random music fridays : river

I was very close to turning this off once we left the chorus for the first verse. The clapping and yelling I can get behind; that coquettish murmur is very much no.* But there’s more yelling and less flirting later. The bass is a bit overkill, but it’s something other than sad or helpless or fecklessly horny**, so I’m a fan.

*For me.

**Not that there’s ever a good time for this, but this moment in history is so not the time.

Choke this love till the veins start to shiver
One last breath till the tears start to wither
Like a river, like a river
Shut your mouth and run me like a river


the last hamilton holdout bows down

I don’t like musical theater.

Loyal beyond all reason, right? That’s why. A guy put a girl I knew in a psych ward when he banged the whole cast of a show rather than the girl, his girlfriend. My friend. Whom I loved. So fuck him and the entire ensemble, the entire enterprise, was my way of thinking. Even if she recovered (she did), I, vis-a-vis musical theater, did not. I remember being surprised, watching Lin-Manuel Miranda break down saying love is love is love during an acceptance speech around the time of the Pulse massacre. Is this to look good? I thought. Is this to curry a kind of favor? I had neither seen nor spoken to the girl in years, but I never forgave the…system? culture? social apparatus? that threatened to take her from me. And here was this guy choking up for people he didn’t know. Appearing genuine in it.

Plus the show has been inescapable, and I have this temporary unlimited music trial thing, so. I listened. So many people I admire love it so I listened. Half the memes I encounter reference it so I listened.

And, ah.

I’m actually listening to people sing a story I’m interested in hearing. Which is one thing I did not expect. I guess it’s foolish to have doubted. I’ll drag my unskilled ass through a game I’m no good at, after all, if only to get a few lines of dialogue that present the possibility of a different shade of meaning to a side-plot. Is a melody so much more to ask?

But, also. Dear Theodosia and all the dads I’ve heard snag their voices in their throats trying to say how it spoke to them. And how the “you’re going to blow us all away” line was said with love but rang of warning too, veering so close to the blind faith and indulgence that led so many parents to tell us there are no limits when there are. To tell us we could be anything when we can’t. “This is going to come back to haunt you,” you think, and it does. It does!

Barricading melodies up in single songs is so not the way a story should work (because it is not how life works), and this doesn’t. Motifs should tangle up and intermingle and be present, insistently so, despite sometimes one’s attempt to move beyond them. And this does that. Maybe this is normal? I wouldn’t know — again, I avoid this stuff, typically. But bringing that Dear Theodosia melody back, I immediately thought oh no. Oh no no no. You said it and he took it in, we all take in what you (parents) say in love and with the best of intentions, and we (and you) think those are enough to protect us and they’re not.

They’re not.

And I didn’t know we got to see any of that here. I thought it was just rah rah history, rah rah. And I love history but not the revolution; I was overexposed to the duller side of it as a child and had no interest in yet another retelling of the Constitutional Convention.

But I didn’t know he becomes the theme of every other book I pick up (by accident I assure you): another broken parent with a dead child, and a spouse they hurt too, either through their action or inaction or through simply being alive when their child is not. I didn’t know we see him being a normal, wrecked person, instead of that visage glaring down from the biographies shelf, stern and lifeless like all the others, immortalized for precisely the qualities that make him seem more like a bust than a man.

I didn’t know musical theater people were into singing about actual people; I thought they were more into hurting them.


I would like someone to write a musical about dementia, please, and I want it to carve everyone’s hearts out and leave them steaming on the floor before them. Because loss goes both ways and I want some ragged motif given in love and in strength to be whispered in straggling breaths having ruined a family and shadowed a life. Lives. Do it, someone, please. Wrench them.

Loss isn’t a competition, but a dead child features in every other book because people give that horror its space. You are allowed to be wrecked by that. But not the other way around. The other way around is treated as expected. Maybe a little earlier, but still. It’s a tidy kind of loss, we are told.

There is nothing tidy about shitting yourself because you’re so lost in your own head you forgot where the bathroom is in your own home. Again and again and again. And there’s nothing tidy about getting a five AM phone call from your father who ostensibly wants you to explain a Swiffer WetJet to him but who really wants to rant and rave about what is happening to his wife, then hate himself for hating her for it, then rant and rave again. And again. And again. Until she’s dead, and there are no more phone calls, and it’s quiet as hell uptown.

Someone write the damn musical. And drive that knife deep. So more people give you the space to fall apart, when the person who built you up shatters irreparably.

Do a Dear Theodosia on that shit. I will not want to see it. But I will want to know other people feel it.

random music “fridays” : closer to fine

God damn.

