How to Fall Apart in Melbourne: An Edible, Musical Breakdown (by Claire)

Pan fried celeriac and rocket

I found out I wasn’t a superhero in Melbourne, Australia. It only took me 20 odd years, and one terrible trip. 

I was in Melbourne for six weeks. The set up was simple: Work all night. Sleep all day. Flip the schedule on the weekends. Go out and have fun and live off espresso. Move to a different apartment every two weeks.    

The plan was to run on empty; this was always my plan, in all situations. I treated plants and pets with more care and attention than my body. I lived off of all-nighters, I drank gallons of coffee, I didn’t care about myself much. It usually worked until it didn’t, and when it didn’t, I was on the other side of the world.

I hadn’t factored in how overwhelming it would be to spend 95% of my time alone. My body had no interest in flipping back and forth between a variety of sleeping schedules. It never wanted to sleep during the day,  until it was exhausted by weeks of hunger and sleeplessness. Then I wanted to sleep all day, every day. I hadn’t considered the effect of never being awake or outside during daylight hours.  Our budget was tight, food was scarce. I barely saw my boyfriend.

Stress, isolation, hunger, and intense sleep deprivation: That’s a recipe. Combine swiftly and you will fall apart. You will wonder if you’re having a heart attack. You will become forgetful and blurry. You will wake up afraid and go to bed depressed and waver between the two for the several hours in between. 

I came home. I got better. I got busy. I never thought about Melbourne. Until now, a few weeks away from another long trip abroad, the first since my last harrowing adventure. I’ve traveled a little before, and I always came home with a head full of pictures, conversations, experiences. In Melbourne, the world got smaller, not larger, and my memories revolve exclusively around meals I cooked, songs I listened to. So here it is, a year later: a soundtrack and tasting menu for a breakdown in Melbourne, Australia. 

Pan Fried Kangaroo/ “Uh-Oh Love Comes to Town” by Talking Heads 

Butcher the celeriac with bare bones directions from a supermarket magazine. Peel and hack until the crisp flesh emerges.  Open a package of cling-wrapped raw kangaroo meat dripping with blood and red wine marinade, smashed garlic smeared across the burgundy steak.

Pan fry everything. Fry it in rich yellow butter and handfuls of cumin, in jagged flakes of salt and faded paprika.

Work until 4:00 am. Walk fast fast, everywhere. Miss cigarettes. Miss them like you quit yesterday, not five years ago. Be alone all day. Talk to yourself, and when that gets old, talk to David Byrne.  Play Talking Heads 77 two ways: Loudly, constantly.  Scrape and butcher and scavenge in your rented kitchen, light stoves with a match and fry meats and drink ten shots of espresso before you eat. Make it to dinner exhausted, drink clear skin wine while David Byrne sings, and kangaroo is okay, really. Better than they said it would be.

Truffle Butter Toast/ “Calling It Quits” by Aimee Mann 

Move into the second apartment. Start crying all the time. This is what happens when you sleep a handful of hours in a handful of weeks, when you eat all of your meals with your Kindle, when your boyfriend works all hours and your roommates don’t want you there and you’ve run out of money. Stop leaving the house. Figure out how to create lunch out of two dollars and some instant coffee left over from your flight. Find a stale hunk of bread in the kitchen and slather it in truffle butter the owner stashed in the fridge. Eat it slowly, the smokey salt crystals dissolving on your tongue. Play Aimee Mann (so often that her voice starts narrating your thoughts) on the kitchen island, play “Calling It Quits” because it’s dark so early and you never got outside today and what day is it anyway? When you don’t have a friend or a lunch, you have Aimee Mann.

