Today has been an EXCELLENT DAY
1. I did all the laundry I’ve been putting off for approximately an eternity and now my closet is fully organized and smells of dryer sheets. I even threw out all my clothes that had unfixable holes and all my shoes that had broken heels!
2. Brian bought me some very cute shoes.
3. I registered for the SXSW Film badge that I’m getting for having screened films for them this year. And now, for pretty much the entirety of the next week starting on Friday, I will either be working at a movie theater or sitting in one. Which is neat because movie theaters are among my favorite places to be.
4. My leftovers are better than yours: without doing any cooking today except for the 5 minutes it takes to make fresh corn tortillas (and pushing the buttons on a microwave), I ate tofu and veggie tacos for lunch, and rich homemade five-cheese macaroni for dinner.
5. I played in our team’s first unofficial scrimmage of this year, and I went 4 for 6 with a run and I played second base for the last few innings and did awesome! I may someday not actually be the worst player on my team!
6. We get cable tomorrow. I haven’t had cable (or television service at all) at home in like ten years, so it’s going to be weird and I do have kind of mixed feelings about it, but since it includes the MLB Network and those cooking competition shows on the Food Network, I am mostly just really pretty excited. Hopefully I will be able to be the first person in the history of the world to make good on the concept of getting other things done while having television on “in the background.”
7. THIS HAPPENED.
summer anne’s top ten albums of 2010.
1. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
If I collected everything I’ve written and said about Kanye West over the last few months, I’d probably have enough material for a book. It’s obvious to anyone who has been paying attention that this was going to be my number one choice: I’m more excited about this album than I have been about any music in years. Without delving into a direct defense of Kanye and his persona, here’s why I think this album excites me so much:
First of all, I am a sucker for good lyrics. Especially for two things in songwriting, which are usually mutually exclusive: emotional vulnerability — songs that I can relate to and feel, and words that make me laugh and feel good —- songs that are good for winning and dancing. I usually turn to crackly voiced white “folk” singers for the former, and to black hip hop artists for the latter. Kanye, miraculously, manages to do both, and he does so in such a complex, multilayered way, that even after listened to MBDTF probably fifty times through, I still hear new subtleties in the lyrics every time I listen.
Secondly, there’s the production. Kanye does whatever he wants. On paper, it sounds ridiculous. Sampling Bon Iver on a hip hop song? The album version of your big single is like nine minutes long, including a good four minutes of simple piano and what sounds like a dying robot? The Runaway film? Kanye can be called pretentious, full of himself, over the top, cheesy, indulgent… but so could David Bowie.
Yeah, I just compared Kanye to Bowie (actually, this comparison was stolen from / brought to my attention by a guy I used to know named Ben Parker, via my friend Lakes). And if KW is Bowie, MBDTF is his Ziggy Stardust. A sprawling, epic expression — of a ‘character’ who embodies your most polarizing qualities. Your id, you know. Ziggy was Bowie’s and Kanye West is Kanye West’s. And, like Bowie, Kanye’s success here is tied up with the fact that he matters so much to people. Even people that hate him can’t stop talking about him. And as a result, his songs about himself are also songs about us and our culture and the way we feel about him and why.
But without meandering too far away from the topic at hand: Kanye’s new album is number one because I never get tired of listening to it, and because I think it will endure as a true classic of my generation. Also, Lost In The World makes me cry and Monster is my batting song for the rest of time (except maybe the times I’ll use Power).
2. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
I will remember 2010 as the year where I shouldn’t have even bothered to make playlists for dance parties, because this album is all anyone wanted to hear while shaking tail.
3. The National - High Violet
Containing some of the most beautifully sung lines ever, and you should know by now that I’m a sucker for inflection. “It takes an ocean not to break” lives inside a very special room inside the very special house inside of my very big, silly heart.
4. The Black Keys - Brothers
In contrast to Kanye, this album is one that no can really have an argument about, because as far as I can tell, everyone in the entire world who has heard it really, really likes it.
5. Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer
After he first hundred times I listened to “Fuck You,” I probably would have bet you a hundred dollars that this album would be my number one of the year. It’s place here is a result of that song being far and away the album’s high point, with a few other great tracks still yards behind it. Which isn’t to say that Cee Lo isn’t a brilliant man with a voice made of strands of gold and generous pours of champagne, cause he is and this is still really very fantastic.
6. The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt
The obvious successor to my soulmate, Bob Dylan, and I truly hope he will be around and making wonderful, meandering, soulful, smart, spiritual music for just as long as my husband, Bob Dylan, has been. Kristian Mattson’s voice is truly a gift. He could sing me the alphabet song and I’d still love him for it, but it’s even better because he actually writes incredibly beautiful words to go with it.
7. Band Of Horses - Infinite Arms
Though I don’t think I’ll ever love a BOH album as much as I love their first (perhaps for sentimental reasons), I do think that this record has some truly magical moments — especially it’s final, triumphant track “On My Way Back Home.” I might never be able to make another road trip mix without it.
8. The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
A lot’s been said and I will be the first to say that this album is no Funeral. But I still find here a lot of what I loved about them then: an unabashed celebration of the beauty in the mundane and the sadness in the safe.
9. Micah P. Hinson - And The Pioneer Saboteurs
Micah has joined a hallowed subcategory of my music fandom, like Okkervil River before him, in which he can make my least favorite album of his career and still make this list. I think he maybe needs an editor, because my favorite song on this album is kind of the “one of these things is not like the other” choice (see above). I like him best when he is crooning audibly and banjo picking, because his voice and his words are really all that is needed to carry a song. That said, there’s a lot going on here and I have a feeling that if I could finally catch him live playing some of these songs, I would probably find myself revisiting this album. I can not recommend Micah’s live show highly enough. He is a sight to behold.
10. The Walkmen - Lisbon
Another example of “not my favorite album of theirs, but still.” I get what The Walkmen have been trying to do with their progression — getting further and further away from their guttural, almost tribal roots (Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone) and growing up into a more subdued and poised Spanish Harlem phase. Perhaps Hamilton is trying to rescue his voice from the brink of destruction. In any case, I miss the screaming and the scary passion, but there are many beautiful songs here, and I like to listen to this album when I am drawing because it allows my brain to meander away from trying to interpret the lyrics literally but still remain in beautiful scenery.
rambling about race and music and stephin merritt
When I was about sixteen, I met Billy Wimsatt at Not Back To School Camp. NBTSC was, for me, primarily a social outlet, but Billy challenged my preconceived notions about all kinds of things. I still bring up his workshop about networking and barnstorming (“write a list of everyone you know and what they know about”) when I’m arguing about the good aspects of sites like facebook. One thing he talked a lot about was race and racism. “Racists” had always been an evil “other” to me, and then Billy planted this idea in my head that racism was a lot more complicated than there being a handful of evil white robe wearing racists out there and then everyone else. I guess it’s naive of me, but it was really the first time I had seriously thought about racism as something that was complex and included many degrees and shades. He thought that it was important to acknowledge the prejudices you might have in order to begin to fix them. He also introduced me to the possibility of enacting a kind of affirmative action in your own life — making it a specific point to socialize outside your own race, class, or culture in order to prove wrong the stereotypes and biases you might unconsciously have.
Ironically, I met Billy at a camp that was (and I assume is) not very diverse racially at all. We used to talk about how to “make” the home/un schooling community more diverse, but the reality was that, because of the racial class divide, that was pretty much impossible. Back home in Austin, there were a small handful of black and hispanic kids in the homeschool group, and while their race was basically a non-issue and, as far as I know, they never experienced any “direct” racism in our group, they reflected a much tinier minority than non-whites in Austin’s general population.
