Thursday, January 26, 2012

Midnight in Greenwich Village

by Brendan Cavanagh
"I should have been alive during the '60s..." a phrase often heard uttered from my naive lips on late nights spent spinning worn-out records or re-watching old episodes of AMC's Mad Men while contemplating the meaning of life in the living room during my summer and winter holidays at home, or one long, contemplative walks up and down the residential neighborhood streets adjacent to my college campus. For a long time now, as my interest in multitudinous facets of the 1960s increases steadily, I have operated under the not too-incredible notion that were I to have been in the right place at the right time in America, I could have engaged in so many more fulfilling cultural experiences than I do today. I say this with a touch a denial: of course I realize that one) this is a common complaint among many in every age, and two) I am certainly experiencing worldwide transformation and change, the like of which has been and never will be experienced by or understood as it precisely happened to any other generation than mine. Yet still, I long in fruitless earnest to witness and be a part of the radical societal, musical and emotional development that took place in the 1960s in America.

If I ever do make it to New York City someday, I plan to make a pilgrimage to the city's hallowed ground in the eyes of folk music and Beat counterculture enthusiasts, the once-sprawling artistic and intellectual hub of Greenwich Village's coffee-houses and clubs. I imagine one night I'll surreptitiously leave the residence of whomever so kindly takes me in at the time, and take a solitary, contemplative midnight stroll along the rat-infested, crime-ridden sidewalks until I reach the Wreck Room, once the premises of the infamous Gaslight Cafe, where folk musicians like Bob Dylan got their start. I'll slowly sit down on the short set of stairs adjacent to the downstairs entrance to the bar and thoughtfully light up a cigarette, and after shamelessly declining to dole out a dollar to a nomadic, drug-addled homeless man, I'll ponder over what it must have been like to congregate on these very steps with rather peaceable, artistic hipsters (some presumably mild Socialists) just trying to make a buck and / or hear some tunes on the guitar during the folk-music heyday of the early 1960s.

Pulling my concentration away from the real-life prostitute that passes in front of me, my eyes will befall a pair of jet-black leather boots, and looking up I shall spy a recognizable face- no, could it be?- the famed folk musician and former proprietor of the Gaslight Cafe, Dave Van Ronk (start at 0:25). Following an impressive exhalation of cigarette smoke emanating from his nostrils like ephemeral tendrils, he'll urge me inside with a playful boot-prod to my leg, saying, "Come on, man, dig who's playing." Glibly consenting, I'll follow him downstairs to a wooden door buried beneath a sign which bears the legend, "The Gaslight" (Hey, wha' happened?).

I'll spare you, dear reader, from a long-winded parody of Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight in Paris. For all intents and purposes, what would have happened is I would come to the realization that, like Owen Wilson's character similarly discovers in Paris, France over the course of the movie, the former premises of the Gaslight Cafe, every night at precisely midnight, magically serve as a veritable time machine to the past for whosoever dareth to loiter about in an oblivious state of total nostalgic immersion. Then numerous self-indulgent scenes would ensue involving me seeing a young Woody Guthrie-idol named Bob Dylan perform live, meeting Allen Ginsburg at a poetry reading and eventually learning how to finger-pick a guitar, thus making my name known as a minor folk-poet-musician emerging from the New York Beat scene. I think Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would probably be hired to advertise my gigs.

All kidding aside, though, my fascination with the 1960s runs much deeper than a mere infatuation with Bob Dylan and Mad Men. Think of all of the radical change that took place then. While not all changes were good,  I find both the good and the bad so damn interesting. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, musical ingenuity flourished at a faster rate than in any other period of popular music, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech before hundreds of thousands of Americans on the steps of the Washington Monument, some of the greatest films of all time were conceived and produced and the United States allegedly sent a man to the moon (though I don't think I believe it, but doesn't it make my argument more convincing?)!

If I were to be transported to the '60s, I'd certainly buy nearly every rock 'n' roll record imaginable. How do I even begin to list the flourishing musical acts of the age? Should I just list five? No, I don't think I can. Here's the unofficial theme song for 1969 and the Woodstock Festival, though, if that sums it up at all:

Canned Heat's "Going Up the Country"

