Loving Is The Best Hard

I had the pleasure of writing the liner notes for my best friend’s debut EP this summer.

I’m posting them here because I’m proud of what I wrote, but I would also like to strongly encourage you to go give the record a listen or buy a copy. You can do so here:

Listen, it’s been one cruel summer, and I have not wanted to write a goddamn thing. Motherfuckers talk about how adversity makes the best art. In these dark times, will there be singing, yes there will be singing, about the dark times and all that. Not me. Zip. Zero. Zilch. It’s August. Three entire months of blank pages and existential angst. All I know is I’m a pile of frayed nerves, heartbreak, and GI problems wrapped in wrinkling skin. 

That’s why I groaned internally just a little bit when my lifelong best friend, Molly Growler asked me to write the liner notes for her new EP.

Write? I’m too busy carrying on the very writer-ly tradition of being miserable, thank you very much. 

Besides, I don’t know a fucking thing about music. I know how to listen to it, sure. I know how to write well enough. But I don’t know how to write about music. You wanna talk about scales or notes, or beats or whatever? That shit goes right over my head. Case in point: One night, almost twenty years ago, Molly and I were sitting on the back stoop of our shared one-bedroom apartment, passing a bottle of cheap whiskey back and forth. I was extolling the virtues of the almighty D-Beat. We were no doubt listening to a Discharge, or Tragedy, or Wolfbrigade LP. Molly, being a classically trained musician, wanted to know what the exact timing structure or whatever to the drumbeats were. 

I took a swig of whiskey and laughed, “I don’t fucking know dude, it just sounds like someone snorted a line of trucker speed and is whispering the word ‘banana’ over and over again to me, but I fucking love it.”

We ended up drunk dialing a friend in North Carolina so Molly could ask him what the actual timing structure for the D-Beat is. He graciously answered our question. He laughed about it, even. Not even pissed that we called at two in the morning. Ah, remember your twenties and not having a fucking panic attack when the phone rang too late at night?

There is not a single D-Beat in this EP, and that doesn’t bother me at all. I’m biased, because my best friend wrote this record. But I’m also clueless, because these aren’t the tunes that often grace my turntable. So maybe it evens out. 

What you have here, dear listener, are four songs of dark pop? shoegaze? Lo-Fi synth jams? My first comparison was Kristina Esfandiari’s brilliant Sugar High project, albeit without the (much deserved) cultural capital and hype. 

Second, I felt obligated to compare this record to the Julie Ruin LP. Maybe Molly took influence from that LP. I got no idea. I can’t remember the name of a single Julie Ruin song. I just remember hearing those Lo-Fi songs on mix tapes from many a long-gone punk house tape player and remember that project being popular with the riot girl set of Molly’s and my youth. I think my comparison springs from a scene I remember from The Punk Singer where Kathleen Hanna said something about how that record was the sound of a lonely girl making a record in her bedroom hoping other lonely girls would hear it and make records of their own. 

Which is what I love about this record. It’s a record made by a woman in her bedroom. It captures the essence of so much of what we all love about punk, about jazz, about indie rock and all the other unheard music out there, traversing the sound waves in a mad dash to your eardrums. 

One of challenges with hitting middle age in punk rock is when behaviors that once were written off as eccentricities or youthful follies metastasize into lifelong problems. Yesterday’s Edward Fortyhands champ can descend to a middle aged drunk, dying young from liver failure all too quickly. Another more mundane, and far less tragic challenge is that there are so many other ways to lose your footing in a community centered on youth. Career. Family. Debt. Step by step. You fade from the scene and into the scenery. With this EP’s opener “Remember Me” I feel that longing for faded connections. The hope that our so-called brightest days might live on somewhere past our fading memories. 

Molly poured these songs into her keyboard during small moments of free time snatched between parental responsibilities and the doldrums of a working-class life, while a much slower dystopia than the ones envisioned by the D-Beat records of our youth unfolds. The second track, “The Burden of Being Bad” encapsulates the challenges of raising a child during our particular troubled times perfectly, set to an electronic drum backbeat just as infectious as the almighty D-Beat, no less. The record is no doubt full of melodies, smooth, soulful vocals and a bunch of other musical terms I don’t remember or would just use incorrectly, so won’t to waste your time or mine pretending I know what I’m talking about. 

