In Which We Are Crass And Candid When We Need To Be

A Tiny, Buzzing Hole

by KRISTINA BRAVO

It was in the fourth grade when I had my first accidental exposure to erotic literature (here the word is used slightly). My aunt, whom my family was living with at the time, had a room walled with Danielle Steel-type books that to my mother’s dismay were freely available for my perusal. Most of them were cheesy and tawdry romances, usually given away by their cheesy and tawdry covers. Narratives went along the lines of pre-middle age loves and heartbreaks, filling up summer break tee-hee afternoons that would have otherwise been spent in nap times.

Some days however, I stumbled upon highly-charged, sensual plot lines that would discombobulate any normal pre- adolescent mind. Questions involved: suction, functions of certain orifices, barbaric playthings, and multi-syllabic vocabulary words like “fornicator.”

In my aunt’s defense, this ten year old’s curiosity died without much fight from an adult’s staunch refusal to answer such questions. A witty, English lady came into the picture and the rest of the summer was wholesomely consumed by wizards and witches. It wouldn’t be until years later that as an adult I would revisit the forbidden genre by way of another female author: Anaïs Nin.

My rejection of a certain popular erotic fan fiction that spawned from a young adult series which, I regrettably did read (ensuring that I was never again to use the word “saga” cringe-free), had admittedly left a tiny, buzzing hole in my otherwise diverse bookshelf. Somehow, Sappho’s fragments just didn’t satisfy. It’s in this deprived spirit that I first picked up a slim volume of Nin’s work.

Written in the early 40s and published posthumously in 1979, Little Birds is a small collection of thirteen short stories. For a dollar a page, she, among other impecunious young writers and poets, produced sexual tales for food. In the preface, Nin writes, “Most of the erotica was written on empty stomachs. Now, hunger is very good for stimulating the imagination.”

Hungry she must have been in “The Chanchiquito.” The titular vermin is a folkloric, porcine creature that roamed the streets of Brazil. It had “a passion for running up the skirts of women and inserting his snout between their legs,” making it inadvisable to bend over and pick up wind-blown hats. The story within a story at once resembles a Twilight Zone episode and an Ovidian tale, tracing a theme out of artistry and throbbing sexuality overlain with a bizarre, mythopoeic tone. Like the charmingly outdated references to genitals as someone’s “sex” (“Jan darkened the hair around the sex, carefully, as if he were painting grass blade by blade, and added detail to the converging lines of the legs.”), it’s enough to inspire a tee-hee snicker from any misbehaving ten-year old reader.

Other tales are more serious, threading on thinly disguised biographical exploits. Famous for her lifelong, fortune-reversing diary, Nin was the literary equivalent of a socialite-cum-tabloid fodder.

In her diary, she is the reality star of her own highfalutin screenplay, a writer in the process of creating a character of herself. But in her dollar a page stories, plots are more bare-boned, moving on a conveyance of lurid experiences towards a titillating end product.

the anais twenty one

“Model” is the longest at twenty-five pages and is placed in the middle of the anthology:

The painter was carefully watching me, watching every expression of a pleasure I could not control, and now it increased so that I abandoned myself to the motion of the horse, let myself rub against the leather, until I felt the orgasm and I came, riding this way in front of him.

Suggestive of her early life as an artist’s model, it rings that age-old tale of artist/model symbiosis (this romantic pattern repeated itself throughout Nin’s affairs, a list that includes Tropic of Cancer author Henry Miller, Freud’s right-hand man, Otto Rank, and most disturbingly, her own father, who was a pianist and a composer).

There is a voyeuristic distance between participants in all of these stories. Someone is always watching someone else, who might as well be on a stage with a wand in one trembling hand and a top hat in the other. The reader has the same relationship with the author. Little Birds may not have the decorated language of her diaries, but here, Nin doesn’t cease to be the enticing performer that she naturally was.

the nais sixteen

“Lina is a liar who cannot bear her real face in the mirror,” opens the third story about a sexually repressed lesbian momentarily liberated in a Parisian three-way episode. Nin’s is a distinctly female voice in erotica, and appropriately, it is a cadenced voice of discontent. Whether it’s grievance from failed male performance, subdued urges or prostituting herself — sometimes quite literally, to get what she wants — there is a constant struggle for recompense in Nin’s narratives. She might have been performing for an audience, but her writing organically quivers and sighs with every discomfort and every wilting tumescence.

