatra? I’d have to look it up, but I’m going to say no.
Jesus died.
Demi Lovato? Jury’s still out.
Rachel McAdams? No.
Owen Wilson? No.
Chris Brown? No.
Henry VII? Again, I’m an advice columnist, not a historian.

The point is, people can only save themselves. But if you really care about her, then just ignore her when she is on coke and say absolutely nothing about it. Stressing her out about the subject is only going to push her closer to drugs and the people she does them with. Have you considered an apple farm?

Hi,

My friend – let’s call her Jill for anonymity’s sake – spends a lot of time on the internet, and it gets into her head a little bit. Somehow, her life has led her to the point where she had a reddit account. Anytime she comes across something the least bit interesting she forwards it along to me, even when I have made it clear I don’t want to see this kind of material.

She constantly refers to the things she finds on the internet or “on a podcast” and it gets a little trying. I also use the internet, and I’ve already seen it before most of the time, or I just don’t care. How can I change this behavior?

Ellen T.

Dear Ellen,

Remember the days where people used to have entire posts of links to other things on the internet, because the only person with social media was Ezra Klein? Now, it’s difficult not to be bombarded by awful things such as that life-size doll you linked to or a podcast about the international drug trade.

As always, the best way to get someone to change their behavior is to put them on the receiving end of it. Absolutely flood her with links – here’s one you should probably include just to be comprehensive – and begin every sentence with those fateful words – “I was listening to a podcast.” That’s actually how the reverend at my church started his sermon this week. He was shouted down, not unlike Jesus. I made a video of it. I’ll snapchat it to you.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s full site at http://thisrecording.com.

 

“Seventeen Years” – Ratatat (mp3)

“El Pico” – Ratatat (mp3)

In Which We Have Eradicated All Blindness Jokes From Our Memory

Claire

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Daredevil
creator Drew Goddard

Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox) has a long list of things he is not. He is not funny. He is not tall. He is not particularly eloquent, he is not brusque. He is not overly angry. He does not fly. He can’t shoot lasers from his eyes. He’s not strong. He can’t see.

The actor playing him, who famously ended up in a box on Boardwalk Empire, is some of these things. The one element he most certainly possesses is the ability to see. About half the conversations in Netflix’s adaptation of the Daredevil story concern Murdock’s blindness, as if the lady doth protest too much. Before the first episode is even over we are sick of it. OK, you are blind, Matt. Why accentuate it with a mask that covers your eyes, so as to alert your enemies of your handicap? Why talk about it all day?

Wilson Fisk ( Vincent D’Onofrio) first learns of Murdock’s existence when he frees some women Fisk was planning on selling into slavery of some kind. He immediately admires Murdock, and for the vast majority of Daredevil, he never tries to kill his opposite number, preferring to set Matt against his own adversaries. Despite being extremely large, Fisk never sweats.

D’Onofrio is a little small to play Kingpin, but he throws himself into this most thankless of roles with aplomb. Drew Goddard has the good sense to give him a spirited love story, since as a proper villain he is relatively dull. This is a theme in the cast of Daredevil, until Rosario Dawson singlehandedly saves the entire series by exuding a sexuality so divine it is profane. Murdock is the only one who can even talk to her, by virtue of not knowing exactly what she looks like.

The other major female on the show is Murdock’s secretary Karen Paige (Deborah Ann Woll). The show is a bit hampered by the fact that Woll is at her best playing opposite alpha males who try (and fail) to dominate her. Murdock is too fey for this, and his partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) comes across as borderline gay. Woll runs all over them both, along with her reporter friend Ben Urich (Vondie Curtis Hall). Ultimately Woll is miscast as Karen, since she struggles to convincingly convey humor or fear together. She can only focus on one at a time.

