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

Follow me on Twitter: @DustyEffinHenry

Follow me on Instagram: @mrdustyhenry

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Wax Stories #9: The Postal Service – Give Up

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Postal Service Give Up cover

I can remember distinctly an argument I had with my friend Brandon in junior high concerning the validity of electronic music.

“Techno is totally music dude,” Brandon said.

“Dude. It’s not. Literally. It’s just computer noises,” I said with confidence.

“What? Does every song need a guitar to be music?” he replied, trying to call my bluff.

“No! But it needs instruments. That’s what music is.”

“No way dude. Anything with a beat is music.”

“Is this music, Brandon?” I said as I started tapping a rhythm with my pencil on my desk.

“No.”

“Then neither is techno,” I replied with a smirk. I like to imagine I put on sunglasses and walked away from an explosion after saying that, but in high school I just didn’t have the budget.

There’s a slight chance I might have been wrong about that one. When I first started getting into music, I was a staunch purist. Anything that wasn’t a group of people plugging in amps and playing instruments wasn’t “real music.” I wasn’t the first kid to think it and won’t be the last (you can currently find them commenting on Justin Beiber YouTube videos). This was during a time in my life when I would say things like ” I like all genres except for country and rap.” Not only was it pretentious, it was inhibiting me from listening to a lot of great music.

In my defense though, there was a lot of shitty music coming out around the time. For someone who grew up holding Aerosmith as the pinnacle of musicianship J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” and Darude’s “Sandstorm” weren’t really holding up for me. Techno just sounded fake to me. It felt like it needed Ma-Ti to give it some heart (“gooooo Planet!”). I was virtually immovable on my position. So much so I even pretended to hate Daft Punk whenever Brandon mentioned them, while secretly listening to “One More Time” and “Around the World” at home and in private.

Then Ben Gibbard came around. That doe eyed little sap would change everything for me.

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As a point of reference, I didn’t initially know Gibbard as “the Death Cab for Cutie guy;” I first knew him as “the Postal Service guy.” It was by strange, nerdy chance that I even got introduced to the band. It’s almost too ironic how much of it is tied to a laptop.  Brandon, our friend Austin, and I (collectively known as B.A.D.) were walking around Austin’s neighborhood late into the summer of 2004. Not just walking, war-walking. We carried around Brandon’s massive Dell laptop, with his wireless card plugged in, searching for free unsecured Internet. It was our version of war-driving, having to make due without our licenses. Sure, we could’ve just stayed at Austin’s and had Internet for free, but where’s the adventure in that?

We stopped in front of one Austin’s neighbors houses where Brandon picked up a signal. “Holy cow! We can check our Mypaces…in the middle of the road! What a thrill!” We were pretty excited. Then we noticed the teen girl who lived there spotted us from the window. She made her way to the porch to ask us what we were doing but we booked it back to Austin’s place before she could start the vigorous interrogation. It was a close call, for sure.

When we got back, we went online (effectively defeating the purpose of hunting for Internet). Austin signed on to his MSN Messenger and ended up chatting with the neighbor girl from before (effectively defeating the purpose of running away from her). Somehow I ended up adding her to my own MSN Messenger. As I mentioned in my last Wax Story, most of my summers were spent talking to strangers online.

I think she and I only had a couple conversations, most of which were pretty surface level. But we decided to exchange some music. With my slow Internet, songs usually took half an hour or more to transfer but I always relished the mp3s even more because of it. The first song she sent me, and only one I recall, was “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service. I looped it in my iTunes player for the rest of the day and listened to it constantly throughout the week. Bleep bloops, synths, and drum loops. One of my initial thoughts was, “I can’t let Brandon know how much I like this.”

Postal Service White Vinyl

About a year later, I found myself at the mall with my grandma. Between war walking and this, you could tell I was a real cool kid. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to take her into Hot Topic with me. I’m sure my sweet, bingo loving Grandma felt very comfortable on her scooter listening to the sounds of Hawthorne Heights and the sights of pink and black mini skirts as I searched through their record bin. That’s where I found a copy of The Postal Services’ “Give Up.”

I immediately recalled a conversation I had with a good friend Amanda Davidson. Something she mentioned before I even had a record player.

“Of all the modern bands, I think that The Postal Service would sound best on vinyl,” she said while talking to someone else.

