I was in a rut. After spending the first years of college writing essays while listening to Boards of Canada on repeat, some musical library broadening was called for. With a collection of underrated and eclectic albums, my Aunt and Uncle seemed like a good choice to get musical advice from. I remember spending the afternoon as they threw music from all genres at my brain. Some of it didn’t stick, but most of it did, and the stickiest of all was a band called Talk Talk.
Their name,Talk Talk, was also the name of their first single from their freshman album. Repeated words don’t usually imply musical greatness in my book—it feels like they were trying hang onto the coattails of Duran Duran, but this band is full of surprises.
Yet as I started listening, something caught my ear. The best of album I was listening to quickly transitioned from fairly good (yet generic) new wave to something resembling art pop before finally ending up at post-rock.
In a span of ten years and five albums, Talk Talk underwent a musical transformation that’s quite remarkable. Led by a painfully shy frontman of Mark Hollis, he transformed the band into a trailblazer of the post-rock genre while shunning the drive from his record company to create commercially viable albums. After the band broke up in the early 1990s, Mark continued his work creating a single solo album before retiring entirely from music to focus on his family. The last twenty years he rarely appeared in public, until earlier in 2019 when it was announced that he had passed away after a short illness.
If Boards of Canada were the anthem for my early 20s, Talk Talk was the soundtrack for my late 20s. Each of their songs felt like there was a real personality behind it, and the layers of music were far beyond what would be expected from a band with synth pop roots such as theirs. As they transformed themselves, I could feel their influence as I worked to reinvent and improve myself.
I’ve included a Spotify Playlist of my favorite songs below, and some brief commentary about each album.
The Party’s Over (1982) is their first, and largely unremarkable, album. It’s synth pop and new wave all the way in their production. “The Party’s Over” is the standout track here with a more emotional appeal than one would expect from this genre. “Candy” is the other notable track, and in my playlist below I’ve included the demo version of this song—it the more raw appeal of the backing track on the chorus foretell that Hollis was trying to experiment out of the genre.
It’s My Life (1984) reveals much more experimentation from the synth wave way of life. “It’s My Life” and “It’s You” tell deeply personal stories from what an authentic voice with more upbeat backing tracks, while “Renee” and “Does Caroline Know” are simply sublime tracks with much more muted musical accompaniment.
The Color of Spring (1986) represents a big shift in their changing musical tastes. “Life’s What you Make It” and “Living in Another World” are big music productions and get rounded out by the subtle “Happiness is Easy” and “I Don’t Believe in You.”
Interlude: “John Cope” isn’t widely known, but is another outstanding track that serves as a fascinating transition point between The Color of Spring and Spirit of Eden.
Buckle up, as Spirit of Eden (1988) is in full post-rock mode now. Sparse and moody, the album opens up with “The Rainbow” before continuing the themes and musical style throughout in standout tracks “I Believe in You,” “Desire,” and “Inheritance.”
Laughing Stock (1991) was their final effort as a band. Even sparser than their previous effort, it’s difficult to pull out a single track to recommend as it’s all a cohesive work. However, “New Grass” is representative of the work as a whole.
If you’re still with me—nice work! Here’s a 1986 concert video of Talk Talk from Montreux. Check it out for 90 minutes of pure joy.
After touring Berlin, it was off to visit Scandinavia! Over two weeks, we’d visit Sweden, Denmark, and Norway as part of a Rick Steves’ Scandinavia Tour. Was this tour in May 2017? Yes. Am I writing this in September 2018? Yes.
Not all of this trip was new territory: I previously explored Stockholm and Copenhagen in 2011. The rest of the journey, including all of Norway, is going to be my first time.
The itinerary started in Stockholm, and spent a night in Kalmar before heading off to Denmark. Urban and progressive Copenhagen was contrasted with the idyllic island of Ærø. Tracing our steps back to Copenhagen, we took an overnight ferry to Oslo. Spending a few days in the bustling capital of Norway,
May 14th, 2017: Arrival in Stockholm
Germany has the reputation of being an orderly and well-managed country. This perception should be examined in light of the Brandenburg Airport project. During the Cold War, Schönefeld Airport served East Berlin, and Tegel fulfilled the same role for the Western part of the city. After reunification, 15 years of planning culminated in ground being broken in 2006 for the new Brandenburg Airport that would replace both aging facilities. With a targeted opening year of 2011, we certainly flew out of Brandenburg. Being 2017 and all. Right?
