T for Tom

I Didn’t Miss It At All

Posted in Europe, Prose, Remember to Remember by johnsontoms on August 17, 2017

It was going to be my first time out of the country, or at least the country that was my new home. You see, in America, where I spent the first 24 years of my life, I had never crossed into a neighboring country such as Mexico or Canada. The distances were too far, the limits too great, the benefit too low. That last sentiment is surely wrong on all accounts, but it was the feeling I was given by my country – Mexico has nothing to offer, Canada is the same but colder. We never go, we never went.

But in Germany now for the first time, living and working with no end in sight, I had a grasp on the nearness of the countries, and by a large, unfilled whole in my working knowledge, I knew that each boundary meant separately unique, different, and succinct cultures and nations. I knew that each line was a defensive boundary built over hundreds and thousands of years and these simple lines meant new languages, new colors, new foods, new music, new politics, and new people. I had only been in Germany for six weeks but my appetite had grown immensely in the short time I had there. Each year in Belgium, the town of Bastogne celebrates its independence from Nazi Germany by staging a recreation of the march of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division that held during the siege of the Ardennes forest over the longest winter on earth, and pushed the Nazis back. There would be foot marches with citizens from around the continent, battle reenactments, regalia displays, parades, and booze of all kinds. I knew I had to go.

It was only a few months before while still in training in Virginia that I had purchased my first Norah Jones album, a CD of The Fall. That CD became a soundtrack to a room that I shared with the only person to understand me in the Army, and we played a long game of chess by moving a single piece at a time between our bunks. But when I got to Germany (as did my friend, although to another unit in another village nearby), I finally had access again to the internet. I decided I needed the rest of Norah Jones’s albums and went about getting them. In order, I listened to each of them in full.

So there, that month after arriving in Germany, I sat in the back of a Mercedes TMP, the kind the military purchases in lots throughout Europe to facilitate quick ease of transport for these types of events. It was a recreational event, but as one that promoted camaraderie with the local nationals, could be given a leave of absence and promoted throughout our unit. We were able to check out the TMPs and drive ourselves on the unit’s dollar. Everyone that was attending the event had been given pass to leave during the day on Friday, but there were a few of us stuck behind for the change of command ceremony to welcome the new battalion commander. As my reputation as a reporter always preceded me, I was selected to give the commencement and was among that small group leaving afterward. I didn’t know the sergeants I was leaving with well and took the entire back seat to myself, the floors stripped of any carpeting, the heater not working. And I sat there listening to all of Norah Jones while the roads passed by.

In Germany, there are no billboards or stores or gas stations on the side of the highway. There are farms and villages occasionally, but the highways were built to be out of the way of the people in the towns, and their rules regarding pollution keep it free of clutter and light and noise. The sky that day was a typical German sky, the kind I miss most; a deep grey throughout from the clouds that only just might drop rain, with small breaks of white, though the sun never shone through. The hills of Bavarian green grazed our sides for hours as first we passed Frankfurt, then Cologne, and continued west. Slowly, the hills became larger and the vastness of the forests grew in height. All the while the sky stayed green, and only occasionally a small mist might develop on the windows, but never a hard rain. The forest of oaks turned to large, upward columns of pine, and it’s the closest I ever got to a Vermont winter, all the way on the other side of the planet.

The first words were always the most important to me, from the moment I heard them: “As I sit and watch the snow fall…” It’s a feeling I always wanted since I was a child. To wake up and see the drifts of white descending to the ground, a new world unfolding over the one we walk through every day. I had never had that. But vast pieces of art, works of literature, and entire operas have been devoted to the snow. I had known it my whole life, but never seen these things other people talk about, the things that are dressed up in language to describe home, belonging, warmth. Snow always meant a sense of place to me – the idea that you could have a place to yourself under warmth of a fire while the snow fell outside. It wasn’t snowing on this day, but I knew it would soon, maybe days and weeks later, but I knew the snow was coming. I knew I would finally have the feelings I was never given during Christmas, during winter, during the times we should be alone and at peace. I sat there in the back of the van alone, listened to Norah, and stared at the pine and knew I would have my winter moment for the first time, soon.

I wasn’t talking, no one talking to me. There were no sounds of cars on the empty highway. There were no sights of people on a road miles from the nearest village. There was only the pine going by the thousands, and the sound of a piano in my ear.

I didn’t think of anything specific. I only thought of the general years and lifetime before these first few weeks abroad. And I didn’t miss it at all.

Mojave 3 – Bluebird of Happiness

Posted in Europe, Prose by johnsontoms on August 16, 2017

I have a playlist of 200 songs that remind me of the best, wildest, strangest years of my life, the sound track to my third life. This will be the first in a series chronicling just what a few of those songs means.

Rain pattered on the window as I stayed awake on the floor, eyes on the white, cantilevered ceiling. We were together on the floor unintentionally-intentionally because she was moving in two weeks and the furniture was already gone. This weekend was reserved for us to be together alone for the first time away from our friends, a chance to get closer. I drove us down to Munich that night in the dark, late on a Friday after I left work and picked her up from her home. The drive down was like the other times I’d driven to Munich on the autobahn, but a little darker and with a little more rain and with a girl I’d only just fingered the week before. It was her idea to go to Munich and I didn’t question the details, even now as I lay in a sleeping bag in an empty apartment.

