4 min read

The Low Spark of Avengers

One song on the Endgame took me somewhere else.

Short dispatch this week, sent from Washington D.C. after a wedding weekend in Virginia.

A couple of Saturdays ago—it just warm enough to get away with shorts and—Miche and I opted out of blue skies, in favor of  spending over three hours in Ballard’s local movie theater to see Avengers: Endgame.

I got hung up in the first 15 minutes on a song. As Endgame rolls through it’s Marvel Cinematic Universe frames, Stevie Winwood croons about half of Traffic’s 1967 song “Dear Mr. Fantasy” instead of the ubiquitous Marvel Studios theme. My mind instantly wandered away to a milk crate, stashed in dark storage locker in the basement of our apartment building. I think I might’ve fist pumped.

That poor plastic milk crate.

It’s been long enough now that record collection could be certified neglected. The player was boxed in Baltimore (haphazardly by yours truly) and hasn’t seen the light of day since the fall of 2015. And the crate, which is stuffed corner to corner with vinyl that I purchased in college and the most-loved 33s from my parents’ vast collection, has lived in a garage or the storage locker for just as long.

Somewhere in that (probably by now) warped group of records, maybe wedged in between Dad’s aggressively-played copy of Blood on the Tracks and my once-coveted double-album copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, is Mom’s beat-to-shit edition of Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, featuring the nearly twelve-minute titular song as the audacious second track.

Mom must’ve introduced me to Dear Mr. Fantasy later on in the ad-hoc music lovers course she and Dad curated throughout my life. It’s pace is steadier than LSHHB, the structure is more recognizable, and it feels a lot more like a single. But the two are inextricably linked in my mind. No matter which Steve Winwood song I hear, my mind always wanders back to Mom helping me set the needle to listen to Low Spark.

I can’t tell you what prompted Mom to drop to her knees and garden through her old vinyl collection. But I can remember thinking finding the right record was a lost cause—the spines of over half her collection were shredded years by her cat Sebastian. But she took the time to find Low Spark, and for the remaining years that I lived and home, it was our cooking soundtrack—especially if Dad was well out of earshot or gone for a while. The soft, steady piano leading into the crescendo chorus, both of which fade and return numerous times over the song’s epic course, makes for one of the most nostalgia-laden listening experiences I’ve had.

My favorite songs take me somewhere else and I think that’s why I’m horrible with lyrics. I float off into waking dreams. When Dear Mr. Fantasy hit over the opening credits for Endgame, I was whisked away to dancing in the kitchen alongside Mom, her smile spread ear to ear as she crooned along with Winwood and I—the a cappella nerd—gleefully sang pieces of the harmonies.

A fitting way to start a move about comics, which at their core play us a never-ending suite of the stories we haven’t stopped telling ourselves since we were kids.

This Week


Jia Tolentino recently reviewed a pair of books about dealing with screen addiction. In the process, she wound up doing a much better job then all the other I’m A Journalist, I Put Down My Phone For A Month, And Here’s How It Fixed My Brain essays. Or maybe I just liked it because she took her shots at that completely-overwritten angle:

“It’s true that, after months or years of gazing at pixels and transcribing the minutiae of life, a writer contemplating a single unshared sunset can become a smug transcendentalist, high on an ephemeral taste of analog Nirvana.”

If you’re in for an epic, Ben Taub’s sweeping and masterful reporting on a former Guantanamo detainee is a harrowing read. I’ll admit I stopped thinking much about the US prison on Cuban soil once President Obama failed to shut it down, so the turn in Taub’s story dropped like an anvil, even if I could kind of see it coming.

Taub’s got a habit of writing a kickass paragraph with a miniature reveal at the end. He does stuff like this a few times through the piece:

In 1967, Martin Seligman, a twenty-four-year-old Ph.D. student in psychology, conducted an experiment that involved delivering electric shocks to dogs in various states of restraint. The goal was to assess whether inescapable pain could condition an animal into “learned helplessness,” whereby it simply accepts its fate. Thirty-five years later, the United States government drew inspiration from this experiment in its approach to interrogating terror suspects.

(A warning on this one: in a middle section, Taub describes US torture tactics in detail and it’s the kind of horrifying stuff that makes me think again about emigrating to Canada. Or at least telling people I’m from Vancouver when I travel.)

John Walters has two Sports Emmys and a full career in sportswriting behind him. He’s got an essay up on Deadspin now about leaving journalism to wait tables and how it makes him feel better than any journo gig ever did.


A pair of podcasts this week!

All praise to my guys Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald of The Watch. Greenwald arrived in the studio Monday to breath wind back into my sails with a delightful take of last week’s GoT episode, The Long Night. I had a blast during the episode, and I agree with just about everything Andy says.

My lovely wife passed along an episode of Death, Sex, & Money featuring authors Damon Young and Kiese Laymon talking about masculinity. A must-listen for any fellas reading this. It’s a short episode.

A short disclaimer

Please remember that this newsletter is a creative space to keep in touch, to think out loud, and to heal. It takes some psychological safety to put these thoughts out in the world and the sentences won’t read perfect or be free of typos. I do revisit my issues and make corrections as I catch them.