03. MUSIC INSPIRATION
God Loves Ugly
I moved to Ypsilanti for school in summer 2002. I rented one-bedroom apartment on the wrong side of the tracks of the city that’s on the wrong side of the tracks. Arriving fresh from Flint and being a broke student, I blended. I reveled in the low thump of my neighbors bumping Jay-Z and the contact buzz of my GN’F’N’R-loving neighbor who always blasted those hockey games a little too loud. Poor. Ugly. Happy. Just like the Avail t-shirt. A last blast before adulthood set in.
A few months earlier, I’d discovered that there was a whole world of hip hop talking about more than cars and girls and money. I became obsessed. The message wasn’t all that different from my punk rock and emo favorites from the preceding few years, but somehow it sounded more empowering when rapped. I felt a confidence emanating from it where I thought my indie rock heroes were commiserating and I was encouraged to continue to stare at my belly button. Sean Daley, El-P, Aesop Rock, and peers seemed to say, “Yeah, I’m messed up. What of it? Still got a life to live,” instead of “I’m so sad. Guess I’ll LiveJournal or hunker down in my apartment.”
Nevertheless, my neck was still sore from gazing at my navel. I moped out to Ryan Adams, Interpol, and Jets to Brazil just like any card-carrying mid-twenties indie rocker did. And I latched onto the relentlessly downbeat one-liners in Control. The influence of Americana seeped in further after 9/11. For most of my friends, the closest we came to patriotism reborn was discovering protest songs from earlier times and bumping “Makeshift Patriot” by Sage Francis.
The CD burning parties started as soon as I hooked up with a couple friends who had also moved to the area from Flint. All of us broke students. All of us music lovers. No Spotify or bargain subscription services to satisfy our need to discover new music.
But we did have computers with CD burners (paid that extra $150 to get that standard on my Dell desktop), and CD-Rs were a bargain at 25 for $25.00. When we were particularly broke, we would even share those. What’s a dollar or two among friends, especially if it meant converting someone to one of your idiosyncratic favorites?
It went like this—once a month on Saturday nights:
- Bring the last few CDs you bought, including any special requests. Or bring ones you really want to share with others. We were all pretty familiar with each other’s collections.
- Bring some beer, even if all you can swing is a couple of 40s.
- Bring your blank CDs, and be willing to share if needed.
I wasn’t convinced that I needed to spend $12 on Bright Eyes’ latest opus, but I was happy to give it a shot for a blank disc. It turned out to be the one that helped me get past the preciousness to see the talent sandwiched in between indulgent intros and long-winded outros. I got to indulge in many bands I’d heard of but not yet heard, like Rilo Kiley, Milemarker, and many others, and to fill in the holes of discographies.
And I was happy to provide another copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Source Tags and Codes upon request, while encouraging friends to burn a copy of Emergency Rations or Fantastic Damage or Labor Days, too.
We also had great debates. I remember having a heated one over whether Turn on the Bright Lights, YHF, or Source Tags was the best record of 2002.
Do people still do this in person? Don’t tell me if they don’t. So much of my misspent youth was wrapped up in talking music, raising glasses to the soundtrack of our lives. If not, something major has been lost. It seems like none of us have the time for this in mid-life, and I imagine that's good. Be glad that it happened, be glad that it was.
I wore my scars like the rings on a pimp that year. The next year Atmosphere encouraged me to find a balance. I probably burned that disc a few times for friends, too.