Murdock looks absolutely tiny in his lengthy fight sequences, a fact Daredevil attempts to obscure by amping up the violence to an impregnable level. Matt never uses any guns, and like his caricature of a father, he is known for his ability to take a beating. Daredevil can’t decide whether to be overly broad or completely serious, a recurring challenge for the character. Going dead serious produced dreck like Elektra, whereas Affleck’s turn as the blind martial artist was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Netflix’s Daredevil is a lot better when it takes itself seriously, but this results in very long scenes. Some conversations in Daredevil can last six minutes or more, even when the information involved barely advances the story in any way. There is a lot of talk about how these people can save Hell’s Kitchen, although what exactly is wrong with the place remains unclear. I guess between the amazing number of lawyers and crooks in the area, we should have some idea.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“The Book Of Dorothy” – Paula Cole (mp3)

“New York City” – Paula Cole (mp3)

In Which We Take A Pass On Cersei Lannister’s Cheekbones

Springtime for Tyrion in Germany

by DICK CHENEY

Game of Thrones
creators David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

There is this scene in Bluebeard where he’s casually drawing this detailed sketch of his kid, and his wife is like, why don’t you just draw like that all the time, instead of this abstract expressionist business? He says, “Because it’s just too fucking easy.”

Cersei Lannister has fought for the people of King’s Landing.

I could go on and on about Cersei Lannister/Hillary Clinton concordance. I could tell you about the specific alterations to their facial structure that both women have achieved through extensive plastic surgery. But no one cares about the Lannisters anymore; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau looks like he is about to qualify for the early bird breakfast at Perkins, Tyrion’s down-on-his-luck act is the drizzling shits, and the only penis I saw during the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones was my own.

I guess they forgot Tyrion’s nose makeup this season. I’m not complaining.

There is a huge difference between how we view the people who make things happen and people who have things happen to him. I wasn’t sure how much I could take of Cersei lounging around in her robes, drinking bad pinot noir and giving Margaery Tyrell stifling looks that remind me of how I once made eye contact with a fey German Shepherd I called Dry Bones.

She has a bright future portraying Carole Lombard in the Lifetime biopics to come.

The time of the Lannisters has come to an end. In their place is the Dragon Queen, who sadly did not use that all important off time between Thronesings to take acting classes. Emilia Clarke’s facial expressions consist of the following: consternation, awe and bad gas. Her sad underground visit to prove how even her closest dragons have abandoned her is meant to clear the deck for new friends: I understand she has hired a young, hot campaign director to sell her no-fighting pits platform to the people of Pentos.

My dream of a pan-Arab state has just died.

Politics used to be the currency by which a Thronesing was properly judged, but now it’s just a matter of who has the largest war machine, and also who has that sexy beast Jon Snow on his side. Snow (Kit Harington) actually has improved his acting during these past few months. Instead of sounding like an elephant coughing, he has changed the lilt of his voice so that his accent is tolerably easy to understand.

Kit also never appeared in public, ensuring that no one would find out that the bastard of Winterfell is 5’2″ in socks. Hopefully he and Suki Waterhouse can get together in Costa Rica when this show wraps up in 2026.

And that boy grew up to be David Muir.

Unfortunately J. Snow has adopted that annoying George Clooney affectation where he is always looking up at people through his brow. Snow’s affection for Mance Rayder was also weak balls, and the sound of the arrow into Mance’s heart was roughly synchronized with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss throwing the utter pablum that is A Feast for Crows into the garbage.

It was time to move on and rewrite this into something better. Sure the psychic scene in flashback makes no sense whatsover, but at least we can begin mulling over possible casting choices for Lyanna Stark. (Rumer Willis? Grimes? If she can be black, Angela Bassett?)

The burgeoning romance between Brienne and Podrick will involve so much tickling.

We’ve received solid word that there will be no Bran in this already cursed season. To HBO’s consternation, episodes of the show leaked to the internet from review copies. (Unfortunately they were in standard definition and thus useless for masturbation.) Sure Bran sucked, but he did have a really nice, woodsy smell. That handicapped son-of-a-b always was redolent of pine, peanut shells and B.O.

So we’ve come to the end of the road. And I can’t let go. It’s so natural.

It is hard to know which deceased characters the show will really start to miss. Ending the intra-Lannister feuds takes something away for sure. With the entire Iron Islands storyline being shuttled to the GoT spinoff entitled I’m Reek, we have so much more time to spend with Samwell Tarly, a thinspiration to the romantic chances of overweight teens everywhere.

