Meantime

Ohmygoodness I’ve been so busy. Moving countries, losing passports, starting new schools. It’s all a little too much to take in. Happily, though, a lot of beautiful folk has somehow drifted into my iTunes, and I’ve got things I’d like to show you.

But since I’m supposed to be studying chemical bonds right now, I’ll have to make this brief. Since we last spoke I’ve bought a car, driven north, moved into a girls’ college and learned what an electron valence shell is.

It’s been a long week.

Until I get a nice grip on it, though, this live version of a beautiful, beautiful song by Mick Flannery that’s been notched up to #1 on my Morning Singing-in-the-Shower Top 100 Chart list (uh, sorry new housemates, guess the Chart wasn’t part of our lease when you signed it, huh?) will have to do. It’s called Safety Rope and if you don’t know it already, I think you’re gonna thank me for it.

‘Bye for now, don’t worry, we’ll chat soon!

Or download it here:

Safety Rope – Mick Flannery

27

Aug 2011

A Long Way from Home

You remember that time you lost your wallet and had to cancel all of your credit cards? Oh man, what a bother that was! What about when your car keys fell out of your pocket and you had to catch a ride to the dealership to replace them? How annoying! Oh, and then there was the time your passport was stolen on the other side of the world and the embassy wouldn’t send anyone to help you and you weren’t allowed to leave the airport without a passport and so you were trapped in the arrivals hall in a really really unfunny version of The Terminal?

No? Just me then.

I’d finished  a month of awesome traveling, starting with work experience in a hospital in Singapore and ending on my best friend’s farm an hour north of Brisbane. 8 hours after leaving Australia, I found myself in transit at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, at the unfriendly end of a 36 hour, three-part journey back to LAX. Upon landing in Malaysia at 6 am I prepared myself for my 8 hour layover, sank into a faux-leather armchair and spent the next 480 minutes on the lookout for departure lounge pickpockets, hungry for their jet-lagged prey.

You see, since becoming a quasi-grown up I’ve had a pretty decent track record for not losing things. The trick, I find, is to have absolutely no faith in yourself whatsoever, especially when carrying around  important items like passports or wallets full of cash or babies or whatever. When I’m airports, I constantly stop to check that my valuables haven’t fallen out of that invisible hole in my bag that may have mysteriously opened up in the intervening five minutes since I last checked for a hole that may have mysteriously opened up in my bag. When using free wifi, I wrap my legs around the straps of my rucksack to deter potential pickpockets (“Mmm, that gross dirty looking backpack must be full of diamonds…”) and I minimise risk by keeping all important documents in a single leather wallet whose location–uh, definitely not the front pocket of my bag–is known to no one but myself. It seems, however, that my weakness comes in bathrooms (I promise that wasn’t supposed to sound like an ad for incontinence medication).

I was about 7 and a half hours through my layover. As I walked towards my gate I removed the holy leather wallet from its sacred resting place in preparation for boarding. The next few minutes have replayed themselves so many times in my head that I’ve started to embellish them with facts that I think must be only semi-true (was there really a tiny Malaysian man with an eye patch and a missing tooth smiling at me as I walked in?). I don’t want to give away too many secrets about boys’ bathrooms to the ladies who read STFU, but the…ahem… ‘peeing section’ was all full, so I headed instead for the first stall. Oh, how I curse the architect who put a little shelf above the toilet so the passenger wouldn’t have to hold stuff while he urinated! Oh, how I hate the airline manager who dictated I should have 16 hours of idleness in which my brain could turn to irresponsible jelly! Oh, how angry I am at the airport staff who informed me that my gate was now open, hurrying me out of the bathroom and toward my waiting aircraft.

But most of all, oh, how utterly frustrated I am with myself that I turned and opened the stall door and left the bathroom and walked to the gate and sat in a spare seat, while my little leather wallet, with my passport, my green card, my boarding pass and the tiny bit of money I had been saving for months and months and months sat on that little shelf above the toilet.

Of course, five minutes later I had a Mysterious Bag Hole Check, and ran back screaming into the bathroom, and of course, it was gone, and of course, neither the cleaners nor the security nor the information desk had heard anything about it, and of course, the airline staff would not let me board without a passport, and of course, my luggage would be removed from the plane, and of course, sir, the police will have to be summoned if you do not calm down and stop flailing about in desperation. I’m only 21, I haven’t had much time yet to experience the more extreme emotions of life, but I think the moment I sat and watched the departure of the aeroplane I had waited 8 hours for to arrive, I got a basic understanding of despair, the feeling that there is nothing that can be done, that you are utterly bereft of any possible options, that were your life to somehow pick itself up and continue, the direction it heads in is entirely indeterminable. That’s a little dramatic. Perhaps it wasn’t full-blown adult despair, but certainly a taster, a kind of Diet version.