With its quirks, pulse and transparency, Little Birds above all else satisfies the sybaritic reader, and not just in a 1940’s sense. Sure the book is at times drifting, but remains crass and candid when it needs to be. Nin sure knew how to satiate an appetite. Her indelible images stays in one’s mind, where they make themselves known in sometimes inappropriate moments. Kind of like the amusing meanderings of a more irresponsible aunt — one who’d gladly answer questions you didn’t even know you had.

Kristina Bravo is contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can find her tumblr here.

kristina author opo

“Random Name Generator” – Wilco (mp3)

“The Joke Explained” – Wilco (mp3)

In Which Halle Berry Has Involved Herself With Some Questionable Individuals

End This

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Extant
creator Mickey Fischer

There is a scene in CBS’ miscarriage of a television series Extant where Halle Berry starts to make out with her alien son. She is interrupted by bounty hunter J.D. Richter (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) before things get too exciting. Halle Berry is looking kind of run down. I’m worried about her.

Every Extant begins with a recap of the series so far, which takes about twenty-five minutes. It is then followed by a moment of Halle Berry screaming about one of her sons. The first is named Ethan, and he is an android. The second was the alien son she conceived in space, and for whom she harbors a quasi-sexual attraction. Her reaction to this situation, as with every other stressful moment, is to break down in womanly tears.

There was only one movie, Mathieu Kassovitz’ masterpiece Gothika, where Halle Berry was locked up into a mental institution and acted completely unhinged through the film’s running time. Every single person involved in Extant took this to heart as the most magical thing. Berry’s Molly Woods has the same initial reaction to every situation she is put in — she starts screaming and fecklessly battering the person with which she is upset.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan was brought onto this horrific tragedy of a television show to explain “I have a problem with authority.” He is a veteran of the war in Iraq. His acting has regressed to a primordial state in which every single line he delivers is smirked out. Unlike previous roles, Morgan has grown in his grey beard and he looks every bit of his forty-nine years. “Listening to bullies isn’t my strong suit,” he explains. Mmk.

The most charismatic young actress in Hollywood was brought onto Extant to class things up a bit. Kiersey Clemons was cast as an unfeeling android named Lucy. (They were unfamiliar with the movie of the same name.) This strikes me as a misuse of Clemons’ considerable talents, but that is the least of Extant‘s problems. Switching the casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Clemons would have made for a show that is about 100x more interesting.

The first thing Lucy asks when she wakes up is to look in a mirror. The scientists behind this program have equipped Clemons’ character with an ethical implant, which is an incredibly made-up sounding thing. It seems that something subtle has gone wrong with Lucy, and we are meant to know this by the fact that she takes a woman’s dress from a closet without her permission.

Molly’s android son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) is tucked into bed with a children’s book every night. His most recent tome was The Velveteen Rabbit, which is about a stuffed rabbit coming to life. Do you get it, or do you maybe need to watch another recap of Extant? Molly Woods went into space… BUT SHE DIDN’T COME BACK ALOOOOOOOOOOOONE!

The government tries to kill Molly and her alien son in a drone strike while they are making out. When she survives, they incorporate her as part of their team to track down the alien. Team leader Toby Shepherd (David Morrissey) has no other options. “We’re putting our faith in a woman of questionable emotional stability!” someone screams in objection. They give Molly a superpowered gun and some remedial instruction. “When I set my sight on a target, I nail it!” she cries out happily.

But don’t forget about the nerd! He wears a sweater to work! Someone thinks this is a real thing:

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We can fix this, one of the scientists tells the nerd. We can change the algorithms. Oh, good. Fixing Extant is completely out of the question, it is like watching kids get dressed up to perform their part in a school play. Actually, the acting and writing is substantially worse than that. About 90 percent of the scenes begin with someone saying, “Let me get this straight,” so we know the story is being recapped.

It turns out that Halle Berry’s alien son is impregnating a bunch of women. They die as a result of conception, which is incidentally not really his fault. Although she has agreed to murder her son, she finds she is too weak to actually go through with it. Instead she begins to cry.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Royal Geography Society” – China (mp3)

“Pinwheels Spinning” – China (mp3)

In Which We Use All Of The Strategies We Developed In The Period

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,

I seem to struggle on first dates. Even if things are going incredibly well up to the point of first meeting in terms of texting or phone calls, I somehow ruin that initial experience of meeting me. This is weird for me because I am used to making a good first impression on people, and without sounding conceited, I consider myself an attractive, if normal-looking guy.