The ceiling is the thing I remember most. How these types of homes in Germany and across Europe are so small, but so ample for a person. The spaces on the top floor are even worse, where we navigate the rooms that are built into the slopes of the exterior ceiling, one room drooping away from the center in this direction, the other room drooping in the opposite. It was like something out of all the black and white films I had ever seen, but I was living this one, a few minutes at time.

She was much younger than I, and I was only beginning to find out. She wanted to please me, do everything I asked, do anything I could think of and more, except for the few things she wasn’t ready to. Once we were through the door, and even while driving the two hours from Nuremberg, it was a constant series of questions about what I wanted, where I wanted to be, the things I wanted to do. I just wanted to fuck there in the apartment at some point over the weekend. After we parked my car that first night we went straight up to the apartment, dropped off our things, and out for dinner.

That night I learned that she wasn’t going to have sex with me. There on the carpet in a sleeping bag with two bottles of wine in us, I didn’t think much of it. But it was the morning I remember.

It was still raining but the clouds have a way of thinning out in Germany that provides enough high-grey light while raining and still keeping the sun from shining directly. I could see it was one of those days from the floor where I stared up at the ceiling. We were using her laptop computer for music, for the same reasons we were on the floor. It was silent as I woke up before her, dismissed myself to the bathroom and relieved myself of the night’s drinks. She had an eye open when I came back and so I turned on the computer thinking that I might get laid here.

I needed something quiet, peaceful, not overwhelming, and instantly I thought of the soundtrack to the O.C. Clicked onto youtube and started the first playlist I saw. We sat there on the floor necking and kissing and staring at each other before I moved my hands into her pants and really thought this time that she was too young and inexperienced, and I knew then why she wasn’t ready. Just never had before. She went down on me, and I knew from the way it ended that she’d never done that either.

I told her it was okay and stared back at the ceiling as she cradled into my shoulder, the rain still falling, the ceiling overhead illuminating with the rising sun and the soft words echoing over and over from the speakers: “Gotta find a way to get back home, gotta find a way back home.”

There are other things I remember. The locals in all the pubs celebrating the home team’s big victory, and the emptiness of being with a girl I knew I’d be leaving. I remember walking everywhere in the rain and sharing an umbrella that only sheltered one. I remember the weekend being like nothing I wanted, but leaving a lasting mark in my memory. And I remember, as much time as we spent in the apartment cooking food and drinking wine and laughing and not fucking, I turned the Mojave 3 on over and over again, time and time again, even though I’d just heard it for the first time during that rain-spilled Saturday morning. I remember lying there thinking of this girl and her wonderful innocence, and thinking that even as juvenile as the days had become, they were nothing less than sweet, and I remember thinking that even sweet has a place in my memory, like this day now holds. But mostly I remember lying on my back and staring up at that white ceiling, dotted with the shadows of the raindrops on the window, and I remember being hopeful.

I remember thinking that this was home. Not the girl, explicitly, nor Munich and Europe, necessarily, but the movements in my life. Movements forward had become my home and the only place I could truly be comfortable. Home for me will always be on the road.

Everywhere I go now, I take home, as a piece of mind, with me. Got to find a way back home.

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We Have Never Defeated Nazism

Posted in america, Prose by johnsontoms on August 14, 2017

Fewer and fewer times do I have things to say. The myriad issues that plague us, approachingly, personally, more and more each day, the more I am becoming numb. The struggle for positivity is at large among the world favoring those on the wrong side, and each event is merely evidence in loss. Charlottesville is no different. I am not surprised that such an event even had ideation and was organized in principle; I am not surprised that many like-minded individuals attended in support, among which many wore and flew Nazi flags, symbols, regalia, and dress; I am not surprised that those who hold (rightfully) values in opposition chose to counter-protest; I am not surprised that these clashes ended in death; I am not surprised that the President is unmoved. What I am surprised about, by many on both sides (to use a phrase), is the end-gaming that Nazism, as an idea and object, is both at once to blame for the outcome and at the same time defeatable. It’s presence at the event and in the year 2017 (the year two thousand and fucking seventeen) should make obvious that Nazism, as an avatar of hate, simple hate, is both indefatigable and undefeated. We did not defeat Nazism. We did not defeat Nazism because it is just one face of fear, hate, and oppression. But fear, hate, and oppression come in many forms, and like Nazism, they persist. We may have defeated an evil in 1945, but we did not defeat evil incarnate. Nazism as a form of government then was defeated, but Nazism as an ideology for hate was not defeated. Do not think that defeating it now will solve the crisis at hand.

These conclusions are simple enough:

If it is that Nazism is here again, it must be, then, that it never went away.

If it is that Nazism never away, it must be, then, that we never defeated it.

If it is that Nazism was never defeated, it must be, then, that it is spreading.

If it is that Nazism is spreading, it must be, then, that is being bred.

If it is that Nazism is being bred, it must be, then, that the system allows it.

If it is that the system allows Nazism, it must be, then, that the system must be changed.

This is the conclusion that will propel us in the right steps forward. This is logic, by definition. Logic determines that if we cannot suffer more tragedy, we must trace the events of causality to their root. Heather Heyer did not die because she was hit by a car (figuratively, at least), nor did she die because of the Nazis in the crowd. She did not die because the President of the United States encourages and endorses white supremacy, and she did not die because police did not intervene soon enough. The police did not intervene because of the never-imperiled distinctions of free speech that so protect our civilization that we forego simple enforcements that deny hate speech; the event occurred because declaring it an obvious intrusion on minority rights would be to declare it an intrusion on free speech; that do declare these protests an act of free speech must then equally protect those who choose to speak in opposition; that to protect both groups means to allow them, if not rightly encourage them, to appear face to face in physical antagonism without a determinant end.

