Twenty years ago today, this post laid the groundwork for this site, which has very dramatically surpassed Otherstream in traffic (really, does anyone even come around here anymore?) and also led to a whole new career for yer humble host.
This is one of my favorite pictures of my dad. He didn’t particularly like to be photographed, so he very often made some kind of goofy grin or hid his face. But this one actually looks like him, which is kind of nice.
I also like it, though, because he’s driving and it makes me think of all the road trips we took when I was a kid (he didn’t like to fly any more than he liked to be photographed) and because in this shot, we just happen to be on the way to Toronto.
It’s weird, though, for me to realize that my dad was about a year younger than I am now when this photo was taken.
I’ve always thought I was more line my mom than my dad in general. We have more of a family resemblance and we maybe shared a few more interests overall. But as I get older, I see more of my dad in me too, or at least the things I romanticize about him, like his love of driving and exploring and the way he always had some little diner tucked away in whichever town we were in.
And his sense of humor.
And the fact that we both ended up a little, uh, endearingly impatient. Yeah. That’s a diplomatic way to put it…
Anyway, I miss him.
Happy Father’s Day.
All these magazines and internet platforms should be supporting new music and help new musicians to find an audience, instead of dwelling on the old crap all the time. It’s like there is nothing new and exciting out there any more, when in fact there is. So stop living in the past. Open your ears and your eyes. It’s not that difficult, is it?
This. Precisely. And really not just about bands.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the past; in fact, my whole career is pretty much based on preserving and studying the past, and making it easier for others to do so. But for me, the past is a place to visit and to use to build context about the present and the future. It is most decidedly not a place that I consider to be a permanent abode. While I may want to take a little vacation in noir-era Los Angeles (preferably with a digital camera with a lot of storage), it’s not somewhere I’d actually want to live out my days.
Music is actually a good example here. I think this whole notion that “all good music stopped being created the day I turned 25” is an idea that largely began with the boomer generation. It subjected us for decades to a proliferation of dismal “classic rock” radio formats–which I call “music for white people who refuse to move on (and by the way, get off my lawn, you millennial trash).” Now, I’m seeing it happen to younger people who should know better but still think that all “good music” ended in the 1980s. Or 1990s. (Hint: It didn’t.)
I get it. It’s easy to look back on certain music and memories and convince yourself that the past was a simpler and more idyllic place. But was it, really? You couldn’t pay me enough to make me relive high school or my first years in college in the 1980s. I was miserable most of the time, though I started many lifelong friendships (at least in college) as well. I lived my own past; I don’t feel the need to do so again. Granted, I do want to preserve my memories of it, both for context and on the very remote chance that someone else might care, but an obsessive focus on one’s own past seems like a symptom of depression. I’m comfortable with my past. As I often say, I have no regrets because everything I did up to the present contributed to who I am today, and I pretty much like who I am today.
Interestingly enough, I’m now much more interested in “alternative pasts” in places and times that I didn’t really experience firsthand, be it Los Angeles in 1949 or the Lower East Side in 1910 or Montréal in 1966. I’m at a point in my life where I need adventure and new things, even if some of them are new old things. And again, I really only want to visit.
And yes, there’s a lot of music from my past that I still really like, but it’s not the only fucking thing I ever listen to. While I can no longer stomach some of the most grating new wave synthpop from 1982, I do get excited when I catch a 1979 episode of American Top 40 on Sirius or a good 1990s alt-rock set. Most of the time, though, my radio (or alternative means of music delivery) is pushing out new indie bands, or francophone chanteuses, or old punk and jazz and standards I missed the first time around. There’s way too much interesting stuff out there to limit myself to listening the two hundred or so songs that “define” my teens and twenties over and over again.
I do not want to live in the past. I still have too much present and too much future.
The funny thing is that after almost thirteen years away, I still feel a very strong connection to California and the Bay Area, though Los Angeles (where I never lived) is the place I miss most. But after all those years, my affection and nostalgia for San Francisco (where I actually did live) has never really returned. The connection I feel to California — and in some ways, it still feels like home — does not extend to the place that actually was home. I don’t fully understand this, and sometimes it makes me a little sad.
When I lived in San Francisco. It was very common for my fellow residents not to think of themselves as Californians. They identified almost exclusively as San Franciscans, whether they’d lived there more than six weeks or not. While the earlier version of me was pretty obsessive about the place is well, I always saw myself as a resident of California first and of San Francisco second. I didn’t fall into the trap of believing that all civilization ended when you left the sacred 49 square miles, and I grew to love the state as a whole.
And I still love it. I’m generally ready to visit on a moment’s notice. If economics were not a factor, there are places I would still consider living in California. It’s still very much a part of me, and I think in a lot of ways I became so fluent in the culture that I still often think in “Californian.”
