#RealLife is a monthly feature where Consequence of Sound staffers join forces with a diverse cadre of writers to share personal stories inspired by one legendary album. This month we’re tackling Rilo Kiley’s swooning More Adventurous. Some of the stories may be inexorably linked to the album itself; others may just share its themes, tone, and atmosphere. Regardless, they’re all real.
I’m not one for inspirational lyrics. Neither is Jenny Lewis. Perhaps that’s why, when one sneaks into a Rilo Kiley song, it’s a firework rising from scorched earth. “You’ll fight and you’ll make it through,” she sings on “A Better Son/Daughter”. “You’ll fake it if you have to/ And you’ll show up to work with a smile.” I worked at a supermarket the summer I first heard those words, a college graduate in a khaki shirt, swiping Cheetos and cotton balls over a helium-neon scanner. I was discovering insomnia in my parents’ basement, newly single, and questioning the born-again faith that had been so central to that newly ended relationship. And when the sun finally crept through the curtains, a sign that I could stop pretending to sleep, I uttered Jenny’s vague, impractical benediction until I had the courage to somehow show up to work with a smile.
Jenny Lewis’ worst lyrics saved my life that summer.
That’s how good she is.
Her best lyrics saved it countless times after that.
Many of those can be found on Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous, a pitch-perfect collision of Lewis’ barbed wordplay and the band’s lush instrumentation. That landmark album turns 10 years old today, serving as both a symbol of Rilo Kiley at the height of its powers and a testament to how much the sound of its iconic frontwoman has evolved, from the dance pop of Under the Blacklight to the Nicks-inspired nostalgia of this year’s The Voyager.
It’s a Hit
By Katie Prout (@katie_prout)
You want a tattoo of an anatomically correct heart and you don’t care who knows it. There is the look of North Street in the autumn and the smell of the mint factory in the summertime. The girl who crawled out of your bedroom to sit with you on the slant of your roof, looking at the filtered light of the trees as the sun went down. Your mother in her room, folding laundry in her good bra. Your father smoking a pipe the shape of a skull, while sitting in a rocking chair and cardigan. Peter, with his face outlined in the cold March dark, turning towards you as you two fall asleep on the beach anyway. The rum he bought to share with you, with its backside toast and terrible name. It’s Pusser’s, and it comes in a ceramic jar, and the name could sound an awful lot like pussy to your country brother’s ears, but you try to buy it anyway, two years after the beach, because your brother is being deployed. You want to send him off with the appropriate sailor toast. In the end, you cannot find the rum in any store, even though someone must sell it, like you cannot find your brother’s ship on any map, even though it is there. Your brother, who is somewhere in the ocean, floating on a warship; crouching down low to fiddle at some task. Then standing straight to look ahead. He always looks ahead.
Does He Love You?
By Tori Szekeres
Yesterday was a busy day. I mean, you and your friend you met online did everything but! He said he wanted to remain friends, but maybe he’ll change his mind; you’ve known each other for three years, after all. If an 18-year-old guy wants to bang you, it’s out of love, right?
When you leave the apartment, he wants to show you his college. He studies graphic design at an art school.
It turns out to be Career Day, and your friend leads you into a ballroom packed with people who want to hire artists. Who knew people wanted to hire artists? You’ve heard differently for the last 20 years of your life.
As you look around the crowd, you start to sweat. The dichotomies between you and your friend (and his friends) are galling. ART SCHOOL vs. LAND GRANT UNIVERSITY! VEGETARIAN vs. CARNIVORE! EAST COAST vs. MIDWEST! THRIFT STORE vs. ABERCROMBIE AND FITCH!
Then you realize that at a size 18, you’re the fattest woman in the room. Sure, you’ve got chemistry with this guy, but you wish you could close your eyes and teleport yourself back to Iowa.
“Hey,” you overhear some guy saying to your friend. “Who’s that?” He gestures at you.
Your friend says nothing at all.
Portions for Foxes
By Henry Hauser (@Henry_Jake_H)
The path from adolescence to maturity is steep, craggy, and rife with obstacles. Mistakes and missteps abound, as carnal temptations cause us to conflate talking, touching, and sex with communication, connectedness, and love. Lacking the broader perspective of experience, doing what’s right often takes a backseat to the pursuit of instant gratification. You feel a little guilty, but it’s easy to shed the shame by convincing yourself that you never had a choice: “Baby I’m bad news/ I’m just bad news, bad news, bad news.”
