Wax Stories #10: Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends

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Simon and Garfunkel - Bookends

Looking for America, Asking for Credit Card Numbers

The day I lost my faith in common decency was in front of a post office in Issaquah. I stood there in my bright orange t-shirt, gripping my clipboard and grinning ear to ear while sweat oozed out of my pores. It was nearly 100 degrees out that day. I greeted everyone entering and exiting the mail room with “Hi there, moment to help stop dog fighting?” My coworker, standing at the other side of the door, was faring much better than me. She was a natural at this, I was not. As she told a soccer mom about the statistics of euthanasia in dogs a man approached me. He’d already been talking to my coworker so I wasn’t sure what he wanted to talk to me about.

“I’ve been watching you, and I’ve come to a conclusion,” he said.

“What’s that?” I said with a smile and ‘golly gee’ tone.

“You’re not worth very much,” he replied then walked over to my coworker to shake her hand and thank her for the information.

Oh what a time it was. A time of innocence.

It was a desperate summer. I was committed to staying in Seattle and not going back home when my sophomore year ended. I’d spent the previous summer in Alaska so I was sure I could make it on my own in a town more familiar. My dorm roommate and I decided to split a studio apartment a couple blocks away from campus. I had a job lined up in September with the campus radio station, but in the meantime I’d need cash to pay for our new dwelling – which was only slightly bigger than our dorm and had slanting floors and mold, but that’s another story in itself.

I’d been applying for everything I found on Craigslist but only one job seemed interested in me. I didn’t really know what the term “street canvassing” meant on the ad. To be frank, everything on it seemed like a scam. “Make up to $3,000 a week fighting for animal rights!” “Great for college students!” “Make a difference!” I was just waiting for the part where they were going to ask me to sell knives. I talked to my friend Katie Joy whom I worked with at the campus newspaper after finding out she worked for this same canvassing company. I asked her if it was a scam. Her response was a simple, “no.” I should have asked for more details, but at this point it was really the only criteria that mattered to me.

I interviewed in person and got a job on the spot. Well, at least a trial run. Things were looking up. I was going to get to work in the cultural hub of Capitol Hill in Seattle. I had the potential to make good money. I even got my friends Wes and Alex to jump on board. I had a job.

Kristin and I were still dating at the time and she was going to study abroad in France for most of the summer. Even though I was jealous she’d be spending a summer with Parisians, sipping rosé, I felt like I was going to still have a fairly decent summer making my own in the city. We weren’t going to be able to communicate for the first half of the summer as she’d be without Internet or phone access. It was going to be hard, but we’d survived the previous summer being in different countries without contact. This would be cake compared to that.

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I walked in on my first day and was issued my bright orange t-shirt, a clipboard, and a pitch to memorize. I embellished as necessary.

“Hi there, moment to stop dog fighting? Great! My name’s Dusty Henry and I’m hear representing the ASPCA. Are you familiar with us? Have you seen the show ‘Animal Cops?’ Or have you seen that Sarah McLaughlin commercial with ‘in the arrrrrms of an angel’ in the background? Yeah it makes me choke up every time too. Well, that’s us! Did you know that everyday thousands of dogs are euthanized…”

And on and on it went until eventually I was asking people for their credit card numbers. I’d say all this, standing in the same spot for eight hours a day with a perma-grin on my face. I was trained to combat any excuses they had. They molded me into a machine that was ready to tell someone that a one time contribution wouldn’t help as much as a monthly one. All of this adding to my quota. If I didn’t make my weekly quota, I would be reprimanded. If I had two days where I brought in nothing, I would be fired. The stakes were high.

In truth, I am an animal lover. I am unashamedly a dog person with a fondness toward cats as well. But I wouldn’t say I’m passionate enough to take to the streets for the ASPCA’s cause, even if they’re a great organization (though I was working for a third party that was working for the ASPCA – very big difference). I’m not even an extrovert. Talking to strangers on the street everyday is an introverts nightmare. For a paycheck though, I was ready to become an advocate and sell myself.

My first day on my “trial” I qualified for the job, raking in a few hundred dollars in donations. My new boss made an offhanded joke when we went back to fill out my employee information. I should’ve seen it as a harbinger instead of a clever welcoming.

