WORDS BY ELIZABETH BARKER & LAURA JANE FAULDS, ILLUSTRATION BY JEN MAY
A girl I know from home wrote Songs you will never ever get sick of even though you’ve heard them thousands of times and will probably hear them thousands more on her Facebook wall as a way of asking all her friends “Which are yours?” It was late and I was drunk and I started writing down the names of a bunch of different songs into the pale Internet-blue box but when I got to and dreams by the cranberries to be honest Mark asked me to be quiet. He was not being an oppressor by asking me that. It was late, he had to wake up early, and I’m a very loud typer.
Dreams by the Cranberries isn’t cool, I know that, but it doesn’t sound uncool to me— I’m just saying it’s uncool because I know that it is. It just is. I don’t hear it and think “This is really cool,” mostly I hear it as sounding delicate and spidery and ephemeral the same way a piece of white tulle would be ephemeral. It sounds like the life journey of a piece of white tulle, or lavender-grey, or cream, or rose gold tulle that started existing as part of a ballet costume at the end of the 19th Century in either Austria or Germany but has by 2014 faded away entirely. Not decomposed but what’s the other word? I want to say evaporated, since I am thinking of something so light. But the word I am looking for is disintegrate.
I’ve loved it since I was nine. It was on the Boys On The Side soundtrack, and I would rewind the cassette tape so we could listen to it over and over again. I was in my mother’s car. There were pool noodles in the back of the car.
I Tweeted about Dreams once. It was the winter I lived at my Dad’s apartment and worked overnight shifts at the Gap and my knuckles were always chapped and my lips were always bleeding. I worked out at a little gym across the street that still sends me pleading emails asking me to come work out at it again. I know I could and probably should unsubscribe from the gym’s email list but my time is really precious to me and I feel like it’s more the gym’s responsibility to notice that I’m a lost cause and deal with it than mine. One probably depressing afternoon I worked out to Dreams over and over again and then came home and Tweeted about how when I work out to Dreams by the Cranberries I feel like I’m wearing a t-shirt that says I’M WORKING OUT TO DREAMS BY THE CRANBERRIES across the front, because I was younger and cared more about whether things were or cool or not, it embarrassed me to be listening to such an uncool song, but that was the tail end of me caring about whether a song or something was or wasn’t cool, that’s how old you are when that impulse evaporates and decomposes, twenty-five I would say— and a girl I knew replied to that Tweet, I don’t remember what she said, but she’s dead now. She died a few weeks ago.
Home is so weird now that I don’t live there. It snowed there, and then they had a warm day, and I don’t know if any of my friends are happy or sad, and everyone is dying. No young person died the entire time I lived there, and then I moved away, and everyone started dying. My dentist died.
I really liked my dentist. Once my dad and I went to the liquor store and my dentist was outside the liquor store smoking and it turned out the liquor store was closed so my dad and I walked to a different liquor store and then we ran into him again, and we joked about it, how we all wanted to get drunk bad enough to go to a second liquor store rather than just give up and not drink. Another time, he said to my dad, “I get you, you’re like my dad, you’re a laid-back dude.” He was my dad’s dentist too.
I listened to Dreams by the Cranberries the next day, not the day after my dad and I ran into my dead dentist at the liquor store (though maybe that day too), but the day after my boyfriend asked me to stop typing loudly at three in the morning. I was walking to the Drapers Arms to go meet Vanya; the Draper in Drapers Arms refers to the old-timey profession of a retailer or wholesaler of cloth but I like to imagine that it is Don. Don Draper’s Arms. I took a detour to holler at 157 Hemingford Road along the way— that’s where the main character of my novel lives. There was a little pale aqua Volkswagen Beetle parked out front that I’d never seen parked out front of it before, which was a nice touch. The little pale aqua Volkswagen Beetle is parked out front of 157 Hemingford Road on Google Street View, too, in case you need to see it to believe it, or just want to.