“Why? What difference is there?” I asked.

“Vinyl sounds waaaay different. It sounds a lot better than everything else.”

“Interesting.”

It all started to come full circle for me. Without even realizing it in that moment that I picked up that record at Hot Topic, I was making a change in how I listened to music. I wasn’t conformed to one format or genre like I was a year before. Maybe I was maturing. Maybe my tastes were changing. Maybe it was all just silly because I watched as my grandma paid the gothed out cashier and bought me the record as a repayment for helping her around the house.

As I watched Gibbard, Jenny Lewis, and Jimmy Tamborello at Sasquatch Festival this past May, all of this came rushing back to me. All of these strange and embarrassing memories. All of the shit I gave Brandon and others for listening to bleep bloop music and here I was watching Tamborello stand behind a set of laptops on stage. All of the cringing I had thinking about buying the album at Hot Topic instead of somewhere else as Ben Gibbard danced in all black with swooping bangs across the stage. All the money and years I’d spent collecting records and branching out in my taste based off of one off-the-cuff comment from Amanda.

If there was any embarrassment along the way, it was worth it just for that moment where I belted out all the words to “Such Great Heights”  in the front row with thousands of others. I guess bleep bloops aren’t so bad after all.

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Previous Wax Story: Pinback – Summer in Abaddon

Next Week: Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends

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Wax Stories #8: Pinback – Summer in Abaddon

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On hot summer nights, all I want to do is stay up  til four in the morning and kill time online. For all my 90s nostalgia, I am definitely a child of the 2000s.

Every summer I was plugged in. It sounds depressing, and maybe sometimes it felt like it, but I mostly remember it fondly. AOL Instant Messenger: logged on. MSN Messenger: signed on. Kazaa: Running. Every night was a beautiful afterglow of Mountain Dew Livewire and iTunes on shuffle. Like going to the lake or barbecuing, it became an unspoken summer tradition.

It’s really hard to explain the appeal. I’d hang out with my friends during the day when I could, but without a fail I’d catch them online at night. Sometimes we wouldn’t talk about anything important. Just bullshitting like normal. Talking about music, talking about girls, talking about whatever. Some nights were “heart-to-hearts with the bros” and others were nothing than “sup? nm, u?” with the conversation ending there. Most of the time it was just complaining that there was nothing else to do.

Looking back, I was very ritualistic about it all. Wake up at noon. Do whatever I had planned for the day (a lot of the time, nothing at all, usually working on my terrible music project’s Myspace page and hanging out with my dogs). Then evening would start with my parents getting home from work. I’d try my best to spend time with them via eating dinner and watching t.v. until 10 o’clock when they’d want to go to bed. I’d make my way to the computer, set the speaker volume to low, and sign in to all my accounts. By then most of the people I’d been wanting to talk to were on. I could generally depend on my friends Nate and Brandon being on consistently and often Austin, with a few other surprise log-ins to mix it up. I’d exchange music with friends a lot – which was a miserable wait my slow Internet connection, but it made the rewards feel much sweeter. That’s when I first heard Pinback. Nate sent me “Non-Photo Blue” and “Fortress.” They made it into my nightly rotation quite often, though I never really paid attention to the lyrical content. I always just assumed they were talking about surfing or something. It felt very Californian.

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When my high school friends would log off, usually around 2 a.m., I still wasn’t alone. Usually some of my friends from the forums were around. And when I say forums, I don’t mean something like Reddit or 4chan where it’s a casual community. I’m talking the real stuff. I was a closet anime fan to my friends in the RL. Many of them didn’t know about it until I ended up dating a girl in college who’d encourage me to embrace it (whom I also ended up marrying, but that’s a different story all together). Near the end of junior high I joined a message board that was also a text-based Yu Yu Hakusho RPG. I spent so much time there that I ended up becoming one of the moderators and also best friends with one of the admins who I knew as Bomenaku.

Even at the time it felt strange to me to consider someone whom I’d only interacted with over message boards and IM chats a best friend, but I got over that quickly. We bonded over chats just like I did with Nate, Brandon, and Austin. What would make him an exception to the rule? The forums became a really important outlet for me. Between all of the battle narrations and status effect tracking, I got to know a lot of people there and realized they were feeling just as weird and unsure about things in life as I was. I couldn’t tell how old any of them were and they never knew my age. But those feelings were ageless, timeless. At one point when the head admin threatened to shut down the whole thing, Bomenaku and I fought back to keep it alive with Bomenaku eventually taking charge.