What can I improve to get a better reaction?

Jason B.

Dear Jason,

Be yourself. JK, that would be a terrible idea considering what you have just told me. You need to be someone else, preferably a 60s period Warren Beatty.

What did Warren do so well that all men would be wise to imitate? He projected a healthy sexuality without ever drawing attention to it. Except when he demanded sex or he would leave. But he could do that kind of thing, because the Beatty family owned the entire Los Angeles area police department during this period. Once he killed Dyan Cannon’s son and there were zero repercussions.

The important thing is to draw attention to yourself as a sexual object. Make sure to masturbate right before the date, but not after. Never after. Do a lot of posing and draw attention to your hands. Seem interested, but not overly interested. And don’t murder anyone until a month or so in.

Hi,

I don’t really want to get into the details, but one of my close friends is now dating my ex-boyfriend. Am I wrong or should she have cleared this with me first?

Amy S.

Dear Amy,

Make as much trouble for them both as possible. Remind your friend of your previous relationship with the guy at every juncture, including in depth discussions of his sexual prowess. (She’ll want to know this to be sure her carnal relations are an improvement over the duration and frequency of yours.) Keep saying, “But I’m fine with it,” every time you acknowledge the relationship in a negative way.

By dating this man, you established a claim over him for all time. He can never so much as walk into a Nordstrom without knowing that your unsuccessful coupling with him is the dark cloud that will follow him to the clearance rack.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

 

“Magnolia” – Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell (mp3)

“Am I A Good Man” – Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell (mp3)

In Which We Parenthetical This Situation Repeatedly

Anger

by LINDA EDDINGS

I make the dark sea out of my hands. It is a restless, needy dough that presents itself as salve and illness both. Are you expecting someone (me) to get so upset she can barely breathe? I am not that kind of person. I am the sort of individual who packs the snow in my hands before the rain breaks.

I had done a lot of things for you by that point. I never made a list, or even counted them. I knew it was a lot because of the way you thanked me.

Your pet peeve — what you hated — was feeling worthless. A therapist named Dr. Walters had imprinted into your brain an incredibly dangerous word: value. She neglected to mention that the phenomenon went both ways.

When we place value on ourselves, we call that self-esteem. (Some people also call it snitching.) When you placed value on me, you neglected to mention that it was entirely conditional on the converse. But actually, once I recall asking you if you believed in unconditional love. You said, “Like, no matter what?” It was the same as telling someone what a pencil was.

I knew I was an angry person at the age of 12. I saw a girl print out an encyclopedia entry and submit it as a book report and I wanted to put her on a raft and push her out into the ocean. Now I feel a weird compassion for her plight. At least she knew, without the slightest shred of doubt, that she was a fake.

As a teenager we made repeated trips to a lighthouse where an old man lived with his wife. He let us go to the very top. I couldn’t help but think we were not seeing very far from there. Certainly not as far as we should have been able to, given the height. Fog stopped us, rolling in off the ocean.

Twenty years have passed since those days, and I do not even think about them anymore. I think of the pope’s attitude towards women in the clergy, the mileage on my car and my next meal.

I talked already about what you hated most, You disliked many other things: my mother, my tendency to repeat myself and apologize for doing so. You rolled your eyes when I said “The long arm of the law.” Why do I remember that so vividly?

Most people I could pick apart. It’s a matter of knowing their weaknesses, as well as your own. I deliberately did not do that to you — not because I thought it was important to be nice, but because I was afraid you would return that attitude in kind. I think it is the real me.

The old man in the lighthouse died of food poisoning. I don’t know what happened to his wife.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn.

“Will You Dance?” – The Bird and the Bee (mp3)

“Runaway” – The Bird and the Bee (mp3)


 

In Which This Concerns A Female Investigator

The Same Mother

by DICK CHENEY

True Detective
creator Nic Pizzolatto

So it now seems obvious that Rachel McAdams is deeply intent on torpedoing whatever is left of her career. “Lost in the light…” she murmurs to her sister. “Lost on the water.” Then she went on about memories for about twenty-five minutes before executing a bunch of Mexicans who had offended her in some way. Being a police officer comes with a lot of strange duties.

