heartbreak

essay

Wonders

I.

Two different people played me “Fall of the Star High School Running Back” a few hours apart. I like to believe it was a plot—they were in that conspiratorial pre-hook-up phase—but it wasn’t. They plugged their phones into the shitty radio in my Grams’ old car, their words haunting one another’s as they told me you’re gonna love this

I did not. I thought it was needlessly twee. But I trusted them both, and when a week later I packed up my dorm room and started driving west, I decided to give All Hail West Texas a genuine try. 

Over the course of that week, I had graduated college with a diploma with the wrong name on it. I’d passed for the first time. I’d driven away from a rebound who had been his own sort of driving away from a partner. I was alone with my body for the first time since I was teenager. My trunk was full of alcohol swabs and needles that made me shake to think about. And here was John Darnielle, telling me to hail satan, that the pirate’s life was for me, that I was the one thing in the universe god didn’t have his eyes on. 

I laughed. I whooped. I didn’t cry, but I thought about it. And then he sang: And I want to go home, but I am home. 

I did not dissociate, but I did leave my body. It felt like the fight club I’d been in the year I started coming out, the night where I told a much stronger friend who’d been holding back that he could hold back a little less and he immediately knocked the wind out of me. As I slumped against the fridge in the dorm lounge, trying to reassure him that I was fine even though I couldn’t get any words out, I felt the place where the pain was and I felt my lungs and I felt the rest of my body and I felt his hands and his breath as he tried to help me up and I heard myself laughing and I could feel that I meant it but it all felt invented somehow. My homes were gone.

II.

He’d been straight and I’d been out our whole relationship. We grew into the cognitive dissonance kind of beautifully. He was shitty about it for a few months—something I’d never put up with now, but I was twenty and afraid and ashamed—and I’m glad I stuck it out, because once I really explained it to him, he got on board. He even got me a binder for Valentine’s Day. 

He told me he was scared he wouldn’t be attracted to me when I looked and smelled and sounded different. He told me he was scared that I would turn into a different person. I never wanted to be monogamous but agreed to it because it was a hard line for him, and now I wondered if it was a bad idea to try to be present with my body while it felt like a shared thing. We never acknowledged my plans to start T as a factor in our break up; we went right from planning our wedding to being unable to compromise on where we’d move after graduation. 

We saw each other twice after the break up. The first time I was two and a half months on T. He had come back east to visit his other friends at my college right before we graduated. The first thing he said to me: “You look different. You sound different.”I held him while he cried about I don’t remember what on the steps of an academic building after dark. 

The second time was a month after that in the home in LA that he built with a Craigslist roommate and not with me. It took both of us to walk the last of his shit from my car to his room, books and blankets and men’s clothes I’d used for practice. Instead of trading mixes like we used to we spoke vaguely of songs we knew the other would never try out. I tried to explain “The Mess Inside”without saying anything about him, or about us, or about how I’d tried to scream sing it in my car every single day since the first time I heard it but I didn’t know how to make my new voice scream or sing so I got scared and whispered. He loved concept albums, so I told him about All Hail West Texas, but all I could talk about was how the sound quality was only okay and the song titles were pretentious and it was mostly acoustic guitar, all things he hated. 

My car broke later that day, stranding me in California for a few extra hours. I texted him that I would like to see him again, but this time to fight or fuck or do something, anything, that approached acknowledging what I thought we had meant to each other. He declined.

III.

I first heard Against Me! on Thanksgiving. My friend didn’t want to go to their parents’ house, so I got up early to visit them before going to see my own straight family. They’d just moved to New York and they were tremendously broke and tremendously depressed. We smoked cigarettes on their stoop and took off our pants and got under their quilt and decided to try out Transgender Dysphoria Blues. I remember holding hands and how at that moment in time, they were one of the only people allowed to touch me; I remember feeling their fingernails inside my skin; I remember how tightly we squeezed when Laura Jane Grace said that she should have been a mother, she should have been a wife, she should have been gone from here years ago she should be living a different life and how it still wasn’t tight enough. 