“My god…Jenny come in here. It’s finally happened. The prophecies were true! He is the chosen one. The 100th person to work on this campaign.”

I felt like a Luke Skywalker, but in reality I was an Anakin waiting to disappoint.

Everything about the job was demoralizing. People walking past you like you don’t exist. People offended you would dare interrupt their day by speaking to them. People with designer bags telling you they don’t have the money to spare. It was enough to make a bitter soul out of a doe-eyed, hopeful college student. I wasn’t even working much in Capitol Hill. We’d convene at the office every morning to find out where in the Seattle area we’d be sent out too. Everyone crossed their fingers to the get highly profitable East Side (Renton, Issaquah, Bellevue) and not the infamous downtown area.

Despite it all, I wanted to make the best of this experience. Most of my cash was going toward rent, food and gas. In truth, I was really just making minimum wage.( The “up to $3,000 a week” thing was only if you were getting commissions, which only happened if you did better than the top percent of the office – something I never accomplished). I realized that if I never spent any of my hard earned cash on something I actually enjoyed I was going to go crazy. On a brilliantly sunny evening, I walked down Broadway Ave to Gruv Records (which has since closed). Searching through the bins I found a copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends. I’d been playing my copy of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme constantly over the past couple of years, often citing it as one of my favorite sounding records. Kristin had also recently gotten me into the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack, which featured the song “Bookends,” so Paul and Art were on my mind. I picked it up used for a couple of bucks and headed back home, only to remember that my stereo receiver was busted. I still couldn’t reap the benefits of my paycheck.

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Even though I couldn’t even listen to the record, the lyrics would haunt me throughout my unwanted endless summer.

“But if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend that you can build them again”

Easier said than done, Paul. Thanks for the tip though.

“Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you”

Cool guys, appreciate that. Maybe I can preserve memories of a time I didn’t hate every person who passed me on the street.

“Somethin’ tells me
It’s all happening at the zoo.”

No! It’s happening in your own neighborhoods. Dog fighting is more prevalent than you’d think, ya darn hippies!

“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why”

Alright, maybe you two do get it. Damn.

Working on Queen Anne one day, I almost quit. It was halfway through summer and halfway through the day and I wasn’t getting any ‘tribs (a clever term we used in the canvassing game for “contributions”). Kristin surprised me with an international phone call. I didn’t recognize the number so I was thrown off and confused. And as soon I realized it was Kristin a homeless man tried to make conversation with me. I tried to get him to leave without being rude as I was on the call. Kristin understandably took it as me being disinterested and the phone call ended before her friend’s cellphone bill would get too high. I felt utterly defeated.

I went and found my coworker a few blocks away with the intention of offering my resignation. She told me she understood how the job can kill your soul but that I should take a day to think about it. She called into the office and told them I was sick and sent me home (funnily enough, she ended up quitting the next day). I walked back to my empty apartment and laid on my bottom bunk (yes we had a bunk bed). There, honest to God, I sobbed in the dark. This summer had already defeated me.

For whatever reason, I pressed on. My friends were all as miserable as I was, so there was some solace in that. I ended up becoming a manager of sorts for getting enough ‘tribs in one day, so things were looking up for at least a little while. By the end of the summer, I was considered one of the more seasoned employees there – the turnover rate was incredible. Only a few months in and I was leading training sessions. It could only mean it was the near end for me.

Between missing my quotas consistently, watching all of my coworkers bail ship, and getting into yelling arguments with scam artists in wheelchairs (don’t ask); I was losing it. I had a talk with one of my bosses about why I was doing bad. I told him about how when I was training new employees as their manager, I’d give them the best spots to get ‘tribs. He told me this was the opposite of what I should be doing and that my number one priority should be myself. I disagreed with that and continued doing what I was doing (what I like to think Simon and Garfunkel would do too).

I reached my two zero days and even became the first person they decided to give a third chance to. But when I got another zero day I walked in and gave my resignation – trying to leave with dignity.

It’s hard for me to even muster the desire to play this LP even today. When I look at it all I can think of is that bummer of a summer. I remember this record sitting at the front of my record crate with Paul and Art’s eyes looking right at me. They’d stare as I ate my Top Ramen or as I rummaged through the couch trying to find change to buy a Gatorade. It was like they were mocking me, knowing I couldn’t listen to their record if I wanted to.

