Culture 24

“Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range. This is a sad song. It’s about lost love. There’s a line.

You don’t know what you’ve got
Till you lose it all again.

I defy this line. I know exactly what I’ve got right now, I understand in detail the blessings of my life. I make it a point to keep it somewhat in mind. I try to take nothing for granted.

Pretty song, though.

Pocket Car

Pocket Car
This is a little matchbox car kind of a thing. If you set it down somewhere where there’s room, and you utter the incantation, the little car will slowly grow and turn into a real, full size, drivable car. The transition takes about thirty seconds. Naturally, it looks just like the little version. The car is electric, with a range of about 500 miles. If it runs out of charge, you can stop the car and get out, and utter the reverse incantation, and the car will shrink back down to a matchbox car again. Wait ten minutes, grow it back up, and it will be fully charged. The car can be shrunk with your belongings inside. They will be perfectly restored the next time you grow the car.

About the Magic


Lithium. I’ve been taking lithium well over a decade now. What does it do for me? Well, there’s the shakes. I have a slight tremor in both hands that prevents me from being able to do detailed work with my hands. I can’t make the pictures I used to make, I can’t put together Blood Bowl miniatures, I can’t hold a camera steady, and about thirty percent of the time I do something on a touchscreen, I miss. Thirty? At least twenty.

Then there’s the weight gain. When I went on lithium, I rapidly gained sixty pounds. I was fat before, but now I’m really fat. So there’s inconveniences all the time when you’re my size, from buying clothing to fitting into fucking chairs. It’s a big stressful hassle.

Then there’s the stupid. Lithium blunts my intellect. I’m still smart, but man, I used to be sharper. Quicker. When I first went on the lithium, there was a noticeable diminishing of my cognitive mojo. Since then, I think my brain has been learning to work with the issue, and there have been improvements. But my mental capabilities have never come all the way back after going on lithium.

So how do I know it’s the lithium, and not the weed, that makes me stupid? Well, I wasn’t on weed when I started lithium. I hadn’t smoked for years, and I would go on to not smoke for years more while I was on lithium. Weed makes me a little stupider as well, but in a different way to the lithium. And it seems to be more focused on when you’re stoned, and then when you’re not stoned, you’re closer to fully functional. But not quite a hundred percent. This isn’t about weed, though.

Lithium fucks with my thyroid. I’m now on thyroid hormones to keep my shit regulated.

Lithium causes increased thirst and increased urination. This manifests by ambushing me when I drink. I’ll nonchalantly grab a water bottle, meaning to get a swig and move on with my day, but then the water feels so incredible going in, and it shoulders its way down my throat, and I let it happen because it just feels so good. Over time I’ve mastered this side effect as well, sort of. I “manage” it by drinking a shitload of water. I’m not sure how much exactly, but I know it’s over a gallon a day. (Incidentally, I know the risks of over-consumption of water, and I know I’m not at risk for that.) And of course, the flipside is that when I’m at home, it feels like I pee every fifteen goddamn minutes. But I don’t mind peeing, for the most part. I do worry some about my kidneys going out. I’m on Risperdal, and that’s hard on the kidneys as well. But this isn’t about Risperdal.

I know there was one other thing lithium does for me, but I’m having trouble remembering it. Oh, right, I remember — IT MAKES LIFE WORTH LIVING. I had occasion to reduce my lithium dosage for six months recently. We were checking to see if I really needed to take 1350mg when 900mg might do the trick. Spoiler: yes, I need 1350mg. With lithium, it takes a while for things to normalize after a dosage adjustment. So for six months I had reduced side effects, but I also had reduced effects. I was a basket case by the end of that six months. I saw a glimpse into 2008 that I did not like at all. In the end I went back up on the lithium, and everything is much, much closer to fine now.

That’s the dilemma of all drug treatments. Weighing the benefits with the negative side effects and making a call. Oftentimes, there’s no clear-cut “good” call. In the case of lithium, I do feel that there’s a good call. And that call is, I’m not willing to go without it. If some force or entity takes away my lithium in the future, it will be done without my consent.

Greta Van Fleet

Greta Van Fleet is kind of a punchline on the internet. When they started out, the singer had the ability to sound almost exactly like Robert Plant in his prime. And this is a young, early twenties kid here. Kinda like Plant was. But this kid’s voice — I should get his name, hang on — Josh Kiszka’s voice was, if anything, more powerful than Plant’s. But because his vocal sound was so derivative, and because the guitar player is no Jimmy Page, the band was written off by many as a cheap Zeppelin ripoff, an opinion I shared briefly.

That brings us to 2021’s sophomore effort, The Battle at Garden’s Gate. As far as I can see, Josh has moved on from sounding exactly like Plant and is carving out his own niche, his own style, his own voice, if you’ll forgive the expression. His singing on Battle sounds — this is gonna sound corny, but he sounds to me like an angel. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about pukey, cutesie-poo gift shop angels. I’m talking Biblical force of nature kind of angels. His voice sounds inhuman, is what I’m getting at.

Which is a pretty exciting development. The new vocal sound, the guitarist’s marked improvement — what started out as a completely Zeppelin-derivative effort has evolved and blossomed into something new and exciting. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s still totally 70s rock. But it’s fresh now. I will be paying attention to what Greta Van Fleet does in the future.

By the way, I don’t mean to disparage the guitar player, Jake Kiszka, by saying he’s no Page. He’s a good player. Page just made better riffs. Which isn’t really a disparagement; Page made better riffs than most guitarists in history. But again, these kids are real young. It’ll be truly a joy to see how they mature and develop.

I leave you with a song. This is a live recording, but not before an audience. They just played and recorded a video, I guess? This is “Heat Above”, the opening track from Battle at Garden’s Gate. Enjoy.

The Best Layne Staley

If you don’t know, Layne Staley was the original lead singer of Alice In Chains. What I’m after is, what is the best example of Layne Staley being Layne Staley? He was a distinctive vocalist. With so many incredible performances. I don’t know. I’m just gonna say which song I think is the quintessential Staley track. And if you wanna disagree you can leave a comment.

Note: While Staley was famous for harmonizing with guitarist Jerry Cantrell, I’m not focused on that for this exercise. I’m focused on what Staley could do by himself. And I can think of no better example than — drum roll please — “Love, Hate, Love” from Facelift (1990). Holy fuck! What a performance. If you’re pressed for time, the real action starts around 4:24.

Culture 22

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today To get through this thing called “life”
Electric word, life, It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The Afterworld
A world of never-ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll-Be-Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, babe
‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the Afterworld
In this life
You’re on your own
And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy
Punch a higher floor!

— Prince and the Revolution, “Let’s Go Crazy” (1984). To my mind, 1984 is really the year the 1980s became the Eighties. There was movement in that direction from the start, of course, but 1984 is when it fully arrived. When it jelled, perhaps.

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Culture 21

Martyrs don’t do much for me
Though I enjoy them vicariously
After you, no, after me
No, I insist, please, after me

— The Tragically Hip, “Twist My Arm” (1991)