This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.
my friend ben chappel died last night. or early this morning, i’m not sure. he was at home in new york. emily called and told me.
a few days ago i read a long feature article in the boston phoenix newspaper about how your myspace page lives on after you’re dead, and about how people started using myspace pages as computer-memorials, posting to the dead as if they were living. it struck me as really odd, but obvious. people have to mourn.
so this is my post for ben.
i met ben about a year ago, he was interviewing me for a magazine in new york. he showed up at the restaurant with a girl friend of his and when i asked him how he was, he told me the truth, that he had had a horrible night last night, last night was a reunion with the german girl he had been in obsessive love with for ten years. i guess it didn’t go well. so instead of talking about the dresden dolls for his article, he laid his head in my lap and told me about his broken heart. it was the start of something beautiful. after that, we randomly emailed a lot but didn’t actually spend any time together until a few months ago, when our e friendship was growing stronger and we kept trying to make plans. we had a way of communicating on email that was totally frank. we would go days or weeks without communicating, then ben would email me from his blackberry and chronicle what he was doing in his life. then i would write back and we would sometimes keep this going for an hour, describing exactly what we were doing and seeing. we never, ever called each other. it seemed wrong to do that.
i loved our correspondence, and i kept all of our emails. i went back and read a lot of them tonight, and it pieces together about anything you’d want to know about either of us. i would email him from a cafe in bordeaux, france, and tell him about my fears of how i would feel when i came home and about the people i had loved and lost in my life and about the waiter and what the wine tasted like and the rain looked like and the air smelled like. he would email back from his friend’s house in harlem about how he couldn’t sleep and what went through his head all night, about the dirty pane of glass he was seeing, about his aunt, about the shoes he bought. we never pressured each other. often it just felt like we were two alone people reaching out to each other and talking about our alone-ness and enjoying the stories that came with it. i will save all of these these, i will continue to save them the way i save things. this is an excerpt from one of his early emails to me, one that struck me:
+ In fall, with luck, I will be wearing a scarf, stepping out from my
Montreal flat, and heading to some sort of English Lit or what-have-you
class. I hope leaving all the things I’ve built, but that bring me no
feeling, is the right thing to do. Are people meant to feel passion,
or support themselves, or both? Can you do both? I don’t know.
+ I am listening to the new Okkervil River EP that I treated myself to
today. Ultimately, my 16 cds came to over $200. The woman with the
shaved head asked me if I was holiday shopping, and I lied and said
yes. She told me that I get four free sandwiches in the cafe upstairs,
one for each $50 increment I spent.
+ I never graduated college but I sit in an office and I teach
(taught.) a class at Columbia. I wing it all. People are charmed and
easily fooled. People are unaware as to how easy some things are, and
that keeps me in business.
+ I am writing a very long email to you. When people surprise you with
signs and songs, for your birthday, you are offered a lot of liquor. I
apologize for what that yields: a long, rattling, pointless email to a
+ I saw your section today, in the record store. There was one CD
left. The Dresden Dolls. I was alone, with headphones on, wandering
the aisles. The music was about New York. I went and bought a New
Yorker book of stories about New York. I imagine sitting on a mountain
in Montreal, bundled up, knowing no one, knowing not where my life is
going to go, reading about the city I’d captured, used up and left.
+ I am making rash decisions in my life, and leaving all I know. I
must weigh the possibility that I am trying to run from myself, who, as
my friends say, will be the same wherever I am. I think I just need
some time off. I think it can be that simple.
+ it’s ten past four, and the song said, “we might die from medication,
but we sure killed all the pain.” melodrama is appealing, but
overrated. it is also hard to avoid. we are human.
+ i am no longer going to capitalize.
+ i am afraid that if i end this email, i ill be forced to do something
mature and relating to sleep and work and the rest of the elements of a
life i’d never planned on.
i will tell you secrets, and you can feel free to never respond to this
e-mail. i just need to write. you don’t need to read it. this is the
only outlet i have that has any intrigue attached to it. i will tell
you things about me, and i will write, also to myself, things about me.
you can, if you feel like reading this, read it in chapters. dickens
published great expectations in pieces. can you imagine it being 1812,
or whenever, and waiting to find out what pip’s great expectations
were? can you believe that television has replaced, in cliffhangers
and weekly episodes, the compilation of a novel? what walt whitman did
in the city i’m about to leave, just republishing the same compilation
of poetry over and over, expanded, has been replaced by TV ON DVD
sections at Virgin. The owner of Virgin has his own reality show on
FOX. The owner of FOX is .. well, you know about what he does, I
imagine. you’re a well informed woman. Though, I must admit, I almost
did buy Arrested Development on DVD, until I realized I probably
wouldn’t watch it more than once.
I changed my mind about the secrets. This e-mail is much too long.
