Today I start slow. Writing through the desire to not-write is hard. Writing every day, whether you feel like it or “feel it” or not—no matter if it’s beautiful poetry or heartbreaking prose or Dear Diary or a somewhat uneven pop culture blog—is very, very hard. Writers learn this if and when we set out to create a daily practice. I relearn this every time my schedule shifts, or my habits or my jobs, and my writing work falls by the wayside. My guitar over there in the corner, all dusty, learns it every day courtesy of my myriad other artistic pursuits and the time they take up. There are only so many hours. Dinner must be eaten. Friends and lovers connected with. The posts start coming later and later in the day.
You know who else writes every day? Musicians. Even if they don’t play every day, they’re hearing the sounds of nascent songs in their heads when they’re walking to walk or doing the dishes or whatever it is they have to do all day in order to make doing music possible. They see pretty paintings or landscapes or horizons and they are on fire with sound. They hear everything. And they write it, every day, inside their heads, whether it gets outside their heads that day or not. For this I admire them, and in this practice I empathize with them.
My friend Andy is a musician. He’s fairly quiet about it – quiet yet intense. He’ll talk about music, whenever and wherever, but he’s not one of those I’m-A-Rock-Star dudes who drive me crazy with their perceived artfulness and their dreams of unlikely fame. Andy used to be in some pretty good, pretty popular bands – Slaves, VSS, Pleasure Forever. But in recent years he’s segued into more solo work, less interested in touring and performing and more interested in just… writing and playing and recording. Making a narrative of songs. Most days.
For a couple years, he was working on an album. I would hang out with Michele, his partner and a close friend of mine, and she would mention gently, “Oh, Andy’s recording something now” and I’d say, “Oh, cool,” and then forget about it. After a couple years, in 2006, on one of our hangouts, perhaps having tea in their kitchen in the Haight Ashbury or catching up for a walk on a windy Bay Area weekend, Michele finally handed me a DVR and said, “This is from Andy.” The first in a projected quintet of albums about places and sounds and sensations and whatever else Andy writes about all day long, every day.
Whenever I listen to a record made by someone I know, I feel as though I am (hopefully) allowed a greater understanding of that person and their perspective on the world. It’s a terrific and sometimes odd feeling. But usually when I sample my friends’ art, I’m not all that surprised. I kind of already knew what it might be like and could basically guess where they were going with it while they were on the way there.
When I listened to this album Abandoned Meander, by someone named Andrew Douglas Rothbard, I had no idea who this recording was made by. It blew my mind. And yet, as soon as I heard it I also knew instinctively that it was so completely in line with what I would expect from my friend’s personality and artistic preferences, so totally Andy, it thrilled me in a new and unusually profound way. Because when you realize that all along, this person who you love and know somewhat well and are friends with but don’t really interact with all that profoundly, is a fucking closet genius? That’s a nice day.
There are contemporaries you can place Andy’s records next to. He doesn’t listen to them. Young guys, often white, often really well-educated in pre-1980s music. Guys who like to layer guitar loops on top of one another with those cool pedals that let people sample themselves. These guys, and Andy, too, often contain endless musical and trivial points of reference that speak to sixties psych, current-day experimental music, and other vintage sounds.
I wouldn’t say talking about the West Coast Experimental Pop Band or some farther-out late-60s acid folk pop is out of place here. I also wouldn’t say the cacauphonic spirit of experimental groups like the Boredoms or the skills of contemporary low-fi guitar acts like Six Degrees of Admittance are unrelated to this work. But because I know the person who made it, and I know the apartment in which he made it and the tape loops which he used to make it and I’ve seen that laptop open so many times on his desk–because I know how perceptive a student of music he is and how insightful his taste—I don’t even feel a need to spend too much time comparing Abandoned Meander to its sonic peers (which is, usually, the way most of us write about music).
This is a record I would buy on CD and vinyl and repeat, even if I didn’t know the person who made it. This is a record I’d blog rapturously about. It loops you in from the start, a true meander across a constantly expanding and imploding landscape that seems to only to climax only to come back around. It assaults the senses with highs and lows and cycles that mirror the violent, tender march of the fog that so famously barrels in to San Francisco from the Pacific, drawing a dividing line of wet grey across the city right about where Andy and Michele’s apartment sits. There are layers that never end. Guitars and vowel sounds and trip upon trip. If I were doing that record review thing where I compare music to other things, I might try to talk about this record in reference to a Buddhist mandala or a Russian doll set: ever unfolding, re-manifesting, rolling through sonic movements, and—oh, yes—rocking.
So have a listen. Then buy it and its cyclic sequel, Exodusarabesque, and wait, like me, for numbers three, four, and five of Anrew Douglas Rothbard’s closet opus. In the meantime, drink some tea, listen to some vinyl, and let the fog wrap around you in the middle of the day. It’s so worth it.