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Although Margie died twenty years ago (she died after she fell in
her bathtub, but I think she had been drinking when she fell) a year after the
earthquake, I had often thought that we have something in common, we both
always yearned for a child and we both never had one.

From Margie, I only have a memory and a book of her favorite
poems that I often read. It is impossible not to think about her every time I see
her book on my bookshelf. Its scent has become stronger. It was published
in Spain in 1885. The author, Gustavo A. Becquer, honors laziness. Yes,
Laziness! He says that laziness ennobles men, because there is a certain
similarity of the beings who enjoy immortality and the man who is lazy. The
first times I read the poem, I did not understand what the poet was saying, but
as I continued reading the poem over and over, I finally understood the poem
and Margie's words during the night at the park. Perhaps the lines of this
poem were crossing through her mind as she was smoking her cigarette.
Heureux les morts, eternels paresseux!

That eternal laziness reflected in a corpse, comfortably lying on the
sofl: and dark dirt of the tomb.

The corpse says, "This is not bad after all, because in my death, my
soul finally rests. My body and soul finally are comfortably resting in the



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softness of my bed made of dirt."

Maybe Margie was feeling happy that night because she felt like she
could die and finally rest, and she would die feeling loved. It did not matter if
she had to die in an earthquake, but it took an earthquake to feel love.



26



Becoming A Pretentious Music Critic: A

Primer

Dan Sorrells

Early musical obsession is key. You start in the same place as everyone
else, content to listen to the radio, to slosh your praise upon popular artists as if
you were running around with a wine glass overfilled with it. You'll probably be
ignored most of the time, maybe catch the occasional evil eye thrown sidelong
when you were supposed to be looking the other way. "Duh," they say - if not
aloud, then with every last muscle of their face pulled taut and with every twitch
of their impatient nerves. "Everyone likes Coldplay, Dave, you don't have to tell
us how good they are."

Still, you find you can never shut up about the grandeur of Radiohead
or the continued relevance of Nirvana. Ignore contrary opinions. Bring your
Discman everywhere. When someone asks you a question, lazily dislodge an
earbud and say, "Huh?" with as little emotion as humanly possible. When they
repeat their inquiry, don't pay attention to what they say, and always respond,
"Yeah. . . Hey, did you hear that Creed broke up?" Consider whether you own
enough band T-shirts.

Towards the end of high school, you meet an "interesting" kid in music
class. He never washes his hair, has mismatched plaid patches all over his
wide-wale corduroys, and one of his eyes seems unable to open past the halfway
point. One day you see him with a mess of his fiiends in the hall, and you muster
some courage and join the group. They are talking about music. When a moment
of silence presents itself, take the opportunity to profess your love of Godsmack.
A few eyes drop to the floor. Others look as though they want to fly screeching
from their sockets and force themselves down your throat until you choke and
can speak no more. "Godsmack fucking sucks, dude." Shake your head. Widen
your eyes and inhale sharply, but don't be too noisy on the insuck. You want to
reveal a little surprise, but mostly feign cool calm collectedness. It's probably
best to look at your shoes, which are scribbled with band logos and uneven
checkerboard patterns birthed of blue ballpoint. But don't look at the left one.
That's the one with the Godsmack sun logo.

"Yeah, I only like a few of their songs," you say, pleased with the
speed of your rebound. The kid and his fiiends look unfazed. You look at the
dirty kid, and think you see a small spider jettison down from its completed
web, which stretches fi*om an oddly shaped dreadlockish piece of hair near
the top of his head down to the skeleton earring protruding from the top of his
ear. You imagine him nonchalantly pulling the spider into his mouth with his
tongue when it passes in front of his lips. You fling your hair out of your eyes.
"Actually, you know, I haven't really listened to them in a while, come to think
of it."

After his friends disperse, the dirty kid reaches into his locker and

30



presses something into your hands. It's a burned CD-R, with smudged blue
Sharpie scrawled on it. "Sonic Youth" it says. "Listen to this shit, man. This is
the real deal." The dirty kid slams his locker shut, and you head in the opposite
direction to your last class period.

