I just think it’s neat. That is all.
This is–almost!–the last album in this series (though not the last album released). It’s taken me so long to get through this listen-along that the Bosstones have released another album in the interim (When God Was Great). Also because of how long I’ve been doing this, it no longer feels like a cohesive project, though of course you can read all the rest of them easily enough. But it was fun to have something specific to get me listening to these albums again, and recounting memories.
The Magic of Youth came out in 2011, a year that seems impossibly long ago (surely the album’s only been out for like 3-4 years, not 10?). It’s their second post-hiatus album release, after Pin Points & Gin Joints.
I have delayed hitting play while I wrote my little introduction, because the album starts with a bang and I know I won’t have much time to futz around. It starts with bass and distorted guitar. Even the horns sound kinda angry. This song gives me chills, I don’t know why. “Do everything that we want to do/Try everything there is to try/There’s nothing out there stopping me or you/Do everything before we die.”
It’s kind of got “fuck it,” vibes, and “Let’s do this” vibes. A reminder that the biggest thing stopping you in any endeavor might just be yourself (especially, she added editorially, if you’re white and straight and middle/upper class). There’s a little swoopy part in the middle that’s like a tiny dance break (I always see Ben in my head when this part of the song goes by) before it kicks back in again. This song is a great album opener. And set opener, I love hearing the Bosstones play this live.
“Like a Shotgun” is, I think, either about Dicky falling in love or about becoming a father, which I think he did around this time. There’s some shades of “That Bug Bit Me” in this, where it feels like he’s talking metaphorically and literally at the same time. I like to sing along with this song, and it’s great live, just carries you along, but I don’t feel a huge personal connection to the lyrics.
Both of these songs (and more and more with the Bosstones, throughout their history) have a lot of sonic layering going on. It’s more complex now than it was early in their careers when they just cranked the distortion on the guitars and Dicky’s voice up to 11. But “Shotgun,” especially, manages to approximate the overwhelming noise that is being at a concert, with the horns and the amps and the PA system and the noise of the crowd all mixing together to make this wall that feels almost physical at times.
“Disappearing,” by contrast, has these quiet moments where there’s not much happening other than the drums and the horns. Joe Sirois also has one of my all time favorite drum breakdowns in this song (in 2012, I think, I went to the Throwdown, and I was really excited to hear Sirois do this solo live but instead they had the Dropkick Murphys’ drummer Matt on stage to share the solo with him, which was cool but also disappointing). I think it’s a snare drum that’s tuned really tight so it sounds more hollow than snappy? Look I don’t know, I’m not a drummer. But it is neat. That’s all.
“Sunday Afternoons on Wisdom Ave” is a more fun, sorta lighthearted song about a chunk of Dicky’s childhood. The keyboards is doing a lot of the work of the ska rhythm here, harmonizing with the guitars. (I realize that I’m a person who is almost always focused primarily on vocals, trying to find ways to talk about the music. There’s a lot to listen to and pay attention [HAHA I see what I did there] to on the instrumentals on this album. I apologize to anyone who’s an actual musician, reading me try to articulate what I’m hearing is probably painful. I’m also trying really hard to not mention Phil fucking Ramone).
Looking at the track list, the first five tracks on this album get played at their shows pretty regularly. I know that other Bosstones fans have kept track of setlists (there’s a spreadsheet that I could find if I went looking) and at this point have a database of ever single song and how often it’s played. I wonder if anyone’s calculated the prevalance of songs per album in live set lists (they probably have).
“They Will Need Music,” though it’s basically in the middle of the album (holy smokes we’re already in the middle of the album?) is often near the end of their set. Very end? It’s fun and triumphant. I’m just losing myself in a reverie of seeing the Bosstones in person, now. The lights and the noise and Matty picking me up so I can see and the circle pit and Lerch picking me up when I fall and other people’s sweat and confetti coming out of the ceiling…sigh. The outro on this song is JG (the keyboard player) getting to have a little solo mess around time (like, completely solo, like he’s alone on stage), kinda ragtimey, it’s fun. I think there are people who don’t like this song or are tired of it (just as there are people who don’t like “Death Valley Vipers, which, I just don’t understand), but those people are wrong.
“The Package Store Petition,” I don’t think I’ve ever heard them play this song live? It’s okay, not my favorite. One of those songs where Dicky is telling a story that’s not exactly his–he’s putting himself in this other guy’s head, I mean, and telling a story from that perspective. There’s tension in the horns, giving away that there’s some bad things going on. It’s one of those songs where the Bosstones manage to sound more threatening during the quiet parts? Oh, now that I hear Dicky sing “It’s hell they’ll caaaaaatch,” I think I have heard this song live. That’s bringing back some memories.
Have I seen the Bosstones live so often that now I can transplant any of their songs into a live situation? Some people know exactly how many times they’ve seen the Bosstones, I used to but I lost count sometime in 2004 around show 26 (I could probably go back and count, I keep ticket stubs and things). I know that I’m well above 50. At this point, it’s just as much about seeing people in the crowd as it is about seeing the Bosstones. I never really had friends to go to shows with in high school and college–eventually I made some, but my mental default to going to shows is still that I go by myself. Bosstones shows are really the only time when I go to a show to see more than just the band–I get to hang out with Bill and Steve and Matty and Lerch and Will and Xtine and Jonathan and Skippy and Flynn and Audrey and Chris and Boston and Caitlin and Nick and Phyro and and and and. It’s good to see people you know in the pit. It’s good to make plans to get beers before or (and?) after.
“The Horseshoe and the Rabbit’s Foot.” The horns in the intro to this song always make me want to dance like Molly Ringwold in The Breakfast Club. (LOL, the dog just groaned at me. I think he needs to go for a walk. Album’s almost done, dog.) (Also, look, I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a little bit to come up with things to talk about here, can I just skip to the end and babble about “Open and Honest”? Though, really, what I love about Open & Honest is that it’s full of references to their previous songs/albums which is hard to chart in a blog entry, so you might as well just go and see that I annotated it on genius dot com.
“The Magic of Youth” is a little bit like “Toxic Toast” and a little bit like “She Just Happened,” though less optimistic and nostalgic than either of those. Which is funny, because the title on its own is sweet and nostalgic–but there’s an edge to the lyrics that isn’t really there in “Toxic Toast.” There’s so many signifiers of downright poverty in the lyrics–“Do things on shoe strings to make the ends meet/Cut costs and corners in order to eat/Low income housing they couldn’t afford/Bills and collectors that they just ignored” If you’re in low income housing and you’re still dodging bills and “cutting corners” (I assume that means stealing) in order to eat….you’re in a pretty bad place. Up against the wall. In “Toxic Toast,” the characters in that song are broke as shit, and know it, and don’t care. They’re having fun. They’re young and dumb and okay with it. This song? Isn’t about that sort of being broke. This is about drugs, and doing shit you don’t want to do just to keep both ends of your body together.