Gilly you’re going to be a superstar girl. Somehow knowing you were the victim of incest makes me feel that much more deeply for you, baby.

I have written a GoT/50 Shades crossover where Samwell demands that Gilly stay in a separate bedroom and reveals to her that he is a dominate. His costume will be that of the hamburglar.

Littlefinger loves a good boyfight.

I’m getting to my point. One thing that Game of Thrones had in all the little corners of Westeros was a magnificent penchant for disguise. Certain invididuals were more talented than others at seeing things as they are. By uncovering deception, they kept themselves alive in a difficult world. Now it seems only Arya can walk in dangerous places without fear, and the rest might as well be wearing a big target that says ‘Kill me.’ We demand mystery in all things; even in our leaders. Also we need them to be a smidge over 5’2″.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

I was paid nothing for this cameo.

“Last Light” – Zero 7 ft. Jose Gonzalez (mp3)

“Crush Tape” – Zero 7 (mp3)

In Which We Think Back To The Last Time We Saw Her

Following

by JOSIANE CURTIS

I moved to Portland in the midst of the April showers that, I was warned, are known to last clear into July. I knew one person of the city’s 600,000, a childhood friend who introduced me to the Pacific Northwest when she moved after college. I visited twice before making the decision to follow. On my second visit, I remarked about how odd it was that strangers smiled and said “hello” when they passed each other on the street; that was the near-extent of my knowledge about the city. I knew that a river divides east and west, with bridges balanced across it like art installations. In certain neighborhoods, the smell of fresh-baked bread fills the air, often without an obvious source or explanation, the scent hovering everywhere you walk like a balloon tied around your wrist.

In my early days, I wandered the Northwest quadrant and admired the brick walls that read “FURNITURE” or “GLASSWARE” or “CURED HAMS,” in coats of paint now a century or more old. I fell in love with the layers of life in loft apartments and coffee shops that had once been warehouses and rolling mills. Rust and minerals appeared like flecks of salt and pepper in the once-blonde buildings. If cities are people then my Portland is Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, a headstrong woman aging gracefully. I marveled at the city’s visible history, and how foreign it all was to me.

Portland’s notorious rain didn’t bother me, that first season or any that have come after. In fact, I remember exploring those early months, confused at how the pavement was always wet but it rarely seemed to actually be raining. I didn’t drive a car and didn’t buy an umbrella. The first time I was caught in an unexpected downpour, I arrived home out of breath, less from running there than from a fit of laughter sparked by an elderly man who, also soaked to the bone, had smiled at me conspiratorially and jumped into a puddle. The strangers you pass in a Portland downpour will meet your eyes and smirk, as if sharing a secret no one in their cars or sitting warm at home knows: this is holy water! Portland rain is the fountain of youth! People go to outdoor concerts and farmers markets in stormy weather; no one melts. There is a too-obvious metaphor here about rain and the washing clean of the past, and it was not lost on me that first spring up north.

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My mother grew up in Santa Rosa, a town about a half hour from where I was raised. The details of her childhood are mostly a blur to me, but I know it was bad enough that the moment she turned 18, she took the first one-way ticket she could find out of town. This ticket came in the form of a wedding and a soon-to-become abusive husband. They took off in his Chevy Nomad and drove as far east as possible. Shortly after, she divorced him, became a model, and moved into a “flat” with her photographer boyfriend, “Chigger.”

We tend to grow up believing that our parents’ lives began when ours did. I learned early enough, though, that my mom’s life did not start because I came into it. Like a cat, she had fallen into one after another, landing effortlessly on her feet with each transition.

In rapid succession she morphed from model to rock band groupie, to hippie flower-child, to rootless traveler, moving back and forth from coast to coast and everywhere in between. Eventually, she got her high school diploma, and then entered an academic phase, working toward a PhD in language studies. She met my father in her academic phase. The my-father phase lasted about five years, toward the end of which she transitioned into the person I know: my mother.

