Monday, March 12, 2012

They live by night: She Rode a Horse

They live by night: She Rode a Horse: They're not gonna make it. Titanic is coming back, and I’ll probably have something to say about it when it does. It’s one of my fav...

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Mountain Goats: A Decade in Review

This document was born out of unjustified anger. A few months ago, a prominent music-oriented website made a list of what they felt were the 500 best songs recorded and released between January 1st, 2000 and December 31st, 2009. "This is bunk," I said to myself, probably out loud, while alone. "John Darnielle is the best songwriter of the decade. I bet I could make a list of the top 20 Mountain Goats songs, and they'd all be better than most of the crap on this list."

The lion's share of that boast was, of course, a ridicule-worthy product of my inferiority complex about musical expertise. I apologize to any members of Radiohead or OutKast who may be reading this.

But for whatever reason, the first half of the boast weighed on me. Could I make a top 20 list for the Mountain Goats? Should I? Who would read it? Could I whittle it down to 20? Why did I pick the number 20?

I didn't answer any of those questions, but I made the list anyway.

I also threw in a bonus list at the end, ranking this decade's Mountain Goats albums.

(FYI, if you are fuzzy on who the Mountain Goats are, they're a band that's fronted by a man named John Darnielle. He writes and sings all of the songs. For a long time, he was the Mountain Goats—it was a name he used while recording songs in his spare time and occasionally playing concerts. Over the course of this decade, the entity has evolved a bit, with a full studio and touring band [who are amazing]. But for all intents and purposes, it's still mainly an extension of John Darnielle.)

Three rules under which I operated:

*** I only chose songs Darnielle recorded solely under the "Mountain Goats" moniker. No Extra Glenns tracks, nothing from the split 12" with Kaki King.
***No covers. That means no renditions of "The Boys Are Back in Town" or "The Sign."
***Only finished versions. Darnielle often releases demos of his LPs, but I'm not using them here.

And just so you have a sense of the time period here, the decade started with the release of The Coroner's Gambit and concluded with the release of The Life of the World to Come. So that means no "Going to Georgia" or "Golden Boy" or any of the other hundreds of great pre-2000 songs you may or may not have in your iTunes.

Enough blabbing. The top 20 Mountain Goats songs of the decade, with accompanying explanations, in ascending order, according to me, someone who just loves the band a whole goddamn lot, but has no music criticism expertise:

#20: "Autoclave," Heretic Pride, 2008 (Listen / Lyrics)
All neurotics are conquistadors while they’re sleeping. The first two verses are catchy, Jon Wurster’s drums are wildly propulsive, everything’s taut and muscular, but it’s all about that third stanza. “I dreamt that I was perched atop a throne of human skulls / on a cliff above the ocean; howling wind and shrieking seagulls.” Even the last line, with its Cheers reference, somehow makes sense in its emotional free-association. Capturing the logic of dreams: no easy trick for a pop song.

#19: "Your Belgian Things," We Shall All Be Healed, 2004 (Listen / Lyrics)
A lilting meditation on objects, absence, and witness. They say a person isn’t really dead until his mail stops arriving. Our narrator has a corollary: a toxic friendship isn’t really dead until your companion’s spoils of war are gone, leaving only stains on the carpet. Vocals are first beautifully descriptive (“mud caking on their rubber boots”), then chastising (“I guess / I guess / But Jesus, what a mess”), and finally, plain in their longing (“I wish you had a number where you are”). Peter Hughes’s bass notes twist and slide with gentle confusion.

#18: "Color in Your Cheeks," All Hail West Texas, 2002 (Listen / Lyrics)
It's not too common these days that you get a song narrated by a Greek Chorus— or, for that matter, a West Texan Chorus. A community sings of the times it has taken in lost travelers—be they from Taiwan or down the block. "Some were bright-eyed / some were dead on their feet.” All were embraced. And yet, John sounds vaguely — only vaguely — menacing. A DJ once did a trance remix of this song, but doesn't that just seem redundant?

#17: "Matthew 25:21," The Life of the World to Come, 2009 (Listen / Lyrics)
For a man who is, technically, a singer-songwriter, Darnielle rarely sounds like one. This one’s a rare indulgence into the kind of music your parents might listen to at a folk music concert. But it works because it captures two of the ways the human brain deals with the death of a loved one — obsession over mundane detail (“Find the Harbor Freeway / and head south / real tired / head kind of light”) and grand metaphor (“I am an airplane tumbling wing over wing / Try to listen to my instruments; they don’t say anything”). The only song that ever made me cry on a first listen. Hell, it made me cry twice, first at this beautiful image: “Between the pain and the pills trying to hold it at bay / stands a traveler going somewhere far away,” then at the devastating final lines.