I’m not sure if the couple in this song have a happy ending? The song says they stay together, “older and sickly and waiting to die.” Who knows how old “old” is, here, though. And who knows how long they could keep going with the particular hustles that are mentioned in this song, or what they started doing when those gave out.
“The Upper Hand.” I’m listening to the intro on this song and obviously I’ve heard it a bunch, but I’m realizing that I don’t actually know any of the lyrics or what this song is about. It’s managed to escape me. Onward!
“The Ballad of Candlepin Paul.” The Bosstones played this song once at a Throwdown with the real Candlepin Paul there in attendance. I think Dicky wrote this song at least partly as a joke and/or to annoy the Dropkick Murphys’ bassist and vocalist Ken Casey. But it’s also about Boston history, so who knows, maybe it’s 100% sincere (in keeping with Dicky’s general lyrical themes of contrast, and metaphors vs literals and things like that, it’s useful to view Dicky as Schroedinger’s Lyricist: He is both 100% sincere and 100% silly and full of shit, all at the same time). I admit that this is one of those songs where I kinda go, “Sooooo you had a finite amount of money and time to spend in a studio and you decided to do this with it,” not because the song is bad or anything like that, but just because….motherfuckers wrote a song about bowling. Bowling.
Okay! “Open and Honest.” Great fucking song. Is just crying out for a montagey music video. When I realized that this was the song I would be discussing last, I was actually really excited. Like what a great way to cap off my years-long series. And then, as I mentioned, the Bosstones put out a new album, so I have to review that at some point. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.
The song references all of the Bosstones’ pre-hiatus studio albums (Devil’s Night Out, More Noise & Other Disturbances, Don’t Know How to Party, Question the Answers, Let’s Face It, and Pay Attention). The references are not quite in order of album release which honestly bothers me a little bit (I bet it bothers Dicky too), but sometimes you have to make sacrifices so that things can rhyme.
- “May I say we’ve been this way now since the day we met the devil”
- “We won’t be bought and sold controlled or told he don’t know how to revel”
- “The noise you’ve been hearing, the culmination of an awful lot of people caring”
- “Let’s face what you’re afraid of”
- “You don’t know when they might throw at you a curveball or a question”
- “So let’s not mention who you paid attention to”
The last words of the song (and the album) are, “Nothing left to say, thank you.” Which I’m pretty sure is just referring to this song/album, not the band as a whole (especially since they’ve released two albums since then). But it also sorta encapsulates how I feel (not that I’m going to let that stop me from saying more) about the Bosstones: Nothing left to say, thank you.
(Maybe if I just tell myself that updating my blog every other month is a fine goal to have, I’ll stop feeling like a blogging failure?
Anyway, I managed to write a thing that felt like a blog entry, on running and crutches. This whole post is one long subtweet, yes it is.)
In a lot of sports and sports-like activities, particularly ones where adults get involved to “challenge themselves” and “reach their potential,” (anything that involves SCIENCE and GEAR and THE SCIENCE OF GEAR, plus a certain percentage of participants with a certain amount of disposable income), there are plenty conversations in forums and stuff about what’s the Best Way to do the thing. Which shoes? Which heart rate monitor? Which bicycle? Which weight lifting routine? And most of these conversations are fine and fun to have (and essential for newbies and the empowerment of newbies). But sometimes they tip into this weird space where people start buying into some objective “best” way to do the thing, rather than understanding that “best” is whatever way works for you, individual person who is doing the thing. They talk about things like “finding the limits of the human body” and “being my best self” and avoiding “crutches,” like there is this space where the human body can operate outside the constraints of space, culture, and learned human experience. They talk about things being Optimal.
When I first started running, I didn’t have a smart watch or a smart phone, and was without a reliable way to measure my speed or distance. I downloaded a Couch to 5K app to my iPod, so I had audible cues (in the form of a very nice British lady) that told me how long the next run would be, when to start, when to stop, all that. But since I was using an iPod, which has no data plan and thus no GPS, I had no way to track the distance I covered on my runs. I just stepped out my door, started running when the lady told me to run, turned back toward home when she said we were halfway through, and stopped when she told me to stop. I made a very specific playlist that was arranged in a certain way to supplement the app’s audio cues. Eventually I transitioned away from running with the C25k app, but by that time I’d imprinted on the playlist, and continued using it for years.
The first song was “The Foggy Dew” by the Chieftains, with Sinead O’Connor. There’s tension in the song, but it’s slow, and it’s almost five minutes long. It was my walking warmup song. This was immediately followed by “Swagger” by Flogging Molly (the studio version off of Drunken Lullabies). “Swagger” is when you pickup your feet and start running. (The song is mostly an instrumental, with the only words being in the chorus: “Tell me where are you going? I don’t know where I’m going,” which seemed apt.) Somewhere in the middle of the playlist there’s always a song either by Koko Taylor or the Blind Boys of Alabama–upbeat enough for me to keep running if I wanted to, but if I was really struggling, it was a song where I could stop and walk for a few minutes. Immediately after the “take a break” song, though, is “I Am The Doctor,” the Eleventh Doctor’s “action theme” from Doctor Who. You do not walk during the Doctor’s song. Not ever. Pick up your feet and go.
Second to last is “Graffiti Worth Reading,” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, which starts with the trombone player yelling, “The end is near!” Last song was “Walking Is Still Honest” by Against Me!–another song that I could run to if I wished, but if I was wiped out, I could walk to it too. Walking is still honest, as Laura Jane Grace says.
I added songs in the middle, as I got better and better at running and was setting out for longer/farther runs, but the bones of it–beginning/middle/end–stayed the same for years. I have a pavlovian response to certain bits of it now. “Swagger” is always a song that makes me want to pick up and run, for example. Same with a lot of Doctor Who music. If I listen to one of the songs, my brain will automatically cue up the next one on the list.
At some point, I started getting a better sense of my pace, and also the circumference of a lot of the parks in my city, so I no longer have to approximate distance based on the length of my playlist. Now when I leave my house, I plan on doing a certain number of laps of the park, not a certain number of songs. I’ve even branched out musically! I’ll listen to the Hamilton soundtrack and just imagine it in my head as I run. Act I, at least, is great for running. (Not so much Act II where there’s multiple songs that make me cry, but I’m a really slow runner so I can go for five or six miles before Act I ends.) I’ve been trying to get back to my running playlist so I don’t overplay Hamilton (can you overplay Hamilton? Unsure). I don’t have unlimited data so I still don’t run with playlists from Spotify or whatever. I make them in my music app.
I like running to music, clearly. Making playlists and such is a way for me to interact with running outside of the actual part where I have to leave my house and put my feet to the pavement. And it’s also–especially as my listening time gets more and more dominated by podcasts–often where I end up listening to music, these days, instead of to podcasts.
