Day 364 – #98. Cursive – Happy Hollow

Cursive - Happy Hollow Album Review

Tomorrow is the last day of this project.

Without a shred of irony, this blog has changed my life.

It seems so ridiculous and hyperbolic to say such a thing, but consider this: I graduated in May, and spent the summer… shall we say, underemployed. Psychologically, after the high of graduation, the lows of not being able to put those skills to good use was damaging and created black holes of self doubt.

But my story is is not uncommon. Where mine diverges, though, is this yearlong ordeal that I’ve called One Record Per Day. The 350+ days and counting where I’ve set aside a chunk of my day to rattle off some thoughts about some music I like – and, conversely, some music I found I don’t like anymore.

Now that it’s been a whirlwind of 5+ months, I don’t even remember how in July I came to find out about the internships that NPR offered, and specifically for their most popular music podcast, All Songs Considered. I think it may have been Twitter. I could be wrong about that, but I feel like as much free time as I had, the opportunity was on the feed somewhere.

I applied on the last day that internship applications were due. I thought that there would be no way I even got a second look: Chronically, I was near the very end, and my last name starts with an ’S’, so even alphabetically I’d be screwed. I resigned myself to applying again for the Winter/Spring 2014 semester, thinking that I’d get a jump on the next term.

I must mention in here that at the time, I was several weeks into interviewing for a government job with a local library system. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, but it was close. Not cushy, by any means. The money wasn’t great. The drive was long – 60+ miles roundtrip each day. The  benefits were decent. But it was a gig. It was secure, and for three years, if I could’ve stood driving to Pasco County every day. (I couldn’t, by the way).

When the deadline for notifying applicants of decisions came and went in late July, I wasn’t surprised. Not hearing anything at all kind of bugged me, but it made the decision to stay in Florida easier, since, yanno, there wouldn’t be a choice to make. I even started rewriting my cover letter to reflect the new period for which I’d be applying.

In August, almost two weeks after the deadline for selections came and went, I got an email from the producer of All Songs. I was floored. You know when you’re taken aback and surprised by something, whether it’s good or bad? The dizzy, lightheaded feeling that leaves you breathless? That.

It was only a “Hey, sorry it’s taken us so long to get back to you, can you do a phone interview later?” email, but still, it was enough for me. Meanwhile, I was now in the third round of interviews for the other position. I felt super confident with my in-person interview. We toured the facility. It was nice but nothing hugely special. I would’ve had my own office, editing suite, a budget for equipment – and creative control.

No circumstance will ever be ‘perfect.’ There is no ‘right time’ for anything. You just make it happen. You do it and move forward and progress. It’s been made evident the last few years to me that the beauty of life is simply being. Even though I’d still just barely be making it by, it was a job, and I was going to choose to be happy with it.

When I did my phone interview for All Songs, I thought that I had surely bombed it. The circumstances couldn’t have been more confounding. When I got the phone call, it was late in the day – past 5 pm, if I recall. I was checking out in the Publix grocery store close to where my apartment in Tampa. It was pouring. I had too many bananas. The circumstances were all wrong.

It was only twenty minutes on the phone, but those were spent getting my groceries in the car in the rain and attempting to drive home so I could think straight. I was still dizzy even from the fact of what was going on. I apologized profusely in a torrential gullywasher, saying repeatedly that it was hard to hear and talk without yelling because of the rain.

When I got home, I sat in the car a few minutes, trying not to sound like an idiot. We talked about this project – quite a lot, actually. I confessed that, 8+ months into this thing, I was starting to get fatigued. There were days when I just felt like laying out at the pool and reading too many library books than forcing myself to write about Christian metalcore bands.

After the phone call was over, I overanalyzed every word I could remember saying. Why had I told him I was ‘over it’ when I should’ve been more humble and ‘Aw, shucks, we southern boys just work read hard’ instead? I thought my honesty might have caused me to inadvertently shoot myself in the foot.

Over and over, I thought about what I could have done better. The results? Everything. I had bombed it. I felt that as good as my in-person interview with Pasco was, my phoner with All Songs could not have gone worse.

I remember hearing back from both parties the same day, within two hours of one another. I didn’t get a phone call from All Songs, but an email instead, asking me to come to DC. I got a phone call from Pasco. I let it go to voicemail.