When I got back from meeting Billy at camp, I was full on “everyone is racist.” I had no idea that bringing those ideas home to Austin would create such a stir. Some of my closest friends reacted (and still do) violently to the idea that they could have racial prejudices. I especially remember one conversation with a girlfriend when I was eighteen or so and she had just started attending college. I tried to bounce some of these idea off of her and she responded angrily that she didn’t even notice whether people were black or white when she met them. She even had an example — a black RA at her dorm — and claimed that she didn’t even “realize” she was black until I’d brought it up and she’d had to contemplate the number of black friends she has. I asked her whether she also didn’t notice the color of peoples eyes or the way they were dressed… She had clearly argued herself into a corner, but continued to insist that she could recall what people looked like but not what race they were. I also remember one of my best friends at the time kept using the phrase “reverse racism” and talking about how nowadays the racist against him (a good looking white male, mind you) was worse than racism towards blacks. Before I brought these things up after camp, I never would have imagined that people I loved actually had these views. It turns out they did, and I was going to have to live with it. To this day, the idea that anyone is blind to race (or even should be) is one that gets under my skin like almost no other.
Around this same time, I developed a hearty love for hip-hop and rap music that (obviously) continues to this day. Sometimes I felt a little ridiculous — I remember being seventeen at a KRS-One show and thinking that everyone around me must know that I was a big faker — but I genuinely loved the music. I guess it may have started as a result of some of these thoughts on racism, but it quickly evolved to a pure taste thing. If I was listening to hip-hop because I thought it would help me be less prejudiced, I wasn’t conscious of that fact. I was sensitive, however, about the idea that there could be something wrong with my love of rap and hip-hop music, ala post-Miseducation Lauryn Hill saying she hopes white people don’t listen to her records or whatever. Now I kind of get it: I can’t help the fact that I really love modern hip-hop music, but there is something a little funny about the fact that I listen to a lot of songs about dealing drugs and growing up poor and shooting guns, without ever having experienced any of that stuff first hand. There’s something anthropological about it whether I like it or not — and that makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I wonder if it’s actually more racist for me to listen to hip-hop music as much as I do… I don’t have the answers on this one but I do want to make it clear that I in no way think that listening to hip hop means I’m not a racist. Anyone who has ever been to a frat party can attest to the fact that plenty of racist people can listen to Snoop Dogg. The relationship between white people and hip hop music is complex at best and, at it’s worst, condescending and, yes, racist.
I both understand and am also annoyed by the conflation of race and class. On one hand, it’s unavoidable sometimes: like my example above about the unschooling community. Or Ye saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” which we all know really means that he doesn’t care about poor people, but we understand the shorthand. However, that shorthand is dangerous in this day and age. Is there a huge income gap between blacks and whites as a whole? Sure. But equating whiteness with wealth and blackness with poverty — as if those were simply inherent traits of race — completely compounds the problem! I am annoyed by both sides of this — both the idea that talking about discrimination against blacks is the same thing as classism, and also the idea that certain a certain type of privileged, upper-middle-class attitude is “more white” than lower or middle class white people. Although I occasionally find “Stuff White People Like” funny despite myself, I kind of hate it for this reason. It is more accurately “Stuff Rich Liberal Northern White People Like.” Anyway, I bring this up because it is difficult sometimes to sort out the differences between these different conversations. If you’re trying to diversify your music collection, does TV On The Radio count as “black music”? What about Eminem and JTimb being “white” despite the fact that they are obviously both in love with black music and making things in that tradition? What’s racist and what’s popist? What if you just don’t like hip hop? What about black people that don’t like black musicians, and what about white people who only listen to black musicians? Are those two groups more racist or less racist than the reverse? I don’t have the answers to all of these questions — they usually just bring up more questions — but it is worth noting that while talking about race and talking about class and talking about culture are undoubtedly all related, they are not all synonyms. I think of it as a venn diagram that has a little pocket of all three intersecting in the middle, but a lot of area where they don’t as well. The problem is finding where you are on that diagram during any one given discussion. In my case, I’m running in circles all over it.