There’s some that say that they don’t want to run with music because it’s a “crutch,” like a run that you do with headphones is somehow less legitimate, or not as big of an accomplishment, as one done without music. I would posit that Crutches Are Good Actually? Literal crutches are a tool that gives increased mobility and stamina to people who don’t get enough of either of those things from their bodies. If it gets you out and running (or walking) that’s good. Using aids is good. If you’re new to running, you should definitely experiment and see which works better for you (some folks run better without music), but with music or without, neither is inherently better than the other. (Unless your music is so loud that you aren’t aware of your surroundings and you get run over by a park attendant in a golf cart. That’s bad.) If you’re the sort of person who hates running without music, don’t subject yourself to it just because you’ve bought into some weird paradigm that running without a tool is better than running with one. There’s nothing about running with music that makes it inherently worse than running without–there’s only what works for you, an individual person.
When I first started running, I was depressed as hell. I was living in New York City and doing a lot of exercising because a) I had access to a gym for free and figured I should use it because when do you ever get free gym access, and b) you’re supposed to exercise when you’re depressed because exercise makes you less depressed (I understand that the actual argument/science is more nuanced than that, but in my depressed and nonthinking state, that was basically the extent to which I was able to explain it to myself). I do remember trying to build a running routine in Colorado before I left, so on some level I was carrying on with that, but also I was running explicitly because I knew that running was Good and binge-watching entire seasons of The Biggest Loser on my computer before falling asleep was Bad. I didn’t even have real running shoes (just vegan saucony jazzes) or shorts (just these cotton cargo pants from Old Navy with an elastic waist). I remember running at night through Columbia’s campus, or up and down the Riverside Park. I never felt like I was going fast. I never felt like a runner. I don’t remember ever feeling a “runner’s high.” I ran because it was supposed to be good for you. In my memory, I never even got my feet off the ground. I just…puttered. That’s my memory colored by depression, though.
When I moved back to Colorado, I tried again, this time with my roommates’ dog to help motivate me. I finally built up some momentum, and finally started running regularly and building a habit. I still had a pair of tights from when I’d played soccer like 15 years before, and umbro shorts. A pair of cotton yoga pants. I bought trail running shoes (for running in the park and on the roads), and that was my gear. That first year, I wore out the crotch in the old soccer tights. I bought new running tights, on clearance at REI, and that’s how I ended up with a thick, winter-weight pair. But I ran in them anyway, in all weather. I ran a mile without stopping, then I ran 20 minutes without stopping, then I ran a 5k. Then a 10k. Then a half marathon. I ran to Wash Park (a few miles from my house) and back.
(Then last year, I got tendonitis in one knee, and something else made the other one hurt, and then I stopped going to the gym to lift and then the pandemic happened and my running slowly petered out. Every time I try to run right now, my knees/legs hurt for the first mile and a half.)
I still don’t have a smartwatch. I had a fitbit for a little while, but it made my wrist itch and I never used the information in a way that actually helped with my training or made me faster. I still don’t have a heart rate monitor. I still buy all of my running tights on clearance, and my running shirts are all the free ones that you get when you sign up for a race. I splurge on running shoes, but that’s because I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. So I have this one running playlist, and my semi-fancy shoes. Those are my crutches, and if I thought anyone was actually going to take them away from me or even cared that much, I would say that you can pry them from my cold dead hands.
If an NBA player listening to a specific playlist to hype himself up before a game, is that a crutch? Or a baseball player who wears the same socks throughout the playoffs? Or a hockey player growing a playoff beard? What point of expertise do you have to reach before crutches/routine/superstitions are no longer frowned upon, but are just cute and quirky? Or part of being a professional?
tl;dr: Just run. Do the thing. You don’t have to be fast. You don’t need fancy tools. You can run with crutches, or not. Anything that gets you out the door is a good thing. Are you doing it for fun? Let it be fun, whatever that means.
July, 2017. I’m at Denver Comic Con, in a room full of rows of chairs, and a projector on a cart set at an angle to find the screen in the corner. I find a seat on the aisle (I always find a seat on the aisle), as near to the front as I can get. We’re in a mid-sized breakout room for this panel, which is called “Marvel: Then and Now,” and it’s crowded enough that people are filling the seats, standing along the back wall, shuffling bags and cosplay weapons to try to make space for someone next to them.
The panel has three generations of Marvel writers and artists: Two old guys (like, in their late 80s, they rolled into the panel on mobility scooters) who were at Marvel in the 1950s, a white English man who started at Marvel in the late 80s, and a black woman who works there now and whose titles include Black Panther, Iron Man, and World of Wakanda.
The first question that the moderator asks is about how Marvel has changed since each panelist got into the business. One of the old guys said (and in spite of the quotation marks, I’m paraphrasing), “I don’t want to get political” (so don’t then) “but” (uh oh) “I started at Marvel during World War II, and the nation was one. And I think we need to make America great again.” (please be being ironic right now) “We need to just give him a chance” (oh dear) “He’s going to take down the Mexican mafias just like he made it safe for a black woman and her kid safe to walk down the street in New York” (stop talking) “and why can’t we be as one” (seriously though stop talking). He goes on citing “fake news” and random crime stories for several minutes. I’m not sure why the moderator didn’t interrupt or redirect; he certainly should have. The few people of color who were in the audience get up and walk out. I noticed some white people too. After a weirdly agonizing minute, as my ingrained training about being “civil” (or at least “not rude”) battles with my desire to not look like I was endorsing this shit by continuing to sit here and listen to it, I get up and walk out too. I feel like everyone is staring at me, even though I’m sure nobody was. Someone sitting on the floor probably crept into my seat and that was that.
Of course, the minute I got out into the hallway, I realized, well shit, now I don’t get to hear Alitha Martinez talk about her career, the things she’s done and what she enjoys about drawing for Marvel. Ain’t that always the way: old white dude takes up too much space, too much oxygen, pushing out other voices or making them impossible to hear. I find her booth later in Artist Alley, and buy whatever I can. She’s really nice, there with her teenage son, who’s helping her sell art and books when he isn’t off doing his teenage son thing.
Artist Alley. Remember Artist Alley? And how close everybody had to stand to each other in order to move around at all?
September, 2019. I’ve been awake since 2:30am, and only had four hours of sleep total anyway. Showered and walked to the train. Didn’t manage to fall asleep on the train. Got to the airline gate with enough time to spare to buy a bagel and cream cheese at a Smashburger, the only food place that’s open on the concourse. They don’t spread the cream cheese on the bagel even though they have a full kitchen. Just drop a couple of individual servings in the bag.
I doze on the plane, at least for a little while. I was the sort of tired where everything around you and inside you starts to feel fuzzy and unreal. Being locked in a dark tube as it hurtles through the air doesn’t help with this impression. After we land, I take the train into town and and find the hostel I’m staying in. Check in time isn’t until like 4pm, but they let me store my stuff in the luggage room so I can head right back out and take the train to Douglas Park, where Riot Fest is happening.
