I laugh more often now

I attended two shows last week worth mentioned. The first was Peter Bjorn and John at the Wiltern in LA on Monday night. I missed the opening band, the Clientele, but their backing vocalist Mel Draisey joined PB&J for their performance of “Young Folks.” (I’m impressed by the fact that the Clientele quotes Jean Baudrillard on their website!) One thing I just learned about “Young Folks” is that the vocals in the album version are done entirely by the band, i.e. there’s no female singing the part that you think is sung by a female.

Overall, the band had a lot of energy, and I enjoyed the show quite a bit. Their set seemed rather short to me at only 14 songs, including most of Writer’s Block. Writer’s Block was the soundtrack to my summer, and “Young Folks” its theme song. However, it’s the song “Objects of My Affection,” that I’ve been thinking about recently. Its chorus: “. . . and the question is, was I more alive / then than I am now? / I happily have to disagree; / I laugh more often now, I cry more often now, / I am more me.”

In the song, these musings are prompted by encounters with writing and music that had been encountered before in another time. This reminded me of an article I read this summer in the New York Review of Books by Joyce Carol Oates. Her review of the “amnesiac” novels The Raw Shark Texts and Remainder includes this brilliant passage:

The amnesiac’s quest resembles the artist’s quest for inspiration: the artist must be alert to “messages” beneath the seeming disorder of the world, leaving himself open to disponibilité—availability of chance. For it is likely to be a “chance” image or encounter that will unleash a flood of memories, and allow the amnesiac to reclaim the narrative of his life.

I love the idea of the unexpected evocations, but the thing that really got me about this passage was the idea of reclaiming the narrative of one’s life, or as PB&J put it, being “more me.” It seems to me that most of my adult life has been devoted to returning to some narrative track that was set in adolescence. And nothing feels better than knowing that I’m back on it.

I also saw Arcade Fire and LCD SoundSystem play in the rain at Shoreline on Friday night. The venue seemed altogether too large for Arcade Fire; I wish I had been able to see them at someplace like the Greek in Berkeley or the Fillmore in San Francisco. However, I was delightfully surprised by LCD. One of my friends has been telling me about their song “All My Friends” for months, but I didn’t pay much attention to it or to the band, despite having picked up both of their albums. The live version of this song was absolutely amazing, soaring and wonderful. I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since the concert, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s likely the best song I’ve ever heard about the alienation and disappointment of adult life: “You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five years trying to be with your friends again.” There’s also a decent cover out there by Franz Ferdinand.

The world’s greatest gadget

Anthony Lane has a story in this week’s New Yorker about the almost century-long fascination with and fanaticism about Leica cameras and lenses. Like Lane, I share a huge reverence for these things. I think a Leica camera may well be the best, most beautifully made object in the world. Lane writes:

Many people would disagree. Bugatti fans, for instance, would direct your attention to the Type 57 Atlantic, the only car I know that appears to have been designed by masseuses. Personally, I would consider it a privilege to die at the wheel of a Lamborghini Miura—not difficult, when you’re nudging a hundred and seventy m.p.h. and waving at passersby. But automobiles need gas, whereas the truest mechanisms run on nothing but themselves. What is required is a machine constructed with such skill that it renders every user—from the pro to the banana-fingered fumbler—more skillful as a result. We need it to refine and lubricate, rather than block or coarsen, our means of engagement with the world: we want to look not just at it, however admiringly, but through it. In that case, we need a Leica.

My dad was, among other things, a photographer and so I grew up around cameras—Mamiyas, twin lens Rolleiflexes, Canons—but didn’t use a Leica until I lived in New York four years ago, and it truly is different from any other camera I have encountered. It is, like Lane suggests, a way of seeing the world.

Lane continues:

There, if anywhere, is the Leica motto: watch and wait. If you were a predator, the moment—not just for Cartier-Bresson, but for all photographers—became that much more decisive in 1954. “Clairvoyance” means “clear sight,” and when Leica launched the M3 that year, the clarity was a coup de foudre; even now, when you look through a used M3, the world before you is brighter and crisper than seems feasible. You half expect to feel the crunch of autumn leaves beneath your feet. A Leica viewfinder resembles no other, because of the frame lines: thin white strips, parallel to each side of the frame, which show you the borders of the photograph that you are set to take—not merely the lie of the land within the shot, but also what is happening, or about to happen, just outside. This is a matter of millimetres, but to Leica fans it is sacred, because it allows them to plan and imagine a photograph as an act of storytelling—an instant grabbed at will from a continuum. If you want a slice of life, why not see the loaf?