Leaves in a book

The days end like that, the same way they begin, me on my side gripping a pillow, wondering what day it is. Walking the steps at work, up the parking lot floors: walls made out of cinder block, what it would feel like to touch them.

I flick the night light, the closet light, the bathroom fan, the shower. Feed the cats, the dog, pour the coffee. Time to write, to light a candle for some magic.

I walk to the lake with the dog and the leaves on the ground are no different than the days we try to save when we stop and look at them, think how pretty, tuck one in a book, and forget.

We are in the game of trapping moments, cupping them with our hands. Each is sacred on its own, put into a new context, framed on the ground: the leaf caught in its last moment here, caught on fire and fallen flat, soon to be raked up or blown away with the others. We save the leaf to preserve that moment and then it seems silly when we discover it later.

Over the hill as the rain is beaten back and a rainbow bends across the sky: how can it be that it looks real but you still can’t touch it? That it can be there for everyone to see, and not there at the same time. And how we can pass in and out of life feeling the same.

The true meaning of karma

Caspar David Friedrich - "Wanderer above the sea of fog." Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Caspar David Friedrich – “Wanderer above the sea of fog.” Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I nap while the beef simmers in the stove, thickening over the house, day sagging into night. There is coffee and beer and water in between to wash us out, to cleanse us, bobbing up and down upon days. I peel back the dog’s lips to make her look sinister, decide on a walk.

The day is gray and wet, hillsides gone yellow and brown, dabbed with a sponge, a day for painters and poets. Spiders the size of grapefruits, witches hanging from trees. Through the new development, men on rooftops bent over like beetles clanking with tools and stapler guns, the development that used to be the woods, where we sometimes saw snakes.

The dog is drawn to smells of other dogs on the ground, to histories and scents no different than I am drawn to people passing on the street, possible characters coming in and out of pages, the edges of scenes and street corners, some of us ghosts.

We gut the trees to put in more houses, storm water drainage ponds to resemble natural habitat, prop ducks and birdsong recordings, now an exhibit in a zoo behind a chain-link fence. I stand there with my dog admiring it, how the tree frog chokes like it’s giving birth to itself through its throat, gagging, finding its voice.

I get an email from a friend, his dog has died. The dog was 21, reduced to a rattling husk, and they would not put her down or even talk about that, because they believe in karma — karma in the sense you don’t interfere with someone playing out a destiny to realize a past debt, because death is an important part of life, as important as the beginning.

After the walk our dog is collapsed by the fireplace, a broken umbrella with limbs at odd angles, whiskers chewed down to the nub by other dogs from the boarding house, now growing back at irregular lengths like fake whiskers, a dog mask.

I see my doctor about my heart, have my blood drawn, strip down to a robe that ties in the back. I get weighed and measured and feel old, all of the sudden. We talk about the number of drinks I have a week: we count them, and that’s a different kind of prodding, a different kind of looking-inside-you question.

I mention a dull pain on the left side of my chest, by my heart, when he asks if there’s anything else I want to talk about — and then he chides me for not mentioning it at the beginning of the appointment. In fact he repeats himself, “That’s why I asked you at the beginning if there was anything else you wanted to talk about,” and he shakes his head and lets the silence fall over us like a drape.

He says something in Latin, that’s what he calls it: a tissue attached to my ribs, must have gotten stretched out of place. So now I don’t have to worry I’m walking around with a time bomb inside of myself, don’t need to think about death again for a while.

I get the dog to the lake and there are people getting ready to go in, to swim. They are knee-deep in their 50s with wet suits on and flippers, the sun is melting into the water and there are no power boats allowed, so it’s a mirror reflection of the sun going down, dusk.

My dog is biting the water and shaking herself off near the people on the beach, so I keep her on the leash but they say It’s OK, let her off, and so I do, and the guy in the wet suit speaks to me in a tone like I’m his son, he says, “Dogs are people too,” and you can tell he believes it, it makes sense why we love dogs when we look into their eyes, because they remind us of us, we see something of ourselves in them.

