The archive of the old hardlikealgebra.com

Everything in its Right Place

Screenshot 2014-01-06 18.58.50

I’m not quite sure what triggers it either. I mean, this is the thing with so many weird/unusual/WTF mental health/mood/WTF things right? Some days you just didn’t get enough sleep or you had too much caffeine or not enough coffee or too many cookies or not enough food or too much social time or not enough hugs, and there you are just feeling like the entire day is a push against the middle of your chest where your body just aches because you’re scared.

So that was today and so that also meant it was time for Kid A.

As you do.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the internet is for. It has to do with this Episode of CMD-Space (featuring the always-gonna-make-me-think John Roderick) where he talks about making primary materials. So, podcast you make=primary materials, article about dumb things on the internet = not primary. They also talked a bit about how there was a moment where Clap Your Hands Say Yeah could happen because of myspace and cool kid word of mouth, and how we’re back to a place where that sort of thing doesn’t happen in the same way any more.

And then they said something like “I dunno, maybe things go back to blogs now.”

I always hesitated to call this place a blog. BLAG, blagh, interblog. I said “my music writing site” or sometimes “journal.” And as of late I said, “that thing that I haven’t done much with for a long time.”

While I listened to that podcast, I found myself thinking, “what did I write about music for?” Because, unlike what Roderick was saying, I’ve had a pretty Buddhist (right speech) / Thumper (if you can’t say something nice….) way of writing about music ever since my days with the Portland Mercury. Even I don’t have the ego enough to think I
have influence**, but I do think that if someone is wondering if they should go see Bark, Hide, & Horn, and they read 150 words about their love song to a snail, they might say, “yeah, that’s a thing I want to throw money at.”

And then I remembed what Mr. Hype Machine says in his bio, what he has said for years:

I wake up in the morning to get people excited about new music.

Yeah man, I’ve always thought. Yeah.

This is how Icome at art criticism, or trying to get people into Lisa Olstein’s Poetry, or, sure, Radiohead. I’m a jerk about enthusiasm. dudedon’tgivemethat youresowrongaboutthis ICANTBELIEVEYOUDONTOWNTHISFUCKINRECORD! Jeezus!

I love having an outlet for that. I’ve wanted more of it for years. I want Hard Like Algebra to be that. I want my life to be that.

Because you can feel shitty and morose and anxious (and beat yourself up for all of those things)(which TOTALLY HELPS THE ANXIOUS LET ME TELL YOU) and then go, “Hmm. You know, Kid A might help this.”

And then it does, and then you’re yourself a bit more again, you’ve got that life back, you’re filling yourself back up and hearing “Idiotecque” and thinking, well yeah, if I made these songs I would dance like Thom Yorke does, too.”

Or at least, that’s what music does for me.


It’s been a while….

…and as I have said before, I want to make a change here but I’m not sure how. Yet.

But!  I just saw this on January 1, which seems a bit like a fun time to post it. According to Last.fm, this is what I have liked and listened to in the last year.

Seems about right.

Last.fm is fun.


I’m into indie, rock, emo, stoner rock and acoustic, including:

Tegan and Sara, Frightened Rabbit, Into It. Over It., Vampire Weekend, Summoner, The Sword, american sharks, Wilco, The Promise Ring, Kylesa, Belle and Sebastian, Baroness, Pelican, Iron & Wine, The Dismemberment Plan, The Shins, Matt Pond, The Long Winters, Robyn, Matt Pond PA, Imagine Dragons, Rancid, Minus the Bear, Snow Patrol, The Mountain Goats, Lorde, Guided by Voices, Phoenix, Fountains Of Wayne, The Flaming Lips, Spoon, Girl Talk, CHVRCHES, Phosphorescent, Mazes, Pyres, Van Morrison, Black Sabbath, Mates of State, R.E.M., David Bowie, Saint Etienne, Foals, Red Desert, Yuck, Kleenex Girl Wonder, Sons of Huns, Bored Nothing, Screeching Weasel, Har Mar Superstar.

Check out my music taste: http://www.last.fm/user/jwithington

An update of sorts

Thirty days is still happening!

It is happening as a tinyletter, and as a rock poet, and in other places as well. [1]

It is not as hard core as it once was.

Neither am I.

