If a new album from Fred Thomas wasn’t enough, the news that Chan Marshall will be releasing her first record in six years made my week. I’m not usually crazy about album trailers but I’ll make an exception for Cat Power. She’s one of those artists I don’t know I need until I hear it. The Greatest still haunts me twelve years later. Now I just need something to distract me from the fact that this won’t be out until October.
I saw Fred Thomas open for Eleanor Friedberger last year at Third Man Records downtown. His verbose indie pop on last year’s Changer caught me completely off guard. How had I overlooked an artist whose music so resonated with me? “Open Letter to Forever” is the perfect mix of poignancy and comedy. It’s a song that makes me smile every time I hear it.
Yesterday, Fred’s first single from Aftering debuted at The Fader. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album in September.
We all stare into the infinite scroll. Sure, it was once a questionable UI solution that created an even more dubious UX for surfacing content on websites — don’t like what’s on the menu, well, what if that menu were endless — now defines how we consume content online, interrupted only occasionally as the timeline lags. It’s an exhausting, indiscriminate way to interact with media, but what’s the alternative? We literally look at mobile devices hundreds if not thousands of times a day and the social web waits to scratch an itch our brains have to be constantly entertained.
Ever since the election, I’ve striven — unsuccessfully- to change my media diet. As someone who consumes a ton of content that streams through my various timelines for professional reasons, I’m trying to be more mindful of and intentional about my media consumption and the habits that enable it.
I’ve long admired Jason Kottke’s work and lately I’ve appreciated how he’s documented his media diet in much the same way one might keep a food journal. Here’s a recent example.
To that end, I’ve compiled a list of things I’m engaging on purpose!
- Yo La Tengo — There’s a Riot Going On. Seriously just what the doctor ordered to start an unseasonably cold spring. I didn’t think they’d match the brilliance of Fade, but this is a great coda on a wonderful career.
- Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks — Sparkle Hard. Ever since I heard the first single, “Middle America,” which sounds like it would fit comfortably on Terror Twilight, yet still sounds fresh.
- The Breeders — All Nerve. Ugh I know this has been very “Remember the 90s” but the new Breeders has so much attitude! “Nervous Mary” is one of my favorite songs of the year.
- Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth. A perfectly defiant record. It’s how I start Sunday morning in 2018.
- Abbott. Saladin Ahmed’s phantasmagoric thriller set in the ‘70s about a Detroit reporter investigating murders in Cass Corridor is reminscent of Lauren Bewkes’ fantastic novel, Broken Monsters, but less nouveau Detroit.
- Reddit. I remember when Reddit was castigated as being the internet’s cesspool, but now the notion of self-moderated communities that you can visit intentionally feels pretty great.
- Everything trail and ultra running, starting with The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young. The Barkley Marathons aren’t an insane race, they’re an existential crisis. A friend of mine from high school went this year to observe the race and he witnessed its brutal majesty firsthand. There were no finishers this year. Check out The Year Barkley Won in Trail Runner Magazine, too.
- Babylon Berlin — Jason wrote a bit about the music here, but I was positively spellbound over 16 45-minute long episodes. “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” is a showstopper. Babylon Berlin is thrilling and punctuated by fantastic song and dance numbers.
- The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies. I’ve been bullish on the Phillies’ rebuild, but had not expected them to lead the NL East in the first half. I also didn’t expect the Braves to be at the door so quickly either.
I’ll try to update this on a quarterly basis. How do you manage your cultural consumption habits?
I recently wrote my nearly obligatory “some personal news” post related to leaving my job in March. I’ve been working in digital and social since you needed to code the page you wanted to publish. That’s a not insignificant time spent in front of screens. From desktops and laptops to tablets and phones, I have been hitting refresh on feeds and streams my entire career. Being able to step back from them, even just a little bit, has been transformative.
So what have I been doing with myself when I’m not jumping on calls?
I’ve been retraining my brain. I’ve been consuming actual culture in a way I haven’t since I was a music critic. And, I’ve been running.
Now, I’ve written about running in the past. In fact, when I started writing this this morning, I had to edit — and ultimately delete — a post I started writing about running last October. Why? Because I began the post the way I always do, saying that I’d learned from the last time I suffered an overuse injury and how this time would be different.