“Portions for Foxes” was the soundtrack to my undergraduate sleights. Loneliness, lust, and boredom are a recipe for thoughtlessness (especially during a dreary winter in upstate New York). Granted, I never said or did anything awful, but plenty of my words and actions were juvenile, vain, and shallow. I’m sure I hurt some feelings, and for that I’m truly sorry.
Without validating our immature and selfish transgressions, Rilo Kiley shows us that we’re not alone. Atop Blake Sennett’s soaring guitar riffs, a sympathetic Jenny insists that everyone makes mistakes: “I don’t blame you/ I do the same thing/ I get lonely too.” No one emerges from the womb with a fully-formed personality; it takes time to develop a sense of compassion. And emotional growth is seldom linear. “One step forward, two steps back” is the norm. “Portions for Foxes” is an empowering and hopeful song about moving forward once you realize you’ve taken a couple steps back. It’s okay to make mistakes, so long as you remember that you had a hand in the matter.
By Gerrit Feenstra
A microphone makes for a frightening best friend. Fifteen with rudimentary guitar technique and an identity crisis backed generously by a lack of reciprocated friendship, a laptop mic was one of a priceless few constants. One track at a time into whatever freeware Garageband rip-off I could find, I channeled some opaque version of honesty in the lowest-fi possible. There it disappeared into the ether for a moment and then emerged a choppy wave on the screen where it was captured and incarnated in 1’s and 0’s, all for no one but the microphone. I didn’t even listen back to half of them.
Perhaps the only best friend more disconcerting at that age would be More Adventurous. Drenched in anomalous sex and unremorseful suicide, the CD-R skipping on my Walkman told me I didn’t have much to look forward to in life. All the good that wouldn’t come out before was empty idealism, meant for idiots and the incorrigibly hopeless. The best thing a 15-year-old can hear is that steady footing is a facade. No life context yet to realize that life is what you make of it, expectation is all you’ve got. And when the man on the tape mourns the loss of a friend, relatively unloved in his dramatic effect on the world around him, there is nothing else. And so aye aye aye and oh oh oh and aye aye aye aye aye oh oh oh … ba da da dah. Another one recorded down for later.
By Katherine Flynn (@kateallthetime)
I prefer walking home down U Street by myself to being walked. U Street holds the answers: drunks spilling out onto the sidewalk, Jumbo Slice perfuming the air. There’s nothing like the roar of U Street on a Friday night to remind me that I chose this city, chose to live in a former crack house in a swiftly gentrifying neighborhood to be close to crowded bars and the good music venues. This corridor is the fault line, the division between a 23-year-old’s dreams and a newly single 24-year-old’s necessary pragmatism.
I don’t dream about clean houses anymore or Subarus parked in two-car garages. I used to spend entire metro and escalator rides imagining the heavy weight and sparkle of the third finger of my left hand, touching my abdomen as the moving stairway carried me up, up into the sunlight and cupping the hollow, empty space of my stomach, the space waiting to be filled. Those were my fantasies, then, the things I held onto even when the man that I loved shut the door to our bedroom with me on the other side.
When I close my eyes now, I see U Street and the sodium yellow glare of the streetlights, the scattered 7-Eleven cups on the ground and fluorescent-lit drugstores, the intersection where the street becomes Florida Avenue. I see Florida Avenue, and no further.
The Absence of God
By Leah Pickett (@leahkpickett)
As a pigtailed, plaid-skirted Catholic schoolgirl in the most nonsexual embodiment of those words – nine, freckled, morose – I would hide in the chapel during recess and pray for a deferment on womanhood. I begged God to keep me a forever child, my fingernails digging little half-moons into my palms. I prayed to be absolved of sins I had not yet committed but feared I would: the ones that strip a child’s innocence like a Band-Aid so quick they can do nothing but feel the afterburn and gape at the boils where their birthmarks used to be. I imagined Jesus, my Peter Pan, turning away from my window in disgust — woman! — as hot tears spilled down my cheeks, no, no, no. I willed myself to take root as a Virgin statue, liquescing into the same stuff that fortified this church, stone and brick and mortar and hardwood pounding into my knobby knees, castigating me for my detestable budding form.
The prayer was self-flagellation.
Rip! I’m 19. I grew up fast because I grew with you. I became part of you, like Adam’s rib. In your hands I was absolved, skin on fire, begging for more. You owned me; I adored you. You were perfect in the reflection of my gaze, the wanting of a Lost Child. And then you turned. From an angel into a thing that turned my stomach: green vomit into a commode, teenage body splayed on a bathroom floor. The tile is cold beneath my cheek, like a slap, or a kiss.