#16: "See America Right," Tallahassee, 2002 (Listen / Lyrics)
A Via Dolorosa through the Panhandle, sung in angry block letters on a crumpled sheet of notebook paper found in a dry gutter. It hits on two common Darnielle topics: homecomings and drinking. But it doesn’t sound like any other Mountain Goats song—sonically vicious and screamed with scorn. As the title implies, our narrator is too drunk, tired, and pissed off for gray areas—things are either right or wrong, and for Chrissakes, stay the fuck out of his way. All he wants is for you to know how goddamn hard it was to get back to you, the one he loves, you goddamn piece of shit. But hey, who says furious alcoholics can’t write poetry: “Your love is like a cyclone in a swamp / and the weather’s getting warmer.”

#15: "Family Happiness," The Coroner's Gambit, 2000 (Listen / Lyrics)
Hard to remember that this one was written about a year before 9/11. How can you read lines about escaping to Canada and the repeated scream, “You can’t make me go to war” without being anachronistic? Real talk: I have no idea what the story of this song is, but that confusion seems to be written into the lyrics: “I guess I’m supposed to figure these things out / or maybe it’s supposed to be self-evident.” All that’s clear is that (a) there are lines here more chilling than most anything else Darnielle’s written (e.g. “I’ve gone feral / and I don’t speak the language anymore”) and (b) rarely has a solo acoustic guitar sounded this frightening.

#14: "Mole," We Shall All Be Healed, 2004 (Listen / Lyrics)
First and foremost, notice the central guitar phrase: a tender, deceptively simple lick that tiptoes, crouches, and tiptoes again. Every time it’s overcome by John Vanderslice’s wall of pianos, it gains new urgency upon its return. The narrator came to see his pal in the ICU, like any good friend, but then the second line drops in: “They had handcuffed you to your bed.” This is not a visit between guiltless men. It’s hard to write a song that so evenly balances sympathy (“Out in the desert, we’ll have no worries”) and frustration (“I know what you want and you know what I want: / Information”). The last couplet of the third verse is no simple pun, either: intensive care is enforced wellness; living care-free is a pretty dangerous opposite.

#13: "Song for Dennis Brown," The Sunset Tree, 2005 (Listen / Lyrics)
Perhaps the most terrifying part of death is that you never live to see whether anyone noticed that you died. We get verses about the day a famous reggae singer croaked, but the big news in Kingston was a drug bust. The narrator predicts his own nameless death will mean even less: just some guy “jumping into dumpsters." The melody and chords are as simple and compelling as a campfire sing-along. When I die, how will I go? Will it be like deaths I’ve heard about in the news or history books? Will anyone care? Will I care? The certainty about mortality in the refrains is something we all hope for, and think we have—that is, until, like Dennis Brown, our organs fail, and we’re not around to know for sure.

#12: "Broom People," The Sunset Tree, 2005 (Listen / Lyrics)
The most prevalent motif in the Mountain Goats catalog is the act of taking inventory. Here, the list of objects and characters serves as a mnemonic device. In order to remember the ecstasy of teenage passion, John first has to recall everything he saw — both horrifying and mundane — during the daylight hours before a make-out. The garage had a 1936 Hudson. The carpet was disgusting with pet hair. “Half-eaten gallons of ice cream in the freezer!” is the cry, as though the confection was a sign of the apocalypse, because maybe it was. One girl’s body is the earthly reward at the end of each verse. When he finally reaches euphoria — “But in the long tresses of your hair / I am a babbling brook!” — John literally gains the power of two voices. All instruments telling the universal story: teenaged hell and the things we carried.

#11: "Jaipur," The Coroner's Gambit, 2000 (Listen / Lyrics)
In a haze of exhaustion and righteous determination, our narrator is returning home. He has seen things we would never believe: “I came to the gates of the fabled pink city / Hungry and tired and mad as all hell.” He is simultaneously a common man of the modern world (“I am coming to Atlanta again”) and the embodied force of Biblical (and pre-Biblical) destruction (“I am the killer dressed in pilgrim’s clothing… I am the white sky high over Tripoli / I am the land-mine hidden in the sand”). All that can save him is the sweet chariot sung of by the enslaved, be it “jewel-encrusted” or something with a “chrome tail pipe shining bright as spun gold.” All the while, three spectacularly enormous chords give the song a cinematic scope seldom heard in the sound of a lone man with a guitar. Who the hell writes songs about this stuff?

