All the sentimentality dripped out of me
Like the trickle from a slowly bleeding
Cut, standing in the sun somewhere off Montford Avenue
Just a stone’s throw from the site
Of so many sleepless and haunted nights
All the kudzu and ivy and moss
Creeping across the cracked concrete sidewalks
And streets we once called home could never recycle
The accumulated pains poisons of lives hard lived
Or breathe new life back into the fabric of threadbare souls
If you could start over
If you could start over
Live it all over again
How far back would you go?
How many years would it take?
To dissolve the scar tissue from
Liver, lungs, heart, and soul?
Brown glass glinting in the waning light
Concrete drunk on the sun’s heat
It’s just mountain and sky and you and I
Standing in the shadows of the world
That left us far behind
They say you can’t put your arms around a memory
Or put your fist through one either
But memory might be the only affordable place to live these days
The lights went out in every house
We called home long ago
Those elegant eyesores scattered through town
Windows open with the fan on
Whirring into the endless sweltering nights
Inhaling exhaust and ozone and industry
The lockstep march of progress into infinity
Humble streets full of beginnings and endings
I know you were there, in the rain
A funeral march down Courtland Avenue
A mourning barge burning and a slow rolling train
What did we fight for?
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.”