ISSUE #53: Elizabeth Barker, Casper Johansson, Beat Radio

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2012 | | Labels:

Illustration by Casper Johansson

by Elizabeth Barker

Sally got a boyfriend the summer she turned seventeen. His name was Brian and he worked with her friend Miranda at a camp on the other end of town, where the kids took classes in photography and creative writing and archaeology instead of playing basketball all day, like Sally had during her grade-school summers at the Girls’ Club. Brian had strawberry-blonde hair, parted in the middle and compulsively pushed behind his ears; he wore wire-rim glasses and corduroys and scribbled band names all over the rubberized parts of his black Converse All-Stars (the same shoes Sally wore, but one size smaller). He never watched baseball and always wanted to make out to sad music like Pink Moon by Nick Drake, a record that Sally hadn’t ever heard before she met Brian. She wasn’t his first girlfriend.

Issue #53 soundtrack: Beat Radio "Days Like Diamonds"

They met at a party at the beginning of June, at the house of another one of Miranda’s camp friends. The party was so boring, everyone sitting around the basement and listening to songs full of smart words and drony guitars. Some of the girls wrote poems on the walls with nail polish, trying to talk like they were stoned even though nobody had any pot. Sally wanted to leave after the first half-hour, but she’d vowed to stop spending so many nights hanging around her older brother Ponytail and his friends—especially his best friend Jack, who used to be Sally’s best friend too, up until he started dating his new girlfriend at the start of spring.

Halfway through the party in the basement, Brian sat beside Sally and introduced himself and drew a perfect elephant on the toe of her left sneaker; she responded by stealing a purple Crayola marker from Miranda’s bag and drawing an almost-perfect giraffe on the sleeve of his t-shirt. They went on drawing different animals all over each other’s arms and hands and shins, laughing and pretending to be mad, and by the end of the night Sally decided she would probably call the phone number that Brian had written on the inside of her right wrist.

Three Fridays later, Brian asked Sally to be his girlfriend and Sally said yes. They’d gone out at least a dozen times by then, usually to see weird movies or eat at weird restaurants Sally had never known existed, like the Ethiopian place with the spongy beige bread that reminded her of science experiments. The next night, after finishing her shift at the bakery near her apartment and going home to change into a pinafore sundress and roll a joint with weed stolen from her brother, Sally took the bus to Brian’s house, which had two floors and a backyard and a fireplace and a “breakfast nook.” His parents were away and she thought it would be fun to bring his stereo out to the yard and get stoned and make out and play with the sparklers she’d bought the weekend before. But when she got to his house Brian said his friend’s band was playing a show at the back of the indoor mini-golf place, and he really wanted to go and was that okay? Sally said sure, and didn’t mention anything about the sparklers.

At the show Sally and Brian sat at the side of the stage and drank sodas and held hands and sometimes kissed. There was one band she liked, who smiled a lot and hopped around and sang a Joe Jackson song, but Brian’s friend’s band was draggy and whiny and made her feel like her insides were all turning gray.

“They look so bored,” Sally whispered to Brian in between songs. “Do you think it’s really that boring for them? It can’t be, right? I mean, why would you bother being in a band if it was so boring all the time?”

Brian gave Sally a small smile and rolled his eyes and sighed and explained something about “performative ennui,” then patted her head as he walked away to get himself another Coke.

Later on that night, when Brian dropped Sally off, they slid into the backseat and kissed a while, her hands in his hair and his hands up her dress. She liked kissing Brian much more than the last boy she’d kissed, who opened his mouth so wide that when Sally closed her eyes she saw herself as Alice falling and falling down the rabbit hole. Brian was gentle with his lips and conservative with his tongue, although sometimes he crashed his teeth into hers, which always ruined the moment. Tonight, after the third teeth-crash, Sally eased away from him and smiled and said she should head inside in case her dad was waiting up. Brian made a sad face and drooped his shoulders and for a moment Sally considered patting his head too, but instead gave him one last kiss and thanked him for the soda and slipped out of the car.

