I’m trying National Novel Writing Month this November! Not sure if I’ll be able to get through the entire 50,000 word requirement, but I’m going try. Here’s chapter 1:
Culture is gravity. It’s leaden prose and inescapably smelly brass-spittoon takes about the must-seeness of anything we’d have seen anyway. No one can breezily and actively curate their own cool garage of cultural artifacts—grafting some little wings on to a personalized library whose collective pages beckon the air itself to stir them, to send them in a happy accident flying out of their spines like plague-locusts to be eventually silhouetted against Noah’s great rainbow—without first enduring an ambient phlegmy rant on the greatness of Kid A or James Joyce, or the inevitability of poptimism, or what Normal People—the noble unwashed Offline Masses, owners of impeccable taste whose baseness we can’t mention and whose correctness we don’t question—think about all this.
I’d tried to explain to Joseph—even before he went to Neo-Egypt after he’d dreamed another dream that’d make his brothers drift off into nightmares in which they imagined him as gay as a $3 bill with a coat the shape and color of a CD-ROM held under distant and now breath-warm mideast sun—how vinyl records work, not because he had any persuaded interest in them but because the filmic gravity of Taylor Swift had pulled him beyond the event horizon of even caring about listening to music anymore. He didn’t own a turntable, didn’t know the difference between analog and digital sound, had never seen a concert film, one day hadn’t even engaged with the clickbaity-ADHDy thought of abruptly, finally paying five-figures to watch some compelling content, live, with legions of outstretched phones. Now he sat with a hardened heart letting plaquey plague cultures infect him and make him so heavy with passivity and content consumption that he felt hot, in the way only people carrying around extra energy on their bodies can, with large heads and round bellies in sync with the planets and the different symphonic movements that Gustav Holst scored for each such galactic wanderer.
“So, how do you skip between tracks?”
“The needle and the—well you have to move the needle manually to where these outlines are—but the notion here is that you listen to the entire side—”
“Unlike digital media, vinyl has the potential for a firm stop or an infinite loop that’d make a programmer jealous by actually being intentional—literally going on mansplaining and manlaughing forever, without jumping between songs or requiring any action. Like the needle can be retracted once the side reaches its capacity, or it can dig in and go on forever in Sgt. Pepper-esque chuckles. Like, you have to get up and go pull that needle off, and it can feel like the band had murder in its heart for you, telling me to fuck off, go fuck yourself, etc.”
“Is there data encoded into the record, where does the volume come from?”
“Vinyl isn’t computerized, it’s all waveforms traced by a needle.”
“I miss computers already.”
Ahh, computers: How the fuck do they work? Well: Not by jabbing a needle into a sludge of recycled sea insects with enough force to give them all posthumous Hepatitis C, tracing inside their bodies their old outside flight patterns so precisely as to make sound airy enough to be thrown out of their ancient guts, across Pharaoh’s pre-parted Red Sea, and at last back to the surface like a slick blackened wet whale breaking the face of the waters with amplified desperation for a little air, a little life. Joseph was newly vi-curious, but later on Moses would hate records, hate the bequeathed sand settling in the music-occupied grooves, hated the vinyl revival of 2005, hated the thought of a stylus that when cast down into the oily bowels became a serpent whose hisses dazzled the ears in crackly low dynamic range.
Ohh, Joseph. Before he journeyed into Neo-Egypt he showed me his mouth aflame with chewing tobacco that made his cheeks look Cubist and his record reviews sound like smokily flattering press releases. They lived on AI-written and SEO-optimized pages whose vapors wafted over the web like ponies whose manes had just started getting good in the back, running so fast that they were all neon hair, all surface, when they loaded into view out of the nothingess of the New Ancient Google search field void and then bespoiled the landscape with their hooves pounding toward word-count Valhalla. Inshallah, 500 words more and I’ve hit the quota—my manager is in the control room right now, watching everything I type.
“No one except complete madmen misses computers, at least not the way I sort of miss those ponies of yours and the problems they caused. A real case of the causes being good but the problems being bad. I can’t read anymore about the ‘Top 5 Things Every Would-Be Exodus Traveler Needs’ or ‘7 Harsh Truths From Yahweh’s Mouth That’ll Make You A Better Person’ or ‘Pharaoh Says If You Have This One Insect In Your Home, Throw It Out Immediately.’ But I liked how you wrote them!”
