In Defense of Drinking

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My name is Jennifer Perkin and I am a drinker. I have been on and off for about 15 years now, since I first moved to England and learned how to drink pints of beer. This is not about my regret, my plans to give up drinking, how much better I felt when I stopped drinking, or an apology. This is my love letter to alcohol.

This is not about alcoholism. I am not depressed, though like most empathic people who are in touch with their emotional interior I do get sad sometimes. Many of the best times of my life have happened while I was buzzed, tipsy or drunk. Many have happened while sober too. I have lived and continue to live a fairly fun and fruitful life and have held down many stable jobs and relationships. Some months I drink 5-7 nights a week. Mine, good reader, is not a story often told.

I rarely drink at home. I love bars, I really love bars, and not just because they serve alcohol. A good drinking hole is almost entirely about vibe. I have been to aesthetically gorgeous bars with no atmosphere, and absolute shitholes that have felt like home. I’ve even spent time in great bars with terrible music that I’ve enjoyed, though all of the very best places involve good music. A great bar is a sacred place. A great bar should always be dark. A great bartender is a God / Goddess. Bars are places where people get together to talk to each other, to connect, to flirt, to be where other humans are. Connecting with people, be it through drinking, conversation, art, or a shared meal, is my favourite activity.

Ernest Hemingway is quoted as having said the following, and I have to say I tend to agree:

“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares, if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”

A local tipple can tell you a lot about a place. I have my favourite drinks, as I have my favourite foods, but my style is very much ‘when in Rome consume as the Romans do’. Sometimes the experience is no different from eating locally sourced food – like drinking wine in France, mezcal in Mexico (❤️), port in Portugal. What a pleasure to taste the very terroir of the very location you are in! Sometime it is more about a cultural experience. Drinking Guinness in Ireland, real ale in England, Flor de Caña rum in Nicaragua, Mojitos in Cuba. I’m not saying a ‘Low Life’ boilermaker (Miller High Life and cheap whiskey) is a global culinary highlight, but I will say the experience of drinking one, or many, in a NYC dive bar is as enjoyable as any drinking experience I’ve had.

You can learn a lot about a place by drinking as the locals drink. You can learn a lot about a place by drinking what they USED to drink as well – think poitin, mead, cocuy. There’s so much history there. I think if we started looking at alcohol more like food we might be getting somewhere. I love the taste of good alcohol, I love nothing more than trying new things. To me a vodka & soda, or hard seltzers, are for people who drink to get drunk. It’s like people who drink diet shakes; they want to feel full without eating. I don’t understand that – I’m in it for the experience. I want to savour it. Just as I don’t understand people who eat the same meal every day or refuse to try the local food when they travel, and believe me I’ve met plenty of them. Yes alcohol gets you drunk, but it’s not necessarily the point.

Drinking outdoors is great. Drinking at a friend’s house is great. Drinking on a train is great. Drinking with food is great. Drinking for taste and drinking for refreshment and drinking to celebrate is great. It’s great as long as you are in control, and mindful, and consensual. Mainstream media and popular opinion would have you believe people are not clever enough to do that. Alcohol laws in many places (Hi, Sydney) treat people like idiots. I have zero tolerance for obnoxious drunks and pure fury for drunk drivers, but they only represents a minority of drinkers. Can we talk about a positive way of drinking? There’s obvious a reason why so many of us do it.

Every week a new article will surface on my newsfeed about the joys of sobriety, or a new study which further proves that alcohol is bad for our health. I’m not here to deny the adverse effects of alcohol on health. I’m not here to say it doesn’t feel great to be sober. I’m here to say: I love drinking. I don’t always get drunk when I drink, and that is not the reason why I drink, but I do get drunk frequently. While drunk I have never hurt anybody or done anything I’ve regretted. While drunk I’ve never lost any friends but I’ve certainly made a bunch. I’ve danced, I’ve laughed, I’ve made spontaneous plans, had new ideas, talked for hours and hours and watched thousands of bands blow my mind. Drinking is not always about drowning sorrows, it can also be about heightening joy. Mine is not an opinion often shared, though the late great Bill Hicks had a similar things to say about drugs.

For a species that loves to drink we sure are hypocrites about it. I’ve been thinking about why we are so puritanical about something that is so widespread and I have a few ideas, if not really an answer.

One idea is that alcohol gets blamed for societal ills that are simply exacerbated by alcohol, not caused by them. Coleman Andrews muses excellently on this topic in this article, one of the few alcohol-positive stories could find online, all the way from 1994.

