Dear Frank Ocean,

I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about introspection – yours and mine, if that’s alright. Your album Blonde came out last year, in the hazy summer of 2016. There was a flurry of media coverage and hype that it would have been hard to miss, especially for someone with a twitter account as desperate to try and vaguely follow trends as I was. A lot has happened for me in the year since, and it looks like the same goes for you.

Amongst the press, countless youtube channel op-eds and recommendations from anyone, a conversation started during August or September. I gave it a listen. It was likely at around 6:45 on a saturday morning. I heard the album, listened a little, said ‘meh’ and moved on. My interest outside the folk and rock I’d grown up on was only just being born, and perhaps the percussion-less, airy atmosphere, and my unbearable high-minded derision of anything popular was just too much of a gap to jump when Blonde was first released. Now it would comfortably be placed in my top 2 albums of all time, and with a gun to my head, I think it would probably take top spot.

It’s clear the music didn’t change. Any album, but especially one as wholly tied-together as this, is a singular experience which does not change, regardless of who’s listening. But listeners do change, and the autumn and winter of 2016 were big months in my recent life. I prepared to leave school, and realised that soon my life would no longer be a graded performance. I left a relationship messily, and started going to parties more. These leave a young man with some questions. Undoubtedly ones many others have found the answers to before me, but ones that left me plenty to struggle over nonetheless. Frank, I’m sad to say it but your music is not the party kind. There’s little in the way of hi-hats, producer tags and basslines, and as poignant as they are, your lyrics will never bring a smile to my face as simply as ‘my new bitch yellow, she blow the dick like a cello’. But without those nights out, I would never have come to have the connection to your music I do now.

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Being a teenager is an angsty mess, and being a teenager with important exams, going through a breakup and taking up drinking simultaneously? That’s about as disgustingly angsty as an angsty youth gets, and I’d like to take a moment to apologise, only partly jokingly, to the people who’ve gotten to know me in the past 9 months. There were several parties in a row left early. Several nights out cancelled, and more than a couple of nights polishing off a bottle of wine on my own and drunkenly stumbling home, regardless of the walk being 20 minutes or 3 hours. There was one lamppost hugged. On two occasions.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I don’t think Blonde was an album built for the hype it received. After an insular few years hiding from a spotlight that begged you to return, what you gave was an hour of the most beautifully insular and introspective music a teen asking himself questions while drunk at 2 in the morning could ask for. I can’t tell you when exactly I picked the album back up, or why. I can’t tell you what drew me to it when walking through streetlights in suburban England. Your lyrics certainly weren’t what drew me in first. I’m a middle-class white boy from North London, and your stories of the fame and people changing as you grew offered me nothing to immediately hold on to – both fame and growing up were (are) distant possibilities. But sonically, I can find no better equivalent of a hug than the cushioned synths of ‘Nikes’, or the indescribably beautiful – I want to say whooshing sound? – marking the change halfway through ‘Nights’. In time I’d listen sober, listen while having emotional phone calls, listen while crying in my room – all your favourite cliches. I’d reach a point where the words you said became irrelevant, and the music served only as a background for my own episodes of self-questioning and reasoning. Then I’d circle back round and listen to the words you said with all the attentiveness I could, gleaning every possible scrap of information and constructing your world between my headphones, escaping from my own.

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I never want to meet you, Frank. I’m not the greatest conversationalist, and we’re two people who could not have had less to talk about if we tried. You worked your way independently through an industry ready to block you at every turn, for any number of reasons. I have grown up with everything I need and am yet to know even what I want to do with my life, let alone apply myself to that path in any way. But in our secular worlds there’s a parallel, of late nights and a tendency to overthink and fantasise, and for expressing that emotion and atmosphere through music I cannot thank you enough.

Yours,

Reuben

Dear David,

I am sorry that I’ve never written to you before. I’m sorry that I never took pen to paper to scribble a fan letter, and I regret that I didn’t write about you at all during the decades I spent writing about pop music. I wrote about Gary Glitter. I wrote about Toni Basil. I wrote about Stars On 45, for cryin’ out loud. How silly does that seem now?

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The thing is, I always considered myself just a casual David Bowie fan. I mean no offense when I say that you were never one of my very favorite artists. Because, casual or not, I was still a fan. I heard “Changes” on the radio, and had to own the 45. I delved a bit deeper when I got to college, starting (perhaps incongruously) with a used copy of PINUPS, and falling hard shortly thereafter for “Suffragette City” and your magnificent ZIGGY STARDUST album. I knew a couple of other disaffected teenagers who were big Bowie fans; one was a high school pal who adored the sense of alienation conveyed in the lyrics of “All The Madmen” on THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD, and the other was a college acquaintance into hard rock, metal, and David Bowie. The high school pal killed himself in 1979; the college acquaintance was a kleptomaniac with a heart of gold, and I betrayed his trust in a manner I still regret, almost 40 years later. Let me collect dust. Memories….