#10: "Oceanographer's Choice," Tallahassee, 2002 (Listen / Lyrics)
The curious opening lines are a play-within-a-play. "Well / guy in a skeleton costume / comes up to the guy in the Superman suit / runs through him with a broadsword." It’s what’s on TV when the narrator’s lover bursts in with murderous intent, but it also reminds us of the filter through which we see what happens next: Domestic violence as action movie. “Stubbed my cigarette out against the west wall / quickly lit another”—wasn’t that a stage direction in Shaft? The guitars wail, John’s voice rattles, gets lost, stands alone for half a second, and as two people finally consummate their failed marriage in an orgy of violence, there’s the question every hero asks just before he kills his supervillain: “What will I do when I don’t have you?” The coda goes on a bit too long, but then again, isn't that true of all fights?

#9: "This Year," The Sunset Tree, 2005 (Listen / Lyrics)
Repetitive. Unsubtle. No change in dynamics. Wholly linear story. The chorus just keeps saying the thesis over and over. The best line is a crib from an old Jewish blessing. Simple to learn; even simpler to understand. Oh, wait. Whoops. I just listed all the things that make this song great. (Plus, isn’t simplicity and repetition the whole point, when you need to wake up from despair?)

#8: "Palmcorder Yajna," We Shall All Be Healed, 2004 (Listen / Lyrics)
A yajna is a category of Hindu ritual, usually associated with sacrifices to the gods. Weddings are yajnas. According to our narrator, so are group drug trips. Guitar, piano, and bass charge in lockstep, and John speaks of the holy temple — a Travelodge™, of course. The meth worshippers follow the prescribed steps ("Send somebody out for soda," "Every couple minutes, someone says he can't stand it anymore") and wear the ceremonial garments ("Reflective tape on our sweatpants / big holes in our shoes"). The priest sees visions (a house full of speedfreak ghosts, a factory giving him his earthly delights). And hey, yajnas usually involve a purifying flame, so our narrator's only being reverent in the bridge: "If anybody comes into our room while we're asleep / I hope they incinerate everybody in it." Funny how rituals make pain endurable largely by inducing it regularly.

#7: "Love Love Love," The Sunset Tree, 2005 (Listen / Lyrics)
I would add one more parable to the list given in this song. In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker goes to Yoda because he has a recurring premonition that his wife is going to die. Speaketh Yoda: "Fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side." Anakin ignores him and does everything he can to gain power over life and death, in order to save her. And we all know how that turned out. "Now we see things as in a mirror dimly / but then we shall see each other face to face," John sings, quoting 1 Corinthians. All the men in this song met their doom trying to see the biggest Love there is: oneness with the Infinite. There is no cause more honorable, more understandable, and more dangerous than that of true Love. Kinda sucks to be human, don’t it?

#6: "Woke Up New," Get Lonely, 2006 (Listen / Lyrics)
It’s so perfectly realized that it renders the album surrounding it almost unnecessary. Very little to say about "Woke Up New" that it doesn't say for itself. But one thing must be pointed out: while being a gaspingly beautiful song about a break-up, it endures because its imagery transcends its stated topic. "And I stood there like a businessman waiting for a train / and I got ready for the future to arrive": a mantra for all seasons of change. The world is coming, always coming; the best you can do is blow your nose and stand up straight.

#5: "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod," The Sunset Tree, 2005 (Listen / Lyrics)
What is religion, if not a statement of certainty? There is right, and there is wrong. There is truth, and there is lies. There is good, and there is evil. And as long as you remember which is which, you will endure. The boy singing this song, feeling his stepfather's fists, knows that. "I vanish into the dark / and rise above my station." But more importantly, as long as we're talking about absolutes: "And then I'm awake and I'm guarding my face / hoping you don't break my stereo / because it's the one thing that I couldn't live without / and so I think about that, and then I sorta black out." The best song John Darnielle ever wrote about faith, and that's saying something.

#4: "Against Pollution," We Shall All Be Healed, 2004 (Listen / Lyrics)
In which a great storyteller wonders whether any story is ever true. “When the Last Days come / we shall see visions,” our narrator predicts. “We will recognize each other / and see ourselves for the first time / the way we really are.” Now that’s scary. What if we’re just a pile of vulgar synapses? “Apocalypse” is just Greek for “lifting the veil,” after all. What if the narrator’s windows keep rusting for dull, moisture-based reasons? What if the most adrenaline-pumping moment of his life, when he pulled the trigger on a guy in a liquor-store robbery, was just boring old instinct? Not much of a tall tale, if that’s the “truth” of the matter. The only way to stay sane is to string it all together with mystery, destiny, and other things that probably don’t exist. Isn’t that the reason people write songs? Or listen to them?

