While not officially the end of the Horse Year, I feel our gallop slowing as we end this Gregorian calendar year of 2014. Far and above, the pregnancy, birth and infanthood of our son Casimir Carr, born September 14, consumed this year for the four of us. But before his actual birth, Audrey, Marcello and I spent a fast-paced year, our last as a threesome.
We began by experimenting with renting out our apartment on airbnb while temporarily ensconced in the basement. Our thinking was that perhaps we would take a sabbatical to the western coast of Mexico, playing and working remotely from a beach town in Oaxaca. We found out Audrey was pregnant, scuttled those plans, and waited out the rest of the month in the basement listening to 45s on Marcello’s new record player and cursing our Norwegian airbnb guests.
Throughout the year, Marcello and I spent more and more time together, at first by necessity of pregnancy and then birth, but ultimately because we became closer as son and father. We developed daily routines, private jokes, physical games. A highlight of life thus far is to have initiated a morning ritual of crossing swords with Marcello, a delight for three- or thirty-six-year-olds.
Both of my parents retired this year, a coincidental big change for them. My mother took the opportunity to sell the family house and move with her sister to a beautiful little community in Delaware. In May, Audrey, Marcello and I visited New Jersey and the house where I grew up — the first time for the two of them, and the last time for all of us. We visited during that late Spring sweet spot of warm days and evenings without humidity, and spent our days relishing in child-friendly suburbia with walks along the idyllic Pennypacker Park and Cooper River, playing at the Erlton playground that abuts the old house and making Philadelphia day trips for eating, shopping and museum-going. The Barnes Foundation Museum was a highlight for Audrey and me, though it may be the most toddler-unfriendly museum we’ve yet visited: rooms full of toddler-sized chairs sitting on the museum floors below the walls of amazing paintings and nothing between actual toddlers and said chairs. Neither the museum guards nor Marcello were happy with the situation. We ate our fill of pizza, water ice and bagels and said goodbye to Sheridan Avenue and Erlton for the last time.
We enrolled Marcello in a wonderful, Waldorf-inspired preschool and he began attending Neighborhood Playgarden in September. He and I ride my bicycle up the considerable hill to drop him off, and I’m daily woo’d by the aesthetics, the cozy vibe, the imaginative play that welcomes us at the door. As we get to know the other children, their families and the teachers, we’re quite excited and enthralled by the community we’ve found ourselves in.
On Sunday September 14, after returning from our friend Harper’s birthday party and putting Marcello down for his afternoon nap, Audrey came into the living room to announce that she was in labor. Less than five hours later, Casimir entered this world in our bedroom on Page Street and our little family grew by one. From that first moment Casimir has proven to be a quiet, good-natured, strong and determined person. And as he awakes from his “fourth trimester” his smiling, goofy side becomes more apparent and we, all four of us, can just laugh and laugh. Marcello is an adoring big brother, loves to help where he can, loves to kiss and play with Casimir, loves to tell other people about “his” baby.
A strange year for me in my consumption of live music: I may have seen/heard fewer shows in 2014 than when I commenced my years as a live music lover. Perhaps 2011 competes and then I can chalk it up to a birth year. However, another interesting thing is that I believe I did not step into one club this whole year. I've long appreciated and preferred "alternative" music venues to the staid rock clubs of much of my listening career and this year may have been one of the first where I stepped foot into not one of them. The shows that memory recalls:
- Tim Hecker at the new Gray Area space in the Mission Theater. I don't think I've ever felt as totally immersed in sound as I did that evening. I'm in the milk and the milk's in me, indeed.
- Terry Riley closing out the music season and life at BAM/PFA. Enchanting, thoughtful, playful as the other occasions I've seen Riley at BAM, this video from a few years back gives a hint. The L@TE series at BAM/PFA have been an important part of my music-listening life in the Bay Area, and I will deeply miss the cavernous reverberations of the main hall.
- Bill Orcutt twice at Steven Wolff Fine Arts, an excellent series put on by Superior Viaduct records. The second time accompanied by Sir Richard Bishop. Orcutt is a local treasure. Bishop has a deep talent that mesmerizes and surprises every time I see/hear him play. I sincerely hope Steven Wolff continues to host music at his gallery. Intimate and inspiring.
- A Xenakis/Scelsi performance by the sfSound people at San Francisco Conservatory of Music Concert Hall. Its a rare treat to hear Twentieth Century composition performed in SF, and this evening was a treat.
- The Garden of Memory Summer Solstice music celebration, most especially Henry Kaiser filling a beautifully sunset-lit room with pleasing bubbles of just-intonation and drones. I lost my family as I stood in rapture. This is a unique experience, housed in the columbarium of the Chapel of the Chimes, musicians spread out in various nooks and crannies, echoes of one bleeding into tones of another, names known and unknown, children and adults wandering, smiling.