On a more serious note, I honestly believe I would be a staunch activist for peace during the so-called "Summer of Love" and its subsequent years. Surely, I would occupy the middle of my college quad or chain myself to the lunch tables of the undergraduate cafeteria to nonviolently protest the Vietnam War. Ideally, I would head to the South and risk my "image," clean rap sheet and potentially my life to march in support of the African-American civil rights movement. When I read today about the racially-motivated atrocities committed in America at the time, I am inexplicably filled with surging fury, even though that was all in the past and there's nothing I can do about it now in the 21st century (though, yeah, you can argue I can still fight racial injustice today, but let's focus on the 1960s). For instance, listening to Bob Dylan's "The Death of Emmet Till" makes me sick when I think about the guilty, "smiling brothers walkin' down the courthouse stairs / For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free / While Emmett's body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea." I would attend Emmett's haunting funeral service. I would be the one to flash the middle finger to the riot squad in Oxford, Mississippi. I would march on the streets of Washington with Joan Baez and rest beside the cool waters of the Reflecting Pool as Dr. King delivers his infamous "I Have A Dream" speech.

Come to think of it, all these things I want to experience in the 1960s, in one form or another, still exist today. Am I a fool to ignore what takes place all around me every day, and waste my time yearning to live in another era simply for its nostalgic value? Do I have any right to be dissatisfied with the present? What makes me worthier than anyone else of time travel? I can't really answer these questions. Even so, there are also so many other points in time I wish I could have experienced. Like, the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the Western Frontier. Who wouldn't want to discover and marvel at the untapped beauty of the West, before the white man raped the Native Americans of their land and settled in? In any case, I'd gladly transport myself to any time before the technology to electronically remix awful techno / pop songs came about because it is absolutely impossible to take naps in my dormitory when my suite mate across the bathroom poorly sings over slowed-down Mike Posner beats.

Postscript- Here's one thing 21st Century technology has going for it. I can shamelessly append this blog post with a link to a very shoddy, albeit groovy recording of a song a few members of my band and I made some progress on recently. I'll be sure to post a link when we can all get together and perfect the song. But I just want to pass this demo along because I'm pretty damn excited to be making original music! [EDIT: Track removed]

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


So as you guys know, I'm in Sweden. And it's great. I mean I worked my ass off to get here and the place is effing beautiful. Not to mention the whole cultural education thing. But to be honest, this is the loneliest thing I've ever done. I'm in a foreign country in a distant continent and the only person here that I met before coming is a girl form U of I that I met once at a study abroad mingle. I am more alone than I have ever been, and possibly ever will be in my life.

This isn't to say that I am not enjoying myself, because I am. Thoroughly. It is just a strange realization I come to about once a day.

In some ways this is actually the best thing that could ever happen to me. I am a person who really enjoys her time alone. I like sitting around and reading. I like taking naps on a whim and I like watching horrible movies without other people finding out (i.e. Valentine's Day). I also like walking around the city alone and being able to observe completely objectively and without interruption. All this time is allowing me to self-reflect more than I have had time to do since I got to U of I. It's like summer vacation without Muni.

On the other hand, I am used to living with Carrie Mac and being able to tell her about whatever ridiculous thought pops into my mind. I'm used to being able to visit my sisters and I'm used to being able to get coffee with people I have known for more than a month. I miss that. A lot. Probably why I call at least someone in the States every day.

Studying Abroad is something I think everyone should do. So far it is exhilarating, revealing, and teaches you things could never learn otherwise. However, like all big things in life, it is not at all what you expect. It is alien and it is terrifying and it is lonely. But it's worth it.


More Swedish things I've noticed:

-Outdoor seating when it's below freezing. What. In America we pack up outside seating half way through September. Here, they have heat lamps and blankets set out around the outdoor tables and people actually choose to sit there. Swedes don't give a fuck.

-There are dogs on mass transit all the time. I guess I don't know this for sure but I'm pretty sure it is illegal to bring your dog on the bus or subway just on a leash chillin. Not so here. They're adorable though!

-People don't take notes here? I need to do some more observation before I'm sure on this one but during my last lecture I noticed that I was the only one who got out a notebook, let alone took any notes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nick - Sonic Adventure 2: Battle

Some of you might think that the best thing is friends or free alcohol or love, but really the best thing is Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.
SA2:B is a poorly-received Gamecube re-release of a sequel of a poorly-received Dreamcast launch title which also eventually received a poorly-received Gamecube re-release.

It is also the greatest game of all time.
SA2:B really went all out on its tragically misguided but inexplicably flawless soundtrack. The game's main themes consist of 80's reminiscent power chord heavy tracks accompanied by some hilariously overacted vocals. However, the series took a different turn on the levels featuring Knuckles (Who was apparently at some point designated Sonic's black friend) and opted to go with some sick Knuckles rap.