Rather than step in and declare the obvious facts that this event would lead to death, the system must masquerade in protection of our constitutional rights until someone loses theirs.

This same masquerade is responsible for allowing Nazi flags in the march. This same system is responsible for allowing Nazi symbols online and in books and on clothing and in the streets and in the homes. This same system that will not impugn a person’s defined right to free speech is responsible for letting any person freely speak hate. This same system, the one that lets people freely march in Nazism in 2017, is the same system that declared victory over Nazism in 1945.

You’ve seen the pictures by now: improvised war slogans and updated propaganda to show Uncle Sam towering over the Nazi flag, ready to fight again. Do not be fooled that such a limited grasp of the issue will solve the problems. These are a few of the problems:

Black people cannot go safely in public.

Millions of Americans go bankrupt each year due to medical expenses.

Non-cisgender persons are shamed, murdered, and denied medical treatment.

Government officials are systematically redacting environmental protections.

The world’s wealth continues to accumulate at the top.

Aid is not distributed evenly around the world to states in need.

The education system is being dismantled to encourage creationism and science denial.

These problems are not the direct result of nor the cause of Nazism. They are one and the same in effect a result of hate, in its many forms. Distracting us to think that Nazism can now be the enemy again is to look away from the many problems that defeating Nazism will not solve. Distracting us to think that we can “defeat Nazism again” is to endorse the same government that “defeated” it before. Should you then endorse that system of government if it never defeated Nazism? Should you then endorse that system of government if it breeds Nazism?

Do not join in the chorus: Nazism is not your only enemy. Hate is the enemy. Government officials who prescribe hate are the enemy. The voters who empower those officials are the enemy. Be they Nazis, whites, klansmen, or your grandfather who’s just a believer in small government and fiscal responsibility. If it was your own father who prioritized lowering taxes over social equality, he is the enemy. He is also a fool. Do not be a fool also.

If you want to change these things, you must change the system that allowed them to exist. If you want to rid the world of these crimes, you must snuff out the protections that empowered them. If you want the voice of love and equality to be stronger than the voices of hate and persecution, you must form a system that educates, encourages, and promotes a tolerance for love alone with a violent intolerance for its opposite.

If you want a system that can defeat Nazism, the American system isn’t for you.

 

An Open Letter

Posted in Prose, Trying To Get Published, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 26, 2017

An open letter to my parents, their friends, and strangers like them:

Did all your dreams come true? Do you have everything you’ve ever imagined and more? I imagine you must be sitting there in a broad, window-lined living room, a small dog at the foot of your lounging sofa, the room dimly lit with ornate lamps, the spaces filling with the sound of Sinatra and a crackling fire while you or your spouse finish cooking in the kitchen where all the countertops are marble and the stove is electric. Somewhere in the garage are two SUVs and a stable of camping equipment for the many vacations you’ve taken and the many more you plan, miles of American highway that never stand in your way from the time away with your family. You return, you always do, because of the obligations of work and family, and spend the days in between your weeks alternately going to work and walking into church. The pension is growing, and there’s no need to worry when the boy and girl both need football equipment for their summer teams (soccer for the little girl, of course) because you’re on track for your third promotion and should have yourself set up quite nicely by the age of 55. No, nothing else could be needed.

Is that why you won’t let us have anything? Are you sitting there in that living room right now thinking, no, there’s nothing else the world could have or do, and so I will do everything I can to keep it just this way? Because I can’t think of any other reason to support the ideas, policies, and moral politics of a corrupt body that willfully, purposefully, and cruelly works to malign, injure, and put to death millions of people swiftly and at once.

If you are sitting there comfortably on your way to a rich retirement (and I don’t think you are), how did you get there? I believe you had opportunities, plural, rich opportunities in a world with less competition – when an entire race (or many entire races), gender, and age group are not allowed to gain employment in the only few sectors that pay salaries commensurate with a single family’s needs, do you feel that you fairly competed for the things you enjoy? Do you think that you got to that home, the two vehicles, and the recreational time by being treated equitably? If you think it’s been fair, you should look around. It hasn’t been, has never been fair, but the world is not ready to quit changing.

I have a strange fear, a real deep fear, that I’m wrong – you aren’t sitting there with a book in hand, staring out the windows at the light snowfall, dreaming of your upcoming beach vacation. You’re standing over the work desk, driving a truck cross-country, tossing boxes into the delivery truck, loading fish from the dock, or chopping trees. When you’re done you head home to a two-bedroom house with a five-member family, a kitchen without a stove, and only one car to drive the family. Worse, no car. Your marriage is tense because the bills are paid paycheck-to-paycheck while the children beg for more. Worse, no bills are paid and the children are still begging. And to top it all off, you remember sitting there in your parents living room – that same one I imagined for you – where the Christmas tree is lit, the presents stocked underneath, and you wonder why you don’t have the same. And worse, in your wondering, you believe the best way to get it is by getting back to that world where it seemed so possible – the world where everyone else (those weirdos with their dark skin and gay lovers and young punk hair) are stifled, put back in their place.

