Winter 2023//forces at work

The seed for this winter 2023 mixtape was an earlier tape that I made for my colleague in music journalism and supreme sound selection, John Morrison, during the earliest days of fall last year. Within a day of my Lifetime Achievement article on David Thomas dropping on Bandcamp, news of Anton Fier‘s death became publicly available. It really lit a fire under my ass to get seriously moving on the work of my book about how Northeast Ohio modernized rock music and I wanted to put my feelings into a tape…a record of the night I committed to this work permanently. I made this tape for John, because he had just finished a book proposal of his own about hip hop in his hometown of Philadelphia, and I knew he would understand the gravity of a sonic document like this. He has a lot of musical elders he needs to talk to while they are still here, too.

My fall 2022 mixtape, no autumn leaves, told the story of my whole life in Chicago beginning to disintegrate in August of last year. What began as a deeply stressful, uncertain, panicked season, resolved into something much more peaceful and patient as it became clear everything around me was dissipating to clear the way for something really incredible and important. I had made plans to travel to Northeast Ohio to interview Robert Kidney of 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band) at his home and to visit Craig Bell of Rocket From the Tombs, Mirrors, and Saucers in Indianapolis in the fall, but with everything in my life becoming increasingly amorphous and unpredictable, it was becoming very difficult to plan for the future.

The announcement of the Black Eyes 20th anniversary reunion shows clarified that 2023 was going to be the greatest year of my life, and at that point, I just threw myself whole-hog into having the best year of my life and doing what I need to do every day to get after it. They’re one of the most important bands to my development as a person and I never thought I would get another opportunity to see them live after missing them when I was 16 and they first altered the course of my existence forever. The band asked me to contribute a reflective essay to their archival zine for the reunion and it confirmed for me that I was moving in the intended direction towards doing writing that actually matters.

I decided I would kick off the season of anticipation of the reunion shows by having their song “Spring Into Winter” be the framework for the next Mercury Retrograde Sanity Mixtape Series. Reconnecting with my best friend from eighth grade (right before my family left Cleveland), my first punk friend and a person who altered the course of my life in a serious way by encouraging me to speak up about the abuse I had endured throughout my formative childhood, ensured this winter tape would be about documenting my life from when I left Cleveland to when I returned to it. The first tape of the retrograde series was for her and provided the main structure I built the rest from.

Here is an excerpt from my “Forces at Work” newsletter, delineating the process through which this tape came together:

I wrote most of my winter 2023 mixtape in the days leading up to the road trip, sides A through C. Side D, I composed through the trip, on the road, singing these songs about going home and growing up into the total darkness of night and the fury of the snowstorm. It tells the story of my life from age 13 to 36—the age I was when I got into punk and came out about the abuse I’d experienced for most of my life up to that point and my family had to leave Cleveland during the criminal trial to the age I am now, writing the book the world needs on how my hometown modernized rock music. It’s a mixtape about this moment in which many threads of my life and my process of healing are coming together in this miraculous and powerful way and many things I never believed were possible are actually happening.

There was a definite magic to how it all lined up on the road. ‘Dutch Oven’ by Young People, intended to represent me going back into the territory of my formative trauma on the tape, sounded its opening clang just as we passed the sign for the city where my abuser was recently struggling to find anyone willing to defend his crimes against me when I was a child in civil litigation. The snowstorm clarified as the Cleveland skyline came into view, exactly the way the snow goes from a torrential chaos to a calm, soft, floating, glowing, gorgeous surrounding vibe when you stop shaking a snow globe, as the Styrenes’ ‘In C’ sounded magnificently from the car stereo; I had to admit upon sight of the Terminal Tower in holiday lighting, that this is truly the greatest holiday music I’ve ever heard. And that I’m not sure I love anything more than the Cleveland skyline.

Some notes on what I did here:

Side A is mostly songs opening up the space of my teenage years again, or songs celebrating teenage energy like “Teenage Nightingales to Wax” by Three Johns. There’s also a whole ass blizzard of memories and consciousness getting built up in the snow globe as the tape rolls. “Clap and Cough” by Discount was a favorite song between my first punk friend and I, located on one of the cheap $5 used comps we found at a record store somewhere near Westgate or Great Northern (malls in the west Cleveland suburbs) in late 2000, most likely. “The Getaway” by Pretty Girls Make Graves is when the snow really arrives…a song about running away from your past home life with someone you love, how you can go anywhere as long as you never go home, except now I’m listening to it as I do go home. The C-Clamp into Sonora Pine transition happened in my fall tape, too: the sense of both season and history conjured is just too good…both from the mid-to-late ’90s, but recently receiving very deserved reissues. “Snow Patterns” by Q and Not U suggests the quiet, secret planning in the background happening for the Black Eyes reunion, as well as the way all these magical things are happening and being put into motion through tapes and other transmissions….”secret messages in snow.” I don’t know if anyone has been noticing, but I put a different track from Mike Weis’ In Low Light: Music for the Winter Solstice on every winter mixtape I make. It’s the perfect winter music, so I’m going to keep giving it to you. Hopefully, in the future, when my life is not actively disintegrating, we can get it to you while it is still winter! That’s a very serious goal and has been for a while.

