Sunday, February 2, 2014

What qualifies a good year is changing: 2013, and beyond

I realize that over a month into 2014 is a bit late to be posting a 2013 mix, and for awhile, I figured that this would just be the one year that I didn't make or post a year-end mix. But then I thought, "Who cares if it's 'late'?" I make these year-end mixes mostly for myself, as a sort of sonic representation of my attempts to process and make sense of what I experienced over the course of the year. And processing is just one of those things that takes as long as it takes.

I'll admit that I put off 'processing' 2013. It wasn't the worst year I've had, but it wasn't easy either. It was busy, and it was packed with relationships, events, conflicts, dialogues, and the occasional resolution, when I was lucky. Looking back through all of that was a little daunting, at first.

I wasn't able to avoid it for long though. I'd argue that the end of the calendar year is the one time when we all do at least some processing, even if to varying extents. Or at least, it's the one time of year that we're all really encouraged to look at our lives and our choices, and try to make changes -- i.e., the whole thing of making resolutions. Most of my friends are super-processors already; my oldest and best friend, Zoey, is a social worker by profession, a Cancer by birth, and a sort of but not really secret hippie. She actually likes hearing about her friends' feelings, and is very good at dissecting, scrutinizing, and unequivocally validating every single feeling you express to her. It was not a surprise to me when our first conversation of 2014 started with me saying "Happy new year!" to her, and her responding with,"You too! But, how do you feel about that?"

I was in my kitchen at the time, putting away some dried dishes. I closed the cabinet door and said, "I feel like I'm glad the holidays and 2013 are over, even though 2013 was the year I learned to how to tell toxic people to get the fuck out." After half an hour of 'processing', it became clear to me that all of the conflict I dealt with in 2013 wasn't my 'fault', and wasn't drama that I had caused for the sake of it; it was the result of me finally learning how to call people on their negative behavior, and walk away from them if they refused to deal with it, apologize, or at least talk it out.

Or, as another friend put it in a pithy and much needed text, "2013: The Year Shit Got Real". So, that's what this mix is about. It's about realizing that you don't have the support you need, getting sad, trying to talk about it, getting discouraged, getting angry, and then realizing that hey, at least you're working on it, you're making the effort, and that if you keep working at it, you're going to figure it out, eventually. That probably doesn't sound like a 'good' year, but as anyone who's been through it will tell you, it's better than feeling helpless, alone, or stuck with people who don't really care about you.

2013: 'The Year Ish Got Real' from rockandthesinglegirl on 8tracks Radio.

New Year's Week: Team Dresch - "Fagetarian and Dyke"

January: Hysterics - "No!"

February: Excuse 17 - "I'd Rather Eat Glass"

March: Q and Not U - "A Line in the Sand"

April: That Dog - "Every Time I Try"

May: Say Anything - "The Futile"

June: Sleater-Kinney - "02"

July: Swearin - "Just"

August: Rainer Maria - "Save My Skin"

September: Slingshot Dakota - "Never Hear"

October: Punch - "Time Apart"

November: Paramore - "For a Pessimist I'm Pretty Optimistic"

December: Aye Nako - "In Dog Years"

December/January/beyond: Pretty Girls Make Graves - "Pyrite Pedestal"

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At least I'll never have to wonder what it's like to sleep a year (…or two?) away: Music-related things that kept me going in 2013

So, I really did plan to post here this year, I wanted to, but, I didn't, obviously. Instead of pouring a lot of time and energy that I didn't really have to spare into this blog, I took some time to live my life, to borrow some Beyoncé lyrics. (This might sound like an ironic reference, but it isn't, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that's exactly what I did this year.) I worked on personal life stuff, which meant asking myself why I do the work I do, and if I really want to be doing it.

I thought long and hard about this project, and whether or not I should just abandon it. I'm back here, updating right now, because I eventually came to the conclusion that this is something that I need to be doing, and that I shouldn't put it off, not even for a few days or until next week. And yes, this is partly because I've found that 'putting stuff off' isn't a good strategy for life and don't want to do that anymore. But if I'm being completely honest, I'm posting now in great part because, well, I really detest year end best-of lists and wanted to take the opportunity to rage about them.

It's not like I'm the first person to feel this way or even blog about it, but, if you think about it, the year-end best-of lists that most (white dude-run) mainstream music publications make such a fuss over don't make sense. There is no such thing as 'best' in music or any art form, because our tastes and what we enjoy are subjective.

Music journalist bros, of whatever gender, especially those who write about 'indie' music made by white kids, make money and social capital off of pretending that there is some objective standard of what is good and bad. They conveniently position themselves as the objective arbiters of what is good and bad, all the way at the top of the hierarchy. And then they make their lists of all their white, usually dude-dominated fave bands, and the social capital stays up near the top of the hierarchy, and whiteness and masculinity (not to mention heteronormativity, cis-normativity, and body-normativity) are reinforced yet again.

Fuck hierarchy though, and fuck cis-het-white-middle class dude normativity. Fuck objectivity, which is nothing more than the strategic, clandestine privileging of this cis-het-white-middle class dude subjectivity, no matter how hard bros (of whatever gender) try to tell you differently. (Ugh, I feel like I had to listen to so much of that mess this year, good grief.) Fuck the way 'objectivity' is used to dismiss and discredit so many of us, if not all of us who are not bro dudes.

If I wanted to, I could make a 'best of' list. I know a lot about popular music, how it's produced and distributed, and what's happening at the moment in a few genres and 'scenes' or whatever. If I wanted to I could pretend that I know what's 'good' and what's 'bad', and I could use this blog to tell you what to listen to. But I've never wanted to do that; that's not how I choose to use my power or social capital.

