The East Coast is alive and well in San Francisco. At a birthday party Saturday night, I compared notes with my side of a long table and three of us went to high schools so close together we could’ve run into each other at the same McDonalds. It’s New York, it’s Boston, it’s the suburbs of DC—and for a couple months of the year, it’s the same conversation: Isn’t it so nice to be done with winter?
Disliking winter is simple: Who wants to slip on ice or endure those long months when it’s bitterly cold without the chance of snow? Who enjoys those days when it’s just never-enough layers and cutting wind, and one sad grey face after another?
Summer is it’s own strange beast though, my first love/hate relationship. I was not built for summer in Baltimore. I’m hilariously pale, perpetually dehydrated, and fairly certain that my blood is just sugar and perfume, since having upwards of 20 mosquito bites at a time is very normal for me.
I loathed the long summer months—but I loved the surreal, magic tinged bits. Pale green fireflies outside my bedroom window, crackling thunderstorms in June, the warm scent of honeysuckles in the heat, an olfactory memory that sums up the word “luscious.” Driving at dusk to the snowball stand, slurping crunchy ice and cherry chocolate syrup from a Styrofoam cup, bare feet perched on the dashboard. The sweet, heady boredom of suburban adolescence in the summer, all tied up in movie theatre air conditioning and cheap sunscreen, drinking Evan Williams in a field or backyard and wondering what to do next.
Are these memories a little far-fetched? Do they ignore relentless sticky days where the outdoors seem sweaty and downright hostile? Yes. But I recommend embracing the idyllic and silly side of things—I recommend embracing that side whenever you get the chance.
So this is a soundtrack for staying out late with nothing to do, for driving barefoot while a storm gathers, for navigating leafy side roads as the sun sets and the day’s sweat cools on your bare arms and legs.
Catwalk’s [Please] Don’t Break Me is technically a single, though definitely a bit more than that since it features two distinct and different songs. I like them both, and I’m glad I do, since at first I was simply mesmerized by that fresh, pretty cover art.
In other news, I thought a several month long streak of music apathy was over, but the cure hasn’t stuck. I am now officially in a listening rut. What are you listening to? Let me know in the comments.
When you’re living in a city that’s slowly but surely being leached of culture Google bus by Google bus, it’s nice to discover a new DIY venue in an unlikely place. The Sylvan Annex is a house in the Inner Richmond that’s been hosting shows for a little over a year.
The Sylvan Annex is a unique experience. After you walk up two flights of stairs and straight through a living space, you’re welcomed by a gummy buffet, courtesy of host Dan Weiss.
The shows take place in Ashley’s bedroom (he’s the guy behind aforementioned drone-pop outfit Up! Escalator). Here he is at the sound board:
Dan opened the April 13th show with a couple of acoustic songs. The audience sat on the floor and happily sang backup. Then, S.L.F.M. played a set of fast and sweet punk songs on an electric ukulele.
The next band was Seattle’s Hana and the Goose.
Here’s a picture of the crowd, to give you an idea of how cozy the space is:
The Sylvan Annex holds shows once a month or so. You can find out about upcoming events on their Facebook page.
Let me just apologize first. Let’s get it out of the way.
Yes, Tapestry came out in 1971. Yes, it’s the best. And I really like Carole King, as a character: Her story is fascinating, she’s an incredibly gifted songwriter, and I highly recommend that you add Girls Like Us and A Natural Woman: A Memoir to your summer reading lists so you can learn more about her. But I think she may suffer from classic-rock-itis: I’ve heard every mellow jam from Tapestry so many times on 100.7 The Bay that I can’t get into it anymore. The same goes for Carly Simon, who released multiple albums in ’71. That Taylor/King/Simon/Browne 70’s moment is fun to read about (great article about The Session in last month’s Rolling Stone, on that note), but it’s not my favorite listening material.
And yes, jeez, I know—Blue by Joni Mitchell. It came out this year too. While Blue is a classic, and I’m not tired of it or bored with it like the releases by the ladies above, it’s not my favorite Joni Mitchell album by a long shot. (Court and Spark for life, guys. Court and freaking Spark. But we’ll get to that.)
I honestly don’t know what I have against Laura Nyro, other than one of those weird listening-avoidance-blocks. Leave me a song in the comments that I should listen to so I can get rid of it? Please?
