Where were we? I don't know. (Part I)

I’ve never done all that much to elevate my stature as a writer. I’ve been reading ever since I was a preteen in books about writing that you should expect to be able to wallpaper your room in rejection slips before you finally get published. Maybe I’m just oversensitive (OK, I’m almost certainly oversensitive), but I’ve never been able to bear the thought of such a thing. This is why I’ve really only started to make a serious effort at getting things published in the last 6 months or so—and even that has taken a lot of mental energy to accomplish.

A big part of my decision to get more serious about writing has to do with my turning 30 earlier this year. I’ve started to realize that, no matter how scary it is, I have to take a chance on rejection, because I don’t just want to be a writer, I want to be a SUCCESSFUL writer. Therefore, every year that goes by without my taking steps towards that goal is another year wasted (and with a steadily decreasing number remaining).

Turning 30 has been a much more frightening proposition where my love life is concerned. My last relationship ended a few days after I turned 29. As my age group starts to settle down into longterm relationships, and I find myself maturing to the point of seeing the average 21 year old as flighty and irresponsible, prospects for relationships become ever fewer and farther between. And inevitably, when I do meet people I’m interested in, if I can even work up the courage to ask them out at all, I get rejected. It’s depressing—I’ve been to two different friends’ weddings so far this year, and I’m less hopeful about finding that sort of companionship in my own life than I was when I was 21.

Talk about wallpapering your room in rejection slips is all well and good, but another reason I’ve never been all that willing to open myself up to that sort of thing is because eventually, after a certain amount of rejection slips, a hopeful writer is bound to ask: what if I’m just no good at this shit? The thought of having to confront this question was enough to stop me in my tracks for years, and still gives me pause at times. But now I find myself asking a very similar question in another part of my life. To wit: does the fact that I can’t seem to find anyone to date, or the fact that the few relationships I have had have all quickly descended into morasses of codependency and dysfunction, indicate that I’m just no good at dating? My loneliness and long-held desire for a lasting relationship aside, am I just not meant to be with anyone?

I’ve run various versions of this idea past my friends, and while they understand the comparison I’m making, and can see it’s superficial logic, they all make it abundantly clear that they disagree with the conclusions I’m drawing. My friends don’t all agree on the possibility of love that lasts a lifetime, but they do all feel like love (at least of the temporary variety) is not only possible but inevitable for those who want it in their lives. They all agree that if you’re looking for companionship, eventually you’ll find it with someone else who wants it just as much as you do.

This is a pretty standard concept in our society, in fact, and it’s the basis for a lot of our popular entertainment. At least, that moment where one lonely, long-suffering person unites with another is. I’m always hearing about it in song lyrics, seeing it in movies and TV shows, reading it in books, etc., etc. And when it continues not to happen for me, the media onslaught gets frustrating. I don’t think I’m gorgeous or anything, but I’m not ugly, or stupid, or an asshole. So why, when I want nothing more than to find someone to be with, when I’m surrounded by people I know who are all happily paired off, when I’m deluged with images of happy coupling by every form of popular culture I encounter, do I continue to be alone? What’s wrong with me?

All of this is said by way of introduction to the music of Nymb, a band who hailed from the Chicago area and were active in the late 90s, but have been broken up for something like five years now. I was fortunate to catch them at 1999’s More Than Music Festival, in Columbus, Ohio; not just because they blew me away, but because, despite their being active for 5 years and putting out at least 6 records during that time, they never achieved any real recognition outside of their home area. If I hadn’t seen them the one time I ever went to a show in the northern midwest, I probably would never have heard of them at all. I was broke at the time I saw them, and couldn’t pick up any of their records, but in the years since, I’ve located copies of their sole full-length album, “So… This Is How It Is”, as well as their “Breathing Out Vapors” and “Novembre” EPs. Additionally, I have burned copies of their “Glass Eye” and “Nothing New” EPs. All of them are awesome.

Nymb’s music is loud and powerful, but also very melodic, sometimes even at its loudest and most dramatic moments. If you were going to put them into a genre, it’d probably be emo, but not the post-milennial emo sound of Taking Back Sunday or Saves The Day. Nymb had a lot more in common with Christie Front Drive, or fellow midwesterners Braid. Their driving creative force was singer/guitarist Elaine Doty, a short, attractive girl with a beautiful voice. On a superficial level, she’s a typical female frontperson where emo bands of the time are concerned. However, there are several characteristics that separate her from the standard. Most immediately noticeable is the fact that, despite her melodious voice and seemingly inexhaustible supply of catchy riffs, she’s very much willing to let her guitar emit piercing wails of feedback, and/or to scream her fucking head off, if that’s what the song calls for. In fact, her screams were the most unforgettable element of Nymb’s live performance for me; I was already knocked on my ass by the general excellence of their music, but I was blown away even more when, during their last song, Elaine began screaming on the chorus. It seemed totally out of character for the type of band Nymb were, but at the same time, it made the song much more powerful than it would have been had she not done it. After seeing Nymb, this song in particular was burned into my brain, to the point that I recognized it immediately when I encountered it four years later on their full-length CD.