Instead, like my musician/writer/artist friendsJes Skolnik, Kate Wadkins, and Suzy Exposito, I'd rather talk about the music that I enjoyed this year, the shows, events and moments that got me through the hardest parts of 2013, and the occasional thing that wasn't quite from this year, and is perhaps even 10 years old, but still resonates with me. Because that's the point of music and all art forms: having feelings about it, and communicating with each other about it. Talking about what we like, without any kind of shame or self-consciousness or anxiety about not being 'cool' enough is how we make friends, and how we make community.

The following is a list of music, bands, performances and some other stuff that I fell in love with, that I cried to and at, that I talked about with my friends. So, enjoy! -- because that's what all this is for, damnit.

1. Slingshot Dakota's Dark Hearts LP

Okay, so technically Dark Hearts came out in November of 2012, but due to shipping delays, I didn't get my copy of it and listen to it in full until well into the following December. I spent the second half of 2012 having all kinds of 'I relate to this too hard!' feelings about their song "Light" after seeing them perform it at C.L.I.T. Fest in New Brunswick, NJ back in July of 2012, and I'm still ridiculously happy that it made the LP. Record opener "Intro/May Day" is what I listened to and sang on days when I didn't want to get out of bed or go outside this year though, especially during what felt like an endless winter:

2. Beyoncé and the Sugar Mamas' Super Bowl Halftime Show Performance

I have a vivid memory of being on an Amtrak train headed toward New York back in February, on my way home from a long, tiring, and frankly expensive day trip to Albany to meet with professors and use the library. The idea of going back exhausted and overwhelmed to an empty house made me feel like crying, but instead of crying, I used the train's wifi to watch a video of Beyoncé and the Sugar Mamas half-time show performance. It was exactly what I needed. In that moment, I stopped being a casual Beyoncé fan and began to really appreciate her influence and messaging, an informal project that I would end up working on all year.

3. Smash it Dead

A potent mixture of life anxiety, vehicle anxiety, and total New Yorker antipathy toward the city of Boston almost kept me from going to this annual fest and benefit for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, but I will forever be so, thankful l that I was able to be there, and that my desire to see Condenada was stronger than my many negative feelings, see the full set (and also me, standing on the side, quietly having many emotions about all of it):

Condenada (Full Set) from hate5six on Vimeo.

Condenada's was only one of many powerful sets that night and weekend; that Saturday night alone I got to see my friends and faves in Shady Hawkins (http://vimeo.com/63569959), In School (http://vimeo.com/63570063O and Curmudgeon (http://vimeo.com/63570067) play and talk and sing about resisting the violence, harassment, and other manifestations of rape culture and white supremacy that women, girls, and QTPOC face every day. Whenever I think back on that night, I remember feeling completely present, safe, and grateful to the organizers for all the work that they put into this event every year. The fest raised close to $6,000 dollars for the BARCC, and I'm proud that I was there and that I contributed.

The organizers are currently working on Smash it Dead 2014. I'm not sure if I'll be able to go, but either way, I'm already pumped for it.

4. 'Formal punk brunch'/all and any meals and events that include lady and genderqueer punk 'gossip' and/or 'shit talk'

Okay so 'formal punk brunch' is not exactly a real thing (it's more like an affectionate joke one of my friends made recently when I told him that I went to Champs with a certain powerhouse frontwoman and distro owner from Boston while they were in town). 'Gossip' and 'shit talk' amongst lady and genderqueer and gender non-conforming participants in punk and diy subcultures are a very real thing, though, except that it's not 'just' gossip or shit talk. It, in actuality, is how we communicate to each other when bands, other punks, venues, and other things are dangerous or unwelcoming to folks who aren't cis-dudes or who aren't white. If someone does or says something that's oppressive or fucked up and we talk about it, we're not 'gossiping' -- what we're doing is warning each other. We're figuring out strategies to work around people who aren't trustworthy (because these unsafe people frequently have some kind of crucial power in our scenes, ugh), and we're also figuring out ways to work through our feelings and maybe even laugh at these problems so that they don't isolate or demoralize us. We talk about it so that we can keep participating and making space in a subculture for ourselves, because that subculture doesn't always want to make that space for us.

5. Paramore's Paramore LP

Paramore's self-titled record is unquestionably one about moving forward, about using 'the future' to motivate you to work and live in the present. It's a record about recovery and learning how to start over, and so it has a lot in common thematically with the aforementioed Slingshot Dakota record. It's a record about facing unhappiness, accepting and working with change, and how hard but rewarding it is to learn to have hope. And that's also almost certainly why I continue to have absolutely no regrets about having listened to it more times than I can count since it came out in April. See and hear all of these themes in the video for their first single:

6. Aye Nako's Unleash Yourself LP

I'm not sure where to start with Aye Nako. The truth is that I know these people, I volunteer and occasionally socialize with them, and see them play as often as possible. I know something about them as people, as opposed to only knowing them as musicians, and I care about them, so I'd probably be really proud of everything they've done even if I wasn't so into this record. But as it happens, Unleash Yourself is an incredible, incredibly subtle document of QTPOC punk experiences and subjectivities, and also proof that deliciously bummer, relatably ambivalent songs about feelings, identities, and relationships are not and have never been just for sad dudes with flannel shirts and jazzmasters. Hear and see for yourself below, where I've posted what is somehow one of the very few videos of the band I could find. My theory is that folks are either hoarding the videos they've taken, or that they're not taking videos because they're too busy making out or swooning (you know, both activities that make holding a camera steady difficult) during the band's sets (which, whatever, I personally feel like that is totally a valid response to have to them):