Back home there is a new breed of bugs that’s just appeared, maybe from the mild weather, like the January bugs that just show up, one day.

They’re slow, nameless bugs that hang in the air and don’t bite: they look like snowflakes falling upwards, falling sideways, and they’re almost pretty in the filtered light of the sunset, how they look like fairies or angels floating there, going up and down and sideways, criss-crossing in the light, alive only a day or two, all of them weaving in and out of each other, cottonwood blooms.

Some get caught in the webs lassoed around power lines; some are wispy and white and gather outside our window after the sun goes down. They seem to be looking inside, studying me, trying to understand the outline of my shape through the window, on the other side of the glass. And it’s true I think, they could be souls too. The dog that died was likely someone else.

(Inspired by James Joyce’s short story The Dead, which was filed erroneously in the horror section at the video rental store.)

The Hypertext Transfer Protocal

"L-L Boilly Une loge" by Louis-Léopold Boilly - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“L-L Boilly Une loge” by Louis-Léopold Boilly – Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, I wrote about the novel White Noise and how some of its themes from 1985 apply today, with the unfolding of the Ebola epidemic.

“The flow is constant,” Alfonse said. “Words, pictures, numbers, facts, graphs, statistics, specks, waves, particles, motes. Only a catastrophe gets our attention. We want them, we need them, we depend on them. As long as they happen somewhere else.”
– Don DeLillo

I lent the book to a co-worker who left Starbucks to work at Amazon, and never gave it back. When I got the idea for the post this week, I had to buy another copy of the book, and imagined driving downtown, paying for parking, taking time off from work — instead, I went to Amazon.

I’m not one to do this, because I like shopping in stores. Once I got to Amazon, one book purchase turned into four (which also happens in stores). And for the first time, I checked out their used copies.

The idea of a virus spreading and buying a book from someone I would never meet over the Internet had a poetic quality to it, so I went for a copy described as “Acceptable.”

I don’t mind the wrinkles in the cover or the softened edges, but as I thumbed through it, I found notes and annotations from the previous owner, themes revealed right there in my hands, the writer picked at with a scalpel.

It’s not much different than buying the edition with notes and criticism as a foreword, which I’ll rarely read — but in this case, I have no choice.

In the back of the book there’s a receipt with the location it was purchased and the date, 1999. The same handwriting on the receipt, ‘Friday 5 PM’ written at the bottom. The handwriting is careful and elegant, likely a woman’s. So now I re-read White Noise through the eyes of a woman, who’s following it through the eyes of a professor which you can tell by the notes, that sound academic.

And now, the story of the woman who owned the copy of White Noise I bought on Amazon, who’s probably from Eugene, Oregon, why she sent it to Amazon for resale, likely with boxes of other books, maybe moving out or thinning out her past, getting on with her life (or broke, hooked on dope).

How handwriting is so personal and yet, this person is any person to me, and no one at all. Imagining meeting her, and tracking her down, which is not unthinkable on the Internet, leveraging the mad technology DeLillo foresaw as turning us inside-out, fracturing our attention, relationships, our sense of humanity: then, through a TV set — now, through different boxes and hand-held portals.

I wrote the story in my head walking down the street at work, and watched as two women approached me from the opposite direction, walking together or apart, it wasn’t clear, and I wondered, would they walk right into me or into a pallet of boxes on the sidewalk, but they sensed my presence at the very last second and swerved out of the way. It seems everyone is somewhere else, I wrote. Only a catastrophe gets our attention.

 

 

The Airborne Toxic Event

"Roll-Cloud-Racine" by Eazydp - Personal photo. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Roll Cloud Racine” by Eazydp – personal photo. Licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

To think we are nearing a precipice with regards to the media, Ebola, and public perception about the threat here in the States is mis-guided: the truth is, we are always on a precipice with the media, with panic down one side and apathy on the other.