- Matmos at the San Francisco Art Institute on a beautiful SF evening, preceded by a barbecue on their terrace with astounding views. Reconnected with old colleague Hesse, now the Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs at SFAI
I continue to "scrobble" music to last.fm and that service reports that my top listened-to artists of the last year were:
- Tim Hecker
- Azusa Plane
- Fantastic Palace
- The Clean
- Glenn Gould
The Numero Group Bedhead reissue garnered lots of playing over the last few months which pushed that group up to the top. The same can be said of Numero's Unwound reissue campaign. Hecker, Stereolab, Fennesz & Actress make a good soundtrack for my working days. I ordered that Fantastic Palace LP at the very end of 2013, but it made it on to my turntable often in 2014, and apparently on my Rdio playlists as well. I listened through the entirety of the Azusa Plane discography over the course of a few days and I've a story about that which may come into being in early 2015. I didn't have much time to listen to vinyl this year, but on the few chance times that I opted to listen in that format, the records that stood out included Bill Orcutt's contribution to VDSQ. O Platitudes! Silkworm's Libertine 2XLP lovingly reissued by WPRB's John Solomon & Comedy Minus One. Also, two Brigitte Fontaine reissues on Superior Viaduct: Brigitte Fontaine Est...Folle and Comme À La Radio.
Part of the way through 2014 I realized that almost all of my reading was happening in digital form, and that translated into a never-ending Instapaper queue of long-form articles. I had a few paper-based books lingering in a partially-read state when I decided that if started actually using my Kindle, perhaps I would read more novels. The list of books I read:
- Memoir from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin. Not as engaging as Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War, though thoroughly enjoyable most especially for the numerous rants against coffee and its ill effects (which had me questioning my own intake) and the wonderful passage describing the narrator's passion for and horse trip with Constance.
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Loved the descriptions of gentrification and post-collegiate family-making juxtaposed with a devotion to artistry and what two friends on opposite sides of that divide make of it in conversation and silence. Patty is an incredible character, and I relished in celebrating and squirming along with her decisions throughout.
- Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders. Saunders seemed to explore more of the heavily emotional content that is often buried among his more post-modern fractured realities. The title story is heavy.
- Forming II by Jesse Moynihan (An expanded mind of a nap time.)
- My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård. On recommendation from lots of folks known and read. I was alternately drawn to and repelled by the nauseating episodes of self doubt and long lists of mundane objects and ideas. And perhaps that was part of the point in determining how (and how much) I, as a reader, either identified with or sneered at those passages.
- The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. Masterful as I feel most of Bolaño’s work is. Even in the passages where I couldn’t believe they continued for as long as they did, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I deeply wanted to inhabit the world of the Visceral Realists, riding endless busses to endless cafes to discuss endless poetry.
- Blindness by José Saramago. One of the heaviest books I’ve read, most especially the descriptions of what this society must endure and ultimately how we can overcome as communities vs. individuals. I often wanted to give up on this due to its depressing descriptions of humanity at its worst, but glad I pushed through.
- Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon, finished just into the New Year in anticipation of Paul Thomas Anderson’s film adaptation. I recall criticism around the time of its publishing of this being his "pop" novel, though I can't recall whether it was meant as complimentary. But what I can say is that the novel is certainly complementary to the rest of Pynchon's oeuvre, regardless of his intended audience. The prose does not seem dashed off, or "easy", and while I don't feel like it hits the heights and depths of Gravity's Rainbow or Against The Day, the book had me enthralled in its characters, explorations of paranoia, musical side numbers, offbeat sex and descriptions of various levels and skeins of power and control.
- The Circle by Dave Eggers. Put it down earlier in 2014, but willing to give it a second chance and finish in 2015. Something about the prose itself was unsettling to me, but the ideas seem relevant to now and worth fully digesting.
- The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. Aa tough slog for the first fifty pages, and I put it down in favor of Savage Detectives. I wasn't in the right frame of mind, Casimir recently born, semi-sleepless, heavy emotions. Will definitely push through in 2015.
Again, a year of limited viewing, but dominated for me by a few heavy films:
- Snowpiercer was so unbelievably intense, beautiful and somewhat horrific. Every Frame a Painting did an excellent analysis of how a filmmaker can show character choices visually.
- Guardians of The Galaxy was an extremely entertaining film to see in the theater, especially with my father and brother, recalling a childhood of summer blockbuster science fiction films.
- Only Lovers Left Alive, with a gorgeous soundtrack by Jozef Van Wissem, was a strange mediation on and appreciation of Jim Jarmusch’s dark aesthetics.
- I came across In the White City while trawling Karagarga late one night. A haunting film of love, sex, death, music and walking around the city of Lisbon. A wonderful soundtrack by Jean-Luc Barbier. Later that week, my coworker Reuben was recommending this film to me as we drove down to see Jonathan Corum, Bret Victor, Mike Bostock, and Edward Tufte speak at a conference. Strange coincidence, that.
- Audrey and I thoroughly enjoyed the very charming Grand Budapest Hotel.
- Audrey discovered the film Café de Flore which has a haunting quality about it, entwined lives, mother-love, destiny and the soul-penetration of music.
- I introduced Marcello to My Neighbor Totoro this year and we’ve subsequently watched this magical, enchanting film several times together. The Catbus is a frequent topic in our household.
The Year to Come
2015 is shaping up nicely, stolen bicycles on January 2nd aside. Marcello and I have a resolution to floss and brush our teeth and wash our faces every morning when we wake up and every evening before we go to bed. He loves to talk about our resolution, and to attempt to talk me out of it. But we’ve been doing quite well. And I’ve resolved to use this space to write more regularly, this post a first shot.