Did she grow up inside of a Walker Evans photograph or something?

I guess her mom and the daughter of the mayor’s mom were probably the same woman, given that they both knew Dr. Pitler. Or did Pitler just have a harem of spiritually accessible women he could turn to in difficult times? In any case, most reviewers haven’t noticed we already suffered through a long scene with Pitler. He seemed awesome.

McAdams can revel in the fact that her scenes are the strangely-compelling sort of bad, like watching two attractive people whisper poems to each other. Her boss explains that the department’s investigation of her is not gender-motivated, even as she whines, “Would this be happening to a male detective?” Pizzolatto does his best to make Ani Bezzerides extremely unsympathetic: his writing for her is outright unsalvageable at times.


I am just waiting for the actual flashbacks to begin. This happened on Netflix’s Bloodline. Flashbacks are awful; they just remind us of how terrible child actors are. Chad basically ruined this episode by just sitting in his backyard like a sack of shit, accepting a trophy from his not-father Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell).

True Detective is basically the not-so-believable Olympics. Each scene competes wildly to be less realistic than the next. When Taylor Kitsch hopped into a diner to offer a proposal to the woman “pregnant” with his child, and he was still wearing that leather jacket… I really wish this show would spring for some costume changes — or did HBO reduce their budget that much? In any case, his dialogue was as rough around the edges as his gay sex.

It is best to avoid all echoes of Edward Hopper in your art design. The man beat his wife.

Actually, I thought last night’s episode was going to push us over the line into full The Spoils Before Dying territory. If you were not aware of this Will Ferrell-Kristen Wiig project, consider yourselves lucky. It is a parody of old movies airing on IFC for some reason. None of the jokes are funny, and most of them occur in the title sequence.

Michael Kenneth Williams has sacrificed his own career for the project, in what is now called a McAdams. The weirdest thing about The Spoils Before Dying is that The Onion A/V Club ran completely serious reviews of the show, recapping the plot details and mystery in intricate detail. I have no words. Do they plan to recap The Big Bang Theory next? The show’s humor rests in the narrative space between Leonard’s sexual repression and his wife’s lack of the same. I mean, read a book.

Guess we’ll be returning to this location.

I also watched that Will Ferrell Lifetime movie with Wiig, A Deadly Adoption. He played the author of a series of successful financial books named Robert Benson. The only joke I could find in the entire movie is when he skypes with his editor, he got off the call by saying, “Love you.”

20150615_DeadlyAdoption
Welcome to Me was also a disaster. Maybe hire Amy Schumer’s agent?

Wiig as a blonde had a lot of potential, though. She seemed fitter, happier and more productive.

I did judge both of those things as amusing, but the rest of the plot was relatively straightforward: he and his wife Sarah (Wiig) connect with surrogate mother (a gorgeous Jessica Lowndes) who is actually a fan of Robert’s books. She means to kill his wife and take over his family. You have to be really familiar with the Lifetime movie genre to find this a laugh riot.

She should really get around to supporting her husband on just one of his decisions.

If comedy is so much more difficult than drama, why do I have such a hot laugh every time Vince Vaughn asks his wife to get some more tests. “It might have been the operation,” she explains, as if they wouldn’t have gone over every step of her medical history once it became clear they were struggling to conceive a baby. Her infertility is going to be resolved in the five minutes after he yells at his gardener because his avocado trees are dying.

Vaughn hasn’t been all bad on this show, but Pizzolatto gave him almost nothing to work with this time out. His threats are all vague and not very scary. He never gets angry, he just chokes the anger back. This seems like a good idea in theory, except what he does is never very monstrous. I mean he knocked some guy’s teeth out, but the teeth were fake to begin with. He probably lost them originally to nonpareils, which are about as threatening as Vince’s low whisper.

The story of a gangster trying to reclaim what is his would be compelling, except who throws away their empire and invests it in public transportation in the first place?