Four months later we’d borrowed my college roommate’s boyfriend’s car and driven to Long Island because that was the nearest place we could get tickets to see Against Me!. By the time Grace came out for the encore, I’d fallen in love with the crowd, in love with the band, in love with my friend, in love with myself. She was alone on stage, and she told us that she was going to do a song by John Darnielle. I tried to suspend myself in the moment before getting invested—the Mountain Goats have so many songs, and I knew so few then—but I am energetic and hopeful and I’ve yet to find a way to stop myself from going all in at a moment’s notice. Then she said that she was going to play “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”

I gripped my friend’s arm too tightly or I didn’t touch them, I can’t remember. I was with them and I was alone and both were more true than they had ever been before. When it was over, they whispered into my ear, factual: “Something just happened to you.” Then they disappeared into the mosh pit. 

In the car on the way home, my ears rang with the quiet and the darkness of the suburbs. It took longer than usual for it to feel like it was time, and when it did, I tried to tell them. “That song was all that I listened to on my road trip after college. I wasn’t passing at the beginning of the trip and I was at the end and I learned that song the first day I was alone on the highway and I...” They listened well. It didn’t feel bad that I couldn’t explain it.

IV.

I have friends now who didn’t know me before my medical transition. I wish that they did. I want everyone to know all of me all at once. New friends may not be able to know my old voice or my chest without scars or what it’s like to think of me first by my birth name, but I can try to fold them into the history of my body. So it’s one of these friends who I asked to design my “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” tattoo (just two tiny horns, which is stupidly obvious and perfect and something I would never have thought of by myself). I got the tattoo alone. I spent a lot of time in the suspended state of knowing that the artist was wrong about what he thought my body was. 

Next week, the tattoo designer and I are going to see the Mountain Goats’ Goths tour. I will be getting to her place many hours before the show so that we can go full goth, lipstick and nail polish and a corset she’s going to lend me. I don’t think anyone else will be dressed up, but I hope it makes people glad to see that we are. It will make us glad to see ourselves.

Sometimes I get transported so powerfully by music that I am in multiple places at once. Not split between them, but fully in each of them, and each of them fully encompassing me. I wonder, next week, where I will be, and what that will feel like. Will I feel trapped or free in my car? Will the ex’s apartment feel like a flaming scar or a blink? Will I be able to explain any of this to my friend if I can just hold her hand tight enough? With my scars and her corset and our music playing all around, will I still want to go home? 


Jamie Beckenstein is a community worker, oral historian, tarot reader, and writer based out of Queens, New York. You can learn more about their work at transembassy.com and more about them at jamiebeckenstein.com.

audio

A vision quest with Morning Comes Early

intro by Adam Cecil

I’ve known the members of Morning Comes Early for a long time. In fact, I was the manager of David, Patrick, and Jeff’s middle school band The Almosts (later renamed Kevlar Tuxedo). While the line-up has shifted throughout the years, these boys have been playing music together for over a decade. It shows on their latest release, Vision Quest EP. This is their tightest release by far — the songs fit together like puzzle pieces, even when they’re exploring different facets of their sound.

Take a listen. If you like pop punk or have any level of angst, you’ll probably enjoy it.

The title of the EP stems from an inside joke, so I thought it was only appropriate to ask the boys of Morning Comes Early to look into their own mind’s eye and take us on a vision quest through the songs on Vision Quest EP.

Tip Tip
Harry Llewellyn Schroeder IV, Bass guitar

Uh, I wrote this song and I recorded a demo of it on a bunch of pirated software.

