I’m going home.

I’m going away to leave you
I’m going to leave you in disgrace
Nothing in my favour
Got the wind in my face

I’m going home
hey, hey, hey, over the hill
Over the hill
hey, hey, hey, over the hill

(Over the Hill – John Martyn)


Covers are a tricky thing. On one hand, you adore the song. This is an absolute fact and necessary prerequisite because it obviously meant enough for you to choose it to cover, & the last thing you’d want to do is to butcher the song that holds so many tender memories for you. On the other hand, to do it the exact same way with the same instruments & arrangements & harmonies would be to remain at a creative standstill, to be trite & spiritless.

So therein lies the question – how does one pay proper homage to the artist & the work of art & at the same time take it a step further?

Well, I’ve got no clue. I just know that it happens occasionally when the right people are all in the right place at the right time. Michael Kiwanuka, Ben Howard & band, The Staves & Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons) covering John Martyn’s 1973 hit Over The Hill on the Austin to Boston tour is a perfect example of that rare moment – slowed-down, wistful, evocative & yet distinctive from the original. It sounds like a kind of yearning, doesn’t it? Like a natural beckoning. I’m going home… hey hey hey, over the hill.

Here’s another fantastic cover of one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands ever.

Half of the time we’re gone
but we don’t know where
& we don’t know where
Here I am
The only living boy in New York…

The Man Who Ate Everything

51oN-+yuIsL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

“Today’s mania for take-out food & the disappearance of home cooking have two related causes – smaller households & working women. (No man ever gave up cooking because he went back to work.) Are these trends likely to continue? With the aid of a see-through plastic ruler, I have projected the past twenty-five years of U.S. Census Bureau figures into the future, & the results are chilling.

Item: by the year 2050 the average family size will have decreased to about one person. everyone in America will be living alone.

Item: All women older than eighteen will be working outside the home.

Item: All women will be older than eighteen.

The inevitable conclusion is that by the year 2050, everyone will order take-out food at every meal.

Eating will become extremely expensive. You will need an annual income of at least $392, 114 in current dollars to get by. Grazing my way from one end of Manhattan to the other, I found that a modestly upscale take-out breakfast, lunch & dinner cost $40 plus $7 for taxi or $54, 896 a year for an average family of 3.2 persons. Department of Agriculture figures show that the average American family spends 14 percent of its income on food. Therefore, it must earn $392, 114 a year.

Finding good take-out food is not easy. Searching it out will become your full-time occupation in the year 2050, more than cooking ever was. Americans will once again become a lonely race of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers prowling the darkened city streets, wallets honed & sharpened, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting pint of pasta primavera & snare the slow-footed slice of pâtĂŠ de campagne. We will scarcely have time to eat.”

How We Live Today
April 1988
an excerpt from “The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten


A month ago, I found out that my favourite food magazine subscription Lucky Peach was halting publication because of “creative differences” between David Chang (chef & owner of Momofuku) & veteran food writer Peter Meehan. That magazine was a staple part of my diet (ha…) & I was devastated for about two days until I was recommended this book. It’s a relief to get my necessary dose of satirical food writing! Read this collection of essays by Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten if you’re in need of a good laugh.

On the Road – Austin to Boston

PSTRAIN_AUSTIN_BOSTON_670.jpg

“As itinerant musicians, we find ourselves here quite often, saying farewell again & again… After all the road is just one long goodbye.


I’ve been listening to The Staves a lot lately (something about their music resonates in this season) & a music producer friend of mine recommended that I watch this documentary chronicling their 2012 American tour with Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff & Bear’s Den because it “outlined the reality & the romanticism of music-making & touring”. So I did, & it was just that: filled with powerful moments, featuring in equal measure the rapturous music & the people who made it, all twenty-five of them.

tumblr_nccsy4a9M61tlhdexo2_r1_1280

The story is simple: In 2006, Ben Lovett (Mumford & Sons) & Kevin Jones (Bear’s Den), frustrated by the lack of live gig exposure for talented singer-songwriters founded the concert promoter, music label, & recording house Communion, & began planning these fantastic single shows & tours all across the US & the UK, bringing lesser-known artistes & their music to all sorts of venues – concert halls, chapels, bars, rooftops, friends’ backyards, & so on. Austin to Boston charts the 2-week, 10-show, 4000-mile journey a bunch of bands take across America in 5 Volkswagen vans, one journey bleeding into another.

xQcTG08on6EwrnfxqaZmNWJq3EG

“When I think of Ben Lovett, I think of time travel. Old factory dreamer.”