Recent media handling of the epidemic prompted me to go back to Don DeLillo’s seminal novel White Noise, from 1985, and a section of the book where he describes a chemical spill that’s released a mysterious black cloud and toxin, prompting paranoia and widespread reaction, shaped by the media.

The Airborne Toxic Event changes names throughout the story, as the media and politicians change their position on how they want the public to perceive it. It’s a reminder of why words and names are important; they govern our actions. They confine us to a paradigm associated with a word. “Define” broken down means “to bring to an end,” which is what happens when you define something. By saying what it is you’re simultaneously saying everything it is not. And this is important in a world where ideas spread fast and go ‘viral.’ Which is why we’re on a precipice, of what’s being said and what we know.

Missing Parrot Returns But Doesn’t Speak English Anymore

On NPR yesterday, they ran a story about an English-speaking parrot that disappeared for four years and returned, speaking Spanish. No one knows what happened to the parrot, the reporter said. The story came out of the radio and I laughed, and thought how ridiculous, but no one else in my vanpool seemed to hear the same thing or even notice. The parrot had an English accent and came back speaking Spanish.

Since The War I Smile More

Like many others who were over-exposed to media coverage of 911 right after the event, we think my grandfather suffered physical stress, ultimately leading to a stroke and his later demise.

I wrote a poem Since The War I Smile More as a play on words, about how we can offset violence and hate by practicing acts of daily kindness with strangers and passersby: through smiles and good will, I thought we could blow away the mysterious dark cloud that appeared, that day.

Perhaps it started for us then, the awareness that we are more porous than we thought, that there are whole cultures and plots and peoples actively planning to destroy us. That there’s a different world and way of life, outside of America. And further, that we may actually be responsible for galvanizing them to act against us, that we could be culpable somehow, that we in part created them, that we are inter-related.

We have Ebola

As Seth Godin wrote recently, ‘We Have Ebola’ is a much different story than They Have Ebola. And this is the crux, as our world is changing (perhaps faster than we are): there are no theys. “They” is how we distance ourselves from what we fear or don’t like, but our world is getting smaller as Global becomes more Local. The ‘They’ mindset is the same thinking that is starting to topple with LGBT rights here, and marriage equality. Because we’re not as different as we think we are, or want to believe.

Come As You Are

I was lucky to get to Morocco before 911, before we had kids, because fear may keep me from returning for a long time. Our first night there, my French friend found some local Moroccan teenagers to buy hash, and we spoke in broken English and French while we waited for one of them to get it. They wore traditional robes and slippers, and I wore a caftan I got from J. Peterman. I was trying to grow a beard but couldn’t yet, and they teased and called me Ali Baba.

While we waited, Laurent told them I was American and they asked if I knew the band Nirvana. I nodded, and they begged, “Chantez, chantez! Chantez, chantez s’il vous plait!” Laurent laughed and said, ‘zay want you to sing.’ And so I did, and they closed their eyes and smiled, imagining they could hear the music too. I can see their faces smiling now and think we’re really no different at all.

Blog post title source from Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise.

Now anyone can talk to God on the Internet

 

My grandmother on my laptop, looking at photos of the kids

My wife and I sit in the dark in the morning listening to the radio, listening to a person who’s picking out the songs and talking about them, and she wonders how it’s possible this still exists, now that anyone can get anything they want anytime they want, music-wise.

It’s like the Reformation, she says. I had to go back and look up the Reformation on Wikipedia, because it’s been a long time. The article uses one of my favorite words, schism, which is a kind of breaking off, like a piece of glass snapping or a chunk of ice separating on a frozen lake.

What helped the Reformation — those who opposed tenets of the Catholic church — was the printing press, which had just come to Europe by way of Gutenburg. The printing press enabled the spread of ideas during the Reformation, many taking form as religious pamphlets, perhaps the beginning of the idea of the democratization of knowledge (which leads us back to the role of technology, search engines, Wikipedia).

