Marfa, Marfa, Marfa

Long Live John Long!

John Long is full of shit.

Walking through Marfa is like the beginning of a certain kind of delerium. It’s like those movies where characters are dragging through hot, sandy deserts and they see something like a plush oasis in the distance.

It’s where Giant (1956) was filmed. John Long says Giant is a shitty film, but I’ve never seen it. It’s in the Criterion Collection and James Dean and Rock Hudson look cool as hell, but John Long is passionate and eloquent and James Dean and Rock Hudson are both dead.

Marfa is confounding. It’s where you can pay $15 for Nashville hot chicken sando and quinoa bowl with tahini driz while a toothless Mexican plays a 3-stringed guitar with more than one hole across the street in the blowing wind on his porch.

It’s where you can e-Bike for hours and miles and see everything three, four, maybe even five times over.

It’s where beauty and oddity collide. It’s where rich and poor vie for the same dollar. It’s where the setting sun drips everything in honey.

And other things drip too.

And it’s where John Long wonders around wearing a fur coat he stole from a kid at Burning Man. It’s where he’ll tell you about the Oscar he won for the documentary he produced. You’ll fact check him when you get back to the tent and you’ll see he was a PA, but he did in fact win an Oscar for an HBO docummentary.

It’s where he’ll drink most of your whiskey around a picnic table one night and argue his Californian theory of wealth distribution and altruism.

It’s the only context where Orville Peck’s music works for me. I get it, now. It’s the only place you’ll see a New Yorker and a spent Pennzoil quart in the same remote roadside trash bin.

Marfa is the plush oasis in the desert. But like the mirage in the cartoon, it never quite delivers. And maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be. A place where you can meet a sunburned, shoeless John Long. He’ll be full of shit, but that won’t stop you from chanting: Long Live John Long! around a picnic table at 3am.

Finding Perspective

Long time no talk. I've been inspired. Here's what's been doing it for me.

Hi, long time no talk. Hope you’ve been well. Hope you’ve been finding ways to stay inspired. Here’s a few of my recent wind-in-sails finds:

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

I know. Seen it, know how it ends, blah, blah, blah. I was really interested in this because a writer pal I know (check him out if you like spy/adventure stories) recommended I read it for the “voice”. And while I knew the story, I was so caught up in its creativity and overall aesthetic. It has such a strong perspective and it makes me appreciate David Fincher’s version even more because he nails it. The story is so dark and wildly imaginative and in some ways very telling as to how we ended up where we are in America today.

When They See Us (2019)

This is Ava DuVernay’s telling of the “Central Park 5” story. I’d seen the Ken Burns doc and I’d looked into this story many times before, so I was surprised I ever took a shot on it. But it honestly blew me away. It’s superbly acted, spectacularly shot, drenched with a nostalgic color palette, and it conveys the boys’ gut-wrenching experience of the event in a way that I didn’t even realize was missing from other tellings. It also has some of the most cop-worthy 80’s and 90’s fashion I’ve seen in awhile.

Letterboxd - Social Film Discovery App

It took me way too long to sign up for this. It’s an amazing tool. It has a curation element that IMDb just doesn’t, and the social component is a real cherry to it. To me, movies are incredibly social. How many times have you watched something you absolutely loved and thought: [person] would love this! That’s all the time for me. I actually put off watching supposedly great movies because I want to share the first experience of it with someone. Also, the social component of Letterboxd isn’t scrolly, cringey, or obligatory. It happens in the background and you can use it as much or as little as you want. I find it a great way to develop a watchlist/backlog, curate lists for your favorite people or scenarios ( I saw one list someone created recently that was “Movies to watch with your parents: with no sex”), and see what your trusted pals may think of some twisted avant garde title you may be considering. Find me @agreatscott

Todd Snyder x John Derian Collection

I’m becoming more and more interested in ‘perspective’. I love to be able to crawl around someone else’s POV. I love it when they feel strongly about something and how they put little bits of it into everything they make. I love the aesthetics of a thing. It’s why I love menswear designer Todd Snyder. He’s got a pure American wool suit meets streetwear vibe and his collaborations are always exciting. His new one with John Derian reminds me of when Abbie and I went to Round Top’s gargantuan antiques fair a few years back and I found a huge collection of old anthropological art reprints and I wanted them so badly. I still regret not buying any. I might buy this Todd Snyder x John Derian sweatshirt though that showcases that same old style. I love everything Todd Snyder does and now I’m put onto Derian, too.