#3: "The Mess Inside," All Hail West Texas, 2002 (Listen / Lyrics)
In July of 2005, I fell in love on a long plane ride. While she was asleep, I tried to write out what I was feeling in the pages of my diary. I scribbled a phrase from this song, because it fit perfectly: “When I felt such love for you I thought my heart was gonna pop.” Of course, this is a song of utter misery and love that ran dry a long time ago, but you can’t lose something you never had. Our narrator beats out painfully straightforward chords and speaks with the grave plainness of a scientist who has proven mankind’s imminent destruction: “Tried to fight the creeping sense of dread with temporal things / Most of the time I guess I felt alright.” But the worst part is that the opposite of love’s fullness isn’t emptiness. It’s debris.

#2: "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," All Hail West Texas, 2002 (Listen / Lyrics)
By saying anything, I'm insulting the song. I'm pretty sure the point is to make sure nothing gets in the way of Cyrus and Jeff having their story heard.

#1: "No Children," Tallahassee, 2002 (Listen / Lyrics)
“The thing about me is, I’m not even in the slightest bit afraid of dying,” John Darnielle told the audience at a Manhattan concert this past December. “What I’m afraid of is living with infirmity for ever and ever and ever.” That’s the key to “No Children,” a 2-minute, 46-second waltz that has arguably become the Mountain Goats’ signature song. Is it any coincidence that John traditionally changes the last line whenever he leads it as a live sing-along? “I hope we both die” becomes “I hope we all die.” It’s the secret of this song. It’s the secret of what makes John Darnielle different from all the other guys with guitars. Some problems can’t be solved. Some marriages will never stop disintegrating. Some pains end only with death. But here, too, is beauty! This is not a song of suicide. There’s a reason the sentences all begin with “I hope.” There are things we can only do in living despair; visions we can only see in total darkness; songs we can only write by examining what we’re most afraid of. “You are coming down with me / hand in unlovable hand.” You are never alone.

Honorable Mentions (aka Great Songs That I Feel Really Guilty For Leaving Off This List And Also You Probably Think They Should Have Been On There So I'm Sorry For That Too): “Jenny,” “Fault Lines,” “Source Decay,” “Home Again Garden Grove,” “New Monster Avenue,” “Sax Rohmer #1,” "Michael Myers Resplendent," “Lovecraft in Brooklyn,” “Genesis 30:3,” “Psalms 40:2,” “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace,” “Pale Green Things,” “Tallahassee,” “International Small Arms Traffic Blues,” “Alpha Rats Nest,” “Game Shows Touch Our Lives,” “The Young Thousands,” “Quito,” “Cotton,” “Pigs That Ran Straightaway Into the Water, Triumph of,” “Ox Baker Triumphant,” “Shadow Song”


#8: Get Lonely, 2006
Underrated, but still the least-best. Maybe you can only really understand it if you’ve had your heart shattered as hard as the protagonist had his shattered. If that’s true, then thank God I can’t get into this album just yet.

#7: The Coroner's Gambit, 2000
The last of the original Mountain Goats breed. Songs in exotic locales, no unifying thread, occasional tracks that are non-metaphorical examinations of stuff like onions, and so on. A bunch of standout tracks, and still more creative than most things people record, but it’s dwarfed by what came after.

#6: Heretic Pride, 2008
Probably the most conventional album Darnielle has made, and that’s not an insult. Plus, the production has never been better. A collection of wonderful little pop songs. And yet, it doesn’t age into a fine wine; it’s more like some comfort food you keep refrigerated and dip into now and then.

#5: The Life of the World to Come, 2009
I’m probably being unfair to this one, what with it being so recent and all. Such is the curse of retrospective lists. The evil twin of Heretic Pride, in a way, what with its vignettes about faith, devotion, and rare creatures—except this one’s scary and sparse. The main thing keeping it out of the top tier is that it mostly covers thematic ground better explored in Darnielle’s other LPs. Nevertheless, a damn fine album.

#4: All Hail West Texas, 2002
The top 4 are essentially tied, so I don’t really have anything bad to say about any of them. This record has the best of both Darnielle worlds: his old-school, lo-fi, lyrically experimental obscurantism of the 1990s stirred in with the maturing pop songcraft that came to define his work in the 2000s. His best album, if it weren’t for the other ones that are his best albums.