Paul Simon Eye

Paul Simon’s ever watchful eye. He sees all.

This was all very melodramatic, but was all very real to me. I’m still young and I can still see how my emotions got the best of me. Those aren’t even likely the hardest times I’ll ever face in life. It really was a time of innocence. I was much more naive than I let on. Maybe if I’d bought Bridge Over Troubled Water it would’ve eased my mind. Or maybe Sounds of Silence would’ve made me realize I’d made a huge mistake earlier on. Instead, I walked out bitter and wounded. But I’d bounce back just fine. This record will always be a reminder of that. It’s a reason to stay humble and aware that things could always be worse. I’m much more careful about complaining about my job and circumstances.

I searched for America on the streets of Seattle and didn’t find what I was looking for, or at least what I was hoping for. Perspective is everything.

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Previous Wax Story: The Postal Service – Give Up

Next Week: Jeff Buckley – Grace

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Wax Stories #6: The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

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Spring 2009

The first time I heard The Avett Brothers was in the lounge of Second West Ashton Hall, a dorm at Seattle Pacific University. I was sitting with Kristin, hanging out on our laptops and talking. We’d only been dating for maybe a month at this point. Somehow music came up in conversation, as it often did (and still does) and she mentioned that she just started listening to this band called The Avett Brothers. She pulled up her iTunes and played me “Die Die Die.” I freaked out.

I was on a folk binge at this point, mostly singer-songwriters. Recently I’d become more inclined to explore my bluegrass roots. My grandfather is a bluegrass stand-up bass player and I grew up going to festivals (if you get the chance, my grandma would love to tell you all about the time she pushed me around in a wheel barrel when I fell asleep early one night). So when I heard those jangly guitar chords and banjo noodlings, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. Strangely though, in my excitement, I insisted to Kristin that it sounded reminiscent of “Pink Triangle” by Weezer. It doesn’t sound anything like that at all.

A lot of our first hangouts and dates revolved around exchanging music. We’d sit on her dorm floor with our laptops and switch USB drives (sorry, music industry). I requested she give me Emotionalism. For the rest of the quarter, I devoured the album. I found “Shame” to be poignant and the harmonies on “Weight of Lies” felt otherworldly. However, the standout track for me was almost instantly “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” Kristin felt the same.

The rest of spring quarter was constant trips to Gas Works Park, skipping classes because it was too sunny and warm to hang out in a dull classroom, and walking around Seattle with no real destination. It was the cliche fledgling college romance. As summer came closer, we both finalized our plans. I was going to Alaska with my good friend Zach and soon-to-be buddy John to work at a helicopter tour company in Juneau, Alaska. She was going to volunteer at an orphanage in the Philippines with her friend Patricia for most of the summer. We’d only been dating a couple months as the school year came to an end, but it never really crossed our minds to break up. Following the cliche romance story, “The Ballad of Love and Hate” played through my laptop speakers as she came to say goodbye to me for the summer (I kid you not, that actually happened).

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Summer 2009

Since Kristin was across the globe, I wouldn’t be able to call her for most of the summer. Instead our only option was to write letters. I started writing my first one while on the plane to Juneau but didn’t mail it out until she left for the Philippines. The second letter I sent was some weird joke about me being pregnant with a drawing of me on the bottom with a big belly. These would the only two letters she would get for the first half of the summer. I felt like a dumbass.

During my first week there I stopped in at a coffee shop called Heritage Coffee in downtown Juneau with Zach and John. Heritage was some sort of chain exclusive to Juneau, but it always felt like being back in Seattle when I stepped inside of one. The first thing I saw was this tall man with a huge beard serving gelato wearing a t-shirt with the Emotionalism album artwork. He even looked strikingly like Seth Avett.  I’m not usually one to reach out and make conversation with people I don’t know, but I was flabbergasted that someone else  knew who The Avett Brothers were – and in Juneau no less! I ordered my drink and hesitated before saying “hey cool shirt, I love The Avett Brothers.” He lit up. He was just as surprised as we were. His name was Jacob Warren. We had a quick conversation about music and later found out he actually had already befriended John before Zach and I flew up.

