We spoke with Langhorne Slim about feeling old in a young man’s body, meditating on chess pieces, the first time he found himself standing out from his social peers and the one piece of poetry that cuts to his core.
I fear some of the physical or mental ailments that might come along with age, but I always felt more connected to older people. I looked forward to their freedoms.
We asked Sean what came to mind when presented with each of these pieces used in chess.
I want it to be known that, though I admire people who play chess, I’ve never played chess in my life. I think if I could learn, I could enjoy it.
Some galloping, English, kind of effeminate, power-hungry noble.
That’s got more of a religious connotation.
Mischievous. Pulling one over on somebody.
An empowered female.
Not as in a ruler of others, per se. The king of your own domain.
Apparently, the way that you navigate, read the other player and utilize your own moves is so that you have great ability for the outcome. How you dance on the board reflects how you dance through life.
As a child, do you remember your first perception of personhood? Did you ever have the notion that you were a new person with your own will and consciousness, or did that self-awareness come later?
I have a couple of big, defining moments that I remember very clearly, about the “sheep mentality” of going with the crowd that didn’t suit me. One being, there was a pair of pants when I was in elementary or middle school called Z Cavariccis. They were quite expensive, at least at the time. They were these pseudo-MC Hammer kinds of pants. I remember that the cool kids wore these Z Cavaricci pants, and so I begged my grandmother to take me to the mall.
I didn’t even like the mall as a kid because the lighting is completely soul-sucking. But, I begged to go so I could buy these pants. My grandmother, being so sweet, decided she was going to buy me a pair. I remember this so much. The R.E.M. song “Man on the Moon” was on in the dressing room. I took my pants off and tried them on, and I remember looking at myself in the mirror and just feeling uncomfortable. They looked foolish, and I felt foolish. I wore these pants to school the next day, and I will never forget as long as I live walking into school feeling just completely self-aware, in an insecure way. I was going along with what was cool. But when I got home, I took off those pants and never wore them again.
I felt bad. I might have even apologized to my grandmother for wasting the money. But though this is kind of a silly story, it was a big moment for me, like, “Be your own bird.”
That sounds like a really critical moment of defining yourself from your peers.
Yeah! And I was wearing really similar clothes to what I’d wear now. My grandparents had suits I really liked. I would just “borrow” clothes out of their closets and they’d let me keep them. I always felt like I was an old man in a young man’s body. That’s why I’ve enjoyed getting older. I don’t fear age at all. I embrace it. I guess I fear some of the physical or mental ailments that might come along with age, but I always felt more connected to older people. I look forward to the freedoms that come with getting older.
My other story is quite similar. I’d preface this by saying that I love where I grew up. It’s a beautiful place, and Pennsylvania is lovely, and all that. But at the time, I couldn’t wait to get out. I didn’t like school and I wanted to be on the road, playing music or anywhere else. I really wanted to be in New York, since it was the closest city that seemed a lot freer.
But I’m sure you’ve heard the term “phat.” I grew up in this place where it was predominantly white kids, and there was a lot of subtle and unsubtle racism. I don’t even know if racism can be subtle. A lot of it was really overt. There was also a small group of kids that were anti-Semitic, who must have learned that from their parents. I grew up Jewish, so it was kind of a drag. But these kids who were talking in this way that they were against black people were completely emulating what they thought black people talked and dressed like, since MTV was such a big thing.
White kids in baggy pants, Kris Kross, et cetera?
Which is fine! I mean, dress however you feel comfortable. But it was just interesting that they were affecting what they’d seen on TV. They were emulating Snoop Doggy Dogg but using the n-word at the same time. I know if my mom reads this, she’s going to be really upset, because truth is, it was a small group of people who were like that. It just stuck out to me. I’m not saying the whole town was racist, bigoted shitheads.
