Archive for the 'Music' Category



The Blues

Sometimes a harmonica sounds like a train,
a far-off train
as it passes
some lonesome landscape—
the sound of something leaving, an echo
through the window at night.

Which sounds like a heart breaking,
or the quiet wail
that escapes
when a heart breaks—
like steam through a valve
or a cry between lips
(“stay, stay”)—

when something leaves
and all you’ve got
to hold onto
is the sound of its going

and even that isn’t yours.
Even that leaves too.

Where Glen E Friedman and Travel Blogging Intersect

Friedman/Fairey collab that happens to hang in my living room

I didn’t expect to get so sucked in. I didn’t expect to get so inspired, and I certainly didn’t expect my interview with photographer Glen E Friedman to have anything to do with travel writing or blogging.

Which it didn’t, not explicitly. But in talking to Glen, crosslegged on my bedroom floor for over an hour one Monday morning, in asking him about his drives and motivations, about what inspires him and what doesn’t, I saw so many parallels to my own experience in the travel blogging world that I couldn’t help but write something up about it. Our chat served as a kind of check, about what really matters to me and what I really want to do with my writing.

Glen is old-school. Some would say “an idealist from a bygone era,” and I suppose I can appreciate where they’re coming from. But that wasn’t my experience with Glen. My experience was that he didn’t want to fuck around, that he didn’t want his time wasted by people who didn’t actually care or didn’t want to work hard, and that he truly truly believed in what he was doing and had done. And fuck if you can say that about a lot of people.

But in fact, the most personally inspiring part of my interview with Glen didn’t make it into the actual published interview (up in two parts, one and two, on Hi-Fructose). Because, well, an hour-long interview is really fucking long transcribed.

I was intrigued by Glen’s frustrations with the contemporary art scene, and asked him about it. He went on a kind of rant (homeboy can talk) and some of the lines he used I’d actually read in other interviews. But as he described the scene of it all, what is really the inherent bullshit in any artistic scene, I couldn’t help but think of what one writer dubbed “the circle jerk of travel blogging” (don’t worry, I won’t dog you out):

There’s definitely some people out there that are doing some good stuff—Shepard’s name goes to mind—but there’s a ton of shit out there too. And it makes it boring and frustrating to go to a museum or an art gallery and see the stuff that gets the credibility, because the people hobnob with the right people, you know, or they get high with the right people or had sex with the right people, or they’re just in the scene. I have a strange feeling that if you’re in the scene, then you’re probably not very good. It’s all about the emperor’s new clothes in art. I’d say maybe 5% of people actually have a real talent for what they’re doing and aren’t just getting over. And that’s in most of the fields, whether it’s in music or painting or any kind of craftsmanship that’s considered an art.

It’s a pretty bold position, but as he spoke, I replaced “art” with “blogging,” and well, the same held true.

“I don’t know what suddenly makes so many people artists these days,” Glen wondered aloud. He talked about a laziness, a getting-over attitude, enabled by the ease of having one’s voice heard these days; when he was young, you had to be really driven—you had to really want it. Everything was DIY, because there was no other choice. No one was making any money off their bands or their skating; you did it because you loved it.

It reminded me of my own beginnings in writing—the little callous on my thumb from the pencil ridge, fingertips covered in glue from making zines, waking up from a long night with bits of poetry scribbled across my arm because I hadn’t had any paper on me. I didn’t do it for page ranking, I didn’t do it to “travel the world and get paid”—I did it simply because I couldn’t imagine not doing it. Because there was a voice in me that would not be still.

And I wouldn’t say I’ve sold out or even sold myself short. But it’s easy to get caught up in the scene of it all. It’s easy to see all the recognition other people get and to want it too—to want something measurable, to drive traffic, something to point to: “See, it actually matters; what I have to say matters.” And if you’re a decent writer, it’s easy to write the kind of stuff people want to hear, that garners retweets and comments and link outs. And it’s even easier to get lost inside all that.

Glen’s always followed a higher call that went beyond this scene or that scene, the cool kid club. He’s done his work in order to inspire other people, and he’s really held himself to it. To be fair, he’s had the luxury to hold himself to it: he begun being successful at age 14, and has supported himself through his art his whole adult life. But despite that, there’s always always the opportunity to get lazy, to ride the gravy train, to put your images on a tshirt and make a fuckton of money cause who can’t use more money?

It’s also easy to get frustrated with the scene, to point the finger and scream (internally, of course), “For fuck’s sake, write something real, not just what’s easy or convenient! Write about what’s inconvenient, about what’s difficult and painful and scares the shit out of you.”