I went first to family, grabbing them on Gmail and begging for solutions. My parents are the most resourceful individuals I know, but at midnight, in a country 9,000 miles away, there is only so much that even they, the Captains of Knowledge, can do. I spent the next few hours pressing my desperate head on various help desk counters as reluctant staff joked in Malaysian around me and slowly passed me off down a gradually decreasing chain of authority. Eventually, by 5 pm I was sitting in an immigration office, listening to a catch-22 that in my jet-lag addled state, I couldn’t do anything but smile at. The UK embassy had told me earlier that day that it was strictly against policy to send staff to the airport to deliver emergency passports. The airport authorities, on the other hand, claimed that there was no possible way they would let me enter Malaysian soil without a passport, even if my destination happened to be the UK embassy. No one could think of a possible solution to this conundrum, and no one was willing to give. The boss lady sitting a few desks away certainly wasn’t. Instead, it was Papa Burns, a couple of continents away, who got on the phone to encourage the rusty wheels of bureaucracy. (It sounds like by encourage I mean ‘bribe’. Actually, I think it was more ‘speak rather sternly to’.) You’re never too old to defer to your dad.

To cut a long story short, I was given 7 days of special stay in Malaysia. I lived with an incredibly generous French family who had been our neighbours in Singapore, and in return for the room they let me sleep in and food they let me eat and money they let me borrow for the next few days, I babysat their kids a little bit. Not really a fair trade since their kids were so much fun, and the most consuming task I had while babysitting was thinking of the best way to balance all three of them on my shoulders in the swimming pool at the same time.

Through a combination of string-pulling, helpful embassy staff and, if I do say so myself, some pretty awesome shuttle-diplomacy skills on my part, I managed to replace passport, green card and aeroplane ticket in a measly four days, a task which I was originally told would take a couple weeks.

It was a pretty horrible experience in the end, and not the best way to cap off an awesome month of traveling. My 8 hour layover had become a 96 hour layover, and I still had 20 hours of flying on top of that before I finally arrived home. At LAX I was detained at immigration for an hour while they checked I was who I said I was, and it took me another hour to get through all the lines for customs. After all that, though, I finally emerged in the arrivals gate where my dad and my twin sister Susie were waiting. I saw them a split second before they noticed me. I could see the impatience and the anxiety and the nervousness and the worry splashed across their faces, the same exact look I’d had tattooed across my own for the last four days. They turned at the same time and saw me, and that look just vanished. Susie lifted a sign she’d made that said ‘FINALLY’. At that moment I knew everything was going to be alright.

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My entire folk collection has been depleted by a failed hard drive, and what with all this traveling and not being able to travel, I’ve been kept me away from doing any music research. Until I restore myself, you’ll just have to make do with some classic Jackson Browne. It’s the best way to keep reminding myself I’m back in California.

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1081 Days Down, 14 Left To Go

Today I woke up and had the best bowl of cereal I’ve had all year.

It wasn’t particularly high-quality cereal. The milk was pretty standard. The bowl was decidedly average and the spoon was nothing to write home about.

My chair was the same one I always sit on when I eat breakfast, the table, if anything, was even grimier than usual. Somebody had neglected their bin duties and there was a slight pong in the air.

All of this was irrelevant, however. Today was (and, technically, still is) my day off.

You know that feeling you get when you wake up and suddenly remember that it’s a Saturday, or a public holiday, and you can roll over and go right back to sleep? I experienced that three times this morning, as three different housemates each walked past my room three different times and shut the front door with three different slightly disgruntled, pointed slams.

My designated Day Off began as soon as I knew they had left. After the aforementioned Awesome Bowl Of Cereal, I had an Incredible Shower and read my Really Really Interesting Book. Then began the errands. For me, running errands is one of life’s purest joys. Filling a closet with fresh laundry, posting a letter that’s been sitting on your desk for days; there is no better feeling on Earth than the steady rhythm of box ticking on a To Do List that has been nagging you for weeks (I feel I get a lot more excited about completed To Do Lists than 21 year-old university students should probably get).

Now I’m back in the library, smiling at the exam crammers around me, preparing for the afternoon football in the park and the curry I’m sharing with a friend in the evening that will flesh out the rest of my day. I know that tomorrow morning will be another 6 am wake-up, a bowl of Genuinely Average Cereal and a Mildly Stimulating Shower, a day in the library studying the politics of Sub-Saharan Africa and an early night to prepare myself for starting it all over again in the morning. I also know, however, that in this ocean of diligence and drudgery and routine and perseverance, today I have built myself a little deserted island that I can sit on for a few hours, watching the rest of the world get caught up in knots and knowing it’ll be a while before I’ll have to start worrying about untangling them again. I don’t have many days left in this country, but I’m making sure the ones I still do have are as brilliant as I can make them.

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Here’s an artist I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. He played in Bristol a few weeks ago but exam guilt kept me at home. Hopefully sharing him with all of you will undo some of my shame at being such an armchair folkist lately.