Remember the Proust Guy? I didn’t like him, and he’s no more appealing in retrospect, but he wasn’t wrong. Yes, yes, I have more or less put Proust on pause, because it’s hard for me to enjoy staring at my iPad over  a physical book. Perhaps the Kindle, with its gentler light levels, will change that. But speaking of Amazon, they just had a deal where you could get three months of their streaming service for a dollar, and because I become incandescently angry when ad after ad on Spotify comes between me and the songs (“AT THE CORNER OF HAPPY AND HEALTHY, WE GET IT, JUST CUT TO THE GODDAMN CATCHPHRASE ALREADY”), I took the offer. I know, I know, I’m a traitor, a millennial walking right into the trap of “no I’m not going to keep lugging this zipper pouch of CDs around all my life; I’ll either never listen to that again or I’ll download it somehow” that they banked on. Spare me your hot takes.

But so, with this newly-widened music library now open to me, I immediately started seeking out songs I’d lost over time, and one thing led to another, and I ended up at “Closer To Fine.”

Damn. Damn. Hats off to you, Proust Guy. Young me had no goddamn idea how on-point this song would be, decades later.

Oh she thought she knew, sure. Who doesn’t? I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard this song, but I taped it from the radio onto a cassette, if that’s any indication. Even then, it was played as a flashback, since the song itself is almost as old as I am. It’s the first folk song I remember liking, for so many reasons — the brief familiar flicker of a hornpipe, the unlooked-for harmonies, the the way she bites off “clarity” like she’s mocking herself for thinking she might ever find it.

And it’s also the first song that led me to read an article (or maybe listen to an interview?) about a band, and to realize I wanted nothing to do with that kind of fandom. Something about the Lilith Fair, and fans rejecting them when they went for more instruments than just acoustic guitars, and worse, some fans turning on one of them when she turned out to be bi rather than gay or something? Fuck you, fans. Even as an as-far-as-I-knew-gay teenager, that curdled my tongue.

But even the in-person interviews, which again I now knew I could seek out, frustrated me. I don’t want you to simplify something that means so much to me to one night or a string of nights you had out with some friends at a bar, I thought. (I was, full disclosure, terribly dubious of the supposed merits of alcohol, as a kid.) I didn’t want to hear about how they came to write this or that line, or who it reminded them of, or who they dedicated it to, or even to hear how their voices changed when they sang it live here or there or over time. I wanted none of that extraneous detail that distracted from how the song, in its cut-and-dried, reproducible form, spoke to my solipsistic dumbass teenage self.

And it did! Oh, it did. But I took it in with so many corollaries.

I spent four years prostrated to the higher mind

got my papers and I was free

Yes, well, that won’t be me, I thought. Those four years were to be my freedom! And I did not anticipate having any qualms about being prostrate to any higher minds, since, free to study what I wished (as opposed to, say calculus), I couldn’t imagine anyone loving the things I did, and wanting to bring others to love them, to be disappointing. At their jobs, or as people, or as harbingers of wonder.

Oh you foolish, foolish child.

The best thing you’ve ever done for me

is to help me take my life less seriously

it’s only life after all

Good luck with that. Like everyone else (in the 90s and 00s? surely ever) I was told the most important thing in a mate was to find someone who could make you laugh. And I mean, I had no interest in finding a mate, at the time, but damn. You do realize you’re going to be in dark places even laughter can’t light up, right? You’re gonna need more than some wisecracking Puck at your side, girl. Someone who’ll drive you for hundreds of miles between brown mountains and the sea with your head burrowed into his side, no music on because any and all of it reminds you of your dead mom somehow. Laughter is great, but it is not always what you need. Sometimes you need silence and space. Get you someone who can give you that.

And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket

Honey, you had no idea. You’re going to wear it not even like a blanket but like a cape, some great billowing red thing people should respect you for wearing, like Superman. You’ll flap it and it will make a snapping sound and everyone will be reminded of your loss and its creep in your blood, and they’ll become awkward and uneasy or just silent, which is the worst, because it’s what you said you wanted and it is not, in fact, enough.

There are zero things that are enough, because you don’t get her back; you don’t get to be fine. Just closer to it. And lo, even your puns will become so dark people don’t know if they should laugh or not.

The less I seek my source for some definitive…

Yep. Pretty much.


In a similar vein as the “I’m not a Christian but–” Gilead posts, the old holiday songs are just amazing.

I have always loved them. Especially the loud choral pieces that almost seem to threaten you with glory. Like O Holy Night, for example, at the “fall on your knees” part. It’s not a suggestion — it’s a command. Fall on your goddamned knees. I have always loved that. They’re trying to tell you something good, but it should bowl you over. I respect that, and can see it in so many places beyond just a religious context. When the old man in Home Alone cries seeing his daughter sing it on the fuzzy TV, I was sold forever on this song.