About a week later we biked over to the local hang out – The Waffle Co. The bike I was borrowing from a coworker was hard to ride. I’d later find out the tires and handlebars were bent. The ride over was so rough that I considered just turning back but trekked on anyway since I didn’t have anything else better to do. Most of the evening we just hung out on our computers so Zach and John could Skype with their girlfriends. Over the course of the summer I’d become exceedingly jealous of their luxury to call their girlfriends whenever they wanted. As the night progressed more people John knew started showing up, including Jacob and a crew of other people. Eventually as the shop’s closing hour was imminent, Jacob picked up a guitar and started playing some Avett Brothers songs. I was hanging out on the outskirts and keeping to myself most of the night, but this caught my attention. The bigger surprise came when another five or six other people started singing along with him. I joined in too. We sang through “Die Die Die,” “I Would Be Sad,” “Go To Sleep,” and ended with “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” The whole time my mind was elsewhere.

We’d write more and more letters for the rest of the summer, which then evolved into phone calls when she got back to the states. A few weeks before I came home she saw The Avett Brothers play in Seattle with her friend Nicole. Then finally in September I met her in Seattle for a sweet reunion.

Summer 2010

Kristin was going to be gone again this summer, this time for a study abroad trip to France. I tried to think of a way I could afford to meet her there but the funds just weren’t possible. I opted to stay in Seattle that summer and work while I lived in a studio apartment with my roommate Michael. I got a job street canvassing for the ASPCA, trying to raise money to stop dog fighting. It was miserable. Every day I worked for minimum wage, trying to make a quota, while people repeatedly put me down or ignored my existence. I wasn’t making any money and I couldn’t talk to Kristin. Her Internet access was limited for most of the summer so our Skype sessions were sparse.

Eventually I decided I needed to do something to lift my spirits. Zach was living in Portland, Oregon now with his dad and invited me to come visit. The Avett Brothers were going to play at Edgefield and he thought it’d be fun if we went together. So I readied my car and prayed it’d make it all the way to Portland. It was getting pretty spotty and starting at this point but I wasn’t willing to miss an excuse to get out of town. Luckily I made it with no issues and Zach’s dad paid us to paint a room in his house so I made my gas and ticket money back. The show was great. Between every song I prayed they’d play “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” They didn’t.

In August I picked Kristin up from the airport with sunflowers. I made a special mix for her in the car. The first track was “The Ballad of Love and Hate.”

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January 2011

On New Year’s Day Kristin decided to give me an early birthday present: Emotionalism on 180 gram vinyl. I’d spotted it at Easy Street Records in Queen Anne a couple months before and apparently she took notice too. I played it in my studio apartment on repeat all day as Michael and I cleaned our apartment up from New Year’s Eve festivities and prepared for people to come over for my 21st birthday party at midnight. I’d never had such a nice record. Triple panel gate-fold. High quality pressing.

Later Kristin greeted me at my apartment with a square piece of cake she made herself with a lit candle on a platter.

December 24 2011

I drove in my car from Port Orchard to Auburn with my guitar in the backseat and a diamond ring sitting on the passenger seat, screaming along to Nirvana to get out my nerves. In my guitar case I had the guitar chords to “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” I couldn’t decide if I wanted to play that song or a song I wrote about her and our time apart in Alaska. Eventually I chose the later. She said yes.

August 2012

I spend a week before the wedding meticulously writing every word to “The Ballad of Love and Hate” on a shoe box covered in brown paper. I had no Internet access in my new apartment (which Kristin would be moving into after the wedding) so I had to use the lyric sheet from the record she bought me. At the end of each complete set of lyrics I made sure to write in red the last line “I’m yours and that’s it, forever.”

August 18 2012

The wedding party and I walk down the aisle as my friends Taylor and Marshall play an instrumental version of “The Ballad of Love and Hate” on acoustic guitar and violin respectively. The song fades out and transitions to another Avett Brothers song: “The Perfect Space” off of I And Love And You. The crowd turns and Kristin begins her walk down the aisle with her parents. I’m caught off guard as I start crying and look over to my best man Zach who just smiles and says “I know.”