In my best of moments, I’d like to be able to take a more loving, tolerant approach. I’d like to not roll my eyes and shittalk (which I’m of course guilty of), but to somehow say to all those writers: “You’re fucking better than what’s easy, than what drives traffic, and you deserve to let that voice be heard.”

But I’ve got a big enough job just trying to hold myself to that standard. Cause, you know, I still have to pay the rent too. And I’m sure as hell not gonna do it transcribing Glen Friedman interviews. But what I will get from it is a reminder, like a small stone you can carry in your pocket and rub when you’re bored or lonely or nervous—of what it really is I want to do with my writing.

Americanness on the Road, Part II: It Ain’t All Bad

Yes, really: George W Bush Street, in Tirana

“America is the best country for a person with a disability to visit.”

This was Rob, sitting cross-legged on the roof terrace of the Tirana hostel. He continued, “For deaf people, it’s like a dream. It’s like going to Disneyland. Actually,” he ashed his cigarette, “Disneyland is great for people with disabilities too. Wheelchair accessibility and all.”

Chad looked confused. You could see the information smacking up against the wall of prejudice, his brow wincing from the pressure.

Chad didn’t like the US, and Chad was American.

Rob continued on, citing the revolutionary wonders of Civil Rights legislation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in his English accent. Rob was in Tirana doing NGO work in the deaf community; Zhujeta, Rob’s girlfriend who helped run the hostel, also did work with the same NGO. Rob rattled off the comprehensive services available to deaf people in the US—from resources in public schools to telephone interpreters—vastly different from any other country in the world, including his native England.

Chad nodded, soaking it all in. “Wow,” he said thoughtfully. “I guess that’s one thing we didn’t fuck up.”

It’s easy for Americans to be jaded about our own country. There’s a lot of fucked-up shit going on in it, and we’ve caused a lot of suffering, both abroad and at home. It’s easy to fall into a sort of naive cynicism: our country is completely fucked. As young travelers, little ambassadors on hostel terraces, we feel it our duty to decry our country and lament its shortcomings, its sins, its unforgivable and deplorable acts. And there’s a lot to decry.

But it’s something like the Guilty White Person syndrome, the Bleeding Heart Liberal. This perspective—and God knows I fell prey to it for several years in my early traveling—lacks complexity, nuance. The US isn’t the evil empire, as easy and convenient as it’d be to think that. Just when you want to write it off, there’s something like the ADA to remind you of the revolutionary notion of equality written into the fabric, the very law of the land, that you can’t get away from—that, no matter how far we sway into the other side, keeps showing up and shaking things down.

It was funny to watch that information try to sort itself in the mind of someone who thought they’d neatly washed their hands of the issue: US = bad. Because the fact is, we only have ADA legislation as a product of Civil Rights legislation, and we only have that because of that little blip written into our constitution that declared all the men equal. Sure, it’s not what a bunch of rich white dudes in powdered wigs meant at the time, but too bad. And this is what, in my mind, makes our country such a complex, contradictory and ultimately fascinating place: this space for change, this tension built into it. That, and the incredible cultural cocktail that keep colliding, exploding, bubbling over and making something new.

It was even funnier to watch Chad struggle with the information that Bush Senior was the man who signed the ADA into effect.

Because things as big as people or countries are never that simple, never all one thing (“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes”—when in doubt, always quote Walt Whitman). It reminded me of a Middle Eastern friend of mine, an ethnic minority from Iraq, who told me her mother still thinks of Saddam Hussein as a great man, because he didn’t persecute Assyrians.

And there’s more than the ADA on the list of “things we didn’t fuck up.” But it wasn’t my job to teach or explain that to Chad; he’d have to figure it out for himself. I just sat back and watched the lightbulb turn on, a small flicker of awareness.

Later on, we sat playing music from someone’s iPod. “Welcome to the Jungle” came on, and I indulged in a moment of cheesiness. “To me,” I said, absently, not really thinking about it, “this is the epitome of America. This is what the US sounds like.”

Chad looked slightly taken aback. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s rock, good ole’ 80s hard rock. Which came out of rock n roll, which came out of the blues, which is about as fucking American as it gets. It comes from the core, you know, the soul of the country. And I fucking love it,” I added. “American music is my favorite music. In all its permutations—folk, country, soul, hip hop, grunge…”

“I guess I never thought of it that way,” Chad said. “I think of American music as, you know, the corporate Britney Spears shit.”

“Well, yeah, it’s that too. But that’s only a small bit of it.” I lowered my voice and leaned in. “No one can deny it: our music is pretty bad-ass.”

Tirana, Tirana, The One I’ve Been Waiting For

If Tirana were a boy, it’d be the boy I’ve been waiting to meet.

