We Can’t Stop

On the shuttle bus that was taking us from Port Authority to the Miley Cyrus concert, which I had affectionately dubbed the Bangerz Express, Jordan, Dombal and I were having a decidedly un-#Bangerz conversation about the lack of effective ways to record interviews on an iPhone. This is what writers do when we hang out with other writers, and we rarely even realize how lame we’re being until someone outside our bubble reveals that they’ve been listening. When we had exhausted the topic, a Miley fan sitting behind us popped up above our headrests and asked, “Are you guys, like, interviewers?” We had to admit that we were, yes. “Are you interviewing Miley?” Sadly, we were not. “We’re just going for fun,” Dombal said. Genuinely surprised, this Miley fan said, “Wow, it’s really cool that you guys would do something like that.” As in, like… have fun.

I want to believe her shock there is unwarranted. But unfortunately I think she might be onto something, because sometimes I worry that “fun” and “music writing” are like oil and water.

Dombal was lying, slightly. We were there to report on the show, but we’d sort of created the assignment ourselves, based off the fact that we just thought it would be fun to go to the Bangerz Tour. And, duh, it was. The next day, while we were putting together our report and trying to find usable footage of Miley Cyrus singing “FU” to a puppet that has been accurately described as “Puff the Magic Dragon’s deadbeat son,” everybody on Twitter was up in arms about some op-ed the New York Times Magazine had run decrying the rise of “poptimism”. Now, I agree with the general concept of poptimism, but that word never fails to make me want to barf, because 99+% of people who listen to pop music do not have to come up with some kind of factionalized team name in order to enjoy it—they just fucking like what they like. And maybe that was part of the reason why going to the Bangerz Tour was so refreshing and yes I will even say life-affirming: Nobody there was trying to debate, like, Ted Gioia’s Daily Beast article between sets. 99+% of the girls (yes, they were mostly girls) there would not know/care about what “rockism” meant, or whatever insider-baseball circle jerk the “music writing community” was engaged in that day. They were just there to freak out over the music they loved. And I looked around at them with their pigtail buns and their BOUT THAT LIFE crop tops and their “Miley Cyrus Bangerz Tour” inflatable bananas (I am very jealous I did not get to buy one of these before the merch kiosk sold out) and I remembered being like them and feeling like nobody took seriously the things I liked, all I wanted to do was write things for them. Not above them, or below them, but to them. I am so profoundly bored with writing for the 1%.

A little while after we posted our write-up, a few Miley fan accounts started tweeting it. One of them called it, “a thoughtful and in-depth review” of the tour; a girl whose Twitter name was Katniss Everdeen called it “one of the best reviews I’ve read in a while.” Maybe it was the lack of sleep of the #BangerzHangover or most likely the tragic death of Floyd Cyrus, but I was already feeling kind of emosh on Friday and seeing those tweets almost made me cry. For some reason, this immediately felt like the highest praise I’ve received in a long time. Everybody going on and on about this poptimism thing had only reminded me that there is a tremendous gulf between most of the people who listen to music and most of the people who write about it. I have started thinking lately that social media has made us all too connected, has made it too easy to find like-minded people at the expense of unique viewpoints, too easy to burrow into niche conversations and tune out the larger world around you. For music writers, it’s easy to write something that will rile up that 1%; it’s harder (but in my mind, a much more noble challenge) to write something that resonates outside the bubble. So I don’t know, maybe next time you’re wasting time and energy on some shirts-vs.-blouses/poptimists-vs.-rockists/us.-vs.-them debate, remember the girl sitting behind you on the Bangerz Express, the one for whom the whole idea of being “an interviewer” is refreshingly foreign and novel. She’s listening, if you’re willing to treat her like a potential reader.

You know that feeling when you’re playing a game of Tetris that you already know you’re losing and then it speeds up and out of nowhere a cruel and previously unimaginable amount of blocks fall on your head? That’s how I felt when I heard it was going to snow a foot today. Another foot. This winter has taunted me and tested me and done really shitty things to people I love. In one last attempt to counteract that, I asked one of my most optimistic and level-headed friends to come with me last night to see Julianna Barwick play at a church in Brooklyn Heights. “This winter is killing me,” she said on the subway platform. That is how I knew we were all doomed.