(Gill Landry, tour driver)

“You know, this is a hard tour. People are exhausted. Everyone’s just pulling together & there’s no hierarchy & everyone’s just here because you feel part of something & that’s kind of embodied by the vans, you know, that’s like symbolised by the vans. We’re not in some big corporate tour bus or whatever. We’re in these little shitty little vans. Communion is like a camper van. It doesn’t work very well, it’s disorganised, it breaks down all the time but it still feels really nice when you’re in it. You know what I mean?”

(Kevin Jones, Bear’s Den & Co-founder of Communion)

6637812-3x2-700x467

I think that touring in buses or vans is something of a time past in this age of plane travel, but I get what they mean, even with my little experience in this field. Music is always a magical thing, but music shared with strangers (who become new friends, & then family) across time & space becomes a transcendental experience. You know what I mean, don’t you, the swell? The perfect moment. I am always chasing it, & always finding it in unexpected places.

tumblr_nd2jllueVb1tlhdexo1_1280

“I like moving. I think it’s nice to always have a base & go back to it. Always in transit & kind of popping through places. Sometimes it’s really cool & sometimes it’s frustrating, but most of the time it’s a blessing. You get to see places like this… I’ll probably never come here again. You get those little moments where you’re like, ‘memory photo’, & then you move on. I don’t know what it is… I think anyone on this trip will tell you it kind of gets in your blood.”

(Ben Howard)

In this documentary though, it is not hard to find the perfect moment because the music is just so good… Ben Howard, the “indie snob’s John Mayer” & crazy, creative savant, ripping up the stage every night with his leftie-Fenders & wonderfully talented friends India Bourne & Chris Bond. & then there is the folk genius that is The Staves, who evoke mountains of tenderness with a single other-worldly, soaring harmony. With their songs, Emily, Jessica & Camilla render every room vibrating, every person speechless.

87770005.jpg

TheStavesPressShot_Nov2014

“When I first heard The Staves, it was like being called by sirens from across a dark & silent sea. It’s hard not to be struck by their beauty when they walk on the stage… but when their harmonies set in, you’re done. You’re just done.”

(Gill Landry)

& there was the unexpected treat – the storytelling of Nathaniel Rateliff, so full of raw pain & truth, the only artiste I had not heard of before this documentary but whose music & stories struck me the most & made me cry. & of course not to leave out Bear’s Den, the youngest of the ragtag crew, with their deep, blossoming vocals & strings.

maxresdefault (1)87620006

Between Gill Landry’s (Old Crow Medicine Show, The Kitchen Syncopators) deep drawling narration & the distinctive direction & cinematography by James Marcus Haney (No Cameras Allowed) – an interweaving of gritty, b-roll footage, lens flares, high-contrast stage shots & intimate warm lighting – Austin to Boston captures the bittersweetness of old-fashioned touring perfectly, the grime & the splendour of being on the road, the friendships forged & the euphoric moment of a note sang well & sweet.

site_group

“& the same way it came together, it parted. Since this tour has ended we’ve crossed paths many times & many places. Sometimes you can be quite far down a road you didn’t even know you were on. The draw of touring can be so strong that years can pass before you even stop to question why you’re even doing in the first place. Why make all those miles to perform to total strangers in far-off towns? Why leave all your loved ones behind to live out of suitcases & shit hotels & the back of vans? I suppose the answer I give myself is because it’s a damn good time. & so the road is one long goodbye & here we are, again… again… again.”