Remove the priest in the confessional booth, the publishing house, the record label, and you remove the go-between, the agents. The same is true at the grocery store self-scan, though I always pick the line with a checker, because I like human contact. Which is why we listen to the DJ in the dark.

The Rubik’s Cube of Plot

Photo by William Warby from London, England

We are all emitting and absorbing information every day. Those who are not are dead or non-existent, or irrelevant. Their pictures will be found unmarked in shoeboxes, not rooted in anything, thrown out. In this selfie age, everything is spectacular, noteworthy, easy. The recorder is always on. In just half an hour I can publish something for the world, tell myself I’m a writer, and believe it — and that’s the problem. It’s too easy. Like armpit farts, it makes pretty convincing sounds.

In keeping with the meta-theme, this post is about the writing of my last post, why it’s my favorite , liked by exactly four people (Ross, Beth, Yahooey, and my wife) — and why that’s okay.

‘Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.’ (Paul Desmond)

I was mixing generic-brand Nyquil with alcohol, hoping for a good night’s rest, had done so a couple nights in a row, and banked-up enough sleep I was wide awake at 4 in the morning, turning on a story idea that presented itself, coupled with the sound of an owl hooting outside in the dark.

I lay there thinking it was a good idea and I should write it down before I forget, and so I drafted it by the light of my laptop, in the dark. I had the beginning and the end, all of about 1,000 words, by 5 o’clock.

And then, for two days I turned it inside out, over and over, at least 19 revisions, sometimes reading it on my phone, making note of the parts that didn’t work, how to improve the ending. I even sent a draft to a friend, asking him to pick a photo for it.

When I published it, about 48 hours later, I knew it was my first piece of fiction that was ‘done.’ (It gets quotes there because I was done with it, which doesn’t mean it was done-done.) Like a Rubik’s cube, it may look like I got all the sides from afar but if you were to turn it over, I’m not sure all the squares line up.

It’s the first time I’ve been able to create an arc in a story, to create a character that felt real — a character I loved and enjoyed torturing a little, like a Voodoo doll. Because, as in our dreams, it seems all the characters we imagine are really us.

For more than a year now, I’ve had weighty themes tied to The Meaning of Existence that I haven’t known how to talk about, because I have to write it to fully realize it; that’s the only way it will come. It seems the act is tied to the resolution.

And so when I published What happened to Brown, there was a freedom in not needing so much acceptance of the post because first and foremost, I liked it. It’s personal, but better here than discovered in a shoebox with photos of people no one will ever recognize, puzzles bound to be forgotten, stories of how they got their name.

What happened to Brown

IMG_2555

Brown didn’t really like baseball, but played in the Major League. He was white, had a mustache, and a pretty good build, for 40. He played outfield, which wasn’t the best, but still pretty good.

Brown kept to himself mainly, with no wife or kids. He had some family but they were on the other side of the country and often, he forgot their names and exactly how they were related. He wasn’t proud of this, but sometimes he bought prostitutes and frequented a high-end gentlemen’s club on the other end of town.

On these nights, Brown hired a driver who spoke to him through the rear view mirror. The car had a divider between the front and back, through which Brown and the driver exchanged familiar lines. It became a comfortable script for Brown, who was hopeful for something of note, something different, to lift him out of what felt like an otherwise meaningless life.

It was a Thursday night the story begins, that Brown first saw the writer. The others talked about the writer and there was a general understanding, to see the writer was a kind of death omen. No one knew what the writer looked like, but Brown was sure it was him.

They recognized Brown at the door and always waved him to the front of the line. He had a custom where he wore fake glasses and a black turtleneck, never his baseball cap or anything to identify himself as Brown. The bartender knew him by face, not by name, and asked Brown, the usual? To which Brown always nodded, lifted his finger as if to say something, but then thought better of it, and submitted to the same.

