Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Up All Night

Photo courtesy of  Cristina Cianci

Photo courtesy of Cristina Cianci

Welcome to Songs, Stories, and Spirits. We’ll be jamming unwanted opinions on good music, good stories, and good booze down your ears, eyes, and throats on a weekly basis. We hope you enjoy. And if you don’t, there is a comment section below that we more than welcome you to ignore! Cheers!

Songs: “Late in the Evening” by Paul Simon and Beethoven’s “9th Symphony”

Daniel Ford: Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening,” has been on my writing playlist for as long as I can remember. Along with Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” it perfectly encapsulates what it means to write late into the night fueled by passion, caffeine, or other drugs. In particular, this stretch of lyrics gets my typing fingers moving briskly across the keyboard:

And when I came back to the room/Everybody just seemed to move/And I turned my amp up loud and I began to play/And it was late in the evening/And I blew that room away

That’s how you should be writing at any time of day, never mind in the wee small hours of the morning. You’re not writing to be “okay.” You’re not writing material that’s “good enough” to get published. You’re crafting a story for greatness, and anything less than that isn’t worthy enough for an all night binge. You should be able to heat up your coffee with the heat and fire flaming out of your ideas.

Shawn Vestal, author of the short story collection “Godforsaken Idaho” and one of our early interviews, gave us some advice that’s perfect for the insomniac writer: “Work hard. Do not wait around for inspiration—inspiration comes more often when you’re working than when you’re waiting.”

Sean Tuohy: If you’re up all night you don’t need lyrics. You need epic scores. No words. Something that matches the mood.

Story: “Professor Sea Gull” by Joseph Mitchell

Daniel: There was no better chronicler of New York City’s seedy late shift during the 1930s and 1940s than The New Yorker’s Joseph Mitchell. A former editor gave me a compilation of his work a couple of years ago as a Christmas gift and I’ve been slowly reading it ever since in order to savor each tale.  

One of Mitchell’s most well known profile is “Professor Sea Gull,” which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1942 and features an “emancipated little man” named Joe Gould. Gould is a vagabond “tormented by what he calls ‘the three H’s’—homelessness, hunger, and hangovers.” The Yankee “night wanderer“ that haunted New York City’s bars, diners, and subways also penned an epic oral history that Mitchell described as “a great hodgepodge and kitchen madden of hearsay, a repository of jabber, an omnium-gatherum of bushwa, gab, palaver, hogwash, flapdoddle, and malarkey.” Pft, what writer hasn’t heard that from a literary agent or editor?

Perhaps my favorite part of the feature is Mitchell describing what fuels Gould:

“He tells people that he lives on ‘air, self-esteem, cigarette butts, cowboy coffee, fried-egg sandwiches, and ketchup.’ Cowboy coffee, he says, is strong coffee drunk black without sugar. ‘I’ve lost my taste for good coffee,’ he says. ‘I much prefer the kind that sooner or later, if you keep drinking it, your hands will begin to shake and the whites of your eyes will turn yellow.’”

Needless to say, Gould is my spirit animal.

I wasn’t able to find the entire feature online, but you can read it if you subscribe to The New Yorker. It would be well worth it for just this story alone.

Spirit: Irish Coffee

Dave Pezza: Coffee is an elixir for mortals. Hot or cold, morning or night, coffee allows one to accept and occasionally thrive during the ungodly sober hours. But let’s be honest with ourselves; coffee lacks one fundamental element that would make the ultimate power in the universe: booze. But somewhere in Ireland centuries ago, a forgotten hero invented the mother of all drinks, the Irish Coffee. Today we live in a world of endless Instagram and Pinterest concoctions of drinks and foods and all manner of palatable Frankenstein monsters. The alcoholic coffee, though, remains one of God’s simplest and most enjoyable creations.

My personal favorite among this glorious genre is the Irish Crème Coffee. Simply pour your favorite brand of coffee (I personally prefer Dunkin Donuts Dark Roast; it’s a perfect medium coffee with just enough flavor that never overpowers) and instead of adding your usual regiment cream, milk, sugar, or nothing (if you’re a tasteless anhedonic dweeb and drink your coffee black) add Bailey’s Irish Cream. It complements the coffee surprisingly well and, for those of us who like a little pick-me-up before or during work, is not noticeable on the breath or in the cup. Enjoy, and wake up responsibly.