I’ve never suffered from real depression, but I have been a vessel for angst. And those summers online were a release. I could tell my friends through telephone wire and dial-up tones about how fucked up I felt when that girl didn’t notice me. Or relate (albeit not directly or articulately) how lonely it was sitting at home in a town with nothing to do and no car. Between BRBs and staring at the same away message for hours hoping someone just logs back on, it was a surreal and symbolic experience. Didn’t realize I was just starting to learn about longing as I sat in front of a keyboard.

All this while I sipped Livewire and my dogs slept underneath my desk.

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Spring of my sophomore year of college I was working at the campus radio station when I found Pinback’s “Summer in Abaddon” sitting on one of the CD racks. I hadn’t listened to the band in awhile but it immediately made me think of summer. That muted riff that kicks of “Non-Photo Blue” was almost instantaneously repeating in my head. I took it back to my dorm and played it any sunny day I could. It even made its way into the coveted shower stereo on our floor, where I played it constantly. Listening to it with fresh ears, I was able to see how it resonated with those summers in more ways than I thought.

“She’s posting all the time, but the boards are down, it’s a burned out building.”

“She just ignores the time that the boards came down. It’s a numbed out feeling.”

“Summer is only winter with you. How can you really feel?”

“No one uses the phone anymore.”

It all clicked. This album was about me. Well, not me exactly. People like me. We didn’t have mixtapes or unlocked neighborhood doors, but we had DSL. Everything about this album started resonating more and more with me. This was the perfect summer album I could have ever hoped for. The bouncy grooves, the references, and the heartbreak. Even the title fits perfectly, “Abaddon” meaning something like a place of destruction or hell or something. That’s how I would’ve described Kitsap in a heartbeat at the time if I knew the word meant that. Every time I hear the line “I miss you, not in a Slint way” on the last track “AFK” (how did I not get the computer connection earlier?) I feel taken back (even more so now that I actually know what they’re talking about when they say Slint).

Last summer I decided my record collection wasn’t suitable without this album. I called up Easy Street Records in Queen Anne (R.I.P.) and had them order it for me. I play it during sunny days and warm, sweaty nights. I get those same feelings again. So here I am again. The sun is down and I’m online. It’s how I’m wired now. It may seem lame to think that for the rest of my life I’ll look back on the summers of my youth as being in front of a screen, but I feel like I can find some beauty in it now.

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Previous Wax Story: Nirvana – Bleach

Next Week: The Postal Service – Give Up

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Wax Stories #7: Nirvana – Bleach

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Whenever there’s a Nirvana related anniversary, I get oddly nostalgic. It always feels a bit misplaced. I was alive through Nirvana’s ascension but I’m pretty sure I was more interested in Mr. Rogers’ cardigans at the time – not Kurt Cobain’s. Nevertheless, when I released today is what would have been Kurt’s 46th birthday, I immediately went to my record shelf to play some of his work as a tribute.

I started to get into Nirvana when I picked up their greatest hits at a Sam Goody on a whim when I was 14. It’s a super lame way to get into a band (as detailed in a post I did in 2011), but it opened up the door for me at least. The music struck me in a way that nothing else had before. The demolishing crashes of the drums, the gritty sloppiness of the bass, the cutting sound of the guitar, and Kurt’s aching angry voice; it was fuel for my burgeoning teenage angst. I’d later pick up a CD copy of MTV Unplugged In New York to flesh out the image of Kurt as a misunderstood artist. He was not just a musician in my eyes. He was a symbol of identity and struggle that I thought I could relate to.