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Previous Wax Story: Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Next Week: Japandroids – Celebration Rock

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Wax Stories #3: David Bazan – Curse Your Branches

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Sophomore year of college seems to be the “existential crisis” year for most people I know. Freshman year is all about meeting new people, having new experiences, and having the misplaced sense of independence (“I’m an adult now. I don’t live at home. I live in a dorm that my parents pay for and use a meal plan that my parents also pay for”). After the hype of college life dies down, it’s time to process all these new ideas and worldviews that have been stewing over the past year. If anything, I found this to be true for me.

I get a bit nervous writing about faith and thoughts on religion on my blog; I fear what impression it may give people and put everything into some weird, pigeonholed context. However, I feel this album is a good outlet to talk about it. If anything Curse Your Branches has helped me move on from closed mindedness and in to something else that I’m still trying to figure out.

At the end of freshman year, David Bazan – still newly solo after the break-up of Pedro The Lion – played on my campus in association with our campus radio station KSPU. I’d been listening to Bazan and Pedro The Lion since high school per suggestion of my friend Nate. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard Bazan play, but I was intrigued at the idea of him playing on a Christian college campus. Pedro the Lion was often mislabeled as a Christian band, but at this point it was becoming prevalent that Bazan was no longer a believer. I remember feeling secretly guilty singing along to  “Cold Beer & Cigarettes” from his solo EP Fewer Moving Parts in high school, which featured the Bazan husky voice belting “what a cruel God we got” and references to vaginas and sexual deviancy. I was surprised Seattle Pacific University would even allow something like that presented under their banner.

Bazan stood on the stage with only a guitar and a light projection of broken glass behind him. He opened with a song that at the time was titled “Graduation Day.” Opening with a new song is a bit unusual, but I studied the lyrics as he sang. Primarily it questioned the biblical creation narrative, but it was the last verse that felt painfully relevant to the room:

So I swung my tassel
To the left side of my cap
Knowing after graduation
There would be no going back

And no congratulations
From my faithful family
Some of whom are already fasting
To intercede for me

It felt a bit heavy handed to me in the moment, but it was the first time listening to Bazan that I got the impression he had a statement he wanted people to know. If that were true, he definitely got my hooked.

That summer, in 2009, I went to Alaska with my buddies Zach and John to work at a helicopter tour company. After spending a year in the dorms feigning self-sufficiency, I got what it really meant to grind out 50 hour work-weeks and have most of your paycheck go to rent and bills. Being away from most people I know gave me time to think and absorb challenges I had to my worldview in the last year, among other things (future Wax Stories referencing Alaska are sure to come). At night when I would read on the couch, I’d put Pedro the Lion’s discography on shuffle through my laptop speakers. I’m pretty sure Zach and John were pretty sick of hearing it all the time, but it gave me a chance to really listen to what Bazan was saying on those Pedro the Lion albums and try and use them to decipher my experience hearing him at SPU.

Bazan released an acoustic version of “Please Baby Please” earlier that year that I listened to obsessively. But when I found “Hard to Be” (formerly titled “Graduation Day”) streaming on Last.FM when I got back from Alaska, I knew this album was going to take things further than he had with Pedro the Lion. I knew it was something I needed to hear.

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And now it’s hard to be
Hard to be
Hard to be a decent human being

Curse Your Branches is the first album I can recall ever pre-ordering. I had it shipped to my new dorm, which I was living in alone for a few weeks before school started. My stereo was damaged during move-in, so it would be a while before I could actually listen to the vinyl, but I immediately pulled out the download code from the packaging and listened through my laptop.

I’d been going to Christian schools since I was 13. That doesn’t make me a theologian by any means, but gave me a decidedly evangelical perspective on things. I don’t want to completely disown my education – I feel like I did learn a lot of valuable philosophies and concepts, but I was really only seeing one side of a controversial and often upsetting story. Of course I had questions and issues with things that came up in the Bible, but everyone I was surrounded by was so sure that all of it was true and said they could cite exact scientific and moral reasons why. Everything could be explained through tactful apologetics. So any doubts I had, I repressed. Not specifically because anyone told me not to question, but because I personally felt it was inappropriate. So when “Hard to Be” opens Curse Your Branches, Bazan is bringing out all these questions I’d been denying myself all these years. It was heartbreaking, but at the same time intoxicating. It made me sad for him while feeling relief that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

The album then goes into a borderline parody of the Parable of the Weeds from the Book of Matthew on “Bless This Mess”, then a parable of Bazan’s own with “Please Baby Please,” and then to the title track “Curse Your Branches.” This is the one of all the tracks that will stick with me the most.

