Jason…I can’t do this anymore,

“No matter how dark the storm gets overhead…”

Somewhere between the peak-self-involvement of my early twenties and losing myself in some desperate search for direction and stability, I found you.

“Help does not just walk up to you…”

But you did…your album appeared in my hands, forced a pause, bowed my head and emptied my lungs so i could breathe again with purpose and intention. My hands moved like your hands, my head rocked to your great lake waves and rust belt beats. I saw my hometown in your songs the way people would see my late mother in my face as I aged. Familiar tones and undeniable relationship droned on and on. Your journey became our journey and we walked hand in hand.

“Think about what’s darkening my life…”

I explored your back catalog and thought I knew how dark it could get. I saw you play these songs for a few dozen folks and then disappear out back with that bottle you had before the show. I followed your next albums, you grew, you changed, and i held you even closer for those facts. I always came back to that black and white collection of songs, though, the origin of “us.”

“When i die, put my bones in an empty street…”

It’s been three years now. I tried to write this on the anniversary of your demise, but i couldn’t handle the grief. I realized then that this has to end. I can’t hang on to the past. You left, Jason. I found you. I came to you. I followed and listened and both your words and your chords carried me over the biggest life changes i ever made – BUT YOU LEFT.

“Paralyzed by the emptiness…”

Grief doesn’t fill the space. Special edition anniversary vinyl doesn’t either. My hands move like your hands, I play your chords and hear your words in my head, but this will not sustain us. It’s time for me to move on. Yes, I know you weren’t well. Yes, I know your journey was your journey and mine was mine – but we started out so close and crossed paths at such an important time. You never sounded the same. I left so much behind. You slowly unraveled. I put myself back together. The monument of “Didn’t it Rain” still stands in black and white on my shelf, waiting to be played yet again.

“I will help you try to beat it…”

I tried that bottle. My hands moved like your hands. I played your chords and used your words. I took a drink and tried the songs again. I wanted to understand your addiction and emptiness but only found my own. I took a drink and played the songs again. I looked for you in every minor keyed strum. I took a drink again.

“Don’t write my name on a stone…”

My journey is mine and your journey has ended. It’s time we had some space. The record is going back on the shelf. I don’t live in your rust belt anymore and i haven’t for some time now. I raise my drink to you, though. Cheers, and goodbye, old friend.

-anonymous

Dear Karen O,

I used to want to be you. I got close one night in 2004.

My favorite quote is, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” As a teen, I was pretty content being who I usually was: a reserved, well-behaved, shy girl with an occasional wild streak. Other than a cigarette here and there, the shoplifted Wet n Wild glitter nail polish, and that time I hung out of my boyfriend’s mom’s SUV and flashed a guy at a stop light, I was pretty tame. I spent a lot of time alone on Saturday nights writing poems and listening to U2. I did my homework on time. I got a college scholarship. I saved my money.

Then I heard the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell.

Those previous acts were of a curious teenage girl testing limits. But as a college freshmen, that Yeah Yeah Yeahs album took me deeper than simply shocking the suburbs.

The album sounds like what you sweep up after a really good house party—bottle caps, dried cheese cubes, a gob of chip dip, dust bunnies, and a surprising amount of glitter and thumbtacks. You let the dirt pile slip off the dustpan into the overloaded trash can. Then, you realize that you missed a whole section of glitter thumbtack dirt on the kitchen floor. But you let it go because it’s oddly beautiful and you’ve got better things to do, like write a poem.

Fever to Tell boasts fun-drunk yet composed songs arranged in such an order like they’ve grabbed you by the heart and dumped you next to them in a roller coaster car. Right out of the gate is a cluster of minute-and-a-half to three-minute songs that don’t need Adderall to have a good time. Song two, “Date with the Night,” defines how my friends and I spent many hazy nights.

You’re already losing your mind by song four, “Tick” (the way you screech “T- T- T- TIME!!!!!!”!). Your playful chorus on “Pin” is offset by the deceptively demure Nick Zinner’s fuzzy guitar filling in the few blanks between Brian Chase’s speedy beats. “Cold Night” told me that it wasn’t weird or wrong to straight up tell a dude that I wanted to have sex with him. Or maybe it was weird and wrong. Well, Karen O, I wanted to be wrong with you.