I was wearing a chartreuse turtleneck. The lady from the Cranberries breathe-sang about her life changing every day in every possible way and I wanted to cry but didn’t, since I wasn’t actually sad. I was significantly less sad than usual. I felt very conscious of, and very grateful for, gravity. For my feet being planted firmly on the ground. I felt very earthy and solid; I was a Taurus for a second. A few days later I was thinking about my parents on the bus, about how weirdly well your parents know you— you forget it about them. My parentes knew me when I was a baby and then they watched me turn into a child and then a teenager and then a grown-up, nobody else really did that, observed the narrative of my life from the vantage point of already being an adult--
I have some friends who I’ve known for a long time and they’ve also seen the whole thing unfold, but they were just little kids and little teens the whole time too. They wouldn’t have been able to put it into a proper context, wouldn’t have been able to decipher the relationship between the way I was growing and the way I was aging. I guess I feel like Dreams can see me the same way. It knew me when I was nine and pool noodles were an object I interacted with, when I was fourteen and pretended to like anime because… I don’t know. I don’t know why I ever did that, when I was twenty-five and worked out at a shitty gym, when I was twenty-nine and looked at a house on Hemingford Road I didn’t live in but still could remember living in it because I am a fiction writer and my weird brain works like that. And that was a beautiful feeling, nothing at all like a piece of flimsy fabric decaying. I felt like I was my own little planet. The world around me was the flimsy thing.
Kurt Vile, "Puppet to the Man" (Liz)
A few Fridays ago I got to go to a special screening of a movie called Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston. Jennifer Aniston was there and she did a Q&A afterward; she was very fluttery and Rachel Green-y and stunning in her smart pink dress, which you can see in this mediocre photo of mine. After the screening there was a Kurt Vile show at a church in Koreatown and I really wasn't in the mood: I wanted to bask in Jennifer Aniston's pink-and-golden movie-star glow a little while longer and then go home, but in the end I sucked it up and drove over to the goddamn show. The thing about seeing Kurt Vile, I remembered, is that as long as you can find a place to sit or a wall to lean against, you can just zone out and be off in your own world, but in a way that's enhanced by Kurt Vile's cool draggy voice and spacey vibes. It's restorative, like communal naptime, only with pretty guitars and no post-nap hangover.
Anyway, Alisa and I drove to the show separately and I got there first, so I went to the upstairs bar and paid ten bucks for a glass of bad white wine. The opening band wasn't my thing so instead of watching them I went to a nice little room outside of the women's bathroom and charged my phone. There was a vanity there and I touched up my eyeliner and lipstick and drank my wine and responded to some texts and Instagram interactions, and by the time Kurt Vile came on I was all refreshed and ready to go. I felt entirely accommodated by my surroundings, and I decided that's going to be thing for 2015 and beyond: total accommodation at all times, no matter how unfavorable and potentially irritating the circumstances. All you need is some imagination and willingness to look like a weirdo, and fortunately I've got both those things in spades.
In the months leading up to my moving to London, a lot of people told me that moving to London wasn’t going to solve all of my problems, probably because it was so fucking obvious that I thought moving to London was going to solve all my problems. I got used to defensively prefacing every “I’m moving to London”-related statement I made with an “I don’t think moving to London is going to solve all my problems” meant to pre-empt my own feeling patronized by somebody else saying it, but the truth is I was totally lying every time I said that and definitely did believe that moving to London was going to solve all my problems.
Moving to London solved some of my problems, namely my problem of wishing I lived in London instead of runty, second-rate Toronto, but it also generated a shit-ton of new problems. But mostly I have the same amount of problems here as I did there: it seems like everything always balances out to being neutral. You want your life to at least be shitty so you can have a take on it but it can’t even be bothered.