I have almost always gone to concerts, music festivals, things like that, by myself. It’s not weird to me. And I like being able to choose my own schedule, decide which acts I want to see, and not have to discuss it with anyone else. I like being able to pull up a patch of grass and read a book when I need some downtime. Chicago in September is sunny, and warm, but not unbearably hot. The Sears Tower (or whatever it’s called now) looms in the distance like a giant, hibernating Transformer. Riot Fest rents out lockers so I don’t even need to keep my backpack with me most of the time. The lines to the port-a-potties, though on the long side, move quickly. Same for the water bottle refilling stations. People are handing out free individual packets of Pedialyte to keep everyone moving and hydrated. I am not filled with the amplified excitement that I used to get when I was younger and looking at the lineup for Warped Tour, and I’m not interested in getting myself clobbered in the mosh pit anymore, but I am perfectly content, standing in the shade to see H2O over here, dancing in the sun to The Selecter over there, buying ice cream that is way too expensive, checking the Riot Fest subreddit and meeting up with a random guy who happily gives me a pair of foam ear plugs. There are a whole lot more Latinx people here than I remember seeing in the scene in Denver, and I remember how multiracial punk is, or could be, or should be, or has been.
I see Anti-Flag, who are still singing about how dying for your government is shit after all these years, calling for a circle pit “everywhere” (please no). I randomly see a band named the Thin Lips, they were good. Wander around the merch tents, the usual collection of tie dye and Bob Marley posters and skate decks and anarchist bookstore tents. I sit under a tree and watch Hot Water Music from a distance. I have a locker that I can lock and unlock, so every now and then I take out my homework and work on it in the grass while I wait for Andrew WK or the Village People to take the stage. .
There’s old punks, with grey hairs and battered Vans. Young punks, with shellacked hair and pristine Docs. It’s like Warped Tour, but more low-key, and with more older punks. There’s a breeze, trying to clear out the humidity and the smoke from various types of stimulating leafs. The grounds crew tried to fill in the soft spots in the ground with wood chips to prevent mud pits, and it’s…slightly effectual.
The last day, Sunday afternoon/evening, is the reason why I really came to Chicago for this. Against Me!, Patti Smith, and Bikini Kill play one after the other on the same stage. Sometime over the summer, I jokingly tweeted at Laura Jane Grace that I needed her to make sure that her and Smith’s and BK’s sets didn’t overlap because I needed to see all three of them. I know that LJG doesn’t have any control over stage order at a huge fest like Riot Fest, but I got my wish, and I decide it’s because of her. I head over to the stage almost an hour early, and get as close as I can. In the manner of fests, there are two big stages next to each other and they alternate which one is in set up mode and which one has a band playing on it, so even though I’m only seeing three more bands, I’m going to be in this spot for about six hours. I have already peed and also monitored my fluid intake so I won’t have to go to the bathroom. I have clif bars in my backpack. I have a book to read. I am not front and center, but I’m close enough to see the band members’ faces, far enough away to not have to worry about the pit, and near to the big screens on either side of the stage that I can look at those if I need to (and when I take pictures on my phone, I mostly take pictures of the screen, because as dusk falls my already-crappy phone camera gets even crappier). I’m surrounded by other women, and we are all so so ready.
The bands are great. How do I describe how great they are? What are the words I can use to convey how happy I am? Laura Jane Grace laughs her way through her set and Patti Smith rules the fucking stage. Bikini Kill is still making their own clothing and digging through thrift store discount bins for stuff to wear on stage. And to see Bikini Kill, who (along with their friends and the rest of the riot grrrl community) started their own revolution, who stand for so much and who put their voices in the mouths of so many girls and queer kids, to see them play for thousands and thousand of punks, to see them close out Riot Fest, to hear Kathleen Hanna talk on stage about the same things I’ve heard her talk about in 500-capacity theater venues…that was something. That was great.
Dare you to do what you want
Dare you to be who you will
Dare you to cry right out loud
“You get so emotional, baby”
Double dare ya,
double dare ya,
double dare ya
-Bikini Kill, “Double Dare Ya”
February 2020. Some friends of mine, who I used to dogsit for until they moved to California, ask if I want to dogsit for them in California. Instead of giving me money, they’re giving me a free trip to California, and use of their car. They live outside of San Francisco, at the tail end of one of the BART lines, in what seems to be a working class neighborhood that can’t decide if it’s sliding downward or sliding upward. Hazel (the dog) and I go to a different park every day, this one a big off-leash park on the coast where she can sniff at and play with other dogs, that one a walk through some redwoods up a big hill (though never quite high enough for a big vista). The air is sunny and crisp, and I find a little park on the coast a mile from their house, where I can go running every morning and appreciate doing a cardio workout at low altitude. I carry a jacket with me but hardly ever wear it. I go see Hamilton (yes, again) in San Francisco. I know the soundtrack by heart but every time I go to see it live, there’s too much to see and it’s overwhelming and my brain forgets to remember what happened. So, I go see it whenever I’m in a city that’s not NYC with tickets that are vaguely affordable and buy a beer in the lobby that costs like $15 fucking dollars holy shit. I’ve never seen Hamilton in the city where I live–just when I’m traveling. I find Chinatown by accident while I’m trying to find the City Lights Bookstore. I think to myself, I could live here, I just need to figure out how to quadruple my income. I understand why people want to live here. The air is just fucking fantastic, and since I barely need to leave the house once a day, I don’t care about the traffic. I write. I go on walks with the dog. I sleep as late as she’ll let me in the mornings. I cook messy things in the kitchen (everything I cook is messy to some degree). I have takeout burgers and takeout Korean food and a random gyro because that’s all I can find right before Hamilton. I see the ocean. I watch classic movies like Silence of the Lambs and Swing Time, and have a long conversation with a friend about genderqueerness and -phobia and Silence of the Lambs. It’s like a staycation, but since it’s not my own house I’m not distracted by all the projects and cleaning that I’m not doing. It’s just me, and my brain, and the dog. I’ve been casting my mind back to it the last six months, those last feelings of freedom, before I knew what was coming. Appreciating the sun and the sky with no impending sense that it might be gone soon.
I am still (and maybe forever, now, at this point) trying to get into the habit of writing more than I am worrying about what I write about, so I am still taking inspiration from John Scalzi who wrote a 20 year retrospective on his blog, covering 30 different topics over the course of a month (it was in September 2018 if you want to go find them). Day three is home.
Since I’m one of the many millennials who can’t now/maybe can’t ever afford to buy a home, I think about this more metaphorically, I guess. Emotionally. Sometimes I think about my house, which doesn’t exist yet: It has hardwood floors, and windows that let in the sunlight. It’s an older house, not one of the modern boxy monstrosities they’ve been building in Denver for the last decade or so. There’s a garden in the back, though I imagine myself composting more than I imagine myself actually growing anything. There’s a dog or two. There’s a big wooden table where I can eat and work on projects. In this daydream, I am the sort of person who remembers to sweep baseboards and dust things and so everything is homey and clean and maybe a little shabby, but not dirty. I have hammocks in my backyard. I have a nice shade tree. I have money saved up to buy a new roof or a new water heater. I have a nice human that lives with me, whether a partner sort or a roommate sort isn’t important, but we agree on things like making soup on cold days is good, and a clean bathroom is healthy, and nobody eats anyone else’s food without asking first. I can walk to work, or bike there, in less than half an hour. Friends come over to play Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a very nice house.
