If you happen to follow me on Instagram you are probably aware of the fact that I was just in Aruba. Doing RENT. With one of the most talented groups of people I’ve ever seen compiled in one place. I know that sounds made up - I myself am not entirely sure I didn’t imagine the whole thing. It has been a very long time since I was in a musical. As far as first shows back are concerned, this fell squarely in the “Beyond Wildest Dreams” camp. After all, I’ve spent my entire adult life in New York City having angst and making art. What better way to return to the stage than with the ultimate tribute to La Vie Boheme?
I stopped auditioning almost exactly ten years ago. I was able to carve a path for myself in music that felt more true than the one I was following in theater, but I’d be lying if I told you I’d never missed it. Jumping back in was more difficult than I thought it would be. You get used to doing things a certain way when you’re concentrating on your own project; I’m the person most responsible for the success or failure of my band. That’s not how theater works - there’s a reason acting classes make you do fucking trust falls. After a decade of trying to stand alone I had to be reminded that a great ensemble holds one another up. I was very lucky to be surrounded by people who loved the show and knew their shit.
I remember the first time I really listened to RENT - it was in a classmate’s car on the way to theater camp in the summer of 1999. It took me three years to actually hear the recording because at 14 I was an insufferable musical theater snob. The show had been around of course, in green rooms and cast parties and the back seats of coach buses en route to Minneapolis. I had never really paid it any mind, however, because EVERYONE ELSE LOVED IT SOOOOOO MUCH. I was very busy spinning Anyone Can Whistle on my Discman and had no interest in following the latest trends, thank you very much.
It was the song “Another Day” that won me over. I had a crush on the character of Roger (we all did, Adam Pascal amirite?), but I think on some level I also wanted to be him. Even before I started writing my own songs, I saw myself in a songwriter who “cannot hear.” In retrospect, my journey towards songwriting should have been clear from the fact that I rewrote the lyrics to Roger’s songs to better reflect my own life (yes I remember my versions, yes they are terrible, yes I am taking them to the grave).
The idea of wanting to create something that matters, to leave something real behind resonated with me long before I was old enough to really think about death. My grasp of my own mortality was limited to the idle thoughts of self-harm that just kind of hung around in the back of my head most days. I had the same issues with anxiety and depression then that I have now, but in the 90s there were less resources available for kids who were struggling (and boy did I ever hate guidance counselors. Chipper motherfuckers). Maureen and Mimi may have the fun belty numbers, but even as a teen I knew something about the ways that isolation can compound on itself. Roger’s fury at the show’s whole YOLO message made perfect sense to me. I was an angry kid, in my way. I think a lot of angry kids are just lonely.
I hadn’t thought about the show in a long time before I was cast, and it was surreal revisiting the music as an adult. The songs feel like high school, but the lyrics hit home in places where they never did before. ”Another Day” remains one of my favorite parts of the score, but now I hear Mimi’s pleas above Roger’s rage: “There’s only now, there’s only here. Give in to love or live in fear.” If you’ve read any of this blog thus far you know that my barely-managed anxiety disorder keeps me in a more or less constant state of vague terror. Here is the inside of my head in gif format:
HOW DID ALL THOSE CARS GET IN THERE?
I’ve realized in the last few months that love - putting the people and even the projects I care about ahead of the spiral - has the power to calm me down. It gets me out of my head and away from the panic. This is a very easy thing to write down, and an incredibly difficult thing to practice. The lesson Roger learns over the course of the show has been circling around me my whole life, and I’m only just beginning to hear it.
In my defense, it takes Roger the whole damn play to hear it. I’m sure most of you reading this are familiar with the way the show ends: while the heroine dies tragically in La Boheme, Jonathan Larson chose to give his Mimi (and the man who loves her) a miraculous second chance. Teenage Musical Theater Edgelord Hannah spent a good deal of time arguing that RENT would be better if Mimi stayed dead, but as an adult I can see why Larson stepped away from his source material in such a drastic way. The show spends two hours telling the audience to live each moment as our last, and to leave us with sorrow and regret would utterly negate that message. Instead, he gives us a glimpse at hope, however unlikely.