  1. Some of those places are just in your heart. ?

Kathy, I’m lost, I said

I feel like a good rule, when I don’t know what to do because I am feeling all of the feelings, is to write it out. At the very least, I will have another blog post at the end of it, right? *

I just saw a really great looking article about places to eat in PDX on twitter. I mean, it’s got a bit of “I was there first, so I am better” b.s. feel to it, but it also has my favorite ever music venue and my favorite ever donut shop so it’s not all bad.

And of course am stupid and when I saw them mention a coffee shopI didn’t know about–lilkely because it is new–I googled for it, grabbed the street view, and felt my guts hit my throat because of this:


click here to embiggen

This is a pretty innocuous photo, really. Right? Just a sunny day, and…a huge line for a donut shop. Okay.

But I cannot tell you how many times I have been on that street, in that place.

It was part of my life before full-time work when I would camp out all day at Stumptown and pay $1 on the counter and skip the line since I was there for drip coffee and sometimes get props from the cute midwestern barista that recognized my slapstick t-shirts.

After I got the full-time job it was a place I would go during my lunch breaks for donuts for my team or to get an americano for me (and maybe a coworker) in order to help fuel the dark afternoons of playing catch up.

Half a block away I’d wait for the 12 to take me to 57th and Sandy or, later, the 12/19/20 to get me back to 18th and E Burnside.

We had boys and beers at Berbatis, which used to have a music venue entrance where VooDoo is now. And when I left the full-time job behind, I became very acquainted with Johnny Walker Black because of some the best coworkers a man could ask for.

I think maybe this place–not the corner, but the city–might be where I became a man, if that’s what I am now, at thirty-five.

It is certainly where I became my own man.

I miss it in my gut the way I used to pine for it–before I moved there–and feel in my bones that I belonged there.

I so did. And I still do.

I’ve been doing the April 30 days stuff! But the results are not all here–they are scattered on PDX Rock Poet and some other places. Hooray though!

*I used to never ever ever call this site a blog. It was my “music site.” But this post? No music, and maybe a blog post.

Everything, in no particular order

I’m an avid Spotify listener. I have told people, multiple times, that if needed to cut back on my subscriptions, Spotify would be the last to go (sorry, Erin). It really has changed the way that I listen to music.

In the past, if I wanted to explore something random—say, for instance, a jazzy track that I heard on the NBA 2k13 soundtrack—I could do a few things:

  • Google it, and try to find a copy that I could buy
  • Google it for .mp3’s I might be able to download (a bit sketchy)
  • Use a torrent search to try and download it (pretty sketchy)
  • Add it to the mental list of albums to try and buy someday in a record store (legit, except, hello, memory)
  • Get it on eMusic, a service which was great until they began systematically limiting downloads more and more.

And so I ended up either getting things in a sketchy way or, basically, forgetting about it.

Now, I can just find it on Spotify. This was possible with Rhapsody, but Spotify’s professed love for amping up their servers so that it seems like the files are all local really works.

Over the course of this site’s existence, I wrote a draft of a post that talked about bands giving music away (a la Radiohead and the The Depreciation Guild ), and I think that a looong time ago I wrote about how my musical taste was, like many of us, shifting to the single, because of my Kubrickian iPod.

Well, Spotify changed the game again for me, and maybe this is another snapshot of that. I have enough gadgets—and Android is popular enough now—that I can pretty much listen not to just to my music, but all of the music I can think of all the time (as long as I have a connection)(pro-tip: as long as you plan ahead, you can also download songs from Spotify. No connection needed!).

Oddly, this is leading to me moving more towards built in Spotify apps (to help me discover bands) or—get this—album listens.

I still don’t know the answer to my Guided By Voices question. Maybe the act of flipping the record, instead of searching in a text box, really does get me to be able to get into GBV more.

Or maybe I would never have bothered if I hadn’t decided to pay $10/month for all of the things.

Maybe it’s the heat in here/Maybe it’s the pressure

One of the ways that Zen practitioners “work” with Zen–at least in my lineage–has to do with noticing changes in your body.