Sometimes home is a place, right? We usually define home as a place.
I grew up amongst Quakers in the Western US, and for the past 15 years we’ve had our annual gathering in northern New Mexico, in this conference center in the high mesa country. It’s hot and buggy and the accommodations leave something to be desired (I just got an email that some of the older housing is not available this year due to “structural issues,” because they are letting buildings fall down instead of repairing or replacing them). It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. And it’s where some of the people I love best in the world go every year. But I don’t go for the mesas or the rocks or the sunsets or the little lizards. I go for the people. We’re changing sites next year, and some people have said that if the gathering isn’t in this one specific place, they won’t come. Which: what the fuck? You were never supposed to come for the scenery. We’re not there to worship the scenery. We’re supposed to be there for each other. You know that Billy Joel lyric, “I need you in my house, ’cause you’re my home”? Yeah. That. That’s how we’re supposed to be with each other. A friend of mine grew up in a lot of different houses during his childhood, and for him, when he thinks of home, he thinks of his church building. Across a lot of childhood moves, that was the place that stayed constant for him.
Other things that make me think of home: Roasting marshmallows over a campfire and making s’mores. Watching rain fall into a ditch in New Orleans. Powdered sugar down my front after eating beignets. Hanging my arms over the rail at a concert right before the band takes the stage. Standing on the top of a mountain, either after climbing it or right before bombing down it on my snowboard. Taking a deep breath while standing under the sky. Lying on a couch with a dog draped across my legs.
I’m in my mid 30s now (I don’t have to say late 30s until next year, fuck you), and am starting to realize that there’s some markers of “responsible adult” that I’m not just late in hitting, but may never hit. Home ownership is one of them. Having kids is another. And that feels fine, as long as I can remember not to compare myself to anyone else or what they’re doing and accomplishing. I would love to have my little square of the world all to myself, but it’s also a thing that I’ve learned to want because I’ve lived in the US for my entire life, and home ownership is huge here. So if I never get my own house, if I have roommates and apartments until the day that I head for the old folks home, how do I maintain that sense of home? Can I remember that home is a feeling, not a place? Is that how we win in capitalism?
Because love is free and life is cheap,
And as long as I’ve got me a place to sleep,
Some clothes on my back and some food to eat,
Then I can’t ask for anything more.
—Frank Turner, “If Ever I Stray”
I get off the gondola at the top of the hill and walk, carrying my snowboard, to the Schoolmarm trailhead. I take the gondola to the top as much as I can because de-boarding from a ski lift on my board still scares me (my fear is also justified; I fall over on maybe 4 of 6 attempts).
The top of the mountain is cold, and windy. Hard little bullets of snow hit my cheeks and fall into the collar of my coat. I walk to the top of the run, sit on a bench, and buckle my feet onto my board. Before I stand, I look around me, down the slope, readying myself to get up, telling myself that I can stand up and maintain control, that I won’t immediately go shooting down the mountain like a water slide.
This is my third time snowboarding this year, after fifteen years away from the mountains. The first time, I wouldn’t say I white-knuckled it, exactly. I butt-clenched it, sliding on my heel edge, staring straight down the hill, all my muscles from my hips down tense and shaking with the effort of keeping me upright. I didn’t do turns, I didn’t shift to my toe edge, I was afraid to build up speed. I had a tendency to fall on my rear. The act of snowboarding wasn’t fun, exactly–it was exhilirating, sure, and I was with my friend Christine and she’s fun, but I was too afraid of falling to loosen up at all. (I did fall, of course. The next morning all of my muscles hurt and my knees were multi-colored.)
But I went back another day, and took a lesson. Learned about placing my weight and how to hold myself (for instance: not like a rock) and where to look (up, up, always up), and how to make turns. I still fell, but it was in service of learning, not from trying to stand still while sliding downwards.
And now, here I am, ready to board down all three and a half miles of Schoolmarm. I’m still stiff and clumsy, and I have to think about every turn before I make it, but there’s also these moments where I’m sliding along, feeling comfortable and relaxed, feeling like there’s butter under my board, like there aren’t any edges that might catch on the snow and set me on my ass. And when I’m tired, I can sit on the slope and look at the mountains and the sky and take deep breaths and listen to the silence.
During the lesson that I took, my teacher showed us how to do flat 360s (spin in a circle without jumping off the ground), and to my enormous surprise I master it immediately. I do it until I’m dizzy, giggling and giddy, spinning in circles on a mountain slope.
I got a new job last year, and with that came an affordable gym membership, so I’ve been trying to supplement my running with gym classes and lifting. It has also, somewhat unexpectedly, been a place for me to battle with my anxiety, and my fear of being seen (to be more specific, to be seen doing something poorly or looking stupid in some way). The gym classes are all in a big room lined on two facing walls with mirrors. The weight area always has other people in it, and it feels like they’re all lifting more than me, like they all know than me. Intellectually I know that this is wrong, but my anxiety brain is full of people watching me. Getting into the gym sometimes is like waiting for Argus, with his thousand eyes and hypervigilance, to go to sleep. Some days I would fall asleep in my car instead of going inside. Some days I would change into my gym clothes, then sit in a chair and kill time on my phone instead of going to use the equipment. Some days I tell myself to just get on the exercise bike, because if I can do that for twenty minutes I can usually talk myself into doing something else. Some days I’ll do squat but then decide that I can’t do deadlift, not today, no thanks.
I didn’t always used to be actively afraid of the gym, though when I look back on what I was doing in the gym at the time, it was almost always treadmill or pool. Challenging myself with new things—and, at the same time, becoming afraid of all of those things—is something that happened after I left New York City, when I was sad and broken and felt far away from everyone.
When I was a student at Columbia, there was a gym on campus that students could use. The cost was folded into our tuition. At first, I went because hey, free gym. At some point I started going because I think I could sense that my mental state was not the best, but exercise is supposed to be good for depression. So I would go. I took a step aerobics kind of class, and tae kwon do, and ran around the quarter-mile loop that was in the center of the gym. Maybe that’s when the anxiety started to amp: the classroom where step aerobics and tae kwon do happened were in the center of the gym, with big walls of windows; the track was immediately around that, and the outer ring was the weight machines and treadmills and stationary bikes. It was easy to feel like you were being watched, but hard to see if you actually were. Also, I wasn’t going to the gym because it was fun and I wanted to; I was going because I felt like I should. And I was going to step aerobics feeling incapable of dancing, incapable of moving with any pep, any grace. I’ve never been a great dancer, but this was a whole other level. I felt like I was sleepwalking through gym class. Everything felt slow. Everything felt stupid. Everything felt unsuccessful. I always stood at the back (against the windows) and when class was over, escaped as soon as I could. I never spoke to anyone. I was a ghost.