Lemon Bread/ “Feed the Tree” by Belly 

Grate and juice the found lemons. The owners of the house, the final one, left a map scribbled on a napkin of where to scavenge. The yard two houses down for herbs, half a mile down the road, past the pub with the Tuesday chicken parma night (a slab of pounded and deep fried chicken as big as a door, topped with parma ham, tomato sauce, and cheese. The only not outrageously expensive meal in town, unless you want to brave the lamb wrap at McD’s), there’s a lemon tree drooping with fruit. The owners of the house left a sack of their found lemons with leaves on and stems. Bake lemon bread with bittersweet chocolate chips and a sharp lemon glaze. It’s a Saturday morning, ten or so of Melbourne’s native loud chubby birds perform doo-wop on the patio. Drink a long black from the espresso shop down the street and bake and listen to 90’s music you haven’t heard since elementary school. This is a recipe, not the ingredients in the bowl, but Belly and warm lemon bread and quiet morning. This is a recipe to feel better, and for an hour or two, it works.

Pretend Canned Spaghetti/ “Faron Young (Acoustic)” by PreFab Sprout 

There’s a two pound jar of arugula pesto in the fridge when you get there. “Eat anything, everything!” the owner says in his good natured way, before disappearing on his own trek to Asia. Bone-weary and flat broke, a fridge full of food is a blessing, the energy to cook it feels like a lost cause.

When you moved to San Francisco, you barely knew a soul, and sometimes for a week would only chat with your boyfriend and barista. When the coffee shop closed, when he had to work late, you would make a dish called Pretend Canned Spaghetti because the noodles were soft and the sauce was thin. It tasted like forbidden childhood junk food, scaled up. Cook penne in a giant pot and rest your head on the counter, the cold marble untangling a headache lodged between your eyes. PreFab Sprout sings gently about paper plates and bubblegum and other grains. The song is like bundling up in the biggest, warmest blanket while someone strokes your forehead. Stir a scoop of pesto and half a can of tomatoes into the pasta. Cover it in a grated heel of hard cheese. Eat it at the counter, wearing two sweaters and two pairs of socks, never sure where the heater is or how to work it. Eat slowly and fall asleep with The Simpsons on and feel warm and full and so homesick you could die.

Yakitori/ “Long Walk” by Jill Scott 

You eat every kind of Tim Tam—plain and double dipped and mint and Rum Raisin and caramel, dipped in coffee and tea and eaten raw, five at a time. You eat every kind of dip, at which this city excels—yogurt dips dotted with cubed beets and chunky pumpkin dips and oily, minced lemongrass chili cashew dips that will make your eyes glaze over.  You go to brunch and puncture poached eggs poised dangerously on top of avocado toasts. You chop up asparagus and onions, marinate torn up raw chicken in soy sauce and hoisin, grill it all on bamboo sticks in a cheap yakitori grill pan in the kitchen. Repeat this every night for the last week, because every hour you are closer to home and you’re allowed to enjoy what you’ve enjoyed here. Not people or trips or restaurants or any of the things you usually love abroad. But meals at home and rambling nostalgic playlists, intertwined and prepared nightly. Play the neosoul of your high school years, Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild and Floetry. Eat and drink and be merry, because it’s nearly over.

Charmed List: May 30, 2013 (By Claire)

Top Album Cake: Beat Happening Cake

Who made this? Where is it from? I’ve had this picture saved for ages and I have no idea. If you are the magical Beat Happening baker, I have so many cake needs in my life that you should fulfill. Leave your info in the comments.

Top playlist I forgot to post: May So Hot Right Now

It’s a good one too! And for the first time in ages, it actually IS what I listened to in May, along with a handful of albums that I had on repeat (Tender Buttons by Broadcast, Love Has Come for You by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, and Truckload of Trouble by The Pastels). What did you listen to?

Top Weekly Playlist: Friday playlists on Rookie

Esoteric and fun, handwritten and animated like the final page in a high school notebook–I find so many unexpected and excellent songs through Rookie. Their music content (which is all over the map, including themed album roundups, a custom made song of the month, and odes to favorite artists) is pretty excellent, whether or not you’re in their target teenage girl audience.

  Top Calming Album: Holiday in Rhode Island by The Softies

Sweet and slow and a little sad, this album has trumped my old Top 5 Calm songs for when I need a soothing, mood-adjusting playlist.