I want to close my eyes and just like that, disappear. I want to fly away on angel wings. I want to pretend you were never real, like god never was, because you and god are one and the same — wishful thinking — and the epiphany hits me like a thunderbolt, like a prophecy.
There is comfort in the absence of god.
By Scott Whitehair (@scott_whitehair)
There is an empty bar stool in Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, tonight. The seat is on the far side of the windowless basement tavern on Leechburg Road, and it wobbles due to uneven legs. It sits just to the left of Kevin Starr, who is blowing through a pack of Carlton’s he stole from his grandmother as he motherfucks his manager Tim and picks dried marina sauce from under his fingernails. It’s a few hours before he will be thrown out for having a loud argument with Stush over which breed of dog makes for the best hunting dog. On the other side of the stool is Lisa, who has been on disability for her neck but can still bob her head pretty fiercely to a Nugent tune. By last call, 172 cigarettes, 84 bottles of Bud Light, and 4 smoked snacks sticks will have been consumed. No one gets a DUI. Everyone goes home alone. These are all just guesses, by the way, as I am no longer there to confirm.
By Michael Madden (@_mikemadden)
My bike was, to use friendly terms, generic, a garage sale “why not?” type of purchase. I don’t remember the color, much less the make or model; I don’t have the thing anymore. But it did the job, getting me from point A to point B, whether or not point B was predetermined.
To combat boredom in the summer between ninth and tenth grade, when only one of my close friends had his license, I would ride my bike from the south end of White Bear Lake to the outskirts of Stillwater. These were always solo adventures, unless you count whoever was singing/rapping inside the earbuds I sometimes wore, sometimes not. I was bound for an undefined destination, from which I would return in time for dinner (chicken wings, preferably).
Eighteen miles or so, round-trip. Hundreds of increasingly tiresome leg rotations, the wind pulling my overgrown hair in unflattering directions.
I did this despite the lack of scenery, or maybe because of it. The most freeing stretch was the straight shot of 75th St. N, which also happened to be the least exciting, visually: miles of unimpressive trees, a boring wetland here, a cornfield there. It was exercise, but it wasn’t exercise first and foremost. This was an effort to streamline my thoughts, to clutch whatever was most important to me at the time and leave other stressors at home.
Again, there was no specific destination, only a vicinity. As soon as I had the feeling that I was “there,” I turned around and retraced my route back to our apartment. Once there, I would lie supine on my bed, hands clasped behind my head, and breathe, because a familiar adventure – the ominous whirlwind of teenhood, duh – was ever so slightly renewed.
Love and War (11/11/46)
By Dan Caffrey and Susan Myburgh (@dwcaffrey)
Dan: I think about when we first started dating, which was … how old were you?
Susan: I was 18.
Dan: But this — this story, this fight — was right after I turned 21 and you turned 19.
Susan: So we were adults.
Dan: Yes, very, very, adult. But despite being adults, the arguments we got into during that time were very childish. I feel like when you first start dating someone … and this doesn’t just go for us, but for most couples … but when you get into those early fights, they seem so silly in hindsight. They’re about the dumbest things, but in that moment, they seem so serious.
Susan: Life or death.
Dan: And maybe that’s just because when you’re older, you’re better equipped to deal with life issues, so the little stuff doesn’t seem as serious. We’ve been through some serious stuff together, right?
Dan: I mean, we don’t have to get into it here, but we have, right?
Dan: I’m wearing a bathrobe and my weiner is out and a car just drove by and what if they saw it?
Susan: They can’t possibly have seen your weiner. You’re lying on the couch.
Dan: Anyway, we’ve dealt with some more serious things, but with the fights we used to get into … what was one of those fights? During that early time period?
Susan: I like to refer to it as The Dark Ages. One that really sticks out to me … I think I was doing a show or we were both in a show together? Were we both doing Amadeus?
Dan: No, I was in Charlotte’s Web and you were in Girls.
Susan: Ooooh, yes. Not the HBO series, although, Lena Dunham, if you’re reading, I’d love to be on it. So we’re both doing shows, and I guess we weren’t seeing each other as much as we were used to. We were young and stupid and yeah, we were dumb. But I still knew that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Dan: You know who else knows that?
Susan: Paula Dean?
Dan: The xenomorphs in Aliens.
Susan: I don’t know what that is.
Dan: Literally, they plant…
Susan: I don’t know what that is.
Dan: …an egg in your stomach
Susan: I don’t know what that is. Anyway, it was super late at night and we were at my apartment and you were really hungry and wanted me to make you something to eat. We had already been bickering, but I made you a tuna melt because that was your favorite thing for me to make and it was college and we were poor, so tuna was all we could afford.