Her apartment was dark and quiet, her dad already asleep and her brother still out. In her room Sally turned on her fan and lit the joint she’d pulled from her bag, then sat by the window and exhaled with her mouth pressed to the rusted screen. After smoking about half the joint, she put on her headphones and paced around and played a tape of songs by the Rolling Stones. Her favorite song right now was “Winter” and she listened three times in a row, talking to her ex-best friend Jack in her head the whole time.

“I like how it sounds like a Van Morrison song,” she told him. “Like—beautiful-sad. It’s all dramatic, but in a sweet sort of way. It’s totally tragic.”

“You’re totally tragic,” said Jack, teasing, in her head. She had him stretched sideways across her unmade bed, his lanky legs kicking over the edge. Jack was bony and very tall—he had Sally beat by almost five inches, and she was nearly six feet; his hair was crow feathers and his eyes were sleepy. No one else in the world ever looked so good lighting a cigarette, so Sally made him light a cigarette, right when the song got to the part about California.

“You know what I mean,” said Sally. “He sounds so, like, sorrowful,” she said. “Like, soulful. I like thinking Mick’s soulful. Sometimes it seems like he doesn’t have a soul, but I want him to. Have a soul.”

Jack smiled one of his dreamy smiles and then turned serious, nodding in agreement. “I like the part about Christmas trees,” he said, and Sally smiled and said she liked that part too. When “Winter” ended she flopped onto her bed, lying sideways, like Jack, then rewound the song and played it again.

* * * * *

The weekend before her birthday, Sally’s brother and his friends drove out to a lake the next town over to swim in the muddy water and get drunk under the pine trees. Sally hadn’t gone to the lake with them yet this summer and couldn’t decide whether to keep it up or give in, and in the end chose to spend part of the day at a pool party with Brian and then head to the lake afterward. They ended up leaving the party later than she’d meant to, and Sally tried not to worry about whether she’d missed out on anything exciting.

At the lake her brother and his girlfriend and about ten of their friends were sitting around a picnic table and in the grass, drinking beer and blasting the radio. Sally noticed Jack’s girlfriend Mary sunbathing on a patchwork quilt at the edge of the field beside the picnic area, in a yellow sundress that matched her Barbie-blonde hair. At first Jack was nowhere to be found, but as Sally was getting beer from the cooler he came up from the lake, wearing the cutoff jeans he always swam in. He grabbed a pack of Marlboros from the table and Sally didn’t bother trying not to stare—to see Jack sopping-wet and lighting a cigarette was a rare privilege, and she didn’t want to deny herself that.

Jack caught her staring as he inhaled, smiled and sat beside her at the picnic table, then leaned over her to shake Brian’s hand and introduce himself. His hair was longer than ever, nearly to his shoulders, and his skin smelled like lake water, clean and metallic. He was tanned and healthy and when his shoulder touched Sally’s she thought how good it would be to turn and kiss him there, or maybe bite him a little, nicely.

But then Mary came over and Jack pulled her into his lap, soaking her sundress, and she shrieked and slapped his arm and gave him a big smacky kiss. She turned and said hi to Sally and Sally smiled and introduced her to Brian, who was staring into his beer bottle instead of drinking. Mary asked Sally lots of questions about her summer, nodding and widening her eyes and looking delighted by every word Sally spoke. She was so adorably chubby-cheeked and pink-mouthed and Jack was sweeter in her presence—he didn’t tease Sally or pull her hair or punctuate his sentences by kicking her the shins, he didn’t pick her up and toss her into the lake with her shorts and t-shirt still on like he had at least three times the summer before. He was polite and cheerful and endlessly agreeable. Sally hated him so much.

Later on the sky started to darken and Brian kept making a big deal of slapping the mosquitoes that landed on his arms, and when Sally asked if he wanted to go he said yes and jumped up right away. As they said goodbye Mary squeezed Sally’s arm and whispered, “Your boyfriend’s so cute!” and Sally smiled and turned to wave at Jack, who waved back and shook Brian’s hand again.

