LJ'S THING OF THE YEAR: The Time I Went To Liverpool & Listened to "I'm Set Free" by the Velvet Underground While Sitting by the Mersey River
I went to Liverpool on the first day of September. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend. I was all by myself.
Mark and I got back together a few days after I came home to London, and I believe that on some level the Universe catalyzed our brief breakup so that I could experience Liverpool to its fullest. I swear to God Liverpool is the greatest place in the world to be sad.
I boarded a Virgin train at Euston Station in London. I sat next to a Japanese girl who had packed her own Bento box meal featuring three scoops of rice sculpted into a bear’s head and two ears. Several hours passed, and I read several tabloids. Eventually, the train pulled into Lime Street Station, John Lennon sang “And she never walks down Lime Street anymore” about a girl called Maggie Mae inside my head, and I started to cry. For me, Liverpool is Mecca. "This is where they're from!" I thought to myself, "This is where my heroes are from." I didn't have to think anything else except that. It did the trick.
Outside of the station I caught a cab to my airbnb and the cabbie asked me where I was from. I said Toronto but that I live in London and he snorted at the thought of London and said "Welcome to civilization," which was inaccurate but cute.
The street my airbnb was on looked like it was from a British children's TV show and made out of claymation. The houses looked like they felt sorry for themselves, like they were apologizing for looking a little on the derelict side of things but I did not mind it one bit. I knocked on the door to my airbnb and my host let me in. She had a little dog named Jody or Jolly or Julian or Christopher or something equally awkward. The dog looked like a runty Jack Russell terrier but with very sparse white fur exposing its cow-print skin. I told it it was a Tootsie Roll Pop.
My airbnb host had recently written a children's book about the benefits of a plant-based diet. She gave me a postcard advertising the book and I acted like it was a pretty great gift. When I first emailed her as a prospective airbnb guest I'd mentioned that I was coming to Liverpool to do research for a Beatles-themed novel, and now, today, she was very inquisitive about my Beatles-themed novel. But I was very shy to talk about it and ended up answering almost every question she asked with "I don't really know" and I think it seemed like I was lying about writing a novel. Finally I told her "My boyfriend and I broke up two days ago" so that she would understand that I was in an emotionally weird place and hopefully leave me alone. I forget if she did or not.
I left her house and took a bus to the city centre, which had been redone since the last time I was in Liverpool, in 2007. Liverpool was voted the Cultural Capital of Europe and got a bunch of funding from the EU or whatever and then spent it all on building a new Topshop and Urban Outfitters and Apple store and New Look and… one of every store, really. All the stores.
All the buildings were sleek and glass and blueish. The stores made me feel like I wasn't good enough and would never be until I spent all my money on new clothes, I walked into a Topshop and out of a Topshop, wandered out of the city centre and walked past a pub that I poked my head into and rejected on the grounds of my worrying that I might feel like a fish out of water there. All of the patrons looked like characters on the TV show Coronation Street, which I’ve never seen, so that statement might not be true. I walked out of the bar and a man outside smoking said “Why don’t you go on in? It’s a good place! It’s a good one!” and I said “I don’t know” nervously and he said, “Nah!” and brushed his hand against the sky to brush my nervousness away. He said “Go on in!” and gestured toward the door of the bar as if to say: “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you… the door of this fabulous bar!” and I walked through the door of the fabulous bar. The floor of the bar was carpeted in burgundy paisley and smelled like a thousand peoples’ lives. I drank a couple syrupy glasses of Blue Nun. The buzzy noise at the end of the Beatles song “Long, Long, Long” is a vibrating bottle of Blue Nun on top of a piano. I wished I’d never quit smoking.
I ate Chinese food buffet for dinner and walked over to the Cavern Club. The Cavern Club the Beatles used to play in, the real Cavern Club, burned down, but then they rebuilt it: “brick for brick,” they like to say. I walked down the spiral staircase and I wished somebody was with me but I couldn’t choose who. I bought myself a glass of white wine, and the bartender asked me if I’d like Chardonnay or Sauvignon. The way he pronounced Sauvignon was extremely far away from the way I’d pronounce Sauvignon and I didn’t understand what he meant so I picked Chardonnay. It came in a mini-bottle. It was the one with the kangaroo on it.
