Saturday, 26 June 2010


Oh, boy. I’ve done it now. I’ve said what I believe to be the truth. Or rather, I thought it. I thought the truth and it leaked out. Did I mean it? Sure. Does it matter? Not really. At least not to me. She, she on the other hand, she is pissed.She is trying really hard to be pissed right now. I need to think of something brilliant here. This is not where I am best. I am not a black mamba.

My first instinct is “I don’t know.” That never works past the age of six. It’s like second-hand electronics. “I don’t know” is worse than anything you could say, because to her, that means “I don’t care.” To guys, it just means “Fuck, I’m a guy and that’s what we do.” We need passes for these circumstances. A “Get out of jail” pass. Not “jail” she would say; “fail”.

She’s waiting intently for a miracle. How long has it been? Feels like days. I would twiddle my thumbs if this were a movie. She can hear me thinking, purring like a cat. Purring like an old computer, blinking it’s little “think” light furiously like a baby at a windy beach, even when there’s no programs running. Not thinking looks like a struggle for a computer that’s seen a lot of porn. Not that I would know. “Yes you would” she would say.

Cornered in such a position I may have to go with “I didn’t mean that”. Similar to “I don’t know”, “I didn’t mean that” attempts to shift the focus off the offensive comment and onto your own stupidity. I’m so retarded, I said something I didn’t even mean to say. Life is just that kind of struggle. I would like a prize for all I’ve accomplished under such circumstances.

Woah, when did she get that mug? I’ve never seen that mug. I’ve gotta do dishes before dinner. Hmmm, dinner. Chicken or beef? I think I’m out of chicken but I don’t have spaghetti sauce. Shit. Pancakes it is. I’m way too excited about the cap on the Hungry Jack syrup that looks like a smiley face. My only complaint is that it should make smiley face drizzles on my warm, fluffy pancakes. That would be nice.

“I don’t know”

Sunday, 14 June 2009

the first step is to admit you have a problem

Yesterday, I remembered a special moment that happened about a month ago. I was doing my weekly grocery shopping at ASDA, the ugly English step-sister of Wal-Mart, and through my iPod ear buds I heard the unmistakable falsetto of Justin Hawkins. I ripped off my headphones and sure enough, ASDA was playing The Darkness and it wasn't "I Believe In A Thing Called Love". I hummed along to "Love Is Only A Feeling" and squeaked out a few of the high notes when no one was around.

In the midst of those four minutes, I was drowned in a wave of The Darkness-related memories. Like that time John, Brian and I almost drove to Charlotte to see them live, except that it was a school night. And none of us could drive. Or that time Melissa and I went to the beach with the Wolfe family and I suggested we listen to The Darkness on the way, having forgotten that the chorus of the song "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" is just that, plus "Mother Fucker!". Good times.

On the walk back to my room I was thinking back on how good the first album by The Darkness is and the erosion of my appreciation for it based on social expectations over time. It's not just that The Darkness was a novelty band and the twenty-first century's answer to Spinal Tap. Bands like The Darkness get swept under the rug because their fans were teenage boys who have since developed their musical tastes to some varying degree of sophistication. At least that's what we'd like to think.

The thing is, we all have The Darkness moments: somewhat embarrassing musical tastes that we're afraid to bring up in retrospect. We don't want to lose cool points based on what we used to listen to. But what we listened to has always, to some degree, defined who we are. Music taste is a process that evolves from one artist to a better artist to an even better artist and so on. We'd all like to think our music appreciation now is top-notch, but haven't we always? Even though my music tastes have changed, in reality, I'm very much the same type of person that at one point thought The Darkness would take over the world with their leopard-print leotards. It is for this reason that I present this "Unashamed List of Guilty Musical Pleasures" (or "Good Blackmail Material"):