Then, Brown would half-turn on his stool to take in the scene, the girls. And they were all fantastic, like caged animals, wild and exotic, a million different colors. So Brown would have his drink, pay, and go pick one out.

On this day he spotted a man on the other side of the bar, a man he’d never seen before, but knew to be the writer. It was as if Brown had just entered a story, or fallen out of his own.

The writer was an old, beady-eyed man with skin like a toad. He reminded Brown of a creature in a children’s story, where the characters were all animals but wore clothes and spoke with funny, English accents.

The writer locked eyes with Brown, smiled a wry smile, and lifted his glass to Brown, as if to toast. Brown went cold and felt his mouth go dry. Tonight, he thought, better to just go home.

So Brown slid off his stool, stumbled a bit as he hit the floor, and brushed his way against the others standing in line, back to the driver. Brown got in the back of the car and gestured let’s go.

The driver closed the divider and Brown watched his reflection in the glass as the pane came down, his face divided across the cheek and lips, down through the neck, the neon light making a shadow play of Brown on the scrim. And in this moment, Brown had to reflect upon what kind of man he was, as he passed figures on the street with legs coming out of shadows, lips and handbags, figures pooling below streetlight lamps and telephone poles, unaware Brown even existed, watching them from behind the glass.

Brown felt like a cigarette and asked the driver to stop. He felt in his jacket for his wallet and realized it wasn’t a jacket he had ever worn before, it felt different. And there was no wallet, but a crumpled napkin with a map drawn on it, instead. He mouthed the street intersections to the driver: by the laundromat, across from a church, a spot circled in pencil.

There was a line of people waiting on the street and it had started raining, so they all had umbrellas where their heads should have been. He got in line and stood there, thinking what to say, and when it was his turn he said I’ve Come For The D. That was code for drugs, short for ‘dope,’ that’s what the others said. Brown felt for the cash in his pocket and waited, looked down at his feet, and realized he left his shoes in the car with the driver, and was standing barefoot on the wet sidewalk now, his feet turning black.

The drug dealer stood behind a metal grate in an alleyway beside the laundromat. The drug dealer’s aspect changed as he turned to Brown, and he seemed to step out of character when he spoke, pointing to the others in line, and said Do you really want to end up like them, Brown? Take my advice: put your money back in your pocket, go home, and don’t do drugs.

To which Brown felt ashamed and small. He left the line and sat on the stoop of an old Brownstone, in the doorway, out of the rain. He sat there and wondered if it was a sign from God, it had to be, and slowly began to rock back and forth, and cry. Then Brown steadied himself, got back in line, bought the drugs from a different dealer, and returned to the car.

He tipped the driver a large sum and gestured goodbye, and the driver hesitated, as if to say something or engage him further, but did neither, just disappeared. Brown lived in the country, and the only light came from a far-off barn on a hill. The driver now gone, Brown was left alone with the night sky.

Brown shakily unlocked his door and flicked on the light, expecting to see a dead body, or worse, the figure of the writer sitting in the dark on Brown’s recliner, smoking, drinking Brown’s Scotch. Instead, he saw nothing unusual, it was still the house he knew to be home.

Brown went for the kitchen cabinet, poured himself a drink, and turned the lights out, sitting in the dark, on the recliner, until he slipped off to sleep.

It was the sound of an owl he recognized, a hooting outside, that woke him near dawn. He knew it was near dawn without looking at the clock. And he sat in his chair listening to the hoots, a doleful sound which was funny, because he wasn’t quite sure that was a word, and Brown imagined the sound was the writer singing a siren’s song to Brown, soft and rhythmic, beckoning him to join.

Brown felt cold again, felt for his glass, got up, unbuckled his pants. He peeled off his socks and shirt, and went for the door.