Red and orange, or red and yellow
In which of these do you believe?
If you’re not sure right now,
Please take a moment
I need your signature before you leave

How are we supposed to be so sure on what is the right religion or mode of thought when we have so little to go off and so little (relative) time to decide?

All falling leaves should curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all

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These lyrics completely wrecked me. Every paper for a theology class that required some sort of faith statement would from then on have a burned copy of Curse Your Branches attached to them. The questions on this album sparked conversations with friends who were feeling the same things and with artists I’d interview for the paper. It prompted me to debate with my professors in class and call out things I thought were bullshit. To my surprise, sometimes they’d even agree with me. I’d spend late nights, when I should’ve been studying, reading lengthy interviews with Bazan talking about his lose of faith and reading the Bible with his daughter. There was so much I wanted to talk about with him. I wanted to hear it from him. I did this for years, and still sort of do today. I’ve realized he’s not the only one asking these questions, but he has become a figurehead to me for all the doubters.

Through all this though, I never have forsake my beliefs totally. I’ve really tried to rationalize myself out of it, but I can’t. There’s still something there. I can’t explain it and that’s really frustrating. I know I sound really ignorant and I don’t really know what to say to people who call me out on it. But this album changed how I view Christianity. It’s not as black and white for me anymore. It’s not something I can shout out some facts I read on an online form and claim I won. I’m not so much interested in debating anymore. I’m more interested in respecting people for who they are and accepting the same respect in return. I’m not going to stop looking for answers and questioning the weird things that are bound to come up.


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When I finally got the chance to interview Bazan a few month ago, I didn’t prepare the questions I would have in 2009. Just as I began to realize I am more than whatever views I’m struggling with right now, so is he. The subject was touched upon a bit, but mainly to help tell his story. When I spin Curse Your Branches today, the questions he brings up are still unanswered. I don’t know if they ever will be, but I feel like I’m in a better place for it. Bazan and I haven’t had the same realization exactly. I don’t think two people ever will. I just hope we can learn to accept that without taking offense.

And why are some hellbent upon there being an answer
While some are quite content to answer I don’t know?

Next week: Grand Ole Party – Humanimals

Previous Wax Story: Elliott Smith – Either/Or

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Wax Stories #2: Elliott Smith – “Either/Or”

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I know in my last post I said I was going to write about David Bazan’s “Curse Your Branches” next week, but this is still technically the same week and I promise I’ll get Bazan ready in the coming days. Given certain events in Seattle today, I thought this one would be a bit more appropriate and timely.

Discovering Elliott Smith always seems like a poignant moment for most people I’ve talked to who listen to him. For me, it felt like finally discovering that unknown artist you’d always wanted to find. In my fantasy it was usually finding an old tape or CD that had fallen off the rack and was covered with dust – long forgotten to anyone else. That’d be pretty romantic, huh? Instead, I found Elliott on MSN Messenger.

My buddy Nate and I started sharing music with each other when I was 15 and he was 14. I’m sure he’s going to come up a lot in this blog series; he helped shape a lot of stuff I listen to today. At the time, most of our friends weren’t listening to the same music as us. We were what would become the annoying hipster “you probably haven’t heard of it” cliche. We weren’t trying to be cool. We just liked different music than our peers. Pretty much every night after school we were on MSN Messenger talking about music, classes, or whatever else was going on. Periodically we would send each other MP3s of new music we were listening to. There used to be a feature on chat where you could see what the other person was listening to.

One summer evening when I was 16 I remember seeing it say Nate was listening to a song by Elliott Smith. I’d heard the name before. For a school project a couple years prior, I interviewed one of my all time favorite artists (Cinjun Tate of the band Remy Zero) and in one of the questions I asked him what his favorite album of all time was – he said “When I think of perfect albums, Elliott Smith’s ‘Either/Or’ comes to mind.” For whatever reason, I didn’t immediately go and pick up the record…idiot.