7. Limp Wrist

While we were working on a Bikini Kill cover set for The 3rd Annual Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show back in 2011, some friends told me about Limp Wrist. Coincidentally there was a Limp Wrist cover set that year, right before our set, which involved 1/2 of Aye Nako (yes, they all dressed in short shorts and underwear like the real Limp Wrist does, and yes, you do wish that you could have seen this or that there was a video if you weren't there and it's totally okay). After the cover set, I was enamored with the idea of a gay hardcore band, so I did some research, asked some questions, sent some emails to my professors, and before I knew what was happening, I was cleared to write about Limp Wrist and/or frontman Martín Sorrondeguy's previous band, Los Crudos, for my dissertation. Which means that my investment in both bands is both really personal and seriously professional, which is weird but not bad. Seeing them at Union Pool in June, and watching as my 'punk' life and academic work collided was surreal, but it was also one of the most ridiculously amazing nights I've ever had. Here's a video of that set:

8.Whore Paint's Swallow My Bones LP

My brief but ardent love affair with Whore Paint and their music started in early 2012, when guitarist Hilary sent me an email asking me I'd like to write up their Menarchy 7", I listened to their bandcamp mostly because their bio mentioned their affiliation with Girls Rock! Rhode Island. I wasn't really blogging at the time, so I wrote a review-slash-love letter for Tom Tom Magazine, and then waited patiently for their full length. It took a year and a half but it was more than worth the wait. Whore Paint repurposes early metal sounds into loud, often ugly, wrathful, "pre-post-feminist" noise about what it really feels like to know that you live in a society that doesn't allow you to own your own body. It's awe-inspiring. Watch the first video from the record below:

9. Deep Pockets' You Feel Shame LP

I've said more than once that Deep Pockets are the only all-white guy band I'll ever shill for or give my money, which doesn't sound all that complimentary but I swear that I mean it with nothing but real affection. They're another band that I sort of know somewhat personally, they're friends/former housemates of friends, they're great people who I would be proud of even if their first record didn't do much for me (but, uh, as it turned out it made me cry while I was on a bus to Philadelphia once, but I'll talk about that some other time, maybe with a therapist instead of on this blog). You Feel Shame made me cry because it is the typically heavy-yet-agile Long Island post-pop-punk-'emo'-I don't have words for it-core that I've been dreaming about since my days as a youngster in Queens who listened to a lot of Brand New and Taking Back Sunday but didn't realize how close Levittown actually was, in every sense. This is a record about feeling old and crotchety in a subculture that frowns upon 'growing up', anxiety about the future, anxiety about your nostalgic longing for when you weren't so worried about things, and using your sarcastic wit to cover up and also express your many feelings, and it's surprisingly beautiful. You can watch the video of them below from a show of theirs at Mr. Beery's, a place that probably won't mean anything to you unless you've gone to shows in Nassau County. Sorry about that!

10. Nashville

I know that it's not a 'hip' opinion to have or whatever, but, I kind of like tv. Most of it is awful, and often outwardly regressive and pretty boring. But when done right, narrative television shows can be an effective medium for studying and revealing human behavior. Does Nashville qualify as tv done right? I'm not sure, I'm not a tv critic or media scholar, and I also don't know that much about the country music industry, but it delivers what I really wanted from it: complex, sometimes unlikable women characters who are both human beings with personal lives and working musicians with careers and professional responsibilities. The show might be more soap than 'prestige drama', but it frequently addresses music industry sexism, and the various ways in which the women characters respond to it, and often in ways I find extremely satisfying. Also extremely satisfying: the ridiculous, hilarious, and heartwarming twitter exchanges my babely friend Dominique and I always seem to have about the show.

11. Chumped's self-titled 12" EP

I saw Chumped open for the aforementioned Deep Pockets back in May, at a show where I didn't expect to see anyone onstage who wasn't a dude. And yeah, maybe front woman Anika and her Bikini Kill tshirt were initially what got my attention. But their fuzzy, noisy messy, catchy, tightly-constructed songs (as well as their live covers of No Doubt and Ke$ha) are what kept it. Their self-titled debut is short, but its songs about old friends, personal failures, bad decisions, city life exhaustion and excitement, and long-term relationships are possibly the most fun thing I've heard all year, and whenever I listen to it I don't feel quite so bad about not having any idea what to do with my life. Watch them play my personal favorite "Something About Lemons" with a kicky "Die Young" intro below:

12. M.I.A.

Just as Gotham deserved better villains, the world deserves better, or maybe more complex pop stars. M.I.A. is one such pop star, who's both a musician and media artist, an entirely transnational, fully digitized, epically postmodern figure and product of our rapidly globalizing world. M.I.A. doesn't shrink from these forces, she faces them head on, making music and the occasional violent video about the divide between the 'first' and 'third' worlds, and movement and connection between the two. She also regularly antagonizes Western mainstream media outlets, who probably do think of her as their own personal Heath Ledger-style Joker, and seem frantic to discredit her and her origin story about her family's flight from Sri Lanka and relocation to Great Britain. This year alone her record label has tried to suppress a documentary she's trying to make and her record, which was finally released in November, after she threatened to leak it. I remember streaming it last month late at night, after a long, emotionally taxing day, listen to the first song I listened to from it below:

13. Beyoncé

Speaking of more complex pop stars: where does one even begin with Beyoncé's self-titled 5th album, and the recent mass hysteria over it? I'm not here for blind Queen Bey worship, there are nuanced critiques of her work and career written by black women critics all over the internet for nerds like me that are more than worth googling. But I can't help but inspired by her as a creative and professional force, despite not being familiar with most of her catalog.

