Helplessness Blues

Band: Fleet Foxes
Album: Helplessness Blues
Best song: “Montezuma.”
Worst song: “Lorelai” isn’t much.

Next week, Geffen Records is releasing a 20-year-anniversary edition of Nevermind. I’m 30 years old, so the album’s original release wasn’t the seminal moment it was for those a few years my senior, but the album itself is seminal. Nirvana introduced me to the underground and was one of the first bands that I actually cared enough about to become a junior fanboy for. For my 13th birthday, for example, I received the Nirvana singles box. That set contained all the CD singles from the band. Those b-sides were epic for a preteen punk/indie rocker.

It has been twenty years since that album was released. Which is to say it’s been twenty years since I was 10 years old, watching Saved by the Bell and hanging out at the school on weekends at field days, pulling girls’ hair.

A similar anecdote and one that illustrates the absurdity of age and the continuum of time:

One of my coworkers and I were talking about a previous trip of hers down to Colonial Williamsburg and she asked me the usual question when one talks about this sort of thing. “No, I haven’t been here since my school trip to Washington. I think we took a day trip down to Williamsburg on the trip, which was in seventh grade. So, 18 years ago.”

If I had a child during that trip — impossible for so many reasons — that child could legally vote, own a gun, enlist in the armed forces and buy pornography right now.

And I end this project as I started. What does it mean to be 30?

“It feels exactly like 29.”

But, does it? If I lived in Swaziland, I’d be near my death. If I lived in Ghana or Bangladesh, I’d be halfway to death.

A peak behind the curtain for a second…

I’d planned out a lot of these album choices before I wrote them back when I had planned this project. I had a document saved on my work laptop and would write an outline during lunch most days. I’d work on it at home from there, but the outline was conceived at work, on my work computer.

Anyway, in March, I’d brought my laptop home for a night for somereason or another. And, being that I used to live in a shit neighborhood, my apartment was broken into and my backpack — containing said laptop — was stolen from my apartment. I actually wasn’t so broken up about that — or the other stuff similarly stolen from my place — but rather pretty upset about not having that document. I had to replan my 30 years project.

Which is to say, that I did a lot of it by the seat of my pants. I was not about to redo a bunch of work for this silly thing. So, every week or whenever I had some time, I would figure out the album I wanted to write about and combine it with whatever I wanted to say about that year or period in my life.

And that went on for a few months. There was really only one album I knew I wanted to write about and it was because the first lines on the album so well encompassed this project that it worked perfectly. Indeed, when I first heard “Montezuma,” I thought that this had to be the 2011 album:

So now I am older than my mother and father
when they had their daughter
now what does that say about me

Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love
could I wash my hands of
just looking out for me?

Some things just speak to you and turning 30 is best defined by these things. And the chorus of the song doesn’t hurt, either.

Oh man what I used to be
Oh man oh my oh me
Oh man what I used to be
Oh man oh my oh me

I’ll stay away from my own views on love and marriage in this space — these sort of things have gotten away from me before — but I will say this: I’m at an age wherein big life changes are happening for people of my age range. Since I graduated college, the marriage thing has been pretty steady for people. Indeed, three of my friends got married within two months of our college graduation (two of the three couples are still married) and I’ve had at least one wedding most years since 2003.

It was easy when those particular friends got married just after college. They had different upbringings than I, different religiousity or socioeconimic conditions. This made it easy to excuse, despite my having dated my girlfriend at the time for less time than all of the couples.

This theory was kind of shot to hell when my sister got married. It’s hard to distance oneself from one’s sibling in the “upbringing” camp. And in the following years, my close friends from high school — same basic community, etc. — are getting engaged and married. To look on Facebook at my New Trier friends, a great deal are married. I’m in the minority.

This marriage thing has amped up in the past few years, with the newfound wrinkle of now my friends are having children. Whenever a couple tells me that they’re pregnant, I think about telling them about Planned Parenthood. I am not joking.

And that’s the thing. “Montezuma” speaks to me because of that. I am now older than my parents were when they had my sister (their first child). My parents owned a house, two cars and a dog. I am living the dream, of course, but I do not have a house. I am not married. I do not want to have a kid. Maybe it’s just the shifting of attitudes.

And that was largely the purpose of this project, to explore my shifting attitudes. The music is a backdrop, but it’s there nonetheless. The way I interact with music is often the spine of my life. I listen to music throughout my day and I was convinced I was going to work in the industry until I discovered journalism in college/interned in professional radio and hated it.

And as such, it’s an exercise in memory. I don’t remember much from age five, but hockey games are certainly among the first memories in my mind. This project is, by no means, an autobiography. There’s tons more to be written and so much that was left out. Friendships, heartbreaks, jobs and hobbies. Memories that don’t matter, but stick. Friends that mean more to me than I can explain. But, that’s memory, I guess.

There’s a lot more from the past few years I didn’t write about; a lot of things don’t need to be examined for everyone to see and a lot of things don’t lend themselves well to this format.

But, as I mentioned over a year ago, this site should’ve been called “Forgetting” because of the beauty in the simplicity of a Bedhead lyric. Maybe the project should’ve been called that.

Are your eyes getting wiser?
With compliments, I know I’m a miser.
But the only thing that makes me look forward,
is forgetting.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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