It’s been a while since I’ve got my hands on quietish, falsetto, Bon Iver-like folk, but I think that’s exactly the kind of music you need on sunny Summer days like the ones the weather gods have been bestowing England with lately. I’m really keen to hear what you think. James Vincent McMorrow: do you love him or do you, upon reflection, mildly disapprove of his style of music (there’s no space for haters on STFU)?

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02

Jun 2011

Too Eager to Learn

This morning we were in a mob. At around 7.45 am, among a crowd of about a hundred people, we stood listening for a cue to start moving.  There were several false starts, moments when an individual at the front misheard the sign, and sent shockwaves of awareness that ricocheted through the rest of us. The crowd would contract, tensing up for a moment as if taking a breath. There would be a synchronised checking-of-watches, a universal recognition that we still had a few minutes to go, and then this giant organic entity would quietly relax. Conversation would restart until the next convulsion sent us all tensing up again.

We were waiting outside a building, and eventually a small door opened on the far right side. The moment which we had been standing in the cold with shower-damp hair and breakfast-less stomachs for had arrived. The crowd tensed up again but this time there was no relenting. We were caught up in the momentum of the mob, like invisible hands on a Ouija Board, nobody really pushing except everybody secretly pushing, semi-consciously willing the totem to shift. The rip tide dragged me toward the door, and as I got closer, the mass of bodies became more violent. People were swan-faced and tensely smiling, but beneath the surface their legs were kicking out for grip. A strategically placed shoulder blade here, an extended knee there: you did your best to politely screw over those around you, until finally, you reached the door. At the threshold came the final release, the champagne-cork pop that sent you sprawling into a foyer, half-smiling in concert with the co-conspirators around you, laughing inwardly at the others still engulfed in the maelstrom outside. You’d done it. You’d made it. Now you could find a desk and start revising.

That’s right. I WASN’T in line for tickets to a a super-awesome-trendy folk gig. I WASN’T queueing up to get on the last aeroplane out of volcano/blizzard-choked England. I was trying to get into the LIBRARY, and I’d been doing it every day for the last two weeks.

You probably think I go to a really nerdy university, where everybody is just so eager to learn that they stand outside in the cold every day at 8 am just so they can get hold of some juicy books on advanced trigonometry or neo-Marxian race-relations. The real truth, though, is that it’s exam season, and the Holy Place of Revision, the designated areas of worship where students come to pray that the Gods of Diligence might banish the Devils of Procrastination, happens to be the little wooden cubicles on the top floor of our main campus library. For the low, low price of a 6.30 am wakeup and half an hour of passive-aggressive shoving, you can slam down a backpack or jumper and reserve yourself a desk till midnight. At 11 am, the keen-eyed latecomers come to scavenge the scraps left behind by the early morning chaos, and they’ll pounce on any empty desk protected only by an ambiguous closed textbook. Vigilance is key; if you need an hour for lunch you must remember to leave an uncapped pen and a shuffle of half-finished notes to give the impression to envious passer-bys that you’ve only just popped off to the loo, that you’ll be back soon to reclaim your territory. Those among us who guard our desks in person, though, look up with sleep-deprived eyes and chuckle at the opportunistic scavengers. We know who the real hard workers are.

It is the library where I find myself now, condemned here not just because of the approaching exams but also due to a crashed hard drive that was conscientious enough to wait until I had finished my dissertation, but not enough to let me complete my exams too. I’ve given myself a guilt-racked hour to write a STFU post before I have to get back to revision. In the mean time, I have two textbooks on my desk to help me with my upcoming ‘Personal Life and Family’ sociology exam. One of them says ‘INTIMACY’ in big white letters on the cover, and I like to make sure it is especially conspicuous to anyone passing by.  ‘Oh, hello ladies. What was that? Yes, in fact I do know all about intimacy, I’ve even read a BOOK on it. What? You want my number? Oh sure, here it is…’

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With all this research on the delicate subject of intimacy, I’ve had little time to do any on local folk happenings. With the chance (don’t even want to think about it) that my carefully cultivated collection of folk (blocking it out of my head right now) might actually disappear (no!) with the rest of my melted hard drive (now actually sobbing a teensy bit), I’ve lost everything I wanted to show you. Nevertheless, like your great  aunt always says, why BUY it when you can MAKE it? Though by now you all know my opinions of the self-promoting douchebags who don’t follow the rules of folk etiquette, I want to show you a tune that I’ve left my fingerprints on. Papa Burns recently wrote a song on the guitar, that I then added lyrics to, and we both set about recording on a makeshift little set-up in my bedroom in California. He and I would meet there after long days in the garden, and in front of a growing dissertation, respectively, and collaborate our folky minds to make something that eventually become a song we are really proud of.

Papa Burns is quick to point out that he thought his voice was a little shaky in parts, that he may have been nervous doing his first ever recording, that there are parts he’d like to have another go on. To me, though, it’s faultless. The whole song perfectly encapsulates my relationship with my dad, a silent collaboration and recognition that we’re always on the same team, that we both know what we like, that we both had the same thing in mind from the onset. He wrote a vocal melody and guitar parts, all I had to do was fill in the blanks with some lyrics.