I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish you had the open-ceiling sunroom, afternoon sky gently illuminating your cocktail hour. I wish you had the trim garden outside with the veranda where you entertain your guests, telling jokes about the 18th hole. I wish you had the dreams of your fathers fulfilled just as they imagined for you. Because it would mean that these things were possible, in spite of the immigrants and the homosexuals and the millennials.

Because the immigrants and the homosexuals and the millennials aren’t going anywhere. This is their world to inherit. You and your friends have held on longer than usual, the benefit of growing medical science. There is reason for grievance – at the age now where you’ve either secured the healthcare you need through riches, or by simply living long enough to own state-funded Medicare, your choices and decisions and feelings about others (everyone else) is that they don’t deserve it. It might be even worse. Maybe you know they deserve it, too, but because you can’t think of a way for both of you to have it, you’ll selfishly deny them to keep your own. I can think of a few ways, but me and my generation, haven’t been allowed the clout of decision. I just wish it didn’t have to be that way.

I wish I didn’t grow up knowing I’d never have full garage or a mantel trimmed with Christmas stockings. I wish I didn’t grow up making plans to own very little, not even home to call my home, for fear of debt and the subsequent inability to move about. I wish I didn’t have to show up at work worried that my hair might make me seem out of place, or that I’ll never get promoted in time to cover my expenses because the supervisory jobs are held by boomers who never got their retirement. I wish I didn’t have to consciously, deliberately deny myself children because this world can’t sustain any more, or worse, the consequences of war and climate change would keep them from even living a full life. I wish I could sit there, like you wanted for yourself, without a worry in the world.

I am thankful, however, that you raised us in this world. Without the heartache, the unending the debt, the racism, the age discrimination, the wars on your behalf, the political manipulation of women’s bodies, the general diaspora of hate and filth, I wouldn’t be here today wishing you well. I might be just like you, in that living room telling the world to stop growing, stop changing, I like it just the way it was. I am thankful that I am eyes-open to the starving, the slaving, the shaming, the stealing, the warring, and the killing. Because I don’t want that for anyone. And that’s more important than what I do want for even just myself.

There isn’t enough for everyone to have large homes and multiple gas-fueled cars. There isn’t enough for everyone to have retirement funds or closets full of clothes or food for baby or books on the shelf or luxuries upon luxuries. There’s barely enough water on the planet as it is. We’re all just trying to survive. Those of us who suffer are catching on that the good life is an oasis, if not a myth outright. Don’t be so ignorant as to suffer and not yet be aware.

Because whether you have it now or never got it and still dream of having it before you die, I’m tired of you taking it from me before I ever even get it.

Signed,

T

It’s 2017

Posted in poem, Prose, Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 26, 2017

I was raised in a world that believed in better.

Fresh out of war,

hope and virtues lapping up like waves on the shore,

Bright-eyed, starry youthful dreams because we landed on the moon

Before I was even born.

But

Right back to war and now

It’s 2017 and people are starving.

It’s 2017 and men carry guns in the street.

It’s 2017 and black people die everyday.

It’s 2017 and seeing a doctor, wanting to live, costs money, at all.

It’s 2017 and people walk through the streets,

Into shopping malls,

Into church,

Listening to Hells Bells,

Talking of Reagan,

Afraid of changing,

But changing can’t come soon enough.

Get with it.

It’s fucking 2017 and y’all out there shooting, hating, killing,

Watching people die.

How far we’ve come to have gotten nowhere at all.

It’s 2017 and the shores are rising from the ice that’s melting

And

One day if we’re lucky

The waves will wash over the shore and cleanse the earth of all and sundry.

2017 Midseason Review on Music

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on June 21, 2017

2017 Midseason Review

Halfway people, let’s talk about all the good music so far.

Image result for beach fossils somersault

1. Beach Fossils – Somersault – Beach Fossils previously made my favorite New York punk record, Clash The Truth, and there’s something in that phrase – “New York punk.” From a guy that’s never been there, there’s a certain amount of clout of what we think New York embodies – cold, cold steel, a life under the thumb. The Strokes and Interpol and have come close in our generation to speak for the youth of overcrowded America, but Somersault truly nails the sense of careless laissez faire for a world that’s got nothing left to offer its children – “All you got / was never had nothin’” is probably the line of the year.

Image result for slowdive slowdive

2. Slowdive – Slowdive – I have so many questions for this band. How do you disappear for nearly 30 years and get back together to make this record? How, if you’re capable of making something so timeless, classic, equally from the past as if from the future, have I never before heard of you, even if it was just one album before the breakup in 1991? What have you been doing in the interim to make these sounds possible? Maybe its best I never know and just enjoy the gift that is Slowdive. Viva.

 

Image result for father john misty pure comedy

3. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy – It takes a couple listens to get through the writing that is so thick and so dense that at first its comedy upon itself – the metaphors so direct and the satire so clean that it’s almost aggravating that a major label artist can get away with writing something that on its surface seems so juvenile: an hour long ballad of angst toward the human race and its conniving modern existence, written mostly in the abstract. But, after a thorough couple spins, it’s really nothing short of magnanimous. Where it fails to show nuance, it breathes with guilt, and eventually Tillman tips his hand – he’s in this with us, and this is his suffering. Sincerely a wonderful piece of work from a genuine artist.