On the bus ride home (your mom doesn't believe anyone younger than
eighteen should be driving, so you haven't even taken Driver's Ed), listen to the
burned CD in your Discman. Sit in the tiny one-person seat in the back of the
bus so no one bothers you. Tracy with the braces has bombarded you with inane,
nonsensical conversation since you were in the 3'''* grade. She's sitting a few
seats ahead of you, but is turned around, propped up on her elbows, back against
the snot-hazed window. Don't make eye contact with her. Don't do it. She'll
only want to know what you're listening to, and she's a Britney Spears fan. Fuck
that. You make eye contact. "Hi, Davey," she says. You hate being called Davey.

"Hi, Tracy."

"Whatcha listenin' to, Davey?"

"Britney Spears."

"Oh, cool." She smiles, then turns around and sits down. Grit your teeth
and turn the volume up. When you get home, put all twelve of your CDs in a
box, and after a moment of contemplation, shove them under your bed. Be sure
to do it emphatically, as this is a pivotal moment in your life. That night, you
download a file-sharing program. When you wake up, you have five more Sonic
Youth albums.

The next day at school, ask the dirty kid if he's got anything else you
can borrow.

Go to college. It doesn't matter what you major in, as long as it's not
music. That would be too predictable, and you're starting to learn how to break
free fi^om the shackles of conformity. You major in philosophy, with a minor in
Pre-Cold War Russian studies. Your college has a radio station. Join it. Sure,
it only has a one mile range and no one in college owns a radio, but you're
beginning to understand the importance of elitism. College radio simply makes
you better than everyone not involved. The sheep don't have authority in their
voices, they don't understand how to construct a dynamic playlist. They'd
be disappointed when they aren't allowed play TuPac. Whenever you see an
outsider wearing a radio station t-shirt, scowl at them. Fucking cheaters. They'd
never survive in the cutthroat world of college media.

You meet a pretty girl named Claire. One night, after everyone's tired
of hanging out and ready to leave, you kiss her as she gets up to go to the door.
The next week, you're an item. You love the way your hand fits in hers. She
loves the way your hair curls around the back of your ear. You don't talk to
Claire about music. She's too pretty and her naivety is sweet. Don't go anywhere
without an arm around her waist.

Over the next several months, shift your preferred genre repeatedly.
You should listen to no style of music for more than two weeks. You listen to
hard rock, then punk rock, pop-punk, post-punk, hardcore, metalcore, emocore,

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spazzcore, Nintendocore, grindcore, goregrind, death metal, black metal, doom
metal, sludge, post-hardcore, post-rock, slowcore, indie rock, indie folk, acid
folk, free folk, freak folk, alt-country, a little jazz, then post-bop, free-jazz,
avant-garde jazz, jazz-rock, progressive rock, krautrock, psychedelic rock,
neo-psychedelia, and finally, noise rock. Emphasize how much all other genres
besides your current interest suck. When you move on, pretend you never
listened to whatever genre you just deserted. When you reach the end of the
list, decide that you like select bands from all of the genres. Except the "-core"
ones. Decide you hate kids that like "-core" music. Hang a Miles Davis poster
on your wall. Voice the genius of 4 '33 " by John Cage. Buy an external hard
drive to supplement your three year old wheezing PC, and don't rest until its one
hundred and sixty gigabytes are choked with mp3s. Claire buys you a heart-
shaped picture frame with musical notes on the border. When she sees you've
put a picture of Frank Zappa in it instead of her, she pauses, but then doesn't say
a word.

Spew musical knowledge everywhere. Tell your friends shit they
already know. Don't stop until they are visibly irritated. It's only because they're
jealous of how much you know. Plus, you have a hot girlfriend.

Never end your search for music. The Internet is your friend. Follow
every last side project, record label, artist collaboration, birth, death, and
marriage notice. Go to lots of concerts. Pay when you have to, but try to use
your radio station muscle to gain free admission. Stand there and nod your head
with your arms crossed. Scoff at everyone else and wonder out loud if they've
even heard of this band before today. Via a well-refined and highly practiced
look of the eyes, tell them all to eat shit. Start reading online music reviews first
thing each morning. Decide that the reviewers don't know what they're talking
about. Decide you could do it ten times better. Claire encourages you. Soon, you
plan to tell her you love her. You're pretty sure that'll keep her around. Write a
convoluted review of one of your favorite albums, cramming every last bit of
knowledge you have into its bloated form. Attach it to an email, pick a small-
time venue, and smile smugly as you click "send."