I am of blood & of bones & of heart & of head

  1. Vacation – Florist
  2. Is This Called Home – Lucy Rose
  3. Slacks – Valley
  4. The Moon Song – Karen O & Ezra Koenig
  5. Train Tracks – The Staves
  6. Something – Julien Baker
  7. Werewolf – Fiona Apple
  8. Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens
  9. Cool & Refreshing – Florist
  10. The Fall of Home – Los Campesinos!
  11. Eagle Song – The Staves

The magic of folk music is derived primarily from the center stage that lyric takes in the performance of a song, a quality so rare in this day that it harkens back to a time past, back to the days of confessional poetry & its giants: Sylvia Plath & John Berryman & Anne Sexton.

If one were to analyse it, one would find that good folk lyrics perfectly balance the extremes of self-obsession & low self-esteem, landing on that stark line of idiosyncratic story-telling. To put it simply, good folk lyrics are honest & by that effect, allows others to express themselves in the same way. Music doesn’t always have to be about making a political statement. Instead, let’s talk – talk about childhood, faith, love, depression & death.

I don’t know how to be
What I wanted to be when I was 5
Sometimes blue eyes sometimes green

Bike rides
Snow hikes & Christmas lights
Sometimes freezing sometimes warm
I don’t know if I can love that anymore

Cause I got it all
I’ve got it all mistaken
for a meaningful life & a fun family vacation
like when I used to ride roller coasters with my dad
when a swimming pool in a hotel was a gift from God

like love or like a family
I don’t know how to be …

(Vacation – Florist)

You don’t know how to be, but neither do I. I’m figuring it out, so take your time.

Here’s one more.

Call me in the morning I’ll be alright
Call me in the morning I’ll be alright
Call me little honey & I’ll be fine

Call me in the morning I’ll be okay
Call me in the morning I’m far away
Call me little darling & I’ll be fine

“It Hurts to be Alive & Obsolete” – 20th Century Women

womenposter

When you were born I told you life was very big & unknown. There were animals & cities & music… you’d fall in love, have passions, have meaning, but now it’s 1979 & nothing means anything, & I know you less everyday.”


The Clash. Jimmy Carter. The pill & feminism. It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara, California & free-spirited, single mother Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) worries about the growing distance between herself & her 15-year-old son Jamie & the lack of a strong male role model in his life. She enlists the help of two women to help “raise” him: Abbie (Greta Gerwig), Dorothea’s tenant & a talented photographer who is well-versed in women’s liberation & the punk rock scene as well as Julie (Elle Fanning), an independent & promiscuous 17-year-old who is simultaneously Jamie’s best friend & love interest. A kind but hapless Billy Crudup features as William, a live-in handyman & car mechanic who does pottery in his spare time & can’t quite seem to get a grip on why he does the things he does. Together, this ragtag bunch make up a bohemian family who attempts to navigate life in a turbulent time in history or at the very least, get by.

20th-century-women-hollywood-movie-images

Dorothea: Men always feel like they have to fix things for women or they’re not doing anything but some things can’t be fixed. Just be there. Somehow that’s hard for all of you.

Jamie: Ma, I’m not all men. I’m just me.

Dorothea: Well, yes & no.

20th-century-women-2017-annette-bening

Dorothea: I just think that having your heart broken is a tremendous way to learn about the world… & wondering if you’re happy is a great shortcut to just being depressed.

I won’t go into details – you can read a proper review here – but you must know that this film is a beautiful masterpiece & one of importance. I don’t think I’ve felt this way about a movie since Amelie or Phoebe in Wonderland, or anything from the Wes Anderson catalogue. It educates, yet reaches deep; it has profound historical significance, yet is relevant to any time & place & person. Through its curious mix of light & dark, its dramatic & comic tenors, this film has moved me inherently & perhaps not in the way one would expect.

greta-gerwig-20th-century-women

Dorothea: (listening to punk rock records) What is that?

Abbie: It’s The Raincoats.