The female members of the cast end the show singing the words “I die without you” over and over again. Those words didn't really resonate with me until I stepped onstage to sing them for the last time. For some reason, out of nowhere, it occurred to me to dedicate each repetition to someone I loved. I sang to people I see every day, people who were far from me, people with whom I had lost contact all together. If you think I sang to you, you’re probably correct. I’m glad I only did it once, because it was hard to keep from crying once I’d started listing people in my mind. RENT celebrates the families we choose for ourselves, and performing the show has made me so grateful for the community I’ve found in New York. It makes me want to try harder. It makes me want to hold on to relationships I thought had died, to connect with new people, and be brave in the face of my own bullshit.
But most of all, it makes me want to fucking write. Jonathan Larson was a waiter in Manhattan who loved theater and music and his friends, and he made something beautiful in what he couldn’t have known were the last years of his life. He was 35 when he died - the same age I’ll turn next year. 35 years sound like an eternity to a high school sophomore, but thinking about his life and work as an adult have given me an overwhelming desire to DO THE THING RIGHT NOW. How could anyone hear his story, sing his words, and NOT write the song, make the movie, stage the protest, tell someone you love them, forgive? The tragedy - and the true legacy - of this show is the way its creator became a perfect embodiment of its message.
No other road, no other way. No day but today.
I wrote my last couple of albums by writing songs first and then figuring out what tied them together. I'd get five to seven songs written, find something they had in common, and then build the rest of the album from there. As such, the first two albums I wrote feel very tied to where I was in my life while I was writing them. They are highly autobiographical, but I think there's a sense of remove that comes from the fact that I'm purposely grouping them together.
The first song I wrote for All Our Heroes Drank Here, for example, was “Jordan Baker," which is either about New Year's Eve or the Apocalypse, depending on the day. As I wrote the rest of the music, it became clear that most of the songs were set in specific locations, so I wrote a song about being too sad to leave your house ("Biography of Cells") and moved the narrative through New York City from there. The first song I wrote for Cinemascope was “Smoke Is Rising," which is either about orgasms or self-immolation, depending on the day. I knew I wanted to write lyrics that described scenes rather than thoughts, so the "female stereotypes via film genres" theme followed naturally.
I'm taking a different approach with the new material - I have a general idea for a mood and I'm working backwards from there. I explained it to the boys in the band as “listening to old records in an abandoned house after society has collapsed." I want these songs to sound familiar and comforting, but warped somehow. I want them to feel like something you loved as a child and only fully understood as an adult. I want them to be the poppiest songs I've ever written, and then fuck them up at every turn. I want them to be - to borrow a catchphrase from my girl the Trash Queen - unsettling.
Since I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this yet, I put together a playlist of songs that feel like I want this album to feel. I didn't want to think about it too hard, I just threw in anything I could think of that instilled in me the appropriate amount of dread. It's not about the lyrics, or the genre, or the production, it's about the visceral reaction I get when listening to the music. Here it is (Spotify is currently being the god damned worst, so here's a link in case the embed won't work):
Like the album, this playlist is a work in progress - you'll be devastated to learn, for example, that I originally chose entirely the wrong Arctic Monkeys song. Once I reached a stopping place I thought it would be interesting to find themes within the list that might inform the album moving forward. So far this is what I've got:
It’s All Over, Now What?
These songs are about endings: cities burning, violent deaths, despondent people mourning the better people they once were. The thing I find the most unnerving, however, is the lack of finality; it's as if they're saying that the worst part being finished is no reason to relax. Your alarm bells, they should be ringing.
Songs Only Hannah Would Find Comforting
I don't know guys, Bright Eyes makes me think of the bakery I worked at in college and I used to have a crush on this idiot who was super into Radiohead and "Under Ice" makes me think of riding in the car with my dad in the 80s. I like sad stuff, ok?
Hate Fucking: The Musical
Yeah, I'm not sure what's going on with me right now but I'll own the fact that including both "Closer" and "The Perfect Drug" is kinda weird. Maybe don't think about it too hard. Don't think about "Providence" either.
Death and Other Forms Of Isolation
I'm going nowhere. Tell her to come pick me up. Disappear here. I do nicely without you. Fade out. Why should you want any other, when you've a world within a world?
Bitches Out For Blood
"Get Out Of My House" is The Shining, written from the perspective of the fucking hotel. Tori Amos wants to smash faces and "Furnace Room Lullaby" is a female-fronted Tell Tale Heart. Again, let's all collectively try not to think about this one too hard. I promise not to murder anyone.