On the ride home Sally stared out the window and wished it were the day two summers ago, when she and her brother and their friend Bobby had gone to the lake with Jack and his mom and his sisters and their kids. Toward the end of the day Sally and the boys had sneaked off to get stoned in the woods and then go swimming. It was early evening and the sun was orangey and the water was warm as the air. Sally and Jack and Bobby and Ponytail floated on their backs and tried to talk to each other with their ears sunk under the surface, everything echoing and muddled. After swimming Jack had swiped the ambrosia salad from the table and grabbed Sally’s arm and said “Come on” and she followed him to the other end of the field, where they sat under a tree and shared a spoon and ate up all the soggy marshmallows and sticky pineapple.

“Let’s only eat this from now on,” said Jack, when the bowl was nearly empty.

“Okay,” said Sally, thinking how she’d like to kiss Jack just after he’d eaten ambrosia.

In Brian’s car halfway home from the lake, his Big Star tape ended and all was silent for a moment as Brian dug around for another tape to play.

“Do you like the Rolling Stones?” Sally asked him then, realizing she had no idea. Maybe Brian loved the Rolling Stones. Maybe Brian loved the song “Winter,” and she didn’t need Jack to talk about Mick Jagger’s soul and California Christmas trees.

But then Brian started talking about how Their Satanic Majesties Request was “interesting” and after his third or fourth sentence Sally tuned him out and went back to staring out the window, thinking how good it would be when summer was over and there wasn’t so much pressure for everything to be so thrilling and lovely all the time.

* * * * *
The first time Sally heard “Winter” was a week after she met Brian, sitting at her kitchen table and eating a peanut butter sandwich after work. Her brother was listening to Goats Head Soup in the kitchen and ironing a dress shirt to wear to his new job at the steakhouse downtown, which he hated. After Ponytail left, Sally stole his tape and went for a walk, listening to “Winter” and wishing she were in California too. She couldn’t tell whether Mick was singing “I hope it’s gonna be a long hot summer” or “I hope it don’t be a long hot summer,” and she couldn’t decide which lyric she agreed with more.

The summer before had been the first time Sally ever loved the Rolling Stones, who were Jack’s favorite band ever since she first met him, when she was ten and he was 13. She fell for Beggars Banquet at the end of the school year and then moved on to Sticky Fingers, especially the slow and dreamy songs. Jack caught her listening to the album one July afternoon when he came over to hang out with Ponytail, and instead of going to the park with her brother to get stoned and watch the Little League game, he’d spent hours sitting on Sally’s floor and playing her different Rolling Stones songs and asking her what she thought of each one. It felt like the best present, the freedom to sit with Jack and speak so many of the weird sentences she’d already been saying in her head. She liked the way he watched her when she talked, how sometimes he got this wild smile on like he was thinking something sexy.

A week later, on the morning after Sally’s sixteenth birthday, Jack had shown up at her door with a dozen red roses, each drooping and dead. When Sally took the bouquet from his hand, three of the petals fell to the ground.

“Get it?” he asked. “Dead flowers! Get it?” Jack waited tables an Italian restaurant, and had spent the past week collecting wilting roses from the vases at each tabletop at the end of the night.

“I get it,” said Sally, touching her nose to the flowers. For a moment she tried to hide her smile, but then gave in and kissed his cheek and invited him upstairs, where they sat on her bed and ate leftover birthday cake for breakfast, playing “Dead Flowers” on her stereo five times in a row.

* * * * *
Sally turned seventeen on July 17. That night, Brian took her out for Malaysian food and gave her a book of Leonard Cohen poems, plus a mixtape whose cover was a photocopy of a painting of a warped carousel in the rain. There wasn’t any track list; Brian told Sally he wanted to listen to every song “for what it was” and then tell him which she loved most. At the end of the night, after they’d spent an hour parked by the airport, waiting for planes and kissing in the backseat, she went to her room and lay down and turned the tape on. The first song was pretty, with jangly guitars and a warbly-voiced boy singing about a buzzing fly, but after that all the songs sounded the same and she started to get the gray-on-the-inside feeling again. Sally shut the tape off and decided that when Brian asked her about it she’d babble long enough about buzzing flies and bumblebees and butterflies that eventually he’d get annoyed, then change the subject to whatever else he felt like talking about.