Image result for joey badass all amerikkkan badass

4. Joey Bada$$ – All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ – I’ve never heard something both so gentile and violent at the same time. This is a New York rapper in the tradition of Nas, but somehow more poignant in a time of need. Where Nas and other rappers before may have been (rightfully) timid and spoken in generalities, Bada$$ isn’t beholden to such subtleties in world that he (rightfully) guesses need none. Where Father John Misty works around the problem with humor, Bada$$ goes straight home: “Start a Civil War within the USA amongst black and white and those alike / They are simply pushin’ us to our limit so that we can all get together and get with it / They want us to rebel, so that it makes easier for them to kill us and put us in jails / Alton Sterlings are happenin’ every day in this country and around the world.”

Image result for sylvan esso what now

5. Sylvan Esso – What Now – When I saw them this past spring their DJ table had “FtheNCGOP” in electric tape across the front, which read Fuck the North Carolina Grand Old Party (becauase Fuck the North Carolina Grand Old Party, among others). Sylvan Esso (Amelia and Nick) seem to be in tune with the feeling I hope we all have, at least those I know well among my age – what now? No matter what we say or do or shout or try to teach others, hate persists. And as I danced in the crowd of kids like me all jumping and singing to the music that filled us, I remember looking at the charge taped on that DJ table and thinking “the kids will be all right.”

 

Songs:

“Leaving LA” – Father John Misty – not a question in my mind this is the greatest song of the year – a “15-minute chorus-less diatribe” in the vein of Bob Dylan. Bereft of all but voice, guitar, and three strings, it’s the ballad for the ages.

“Land of the Free” – Joey Bada$$ – “The land of the free is for the free loaders, leave us dead in the street to be your organ donors. They disorganized my people, made us all loners. Still got the names of our slave owners.”

“Thinking of a Place” – The War on Drugs – you know that feeling of nostalgia and longing you get when you think of the best moments in your life? This is the soundtrack to that feeling, written about that feeling.

“The Glow” – Sylvan Esso

“Ascension” – Gorillaz – Vince Staples leads the British response to Joey Bada$$. “I’m just playing, baby, this the land of the free, Where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap, Where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me: Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a fucking tree.”

“Tangerine” – Beach Fossils

“Do I Have To Talk You Into It” – Spoon

“Prisoner” – Ryan Adams – this man is ageless.

“Star Roving” – Slowdive –  ROCK N FUCKING ROLL.

“On Hold” – The XX

“Conrad” – SOHN – this man’s voice, man.

 

Albums:

Ryan Adams – Prisoner – **** – Truly challenges as his best record ever.

Alt-J – Relaxer – ** – Eight tracks so empty you’ll fall asleep.

At the Drive-In – Interalia – * – It’s not 2000 anymore.

Beach Fossils – Somersault – ****

Michelle Branch – Hopeless Romantic – **

Molly Burch – Please Be Mine – ***

Cold War Kids – LA Divine – **

Day Wave – The Days We Had – ***

Drake – More Life – ***

Bob Dylan – Triplicate – ***

Justine Townes Earle – Kids in the Street – **** – He’s at his best when he’s cheerful.

The Early November – Fifteen Years – ***

Elbow – Little Fictions – ***

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy – ****

Feist – Pleasure – ???

Gorillaz – Humanz – *** – Everything about this album is great except for Damon Alborn’s own contributions.

Aldous Harding – Party – ***

Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life – **

Joey Bada$$ – All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ – ****

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. – *** – It’s safe, and that’s not what Kendrick should be.

The Lulls in Traffic – Rabbit in the Snare – **

John Mayer – The Search for Everything – **

James Vincent McMorrow – True Care – ***

Methyl Ethel – Everything is Forgotten – ***

M.I.L.K. – A Memory of a Memory of a Photograph – ***

PJ Morton – Gumbo – ***

Phoenix – Ti Amo – *** – So fun, like always.

Real Estate – In Mind – **

Sampha – Process – ***

The Shins – Heartworms – ***

Slowdive – Slowdive – ****

SOHN – Rennen – **** – What a voice.

Sufjan Stevens et al – Planetarium – *** – This is actually, really an opera.

Chris Stapleton – From A Room, Pt I – ***

Sylvan Esso – What Now – ****

The XX – I See You – **** – Their best record, and one that finally soars.

On Age and Reconciliation

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on June 21, 2017

The smallest things can bring back a wellspring of memories so flush that the absence of the figures, the places, the smells and moments that created each one will be longed for so overwhelmingly as to supersede any wiser, calmer notions of present tense. Today I sat and waited through a simple slideshow commemorating the career of a lifelong officer in the Army, but the song that played over such militant bourgeois had with it the ability to conjure a past of my own – the song that played was typically reserved for soldiers who passed away and were then being memorialized, something I’ve sat through more times than a few. I hadn’t at any one time before known a soldier as a friend to have passed away, but to have gone through the act regularly to have then no longer heard the tune for nearly two years, put me right back there like the times before when it became passé. It put me right back in that place where I wish for all the earth that I could be 24 and in the Army again, but knowing all the while that every decision I’ve made that led to my exit has been the right one. These conflicting emotions are hard to reconcile.