I sat at a little table and watched a John Lennon impersonator sing a John Lennon song. He was dressed up as Rain-era John Lennon, with big sheepy sideburns and a silky psychedelic-print button-up, which I thought to be a very “refreshing” look for a John Lennon impersonator. John finished singing, and was replaced by Paul. The Paul impersonator was better than the John impersonator. His voice sounded so much like the real Paul’s voice. He was pudgy, and wore a nubby pilly sweater. I wanted to hug him and burrow my head into the nubs and pills of his sweater which I imagined would smell like smoke and dust and laundry. I wished I was the type of free-spirited person who'd go up to him after he finished his set so I could charm him with my charm and he’d buy me a couple of pints and take me home and the next morning I would wake up in his bed and think “Oh my God, I slept with a Paul McCartney impersonator last night” and then I’d get to tell all my buddies the hilarious story of the time I went to Liverpool and ended up boning a Paul McCartney impersonator. But in real life I cringed at the thought of waking up tomorrow morning swathed in the Paul McCartney impersonator’s scratchy stinky bedsheets next to the reality of the Paul McCartney impersonator, who is more than just a Paul McCartney impersonator. He is a real man. He is not Paul McCartney.
I slunk out of the Cavern Club and did not hug a bronze statue of John Lennon, because some Scandinavian people were busy taking selfies with it. I went home and slept and woke up the next morning and decided that I was going to treat myself to a really excellent meal at what I can only imagine must be the best restaurant in all of Liverpool: Jamie’s Italian. Ha ha ha. I ate a beast of a mushroom-stuffed hunk of Porchetta that looked like a Swiss roll. It was like 10:45 in the morning. I'm nuts. I was depressed out of my mind and then it became time for me to have my usual “being in Liverpool” revelation of realizing that the Beatles are from a way crappier place than I am and that the Beatles are even more impressive than you thought they were because they transcended it. I wasn’t thinking that hard about it. Mostly I was thinking about how terribly I wanted to smoke a cigarette. I drank an espresso. It tasted like Porchetta.
I left the restaurant and walked down to the river. I was carrying my stupid rolly suitcase. The pathway was made of cobblestone and disrupted my stupid rolly suitcase’s intended smooth trajectory. I had a metallic taste in my mouth and I did not want to drink a drink. I played the game where I ask myself “If you could do anything in the entire world right now, what would it be?” and then once I figure it out, I do my best to replicate it while bearing the limitation of my present surroundings in mind. Here is what I did:
I asked a teenage punk girl if I could trade her a pound for a cigarette and she just gave me the cigarette. I sat on my rolly suitcase and gazed out across the Mersey River, past a long and skinny houseboat George Harrisonily named the Om Shanti. The boat reminded me of a weiner dog. I listened to the sad and beautiful Velvet Underground song I’m Set Free and smoked my cigarette and cried. I got high off my cigarette. I tried to hype myself up by imagining my hero John Lennon sitting and smoking right in that exact same spot feeling just as sad as I did but it didn’t really take. The moment crazily didn’t have a whole lot to do with the Beatles and I wasn’t going to be a lame-o and try and force it. Who cares?
I didn’t; the Beatles don’t. It was mostly the water that made it. 2014 was the shittest bad vibes year ever and I want my Thing of the Year to honor that. I’m Set Free by the Mersey River was the moment this year's trademark shitty energy was at its most resplendent and most profound. Like I said: Liverpool is the greatest place in the world to be sad.
