I was obsessed with three musicians around early 2007, which was when I left Charleston for Minnesota: Justin Timberlake, Matthew Houck (Phosphorescent) and Jason Molina. On my solo drives up and down and across the country, the car packed stuffed with all of my things, I listened to their cds on repeat and thought about all of their syrupy voices, the luxury sexiness, the good-time guy with weed-infused deep thoughts and the lumbering depressive spiked with lascivious vitriol. Summer in the south became summer in the north. I had no real boyfriends, only passing chances that were moderately realer than the ones I spent time with in my car. It’s a fact that I know more Jason Molina lyrics than I remember words from any of those men.
I was partial to this lyric in particular: I will think of all the ways next time I will try not to let you down. That year was a series of letdowns, and I did some of the letting down. And I retreated back to Jason Molina’s voice of gold during the many hours when I was alone.
When I got to Minneapolis, I smoked up in the cheap parking lot downtown and saw Magnolia Electric Co., my first-ever concert at the 7th Street Entry. It was a good concert, not great, not as great as Trials and Errors, the only live album I’ve ever loved or even liked. And I was upset that he didn’t play “Captain Badass” because fuck, I mean, “Captain Badass.” That was sexier than Phosphorescent, than Timberlake, even. Didn’t hear it; it was a letdown.
A little while ago I took some steps away from the depression and the self-medication, and it’s not that I think Jason Molina could have taken steps away from that, because addiction and depression consume, especially when you’re not in a place where you even have the money to be supported. But it is disturbing to see that dark path play out, every time. Even with things the way they are now, good, solid, rarely feeling alone, that path looms in the distance.
I am looking forward to the new Phosphorescent and Justin Timberlake records, both of which will be released tomorrow, right after Mr. Molina’s death. It’s a coincidence. These markers mean little, roll along. Even if the records are not to my taste, it’s nearly impossible that I will be let down. I am not so obsessed. I am let down by the fact that there will be no more beautiful songs, yes, but peace to you, Jason. You wrote gorgeous songs that helped me through the heat of one tumultuous summer and forever.
Now the years can start melting away
In 2012 everything came together for me, professionally and personally. I learned that I can have a job that I love and not let it burn me out. I cemented a group of rad, lovely friends that have been building for quite some time. I realized that I can, indeed, love someone for longer than a year without getting the least bit bored (and actually getting more intrigued with every minute).
I went to Vegas, Nashville, Denver, Chicago, Solvang, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Gaithersburg, Madison, Grand Marais and the suburbs of Boston. I was happiest when I was in Minneapolis, watching the cat video film festival, and in St. Paul, ice skating downtown. I’ve lived here for five years, and it’s still home. The times are changing, though. I may change neighborhoods.
I did good work. I started a mailing list for essays and sent out two good pieces of work. Aside from that, I fought the new project bug to focus on my writing, although I often want to get the band back together.
I was sad when Metro magazine folded, especially since it was getting so good, and there is no real suitable Twin Cities alternative to take its place. MPLSzine looks good, better than its scale requires. There’s hope.
I listened to less music, more radio. I realized that classic rock radio is now playing new wave, and the whole radio beast is still quite a beast. I admitted to liking Maroon 5 and the Black Keys. I bought the last jewel case I hope I will ever buy—the appropriately teenybopped Taylor Swift— but mostly stuck to vinyl and MP3s. I liked Father John Misty, First Aid Kit, the Walkmen, Frank Ocean, Rufus Wainwright, fun., Leonard Cohen and Lana del Rey.
I listened to the Fiona Apple record a lot in the summer, but somehow Ms. Apple always seems to release her wonderfully fraught records right when I am similarly emotionally tortured so that listening to a Fiona Apple record after the dark period is over is painful in itself. I do not actively want to feel like Fiona Apple anymore, even though the new record was very good. I will listen again someday.
I saw movies, started rating movies and books and other consumables on Twitter. Still obsessed with Altman, although he has a lot of issues with women that I am not entirely comfortable with. I couldn’t finish The Long Goodbye. I liked Skyfall, Moonrise Kingdom, Argo and The Master, but there was nothing that hit me at the moment I wanted to be hit. The alien abortion scene in Prometheus made me smile. Klute is a great Jane Fonda movie; They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is not. Tootsie was much worse than I ever could have anticipated.
I liked New Girl and the first season of The Sopranos. I did not particularly care for the second season of Downton Abbey but I will watch the third.
Now that I have a day job and no side project, I read, all the time, alternating fiction and nonfiction. It’s an approach that works. My favorites were Middlemarch and Zeitoun. I would also recommend The Robber Bride and How to Cook a Wolf. Valley of the Dolls is the most influential book I’ve only read 1/6 of. Barack Hussein Obama rocked my world, as did Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan. I read less on the internet than I did at the beginning of the year.
Karaj’s tumblr masters the medium and was one of the best things I read on the internet this year. In fact, in all the ephemera, it’s the only one I can wholeheartedly recommend. The Morning News also never lets me down.