The final twenty minutes of last night’s True Detective were a callback to the show’s triumphant midnight raid of an African-American housing project in Beaumont, Texas. Watching cops get murdered by a bunch of vigilantes who were looking to pawn some jewelry seemed a little excessive, but who am I to judge someone for using overwhelming force? Hopefully this gets this police triumvirate off the streets and into a safer profession, like security at the American Girl store. They are terrible cops.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Into the Canyon” – Tom Holkenburg (mp3)

“Brothers in Arms (extended version)” – Tom Holkenburg (mp3)

In Which We Falter In This Apprenticeship

Second Haunting

by HEATHER MCROBIE

When I was speaking to some twenty-two year olds in a university bar in England last week I made sure I was kind, in a 27-year old way, to their post-college references: F. Scott and whiskey, blank-canvas silent female icons who the 27-year old female knows are more than conduits for the male imagination. I didn’t say “I’ve heard this before” or even make a face that said it, the way people do to the young. This is not only because I spent a year in my twenties being laughed at unkindly by people five years older than I was. It’s because I remember my own post-college precipice of self, and I did more than just quote a few obvious reference-points. Twenty-two years old was the year I moved from England to Montreal to make Leonard Cohen fall in love with me.

“I’ve heard this before” didn’t come for a while, five years ago — even though thinking back everything I was doing was beyond-obvious. It didn’t come through all of September. There is an old CBC interview of a precipice-of-self Leonard Cohen in the 1960s, where he is shedding the snake-skin of ‘poet’ for ‘singer’ and blitzkreig’ing the CBC interviewer with pre-feminist-revolution charm. He claims with a faux-boldness reserved for male poets that he’s going to change his name to ‘September’. Watch the interview on Youtube if you want to feel all these feelings at once: (1) desire; (2) a feminist urge to reclaim the mid-1960s cardigan-wearing interviewer from the role of nervous, obedient good-girl being teased by the heroic subversive man, encourage her to find her own voice; (3) a desire to tell the young version of Cohen ‘don’t lay it on so thick, we know that you know what affect you have on women’; (4) sad desire. I haven’t watched that CBC interview for years.

That September in Montreal I was still fresh as the blue sky and green copper on the Catholic Church spires, bright as the red rust down by the port. I’d heard it before, of course — this Montreal I consumed hungrily in those first weeks I walked around the city — in my English college bedroom, through the Leonard Cohen songs that seeped out from under my door until the Estonian boy down the corridor complained. That had been June. Here I was autumnally now a European gasping at a new world — adulthood, like the sight of land from a ship.

I walked up and down Mount Royal as its neon cross worked like a magnet on my precipice-of-self heart. I walked up and down the streets that had French road signs that, in France, they write in English: Arret not Stop. I found ridiculous symmetries in everything, 22-year old-ishly. The old and over-varnished Yiddish shop signs were speaking to the new Vietnamese take-away without me translating. The mouth of the port and the tip of Mount Royal were speaking to each other. The Catholic Church spires and the synagogues were speaking to each other. I was speaking the awkward English-schoolgirl French of Europeans at un-impressed Quebecois locals who took pity on me as I struggled at late-night kiosks, buying my first packet of Belmont cigarettes with currency that felt like Euros and from which Queen Elizabeth’s familiar face stared out imperiously.

I read books in bed about the Quiet Revolution and the novels of Mordechai Richler. I believed everything everyone told me about Montreal whenever someone started a conversation with me in a café. The city dominated talk and thoughts, this secret grotto and grubby sanctuary, a smuggled gem that sometimes, in my 22-year old mind, sort of spoke port-to-port to Naples and Marseilles — an under-ocean thread of swearing Latin sailors, transacted in ships’-bellies – and other times seemed a sister-city to New Orleans — secret America under America, coded in liturgy and a sponge of sacred curses, extravagantly mythologising itself.   And all anyone wanted to talk to me about was Montreal. Montreal Montréal! You could write it with or without an accent — what a city; double-city. Did you know Montreal has a bagel war with New York? I wanted to know many facts like this — as in love with Montreal as the city was, it later darkly emerged, in an aching kind of love with itself. But particularly I wanted to know one fact: where would I find Leonard?

Okay there were signs, when I asked that, that they had heard it all before. But to the 23, 24, 25-year old fully-formed impossibly-composed new friends to whom I made these enquiries, it was alright. Music was one of Montreal’s mythologies in which we all participated. It was 2007, a Montreal moment. Do you want to come and see the church where Arcade Fire recorded their first album, one new friend asked. Do you want to come back to mine to listen to The Stills? Do you want to come and see this new band you haven’t heard of? We went to see Bjork play — her song ‘Declare Independence’, new that year, set off a wave of Quebec-nationalist cheers in the audience that I needed someone to translate for me. We went on picnics — right through to October. Like we had all the time in the world for picnics.