By “No No No” the ride starts to hug sharp turns low to the ground. During “Maps” we’re slow dancing. The lights come on with “Y Control.” We’re lulling ourselves to sleep with the mixed feelings and hard reflections of “Modern Romance.” We think we’re dreaming when we hear the sober words on the hidden track. “And, cool kids, they belong together.”

“Modern Romance” is perhaps my favorite Yeah Yeah Yeahs song for the reason I admire you, Karen. I like when pieces of art and people are layered and dynamic. You’re an example of the vastness of a woman. You’re someone I wanted to be like when I was 20 years old.

When I bought a ticket to your February 2004 Cleveland show, I really hoped that you would do “Art Star.” On that sticky and sharp, spit-in-a-stuffy-old-man-face track, your voice is perfect. Slightly off key at the just right moments, sour-sweet yet strong, sensationally gritty when you scream, hilariously adorable when you mutter, “It’s a mad house.” I scribbled, “I’ve been screwing on the tracks of abandoned train stations” inside my dorm room closet. Your persona on that EP to me was the goddess Kali breathing fire on my old idol, Bono.

And the show was awesome, of course. Your pure joy was invigorating and dazzling. You giggled, you growled, you sweat, and got bruises. You went hands-free with the mic by shoving it in your mouth. You were off the wall. And, I loved every ounce of it as I jumped, bobbed, and screamed along with you.

By this time, too, I had traded in the late-90s look of low-waisted, boot cut jeans and crop tops for the post-post-punk, artsy New York City wardrobe I saw you wear in Spin. I had my thrifted red and black striped top, a tight mini skirt, drug store pantyhose I cut into capri leggings, and filthy Chuck Taylor high tops. And lots of red lipstick.

After that show, my friends and I tried to meet you by your tour bus. There was a boy there who wanted to apologize to you for freezing and forgetting the words to “Maps” when you directed your mic at him. He told us he was so embarrassed. But, we assured him it was all good, that you probably didn’t notice, that we were all just having a good time. Rock stars are usually considered cool in a way that you’re not supposed to do something embarrassing in front of them, or in a way that means they’re the opposite of square, that they don’t stay in on Saturday nights.

Personally, I still felt a little stupid milling around your bus. What was I actually going to say? What could I do in front of a person who I was trying to emulate?

I talked my friends into leaving. But, I really wanted to live the Karen O lifestyle, whatever that meant at that very moment. I reapplied my goopy, red liquid lipstick and pinned a big sloppy smooch on the grill of your tour bus. I have no clue if this is actually something you’d really do. It was totally something I would do.

I returned home from that show to learn that I didn’t get the summer job I recently interviewed for. I had no income in the near future. I just spent a bunch of money on snacks, gas, and tickets for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs show. Oops.

I brushed off the job rejection and probably wrote some poems. Maybe I listened to “Art Star” or Fever to Tell from start to finish. Maybe I partied that night after working on a final paper due for Monday morning’s class. But, I never became you. I became more of myself.

Angela

My dearest friend – whom I’ve never met – Conor Oberst,

How are you, old friend? Been a long time since I’ve heard your voice—the distinctive voice that makes me question the true meaning of the word “beautiful.” It’s almost like we need to create a new word to describe your delightfully wonderful and fantastic voice. It’s so shaky, frightened and remarkably unusual that you can’t call it beautiful, yet it truly is. 

Let me remind you, in case you forgot, that the first time I heard your music was back in the Bright Eyes days. On the album Fevers & Mirrors, I believe that “Something Vague” and “The Calendar Hung Itself” captured my attention. “I kissed a girl with a broken jaw that her father gave to her. She had eyes bright enough to burn me, they reminded me of yours. In a story told she was a little girl in a red-rouge, sun-bruised field and there were rows of ripe tomatoes where a secret was concealed…” 

You are one of the most brilliant songwriters I have ever heard. One of the things that amazes me most in this world is how artists can be so goddamn creative. I guess I just can’t comprehend because I’m not very artistic, but seriously, how do you come up with your lyrics? Sometimes I have to stop the track and listen to them again and again. I envy you and think you are extremely intelligent. 