I was on a big singer-songwriter kick when I saw Nate’s music status and I got the impression Elliott Smith was probably along those lines. I asked Nate how Elliott is. He responded pretty ecstatically, singing Elliott’s praises. He sent me over a couple of tracks. The first one I can remember hearing was “Rose Parade.”

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The lightly strummed guitar chords with a simple three note lead played over it felt elating. Then Elliott comes in with his hush voice, telling a story about a trivial parade that slowly becomes more and more bitter as it goes along. It was unlike any songwriting I had been exposed to before. Something about being at such a happy event like a parade and critiquing it for all it’s fake pageantry felt so desperate and lonely to me – I’d later have many of these same feelings listening to the majority of his work.

I had Nate send me over the rest of “Either/Or.” I listened to it all night at the computer. I’m pretty sure, but not certain, that I intentionally listened to “2:45 A.M.” at 2:45 A.M. The album became a secret obsession. I’d spend down time fumbling through “Between The Bars” on guitar, smirk every time at the opening line to “Say Yes” (“I’m in love with the world, through the eyes of a girl who’s still around the morning after”), and burn copies of the album for friends who I thought might appreciate it. As I looked at my small record collection, I thought about how “Either/Or” would probably be the best sounding vinyl out there. I had my first “holy grail” record and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find it in a junk bin at Great Prospects.

That spring Nate and I decided to go hang out in Seattle on a Saturday. We walked on a ferry over and checked out the Experience Music Project – spending most of our time messing around in the fake recording studio. They had a feature that would let you record for 10 minutes and then you could buy a CD copy to take home. We messed around with the guitars and played a partial version of “Rose Parade” (which I refuse to go back and listen to) and some silly songs I’d written.

Afterward we walked over to Easy Street Records in Lower Queen Anne. We dug through the crates, marveling at their impressive selection. In Kitsap County the closest thing to a music store that I was aware of was the electronics department of Fred Meyer. Being able to walk through these aisles and see stuff that I only thought existed on the Internet was amazing. I had been to both Easy Street locations before, but not since I had expanded my taste out of exclusively alternative rock radio.

Then I saw it. “Either/Or.” I could not believe it was actually there. I thought no one knew about him, let alone would take the time to stock his stuff in a record store. Shouldn’t this be covered with dust in a corner? It was amazing to final see the cover art as it was meant to be seen, and the stark back cover with the blurry, swaying chandelier.

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Nate and I marveled at it and kept repeating how good it was going to sound. I didn’t hesitate to buy it; I didn’t know if I’d ever get another chance. I took it home in my black plastic bag with the Easy Street logo and carried it with pride. I listened to the record repeatedly for months. I even held up the sleeve as a model as I tried to recreate the cover art in my sketchbook (which included the “fuck you” graffiti behind Elliott in the picture, because I was a total rebel).

Seven years later and this is still one of my favorite albums and vinyl records. I live in Seattle now and literally can walk down a few blocks to Sonic Boom where there’s always at least a few Elliott Smith albums in the bins and other bands I’m continuing to discover. It’s a convenience I love to exploit (my wallet is not so fond of it though). I’ve continued to fill my collection with records from Easy Street Records too. Sometimes I forget that it wasn’t that long ago when finding these records was a big deal for me.

Now today Easy Street Records in Queen Anne is closing its doors for good to be replaced by a Chase Bank. It may seem trivial to be saddened by the lose of a business, but to me and a lot of other music fans this a huge loss. I can’t find a treasure like “Either/Or” at a bank. I won’t have that same feeling of discovery and excitement when I go to cash a check or make a withdrawal. Every time I put “Either/Or” on my turntable now, I’m going to think about Easy Street and how it inadvertently encouraged my interest in music and brought me closer with artists like Elliott Smith. We’re really lucky here in Seattle. I hope we don’t take for granted that we have so much access to culture and art that helps us express ourselves; I hope we don’t ever favor chain stores and condos over priceless things like these.

Thanks Elliott. Thanks Easy Street. You’ve both given me and others some truly great music.

