Monday, September 12, 2005

On deadline for a big assignment that's actually a bunch of little ones--blurbs, yay, but well-paying and rather fun-to-write blurbs, which is something I only remember when (a) I'm asked about it (as I was last week by Mairead) and (b) I'm in the middle of doing it and not feeling like batting myself over the head. That's not even a lot of the time, but enough of it that I dread the doing of it more than I should. Let's be schematic and say it's 70-30 in fun's favor, though a good 50% of the time it's just there, another thing to do that needs to get done so let's get it finished, shall we? Even then, though, it can give me a charge once I get into it. Getting into it, of course, is the trick.

Right now I'm at a coffeehouse in the U District. Unlike a lot of people here in Seattle, I actually like University Avenue, or the Ave as it's known colloquially. If it's overrun with spare-changers and weirdos, it's no more so than Broadway (in the Capitol Hill n-hood), and it feels more authentically funky than that street, which seems to be hanging onto whatever dissipated glory it can at this point. The Ave feels authentically seedy and not, take your pick, seedy-with-pretensions or upscale-gone-to-seed the way Broadway does. I realize talking about them this way might make me seem like a middle-class tourist getting off on grime (the kind that gets on your shoes, not the kind that gets on U.K. pirate radio), but I've lived in much worse places than anything on the Ave, thank you, and not because I wanted the experience. The thing that puzzles me the most, though, about local Ave-disdain is that there's more genuine life here at this point than on Broadway; it's just that the latter is better scrubbed. Not by much, these days, but enough so, I suppose.

I like this coffeehouse because it's darkly-lit enough that you can just sit and work for hours without anyone noticing. That's true of lots of places, but the darkness (not to mention the many wooden tables and the lived-in feel of the place) makes me hunker down a bit more. That, and the fact that having lived in nearby Eastlake last year when I was doing another of these page-a-days calendars, it was easier for me to come here than anywhere else, bus-wise. Not to mention that it's open till midnight on weeknights instead of 8 p.m., like my favorite coffeehouses in my own neighborhood. (There's one open till 11 p.m., but it's not a very fun place to work, I find, plus I have to keep getting a new log-on password. Feh.)

There is one distracting thing about it, though, aside from the occasional drunken wreck who comes in and needs to be forcibly ejected: the music. The counterpeople play it very loud, and it's almost always the same kind of thing, alt-rock from the past couple years, the kind of thing you might hear a male cashier describe earnestly to a young woman as "real music--art," or words to that effect, as I did here once last winter. For instance, for the past 40 minutes I've been reminded why I am not remotely interested in listening to the Arcade Fire of my own accord. What is it about earnest dorks with iffy pitch that makes people think they must be the future of music, so-called? Early in the year, while I was visiting Portland, my friend Mike Oakes played me the fourth track of the album and I was shocked--it sounded so much fiercer and more forthright than the muddled whatever I'd heard the two times I played the CD. The volume helped, of course, and so did the fact that it's the fastest song on the album; the rhythm hurtles, the bells send it along, the whole thing just moves. When "Neighborhood #1" came on, I immediately recoiled; it wasn't until halfway through that I realized who it must be. Yep--them. Oh well, I thought, at least the fourth song is good.

Back when I thought I knew a lot more than I actually did, I was fond of saying "context is everything." It's not, but it's a lot. And in the case of Mike Oakes playing me the song, it was easier to hear it as a forceful, focused piece of rhythm. Hearing it as part of the album, at a coffeehouse trying to get work done and not worrying too much if it doesn't, all I heard in it was Win Butler's bellowing--brave in the way unself-consciousness can be, irritating the way unself-awareness and overstatement almost always are. And they drag the rhythm right down with it, till it sounds as crisp as an hour-old omelete. Now it's over (what do you know, Regina's singing isn't much better) and some sub-Wax Trax! thing has taken its place. Note to self: however much I like it here, never forget to bring headphones again. Back to work.