My great-grandparents owned a plot of wild, naked land not far from Santa Rosa, where the sky at night is clear and cloudless, where the stars shine brighter than anywhere I’ve ever been. In that valley, even the darkest dark night glows. Shortly after I was born, they announced that they would be selling the property, and rather than see it sold off, my mom and her brother pooled their finances and bought it. My mother once again drove coast to coast, this time east to west, this time with a toddler and a nearly-newborn baby to keep her company. I didn’t know a father was a thing until many years later.

When I was fifteen, dating my first boyfriend and feeling the beginnings of what I thought might be love, I asked my mom why she’d left him. We were sitting in the living room, which looked out through two French doors to the back porch, and beyond that, the mountainside. “In all my life, when everything else around me came and went or fell apart, the view from this spot was the only thing that hadn’t changed since I was a little girl. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing that.” At the time, I couldn’t understand how a piece of property could be more important than a person. I hadn’t yet learned how lucky I was to have something in my life that stable, an idea of a childhood home that never faltered, was never threatened. I had not yet learned how easily people change.

When I was sixteen, my brother went to college and mom and I were left alone. We broke bad fast; a volatile combination of puberty and menopause. For three years we lived like lionesses, either at each other’s throats or silently stalking around the house, avoiding interaction. I became nocturnal. I would check for her bedroom light on my way up the driveway late at night, and if it was still on, I would sometimes park halfway down the gravel road and wait for it to go black.

I wanted to blame her. For what? Anything. Everything. My father’s absence. Who I’d become: unaffectionate, cold, guarded. For my growing inability to distinguish between two things that should be opposite; love and loneliness, for example.

After high school, when I began to understand that my mother was depressed, and deeply so, I shifted blame to my father, for anything, everything. Just before moving to Portland, he was in San Francisco for a conference and I met him for coffee, seeing his face for maybe the fifth time since babyhood. At the time, my mother was sick and I was brave. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to make him defend himself.

What I took away from that visit is this: my mother wanted my father to follow her, and he wanted her to stay. But she didn’t ask him to follow, and he didn’t ask her to stay, and they both remained hurt over it for a long time. Maybe forever, the ghosts of that past life lingering throughout every life that came after. Her children are sometimes comforting, and sometimes a painful reminder of that man. When I wanted to be cruel, I knew how his last name or the eyebrows I inherited from him, held hard and fast like a dare, could cut her to the bone.

If I have learned anything valuable about relationships from the lack of my parents’, it is to avoid the lasting pain of this pitfall at all costs. It is that you can’t be mad at another person for not giving you something you never asked for.

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When I was looking at colleges, my mom and I traveled to the east coast. We visited Boston, where she took me to the Harvard stacks and told me about sneaking in to read Dickens and law books, long before she went back to school. In New York, we got lattes at a café on the street where she’d gone on her first date with my father. The bar they’d gone to was no longer there, but I could feel her remembering it hard enough that it might as well have been. It was summer and her memories stuck to the inside of my windpipe like humidity; these places were supposed to be new to me, but everywhere we went was already a piece of my history. Her nostalgia made me claustrophobic.

After college, I moved to San Francisco. When my mother visited, I tried to show her around my neighborhood but every street corner was already special. I would start a story and she’d finish it. I know these stories were an opportunity, an attempt she was making to bond, but it took the excitement out of the place for me. Everywhere I went seemed to have been my mother’s home before she was my mother. I felt unoriginal, but also guilty. I felt like I was perpetually taking things that had once belonged to her: the plain wedding band I wear on my right index finger, her grey cowl-neck sweater, city after city, youth.

People often leave a place to escape their own memories, sick of standing on first kiss street corners or having breakup flashbacks on the bus route by an ex-boyfriend’s house. This was part of leaving California for me, but the appeal of Portland specifically was that I had no past there, even, especially, before my own. My mother had never been. The first time she visited, I walked her through the Rose Garden and Arboretum, took her to my favorite breakfast spot, found a Thai restaurant for dinner where neither of us had ever eaten. All weekend she nodded and smiled. She asked questions she didn’t already have answers for.