Tonight, summer is winding down. Heartbreak, health problems, and losing my beloved dog coupled with the existential angst that could would fuel a thousand D-Beat songs if I knew how to play a note, clouds my skull. I don’t want to write a goddamn thing. A plague runs unchecked through our country. Wildfires burn across the west. In Denver, Colorado, my former home, where Molly still resides with her family, wildfire smoke chokes out the sun. Here in North Carolina, its deceptively quiet. Cicadas sing outside my window, audible above the AC. I finally got my shit together enough to give my best friend’s songs a listen. Written, labored over, and most of all loved during the bleakness of a Covid winter. And Holy shit. I should have listened to these sooner. 

With these four songs, Molly takes her place in the pantheon of lonely songwriters making strange music for hopeful outcasts in a world where so many of us struggle to hope at all. Someone who is a better writer than me could tell you about structuring of the songs, or scales and melodies or some shit like that. What I can tell you is, holy goddamn. Did this record hit me at just the right moment. The music is heartfelt. It’s earnest. It’s tender, and it’s rawer than the rawest D-Beat record. The record possesses the singular beauty that could only come from the purest place of creation simply for the need to create. When Molly belts out the words “You’re safe now” at the crescendo of “Safe Passage”, I almost believe her. The music fills me with that hope for all of us. There’s no pretense. There’s no calculated career moves or empty hunger for fleeting cultural capital in these songs. Only Sincerity and a love for the spirt of sound. 

I sat in my room transfixed listening to the last track, “Loving Is Best Done Hard” which closes the record. Goddamn, if this summer hasn’t been such a hard one. The record ends on a perfect note, with the words “We are together, we are together, in eternal summer.” The words I didn’t even know I needed to hear. Molly told me later she wrote the song as a love song to everyone she’s ever loved, which is so goddamn appropriate for these days. These songs capture the truest drive behind making music; a drive for connection. A monument made in melodies to what you love. The unheard music of lonely misfits, begging to be heard. 

When I finished listening to this EP, I texted molly to say, “I think I can hear your future unfolding in front of you now.” 

Sascha Hamilton

August 2021

Bummer Summer, Redux

It’s bummer summer redux, baby and I’ve been adrift in a pavement sea. I’m out here alone, again. Drowning in the haze of a lazy late summer heat. Counting the crawling minutes in heatwaves shimmering skyward off cooking concrete. Turn my phone off and walk the city for hours at a time. I threw all the clocks away when I moved all my things into my new room, the second set of four walls and a door and a window I’ve called home this summer alone. This distance between minutes and hours and days blurs lately. I’m too busy marching nowhere fast to the rhythm of that familiar thunder pulse rumbling away inside my ribcage. I don’t have an appetite, but I’ll drive to the store to stock up on the food my body needs to stay alive. Sit in the car and hyperventilate in the parking lot like my heart is begging to break free from the bones that held it hostage for so long.

I hate this city, and I love it. And I hate it. And I love it. All at once. We all worry the water wars to come are gonna hit these parts hard. Mo said something in the bookstore about how when the chips are down, and we’re down and out, nothing beats watching those mountains materialize on the horizon when you’re driving home. And goddamn, if I didn’t know exactly what zie meant.

My heart beats right and I get out of the car. As if the little fucker had anywhere to go. We’re stuck together. Until the end of the line. I run like hellfire flicks at my heels. Press iron in my palms until they blister and my muscles break down to be reborn. Just to keep that merciless little muscle healthy. To forestall the inevitable for another day.

“I keep in shape like a Super 8, because I’m afraid to die.”  

Wezel told me the other day, the only thing that scares him about death is the concept of eternity. Being stuck in one place, be it damnation or paradise, forever. Though the concept of oblivious terrifies me, I think I know what he means about wanting to stay in motion. I can’t settle anywhere. In houses. In rooms. In my skin. This new house it is my fourteenth mailing address in the last ten years. Moving from room to room, as if sheltering behind the same four walls longer than six months at a time, might wither away my momentum.

As if I’ve ever had any idea where I’m going, anyway.

I don’t even remember how to write anymore. I just stare at blank page after blank page. Reflecting on a lifetime spent amongst the drowning and drowned. All of my friends. Trying to keep their heads above water. Hurting. Hurting each other. Hurting themselves. Fighting against the swell. Swimming against the current. Trying not to drown in depression.

