(WORDS BY ELIZABETH BARKER & LAURA JANE FAULDS, ILLUSTRATION BY JEN MAY)
Harry Nilsson, “I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City” (LJ)
Harry Nilsson is a weird and perfect guy. He’s a Gemini. I don’t relate to him at all.
I’ve always loved Harry Nilsson or at least liked him. When I was a kid my mom would sing me Coconut but I’d never heard actual Coconut, just my mom singing Coconut, but I knew it was sung by a guy named Harry Nilsson. When I was fifteen my high school best friend made me a mixtape and she put Coconut on the mixtape, and The Drowners by Suede and also Good Day Sunshine by the Beatles. She bought Revolver on the same day I bought The White Album so we each had something the other didn’t but we were equal in our having and our not having, which is a beautiful equilibrium.
Harry Nilsson was John Lennon’s best friend. I don’t know if he was John Lennon’s official best friend or not; I wish I could just ask him, “Who’s your best friend, John?”— I would be dissatisfied with any answer that wasn’t “An exact tie between Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson.”
My friend Kritty and I have a thing, an in-joke I guess, a weird fantastic in-joke, that we’re John Lennon and Harry Nilsson together. That’s the theme of our friendship, a never-ending Lost Weekend; I’m John and she’s Harry. Together we are surrounded by a general haze of being up to no good.
Kritty calls us both beautiful geniuses and believes that we are. I’ll only ever call myself that if it’s really late and we’ve just killed like three bottles of wine in two hours. There’s a part in the Harry Nilsson documentary where a guy says: he was the best singer. Not just the best singer but the best singer. Eventually he fucked up his voice from partying too hard and that was a tragedy but who even cares. It’s not like he didn’t record all those excellent albums in the first place and at least he had a fun life and it’s not like he didn’t die anyway. When I watched that thing for the first time I texted Kritty to tell her: that’s you. You’re the best singer.
Other than Nilsson Schmilsson I’d never listened to any full Harry Nilsson albums until I moved to London one month ago. I highly recommend intersecting your moving to London phase with your getting crazy-into Harry Nilsson phase if you are the type of person who’d be inclined to live out either. Harry Nilsson and London go kookily but decadently together like dipping bacon or crinkly-cut potato chips into a fountain of chocolate fondue. Harry is an American but he’s got a sort of jaunty Penny Lane Britishness about him, that whole Vaudeville soft-shoe nostalgia thing that came into vogue for about five minutes in the late nineteen-sixties because of Paul.
I’ve been responding to music made by a Britishy American guy because I’m a Britishy American guy! It’s one thing to live in Canada and tell people you’re moving to London and have them say “Well you certainly look the part!” because your shirt has a collar. But once you’re actually in England it becomes really obvious that you’re, you know, not from around here. Nobody cares that you wore a vaguely British-seeming shirt that had a collar back when you lived across the ocean. You’re a foreigner who calls the pavement a sidewalk and pronounces her rs like a commoner and thinks a courgette is a gherkin. The only way to get through it is stumble through the confusion wide-eyed and exuberantly because who in the hell doesn’t love a wide-eyed exuberant person?
I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City was the theme song to my wide-eyed exuberant phase. It’s a bit of a bummer to admit to myself that my wide-eyed exuberant phase is over but like what do you even expect of yourself and the concept of life Laura Jane. Do you want to be Don Draper when he’s on the phone with Dr. Faye and she tells him she hopes Megan knows he only likes the beginning of things? Nope.
Three weeks ago, it was still the beginning, and I didn’t realize it was the beginning or that the beginning would ever end, I didn’t have a job, and I’d just figured out how to take the bus. I’d sit on the very front seat of the upper deck and watch the city unroll like a carpet. Listening to this song. That’s the opening credits. In the movie it would cut to some shots of me looking dejected in the middle of an unforgiving Toronto while Harry says he’s so tired of his prayers going unanswered. Then it switches to the part where Harry sings, “Well here I am Lord, knocking at your back door,” which is not in the movie, because it’s just me thinking about it. But I like how knocking at the Lord’s back door implies that you are going about getting God’s attention in a kind of roundabout way. Being so sweet and bad that God can’t help but relent. You to him are like the best dessert, lard cut with butter laced with sugar, so fucking excellent and illicit that in the end even He has to admit you were the point.