I know I have this annoying tendency to think of cities in much the same way most people think of lovers, and I’m self-aware enough to realize that part of the problem I have with San Francisco is the same problem one has with just about any ex. It’s hard to think about San Francisco without remembering how much I really despised it by the time I left. I dwell on the bad ending without thinking so much about the good times that preceded it. But I still regularly consume material about the history of the city, and I still have memories of good times there, but they don’t leave me with a particularly warm and squishy feeling.
The last time I was in SF, for a conference in Oakland in 2015, I found my visit to the city to be so off-putting that I’m still not sure I’ll ever return for even a quick visit. That was sort of hard for me to cope with; when I wrote about the rest of the trip, I never got around to finishing that last section where I would have talked about being in San Francisco. I couldn’t quite express my feelings, and I still can’t. I don’t believe, though, that all my antipathy toward the city was based on past experience . I really do think it is a very different place now, and it’s not a place that I particularly like. In fact, I don’t think I’d particularly like it now even if I had no history or background and were visiting for the first time.
Part of this is probably also related to the fact that I’m much more inclined to live in the present and the future these days, which is a good and healthy thing. I’m glad that I’m not “pining away” for my old life in San Francisco, but it would be nice to be able to muster up at least a little nostalgia for something other than an imagined historical past I never really experienced in person anyway.
I guess the tl;dr here is that I have a complicated relationship with San Francisco, but I still feel very connected to California, and that I don’t really know how to write about all of this…and probably should no longer even try. But a Twitter conversation this evening about this article reminded me that I’ve been meaning to do it anyway, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I don’t think I succeeded, but it killed a few minutes before bedtime.
Random thoughts on that most annoying of all holidays:
- Other than the years when I was long-term coupled, I can only remember one time in my life when I was actively dating someone on Valentine’s Day. I was 20 years old at the time, and didn’t much care for it. I don’t even remember how he and I celebrated the big day.
- I have a friend with whom I spend a lot of time. We’re often told we seem like an old married couple. When I think about it, I realize that (1) we frequently eat at the cafeteria, (2) she criticizes my driving all the time, and (3) we never have sex. So yeah, we pretty much are just like an old married couple.
- As Valentine’s Day civil disobedience options go, this one was a pretty cool (if soggy) one to be part of.
- The suckiest thing about middle age is that no one gets crushes on you anymore. I don’t care about the romance particularly, but the ego boost was always nice. Not that it happened all that often even before I hit middle age…
- At least I’m not having a Valentine’s Day colonoscopy this year.
- Screw the candy. Give me pie. And apple fritters.
According to the Date Duration Calculator, today marks the point where I’ve lived back in North Carolina for as long as I lived in California. That works out to twelve years, eight months, and change.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
I thought this was it going to be deeper and more wordy. Maybe later…
I’m of several minds about the controversial New York Times piece on the friendly neighborhood
white nationalist racist prick. I recognize that the article did go a long way toward “normalizing” his behavior, though I think it stopped short of being an apologia. That said, I also believe that there is some validity in demonstrating that racist nutjobs can be your neighbors and can seem like “nice people” until you learn what they really stand for. And I think there is a significant part of the population that doesn’t realize this.
I’ve written about Oleene before. She lived right across the street from me and seemed to many people to be a very nice lady, a good Christian, and the kind of person you’d want watching your kids during the day. But as one of the kids she watched, I realized that she was not a nice lady at all. She was horrible. She said things about people of color that make my skin crawl to this day; these were awful, hateful, and — in retrospect — violent things. She was a despicable human being and, despite having known her since childhood, I couldn’t make myself attend her funeral when she died. I used to try to excuse her, but by the time she died, I didn’t feel any sense of loss at all.
But yeah, she seemed like a sweet little Christian lady until she started talking about anyone who was different from her. And ultimately, it wasn’t just people of different races or ethnicities. Not surprisingly, I never quite fit the mold of what she thought a boy should be interested in. I wanted to read and draw and use my imagination and learn things. She constantly pushed me to go outside, pick up a ball, and act like the other boys and stop being so “silly.” She minimized and ridiculed everything that mattered to me. She made me think there was something wrong with me, and I grew to hate her for it. As I’ve also said before, Oleene and the “moral” evangelical hypocrites at Vandalia Christian School are two of the main factors in my transformation from Bible-toting child to atheist adult. Suffice to say, none of these folks provided me with a model that was in any way “Christlike” nor something I could imagine dedicating my life to.
The point here, though, is that she just seemed to blend in with the neighborhood, and I don’t think anyone ever really exposed her or called her on her bullshit (except maybe me, when I hit my rebellious years). She was an evil, hateful person who wrapped her nastiness in a cute wrapper of Christian belief and Southern sweetness. And she’s not alone. In fact, there are a lot of her around. And they, like Tony Hovater, need to be exposed. The Times may not have done so in the best way possible. Someone should.
Today is my alma mater’s 125th birthday.
It’s also the 25th anniversary of the day I took up residence in San Francisco. In another couple of months, I will also hit the point where I’ve been back on the East Coast as long as I was in California.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
And sometimes even when you’re not.
Fortunately there’s been much more of the former than the latter over the years.