This has all been on my mind ever since I watched the Stephin Merritt documentary “Strange Powers.” In it, the controversy over SM’s dismissal of modern hip hop and failure to include “enough” black artists on his list of 100 best songs of the 20th century, and the brouhaha caused by Sasha Frere Jones accusing Merritt of being a racist because of this, is covered with all sympathies obviously towards Stephin. And understandably — SFJ was way out of line with the kind of language he used and many of his specific problems with Stephin that supposedly proved that this man was some kind of racist asshole were incredibly far-fetched. But something that is taken for granted in the film by the people discussing the issue is this: no one should have to justify their taste. If you “just happen” to only like white musicians, that is nothing more than a coincidence and has no relation to your feelings about race in general. The thing is, I don’t buy that at all. Because I know about the grey area now. And I know that not being racist involves a lot more than pretending that race doesn’t exist — in fact, sometimes it involves the opposite. It can mean that you make it a point to read black authors. It can mean that you search yourself deeply for what your prejudices are and admit them. It can mean being happy that Barack Obama was elected for a lot of reasons, and one of those reasons being that he’s a black man. And it can mean that, when you make a list of “great authors” or “wonderful songs,” you try to make sure that a variety of people are represented.
I’m not trying to say that I agree that Merritt is a racist — at least, not any more than I think me or anyone else is — I’m just saying that people judge each other’s taste by a huge number of standards, applying all sorts of silly rules, and I don’t see why taking note of a pattern that indicates a preference for a certain race (or gender or sexual orientation or country of origin) is off limits. I think we’d all be better off trying to be honest and self-contemplative about these things instead of immediately jumping to our own defense in an attempt to look like that saint who just “doesn’t see” skin color.
P.S. Full disclosure: my 125 songs of the 2000s list was overwhelmingly male (like 10 to 1 male to female). I have been spending a lot of time trying to figure that out.
P.P.S. I really love Stephin Merritt, if that wasn’t clear above, the issue just brought a lot to my mind. He actually has some really good, relevant points about how he feels like modern hip hop is actually a pretty weird caricature of black culture and he thinks most of it IS actually racist and I while I don’t agree with him per se, it’s not like he’s never thought about this stuff at all.
P.P.P.S. Still listening to Runaway every day.
So, I’ve been thinking about Kanye a lot since the Runaway video came out. And my lovely friend Jennifer and I have started debating about him often, which started when I posted the video on facebook and she said it was “awful,” and continued from there. She is a huge fan of Lady Gaga, which makes it easy for me to argue about the idea that the problem with Kanye is that he’s “self important,” but the debate has evolved into something much bigger. She had never seen the “George Bush hates black people” clip, which I was trying to hold up in a discussion as an example of a time when Kanye’s tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve and put his foot in his mouth at the same time (what an image… ideas…) was actually put to wonderful use instead of the flip side (like the TS debacle). So I posted it on her wall.
But she didn’t like that clip either, and a facebook debate was born. One of the things I said was about how I’m only interested in people who are deeply flawed, because “perfect people are boring,” and my friend Kester said something pretty true, and also kind of calling me out, about how we don’t actually like those people because of their flaws, we like them because of their struggle to be better than their flaws. Which I agree with. But then the discussion also turned to West’s lyrics, which to me is a completely different argument entirely, and I summed up my feelings about that argument thusly:
As for his lyrics, I don’t really think of them the way that you guys seem to. I see most rappers like Kanye as fiction writers who use an intentionally, intensely exaggerated version of themselves as a first person narrator when they rap. I don’t see Eminem’s Slim Shady stuff as being a representation of who he is as a person or a dad anymore than I see “Westfall” as a representation of who Will Sheff is as a dude. There’s nothing that says that the things that Kanye says in his songs are a literal reflection of his actual feelings about life and the universe. Most of his lyrics, truth be told, aren’t even deep — they’re just clever. In other words, he’s joking. Sometimes they’re good jokes and sometimes they’re not, but I can’t really hate him for the latter given the company I keep and how many shitty “your mom” jokes I hear every day. It guess it’s funny to say this in a comment this long and thought out, but: maybe you’re taking his songs too seriously?