I'm sure I'll find more categories as I go, but there's two here that don't fit with the rest of the list at all: "Dust and Ashes" from Great Comet and "There Is A Light That Doesn't Go Out" by The Smiths. These songs are both about finding a future when things are at their very darkest, even if you're doing so begrudgingly. I don't know how these fit in with the rest of the concept, but I'm not ready to discount them either. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if I have it in me to write something completely bereft of hope.
One more thing - this list is called "Deflection Tracks" because the working title for the record is Nice Deflection, Future Corpse. That's a story for another post, I think, if it sticks. Hell, I might scrap this entire concept and write a wholesome musical instead. If this playlist has taught me anything, it's that nothing is ever truly finished.
Hans Christian Andersen once said “Where words fail, music speaks.” I know because I googled “music quotes” right before beginning this intro. Because my words failed me. Good thing this blog is about music! Each week, I'll try to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify's Discover Weekly.
The robots have a very shallow read on me right now. It's like when someone you think is a close friend says something about how you’d definitely kick a guy’s ass for looking at you wrong and you think “I would never start a physical altercation with someone, much less a stranger, but fine?” Spotify has sussed that I like showtunes, pop divas, and angsty indie, but the nuances between sub-genres aren't quite there yet. I don’t think Spotify knows me well enough to be making these kinds of judgements, to be quite honest.
For example: There are two - TWO DIFFERENT - live tracks from A Very Potter Musical on this playlist. I'm sure that many people out there find this thing enjoyable, but it is not a thing I personally want. Just because I listened to the Legally Blonde OBC every day last month doesn’t mean I require Harry Potter themed pop music. I know they're only robots, and likely working with some epic Musical Theater Nerd Venn Diagram, but if Spotify really knew me they’d know I’m more of a Hunger Games kind of girl.
This week's list wasn’t perfect, but as always there were a few glorious keepers. Let’s dive in, shall we?
"Pirates" - Jenny Owen Youngs
I know Jenny! Not personally, but she does co-host one of my favorite podcasts. I knew she played music that wasn’t about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but had never encountered it in the wild before she showed up on my playlist. This song is wonderful; it has a sense of humor about heartache and an honesty about emotion that isn't present in a lot of music nowadays. The chorus absolutely bangs, and also rhymes "you don't make me better but you don't make me worse" with "numb's no good, but it sure beats the hurt". Have you been there? Yeah, me too.
Probably chosen for me because: Does...does Spotify know what podcasts I listen to? I don’t use Spotify to listen to podcasts. Are my apps colluding behind my back? Should I be looking forward to tracks from the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder? DID YOU UNDERSTAND THAT REFERENCE?
"Vampire Money" - My Chemical Romance
Shit, do I like MCR now? I’ve always described MCR as being “too emo, even for me”, but this song might have converted me. Do they have more songs that sound like the 70s only more mad? This song became even more delightful to me when my friend Kayleigh (who loves MCR more than she loves me, probably) told me it was written in response to being asked to write something for the Twilight franchise. That would explain the title, I suppose.
Probably chosen for me because: My friend Michael asked me to sing backup in his cabaret last month and "Welcome To The Black Parade" was part of the set list. To be fair, the robots have no way of knowing that I did not listen to My Chemical Romance of my own volition.
"Fxxc Boyz Get Money" - FEMM
A lovely sentiment, as well as a nice break from the Wistful Indie Ladies Spotify keeps foisting upon me week after week. I have no further comments.*
*Nope, sorry, I'm back, I googled them and apparently they're a Japanese pop duo who claim to work for an underground agency fighting for equal rights for mannequins I have to go follow their tour now bye forever.
Probably chosen for me because: I'm currently indulging in an activity I've been referring to as "Boner Sabbatical" during which I am not actively trying to date/sleep with/be around men. If they show up, fine, but I'm not out here looking for them. Perhaps this lifestyle has been reflected in my musical choices? (checks recent history) Great Comet and Rainbow by Kesha. Huh.
“I Don’t Like You Or Your Band” - Kate Rhudy
This one might be more proof of App Collusion (band name, dibs) as my friend Joanna posted this same song on my Facebook wall two weeks ago. Joanna and The Robots were right; I DO like female country artists who write snarky lyrics about dumb boys! I particularly enjoyed her excoriating this gentleman for his "middle-class white boy blues," although perhaps my sad sack middle class white girl self should not be throwing stones.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify correctly intuited that anyone who has listened to "Tiny Vessels" as many times as I have has dated Male Artists, Plural.