Also worth mentioning are the shamelessly uninspired characters, which further contribute to the perfect experience that is SA2:B. Sega takes Sonic, our beloved decade-old standby of video gaming fame, and guts his character, turning him into an arrogant, cocky douchebag, never far from throwing out a "cool" one-liner. Dr Robotnik has been renamed Eggman. Zing! Take that, Dr Robotnik and video game fans everywhere! Lucky, though, this controversial decision only further enhances what is essentially the perfect use of my time.

The game also includes a couple of new characters. Rogue the Bat is introduced. She is the world's greatest gem collector, only she's also an evil henchman of Dr Eggman, or maybe she's a secret agent? Okay, maybe I don't actually know who she is. More important is Shadow the Hedgehog, Sonic's angsty teenage twin with a dark, mysterious past. Also he dies but then inexplicably isn't dead and receives his own poorly-received spin-off.
You had better be listening to these, dammit.

Now we need to discuss the gameplay! The game is divided into three types of stages: Sonic and Shadow stages, which involve running really fast in classic Sonic style. These are sometimes really fun, and they get less fun as you advance in the game. Then there are Tail and Eggman levels, which involve moving slowly in a burly machine while shooting everything in sight, running contrary to everything involved in the classic Sonic style. These are not fun, and they get less fun as you advance in the game. Lastly there are Knuckles and Rogue levels, which involve searching tediously for items on large stages. These suck. They also get less fun as you advance in the game.

Far more important than the actual game is a side quest which allows you to raise and train your Chao, which are tiny, cute creatures that can be trained into destructive monsters to do your bidding. This aspect of the game will be the subject of a subsequent post. 

SA2:B is remarkable for its ability to not only be the greatest game ever made, but to do so while sending everything that classic Sonic fans know and love hurtling out the window at the same time. Good thing I wasn't a classic Sonic fan!

I have sunk hours and hours into this game, and so has Conor O'Brien. I will sink more hours into this game in the future. I would say more about why it's the best game ever bestowed to mortal man, but, well, I'm pretty sure I've convinced you. 


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Robert - My Abysmal Day

An antithesis to Conor's Perfect Day

I wake up at 4:00 am to a bloody nose. In my semiconscious state I imagine this is a runny nose acting up, so my semiconscious hand simply wipes it away from my nose and tries to go back to sleep. This process continues for about two full minutes before I furiously stumble around to find a Kleenex and notice that I've covered my bed in blood. It looks like the horse scene from the Godfather. I change my sheets and go back to bed.

At 6:00, I am having dreams. I have a strange one about having to take care of a tiger and a cheetah in a residential neighborhood. The tiger is nice to pet, but he keeps nibbling at me and I think he really just wants to eat me. Later on I have a dream where I'm trying to see if I remember how to pee. The good news is I can. I change my sheets again.

I wake up a third time, and I'm sick. I have a stuffy nose so bad I have to breathe through my mouth, a runny nose, a phlegm-driven chest cough, a headache, muscle fatigue, and leg cramps. Worst of all, two new extremely confusing symptoms arrive. Through no fault or injury of my own, my shoulder suddenly is in horrible pain the entire day, and each time I cough a searing pain shoots through it for a few moments. The second is uncontrollable burping, all day.

I put clothes on and proceed to happily log on to the Blackboard website to drop Plant Science 2075: Environmental Horticulture. Yeah, right? At the last moment I remember I signed up for that class two months ago because it's a science requirement. Motherfucker. I go to class.

After class, I spend a couple of hours job searching. It is bitterly cold, and the sky is a dreary gray cloud of death, just like yesterday and the 5 days before that. Here are the places I apply: Papa Johns, Pickleman's, Jimmy John's, Gumby's Pizza, Dominoes. Papa Johns and Dominoes are the ones that are hiring. Soon I will likely be spending my nights until 4:30 am running errands for a tall, purse-lipped, rail-shaped 50 year old with a high school freshman moustache. This man doesn't seem to have washed his blue uniform in days. He also looks like he's covered in a thin film of dust, leading me to believe he hasn't really moved much in that time period, either.

I return back home to my apartment. In the apartment adjacent to me my healthy friends are having a party. They tell me I look horrible and that the light makes the bags under my eyes look even bigger. The WiFi I always piggyback is down, and our ethernet cable magically has decided not to work in my laptop anymore, so I cannot access the documents I need to read for class. Good. It is also too late to get food and I have no food in the apartment except Oats and Honey bars and I am too poor to order delivery. Guess I'm not eating tonight. I eat an Oats and Honey bar so I don't die.

It is bedtime now, I guess. I go into my room. It appears that a stranger has sexed on my bed and left the cleanup towels strewn about my things. I sleep in Jimmy's bed tonight.