I fell in love with an immersion blender and learned to cook with some sort of pizzazz. My menus got more ambitious and more vegetarian. I failed to eat less dairy. I loved The Butcher and the Boar, Tanpopo and the World Street Kitchen. Bachelor Farmer, however, was overrated.
And I learned to ignore the angry internet, even though it took all year. I was happy to know that I can put away my outrage because you are taking care of it for me, angry internet. I was mad at all the stupid, ignorant men in power, too, but I see that you have a more directed outrage, and I started to put my feelings into my offline work. I am taking advantage of the feminist internet, and taking it for granted. Don’t worry; my outrage will show up later in not-so-immediate incarnations. It will show up in attempts to teach media literacy and in mentorship; it’ll come up in one way or another in longer essays, demonstrations of the way to do things, I hope.
But really I am just happy to be working, focusing on projects: the essays, the longer project, the trashy novel, the occasional writing. I will dig deeper into my job because I love it. I will learn HTML5 and cross stitch in the coming year. I will buy a couch and read more books. I will make more delicious food at home. I will, hopefully, listen to more music this year. I will take your recommendations.
It was a very good year.
A Solution to Red
I really wanted to like Red, so much that I bought it in a jewel case for $15 from the record store. I haven’t bought a jewel case in years, but I wanted to feel like a teenager again. I loved the first couple of songs I’d heard from it, thought it was pretty catchy and a little subversive, and I like pop music and country music… but I really have mixed feelings about this record.
Part of it is that Swift repeats words and phrases much too often, which always sticks out like a sore thumb in lyrically heavy music. Part of it is that based on the reviews and on that song I thought it would be a feminist coup for the prissy alpha bitches, but prissy alpha bitches don’t have monolithic taste or universal experiences and I never spent that much time thinking about love as Taylor Swift does.
When I was 22 there were plenty of men and boys in my life, and I fantasized about all of them, stayed out late with the best and the worst of them, and I still would have thought this record was lame. I’ve grown up a little since then, so I like Red more than I would have in my late college years. But I’ve never been a romantic, and I stayed out past midnight. And although I’m an unabashed defender of great pop, sometimes I wish Swift would just cop to it: “The sex has made me stupid.”
I think part of the male critical acceptance of this record chews on, “Well, this must be what it’s really like for a girl.” It’s part of the male fantasy of femininity to give this record a chance. The girls on Girls are not real, but they’re certainly more true to life than the version of youngwomanhood on Red. It’s a very chaste, childish version with nothing sinister at all, except, really, that one song. I fail to see how Swift’s nodding to “cool” gives her songs multiple levels of complexity. For me, the best art reveals something true about the world, and the best parts of Red hit on tangible experience. But even some of the songs with tangible details like the refrigerator door and the autumn leaves fail to acknowledge the experiences of most women over 18, not even for the ones who dress in mall clothes and dream of being stars in the sky. They fail to acknowledge anyone in the world who is not Taylor Swift.
I’ve always liked music with a sex drive— that’s why I like pop— but when you’re repeating the same phrases about love love love, stay stay stay, I wonder what’s not being said. You can still be prudish, but admit that when you’re going through lovers like wildfire and spinning around til you’re breathless with glee, you don’t have time to make that many similes. In the concrete details, there’s nothing of human emotion and it’s all just “mean” and “nice.” Swift has the room to grow up, but during most of this record she doesn’t, and it would be cool to acknowledge that, critically, in a content-focused review.
Twenty-two was a pivotal year for me, but I never saw it with this rosy, romantic, teenybopper mindset. Red makes me think about those experiences, that year, and I want to write songs about it now:
- “I could have told you there’s no such thing as an open relationship; now I want to call your girlfriend and tell her too.”
- “Get this chemical taste out of the back of my throat.”
- “Let’s get out of this dirty, gritty city and escape to a Southern town where people don’t understand why women have short hair.”
- “Did you just propose to me mid-coitus?”
- “I’m going to play ‘Help Me Mary’ on repeat until you leave this house.”
- “I feel cool because I’m with the band, but I’m only really cool because I know where the beach is.”
- “I don’t wanna sell paintings of dogs / I want to get a job as a waitress, fake an accent, learn some manners.”
- “We know that we own this room.” (Ok, that is a little bit Ke$ha.)
- “No, I didn’t go to high school with you, but you’re so beautiful that I’ll say I did.”
- “I can’t believe that you are impressed that I know who Joe Strummer is.”
- “They are playing Abba so let’s slaughter the dance floor.”
- “The nachos at Round the Clock are so brilliant; I hope this place never closes.”
And, like Girls, I want it to reflect me, and it doesn’t, especially since the goal of both Red and Girls is to create something that young women identify with, but either I’ve grown up or I am still waiting for some critical pop darling that makes it onto the morning shows that mixes the sinister and the joy and the sex and the arrogance, something that actually feels like being a young woman. And it’s ok to not be satisfied with the accepted representations thus far.
That one song, though? That one is really great.