On side B, I’m gathering my strength to drive into this region which houses a lot of extremely bad memories for me, not knowing how I will feel there or what it will conjure. I feel very powerful and protected ever since I got this Black Eyes tattoo on my chest, though. “‘Cause I am protected—-,” Katie Eastburn and I sing together over all the anxious noise on “Dutch Oven,” and I do feel protected as I enter Erie county on the dark highway in an absolute fury of snow. Our Feelies double feature here speaks to three things: 1) the fact that forces really are at work to make everything happen that’s happening in my life right now, 2) it was Anton’s death that really kind of put it all in motion, 3) I’m always waiting for something to happen in my life and in this research presently, so a reminder to keep things moving before I lose anymore opportunities. When “Drive” by the Numbers Band comes on, I’m feeling a lot more confident about the whole expedition, and I’m also ready to blast the horn of the “New Year” when those bells in the wind open that total rager from Dog Faced Hermans. “The magic of worlds built–a luxury we can’t afford–we do, of course, we do–do, of course, we do,” expressing the spirit of me doing all of these things even though I couldn’t afford them (including the Black Eyes reunion), because it had become clear I was most likely going to have to declare bankruptcy anyway from this horrible business contract I signed right before the pandemic hit…but it had also become clear I was very likely to get a legal settlement for the psychological injury of the abuse I endured growing up. That’s where things switch into a sense of live energy and the present moment, with this live excerpt of crowd chatter in between Spike in Vain songs leading into their fantastic song “E.K.G.” I’m really proud of using this sort of obscure industrial-sounding instrumental My Dad is Dead tune “Rut,” from the expanded reissue of …And He’s Not Going to Take It Anymore as the bridge into my dance excursion on the next side.

Side C convinced me that I was supposed to ring in the new year in Detroit. The friend I made this tape for lives in Detroit, so I thought perhaps I should ask him to go dancing with me. He warned me that the bar the event was happening at is a really bad vibe, but following the magic of my mixtape and having forgotten how much New Year’s Eve sucks basically anywhere except a very private and small loft party or something, I went anyway and had a horrible time. In addition to the whole trip being a really disappointing wash, I lost my very expensive custom molded ear plugs, most likely at a toll booth in Indiana. They didn’t even make it to the event! My mixtape was way more exciting than the party. I took it as a sign from the universe to stay focused on what I’m onto and not get distracted.

I first discovered the Soundlords song it opens with through this old Mystic Bill rave tape from the ’90s, Melody 2 Mind, when my sister-in-arms (Eris Drew) introduced me to it during our Hugo Ball era. I listened to it constantly while I was grieving the sudden death of my lover in 2014, shortly after I first arrived in Chicago, and I returned to it when I was going through a lot of terrible shit as my life there dissolved recently. It’s been helping me to process and release loss and adversity for almost a decade now. The vocal part “it’s gonna set you free” Mystic Bill mixes over the Soundlords instrumental track became an anthem for the disintegration of everything tying me to Chicago any longer. Then, I wanted to stay in my dance zone, highlighting some connections that are important to me and always worth celebrating between post-punk, funk, krautrock, and various forms of electronic dance music. Zapp also majorly helped me survive the last season. This side kind of also goes from old, classic songs to some new ones that fit right in from Strategy and Matt Evans. Those are the only new songs on this mixtape set! I love those two tunes a lot.

I always try to capture the music I was listening to a lot during that season on these tapes, which is why “Looped” by Bowery Electric opens the last side. “Not to Call the Police” by Karate is a song that should have been included on my ’90s Boston-heavy winter tape for Marc Masters last year, but it’s an eternal winter soother. Geoff Farina loves the winter and so do I. “Hooded” by the Casual Dots delivers an important message about not letting fear and anxiety and past traumas sabotage your future opportunities: “you determine what comes to you next.” A lot of my mixtapes have an album which kind of bookends the presentation, featuring one song from that album early on in the mix and one close to the end. On this mixtape, that was the album The Cat and the Cobra by Les Savy Fav. The closer here, “The End,” selected for its obvious position in an arrangement as well as the narrative about miracles existing, “high winds and history,” scenes calling you back up if you want to “have it all again,” and the “hammers in our hands” connecting back to the cover, featuring a mural here in Cleveland at Waterloo and E. 156th St. It ends with the section of the Styrenes doing “In C” that was playing at two important moments: when Robert Kidney texted me the night before I was leaving for the Land to confirm some details while I was at acupuncture, and when the Cleveland skyline first came into view on my drive in and the snow subsided immediately.

The best aspect of this mixtape is that I got my wish, which was to be able to include the following dedication in the front of the book I am about to write about how Northeast Ohio modernized rock music:


Note: There are some minor audio issues on this final master that we cannot fix because they are in the original recording of the tape, which lives in Detroit with Patrick now. We’re confident you will only notice these minor audio issues if you love the Pretty Girls Make Graves, Zapp, and Kraftwerk songs as much as EMD and that even if you do, it does not make this mix significantly less ripping and magical.


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