The nicest part of the song is when Harry Nilsson sings, “Ain’t it wonderful to be/ where I’ve always wanted to be,” which has been true for me loads of times and is still true generally, but was truest once. I was on a bus riding past a liquor store somewhere around Tottenham Court Road. The liquor store advertised all the cool weird whiskies it was selling in a well-executed window display, and it was sunny enough that I was wearing shorts but cool enough that I could wear a long-sleeved t-shirt. And I wanted to take my Dad there, to the whisky store. I wanted to show it to him like, “Hey dad hey look dad look at this wonderful place I live in, look how wonderful we have it here, this whisky store, I did it I did it, I made it,” but I didn’t write down where it was or remember where it was. I can find it again if I take that same bus and stare out the window the whole time until I find it which sounds like the dullest and lamest thing I could possibly do here. I would rather look for something new or ideally not even look for anything.
"Rock the Casbah" by The Clash (Liz)
The last time I flew from Boston to L.A., I watched the video for "Rock the Casbah" seven times. It was a night flight and the punk-rock couple behind me brought a box of Munchkins on board with them, which was so cute and inspired. The couple sitting beside me were not very punk rock but seemed vaguely with-it; I had some silly hope that they'd notice what I was up to and later say to each other, "How interesting, that the woman beside us watched the 'Rock the Casbah' video seven times during our flight. How very peculiar.'" Instead they watched every existing episode of Dating Naked, which is kind of like the opposite of The Clash. I don't think they picked up on my "Rock the Casbah" marathon at all - and that's all right, I got along fine without them. The "Rock the Casbah" video is kind of ugly but I love it intensely. These are some of my favorite things:
-Mick Jones's stompy/semi-aggro dance moves, and also the fact that he's wearing a veil. Before last month I hadn't seen the "Rock the Casbah" video in ages and misremembered it as Mick wearing a gas mask, so it was kind of a letdown to see that he's not. And when I got home from LAX at like 2 a.m. I Googled "why is mick jones wearing a veil in the rock the casbah video," and learned that it's got to do with Mick being a big prima donna and uncooperative brat, and then I loved him even more.
-the pool scenes. Cute that Mick is smoking in his inner tube. I really wish there were an alternate version of the "Rock the Casbah" video that was just "The Clash by the pool"
-how committed and earnest Joe Strummer is about acting out the lyrics. The most earnest lip-syncher of all
-basically everything else except for all the stuff involving the Arab man and the Hasidic man and the armadillo. A few nights after my "Rock the Casbah" plane ride I had a nightmare that the "Rock the Casbah" armadillo bit my finger, which I feel like is a pretty unique nightmare to have
-oh and somewhere around my fourth or fifth viewing, I remembered how in ninth grade I had a crush on a sophomore boy named Dana, who was widely recognized as looking like a shorter, rounder-faced, slumpier Mick Jones. In 11th grade I worked at an Italian bakery and Dana would come in some afternoons and sit at the coffee bar and drink coffee and chainsmoke and eat cake, all slumped-over and probably stoned and not very Mick-Jones-sparkly-eyed - not in the slightest - but still totally sweet. He had a gorgeous sister who looked like a witch and a skater and had pictures of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Pixies up in her locker; I probably wanted to be her. Dana also had this long-sleeved black t-shirt that said "TECHNO" in big neon green letters, which possibly sounds lame now but at the time it was cool and exciting and just added to his beautiful mystique. Anyway what I'm trying to say is: DANA IF YOU'RE OUT THERE - no, I'm kidding. What I'm really trying to say is I'm glad I'm old enough for "looking like Mick Jones" to be a characteristic almost universally understood within my peer group. I started high school five years after The Clash broke up (eight years after Mick got fired), and I'm newly proud of how narrowly I missed "being in high school while The Clash were still together." It makes me feel so deep and wise.
Harry Nilsson, The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Songs on the album Harry (LJ)
My favorite Harry Nilsson album is called Harry. It’s from August of 1969. On the cover of the record is a picture of little kid Harry. He is skinny and his head looks too big for his body. If he were a cartoon character his neck would only be as thick as one pencil line. His face is peaceful but in his eyes it looks like he’s trying to make you do something. You can tell that he’s going to grow up to be a genius which is probably why he picked the picture.