Top Interview: Aimee Mann on WTF with Marc Maron 

Who knew Aimee Mann had a soap-opera-worthy childhood? Great, revealing interview that ends in a lovely performance by Mann.

A Mixtape for Fireflies and Summer Storms

The East Coast is alive and well in San Francisco. At a birthday party Saturday night, I compared notes with my side of a long table and three of us went to high schools so close together we could’ve run into each other at the same McDonalds. It’s New York, it’s Boston, it’s the suburbs of DC—and for a couple months of the year, it’s the same conversation: Isn’t it so nice to be done with winter?

Disliking winter is simple: Who wants to slip on ice or endure those long months when it’s bitterly cold without the chance of snow? Who enjoys those days when it’s just never-enough layers and cutting wind, and one sad grey face after another?

Summer is it’s own strange beast though, my first love/hate relationship. I was not built for summer in Baltimore. I’m hilariously pale, perpetually dehydrated, and fairly certain that my blood is just sugar and perfume, since having upwards of 20 mosquito bites at a time is very normal for me.

I loathed the long summer months—but I loved the surreal, magic tinged bits.  Pale  green fireflies outside my bedroom window, crackling thunderstorms in June, the warm scent of honeysuckles in the heat, an olfactory memory that sums up the word “luscious.” Driving at dusk to the snowball stand, slurping crunchy ice and cherry chocolate syrup from a Styrofoam cup, bare feet perched on the dashboard. The sweet, heady boredom of suburban adolescence in the summer, all tied up in movie theatre air conditioning and cheap sunscreen, drinking Evan Williams in a field or backyard and wondering what to do next.

Are these memories a little far-fetched? Do they ignore relentless sticky days where the outdoors seem sweaty and downright hostile?  Yes. But I recommend embracing the idyllic and silly side of things—I recommend embracing that side whenever you get the chance.

So this is a soundtrack for staying out late with nothing to do, for driving barefoot while a storm gathers, for navigating leafy side roads as the sun sets and the day’s sweat cools on your bare arms and legs.

Top 5 Choruses (by Claire)

If you’re going to repeat a cluster of lines a couple times over, they better be good. I’ve never taken a songwriting class, but I have to guess that’s a lesson that’s taught on day one. The chorus does the song’s heavy lifting—how often, during a concert, does an artist ask the audience to put down their drinks and chant the third verse? It’s rare. The chorus is what everyone knows, the chorus is what gets trapped in your head, long before the rest of the lyrics land there too.

“Ghost World” by Aimee Mann

Remember the public, coded melodrama that was the early 2000s AIM away message? The clear ancestor of modern Facebook statuses and tweets, away messages were prime real estate for a well placed song lyric, meant to convey the ocean of feelings you were off somewhere glamorously drowning in (when, in fact, you were usually across the room watching TV).

My first year of college, “I’m bailing this town/Or tearing it down” was a not so sly glimpse at the epic partying I was clearly doing, meant to impress…well, everyone. I moved back home as a sophomore and started using the full chorus, following up those loaded two lines with the truthful third “Or probably more like hanging around.” Aimee Mann succinctly sums up a snapshot of adolescence, and not the kind so often portrayed on TV and in movies, where everyone juggles lurid sex lives, wacky adventures, and transcendent angst. It’s real adolescence—the kind where the bulk of it is boredom and waiting, wanting to do something exciting, but probably doing a lot of nothing as you hide behind a carefully invented version of yourself.

“Brilliant Mistake” by Elvis Costello

I almost got a tattoo of this song title, years ago. I’m glad I didn’t; I think whatever haunch or shoulder blade I scribbled an Elvis Costello lyric on would embarrass me now. What if in two years we find out that Elvis Costello is a serial killer, or worse, he takes a cue from Liz Phair and releases some inescapable piece of pop drek? His handiwork would sit right on my skin, forever. This is how I think. This is a keyhole view into my obsessive mind. And for another view, here’s this: Several times a week, I’ll leave my keys at home or rewrite a draft into a worse draft or get garishly heavy-handed with eye liner, and the chorus to this song will run through my head and make me smile: “It was a fine idea at the time/ Now it’s a brilliant mistake.”

“Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)” by The Shangri-Las

I love this chorus. The entire tempo of the song shifts and it’s stripped down to snapping and atmospheric noises. Even the lead singer’s voice changes from impassioned, loud pleading to a half whispered kittenish drawl. The other girls, who oohed and aahed through the intro, join together for a hushed “Remember!” at the top of every line in the chorus. It’s striking and a little bizarre—the background noises are kind of psychedelic, and when they’re paired with classic Motown girl group snaps and syncopation, it’s magical. I heard this song for the first time recently and the chorus made me drop what I was working on and really tune in.

“Metal Firecracker” by Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams is a badass. All grit and wisdom and you took my joy, I want it back—listen to “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” one time and tell me you don’t want to track her down and swig whiskey with her at some salty dive. (And hey, if that ever happens for you, call me?) Even this song about a breakup shows off a bit of her swagger, as her old lover calls her his biker and they cruise around listening to ZZ Top. But the chorus is so quiet and vulnerable, it’s jarring and does a magic trick that good poetry performs: It reveals an experience so universal, you didn’t realize you’d had it a million times. It’s terrifying to reveal yourself to someone, scarier still when that someone leaves with half your heart and all your secrets. Who hasn’t wanted to plead “All I ask is don’t tell anybody that secrets I told you” when a relationship ends? I’ve never said that to someone: ego and fear usually get the better of me. But like I said, Lucinda Williams is a badass. Vulnerability and honesty are just as ballsy as bourbon and bikes.

“I’d Rather Go Blind” Etta James

My friend Max, who’s a chef, once came over after work with a foie gras sandwich on brioche, slathered with homemade duck fat butter. “Luxury!” we exclaimed as we devoured it. I will never eat that sandwich again, which is a fact that makes my arteries sing. When it comes to little luxuries, the ones you can conjure more than once, I think a good cry is the best. The kind of cry where I may not be sad about anything in particular, but I find myself with a chunk of alone time and the opportunity to wail for a bit. It’s better than any massage or bubble bath or any other spa like treatment that may cleanse your skin, but can’t touch the soul cleansing powers of voluntary weeping. A good song can kickstart a crying jag, and “I’d Rather Go Blind” is one of my favorites. Etta James’ voice gives me chills, and the bone rattling sadness of the chorus reduces me to a blubbering mess.

Top 5 Verses (by Claire)

I’ve been getting a little too smug about listening to new music.

Before we started this blog a year ago (!!), I was in a serious musical rut. It seemed like every year I collected an album here and there, a spare song or two, but mostly I was hung up on the same artists singing the same songs that I’d been listening to for years. Then I started writing lists every week and assumed, I’m guessing correctly, that showcasing the same five songs every week would raise the ire of Joshua and all of you lovely readers. So I made it my mission to get into new music: I started reading more blogs, setting aside time for listening, devouring other peoples lists and mixtapes. Throw in the advent of Spotify, and a year later I have a rabid hunger for new music. I avoid records and artists I’ve spent too much time with: I want new songs, new voices, new list material!

When it comes to favorite verses, my ears abandoned this quest and returned to neglected favorites. These are the verses that pop up in my head out of nowhere, that I sing in snippets when I’m distracted, that still feel fresh and perfect after thousands of listens.

I feel so good I’m going to make somebody’s day tonight
I feel so good I’m going to make somebody pay tonight
I’m old enough to sin but I’m too young to vote
Society been dragging on the tail of my coat
But I’ve got a suitcase full of fifty pound notes
And a half-naked woman with her tongue down my throat

–“I Feel So Good,” by Richard Thompson

This is the crowning moment in “I Feel So Good,” Richard Thompson’s ode to gleeful misbehavior. The protagonist is young, fresh out of jail, and has transformed his desires for pleasure and revenge into an itinerary for an impressive evening. The motives, and plan, are layed out here. The impotence of youth may have rendered him “old enough to sin…but too young to vote,” but what does that matter when he can make your day, make you pay, and make off with a half naked woman and a suitcase full of cash? Never before has anger and revenge been treated with such good cheer. Thompson delivers the song with a grin you can hear through your speakers.