So here I am, five years later, not feeling like a ghost anymore, but still feeling haunted by one. Still feeling the specter of Argus’ eyes.
It does get better. After almost a year in the gym, I found a program and I’m following it and that gives me something to lean on, something to focus on besides all the weight I’m not lifting, all the people who are (not) staring at me. Usually, these days, when I say, “I’m going to the gym after work,” I actually get there. And one happy side effect to global warming is that I’m still running in parks a few times a week, even though it’s December. I also made significant headway on a project at work, which was a big contributor to the “You’re dumb everyone’s going to find out you’re dumb and then they’re going to take your job away from you” feelings that I was having all fall.
Maybe someday soon I’ll feel that gliding feeling with my writing, that coasting-along-while-you-stare-at-the-sky feeling. That’s the feeling that I’m waiting for. But until then, I have to accept that I will suck until I don’t. That some days it will feel like pulling a car out of a lake with nothing but my bare hands. That I have to sit through some boredom and not knowing what I want to say. I might be bad at all kinds of things, but I’m trying really hard to not let that stop me.
2019 goals, man. Happy new year.
Over at his blog Whatever, John Scalzi (a science fiction writer who I first started following on Twitter and then I started following his blog and then, finally, I started reading his books) has been celebrating 20 years of writing said blog by posting about a different topic every day. As he said on September 1st, “I will pick a topic and then discuss it through the prism of two decades of time, from 1998 through to today.” And I thought, that’s a good idea. I am still searching for the magic button that will get me back to writing every day, or at least regularly (no such button exists, but I’m searching for it anyway), and while I haven’t been writing in the same place, like he has, I have been blogging on and off for almost 20 years. For me, if I look back to 1998 I was still in high school; while Scalzi was in his 20s and professionally established. But it could be fun, and if you can’t write for three straight weeks about yourself, well, I don’t know what to tell you. (Also, yes, it’s September 16th, and yes, I’ve been watching Scalzi post and thinking, “Oh, I really should get on top of this posting thing” every day for the last two weeks.)
So, with that,
I’m allergic to cats, and so don’t have any. The end.
Okay just kidding. But also I have zero thoughts about cats from my high school days. They were not on my radar. When I was a baby and we lived in Louisiana, my family had a grey tabby cat named Peter that I think I have one hazy recollection of. Peter didn’t come with us to Colorado, and I’ve never seen a picture of him, and I honestly don’t know if he was re-homed, or if he ran away, or if we abandoned him, or if a gator got him. Growing up, my family had dogs, two of them: Sandy (a Shetland Sheepdog that we got when I was 6) and Cheyenne (a mutt that we got when I was 10). Sandy was my brother’s, officially, but more or less surrendered to the care of my mom; Cheyenne was mine and I’m pleased to say that I remembered to feed her and bathe her and take her to the vet (and she slept in my room, as opposed to Sandy, who slept in the basement for some reason) until I moved out for college.
The culture of owning dogs has changed a lot since 1998, or at least, my awareness of it has. We never carried bags to pick up dog poo on walks with our dogs, and I have no idea if we were terrible, inconsiderate neighbors or if dog poo bags weren’t a thing back then like they are now. We weren’t very diligent about obedience training them, either, but as they were both pretty low-key dogs, this didn’t have any terrible consequences for us humans or for the dogs. I particularly loved Cheyenne, as she was “my” dog, and when I was in the middle of more than my share of teenage adolescent angst, both my sister and my dog did quite a lot to get me through it, without either of them realizing they were doing so.
These days, in 2018, I have a lot of dogs but also no dogs. My roommates have two dogs, Maggie and George, who are both wonderful creatures. Maggie goes running with me, and cuddles with me on the couch, and hides from crying babies in my room. George is enormous (he’s a Malamute mix) and hairy and is smart enough to decide if he really wants to listen to you when you ask him to do something. (Maggie understands that if she does what you ask her to, then you will love her, and more than anything Maggie wants you to love her.) So I live with dogs, and they’re great dogs, but they’re not my dogs.
I also (somewhat accidentally) have a dogsitting business, because I told my friends Erin and Tanya that I would dogsit for their Great Danes Scarlett and Luka, and I did a good job so they recommended me to at least half a dozen friends. There’s Toli and Ellie (and Tate); Sketcher, Benedict, and Abigail; Winny and Marty; Chunk and Sally; Frankie and Moby; Callie; and Jude; good dogs all. I also put up a profile on Rover and that got me a few clients, and now I’m out of my house for usually at least 7 days out of the month (one of my normal clients, Marley, I’m usually with for one or two weekends a month). As a dogsitter, I beg of you, please train your dogs to walk nicely on a leash if nothing else (especially if you have more than one of them). I’m used to dogs not listening to commands to sit or come, because I’m not their person, but oh god, if they could only walk on a leash, everything would be wonderful.
I also do catsitting sometimes, but as I said above, I’m allergic to cats so that’s not my favorite (I think I’m not their favorite either, since I don’t let them cuddle me.) It gives me some extra money to put towards my student loans, and some quiet weekends–besides me and my adult roommates, and the dogs, there’s also a 5-year-old and an 18-month-old in the house, who I love dearly but who are also not always very quiet.
I would love, someday, to have a home of my own and a dog of my own. I have had a dog that was truly mine since…about 1998, now that I think about it. I moved out of my parents’ house in 2001, and Cheyenne died a few years after that, and ever since then, I haven’t had a dog of my own. But all these lovely loaner dogs who hang out with me for a few days at a time, not to mention Maggie and George, do a great deal to fill up the dog-shaped hole in my life. Good dogs.
The triumphal return, both of my Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ listening series, and of the Bosstones themselves. The album was released in 2007, and coincided with the return of the Bosstones from a three-year hiatus and of the Hometown Throwdown (which was suspended during said hiatus). I associate this album with a lot of happiness.
First up is “This List,” one of three original songs on the album (the rest are b-sides), which is about the current wars that the US was (and still is, sigh) fighting at the time. Bush #2 was still president, and if I recall correctly, it was also around the time of the troop surge and the re-taking of Fallujah and the whole war feeling like a mire we would never get out of. (This is also roughly around the time that the band the Street Dogs started to gain national punk prominence, in no small part to the leadership of Mike McColgan and his vocal support for vets and against the war). Dicky Barrett talks directly to GWB in this song, and it does feel more immediate than a lot of other anti-war songs I know. Maybe because it’s so specific and because it was a war I was so aware of and living adjacent to and watching and following. I mean, it’s one thing to hear the Clash sing about the Falkland Islands. It’s another to hear the Bosstones sing a song to the current president about the current war and telling him to go to hell.