Another distinction between Elaine Doty and other female singers for emo bands of the time has to do with her lyrics. She sings about relationships, as do most emo bands, regardless of gender, but rather than focusing on blissful cohabitation, or pining away for lovers long gone, Elaine’s tales of broken relationships are generally delivered either with bitter cynicism or caustic anger. The only other female singer with a similar outlook that I can think of is Elizabeth Elmore of Sarge and The Reputation. But where Elizabeth Elmore generally seems self-assured, confident that the other person in her songs is responsible for most or all of the problem, Elaine’s frustration often seems born of confusion and hurt. She knows she’s trying her best, she’s willing to place blame elsewhere when it seems appropriate, but she keeps coming back to the same question: why does this keep happening? What’s wrong with me?

I moved into a new house last weekend. As longtime readers can probably imagine, I own lots of stuff—not just music (though there’s plenty of that), but also books, magazines, comics, etc. I had a day and a half to get everything out of my old apartment and clean the entire place. Well, technically two days, but the deadline was noon on Monday, and I had to work on Monday morning. I got everything out by 3 AM Monday, but doing so was such an exhausting experience that by the time I was done, I was at the point of physical collapse, and my mental state was almost as precarious. I staggered through work like a zombie on Monday, then was too unused to my new house that night to get more than two or three hours of sleep. By the time I got home from work Tuesday night, all I wanted to do was put on some music and pass out. I only had one crate of LPs (yes, vinyl) unpacked, so I had to choose from the random selection therein. I picked out Nymb’s “Novembre”, thinking only that it would be a good, melodic soundtrack to falling asleep. However, the combination of my physical and mental states and the powerful emotions of the music on that record had quite an effect on me.

It’s not surprising, really. Side one of “Novembre”, which spins at 33 RPM, consists of two songs. The first, “Past, Present, and What Could Have Been”, may be the most intense song Nymb ever recorded. It’s as accurate a musical representation as I’ve ever heard of the first moment after a painful, unexpected breakup. Not the moment when the person breaks things off with you, but the moment after the conversation ends, when you hang up the phone or get home from their apartment or kick them out of yours, and you throw yourself down on your bed and spend the next hour crying and screaming into your pillow. That’s this song. The lyric sheet only lists the first line of the chorus (which gives the title to this entry), but there are a lot more words in the song. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most or all of them were improvised on the spot. The song starts quietly, builds to a loud crescendo, but soon drops back into a longer quiet interlude, complete with indistinct voices and radio static in the background. It’s when they bring the volume back in that things get really intense—Elaine sings at the top of her voice, drifting in and out of coherence as guitars feed back and drummer Ben Kane pounds the hell out of his kit. At the end, as wails of feedback are still ringing, Ben begins tapping out the rhythm of the next song on his hi-hat, and the band quickly follows him into “For The Mrs.” All of the lyrics to this song are actually printed on the lyric sheet (the only track on the EP for which this is true), and this is fitting; if “Past, Present, and What Could Have Been” is an immediate reaction, a shocked howl of pain and loss and grief, “For The Mrs.” is the more reasoned response, delivered a few days later after cooling off. Elaine has calmed down and taken stock of what happened, and she’s still hurting, but she’s also angry. “Regret your first? Well, you should have thought of that,” she declares, but despite anger and sarcastic bitterness (“Hats off for lying”), the confusion is still there (“What’s it for, all these kisses?”).

I asked a girl out the other day. I’m not going to give any details about it, because it’ll only embarrass me even more to try to discuss it or remember it later. But it made me feel stupid almost immediately after I did it (over email, natch—I only have guts on the internet). The truth is that thinking about the entire incident is probably at least part of why I couldn’t sleep the first night after I moved into my new place. It seemed like a really good idea until a few hours later, lying in bed and staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. “What was I thinking?” kept running through my head. “This will never work.” Sure enough, I haven’t heard back from her. I don’t expect to, either. People tell me that I’m setting myself up for failure when I say things like this, but it’s really hard not to think, after all this time, that I’m pretty much doomed to failure where the search for love is concerned. Where my writing is concerned, I don’t have many rejection slips to show (truthfully, I don’t have any—the few venues I’ve submitted writing for were ones where I knew in advance that it was going to be accepted), but where dating is concerned, I’m starting to wonder just how many more times I can put myself out there before I don’t have the heart to do it anymore.

Side two of “Novembre”, which spins at 45 RPM, was recorded six months after side one, and features a cleaner, tighter songwriting style. This is especially true of the record’s final track, “Typical Love Song”. This is Nymb at their bounciest and most upbeat, with Elaine playing an acoustic guitar and other guitarist Jamie Zoeller contributing organ overdubs towards the end of the song. However, the entire song is just thinly disguised bitterness; the lyric sheet reads “(you know the words)” for this one, while the song itself begins with Elaine wondering, “What are the words to a typical love song?” She tests out phrases like “I love you” and “I need you always”, but in the end she can’t help but wonder what will become of the song if she wakes up in the morning and doesn’t feel the same anymore. It’s kind of a sad sentiment to hear from someone who, earlier in the record, made it obvious just how much she’d been willing to risk in the past. I suppose with continual lack of reciprocation comes a gradual unwillingness to continue trying. I guess I, of all people, should understand.

There’s more to the Nymb story than this (and hopefully more to mine as well). I know better than to make specific promises where this blog is concerned, but hopefully this is something I will return to in the future.