As I get older, as each experience I endure becomes more rich, more colorful, more true, as I gain perspective looking back to understand the things I learned while I was young, I become more and more attached with the idea that their symbols will last forever. Even the past year when I was no longer in the Army and which I regard often as the hardest and most challenging mentally and physically, I find myself wishing I were back there to commiserate with those that needed commiseration. I wish that I were back in that bar serving beer and cooking hamburgers and finding company among the few others that understood how cruel the world had become, before I moved out to step back in line with the system that betrays us. A song maybe, or a certain color of the sunset, or even just the general sobriety that I keep these days can be enough to remind me that for a year and a half I was as if a child again with little obligations beyond paying my debts, which I was only just able to do, and the rest spent baking in the summer heat of a Texas sun while drinking cheap beer with my friends on the water we could find, the only peace available to those with little to spare. Even there, amongst the general confusion of a futureless existence, came peace a little a time.

Now with little present for sake of the future I am back to wishing I could have the world at my fingertips. I am reminded daily while working in the Army infrastructure that I once was the Army, in the uniform. Sitting next to me at all times is a framed collection of photographs that I made some years ago, photographs of the places that meant the most to me with the friends I kept – Paris, beaches of Italy, Salzburg winters, Netherlands adventures. And just as much as those moments shaped my entire existence, I think also of the hideous and despicable and asinine things that I was forced to endure just to have those few moments with those few great people – enduring gas houses, going sleepless for days wearing battle rattle, eating steaks off the desert floor, pushups for no reason, sleeping 50 to a tent, PT in the rain, yelled at constantly, standing in line all day, and above all, living with the knowledge that I could die if the circumstances were right.

There isn’t also a day that goes by that I know I haven’t made the right decisions. There isn’t a moment that I get home and not know that I’m in the right place because every time I look at the family I’ve got and things around me, only the things I love and need most, I know I’m going to be alright insofar as I’m allowed to control it. But when those times come and I haven’t seen or spoken to my friends in weeks, months, years, and I wonder where they are, I can’t reconcile that I wish I were back with them right then and right there, slapping each other’s helmets and telling jokes in the snow and missing chow time because we were greasing the cannon and working night shift in the winter and inspecting weapons and running in formation because we were friends and we hated everything we did but we did it together.

It’s hard to reconcile that time passes. I might still have my friends near me even after these changes if only the world didn’t separate us so casually, cast aside like figures on a map, each returning some way or another to a life they knew familiarly and hoping to stay in touch over the thousands of miles that now separates them. If only it weren’t so hard to get ahead and move freely about this planet, I’d have you all still near.

I’m working my way there. I just hope you can hang on until I get there.

On Good and Evil

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on January 26, 2017

We must remember the equal law of the universe. Perspective allows but timeliness denies the ability to see that things are as good as they are bad in equal measure. So for whichever you feel the direction the wind, hold also that it grows and shrinks for the opposite as well.

It would be easy to look around and say that things are as awful as they have ever been in a long time. But even 158 years ago, Dickens famously recognized that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The temerity of humanity hasn’t changed much. That in our ability to see further, imagine greater, and believe brighter, there lurks too stronger fears, more powerful hate, and terminal disbelief. The limits of each end are only defined by the reach of your knowledge.

For these fears to exist now, that we headed in a doomed direction, must then be because of the greater acknowledgement that we can do so much better. Just a few hundred years ago, there was not a real testament to the power of peace, but the wellspring of harmony spreads in the modern times only as the violence of war continues to reach every corner of the earth. They are as married as tide and the moon.

The fears that bring this about are of course very real. There are genuine concerns that the climate may buckle before our children grow old. There are real people dying everyday in a war that grows only in extremities and sees no end. There are people everyday dying in poverty, left without the programs in place needed to ensure their survival in an overcrowded world. There is an entire gender that has very little control over its reproductive system. But to recognize these is to know also that a future can exist without these issues. Equal parts good, bad.

I believe that this swing of things is the direct result of the positive steps taken in the recent past. While not fully developed in practice or politics, there is an increasing public awareness to the value of positivity, charity, and peace. Negative rhetoric only increases to combat an equal measure of positive rhetoric. And out from this war of words, ideas, facts, and beliefs, we have seen only one side “win,” insofar as allow it to be a victory. And it may even be a giant, leaping step in that direction. But not long ago there was a victory for good. For all these reasons, it may be an even bigger leap than the one we’re taking now. And then it’s the good’s turn.

For this we have to keep hope alive. It is unbound by the rules of good and evil, and exists only within your heart. Hope. The world continues to conspire to make evil of art, reason, fact, and existence, but we are still alive. There is no greater reason to rejoice than to celebrate that the streets are still full of good people. And a great deal of them are taking to the streets in increasing numbers.

So there in your home, keep hope alive. There in your workplace, keep hope alive. In your churches, your synagogues, your gardens and bowling alleys, keep hope alive. Everywhere we look go and gather, there are people in the great communion of the soul, conversing, cheering, arguing, and living in the splendor the human condition. It is by its definition an awful condition to be stricken with in our existence, but that only means we can achieve an equal amount of good if we recognize and overcome its terminal end. We are not meant to be here, and so the only choice is to make good of it.

Because without hope, we will meet only our end. We’ll meet our end anyway, but let’s make the choice to do it in peace. Here’s to optimism in the new world.

How Are You Doing?

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on January 12, 2017

Where are you? What are you doing? Is everything okay, now, there with you where you are? It’s been a long time but I haven’t forgotten you at all. I have a hard time living with the idea that I will never see you again because I haven’t forgotten a single one of you.