Anyway, the term “phat” was something we must have heard on TV or associated with hip-hop culture. All these little white kids were using that word. I remember being at the corner of a street I lived on, and this kid had just bought a new bike. We started talking about some nonsense, and I said to him, “Nice new bike. It’s phat.” And as the word “phat” came out of my mouth, it felt like my soul was shriveling. It just felt so unnatural for me to use that word. I was using it clearly to fit in with this group. It was definitely a cathartic moment, or an epiphany of just, like, “You’ve got to talk the way you talk.”
I feel like growing up requires so much trial and error. Because you do want to fit in in certain ways. You want to find a sense of decorum, but there’s such a balance you have to strike, and veering in either direction can result in embarrassment.
I think it’s a sense of safety, in wanting to be a part of a group. But I never wanted to be part of these groups anyway. I was embraced by the cool kids every other day, then I was bullied by them any other time it was convenient to be bullied. It was confusing and almost jarring, but looking at it in retrospect, it was almost beautiful. I realized that this wasn’t about winning peoples’ acceptance of me based on bullshit. A lot of these kids aren’t my real homies anyway. It’s cliché, but it’s true. Love yourself, which we all struggle to do on a day-to-day basis, and be yourself, then you’ll connect with a community.
That’s how I found music. There were a couple of kids who loved Nirvana, and we were learning how to play guitar at the same time. Me and Jeff Marblestone and this kid Mike Patillo would get together and watch Minor Threat videos and cover Nirvana and some Pearl Jam songs in one of our living rooms. I was able to find where I’d fit in in the context of that little bubble through art and music, which is so much more…
Oh god, I’m trying not to use the word “authentic.”
I think you get a pass on that one. It applies.
It’s real. It’s pure. It’s from the heart. It’s not superficial or from the ego. It’s not trying to appeal to people based on the kind of pants that you wear. For some reason, that fucking R.E.M. song, which I still love to this day, and trying on those Z Cavariccis. That was a big moment for me.
To see the flaws, but also be in awe with where we’re at in time and wherever place we might find ourselves is a beautiful thing to do.
Is there a book anywhere in your immediate proximity? Do you mind just opening it up and telling me the first thing you read?
Yes, but if I’m going to do that, it’s not that random. It’s from my old, torn-up copy of There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves by James Kavanaugh, a beautiful book of short poetry. I was inspired by the book, the preface and this whole poem, to the point that I wrote a song called “Wolves” which is directly inspired by it.
I want to read the preface first. This is James Kavanaugh in San Diego, 1970. He writes:
“We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.
This book is for wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.”
Now, here’s the poem of the same name:
“There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.
There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and Ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.
There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.
There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.”
That shit brings me to tears every time.
That’s a beauty. How do you map it onto your own life, onto your own consciousness?
The way that it hits me is that it’s very punk rock in its ethos. It goes against what we’re sold and the corporate dream. Doing everything you can do to get to the top, the top being some house on the fucking hill, with a beautiful wife or husband and fancy cars. I feel that’s a great human tragedy that we’re sold that, because these sorts of searches are within. Those goals are not profound to the spiritual life, the soul or the heart.
But the other thing that strikes me about his writing is one that puts him in the league of Johnny Cash or John Prine. They’re the ones who can say what I’ve always thought or felt, but in such a succinct, beautiful, poetic way that it reawakens that truth within myself. The idea of vulnerability or sensitivity being strengths. Fickle men in our society are conditioned to view those things as weaknesses. But they’re the furthest thing from that. They allow for compassion. They allow us to stop to see if the colors of the leaves have changed. Seeing how the light plays on them.
There are so many people who feel like freaks, or like they’re misunderstood. People say, “Be yourself!” but it’s not that easy to be yourself. There’s a lot of trial and error in finding yourself, your voice and heart. Rumi said, “You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” He fucking nails it, man. I don’t have to explain it to you. You get it. We’re so scared of ourselves so often. I know that in my experience, when I’m most open, that’s when I connect the most to myself, my environment and the people around me. And people let their guard down because I don’t have mine up.