“Cry Baby” by Janis Joplin
You’ve heard this before, and so have I, so lets get to the important stuff:
If you ever need to get pent up emotion out, I recommend dropping to your knees and belting this song. There should be flailing limbs and head spins that leave your hair askew in a disheveled rock goddess way. If you don’t tend to your wild heart, it may demand thrown punches and straight whiskey. Wailing Janis Joplin is the best sort of meditation.
“I’ll Get Along” by Ann Peebles
Ann Peebles is my favorite discovery so far from our month of 70’s fun. This song has that great, horns-laced, twinkly tambourine-filled, soulful 70’s sound, and Peebles’ voice is sweet and gravely. “I’ll Get Along” is a great anthem, especially post-break-up or when you’re feeling wronged, and there’s something especially satisfying about singing along to “Now lovin’ you baby made me a poor chooser/ You can bet your life this time, I won’t be no two time loser.”
“Dream A Little Dream of Me” by Cass Elliot
I wonder what this list would look like if it weren’t silly beautiful outside, with fragrant flowering foliage everywhere and smiling girls in sundresses, the promise of outdoor drinks lingering until the sun sets around 7:00. Would it be a little heavier in the winter? Would Joni Mitchell make the cut?
This is a yearlong favorite that’s particularly lovely right now. The twinkly percussion layered over the piano, and Mama Cass’ warm vocals crooning classic lines—it’s perfect always, and more perfect now when a light song sounds just right, when night breezes and birds singing and lingering until dawn all seems possible.
“Finest Lovin’ Man” by Bonnie Raitt
There’s this image of Bonnie Raitt, honed by years of Lite FM and some really middling albums, that she’s the kind of boring, not-quote country snooze best avoided or left to Boomers. That image is all wrong, and one listen to her circa 1971 freshman album Bonnie Raitt will prove it. “Finest Lovin’ Man” is sexy and delightful, but do yourself a favor and devour this album. Every track is amazing, as is Bonnie Raitt. A can’t miss musical experience is throwing open the windows during the first warm days of Spring and listening to “Bluebird” very loud while sipping something cold.
“Wild Horses” by Labelle
“Who’s Labelle? Why do you call Patti Labelle by her last name…do you think your friends?”
This is what I kept hearing as I was getting ready for 70’s month and stumbled onto Labelle by Labelle. No, I don’t think Patti Labelle and I are friends (though that would be cool, and if you can make it happen, let me know). Labelle was founded by Patti Labelle and it’s the third incarnation of the Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles. They took off in the 70’s when they left behind their original doo-wop sound and embraced rock, funk, and early experimental glam rock costuming. They’re inspiring badass female musicians who wrote their own songs and covered everyone from The Who to Gil Scott Heron, then went on to be the first modern pop group to play the Met.
So, if you were also ignorant to the musical stylings of Labelle, listen to this most excellent cover of the Rolling Stones classic “Wild Horses”—which makes an already great song even more complex and evocative, which turns it into something wholly different and magical.
Of course I was happy to see the Jackson 5 twice on Joshua’s 1970 list, who isn’t? (Shockingly a lot of people: Check out the comments section here.) And any day that involves a surprise visit from a classic Stevie Wonder jam is a good day to me. But when I took a gander at that list, I saw something major was missing: The ladies! Where were the ladies of 1970?
Joshua’s got a tall order grappling with Cassie’s dislike of 70′s music, and while he finagled and listened and tried to pick the very best for his fickle friend, he forgot about the grand musical dames of 1970. He’s onto 1971 (coming soon! get excited!), and asked me to round up the ladies for the previous year. Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments.
“Call Me” by Aretha Franklin
A great chef doesn’t need a laundry list of ingredients. They don’t require inexplicably braided saffron threads and eggwashed pastry replicas of famous landmarks. They can salt a perfect, sliced tomato and the world falls to pieces. That kind of finesse and simplicity is what’s happening in this song, where Aretha Franklin proves once again that she is the maestro. “Call Me” is simple, repetitive, focused on something a little inane (Wanting the person you love to call you back—a sentiment also housed in a million misspelled text messages). And yet I could listen to it every day and never tire of it. Walking down the street with Aretha Franklin cheerfully cooing “Call me!” in your ear is a pure and perfect pleasure.