Well, not exactly. 2011 turned into 2012, and then 2013. And now somewhere in the range of 2020 or 2021. A combination of corruption, poor planning, management, and many other un-germanly traits has doomed this airport into perpetual delay.
All this to say, the flight to Stockholm left from a terminal in Tegel airport that was a glorified warehouse with some seats bolted onto the concrete floors.
One fast train later, and we were in downtown Stockholm.
There were a few hours to use up until the tour introduction meeting at 1700, and an impromptu visit of the stations of the Stockholm Metro was in order. While I’m always in the mood for exploring a new transit system, the Stockholm Metro is particularly special because it’s essentially a large transit art project.
Each station had a different theme. Some had detailed “graffiti” on the walls.
Others embraced their subterranean nature by using the rough-hewn walls as a canvas for colorful patterns and colors.
This stationeries featured matching walls and floors while retaining a plain rock ceiling.
Harsh lighting beckoned travelers to the escalators that climbed into the rock. Continue reading →
It was one of those perfect afternoons: sunny with a moderate temperature and breeze off Puget Sound. As I stopped off the stairway in front of our office, I had to avoid a small rustling leaf on the sidewalk. Yet it was no ordinary leaf. Stopping and taking a look behind me, I noticed a small hummingbird on its back as the white speckled chest heaved.
Taking a moment to seize up the situation, I felt a momentary twinge of sadness and then started my lunchtime walk. Half a block down the road, I was suddenly asking myself: is this who I am?
Growing up, my grandmother was always a presence in our lives. She taught her family a great many things about how to view the world around us. When Gloria wasn’t painting pastoral landscapes, she was teaching her grandchildren about nature and the small miracles of wildlife around us. She’d identify the various birds that would visit her garden, marvel at the bees, take joy in the small garter snake that would visit her porch every day.
My sister and I would help gently capture birds that accidentally flew into the house, wrest away voles from our dog, and marvel as seals and porpoises would swim around our rowboat. An industrious beaver family lived on the lake my aunt was at, and we explored the body of water for signs of these elusive dam builders.
After an afternoon antiquing session in our nearby town with my sister, mother, and grandmother, we exited the store and prepared to get in the car when one of us noticed a very scared dog tied to a dumpster. She was hungry, whimpering, and the store staff said she was abandoned by her owners: left to her fate. We were strained financially as a family and already had a canine companion, but it was decided that however our position was, this dog needed our help. We gently convinced her to get in the car, and after a vet visit paid for by my grandmother, Lucy the dog was adopted into the family.
When a creature needed our help, we were taught to provide the love and care it needs to either survive in the wild, or adopt it into our household. It’s not always an easy choice, but it was always the right one.
Back at the sidewalk, this animal needed help moving away from where it could be crushed by unwary walkers, and perhaps it had greater needs than that. Sitting on our bottom step and placing my feet around the bird, I started calling our local wildlife rescue center for advice.
Gently covering the hummingbird with a tissue paper to calm it down, I softly nudged a piece of paper under the bird. Weighing no more than a few grams, the bird was easily supported by this lightweight piece of paper. Lifting it into a small box I had prepared, I brought it inside and gave it a chance to recover in our conference room.
Opening the lid of the box, I could see that the bird had righted itself and was calmly sitting in the proto-nest when it suddenly took off and began to hover above our white board while emitting the characteristic flight “chirp” noise that hummingbirds often do. For a few seconds, it looked like it was recovered and ready to go back outside. Then it fairly abruptly begin a descent and landed in disarray.
As it lay on the ground, it lended itself for a closer look. Although the iridescent feathers of the back and neck are the most noticeable feature, the beautiful white/black/brown coloring on the tail revealed the true wonder of these small flyers.
Replying to the voicemail I had left at PAWS, they requested that I bring in this bird to their rescue center 15 minutes away. With the help of a co-worker, we were on our way to drop the hummingbird off with the people who were going to give it the care and attention it needed.
The next time you see an animal, take a moment to appreciate it for what it is and the contributions it brings to our Earth. Do not disparage the raccoon, the pigeon, or the crow, but instead recognize them as unique species that are adapting to the world around them. If you’re looking for a pet, look at your local shelters for animals in need of a loving home. Rescue that spider from your sink and place it outside instead of just batting it down the drain. Try to reduce how much meat you consume, and eliminate it entirely if you can.