At first, you are kind and objective. Bands appreciate your nice reviews
and leave you MySpace messages. Brag. Bands are complimenting you. Their
fates seem to rest in your hands. Claire sits on your lap, and you kiss her and
show her the messages from band members and record labels. You're pretty
sure she smiles. Then she gets up and turns on the television. You just Google
the bands you've reviewed over and over to find any mention of your reviews.
Claire falls asleep on the couch, and the computer monitor adds a ghoulish
illumination to your face.

Start to get comfortable and unleash criticism. Soon, readers aren't
sure how you feel about the albums you review. "Well, he says he loves the
syncopation and polyrhythm utilized in track three, but then later he says the
band sounds like a cat that swallowed an accordion being repeatedly backed
over by a steamroller." Keep them wondering. Soon, the Light of Superiority

32



glints in your eye and many find they have to look away fi-om its humbling glare
as they pass you on the street. Spit in their hair as they put their heads down.
Kick small puppies when they run up to jump and play with you. Give the
homeless man begging for change a penny, then slap it out of his hand. You're a
music critic, bitch.

Pick two bands. They are the only bands that ever have and ever will
release anything worthwhile. Make sure one of them no longer exists. Don't
pick the Beatles or Can. They're a bit too obvious. You pick Sonic Youth and
Pavement. You don't really listen to Pavement, but no one ever says anything
bad about them. You don't want to be too brazen. Not yet. Come down on
everything else, hard. When the new Comets on Fire album is released, note
that "Dogwood Rust" ends exactly the same way as "Death Squad" fi"om their
previous album. When the new Melvins comes out, note that "A History of
Bad Men" utilizes the same riff as "Night Goat" ft"om an album they put out
thirteen years ago. Dismiss the entire discography of both bands. Never give
the Mars Volta a good review. Complain about how overly pretentious they are
by describing their music as an "overwhelmingly disgorged vat of spumescent,
masturbatory musical putridity cooked up by a smarmy covey of hapless
retards." Always note the inability of every band to escape sounding like their
influences. Then note how much their influences suck, anyway.

Your friends stop coming around to hang out. "He's being a real dick
lately," you overhear Matt saying to Drew as they stand outside the dorm
smoking, just below your window. Fill a cup of water, then dump it through the
screen. You hope they'll think they got peed on. Maybe next time they will. You
get a letter from the university. You've been placed on academic suspension. The
same week, you get an email from Pitchfork Media. You're moving up to the
big-time.

You hear a knock at your dorm room door. It's Claire. "Dave, we need
to talk," she says. You roll your eyes, a skill you've perfected.

"If it's not about the new Porcupine Tree, then I really don't have time,
babe."

"No, you see, this is it. You're obsessed. No one wants to deal with you
any more, Dave. Just because you know about ten thousand bands that the rest
of us don't give a shit about, doesn't mean you're better than us. This isn't what
life is about."

Scoff. Make a series of noises indicating your disbehef. "What the
hell are you talking about, baby?" Your intonation reveals that it is a rhetorical
question. You don't have to answer to this bullshit. Your cell phone rings. It's
your mom. You haven't picked up for her in the last month, but you answer in
haste. "Ma, I don't have time right now." Hang up on her.

"You know what I'm talking about. This music shit has changed you,
Dave. It's like you're too good for the rest of us. You're just. . .a big dick."

You throw your arms in the air. You pace. You feel the strain in your
neck and your pulse at your temple. "This is bullshit. Bullshit. You're just

33



jealous. You just have to come down on me now that I've had my big break.
Pitchfork is the best thing that's happened to me, and you can't even be happy?
Come on, babe." You've got her now.

"You know, I've been thinking," she says. She looks to her shoes.
They're bright pink crocs and you hate them. You make a note to compare a
terrible band to ugly pink crocs. "I'm not sure I feel like being your 'babe'
anymore, David. And the sad thing is, I don't think you even care." She turns
to walk out the door, and just as she swings the door open and steps into the
hallway, you speak to her back.

"You're right. I don't."