“I Want to Take You Higher” by Ike and Tina Turner
Okay, Ike throws my ladies of 1970 list off, but we all know this song belongs to Tina Turner (as most songs do). “I Want to Take You Higher” is a 70′s delight—from the “Boom-shock-a-locka” chanting back-up singers to the insistent drums to the complex funkiness of layer upon layer of sound. It’s guaranteed to make you drop what you’re doing and dance, or wish that you could leapfrog out of your workday and have Tina Turner take you higher, whatever that means for you.
True story: When my sister and I were really little, my mom would have us do the “Proud Mary” dance all the time. My greatest fourth grade wish was that I could get a flippy Tina Turner dress with flippy hair to match.
“You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” by Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn delivers sharp barbs with a smile, letting her husband’s mistress know that “For you to get to him I’d have to move over/ and I’m gonna stand right here” and “It’ll be over my dead body/ So get out while you can.” Woman on woman fight songs, especially over men, aren’t usually my favorite, but the set up of the story warrants this reaction. Her husband’s mistress breaks the news and lets Lynn know that she plans to steal her husband. While I question why Lynn would want to keep that man after all this, I appreciate when someone needs to be put in their place. This is one of those times.
Loretta Lynn was a hit machine in 1970, the same year she released “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a great song that was my original pick for this list. But this song won me over because of how deftly Lynn pulls off a rare combination of chipper and badass, shown perfectly in the peppy way she sings “It will be over my dead body”
“Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell
What’s a better kick off to the 70’s then a proper farewell to the 60’s? And what’s a better goodbye than Joni Mitchell singing about Woodstock with the same fevered devotion as all the other kids across the country, watching the show through their TV sets? Mitchell missed Woodstock, and based her iconic lyrics on stories from her then boyfriend Graham Nash and TV footage she watched in her hotel room. It’s wistful, pining for something so close that was gone forever. Joni Mitchell, who spent the previous decade discarding her art dreams in favor of writing songs, would go on to own the decade, releasing both Blue and Court and Spark in subsequent years.
“Just Like A Woman” cover by Roberta Flack
A lovely cover that makes you forget Bob Dylan—a difficult feat in 1970, when Dylan was still omnipresent, and a difficult feat for this particular listener since “Just Like A Woman” is one of my favorite Dylan songs. But I love this—the slow pacing, Flack’s flipped point of view, her warm vocals that expand and contract, vowels pulled like taffy and soaring moments framed in a whisper. It’s such a different song in Flack’s hands, and so independent from the original. After a month of cover songs on this blog, I was half done with them. Roberta Flack roped me back in.
Some people drink a cup of chamomile tea to fall asleep. Some count sheep. Others rely on a boring book or the soothing sounds of a white noise machine. But me? The summer before I turned 13, there was only one thing that calmed my mind at night: listening to Hole’s Live Through This on my Walkman.
On more than a few occasions, I fell asleep wearing headphones, listening to Courtney Love’s aggressive guitar and angry lyrics. I needed to hear someone else screaming about the same injustices that made me want to scream. If Hole could rage against sexism and conformity and the ludicrous claims that culture makes on women’s bodies, then I could take a break from it, at least long enough to sleep.
Just relax, just relax, just go to sleep. That’s a line from “Jennifer’s Body,” and sung soft and low, it’s the closest the album comes to a lullaby – if only it weren’t couched between hoarsely screamed verses and the machine-gun drumming and cymbal crashes that end the song. Live Through This is known for its “loud-quiet-loud” dynamic, and it plays with tempo in a similar way (“slow-fast-slow”). These sudden changes in volume and speed are among the many reasons why it’s a strange album to fall asleep to.
But then again, summer camp was a strange place. I lived in a cabin with nine other girls, and in those close quarters, anxiety and shame about our bodies hung in the air like bug spray. “You’re lucky,” my bunkmates would say, “you’re so skinny.” I didn’t think of myself as skinny or fat. I mostly thought of my body in terms of what it did, not how it was looked at.
Some of the meanest girls at camp were thin, and some of the nice girls were bigger. And of course, the mean girls would give the fat girls shit about their weight. Although I wasn’t heavy, I got shit, too: I was weird – I daydreamed all the time, didn’t have crushes on the popular guys, wasn’t in any hurry to start shaving my legs.
