The Trap of the No-Skip Album

If you’ve logged on recently, you might have noticed that online is bad. But in recent weeks, a sort-of-almost-maybe-kind-of-good trend has sprung up amongst the quarantined. Or at least, a trend that seems like it could be good at first glance.  You’ve seen it: the no-skip album challenge, the five perfect films, whatever that Bill Clinton thing is. 

These challenges offer a chance to bask in shared cultural connections and revisit some of our favorite pieces of art. They also offer a chance to stress the fuck out. 

I mean, what even is a no-skip album? Like I know definitionally what those words mean, but is it an album I’ve never once skipped a song on? Or an album where I love every song? An album where I like every song enough to give it a listen? Even my favorite albums of all time get boring if I’m not in the right mood. 

And is everyone else adhering to  the same rules? Or should I just pick my favorite few albums and call it a day? When I first started thinking of no-skip albums my mind flew to Channel Orange, but then… I looked at the track list. And yeah, it’s got some all-time great songs. More classics than any album really has a right to, in my opinion. But then there’s the slightly underwhelming forgotten tracks too. And the interludes! If I skip an interlude, is that no longer a no-skip album? 

And more importantly, what will other people think if I don’t include Channel Orange? Am I a fake Frank fan? Uncultured swine? And what if I include My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Am I endorsing Kanye’s misogyny and absurdist political semi-ideology? 

Or what if I end up with just Springsteen, Bon Iver, Carly Rae Jepson, and Fleetwood Mac? #NoSkipAlbumsListSoWhite?

And don’t even get me started on the five perfect movies challenge. No movie is perfect, even the greatest films ever made. It’s A Wonderful Life was an easy inclusion for me, but the treatment of Annie (and other women) throughout is deeply troubling. Silence of the Lambs still takes my breath away, but at what point are gender non-conforming individuals going to stop being portrayed as deranged and dangerous? 

Truthfully, the challenge lies in putting together a list that shows just how cool, cultured, intelligent, and relatable you are. You need a mix of high brow and humorous, a list that shows you’ve got love for the classics but are in touch with the times,* one that includes diversity of experience but does not include Green Book

Ultimately, I think the problem with these challenges is that I am wildly insecure and need everyone to love and cherish me constantly. A therapist might say that’s unrealistic or self-defeating but joke’s on you, my insurance doesn’t have first-dollar mental health coverage so we’ll never truly know.

So I’ll just keep curating, desperately trying to hone my brand through my choices. As I write this, a friend has literally just tagged me in the Bill Clinton one. I think this is just albums I vibe with, right? Or is it ones I listen to after not inhaling a marijuana cigarette? My favorite jams for corporate-friendly center-left activism? 

Rest assured, I’ll stress about this one a lot too. 

*If you don’t have Moonlight or Get Out on your list, I don’t fuck with you anymore. Sorry, that’s the rules. 

Minutes from the All-Apartment Meeting of My Quarantine Mt. Rushmore

Stephen (hereinafter, the “Recording Secretary”): Thank you for gathering here today in the living room of my 600-square-foot apartment, Bruce Springsteen, Barack Obama, Michael Jordan, and Abraham Lincoln. It’s a pleasure having you all here for our first all-apartment meeting. Now I’m sure you have a lot of quest — 

Michael Jordan: Yeah, first of all, what are we all doing here? 

Recording Secretary: That’s a good question. Things certainly are pretty crazy these days. As best I can tell, somebody asked me, “Who is on your Mt. Rushmore of people you’d want to be quarantined with,” and I listed off you four, and then this sort of happened. 

Abraham Lincoln: What’s Mt. Rushmore?

Recording Secretary: Well, so, there’s this range of hills in what was formerly the Dakota Territories that is considered sacred land by the Sioux Tribe and —

Barack Obama: Let me get this straight. You got to choose the four people to be cooped up with during a pandemic, but you didn’t choose your girlfriend? 

Recording Secretary: Yes, thank you Mr. President, that’s a very astute observation, and one that I can assure you has already been raised several times.

Bruce Springsteen: I actually have something I’d like to address now that we’re all gathered together. 