The thing about living in London that consistently feels least-problematic to me is that we have Harrods here. That is one of the most important things you need to know about what my experience of living in London is like: when I am sad, I go to Harrods, and then I feel less sad. Harrods is like church for me. That sounds gross, it sounds like I’m saying that my devotion to a luxury department store is religious in character, which I guess is what I am saying, but I’m saying it with equal contempt for the concepts of religion and luxury goods, which in my own opinion is cool of me. I just think that Harrods is a very safe and beautiful space to be existing inside, and when I go there I feel a general disconnect from the more problematic aspects of my life, I feel relaxed, like I’ve just taken a nice warm sip of Armagnac in a parallel Universe where I like Armagnac as much as I wished I like Armagnac on account of the prettiness of the word Armagnac and its being featured in the lyric to my favorite Kinks song.
I think people who like going to church might go to church for similar reasons. The idea of feeling absolved of something is very attractive to me. I’m not too bogged down by sin on literally any level unless it is abuse or murder but Harrods absolves me of the thing I do feel weighed down by. I can’t perfectly explain what that thing is, something like a hybrid of boredom and dissatisfaction and ugliness, aesthetic ugliness, of real life London not lining up with London how I want it to be in my head, I guess. Harrods is a big part of the London in my head, not counting the luxury goods part of it. I wish I could have London but rip every single one of its relationships to luxury goods out of it, just scoop out all that dull-ass bullshit like scooping the seeds out of the center of a cantaloupe. I wish I could just gut it and let it be a bunch of beautiful old buildings and parks, the chillest pubs and superlative wine shops and a couple Nando’s and Sager & Wilde and there would still be Buckingham Palace and all that royalty shit but instead of the Queen Paul McCartney would live there.
One Saturday evening in November, I got dressed up to go to Harrods because I had an eye infection and I wanted to feel less ugly about myself and fuck it, why not just put your fanciest dress on and go to fucking Harrods, what else is life for, what else is life for. My mom, who is cool, bought me a fifty pound Harrods gift card to say congratulations on becoming a Junior Sommelier; it came in a gold envelope and the card itself was black and imprinted with a golden outline of the Harrods building. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was going to spend my Harrods gift card on anything except… WINE! At first I thought maybe I would buy one really fancy bottle of wine but then I decided to buy two less-fancy bottles of wine so that I could taste two different tastes instead of one boring one. There are so many grapes! So many different grapes, so many different places. You have to learn all of them. They are all always buzzing around my head like cute little grape bees, they are the new kaleidoscope I can see the world through, see it I mean, they are the way I understand the people who live in it. They exist in place of where used to be Beatles albums and Beatles songs and members of the band the Beatles and all their friends and hanger-ons and the way they all looked and felt during all the different years of the decade the 1960s.
I was listening to this version of Let Me Roll It when I walked into Harrods on the day I went to Harrods to buy free wine in my fancy dress: just by coincidence, just because. That day I was feeling confused by how I don’t care about rock and roll music as much as I care about the names of all the grapes, I couldn’t find any songs that seemed to match my life in the way that I wished a song could match my life, and then once I thought about it a little harder I decided that the last thing I wanted was a song that matched my life, as my life was feeling pretty dismal. So I just went with Paul McCartney since you can’t really go wrong with Paul McCartney. This song was playing as I marched determinedly through the luxury makeup and handbags sections of Harrods, determined to get the fuck out of them terribly, and the whole picture of it felt really romantic looking down on it from outside myself, the lovely idea of it, this miserable young woman with an eye infection going to a luxury department store and booking it through the sections of the luxury department store that make it a luxury department store while this crunchier version of an emotionally-indistinct Paul McCartney song plays in the background. Or maybe the foreground.
It felt like a scene that could only take place in a movie about my life. In London in November I almost never felt like myself; in London in November when I spoke I felt like I wasn’t saying the words I meant to be saying. So it was nice to feel very like myself for a second. To be absolved of the fear that I never might again.
As far as the Harrods set-up goes: after handbags comes food, which is a sigh, a spacious and opulent room or rather hall the centerpiece of which is a Tiffany lamp skylight raining shards of colored light upon a large refrigerated oval containing all the lobster claws, beluga caviar, and other such rich people seafood items that I am for some reason able to tolerate the existence of. Probably because I want to eat them. That room leads you into a bigger food room, and then a bunch of other littler food rooms branch out from that room, but to get to the wine shop you have to veer off and go through the luxury timepieces section (BARF, like honestly how in the world could you care) and then take an escalator down to the wine shop which is good, the down-ness of it: wine things should always be in the basement, even if they don’t need to be.