I didn’t jump up and down for either. I didn’t make any rash or rush decisions with either. I drove home, called my mom. Kicked both around a while. No work that day, so I spent the afternoon tossing a ball into the air and catching it, over and over, staring at the ceiling and feeling the crushing weight of what I already knew was about to happen.

Pasco called again later that day, and I let it go to voicemail, again. I called my dad, my aunt. Told them the double good news. Asked what each thought, even though deep down I already knew what my decision was.

Each person I talked to said effectively the same thing but in varying degrees of earnestness and colorful language: “Even though it’s not a, quote, ‘real job’ like the other, you’d be an idiot if you didn’t go intern for NPR.” That I’d regret it a year from now, 10, 20 years from now. And they were right.

I listened again to the voicemail from Pasco, hours later. They “wanted to talk” about me joining their team. I’m sure it would have been great fun. It was my first official job offer post-graduation, and utilized what I had gone to school for, which is more than what many (most?) people can say even a couple of years after graduating.

I emailed All Songs and accepted the position before close of business later that day. It was a Monday. On Tuesday morning, when Pasco called, again, I let it go to voicemail, again. I listened. They sounded eager, but anxious. When I rang them back, they were happy to hear my voice, but my tone was “I’m about to tell you something you don’t want to hear.”

Thankfully, they understood and couldn’t have handled it with grace and appreciation and maybe even a little envy (their words, not mine) – it couldn’t have gone any better. It was the most encouraging job denial I’ve ever had, and their words were “Go. Change the world. We never want to see you again.” Cheeky. They were proud they could say they lost their guy to NPR.

I’m telling you all that to say this: This blog got me that internship, and in some ways, it maybe even saved my life. It got my foot in the door of public radio’s Taj Mahal, and if I have it my way, it’ll be there for some time.

Though I couldn’t see it in the desperate days after I switched my tassel from right to left, the ones that became weeks and then months, the ones that spawned intense emotional anguish, vitriol toward Florida’s job market, and even some malice toward my peers who I thought surely, by God, were not as qualified as I – It would all be worth it.

Because all the while, I kept doing the damn thing. This thing. Whatever this thing is, I still don’t know, and won’t know for some time until I’ve had some space to reflect, the same way I’m doing now that I’m back in Florida after the best four months of my life thus far.

It paid off. Sure, life is about more than working hard and being nice to people, but it’s a start. It’s a step. It says something about a person – Either that they’re insane or that they have a will and drive to achieve more than just existing, be more.

I like to think I strive for the latter.

I don’t mean to get all preachy or holier-than-thou or even Tom Cruise in Magnolia-y (fabulous movie, by the way). I don’t. But I do know that what I did worked for me. So why couldn’t it work for someone else?

If I can spend roughly 200 days straight putting words on the Internet about music, the very thing that I love the most, for a project that would eventually land me 900+ miles away in the music division of a well-respected journalistic organization, who’s to say that someone else reading this won’t be inspired to do a similar thing?

It doesn’t have to be every day. In fact, I don’t recommend it. This daily thing has me mentally worn out. I’m spent, taxed, done, and truth be told, have been for some time. And even though I’m petrified of Wednesday rolling around and not having to sit somewhere for an hour, soak in some sounds, and then stringing together a few coherent thoughts. It will be foreign to me, just the same way as it was last January when I began. When I forced myself to do it a couple of weeks in a row with little advertisement of what I was actually doing, so that if I failed, no one around me would be disappointed – but then amped up my promotion, and in doing so, forced everyone around me to keep me accountable. I told Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – even the freaky beast that is Reddit – that I was doing this thing. Those people – you people – kept me on my toes. I knew I’d be letting someone down if I had to tell them that I had quit a month in, three months in, halfway. By the time January of 2013 ended, it was no longer an option. There was no quitting.

Even getting robbed in Miami on the 96th day of this year wasn’t enough to stop me. I remember getting home a few days later, ragged tired and world weary and disappointed. It was almost 4 in the morning on a Sunday. I slumped in the door and quite literally fell on the floor, greeted by my dog and a girl who is now my ex.

I contemplated calling this thing off. I had blogged that day from my phone, on the drive back from a place I now loathe for the simple fact that I had put my computer in a van and left it there, only to return just a short time later to find that it was gone forever.

Before that happened, I remember thinking that it was a gorgeous day in a city that I was still getting to know. It was breezy. Pleasant. It wasn’t anywhere near what I anticipated Miami to be. I hadn’t yet felt like I was in a hazy, neon cocaine mirage – which was sort of disappointing in a way.