“While perspective lines converge
Rows of cars and buses merge
All the sweet green trees of Atlanta burst
Like little bombs
Or little pom-poms
Shaken by a careless hand
That dries them off
And leaves again”

–“Little Bombs,” by Aimee Mann

In high school, I vaguely remember this poetry workshop that filled me with endless dread where we wrote poems about paintings and the teacher dangled the opportunity to pitch the poems to an art/poetry themed magazine in front of us like a big abstract painting of a carrot. The whole experience left me in a cold sweat—it seemed impossible to make my writing as visually arresting as the exercise required.

Aimee Mann would’ve aced that class. Aimee Mann would’ve crushed us all. Read the first lyric from “Little Bombs,” or listen to it. Mann transports you to Atlanta, plops you down beside her, offers you her view in brilliant Technicolor, without fussy descriptions or overwhelming amounts of language (common pratfalls when trying to describe something visual). In my dream world, Aimee Mann decides to teach a writing class in San Francisco and I get to grill her on every nitty gritty detail of her strikingly clean prose. (Since it’s a dream, we also become best friends and go on a wacky road trip wearing matching pink wigs.)

“This shirt was the one I lent you
And when you gave it back
There was a rip inside the sleeve
Where you rolled your cigarettes
It was the place I put my heart
Now look at where you put a tear
I forgave your thoughtlessness
But not the boy who put it there”

–“This Shirt,” by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter is the boss. Seriously. If you’re not an undercover fan likes yours truly, you might be rolling your eyes at this admission of Lite FM/ quasi country musical love. But trust me: That’s a mistake. Even though her most famous song is a cover (“Passionate Kisses,” originally by Lucinda Williams), she’s an incredible songwriter who produces lovely, impeccably balanced lyrics. In four lines, she can break your heart while juggling an ABAB rhyme scheme.  John Darnielle, frontman for The Mountain Goats, will back me up if you need references. “This Shirt” is a great example of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s songwriting abilities, and I love this verse, which captures love, betrayal, and nostalgia in one sleek verse about a torn shirt.

“Don’t make a hullabaloo I’m not the hoi polloi
I’m try any trick and I’ll pull any ploy
I’m a used up twentieth century boy
Excuse me if you will”

–“New Paint,” by Loudon Wainwright

The language here is great—like Biden resurrecting “malarkey,” Loudon Wainwright slips “hullabaloo” and “hoi polloi” into the same lyric, maybe as proof that he’s a “used up 20th century boy.” This is a dark snippet from a seemingly light song—he warns his new lady love, who he has romanced with movies and dancing, that he’s a little devious and a little worn out, maybe not the ideal partner, but he hopes she’ll forgive that since “a woman that kind/is hard to find.”

If a guy ever used these lines on one of my friends,  it would warrant elaborate eye rolling and warnings. With Loudon, I find it sort of charming and the lyrics get lodged in my head, forcing me to hum along for hours after listening….I guess Loudon should hang out with my friends?

“Everything comes and goes
Marked by lovers and styles of clothes
Things that you held high
And told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you”

–“Down to You,” by Joni Mitchell

This is one of my Top 5 break up songs; it arrived on my stereo when I was in the throes of a bad break up years ago.  The first time I heard the first verse of this song, I burst into tears. They weren’t tears of sadness, they were tears of relief. The idea that things come and go, that ideals crash, and that you somehow survive, was so incredibly comforting. I almost wrote the word quenching there. I think it was both.

Circa 1974 Joni Mitchell became the big sister I never had. She was wise. She was available to hang out all day, and took all my teary late night calls. She knew what I was going through, and unlike everyone else, she always knew exactly what to say.

New Songs! And Spotify! Claire’s October So Hot Right Now Mix

Joshua saved the day and figured out how to embed Spotify lists. Squee.