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In the summer of 2005 I went over to West Seattle for a day where my mom had an office near California Avenue. She pointed me in the direction of the Easy Street Records down the road and I eagerly made my way over there. I had only just recently got my record player a few months before. I made my way upstairs to the vinyl section to partake in one of my first Seattle crate digging experiences. There was no real agenda, nothing in particular I was hoping to find. This was also the first time I’d get a chance to buy a record new instead of used from a junk shop. I was a bit floored when I found the Nirvana section. For some reason I never really thought that they’d have anything available on wax and thought this rare opportunity – I had to pick up one of these. I inspected the track list on the back of each album and weighed out which was going to make the most sense. In Utero and Nevermind both featured tracks that I already had on my greatest hits CD so I dismissed those (dumb, dumb, dumb). I seriously considered picking up the Unplugged album because I thought it would sound so good. I remembered my dad telling me that on acoustic albums you could sometimes hear the fingers moving across the strings on vinyl releases.

I held up Bleach and examined it. The cover was stark and intense. A negative photo of Kurt headbanging with the band behind him in what appears to be a basement. I recognized one of the tracks, “About A Girl,” but everything else was unfamiliar. The fact that it was their first album also intrigued me. Sub Pop. That name sounded vaguely familiar. White vinyl? The case for Bleach got stronger and stronger the more I looked at it.

It must have been a funny sight to watch a gangly kid 15-year-old wearing cargo pants and probably a buttoned up, bright colored short sleeve shirt walking up to the counter clutching Bleach. I imagine the disenchanted cashier wanted to face palm at the sight. Maybe not.

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I had to wait till we got home late that night to listen to it. Funny how most of my early memories of vinyl are listening to them late at night on low volume in my room. Krist’s sludgy bass lead in on “Blew” bellowed out of my crackling speakers. Immediately it wasn’t what I was expecting. I was used to Kurt being dark and lots of heavy guitars, but this felt different. There was a sense of doom looming over their playing. It was unrefined and harsh. It only got more so by the time the needle moved over to the second track, “Floyd the Barber.” The low thumps of guitar synchronized with the drums gave a sense of impending dread. I anxiously awaited for “About A Girl” to come on so I could hear something familiar. When it finally did I rejoiced in the Beatles sensibilities and brighter guitar tones.

I knew I liked the album because it was Nirvana, but looking back I’m not entirely sure how keen I was to the record. I played it repeatedly because that’s what I thought a Cobain disciple should do. I was supposed to like it. I desperately tried to relate to it. “Hah! On ‘School’ he talks about high school and there being ‘no recess.’ I know what that’s like!” Obviously I wasn’t exactly Lester Bangs in my interpretations, but I was trying. I did take to “Love Buzz” almost immediately with its incredible bass groove. I stayed away from the b-sides for the most part, which were marked by a label depicting the circles of hell from Dante’s Inferno. My aversion came down to one primary reason, which in turn applied to the whole album and that I would not admit to myself at the time: Bleach terrified me.

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While Nevermind had just as much self-deprecating and fuming imagery, it also had Butch Vig’s crisp production to act as a filter. It’s like when you ask someone how they’re doing and they unload you all their problems without even easing into it. Bleach was full-on Cobain without anyone interpreting or holding him back. Not that I think Nevermind is in anyway lackluster. If anything it succeeded in making Kurt’s pain accessible to a wider group of people. I didn’t feel prepared to jump into this without Vig holding my hand.

Over the course of the summer, I found myself coming back again and again to the last track on side a – “Negative Creep.” Sometimes I’d drop the needle on just that track over and over again just to hear it. This is when I started to have my revelation. Kurt wasn’t the “loveable martyr” I’d made him out to be who opted to burn out instead of fading away. He was more like the intense guy I tried to avoid making eye contact with at shows, scribbling “fuck you” furiously in his notebook. I wanted desperately to believe that he and I had so much in common, but we really didn’t. Not only was he dealing with different (and albeit, much bigger) issues in his life, he was also just living in a different world. I was going to a private school, had a dopey golden retriever, and said “shoot” instead of “shit.” As much as I thought of myself as a negative creep, I really wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean I’m immune from feeling emotions of angst or despair. We all can feel like negative creeps sometimes, but most of us don’t embody it or suffer through it like Kurt did.

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My image of Kurt was broken down even more as I read Charles R. Cross’ biography on Kurt, “Heavier Than Heaven,” this last summer. The inkling I had that Kurt had it worse was proved to be true. I began sympathize for him instead of empathize with him. Looking back at Bleach in the context of the rest of his life is overwhelming and daunting. It’s not even that there’s an excess of imagery of suicidal imagery like some of his later work. It’s the brashness and dissonance and loudness that grabs me. To me, Bleach is his most tortured sounding work. I can feel more uncomfortable listening to tracks on here than I do listening to tracks like “Rape Me.”