Live Music Online - Bahamas : Live To Tape Ep. 1 “The 400 Unit”

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I’ve seen a live show. While it’s still dark days for live music lovers, I feel like bands are getting much better at the ‘remote’ live performances. Here’s one good example. I really like Bahamas. His voice is so buttery smooth and his production is always on point. It’s great headphone music full of crispy snares and curvaceous guitar tones. I love this new series he’s doing with other bands. Check it out.

That Salty, Angry, and Churning Expanse

A sticks and twigs bonfire on the subject of the sea

Photo: 30ft waves from the 14th story of a cruise ship somewhere between Québec and Manhattan - October 2019

Seaworthy Stuff

Some recommendations of interest for land-locked lubbers yearning for a wet splash, cool mists, and adventure beyond these sweltering dry dog days upon us.

  1. Two Essays | on the cultural strangeness of cruises:

    It’s weird to think about a cruise in the COVID era. But to be honest it was weird before, too. I’ve been on three and everything DFW says in this hilarious essay checks out.

    Here’s a second look at cruising from another great creative non-fiction writer who dared to broach the same subject as the posthumously deified and then cancelled DFW.

Photo: MSC Meraviglia docked at Corner Brook, Newfoundland; October 2019

  1. Nonfiction Book | Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

    Kurlansky has mastered the microhistory format. This one (he also wrote Salt, but not Banana :) places codfish as something foundational to the expansion of civilization in the Americas, a keystone entity in the creation of law of the sea and international jurisdiction, as well as a lynchpin for massive economic policy changes in the early 1990’s that still smart in the Canadian Atlantic provinces. And he’s able to make this all pretty interesting. It’s a great compliment to the next two pieces: The Perfect Storm and Leviathan (2012).

  2. Nonfiction Book | The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger

    This book is a page-turner. Junger will go down as one of the greatest nonfiction adventure writers and this book will make you a believer. This is meticulously researched and written in a way that makes it unfold in front of your eyes like a movie. It was destined to become a Hollywood popcorn action/adventure flick from the start. But it’s also loaded with interesting information:

    • the combined nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and former Soviet Union don’t contain enough energy to keep a hurricane going for one day

    • a typical hurricane contains a million cubic miles of atmosphere

    • a typical hurricane could provide all the electrical power needed by the U.S. for 3 to 4 years

    • in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 winds surpassed 200mph and people caught outside were sandblasted to death- only their shoes and belt buckles were recovered

    • birds drown in flight because they can’t shield their upward facing nostrils

    • how a wave breaks only when it’s height is over 1/7th the distance between the crests

    • the Air National Guard is considered a state militia and its pararescue jumpers are arguably more elite than Navy SEALs or Army Berets because they’re the ones who have to extract and save SEALs and Berets

    • HALO jumping has them in a three-minute free-fall from above the layer of atmosphere where weather happens and they can’t pull their chute until below 1000ft. to avoid enemy detection

    • how to find a needle in a haystack (expanding-square search)

    and on and on…

Photo: Prince Edward Island near Charlottetown, home of Anne of Green Gables, October 2019

  1. Documentary | Leviathan (2012)

See where you can JustWatch it.

This is boring. It’s like the most literal example of documentary ever. The film being made by the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard should’ve been my first clue at what type of dryness a film on the water could possess. It will definitely paint a picture for you though. I honestly think the only way I was able to finish it is because I’d read The Perfect Storm. If that book tells the dramatic and technical side of fishing for a living, this film tells of the tedious and gory space in between. I think the film is important as an anthropological piece, or for a more tangible understanding of Cod and The Perfect Storm’s context. But skip it if you’re looking for entertainment.

