yo, powe!

“Someone Great” is the first song I heard by LCD Soundsystem. I’d downloaded it with a folder of other random .mp3s from a music blog back in high school without any knowledge of what Sound of Silver was or how much success it was having in cities that were bigger than my rural hometown. It was just another weird indie song to be sampled before (more than likely) discarded.

The song pulses and chirps, chugging along at a glockenspiel frenzy for seven or eight minutes. I wasn’t used to songs like this because the way I listened to music didn’t fit it. I cared about lyrics and the cheap songwriting fireworks that I grew up with. The Alice Cooper and ZZ Top that my dad played in the car during road trips formed some of my first music memories and partly shaped my taste, but you could never say they were subtle about it.

Instead, this song dances along, perfectly content to be the background whirr to whatever you’re working on in front of it. It hints at a deeper energy than the phrenetic desperation in its parallel track, “All My Friends,” the very next song on Sound of Silver. Instead of a dull ache in the side of your head that repetitively bumps along under the claim that “someone great is gone,” this parallel taps on your forehead repeatedly (you can almost see Murphy’s finger almost bent in half as he pounds that middle-C piano key in the immediately-recognizable intro) while asking “WHERE ARE YOUR FRIENDS TONIGHT” in the shout of an anguished man. 

Although you can feel the heartbreak, loneliness, and frustration in much of LCD Soundsystem’s catalog—the last verse of “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” comes to mind—but “Someone Great” is the quiet assertion of the same emotions. Yes, someone great is gone, there’s nothing you can do about it, but it’s okay. Something about the way the synthesizer sounds like a broken hard drive and the humms mimic breaking waves reminds you that it keeps coming, and it keeps coming, but there’s a golden glockenspiel somewhere to make everything a little brighter. 

Community Radio DJ Sets, Wednesdays 2-4 AM PST

  • Songs that act as a kind of moral compass in lieu of you actually developing one for yourself
  • Songs that prove that yeah, you’re doing better than your old high school friends or at least better than like 3/4ths of your exes
  • Songs that give you that distinct feeling of “ya man I was fuckin blazed the first time I heard dis shit pass tha dank kush”
  • Songs that make you break out of your comfort zone because growth is important, you know? I think I’m going to try to cut out gluten
  • Songs that make you want to run through Target like a bat outta hell while you knock helmets and camping stoves off the shelves
  • Songs that make you wonder why you bought a Fuelband and who even convinced you that this “quantified self” thing was a good idea, anyway, it kind of low-key freaks you out
  • Songs that know what it feels like to be a little bit tired of everything in the whole world so you crumple into a ball and punch the carpet with your weak little hands until you realize you really should vacuum more
  • Songs that remind you that yeah, everyone’s pretty much faking it

Things I’m experimenting with right now

  • Going a whole summer without air conditioning
  • Drinking bad East Coast IPAs
  • Drinking as many free cups of coffee at work as I can without hurling or seizing
  • Writing until all that comes out is nonsense
  • Telling cute boys that I like ambient music
  • Going to parks and bars by myself
  • Leaving laundry until there is literally nothing left

Stumbled on my Vine account, which I haven’t touched in forever, and now I’m surrounded by feelings. Oregon summers are something else, man.

I met some nice queens on the subway home Saturday night. We were all a little drunk but happy—it was Pride, which is sort of like Christmas but with fewer reindeer and more leather jockstraps.

We chatted a little bit. They seemed like they were a few years older than I am, but they told me they’d grown up in the city. They have an advantage, we joked; they know where the parties are and how to stay alive as a faggot in a sprawling metropolis.

At the end, they invited me to a party. I said no because this city exhausts me and my phone is dying. I’m not confident enough in my navigational skills to be able to get myself from Williamsburg to my apartment. I also didn’t know how great I would be in that setting… What if they wanted to do some coke with me and I had to reveal how unhip I am? What if I made some offensive comment and they decided to be done with me?

As they were leaving, though, they reassured me. The one with the yellow mesh shirt, pleather pants, and platform heels hugged me and welcomed me to the city. The bearded one in all black shook my hand, kissed my cheek, and told me, “You’re cute, you’re going to do great here. Goodnight.”

A friendly tap on the shoulder from the world at large, a nod from your team’s side of the bleachers, a confirmation of the worthiness of this adventure.

The Great Discontent recently relaunched its website. It’s a magazine and blog that interviews creative professionals who are making the work that is (usually very quietly) setting the American standard for design, writing, and culture. Reading these interviews after a few solid days of BuzzFeed and Gizmodo articles is like someone dropped a bucket of cold water on your head and the part of your brain that takes in written information screams at you yes this is why you do what you do, these people understand what makes creativity work, why don’t you read this kind of inspiring writing all the time you lazy asshole

Although each of the interviews on the site read as complete and distinctive conversations about creative growth and personal success, a few common questions are repeated: Did you have any mentors along the way? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? and the titular question, Are you satisfied creatively? Because the interviewees are often authors and illustrators, many of them aren’t used to answering personal questions, and the results are charmingly straightforward; as you read down the answers, you can often point exactly to the interviewee’s exact thought process as they were formulating their responses. The format is poignant, self-aware, refreshing, and honest.

I haven’t had much to do at work over the course of the last few days, so I’ve been reading quite a few of TGD’s back catalogue. The interviews are equal parts optimistically motivational and emotionally destructive to read as a young creative who is sitting at a desk with nothing to do. Many of the interviewees stress working as hard as you can while you’re young, producing work that personally satisfies you even if you have to work a long day job that doesn’t give you much creative contentment. 