We can’t solve all of humanity’s ills in a day, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my family, it’s that little acts of kindness towards nature can make the world a better—and more diverse—place to live in.
After much angst, packing, repacking, and deliberation over every piece of clothing I packed, I shoved a bunch of extra crap in my bag at the last minute and headed off to the airport. Most of the flight was spent trying to get some wholesomely useless sleep between watching Beauty and the Beast.
May 10th, 2017
Quick connection through Amsterdam, and we were in Hamburg and on the way to the city center on one of the wonderful German Trains. It’s been said that Hamburg is really known for its thriving port, which really excites Germans and people who have never seen ports before. Living in Seattle, we’re exposed to ports basically every day and the luster is somewhat dulled. It’s a city that’s in the middle of a generally well-regarded redevelopment effort: old warehouses are being converted into trendy mixed-use housing and a shiny new philharmonic hall has recently been completed.
The only real objective the first day on the ground after a transoceanic flight is to stay awake until 8pm, no matter what. If you don’t stay awake until 8, jet lag will spoil the next week of your trip. YOU MUST STAY AWAKE.
So we went to the port.
Hamburg is certainly set up to have tourists visit the port. There are plenty of businesses and tours that help capture the port essence that some of us crave. Water taxis ply around the harbor shuttling people too and fro. We grabbed one of them.
Hamburg being a moderately large German city, it has a U-Bahn. I had no choice but to ride it whenever possible in order to perform research on how efficient and extensive it is compared to basically every city in America.
Our energy levels were running low and it was barely the afternoon. If there’s one thing gentrifying German hipsters like, it’s coffee. Hitting up a coffeehouse and roster in a former warehouse, we bumbled our way through ordering multiple shots of the strongest coffee they had. This provided around 4 minutes of energy per shot before settling down into the doldrums of jetlag. It was not great.
Nestled upstairs in another warehouse, a uniquely German attraction came before us: Miniatur Wunderland. This is nominally billed as a model railway project that went somewhat overboard. They went a LOT overboard in all of the good ways. Spanning two large floors, this project contained multiple zones that each had hundreds of trains, vehicles, and people. Day/night cycles? Got it. Airport that has planes taking off and landing? CHECK. Floating cargo ships? You bet.
Even as we were basically sleepwalking through this magical place, it was astounding to see all of the time and effort the team who maintained this railroad put in over the past twenty years.
Hidden everywhere are small little stories that play out. People move about. Businesses are ran, parades suddenly start, and occasionally there will be huge miniature fire responses. What’s remarkable is that all of the vehicles aren’t on tracks: they’re conveyed by magnets underneath the floor and a computer system will dispatch them live through the system when their story plays out.
Let’s take the above image as an example. At a particular time, the computer system will page all of the vehicles above to come to this building which suddenly is on fire. Where ever these trucks may be, they will reroute to this fire and dynamically steer around all of the normal “civilian” traffic on the roads. Once they’re done, they’ll all go back to their fire stations, or maybe get peeled off to go to some other smaller event. It was really quite astounding and probably way cooler if I wasn’t asleep.
May 11th, 2017
Next stop? Berlin! This city had been on my list for a very long time and after another wonderful train ride, we arrived in the thriving capital of Germany.
Our AirBnB was a flat near the upper floors of the above building. Built during the time of the DDR (East Germany), it was intended to house families of high-ranking party members. Featuring such cool amenities such as “bare concrete walls” and “elevators that only stopped every other floor,” it was essentially purpose-built to house me.
Adorning the one of the walls was a photograph of a variety of hopeful looking East German women at a mass game. I’d like to think that the faces of each reflect a different component of the East German experience during the 1980s.
To save costs, the elevators only stopped at every other floor.
May 12th, 2017 – Birthday!
My birthday was being started in style with a tour of the Reichstag. Rebuilt after the reunification, this symbol of modern Germany was the perfect start of a day that would be filled with World War II and Cold War history.
The Brandenburg gate is one of those monuments that you don’t fully know what it looks like, but the minute you see it you just know what it is and what it signifies.