  • My first concert I went to was 'N Sync with my sister. I think everyone there but me was a girl that enjoyed screaming. I hated it. But I did really like the opening group B*witched (and still kinda do).
  • On the subject of boy bands, the Backstreet Boys are my favorite. I enjoy singing the "Tell me why" part of "I Want It That Way" at karaoke and currently have a Nick Carter haircut now while I wait for it to get longer. In ranking the boy bands, I'd have 98 Degrees next and then 'N Sync.
  • The second concert I went to was Creed with my dad. It ruled.
  • The third concert I went to was Dave Matthews Band. I've since seen them two more times and are at the top of my favorite live and summer bands. "Crash" was my first cassette tape. "Jagged Little Pill" by Alanis Morissette was my second. For the record, "Californication" was my first cd.
  • The fourth concert I went to was a trifector curated by the gods: Three Doors Down, Nickleback and Puddle of Mudd.
  • As far as 90s pop princesses go, I've got a thing for Mandy Moore. There, I said it.
  • I really like American Idol. I remember this performance, this dress, this guy winning instead of Clay and chatting with this contestant on AIM (true story).
  • Speaking of American Idol, I think Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" is a great song.
  • At one point I was really into Savage Garden and I still think of them every time I see/drink Cherry Cola.
  • I like "MmmBop" by Hanson for the simple fact that it means absolutely nothing and the Hanson brothers will tell you this. I think for a young pop act that takes some guts. Pop music seems to meddle in that boring gray area between songs that mean nothing and songs that have deep metaphorical lyrics.
  • I know all the words to "Butterfly" by Crazy Town
  • Van Halen's "Van Halen" is one of my favorite albums. Does that qualify as a guilty pleasure? I'm not sure.
  • Other bands I devoted a lot of time to: A.F.I., Coheed and Cambria, the Distillers, Blink 182, the Goo Goo Dolls, Incubus, Jimmy Eat World, Lifehouse, Minus The Bear, Lucero and The Used
  • I can't get enough of Annie, the Norwegian pop sensation, not the play
  • If it's eighties and English I probably love it
There you have it. It feels good to put it all out there. I think that one great contribution bands like The Darkness, Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants brought to popular music was an acceptance to not take music so seriously. We should treat our musical tastes in the same way.

Friday, 12 June 2009

there's always money in the banana stand

It's a rare beautiful day in Manchester and here I am inside drinking tea and waiting for my laundry to dry. It's been one of those weeks. It started with me making a mix cd for my sister and sending it to her. This should be a relatively simple task, except that when I make mixes I always go through all my music so I don't just have new stuff. This means filtering through over 21,800 songs in my iTunes to fit roughly 40 songs onto 2 cds. I love the beginning and end of this creative process, but it's that dirty middle part that nearly drives me to drinking.

Other notable achievements this week: I saw this guy at an open mic (I promise your day will be better if you watch the video). Speaking of Buster, I've been re-watching my Arrested Development DVDs and just finished season one. This week I also watched season two of The Wire and it's so good I would do the show no justice to casually praise it mid-paragraph (I'll dedicate a post to it in the future). I went to see stand-up. I saw Junior Boys live. I baked cookies. I watched the sun come up at 5 a.m. after watching game three of the NBA Finals, where amazing happens. I walked past Curry Mile to Platt Fields Park where The Streets will be performing tomorrow night as part of Mad Ferret festival and I will try to sneak in or at the very least listen to from a distance. I read "The Code of Honor of Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds in Dueling", one of two books Tim lent me. I plan on reading the other, Nietzsche's "The Anti-Christ" tomorrow. Mark lent me his acoustic and I make sweet, sweet love to it at least three times a day...hang on. I've done alot of walking around and photographing graffiti, which along with making pancakes, has become my calling card here. I made some pancakes.

Yesterday, I went with my Finnish friend Matleena to see "The Hangover". The movie started with hilarious previews for "Bruno" and "Funny People". "Bruno" looks like "Borat: The Gay Sequel" which is okay with me. "Funny People" is an Judd Apatow joint. It pairs Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, which looks awful on paper, but I expect to be pretty solid. Just Sandler's joke at the beginning does for me. Also it looks like Apatow is lending his wife, Leslie Mann, to the screen. I had a mad crush on her from "George of the Jungle" and you might remember her as the drunk party girl who ralfs all over the car in "The 40-Year Old Virgin". All I know is she definitely needs to be in more movies.