Dan: I still like tuna melts. And we weren’t that poor. Just college-student poor.
Susan: Yeah, but for the purposes of dramatic tension…
Dan: We were so poor.
Susan: We ate by candlelight because we didn’t have a choice. And, I’ll admit, as I was making the sandwich, I was being a little bit of a bitch.
Dan: I was trying to help you out because you were getting really frustrated in the kitchen for whatever reason. We were fighting about something else, although I can’t remember what it was, and I was just trying to make you feel better.
Susan: Yeah, but then you do this thing where when I say, “I just need some space, just leave me alone. I’m mad at you.” You think I mean the opposite, and you get in my way more, so I was in the process of taking the tuna melt out of the oven and you had come over to…
Dan: To help you out!
Susan: Or something. And in the process, I dropped the piece of bread with the cheese on it into the oven.
Dan: Actually, I think I was just coming to, like, hug you and kiss you. That’s what it was. It wasn’t me trying to help you. I was just trying to come over there to make you feel better.
Susan: The tuna melt fell, cheese face-down onto the oven, and burned and started smelling really bad and my reaction was — because I was tense and we were already arguing about something that I’m sure was really stupid — to start yelling at you. I basically blamed me dropping the cheese with my double-jointed fingers on…
Dan: On my love.
Susan: On your love, yes, because I’m an evil wench.
Dan: So we went to bed. Hungry, I might add, because it was college and we were so poor, we didn’t have any more tuna or bread or cheese.
Susan: It was the last tuna we ever ate.
Dan: You know when you’re in bed after a fight, and you feel that invisible barrier between you? If it were a movie, the camera would be filming from the ceiling, right down on us with our arms crossed. That’s what this was like. After a while, I said to myself, “You know, it’s stupid to fight. I don’t care if she was mean to me.” So I leaned over to kiss you, and what did you do?
Susan: Well, in the meantime, I’m lying there, doing the pretend sleeping thing, fuming. It’s that thing where you’re angry, and you know that you’re angry for no reason, and then you get angry at yourself for being angry, and then you get more angry at the other person because they made you angry, but you’re actually not angry anymore, but you still can’t say sorry. Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize that, but back when I was 19 and my room was painted bright orange, so I didn’t know any better. You leaned over to kiss me, and then instead of just reciprocating and kissing you back or apologizing, I jerked my head away.
Dan: Flat-out rejected me. And remember, this was during the first year of dating when things are hot and heavy, and you’re doing it like four times a day
Susan: Oh, stop.
Dan: I got so mad. I remember that I actually didn’t say anything and just decided I was going to go home. Now, I lived a good three or four miles from you at the time, and I didn’t have car or a bike. We always drove in your car, so I remember I walked out of the house and just stood there. I just stood outside in silence, listening to the crickets for a while, then went back in. I couldn’t really go in the living room and watch TV or anything because your roommates were home and I didn’t want to wake them up. But I sure as hell didn’t want to lay in bed next to you either. So I just went in the bathroom and sat there really pissed off, just pouting.
Susan: You went and sat in the bathroom and I was like, “Well, fine! If he’s gonna be that way about it, I’m not gonna give him what he wants.” I purposely tested you to see how long you would stay in there.
Dan: It was a really long time.
Susan: I think you were in there for an hour.
Dan: And I didn’t have a book or anything. It was really boring. My anger actually went away after five minutes, and then I just kinda sat there because I was being stubborn. But I really wasn’t mad anymore. I didn’t even have to go to the bathroom.
Susan: You were just proving a point. I eventually I came in there. You didn’t want to open the door at first. You locked the bathroom door. You locked the bathroom door like a teenage girl, and you wouldn’t let me in. But you did eventually.
Dan: It was after you finally apologized. Then I told you why I had locked myself in there, and we both starting laughing. Things naturally resolved themselves after that. We just went to bed and forgot about it. It reminds me of this Chuck Klosterman essay where he talks about how back during the ‘90s boy band craze — with Backstreet Boys and N’Sync and 98 Degrees and all that — there were these young, female fans who loved them sooo much. It was short-lived, but it was passionate.
Susan: Is this the part where we make it about music because this is a music site?
Dan: No, we don’t have to. I’m just trying to do a little button at the end. You know, a button?
Susan: Oh brother.
Dan: Klosterman said that the way these fans loved boy bands was so much more intense than any music nerd — or anyone who writes for this site — will ever love their favorite band. We might like the band longer and be more in-depth with our knowledge of their chronology and career and all that. But it’s almost more mathematical, more removed. With those boy bands, though, the love was so passionate and completely in the moment. I feel like those old fights were sort of like that. Looking back, I can never remember why we were ever really fighting, but I just remember feeling so intense and taking these silly, dramatic actions that I would never do nowadays.