#3: We Shall All Be Healed, 2004
A profound LP with an unusual perspective: that of a man who is equal parts condescending and worshipful toward the awful times and hard-up people he saw. If it ultimately fails to tell a coherent narrative, well, maybe that’s the point, what with all the meth. Don’t let the title of the last song fool you: nobody wins in this one.

#2: The Sunset Tree, 2005
Plays like a greatest-hits record. With the exception of a few duds (“Magpie,” “Dinu Lipatti’s Bones,” “Lion’s Teeth”), every song has the weight and force of an epic. Because, well, that’s what the album is. One man’s childhood and adolescence writ large, as though he were Aeneas. Dreams are private myths, and myths are public dreams. The only reason the last track didn’t make my top 20 list is that its devastating power can only be realized as an epilogue. The dedication in the liner notes says it all: “You are going to make it out of there alive. You will live to tell your story. Never lose hope.”

#1: Tallahassee, 2002
Greater than the sum of its parts, intricately conceived, endlessly open to autopsies, never indulgent, and hell, you can even dance to a bunch of the tracks. A great novel in album format, but it grips you like a potboiler. Plus, it’s the best kind of farewell: the central couple had been the stars of dozens of his previous songs, but he doesn’t kill them off. The final track is like the end of The House at Pooh Corner: even if you never see these guys again, you can rest assured that they’re out there somewhere, causing all hell to break loose. When you make characters with that kind of life, you’ve made something wonderful.

(Top photo credit: flickr/sovay.sovay)

Monday, August 24, 2009


[Editor's note: What follows is a selection of writings by Abraham "Abe" Riesman. What they share in common (other than authorship) is that they were all written on the same day: August 24th. However, each was written in a different year. For the first time, Mr. Riesman has written documentation of his thoughts from seven consecutive years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. The only exception is the 2003 entry, which was written on August 25th. Enh, and I guess the 2007 entry is fudging the date a bit, in that it was written on August 25th, but that was on Korean Standard Time—it was still August 24th in the USA at the time of writing. The entries come from different sources—written diaries, blogs, microblogs, et cetera. Some have titles, some do not. Nevertheless, they all are relatively frank representations of what was going through Mr. Riesman's mind on those particular days. All names have been redacted and replaced with "_____" demarcations, to protect the innocent. In instances where scribbles or drawings were used in the original written works, your Editor has placed bracketed descriptions of what was scrawled. Please also note the existence of an Editor's Note prefacing the 2006 entry. Enjoy?]


Why does this always happen? These two things I'm feeling right now?
(1) D-Plan -- why do I choose to beat myself up for not liking them? Why is there so much bitterness within me when I think of them and ____ and ____ and ____ and indie rock and rock criticism etc.? I just Fuhhhhhhhh [scribbles] fucking hate it all. Hate myself, hate them -- but why? Wmmmmwmwmwmmwmy?
(2) ____ -- so fuckin' awkward with her. I feel so immature now with her. Hate it hate it hate it. But I don't know how to stop. And on phone just now, I felt so pissed that she knew the oral surgery thing wouldn't work. Made me feel SO DUMMB useless faggot child girl need help mommy not a man. FUCK! So irritating when I feel like that. So I [scribbles] goddman did what I always do: for whatever reason, said I was glad about something I hated. Said "so glad you know these things." WHY??? Fuck™© ®
"Alter Ego" by Adrian Tomine -- hard to read
(C)~~```[light scribbles and marks]
went for big run yesterday.
WHAT should I be doing right now?

subject: "fucknnga"
mood: anxious
music: gbv - everybody thinks i'm a raincloud

i guess i'm manifesting my anxiety at leaving all my friends and entering into a baffling new world by worrying excessively about not having seen enough movies this summer/in high school. which is a rather silly trouble, dontcha think? i mean, when i found out that the dvd of mean girls hadn't come out yet last night, i nearly had a panic attack. sure, i'm a little bit culturally illiterate for not having seen it, but it's not exactly like i've got ebola.

i feel sort of paralyzed now, not really knowing what to do with the time i have left. i haven't even started shopping yet for school.

whirlwind tour of the last few days:

friday--horrifyingly bizarre experience had while getting lost driving in the western suburbs, turning what should've been a half-hour errand to the store into a four-hour odyssey that took me to barrington, wheaton, the glenbard area, and hanover park, among other places, all the while listening to "blueberry boat" by the fiery furnaces, which drove me to madness (if you want full details of the story just ask me sometime); came home and had little going-away get-together with ____ and some others, and this ended with masculinely-veiled man-tears on my part and an act of cosmic significance whereby the last face-to-face conversation we had dealt with "get what you give" by new radicals, and as i drove away from his house, that song began to play on the radio. tough times, but beautiful also.