Bleach feels more accessible to me today than it did in 2005. A lot of that I can attest to my change in taste over the years. My heart still pounds when the bass comes in on “Blew” and I’ve taken to screaming along to some of the b-sides (“gimme back me alcohol” on “Scoff” may be one of my favorite Nirvana lines now). It’s hard to think of many other records in my collection that has received this much consistent replay. Despite how much I’ve listened to it, I’ve come to terms that I’m never going to fully understand it or any of the bands other albums. Kurt will always have a shroud of mystery to him. I wish we could have understood him so we could have helped. Now I think the next best thing we can do is celebrate his life by indulging in his music in those those negative creep moments.

Happy birthday, Kurt.

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Previous Wax Story: The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism

Next Week: Japandroids – Celebration Rock

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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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What are “Wax Stories?”

Wax Stories #4: Grand Ole Party – Humanimals

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If you’re not familiar with Grand Ole Party or Humanimals, don’t worry – I’m not either. I’m not sure if I’ve even listened to this record all the way through and haven’t spun it in years. That makes the circumstances that led me to this record all the more absurd and bizarre.

My senior year of high school one of best friends Brandon’s sister backed up into my car in their driveway, crushing the fender. She felt terrible, but everyone was cool with it and we worked it out. Her parents paid for the repairs and in the meantime let me drive her car while mine was in the shop (they had a lot of cars, so it wasn’t a big deal). This was sort of like winning the lottery of car accidents. Instead of driving around my old car with peeling paint, I got to drive a brand new blue Volvo sports car for over a month. Our buddy Austin joked the whole time wishing his car had got hit instead.

My Nissan 300Z was older and was really the only car I’d ever driven much. I loved that car, but it doesn’t handle anything like a new car does. Turns were easier, the sound system was clear, and the acceleration was effortless. For an 18 year old guy, this felt amazing. There’s some weird fascination with driving in high school. You get obsessed with speed – even if you’re not a speed demon or care about cars at all – you just feel this power that’s been withheld from you for so long. But with this Volvo, I didn’t have to try and go fast. It just happened so naturally I didn’t even realize it was happening.

As I was driving back to school from a doctor’s appointment, just a few days after getting the Volvo, and I felt great. The sun was shining, the roads were open, and I had R.E.M.’s “Man On The Moon” playing in the stereo (a very underrated “lets f*** shit up” song…well actually,no. No it’s not). I was so entranced in my little Andy Kaufman pipe-dream that I didn’t notice the speedometer going up. And that’s when I saw the cop on the side of the highway. I tried to put on my breaks to slow down but it was too late. He turned on his lights and I pulled over. He told me he clocked me in at 80 mph and asked for my license, registration, and proof of insurance. I reached toward the glove box and opened it only to have a bottle of prescription pills fall out. It wasn’t anything weird or illegal, but I didn’t know they were there. I freaked out. This wasn’t helping my case at all.

“I..uhhh…this is my friend’s ehhhh sisters car….I uhh am supposed to be on the uhhh insurance…I think,” I said.

“I’ll take your word for it,” he said. I’m not sure why though. This seemed like a pretty suspicious situation to me.

He gave me a speeding ticket and I went back to school, feeling defeated. I called Brandon’s dad from the student parking lot and pleaded apologies – mentioning repeatedly how I had betrayed his trust and how guilty I felt and how it would not happen again. I think he mostly thought it was funny and assured me I had nothing to worry about. I’m still thankful for how cool he was about it. My parents, on the other hand, were a bit livid. A classmate told that I should get the ticketed deferred, something you can do only once every seven years in Washington state to have the ticket scrapped off your record, and then pay off the fine with volunteer hours. This was going to be the most effective way for me to pay for it, so I went ahead with it.

Later that year I did a senior project job shadow at The Vera Project, following their stage managers for a few days and reporting on it. I fell in love with the venue through the process and everything they stood for. Sometime after I realized The Vera was a non-profit and qualified for my volunteer hours to pay off my fine. Well, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I emailed The Vera and they mentioned they needed some volunteers to work at their booth at Capitol Hill Block Party. I’d never been but decided to sign up for both days.