And so while it may be a bit douchebaggy for me to be putting my own music on a website about good folk, in the end it really isn’t my music at all. It’s the kind of music that everyone who loves their dads would make if they were lucky enough like me to be able to sit down and write songs with them, and I kind of wanted to share that with you.

I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed recording it.

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DOWNLOAD:
The Charlatan – Patrick and Luke (right-click here and select save as)

18

May 2011

Interlude

When I wrote my last post I was only a few days away from setting out  across the Atlantic for a long month in San Diego. Now I’m preparing myself for the journey in the other direction. Is STFU a necessary precursor to intercontinental travel?

Traveling is a major theme in my life right now. After two days of door slamming, passive-aggressive body language  and the subsequent gestures of apologetic tea-making, Mama Burns and I finally negotiated the ridiculously convoluted world of airline ticket purchases. I’ll spend the next few months polishing off the rest of my degree in Bristol, before flying to Singapore for three weeks of medical shadowing. Then it’s on to Melbourne for a road trip with friends I haven’t seen outside of a Skype window for nearly three years, and finally back to California where I’ll be beginning my pre-med in San Francisco.

Sorry, what was that? Oh, you hadn’t heard? YOU DIDN’T KNOW I WAS ACCEPTED INTO THE PRE-MED PROGRAM AT MILLS COLLEGE?

I’d spent the first few days in California convincing myself that I didn’t want to study medicine in the US, that all my friends were in the UK, that Britain’s National Health Service was far superior to the strange amalgamation of insurance companies, HMOs and half-functioning government programs of America. I had already been rejected from a program on the East Coast, I had had such trouble getting my documents from Singapore and Texas and Bristol and San Diego to the colleges I was applying to, I just wanted to get my rejection over and done with so I could start looking at A-Level science programs in the UK.

So when I received an email one morning from Mills with the subject line reading ‘Congratulations!’, I was initially confused. I opened the document, read the attached letter of acceptance, checked the date, examined the signature. It looked legit, but it couldn’t possibly be real. April Fools had only been a few days earlier, and in my apparent lack of any self-confidence I was certain that one of my housemates must be pranking me. (Just before I left Bristol I steam-opened some of Josh’s junk mail before it got to him, inserted my own document with genuine company letterhead informing him that the job he thought he was getting with said company at the end of the summer had been nullified due to ‘unforeseen market circumstances’ and innocently delivered it to him when he came home from lectures. The joy I felt at watching his face fall as he read the letter was nearly as great as the joy I felt when I revealed the truth to him just as he was frantically dialing the head offices.).

Despite my doubts, I half-ran to see Papa Burns (Susie’s American friend Brindley later remarked that my footsteps followed the distinct cadence of someone who had just got into college), who promptly released me from my own doubts with a big congratulatory bear hug.

(I still phoned Mills just in case.)

A few days later I drove up to San Francisco with Mama Burns and saw Holly, SPS and their fashionably-shaved cat, as well as the beautiful campus grounds and overwhelmingly friendly staff at Mills.

I’ve spent the last couple weeks figuring out how I am going to scrape together the cash to pay for my pre-med and also found the time to finish my 10,000 word dissertation, which is sitting in front of me, printed, bound and full of tiny little errors that knock a year off my life every time I uncover one of them.

The outcome of all this nonsense is that I’ve had little time to do my folky due diligence. Nevertheless, somewhere in between the paragraphs on American social capital, the fender benders on the I-5 going North to San Francisco and the trips to banks to secure low-interest loans, a few songs somehow trickled into my iTunes ‘Most Recently Added’ playlist. I’m not sure where I got them from or how they found their way onto my computer, but the Shins-y, clappy, Vodafone-advert-soundtracky folkiness of Radical Face make me kind of wish they’d got here sooner.

(Actually it’s a ‘he’, not a ‘they’, a certain Ben Cooper from Jacksonville, Florida, the kind of guy who’s left his fingerprints on various musical projects over the years.)

I’d do a little more folkological research, but it’s time I got packing. In the mean time, if the person who inserted this fantastic music into my iTunes without me realising would like to continue, I’d be much obliged. Just get it to me before my next transatlantic departure.

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Welcome Home – Radical Face

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Wrapped in Piano Strings – Radical Face

What I Did When I Was Supposed To Be Studying

It’s that time of year when things start to get serious. New Year’s Resolutions lose their shiny appeal, diets plateau and the job market fizzles. We’re forced to accustom ourselves to the awkward ambiguity of Spring–shorts or trousers? This crucial choice made bleary-eyed at 7 am in the morning will decide whether you seize the day or later rue it–and suddenly it’s everyone else’s birthday. The simple pleasures of Christmas are long-gone. Now we are faced with the hard fiscal responsibilities of the First Quarter, the mid-year realities of work and study and the slow realisation that summer is still two long months away.