“Well, I do miss computers. I’m an independent content consumer. That’s what I heard in a the latest episode of my favorite podcast, Parallel. I might not hang out hearing songs on the radio or watching reruns of The Basket Floats by the River on cartridge, but I have choice, damn it, I’ve got agency, and—thanks, while I’m doing this bit—I have a completely original style—fuck you, Harold Bloom, I invented the human—that can only be honed by watching everything in the Spotlight and What’s Hot rows of Netflix and recycling the verbiage of the first page of results I seee for “Euphoria review.”
“How do you feel about sex scenes in media?”
“I’m against them, no movie or TV show needs that because it distracts from the plot and from the ponies and from the—”
“And if something that’s ‘hot’ or ‘trending’ has it in them?”
“I need to say this, but you are too online, you’re quoting back takes on misinformation from that known plagiarist Cain at Buzzfeed and —”
“How can I be too online when I still listen to most my music on a disc player, as God himself intended. You were worried about skipping tracks on vinyl, right? Well did you know that CDs pioneered track indexing and that now that we’ve gone to streaming, some of that is getting lost again?”
“I care about skipping because although I like the first two tracks on 1989—”
“—and I remember you didn’t like anything after the first two books of the Bible, either, hello where is my digital audiobook skipping, is that anything?”
“CDs are so passé though, even Adam disliked it, and vinyl skip or no vinyl skip, well maybe that’s not important, I like having these records in a gallery to show people on my Zoom calls about how this client needs 10,000 more words that I’ll have to count out in increments of ten as I type after the contract is inked, and then pause for a 30-minute break to think about what it’d be like to do literally anything more fulfilling, like sticking my head inside a grand piano and giving a lecture on nationalism that really, uh, resonates with the audience, or about how, if this were all being done with pen and paper, such inhumane Pharaoh-mandated volume wouldn’t be practical.”
I’m zooming into someone’s space where there’s a painting visible in the background as a landscape for conversation, it’s of a man smoking a cigar and lifting a turntable stylus to play surely the most authentic music ever recorded, some backwoods country or synthpop made with real analog syntheiszers from the 1960s. Here’s my conversation snippet, later recorded as a lecture as we exited Neo-Egypt for good, or at least for a few millennia:
“When music moved away from CDs starting after Adam left Eden, vinyl was the new covenant. But like streaming with its vast array of so much content that it could never be consumed while staying biblically thin, vinyl is more of an idea than an instrument, meant to be admired more than enjoyed viscerally. You can’t skip around, you have to endure the entire side, like you’re being forced to watch the star soccer player thread his passes to inept torch carriers who could never hold the angel’s flaming sword, you have to tsk in forum thread-ese at how the low-end just isn’t as deep and the high-end just isn’t as bright.
But you know what’s high-quality and in a unit that’s realistically consumable for real human beings and real heroes? Actual CDs. CD albums also have digitally indexed tracks, and they can be shuffled, in ways that linear analog media such as LPs and cassette tapes can’t. Giving into the shuffle is liberating because there’s no more illusion of active curation, of being a bootstrapping tastemaker libertarian who recommends culture yet believes they’re above all its pervasive influence, a motivated detail-oriented self-starter who arranges everything as immaculately as a triple-washed résumé and like a robot HR department reading it, dings 99% of everything on it for not sounding as good as whatever they heard across an acoustically perfect greenhouse when they were 18—for not truly believing in the role.
Shuffling, though—doesn’t it go against what the artists intended for those albums? What if you applied similar logic to Genesis or Exodus or, Yahweh forbid, even Leviticus and read the verses in random order? “Ye shall eat the fat of the land, and darkness was on the face of the deep” sounds like cringe marketing for would-be Wegovy patients. Books, then, are less amenable than movies or music to such cut-and-paste logic, but according to the Parallel show hosts separting the art from the artist is imperative—indeed, maybe the point of all interpretation!—and shufflng does that. Yet some albums defy this anonymity, this freedom from responsibility that Joseph and the other critics imagine is possible when critiquing anything this way. There’s still an analog voice, some cigarette-touched vocal cords or lead-poisoned brain cells oozing like oil from a spill uncontrollable even by the most robust cloud-based IT solutions that bleed out to their end-users as faultless and blamless digital interfaces that aim to compute and control everything.
Apollo 18 was a huge influence on Moses, a revelation that got him to swear off vinyl and linearity forever (or at least three times), but Lumpy Gravy? It was his ticket to finding a that voice in the cloudy wilderness and deciding that the way out of Neo-Egypt was to build his own golden calf of a carefully curated collection that nevertheless yielded to the random gravity of culture, through divinely elected shuffling.