Recording Secretary: Sure, you’re the boss.

[Everybody groans but Lincoln, who is preoccupied studying an electrical socket.]

Springsteen: Well, I’d like to say that I’ve been sensing a lot of… competitive tension in the apartment recently. [Looks at Jordan] I mean, just the other day I missed a small spot while doing dishes, and Jordan stared daggers at me and then lashed into a tirade about how my early 70s work sounded like “nothing but a shitty-ass cheap-motherfucking-knockoff of if Bob Dylan and Van Morrison’s did the audio equivalent of two girls one cup.” 

Obama: Jesus. But I know what you mean. Just the other day I heard Jordan call Stephen “a slower, whiter, less-Twitter-woke version of broken-back-ass Steve Kerr” just because Stephen roasted the brussel sprouts a bit too much. 

Recording Secretary: I don’t want to talk about — 

Springsteen: Yeah! And then I took $25k off Jordan after we bet on the Lincoln–Obama debate over universal health care, and he wouldn’t let it go until we doubled or nothing on our pick-up basketball game. 

Recording Secretary: Yes, yes, about that. I really don’t think those teams were fair. Maybe next time it shouldn’t be me, Obama, and Bruce versus Jordan and Lincoln.

Lincoln: If I may, I have a question. Why did Jordan keep calling me “Will Perdue–looking ass” during the game? 

Obama: My fellow teammates, I am deeply troubled by the fact that we lost five straight games by a collective score of 105–7. We will do better. We. Must. Be. Better.

Jordan: You all are some weak motherfuckers. Especially stovepipe over here—I bet I could’ve dropped 50 on Stonewall Jackson before this chin-strapped jagoff could take a typhoid-laced dump.

Springsteen: Abe was on your team!

Jordan: Yeah, but I’m also getting pretty tired of hearing him remind me that he was friends with Frederick Douglass. 

Lincoln: Hey man, Republicans buy shoes too.

Springsteen: You’re, like, not a Republican any more! 

Recording Secretary: Mike, I’d also like to raise an anonymous comment I received complaining that you are “absolutely draining our internet with your online poker habit” — 

Jordan: I don’t know anything about that.

Recording Secretary: Well, I don’t want to have to make you retire early from our 2K tournament if —

Jordan: said I don’t know anything about that. 

Lincoln: Excuse me, but a thought occurred to me. Why does Mr. Springsteen over here always count off “Hu-n, Hu-oo, Hu-ree, Hu-r” every time he’s about to start a task? 

Springsteen: Clearly you’ve never seen the American dream light up ahead of you like the headlights of a ‘59 Chevy down the Jersey turnpike

Obama: I think maybe we could all spend a little less time pestering each other, like some people around here who keep coming to me about things like “why the fuck is goddamn Grant on a bill that’s worth ten times more than mine” or “what modern magical marvel is behind these menthol cigarettes”? 

Lincoln: I’m sorry, I’m not right in my head. Anyways, who wants to play Catan? 

Jordan: Down. And I’ll bet fifty grand that Lincoln can’t raise the biggest army again.

[Barack throws Stevie Wonder on the Sonos, and we play Catan. It’s awesome. Later, Barack and the Recording Secretary go out to walk Bo and get carryout from Valois while Bruce and Lincoln roll a spliff and talk about resenting their fathers. Jordan has disappeared to play 36 holes of night golf before sunrise. High fives all around. Everybody in attendance agrees that the Recording Secretary’s Mt. Rushmore decision was the best thing to ever happen to us.]

Meeting adjourned and the minutes submitted for final approval.

We’ll Get Through This

Best read while blasting Bruce Springsteen’s “Lonesome Day,” or whatever uplifting piece of Americana you prefer. 

These are dark times. Unprecedented times. And things are going to get worse before they get better. 

But we’ll get through this. We’ll make our way through like we’ve done before and will do again. We’ll see each other on the other side—we’ll hug one another, gather together, and celebrate all of what’s been taken from us. 

We’ll come through hopefully smarter, hopefully better prepared for the next challenge. 