Erase
David Atkins, Guitar / Vocals

I'm not sure how well I'll be able to articulate it — even though it's a feeling all of us have felt at some point, to an extent. Succinctly put, Erase is about a tough breakup, one that the other person doesn't seem too torn-up about. It doesn't make any sense, and it hurts, to put so much into a relationship, only to realize that the other person simply wasn't as invested as you were, and they move on right away. And any time you see her, it strikes a nerve. A cut reopened bleeds.

Brooklyn
Patrick Infurna, Vocals

Brooklyn is a song we wrote to kind of take a different approach to our sound. Harry had written that song a really long time ago and it was always one of those songs that we would listen to even before it had any lyrics or any real arrangement, just on Harry’s Soundcloud. It’s funny, we actually had a big debate on whether or not to put this song on the EP and I’m really glad we didn’t put it on the back burner for one of the others. Lyrically, it’s a transitional song; it represents a point in my life where I was moving in both body and in mind. I was in a new place, I was meeting new people, I was falling for someone, someone that made me feel really central and focused and at home. This song makes me feel relaxed, which I think is a big contrast to the energy of our other songs, so this is a personal favorite of mine.

Civil War
Patrick Infurna, Vocals

Civil War is another one where we just did something different. We grew up playing with hardcore bands and listening to hardcore bands but we’ve never really been a hardcore band. This song is a lot of things: it’s a tribute to a style of music that we adore but don’t usually play. It’s such a perfect song for our live sets because we can just stop everything and go absolutely nuts for a second. We can have a show where everyone’s just nodding along or we can have a show where people are piling all over the place, but no matter the energy, when this song is played live everything goes up a level. We had recorded this really poorly at a friend’s years ago, but we knew that it had to be redone because it’d become such a staple in our live sets. Lyrically, I think this song is really special. We get caught up singing about a lot of things that maybe don’t matter – I mean they matter to us – but this song really hits the larger issues that we as a band aren’t always outwardly thinking about. This song tackles political issues close to us and the themes we see in the political atmosphere: greed, violence, all of that. But the second part of this song is a little more specific; we wrote those lyrics at the height of the Syrian Refugee crisis as well as the Central American migrant crisis that was buried in the news. We live in communities that are literally built by immigrants, and none of us have ever had to live the horrors of displacement. From the soccer stands to our live shows we wanted to make it clear: Refugees Welcome.

Resolve
Jeff Bruce, Drums

“Resolve” is the final track on our new EP. I wrote the music about two or three years ago. I had originally written lyrics along to it that were based on my personal encounter with being cheated on; however, the lyrics were more about moving on to the next chapter of my life rather than anger towards my ex. When I finally got the song to a place I was happy with structurally, I gave Patrick the reigns to the song lyrically because I feel that his lyric writing is far better than mine. His lyrics describe the winter “tour” (three-day road trip, essentially) that we went on with local hardcore band Get A Grip, as well as reflecting back on the past, most noticeably referencing Sharkfest (Group of kids / punk as hell / screaming out in grange hall heaven). I, of course, can really connect with this song because it describes all of the thing that we as a band have done in the past five to six years (and ten or so years with David and Patrick). I also see it – same as my thrown away lyrics – as a song about moving onto the next chapter as a band. This EP is different for us and we have tried things that we never would have been comfortable with two or three years ago. I think this album is a fitting conclusion to this EP, as it signals a new direction for this band.


You can find more music by Morning Comes Early on their Bandcamp.

 

 

audio

Swimming with Blonde Maze: a Dive into Oceans EP

This past May, Amanda Steckler, under the moniker of Blonde Maze, released her debut EP, Oceans. Oceans is a collection of indie-electronic assembled beats – a departure from the alternative rock music Steckler first remembers enjoying as a kid. Even though she started making music when she was thirteen, it wasn’t until 2013, at the age of twenty-one, that Steckler decided to seriously pursue music. Her decision came after she attended a show that made her cry from euphoria – “music tears,” she calls them.

