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?

Sound and Story: 4

Saturday night at the end of March in Central Pennsylvania.  It’s not quite spring.  Winter has not yet released the world from its frigid, skeletal fingers, but the days grow steadily longer, warmer.  When you step outside, can feel the earth beginning to thaw beneath your feet, even through the thick soles of your boots.  Winters back then, even the concrete felt harder in the winter.  Later, when the sun goes down at night, you feel less fearful that it might never return, plunging your tiny corner of the world into abyssal darkness.    

Jimmy and I were at home, looking for something to do when word spread through a few of our friends about a party at some townhouse up in York.  A friend of a friend, word of mouth type situation.  The minor details, like who the house belonged to, who would be at the party, if the hosts would be hospitable to a crew of punk rockers from the sticks, or how we might even get to York faded into background noise as the siren song of free beer and maybe even some free weed filled our ears.  The possibility of a night’s escape was enough to bring us out of hibernation early.  It had been a long winter.  Cold.  Lonely in a sense, but filled with friends, too.  Stumbling through classes during the day, taking half hearted notes, counting down the minutes until the last bell rang.  Dreading the bus ride home, always thinking, “If I can just make it until 3:00, then I will be safe.  At home.  In my room.”  Always living for the weekends, which were for walking aimlessly around Shrewsbury, smoking dirt weed out of a bent soda can; scorching aluminum with safety pin sized holes poked in the indentation, searing our lungs.  Getting too high and getting chased out of the McDonalds by jocks, only to lose them in the cemetery. 

Someone got directions to the party.  We gathered a crew to make the 30-minute drive north.  Four teenage outcasts, and two early twentysomethings that were too old to be hanging with kids.  They would drive and buy more beer when we inevitably needed it.  The driver was a young, (but seemingly ancient to me at 15), man recently discharged from a stint in the navy.  The rumor was that his parents made him enlist in an effort to get their son off smack.  His younger brother lived down the street from my mother and I, one of the kids who I dreaded riding the bus home with every day, always threatening to set my hair on fire.  Luckily, he wouldn’t be at the party tonight.  Mary, Jess, Jimmy and I crammed into the backseat with the two older kids up front, driving and navigating respectively. 

I sat quiet in the back of the car smashed between Jimmy and Jess, settling into a cloud of cigarette smoke and laughter, trying to recede into the leather jacket my mother gave me as a gift.  It was too big, but she hoped I would grow into it.  I would like to think I wore it well, but I have few pictures of myself in it.  I watched the countryside speed by and tried not to think about how I might be out of my league.  An air of intoxicant hungry excitement filled the car.  I assumed the kid driving us back home was going to get fucked up too.  Driving drunk, on these fucking roads, tonight suddenly had the makings of an afterschool special. 

The party was nothing much to speak of.  A sparse living room with two black sofas facing one another and a coffee table covered with empties and ashtrays between them.  Someone collected money, and our ride and his navigator went on a beer run.  We made small talk with the other kids while we waited.  Someone passed a joint around.  The room filled with the pungent haze of weed and everyone eased into glassy eyed, toothy smiles.  The beer procurers returned with a 40 oz each for them, and two six packs of Zima.  Fucking Zima.  Mary, Jimmy, Jess and I got two bottles each.  It tasted like rancid 7UP, but just boozy enough to get us fucked up along with the joint we had smoked while we waited.

The party wound down in a shambling, stumbling blur of mumbled, “Hey nice meeting you,” and “thanks for having us over’s,” and empty bottles clinking on the table and in the trash.  I walked upstairs to take a piss before we got back in the car for the drive to Southern York County.  I didn’t know what time it was, but I knew my mother would be asleep.  I looked at myself in the mirror and tried not to think about getting back into the car.  Telling myself it was a twenty-minute drive, tops.  We would make it home.  This dude would drop Jess and Mary off at Jess’ house.  He’d drop Jimmy and I off at my house, and him and the other kid would go off to do whatever they were going to do for the rest of the night, and we would all wake up safe, if not a little hungover in the morning. 

In the car, Jess pulled a dubbed cassette copy of Misfits Collection I out of her leather jacket and handed it towards the front seat. 

“Hey, do you mind putting this in?” 

“Uh, Sure.” 

I bought a copy of Misfits Collection I on a trip to some fading mall across the border in Maryland with Jess back in January.  I liked the Misfits already, and would have grabbed probably any record I could find, but the harsh, blown out yellow and black Crimson Ghost skull adorned only with the word “Misfits” drew me in regardless.  This was back when the Crimson Ghost logo served as just a little bit more of a beacon for fucked up kids to find each other.  The ominous grinning skull on a black t-shirt, patched on a denim jacket, painted on a leather, a subcultural marker of sorts, long before Jerry Only licensed the fucking thing onto literally everything, (Misfits shower curtains!  Misfits sandals!) draining the logo of its meaning and mystique.  When I got the record home, I liked the way the it sounded in my room, the way the guitars and Glenn Danzig’s menacing croon bounced off the walls of my bedroom at night.  I could imagine I was in a dungeon, or something.  I liked the album so much, I made a copy for Jess, who apparently happened to have it the pocket of her leather two months later. 