We’ll come through with a better appreciation for what’s been lost. The friends whose company we savored. The places where we congregated to celebrate life, love, and passion. The stadiums, churches, restaurants, and bars. We’ll kiss our loved ones and take in their presence with a renewed eye toward what they mean to us. 

We’ll be scarred, and we’ll be scared, but we’ll start to heal. Some wounds won’t though. Some people will be lost, and for that we can never forget or forgive the cowardice, idiocy, and hubris of the officials who failed us. And we’ll need to support those who have been so hurt—financially, physically, emotionally—from this period that it will be difficult for them to become whole when it’s over. 

I hope that we come out of this with a reaffirmed sense of the resilience and compassion that we like to tell ourselves we share as Americans. And I hope we’ve learned just how interconnected we are the whole world over—how we rise, and we fall, together. 

So take care of yourself, and take care of one another. We need each other to get through this. And then we need to make sure this never happens again. 

Player Piano

Learning how to do something new sucks. Learning how to play piano especially sucks. And I can tell you that nothing sucks harder shit than the ego-demolishing moment when you realize that not only are you spending your precious time picking out the melody to “On Top of Ole Smokey,” but you’re not very good at it either. 

This year I decided that I was going to learn piano. I had played jazz saxophone through high school at a decent-enough level, so I had a vision of the basic competency I wanted to achieve. I was inspired by friends who were able to sit down and play just about any sort of music on the most flexible instrument in the world. A saxophone isn’t worth much without a backing band, but a piano player can fit in anywhere from the E Street Band (Bruce had an organist and a piano player) to a solo act (Keith Jarrett or, worse, Billy Joel). My goal for the end of the year is to be a decent enough piano player that I could sit in for at least one set with a jazz quartet and not embarrass myself. 

So that’s how I ended up with the cheapest (relatively, electric pianos tend to be priced in units of “car payments”) 88-key weighted keyboard money can buy. The keyboard’s synth setting might make Van Halen’s “Jump” sound like a restrained chamber piece, and I may still stumble through “The Can-Can” and bastardize “The Marine’s Hymn,” but I’m getting my money and time’s worth.

I came into this goal, like most resolutions, thinking that if I spent more time working toward a goal it would change me for the better. The idea was that, by playing music for at least five minutes a day, I would have a better sense of purpose, growth, play and joy. 

And dedicating yourself to something does change you, in a small way at least. I, for one, can now run through my scales in all keys, better conceptualize how the twelve notes conceptually fit together, and—most importantly—play the four-bar piano riff at the start of “Closing Time.” See, positive change. 

But doing something for the sake of doing it doesn’t inherently lead to big-picture change. I’m not magically calmer or more meditative about life just because I spent 30 minutes learning how to comp ii-V-I changes (Damien Chazelle, you’re not the only white guy who can make basic jazz references). If anything, I’ve learned that adding something to my plate—even a hobby that’s for my own enjoyment—has the capacity to increase stress, especially since now there’s something else to feel like you’re missing out on if you’re crunched on time. It’s the same as anything else: if you read more, you’ll know more things; and if you lift more weight, you’ll get stronger. But these small changes won’t magically lead to a bigger alteration in your life (becoming happier, becoming more satisfied with how you look, defeating the devil in a fiddle challenge, etc.) without broader reflection on how you’re spending your time, why, and for what purpose.

Nobody would ever accuse me of being overly reflective. But maybe things like learning piano is an attempt to be. I can say, at the least, that I’ve learned a lot more than just how to play “Yesterday” off of sheet music that I last opened in 2004 (sheet music that’s almost as old as America’s military presence in Iraq). It’s interesting to see where I’m willing to cut corners (“Nobody’s going to know if I didn’t nail ‘Scarborough Fair’”) and what will unleash something inside myself that keeps me glued to my seat playing something over and over no matter how dumb it is just for the sheer pleasure of making it happen (again, “Closing Time”). 

I feel especially far removed from the 17-year-old who was able to glide through far more advanced music with seeming ease. But I wonder how much of that physical and mental dexterity was a product of my age at the time, and how much I can get back. 

Indie Girl Covers Of Classic Songs That We Aren’t Saying Are BETTER Than The Original, Per Se, Just… Ya Know… Different