Attached is the sloppy representation of the framed photo you suggested.
so a few months ago i went down to new york for some reasons and one was to go on a date with ben. we met in a cafe in the village and we sat and talked for a few minutes. i saw that he had an iPod and headphones and i asked him if he wanted to hear a song from the new record, which we had just finished but not mastered. over guacomole and beer and wine, i popped open my mac on the table and he plugged his headphones in. i played him necessary evil first. while he listened, i typed him a note on a blank screens, telling him that i had tried to keep the song off the record, and he answered via typing back. from that point on, realizing that communicating via typing was far more comfortable for both of us, we conducted the next two and a half hours of our date without speaking. we traded headphones back and forth and typed and ordred beer and wine and more food as the hours wore on. the waitress thought we were crazy. i would play him a track from the record and he would play me a song form his iPod, mostly wilco and the silver jews, and some okkervil river. we would make occasional trips to the bathroom.
then we went home to his apartment, hung out with his two cats, and read in bed together. we just held each other for dear life and fell asleep. we fell in that kind of love that you fall in for a while when you’re with someone, barely talking, knowing that you know each other on a level, that you don’t need details, that your relationship is just What It Is, that you will hold each other in the night and the morning and then the next night, you will be in different beds in different cities. not asking. not becoming attached, because you can’t. because your life isn’t built that way. because you scare all your girlfriends away, ben said, because they all say you care more about your cats than you do abou them. because you aren’t ever in one place long enough, amanda said, to grow attached enough to a person to really fall in love the way you used to. not that you don’t want to. i left ben in the morning and went back in the afternoon. i thought about him. i wondered what would happen if i ever stopped touring. and came to new york, and stayed. would we fall in love? probably. probably not.
then i left. ben ended up helping me shape and edit the introduction text for the sheet music book, because he was brilliant writer. we were about to embark on a project for one of the magazines he writes for to try to conduct an entire weekend of speechless sticky-dating and print the entire date in the magazine. we thought that might work. i went to new york this past weekend and ben called me on saturday and left a message. i got busy and distracted. i didn’t call him back and came straight home to boston, emailing when i got back…apologizing. i never heard back.
in memorandum. here is the first, last and only almost-wordless date between amanda and ben chappel, which he asked me to email to him a few weeks later, so it too was saved. i added the “A” and “B” because it wasn’t always obvious who was writing. but i left the typos in.
i think ben would approve of my sharing this. people connect in the strangest ways. you don’t need to explain, you don’t need to worry. you take all the love you can get, how it comes, before it goes away because it does and it will.
Subject: THE DATE
Date: February 6, 2006 10:08:12 PM EST
A: i fought really hard to keep this song off the record
A: i dont like it
B: I DO
A: so did everybody else
A: i like this one
B: i remember the first time i heard backstabber at subtonic, afterwards a friend i was with and i were obsessed with it.
BACKSTABBER STAB HER BACK
we still talk about that song!
A: of all the recordings, i think it’s one of the two weakest, but its still ok.
B: we also still talk about two headed boy at that show. brilliant
A: b side
B: aeroplane one of the best albums of all time
i’ve been explaining it to older people as the seargent peppers of the nineties
B: and now jeff mangum is on some weird religious crazy solmething or other.
i have this great solo album of his, live at jittery joes, where he plays an amazing version of two headed boy 1 & 2
A: do you think we communicate better through writing?
B: probably, but i communicate better through writing in general.
i can never find the words to say, but my fingers can always find them
more time to process and no worries about getting htem out of your mouth.
thats the weird thing; i never process. i just type type type and it comes out faster than words, and i never re-read
A: im the same way i think it also has to do with things just seeming better thought out when they have time to come out of your fingers than your mouth. except that that sentence didnt really make sense.
B: i got it. my mouth does ok when im comfortable, or drugged.
A: thats life.
A: thi sis paet of the problem with internet dating and IMing. perhaps people who fall in love over the internet should ease into their relationships by meeting at bars but only typing ewith each other fotr a while
B: and it helps me to have the music
A: yes, i could be in japan right now and the quality of our communication would be about as good.
B: yes. i’m much more epressive through stickies.
A: i have to say though, i really am enjoying the added bonus of eating and dri knig witbh you while we communicate.
there is a hip bandplaying in the bar and i cantg place it but i bet you know it
the candeliers in here are the same as the big one they had at the studio where we made this record
B: not so far from home
A: i’m getting soup
do you want anytjhing?
B: another beer please
A: this is the girl anachronism of the new album
B: though it reminds me more of half jack
A: uhh ohhhhhhh
B: no good good. not the same. great
i want it now
B: that i certainly am
“god i love communicating”
“i just hate the shit we’re missing’
A: this song is about our relationship
B: yeah right
A: close enough
when anybody asks, i’ll tell them you’tre mute
B: i may as well be
nevermidn i forget the quote
something like, “better to let people thing you’re an idiot than to open your mouth and prove them right”
A: this is true.
you’ve almost heard the entire record.
B: well if i had one id let you listen to it too.
A: youre a very nice man-boy
B: im working on b eing more the former than latter, but it takes a significant amount of time to figure that bit out.
A: you didnt have
what song are you on?