The Strokes, "Soma" (Liz)
The first day of November was a Saturday and that night I went out to dinner at a new-ish restaurant called Smoke Oil Salt. Here's what I remember us getting:
-catalan tomato toast
-an artichoke omelette with lemon aioli
-a bowl of olives
-this little baby cast iron skillet filled with big fat chunks of fried potato, plus a fried egg and chorizo and serrano ham
-some sort of amazing dessert that involved burned-milk ice cream
-and like 8 million other things that I'm forgetting because I just wanna think about the skillet of egg and chorizo and miraculously crispy/oily potato, which I could eat every day for the rest of my life and never love even one bit less
Oh and for wine I got a glass of albarino, and a red wine that I'm forgetting now. Our waiter was really cool and funny and told us how he'd recently eaten an entire sea bass, with the head and tail and everything, and how it's good luck to eat a whole fish and a week later he found a bunch of money in a trash can or something. And toward the end of our dinner Aziz Ansari came in with his beautiful pastry-chef girlfriend, and I probably stared too long but I couldn't help it: I've seen Aziz Ansari around town lots of times, but his eyes are so big and bright and I truly can't resist gazing into them.
Oh and the music at Smoke Oil Salt was fantastic; they played the MC5 and Pixies and The Clash and The Strokes, possibly including "Soma," which is my favorite Strokes song today. I hadn't watched this performance of it in about 12 years, but I'm hung up on how Julian Casablancas is both lethargic and attractively hostile. Every time I think about The Strokes for more than five seconds some part of my brain goes, "What a band!", which never happens with any other music I love. I've never been able to articulate why The Strokes in 2001 and 2002 and 2003 were so monumentally great and I don't even want to articulate it; I'd rather just be lazy and awed.
Night Moves, "Country Queen" (Liz)
I've had this song in my iTunes for two years and I only recently listened to it and fell in love with that killer/dreamy guitar riff that plays at 2:45 and then a bunch more times by the end of the song. If I were a guitar riff, I'd want to be just like that.
Courtney Barnett, "Are You Looking After Yourself?" (Liz)
At some point while I was home in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving I watched The One I Love, which is a Duplass Brothers movie starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. It's a romantic dramedy and the plot hinges on this creepy twist that I can't explain: it would definitely count as a spoiler, and anyway I don't feel like getting into it. By far my favorite part of the movie - aside from the general presence of Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss - was the scene where Elisabeth Moss is wearing a black button-down shirtdress with little white flowers and black low-top Converse All-Stars. It was a cool moment for me because I'd worn that exact outfit six days earlier, though my low-top Converse All-Stars are white. And the reason I'm mentioning it here is that it's a good outfit for listening to Courtney Barnett, tomboyish but feminine, in a way that feels both from another time and totally of-the-moment.
But yeah, my overall review of The One I Love is it's one of those movies like Gone Girl, where you're pretty much riveted the whole time but then once it's over you think about it for five seconds and you're like, "Whoa...I don't care at all." And that's fine. I like to be wildly entertained as much as the next guy. But if you're going to Netflix-stream a newly released independent movie starring cute people, I'd recommend watching Happy Christmas instead. It's got a cool gigantic baby and Lena Dunham being chill, and the most dramatic moment in the entire film centers on someone getting stoned and cooking a frozen pizza late at night on Christmas Eve - which is actually way more true to the spirit of Courtney Barnett, now that I think about it.