Last week, I posted my So Hot Right Now list—a 15 song list of what I’m listening to this month. Well here’s the list on Spotify so you can listen along, and I’ve added 15 more songs. Enjoy, and let me know what you’re listening to this month in the comments!


Top 5 Autumn Albums (by Claire)

It’s autumn. I want sweaters, pumpkin beer, tomato soup, a new hair color (I’m thinking dark brown? I know you guys care), and these albums. In no particular order, but in particular I’d like them all at once, thanks.

These are all albums that I listen to here and there throughout the year. Come October 1st, I start playing them on repeat through Thanksgiving. I have no idea why. They fade out with pumpkin spice, holiday flights, and that first clean whiff of impending snow.

Lost In Space by Aimee Mann

Autumn has it’s own class of sweets. We might add frilly pastel frosting flowers on spring cupcakes, or blanket a tart with stone fruit in late summer, but we don’t introduce an entire suite of flavors only to forget them for nine months the way we do in autumn. Cinnamon, nutmeg, dark brown sugar, molasses—any edible goodie that’s given a “harvest” or “fall” moniker features a combination of these flavors. It’s a dark, warm, and ultimately complex flavor backbone, even though it feels simple and comforting.

Lost in Space is musical harvest cake. The tone is somber but complicated. Though the lyrics and themes are dark, it’s not music you listen to if you want to lean into sadness, or cultivate it. Mann’s impeccable grasp on pop song craftsmanship keeps each song catchy and hummable, even though a million tiny pieces are working to make the songs so warm and easy to digest. Listen to it with the windows open on a crisp day while eating something lousy with nutmeg and pumpkin.

Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair

I listened to whitechocolatespaceegg about a thousand times (not an exaggeration) before I ever heard Exile in Guyville. And it took me years to finally listen to it—I started obsessing over Liz Phair in late middle school, I heard Exile in Guyville for the first time when I was 24. The only reason I listen to this album in autumn is because I bought it the first time my family visited me in San Francisco, about three months after I moved, and it was October. We went to Haight Ashbury and bought armloads of CDs at Amoeba, including this one. It was a really perfect day, and the first day that I felt pretty certain that I lived in San Francisco and wasn’t just on some endless visit.

The Queen is Dead by The Smiths

I feel like I’m supposed to like The Smiths a lot more than I do. Which is weird, because I do like them, this isn’t a band I’m supposed to like but don’t. But I’m not obsessed and they’re not a go-to if I were to list bands that were indicative of my taste. I think they have some really good songs, and some boring stuff, and Morrisey seems like a wang.

I heard this album for the first time in Autumn, again way later than seems appropriate (I think I was 22. I’m not even sure how that happened. It was also sort of embarrassing because 500 Days of Summer came out around the same time and I felt like a total poser, even though I hadn’t seen the movie yet. Isn’t there a joke about The Smiths and posers in High Fidelity? Five bucks if you find it. Leave it in the comments.) (P.S. I probably won’t give you five bucks.)

Tupelo Honey, by Van Morrison

There’s nothing like driving around on back roads with the windows down on a crisp Autumn day, playing Tupelo Honey. It’s great during any season, of course, but something about big pretty leaves falling and that waning end of the day sunshine makes it even better. Also good music for the beginning of a party, before everyone is there, on a chilly night. And for when you’re up much too late, writing a paper, drinking a cup of very hot coffee.

The Best of the First 10 Years, by Elvis Costello

I know, a compilation! How embarassing! But it’s a really good one, and honestly I just get a hankering for Elvis Costello in general and it felt like a cop-out to put “Elvis Costello” down as though he were an album. Why Elvis Costello in autumn? He’s clever, bright, a little slow on the tempo (sometimes), and a lot of his songs have a distinct dreamy quality. Good soundtrack for drinking boozey cups of apple cider, or very hot coffee, while letting your mind wander. So far this month I can’t stop listening to “New Lace Sleeves” and “Living in Paradise” (which isn’t on this compilation. I’m breaking all the rules here. Eep.)