I can safely say I have never experienced anything quite like this show. I can’t remember the last time I saw an audience express emotion so openly and unashamedly; the house lights weren’t even down. When I listen to Julianna’s music, and her latest record Nepenthe in particular, I picture it as this cool mist over a grey lake. Last night it felt more like steam, as though she had poured this huge vat of warm water on our frozen but now thawing hearts. During every single song I could hear people around me crying. I could hear my friend crying. I cried a little, too. Something about this winter has been exceptionally difficult for every single person I know, and when I glanced around the room what I saw was a bunch of people locked in their private winter tragedies, probably thinking to themselves on top of everything, “Another foot?” So how generous of Julianna to bring us all back to life, to gather us in the folds of these things she very humbly calls songs. (At a Julianna Barwick show, you almost have to laugh when she floats back down to earth to dispense with formalities like “Thanks for coming out tonight” and “OK I have one more for you guys.”) When it was over I felt lighter, cleaner, ready, strong. My friend and I blew our noses and walked back out into the world. “Let it snow,” I said.

When I first moved to New York and didn’t have a job I used to go to Village East by myself a lot in the mornings, because I was broke and all the showings before noon were $6, and also I guess on some level because I was lonely and wanted to get out of my apartment and put myself in situations where I might have brief but meaningful conversations with strangers. I would always sit in the balcony. Most of the people who go to showings before noon at Village East—or any movie theater, really—are either very weird or very, very old, and there are generally few enough of us weirdos/olds that we give each other lots of space: entire rows to lord over and unspoken permission to put your feet up on the seat. Only this one time, when I went to see The Master in dazzling 70mm, an assertively perfumed woman in a pillbox hat who had to have been 90 years old sat down in the seat right next to me; I guess as you get older you discard the shame involved in admitting that you are doing something because you’re lonely. She didn’t say a word to me before or during the movie, and during certain scenes—when Joaquin Phoenix fucks a woman made out of sand and then jerks off into the ocean; when all the women in the movie are suddenly naked for no apparent reason; The Angry Handjob Scene—I stiffened in my seat, wondering what this elegant, pillbox-hatted lady was thinking. Did she know what she was getting into here? Was she offended? Would she walk out? She didn’t, though, and when the credits began to roll she turned to me looking very satisfied and declared in the most fabulous Old New York accent, “Philip Seymour Hoffman is a marvelous actor.” Then she stood up without another word and walked away.

So yeah. What she said.

Like so many thrilling things women do—fucking or hitchhiking, being demoniacally ambitious or telling an asshole to stick a chainsaw in his eye—society tells us that growing up leads to ruin. Yes, you get older, but you can also grow tougher, kinder, braver. You can claw out the life you wanted. But as you age, the world will tell you you’re less worthy, even if you know that’s a lie. If there’s one thing society won’t stand for, it’s for a woman to be content.
I can’t get that Molly Crabapple essay out of my mind!
My friend Malcolm told me a story about pronghorns recently, the North American creatures sometimes confused with antelopes. They can run at speeds of nearly sixty miles an hour, much, much faster than any of their existing predators. Some biologists think they’re still outrunning the dangerous species that went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, specifically the cheetahs that existed on this continent. And then Malcolm asked what each of us is still outrunning and whether we can tell when our predator has been extinct for ten thousand years.
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
You love the saints for what they do. They’re self-invented people who’ve worked hard to attain some state of grace. George Mosher, the horse logger on Bowen Hill, is a kind of saint. But Jesus is like a girl. He doesn’t have to do anything. You love him ‘cause he’s beautiful.
I just read this passage from Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick and I swear I understand 100% of "Tropico" now

I Live in a Hologram With You

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So after an agonizing five months of false leads, writer’s block, and people coming up to me at parties being like, “Whatever happened to that column you used to write?”, the new installment of Ordinary Machines FINALLY went up today. It’s about holograms (*excuse me*, “original virtual performances”), immortality, and how hip-hop turned a bizarre technology used to bring corporate CEOs back from the dead into way of paying tribute to a man who rapped about welfare and called himself Dirt McGirt. Read it here.

(Above: crucial screengrab from Big Pun’s posthumous 2001 animated video "How We Roll". Rap game Botero.)