During my commute and before bed, I’ve been chipping away at Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, a book about that magic moment when your goals, interests, and opportunities magically align and you find yourself in a state of being where time is irrelevant and every piece of the creative process feels like it’s perfectly laid out in front of you. Flow emphasizes that (1) creating scenarios in which we, as humans, are happy and satisfied is hard work, (2) everyone describes the feeling of happiness while accomplishing an engaging task—an “optimal experience”—in almost the exact same words, and (3) because the world is not built to make you happy, you have to shift your worldview to make happiness more easily attainable. 

While working my way through interviews with Dana Tanamachi, Oliver Jeffers, Frank Chimero, and Roxane Gay on The Great Discontent, I kept stumbling across parallels with Csikszentmihalyi’s book. These people affirm that yes, finding work that personally satisfies you is incredibly lucky and worthwhile, but that you have to be focused on those goals and know what to sacrifice at the right time. Ellen Lupton (one of my design heroes) hit me over the head with a giant fucking bag of hammers when she said in her interview, 

“You have to be prepared to give creative work 150%. I hear a lot of young people talking about life/work balance, which I think is great when you’re in your 30s. If you’re in your 20s and already talking about that, I don’t think you will achieve your goals.” 

When I’ve been the most creatively successful, when I’ve produced some of my best work, I was staying up until 3 AM to work on projects that I thought were meaningful or funny or personal or rewarding. Jumping into that extra gear that gives you 150% is hard, but it’s worth it—Ellen told me so, and it resonated with my personal experience. 

Because Csikszentmihalyi surveyed thousands of real people about their optimal experiences and happiness in order to write his book, both Flow and The Great Discontent are aggregate summaries of how successful people put themselves in the right situations at the right time in order to create work that was more meaningful than they previously thought possible. Reading both while sitting at a mostly-empty desk at one of the biggest ad agencies in America is the closest I’ve come to an angel floating down from on high to whisper in my ear, “hey dude, get on your horse and do what you love.” I promise not to fuck this one up, Saint Lupton. 

I was in a cab on the way to an apartment in a neighborhood that I’d never been to when, between wondering if I had enough cash to cover the fare and trying to stay awake, I was overwhelmed with potentiality. Somewhere in this city there might be a pair of shoes that I’ll break in while exploring my new home, somewhere in this city there might be the car that could hit me and break a few bones, somewhere in this city there might be the first boyfriend that I ever move in with. 

Endings and beginnings are boring concepts, really; they’re usually just cheap ways to narrativize real life. I’m not beginning anything, I’m not ending anything. I’m at the top of an absurdly tall hill on a street called Potential and I’m hanging on to my handle bars as tight as I can. Even after you’ve ridden down a hill you’ve still got a bit of momentum, and you can direct it in any way you want. (Except backwards.)

Renderer - Arrival Scene

Arrival Scene// Renderer

This is music that I made in my apartment in Eugene, and I haven’t posted it because I always intended to revisit the recording and add new things. I don’t think I ever will, but that might be a good thing. There’s a lot of feelings wrapped up in this and revisiting the pieces would kind of ruin it. 

What I will miss about college the most is the the ability to anticipate almost everything in my life—almost everything, except for the moments that I will remember the most.

Everything in my life was easy to anticipate because college is built that way. I knew what my schedule was, what my classes would be; I knew my roommates well enough to predict when we’d have a night in or a crazy night out; I knew myself well enough to treat my body right. The rhythm of repetitive ten-week terms is hard to get out of your chest, and it’s going to be a challenge to disengage from them in the future. In school, cycles continued and never really reset because college is a ferris wheel that never stops going around and around but you don’t care because you’re with the best people in the car that is your favorite color and you’ve managed to get a little tipsy at the fair but just enough to have fun and not hurl all over the place. 

I knew these things (the rhythms, the cycles, my schedule, the route of the ferris wheel car) and yet I embraced how unpredictable these things could be. A night out might suddenly change course because of one chance meeting with a new friend, or the middle of a term might suddenly turn soft and magic because of a series of dates. Something could happen at any minute; the firework could go off as you were turned to your friend to say something and you’d be astounded by the boom you felt in your chest. In the time it took for your hearing to come back you’d be in a new ten-week cycle, but the explosive moment on the ferris wheel under the bright flash of red and blue lights meant that something singular and incredible had happened. The wheel would turn again and you’d get a little dizzy, but you would be used to it by then—you’d get used to it just in time for the wheel to slow down and for the attendant to ask you to get off.

I’m getting off gracefully (not too wobbly, with not too much goading by the attendant) because I’m holding the hands of my best friends (watch the gap between the ferris wheel car and the platform, it’s bigger than it looks and your eyes are getting a little watery so you might not see it clearly) and we’re looking at the next ride. It might take us a while to get on the next one and we might not all get on at the same time, but we’ll get there. The fair isn’t closing. 

Two weeks ago I wrote this piece. It made me want to read more essays about music that had shaped lives, but I didn’t know where to find stories like that.

I got on twitter to talk about it, but found myself at a dead-end. Although I heard responses from other people who wanted to read the same kinds of pieces—and we knew that those essays existed, somewhere!—we couldn’t think of a resource that dedicates itself completely to stories about music that don’t focus on reviews or history but instead on personal connections.

A few days later in the shower, I had a revelation: If you build it, they will come. I put out the call to some of my favorite writers and assembled this zine. 

Surrounded by the Sound is a collection of 16 stories in which music changed someone’s life. I hope you like it and that it inspires you to write a little bit of your musical history down for other people to read, too.