The Blog

Four More Years

Exactly four years ago today, after a three-and-a-half-day cross-country drive, I arrived in San Francisco for good.

My dreams of moving here had grown more and more powerful since 2007, when I first managed to visit, but I’d actually had it in my head that I wanted to live here since at least 1993, when during Coast Guard boot camp I requested an initial duty station anywhere in the Bay Area. (I got New Bedford, Massachusetts instead, which I hear has come a long way since then. But I digress.) I left Florida two days after the string of disappointments that were Election Day 2014 in the Sunshine State and Continue reading “Four More Years”

Things I miss about Florida, part 3: Thunderstorms

Florida summers are brutal. The double-whammy combination of high heat and humidity makes venturing outside for more than a few minutes at a time supremely uncomfortable, unless you like the sensation of having been basted in a thin slick coating of your own perspiration at all times (I, for one, do not). The sun is relentless, bright enough some days to give you a headache from just looking out the window. You will often find your steering wheel is too hot to touch without gloves.

But on the other hand, there are thunderstorms.

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Image by William Carson

If you’ve never experienced a Florida thunderstorm, I can tell you they’re not like thunderstorms I’ve experienced elsewhere. Florida storms are Continue reading “Things I miss about Florida, part 3: Thunderstorms”

These Are My Records: “Yellow Submarine”

If there is a Beatles album that could be described as “non-essential,” or “disposable,” or “give me my money back,” it’s Yellow Submarine. Consider—and then quickly dismiss—the entire second side, which is just a series of short orchestral compositions by George Martin for the soundtrack to the animated film of the same name. This leaves us side one—a handicap, but not a fatal one; there are plenty of worthwhile albums out there that have one really good side and one that’s best ignored—but the two famous songs on that side (the title track and “All You Need Is Love”) weren’t even new when this album was released.

The original plan was apparently to release the other four songs on side one—you know, the actual new-in-1967 ones—as a standalone EP. Had they done so, it almost certainly would have gone on to be held in higher regard than Yellow Submarine ever was. These tracks are mostly pretty good: George’s two turns at the mic act as bookends, first in the passive-aggressive, floating-dream-state dig at his bandmates’ business practices that is “Only a Northern Song” and then on the psych-pop masterpiece “It’s All Too Much;” in between, Paul the ditty-meister leads a few back-porch jug-band verses of what basically amounts to a goofy childhood nonsense song (“All Together Now”). It’s fine, if somewhat uneven, work.

But the track that would have held that EP together—and the one that works the hardest to redeem this disc—is “Hey Bulldog,” a four-four stomper with a tough-guy piano riff intro and some absolutely screaming guitar tone in George’s solo. It also has Paul and John barking like dogs for reasons that are unexplained (and probably best left that way). If you follow that link, be sure and listen to the way the slight echo in the snare hits in the chorus adds tension and forward motion, but is something you probably wouldn’t even notice unless it was pointed out to you.

Ever since I was a little kid (we had a lot of Beatles albums in my house growing up), I’ve been able to put “Hey Bulldog” on a loop and just let it repeat for half an hour or so. Too bad it doesn’t get the support it deserves from the rest of the disc, but if you happen to spot this in the bargain bin at your local record shop, it’s probably worth a couple bucks on its own.

Things I miss about Florida #2: Beaches where you can swim

I’ve never really been a beach person. I don’t much care for sand, for one thing, and my Scotch-Polish heritage means I’m not big on sunbathing either, for obvious reasons. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two valid reasons to go to the beach at all: to play volleyball, or to swim. (Unless you have kids, in which case “letting the little buggers run wild outdoors for a couple of hours while you sit under an umbrella and try desperately to claw back some quiet time for yourself” also counts.)  But sometimes, when the weather was good and my mood was just so and I had a day off that most other people didn’t have, I would sometimes take advantage of my proximity to the coastline and actually visit, say, Fort DeSoto or St. Pete Beach or even all the way down to Siesta Key for an afternoon of flopping about in warm salt water until my eyes burned.

But as the great American poet Tom Kiefer so prophetically observed, you often don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone. Beach swimming is all but impossible in California, which you’d never know based on the fact that the Beach Boys never mentioned having to put on rubber wetsuits before hopping on a surfboard, but nevertheless, it is so. (On a somewhat-recent trip to San Diego, all the surfers at Ocean Beach were wearing wetsuits, suggesting that swimming would have definitely been a no-go. Of course, it was March, so that could also have something to do with it.) I cannot go swimming at the beach here, and as a result, swimming at the beach sounds like the most enticing thing ever.

Of course, I visited a lovely beach in Italy last year and went for a short swim. It was … fine. And I know perfectly well that if I were to move back to St. Petersburg tomorrow, I’d probably stop caring about the damn beach before I even got clear of baggage claim. It’s just how I am. Still, I miss it now, and that’s the point.

These are my “records:” Juliana Hatfield, Sleater-Kinney and the End of History

Juliana Hatfield: Only Everything (1995)
Sleater-Kinney: All Hands On the Bad One (2000)

It’s easy to forget now, but the 1990s were supposed to be the End of History. The threat of sudden nuclear obliteration arriving and raining down on us faster than Domino’s could bring us a pizza—one that we Generation Xers had lived with our entire lives—was suddenly just gone, and in the ten-year interregnum between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Twin Towers, we never quite managed to figure out what we were supposed to do with ourselves now.

Juliana Hatfield wasn’t singing about the end of history on her 1995 album Only Everything, but I’ve always thought it neatly captures the overall feel of the moment: Mostly confident but still tentative in places, looking inward instead of out at the broader world, trying to shed the cynicism that by then had come to define her (and my) generation. Her Continue reading “These are my “records:” Juliana Hatfield, Sleater-Kinney and the End of History”