For UK university students, it’s a particularly stressful time. We are on the cusp of exams, exams that will for some set the trajectory of their oncoming years. If you, like me, are a final year student, you’ll know that the exams we’ll be taking in a few weeks time are probably some of the most important exams we’ll take in our entire lives.

Uni staff are aware of this, and they try their best to prepare us for the two-hour torture sessions that await us in May with toothless, bland advice:

When revising, bring a snack!

Don’t revise in front of the TV!

Be creative with your revision tools! Make up a rap out of your notes! Have fun!

We all know this is silly nonsense. If you have fun while revising then you’re probably drinking at the same time, which may not help with knowledge retention in the long run.

I’ve been a uni student for three years now and I think I’ve got a good grasp on the realities of revision. I know all the ins and outs of the cruel library environment and I’m not one to gloss over the harsh truths of studytime with multi-coloured post-it notes and hands-on learning. You’re here to revise, not turn the periodic table of elements into a play.

I can still help. It’s never easy, but there are some things that you can do to increase your chances of turning that wasted weekend into a successful cramfest. It’s not going to be easy, but together we can do it. It’s all about getting the work done but not taking yourself too seriously. You’ll find it all below, in

Luke’s (Realistic) Guide to Getting Sh*t Done!

1. MAKE THE LIBRARY YOUR BITCH. This is the most important aspect of good revision or work techniques. The library is now a permanent fixture in your life. She is your mistress, she is your friend, she is your rival. She receives you at your strongest and most confident, and if you are not careful she will spit you out weak and soggy like a crumpled A4 page of scribbled revision notes. She shows you no mercy, no love, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t reciprocate the same sentiments. Make the library your bitch. The second you enter those glass doors, the fight has begun. She’ll throw everything she’s got at you: lazy friends who want to ask you about your weekend, Internet connections that creak under the strain of so many open browser tabs, tables packed with hundred of jarring student elbows. But you ain’t gonna take that crap. This is your house. Carve your way into your own study warren. Once you’ve found your cubicle or table space, decorate it with your own accoutrements: discarded outerwear, your pencil case, a fortress of textbooks and binders. Kick off your shoes. Make yourself at home. Get comfortable. Bring your lunch in a tupperware box and eat while you revise (cannot stress how satisfying it is to watch jealous peers covet my homemade mac and cheese, while they make do with old Mars Bars from the vending machine). When it finally comes to leave the library, do so with your head held high. Because while the beast behind you has conquered thousands, she’ll respect your arrogance and fortitude. And she knows you’ll be back again tomorrow.

2. BE REALISTIC. You know that feeling, when you’re teetering on the edge of sobriety and okay-sure-just-one-more-beer!, when your whole degree hangs in the balance, when your ability to answer question 13 on the exam next week depends entirely on whether or not you decide to spend the evening revising or queueing up outside a club? That decision is yours to make, but make sure you make it on truthfully. It’s easy to restore your own confidence by enthusiastically swearing that you’ll be in the library by 8 am tomorrow, but it does no one any good when it’s obvious you’ll still be drooling into your pillow by 10. Be realistic. If you have to, take long pointless breaks, but make sure you keep track of them. If it’s a quarter past and you feel like you deserve half-an-hour off, take it. If you’re going to be lazy, though, at least be regimented. Rather than have thirty guilty little breaks an hour, concentrate the guilt in one long timeframe and equate the guilt with numerical values: 2 hours of guilt on Monday, 45 minutes of guilt on Tuesday. You can bully yourself to efficiency.

3. HATERS GONNA HATE. LOOK FOR ALLIES. You’re settled in, you’re getting comfortable, you’re an hour in and the momentum is cascading you through your studies. Then suddenly someone sits down next to you and instantly they are transformed into the worst human being on Earth. It’s the way they obnoxiously thump their laptop onto the table, the way they flout the library rules that strictly ban food and liquids, the way they engage a friend in whispered conversation for a solid three minutes. You sneak a cheeky peak at their screen and smirk with satisfaction at the Facebook page they’re on, satisfied with the hard work and effort you’re putting in in comparison. Suddenly you realise, though, you’ve spent twenty minutes mentally bitching about the stranger sitting next to you, and the only person privy to your witty remarks is yourself. The moral here is, basically, concentrate on your own game. Sure, The Librarian never works alone, and a little sshhh-ing here and then, and maybe even a pointed cough or two ensures that the general student body are all working in a collectively quiet atmosphere. For the most part, however, you are your own boss. Focusing on how your desk neighbour is tapping his foot in the most frustatingly inconsistent rhythms helps no one. Instead, look for allies. You know that pretty blonde girl tapping away at the computer across from you? Remember when her phone rang and she stood up quickly and didn’t answer it till she was far enough not to disturb anyone? Remember when that friendly guy sitting next to you picked up your pen when it rolled onto the floor? These are your buddies, your comrades. On this long boring road to good grades, they’re all you got.

