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?

Heartbreak Summer//Heartbreak City

It’s summer in the city
That I love
But could never love enough
Or half as much
As you love it
I sketch the skyline
To memory behind my eyes
Remember the first time
I watched your eyes light up
The night you talked about
How grateful you were for the ways this place
Too root in your bones
And never let go.

There’s a metaphor here, baby
Just below the surface
For sure.

The concrete and the pavement
Soak up the burning sun like a sponge
All that stone laid by hard working men
Absorbs the heat
Reflecting it back
Like an opaque mirror
Drinking every last drop
Of moisture from my skin

I’m all tears and sweat and a heaving chest
Sitting on the Highland Park steps
Doing my best to remember
How to take a breath
Talk my lungs backwards
To the days when inhalations
Came with ease
Without the weight
Of heartache pressing
Down on my chest

I cried (tough) every day
For a week straight
Then I cried for another week after that
Ran every toll between Pittsburgh and Philly
With barely a bite of food in my stomach
Listened to sad songs on repeat
Wondered if leaving wasn’t a mistake
Or some bad dream

The kind I would wake from
Turn over in bed to tell you about
Before dragging myself downstairs
To make your morning coffee
And brew my green tea
Just like any other morning
Lived in this hellish year without end
Except it wasn’t
This last year of dread ran us both ragged
Turning on each other all the way
To the end of the road

I know it was never time wasted
As much as it was time hard spent
With the days so fucking long
And so slow, slow as the despair that encroached
Like dust gathered in the corners and crevices of the room
So much
We could scrub and scrub
Never wipe the grime away
Enough make a clean break
To make the years last
As long as we’d hoped

It’s summer in my new city
Transitory as my time
Doc Marten stomping my way
Through the aching haze of heartache
On these dirty streets may be
We all know my story ends in the mountains, anyway.

The way people drive in Philly…
Relentlessly reckless
I know you would hate it
Someone said:
“It’s like every person on the road
Just smoked meth
And now they have to take a shit”
Two near collisions this week
And I’m already looking
In some quieter direction.

It’s summer in this city
The first one I feel in love with
I’ve been missing you terribly
Save for those quiet moments
Now and forever my own
Where solitude comes as a relief
In my tiny room
With the air conditioner turned low

I wonder what you’re doing
Are eating enough
Drinking enough water
Getting plenty of rest
How do you sleep
Alone, with the windows open
These nights when summer swells
The nighttime air in our room
(I guess it’s your room now)
Around you like a sweating soup

How are you filling the empty
Spaces in the house
That I used to inhabit
Throughout the home we tried
Our noble best to build

I’m lucky I guess
Not having to contend
With vacant rooms in the house
Where tomorrow once lived
I find myself alone, in another city
Thankful for the books stacked
On the pillow next to me
(I still think of them as your pillows)
Like I did
At my bachelor best
Before you came along.

Lonely bedroom bullshit, again.
I can live with it.

It hurts the most at night
Lie awake in bed
Replay our last hours together
After we accepted the end
All that staggering stagnancy
Heartache and bitterness
Finally falling away
Cutting words, quiet now
The unkindness that sundered us
Finally softened
To reveal the bittersweet tragedy
Of missed chances
A story of almost making it.

On the street the next day
A kiss goodbye
Cup your face in my hands
“I love you I love you I love you”
Like a wish
A hope
That those three words could suture the wounds
Left without meaning to
I never meant to hurt you, you know
Just like I know you never meant to hurt me
Hearts so tender taken for granted
On this fucking burning planet
Inattention to detail is one kind of failure
Barbed words rising to be heard are another.

At night I sleep
I pray for an absence of dreams
Or if the universe cannot meet that small mercy
May rest at least off us a path back ruins undone
To hearts beating strong and unbroken.

I hope you
Are remembering to stay hydrated
And that your dinners are always
As delicious as they are filling
That your worries wane with the warming days
Anxiety is a conniving, heartless motherfucker
That you never deserved
Anymore than one of us
Asked for time that forgot how to be gentle.

I hope your dog never gets sick
I hope your time together is as long as it is tender
That the two of you are as blessed
As Hope and I have been
I hope he learns how to play fetch
Please give him a scratch behind the ears for me
If you happen to read this

I hope all the dust and the clutter and depression
I hope you keep loving yourself
And that every job you get pays you well
I’m sorry that I lost myself
Somewhere in the noise of could have beens
Most of all
I wish you well
I wish you the very best.