LA is nice.
The weather is nice.
The people are nice.
This is the overwhelmingly popular consensus on living in Los Angeles, California.
Everyone is hung up on how nice of an existence you can lead here, but is a nice life what I should really be pursuing with my very limited time on Earth? Isn't that after all a bit, well, drab? What does "nice" even mean?
Nice - /nīs/
1. pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory (!!!)
2. fine or subtle
We need to go one layer deeper. Bare with me.
Satisfactory - /sadəsˈfaktərē/
1. fulfilling expectations or needs; acceptable, though not outstanding or perfect
Are we starting to understand what I'm getting at here? Shouldn't a life be more,
shouldn't it be better than nice? Nice in my mind means I am experiencing comfort, perhaps an abundance of complacency. I guess to me, comfort is another one of those dirty words, a golden apple seeping with poison. A comfortable life congeals, a comfortable life eats time, a comfortable life rots from the inside out. Pursuing comfort is agreeing in advance to waking up one day wishing I had used my time differently, that I would've spent more time being uncomfortable. It is to harbor a wish to live in a land where Eve had not tasted the forbidden fruit, where Pandora quelled her curiosity and left the box shut, it is a longing for Edenic ideals.
I frequently look back to my time living in NYC with my wife, we recall how that year and a half living together felt longer than the four years we have spent in LA. Why is that? I hypothesize that our time spent navigating discomfort in NYC is almost distinctively responsible. Discomfort amplifies gratitude, when you have faced a long winter, that first day of Spring hits not just as a change in the seasons, but as a divine act of mercy, this is why Spring in NYC feels utopic, it is the contrast between polarities that makes it so.
Pursuing a life of comfort is to pretend that we can exempt ourselves from the nature of being. You see, all things begin and end in the same manner. First comes pleasure, then comes pain, then pleasure, and then pain again, and so on and so forth. Winter turns to spring, spring turns to summer, summer turns to fall, and right back to winter. It would be wise to keep on good terms with these facts, so long as we don't want to be ambushed by them when we least expect it, at our most comfortable.
To that end, I no longer crave to feel the Santa Anas' dry brush against my face, I long for the winter winds. I long to feel the bite of January on my cheeks and deep in my bones. I don't desire another lukewarm daydream, I wish to feel my impermanence with every step against a bitter and accursed headwind. Let me battle its most militant gusts, the ones that penetrate deep past the nylon and course through its web of thread like electricity riding a live wire to spear my sensitive skin beneath.
I will take cracked concrete over polished facades, honking horns over crashing waves, short tempered pedestrians over premeditated smiles. Let me remember that this life is all for naught. Let me remember that all things fade, fissure, and eventually crumble. Show me the last leaf tumbling from its once trusted branch and I will show you what I can do in a hard winter's work. Show me the Nightingales flying south and I will grind the axe, I will chop the wood.
Tell me that we're expecting an endless spring and I will draw plans.
Tell me that winter draws near and I will lay bricks.
This life is but a moment, let it be all things, let it be much more than nice.
🎧 A Song to Study
I present to you one of the all-time great live performances; it's heartbreaking, goosebump instilling, tear invoking, and sing along inducing. It's one of those performances that drive home why Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest talents to walk this Earth and why his presence was so unbelievably magnetic.
This performance enraptures you from the very first second. He enters the track by floating the arrival of the first lyrics, Distant Loverr..., over the crowd like a firework silently ascending over the ocean, allowing it to rise gently over their ears before detonating it with a sharp punctuation of that same lyric, DIS-TANT LOV-ER! - At that moment we understand that this song is not a happy ever after, but about a love lost instead. Marvin had a remarkable ability to imprint the full gamut of an emotional state with the slightest change in intonation and/or delivery. He doesn't need to tell you that his heart hurts for you to fully understand the nature of his predicament. You just feel it.
Marvin spends the opening minutes reminiscing on a summer filled with love and promises yet to be broken. He frequently ventures into high and fluttering falsettos while his back-up singers riff and ad-lib beneath. The song abstractly meanders delicately towards a classic 80's pornsax solo. Pre-solo, it feels that we're existing in the sun drenched version of a pleasant memory, walking with him through a daydream where he longs to be remembered and considered. Suddenly, the daydream collapses on itself following the conclusion of the aforementioned solo. Just like that we've jumped from denial into the bargaining stage of grief. Marvin sounds absolutely possessed by his desire to revisit this love, he begs and pleads thinking it will better his chance at obtaining the object of his desire:
Something I wanna say
When you left, you took all of me with you
Now all I want is...
Do you wanna hear me screaming please, please
Oh please, baby
Come back home, girl
As Marvin continues to pour the contents of his heart onto the stage, you can feel the crowd begin to realize the significance of what they're witnessing unfold before them: history, a once in a lifetime performance by someone who's time was running out. I mean, they're continuously losing their SHIT in the second half of this song, shrieks, yelps, uproarious shouts, the whole package. Enjoy!
🏡 An Album to Live In
Now for a trip to the most unique of nocturnal wonderlands. Heligoland, outside of being an album, is a small rocky and relatively barren island off of the coast of Germany. It was described as such:
a land where there are no bankers, no lawyers, and no crime; where all gratuities are strictly forbidden, the landladies are all honest and the boatmen take no tips
What does that have to do with this week's Album to Live In? Perhaps nothing at all, or perhaps you can find meaning between those words and the ones found within Massive Attack's sprawling farewell (for now) record. This album is for lovers of brooding electronica: Zero 7 lovers, Radioheads, and Thom Yorkers (Looking at you Hattie) will find a welcomed familiarity within. If you ask most Massive Attack fans, they will tell you that this album is nothing special, that Mezzanine is their masterpiece and theres no argument to the matter. If you ask me, I would disagree wholeheartedly and say that Heligoland is a subversive triumph that stands out as a wholly idiosyncratic listening experience. The sounds within clatter, groan, and reverberate in a musical language thats woefully dystopic, yet undeniably serene. Somehow, this album sounds like the end times, or perhaps the after times, soundtracks for a people emerging from ash into a harder but more honest world.
In deepest hollows of our minds
A system fails, you're left behind
And their eyes change
As they learn to see through flames
And their necks crane
As they turn to pray for rain
Considering this newsletter is at 1300 words already, I think I will leave it at that. Give it a spin, you will thank me later.
👋 Until next time...
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