Music and Cocktails: Half Empty or Half Full

I was first exposed to the Indie band Death Cab for Cutie when my daughter was in high school and I was driving her back and forth everyday. At that point, they had released both Transatlanticism, the album that brought them recognition and critical acclaim, and Plans, their first commercial success with a major label that ended up going platinum. “Marching Bands of Manhattan” is the opening track on Plans and I can distinctly remember hearing it for the first time and immediately thinking “what is this song??” That’s how it has always worked with my kids: I introduced them to artists like Van Morrison, Tracy Chapman, and Jackson Browne, and they, in turn, broadened my musical taste to include all that they love. Something very similar happened with books and movies, and it has truly been a wonderful thing.

Ben Gibbard is the vocalist and lead guitarist for Death Cab and has collaborated on many other projects throughout the music industry, most notably as one half of the band The Postal Service. His voice has the capability of being perfectly enmeshed in the instrumentation, while soaring above it at the same time. You’ll hear it immediately on “Marching Bands.” When I first listened to the song, I thought wow, there’s real happiness here, this guy’s love for this girl is the size of the island of Manhattan. That’s some really BIG love. And he wants marching bands to come out of his mouth and make her name bounce off of all the buildings in the city. Ok that’s a little weird, but it’s still big. By the second stanza we’re aware that something is wrong: he thinks she’s not dealing with what’s happening between them, she has accused him of being a “hermit in his own head,” and maybe that’s true, but at least he’ll be the one to choose happiness when it’s right in front of him. We get the sense that she’s not quite sure that this guy’s big love is what she really wants. She has some sort of her own dysfunction going on, and he’s trying as hard as he can to convince her to choose what’s real.

The final lines of the song, which are repeated five times, are what made me select it for today’s post. “Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole / Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound / But while you debate half empty or half full / It slowly rises, your love is gonna drown.” This is so true, right? When we doubt something such as love, especially when it frightens us, or when we feel like we don’t deserve it, or when our comfort zone is one of discord and this love feels like harmony, it can create a tiny hole, and the uncertainty and sadness that find their way in will eventually overwhelm all the parts that are real and good. The love will never be able to survive, and we are the ones who are responsible for its demise. Some of us do find solace in the sound of a faucet leaking, even though we know that we’re being comforted by something that is broken, rather than whole. The debate as to whether this love is half empty or half full made me see a comparison to this past Monday’s post about “Vacancy in the Park” by Wallace Stevens. If we see the glass of love as half empty because of our own distortions or issues we need to work through, then we are viewing it in terms of vacancy. We are focusing on the idea of what we think is not there, and allowing the love to be defined as such. We may think the message is bleak at the end of the song, especially with the repetition of the final lines, but much like at the end of Stevens’ poem we’re given the impression that the narrator has faced a moment of truth because of what he’s learned from this relationship. He will open the curtains when the sun is shining again. He will choose happiness, and he will choose love.

For today’s cocktail, my thought was to go with a riff on a Manhattan that was the taste equivalent of LOUD. For my base spirit I used Rittenhouse Rye, which packs a solid punch at 100 proof, and has a distinct herbal streak and enough spice to stand up to the other ingredients that I chose. In place of the vermouth, I used a ruby port from Sandeman that has strong red fruit flavors like plums and strawberries. It’s definitely brighter and far more forward than vermouth, which was intentional on my part so that I could use Fernet Branca instead of the bitters in the traditional recipe. Fernet is made from a secret Italian recipe of 27 herbs that includes myrrh, saffron, chamomile, and gentian. Wait, myrrh?? Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, you do taste it. Fernet is considered to be the most bitter of the Italian Amari, and is about as loud as it would get if your taste buds had ears. This is indeed a Manhattan that marches right at you, and whether you think the glass is half empty or half full, it’s best to sip it slowly… Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!

Half Empty or Half Full

2½ oz Rittenhouse Rye 100
1 oz Sandeman Ruby Port
¼ oz Fernet Branca

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice, stir until very cold, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express and orange peel over the drink, twist and garnish. This is a strong drink that can easily be served over ice in an old-fashioned glass. You choose. Enjoy!

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