Over thirty years I’ve met a lot of people. I’d venture to say in the 20,000s or so. It seems absurd as a number, but really, think of the groups of people you’ve spent your life with each year: a different class of students yearly until the age of 18, sports teams, team mates and their parents and siblings, teachers, bus drivers, grocery workers, friends, class mates, and reaching college to know more students, athletes, professors, graduate assistants, then finally coworkers and their families and children and friends and everyone possible along the way that every shook your hand or smiled from the street. How are all of you?

On the start of my 31st year and fourth decade, my concerns are for you. Not in any way negative, but just simply that I have a hard time reconciling that I will never see any of you again. These are the lessons of my first thirty years.

The amount of people I learned to know and knew well amplified tenfold in a short window while in the Army. There, in basic training or overseas or in my garrison or just in passing while wearing the same uniform, I met thousands of wonderful people. Some stayed in my life for years while most were there for a day and sometimes a week or a bit longer. It was the nature of things, something that we were vocally taught by our superiors to embrace – life will lead many people to a million different possibilities. What I liked about this lesson was made clear upon my return to America, that something so evident in the vacuum of the army, was in fact true of all our lives. We go on our own ways, leaving behind everyone we’ve ever known. It’s not in neglect or for ill will. We each just got to do our thing.

So if you’re out there, I hope you are well. The world has conspired to change little in the years that have passed, and I hope you adjust admirably to the upcoming years ahead. Things are getting worse, and they’ve been consistently poor for most of our time now, and I worry about what will happen to each of us. I worry, really, for the sake of the world, but for those of you I’ve known, seen, met, loved, hated, fought for and against, you especially.

Without every single one of you, I would not be here today. I would be somewhere else, but I’m right happy to be here and having known all of you.

Let’s tackle the future ahead.

 

Best Music of 2016

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on December 18, 2016

[Critically, there’s some important things to clear our before getting to this: I don’t see the point in this, ranking music, anymore, as I don’t much see in anything since the 8th of November. There are much more pressing and dire needs that demand our attention, but yet, we continue to derive meaning as we can in a world that increasingly drains hope. The little hope that exists to overcome also persists the belief that I am myself unable or unneeded to embark change, that the greater and more able world at large will work out the good from the bad; when I no longer feel that is possible, I will instead be out there working to make change. Until then, I haven’t been and probably won’t ever able to articulate exactly what I feel about these times. The fun has been drained from things I before enjoyed, and that’s depression isn’t it. C’est la vie.]

Best Music of 2016

You will notice a theme emerges among the selections, a theme not of my own doing. The songs and albums present here represent a world-wide collection of artists and people and humans and beliefs, and many if not most have reached the same conclusion: things are bad and getting worse. The music listed here is a lot bit dark, damaging, and hard to listen to for the weak of heart. It’s soul and pattern is rooted in just not being able to find positivity in the current climate, and I hope more people will begin to see that the art reflects the times. This isn’t Britney Spears’s 1996 anymore. This is Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” and Common’s “Black America Again” and Blood Orange’s “Freetown Sound” and the return of A Tribe Called Quest to say something important. I hope everyone starts listening.

Albums

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar

Honorable mention pick because I myself don’t listen to this as much as possible, though I wouldn’t ask that of anyone – this is a dying man’s pitch for relief, and by its power and circumstance deserves ever credit it is given.

  1. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Opinions are divided heavily on Bon Iver’s third album, a strange amalgamation of dreams and nightmares filtered through vocoders and auto-tone. Underneath, however, is the same endearing Bon Iver that has always remained more in tune with the human spirit than many others, and yet here it is given Justin Vernon’s full voice and dynamic. I think this record is more clear and concise than his previous.

  1. Whitney – Light Upon The Lake

This album was a white light in a year of dreariness, and was the perfect soundtrack to a summer spent in requiem. It remains my place to go when I need hopeful distraction. A true return to power ballads and pop rock for the ageless.

  1. A Tribe Called Quest – We’ve Got It From Here, Thank U 4 Ur Service

There’s not a song that made my overall list, but that’s not the import of this album – it’s the first in a long line of what I hope is the anthem call for the times: of protest, of the black people, and of fuck this shit. Hip Hop will rule the future again if we hope for a better millennium.

  1. Solange – A Seat at the Table – Cover Art of the Year

See above; though in Solange’s defense, this is the R&B equivalent. The title says it all, which is more good than her sister has ever done for anything. Let’s make more music that demands protest.

  1. DIIV – Is The Is Are

I can’t ever get over just how in touch this record is with a seriously hard-to-pin feeling for our generation: one of onchalance and lack of direction amid chaos. There’s not much use in trying to understand what he’s saying, but the music drives and bloats until reaching a denouement that announces dark defeat, as we all may feel.

  1. Frank Ocean – Blonde

This is a Frank Ocean self-portrait, without his strongest tracks, but with his greatest vision. It’s the album he’s always wanted to make, and of course that means it’s top notch.

  1. Bloc Party – Hymns

This album is nowhere else found in anyone’s Best Of lists, and maybe that’s okay. The album is summed up well when Kele sings “See I don’t know what the future holds / but I hope we see it together / ‘cause rock and roll has got so old.” This is Bloc Party’s first truly sincere effort to speak from their heart, with its slow drag, empty melodies, and dark tones of growing old in a world that just doesn’t get it.