Live Through This was jarring and abrasive, sure – but it was also familiar. I’d listened to it countless times, and the intimacy was comforting. The cassette had been a birthday present from my friend Sara, the autumn before I brought it to camp with me. She knew I’d be happy to have my own copy, because we’d already spent hours listening to the tape in her room. After school, we practiced maximizing its cathartic potential, sitting on the floor by the stereo and rewinding over and over and over to the part in “I Think That I Would Die” when Love screams FUCK! YOU!
It felt good.
We didn’t know what the song was supposed to mean, but the lyrics were clearly about asserting ownership, then lashing out when that ownership is threatened. You can tell that without even hearing the words – just from the shattering violence of the clash between the moments of silence and the wonderful scream that follows.
It’s… [quiet guitar] Not… [same quiet guitar] Yours… [same quiet guitar] and then the FUCK! YOU!
Sometime between 1994 and now, I learned that Love temporarily lost custody of her daughter when she was two weeks old, and it makes sense that “I Think That I Would Die” was written about that traumatic experience.
But that didn’t matter to me and Sara. As we sat in her room, rewinding and rewinding and relishing the abandon of our favorite part of the tape, we were learning how to scream “fuck you.”
All 12-year-old girls have to learn how to scream “fuck you.”
Sara got her period before I did. I remember the package of Always pads that appeared next to her dollhouse one day. I remember she didn’t like to talk about it much. I remember boys making fun of her when they saw the pale green plastic of a pad wrapper sticking out of her back pocket. This was a signal. This was starting. Our bodies were not going to be our own anymore. They were becoming public; they could be commented upon, judged, held to sick standards; they could signify sex and whatever else, whether or not we wanted them to.
One of the main themes of Live Through This is the objectification of the female body: I am doll parts / Bad skin, doll hearts.
Something the girls at camp understood better than I did was that women are required to be thin. No matter how many YM articles I read about “Skirts for Every Body Type!” where “pear-shaped” readers were perkily assured that there were “options” to “camouflage” their hips and thighs, I maintained some amount of immunity to the poison of this body shaming.
But even though the angst I had about my own body was minimal, I felt an overwhelming sense of outrage at the injustice of this requirement. How it made my best friend at camp anorexic, how it made the other girls in our cabin waste time worrying about the calories in pizza, how it made someone (we never found out who) vomit into Diet Pepsi bottles and hide them on the dusty shelves above our cubbies.
Nobody talked about the Diet Pepsi bottles. Nobody talked about eating disorders. Nobody questioned how damaging these standards of “beauty” were. Well, nobody except for Courtney Love, who knew just how fucked up it was: They say I’m plump, but I throw up all the time (“Plump”). Be a model or just look like one (“Asking for It”). Anorexic magazines / It smells like girl, it smells like girl (“She Walks on Me”).
The cover of Live Through This shows a beauty queen in a tiara, caught in the camera flash, clutching a bouquet of flowers. Contrast this with the image in the cassette insert: a picture of a young girl in a flannel shirt, standing barefoot on a gravel road (a family photo of Love at age 8).
The first time I opened the cassette and saw that photo, I was startled to see myself there: messy hair, sleeves too long, not quite smiling.
What is the “this” in Live Through This? For me, it was adolescence. How to understand a world that rewards women with crowns and flowers for being dumb and fake and smiling just right, when it makes more sense to hang out in a flannel and no shoes and do whatever you feel like.
If you live through this with me / I swear that I will die for you / And if you live through this with me / I swear that I will die for you. When I heard Love sing those lines in “Asking for It,” they felt like a promise. She understood my pain, because it was her own. She was like an older sister who had been to hell and back, and was there to tell me about it: Someday, you will ache like I ache (“Doll Parts”).
So, I did live through this. And I still am. That summer was the last one I spent at camp, and I haven’t needed to listen to Live Through This to fall asleep since.
Still, I return to the album again and again. It’s part of me. It played a tremendous role in the formation of my feminist identity. It taught me how to be angry. And even after nearly 20 years of listening, its cathartic powers haven’t dulled. There are some days when the only thing I want to do after work is blast Live Through This on my headphones and aggressively wash a sink full of dishes. Run the water hot, turn the volume up, and FUCK! YOU!
“When U Love Somebody” by Fruit Bats
“Crooked Piece of Time” by John Prine