And on the “let’s hear it for the douchebags” line, I do think it’s self-aware — but in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. I think it has more to do with his perception of his reputation than it does an actual viewpoint he’s espousing about being a douchebag.
Here’s the key thing I feel like is different from my perception of Kanye West and Jennifer’s: I think he’s playing a character most of the time. And I don’t think that makes him a douchebag anymore than Gaga doing the same thing makes her one. It’s basically a life-as-performance-art, and it’s what MOST giant pop stars do these days. It just so happens that Kanye’s character is ostentatious, egotistical, and lavish. I don’t think he’s actually spending more money than other pop stars, he’s just making it obvious.
But the other thing is that underneath that character, I think Kanye is a pretty sad dude. I think he’s probably bipolar. He’s admitted that he thought about killing himself after his mom died in 2007 and that doesn’t surprise me at all. I think he basically covers up for the fact that he’s kind of lonely and overwhelmed by being this insanely grandiose figure in the public eye. When I listen to Runaway, I hear a song that’s at once clever and tongue in cheek, but is also, at it’s heart, about self-loathing. I actually cringe over how much I can relate to that song when he says “you’ve been putting up with my shit for way too long.”
And both sides of the Kanye coin fascinate me to no end, because I see him/it as a microcosm of so many different aspects of celebrity culture and hip hop and, well, just being a person. If he’s a waste of my time, and he might be, I think everything else is too.
art party trois
My friend Jennifer hosts an ‘art party’ every year at her pretty house. A dozen artists are asked to create pieces of art and the pieces are displayed alongside gold spray painted tissue boxes where raffle tickets are dropped. Everyone who pays the humble cover gets a couple tickets (and can buy more) and then everyone has a chance to win art. The money is split between the artists, after paying for a keg. It is always one of my favorite nights of the year. The most recent one was on Friday night. At one point I sat on the couch in the backyard and watched a diverse collection of art spin around on Jen’s carousel (yes, she has a metal carousel in her backyard) while my friend Chris’ amazing country band Comanche Club played pretty Texas music and the dogs present were running around wrestling and kids present were running around giggling and a couple of my new friends from work were there and all of my old friends were there and my mom was there (she made an amazing painting this year, which my best friend won in the raffle!) and everyone was giggling and talking and looking at art and being all christmas light lit and beautiful. Usually I feel like I’m doing something wrong with my life — like it’s not quite how I imagined it would turn out. But on this particular night of the year, I always feel like I’ve been doing something really, really right. Photos and amazing times courtesy of Ms. Jennifer Morris.
Pavement, NYC, September 24.
So, I wrote this incredibly long recap of the Pavement show with all kinds of positive-adjective filled sentences, weak attempts to articulate the special magic of these people together, defenses of the reunion itself (in short: I’ve been waiting over a decade for this, don’t I deserve it? and also they actually seem like they’re having a lot of fun), comparisons between Pavement and Snooki (lazy happy), who-starts-a-Mosh-Pit-at-a-Pavement-show?!, discussion of the gay teenage boys crushing on SM in front of me, analysis of what was awesome (No Life Singed Her!) and what was missing (Box Elder!) from the set list, and all kinds of love thrown at Bob Nastanovich (the MVP of Pavement, obvs).
And then I accidentally closed the window and it all got erased. Which makes me feel that it wasn’t meant to be. So I’m not going to try to recreate it. But you should know that I finally saw my favorite band, and it was in Central Park after an afternoon of polar bears and truck tacos, and it was perfect.
Right now I can’t sleep even though I’m sleepy because I can’t believe that the show already happened and it’s over now. Is this how people feel after they get married?
PS: the band shirts we saw around us were so hilariously predictable and obvious. It was like an extras director for a movie with a Pavement show in it handed out t-shirts beforehand. Here’s what was around us: a half dozen actual Pavement shirts (dorks), Jets to Brazil, Jawbreaker, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, The Jesus Lizard, Radiohead, Nirvana, and The Silver Jews. Yep. Oh and there was an awesome dirty skateboarding dude wearing a Rush hat. He was kind of my hero.