Once you spend time sitting–just sitting–for thirty minutes at a time it’s a somewhat natural thing to start being able to identify, in your body, where you are “feeling” emotions. Zen also places an emphasis on direct experience–not “What did Buddha think?” or “What did this famous teacher think?” but, rather, “What did you feel? What did you think?” AS such, whenever I heard about locating emotions in the body, the teachers always emphasized that the place in my body where I feel loss, anger, shame, frustration, or sadness might be different than it is for anyone else. Whenever we discussed this in classes, I found it completely fascinating to hear the long-time practitioners speak about the heat of anger in their chest, or their shoulders, or their neck. And of course, learning about this hopefully means doing something about the knowledge that you’ve gained. Hearing members of the sangha talk about these things gave me a glimpse as to where I might be heading–towards the experience of being able to identify these emotions as they rise up, the first step towards being able to choose to react in a more reasoned way.


I ended up reading this entry (and this one too) today because of an upcoming (maybe)(hopefully?) Hard Like Algebra shift in direction, and the related archiving that could/will result. And that brought me back to Heretic Pride, and that brought me back to 2008, and that brought me back to “Autoclave” and a whole bunch of feelings.

Feelings, man.

I feel a lot of the best Mountain Goats work in my chest, but also in my throat. As an asthmatic, it feels something similar to that pre-sick “hey-am-I-getting-a-cold?” feeling that’s not an asthma attack or even a bit of wheezing, but it’s strong nonetheless. This is not the feeling of “Hey, life is awesome!” or even just looking up from the ruins to a brighter day that maybe “Fight Test” or “Some Nights” creates. The feeling from these Mountain Goats songs has an undercurrent of dread, some sort of painful recollection. It relates to my favorite idea related to catharsis, that you feel what you feel when you hear a great song because those were the feelings the songwriter/performer was feeling, too.

And let’s not forget, for me the Mountain Goats are one of those bands that always prompt an experience. I can’t just sort of half-assed listen to them and think it might just be background noise, or something that maybe I will notice and maybe I won’t. For me, there are a few bands like this, often my all-time (or at one point, biggest)favorites. Radiohead. Mid-period Wilco. R. E. M., at their most beautiful. I think of this music as my “don’t put this on in you’re too fragile or too happy” bands, because nothing can make me feel more hopeless than “No Surprises” on the wrong morning. Nothing makes me remember late high school heartbreak-mixed-with-love like “Nightswimming.” And The Sunset Tree remains the soundtrack of a world turned upside down and a job I got because there was nothing else to get. Or so I thought, at the time.


Looking back, 2008 had a lot going for it. I turned thirty, and Erin was firmly established in Portland. I had great friends at a job that gave me some satisfaction and a good chunk of change. Within six months I’d moved pretty quickly in an upward direction at work, using the internal certification system to help me learn quite a bit about coaching, training, students, and people. I would soon get myself a 20% role at work that put me in a position to help my awesome coworkers be even more awesome.

And then 2008 became a year of a lot of fucking shit, too. Erin can probably confirm that it was a tough year for us, one of the toughest (and I’m so glad we stuck through it, and I am grateful to her for that). There were epic arguments that year, probably exacerbated by a terrible apartment that was tricky as far as transit was concerned, and thus kept us isolated. Isolation during Portland’s epically rainy winters? Not good. No wonder why our anchor in that neighborhood was our coffeeshop.

And the job became progressively worse, became more of a grind, something that seemed to be chewing up some of my favorite people and spitting them out. One of our managers kinda flipped her shit (I imagine, based on heresay and what it looked like from the outside) and stopped managing. I believe that this is something that happens all the time now. It–like firings, like the feeling of being betrayed–was pretty unusual then. I would guess it’s not as unusual, now.

“Autoclave” came out that year. This was the first standout single, for me, off of Heretic Pride. It sang to me about being a “great, unstable, mass of blood and foam.” It featured another of my favorite artists. It talked about a last chance to feel human, about heading for the exits. “And no one in her right mind/Would make my home her home,” Darnielle and Annie sang, and it rang so very true.

And as I listened to this song today, I felt that tightness in my throat again, and I remembered 2820 SE Gladstone, and I remembered arguing in the rain, and I remembered feeling lost for eight (or more) hours a day.

Thank goodness that music does this for us. For me. Thank goodness that I have music to help me remember. To help me locate that pain, in my body, in my personal history. It’s not always fun, but it’s so important to have that anchor. So thank goodness for the artists that sing the songs that change us, that have changed me.

And thank goodness that I made it through that year, and the next few, and it didn’t kill me.