We’ve got to take the time to be kinder to ourselves and to each other, and to give ourselves a break.
Sometimes, I feel emotional about past points in human history that may be gone forever. I wonder about a world before electricity or powered transportation. Do you feel a mental pull to a bygone point in human history, or before technology advanced to what it is now? And I don’t mean that in a sense of “Things were better prior to now…”
I’m so glad that you said that. I was going to say both “yes” and “no.” In my life, and being a traveling person since I was nearly a teenager, everywhere I’ve ever gone, I’m five years too late to the people who live there. The scene is no longer there, the scene is dead, and so forth. Patti Smith once said something about this. She’s like, “People are always talking about the golden age and when things were really happening, but I’m like ‘Fuck that. I’m here, right here and right now. This is the time.’”
I realize where you’re coming from that it’s not better or worse, but I definitely think that to see the flaws, but also be in awe with where we’re at in time and wherever place we might find ourselves is a beautiful thing to do. It’s not always easy to find yourself there. I don’t want to talk to you and be thinking about what kind of socks I’m wearing, or what I’m doing tonight. I want to be here talking to you, and the same from you.
I’ve got a friend out in Colorado who lives out in the mountains, secluded, and is completely a woodsman. This land that he lives on, other than being maybe hiked through when they’re cutting down trees to protect the forest, has been pretty untouched for a long time. He’s got this glimmer in his eyes, like, “Can you imagine the Gold Rush?” And it is fascinating to imagine, but he’s like, “I would love to have been around for that.”
But he’s telling me this, and I’m like, “Dude, that sounds like the hardest life I could possibly imagine. It was freezing and most of them probably died!” And he’s just all about it. And I really believe him. I do think there are past lives, multiple dimensions and things like that, and that beyond romanticism, people connect in profound ways to a different time or place.
Do you ever feel sensitive about current events, and how dignity and grace seem to be coarsening and weakening on a global level, especially in American politics?
I don’t think they are. I don’t think we can fall for that. Because you have it, and I’d like to think that I have it. I’d like to think that with what’s going on that’s so horrific at the moment, that if it all doesn’t turn to shit and we get blown up or whatever, I’d like to think that things like dignity, grace, connection and kindness will come back. And I wouldn’t blame you for being like, “It’s far past that point.”
Well, on the other hand, I sometimes don’t feel like I’ve lived nearly long enough to come up with a definitive answer to that.
I don’t think age has anything to do with it. They say you live and you learn, but I’ve lived a little bit, I’ve learned a little bit and I’ve forgotten a lot more than that. Then I try to learn it again. I used to ask my grandpa, who I was extremely close to and also sort of like a Jewish Buddha of Philadelphia to me — I might come to him, being bummed and feeling out of place — and he would just say, “You never really figure it out.”
So, enjoy it. Which might just sound like some Hallmark thing, but it’s the truth, man. I’ve spent so much time in my own head, giving myself such a hard time, but the truth is that I get to live this amazing life. I get to do for a living what I always wanted to do. Yet, I still battle anxiety and other issues. And that’s all fine, but we’ve got to take the time to be kinder to ourselves and to each other, and to give ourselves a break.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: December 28, 2017
Total questions: 7 + 10
Word count: 2718
Reading time: Ten minutes
Z Cavariccis: Denied
Gold Rush: Imagined
1980s, accountant, age, ailment, authenticity, bishop, chess, chessboard, Colorado, domain, dreamer, ego, electricity, flaw, fragrant, gentility, Gold Rush, grass, guitar, heart, house, IBM, James Kavanaugh, king, knight, Langhorne Slim, life, location, lover, MC Hammer, memory, mental, merchant, mountain, New York, Nirvana, physical, place, queen, R.E.M., rook, songwriting, subservience, superficial, time, wanderer, wealth, wolves, Z Cavaricci
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
Related conversations W