Write for Pitchfork for a few months. Write no favorable reviews.
Begin interviewing bands. Your editors set up the interviews, and using the
radio station's telephone, you record the conversations and stay up until three
in the morning painstakingly transcribing them so you'll meet your deadlines.
Ask poignant questions like, "When you murdered the only muse who was ever
kind to you three albums back, where did you bury the body?" Before they have
a chance to answer, follow up with, "Don't you think it'd be wise to dig them
back up?" In the introductory paragraphs, make it seem as though the band was
scrambling to get time with you, rather than squeezing you into their hectic
schedule. Ask Bonnie 'Prince' Billy if he plans on changing his name to Bonnie

'T^' Billy, because you feel his music has been pretty flamboyantly gay lately.
Make up answers to your interview questions if you don't like the real ones, and
never respond to angry inquiries regarding the accuracy of the statements. You
dial Claire's number into your cell phone often, but you never hit "send." You've
seen her a handfiil of times in the past month, but did not speak. You hope she
doesn't expect you to make the first move. Yeah, right.

You're spending all but 10 hours a week shut in your room. You don't
attend classes and you don't answer the phone. You string a sheet across the
bedroom, and your roommate often doesn't even know if you're alive on the
other side. He considers the lack of a cadaveric odor to be an affirmation of your
continued existence.

Don't listen to the albums you review anymore. Just glance at the
cover, then write 2,000 word diatribes about the evils of down-picking during
verses or the irrelevance of a rhythm section in modem rock composition. You
get emails from your editor, you're being too vague. You don't have to like the
music, but you actually have to write about the music. You scratch your beard
and run your hands through your lengthy hair. Wipe the grease on the pant leg of
your pajamas.

In a rare visit to a coffee shop, someone tells you that you look like
Devendra Banhart. You punch their nose until it's inverted. Or so you imagine.
Take the hits like a man. The hospital stay puts you out of the reviewing
game for a day or two, and when you get back, an email fi^om your editor is
waiting. He thinks he has just the thing to revitalize you. He wants to send you

34



to Paloozamboozle. The biggest festival on the East Coast. Pitchfork is co-
sponsoring and Sonic Youth is headhning. You're going for free, and you're
going to write a special feature. "A Weekend with Sonic Youth." Prepare
yourself, because you're going to spend the weekend with your idols. You laugh
under your breath, but your bruised ribs make you wince. You know what you
have to do. You know what needs to be done. You look at your cell phone. It
says "1 Missed Call." It's Claire. It's the first you've heard from her since your
argument. You hit "clear" and throw your duffle bag on to the bed.

Speak to no one at the festival. Only respond in nods, and follow the
peons as they lead the way. Make way, plebian wretches. Make the flicking way.
A balding man with enormous oil-spill pit stains leads you to Sonic Youth's
"area." It's basically an open tent outside with some fold-out tables and lots of
coolers stuffed with bottles of Poland Spring. Ha. Poland Spring. You'd think
a band like Sonic Youth would have better taste in water. The place is abuzz.
Nasty, grimy roadies run this way and that while useless people stand around
being extra-useless in the heat. Pit Stains leads you up to a tall, lanky man with
a puggish face and a messy side part. Thurston Moore, one of the founders of
Sonic Youth. If the heads of Joan Rivers and Mick Jagger collided like atoms
in fusion, and then Steven Tyler's lower lip was stretched over the result, you'd
have Thurston Moore. Make a mental note to use that in the article.

"This is David Ashcroft, from Pitchfork Media. He's going to be sort-of
shadowing you guys for the weekend," says Pits. He wheezes and you could just
smack him. You think that there's probably nowhere else on Earth that would
employ such a pathetic miscarriage of humanity. He probably likes The Killers.
What a bitch.

"Yeah, yeah, we were wondering if someone was coming after all,"
says Thurston. He turns to you, and smiles with his guppy mouth. "How's it
going, Dave?" He extends his hand, but you don't raise yours to meet it.

You look Thurston Moore, singer and guitarist and co-founder and
mastermind of Sonic Youth, savior of your musical taste and guide to your
musical journey, directly in his eye. Don't choke. You've got a job to do. Just
swing all the way through and deliver the hit. "You guys are fucking sell-outs."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me."

"Is this some kind of joke?" For a moment, Thurston looks honestly
surprised. You hold his gaze. Now he's surprisingly stolid. "Seriously, what is
this?"

"You're a joke. Paloozamboozle's a joke. The whole scene's a joke.
Fuck you. Even Sonic Youth can't make decent music anymore."

