Jeff Mangum Pt 2: The 40 Watt (340th new thing).

November 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

On Day Three Hundred Forty Patrick and I drove to Athens, GA to see Jeff Mangum play at the 40 Watt. While this was not the first time watching Mangum’s live performance (see Day 330), it was the first time seeing him in Athens. And I drank a super high gravity 11% alcohol beer.

Once we’d arrived and checked in to the glamorous Holiday Inn, Patrick, our friend Mark, and I cleaned up and headed out for some grub. On the way out we noticed a few groups of family football fans gathered around the TVs in the lounge downstairs. Day Three Hundred Forty will also be memorialized as the day Whitney Houston died (cue minute of silence with “I Will Always Love You” softly playing in the background).

We headed out on the college town and after stopping for a quick bite at a trendy looking taco place headed into a craft beer bar/restaurant. It was super crowded. With the show down the road coupled with a frigid Friday night in Athens, people and thick coats lined the bar, the booths, and flowed into any open space. I ordered the highest gravity beer that I’d ever drank: an 11% alcoholic brew. I could definitely taste the kick, and it began a long conversation in the back of my mind about whether high gravity beer was any better than regular gravity beer. I guess it depends on your beer drinking aim.

After we’d warmed up significantly, I layered back on my sweater, gloves, scarf, and big puffy down coat to head to the venue. “Andrew, Scott and Laura” from Elf Power were the opening act. They should have re-arranged their name order to Laura Scott and Andrew. Or just dropped Andrew altogether, simply because I’ve always wanted to see my name on a giant marquee.

The 40 Watt holds about two hundred fewer people than Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse, where I had seen Jeff Mangum play ten days earlier. I was curious to see how different the audience would be, especially since Athens is the hometown of Neutral Milk Hotel. I wasn’t disappointed.

The crowd moved as one throughout the entire show, falling silent between songs and singing along loudly when prompted. I joined in. I think part of the difference between the Atlanta and Athens shows for me had to do with my position in the audience and the preparations beforehand. In Atlanta, I had rushed straight from work and missed the build up of the opener. However, I also believe that the college town enjoyed a sort of homecoming atmosphere. It may well have been the 11% beer that loosened me up, too. Either way, it was a great show, and I can’t wait to head to Charleston in January to complete my trifecta of Jeff Mangum shows (buy your tickets here).


The Psychic (339th new thing).

November 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had one experience with a fortune-teller before Day Three Hundred Thirty-Nine.  While we were living in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, my friend Stephanie had sent me an urgent text to meet her in the city center.  A Gyspy lady in a caravan was doing palm readings for five quid. Skint though I was, I rushed out of our flat and went in search of this woman who could predict my future. She was a complete sham, getting everything wrong, even down to my nationality. I left in disbelief, five pounds poorer.

However my past experience unfolded, this year seeing a psychic was high on my to-do list. I searched the internet for resources, and found decent reviews of a reader in Little Five Points. I called several times, but her voicemail was full. Shouldn’t she be able to see far enough ahead to clear that out? I left a message for another in the area, but she returned my call too late; she must not have seen it coming. So when a Living Social deal came up for a thirty minute psychic reading at half off, I bought it. Thus, on Day Three Hundred Thirty-Nine I left work early to make a brief pilgrimage to the exotic Inner Space in Sandy Springs to have my fortune laid out.

When I made the appointment for 7:30 on a Friday night, the person on the other end of the line gave me two options: Sherry or Stream. I chose Stream purely for her fantastical name. I expected a large black woman to come waltzing from the back of the shop to greet me, but instead a ginger hippie emerged. She led me into a room with two high backed sitting chairs and a table in between. Immediately she told me I had a lot of ancient Irish spirit. Even though I had sworn to myself not to reveal anything during this session, I told her that my family was English. I’m a social being and aware of the unconscious effects of sharing leading to liking. And I wanted my psychic to like me; I’d be more likely to get a positive reading!

As soon as we sat down Stream’s eyes began to dart into the corners of the room behind me. She said I had a lot of spirits surrounding me, and that they were very vocal. I imagined a medieval meeting of Lords pacing around a banquet table arguing in iambic pentameter. She paused to listen for a moment and then translated. They were screaming that I should write, be a writer. She had visions of the English countryside and told me my spirit guides wanted me to write my books (plural, she emphasized) in England, but that I should take a creative writing class first. Writing would sustain my creative urges. As hokey and new-agey as she sounded, I really wanted to believe her. I want to be a writer, I thought. It made sense. And although I had clearly slipped in my wall of defense, the idea of returning to England made me happy. It had been the longest stretch of time in my life that I had not been to the homeland of my parents. Absence romanticizes the place. And it helped that I had just re-read Pride and Prejudice and imagined myself in a cottage set deep in the moors.