It seems that nowadays, for a comedy to be successful it needs to be like either one of these previewed movies. Sasha Baron Cohen will offend everyone in the audience by taking what is concieved to be acceptable to the extreme. On the other hand, Apatow's films work as "Bromantic Comedies"; heartfelt buddy movies that also happen to be funny. Ultimately, "The Hangover" tries to be both kinds of movies and fails; the gags are never taken too far outside the frat house and the relationship between the guys aren't strong enough for you to really care how it ends. This is a typical problem for director Todd Phillips, who also made "Old School", "Road Trip" and "Starsky and Hutch". They are all inconsistently funny films with little character development.

On the plus side, I will say that Zack Galifianakis steals the movie and roughly 90% of the laughs. I'd put money down that there won't be a better comedic performance this year (outside of "Bruno"). Ed Helms is cast to basically be Andy from "The Office". Bitchy, controlling fiance? Check. Sweater tied around his neck? Check. Singing a song? Check (it's short but hilarious). It looks as though he'll be like Micheal Cera, trapped in the one role he was meant to play for the rest of his life. I'm fine with that.

I've been listening to pretty much one record non-stop this week: Dirty Projectors "Bitte Orca". It's far out. I really like Dave Longstreth's guitar-playing. Instead of a lot of chords, he relies on single notes throughout. Also the female vocal arrangements on this album are incredible
. It's no secret that Brooklyn right now is a factory for great music. I have a strong desire to move there right now and not-so-accidentally be a part of the next big thing. I've found that Manchester and Brooklyn have alot in common: strong independent music and arts scene and overlooked in terms of its neighbors (London, Liverpool, Manhattan). They are also perhaps best known for sports, with the old Brooklyn Dodgers and Manchester United.

On a final note, I've been trying to get this music video out of my head but it won't go away. I think my laundry is done.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The Final Countdown (Part 2)

Last time I started a countdown of songs featuring the numbers twenty through zero. We pick up today at number 10...

10. "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" Bruce Springsteen

You gotta hand it to the Boss: he's the consummate performer then and now. He also got snubbed at this year's Academy Awards where his song for "The Wrestler" should have won in a landslide (much less been nominated!).

9. "Revolution 9" The Beatles

The longest and most mysterious song by the Fab Four. It showcases Yoko Ono's avant-garde influence on Lennon (McCartney and their producer fought hard for the track to be removed from The White Album) as well as the band's "revolutionary" techniques in sound and editing. The song also spurred the "Paul is dead" urban legend and the very creepy backmask.

8. "Eight Days A Week" The Beatles

Deliciously cheesy pop gold. What I find strange about the early Beatles is that in pictures and videos of the concerts, you always see girls like this but hardly ever any dudes. And yet, how many guys today would give their left nut to see the greatest band EVER and be surrounded by desperate teen babes? Yup. All of them. I mean what were the boys doing back then? Throwing rocks at frogs? Eight days a week? Lets move on...

7. "The Magnificent Seven" The Clash

One of the best bass lines ever from my favorite band. It's also a great example of the recycling process that takes place in popular song. The song came out of inspiration from original hip hop groups like Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and this song represents the first attempt by a rock band to write and perform rap music. It is also regarded as one of the first rap records with political and social content. Coming full circle, like M.I.A. using a Clash song for "Paper Planes", Basement Jaxx recently borrowed "The Magnificent Seven" for a dance jam.

6. "Six Pack" Black Flag

One of the first hardcore punk bands and it's safe to say there just isn't music like this today. They also made waves for bands on independent labels. Two years ago, The Dirty Projectors, who ironically produce some of the prettiest music around, released a full cover of Black Flag's album "Damaged". The only thing was the band's leader, Dave Longstreth, hadn't heard the album in 15 years and reinterpreted all the Black Flag songs only as he remembered them. I'd suggest listening to their version of "Six Pack" below (and here) and the rest of the album.

