The archive of the old hardlikealgebra.com

Category: Journal

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


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.


Goats 2

So it’s not every day that your favorite band puts out a new album, and the real truth is that I am typically pretty on top of these things in the manner of anybody who grew up claiming that music changed his life and is now thirty-one and would still probably hold on to this fact.  So it was strange to the point of feeling disconcerting when I got the Insound newsletter today and it mentioned that yes, that crazy* bible-themed new Mountain Goats album, The Life of the World to Come, came out today.

Needless to say I have never been more on time as far as leaving for lunch break in my life.

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banksy image via denial_land on flickr

Some things!

–In an attempt to have posts look uniform, I am going to try to have a photo and an eventual read more link in far more of my posts now. Whee!

(can you see how exciting this post’s gonna be?)(I bet you can’t wait for more!)
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Ellen and Ben

Sometimes I want to just start a tumblr that consists of screenshots of the terse descriptions that Pandora assigns to favorite bands.

Other times I just want to be the Dismemberment Plan.



Not a Fighter

I really didn’t think I would end up posting anything about Michael Jackson, to be quite honest. I think as a midwestern boy growing up, he sort of represented in a human being all the cries of “Faggot!” that boys grow up with as well as scary city stuff, all wrapped up in a man who had two massive faces–the weirdo my mom would probably group in with David Bowie and a few others, and the genius that no one could escape.

He was one of those transcendent musicians who still trigger indiscriminate memories (seeing Alfonso pretend to be him on “Silver Spoons”) as well as memories that understandably seemed big enough at the time to still be rattling around in my 31-year-old brain (being envious yet fascinated when a classmate could dance like him; watching as my TV broke the scandal about “markings” a young boy could identify)(a story breaking, as I recall, at a time also scarred by the Magic Johnson announcement).

Is Michael Jackson what I hope to hear when I go to Soul Night? Of course. There’s no question that, now that the 80’s no longer seem so kitschy, his music still makes people put their drink down and get back to dancin’.

But really, I wanted to write a post simply because I read this over at Said the Gramophone, and it simultaneously showed the strength of that blog while also reminding me of the greatness of a man so wrapped up in so many things beyond “just” making shockingly good music. It’s a post worth sharing, and the demo of “Billie Jean” accompanying the piece will make you smile. I really hope you all will read it.

Silence comes from somewhere

Today has been quiet.
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Robert Frost has been in the air lately.

Maybe Wrigley knows he was almost a Sandberg?