I remember the night the record came out because I was up late, unable to sleep at 2:30 am, unable to stop fretting over an ailing, possibly unsalvageable friendship, unable to just make myself go up to bed after an entire day of feeling that way. The seemingly unanimous freak out over the record, and the apparent consensus that it was a major artistic achievement, somehow snapped me out of it. Suddenly, there was a worthy distraction from my personal issues, something to motivate me to go to sleep, so I could get up the next morning and investigate further, something to motivate me to finally get stuff done. I remember reading about the album and its 13 videos and thinking to myself: dude, if Beyoncé can record all those songs and make all those videos and keep it a secret, you can do the dishes and put out the recycling. And I did, I stayed up until 5:30 that morning doing stuff around the house that I'd been putting off. Beyoncé made me feel like I might, at some point, get my shit together, if I work hard enough, and I'll only stop listening to this album when it stops making me feel that way. Watch the video for "Yoncé" below, which I have watched many times but am still not anywhere near being over it:

Beyonce 'Yonce' from Forever on Vimeo

HONORABLE MENTIONS: This list is kind of long, but it is by no means comprehensive. This year was weird, but it was filled with a lot of good things, good times, and good shows, and good records that I didn't even get a chance to download, much less listen to. I know so many people who are doing such amazing work, and have so many friends and acquaintances who are making fantastic zines and records, and I'm excited for all of them. Here's to keeping better track of these developments, and maybe even blogging about them regularly in 2014. See you next year!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A line in the sand.

CONTENT NOTE: Sexual assault and rape culture

So I really wanted my first blog post of this new year to be hopeful and uplifting and positive about the possibilities for 2013, right?  I wanted to write a sort of statement of purpose, about my 'goals' or whatever.  About what I, what we can accomplish this year if we can learn to truly respect each other and work together.  I wanted to talk about what we can build.

But instead I'm starting this year by talking about how some douchebags think it's cool to use the word 'rape' in the name of their upcoming tour.  I'm starting this year by talking about how a dudebro 'punk' band is willfully perpetuating rape culture, and  refusing to take responsibility for the implications of their actions.

Lineinthesandimg03

[Image: a screenshot of the band in question's blog.]  Directly from this band's blog, a post on the tour dates, along with a video to promote it.


For anyone who hasn't heard about this, here's what happened: as shown in the screencaps posted above, a 'punk' band featuring members of another prominent 'punk' band has named their tour the "Raping the East Tour 2013".  For some reason, they were surprised that not everyone was okay with this name -- I guess they didn't consider that some of us actually have been raped or assaulted, that some of us have been assaulted at shows or by dudes who claim to be 'punk', or that some of us are more than capable of telling them that we're not comfortable with dudes using the word 'rape' so casually?  Whatever, the point is, there was some push back.  Some people have publicly criticized this band, and some bookers have canceled some of the band's shows after learning about the tour's name.

So of course, now this band is complaining that they're being persecuted, that they're being 'attacked' when all they've done is exercise their right to free speech, and how the original meaning of the word 'rape' isn't about forcing someone to have sex, so they haven't done anything wrong.  They literally said this in the statement they posted to their blog, which is of course called "No Apologies, No Compromise" -- it literally says, in all-caps, "We have done nothing wrong." 

Alineinthesand04

[Image: another screenshot from the band in question's blog, of their response to the criticism of their tour's name.]  Another screen shot directly from the band's blog.  If you look at the bottom, you can see where they say they haven't done anything wrong.


I chose to write my first blog post of the year about this incident, but it doesn't really feel like a 'choice' when rape culture is literally inescapable.  It's not so much that I chose to write about this as I decided that I couldn't not address it.  Because I wanted and needed to do something that felt like me drawing a line with this bullshit.  This post isn't just about this one particular incident, or one stupid band that apparently doesn't have anything real or worthwhile to say, or about being let down by 'punk'.  This post is me setting a boundary.  

This post is me stating clearly and directly that I will not, under any circumstances, support rape culture, sexual assault, or its minimization.  This is me stating clearly and directly that I will not work with anyone who thinks it's okay to minimize rape culture or sexual violence. 

If you think it's okay to minimize rape culture -- or even if you just feel like you're 'on the fence' about it, or like you 'can't judge' or can't stop people from doing things like naming their tour 'raping the east' -- then I won't support you or your work, and I don't want to be friends with you, either.  There is no 'fence', there is no gray area.  You either understand that both sexual assault and making jokes about it are always wrong, no matter what, or you don't.  If you don't understand that perpetrating and allowing sexual assault and that perpetuating rape culture are damaging to both people and communities, I don't want anything to do with you. 

Because seriously?  If you don't understand that rape culture and sexual assault are wrong, I can't trust you.  I won't trust you to not hurt me, and I won't trust you to stick up for me if, god forbid, someone else hurts me or tries to.  I won't trust you to stick up for or believe or support my friends if anything happens to any of them.  And I don't have room in my life or in my community for people I can't trust.  Trust is crucial.  As MAXIMUMROCKNROLL columnist Jes explains in the latest installment of Modernist Witch (which everyone should read in its entirety ASAP), "…the strength of [the punk] community rests on the strength of our relationships.  As I wrote in my last column, we need to be able to trust one another for any DIY scene to work."

We need for our communities -- punk or otherwise -- to be safe.  To make and keep them safe, or as safe as possible, we all need to be clear about what that means.  We need to all agree to give no quarter to anyone who can't or won't consider our safety, not only from sexual assault but from all forms of violence, coercion, and oppression. 