saturday--went to a piano recital, sat around, labored over not knowing who to hang out with in the evening, ended up seeing "dead man" at ____'s house, but not before spending a few hours hanging out at my dad's block party, in which i got a kiss from my HOT russian housewife neighbor, who was hella drunk, and i also met my italian exchange student neighbor, who just moved in. the fucker's awesome--his knowledge of america is dominated by the fact that he watches the simpsons an astonishing five times a day back in italy. very sarcastic and cynical. going to oprf this year.

sunday--helped set up a booth at the "taste of oak park," then went downtown for a harvard class of '08 meetup. some of the people were pretty cool, but there was this one girl who i had known from before and was starting to really irritate me. she was one of those people who totally abuses self-deprecation. you know, the kind who shows off their intelligence and then says "sorry i'm such a dork" when they're obviously not a dork, and who loves being the center of conversation but occasionally throws in "sorry i talk so much." anyway, i then went back to oak park to get driven to the b96 summer bash with ____, ____, and ____ from ______. it was a good time. i dunno, i'm still a bit out of the loop on hiphop, but it was enjoyable. the crowd was hella tame, except for when a riot broke out during jo jo's set. afterwards we came back to tha o.p. and hung out at some houses before i called it a night. both the b-bash and the harvard thing were good reminders to me that sometimes i feel really excluded with people, but that that's a usually silly thing to think and that i shouldn't just clam up and disappear.

monday--big, full day spent in ______, shooting ____'s music video with ____, ____, ____, and ____ himself. another good lesson, in that i felt really unnecessary and boring and irritating for much of the day, but by the end, it felt wonderful to have spent the time with all those good people, who, it turns out, didn't loathe me.

now i sit at home after a nightmare about forgetting a chemistry class and the holocaust, and i'm anxious about what to do today. damn. i have about a week and a half left.

i don't suppose this post was terribly poetic or entertaining, but i was really mainly going for a document to record these past few days.

"12:40 am / Bed"

I will leave here soon.
I do not know what awaits me at Harvard. There is nothing about which I am certain, save that there will be chaos and anxiety and a thrilling mess of choices. Certain of nothing.
Is that why this city was right for me?
Is that why Israel was so important?
"The Sweet Hereafter"
Sweet Jane. The seaport in July.
The seaport in July.
Over and over again.
I'll be your bird.
A broken phonebooth.
A home on ice.
My old man.

I'll take the rain
Famous Grouse
So happy in and of myself now
So sad in future
need therapy, need change


[Editor's Note: Mr. Riesman is not referring to himself when he writes of self-mutilation in this entry. He is referring to a friend. He inflicted no bodily harm on himself whatsoever during the incident in question.]

in regards to last night's "desperate plea for someone to chat with" post, don't worry, things are quiet and fine now.

i doubt i'll explain what happened to most of you, because it was rather compromising for the people who were involved, but suffice it to say the following:

in all honesty, all sarcasm aside—if you are feeling so depressed that cutting your own skin or taking your own life seems like a good idea, DON'T GET ALL PURITAN-COWBOY-SELF-RELIANT AND SAY THAT MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS ARE ALL QUACKS AND SCAM ARTISTS.

if you're at the end of the rope, you have absolutely nothing to lose by talking to someone who knows ways to help ease your pain. and nine times out of ten, professionals are better at easing it than your twentysomething college friends.

basically, just please don't give in to that weird scientology-style strain in american culture that says there's never a reason to seek medical help in a mental health situation. that's a bullshit hypothesis, and you should ALWAYS remember that there's a difference between (a) regularly shooting the shit with an earth-mother therapist even when you're feeling good, and (b) getting concrete advice on whether you need to be briefly hospitalized, medicated, and/or given a break from your fears when you're showing physical signs of possibly ending your own life or at least severely altering it.

and for all of you cutters out there, remember—you may think you're "good at it" or "know what you're doing" or that you "have no intention of actually killing yourself"...but once you are holding a blade and digging it into your skin, you're putting yourself in a situation where AN ACCIDENT CAN KILL. you may not "intend" to kill yourself, but you run the risk of hitting a vein or getting infected or something else that could be fatal. it's not fucking worth it.

if any of these things are happening to you, DON'T BE A FUCKING COWBOY. talk to a friend, and let them help you get to a professional. it doesn't mean you're a phoney, or a sissy, or a sell-out to a system that's corrupt, or any of that bullshit.