Though she was a member of a rock band as a teenager, Steckler creates the music of Blonde Maze on her own, with melodies primarily from a mix of MIDI instruments, such as bells and tuned percussions. Steckler doesn’t record vocals until first creating the right instrumental sound. With a firm belief that success isn’t about the end result, but the work put towards getting there, the two years it took her to give life to Oceans was well worth it. Steckler transformed her feelings of longing for people seemingly out of reach into melodies whenever inspired. Her motto throughout the process was “a song isn’t finished when it is perfect; it’s finished when it’s done.”

As opposed to releasing music under her name, Steckler reasoned that her music – and the unmistakable vibe it carried – deserved a name in itself. And with a trademark head of blonde hair that playfully falls upon her face in a messy “maze,” her signature was born. Steckler’s brand of music is refreshingly heartfelt. Each song is oxymoronic by nature – intense, yet gentle; romantic, yet heartbreaking; distant, yet relatable. The songs speak a harmonious universal language. The music is so rhythmic that the poetry in her lyrics can easily escape the listeners. But please listen closely. Hear the words she penned of a romance across oceans while she journeyed between New York and London, and get ready to swim, drown, and then float along.

audio, interview

Under her influences: Meghan Irving talks about her inspiration

After years of honing her voice in talent shows and in cover songs uploaded to YouTube, Meghan Irving is ready to make music her life. On her recently released EP Under The Influence, Irving sings "I don't want to wait no more." While it's addressed to a lover, one can easily imagine her singing to the Gods of music, telling them that she is here and she is ready to sing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What artists or albums influenced your sound and songwriting?

I have so many different artists and styles of music that I love, but some of my biggest influences would have to be Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Whitney Houston, and Sia. Sia in particular is a big inspiration when it comes to songwriting. She writes catchy songs but they still have meaning and are relatable, which is something that I try to do. My writing is very personal, but I also love clever writing, and lines that make you go "Ooh that's good" or "that's a clever line.” The type of lyrics people get tattooed or put on a poster, or the type that just make you go “Yes! I've been through that, I know what she's talking about." I put a lot of thought into what I want to say in each song.

Vocally, Whitney and Christina are just incomparable and are two singers I've always been inspired by. Both of them are versatile and have very diverse audiences and their songs can be heard through various musical outlets. I never want to be pigeonholed into a particular genre, and that idea has definitely influenced my sound. I like all types of music so I try to create music for all types of people that can be played in various places.

Overall, the ability to convey emotion through my writing and my voice and make people feel and relate to something, and at the same time have songs that are memorable is the ultimate goal.

meghan-irving.jpg

You wrote your first song at age 11. Who and what inspired your early songwriting?

I remember the first song I ever wrote was called "Fly.” It was quite a while ago but I vaguely remember it being about following your dreams and trying your hardest. It wasn't really that good, but it's the thought that counts, right?!

In the beginning I was mostly inspired by movies. I would watch different films and write songs to go along with what happened in the movie. My friends and everything that was happening in our lives at the time also inspired me. I would also just make things up sometimes and create stories about things that I found interesting.

The lyrics came pretty naturally for me. Creating melodies was the hard part. When I was younger and just started to write songs I would use other songs I knew as a template and write my own lyrics. I knew that in reality it didn't work that way, so fast-forward to my teenage years, when I finally began developing my own melodies.

From your first song up until now, can you pinpoint a moment that changed the way you write songs?

When I went away to college, my songs really changed. That's when I was truly out on my own and just gained a lot of life experience and went through some crap. You know how they say pain usually inspires the best art? It's weird how true that is! I also met a lot of new people during that time who introduced me to new artists and new songs. Listening to new music is always good influence. I'm not sure if that necessarily changed how I write songs; I'm still inspired by my life and what's going on around me. But it definitely changed the quality of my songs. They're much more raw, more relatable. I think I kept it a bit more surface-level before and wrote about how I thought I'd feel in certain situations. Now that I've experienced more, I can write from the heart.


You can read more about Meghan on her website and you can follow her on Twitter.