I think our demonisation of alcohol is also related to how much death-denial goes on in our culture. If we avoid drugs and alcohol, eat only “healthy” food, exercise enough, it’s implied that we can cheat death altogether. Hence people who complain about the strain on the health system caused by people who choose to smoke, or eat junk food, or of course drink. To me it is unreasonable to expect that everyone will make the “best” choices for their health. We all die of death after all. Maybe some people are literally here for a good time, not a long time. Isn’t that their choice to make? What about the health implications of stress? Of sitting at a desk for the majority of your waking hours? Of living an unhappy life?

I am not at all saying that if you drink more often you will be happier, but I am saying that if some people feel that drinking adds more to their lives than it subtracts, is that really so bad? Is it your place to judge? In my experience alcohol only amplifies who you really are. Show me an asshole drunk and I’ll show you an asshole. Same goes for angry,  violent, racist, abusive, and sad drunks. Like my friend Hannah likes to say: the issue isn’t the issue.

I haven’t always been a heavy drinker. I did not grow up in a drinking family at all. When I was a teenager I actually used to look down on people who drank, seeing alcohol as the ‘opiate of the masses’ that kept people stupid, complacent, and distracted from the fucked-up truths of life. Yeh, I was a bit of an intense adolescent. I wouldn’t say I was straight edge, but I was close. When I met with friends in Australia I would go for dinner, or for coffee, or dessert.

When I moved to London when I was 20, something changed. I didn’t have to drive a car any more, I started working in media. No one meets for a “coffee” in England. I learned how to drink pints of beer (the trick is not to eat) and I fell in love with British pubs. The rest, as they say, is history. A wonderful, soused, history. I’ve had so many great nights sat at a bar. At the bar, always the best spot. So many long conversations with friends have been helped along by alcohol, loosening inhibitions and deepening connections. So much laughter. I cherish these moments alongside priceless sober moments. However, to this day nothing in the world makes me happier than watching a band with a beer in my hand.

Drinking, and in particular drinking in bars regularly, is a signifier of a kind of freedom permitted by alternative lifestyles. It implies late nights, unproductive mornings. A lack of responsibility, at least in a traditional sense. Probably no kids. Although some industries historically include hard drinking – media, hospitality – traditional 9-5 jobs don’t allow for a nocturnal lifestyle in any healthy way. Which is not to say people in traditional jobs don’t drink. But the concept of a bon vivant, a hedonist, a pleasure seeker who is enjoying life for enjoying life and not to escape something is still seen as a bit vulgar and irresponsible. In our society productivity is revered, and being hungover is not conducive to productivity.

I did lead a “healthy” sober life for a year or so in my mid-20’s, when I lived in Wales. I was in a committed relationship, seldom drank, and exercised a lot. I was fitter and thinner than I’ve ever been or will be again, and just as miserable. Which taught me that being sober, thin, or in a relationship do not in themselves make you happy. What do I think makes for happiness? I don’t have that full answer either but I do think being true to yourself and living a balanced life is part of it, whatever that might look like. I for one am a great hungover runner and my favourite drunken food is vegetable pho. How’s that for balance?

There is a parallel issue here, and it has to do with being a lady drinker. The great drinkers of history are almost all men. There’s no The Rum Diary with a woman protagonist and no female equivalent to this essential Bukowski poem about drinking and making art. Most work in praise of drinking comes from a macho perspective. Though clearly not all women have children, it must be said that having children does not go hand in hand with going out drinking. And historically, if one parent is at home with the children, it is usually the mother. Certainly, being pregnant or breastfeeding does not lend itself to alcohol-focused environments either. The history of women drinkers has yet to be written – any internet search of ‘female drinkers’ only results in reams of alarmist health related articles. This is something I intend to explore further: watch this space.

Just as there have been phases of my life that have involved less drinking in the past, I know there will be again. There may even be a time when I stop drinking altogether. But for now, as long as I’m having a good time, I refuse to feel guilty about enjoying a drink. And neither should you.

MUSIC REVIEW: GIRL BAND AT ELSEWHERE, 09/10/19

As I watch four young well-dressed men make harrowing noises on a darkened stage with a velvet curtained background, Jameson in hand, I’m wondering what the fuck is wrong with me. This. This evil noise that Girl Band tap into, the metallic clash of the guitars, the headachy drums, the anguished screaming vocals. If I’m really honest with myself, being in a room where people are making this kind of sick music is my favourite thing about being alive. It’s fucked up that of all the things that you can experience in this world, this is the one for me.

Snapshots of Brooklyn: Month Three

 

 

Woaaah so this is a week or two late if the goal is to check in every month, and really reflects how loco things have gotten. Everyone knows how big and busy NYC is but guys, it’s really big and busy! Traveling about an hour to get anywhere every time I left my house seemed sort of cute at the very beginning and it’s really, really, not so much right now.