It was a pretty incredible way to pay off a ticket. I’d sit at a booth and hand out buttons and stickers for an hour or two then would go prowl the other stages with my friend Nate before going back to work again. I got to see Vampire Weekend and Chromeo while checking out some new bands as well. Having learned my lesson from the first day, I brought a backpack full of water bottles to keep hydrated during the sweltering heat. It probably wasn’t the most “green” option, but I wasn’t too concerned with that at the time.

That night during my shift, I was asked to run the merch table for the bands while they played. Primarily, for a band called Grand Ole Party. I had no idea who they were and it didn’t seem like many other people did either. From what I recall, they played a decent alternative rock set that reminded me a lot of Pretty Girls Make Graves. I thought it was pretty good, but others thought it was amazing. Their crowd grow more and more as the set progressed. About halfway through the set, a swarm of people started to come over to the merch table. At first it was just a few CDs, but by the end of their set I had sold the band’s entire stock. People were shoving money in my face and I struggled to keep track who was handing me what and tried to quickly calculate how much I owed them while making change with other customers.

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After the CDs were gone I told people we only had vinyl copies. A few people complained that they didn’t even have a record player, but somehow I said the right words to convince them to buy it anyway. Once it died down the band came over to take over. When I told them I sold all of their CDs and all but two of their vinyl records, they were floored. Their elation was infectious. I felt really happy for them. Even if I wasn’t totally sold on their music, this seemed like a big deal for them and I was happy I could be a part of it. They were so thrilled that they offered me one of the records for free. I wasn’t sure if it was totally ethical to accept a gift while volunteering, but I took it anyway.

I sat at the booth for a little bit doing some merch for Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head but was shortly after relieved of duties. I had the stage manager sign off on my volunteer time sheet and rushed over to the main stage to see DeVotchKa. I’d lost track of Nate at this point – he met up with some other friends while he was there. But it didn’t matter. I was just so excited to see DeVotchKa play that I didn’t care if I was going to see them alone or not. I sneaked my way near the front on the right side of the stage. As the set picked up, everything turned into a giant dance party. I don’t usually dance unless I’m being goofy with friends, but this night was an exception. I did my stiff, white boy sway to the tunes of “We’re Leaving” as a group of drunk people bounced around near me. Things got rowdier and turned into a joyful, dance mosh. Someone bumped into me and my Grand Ole Party record flew out of my hands and onto the ground. I was sure it was gone forever. I had to wait an entire song before I could look for it. I spotted it near the end of the song and watched as people jumped up and down repeatedly on it. I picked it up and prayed it wasn’t broken but I couldn’t check yet.

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To my left, a man kept trying to dance with this girl. She would refuse and then a few minutes later he’d be back trying to bump and grind. She’d refuse again and the cycle repeated. He did this three or four times. Finally she took off her flip-flop and proceeded to hit him over the head with it. This was not a playful tap with her shoe; this was full on Mortal Kombat fatality intensity. She yelled “I TOLD YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN I DON’T WANT TO DANCE WITH YOU.” We all applauded. I felt a sense of camaraderie with the group.

I walked with Nate and his friends after the set down to the ferry. We were all jazzed about DeVotchKa’s show. We split ways at the terminal as they caught the Bambridge Ferry and I got on the Bremerton Ferry. I opened the record in my booth to see if it was shattered. To my surprise, it looked flawless. I opened my backpack and pulled out my last water bottle. I already had to use the bathroom, but I came up with a grand plan. I was getting really tired and I still had to drive home once I got off the ferry. I also getting really hyped up when I reallllly have to use the bathroom and I already felt the urge coming on. If I drank this last bottle of water, then that would likely give me enough energy to make it home.

Well, it did work.

In the car (my own car, not the Volvo at this point) I felt like I was on speed. I played Jeff Buckley’s “Eternal Life” on repeat and frantically yelled along with it as I squirmed and jostled in my driver’s seat. I felt like I made record time getting home. I walked through the door at three in the morning, my dad asleep on the couch, and clutching my new record. I felt satisfied with a weekend of music and helping a band get their music out there to people, if even in a small way. But mostly, I just really had to pee.

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Previous Wax Story: David Bazan – Curse Your Branches

Next Week: Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

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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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