You rumble across the border, furious windshield wiper and donkeys in the dirt road, hills dripping lush green. You dash from the taxi to the minibus, puddle-footed and soaking-hooded, grab the last seat as a man climbs into the trunk compartment.

You rattle like this through the rainstorm, through a landscape of sheeps and shacks, the smooth round dome of abandoned bunkers, half-built buildings with sleeping bulldozers stuck in the mud, the carcasses of stipped-down cars piled in empty lots. The minibus driver turns on some kind of Albanian butt rock, and you silently thank him for knowing the exact right soundtrack for your entrance into the country.

I’d meant to travel around a bit in Albania, see a UNESCO town or two, climb in a bunker, poke around some old Ottoman castle. Which still all sounds awesome. But four hours in Tirana, and I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere.

There’s only one other city I’ve walked into and felt this feeling, this long “yeeeesss” coming from some place between my ribs, near my gut, a forgotten organ of intuition. Some places just fit, and you just fit them, and Tirana is one of them.

It’s got a certain electric insanity, that infectious energy, without being a total free-for-all. It’s just dirty enough, has just enough street dogs and decrepit buildings, just enough business men, the click of just enough three-inch heels, attached to smooth legs and slim skirts. It’s like meeting a boy with just enough of “the dark side,” as Luke would say—not a total depraved junkie, but not squeaky clean and wholesome either: a chipped tooth and an ancient wound.

So I walked Tirana’s streets, its run-down markets and posh cafes, past Mercedes Benzes negoitating potholes, 10-years-old smoking cigarettes, old women roasting chestnuts, old men selling gum and lighters, gypsies sitting cross-legged with outstetched palms, the blare of the horns and the hum of the engines and the swoon of the city.

Within a few hours of staggering into the frenetic swarm of this city, I’d fallen in with the artsy, alternative crowd, finding myself at a rock show in a tiny, smokey bar in an otherwise-shuttered mall. The next night was K’tu Ka Art, a weekly show featuring local live music acts. It felt a lot like being at a small show at home, until I had it explained to me.

Apparently, bands in Albania work like this: they play cover songs. God-awful, Top 40, English-language cover songs. A band will book at a certain bar for a year. And every Friday and Saturday, people will go to same bar and hear the same band play the same cover songs.

“Bloody boring as hell,” Ghenti surmised, an indie-rocker dude in a Sonic Youth shirt and a Kurt Cobain sweater. He’d moved to Brighton when he was 16, but came back to Albania every year for a few weeks. So last year he started organizing weekly showcases of local bands, who played their own songs, singing in Albanian.

It’s a small group of people, maybe 30 or so, that are into that scene right now, into something different from the imported cool. And after two nights, I seem to know all of them. Yesterday, I walked around town and kept bumping into people I knew. It’s a funny feeling of belonging, of fitting into a place you just met. (“I feel like I’ve known you for years.”)

Tirana’s also an insanely safe and insanely cheap city. I can’t manage to spend more than $40 a day, and I can’t manage to feel uncomfortable walking its streets, even at 2am. (“Heaven must have sent you from above…”) The people are startlingly friendly, and I haven’t received any street harrassment—just a lot of stares for being the one tattooed girl in the whole city (more on that in another post).

The only drawback of the city, I told Robo, is that I smoke too much. It’s too easy and too cheap ($1.50 for a pack). It was the K’tu Ka Art afterparty, in a basement bar playing a soundtrack of “Vogue,” “Highway to Hell,” and “I Love Rock N Roll.”

“No, I think it’s a good thing,” Robo replied, yelling over the music.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“It means you’re having fun.”

“Yeah, I’ll try telling my mom that,” I smiled, leaning in to the flicker of his lighter.

He leaned back, regarded me there: sitting at the bar, happy as could be with my can of Coke, singing along to cheesy hits with Tirana’s tiny clan of rock n roll kids.

He patted me on the shoulder. “You should be an advertisement for ‘Come to Albania.'”

I threw my head back and laughed.

Beautiful: The Ridiculous Hair of Chaos in Tejas

Oh, kids these days…

Or actually, kids circa 1979. This year’s crowd at Chaos in Tejas was kind of like a time warp. I haven’t seen that many liberty spikes and back dreads since the hey day of the Telegraph Ave gutterpunk.

Now everyone loves a good Elmer’s glue mohawk with an anarchy symbol spray-painted on it. And who hasn’t shaved half their head before? It was like being a kid again…

By the end of it all, I wanted to wear a pink leotard and sparkly tights. To the dude who wore a tie-dyed t-shirt: rock on. You might have been the punkest of them all.

Subtle Like T-Rex: My Obscure Top 10 Travel Songs

Just in case there’s someone who hasn’t got enough of the Top 10 list, get ready for another nail in coffin.