(…If I were someone else, in some other time, I could have been such a fierce believer, both because I set so much stock in the power of story (and less so in the facts of history, malleable as they are), and because I am unfailingly loyal, unfashionably so, past all sense says to abandon a person or cause. But…the same mechanisms that cause me to revile academia operate in organized religion, and have always done so. And in a world where you can receive knowledge and the constant questioning of it in other venues, without those superfluous and damaging trappings of hierarchy and status, I cannot do it. I cannot pretend to ignore all the crap they dump on top, between you and what matters.)

And spirals! Where one section is going up and another is going down and they pass each other along the way. Like Angels We Have Heard On High. I sang that once in a choir, because my friend was devout and in a choir and when she left my school I didn’t want to lose her, and man. That song. Singing it as part of a huge group. Our music director was a skeevy guy; his children were alternately skeevy like him and nakedly desperate for his affection; he was everything that was wrong with that church wrapped up in one thick-necked package. But being part of that tide of voices rolling out over an audience, like Gandalf’s river horses in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s magnificent. It feels magnificent, to be a part of.

I know, I know, it’s designed to be that way. What did Sam Sykes tweet the other day? That most of art history is fanart; it’s just that for a long time Jesus was the only fandom? If you were brilliant with your voice or your brush, for most of history you were probably using those tools to praise one god or another. I get that.

(But I also recognize that I’m that annoying person who goes around listening to movie soundtracks half the time. Because they’re epic! But also because, maybe, it makes you a little epic, listening to them? For however long they last, anyway. The fastest mile I’ve run in the past decade was while listening to First Class from the X-Men soundtrack. I don’t even like the X-Men. I mean, at all. But that song. Or, right after it, on the same playlist, Audiomachine. They came into existence to score trailers, and that’s exactly what it sounds like, and I don’t care. I’ve never run faster. Maybe it’s a narcissistic millennial thing. That instead of letting someone else’s words form the backdrop to my efforts, I choose wordless orchestral pieces, as though it were a training montage, something people shot and edited with purpose. But I only mention this to point out that I’m intimately aware of the allure of art, not even earnest art but mass-produced marketing art, telling you you’re important, and how easy it is to overlook or ignore all that’s attached to that movie or song in exchange for the momentary sense that that theme is for you. Even when it’s not and never will be.)

I mean, listen to Julie Andrews sing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When she tells you to join the triumph of the skies, it is a party you definitely want in on. And O Come All Ye Faithful? Who doesn’t want to be joyful and triumphant? Pre-nazi Germany sure as hell did…oh. Right.

And maybe that’s another reason for my distrust of that kind of group-based joy. It’s too easily harnessed and manipulated. The best I can manage is a kind of mental cosplay of grandeur and fellowship, listening to these songs, before I remember that after that swell of voices dies down, everyone in the choir will go home and vote and say terrible things to their kids, and cause those kids to grow up and go out into the world and carry that poison with them.

That’s, I guess, what I keep expecting to hit in Gilead. But so far his humility has managed to keep him from seeming manipulative. Not just his humility but his bending what remains of himself toward small moments of beauty — hoping his son sees such moments to be beautiful — rather than toward harsh lines drawn in the sand past which one must not cross. Even if some people need strict rules to live by, like those bars that keep people from falling out of beds in hospitals, still, for your primary source of identity to come from the enforcement of those rules, rather than from helping people see what matters in the world that crafted them…you’re kind of a charlatan, at that point. You may go on about angels singing yes but you’re here to say no, over and over. And that’s shallow. People deserve better.

If you don’t believe that, you shouldn’t be shepherding them across a street, let alone through the dark chasms of their lives.

random music fridays : gather your pub


Last week Geek and Sundry’s Gather Your Party show did a Gather Your Pub edition. They drank and played public domain Irish drinking songs, and Erika Ishii rocked the everloving fuck out of the fiddle.

I was wrapped in blankets in front of an open window, alternately roasting and freezing to death, in the grip of a terrible head cold. I couldn’t see much of the stream because my eye kept watering. But I heard it.

When I lived in Japan, I used to put the Sims on across the room, just to hear people going about their lives. It didn’t matter, obviously, whether I heard what they were saying, since Sims speak gibberish. I just wanted to hear people.

This would be that, except it’s so much more, because it was startling and delightful as fuck-all to see people taking real joy in a thing I’d only pursued as an exclusively solitary activity for pretty much ever. Who, after all, likes Irish fiddle music? Not a soul I know. I don’t even have friends who like mixed drinks. And yet here was this raucous group of people, many of whom hadn’t known each other before this segment, having a damn good time singing and drinking and playing music together. It was the best, best thing to listen to when lonely and sick. Or when healthy for that matter. It was fucking great.