I tried to wipe the cheeky grin off my face as she continued with her scribbles. She delved into some nonsense about my romantic life, and then mentioned a silver scrolled compact that she felt belonged to my maternal grandmother. Did I recognize anything of the sort? No, I shook my head. “Are you sure?” Stream probed. It was really important. I said I would ask my mom, which seemed to placate her.

Before I knew it our half hour was up. She passed me the thick paper torn from her notebook filled with lines and words. I traced a finger across it and could follow along with the reading, start to finish. Stream again spoke about my fantastic spiritual support system and looked pleadingly into my eyes to emphasize the point. It was strange attention, and I made a joke about her saying that to everyone. She was earnest in her declaration that I was unusual in my arguing tribe of guides. I wondered if they watched me all the time. Gross.

I pressed a ten dollar bill into her hand. I’ve always been awkward at tipping. Maybe it’s that stodgy English heritage. Embarrassed for no reason, I shuffled out of the room, out of the store, and into my car. I immediately called my parents to relate the fortune and ask about this mysterious compact. Neither of them had any idea of it either. Maybe her reading was wrong, even if I really like the idea of moving to England to write novels. That clearly hasn’t happened (yet), but I won’t discount the fantasy.

So…would I go to a psychic again? Totally. I like hearing about nice things that could happen in my future. The stuff that doesn’t align can almost be brushed off until you have a really bad day and suddenly remember those fortunes that seemingly make sense in your life at that time.

Mostly, I’d just like a second (and third) opinion.

Backwoods Banjo (338th new thing).

November 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

My friend Kallen took up the banjo about a year ago. She downloaded some iPhone apps and pretty much taught herself. I was thoroughly impressed. I tried learning guitar a couple times in my life, with a teacher, but I always eventually stopped practicing and let it fall by the wayside. Thus carving out the time to practice alone, when you could be doing any number of more instantly rewarding things is a job well done. And on Day Three Hundred Thirty-Eight Kallen taught me a little banjo.

We decided the evening could be a combined banjo lesson-doggie date. Kallen’s pooch, Boris, is a great foil to my pup Murphy. It’s weird how dogs play differently with other canines, and Boris and Murphy instantly turn into a happy growling Tasmanian Devil whirlwind of fur and face.  They twirl around the room in a blur of white and brown, bumping into tables and knees and walls, eventually breaking away for a game of tug-of-war or chase.

After the dogs had fallen into their whirlwind routine and Kallen and I had consumed a little wine and a lot of pizza (mushroom and roasted garlic, holla), we settled onto the couch as Kallen pulled out her iPhone and began to show me a few banjo learning apps.

I was amazed by what technology can teach you these days. Within the banjo playing application, the user can slow down or speed up the lines of sheet music to play along. I sat with the banjo tucked in my lap and strummed along with the fingering diagram. On the slowest speed, and I probably missed a few notes.

Next Kallen began to teach me to play the infamous theme from the 1972 film Deliverance, set and filmed in my home state of Georgia. Funnily enough, the first time I watched the film was in a remote cabin along the shores of Lake Rabun, near Clayton County where the movie was shot. Authenticity, right?

The Teacher

First Kallen strummed along…duh nah nah nah nah nah nah nah naaah… She played the opening notes a couple times and then passed the instrument along to me to give it a go. It took a few tries to find the proper fingering, but before long I was picking the notes in between mistakes, in a highly unintentional staccato fashion.

Once I had mastered the simple opening line, we moved on to the next row of musical notes which sound like the beginning of  “Yankee Doodle.” Duh duh duh duh duh duh duhn…I know, my words are amazingly clear in conveying the music.

Slow and Steady

All of this took enough time to where we decided it was time to let the (still) playing dogs outside. We took a couple glasses of my latest homebrew with us. And I managed to lock us out, pulling the door closed before Kallen made sure her key was on her person. Oops.

Thus the banjo lesson ended and the next lesson in climbing and trying to reach Chad, Kallen’s boyfriend, without our cell phones (safely tucked inside) began. Eventually we made it back inside as the man of the house returned from band practice. It was pretty late by this point, so I gathered Murphy and headed home. I hummed the first lines of music I had learned that evening for about a week afterwards. And probably will for the next week too.

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