OH. and also, all of you cosmopolitan types, don't you EVER pull the whole "oh, so-and-so is just going through a talking-about-suicide phase...everyone has those, these days. just give her some time, and she'll get over it and develop an eating disorder like all the other college girls" routine on me. don't you EVER FUCKING DO THAT.

i don't care what rich-bitch school you went to, or how many times you've snorted coke (because, as we all know, doing drugs immediately makes you an expert on how to "take them safely," and doesn't alter your judgment of what "safety" is at ALL, right?)...if you are my friend, i will fucking intervene if i find out that you have an eating disorder, a drug habit, a cutting habit, or thoughts of suicide.

i don't mean i'm gonna pull some dr. phil "tough love" bullshit. i'm gonna talk to you calmly and compassionately, because you're my friend. but don't expect me to stay out of it because "boys will be boys" or some other bullshit justification like that.

as you can tell, i'm angry.

8/24/2007 / 8/25/2007 (Korean time difference)
subject: "on stake-out"

haha so me and ____ are in a weird situation.

we had to "check out" from the ewha dorm at 10am. we thought this meant we'd have to literally lug everything out, since they'd told us we couldn't keep our bags in the building. but we seem to have found some kind of loophole.

we did the whole "checking out" process, what with getting our deposits back and returning our keys and having them do a checklist of all the items in the room to make sure we didn't steal anything... but then they just sort of left us on our own, in our rooms. they didn't change the passcode for our room's digital door-lock, so we can go in and out of our room. we can hang out here, just as long as we don't leave the building—we don't have key-cards.

so we're just sitting here, kind of like we're on some kind of stake-out, or like tony soprano in the penultimate episode of the sopranos. just sitting in the room. we watched the daily show and the colbert report, we watched "the lady bunch" on, we ate the last of his ready-to-microwave packaged meals as our lunch... and now we're just sitting here.

eventually, i have to get the gumption to lug my bags out and get a cab to the hotel, then go back to the general ewha area for _______. but that's not until 7:30. enh, i should give myself some leeway time before that. so i'll probably leave here by 4 or so.

last night was anticlimactic. it was supposed to be ____'s big blow-out final night, but there weren't that many friends of ours still in the country. what few who did show up had to leave by midnight, mostly, because the seoul subway stops running around 12:30. by midnight, it was just me, ____, and two koreans we know, sitting in this bar and trying to finish off the alcohol we had left. i had lost in many of the drinking games from the previous rounds with more people, so i was the only drunk one. it was frustrating. being the only drunk person in a setting where nothing is happening is hellllllla boring.

anyway, we gave up and went home. that's pretty much the whole story.

i talked to ____ yesterday about the language class issue. we agreed that the korean department really needs to get its shit together—it shouldn't be teaching one semester of korean on a summer program and then not allowing them to take the second semester until 6 months later, thus forcing them to jump ahead into second year if they want to keep it continuous.

i've been thinking (which is always a bad thing, and shouldn't be trusted when i'm thinking about one of these issues), and i'm getting closer and closer to just letting go of this language, and of the idea that i can overcome my language envy this year. it'll have to wait. i honestly won't get over it by taking korean, because i have no desire to take korean, and it would just make me more exhausted with the idea of learning a language. however, if i do give up, all is not lost—i learned an important lesson this summer.

i can do it.

no, i didn't come anywhere near fluency, but that's because the program was only 5 weeks long and we only had 20 days of language class within that time. but i aced the class and squeezed an enormous amount out of what little i was given. if i were in another intensive language environment again, i could handle it. i learned that i could handle it. i could learn. of course, this was only a taste. but i did it. it was a small chunk, but i did that chunk without freaking out. i overcame the curse of russian class, in that respect. hell, if i take korean 120a, i might end up with another russian-class-style freakout. which would be a bit of a regression.

the point is that when i do pick the language i want to learn, the language whose culture interests me enough to give me the passion necessary for really learning a language... when that time comes (and it may well be soon), i'll have this experience in my memory banks, telling me it's possible. that i took a first step and didn't fumble.

anyway, this is all mish-mash. this is all somewhat important, but just part of this trip and my mindset about it.

i don't really know what to do tomorrow. i had an interview scheduled, but the person just canceled. maybe tomorrow is the day for that bukhansan hike? nah, the weather's supposed to be shitty tomorrow. ugh, i should figure out SOMETHING to do. i don't want to be a shut-in at the new hotel.

maybe i'll start making that checklist of things i need to obtain and ask about while i'm at KMLA. and i guess i'll do that language homework that my teacher has been sending—i owe it to her, since she's putting forth the effort, even if i don't continue with the language.

i've said it many times before, and i'll say it many times again, but i just want to go home at this point. oh! and i don't know what i'm gonna do—the colbert report and the daily show are both on vacation until i get home! they were my lifeline to america!