No quarter for unsafe individuals means more than not supporting, booking, or working with people who won't prioritize personal and community safety.  No quarter means not getting sucked into discussions of whether or not we're allowed to set such boundaries.  We need to stop having what Jes rightfully calls The World's Most Frustrating Conversation.  We -- not we as in punks or women or survivors, but we as in all of us who are truly invested in creating both art and communities -- need to cease all engagement with all 'devil's advocates', 'fence sitters', and collaborators. 

We need to curb whatever tendencies we have to dialogue, and we need to stop allowing other people to debate our boundaries.  That's not why we came to 'punk'.  The people who I trust, my artist, activist, feminist friends and allies who are in bands and collectives -- we didn't come here to negotiate, or to ask people to treat us like human beings.   

We came here, and we are here, to do something constructive.  We're here to do something positive, something fulfilling, something that makes use of both our prodigious technical skills and our combined sense of social responsibility.  We're here to build something, to contribute something, something way beyond a line in the sand.  So either work with us, and stand on our side, or GTFO. 


*Special thanks to the modernist witch herself, Jes Skolnik, and to everyone else who has spoken about this, and also to my dearest RSL, for her peer/less reviewing skills.  Couldn't have done this without all of you.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: a strange odyssey

I may as well just start by admitting that I am, like, beyond mortified at the way I've neglected this blog for the last six months.  I've been saying "yeah I gotta post part two of that Little Lungs/grief piece, I'll do that this week" since, like, August.  In my defense though, there's been a lot going on.  Between my officially being back in school and having a mountain of reading to do, doing more zining and zine events, a trying holiday season fraught with family drama, a hurricane, and a predicted apocalypse that I knew wasn't going to happen after seven years in Latin American Studies but that I worried about anyway, it's been kind of hectic.

2012+We+Were+Warned


It's been a weird year in general.  Despite my best efforts to continuously move forward, despite trying to do at least some things consistently, so much about this year has felt transitional.  I spent a lot of it deciding to end certain things, either unequivocally and permanently or on a temporary basis to be defined at some later date.  And then I spent a lot of time not jumping into new projects or relationships, and thinking through what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go next. 

Which fits in with what I learned about 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar at school.  One of my favorite professors described it in one of our core courses, explaining the three wheels of the calendar and the way they were meant to click together, and the concept of the 'long count'.  He told us that the calendar did indeed 'end' in December of 2012, but that it also started over again.  He told us to think of it not as the end of the physical world, but as the end of a certain way of thinking,  a fundamental or even radical "change in consciousness".  That sounds sort of esoteric, I know; it's not easy to explain.  But I know that my consciousness, and my awareness of both myself and of how intricately and complexly everything and everyone is linked, has certainly deepened, and changed how I think.  And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who feels this way.

Even if it's just me though: what better way to mark one's increased understanding of the universe than by making a mix?  Making playlists as a way of reflecting what's happened over the year is something I like to do anyway, and there's been a lot to consider this time around.  It's been a bizarre, busy, educational, and seemingly endlessly character-building twelve months.  It's been a year of wrestling with anxiety about the future, learning how to deal with that anxiety, and learning how to remove the people and things that exacerbate or manipulate that anxiety from my life.  It has been a year of quiet, controlled destruction, and also very real, literal, uncontrollable destruction, all of which in retrospect, I feel I should have expected.  After all: the Mayans totally saw it coming, and they're usually right.

It hasn't just been about destruction though.  It's also been a year of preparation, of making space, for a lot of rebuilding in 2013.  It's been the end of the world as we, or at least I, know it, and unbelievably enough, I feel fine.  

So, with that: see you all next year.  I swear!


[Image: embedded 8tracks playlist titled "2012: we were SO warned".  In the image a Mayan temple with the numbers '2012' floating over it sits under a dark, starry sky.]


1. January: "Sure Shot" by Yellowcard
2.  February: "I'm Melting!" by Rainer Maria
3.  March: "Why Bother" by Weezer
4.  April: "Estranged" by Little Lungs
5.  May: "100%" by Sonic Youth
6.  June: "180 by Summer" by Taking Back Sunday
7.  July: "Bad Friends Forever" by Carnal Knowledge
8.  August: "Epic Failure" by Teen Wolves
9.  September: "Arm Candy" by Hysterics
10.  October: "Head of the Baptist" by Cursed
11.  November: "War eternal" by Condenada
12.  December: "Turn it Off" by Outlook

Friday, July 20, 2012

"But you and I are buoyant", part I: Loss, Grief, Prince, and Little Lungs

This wasn't easy to write, and I'm pretty sure I was only able to do it because of Kathleen and all of her hard work on The Worst and Rachel and how she understands this "all too well". Kate Wadkins' acknowledgement of all the nerdy things I've said and written about Little Lungs already helped, too.


When I last updated this blog two months ago (?!) I posted a "Spring Cleaning/Spring Breakdown" mix, and said that I was going to be cleaning over Memorial Day Weekend -- which is what I've been focused on for the past 8 weeks. (Though I have been doing some other stuff -- more to come on that at a later date.) And in that post I explained that I haven't just been cleaning, but that I've been "sorting through and discarding the possessions of my deceased loved ones." If I have any 'long-time readers' (which seems rather unlikely at this point), they might remember a post, from two years ago by now, about a death in my family. The cleaning and sorting that I am doing right now are directly related to that death.