For although Montreal has four full seasons, there was a further axis, over English-French, around which I had to contort my young and new-found freedom: summer-winter. I look back on those September days now through the glazed-window of what came later — evenings of rose wine and port-meandering buried forever beneath the winter I’ll never forget. When people warned me of the winter when I first arrived I thought they meant coldness, weather.  It turns out, though, they meant timeless moonwalking heartbreak.

The friendships we made in the autumn, post-college groups made for going to parties, to the cinema and into too much detail too quickly, constricted like oesophagi as the snow set in.  Sometime in late autumn a new friend who had grown up in Montreal explained to me that he had ‘summer friends’ and ‘winter friends’.  Summer friends lived in other areas of town, you met up with them for Frisbee and open-air jazz and trips out of town. Winter friends you wintered with. Wintering felt a bit like how my friends who liked to live in the heat described their months on kibbutz, or a bit like marriage or a bit like American graduate school. Getting through Montreal winter with other people (you could not get through Montreal winter alone — although, also, everyone got through Montreal winter alone) was less friendship than folie a deux. Or trois. There were three people in our apartment and three regular visitors.

In autumn I’d moved into the building just off Rue St Denis which, I was told as an extravagant mythology, had been a brothel in the eighteenth century. It had stairs leading up to the front from the outside, just like I’d English-ly dreamed of. Every morning I had to throw salt on the ice-covered stairs so I didn’t break my neck. This, I found out, is how Montreal breaks your heart.

As the snow set in, in those first weeks, time still worked and the novelty of snowfights and Montreal mythology buoyed us through numb-toed drunken stumblings back from the Casa del Popolo bar. In the weeks that followed, time got snowed in too. I’d ask my warm-faced, wrapped-up flatmate whether he’d mind being the one to go out today, to pick my books up from our friend two streets away. He asked me two days later if I’d be the one to go out and buy more gritted salt. Evenings were wide as the prairies I had never seen — would never see, now that time had stopped and the concept of westwards was covered over with the moonscape of the city that we watched from our windows. We really did watch from our windows.

We listened to the Arcade Fire song ‘Une Année Sans Lumière’ with no discernible sense of irony. We played things on vinyl, because we were 22 and thought we were the first people to appreciate a variety of things, including wooden floors and theories of translation and our old telephone. Our landlord from upstairs would ring the phone at unsociable hours because all hours were unsociable and speak Quebecois French that I brain-translated into my-French then brain-translated into English and I have no idea what it meant but I think it meant, “Are you cold?”

We called into work or university sick or university or work called into us sick — let’s just not move, either way. We made a lot of fried eggs and took it in turns to moonwalk out to the dépanneur two blocks away for cigarettes. I wore my yellow knitted socks and my pink silk dress and my grey woollen jumper and had my first encounter with the brain-dentistry of clinical depression. Once we didn’t leave the apartment for three days. The experience snowily, sleepily dusted all surfaces of human interactions — at breakfast: “We haven’t left the apartment for a week!” This was conversational exaggeration and at the same time possibly true.

Because we were twenty-two, we read a lot of books self-consciously and some sincerely, and talked about them as we cooked terrible food. People fell into morbid, miserable love affairs of the kind that can only happen when you are enclosed in a room with a person with minus-twenty on the thermometer. We listened to jazz, blues, 1990s triphop, Broken Social Scene. But underneath it all was Leonard Cohen, the ache for him, the presence of him, the absence of him. We didn’t actually listen to him that much — not the way I had a year before, when ‘So Long Marianne’ and ‘Anthem’ and his album Dear Heather which had my name so it was fate of course (a twenty-one year old thought) filled my college bedroom. There was not much point actually taking the lid off him while in the thick of his shadow. We listened to everything in the mood of him instead.

I skipped a season here: if I can go back to autumn — which I can’t — there was a time in my early Montreal months when I walked up and down around Rue Rachel, thinking of the moment I would meet him. Cohen had lived in California for years, cloistered in Buddhism and late-celebrity, but there were extravagant rumours about his periodic migration back north. His migration back home, surely, for Leonard — to his Westmount childhood and McGill student fumblings, somewhere between the time he was Leonard Cohen and when he became ‘Leonard Cohen’.