I envisioned days off (ha!) would involve trips to Queens to eat interesting food, taking the ferry, seeing art exhibitions, getting to know Manhattan, going to the movies during the day, wandering around aimlessly for hours and finding new favourite corners of the city. No, that has not happened. I have mainly glimpsed the city through the corner of my eye, through sweaty disheveled hair as I rush through the city trying to find the right subway entrance, often while lugging a heavy bag of mezcal. Because of the nature of my jobs I rarely have a full day off, and when I do have windows of time I am generally buying the groceries, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, trying to keep in touch with friends and family overseas, and keeping up with errands. I said this to a friend lately and he said, “but isn’t that just being an adult?”, and he does have a good point. How do people do this AND have a child or dog?? Or even just lots of plants? I have like four and they are always living on the edge of death.

BOOK REVIEW: Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine (+ Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon)

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It’s funny, I happened to read Viv Albertine of The Slits’ book (released 2014) right after I read Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth’s book, Girl in a Band (released 2015). Purely coincidence, but actually they make great comparison pieces if not companion pieces. Both books are about clothes, music and boys.

Kim Gordon is now 65, Viv is 64. Kim was hugely important in the New York no wave scene in the 80s and 90s, Viv of the London punk scene that preceded it in the 70s. There is not a lot of overlap. While Viv was just a teenager when she started running around with the punks who would become the The Clash and Sex Pistols, and her band The Slits had split up by 1982; Sonic Youth formed in 1981 and had a long and influential career until 2011.

TOOL: A PRIMER

Welcome to the primer you never knew you needed for the band called Tool.

Tool

Tool is the most famous band you’ve never heard of, or perhaps you’ve heard of but you can’t name a single song of. Tool are just days away from releasing their first album in 13 years. This primer is intended to be your cheat sheet, a beginner’s guide, a sketch of a roadmap so you won’t embarrass yourself around the proverbial water cooler.

Snapshots of Brooklyn: Month 2

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People like to say they do or don’t like cities, or that they’re city folk or non-city folk, which kind of suggests that cities are all the same. That they are passive. People also like to say, ‘a place is what you make of it’ which, while I get the sentiment, I don’t totally agree with.

Of course you can make the best or worst of a situation or a location depending on your attitude. But I also think a city is kind of like a person, with character traits and personality quirks that either gel with you or not. You can have a gut feeling about a city, good or bad, and you can fall in love with a city the way you do with a person. I can anyway. Sometime it’s quick, sometimes it’s gradual. Sometimes your relationship with a city can completely change. Just like with people.

Movie Review: Wild Rose, and the ‘unwritten poems that took a backseat to polished floors’.

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In many ways this movie is like so many others, but in other ways it is like no other. Or, as a pithier writer would say, and in fact did say, on the Roger Ebert site review: “Wild Rose may sound like a familiar tune, but you’ve never heard it performed quite like this”.

In short, Wild Rose is the story of a young Glaswegian singer with an intense love of – and talent for – American country music. She wants to go to Nashville and become a star with every fibre of her being, but she keeps getting in her own way. She is recently out of prison, has two young children who barely know her, a put-upon mother (Julie Walters) who is running out of patience, and shows no signs of growing up any time soon.

FILM REVIEW: Midsommar, and the horror of the domestic

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Hereditary felt like a revelation when it came out last year partly because it was a real movie, with real actors, and real depth and complexity, which happened to be a horror film. As a massive fan of the horror genre, I can tell you that films like that don’t come along all that often. Other films I can think of in that category in recent memory are Let the Right One In, Mandy, The Witch and Get Out. All of which you should watch immediately if you haven’t already. Hereditary was also something of a crossover hit and was talked about and seen by way more people than a horror film usually would be, probably because of the presence of – and incredible performance by – Toni Collette.

The thing about Hereditary is that the most horrifying parts of the film have nothing to do with the supernatural. In a way it almost feels like two movies. The most visceral and memorable moments of the film are rooted in things that are very much of this earth: grief, trauma, blame, guilt, mental illness. Themes that are familiar and awful parts of the human experience. Filmmaker Ari Aster has an incredible gift for conveying the emotion of sheer sickening dread that I’ve rarely seen done so well. Maybe the only other film I can think of that gave me that feeling of a full-body blow is David Fincher’s Se7en from back in 1995. Or the Tim Roth’s film The War Zone, and some films by Lars Von Trier. For me, the satanic and creepy elements of Hereditary even felt a little weak in comparison.

Snapshots of Brooklyn: Month 1

BrooklynBy snapshot I definitely do not mean photo because anyone who knows me, knows I consider taking photos some kind of punishment. I once spent six months in Africa and didn’t take a single photo. That is not a brag, it’s actually pretty stupid and embarrassing. I only joined Instagram a few months ago. Words are my preferred medium OK!

I do however want to capture these initial impressions I’ve had of living in America, before they start to seem totally normal and not worth even noting. It’s already starting to happen.