Dorothea: Can’t things just be pretty?

Jamie: Pretty music is used to hide how unfair & corrupt society is.

Dorothea: Ah, okay so… they’re not very good, & they know that, right?

Abbie: Yeah, it’s like they’ve got this feeling & they don’t have any skill, & they don’t want skill, because it’s really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that’s raw. Isn’t it great?

screenshot-2017-02-26-22-29-43

Julie: (on having sex) Half of the time I regret it.

Jamie: Then why do you do it?

Julie: Because half of the time I don’t regret it. 

The cinematography & soundtrack & the poetic script are stunning, the dialogue is peppered with all the right kinds of pop-culture & literature references, but most importantly, the characters are well-crafted & intriguing. After you’ve watched enough films, you’ll find that what makes them compelling isn’t the love story or the happy ending, but the exploration of the people themselves. It’s not about what happens, but who it happens to, & why. 20th Century Women demonstrates this wonderfully, & is all at once a study of gender & generational differences, an accurate depiction of the fickleness & frustration of family, & a tender yet aching coming-of-age film. At one point or another, it hurts to be alive & obsolete…

20th-century-women-e1475012467490

Julie: This is just my opinion. I think being strong is the most important quality. It’s not being vulnerable, it’s not being sensitive, it’s not even being… honestly, it’s not even being happy. It’s about strength, & your durability to get to the other emotions.

I’ll leave you with that.

It Hurts!

Processed with VSCOcam with f3 preset Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

(currently listening)

  1. Way It Goes – Hippo Campus
  2. Super America – Bad Bad Hats
  3. Love That’s Gone – La Sera
  4. Brooklyn – Fickle Friends
  5. Jennifer – Little Comets
  6. Away from Today – Dan Croll
  7. Talk Too Much – COIN
  8. Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
  9. Wait Up – Roosevelt
  10. Not A One – The Young Wild
  11. Until We Get There – Lucius
  12. Musicians – Gold Motel

Lo-Fi

(adj.) Short for lo-fidelity. The production or reproduction of audio characterised by an unpolished or rough sound quality. First known usage: 1957.


Once, I hitched a ride with an older couple from Malaysia to Singapore after a weekend church retreat & we got stuck at the causeway for a couple of hours. That was when the husband said that we should all take turns to play some songs off our own devices because all the radio waves were still staticky & it would be interesting to know each other’s music tastes & so I plugged in my phone & played them a few tracks off Gold Motel’s Brand New Kind of Blue record. I thought they would like the songs because they were bright & nostalgic & summer-y but then when I asked what they thought, the husband turned around & said, they’re alright I guess, but they’re a bit juvenile, don’t you think?

Oof. Well, I suppose they are:

“Forget it all, it’s just a sun-drenched dream
I bet you make a good memory
I’ll come back soon, when you least assume
Oh, Santa Cruz”

(Santa Cruz – Gold Motel)

“Pluck a heart-string, duck for cover
Hear the phone ring, start to stutter
He wants to know why I sit & sigh so
I yelled your name like a secret out the window
Oh, the night is so young
It hurts!” 

(It Hurts – Bad Bad Hats)

The thing is, I would like to write a lo-fi, “juvenile” love song but I just don’t know how. I think it’s one of the hardest things to write. I did a gig last Saturday with some friends & while it was fun to play Quiet Man & Santorini & Waves, the artists before & after us all had their fair share of juvenile love songs about high school crushes / cheesy declarations of love / bad break ups & I just realised that I didn’t have anything like that in my song repertoire. Just songs about cities or fictional creatures. Hmmm.

I suppose that artists like Gold Motel & Bad Bad Hats appeal to me because the songs they write always seem raw & tender & almost Bukowskian in all their juvenility. No frills or poetic anguish to hide behind. Sometimes that summer road trip really feels extraordinary & transcendent, or that break up just plain sucks. Sometimes, the best way to describe what you’re feeling is to write a two-minute, two-chord song, & shout: It Hurts!