I want to touch on another Bright Eyes album, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. When you released it and its companion, Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, you drew comparisons to Bob Dylan. What a compliment that must’ve been. Dylan is one of the best songwriters of our time. Each time I listen to I’m Wide Awake…, I pick out pieces that I never noticed before. Your albums might get older but to me they will never age. 

Lastly, recording as Conor Oberst, I appreciate all the music you create and get excited every time you contribute to another artist’s album. I have seen you perform live twice, plus once as Bright Eyes. How extraordinary it all was. As long as you continue to tour, I assume I will see you another handful of times. Even though we have never met, after listening to you for so long, I feel like we are good friends. I have a tremendous amount of respect for your work and hope to continue to connect with you many, many years from now. 

Gregory

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

 A Perfect Sonnet

Lua

Easy Lucky Free

Dear Isaac Brock,

If memory serves, I believe my first listen of your music was the album This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About. I quickly backtracked and listened to anything else I could find. The ambiguity of your lyrics and dabs into harmony and discord simultaneously spun my head. I was mostly focused on hip-hop at the time, but when I heard the opening track, “Dramamine,” I was hooked. The guitar, percussion, bass, words—delivery of all was incredibly haunting, yet delightful. “We kiss on the mouth, but still cough down our sleeves.” I remember feeling the need to share the music with anyone who would give me the time of day, or night. The best thing about it being that no one could quickly categorize the style. The normal response was, “What kind of music is this supposed to be?” The construct and content of “Custom Concern” is a perfect example of comfortable melancholy. “The Fruit That Ate Itself.” “Bad breath talking about fresh rain…Are you going to get sick worrying about your health?” It’s the visual of so many lyrics that pop up like an ouroboros that keeps me, to this day, looking for your next utterance. “Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset.” I don’t even listen to that anymore because my friends and I played it to death. However, it is wonderful, and exists because you put it out there. Thank you!

Continue to The Lonesome Crowded West. That album caught everyone worth speaking to that I knew at the time. Sometimes a person can portray the consciousness of a massive group of people, be it niche or not, surprisingly swiftly; congratulations. I don’t much care about intent or directive when it comes to artistic output, to me it’s all excrement; in that it is our digestive bi-product of the elements we are exposed to. “Absence versus thin air.” That sounds very disheartening, absurdist, etc. But lovely in the fashion of the music that surrounds it. “Convenient Parking” still sounds relevant. I can remember reading things about convenience, rather than necessity, being the mother of invention around this time (1997). Anytime anyone hears that someone else feels the same way, timely, and coming out of speakers – gold. Sifted through the music stream and found you. Forever grateful. Looked further into K Records and Up Records at the same time thanks to your work. Built To Spill, 764-HERO, etc. I probably never would have ventured.

To The Moon & Antarctica. I received this on cassette before it was properly released, and can’t believe that it didn’t break from being passed around like a two nickel lover. Blank cassette with some random labels and stickers on it, handwriting from a good friend, icing on a cake. I didn’t even need to see album art for this. I felt like someone had just given me the best present in the entirety of the planet. Upon listening, holy expletive words. I still love this. Some people, of course, think this is where the band took a negative, commercial approach. Watching people eat cake is hard when you’re starving, I’ll say that.

Obviously your band has grown and developed a larger audience. Rightfully, in my opinion, or IMHO. I still hear “Well, it took a lot of work to be the ass that I am…” and get shivers of comradery. Change personnel all you want; love will always be with you, Eric and Jeremiah!

Dan

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

The Fruit That Ate Itself

Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset

Dark Center of the Universe

Flashback Fives: What Becomes of a Broken Heart

Along with our letters, we also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This list was submitted by Tiffany from Baltimore, MD.

Yeah, I got dumped. In a bad way. At a bad time. But then I’d hear these songs, and I wouldn’t feel so alone, so hopeless. I’m not the first person to feel this hurt, or this angry, or this damaged. I’d crank the songs in my car and my headphones, and I’d let them drench me. And then, very slowly, I started to heal.