B: my alcoholic friends
A: this one is good. its about me and brian starting a backalley abortion clinic
i’m going to eat some soup, really excited.
B: no more coat hangers
what kind of soup
A: vegetable blackbean.
you didn’t have a strong male rolemodel.
B: i was the male roldmodel. mother’s shrink, sister’s dad
how much younger was the sistewr?
22 now – 4+ years younger
A: i grew up with my stepfather mother and sister, 4 yrs older/ my mom left my dad when i was 1.
my stepdad had two kids, my older stepsister lisa, who was a bookwrom, and karl, who was the coolest older brother type in the world. he painted and played bass and he died when i was 21.
B: how did he die
A: slowly and painfully from lou gehrigs disease
B: a childs death\\shit
makes the parents unable to separate the other from the child sometimes. i can’t i
A: my hangover is officially gone
B: but now youre so tired!
i am too.
A: are you going home to bed?
B: i dont think ive gone to bed before 3am or later in at least 10 months
it’s inconceivable. more likely home to watch law and order on tivo and do freelance crap. that is, after all, my life.
A: thats heartbreaking.
B: its ok. i have the best 2 cats of all time and i like law and order.
A: its better than navigating real people
B: good pointr. i was going to take the subway home and read until the ambien knocks me out.
i have chronic insomnia and got ambien for it — i took 20mg and that didnt even put me to sleep. then my shrink decided it was anxiety-based (DUH) and gav eme klonopin. now i have no health insurance, quit all my brain-meds, and need to use a sleep mask to have any chance of falling asleep.
A: dp you want one more?
very possib;ly best track on the record
up in arms
no hitler and no holocaust!
revisionist historian. thats what errol morris’ “mr. death,” my favorite of his films, is about.
A: it’s horrifying.
B: i think of you whenever i watch hedwig
A: i think if you hear two more youl be complete
B: then dont mess with my itunes
A: im going to silently pause, go piss and come bac k and start again without a vocal word, ok?
B: wilco – smile all the time
how do you beat loneliness
smile all the time
another song: “the ashtray says, youve been up all night”
another song: “a fake sunset on a television set could upset her, but i never could”
i love that line.
very representative of very many people.
we were recently doing a theater workshop and the show is about weeping. anyway
one actor told the story of how his brother was at the hospital with the whole family crowded around their very sick cancerous other brother. everyone was weeping, except him. a few days later, he started to weep openly at a tv ad for the united negro college fund and their mother lacerated him
“how can you cry at THIS and not at your dying brother??”
B: when i was 17 my best friend was murdered; i have never cried for him, but he is the hardest lost ive ever experience. earlier this past year another good friend was killed in a car accident and i never cried for him, either, but i did stop going to classes and doing work.
my grandmother’s dog is named “paxil”
A: you need to come to the onion cellar. that’s where they give you onions and knives instead of drinks and the dresden dolls are playing a 4-week residency next year.
B: theres a silver jews song with a line, lets see if i can remember it now, something like, “i hate when they hang mirrors behind the bar; because i hate to look at myself when i dont know where you are”
B: its better written by him — i cant type. — he would never use “hate” twice in one line. i just cant remember the first substitute.
another line of his, which inspired my fake band called “all my favorite singers,” is “all my favorite singers couldn’t sing.”
thats how i feel about him. because he can’t sing.
A: almost none of my favorite singers can sing.
B: mandy still
your battery has lucky 13
A: unlucky 12 now
B: 11 is mine.
A: 8 is mine
B: you should put your band name on the mp3 id3 tags
A: these are just home recordings, not mastered…
B: i know but they sound mastered.
i dont know how you managed that, but i cant imagine them sounding better
“she’s the kind of girl who looks for love in all the lonely places”
B: i love the jeep song
the best line in this song is the same spot second time around…”she’s the kind of girl who leaves out condoms on her bedroom dresser/just to make you jealous of the men she fucked before you met her\”
that is so dangerously female
oh im at that line NOW
POW POW POWP OWPOW
jesus, women, how can you look in the mirror in the morning
A: i’m getting used to it slowly.
B: well. i don’t even know what to say about that. i guess you’ve acquainted (oops) yourself with lucifer, then.
A: are you done?
B: done what?
A: with the song….
B: yes. rice chex now
A: did you hear this one?
there won’t be any second coming
this is the saddest one
years ago i gave a friend your first album, and she was delighted by my “coin-operated boy dance”
i would move around like a puppet when i was drunk
B: it was.
A: can i come to your apartment adn read while you work? we dont have to make out or anything, i just think it would be nice.
A: yes and you can charge too.B: lets go i want a cigarette
MY APARTMENT IS A FUCKING DISASTER ZONE so, i prepared you.
A: i dont give a shit.
B: me neither
A: i suggest we dont talk but when we get there, i can plug my computer back in and maybe we can type with each other.
B: ill pplug in mine and you can get on my airport and we can just IM on my couch.
A: i dont know how to IM yet
B: well ill teach you. you have 5% left, lets go/