Tracing the way through Berlin, frequent consultation of the walking tours was required.
Oh hey, it’s a surprise! Taking a UBahn somewhere.
When in Berlin, it’s time to eat currywurst! Finding a stand near Checkpoint Charlie (itself a commercial hellhole with no historic value left), much munching of vegan currywurst and fries was had. Behind me is the former Ministry of Aviation building, one of the few remaining public buildings that survived the bombings in the waning days of World War II. Note the general fascist architectural design.
It’s not to say that some members of the public don’t entirely miss East Germany. There’s a certain nostalgia for some parts of life in the DDR. The pragmatic Germans refer to this as Ostalgie (basically east nostalgia). Visiting the DDR museum, the exhibits portrayed life as it would have been for citizens of those behind the Iron Curtain.
This is me in a Trabant. A small car that is made (somewhat) of cardboard, it got you to where you were going. Usually.
You can also make like you’re a stern bureaucrat ready to dole out paperwork at an impressively slow pace. Hello comrades.
May 13th, 2017
Saturday started out with a rainy trip to the laundromat. Our next destination was Scandinavia, and as this is largely a laundry desert it was important to top off on fresh clothing. The rest of the morning was spent visiting the Topography of Terror, a museum based on a former Gestapo building that chronicled the rise and fall of the Third Reich.
Memories of East Germany and the Berlin Wall are fading with our generation. We never knew a world where Germany was divided, and the city is rushing to preserve relics of a past that may quickly be bulldozed over. Seeing part of the wall: another historic sight that is instantly recognizable, was certainly a somber experience.
A poignant memorial exists in one of the parks surrounding a piece of extant wall that commemorates all of the men and women who were killed at the hands of the East German border guards.
May 14th, 2017
With Berlin behind us, it was time for one last trip to the aging Tegel Airport. In theory, this airport should have been replaced quite a few years ago by the mostly complete Brandenburg Airport, but in a strange happenstance for this country, the project is mired in construction delays, shoddy workmanship, and is perpetually “a month away from opening.”
So we were flying out of Tegel on AirBerlin, which was a failing airline that finally went out of business in late 2017. Their “terminal” building was a large warehouse, and the flight was (naturally) delayed.
Soon enough AirBerlin finally decided our flight could take off, and it was off to Stockholm!
A few summers ago I was trawling through the bedroom where I grew up and trying to clear out and recycle a lot of the magazines, brochures, and pamphlets that I had collected while growing up. Not to dwell on the subject, but I collected a lot of completely worthless pamphlets. Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting items that I found!
The December 1988 National Geographic cover is certainly an eye-catching one: a hologram spans the entire cover from back-to-front. The Earth spins as the cover is tilted, and the title, “Can Man Save this Fragile Earth?” makes a plea to the problems facing our world.
Haha but of course the back cover is a McDonalds ad featuring some faux “None of us is as good as all of us” platitudes while trying to sell as much mass-produced pseudo food as possible. Try harder everyone.
In kindergarten we all made paste-assisted paper sunhats for reasons long since forgotten in the mists of time. Mine was resting on an upper shelf in my closet and it still (almost) fit!
Halley’s Comet was just a few years before my time, and although the 1990s featured the outstanding appearance of Hale-Bopp, I had a lot of collected educational materials from Halley’s approach. This activity book was nothing special, but it had some outstanding 1980s graphic design of a stylized comet.
Nikky was a pretty great Recess Buddy, who worked very hard to be a safe and careful friend on the playground. Check out all of those stars!
No trip to elementary school is complete without a diorama. Based on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, mine had a lot of green arrows pointing to the seeing hole JUST IN CASE someone missed it. Not to mention the “Look in the Hole” caption in the side of the box and the not-quite-rectangle cutout in the box. Clearly this was a masterpiece of the highest order.
Did I even read the the book? The box is painted white with trees that are absent of snow, and the SUN IS SHINING in the arctic Narnia landscape. The trees aren’t even part of the effect! Just the lamppost is! Nikky clearly wasn’t trying very hard.
What is this? A giant sign? You’re HALF correct: notice the pink color scheme and heart above my name. It’s a Valentines Day card collector! The theory is that the larger card the better to hold all of the letters I’d be receiving. Results were inconclusive.