Miriam Makeba, “Pata Pata” (LJ)
I run now. I started running one horrible morning when I was recovering from my second London eye infection and trying to do an exercise video in our tiny little shithole of a flat and the video asked me to do a lunge that required more than the tiniest amount of space a human being could possibly attempt to do an exercise video inside and I lost my fucking mind. I had a fit. It was really weird that I could be twenty-nine and living in London, where everything was supposed to be in perfect order, but instead once I moved here I realized that you don’t make ANY money working in a restaurant and it costs me the equivalent of 800 Canadian dollars a month to live in the tiniest shithole in the world which I share with my boyfriend AKA the actual rent for our tiny out of the way shithole with a shared kitchen is equivalent to 1600 CAD (or 1400 USD) so please just bear that hideous piece of information in mind next time you feel jealous of me for living in London. And also I got an eye infection three weeks into living here and then it kind of went away and then it came BACK which is literally the worst thing that could ever happen to me taking the INSANE eye infection that ruined my life for an entire year five years ago into consideration (eye infections are a really loaded subject for me; I feel like the Universe inserts them into my life in an attempt to teach me a valuable lesson in being less vain about having beautiful eyes that I’m inclined to frame with beautiful long mascaraed eyelashes but it never works, all that happens is I have my eye infection and I’m bummed about it and then I recover from my eye infection and revert back to my prior state of eyelashes-vanity and the only lesson I ever learn is that eye infections are the fucking worst). Now that I’ve finally written that all down I kind of understand what drove me to have a fit that day. It was a cool fit. I screamed and cried and curled my body into potato bug formation and screamed into the bedsheets and then moved over to my yoga mat and screamed into my yoga mat and then it was over. I stood up and collected myself and announced, “I am going to go for a run,” and then I went for a run. It’s not very difficult to be a decently resilient person. All you have to do is not let your psychotic fit run for much longer than one minute and then figure out an alternative method of exercising that is not joining a gym because, duh, obviously you live in London and can’t afford to join a gym.
I went for a run, and it fixed shit the same way Harrods tends to fix shit, and that was that! Now I am a person who runs and likes running. Before I moved here, I briefly became a person who ran, but as a person who ran and hated running. Now I’m super into it. The air is clear here. It’s not supposed to be, is it? The London Fog or whatever. But the Industrial Revolution’s over, I guess. I mean, I don’t guess. I know. It’s definitely over. The air is clear here.
I started off by running around my neighbourhood, up to Camden Square, where Amy Winehouse lived and died. But then I started running around Cally Park, and it worked for me, so now I always run around Cally Park. It’s a great thing. It used to be called the Metropolitan Cattle Market, back when there was an Industrial Revolution going on. In the middle of the market was a clock tower. There is still a clock tower. I don’t know if it’s the same clock tower or if it’s a shitty new clock tower that they built in homage to the first one. The clock tower comes in the middle of every lap. In the olden days there were four pubs at the Cattle Market and they were called: The Lion, The Lamb, The White Horse, and the Black Bull. Apparently three of the four buildings still exist, but I don’t know which buildings they are. The Cattle Market closed down in the early 20th Century once “the trade in live animals diminished” (that is a quote from Wikipedia), and then it became a bric-a-brac market throughout the Second World War, which closed in 1963, and then it was nothing for awhile, and now it’s the place where I run. There’s a tennis court on the left, and then I run through a gate. Near the beginning of the gate is a wooded track with a bird feeder and there’s usually a big heap of disgusting pigeons hovering around the bird feeder which creates a challenge for me since I am afraid of pigeons. Sometimes there’s a pretty dicey looking dude hanging around the pigeon feeder. He comes to feed the pigeons and he stands in the middle of all the pigeons and I think “I hate you” and run around the pigeons and then the wooded part is over and I am back out in the clean air and then I run past the clock tower. Most days there is an old man around that section of the park who looks exactly like what you would want an old man in London to look like. Lots of tweed. He hangs out, with his Bull Mastiff, for hours. Sometimes I come at noon and he’s there and other times I’m running at two and he’s still there. He makes me think of my friend Matt King. Whenever I’m feeling down on my life and I see that man while I’m on my run I think of my friend from home Matt King and how Matt King would think this old guy was really cool and romantically perfectly Londony-looking. I think that if Matt King knew how Londony this old man looked he would wish he could see people looking that Londony, would think I was being a little bit lame for not appreciating London the way I would have been able to if my now self had been able to put a picture of that Londony man into my head last January, if I had been able to say to myself, “This is what you get to look at when you run.” I would have just about died of jealousy, and also been really proud of myself for running.