4. BRAG ABOUT YOUR SACRIFICES. One of the best things about revising efficiently is rubbing it in the faces of those who don’t. So what if your friends hit the bars and you hit the books? They’ll wake up in the morning with a hangover and an empty wallet, and you’ll wake up with bragging rights. Brag about your sacrifices. If you like, fine, go ahead and employ a little tact, especially among those who may be struggling with the workload. If possible, try to accidentally get caught on your way to the library as much as possible. Bring books with you everywhere. Yawn a lot. All these signals will cue your friends and family into seeing how hard you’re working and in the process help to remind you that maybe you actually are.

5. CURSE MARK ZUCKERBURG. Damn you, Facebook. Damn you! The site is probably the greatest invention so far of the 21st century. 500 million people have active accounts. It has triggered revolutions all over the Middle East. It’s worth more than US$50bn. The only problem is, it will eat your soul and dance on your academic grave. Curse Mark Zuckerburg. He has stolen created a platform that, if left unchecked, will transform the most studious of studiers into the most status-hungry of stalkers. That is why it is so important not to go on Facebook while revising. The same goes for Twitter, Youtube and STFU.com (I can see the data! I see you loitering!). It’s always the same. You think to yourself, hey, is that party on Friday or Saturday night? I’ll just check. Next think you know, three hours have passed and you’re flicking through the Christmas photos of the older sister of that girl you had a lecture with two years ago. Facebook is like a long series of increasingly more addictive drugs. You start off liking photos, then suddenly you’re smoking crack. Keep out.

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I hope all of the above helped somewhat. Even if you’re no longer at university, I’m sure you can find parallels in my guide to help you get sh*t done!

Getting so close to swearing like that has put me in a rebellious mood. I originally heard this song from my sister, who described it as ‘Paul Simon-ish’ and I initially agreed. Now, though, I’m thinking it’s more ‘folk-rappish’. Alexander is the solo effort of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes frontman Alex Ebert, and you’ll notice straight away that this style is a little different from his stuff with the band.

This song has attitude. It doesn’t take crap from nobody, and if you listen to it you’ll be protected by its ultra-cool vibes. Today, as I left the library after five hours on Facebook a killer six-hour session, I plugged in my headphones and whacked on this tune. It felt like I was walking in slow-motion.

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I Think I Got a Little Too Much into the Librarian Thing

Today was going to be one of those normal days where I, you know, get out of bed and do stuff, but then a series of events saw that this was not going to be a likely outcome. Firstly, I realised that if I stretched myself out enough I could reach my laptop and bring it back to bed, all the while retaining contact with my mattress and duvet, and secondly, I touched the radiator that I sleep next to and found that some poor kind housemate had deemed our home freezing enough to turn on the heat, thereby condemning me to at least another hour in bed. Any other day of the week, these events would spell disaster (rushed shower, skipped breakfast, failed degree) but on a Sunday, I let that lazy part of my personality take precedence for a few hours. I can go save the world in the afternoon.

It’s been a week made busy by interviews and coursework. I also found the time to have a nice little trip with my friend Cat to London to see Iron & Wine. I know there were some naysayers among you who commented and emailed about the ‘meh’ quality of Iron & Wine’s latest album, but after seeing Sam and his band perform at the Roundhouse on Tuesday night, it became apparent to me how much of a ‘live’ album this is supposed to be. The interwoven percussion and echoey synth and sax solos and falsetto shrieks just seem to work when you’re seeing them do it live. To be fair, I got a little tired of the long, artsy instrumental breaks that occasioned throughout the concert, when it seemed like the band just wanted to have a drawn-out jam session, and we all kind of swayed awkwardly in the audience, wondering if we could get to the bar and back before the next song started.

For the most part, though, it was an excellent gig, and Sam Beam was such a performer, despite having a cold that nearly made him cancel the show. He collectively called us ‘man’ the whole night, and responded with charm to those weird people you inevitably get at gigs, who made awkwardly bad jokes and shouted out how much they wanted to live in his beard. Even if you were underwhelmed by the latest album, I definitely recommend you go catch Iron & Wine on their tour through the UK and US. Sam knows that we all really want to hear the old stuff, and I would have gone just to be able to sing along with him as he played Naked As We Came.

Do you remember when my older sister Holly called that guy in the library a D-bag? Since then, I’ve found serious pleasure in egging myself on to speak up against strangers who are getting away with being jerks in public. I specialise in shushing people who are making too much noise, politely but firmly silencing loud earphones and giving death stares to cell phone chatterers on the Quiet Zone section of trains. I call myself The Librarian, but I am constrained by no library: if you talk when sound is not allowed, YOU WILL BE SHUT DOWN.

A group of girls suffered my muting wrath on Tuesday night as they chatted and laughed through an otherwise gorgeous rendition of Lion’s Mane. I sighed inwardly, and donned the armour of The Librarian.