  1. Movie | All Is Lost (2013)

See where you can JustWatch it.

Robert Redford is amazing in this. It will keep you rapt, heart pounding until the end. I really loved this film and the culmination snuck up on me. My eye squeezed forth its own salty sea in miniature form. Get ready for sweaty palms when you queue this one up.

  1. Grocery Shopping Alternative Country | Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (2016)

This concept album by Sturgill was written as he was having his first child. As a former Navy sailor, “he’s got sea stories and they’re all true.” Seems that Sturgill learned a lot of life’s big lessons on the sea or at the least considers it a hugely influential experience particularly as it related to a transition from boy to manhood. This record has Sturgill working beyond the traditionalist country instrumentation that has been his hallmark. It could’ve gone real bad for him, but he nails it. It has a much more of a Neo-soul quality that veers into honky-tonk country and bluegrass as subtle seasoning, less so the meaty main course. “Breakers Roar,” “In Bloom,” and “Oh Sarah”, are my favorites here. There’s a lot of wisdom in this record, and it goes down so so easy with its spoonful of sugary sweet soul.

  1. Workout or Mowing Metal | Mastadon - Leviathan (2004)

Sludge metal classic album here loosely based on Melville’s Moby Dick. Mastadon has long been known for being a rather eclectic kind of metal band. Some say they’re an easy entry point to the genre because they draw on so many influences and you can hear it in the music. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this album is accessible, but it’s a perfect soundtrack to blast if you watch the Leviathan (2012) doc. It’s arguably their best record to date and it’s critically acclaimed as a genre standout if you’re wanting some exposure to one of the era’s seminal works. Check out “Megalodon” for a very noticeable classic southern-rock inspired riff. Listen to “Hearts Alive”, maybe my favorite track, for a sense of what makes sludge metal… Well, sludgey. It’s 13 minutes of cinema for the mind. Building and crashing as it plods along. Then it marches onward thick like molasses until the end.

  1. Poolside Electronic | The Avalanches - Since I Left You (2000)

One of my top five favorite albums of all time. It’s a masterpiece. It’s just a nice eclectic mix of instrumentals all cut from various record samples and arranged into the quirky, electronic, retro yet timeless triumph that it remains to this day. The loose concept for the album is based around a protagonist who’s chasing a love interest from port to port, continent to continent, always one ocean liner blow horn blast away from catching that true love. You can hear the seagulls and the waves crash and the rhythms of some foreign city all woven throughout this dense tapestry. Queue it up to read, clean, run, or do just about anything else to.

Photo: Playa Del Carmen 2017

Stream It. Spin It. Skim It.

Something to watch, listen to, and read

Stream It: A Doc about Human’s Delicate Dance with Technology

California Typewriter (2017) documentary on Prime

This was a hidden gem. On a 100-degree Saturday, I bit on a free-trial to the The Criterion Channel streaming service. I’d never heard of this documentary but it hooked me from the start. I’m in a state of digital withdrawal right now, and the ideas in this film completely reinforce it.

Sidebar: I’m just now realizing the irony of the situation: I was bored and rather comfy indoors on a particularly blistering summer day— so I instantly purchased access, over broadband internet, to an entire video library of contemporary and international classics the likes of which I used to have to put my name on a waiting list at Hastings to procure because the cult-classics were always checked out (looking at you Soylent Green).

California Typewriter is all about what we end up losing and what constitutes preservation when technology and time march on. John Mayer makes an appearance in the film and talks about how he saw handwritten drafts in a museum of famous songs. They were all chicken scratch with words crossed-out on yellowing paper and included lyrics by The Beatles and Rolling Stones. It caused him to wonder about the drafts of his own creative output. It was all on a hard drive in a drawer somewhere, never accessed since put away the first time.