Well — spoiler — it wasn’t. I probably had my shortest stint of active running yet. I was hobbled with a weird and painful ankle injury that sidelined me all winter.
So what’s different this time? For one, I’ve actually stuck to my stated principles each time I’ve written one of these posts. I started running 6 slow miles a day in March, then bumped to 10 per day in May and am now flirting with 12 a day in July.
Best of all I’ve discovered trail running. I watch an absurd amount of ultrarunner YouTube now, notably stuff from Ginger Runner, but also stuff from outdoor and sports brands like REI, Red Bull, Hoka One One and more. Watch How to Run 100 Miles and tell me it’s not different from every piece of branded content you’ve ever seen. It inspired me. It captures so much of what I’ve been chasing in life: the ability to disconnect and, well, #OptOutside in a way that too few of us make time to do.
Because I can’t shut off the part of my brain that thinks about how content can connect us to meaning, I’ve gone deep on outdoor brands because I think that since REI went big with #OptOutside they’ve really captured an ethos that many Americans I know yearn for: the ability to escape and push the boundaries of what’s possible. I think it’s what Strava got half right in its #GiveKudos campaign when they tried to connect interaction on their app to something different from the hellstream of political memes we see every time open our phones in the morning. It’s a noble effort and one that I hope these brands continue to pursue.
I know what you’re thinking. This is where I announce my next race. You’re not wrong. I’m hoping to run my first ultramarathon — a mere 50K — in early September. I’ve got this!
My dad died a week ago. We had a complicated relationship.
What can I say about him? He was a mysterious man. I have few specifics. What I have are some details that paint a gauzy picture of whom I understand him to be, or to have been.
I know that his childhood was fraught. That his father was abusive. That his mother was abusive. He grew up in West Philadelphia at 61st and Girard. He had a guardian angel in his aunt Helen, who was also his parents’ landlord. I knew her. He loved her very much.
While details of his boyhood were scarce, he told amazing stories about his adolescence. As I’ve heard from many Philadelphians his age, everyone seemed to fight constantly. The violence was spontaneous and intense. A neighborhood goon would terrorize the trolley. The plot of land that became Samuel Gompers Elementary School was a Gangs of New York-esque battlefield where my dad punched the lead singer of the Dovells in the nose, or so he claimed. They beat each other with spindles from stoop staircases. Philadelphia in the ‘50s was wild.
He loved basketball and played at Overbrook. The team was led by Walt Hazzard. My dad told me that the top eight players went on to play professionally. He was not among them.
To hear him tell it, Philadelphia was so dangerous, he felt compelled to enlist. He claimed that going into the service saved him from Graterford. He joined the Navy and was an airplane electrician aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga. I only recently realized he was aboard during the Gulf of Tonkin incident. He witnessed a pilot be butchered by a plane propeller. For all the stories he would tell about surfing throughout Asia, the war deeply affected him. He rarely spoke about it and was sharply critical of those who reimagined themselves as war heroes.
There’s another ellipsis after he returns home. His dad — a WWI vet born in 1899 — dies in 1963, I think. He marries my mom in 1974. He gets his degree in food marketing from Saint Joe’s in ’75. He went at night. They moved to a farmhouse in Gabelsville, PA that was built in 1760, where they raised sheep and horses.
I arrived in ’77 and my sister in ’80.
He worked at GE, then Martin Marietta, then finally Lockheed Martin for 40 years in Valley Forge. He wasn’t allowed to talk about what he did, but he brought home amazing souvenirs that his colleagues got for him. I have a t-shirt from the Yeltsin coup. I have a Soviet officers hat and a KGB watch. I got a t-shirt with an elephant that just said “Africa.”
He was an amazing provider. He cared very deeply about us kids having a better childhood than him. His ability to create a life for us is undeniable. He wanted so badly to take us to Hong Kong. We never made that trip.
While our relationship grew complicated as I got older, I ultimately understood that he was doing his very best. I hope he knew that I knew that, even if neither of us was able to say it to each other.
Love you, Dad. Give Aunt Helen a hug and a kiss for us.