“alone…. something something…” (repeat indefinitely)

It’s 2pm on Good Friday and I’m in Oakland, walking home from the BART train to my apartment at 29th and Fairmount, trying to place the melody and words. What is this song that is stuck in my head? After a few seconds of scanning my memory, I’m fairly certain it’s the new Why? record, Alopecia, and I make a mental note to listen to it when I get home.

There is a punch line coming.

[audio:http://www.anticon.com/pr/The_Hollows.mp3] Why? – “The Hollows”

Payam (from Sholi) had given me the record a few weeks earlier, and I recall telling Jon (also from Sholi) at SXSW, as we walked to the stage where Why? was playing, “it’s pretty good, but I probably won’t listen to it more than 4 or 5 times.”

Then I saw the show.

I was charmed, I was moved, and I was proven wrong. I had been groaning all day about how the festival reduces music to pure commodity, about how bad of a time I was having, but this was living and completely relevant, and I snapped out of it. There was an awkward post-show exchange – I exaggerate, but essentially it was this one:

“Yeah, I play in a band too, maybe you’ve heard of us”…”No, not really” … “Oh, ok, well it’s funny that we live in the bay area and we meet here” … “Yeah, totally man… catch you later.”

This is not to say that they were distant or unkind, it’s just the way these things happen at SXSW. I think they played about 8 shows in 4 days. Apparently Jon by random chance hung out with Josiah (Why?’s drummer and percussionist) at a party in El Cerrito a few months ago, but I wouldn’t say we’re tight with them or anything.

Flash back forward to Good Friday, and I’m home with headphones on, kicking back after a half day at work. I’ve decided to finally give a close listen to Alopecia. A few minutes in, I clearly hear Yoni (Why?’s frontman) say “the Friday before Easter was not good.” Huh? That’s today . . . weird. . . oh well, strange coincidence . . . Anyway, since I’m home early, I take the opportunity to do some laundry. Hit pause, and I walk to the Fairmount St. side of the building where the laundry room is. I drop some coins in the machine, press start, and head back to my house to dive back into the record.

Soon I reach the melody that had been stuck in my head earlier, which is in “Song of the Sad Assassin.” I swear I’m not making this up!

“alone, putting three coins into a washing machine, under the caulked, cracked wall, in a basement on Fairmount Street…”

– Rewind. Did I hear that correctly? Yes, he’s actually saying that.

Consider my mind blown.

As I listen I can imagine Yoni jotting down lyrics on a day much like this, in this very same place Payam and I lived and worked on our album every night for months, and this becomes a key for unlocking everything else. Maybe that makes me simple-minded? All of the fucked up sexuality, all of the strange references to bodies and illness, all of the identity paranoia, the “great unutterable joke,” I’m with them. Even as “Song of the Sad Assassin” enters the stratosphere and Yoni is stuttering about film loops of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, and then Billy the Kid, it all makes sense. It’s in the words, it’s in the delivery, and I’m hearing it in every instrument. I just get it, and the album becomes impervious to dissection in the way that all of my most beloved albums always have been.

For better or for worse, that means this isn’t criticism.

I always tell people I don’t have favorites and that ‘best-of’ lists frustrate me, and that’s usually the truth, but not this year. Alopecia is my favorite record of 2008.

This contribution was written by guest blogger Eric Ruud of Sholi.