"Seriously, kid, what the fuck is this?" Spit at his feet and turn away.
Thurston says something to your back, the only part of you whose attention
he deserves. Pit Stains stands slack-jawed. Somewhere in the distance, a band
starts up their set, and they're fticking terrible, too. When you get back to your

. 35



dorm, write the article you were commissioned to write. Submit it to your
editor. "O, weep for Music - she is dead" is all it says. The next day, you get an
email stating your termination. Shortly afterwards, you open a letter from the
university. You're being withdrawn from your classes. You're being expelled.

Go underground for a few years. When you reemerge, you hope people
will have forgotten about your tyrannous past. You no longer write pages and
pages of hyperbolic ranting. Your reviews are succinct and practiced. Spin
magazine isn't such a bad gig. Still, a part of you feels dead. No one reads the
reviews in Spin. You're pretty sure no one reads any of the actual words in Spin.
Spin is filled with pretty pictures.

One day, you pick up your mail, and the fresh issue of Spin is among
the stack of bills. You crack it open and flip through nonchalantly. Something
catches your eye. You look at the letters from the readers. Most are the usual
tripe, I liked the article about P. Diddy, I'm a moron with no life. Spin is so kewl.
But one stands out. "Dear Spin,'' it says. "I have to disagree with your review
of the new Britney Spears. I think she is tremendously talented and still going
strong. It's too bad that Mr. Ashcroft doesn't have the ability to recognize honest
music when he hears it."

Your heart sinks a little when you read the name. "Signed, Tracy," it
says. The tables have turned. In this new, foreign world, no one disagrees with
Tracy. In this new world, you feel the pressure as you're forced to the bottom of
the pile. You're a music critic, bitch. No one likes a critic.



36



Into the Woods

Dorothy Meczykowski

The color green radiated from every surface in my Hne of vision. I was
completely surrounded by the effervescent hue to the point where I felt blinded
by it. There were large flat leaves, small pointy ones, long wisps of grass, along
with shorter, stubbier versions all coated with the same shade of green, as if
someone had a little too much fun with a color-by-numbers painting. Behind me
was a forest of long hollow reeds acting as a curtain to the marsh that enveloped
them. I could hear a faint rustling transpiring from inside the bamboo-like
curtain, but it was for the most part drowned out by the loud steady beat of a
tribal drum. With every breath I took, the drum grew faster.

"Alright boys enough is enough. I know your hiding somewhere in that
brush. It's time to show yourselves," a gruff voice yelled out from somewhere
past the greenery. It was the voice of an older man, who perhaps carelessly, had
smoked one too many cigarettes throughout his lifetime and within the next few
years, was more than likely to acquire some form of emphysema. Nevertheless it
was a voice I did not want to hear.

Sweat poured from my glands like water from a ruptured hydrant.
I tried to wipe my face with the soiled shirt I was wearing, but much to my
dismay, it was already soaked. Blood trickled from an assortment of scratches
running down my legs. My whole body ached. How did I get into this mess?
From my crouched position, I surveyed the area in an attempt to find an escape
route. There was none. The leafy enclosure I initially found my refuge in was
quickly turning into my prison. The only way out was through the shrubs in
front of me leading out to the road where the man was waiting. I wasn't about to
give in that easily.

I wondered how my partner in crime was taking the whole situation
from his own hiding spot. The last I saw of Harvey, he was diving into shrubs
on the other side of the road; the same road that was now being patrolled by
our unwelcome sentinel. Harvey was tough though, maybe tougher than me.
He wouldn't have been bothered by the approaching rustling coming from the
marsh. I, on the other hand, was petrified by it.

"Enough is enough. You boys can get hurt in these woods! It's time to
cut the crap!" The man's voice seemed to be heading in the opposite direction of
where I was hiding. I could hear a truck door being opened and then slammed
shut. The truck slid out of park and into drive as the man began his journey past
us. Maybe he would let us off easy and just leave. All I knew was that he had
better leave soon because there was no way I was going to stick around to find
out the source of the rustling behind me. Just then, the truck stopped and from
across the way I heard a small whimper.



37



Hours earlier, I found myself at Harvey's house sitting on his living
room sectional couch, throwing a baseball into the air and catching it as gravity
pulled it back down. The steady pattern mesmerized me. Unlike Harvey, I was
easily entertained and perfectly content sitting there on his couch. It was a
gorgeous summer day and Harvey, like any normal thirteen year old on summer
break, was itching to go make the most of it.


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