John Darnielle plays Autoclave (in front of the Fremont Troll).



I’m really happy to see them resurrecting this phrase for the end-of-an-era R.E.M. collection.

This post started as a thought for tumblr, something I’d dash off, up up and away, another in a series of things up for attention in a place where I’m not sure anyone pays attention. But I realized I had more to say, more to think about, and saying it here somehow fits.


I mention that this phrase, this Part Lies, Part Hart, Part Truth, Part Garbage is a resurrection, and that’s because it is. The first time I encountered it, I saw it on a t-shirt.

You see, I had won first in line at Sears, and with that prize came the ability to purchase the best public seats– 19th row, floor–for R.E.M.’s Monster Tour. Greg and I freaked out so much that we tried to pool our cash together to buy an extra ticket, and of course we ended up selling that one to Candy, the girl we had both “gone out with” in middle school, just a few years prior.

So there we were, at the Rosemont Horizon, and there it was:  a long sleeved t-shirt, dates on the sleeve, and this phrase–Part Lies, Part Hart, Part Truth, Part Garbage–on the back.

[And Hey, this link will eventually break, since ebay is dumb like that, but here it is.]

The show was great. We had fun.  I think it was one of the rare times when Greg and I weren’t crushing on Candy, so we were just kids who had known each other for a long time (I’d known them since 6th grade, they probably knew each other since first or something) sharing a great show.  I actually don’t remember much of it aside from how high and black the ceiling was before the show, and how excited I felt.

That shirt has been one of my go-to travel shirts for years. It’s separating on the neck, as they do. It’s been in the rotation for cold-apartment pj’s and “I need a layer” Homecoming trips.

I love that it says LIES TRUTH HEART GARBAGE on the front, but on the back, they acknowledge, yeah, all of that is in there.

I love that I am rambling because I can’t find the words but I want to find the words.


A few weeks ago, I got an IM from one of my friends that knew me back then, a guy who bops in and out of my gchat, who made something of himself by being a hacker and learning the internet ropes back when you could do that just because you liked Industrial and piercings and messing with people on IRC. He was important during one of the more challenging times in my life, long distance relationship #1, a relationship where R.E.M. and the Cure and Counting Crows really became this thing, a shared language, the common words of romantics at the end of their teen years figuring out what to do with all of that feeling.

So I got a random IM that said, “hey man, R.E.M. broke up.” And first I thought, “huh.” And then, “why did he tell me this?”

And then I realized that R.E.M. and “Nightswimming” and crushes and relationships and all of that junk had been such a big part of the time we spent the most together.

Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage.

It was nice to hear from him, and to think about things.  It was nice to think about how much R.E.M. had meant, for a time. I liked being back there. I liked that it was nice to know that I was here, now.

It’s all a mystery

This album reminds me of driving. It was one of the first I listened to in my 5+1 disc changer in my 2002 VW Beetle, and the first album I loaded onto my Kubrick-style 3rd gen iPod. In that car, turned up, CD sound–it just filled the space, in the car, between my ears. It gave me a lot of heart, too. I’d listen to “I don’t know how a man decides what’s right for his own life” as I drove 45 minutes each way to a job I really needed to leave, and I’d drum that unbelieveable drum beat from “In the Morning of the Magicians” on the steering wheel while I sped down McCormick Boulevard. I remember a New Year’s Eve show with this, the ultimate New Year’s Eve band, and how still we found confetti in our apartment from that show in April of the new year. These guys knew how to bring it and they also knew how to dial it back, and I really think this album did an excellent job of curtailing the jammy weirdness and promoting the songcraft, themes of love and of actively living, and that incredible drumming of Drozd, into a poppier album than most of their career. Some of my favorite events growing up were things that I referred to as “pep rallies for yourself,” and this album really does make you reflect but eventually celebrate, a process I’d say that Coyne pushed–for a while at least.

It’s amazing what near-death can do to creativity. Here’s a man who made this weirdo freakout music and who also would tell you about the time he almost died at Long John Silver’s. He nearly lost a bandmate to a spider bite and another (or maybe the same one?) to heroin, and came back with two albums’ worth of clarity before heading back into overmuddled, extra dense work. Yoshimi is nearly 10 years old now, and listening to it makes me think about how much this band meant to be for a period there, and how they just sorta…faded from my view. Many of their fans would not think of Yoshimi as an important album; some might even say it’s not even a good one. But that’s also the beauty of music, and maybe one of the reasons I always wanted to be in a band: even if only a few people, even if only five hear it, and one of those people have a really intense experience with it, it means something.