Just hours later, I’d be almost comatose in a restaurant while we regrouped, over $3000 worth of my stuff gone in an instant. My computer, my iPad, my DSLR, my car and house and mail keys. All of it, and with it countless memories and images I’d never get back.

Even through that bullshit, I made up my mind to keep going. I had made it through March. Almost a quarter of the project was behind me by that point. Thankfully, WordPress (the platform I use for this site) has a tremendous iPhone app, which allowed me to keep going.

Can I tell you guys a secret? There’s only been one day this year that I haven’t made it. In Rainbows. February 9th. Just over a week before my birthday. Why? I was out for drinks with a girl, and it completely slipped my mind. I made it home and posted at 12:45AM. My only time rule for posting was before midnight.

I was more embarrassed than anything else. I don’t even talk to that girl anymore, either, which only makes me feel more dumb about missing it. There was one other occasion where I wrote ahead, two in one day, knowing I wouldn’t be able to get online at all the next day. I forget which post that was. Every other day this year, though, I have listened all the way through as I intended. I fulfilled my self-imposed obligations. I made it through.

Early on, one of the issues that was raised by a reader who I confide in – and whose opinion I respect – who questioned whether my word count was too much. In January, I wrote 17,564 words, an average of 567 per day. In February, it was 496 words. Writing 500 words a day doesn’t seem like a lot, but it equates to 3500+ a week – which still doesn’t seem like a lot. But without a break, it was an almost impossible task to uphold, and I can see now through the lens of being done why he didn’t think I could do it.

The reason I say not to write every single day is simple: Writers need time to breathe every bit as readers do. Writing gets better with practice, sure, but also with fresh ideas and time away from writing. The days this year where I didn’t feel like writing about that particular album – the days that I’m collectively calling “Shit Got Weird” – were healthy for me.

Writing 4 words about Beach House instead of 1700 about Showbread was gratifying. It was easy. But it got my point across the very same way. It was simple and effective in the same way that pontificating for, like, three hours about raw rock was.

Would I do it all again?

I don’t know. Certainly not this coming year.

Am I glad I did it?

Of course. It led me to Washington, DC, for the wildest 120 days of my existence. In finally getting the chance to prove to an organization my worth, I was invited to stay another four months.

An internet blog gave me hope.

An internet blog proved that, even though there aren’t really ‘new’ ideas anymore, using the ones right before our very eyes – like writing every single day – can be sculpted and marketed in a way to grab attention, if only for a moment longer than another candidate.

An internet blog changed my life.

What more could you ask from it?

So anyway, Cursive’s Happy Hollow, am I right?

This may just be my favorite Cursive album.

A concept record, Happy Hollow finds Tim Kasher’s acid tongue at its best. This time, he skewers religious faith for a healthy 14 tracks.

As contemptuous as he was on Domestica, one of two albums written about his divorce in the year following the dissolution of the marriage (the other, his side project The Good Life’s Novena on a Nocturn), Kasher is every bit as venomous here towards religion.

Tracks like the uproarious “Big Bang,” led by its huge trumpets – perhaps an allusion towards the seven trumpets as written in the Book of Revelation – as well as “Bad Sects,” “Retreat!” and “Rise Up! Rise Up!”, God and His ministry are in Kasher’s crosshairs throughout Happy Hollow.

It’s a fascinating show of smart lyricism and wry, clever wordplay (“Bad Sects,” C’MON, IT’S SO GOOD), especially considering Kasher grew up in the bible belt town of Omaha, located in the bread basket of America.

In contrast to The Ugly Organ’s theatricality, and Mama, I’m Swollen’s suffocating darkness, Happy Hollow is at times quite light, almost flowery. Mostly though, it’s the Saddle Creek staple’s latest brand of abrasive alternative rock: uncomfortable and wavering but impossible to not find catchy.

For as good as this group’s catalogue is, and considering I spent what felt like weeks trying to pick a favorite song of theirs in a March Madness style tournament, Happy Hollow may just take the spot as the best Cursive record.

From Happy Hollow, this is “Rise Up! Rise Up!” –

Standout tracks: Just about everything but…
Weakest track: “Dorothy Dreams of Tornadoes” may wear on you after a few listens.

RIYL: Two Gallants, Desparecidos, Criteria. Saddle Creek!



One comment

  1. Pingback: Day 364 – #98. Cursive – Happy Hollow » Indie Podcasting

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