Brown watched his bare feet step into the glow of the moon on his back stoop. He passed into the cool light, and now the sound of the hooting consumed him, it was all around. And he knew this was the moment to confront the writer and his fortune, the fate of his existence, all Brown was, all he would ever be.

He passed into a dark, shaded grove behind the shed: that’s where the hooting began, and he stood in the grass and felt the wet dew upon him, felt it start in his feet, felt it rise up his legs, the very frame of him.

And as he stood in the dark grass and looked into the blackness of the trees, he did not see an owl or the writer, the hooting just stopped. Brown could not think for the life of him who he was, or what he should do. While he had the urge to cry out to the darkness, to call it by name, no sound came from his throat. Brown was unsure what happened to him, or was he even real.


 

(An homage to Paul Auster’s story Ghosts from The New York Trilogy, 1986.)

TheNewYorkTrilogycover

‘The followers of chaos, out of control’

IMG_3811

My youngest daughter is in first grade, and wants to be popular. She wants to be popular because she’s unsure who she is. Popularity must be good, it’s a form of acceptance. They’ll do anything to be popular at that age.

And I have the same problem, at 43. I’ve been assigned shit projects at work which I accepted with glee, because I thought I had been chosen, I thought it was about me. I think the thing about popularity is that it’s not about you, and that’s the thing to remember.

I’m grateful one of my posts got chosen last week to be featured on the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed.’ Secretly, I wondered if that would ever happen — and then, what would happen if it did. Blogging, social media, hits, it all feels like Las Vegas to me. More, it feels like the fair that used to come to my town, and the games of chance where you swing a mallet to make a puck fly up in the air and strike the bell, win a prize.

I had a moment where I thought I’d really arrived somewhere, which was nice. I got sweet notes from fellow bloggers who’ve been following my posts for a while. And many new people liked my blog and started following me. In fact, one offers an online dating service which is intriguing, and must have been meant just for me (thanks, but I’m taken).

I’m not much farther along than my seven year-old in figuring things out, finding myself. I don’t know that popularity helps out any and in fact, it may just get in the way.


 

Post title taken from R.E.M., Disturbance at the Heron House — released September 1, 1987:

When feeding time has come and gone
They’ll lose their heart and head for home
Try to tell us something we don’t know
We don’t know

The Unraveling of Mark Kozelek

Last week, Kozelek got some press related to belligerent remarks he made to audiences and fellow musicians The War on Drugs. For someone like Mark, who requires a footnote explaining who he is by way of the band he used to play in, any press is good — like a bad restaurant review, better than no review at all. My wife thinks this may be a sign, that he’s really coming apart. To which I say, he’s been coming apart for 20 years. It’s what artists do, they come apart.

This is about keeping your idols, the stars, where they belong — at a distance.

A soundtrack for bumming out or making out

I stayed away from the Red House Painters because I didn’t like the name, and because I heard they sucked in an Internet chat room I visited for my favorite band, The Fall.

It was the early 90s and not many people had computers, so if you wanted to use one, you could rent time browsing the Web in an Internet Café. Someone on a message board was angry about RHP and I figured if a Fall fan didn’t like them, I wouldn’t either.

By 1999 I met my future wife, while living alone in a Craftsman bungalow in Wallingford, with a remote control fireplace and a rust colored shag rug. It was coming on winter in Seattle and I was knee-deep in the Red House Painters now, songs about love and loss, dreary, intricate:

The hurting never ends
Like birthdays and old friends
We forget what is flesh blood and bone is human
Turning phone lines to airlines
Unwilling to face
The love is found on the inside, not the outside

– ‘Medicine Bottle,’ Red House Painters, 1992

And so with alcohol and candles, Kozelek’s music became a kind of séance, though I didn’t know his name or anything about him.