When it comes to songs about travel, there’s plenty looming giants that drown out the subtler stars. Now, I love “Route 66” and “On the Road Again” as much as the next red-blooded American. And I’ve got a well-bred affection for “Graceland,” “Booby McGee” and “I’ve Been Everywhere.” But when it comes to the songs that really get my feet itching and fingers a’packing, it’s all about the lesser-known jams.

Call it the forever-to-the-contrary, anti-mainstream, cranky old punk in me, but I think these songs kill the more widely embraced classics (though, baby I was born to run too). I’ve listed them vaguely in order of ranking, but more in terms of a flow fit best for you’re listening pleasure.

In the spirit of old mix tape, my early Christmas present to you:

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1. Hard Travelin’, Woody Guthrie

Whenever a bus is delayed or flight canceled, I wanna bust out a harmonica (that I don’t own and can’t play) and break into a freestyle rendition of “Hard Travelin'”. I may have been born three generations too late to live the train-hopping, vagabonding hobo dream, but Woody’s keeping it alive for me.

Best Line: “That mean old judge done said to me / It’s 90 days for vagrancy / And I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’, Lord”

2. Ramblin’ Man, Hank Williams III and Melvins

Not the Allman Brothers. With the heart, soul and twang of the original in his DNA, Hank Williams III buddied up with, that’s right, Melvins, and well, they killed it.

Best line: “I can settle down and be doin’ just fine / Till I hear those freights rollin’ down the line / Then I hurry straight home and pack / And if I didn’t go, I believe I’d blow stack” Amen.

3. Ready for More, Murder City Devils

AKA, the best show you went to in 2001 (really, no one lights their drums on fire anymore). The boys that made the trucker hat cool wrote this one about the exhaustion of hard-partying touring/traveling that only copious amounts of cocaine can fuel you through. I may have missed the boat (or tour bus) on that one, but I can get down with the angsty howlings of Spencer Moody any day.

Best line: “And I’m subtle, subtle like a T-Rex / And I haven’t even started yet / One week on the road / One week, and I’m already wrecked”

4. I’m Moving Along, Patsy Cline

With the guts and growl that can only belong to one woman, “I’m Moving Along” is an anthem for anyone that’s split town to heal a heartbreak. The way Patsy belts out that last line always make me wanna grab a suitcase and slam the door on whatever’s bumming me out at home.

Best line: “I’m moving along, I gotta be free”

5. Gone Till November, Wyclef Jean

He may be pretentious at times, but god damn, it’s a pretty song. If you’ve ever had to reconcile the traveling lifestyle with leaving loved ones at home, this is the jam for you.

Best line: “See you must understand, I can’t work a 9-5”

6. Sloop John B, Beach Boys

Not every trip is awesome. And even in the best of em, there comes that moment when, say, you’ve had diarrhea for two weeks and are really over the whole squat toilet thing. For moments like these, “Sloop John B” ‘s refraining “I wanna go home, Let me go home” hits the swollen and tender spot.

Best Line: “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on” (though, with Charles Manson running around the sandbox, we can’t be totally sure what kind of trip they mean…)

7. Board of Tourism, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb

The touring-est band I’ve ever known wrote this cheeky tribute to the “attractions” their hometown Pensacola, Florida. It perfectly captures the two-bit claims-to-fame that small cities grasp at. And it’s adorable.

Best Line: Tie between the refrain, “We got a drive-thru funeral home” and “You know they even filmed a movie there one time / They had James Brown and gave away hot dogs”

8. Rock Island Line, Leadbelly

This song is the definition of bad-ass, by the guy that created the word cool. Nuff said.

Best Line: “If you wants to ride, you got to ride it like you find it”

9. Unknown Passage, Dead Moon

By another band that spent half their lives on the road, the hypnotic riffs of “Unknown Passage” hauntingly capture those road-tripping 3ams full of dark highways and strange landscapes. (And if you wanna know how to build a house, raise a family, travel the country six months a year, and rock and roll like it’s going out of style on less than $20,000 a year, check out the Dead Moon documentary by the same name.) Just don’t put this on if you’re trying to stay awake while driving.

Best Line: “There’s a red light on the hill / And a bridge out going down / There’s a city limits marker / Of an unfamiliar town”

10. So International, B-Legit Featuring Too $hort

Nothing like a little local love to round it out. Hometown boy Too $hort teams up with B-Legit and flows about, well, mostly having sex around the globe and flying first class. Can’t relate, but the hook is catchy as shit.

Best Line: “Yea, we fly first class, touch down like pimps / What’s the next event, tell me what town it’s in”


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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