I just can’t let people get away with being obnoxious! Ugh! The injustice of it! I assume that the crowd of people around me are always also silently cursing the noisy perpetrators and it feels good to do my public duty. Sometimes after the deed is done I make eye contact with fellow passengers or theatre fans who smile and nod, as if to say, Thank you, Librarian, you have conquered another obstreperous foe, kudos to you. Of course, I am humble and expect nothing but thanks for the duty I perform. It’s my cross to bear.

And so the moment came, the chatty girls had surpassed the minute of grace they are allowed, they had deflected my Polite Stares of Justice, they had talked over my Throat Clearings of Valour…I was left with no choice. I struck.

“Excuse me ladies, but if you’re going to chat, could you do it at the bar?”

Silence. They were dumbstruck. Behind me I heard Cat groaning with embarrassment. That’s okay. She doesn’t understand the tenets of The Librarian Code.

Suddenly I realised the three teenagers I had expected to be talking to were not teenagers at all. They were much older than me, probably in their early thirties, and probably wondering why such a little boy was telling them to shut up. I held my ground. The standoff continued for a few seconds. Then the leader spoke:

“Oh, sorry. Sure.”

Justice was served. I removed my Librarian cape (lest anyone should learn my true identity) and returned to the concert. The rest of the song was beautiful, and only made sweeter by the silence behind it. Of course Cat spent the rest of the night trying to disassociate herself from me, but I wasn’t ashamed. Sometimes honour comes at a price.

Remember, The Librarian cannot work alone. Have you ever stood up to a stranger, or been too afraid to say anything? Cacophonous foes lie everywhere and the League of Silence needs your help to subdue them. Will you answer the call?

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Talking of justice, Iron & Wine’s opening act, Daniel Martin Moore, who you might remember as the duet partner of cello-jammin’ Ben Sollee, is a big activist in the fight against the mountaintop removal mining that is slowly destroying his home state of Kentucky. He gave us a brief overview of the scourge before playing a beautiful rendition of his own Flyrock Blues, written about the large flyrock boulders sent cascading into people’s homes when mining engineers blow pieces out of mountains with explosives. Listen to him singing with Ben Sollee below.

Mountaintop removal has been a key issue with folkists today, which is an incredible echo of the past. It seems Sollee and Moore have picked up on the same sort of issues Guthrie and Seeger were singing about more than half a century before. Tom Paxton is a big activist too, maybe he provides the link between past and present.

Whatever your feelings about MTR, I’m pretty sure your feelings about Daniel Martin Moore are the same as mine. I’ve posted a slightly less politically-charged song below, one he played on Tuesday night, for you to enjoy and let me know what you think.

But please, guys, no talking while the song plays.

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Time For Folk

Am bogged down in a particularly chunky bit of uni work at the moment, and haven’t had the time to write about several awesome things that I’d like you to know about. Until I get a chance–soon, I promise–sit and listen to this terrific Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling duet that’s been floating around Youtube for four months without me even knowing.

See you soon.

11

Mar 2011

In Case You Didn’t Think You Could Love Iron & Wine Any More

If you’ve been reading and listening for a while, you’ll know that we’re fairly liberal with our folk definitions here at STFU. It seems that everyone is these days.

Take Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver, for example. His collaboration with Kanye West last November was not only a bold step, it was a genre-stretching one, that opened up a whole new realm for folk to slip quietly into. If you didn’t hear either of the two songs that Justin lent his falsetto croons to on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, here’s my favourite:

It feels a little weird putting auto-tune on this site, but also I think it kind of works.

When I meet someone who’s not really aquainted with folk music, I always have need to be a little cautiously condescending when I start showing them new tunes I want them to like. It’s so easy to whack on your favourite Iron & Wine song (mine), and slowly watch them shut down and say non-commital things like, ‘Oh yeah…um…it would be nice to fall asleep to, I guess.’

It’s much better, I find, to start them off small. Put on a little Feist. Go look up some cheerful Matt Costa. If all else fails, I am yet to find anyone who doesn’t like Dan Mangan. Just ask Holly.

If you still can’t find accessible folk for your friends to like, it seems like Sam Beam (AKA Iron & Wine) is trying his best to make everything a lot easier for you.

There was a fair bit of hype in the contemporary folk world about Iron & Wine’s new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, which was released a couple weeks ago. While everyone raved in magazines and blogs, there was a certain undertone of doubt that inevitably accompanies any artist’s musical ‘rebirth‘. Beam hadn’t released a full studio album in three years, and snippets of Kiss Each Other Clean anticipated a release that was not only different but maybe, even, infused with a little bit of pop.

The p-word tends to raise the hackles of any folkist who is happiest when instruments are primarily unplugged and made of wood, and being the snob that I am, my hackles were indeed raised. When Sam said during an interview that this album would be poppier than most, my hackles were practically raising the roof.