5. "Five O'Clock Whistle" Joe Loss with Bette Roberts

Fun classic song that can only be enjoyed once you start working full-time.

4. "Four Women" Nina Simone

Painfully honest descriptions of four stereotypical African American women. In "American Popular Song" class this semester, an American girl turned to me during a Nina Simone song and whispered, "He sounds like Gnarls Barkley". Um...

3. "3rd Planet" Modest Mouse

Isaac Brock's sad, misguided voice are only comparable to that of one other rocker: The Replacements' Paul Westerberg.

2. "Two-Headed Boy" Neutral Milk Hotel

Forty years from now I'll still love this song and Jeff Mangum's voice.

1. "One" U2

This hard because there are eleventy-billion songs with "one" in the title (I counted). It's only fitting I include the song with just the number itself and the one that gives me chills every time I hear it.

0. "Zero" Smashing Pumpkins

And you thought I was going to use the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song. Pffft. I love the lines "Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness/And cleanliness is godliness, and god is empty just like me." I'd say that pretty much sums up the '90s.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Final Countdown (Part 1)

There are a couple reasons why I absolutely love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs: A) Karen O's masculine, dominating vocal presence and B) Nick Zimmer's unique, distorted drop-C tuned guitaring. For some reason, they took away both of these trademarks for their latest album "It's Blitz!". Karen O traded in her moans of pleasure for a more traditional, pop-ish delivery and Zimmer left his six-string for the keyboards. Basically they sound like Rilo Kiley now, which is a sad panda. The one carry-over from "It's Blitz!" is the first track "Zero", a soaring dedication to all their introvert loser fans (smart!). In honor of "Zero", here's my countdown of the top songs featuring the numbers twenty through zero:

[note: I decided against using songs with "Number" or "#" like "Duet For Guitars #2" by M. Ward, "Parts" like "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1" by The Flaming Lips and any song with more than one number in the title, like "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35" by Bob Dylan which is a double-offense.]

20. "20th Century Boy" T. Rex

Marc Bolan was an interesting dude. As you can see he dressed in funny outfits as part of the awesome "glam rock" era (and looks frightening like Michael Jackson at 1:24 of the video). Cars were his greatest love. He owned several expensive hot-rods and wrote numerous songs about them but never learned to drive because he feared a premature death. Then he was killed in a car crash. So it goes. Good thing Devendra Bandart came along with a similar quivering sound and equally freaky persona.

19. "Hey Nineteen" Steely Dan

Fun fact: one of the early bands Donald Fagen and Walter Becker played with featured Chevy Chase on drums.

18. "I'm Eighteen" Alice Cooper

Written almost 40 years ago
, it's still exactly what every eighteen-year old is thinking.

17. "Edge of Seventeen" Stevie Nicks

I have to say that the backup singers in that video are amazingly rubbish.

16. "Sixteen Military Wives" The Decemberists

My family got Sirus satellite radio through our satellite television provider just about my sophomore year in high school. I would listen/watch Left Of Center, the college radio station, after school and discovered there My Morning Jacket, Spoon and this song by the Decemberists.

15. "15 Step" Radiohead

So apparently this was used in the end credits of "Twilight" and millions of tweens are now discovering Radiohead. Dammit.

14. "14 Days" Life Without Buildings

I had never heard about this band before I picked up their live album and fell in love with it. Singer Sue Tompkins talk-sings and repeats everything three of four times as if she's stuttering. Most people would find this to be really annoying but I think it's endearing. Plus her banter between songs is pretty cute.
(if the above player doesn't work, click here for mp3)

13. (tie) "Angels Standing Guard 'Round the Side of Your Bed" A Silver Mt. Zion

"Thirteen" Elliott Smith (Big Star cover)

I don't believe in ties. I hate them. But I really had no choice here; leaving out one of these songs would be a travesty to this list. I'm not sure what it is about 13 that brings out the heartbreak, but here it is. The ASMZ song is absolutely stunning, especially if you just lie back and focus on it. It will get to you, I promise. I do really like the original of "Thirteen" by Big Star, but Smith gives the song a little more emotion. There's something extremely haunting and sad about this video of him as a young singer-songwriter. It gives me goosebumps.