Here’s a video of Elliott Smith playing on a pilot for The Jon Brion show, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “The Master”):

Next week: David Bazan – Curse Your Branches (for REAL this time)

Previous Wax Story: U2 – War / INXS – Shabooh Shoobah

Follow me on Twitter: @DustyEffinHenry

My Effin Lists: Top 10 Songs of 2012

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It was hard enough narrowing down the top albums of the year, but picking out the best songs is even worse. Since I got a bit wordy with my top albums posts (part 1 and part 2) I’m going to keep each review down to one sentence. Let’s see how this goes.

10. Kanye West & R. Kelly – To The World

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Yeezy describes this one best: “R. Kelly and the god of rap, shittin’ on ya HOLY CRAP.”

9. Jason Molina – Sad Hard Change

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Jason Molina uses home, lo-fi recording and the creakiness that comes with it to its full capacity of reflecting heartbreak.

8. Sharon Van Etten – Give Out

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“Give Out” is the painful gulp you take before leaving something (or someone) you know is bad for you but with uncertainty if it’s the right thing to do.

7. The Men – Open Your Heart

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Sweaty basement thrashing takes a surprisingly melodic direction.


6. Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings

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Funeral crashing is done better with crooner dance moves and electrifying reverb.

5. Kendrick Lamar – Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe

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If ever there was a “motto” or mantra to describe how most of us want to live, Kendrick has coined it in this song.

4. Cloud Nothings – Wasted Days

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Epic thrashers don’t have to pointlessly meander to the point of boring; Cloud Nothings have revived the instrumental build-up.

3. Frank Ocean – Bad Religion

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Taxi cab confessions aren’t new, but Ocean’s insights on spirituality and love bring new school cool with old school sensibilities.

2. Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built

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LETS DRINK BEER AND CARPE DIEM BECAUSE WE ARE YOUNG AND THIS IS THE NEW ANTHEM FOR ALL OF US WHO DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING.

1. Dum Dum Girls – Lord Knows

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It’s easy to play the victim, but instead Dum Dum Girls take the perspective of the harmer and do so with a timeless melody and wistful instrumentals.

To see my whole list of top songs (not in order, organized to flow together the best) check out my Spotify playlist:

Misinformed Reviews #1: Bob Dyllie – “Tendest”

This is the album cover for the album I reviewed.

The 71st album by Canadian child pop star Bob Dyllie is a fine example of a really good album.

For diehard fans who have followed Dylbert since his breakthrough records (namely “The Thirdwheelin Rob Dillon” and “Area 51 Revisied”), this album marks the triumphant comeback of an icon, and this time he actually has something to say. In the past Dyxie has focused mostly on beat centric music and club bangers with little regard to lyrical context. On The Tendest he says a lot of stuff and I liked it a lot. Our generation finally has someone we can rally around; we have someone with a voice with real talk.

The first song, “Dookie Whistle,” may be this generation’s national anthem. It should be noted, it was really nice of Darwin to invite Tom Waiter to sing the songs instead. The lack of drum machine is a little disappointing at best, but you’ll find that they make do with pots and pans just fine.

“Tim Angel” fits oddly in the track listing but offers up a nice change of pace in an album so centered on the concept of interplanetary colonization. The Rolling Stones called this Devon’s “darkest album” but they’re clearly stupid and have never even listened to it. If I could pick one theme to describe this album it would be BRAVE. Mainly because it reminds me of the Disney Pixar film “Brave.” Rob is like the red haired girl in the trailer (you know, the one who is about the shoot a bear and then exclaims “WOULD CHUUUUU?”) and is changes his fates.

Of course, the big buzz about this album is the title track – Tendest.” It’s a really long song about a Titanic (he even mention’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the James Cameron Film The Last Avatar). I didn’t want to hear anymore screaming so I turned off this song but it’s okay I guess.

Some people may say they wish he’d go back to his style he had on The Times Are A-Different but they don’t know anything so don’t read their reviews and you should read mine and share it with your friends on Facebook and post this on social media platforms.

All in all, this was the best album we could ever ask for from anyone. 88 out of 5 stars.

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For those concerned, I’m starting a new series of “Misinformed Reviews” where I try to review new albums while sounding as uninformed as possible. It’s all in good fun. I hope that much is clear.