I like the album title Harry for an album written by a guy named Harry. I wish there was a Paul McCartney album called Paul and a George Harrison album called George but for some reason it seems less cool to imagine a John Lennon album boringly entitled John.
The first song on Harry is The Puppy Song and it’s great because a cute man saying “puppy” is a really lovely thing but the walk from my flat to the Caledonian Road & Barnsbury Overground station is only as long as the fifth, sixth, seventh, and about half of the eighth (or sometimes the whole eighth if I am in a particularly lethargic walking mood) songs on Harry and I usually sacrifice The Puppy Song to avoid potentially missing out on the end of number seven. Songs Number Two through Four kind of blow.
Number Five is called the Fairfax Rag and it’s pretty peppy but it’s about cops being jerks to you since it’s the sixties and you’re a scuzzy-looking dude who they suspect is a drug user and is probably/definitely a drug user. At the end he goes a little nuts and screams wokka wovva wah wah wah wah wah wah wah. He always screams it around the time I’m walking past a grey brick building called The Gin Palace. I don’t know why it’s called The Gin Palace but I’m happy it is. It’s beautiful.
The sixth song on Harry is City Life and it’s often about me. The city is London; the life is Laura’s. It’s about wishing you could catch a plane to your parents’ house and feeling guilty about how you don’t write your parents too many letters. There’s this part where he sings “Just temporarily” very smoothly in a way that reminds me of an elaborate calligraphic g or y or j. He devotes quite a bit of his time and self and energy to that “temporarily,” and I like that “temporarily” got to be featured in a pop song lyric for once in its life. If words were people temporarily would be a severely boring but ultimately well-intentioned nerd. All I want is the best for temporarily.
Harry Nilsson singing temporarily usually means it’s about time to pop into Costa to get my coffee, an iced black Americano in the size “Massimo.” I have written extensively about how fucked up it is that iced Americanos at Costa are actually iced lattes and what the fuck, but as it turns out, they are not iced lattes. They just blend up the espresso with water and the oils from the coffee bean make it a little bit frothy. It’s pretty useless to do that but I accept and slightly prefer it. I do a lot of useless shit to make my life a bit frothier too.
Once I have my coffee it’s time to listen to Mournin’ Glory Story and walk past Her Majesties’ Prison at Pentonville which is pretty cute as far as prisons go. Everyone living in there must have been imprisoned for either stealing boiled sweets or treason. So old-timey. The prison’s bookended by a bunch of places with sun-bleached photographs of fry-ups taped into the windows, a place called The Breakout that smells like smoke and fat and ketchup, a tavern called Tawny’s painted in pastel lavender and toothpaste where a band that sounded like a rougher Pogues played on Bank Holiday Sunday. The words THE CALLY are painted across the Overground track in white on blue letters, Cally for Caledonian Road.
Mournin’ Glory Story is the most beautiful song on the album. If it were flavors it would be: clover honey, vanilla bean, bruleed banana, macadamia nut. It’s an obvious rip-off of For No One by the Beatles but with a bit of a darker edge. In it he rhymes “dirty” as in dirty FEET with “seven-thirty,” which is obviously brilliant. I also like that he doesn’t specify whether he means seven-thirty AM or seven-thirty PM so you can decide for yourself. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure.
After Mournin’ Glory Story I get on the Overground and stop listening to music and do a bit of reading on the train, a book by a man who drove around France buying wine, and after I get off the train I walk to work in silence. I think about the people the man who wrote the book met and then I go to work. Work’s alright; it’s pretty good; it’s getting better. I work at a restaurant and I’m not in charge of anything and I don’t make a ton of money. Oh, city life.
"Broadway" by The Clash (Liz)
The second week of August, my friends and I went out to Joshua Tree to see the meteor shower. The first night was the night of the perigee full moon, which was being a show-off and radiating its majestic supermoon-y light all over the sky and blinding out everything else, so I only saw one or two meteors. And the next night was so cloudy, I only saw one or two meteors then too. But the supermoon was something else; I kept telling everyone that it looked like a giant fluorescent light in the shape of a bloomed rose, and no one believed me about that but I stand by it.