Next up is “The Meaning,” a b-side from Pay Attention, and is up there as one of my favorite Bosstones songs overall (b-side or not). It’s got the sort of rapid-patter rhyming from Dicky that I love, and also it’s about the creative process, which I can relate to a good bit. Also, I love the line, “You don’t have to know the meaning, just know that there is meaning in what is being said to you.” I suspect Dicky meant it towards the fans (like me) who tend to ask him to explain this song or that song, but it also reminds me something that my mom—whether she knew it or not—was pretty good at when I was a teenager. I did a lot of shit as a teenager that my parents didn’t understand, chose career paths (or resisted career paths) they I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand. But my mom was better than my dad at recognizing when something was important to me, and that mattered more to her than her need to understand just what the hell I was doing. It was important to me, and that was good enough.
Also I love the guitar noise in this song. I guess it’s the wah pedal? Whow-whow.
“What’s in you, out of you, remember we love you, we’ve gotta go but you should know that we’ll be thinking of you.”
Third song! “Don’t Worry Desmond Dekker”! Instant fucking classic. Always makes me think of Boston and the Hometown Throwdown. Also one of the three new songs. Has the power to make me cry when I hear it live. “And I, I can hear laughter. It stays with me after all this time. And I, I’ve still got your records, the Clash and the Selecter. Don’t worry, Desmond Dekker’s doing fine.” (“Except he’s not,” as Joe Sirois says, “Because he’s dead.”) It’s about time and friendship and the good and bad ways relationships evolve. Hey there, 737, I’m thinking about you and the Buckminster Hotel and I’m going to get to see you all in a little over a month and it’ll be great. I know I’m not the biggest party animal but I fucking love you guys and want to give you hugs.
“From the dirt up to the sky, and we climbed up to the sky, and carried on the only way we can. Laugh on and live, learn how to forgive, what we have could be as good as what we get. If you’ve forgot, now I’ve still got what you gave to me way back when we first met.”
I’ve still got what the Bosstones gave me. Laughter and new friends and more music than I could listen to in my lifetime. Validation as an imperfect person trying to muddle her way through the world. Trips to Boston and walks in the snow and the best goddamn hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life.
“To California” is a b-side that I’m pretty sure was never released before Medium Rare came out (unlike “The Meaning,” which is on the vinyl release of Pay Attention). According to Wikipedia it was recorded during the Jackknife to a Swan sessions in 2002. It’s the story of a guy who decides—impulsively?—to move to California to uh…make money, I guess. “Just like a modern 49er.” He only makes it as far as Atlantic City, though, so he is not successful at his goals. And then he stows away on a train. I love how the horns and the guitar work together in this song. I feel like there should be more songs about people make impulsive, complicated decisions with poor planning and low success rates.
“The One With the Woes All Over It.” Full of “whoa whoa whoas” in the chorus because what’s better than acoustic puns? About what happens when it all ends, and why it ends, and what happened to lead up to it. This isn’t a song that I relate hugely to my own life (it’s another of Dicky’s super-specific songs that’s clearly about one person’s experience), but I enjoy it all the same.
“So Many Ways.” God, I love this song. It was released as the b-side for a single back in the day (by which I mean, 1997 or thereabouts). The guitar is so good. Dicky’s vocals are so good. The lyrics are so good. This is one of those songs that finds its way into a lot of little cracks in my life. It’s not like, ohmygod, I can relate this song to this one big experience I’ve had. Instead, I relate this song to hundreds of little moments and choices that happen all the time. It’s always just below the surface. “There’s so many ways to do this, so many ways I must pick one.” Like you’ve got all these paths in front of you, and several of them might be successful, but when you pick one, the others disappear. “So many ways, I need someone to tell me what it would take to do this. And it’s out there, hell it must be, help me I no longer trust me.”
I no longer trust me. For a guy that I think of as confident, who has clearly made at least a few good decisions in his life and been a success, Dicky talks a lot about not trusting himself. He sings a lot about his own faults. I could probably learn something about giving voice to those doubts without (seemingly) letting them eat my life.
“A Reason to Toast” is another song from the Jackknife era. There’s definitely at least two versions of this song floating around. It’s a song about…toasting. Like what you do at Thanksgiving or at a wedding. And wherever else people raise glasses? You can write about literally anything in this world, kids. Anything can be a song. (That’s its own kind of creative confidence, really, to write a song about celebrating, and channeling those thoughts of celebration into…toasts.) Why are all of you writing songs about girls and loss of girls and how much you love girls and you never want to leave girls when you could be writing about raising glasses in a toast.
“Who’s Foolin’ Who.” This song was on a comp in the late ’90s that I had. Give me a minute and I’ll think of it. It was all ska. It also had the Pilfers on it, which is how I got into the Pilfers, and a Smooths song, which is how I got into the Smooths. “Sure the whole world might be fooled, make sure no one’s foolin’ you.” Fun, bouncy, but slightly nostalgic horns. Dammit what’s the compilation. I could look it up but I don’t want to. It was volumes 3&4 of a comp, the first of which also had the Bosstones on it but came out in like 1990. MASHIN UP THE NATION. Damn straight. That’s it. Such a good comp. If you ever see that floating around on ebay, grab it. I can’t imagine it’s still in print.
“Katie.” About…Dicky’s ex-wife? Ex-girlfriend? Ex-friend? About walking away from someone who has hurt you, someone who sucks up all your energy and just isn’t worth it anymore. Fits thematically with “Over the Eggshells” on Pay Attention (though I don’t actually recall when this song was written/recorded) (edit: I just checked Wikipedia and apparently it was recorded during the Jackknife sessions). About wrapping yourself up in some armor, pulling away from someone that’s hurt you, turning your back, and walking away. A song about self-care, oddly. I take reminders from wherever I can about how it’s actually okay to protect myself.
“This Time of Year.” If anything can get me thinking of a flashing wall of Santas, a stage covered in Christmas lights, pinning myself to the rail in front of the stage, standing in the cold outside for hours…it’s this song. It’s about how December isn’t just about Christmas and holidays and presents and whatever. December is Throwdown time. I can see the stage at the HOB in my head. I’ve got a smile on my face. I’m going to see my friends soon. “This time of year, it gets me and it never lets me act like I don’t care. This time’s my favorite time of year because all of us are here together.” I’ve been saving up for Throwdown since January. And it’s almost here. All of us will be here together. The Bosstones will play this song. And many other songs. And I’ll see my friends. And there will be beer and pizza and friends.
“Chocolate Pudding” is not, as appearances would lead you to believe, a cover song. The Bosstones wrote it, and it’s one of the few songs not sung by Dicky (on lead vocals here is Tim Burton, one of the sax players). Pre-hiatus, this was one of the rarest songs to hear them play live, though I’ve heard it enough post-hiatus that I think some of the shine has worn off. Also, kids, you can write songs about anything. Including chocolate pudding.