Susan: And that’s really interesting, because that means over the past decade our love has evolved from a boy band to…
Dan: Pavement. That’s my favorite band. Who’s your favorite band?
Susan: I don’t know.
Dan: I mean, I know the bands you like.
Susan: Yeah, but I don’t have a favorite.
Dan: Who was your favorite boy band? You had to have had a favorite boy band.
Susan: It was N’Sync.
Dan: They were mine, too! I didn’t love boy bands, but N’Sync, they were … I mean, they had Justin Timberlake, you know?
Susan: Gotta love J.T.
Dan: J.C. Chasez has done some alright stuff since then, too. So our love went from N’Sync to Pavement. Both are good, but for very different reasons.
A Man/Me/Then Jim
By Kristofer Lenz
Coming in from the porch I saw the blinking light on our answering machine. After pressing “play”, a voice familiar but wracked and broken in unexpected ways mumbled from the rolling tape: “Ben is dead. He fell off a balcony at a party and died. Call me back. Ben died.”
The obviously distraught voice was Rachel’s, my ex-girlfriend from high school. Ben was her best friend from junior high and high school. He was thin with a narrow face, bleached hair, and large gauge earrings that marked his lingering presence in the pop punk scene. I didn’t know him well, only through interactions with Rachel, and I hadn’t even spoken to her in months. We has broken up before leaving college, occasionally reuniting to fuck without effort or pity. But even those desultory reunions had ceased in the months after I had moved to Colorado.
Ben. Ben was another story. He had carried a torch for Rachel for as long as I knew them both. He was the “Duckie”, haunting the outer reaches of our circle. Making moves Rachel consistently spurned when he thought no one was looking. Then, on a late-night bus ride, she took her shirt off and gave him a hand job. At least that was the rumor around school, making its way to me in no time. Rachel denied everything, naturally, and I forgave her, in the way someone who understands nothing can forgive something that may not have happened. Meanwhile, Ben continued telling everyone about the hookup. So one day after AP History I confronted him. Before I could say a word, he folded before me, “Are you gonna beat me up?” No, I responded. Did you hook up with Rachel? “No.” Then stop telling people you did. And he slinked away as the crowded hallway looked on.
I like to imagine I was a powerful, intimidating presence. Justice via clenched fists. But I was probably more scared than he was. Not of him but of the overwhelming awkwardness of the situation: children play-acting as men.
I walked from the answering machine, Rachel’s soft voice clanging between my ears. I should have called her, comforted her, been a familiar presence for her to rest her sorrow against, even just for a moment, even if I was pretending. But that old ache of juvenile anxiety and insecurity rose unbidden, clenching my lungs and twisting at my heart and forcing bile into the back of my throat. I chose not to address the anguish in Rachel’s pleading tone, nor my own childish response, and went back to the porch for another beer.
It Just Is
J. Merrill Motz (@JustMotz)
“You see this?” he pointed to his shelf, 14 years ago this fall.
We looked up from our sticky, molting copies of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Two leather tomes, massive, like OEDs.
“These are Quartos. Belonged to my roommate. Thought they were so cool. So, I took ‘em. He asked me, ‘Hey, man, did you take my Shakespeare?’ and I told him, ‘No.’”
Somebody asked him why. He said to shut up and read.
I’d rather know: “Why are they on display in your classroom?”
So the copy of Zen that I stole from him sits in my bathroom. Every apartment since high school, always bathroom. Not because the cover fell off and I wrapped it with tape. Not because it is so curled and creased that it barely resembles a book anymore. I really don’t know why.
See, when he died, fucking pancreatic cancer, not even a year ago this fall, I thought about moving it to my bookshelf: a broken-spined, psychedelic pink outcast. But it’s still in there, the bathroom. I see it every day.
He used to give us Xeroxes, in class, out of poetry books. No titles, no authors, just poems. Sometimes you could tell: this was Frost, that was Merwin. But it would be years before I learned the title “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”. I don’t know why he did that, either.
Last time I saw him, eight years ago this fall. Still had my picture stapled on his classroom wall next to Orson Welles. Wasn’t teaching anymore, just consulting. The quartos were gone.
I said, “You know, I stole a copy of Zen from you.”
He said, “No, you didn’t.” He looked weird without his mustache.
Later, I read his eulogy. I really wanted it to say, “The hose was a steam hose.”
And I found those Xeroxes in my desk. I thought about moving them into the bathroom, too.