But if I was just a casual Bowie fan, why am I so sad that you’re gone? The news was a true shock, delivered to me in an email from my friend Gretta, under the subject heading “Bowie Departs.” I have even found my eyes stinging, watering–just a little–in memory of this artist, of whom I was just a casual fan.

And I think I’m starting to understand the reasons why.

More than any other artist, performer, or public figure I can think of, you made it okay to be different. You made it okay to be weird, or strange, or left-of-center. You made it okay to be gay, or straight, or neither, or both. You made it okay for anyone to be whomever his or her inner muse wanted to be. Sometimes it was a struggle, and sometimes our efforts would fail, but you made it okay for us to try our own way. Maybe you even made it okay to be a lonely, chubby teenager from the suburbs of Syracuse. Casual fan? I loved your music more than I even knew. I still have my copies of your ‘70s LPs; they have survived every drastic purge of my record collection, over a span of many, many years. Although I stopped buying your albums after 1979’s LODGER–casual fan, that’s me!–I had a chance to see you in concert in 1983, and you were terrific. I’ve been listening to your stuff again all week, including a few things I never really played much before. You influenced so many other artists I love, and you made wonderful, timeless music that will live on and on and on.

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I took you for granted. I miss you now.

Many of us believe in forever. In your new digs, I’m sure you’ve already had a chance to re-connect with Mick Ronson, with old friends like John Lennon and Klaus Nomi, maybe Freddie Mercury, Lou Reed, or Andy Warhol, perhaps Bing Crosby…because, why not? I bet you’ve chatted with Salvador Dali and Arthur Rimbaud, and with Einstein, too. I hope you’ll have a chance to meet Buddy Holly, and James Jamerson, and Elvis, maybe play with all of them. You can play with Miles Davis, and Count Basie, and Hank Williams, and Bob Marley, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Caruso, and Leonard Bernstein–that would be really, really cool, and each would consider you a peer. Lemmy’s probably got it all set. Heaven must indeed have one hell of a music scene. We wish we could hear it down here.

But now, there’s a Starman waiting in the sky. Our minds have already been blown. And we mere mortals can only gaze upward, and note that the stars look very different today. Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.

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There is one thing you were wrong about. Unlike the spat-upon children you mention in “Changes,” I was not quite aware of what I was going through. I know better now. And I wanted to write you, just to say thanks. Thank you, David. Thank you for everything.

Sincerely,

Your fan

This letter originally appeared on this groovy/far out/outta sight blog (https://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com) after Mr. Bowie’s passing. But, Carl’s a cool guy and he writes cool letters so we’ve reblogged it (with his permission) for your reading pleasure.

Dear Summertime Rolls,

There is no song in the entire musical universe that better encapsulates the decadent torpor of a season spent with no responsibilities. Wet bathing suits pulling at groins, Bomb Pops smeared across faces, the hush of city roads, unused, while drivers fill downtown skyscrapers.

The summertime world is languid. It is the snick-snick-snick of sprinklers. It is Perry Ferrell crooning “Tag. You are the one.”

I was an awkward child. Bookish. Isolated. My discovery of Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking is the event which separates my childhood and (early) adolescence.

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In the late ‘80s—even in North Florida—air conditioning wasn’t a guarantee. Especially not in the garage apartments grubby kids like myself occupied while parents worked. We weren’t old enough to work. We were too old for Vacation Bible School. We were left to our own devices.

I couldn’t have been more than 13. An older boy—homely, stinking of cigarette smoke—handed me a Mickey’s and dropped the needle on a record that was completely unlike the Phil Collins and Kenny Loggins that had been occupying me that year.

The malt liquor made my stomach draw in. Sour. The other kids flopped on ripped corduroy sofas, seemingly confident in their place in the universe. That morning I had—somewhat nostalgically—acted out a pretend game in my playhouse. These boys would never pretend. I couldn’t picture them acting silly, or frivolous. They were sweaty, and intense. Chain smoking and issuing guttural exclamations at random.

As Dave Navaro’s opening riffs on “Up the Beach” filled the room, the kids tipped their heads back. They affected a sense of experience. They were transported by these musicians, teleported to the other side of the continent. We were in a California flophouse sharing air with the protopunks of the west coast scene.

Later I would participate in the shoplifting of the small green bottles we used to feign inebriation until someone came across a reliable ditch weed dealer. But today I was drunk on the exhilaration of three reluctant sips.