12. "Twelve Gates To The City" Joan Baez

This is an old blues traditional song that's been done by just about everyone. I'm partial to the Joan Baez version myself.

11. "Mornings Eleven" The Magic Numbers

Two pairs of brothers and sisters singing pretty songs. This is my favorite.

Check in next time for 10-0!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Primavera Sound Day One

Between the two of us, Laura and I had been to just one major music festival before Primavera Sound. Right after graduating from high school, I went to the 2006 Lollapaloosa fest. At the time, the road trip to Chicago with three of my best friends to see a giant music festival was the ultimate feeling of freedom and independence. Three years later, I'm flying to Spain to meet my girlfriend for a bigger, less mainstream festival. The headliners for the three-day Lollapaloosa (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West, Death Cab) were in a (laughably) different class than those for this one day in Barcelona (My Bloody Valentine, Aphex Twin). In this light, I felt a new found sense of maturity, accomplishment and independence.

That was before I stood next to an Irish punter with the exact same Urban Outfitters t-shirt I was wearing. We were waiting in line for our pre-ordered tickets in what appeared to be fencing used to get cows into a trailer. I was right next to him! Both of us with our stupid fucking Berlin wall shirts. There was nowhere to go. We played charades for the hour we stood in line, both us us knowing exactly what was going on with the other guy's wardrobe and both refusing to acknowledge this. It was a spectacle for the rest waiting I'm sure: a short Irish guy and an American in tube socks spinning in circles, avoiding eye contact. It didn't help the girl behind us was wearing the same Urban Outfitters dress I gave Laura for her last birthday. It's official: the more indie you become, the less independent you really are.

We got our tickets, along with earplugs ("these are for My Bloody Valentine") and made our way into the park. The festival sat right on the edge of the sea, with two stages looking out over the water. As the sun set, the breeze came up over the water and you never got as hot as you should have at an outdoor festival in Spain. There were five stages in total, all housing acts till early the next day.

We had planned to see Women, but had not planned on waiting so long for tickets, and missed that show. There was a small tent set up where bands were playing short unplugged sets for Ray-Ban. The schedule said Phoenix was playing, which I was excited about because their show later in the day conflicted with Andrew Bird's time. We poked our heads into the crowded room and four guys were banging on shit and strumming things. On guy had a saxophone. I knew they were French and had heard only a few of their songs but wasn't sure if this was indeed Phoenix. I asked around, completely forgetting I was in Spain. Most people shrugged and then left. The guys ended their set, smoked cigarettes and sat down on colorful cubes, waiting for an interview. They were shown a selection of Ray-Bans to wear for a photo-op. I come to find it was Phoenix and seeing this up-in-coming band in a relatively intimate setting was the (good) surprise of the festival.

After that we rushed to see The Vaselines, an Irish '90s band who counted Kurt Cobain as one of their fans. It was cute and consistently solid, but like alot of the more simple pop-rock bands of the '90s, it all kinda sounded the same. Next we came to our first scheduling conflict: Yo La Tengo vs Bowerbirds. We watched the very beginning of YLT and it was phenomenal. They started out improvising a noisy instrumental that blew me away. It was almost Sonic Youth-esque. I hated to leave, but we couldn't miss a chance to represent a North Carolina band in Spain. We got to the Pitchfork tent a couple minutes before the Bowerbirds were set to begin. There were maybe five other people there, not counting the early burn-outs collapsed against pillars. The crowd filed in after they started and soon the area was filled. I started smiling as they took the stage and maintained it throughout the show. Maybe it was the strange sensation of traveling 5,000 miles to see a band from your hometown. Maybe it was the simple, modest attraction of Phil Moore, the shy, awestruck guitarist/singer and Beth Tacular, dressed like a gypsy, swaying with her accordion and smiling at certain lyrics like they were part of an inside joke. Maybe it was seeing Laura, excitedly watching them perform for the first time, singing along to every song. Whatever it was, the Bowerbirds were my favorite performance of the night, hands down.