  1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Every other Best Of list has this album somewhere at 20, which is fine, because no one seems to be able to deny how great it is. But I feel there’s a point everyone has reached where they get tired of repeatedly saying “Radiohead put out the best record of the year” which they seemingly do, and have done here again. A Moon Shaped Pool is their magnum opus, as they’ve found a way to continue to surprise us not by drifting further from the center but instead by writing from the core. The simple acoustic melodies, stripped down production, and earthy tomes are derivative of Thom Yorke’s divorce, but have more to do with coming to peace than continuing to fight. As he cries in “Daydreaming” that the dreamers never learn, but the band is “just happy to serve you.” Their just trying to reconcile that art isn’t and hasn’t been enough, that no one has really ever listened to their pleas, and that life continues. From the best review of this record I read, Pool is a “middle-aged sigh of relief.” I’m right there with them.

  1. The 1975 – i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

There are many ways to describe and even listen to this record that reaches 78 minutes full. But amid their scrawling pastiche from power pop to synth rock to disco to hip hop to jazz, The 1975 have created a truly magnanimous piece of work. It’s so rich with details and layers that I continue to discover ways to enjoy each song with every listen. I can easily pick out a few tracks for a quick listen, or take it in full without feeling drained. They’ve found a way to do every thing possible, and pulled it off gloriously.

  1. Jim James – Eternally Even

Another example of using others’ reviews, this album has been described as Jim James’s What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye) moment; that is, that James has reached a boiling point. His music cries for peace, understanding, and effort. Truly workable, physical effort from everyone. In the same way that Radiohead reconciles their place in a hopeless world, James speaks as clearly that he remains Eternally Even in a world where “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger” and things get worse. And in a year without hope, and a year full of records expressing just that, Eternally Even is the king for only just a little bit of hope.

Songs

20. “Kiss It Better” – Rihanna

“Been waiting on that sunshine boy, I think I need that back.”

19. “Angela’s Eyes” – Guy Garvey

“Good book but you got no proof.”

18. “Girl Loves Me” – David Bowie

“Where the fuck did Monday go?”

17. “Waste of Breath” – DIIV

Spot on, listen to this shit: “It’s no good, it’s a waste of breath to tell the man in me that he’s got something better to do.”

16. “Dull Times/The Moon” – Band of Horses

“Listen close wherever you go, dull times let ’em seep into your bones.”

15. “If I Believe You” – The 1975

“I mean, if it was you that made me you probably shouldn’t have made me atheist.”

14. “White Ferrari” – Frank Ocean

“So I text to speak, lesser speeds / Texas speed, yes.”

13. “Landed On Mars” – Atlas Bound

“Got to the side on what I should focus on, I’m just a participant.”

12. “No Matter Where We Go” – Whitney

“We’ll make a livin’ darlin’, down the road.”

11. “Don’t Touch My Hair” – Solange

“Don’t touch my hair when it’s the feelings I wear.”

10. “Moving On” – Roosevelt

“Moving on so I just see this is on my own.”

9. “True Love Waits” – Radiohead

Line of our generation: “I’m not living, I’m just killing time.”

8. “Different Drugs” – Bloc Party

“It’s like we’re on different drugs.”

7. “Normal American Kids” – Wilco

For everyone who’s ever wondered why people try to fit in: “Remind myself long ago, ‘fore I could drive and ‘fore I could vote, all the time holding a grudge ‘fore I knew people could die just because.”

6.“715 – CR∑∑KS” – Bon Iver

“Turn around, you’re my A-team.”

5. “Best To You” – Blood Orange

“Part of me is faking, faking it all just for fun.”

4. “Somebody Else” – The 1975

“I’m looking through you while you’re looking through your phone and leaving with somebody else.”

3. “Present Tense” – Radiohead

“This dance, it’s like a weapon in self-defense against the present tense.”

2. “Here In Spirit” – Jim James

“If you don’t speak out, we can’t hear it.”

1. “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West

This is the greatest song of the millennium, by a wide and untouchable margin.

“I’m tryin’ to keep my faith.”

 

 

The lot from which I have collected and thus chosen:

The 1975 – i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

Atlas Bound – Lullaby EP

Bad Suns – Disappear Here

Band of Horses – Why Are You OK

Bat for Lashes – The Bride

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – Call It What It Is

Blink 182 – California

Bloc Party – Hymns

Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Chairlift – Moth

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Common – Black America Again

David Bowie – Blackstar

Deftones – Gore

Dopelemon – Honey Bones

Dr. Dog – Psychedelic Swamp

Dr. Dog – Abandoned Mansion

Drake – Views

Dylan, Bob – Fallen Angels

Chairlift – The Moth

Deftones – Gore

DIIV – Is The Is Are

Drake – Views

Explosions In The Sky – The Wilderness

Gallant – Ology

Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall

Honne – Gone Are The Days [Shimokita Import]

Honne – Warm On A Cold Night

  1. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only

Jim James – Eternally Even

The Jezabels – Synthia

Kings of Leon – Walls

Lapsley – Long Way Home

Lily & Madeleine – Keep It Together

Little Green Cars – Ephemera

Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

M83 – Junk

Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are

Olsen, Angel – Woman

Peter, Bjorn, & John – Breakin’ Point

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

Roosevelt – Roosevelt

Rüfüs – Bloom

Shura – Nothing’s Real

Solange – A Seat at the Table

St. Lucia – Matter

A Tribe Called Quest – …We’ve Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Ur Service

Travis – Everything at Once

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

White Lies – Friends

Whitney – Light Upon The Lake

Wilco – Schmilco

Wye Oak – Tween

Nico Yaryan – What a Tease