Throughout my childhood my sister and I received subscriptions of literary magazines appropriate for our age group from our grandmother. I’d like to think these gifts spawned a lifelong love of reading, and starting out with Ladybug, the magazines grew up with me. Spider was next, and then Cricket. Capping out the teen years was Cicada, and many of the lessons from these stories still resonate with me today.
When I wasn’t busy reading magazines, I was writing to various government entities to get free pamphlets mailed to me. These were occasionally considered fairly awesome, such as the “Atoms to Electricity” publication from November 1987 and published by the U.S. Department of Energy. I suspect by the mid-1990s they were just happy to get these 8 year old publications off of their hands, and I was happy to file them away.
For a few brief shining issues, there was a newspaper in our 3rd grade classroom. This is a work of art.
The title of the newspaper is outstandingly long: “The Sun of Debbies Classroom.” We clearly put around 14 seconds of thought into what we’d name it before shipping it out to the public at large.
Clipart game was strong with our newspaper. With our Apple ImageWriter II printer, we were ready to spread the good word with all of the color we could muster. The future was now, and we were seizing it with all of our little hearts.
Once the reader got to the body of the paper, it read more like a letter from the editor rather than a proper article. We decided that using capital letters at the beginning of sentences was for suckers, and viewed spaces after periods with disdain. After pronouncing that we “don’t have any stories today,” a short story soon followed with the breaking news that Orcas were seen in Kitsap County.
A few students were quoted in a man-on-the-street style before the author poignantly notes that “we all would have liked to go.” 3rd graders we may have been, we still felt the twinges of inequality even at our young ages, and didn’t like what we saw.
Wrapping the issue up, we had some news that we DID INDEED have a substitute for our teacher on Tuesday. Just in case anyone needed that clearing up.
A collection of trophies slowly collects dust as they bear silence witness to my dual-sport years of elementary school. Since I largely was unable to hit baseballs with any sort of regularity, most of my athletic efforts were spent on soccer. In 1994 I managed to win “Best Defensive Player” on the team, and if my memory is correct, this was because I was the only person on the team who decided to hang back by the goal in case the other team tried to score.
Ever the sucker for unused cards, I got my hands on some delightfully 1990s-themed 60th Birthday Party cards and promptly decided that you should come to my birthday! Not only was I off by a few decades, I also decided that I couldn’t wait until my actual birthday. The place? “<intelligible>” before it ends with an ominous “COME.”
Thanks for going on this journey with me. My next scheduled blog post will be in 2024.
Rushing through the commons of middle school as a newly minted eight grader, a friend suddenly rushed up to me and–slightly out of breath–said something akin to “NIKKYITHINKSOMETHINGHITTHETWINTOWERSINNEWYORKIHEARDITONMYALARMCLOCKDIDYOUHEARABOUTIT.” Squinting my eyes, my reaction was bewilderment: I hadn’t heard of anything significant and suspected he had wildly misheard whatever was actually happening.
More than anything else, this interruption messed up the tight timing I had to get to class. I was taking math classes at the next door high school, and while middle school started at 07:40, math started at 07:30. Hustling to class, I entered only to find all of the 10th graders inside staring at the small television. The time must have been around 07:27 PST–I had only sat down when the North Tower collapsed.
The next ninety minutes of class consisted of absorbing what we were watching. The teacher was just in the dark as we were about the circumstances of the events unfolding, and discussion mostly consisted of a few older students professing opinions–correct, as it turned out–that bin Laden was one of the likely suspects.
Back at middle school, our teachers did their best to give us as much background information as they could: we were eight graders who were just starting to absorb the idea that the United States existed in a very complicated world. Prevailing emotions were those of shock and anger: our teachers were upset that our nation were attacked, and in one particular discussion I remember my English teacher was unable to keep their “don’t swear in front of students” filter working. This is when I belatedly realized that we were really experiencing an extraordinary event when even the adults around us were starting to act in unusual manner.
9/11 happened on a Tuesday–soccer practice day. Only around half of the team showed up, but for those that did, their entire family came. While we ran through some light drills, all of the parents were deep in discussion. The general consensus was that we would find whoever was responsible and bomb the entire country until it turned into glass. At the time this seemed like a very reasonable reaction and I didn’t have any sort of worldview to even consider alternative options.
Life slowly returned to normal in our small chunk of the Pacific Northwest. With more flags.