This is where the preamble comes to an abrupt end: in July of 2010, my stepfather died. He'd been the most reliably supportive person in my life for many years at that point, and he was also the last of my close, or 'nuclear' family. So his death changed me, and it changed my life as I knew it. He left me our house, where I'd more or less grown up, and I moved back here, permanently, instead of going back upstate to where my graduate program is based. Adjusting to and dealing with all of this has dominated my life since then. All of my projects and pursuits have become sort of secondary, because, well, I've been focused on survival.

Why did it take me two years to write that here? And why would I bother to do so now? At first there didn't seem to be a reason to write about his death here. It didn't seem relevant, as it didn't have anything to do with gender or diy community politics. I also didn't particularly want to write about it -- the loss was (and at times still is) so huge and so painful that I couldn't articulate how horrible it felt, and what he meant to me, and I didn't want to try. So I tried to keep writing here, and also tried to keep going to school, and tried really hard to just feel and be normal.

But as I went through the grieving process, it only got harder to act 'normal'. After a certain point I couldn't really read, and I couldn't write, and I didn't want to listen to music and I didn't want to go to shows, I didn't want to leave my house at all. I didn't want to be around people. I felt frustrated, and isolated, and frankly disappointed in a lot of the people around me, including the self-proclaimed 'progressive' artists, punks, and activists around me, because they just didn't get it. I felt old and exhausted and just really annoyed by punk subculture's seeming aversion to addressing real life, life-changing grown-up shit like death and grief and funeral homes and attorneys and estate taxes.

So I decided to try to write about it, about all of it. It was a struggle at first because I still wasn't quite ready to tell the entirety of the internets that my life had fallen apart, or that I felt like I'd actually lost my mind as a result. I started slowly, by writing about anxiety, depression, and feeling incapable of writing, even though it felt weird and meta and self-referential. I slowly started to go to shows and collect demos and write about my friends' bands again.

That was a little over a year ago. It took me that long to get to this point, to this post, to being able to type here 'my stepfather died' with the intention of actually publishing it. But at this point I'm just glad to be here at all. If there's anything I've learned from the grieving process, it's that it takes as long as it takes.

******

I spent the summer that my stepdad died in a weird, not quite intentional denial, in a bizarre suspended state. I remember it being unbearably humid that July, and describing the weather to someone as 'apocalyptic'. I did my best to accept things, and went on with what passed for my life -- lazing around the house during the day, going to shows and the occasional party at night -- because there wasn't much else I could do.

I didn't eat or sleep much, and I didn't really tell any of my local friends about it because I didn't really have any at that point (they were all more like acquaintances back then). I expected to wake up from this long, miserable dream at any moment, or to hear my stepdad's car in the driveway, or his key in the front door. I knew that I wouldn't, but I didn't choose to not let it sink in. It was a reflex.

It started to feel real in September. It started to feel real when all of my friends went back to school, and back to their year-round, non-summer schedules, and I didn't, because I couldn't go back upstate. It became really real on my birthday, when there was no parent, or anyone with any vested interest in my survival from one year to the next, to celebrate it. That was probably the first time I felt like my stepfather was really gone. I cried all day that day, and then I got dressed and went to a Little Lungs show near the city bus yards in Brooklyn. Guitarist Angie wished me a happy birthday when I got there, out in the hallway, and it ended up being the first time I really spent time with my friend Cary. I don't completely remember, but I think that was the last time I saw the band before they quietly stopped playing shows.

******

A couple weeks later, in early October, I came to the conclusion that the only way to move forward -- i.e., go back to and finish school, and start working again -- was to go through. I decided to start sorting through my stepdad's things and finally clean out the house. My stepfather was a hoarder, and seemingly incapable of parting with 'important' papers; there were piles upon piles of old phone and utility bills, receipts, bank and credit card statements, and magazines like Consumer Reports and Popular Science on every spare inch of flat space, including the floors and the staircases.

I started to sort through it all slowly, occasionally finding really important stuff in the mess. When I found the deed to the house in a stack of magazines, I started to lose it. My stepdad's hoarding was a fairly serious problem, and now it was one that he would never face or overcome. For the first time I saw him and understood him not as my caretaker but as a human being, with flaws and shortcomings and emotional baggage. It was sort of a Purple Rain moment, for anyone who's seen that movie.


PurpleRain01

Spoiler alert: Prince's character discovers a large trunk containing reams of sheet music, for songs written by his abusive father, and starts sobbing. It is brutal, my friends. You've been warned.


Rather than stepping back or taking a break, I flew at the mess, desperate to deal with it and get it out of the house. I spent the next three days crying, hyperventilating, sweating, and not really eating or talking to anyone. I didn't really clean or sort anything, I kind of just frantically moved the mess around and paced anxiously for twelve hours each day. When a family friend came over to check on me and asked me how the cleaning was going, I told her, "I feel like I'm drowning." When she laughed and tried to crack a joke about how I 'should' feel that way, I told her that it wasn't funny and I threw her out.

That was the first time I'd spoken in a few days at least. For whatever random reason, using the word 'drowning' made me think of that part toward the end of the Little Lungs song "The Big Six" where original bassist Jacki sings, "her room was an ocean, she was drowning in it".

I'd admired those lyrics since I'd first heard them, sometime back in 2008, but I'd never really thought about them. "The Big Six" is the last song on the band's first 7", Hoist Me Up!, which I've listened to many times, enough times to hypothesize that the "ocean", which is referred to in another song on that album ("Loft Coffin", "at night her room's an ocean, it's up to my knees"), is a metaphor for an addiction, and that 'her' is the narrator's mother. But I'd never really considered what that kind of ocean is like, or what drowning in that sense would look or feel like.