GhostsoftheGreatHighwayBy 2003, Red House Painters had broken up and Kozelek released a record under a new moniker, Sun Kil Moon. The album was perfect, and for the next several years, my friends and I all wanted him to remake it, but he wouldn’t. It had Neil Young rock bite to it, mixed with pretty, acoustic stylings — as a record, as a story, it all made sense from start to finish. But for the next five years, he wouldn’t plug in. The records were all soft and under-stated, a bit precious, and I had a hard time listening all the way through to the end.

Which is just the thing about Mark Kozelek and his relation to the world now, and why he’s bitching out The War on Drugs and getting combative with his audiences, the people who pay money to come watch him play.

Because Mark Kozelek’s music requires you to be quiet and pay attention, to really listen. More than once, I’ve seen him in venues where the crowd has gone there just to drink and hang out, with Kozelek as a backdrop. But Kozelek’s music demands your attention and he won’t tolerate anything less. In an age of distraction he’s on the endangered list, and knows it.

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Neptune Theater Seattle, February 2014, Pre-Koz, about to be let down

KILL YR IDOLS

It’s hard writing about the people you admire most because you put an expectation on them they’ll never be able to carry; you turn them into the perfect expression of who you think they should be, to fill the voids in your imagination of who you yourself could be, if you were half the artist they are.

When they get up on the stage they’re playing for you and singing your songs because that’s the whole point, but they still have an identity they’re struggling to keep and understand, too.

And funny, to be Mark Kozelek and require a footnote for people to know who he is, to identify him, when he knows better than any of us ever will, and that’s why he’s so goddamned good, whether you like him or not.

Fame, Fame, Fatal Fame

It’s never been my dream
to swim in the mainstream
we’re in a different current,
but they’re okay with me

Sometimes I Can’t Stop,
Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, 2013

Popularity can ruin artists, and while Mark has insisted he doesn’t need it, a half-click away from David Gray and a million times better, it has to start to kill you too, the fact of not being popular, when you’re that good and that unknown.

He sings about Elliot Smith and Jason Molina, how hard it is to write songs, to do it right, and for that I think he deserves a pass for talking shit about The War on Drugs. In some ways I think he feels it more.

 

You can’t retweet a memory: Nick Drake, Starbucks, why we roast turkeys

Nick Drake, You Tube

Nick Drake, You Tube

Hurting, brooding, kind of liking how it feels, discovering pain and self-pity as a teenager, with Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. When I hear those songs now it reminds me of that time and it’s even better, it’s been auto-corrected.

At work at Starbucks, I spend two weeks planning for a four hour meeting with a dozen VPs to talk about a new brand, to confront the idea of coffee’s Third Wave, which is really just to slow down, to have ‘moments.’

We get one of the Strategy guys to share with us what’s been presented to the Board. I haven’t met him, but he’s just as I imagined, as the smart Strategy people always are.

He speaks with a supernatural ease and energy. He owns the room, he likes hearing himself talk, we all do. He’s so good, he just sits at the top of the table eating popcorn and then pops up and tells me when to advance the slides. I’m in awe, nodding, inspired to ask questions, jotting notes, I’m so fired up.

Because what he’s saying is smart and common sense, which you don’t always get in corporate meetings. He’s talking about the brand potential of giving people an experience they remember and want to talk about, they want to relive. Call it a halo effect.

Regardless of how you feel about the word ‘brand’ or Starbucks, there’s a simple, base-level association between things we consume and how they make us feel about ourselves, how they trigger memories.

It’s why I always put Nick Drake on at the start of Fall, because I associate this time of year with his moody, stark music. And I can relive the first time I heard him, far away in the hills of southern France while two Englishmen roasted a lamb leg at my mom’s, and we drank Rosé (Pink, Pink, Pink, Pink).

Pink Moon, 1972 Wikipedia

Pink Moon, 1972 Wikipedia

And it’s the same reason I roast turkey in November — for me, the tradition is in the smell and the memories more than the actual meal.

The brand is rooted in a feeling and connection that will always be better than the product itself. Because products don’t have emotions, people do.