Posted by Abraham "Abe" Riesman at 1:51 PM 0 comments
Labels: departures, drinking, hiking, homesickness, language, language envy, packing, russian reversal, the future, tv

"6:11pm / 2 train"

Harlem/Morningside was a waste, but who cares.
Listening to old New York music. Complained to the ____ and ____ guys about the ____. Because fuck this ____. I don't care right now.
Fuck it.
But like Isaac said, as life gets longer, awful feels softer, and it feels pretty soft to me. I really could be so, so much worse. But then again, I really don't know what I'm doing. I can't remember what my dreams were, anymore.
All I really wanted was to either be a star actor, or to be Leonard.
And now I've abandoned both, for the time being, at least. What's a boy to do? I suppose it's off to ____ after a week's break. But to what end? Or perhaps ____ will arrive. Lord only knows.
I hope I get back and I just get my ____ and get to go home. Fuck it. I'll jog and eat and read, maybe.
What's a boy to do?

-Dammit, I typed "she" in reference to a male celebrity within an email to a publicist. MONDAYS, AM I RIGHT??
-hey, am i the only one who remembers being comforted by the first season of "smallville" in the wake of 9/11? #adolescence
-for 15-year-old abe, it was just what the doctor ordered. unlike the ill-advised relationship i jumped into out of fear right after 9/11.
-and now that girl has been married for like two years!! is that some kind of milestone, when an ex is happily married?
-@_______ Hey, it changed everything.
-hoooooooly shit. huge icon/artist is potentially gonna do the show. can't tell you any more than that, twitter!
-@_______No! I was referring to _____. Plus, read the following tweets-- you're not married, are you?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009



it mixes the giddy uncertainty of the unknown with the mundane banality of trying ot make conversation with a total stranger!! who knows how long it'll last!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


hey y'allz—i'm now very much in the game to find new roommates. i posted an ad on craigslist and am putting out notices everywhere, including here! here's some info about the apartment (i admit that i cross-posted it to craigslist):

$980 / 4br — Beautiful Lower Manhattan loft, 2 Living Rooms, 2 Bath, Washer/Dryer, WiFi

Beautiful, spacious, 1,300 square-foot, 4-bedroom loft apartment in the heart of Lower Manhattan.

NO FEE! 3 of the 4 rooms are available, and depending on the size of the room you choose, rent will be between $980/mo. and $1180/mo. Given the features of the apartment, it's hard to argue with those prices.

*2 full bathrooms with granite countertops
*2 living rooms
*Washer/dryer in apartment
*Central heat & air conditioning
*High ceilings
*Recessed lighting
*Full kitchen with granite countertops
*Exceptionally large closet space
*Hardwood floors

*Free high-speed Wi-Fi internet access
*Free cable
*Large TV
*In a landmarked building

*In beautiful, safe Chinatown, right near the Manhattan Bridge
*Walking distance to N, Q, R, W, J, M, Z, 6, B, D, and F trains, as well as M103 bus
*Walking distance to the Financial District
*Walking distance to Duane Reade & Chinatown markets; easy access to Whole Foods
*Bank of America banking center one block away

Check out the photos above, and see more here:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

i got some rooms to rent

hey y'all! so some of my roommates in my sweet-ass chinatown apartment are moving out, and i need people to move in to replace them. if you're reading this blog, you are probably a friend of mine, so i'm letting y'all know first.

if you're interested in moving into my aaaaawesome apartment with me this june, write me. abraham.riesman at gmail dot com.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


so, i am now the producer for this show.

it's a profile/interview show about important and/or influential new yorkers. they can be natives, transplants, people who have left, celebrities, unsung heroes... as long as they're new yorkers in some way, and they've left their mark on the city, we want to profile them.

the show's won a bunch of awards and we've profiled about 180 people at this point.


i need to come up with people to profile.

so, if you ever have an idea of someone to profile, email me at abrahamjosephross at gmail dot com or abraham.riesman at ny1news dot com.

i need your ideas. especially with slightly obscure new yorkers.

help a friend out.