We left as the Bowerbirds closed their set with their wonderful new song "Northern Lights" and made or way to see Andrew Bird. Having recently seen him perform with his full band, I was a bit disappointed to see the Bird pull a solo show. Tracks from his new album, in particular, are breathtaking live with his whole band. That said, he still put on a stellar show. What's remarkable is that he's been touring almost non-stop since his November and barely shows it. His whistling, as clear as ever, soared across the crowd and I became exhausted just watching him maneuver between instruments for his layered sound. We fled the nest to catch some of The Bug's performance. I was sad to see Warrior Queen not gracing the stage. We walked past Phoenix to get to where My Bloody Valentine would perform.

My Bloody Valentine, was, for all intents and purposes, the reason I wanted to come to Barcelona when we did. After their reunion tour last year at major cities and festivals ended, I resided myself that I would never see them live. EVER. I have come to terms, similarly, with Daft Punk, Television and Pearl Jam, among others. I am not alone in my belief that their album Loveless is crafted about as perfectly as an album can. It's right up there with OK Computer and Forever Changes. It took two years, $250,000 (almost forcing the band and label into bankruptcy) and enough creative exhaustion for MBV to never release another record. If you ever want to compare music with the best visual art, how Kevin Shield's created Loveless is as good an example as you can find. Not only is it one of my favorite albums, but it launched the careers of thousands of "shoegazing" bands like M83 and Deerhunter. The term came out the stillness in these band's live show as they gazed at towards their shoes and effects pedals, concentrating on creating that perfect layered sound.

All that said, My Blood Valentine's live performance was one of the most disappointing events in my life. Their guitars were so loud, it's as if they said "Fuck your ears. We're taking your brain hostage." I've never worn earplugs at a live show before that moment. I had no choice. In turning everything up to 11, they effectively destroyed what was so great about them in the first place. Fucking KORN can be loud. I wanted to hear subtleties. I could barely distinguish one song from the next and you couldn't even tell they were singing (in fact Laura asked me, nay yelled at me, during the show if My Bloody Valentine has vocals in their songs). This was perhaps most troubling, because the vocals are astonishingly beautiful on record. Bilinda's layered vocals on "Blown A Wish" is comparable to the Cocateau Twins and anything Shields did on guitar for the record. It was a giant clusterfuck of sound that didn't sweep over me like some ecstasy-induced epiphany. It was as special as hearing the inaudible thumping bass of a passing car. There were sound issues through the day, but this was no accident. This is exactly what they planned, hence the earplugs. If I could have seen Shields after the show I would have punched him in the ears repeatedly and thrown him some band-aids and said "these are for Ryan." Worst yet, this shit is praised by the likes of Pitchfork, who in their review of this year's Coachella festival ended with "
Please avail yourself of the opportunity to see them." Well I did and I'll end this rant with: please don't see them and preserve the respect you have for their deserving studio work.

Thank God that wouldn't be the last show of the night. At 1:30 Aphex Twin braced the stage to the delight of everyone's ears. The dude knows his electronica and has a vast collection to pull from. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on his stuff, but I will say his shit was tight and easily danceable or chillable. After what felt like a scene from "OZ" during My Bloody Valentine, we chose the latter and took a relaxative on the steps. Squarepusher was set to come on stage at 3:50 in the morning, which would have been amazing I'm sure, but we were both worn out and I personally wasn't in the mood for more blips and bleeps.

We passed by Wavves on the way out, but didn't stay long enough for their epic breakdown. Wavves are two dudes from California that are alot more popular than they should be. Wikipedia hilariously describes their genre as "shitgaze". Pitchfork is somewhat responsible for grooming and publicizing the band, so it was awesome to see Wavves fall apart on their stage and have it reported by their creator. Basically, singer/guitarist Nathan Williams mixed way too much drugs with not enough talent and acted a total douche-bag. The drummer ended up pouring a full cup of beer on Nathan's head and someone threw a shoe at him. He fell to his knees, sank his head into his hands and the show ended prematurely. However, when we left the park, I could hear their song "So Bored" being played to some degree of success. I sang along happily and told Laura that was the one song I learned to play on guitar since I've been overseas. The chorus is simply "I'm soooooooo boooooored." Really creative stuff, no? But it's fun to sing when, well, you're bored. If there was one take away from the first day of the festival is that there just weren't enough of those shared moments between the bands and the large crowd.
Maybe it was the language barrier. Or maybe that's just, unfortunately, the culture of today's "indie" scene which thrives on obscurity and closeted personalities.