Years ago, I made my sister a mix tape of songs that I did not hate (she likes Destiny’s Child and Miley Cyrus and Brittany Spears and car rides with the two of us were not the easiest, from a radio standpoint), and I put this song on it. My sister will now just randomly start singing this song. I am so proud to have gotten my sister to like a Bosstones song (at the time that I made the mix she was really into those snack pack pudding cups). And now we have some common ground. Not over eating pudding (I don’t like pudding that much), but over listening to songs about it.
“Is It?” I love this song. It’s another b-side from the Let’s Face It era. I got it on a CD single, either “Rascal King” or “The Impression That I Get.” It’s about getting all that you wanted…and having that not be everything you hoped for. Joe Sirois has some awesome drum playing in this song. I’m not a drummer, so I don’t even know what the fuck he’s doing or if it’s good compared to other drummers, but I like everything he’s doing here.
Now that I think about it, and now that I’m trying to write about them, I’m realizing that lots of these b-sides have a weird personal feeling to them. I only ever listened to them in my car, usually by myself (my friends did not share my taste in music). The Bosstones didn’t play them live back then. They’re not songs that I ever shared with anyone, not the way that I share the experience of hearing “Devil’s Night Out” live with 2,000 other people, or the way that so many of us Bosstones fans can relate to hearing “Impression” on the radio or on MTV and having that change our lives. A lot of these songs–like “Is It,” like “Storm Hit” (which is not on this album but is an amazing song), like “The Meaning”—feel like they’re just between me and the Bosstones. The fact that a lot of them are demos, a little more raw, a little less layered from a production standpoint, helps with that feeling.
“Thank You For the Records.” A slow song, or at least one that starts slow, as final Bosstones tracks seem to do these last few albums. I don’t know who Dicky is singing “to” in this song—who he’s thanking—but when I sing along, I’m thanking him. I’m thanking the Bosstones.
Thank you for the records.
Thank you for the shows.
Thank you for the music.
Thank you for the friends.
Thank you for the standard you set, how you seem to treat each other and how I know you treat us fans.
Thank you for introducing me to this world of ska and punk and all of the beautiful people who are also here.
Thank you for your generosity.
Thank you for your humor.
Thank you for taking every possible opportunity to take a shit on Spin Magazine.
Thank you for all the wisdom and the common sense.
Thank you for the Hometown Throwdown.
Thank you for the records.
(My writing life is still slow. Which is why this is being posted a week after everyone else posted their Harry Potter reminisces.)
I work in a public library, which means I have frequent (and frequently random) conversations with customers about books and local politics and the idiocy of computers. Yesterday, a customer came up to me and started telling me that Harry Potter was 20 years old and all about her Harry Potter memories (she did this with no introduction or conversation opener whatsoever; just walked up to me while I was shelving holds and started chattering at me about Harry Potter). So that was basically how I celebrated the week, which is (in some small way) in keeping with my relationship with Harry Potter for the last 20 years.
I started reading the Harry Potter series in 2000. I remember because I read it on a road trip with my family, our last big trip as a family because I was graduating high school and my brother was graduating college and moving to Seattle. I started working at a bookstore the next year, and for the last three books (which came out in 2003, 2005, and 2007), I worked the Harry Potter release parties. When the Deathly Hallows came out, I was also working at a public library; I got to stay late the night before the release date and process the holds so that they would be ready for customers first thing in the morning. In short: I have been a part of getting the Harry Potter books into people’s hands for almost as long as I’ve been reading them, and in a lot of ways, this is fundamental to why I find them important books, and what they mean to me, beyond just being a fun and enjoyable story.
I was a reader, all through my childhood. It was one of the things that made me weird in school. I was never teased for it, I was never ostracized just because I was a reader, but I was definitely the kid that maxed out all the reading lists, got in trouble for reading in class, read while I was walking home from school, fucked up the curve on writing assignments because I read so much that my writing skill just followed right along. The other kids just acknowledged that this was a thing that I did. When I started reading Harry Potter (well past the magical formulating years of reader-hood when one book drops into your life and changes you), it was just another book, another fun story. This was also before social media; certainly before I was on the Internet with any regularity, before fandom became the behemoth it is today. Those early years of Harry Potter, maybe even up to the first book release party, I certainly knew that Harry Potter was popular, but it wasn’t the sort of thing it is now–where people discuss and bond over it.
It was the book release parties where I got to see the fandom for the first time, and more importantly, got to see something that I think adults who grow up reading (and who were often the “weird kid who reads” in their class at school) always want to see more of: kids who are fucking excited about books. Weird Reader Kids, all over the place, all in one bookstore, instead of scattered from classroom to classroom. Kids up past their bedtime, getting chocolate frogs and butterbeer from the bookstore coffee shop. Kids dressed up in wizard robes. Kids waiting in line for hours. Kids getting handed their books at midnight, and then sprinting for the door to get to their parents’ cars to get back home so they can start reading.
They were late nights, after the book release parties, when me and my coworkers would be at work until the wee hours of the morning cleaning up the remnants of chocolate milks and fire whiskies and double espressos that the parents needed to stay up. Cookie crumbs and pastry wrappers. Dirty coffee mugs and plates. I didn’t care. I loved it. I wanted to make books exciting and fun for these kids in a way that I never got to experience.
The movies kept the community going, I think, in between books, and then after the books were done. The movies pulled in a lot of people who weren’t Weird Reader kids, and even though I haven’t seen most of them since they were in theaters, they broadened and cemented the fandom. I went to a couple movie release nights and they were much the same mix of fun, overwhelming, noisy nerddom as the book releases. And by then, the books had been around long enough that older siblings were indoctrinating younger siblings. Livejournal was a thing. Tumblr started to exist. Fan fiction started leaking out of its previously-ironclad hinterlands. And Harry truly stepped out of the books and into our heads.
Even though I don’t actively participate in the fandom that much, so much of that fandom is what Harry Potter is for me. I don’t write fanfic or cosplay or draw fan art or even really get into long discussions with people online. I like the books. I like the stories. But really, what I love–what I adore–is that this books are so huge, took over so much of the culture. And maybe the kids who read during class feel a little less weird these days than they did when I was young. Maybe they can talk about Harry with their classmates, as well as in online forums. I don’t know exactly when nerdy fandom went from a thing that only happened at Comic Cons to a thing that happened all over the internet; it seemed fully fledged and omnipresent by the time I happened upon it. But I’m really happy that this is a thing in the world that exists, even though I only ever observe it from the sidelines.
At some point (and I resisted doing this for a long time because I hate having to give my email address to things because then everyone sends you email) (Also, come on, I’m an adult, I don’t need Sorting, I am too old, sniff sniff), I went over to Pottermore and got myself Sorted. It was…weirdly emotional, and resonant, and flattering, when I got Sorted into Hufflepuff. So, here’s me:
Wand: Willow wood w/dragon heartstring
PS. Also, one thing I discovered in the week it took me to write this: Harry Potter might be 20, but “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls is apparently 21 this week, and that makes me feel old in a way that Harry Potter does not.
You don’t face your demons down,
You gotta grapple ’em, Jack, and pin ’em to the ground.”
This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”