I read a story last week. The scene: The Pacific Ocean, 1945. A United States Naval destroyer torpedoed just after midnight. 300 men went to the bottom with the ship. Another 900 went into the water. There’s a monologue in the movie Jaws about it. 900 men spent Four days adrift in the open sea. Too few lifeboats between them. Barely any clean water. The only food what they scavenged from the flotsam. Then there were the sharks circling for the feeding frenzy. A horror unimaginable. Four days in the water with not enough to go around. A horror unimaginable. Close your eyes and you can see it. Water as far as the eye can see. No land in sight. Listen and you can hear it. The rise and fall of the waves. The screams of the devoured. Some men clung to one another, banded together for survival. Some of them turned on one another. Desperate for the slimmest glimmer of survival to shine on them, they swore fealty to betrayal and instinct. Shoving one another into the maws of death to buy more time for themselves. One sailor sunk so far as to slit the throat of one of his companions and drink the blood that spilled from the wound to slake his thirst.

80 years and countless wars come home later. We are drowning in an ocean of our own. Everyone I have ever loved is hurting. Fighting for air. Searching for shore. Trying not to succumb to a sea roiling with despair. Adrift. Sinking. We are a generation of the drowning and drowned. Despair. Debt. Addiction. Everyone scrambling over one another for solid footing, desperate to breathe. Begging for those moments where the world spins right. Where the cycle breaks free from an axis of despair.

The cycle of hurting people, hurting people. Scrambling into overloaded life rafts in madness. Trying not to drown. Trying not to be devoured. Driven mad by hunger and thirst. Bereft of fulfillment or meaning. Arms swimming and swimming until the lungs give in.

Searching for a searchlight. Any sign of hope.

We are a generation of the drowning and the drowned.

I am so tired of watching the people I love most cannibalize one another, fight over scraps, feed one another to the sea, to circling sharks.

Do you hear it?

The sounds of everyone you love begging for reprieve?

Wishing for once that these long nights would pass with ease?

Good Night Sweet Hope Street.

I returned home to Western North Carolina just in time to let my girl go. When she let me know it was time I packed all my things and drove straight home. Philadelphia to WNC with a stop in the triangle just long enough for Natalia and Jess to say goodbye to her.

I was a dumb kid when Hope came into my life. Walking down the street in Southeast Portland, lonely and directionless when I saw a man selling pit bull puppies. I think buying selling animals like they’re commodities is bullshit now just as I did back then but I saw this tiny puppy and my brain started making all kinds of rationalizations. I leaned down to pet the dogs and one of them jumped up to lick my face. It was a done deal, just like that. The first and only time I ever experienced love at first sight. ⁣

I handed the man the money I had in my wallet, picked up my new friend and headed back to the house I was crashing in. I didn’t even have a leash or collar. My decision was that impulsive. She was so small and so light. Carrying her wasn’t any sort of burden. Somewhere along the walk I said to her, “I think I’m going to name you Hope. What do you think about that?” She licked my face again, and I knew, reckless or not, that I had made a good choice. ⁣

Hope and I grew up together. Every moment of joy, of heartache and heartbreak, all the slow hours of depression and struggling against the void, I literally had Hope by my side. She was smart, she was strong, she was fierce and she was devoted and outgoing. She loved people and she loved other dogs. If I have one regret about our time together, it’s that we had to grow up together. That she was subject to all of my growing pains. I’m a healthier person at 40 than I was at 24. I owe so much of that health to Hope. I only wish she could have stayed around longer to reap the benefits. ⁣

But I would like to think I have given her a good life. 15 years and 11 months isn’t a bad run for a little dog. She nearly met her doom a few times over the years. There was a snake bite, a fight with a goddamn horse, and the time the two of us almost got swept out to see by a surprise wave. Despite it all, it was old age that got her.

The better of the two of us to the very end, there have been so many times over the last year where I could feel her telling me, “stop making such a big deal, Sass. It’s only death.” The thing that we all fear the most, and my girl faced it with bravery and humility.⁣

It’s a gift in a way to know when your last hours with someone you love have arrived. I spent the night with Hope with a hand ever near her too bony chest, listening to her breathe. Counting the fleeting flickering of her eyelids. Whispering a thousand prayers of thanksgiving to her and whatever benevolent force led us to one another, giving me the chance to experience a love like this. ⁣

I held her as she let go this morning, surrounded by flowers Roth both planted and picked for her. We were in the shade on the farm. As she went I thanked her for a lifetime worth of love and told her she was the single best thing to ever happen to me. I reassured her all the dog friends and people who loved her and went before her were waiting for her on the other side. I told her I would miss her for the rest of my life and that I would see her again.

First photograph together. Oakland, 2005.
Final photograph together.

HOPE!

2005-2021