Stereo, my baby baby baby baby baby

we're in no hurry

Cameraphones were made for bloggers: Pavement, September 3, 2010

Impressions after seeing Pavement play at Edgefield last night

Maybe I missed this very obvious point, but Pavement’s songs are pretty sad. I dunno, I suppose I knew that the “slacker” label never really meant anything (and there was proof of that last night: Malkmus can clearly play the hell out of the guitar. Sloppy is an affectation, and he wears it well, but it’s a choice in his world), but last night we heard these songs back to back to back.  So the set kicked off with “Gold Soundz,” a song off the same album that spawned “Cut Your Hair,” and it’s crazy to think of these guys in their 20s/30s writing this stuff:

Go back to those gold sounds/And keep my advent to yourself
Because it’s nothing I don’t like/Is it a crisis or a boring change
When it’s central, so essential,/It has a nice ring when you laugh 
At the low life opinions/And they’re coming to the chorus now

And then you’ve got one of the best “dammit, this hits me in the head at the wrong time” lyrics ever in “I’m flat out./You’re so beautiful to look at when you cry” from “Shady Lane.” And let’s think about “Spit on a Stranger,” which gives us this beautifulness:

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the things you said to me
like a bitter stranger
and now I see the long, the short, the middle and what’s in between
I could spit on a stranger

Okay cool. No wait, that last song was from their last album, but here’s something from the first, from “Here,” and seriously, I almost didn’t post these lyrics because they are awesome and something you should discover while listening to a mixtape someone gave you, or at the very least, when standing outside on a perfect oregon night watching the least likely reunion show since the pixies or soomething:

I was dressed for success, but success it never comes
And I’m the only one who laughs
At your jokes when they are so bad
And your jokes are always bad,
but they’re not as bad as this

…and so I’m wondering: was this a band that stopped playing because “Cut Your Hair,” which along with good old “She Don’t Use Jelly” arguably iced the “novelty pop songs of the mid nineties” cake, but also didn’t at all reflect the sort of corporate what the fuck and genuine “jeez, this stuff all kinda sucks and it’s really getting to me” vibe* that we are seeing above?

I mean, I guess I am saying that I always thought of them as the cool older brother to Beck in his “Loser” stage, but they are more like Radiohead’s dreamy good looking cousin who, instead of raging about corporations, instead tries to act either uninterested or uncaring, but fails at both.

All this from a reunion show, folks.  Go see these guys.

*admittedly, this might just be why my brain is at lately


I searched for years for a vinyl copy of the first R.E.M. LP, Murmur, on vinyl. My requirements were: I wanted it to be cheap, and I wanted the original release (partly because of my Hi-Fidelity-style collector’s mentality). Or at least not a remastered or fancy resissued version (though, y’know, the recent fancy reissue was something that I put on my Amazon Wish List. I don’t mind if other people spend that kinda money for me!), because I’d read so many reviews to know that part of the early-R.E.M. charm was that the vocals were buried/oddly mixed, and I wanted the Authentic Experience.

So after two years of striking out and a few months of eyeing that there fancy re-issue, I finally just hit up ebay, bid on the thing, and got it for about $15.

And it’s great.

And no only is it great, I am finding myself absolutely unable to get Catapult out of my head. And I’m thinking that “Shaking Through” might shoot to my top ten all-time R.E.M. songs, just on the basis of the catchy, goose-bump-inducing, absolutely-built-for-singing-along chorus.

And I love this. I love that this album is from 1983, and it’s from a band that I love, but about 10 years prior to the R.E.M. period that I know. I love discovering this stuff. I love hearing “Talk About the Passion” and “Radio Free Europe” in their original context.

It’s just really great. I don’t know what took me so long.

*I am probably at least a 65% proponent of the “hey, the internet is great and all, but it kinda ruined the hunt for things, especially music” theory. I can remember trying for years to find a copy of the ska version of “The Freshman,” but once I was able to start downloading music, I nearly instantly looked for, and found it. It’s still good, but I still look for the 7″ now and again. I suppose I could find it on eBay.