* * * * *
On a Saturday afternoon in the middle of August, Sally and Brian drove up to New Hampshire to meet her brother and Jack and Bobby at Hampton Beach. Mary was away at her family’s Cape house and Sally had been looking forward to spending the day with just the boys, but when Brian called that morning and asked what she was up to, she couldn’t think up an excuse fast enough. Brian offered to drive separately and got to her house late and they hit so much traffic, and by the time they made it to the beach the boys were already drunk on concession-stand lemonade spiked with whiskey. Sally and Brian spent most of the day in the ocean and whenever they went back to the blanket Jack took off with Bobby and Ponytail to the jetty to get stoned, or up to the boardwalk to check out the tattoo parlors and the girls. He hardly talked to Sally, and she didn’t talk to him either.

At the end of the day they packed everything up and headed to the boardwalk to get supper. The boys walked ahead of Sally and Brian and halfway down the boardwalk Sally scuffed her foot, sending a sliver of wood shooting into the skin just below her toes. She cried out and sat down on a stone bench and Brian sat beside her, inspecting the splinter as if deciding how to handle it. Bobby and Ponytail stopped too but Jack had wandered a few paces ahead and kept on walking.

“You need tweezers,” said Bobby, stoned and hypnotized and chewing his straw. Ponytail volunteered to get them and ran off toward the market while Brian stayed at Sally’s side, holding her hand. A minute later Jack came back.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked, scowling, as if inconvenienced.

“Splinter,” said Sally. She wouldn’t look at him, or anybody else, embarrassed and excited by the way they all stood around staring at her.

Ponytail returned and handed the tweezers to Brian, who crouched before Sally and took a deep, frightful breath before touching the tweezers to Sally’s splinter and yanking gently. Nothing happened.

“You gotta take it out the direction it went in,” said Bobby, leaning over Brian’s shoulder. “And don’t squeeze her foot like that—it’ll break the splinter and then it’ll be even harder to get out. And then it’ll get infected. And then we’ll have to amputate Sally’s foot. And then Sally will only have one foot, and it’ll be all your fault.”

“Please shut up,” Sally whispered, then winced as Brian pulled too hard and the splinter scraped her skin from the inside. Brian kept trying but the splinter wouldn’t budge, and Sally chewed on her hair and tried not to cry.

“Jesus Christ, let me do it,” Jack said, and Brian gave up the tweezers right away. Jack handed Sally his cup and she slurped up the whiskey and lemonade and did not look at her boyfriend, who was hugging his shoulders and staring down the boardwalk.

Jack kneeled and held Sally by the ankle and gripped the end of the splinter with the tweezers, pulled slowly and didn’t stop when Sally went “ow ow ow” and sucked at her teeth. He just said “Shhhhh” and “It’s all right” and squeezed her ankle and kept on working. She drank more and watched Jack’s slack mouth and thought about him kissing her ankle and then lying down on top of her, right on this bench, everyone else disappeared. In her head Sally was biting his shoulder and it was such a trip to think of him that way while he was actually touching her, instead of being alone in her bed like always. The whiskey or the hurt or his hand made her stare too long, waiting for him to look up. When he did, she smiled a sleepy, sexy smile and at first he wrinkled his brow like she was crazy. But then he smiled too and went back to working on the splinter and rubbed his thumb along the side of her foot, which made her feel so much warmer and wilder than any of the stuff she and Brian had been doing in his car.

And then Jack said “Ta da!” and the splinter was out and he slid it into his pocket before handing Ponytail the tweezers. Sally smiled up at him and thanked him; Jack smiled back and kicked her shin softly and said, “Put your goddamn shoes on.”

They all headed back down the boardwalk and Brian kept quiet and after a few minutes asked if she wanted to head home.

“Don’t you wanna get food?” Sally asked, sliding her arm around his waist and beaming up at him, because all of a sudden she loved everything.

“Not really,” said Brian. “Can’t we just go?” They stopped and the boys kept walking and Sally frowned and said she wanted to stay and Brian said “Stay then, I don’t care.” Sally supposed he thought she’d say “Don’t be silly,” but instead she kissed his cheek, hugged him hard and let him go, then ran off to catch up with the boys.