I didn’t have a word for it, but Jane’s Addiction was sex made tangible. Ferrell’s screams, echoing against Navaro’s guitar moved my teen loins. I was uncomfortable. Sweaty. When “Had a Dad” played, I pulled in. I had lost my father the previous summer. He left only a note, then a series of postcards from across the American West.

“Dear Daughter. I saw the Grand Canyon today. I think I may drive into it.”

The odor of the boys in that garage apartment was what I deserved for not being daughter enough to keep my father close.

I heard “Ted, Just Admit It” and I wanted to live inside the bass line. I didn’t have a context for the political imagery. I lived in suburbia; we didn’t talk about the nightly news. Ferrell shouted “Sex is violent” and I tried to act like I’d heard that hundreds of times. Who’s a virgin? Certainly not me. Violent sex, yep. All day, every day. Nevermind that I still wasn’t sure what a blow job was.

“Standing in the Shower, Thinking” is such a relief after “Ted.” It’s nearly a throwaway. It’s perky. It’s guileless. It’s direct. But as a setup for “Summertime Rolls,” it’s ideal. After a Faith no More-esque crescendo, the quiet bass at the beginning of “Summertime” feels like water picking its way through an ephemeral stream, leftover after a thunderstorm.

Ferrell and his girlfriend wore no shoes. Her nose was painted with pepper sunlight. Whatever that meant, I wanted to embody it. I wanted to be as serious as serious could be with anyone, truly anyone.

(As an adult it’s easy to recognize Ferrell’s dependence on heroin as a theme throughout his music. As a 13-year-old girl I just knew I wanted someone to feel that way about me. I later looked to “Three Days” as the epitome of sexual and romantic love.)

“Summertime Rolls” builds slowly, built on the foundation of a ponderous baseline. But when the melody hits, it’s staggering. If the teen boys in that room felt it, I couldn’t tell. They were making plans to build a plywood skate ramp. I was lost in the heady psychedelia of the orange buttercat chasing after a crazy bee.

Since that day I’ve chased the feeling of being timeless, lost in a July afternoon. The closest I came was dropping acid during the day and lying in a field with a lover discussing the shapes of the clouds. But that was 20 years ago.

Listening to “Summertime Rolls” through headphones is like a courtroom sketch of the lackadaisical feeling of being trapped between childhood and responsibility—I can see the shapes, even make out a few details.

But now I have a lawn to mow, children to drive to the pool. Summertime is no longer a lazy river, carrying me prone from one experience to the next. Summertime smells of spray-on sunscreen, not clove cigarettes. It tastes like small-batch gin; malt liquor left behind as a child’s game.

Summertime might still roll, but not for me. Thank you all the same.

Yours,
Jen

(Early) Summer Crushes: Part III

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The final installment of our (Early) Summer Crushes series

Fun Fact: These two writers have known one another since infancy

April

(1) I’m going to be sneaky here and use music as an excuse to talk about a movie. Do you ever do a thing where you start watching a movie and it immediately begins to resonate with you in a way which causes you to cry approximately every 15 minutes for the duration of the film? If yes, then you’ll understand when I tell you this is how I felt throughout “20th Century Women.” This is a movie, made by a man, about women, in the most respectful, loving, and feminist way, that I was moved to tears and swooning simultaneously. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll just drop some key terms; Zoe Moss, clitoral stimulation, and “I think I’m a feminist” (as said by the most adorable teenaged actor who plays the male lead role). I’m now on the fast track to wanting to do more research on Roger Neill who did all of the instrumental/incidental music for this movie (do you like how I brought things back around to musc?).

 

 

(2) I have been listening to this album/particular songs from this album every day for the past 1-2 weeks. For me, this album is a perfect example of needing to hear music at the right place and/or time. I tried to listen to it when it first came out and for some reason I found it inaccessible. When I reflect on that now it makes me want to build a time machine just so that I could go back and give myself a good shaking. Sarah Assbring is the sole member of this group. Yes, go back and read that sentence again. One woman, who is clearly a genius, is behind this music. The whole album is brilliant, and I highly recommend listening to “Endless Ways” and “Kouign-Amman.” But, someone has kindly put the entire up on YouTube, so you should just listen to the whole thing.