People still lament over the burning of the Library of Alexandria… Usually history nerds, sure; but they kinda have a point. How much knowledge of the human experience burned up there? Likewise, how much will be totally blank on the timeline from our current era given that everything (family photos, correspondence, etc.) takes place digitally today? These are the larger ideas (though not specifically) from which California Typewriter draws upon.

Call me a saccharine sweet peddler of nostalgia. Call me a hoarder and a Luddite. But if you watch it, I think you’ll agree. California Typewriter will make you want to seek deeper connection and greater interaction with the very physical and tactile world we all inhabit.

Spin It: An Indie Rock Record from Some Canadians Concerned with Matters of Faith

Little Kid - Transfiguration Highway (2020)

This one ended up on my Best of 2020 list three-quarters through my first listen. That’s rare. Usually I have to listen at least three times before I know. The album has an acoustic earthiness to it, but these Canucks aren’t afraid to hit the overdrive either. For Little Kid’s brand of rock, the kit sounds dusty yet tight, keys add some nostalgic and atmospheric layers, and I imagine the drummer to be one of those drummers who hovers low over the snare elbows-out. I honestly can’t tell the band’s connection to Christianity because I haven’t heard or listened to anything else by them. However Transfiguration Highway’s stories are situated squarely upon concepts of evangelical belief. I’ve seen two critics compare Little Kid to Pinegrove now, and I can’t disagree more. More accurate are the contemporary references to artists like Whitney and (Sandy) Alex G and comparisons with classic artists like The Band and Neil Young. There’s a low-fi harmony and stillness to Little Kid. The lyrics are solid, thoughtful and understated. They have a narrative quality vs. the ruminative style of a Pinegrove. I like Pinegrove, but I find some of their work to be overwritten both lyrically and melodically. All that to say you should ignore that comparison if you happen to come across it.

The album opener, “I Thought You’d Been Raptured” is seriously strong song craft. It hits harder on each replay. Our character arrives home early from the factory to see his wife’s “favorite floral pattern, yeah / just lying in the doorway”. His mind goes to the Rapture and the reasons why he assumed he wouldn’t be left behind: he works hard for his family, he doesn’t drink or run around, he stopped smoking for the baby. In the second verse, as it starts to click, “…an unfamiliar t-shirt/ and an empty pair jeans were thrown…” musically the song pulses along wistfully even as the hammer begins to fall, “wonderin’ if you could be the sinner / left down here among the living..” The scene further unfolds to reveal a certain type of rapturous occasion, sure, but as you may have figured out, it’s not the capital “R” Rapture. But it’s how he, Kenny Boothby, Little Kid’s lead man, gets us there that is just so poetic— you don’t understand there’s a knife in someone’s back until the next track begins.

On “Thief On The Cross”, from critic Mia Hughes at The Line Of Best Fit:

“The track’s lyrics are a tongue-in-cheek play on the Biblical story of the Penitent Thief – crucified next to Jesus – who asks Christ to remember him when he arrives at his kingdom. With an acidic wit, Boothby positions himself on that cross, his peers in more successful bands playing the part of Christ: ‘Praying you’ll remember me / When you finally reach / The entrance to eternity / I played in that old three piece / We opened for thee / Way back in 2015.’ Yet the Christ figure’s response is hilariously dismissive: ‘Don’t take it personal, you weren’t the first one to ask’. It’s a sharp, amusing take on music community dynamics, biting and self-deprecating in equal measure.”

And thus is the flavor of the entire record. Metaphorical meatiness served up nice and easy atop breezy melodies as chill as a shade tree in August. But with the prerequisite rhythm section needed for any good head-nodding low-fi rock record.

Skim It: A Highly Graphical, Interactive Exploration of Coronavirus Mechanics

Inside the Coronavirus - Scientific American

This is a cool learning experience if you’ve ever seen the infamous coronavirus mockup with it’s red triangle-tipped spikes and wondered: “what do those spiny things do, and how could that pretty lil RNA flower kill me?” This immersive visual guide has 3D renderings and layered graphics that explain how the virus’ inter-workings and how it invades cells so effectively.


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