Saturday, 30 May 2009


A long, long time ago, in February, Laura and I watched "Vicky Christina Barcelona". Like everyone else, we left the theater longing to visit Barcelona. It was admittedly a silly and fleeting romantic desire. However, a couple weeks later I got wind of the Primavera Sound music festival in Barcelona. Two impossible bands to see live, My Bloody Valentine AND Aphex Twin, on the first day for 60 euro. Laura and I were sold on this excuse to visit Spain and booked a five day excursion.

It's worth noting that the weather in Manchester in the spring is absolutely horrid. It's still relatively cold and it rains most days. When it rains really hard, it hails. But only for a bit. Then the clouds will clear and the sun will come out and you'll think I should take this opportunity
to take a walk. An hour later you're sprinting through a downpour cursing the baby Jesus. Needless to say I was overly excited just to feel Barcelona.

My plane left Manchester on Monday around noon. A girl behind me was playing her ipod unnecessarily loud and I eventually stopped my own ipod. Through my headphones, I recognized what she was playing and it was driving me crazy trying to think of the artist. Groove Armada. Now I wasn't annoyed with her loud ipod, which is hard for me to accept in retrospect. A couple in the row beside me ordered several Stellas and chips to enjoy with their DVD player, which they watched in full volume without headphones. It looked and
sounded like MASH. Their son played a PSP. A guy a couple rows in front of me stood up in the isle for about half of the two-hour flight. He had a strange body shape: his chest was like a trunk but his arms and head were proportionately smaller. I'm convinced he was The Tick.

I met up with Laura in the Barcelona airport and we made our way by train to the city centre. We had an ensuite double room at the Mediterranean Hostel. We were t
old when we got there that the room would be ready in an hour. Being that neither of us had slept much the night before (I am always incredibly restless nights before traveling), we desperately wanted to nap and we told the lady we'd be back in an hour. "So eager to get to your room!" she replied. Laura blushed. The palm of my hand hit my forehead.

We went to eat at a small cafe a few blocks from the hostel. A menu outside showed a sandwich resembling grilled ham and cheese called a "bikini". We sat down and a man came over to take our order. Laura told him that we only speak "Anglais" and he threw up his hands and replied "No! No! No!". Every head in the place turned towards us. "This is going to be interesting," Laura said to me.

Our room was on the 7th floor, or the "attic".
It had a great view of the city. We could see Torre Agbar (the egg looking building in the picture) and Temple de La Sagrada Familia from our room. That night we took a walk around the beautiful Gothic district.

The next day was our "Gaudi day". We first saw the Casa Battlo (right), which was designed, with it's broken ceramic tiles, to look like a dragon. It's an astonishing building, but even more so when placed conspicuously on Barcelona's busiest, most commercial street, Passeig de Gracia.

A block away is the Casa Mila (below), or what was referred to as "La Pedrera" or "The Quarry", which is somewhat offensive. The nickname must have been granted to the design of the roof, one of the more creative architectural feats I've witnessed. Each floor of the building was individually designed to structurally hold it's own, like a cake. As a result there are very few straight walls inside and no obtrusive framework, giving the rooms greater freedom of space and window arrangements. The building was redesigned several times for the tenets living there, causing the roof to have an uneven, wavy appearance. Also the chimneys were inspiration for the design of Darth Vader's helmet.