 

(3) Here’s how I got into Shriekback. I was on a roadtrip and we had Sirius radio. As the trip progressed my significant other and I were both in agreement that the station that played the most consistently good (or bare minimum interesting) music was “1st Wave” where for some reason all of the disc jockeys have Australian or British accents (or pretend to). Anyway, on the last day of our trip one of the djs played this song and shared that he felt it was a precursor to bands like “White Zombie.” Now, I’ve never been into “White Zombie” but I am into Shriekback. Especially after seeing this clip. If there was a class that all aspiring performers would be required to pass before first taking the stage, I feel confident that there would be content on the final exam connected to this Shriekback performance.  Also, on the recorded version, take note of the woman who sings the super high part in the background. Shriekback created some highly ambitious pop music and I dig them. Fun fact: The director Michael Mann is also a fan of this band and used their music in Miami Vice and the truly amazing movie “Manhunter.”

 

(4) I got into Nitzer Ebb vis-a-vis Shriekback. As in, I kept coming up with excuses to talk to my significant other about Shriekback whenever it seemed like it wouldn’t be too much of a conversational stretch. When that didn’t work I would just say things like, “Can I talk to you about Shriekback now?” As part of my fervor I borrowed a Goth music box set from the library (because there was a Shriekback song on one of the discs) and subsequently said, “I thought I was into goth music, but maybe not.” To which my SO replied, “I think you might actually be into industrial music.” A quick Wikipedia search later on Industrial Music and I was doing a swan dive into the world of Nitzer Ebb.

As you listen to “Join the Chant” please consider this; being that music is so much about organizing and arranging sounds, why don’t more artists work human noises (that aren’t words) into their songs? I’m pretty seriously obsessed with that yelp/cry/moan thing they do in this song and I want more of it. Also, how do you record something like this? As in, what the bejeezus are you doing in the studio to get yourself to be able to make that sound on cue in order for it be recorded? I guess these are all secret Nitzer Ebb mysteries to which I may never find an answer.

 

(5) I might be stretching the parameters of this “Summer Crush” prompt with this one for a couple of reasons. (1) I’ve been really into listening to these talks for over a year now which certainly pushes the limits of the definition of the word crush, and (2) while these talks do include some chanting (usually at the start), they aren’t really musical in nature. But, I. Don’t. Care.

My favorite speaker on this site is Ajahn Amaro because he’s so amusing/down-to-earth/relatable/smart/entertaining/insightful/calming. Thus far I pretty much only listen to the posts which feature Ajahn Amaro. I’m fairly certain I’ve listened to every one of his talks from 2016 and thus far I’m really trying to pace myself with the newly posted 2017 talks. I will leave “Kindness to Yourself” here for you, because I hope you will find it accessible (even if you aren’t a Buddhist). Before you immediately write it off as some modern day mindfulness gobbledy goop, I would encourage you to take a listen with an open mind. You might just find it helpful, in the simplest way possible.

http://www.amaravati.org/audio/kindness-to-yourself/

Kellie

Bleachers: There’s a couple of bands that are my go-to’s in the summer – you know, the ones you just have to blast in the car with the windows rolled down on the highway, driving … exactly the speed limit. Probably one of my top summer bands is Bleachers. I discovered them a couple summers ago when I was living in coastal South Carolina and had long commutes everywhere I needed to go. I think I listened to their first album nonstop for the entire summer. It checks a lot of boxes for me – it’s got a kind of nostalgic 80s feel to it, it’s anthemic and it’s real music, not this shit that passes as music these days. And their new album just dropped a couple days ago so it looks like I’ve got another summer of Bleachers blasting in the car to look forward to. 

BetaPlay: This little band makes my heart happy. It’s another of my summer go-tos. And they are coming to Virginia Beach in July with Toad the Wet Sprocket, and I am definitely going to be there. (Also, who else didn’t know that Toad the Wet Sprocket was still a thing?) 

My David Bowie coloring book: Look, I don’t know what the rules are for this Summer Crush list, but I feel like my newly acquired Bowie coloring book has to be on it. There are no rules in rock ’n’ roll anyway, right? My aunt sent me this coloring book, and it’s everything. Not only does it have iconic Bowie pictures to color, but it also includes a bunch of facts and stories. And I can use my David Bowie calendar to make sure I’m coloring all of his outfits correctly (because coloring Bowie all willy-nilly seems sacrilegious somehow).

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Graveyard Whistling: The Old 97’s (I wrote about them once, remember?) put out a new album a couple months ago, and once again, they have not let me down. Of particular note, the song “She Hates Everybody.” A misanthrope love song? Be still, my beating heart. 

The Handmaid’s Tale: OK, OK, it’s not exactly music-centric, but this show uses music in the best way possible. I don’t know who’s scoring this thing, but it’s fantastic. There’s not a ton of music, but that’s why the musical moments really resonate. And the music really says something about the characters and also serve as a reminder that at one time these characters had normal lives just like us and they listened to normal music just like us. (New episodes Wednesdays on Hulu – you need to be watching this).