The Lucksmiths
“A Hiccup in Your Happiness”

“The start is the hardest part, to step inside and announce a newly broken heart”

Sure, my name’s not Louise, but I still felt like the singer was talking to me like a friend. And I was hurting so much, and the promise of my heart mending “if by degrees” helped me get out of bed. And even if I didn’t fully believe that I could be happy again, I liked hearing that all this was just a hiccup in my happiness.



Electrelane

“Cut and Run”

“I don’t want to sleep alone and think of you with someone else”

I think, for a short time, I thought there might be some chance he’d try to come back to me. I wasn’t ready to be alone. He’d pried his way into my life, and then he left me and kicked me while I was down. And beyond being hurt, I had to relearn how to live without him in my life. I wasn’t ready to have to figure out how to live my life alone while he was moving on.



Diet Cig

“Harvard”

“Fuck your Ivy League sweater, you know I was better!”

Then I got angry. Angry at him for treating me like shit. For leaving me for another woman, who looked normal, who had a fancy job, who didn’t adorn herself in thrift store dresses, who listened to bands that weren’t super obscure.



Thrushes
“Crystals”

“Who will I find to talk to?”

It was never really about her, obviously. But I couldn’t help wondering why he couldn’t see that he’d thrown away something amazing. I’d been so happy, and I told him so many times. I made space for him in my life, but he left. And I was lost and alone and confused. I didn’t want him back, but I felt the hole he left in my every day.



Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson
“Candy”

“Down on the street those men are all the same”

He hated this song. (How on earth could I have been in love with a guy who maintained that this song was “a low point for Iggy, and for Kate?”) I sang it at my first post-dumping karaoke. We’d gone to karaoke together every week for 6 months, and he’d never been willing to sing it with me. And I stood up there, with a friend supporting me, and sang the shit out of Kate’s part.

Flashback Fives: True tales from a real-life musician

Along with our letters, we also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This list was submitted by Ezra, a transient fugitive who has secret hideouts in Oakland, California and Chicago.

One. I was twelve when I found a copy of Green Day’s Dookie lying around somewhere in my house. My older brother had bought it and lost interest quickly. As for me, I had never heard punk music before. It was the first band I truly loved as my very own, and I became ravenous for punk bands. Eventually I outgrew Green Day, but it took a long time, and that nineties stuff still sometimes grabs me and doesn’t let go all afternoon.

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Two. I wanted a guitar because a friend of mine told me punk was really easy to play, you just learn one chord shape and move it around on the guitar neck. My mom told me I could get a guitar under two conditions: a. It had to be an acoustic guitar, and b. I learned to play songs that she liked too, like Bob Dylan. I didn’t know who Bob Dylan was, really. She got me a cheap but good acoustic guitar and a book of chords to about twenty Dylan songs. Once I learned to play I agreed to learn one Bob Dylan tune to pacify her and then go back to my punk songs. The book was alphabetically organized so I decided to learn the first song, “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” It was from Blonde on Blonde and my mom had a copy. The song comes fading in like a freight train of tremendous energy, and Bob sings in an insane voice that was different than any singer I’d ever imagined, “Well your railroad gate, you know I just can’t jump it.” I realized something special was going on here and I devoured the whole album, became obsessed with it. That’s when I decided I had to become a great songwriter. It really wrecked my life.

Three. There’s no story here really, but when my friend Zach first played me his CD copy of the Pixies’ Doolittle, I was flipping out before the end of track 1, “Debaser.” I had never heard them. I loved them, I needed them. I still do.

Four. I was at some kid’s house on a Saturday night because there was going to be a reunion of my summer camp there. We were watching Jack Black host Saturday Night Live and waiting for the other fifteen-year-olds to show up. The Strokes came on as the musical guest and they were magnificent. They played “Last Nite” and later “Hard to Explain.” I got lost in Julian Casablancas’ wounded, searching eyes. I could see how much he felt as trying to pretend to feel nothing. At a time when I mostly listened to classic rock and assumed contemporary bands basically couldn’t be good, the Strokes were very much needed. But on some emotional level I connected all too deeply with the tension between their ultra-cool aesthetics and their troubled songs. They were my favorite band for years after that.