I tried not to worry when it took the driver two tries to get the tape in the tape player.  He pulled out of the driveway and drove towards the general direction of the highway, or at least where I thought it was.  The realization that I had no idea where I was furthered my discomfort.  On the stereo, Glenn Danzig howled about death comes ripping up, about wolf’s blood, about teenagers from mars and we don’t care.  The sky was huge and dark, empty feeling above us on the highway. 

Through the haze, I remembered an old interview with the Misfits Forrest found somewhere.  Faded and fuzzed out, no doubt from being xeroxed so many times.  The interviewer asked the band if the rumors they had recorded the Horror Business EP in a haunted house were true.  With his usual blasé arrogance, Glenn replied, “What, you think we didn’t?”[1] The band claimed they recorded in an abandoned mansion along deserted highway somewhere in rural New Jersey.  Glenn told the interviewer how when he was a kid, he’d go driving out there with his friends, past the city lights, bombed out of their brains, passing old military training stables, empty pits filled with water, and abandoned houses.

(According to Wikipedia, the band recorded the EP in New York City, and discovered an unexplained noise while mixing down the recordings, and concocted the haunted house story to explain away the noise when Jerry Only refused to shell out more cash for remixing.)

A gray landscape of post-atomic age nihilism and abandon filled my mind.  Black leather and liquor, dirt weed, thirtysomething miles from Three Mile Island.  Children growing too fast in the shadow of the meltdown.  Chernobyl, Love Canal, Rocky Flats.  Teenagers not from Mars, but raised upon a sighing earth in the age of cataclysm ascendent.    

I gripped the arm rest the whole way home.  Just before the Shrewsbury exit, the driver pulled into the shoulder, taking the exit way too early. 

Jess asked, “Hey man, are you okay to drive?” 

“Yeah, yeah.  I drive on heroin all the time,” he mumbled. 

I woke up hungover on Easter Sunday, with weak gray light coming through the cracks in the blinds.  Forrest called around noon. 

“Hey, Chris bought this fucked up drum set at the Shrewsbury Playground.  Him and I are going to play music today.  We need someone to sing.  Do you wanna?” 

I coughed away from the mouthpiece of my phone, wanting to spare Forrest the sound of my aching lungs attempting to excise last night’s smoke. 

“Yeah, I don’t really know how though.” 

“Don’t worry too much.  I wrote out the chords for a bunch of Misfits and Dead Kennedys songs.  We’re not trying to like, write music or anything yet.  Just want to see what happens.” 

“That’s funny.  I was just listening to The Misfits last night.  We can use my basement if you want.” 

“Cool.  We’ll be by in a few hours.” 

Later that day. Down in the basement, a musty concrete room lit by two bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  We lugged Forrest’s guitar and practice amp down the stairs.  Followed by his bass amp, which we plugged a cheap K-Mart microphone into, for me to sing through.  Finally, we set up Chris’ drums, a cheap, sparse kit, he paid $75 for.  The snare head was so destroyed, that it consisted mostly of duct tape.  We excitedly ran through songs we knew, songs we thought we knew for hours.  I shouted myself hoarse, feeling a shift beneath my skin, some subtle movement incrementally away from fruitless nihilism and substance abuse, towards an outlet just a little more constructive. 

Listen, I’m not going to lie and say this band was actually good or anything, because we weren’t.  What we were, was earnest and hopeful.  Kids full of rage and excitement and boundless love for one another, desperate to be heard, desperate to make our mark on a world none of us knew how to see ourselves in, but ultimately refused to leave at the same time. 

Within a few weeks, we dropped The Misfits covers and started trying to write our own songs.  And oh my god, those songs were so bad, and so silly and wonderful and perfect all at once. 

According to Forrest, there is one extant rehearsal tape remaining from this period.  Chris might have another one.  I don’t know.  A few months ago, Forrest found a copy of the tape in a box, and texted me a video recording of the tape as it played in his stereo.  I would post said recording here, were it more than 38 seconds of song fragments, youthful banter, and my awkward teenage voice.  “I am literally watching the tape melt,” Forrest said.  I had a different rehearsal recording, that I wish I still had, with the four or five songs we managed to write.  Unfortunately, I bitterly recorded The Exploited Singles Collection over my copy the following winter after I quit/got kicked out of the band in a teenage prima donna huff just before our first show.  Hey, what can I say?  I was painfullyinsecure and crippled with stage fright.  I missed out.  What I remember Forrest telling me later, was that they lost the hall they rented and all the other bands backed out of the show.  The band ended up playing solo with their new singer to basically every weirdo in town but me in Jimmy’s driveway out in the middle of nowhere where nobody would call a noise complaint. 

Luckily, music is like memory, and I have been blessed with a detailed one.  It gets inside you and takes root, staying with you through good times, bad times, and worse times.  I carry those songs and the songs that inspired them with me to this day.  Always a reminder of the choice between nihilism and creativity, love and hopelessness, friendship and isolation, and ultimately life and death. 

[1] Enough key phrases from this interview stuck with me down the years, that a quick google search allowed me to find it, and I am referencing it here.

The record cover that enticed me from a Sam Goody CD rack when I was 15.