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Months after my grandmother died, my mom was shipped a box of old browning photographs, a sewing machine, and a recipe for that too-dense, too-rich chocolate cake Grammere had made every Christmas. My mom hated chocolate and had hated that cake. She emitted a sort of scoffing laugh when she found the recipe, and then her shoulder-shaking turned to crumbling as she pored and cried over the pictures, called in sick to work, had someone pick my brother and I up for school, didn’t leave the house for weeks.

A big black folder lived under the bed in the study with some of the prints from when she was modeling. In it, there were dozens of proof sheets and a few almost life-size black and white headshots, her skin grey and smooth and elegant. After Grammere died, I stole one of the photos.  My mom is in a garden and, even caught in the middle of a head-thrown-back laugh, there is a sadness in her face that I’ve sometimes been told is in mine as well.

Years later, I was helping my brother move and I found another of the photos, pressed between the pages of an atlas like a delicate flower. My mother is in an empty room, sitting on a wooden chair and looking at the camera, not smiling but seemingly content, like she is remembering something happy. I didn’t bring it up but wondered when he’d taken it. I wonder when he decided he didn’t want someone else to choose which pictures he would get one day, which to send through the mail in a repurposed shoebox.

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In Portland, I became friends with a woman who I consider to be one of my platonic soul mates. To say that Sondra always seems to know the right thing to say wouldn’t do her justice. She doesn’t “just know” the right thing to say, as if to imply that it comes easily, but she works hard to get to it. She listens, and reads people, and knows how to balance being honest and kind.

When we had known each other a few months, Sondra and I got together for a craft night. The holidays were approaching and she’d read about a way to weave magazine pages into bowls that could be given as Christmas presents. I came with a notebook, planning to write.

“Would you read me something?” Sondra asked as we settled onto the living room floor. I couldn’t remember the last person I’d read out loud to, the last time I’d even read out loud, but I said yes. I flipped through the notebook, found an old favorite, and then before I knew it I had read three pieces, five, nine. Somewhere in the middle, tears started streaming down my face.

In the silence after I finished, Sondra rose from the floor, hugged her shoulders around mine and whispered one simple sentence, five magnificent words into my ear before going to the kitchen to start dinner.

“You are not your mother.”

I didn’t even realize the piece I’d read had been about my mother, didn’t really even know when I had started crying or why, but there it was. It’s what I’d been running from. It’s why I had come to Portland – to find that out, or prove it to myself, or both.

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If Portland is a woman, she is like my mom. She goes to a grey resting place between seasons, a melancholy in her face even in the middle of a head-thrown back laugh. She smiles not that often, but when she does, it’s like August; it lights up the room. When she smiles, you forget everything that’s come before that moment and fall in love with her, and you forgive her, over and over again.

One Thanksgiving, my mom let me borrow one of her favorite sweaters, an oversized cowl-neck the color of six a.m. in September. I kept it long after the holiday, brought it with me when I moved to Portland. When she visited, she asked about it, having seen me wearing it in a photo a few weeks before. In true Capricorn passive aggressive fashion, I didn’t admit to having it, but snuck it back into her suitcase the night before she left.

The last time I saw her I was walking away from a Portland MAX station, where she was waiting for the train to the airport. My mother pulled the grey sweater she’d found in her bag that morning over her head, and disappeared into the sky. It started to rain.

Josiane Curtis is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Portland. She last wrote in these pages about leaving San Francisco. You can find her twitter here. You can find her website here.

Paintings by Nicholas Hely Hutchinson.

“Leviathan” – Josh Garrels (mp3)

In Which This Revolting Tribute To Paul Walker Turns Our Stomach

Juggernaut

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Furious 7
director James Wan
137 minutes

On the night Paul Walker died, Vin Diesel ate the following: six scones, a generous cut of lamb, ice cream and a bald eagle. Afterwards, he felt bloated, but not too bloated to perform his signature role of Dominic Toretto. As Dominic, Diesel drives a car off a mountain, drives a car through several Abu Dhabi skyscrapers, killing various pedestrians in the process, and finally drives a car off a ramp into a helicopter. He survives all these collisions without any medical attention whatsoever. You will be forgiven for asking yourself the following question, the same question Jon Hamm’s wife asks herself on a hourly basis: “Is he bragging?”