It was my third trip to Joshua Tree and we stayed at Hicksville again and went to Pappy & Harriet's and that Blake Babies graffiti's still on the bathroom stall. One of the other groups of people at the trailer park was a family from Hawaii; they had two little girls named Chloe (who was about eight) and Layla (who was probably eleven). Their last morning there, Chloe was crying because Layla didn't want to play with her; she'd taken her summer-reading book and put on these rad neon-yellow sunglasses and gone to sit in the shade of the Cramps-themed trailer and read. I felt bad for Chloe, but obviously I was on Layla's side.
Later on in the day, around dusk, I bought the Joanna Newsom album Ys on my phone because I really wanted to hear the song that explains the difference between meteors, meteorites, and meteoroids. But then I got a few minutes in and all I wanted to hear was the song that I'd wanted to hear my whole time in the desert, which was "Broadway" by The Clash. I put my earbuds in and sat on the little front porch of our cabin and listened to "Broadway" and watched the big pink puffy sky and felt a heavy kinship with the piano and with Layla and with all of the desert. The desert used to freak me out with its evil energy and Manson-y vibes, but somehow Joe Strummer made me feel completely safe. I love how he refuses to take responsibility for it being six o'clock in the morning.
The third week of August, some writer-pals and I went to Big Bear for a mini writer's retreat. We stayed at a really adorable cabin that looked like if the Brady Bunch were chill mountain hippies; it had a carpeted kitchen with canary-yellow countertops and in the living room there was a game nook with this really weird Beatles trivia game and Chutes & Ladders and Star Wars Monopoly. Our second day in Big Bear, we went to lunch at a bar that had $1 Coors Light and a golden retriever running around and fantastic nachos, which I ordered as my meal. (Other perfect food experiences in Big Bear: cinnamon cornbread, biscuits & gravy, peach pie, bumbleberry pie, apple pie, the peanut butter English muffins and strawberries and earl grey + soy milk + brown sugar I ate for breakfast each morning.) Some guy put a bunch of money in the bar jukebox and let me pick the songs, and I can't remember any of them except "Kashmir." I don't think I had a favorite song while I was in Big Bear, but I'm retroactively going to select "Wide Awake" as the soundtrack to my wandering around the sleepy woodsy Big Bear roads at dusk and in the late morning. I can't even believe how pretty they sing together.
"Sisters of the Moon" by Fleetwood Mac & "Late Bloomer" by Jenny Lewis (Liz)
The profile of Tavi in the fashion issue of New York magazine is pretty wonderful. I read it on a Saturday morning, lying in the living room, drinking my tea, listening to the new Jenny Lewis record. Something about simultaneously experiencing Jenny Lewis's early-middle-age melancholy/restlessness and Tavi's premature nostalgia for her adolescence + wide-eyed-yet-pensive excitement for her new life in New York City made me stoked for fall, for the sweet and buzzy back-to-school vibes that happen in September even when you've been out of school 15 years. One of my favorite parts of the article was the bit about the twin babies in the original Mary Poppins who "understand what the wind whispers to the cherry trees on its way back up to the sky" but then grow up and forget, and also the bit about how Stevie Nicks gave Tavi a cashmere blanket to wrap around herself whenever she felt like she needed a hug. A little while after reading the Tavi piece I read Molly Lambert's equally wonderful thing about Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie and Jenny Lewis, and then I bought an mp3 of "Sisters of the Moon." I felt old and young at the same time, but not in a Byrds-cover-of-"My Back Pages" way, in a way that's entirely about girls who get dreamy over skies and moons and cities and there's nothing dopey about their dreaminess-- it's even kind of utilitarian.
The Beatles, “I’m Looking Through You" (LJ)
I got sick and it was the fucking worst. I could barely move and had a headache at the back of my head which seemed like it couldn’t not kill me and then the sickness spread into my eyes and my eyes turned red and I lay in bed for five days and went Rear Window or Bart Simpson when he breaks his leg-style crazy. I’d brought a couple of bottles of wine home from work, one of an Italian sparkling yellow that tasted bitter like Campari, like chewing on a lemon peel, and one of a dark, soupy red, a crazy blend of five grapes with a label that a couple of semi-famous artists designed especially for my restaurant. I imagined myself drinking them in a really chill and positive context but then I got sick. I was so bored and Googled “drinking wine while you are sick” and the Internet said not to do it but I did it anyway. I wrote a lot of my novel and then my Rear Window crazy intersected with my novel-writing and I was heartbroken about my eyes and how I couldn’t look at London. It was only five days long that I felt like that but it was crazy big like that crazy wine and I’ll remember it til I’m eighty. Then I’ll forget it. Then I’ll die.