Five. Freshman year of college, I had a friend named Erin who knew a lot of bands I’d never heard of. She loaned me Disc 2 of the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. I think she had mislabeled them and meant to loan me Disc 1. I was kind of skeptically listening to it and growing more and more intrigued, though not sure about their theatricality and unrelenting irony and cynicism. I remember it was during the song “Promises of Eternity” that I realized all in a rush, simultaneously, that a. Oh wait EVERY SONG IS BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN, and b. the sarcasm is actually indistinguishable from the deep, deep sadness and also somehow joy that draws Stephin Merritt to write songs. It’s all one sincere and deeply alienated worldview, I realized during that song, and I became a disciple of that wonderful band.

Magnetic Fields: Promises of Eternity

Flashback Fives: Born to Love Music

Along with our letters, we will also publish “Flashback Fives”—a list of five moments when each writer fell in love with a song, album, artist, genre, et al. This is the first, submitted by Christine from New York, NY.

One. There are so many theories about playing music to a baby in the womb. Will the baby hear it? Appreciate it? Recognize it later? Based on personal experience, the answer is yes. My parents played Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors repeatedly while my mom was pregnant. After I was born, the album became lullaby music—southern rocking me right to sleep. When my parents taught me how to use the turntable, guess what I played? That album is forever like a warm blanket to me. It feels like home. I was born to love it.

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The people responsible for my condition.

Two. Message boards and chat rooms. Can’t say what specifically prompted me to partake when I was 15. Boredom and the loneliness of living in a small rural town. I sought and found a few of my ilk, including Joe. Joe was a few years older than me, lived in another state, went to art school and loved punk rock. I devised a plan to meet him in person, succeeded and was smitten. We drove a couple hours a few times each year to meet. Not much could sideline me from putting the moves on him, but the opening riff of Lifetime’s “Rodeo Clown” stopped me in my tracks. Its perfect mix of energy and heartbreak is a 4-second summary of what could loosely be called our relationship. I initially played it feverishly to relive the soaring emotions of being with Joe. Next, on repeat to mend my broken heart. Finally, years passed and I was able to appreciate it and the rest of Hello Bastards free from emotional chains. Writing about this situation 20 years later, I am ironically reminded of Lily Taylor’s infamous ex in the film Say Anything…. Does everyone have a Joe?

Lifetime: Rodeo Clown

Three. The idea of Sleater-Kinney captured me from the outset. Women vocalizing their frustrations by writing and playing raw, bitter music about the challenges of friendships, relationships, work and life. I discussed and shared Call the Doctor with friends; disseminated it via mixed tapes and tape recorded copies. As an equally frustrated outsider, it was my duty to embrace it. Dig Me Out was released a year later. Aimlessly driving around in my car on a rainy afternoon, I thought “Now’s my chance let it sink in.” I drove and drove until the album ended, struck by how much they’d advanced as songwriters in such a short time. The music was less raw, still bitter and incredibly melodic. Of all their albums, it’s the one I discussed and disseminated the least. I held it close and feel equally as protective about it today. That’s how I know it was love.

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Two pieces of evidence: A devoted young fan, I wore a Sleater-Kinney shirt in my drivers license photo. You can’t see the graphics so you’ll have to believe me. More recently, I digitized my music collection and could not part with my beloved Dig Me Out CD.

Four. Growing up, I was infrequently exposed to what I considered real jazz. The jazz you read about in history books. Jazz that influenced the great writers, artists and musicians. When I moved to New York 10 years ago, I met someone who knew enough about it to give me a crash course. The moment he played Mingus Ah Um, everything clicked. It was a gateway drug, a green light, to explore the seemingly infinite world occupied by musicians like Miles Davis, Gil Evans, John Coltrane, Jimmy Giuffre. They say being a parent is the world’s biggest club. Understanding and appreciating jazz is the best one.

Charles Mingus: Better Git It In Your Soul

Five. Driving from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree, listening to the album Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son by Damien Jurado. That album, the desert road, the mountains, the brown and dusty blue, are forever etched in my mind as one of the most glorious and free moments of recent memory.

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Damien Jurado: Silver Timothy