Diesel’s head looks like it is on the verge of expanding so far sideways that he will become a deft mixture of Juggernaut and Stevie Van Zandt. Shortly before Vin drives that car into the helo, a CGI representation of Paul Walker fights an Asian guy. Walker’s scenes were assembled by cutting in other scenes from the movie, using his brothers as  stunt doubles and copious CGI. The end result is both technically impressive and entirely lacking, since it looks as close as it can to real while we know it is fake. The Uncanny Valley was the original nickname for Diesel at Harvard.

The right move would have been to kill off Paul Walker’s character, to show that insane stunts with vehicles, and often just regular driving, can frequently lead to death. Then again, watching Diesel grunt his way through a dense forest in a muscle car while Jason Statham’s face looks like an emote is probably enough of a PSA instructing us that no one should ever get behind the wheel again.

The recent analysis of the Furious 7 audience proved that the massive audience for these films is mainly non-white. Furious 7 is a lot more about class, however, attempting to prove that a professional behavior and attitude is not necessarily the best way of accomplishing our goals as a society. About an hour into the movie, Kurt Russell, 64, shows up as if to put the exclamation point on this moving theme.

Kurt’s skin looks like a sesame bagel, and he is weirdly miscast in a Judi Dench-like role. Besides the incredibly unversatile Statham, the only other villain of any interest is portrayed by Djimon Hounsou, 50. Because he is the sole person in the cast with even the most basic level of acting ability, he sticks out like a sore thumb and sounds ridiculous.

Furious 7 begins when Statham mails a bomb to Vin’s house. No one dies (no one ever dies in this movie, they only perish off screen from its themes and poor performances), but Vin is extremely upset. He visits his friend Hobbs in the hospital (a steroid-infected Dwayne Johnson) who gives him instructions on how to avenge The Rock’s broken arm.

Vin, his amnesia-stricken GF (Michelle Rodriguez, 36, looking embarrassed to be a part of this) and his friends Ludacris and Tyrese all drop out of an airplane, already in their cars, into Azerbaijan. They land on a steep mountain road. Paul Walker almost dies right then by falling off a cliff, but Michelle drives the back of her car over the edge so he has something to grab onto. “Thank you,” he says.

Between action sequences director James Wan includes lengthy phone conversations between Paul Walker and his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster, 34) about how she is pregnant and wants him to be home with her instead of driving around with his friends. In context, this comes off as a criticism of Paul for not spending enough time with his family, and instead hanging around Vin Diesel’s rapidly expanding neck all the time.

About fifty percent of Diesel’s dialogue is even audible at all, which explains why David Twohy barely had him say a word for the entire first hour of Riddick. Diesel, 47, can barely pull off the climactic fight scene with Statham on the roof of a parking garage, and Statham himself is starting to look a bit slow at the same age.

Things get even worse in Furious 7‘s finale, however, as after we watch CGI Paul Walker silently play on the beach with a young boy who is not his own, the movie yields to a montage of Walker’s scenes from the previous films. All those memorable moments are recalled, like that time he drove a car, and slept with Vin’s sister at least twice.

“You’re not going to say goodbye?” Michelle Rodriguez asks Vin as the sack of meat strolls off the beach and bracingly lowers himself into yet another vehicle. He tells her that it’s never goodbye, implying that he will see Paul again in the afterlife. (There is no way that gasbag is going to heaven if he keeps making these pieces of shit.)

Vin pulls up at a stop sign after that, and who but Paul Walker should pull up alongside him? Yes, they made a street race into the last scene of their movie, played over sappy music about how much they miss their friend. At first I was disgusted and appalled, but then the words “For Paul” were draped over a beautiful white light. Would “Fuck You Paul” have been more appropriate considering the overall tastelessness of this tribute? Sure.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Shadow Preachers” – Zella Day (mp3)

“Sweet Ophelia” – Zella Day (mp3)