On my second day of being sick I went to the doctor’s office to get my eyes checked out. The doctor’s office was in the neighborhood called Angel. We took a bus from Angel to Holloway Road and it drove us through a chunk of Islington that blew my heart out like a candle and up like a balloon. It resembled a synthesis of every Dream England my brain had ever dreamed up but it was real and in being real it meant that I hadn’t wasted all those years dreaming. That dreaming brought me to a real place and there I was riding a (single-decker) bus through it. The next three days I was in much poorer health and my having seen that place was part of what made it so awful. I was too sick to go back there.
Finally I went back there, on the fifth of the five days. First I went to the dull commercial sector, a cluster of shops united by a giant statue of angel wings in the center. I bought myself a lightweight jacket and a new pair of Beatle boots. I changed into my Beatle boots and wandered through all the dreamy-looking streets and listened to the Beatles song I’m Looking Through You. It’s a part of my novel. My novel is about a girl.
I found her street and walked down it. I took pictures of three houses and then I found a secret garden and sat in the secret garden listening to I’m Looking Through You and looking at the pictures of the houses. I decided which house was hers and then I walked back past it only by then it had gotten cold. It was about to rain but it never rained. The sun came out.
I went into the pub at the end of her street and ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from a dude with a glass eye. Lola by the Kinks was playing. It was the most exquisite place I’d ever seen or been, decorated with heaps upon heaps of gorgeous crap like: a bookshelf stuffed with dusty hardcovers and a Campari-branded mirror and a sign that said Guinness is good for you and a sign that said Hanover Sq. City of Westminster, a Burma Sauce whatever Burma Sauce is ad, a computerized gambling machine and posters for performances performed by dead people I’ve never heard of named Finlay Dunn and Boot & Bolon and Jack Kelland and Bryant & Bryant and Ivy & Jack and Dilly & Dot and Little Pal. The windows were all frosted so I opened up my laptop and corrected a paragraph set where I was sitting so the girl wasn’t looking out the window anymore.
I closed my laptop. I was too sick to be sitting there and I had to go back to the apartment. I thought about all of my friends from home and how badly I wished I could show them this magical place and I started to cry because I missed them all so much but at the same time I felt exhilarated by my being where I was. It was a weird feeling. I was so lonesome but I was whole.I walked home listening to I’m Looking Through You and think-sang it to myself as my past self singing it to my today self and then again as my today self singing it to my past self. Both versions checked out.
"Don't Wanna Lose" by Ex Hex (Liz)
Two Tuesdays ago I went to Thirsty Crow for my buddy Shaz's bday and got a drink called Sex, Drugs & Romance (champagne, absinthe, geranium liqueur, a strawberry). While I was drinking my drink "When My Baby's Beside Me" by Big Star came on, and I hung out in the bathroom for a couple minutes to hear the song better. I don't even love "When My Baby's Beside Me" all that much, but I figured I had to make a big deal about it, since my drink had "romance" in the name and Alex Chilton's romantic in the lyrics and Alex's name is tattooed on my foot, and I'm generally pretty romance-positive. But truth be told I wasn't feeling it; there was no real romance in the air that night, and my drink was kind of a bore. CUT TO TWO DAYS LATER: due to secret and beautiful circumstances that will be revealed at some point within the next month, I got an advance copy of Rips by Ex Hex (aka Mary Timony's new-ish band). That night I went to the beach to see Lee "Scratch" Perry and got some free wine in a plastic cup, thanks to amazing Shaz. On the ride home I took Sunset the whole way and drank a vanilla milkshake from McDonald's and listened to Rips in its entirety, with the windows rolled down. And then I felt so much more in tune with the romance of the universe: warm breeze and Timony guitars and triple-thick milkshake through a stripey straw just means more to me than absinthe and Alex right now. And I'm not really ready to talk about Rips yet but I will say that it's all true, everything Mary Timony keeps saying about how Ex Hex sounds like pop radio in 1982 - only tougher and wilder and weirder and made of magic. "Don't Wanna Lose" is the first track. October 7th, babes.