It finally hit me the third time I found myself waiting outside his mythologised local newsagent in Parc du Portgual. I saw the other girls who were looking for him, waiting. A French girl in a skirt, another girl in jeans and a red coat. And through them I saw, too, the historiography of Cohen, the decades there must have been of women walking up and down these streets, looking for him. Decades like sedentary layers of moon-surface Montreal — the women who had come from Winnipeg and St. John’s, women who had come even from New York and from Europe. The dust of Leonard. The weight of dreams of girls from eras where marriage was creeping up, was stalled, was receding. Even in the later decades of this line I imagined, of Leonard-longing girls, there was something burning in the thought of their dreams melting, get on the bus go home become an adult. I wasn’t ready to accept its inevitability yet, but the image of the line of those who’d come before me pressed itself into the thoughts I carried through the streets. I stopped looking for him after that, sickened the way a 22-year old is at the realization that they are a footnote to a stronger story.

Back in the apartment, though, we always returned to Leonard — his early poetry as a McGill student, that post-war open-mouth shock of young men whose thoughts are full of Eichmann, and then his love poetry preceding — precipitating, I liked to think — the sexual revolution. His first novel of young-man Montreal, his second novel of still-young man desire. A lot of people don’t know Leonard Cohen was a novelist before he became a songwriter; everyone I met in Montreal did. We read the writers who inspired him, were inspired by him — A.M. Klein, Irving Layton, an enclosed Montreal dialogue. The rest of the world hadn’t heard of them; Montreal didn’t care.

And then I felt the second haunting, in the second-half of winter. The ache I felt at the thought of all those years’-worth of young women who had come to this city hungry for the love of him was answered — or mirrored — in the swollen presence, suddenly, of all the men who were not Leonard Cohen.  There were so many men who were not Leonard Cohen here. I knew this because I used to notice them as I walked up and down Rue St Denis looking for his face on every figure — you’re not Leonard, you’re not Leonard, you’re not Leonard. I thought of all the men in this city straining under the weight of not-being-Leonard, of listening to his music as they kissed girls, lyrically cuckholded. I pictured entire marriages conducted in the shadow of his poetry. Those girls who’d come to Montreal on buses from Winnipeg and St John’s and New Jersey and wherever else in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s — did they find not-Leonards, close-enoughs, and settle down?

Leonard loomed over us like grandfather time, like the neon cross on Mount Royal, like the snow-unfurling skies. I listened as the young man who was one of our ‘winter-friends’ and lived three streets away — that is, we were in Montreal-love and deluded and snow-psychotic together — told me at some hourless dinner in our sealed-off apartment how he sometimes narrated his thoughts entirely through Cohen lyrics, and navigated the city the times he numbly ventured out by reference to Cohen-points. We were all echoes, marginalia to someone else’s golden burning life. I realised lazily over a month into winter that my friends were tightrope-walking between depression and delusion the way that, in the city, you turned the corner and the language on people’s mouths suddenly changed from French to English. The boys had started waking up at 6 p.m., cooking meals then throwing them straight in the bin, reading the same book twice. This is one of the last things I lucidly noticed.

Because it was just after that that my own delusion set in. It was about spring. Spring, I decided, was never coming. I tried to explain it to my housemate when I was going to bed and he was waking up at 3 a.m., in the kitchen full of books and the residue of omelettes. This was it, I said with the calmness of someone who has laid in bed with a book for a week. It would stay winter forever. The seasons decided to stop. I decided to stop.  At some point my flatmate took me aside through the fog of the window-staring sadness and told me he thought I should call my family. “I think you’re not well, Heather,” he said.

So I didn’t make it to spring, and for all I know it doesn’t ever come, or something miraculous happens that I’ll never know, to make it stop being the way it was like the moon or pre-history during those fogs of weeks.  I went back to England and asked people not to ask me about what had happened in Montreal. But I did finally see Leonard Cohen, I think. It was one of the early nights of Hannukah and I was walking to this bar not far from my apartment. I was moving so fast, like he sings in ‘My Secret Life’. This was the moment I’d been dreaming of — he’d see me, he’d notice me, I would become stitched into song. I overtook him on the street before I knew it was him, turned around just by chance and saw it — his Leonard-face, those two deep lines either side of his mouth that he’s always had, that you can see on the cover of The Songs of Leonard Cohen.