Her room was an ocean, she was drowning in it, I thought to myself, looking around my cluttered living room. Effectively distracted, I turned on my computer so I could listen to the song, and played it for the first time in ages.




The studio version of "The Big Six" by Little Lungs. (Fun fact: this song is the final track on the Spring Cleaning/Spring Breakdown mix that I posted back in May. Hashtag: #notacoincidence)


The song is only 2 minutes and 42 seconds long, but that night it felt bigger than that. The distorted dry strokes that open the song sounded more ragged and much stranger than ever, as if I'd never heard how dissonant and uncomfortable they are, and both the vocals on the first part of the song, and the lyrics sung -- "When is enough enough? When are you gonna quit it? When will you give it up?" -- sounded more strained than I remembered.

The song's second part, the transition to it and the change in tempo and feel, the lyrics, the deceptively simple guitar part -- all of that was soothingly familiar, even with my huge feelings and messy living room amplifying its intensity, and listened for the lyrics I'd been thinking about. I listened closely, with my eyes shut, and focused on the vocals, and the lyrics that I'd known for what felt like ever at that point. The verse about watching as 'he' was pulling out of the driveway, and then the verse I'd been waiting for, about 'her' nightstand, full of prescriptions, in her room, that one that was like an ocean.

Real talk? The song is almost unbearably sad, no matter what emotional condition you happen to be in when you listen to it. But it doesn't end that way, or with "she was drowning in it." I was really upset that night and on the verge of a real meltdown, but I kept listening until I got to the end, to the last verse, "he let it continue, feeding the big wound, the bile it needed to eat its way through you", and the final lyrics: "But you and I are buoyant, we ride the flood right out of here…."

I listened as the song went quickly and smoothly into its final part, that tight, straightforward march, that strange coda that I'd never understood, but always taken for granted as the right way to end that particular song. And for the first time, I got it. The end of "The Big Six" isn't just its outro; it tells the rest of the story. After the flood, presumably the rushing of that ocean out of the bedroom and the house, the narrator somehow manages to get up and get on with her life. Wherever the flood leaves her, she stands up, puts one foot in front of the other, and manages to walk away from the disaster.

I listened to the song a few times that night. And when I was done, after maybe the fourth listen, my cleaning bender was officially over. I kind of wished that the mess would disappear, wished the entire situation would disappear, but I no longer felt the compulsive need to deal with it right then. I accepted that the mess was my life at the moment, and that I was legally responsible for it. But I also knew that it wasn't really my mess. My stepfather had been a hoarder, and he was gone. But I was neither of those things. And I would eventually be okay.

I'm not gonna say anything trite like 'that song saved my life', because I seriously resent it when people make that sort of claim -- music is powerful, and it's great, but it isn't all powerful, and life is much more complicated than that. "The Big Six" didn't save my life, but listening to it absolutely helped me to feel better. That night, the words "but you and I are buoyant" were exactly what I needed to hear. And it sucks that there wasn't an actual person or friend there to say it to me, but I'm glad Little Lungs were there to do it.



******

An entire calendar year passed before I was able to even really think about cleaning, and then it took a few months after that before I actually started to do it, in early 2012. Around the time that I started to really prioritize making the house more livable, Little Lungs announced two reunion/farewell shows, in Brooklyn and New Brunswick. I didn't even think twice about it: as soon as I read about it, I knew that I would be there, to hear and see "The Big Six" live.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Late Spring Cleaning/Break(down?) Mix

So I know that I said I was doing all of this blog-related research and development in my last post (like, months ago -- where does time go?).  And I was, until I got sidetracked by some unfortunate but very necessary cleaning.  I know that spring cleaning is supposed to be like, a thing, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever really done it.
And this probably won't shock anyone who really knows me, but dudes, I am doing it hardcore.  Not just because I'm slightly compulsive and very much a virgo, but because this is not just a matter of simple 'cleaning'.  No, it is instead a matter of cleaning out an entire house.  That's right: while everyone else (in the US, anyway_) is partying or barbecueing for memorial day weekend, I will be sorting through and discarding the possessions of my deceased loved ones.  Awesome!
As much as this sucks, I am a firm believer that even the most miserable of situations can be alleviated by a good soundtrack.  So for anyone else who might be out there cleaning, either in the figurative or literal sense, enjoy these thirteen tracks about the emotional rollercoaster that is purging your life of things you don't want, don't need, or simply can't keep.  It's painful, yes, but it's necessary to get rid of stuff to make room for new things.  New things, of course, meaning 'new records'.  (Or at least that's what it means for me.)





Slingshot Dakota -- "Ohio"
Shoppers -- I
Babes in Toyland -- "Pain in My Heart"
Lost Weekend -- "Worn Out"
The Distillers -- "I am a Revenant"
Forward Russia -- "Fifteen pt 1"
Lemuria -- "Length Away"
RVIVR -- "Edge of Living"
At the Drive-in -- "Rascuache"
Bad Banana -- "Oregon Trail"
Aye Nako -- "Let It In"
Taking Back Sunday -- "Carpathia"
Little Lungs -- "The Big Six"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I'll tell your story if it kills me: some thoughts on "Women's History"

Well all I got is this goddamn guitar
and a voice that couldn't carry me far
but I'll tell your story if they kill me
I said I'll tell your story if it kills me


-- The Two Funerals, "Western Apathy"

You wouldn't know it from the obvious lack of posting going on here, but for the past month and a half I've been busier than a beaver at work on a new dam. (…?) Really though, weird storybook-sounding animal figures of speech aside, I've spent the last few weeks re-acclimating myself to 'blog life', or trying, anyway. Most of this time has been spent on:

-- researching and reading about new bands (and other stuff)
-- getting back into the habit of going to shows regularly
-- acquiring and listening to new demos
-- thinking seriously about what I would like to accomplish here
-- working on a visual redesign/update
-- opening up related accounts on twitter, flickr, and formspring as part of said redesign/update and familiarizing myself with said sites
-- grappling with feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, and worrying that I might, in fact, be completely useless

Most of this seems self-explanatory, but per my previous statements regarding talking through and being open about anxiety, the last one could maybe benefit from some discussion. Have, uh, you ever felt like everything you do is kind of, well, dumb? Like every aspiration you have, every effort you make, every project that you care about is ridiculous, and you must be an idiot for expending so much time, energy, and emotion on it? Because sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I feel that way about this very blog, and like all the encouragement and validation from friends in the world won't make any difference.

So I didn't have plans to post here anytime soon. But then I realized that it was March (?!), and thusly time to celebrate Women's History Month. So I took a break one evening from my research and got out my copy of Why History Matters: Life and Thought by Gerda Lerner.

WhyHistoryMattersCover
[Image: an abstract painting with the text, "Why History Matters: Life and Thought"]
This is what my edition of Why History Matters looks like.


I flipped to the back and read the title essay (yes, that is a link to the text, so you can read it if you want!) for the first time in years. And then I read it again (it's not very long). Because I was amazed at how incredibly relevant it felt to my experiences with studying gender within the history of 'punk'.

Gerda Lerner is a historian whose focus on Black Women's History and theories of intersectionality were fueled largely by her escape from Nazi Austria and her experiences with anti-Semitism; her essay is about history, national memory, and erasure at the macro-level. I read her work for a feminist theory course with Janelle Hobson, who might actually be the coolest professor I've ever met. Despite her hipness and dedication to real-life people and their needs, the course was still very academically oriented, and our discussion of 'why history matters' still felt pretty abstract.

Lerner_4C-1

[Image: an older, light-skinned woman seated at a table before several microphones.]

Gerda Lerner speaking at the Renner Institue, photo by Eva Steffen.


But Lerner's reasoning as to why history matters is neither abstract nor self-congratulatory. Lerner argues that history matters because it is both a universal, human tool for self-actualization and psychic healing and a weapon used by those in power to justify bigotry and violence. She writes:
"We construct symbolic communities, based on ethnicity, religion, race, or any other kind of distinguishing mark, setting ourselves apart from those different from us, in order to find and enhance our own identity. We look to a past community, our 'folk' of whatever definition, and our stories weave a collective myth into our own narrative. These widespread collective myths can serve a creative, harmonizing function, in stressing shared values, ideas, and experience. They offer us heroes in the past, role models for emulation, and provide us with a coherent narrative which gives shape and order to our experience. The story of Christianity, the life of Jesus, the Protestant Ethic, the American Dream -- these are some of the collective myths which have sustained generations.
"But those kept outside of these myths or those marginalized by them, experience them as destructive. In legitimizing the coherence of the 'in-group' these stories and myths reinforce the deviant status of the 'out-groups.' By making distinctions between 'us and them' appear to be natural, they reinforce a sense of alienation and 'Otherness' in those excluded."


Lerner doesn't mention subculture in her list of 'distinguishing marks', but damn if this doesn't sound like it could have been written about punk and the community that's formed around it in the last forty years. The circular, self-perpetuating process of creating and continually excluding an 'Other' has seeped into punk in that time, and so women-identified individuals, people of color, LGBTQIA folks, non-Westerners, and many others are regularly left out of punk's historical narrative.

lerner

[Image: an older, light-skinned woman stands with a sign that reads "Sarah Lawrence College, home of the nation's first graduate degree program in Women's History, founded by Dr. Gerda Lerner in 1972"]

Dr. Lerner at Sarah Lawrence college. I love this picture.


But thinking in terms of a historical narrative, and seeing yourself as a potential part of it, is the first step to historical recovery. Lerner also writes that history "gives us a sense of perspective about our own lives" and that "by perceiving ourselves to be part of history, we can begin to think on a scale larger than the here and now." Lerner believes that every single human being is capable of learning about history and using that knowledge to 'vision' into the future and do some kind of good with it.

A few days after I read the essay my best friend called me. When she asked me how I was I told her that I was feeling discouraged, but eventually found myself animatedly explaining who Gerda Lerner is, and why the essay has resonated with me. "That's why I'm still listening to Pussywhipped and The Woods," I said. "Because it's part of my history, and that makes me feel connected to something."

Talking about that simple (not really) act of 'connecting' to a community and its shared history through vinyl and sound and ideas, and thinking about every friend I've ever discussed such acts with, and how all of them, and also tons of people I don't know and never will, are engaging with and contributing to that history? Well, let's just say that my anxiety, though valid and worthy of attention and 'self-compassion,' no longer seemed overwhelming. It seemed incredibly small, and dare I say it manageable, in comparison to punk subculture, its seen and unseen histories, and everything that has been accomplished therein.

So even though I occasionally get that feeling like everything I do is dumb, or like I don't feel terribly confident in this blog, I know that it's not just about me or my feelings. It's about something much bigger. It's part of a larger effort to recover suppressed histories and make them accessible to the people who need them, and that's worth confronting whatever negative feelings and insecurities I sometimes I have over it. It's worth telling your story, our story, our history, even it if kills me. Or even if it makes me feel self-conscious and sort of stresses me out slightly.