LIZ'S THING OF THE YEAR: Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys
Last night I got home from Christmas and L.A. was pouring rain, which was fine, because I knew it would stop overnight and today would be smogless and perfect. I unpacked and called Mae Ploy and ordered a thing of Jungle Curry and then there was a knock at the door. A guy was standing on our porch, in the rain, in the dark, and when I opened the door he handed me a copy of a book named Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys. Boys. It's a memoir by Viv Albertine from The Slits and I'm already up to page 141, because it's fantastic. So far my favorite part is when Viv meets Mick Jones at art school and punctuates the story of their meeting with a photo of 17-year-old Mick:
I can't remember if I forgot that Viv Albertine and Mick Jones went out, or if I never knew in the first place. But either way it's serendipitous that Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys. Boys showed up last night, 'cause on the plane yesterday I was thinking about what I was going to write for Thing of the Year, and I knew I wanted to talk about Mick Jones and how he was my favorite person in 2014. One of the things I love most about The Clash is that they help me transcend the part of myself that likes to be a complain-y baby-jerk about a lot of things - but in a way that makes me feel protected, like a really great big brother might. Mick Jones is my favorite person in The Clash because I relate to his being both goofy and industrious and one of those people who smiles all the time. I also like when he gets shit-talked for being a prima donna and a stoner, I think that's a cool dynamic. But more than anything I feel very connected to this 14-second-long video where he says how he's not punk but he does have a bad attitude, and then laughs his cute laugh at the end:
Where I am right now in Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys. Boys, Viv's hanging out with Sid Vicious all the time and seems to have forgotten about Mick, but so far he's completely surpassed all my expectations of wonderfulness. There's a chapter where Viv decides she wants to start playing guitar, and she's all nervous about telling Mick, she's scared that he might tease her about it. But Mick's so into it! He's so psyched to have a guitarist for a girlfriend! They go to a guitar shop and Mick helps her find a guitar and she buys a Les Paul with her inheritance from her grandmother and then starts a band, with Sid Vicious on saxophone. It's all very sweet and exciting; Mick Jones is so earnest and such a romantic. Here's another amazing picture with him in it:
Apart from Mick Jones, my other thing of 2014 is the San Fernando Valley, which I fell in love with this year. The most important thing I do every day is work on my book, and since the Valley became my favorite place in Los Angeles, my book makes so much more sense. Everyone in it got less good-looking, for one thing, which is important to me. A lot of the Valley feels like it's stuck in 1982 and it's seedy and sleazy but there's an innocence to it too, and something about the overall vibe of crushed hope mixed with interminable starry-eyed-ness is really inspiring. And I don't believe in the shirt Diane Lane's wearing here, but I still totally want it:
And I made a Spotify playlist thing that's meant to encapsulate my 2014 - it's here, this is the tracklist:
1. "Valentine" by The Replacements
2. "Grateful" by Blake Babies
3. "Hateful" by The Clash
4. "How Can You Really" by Foxygen
5. "Are You Looking After Yourself?" by Courtney Barnett
6. "Aloha & the Three Johns" by Jenny Lewis
7. "You Ain't Going Nowhere" by The Byrds
8. "Country Queen" by Night Moves
9. "Crabtown" by Throwing Muses
10. "Heather Angel" by Sonic Youth
11. "Wild America" by Iggy Pop
12. "Xtatic Truth" by Crystal Fighters
13. "Red Eyes" by War on Drugs
14. "War Paint" by Ex Hex
15. "Ride" by Lana Del Rey
16. "You've Really Got a Hold on Me/Bring it on Home to Me" by The Zombies
My last Thing of 2014 was this thing Mary Timony said when Ex Hex was on WFMU in November. She was really tired and the DJ acknowledged her tiredness and Mary said something like "I feel like I've been in a war, like a rock & roll war." My point about that is I want to be a soldier for Mary Timony.
JEN'S THING OF THE YEAR: John Waters etc.
1. Finding out that tumeric is actually spelled tuRmeric. This was major. I’m still having a hard time coping with it.
2. Seeing John Waters a million (3) times. Taking a picture with him at a book event. I wore my Comme Des Garcons fashion witch dress. I thought maybe we’d talk fashion but I froze. I couldn’t say anything besides my name and thank you. I tripped over chairs walking away form him. Two more John Waters things:
3. His book came out.
4. The Lincoln Center Film Society complete retrospective of his work. I SAW EAT YOUR MAKE UP AND HAG IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET!!
6. Spaghetti squash was my favorite squash of 2014.
7. The return of The Best Show. Tuesdays from 9pm -12am ET at thebestshow.net. Get with it, everyone!
8. My doctor I love.
9. I went to a lavender field on Long Island, then a rosé winery, then bought North Fork potato chips at the farm I get all my vegetables from and ate the chips while looking at sheep.
10. David Lynch was in conversation at BAM. I went. I was waiting for him to psychically sense my presence in the audience and ask me to meditate and drink coffee with him but he didn’t.
11. Cool inspiring projects with cool and inspiring people.
12. Christine McVie is back in the Mac.
13. Edgewise this great book on Cookie Mueller was published.
14. Charlotte and I started reading about Ayurveda together. It’s called Ayurveda Night.
15. Because of Ayurveda Night I drink water out of a copper cup in the morning.
16. Weed Hounds album was released!!!!!
17. Steve Buscemi’s look in Parting Glances:
18. Other things probably.