But it was all wrong.  Because that night, for once, I had somewhere to be and other thoughts. I was going to a bar to meet my friend from three streets away and my thoughts were full of him, a real person in my real 22-year old life. I suppose it is a victory, for the not-Leonards who have for so long lived in his shadow, that at the moment I saw the singer himself turning the corner, his brow furrowed, scarf-wrapped, in his Pablo Neruda hat, I was thinking about another man.

One of my favourite Leonard Cohen lyrics is when he sings to Janis Joplin at the end of ‘Chelsea Hotel No 2’ – “That’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.”  I don’t think of that winter often. But when I do it is not Leonard Cohen that I think about, but all the not-Leonards trying to be and to make, faltering in their apprenticeship as I faltered in mine, in that first failed venture out into the world. When I meet 22-year olds in college bars in England, I think of them there in the snow — unfamous and without the magic power to make everyone fall in love with them through their words. I either love them so much or at least want, so much, to love them so much, for getting through the winter without being Leonard. Human and clumsy and with no magic powers, they are almost as defenceless as girls.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and journalist living in Oxford. She twitters here.

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“Chase the Light” – Palace (mp3)

“Settle Down” – Palace (mp3)

In Which We Answer Life’s Questions In The Affirmative

Familiar with the System

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Dope
dir. Rick Famuyiwa
103 minutes

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) expresses no opinions, has nothing to say about his life in Inglewood, California. He just lives there. Even in his utter vacuousness, he is immensely attractive to women, including the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, who looks like a cross between Naomi Campbell and Debbie Reynolds. Malcolm’s straight A’s in school and high SAT scores would entitle him to go to any school in the nation. He chooses Harvard.

Dope is a story about how bad things are for Malcolm. Wait a second, you are probably saying, somewhere in this magical success story, what exactly went wrong? I guess the answer would be nothing. Malcolm is also the lead singer of a band named Oreo. His friends Jib (The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) play the guitar and drums, respectively. The band’s music is fantastic.

Despite the fact that before he graduates from high school, he has probably resisted the potent allure of gang life a million times, Malcolm finally succumbs at the age of 17. There is no one below that age ever in Dope. Not one of the characters has a younger sibling. Everyone in the world is in fact around the same age: 18-34.

Dope may not have much of a script, or make sense on any level, but the performances carry the film so far beyond what it should have been. Moore is a phenomenally captivating actor, if a bit limited in his range. He stares at everyone in his world with open, untrusting eyes, like it is his first time seeing them, even when he is holding a gun. What he does possess is a preternatural ability to convey vulnerability and strength at the same time, which is so rare that Marlon Brando made an entire career out of projecting it.

Revolori and Clemens are both exceptional in supporting roles. Malcolm just pretends to be an outsider — his mixed-race and gay friends actually are exceptions in their culture, and it is a shame we never hear more about who they are or what they want. Revolori makes noise about wanting to go to a good college, but he allows Malcolm to pull him into a Bitcoin-drug scheme for what seems like no reason, and explains he is permitted to say the n-word because he is 14 percent African according to Ancestry.com.

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Malcolm’s love interest Nakia (Zoe Kravitz) is such a dunce that she requires help from him, a high school student, in her college studies. Her judgment is so bad that she has been leading on a local drug lord (A$AP Rocky). Malcolm saves her from all this: there is nothing that a man from the Ivy League can’t accomplish given time and money, and the 26-year old woman attends his prom.

In the end, Malcolm ends up having to blackmail his way into Harvard. In the real world, the trustees would probably make him an offer to be president of their university. Malcolm also sells a bunch of drugs for around $100,000. The first draft of his college essay is an brilliant, esoteric analysis of Ice Cube’s career; his final draft is a meaningful essay about how it’s hard to be an African-American who loves Game of Thrones and came from nothing. The world taught him to be a victim — he had never even thought of it before.

Dope is not very funny or insightful about the kind of struggles that actual people face. At times it seems like a parody of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, where you felt as if the transcendent director was actually opening up people you never knew existed. Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa has already told his Inglewood-story in 1999’s The Wood, and after that more genuine film’s lack of success, Dope feels like a collection of what people want people to be like rather than what they are.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Poppin’ Off” – WatchtheDuck (mp3)

“The World Is Yours” – Nas (mp3)