Pata Pata is the first song I listen to during the first lap of my run. It’s so fucking joyful, it gets me really hype and then after it’s over I’m just so into everything, into the spirit of it, of running and not being a depressed or fit-having person, forgiving London for being expensive because at least it has old tweed-hat and suited-men and their Bull Mastiffs fetching whatever the old-timey-est possible dog toy is, a bone I guess. There is one point nearish the end of song where Miriam sings “Until the morning sun begins to shine” and then she screams the cutest scream, her voice cracks, it’s the word “Hey” or maybe “Ey,” and it’s the most beautiful thing— whenever she screams it I do a little leap, leap over a little twig or whatever, I can’t help myself, it makes me really happy. It’s a real bummer to be back in a place of having to resort to finding my happiness in one-second moments that come from something as far outside of myself as a dead South African lady scream-singing “Hey” fifty years ago. After having known real, constant, smooth happiness spread across a period of years I am back in this lame place of I am scared and I am tiny and I very rarely feel like myself.. My eyes are getting better but they are still a thing I’m dealing with. I miss everything there is to miss and I love everything there is to love. I am trying so hard and I am working so hard and I am doing okay. I know that one day I’ll be where I want to be and I think that’s the most important thing: knowing, believing, that one day I will be that “Hey.”
The Beatles, "Hey Bulldog" (Liz)
Also while I was home for Thanksgiving I went to Boston/Cambridge to meet my buddy Laura so she could drive both of us down to the South Shore to see our friend Elaine. I took the train in and got to Boston early and rode the subway to Somerville, to visit a little bakery named "Paul." I learned about Paul from some Boston food Instagram and had extremely high hopes for my Paul experience, mostly due to the fact that two of my favorite things in life are bakeries and Paul McCartney. When LJ and Jen and I went to Martha's Vineyard two summers ago, LJ and I took a bus from the ferry to our inn, and on the way we passed the most adorable little ramshackle house - a cottage really, painted a shade of blue somewhere between turquoise and cerulean. I said I liked the house and LJ said "Yeah, it's a Paul house" or "It looks like Paul" or maybe just "Paul," and I agreed. I guess I expected Paul the bakery would be the same as a magical house on the side of the road in Oak Bluffs, and inside it'd be overly warm but in a cozy, eternally Christmas-y kind of way, and they'd bake cute things like dutch babies and sugar buns and ginger snaps and whoopie pies. Maybe Paul McCartney would be hanging out, reading the paper and drinking tea out of a darling enamelware tea kettle from a long time ago. He'd be late-'60s Paul McCartney and he'd look like this, only much less tense/confused:
But instead Paul the bakery was stuffy and underwhelming and deeply un-whimsical, especially considering it's a place that sells croissants in the shapes of animals. I bought a box of giant macarons to bring to Elaine's and then I left and wandered around the rest of the shopping center, which is an equally stuffy and deeply un-whimsical outdoor mall called Assembly Row. I still had about an hour to kill and thought about going back to Paul and getting a coffee and hanging out there - for some reason I felt imprisoned by Assembly Row, and it took about ten minutes of skulking around and hating everything to remember I was free, I could leave whenever I wanted.
So I got back on the T and headed to Central Square, to an Irish pub called The Field, which is probably one of my 25 most favorite bars in all the world. I sat at the bar and read my library book and got a pint of beer and everyone else there was Irish and a regular; they were all watching soccer. My favorite part was when one of the Irish regulars walked in and the bartender handed him a pint glass full of beer foam and the dude gave him a crooked smile and asked for a spoon, in his nice sing-song-y brogue. There were no dutch babies, but it was all very cozy and dudes were eating fish and chips and the walls are bright-red and I loved everyone. I decided that The Field is "Hey Bulldog," and Paul the bakery is no Beatles song at all.