For dinner they had french fries and funnel cake and ice cream and Coke. On the ride home Ponytail drove and Jack rode shotgun and played tapes full of Rolling Stones songs, although none of them were “Winter.” Soon after they passed the Massachusetts border, Ponytail pulled over to a gas station and got out to fill up the tank while Bobby ran into the store. In the front seat, Jack lit a cigarette and passed it back to Sally without turning to look at her.

“Do you like the song ‘Winter’?” she asked, taking the cigarette.

“On Goats Head Soup?” asked Jack. “Yeah. Yeah, I like it a lot.”

“Me too. I’ve been listening to it all the time. Like, a hundred times a night.”

“Oh yeah?” said Jack. He turned to her and smiled one of her favorite smiles, the one that was wolfy and slow to creep up his lips. “You wanna hear it now?” he asked. “A hundred times in a row?”

“Yeah, sure, thanks,” said Sally, watching Jack dig through the glove box to find the tape.

“Hey, you know that part in the beginning?” she said. “Is he saying ‘I hope it’s gonna be a long hot summer’ or ‘I hope it don’t be a long hot summer’?”

“I don’t know,” said Jack. He was still looking through the tapes, and Sally was sure she’d never be happy again if he didn’t turn back around to look at her. Jack said “Aha!” and shook a tape in the air, but Sally didn’t respond.

“What do you want him to be singing?” Jack asked, after they’d sat in silence a moment. He hadn’t put the tape on; he was just holding it in his big hands. Then he turned around and stared at her, waiting for her to answer.

Sally thought it was so nice, the way he waited for her like that.

“I don’t know,” she told him, smiling. “I can never figure it out.”

Jack thought for a while, twirling a piece of his hair like he always did when he was thinking hard.

“I think you should make it whatever you want,” he said at last. “You know what I mean?”

“Okay,” said Sally, nodding. “Yeah—I totally know.”

Jack touched her fingers to let her know he wanted his cigarette back, and Sally gave it to him right as Ponytail climbed into the car. A few seconds later Bobby came back, with a package of Oreos and a bottle of milk. Ponytail started up the car and Sally took a swig of milk and Jack faced front again, pushing Goats Head Soup into the stereo. The song that came on was “Angie,” which meant they had two more to go.

“Sally wants to go to California,” Jack said to Ponytail as they pulled onto the highway. “So keep driving ‘til we get to California.”

“Yeah, okay,” said Ponytail, not getting it. Soon Bobby passed out and Sally kicked her shoes off and leaned her head against the window. “Winter” came on and she decided she wanted Mick to sing “I hope it’s gonna be a long hot summer” and wished for Jack to want the same thing. Just before that line, Jack reached over and turned up the volume, then sneaked his right hand back to clasp Sally’s ankle, and held on the whole way home.

Elizabeth Barker is a Los Angeles-based writer and co-editor of music blog The former executive editor of, she’s currently working on her first novel. Elizabeth also writes stories/essays inspired by Beatles songs, and publishes them as zines at

Casper Johansson, a.k.a. Cap, is a Myanmar/Burma-based visual artist commuting between the streets and the canvas, portraying urban landscape and untold truth with an ounce of disobedience. By deconstructing everyday images, Cap is re-defining the information and reconstructing it back to its original form. Find out more about his work at and follow him on Twitter.

Brian Sendrowitz has crafted hazy, literate, heartfelt pop songs as Beat Radio since 2005. The project’s first full length, The Great Big Sea, released in 2006 (earning an 8/10 rating from Drowned in Sound), and the second album, Safe Inside the Sound, followed in 2009. In December 2010, Beat Radio utilized a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the vinyl pressing for its third full-length record, Golden Age, on Awkward for Life Records, a DIY Boutique Label run by Sendrowitz and his wife Elizabeth. In the spring of 2011, the band was featured on Insound’s staff blog as Band of the Week, and The L Magazine included them as an honorable mention in their annual NYC Bands You Need to Hear feature. In 2012, Beat Radio will release its fourth full-length LP in a series of installments. For more, visit the band online at