Next we saw the futuristic Temple de La Sagrada Familia (below), which is still under construction and optimistically scheduled to be finished in 2026. The scale and design are like no church I have ever seen. Gaudi spent the last 15 years of his life dedicated to it's design and even lived in the church's crypt. We then took a lengthy walk north to the Parc de Guell (further below), named after Gaudi's patron.

Much of the park looks like something out of a Dr. Suess book or a dream. Apparently Gaudi once said to Guell, "Sometimes I think we are the only people who likes this architecture." Guell replied, "I don't like your architecture, I respect it." Like alot of artists, Gaudi's work wasn't fully appreciated until the years following his death. In 1926, he was run over by a tram. Because he had little money, ragged clothing and mostly likely bleeding immensely, no cab driver would pick him up. He was eventually taken to a pauper's hospital, refused to be taken to a nicer hospital and died three days later. So it goes.

That night I enjoyed my first steak since I left the states in January, served with a delicious raspberry sauce. Laura and I drank a good bit of sangria, discussed our mutual crush on Tina Fey and debated whether or not I'm a feminist.

The next morning we had our usual croissant and coffee breakfast and explored the Gothic district by day. The massive cathedral was under construction, but did have an awesomely unnecessary garden with geese, turtles and fish. We made our way to a park with a giant Romanesque fountain (under construction), a mammoth statue and a zoo that was sadly too expensive for us. We did visit the Museu de la Xocolata which just made me very hungry.

We changed into swimsuits and took the metro to Barceloneta to hit up the beach. Turns out we didn't really need our swimsuits. As we passed a topless lady building a sandcastle, Laura declared sarcastically "You're welcome." The surprising thing to me was seeing just how casual public nudity is for Europeans. Next to where we had laid down, three topless girls took turns massaging each other and in front of us, Muscly Arms in a banana hammock and his blond topless girlfriend stood drinking beers and laughing. The water, in which I normally spend most of my time at the beach, was entirely too cold to swim. Guys walked around offering tattoos, which seemed strange, but as Laura pointed out, they wouldn't sell them if there wasn't a market for them. It was the complete opposite of the family-friendly Emerald Isle beach where I spend alot of my summers.

That night was the Championship League final between Manchester United and Barcelona. We went to dinner about the time the match started and as we left the restaurant the streets were still and eerily quiet. Assuming Man-U was winning, we walked to the city centre where the game was being played on a giant screen. There was still a large gathering in the square and looking up we noticed the game was down to stoppage time and Barca was up 2-0. Only when time had expired did the crowd erupt. From up on the Heineken building, fireworks exploded and hundreds of people trickled through the streets to join the party. We got celebratory gellato before returning to the hostel where we listened to every car honking and what sounded like cannons being shot off. There'd be a loud explosion and then the sound of glass and ceramics shattering. All of that continued late into the night. It was like a Franklin St. celebration in the middle of a medieval war.

On Thursday Laura and I went to the Museu Nacional D'art de Catalunya. It too was under construction, a prevalent theme to the city. We were disappointed to find that the Magic Fountain (foreground of picture), one of Barcelona's most iconic sites, does not operate during the day. At the entrance to the museum we were granted with fine Spanish guitar and our best view of the city. Inside, the art was impressive and inspired us to create words like "relaxative" (a stronger, more habit-forming chill pill) and "welfare eye" (the only way to describe the extent of my eye's laziness). We also found some nice gardens and the 1996 Olympics grounds.

That night was the amazing and exhausting Primavera Sound music festival, which I will detail fully in the next entry. The next morning, after a couple hour's rest, Laura and I said our goodbyes and I looked for my airline to check in. I asked an employee where Monarch's check-in was and she asked if I was going to Manchester. I said "yes" and she replied "HAHA! You lost!" That may be true, but it wasn't in vain. I think Manchester learned a little something from Barcelona. Since I got back on Friday, it's been unusually warm and sunny.

Here's the (strange) music video for Giulia y los Tellarini's "Barcelona", the song used throughout Woody Allen's film.

Giulia y los Tellarini "Barcelona" (mp3)

p.s. I just found out you can click on any of the pictures in the post for a larger view, you know, in case you wanted to see if there were naked people on the beach.