Strange sensation: hear a writer speak in a room full of people who love that writer, though you think the writer is hacky. These people are your friends, so while she talks you think about ways to moderate your criticism, then you think about how to be polite and uncritical, then you tell yourself that you need to chill out and just enjoy that they are enjoying her. Just chill out. Get annoyed at her eccentricities, because they seem affected and also because they resemble your eccentricities; wonder if anyone will point out the similarities. Identify your slight jealousy. Make a list of lessons you can learn from her success. Make a note to consider how to make your concerns more relatable. Ask yourself if book sales would be worth adopting a more costumey look, because the writer is dressed like an ordained Stevie Nicks, and people seem fascinated by it. Check if you could leave inconspicuously. Stick it out so that you can chat with people afterwards; you will be impressed by your own adult-sized capacity for pleasantness.
The assumption is that there is someone right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person.
This moral assumption overlooks two crucial aspects to marriage. First, it fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being what it is, means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem morally is learning to love and care for this stranger to whom you find yourself married.
… Unless marriage has a purpose beyond being together it will certainly be a hell.
Your letters, they all say that you're beside me now
The summer after graduating high school I had intense moments with this girl whom I had liked since 5th grade, and in August, 2001, I bought fancy paper and wrote her a love letter. She was slow to respond; it took her until September. At my freshman dorm I panicked when I received her thick envelope, because, regardless of what the letter said, I knew that reading it was going to be a big deal—my feelings were going to be irrevocably different after reading the letter, there would be no going back—and so it is not exactly that I was fearful of the letter but maybe wary of the emotionally involving action of reading and processing the letter. I had to gin up the energy. The next afternoon I took it to the library where I could read it in a sterile environment. In case I needed to soothe myself I brought a psychic first-aid kit, Lydia Davis’s Break It Down and Dongs of Sevotion in a portable CD player.
In this way, I have put off listening to Bill Callahan’s new cover of “So Long, Marianne.” It felt tiring to hear my dude haul out this old chamber music. It felt tiring, too, to feel feelings involuntarily; if I listened to the song and it made me feel feelings, then I’d have to figure out what to do with those feelings. What an onerous task. I mean—personal background—when his cover of “The Breeze/My Baby Cries” came out, one day I listened to it on repeat for four hours while staring at the floor of my gross New Haven kitchen, and I sure as shit don’t need to find that zone again.
I love Bill but needed him to can it for a while.
Some observations now that I have downloaded the song and hit play:
- He should have thought longer about the chorus. The original version gains a lot from the contrast of slow verses with a sing-songy refrain, but the chorus here underwhelms—it is all twangy, teary cowboy music. Willie Nelson. “I’ll make a career out of [covering] sad songs and getting paid by the tear.” I wish the chorus had a flash of feedback, some death-metal drumming, anything jarring.
- It was smart to delay the chorus until after the third verse; it allows momentum to build. You glimpse L.C.’s influence on Bill, too, because doesn’t the structure and imagery of these first two minutes resemble “Our Anniversary”?
- His line reading of “You held onto me like I was a crucifix” is great.
- This is easy-listening Bill, which I like fine but is not Bill at his best. I would not use this song to introduce someone to Bill, even though L.C. is beloved and familiar. “The Breeze/My Baby Cries,” however, is a song that I would give to anyone at any time. I would give it to God if God asked for a song recommendation.