As you would expect, when the opening snare beats and background synths rolled in at the start of the promotional single ‘Walking Far From Home’ released way back in November, I was ready to burst into tears and bury my head under my pillow like a fifteen year-old girl, kicking my feet in anguish and swearing Iron & Wine out of my life forever. Then, like all revolutionary folk seems to do, the music worked its way under my skin. The next thing I knew it was pulsing through my ventricles, zipping about my brain and ricocheting around inside my skull. Suddenly, my folk horizons had expanded even further.

Sam Beam said in an interview that he hopes people can dance to some of the songs on his new album. I’m kind of hoping this means that Lizard Lounge and Oceana will start playing his tunes on a Friday night, but somehow I doubt it’ll happen any time soon. In the meantime, though, have a listen to two of my favourite songs from the new album and see how long it takes you to fall in love with Iron & Wine all over again. If a non-folk fan happens to be listening in the background, I’ve got a feeling Sam will be able to change their minds.

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15

Feb 2011

If They Made My Life Into A Movie This Would be a Pretty Cool Scene

[It's 10:32 pm on a Thursday evening in January. Luke sits in his room working on an essay that should probably have been done a few days earlier. It's one of those evenings that comes at an end of one of those days where you didn't quite manage to get anything at all done, where you try and stuff as much as you can into its dying hours just to redeem all the time you wasted in front of screens all day. It's the kind of evening when you least expect a phone call from an old friend at a concert in Dublin. The phone rings. It's Tom M, calling from a Joe Pug concert in Dublin.]

Tom: [You'll have to do the County Cork accent in your head if you want this to be realistic] I’m watching Joe Pug. You should be here.
Luke: That would be really cool. I wish I could.
Tom: I have to go, I’m going to call you later.

[An hour passes. The essay on American social capital begins to write itself. Luke's friends come back from the pub and retreat to their own laptops. He can hear a girl laughing downstairs. The house begins to shut down. Suddenly, the phone rings. It's Tom again.]

Luke: Hello?
Tom: Shh! Shhh! Listen!
[Luke strains to hear. There's music. It's Joe Pug, singing Hymn #101. For a few moments, Luke is standing in a pub in Dublin, swaying to the music, listening to Tom quietly sing along in the background. But it's a long song.]
Luke: That was awesome, Tom.
Tom: [Whispering] Yeah, yeah, I’ll call you later.

[Now it's getting really late. The housemates have all gone to bed. There's a clock ticking on the wall behind him, knocking down seconds as the distance between the present moment and the approaching deadline slowly contracts. Luke is nearing word count limit territory when the phone rings again.]

Tom: [No longer whispering. Probably a little drunk] Hey, man, it’s me, I’m going to pass the phone over to Joe Pug, talk to Joe Pug.
Luke: Wait. What? Tom, what?
Tom: Talk to Joe Pug, I’m going to give him the phone, are you ready? Here he is.
Luke: Okay, yeah. Okay. Yes. Yeah!
Tom: Here he is.
[There's a pause. During this time Luke considers how difficult small talk with barbers, supermarket clerks and taxi drivers can be. He imagines that small talk, over the telephone, at 2.30 am, with a stranger who makes beautiful music, is probably very difficult too.]
Joe Pug: Hey, Luke! Why the hell aren’t you here! [Joe uses the f-word a lot more than my PC blog wants to admit. Add expletives as you deem necessary]
Luke: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey! [This seems the most obvious response]
Joe Pug: Luke, you are seriously missing out!
Luke: Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!
Joe Pug: Man, we’ve spent like 20,000 dollars on strippers and cocaine! There is so much cocaine! You should be here, man!
Luke: Yeah! Hahahahahahahaha!!! [These inappropriately enthusiastic laughs occured far more often than I like to admit]
Joe Pug: Get on an aeroplane! Come to Dublin! Your friend Tom says you should come.
Luke: Yeah I…Dublin…I could…Well…………Hahahahahahahaha!!!
Joe Pug: Hey, don’t worry about it. You’re in Bristol right? I think you should drive up to London this weekend and come see me play.
Luke: YEAH! Of COURSE!
Joe Pug: Awesome, man. Seriously you are missing out on this, we have hundreds of strippers and like three kilos of coke. It’s awesome. Okay, well you have a good one. See ya, man.
Luke: Bye, Joe Pug!

[The phone goes dead. Suddenly, Luke is back in his room in Bristol, inexplicably standing on his bed, cell phone clamped to ear. It’s cold. There is an unfinished essay blinking at him from his computer and clock is still ticking. He is shaking a little bit. In a few minutes he’ll be asleep, dreaming of things that couldn’t possibly be as weird or surreal as those last waking moments of his Thursday evening.

Oh, and I got a first on the essay. Thanks, Joe.]

—–+++—–

I REALLY want to talk about Iron & Wine’s new album, but I think it would be weird not to now post a little Joe Pug for you to enjoy. If you already know Joe Pug, you’ll already know Hymn #101, so I’ll post another one of his great tunes, Speak Plainly Diana. Hope you like it.

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08

Feb 2011