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Cat Power — Wanderer

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.

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Fred Thomas — Good Times Are Gone Again

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.

How to Defeat the Infinite Scroll

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!

Listening

  • 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.

Reading

  • 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.

Watching

  • 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 BerlinJason 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?

A Runner Reimagined

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!

Remembering Jack Ramsay

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.