"Nothing Without You" - Emma Blackery
I leave you on a the poppiest of notes. This song is sweet and charming and made me smile on my commute. Apparently this person is a YouTuber? Her song makes me want to go out and find one of those will they/won't they type relationships from sitcoms/my twenties, and if it weren't for my responsibilities to Boner Sabbatical I might have done just that. Also her makeup in the cover art is adorable.
Probably chosen for me because: I'm not fooling anyone with my angry howling banshee punk; everyone knows I'm a hopeless romantic who has Much Ado About Nothing committed to memory. If anyone needs me I'll be over here with my VHS copy of Sliding Doors.
Apart from the above tracks this list was pretty lackluster. I don't think I can fairly give it a positive rating, therefore I will take ten house points from Spotify. I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed.
Check out this brand new song! I want to do more videos like this one, so let me know what you want to see in the future!
I do this thing where I worry. I have always been this way. When I tell you I don’t remember a second of my life when I wasn’t afraid, that’s not hyperbole. My parents used to have to hide the newspapers from me when I was a child because I would read about diseases and convince myself I had them. You’ve only heard me tell this story when I’m drunk and my guard drops off - no one cares how young I was when I learned to read.
I did this thing, when I was a kid, where I would explode over the slightest things. Crying on the seesaw because it was too high, screaming at the bullies when they went too far, weeping in the lunchroom over a solo I didn’t get. I was told that these behaviors were wrong and bad. I heard “loose cannon” and “melodramatic” and “high strung” a lot. I learned to shut up about it, but it took me a long time. Now when I am upset, I am like oatmeal on a stove, bubbling up under the lid until it explodes around the edges and gets everywhere, burns onto the counter, impossible to wash away. I see people’s faces when I behave this way, I see how uncomfortable they are. They don’t know how many times I didn’t explode, they don’t know how much heat I contain. I am a very good girl now. I understand everyone’s perspectives. I do not shout. I do not ask questions. I don’t express my disappointments. Bullshit, you’re thinking, you do that all the time. Bullshit I retort, you have no idea how much I’m not saying. No one cares how upset I am over nothing.
I did this thing, in my early twenties, where if I gained a half a pound or a centimeter around my waist I would slap my own wrist until it bruised. I hate blood, so cutting was out of the question, but I hate myself too so something Needed To Be Done. If you knew me in my twenties you were unaware of this, I literally never told anyone. Maybe people noticed, but no one ever asked, so to the best of my knowledge my arsenal of long-sleeved cardigans was fully effective. I don’t mention it now because I don’t do it anymore, which means it can’t have been that bad, if I could get over it on my own. No one cares about my half-assed eating disorder.
I do this thing where I fixate. I decide that something is true, or soon will be, a friend will leave me, a job will fall through, I am sick and dying and unaware of it. I can’t stop thinking about it, I can’t push it from my mind, I need constant noise and distraction to make it go away. When I go to bed I put on YouTube, when I wake up I put on podcasts, I need other people’s voices, I need literally anything other than the sound of my own voice inside my head. I don’t want to tell anyone, particularly the people I am afraid are leaving me, because this is not their responsibility. I know these fears are in my head, I know it, so I don’t tell people I have them because I should be able to handle it on my own. The people I love deserve better than a friend who is constantly begging for reassurance.
But the longer the fears stay trapped in my head, the more they rattle around in there with no place to go the harder it becomes to separate facts from reality. Then I become frightened that my thoughts will affect the people around me, that I need to do a better job of hiding them because no one likes a person who is a constant open wound of fucking need. So I get weird, and I pull back and then push forward, I cry at strange intervals, I make promises and break them. It gets very, very bad. I am constantly exhausted. I stop eating. You’re so skinny, they say. I’m malnourished, I think. Hey, at least I’m finally skinny, right?
I do this thing, when I start to bottom out, where I wake myself up in the middle of the night into fear. It’s like my body relaxes, but my mind remembers that I have literally never been relaxed, so this can’t be right DON’T FORGET YOU DIDN’T HEAR BACK FROM NAME REDACTED DON’T FORGET YOUR BOSS HATES YOU DON’T FORGET YOU SAID THAT THING WHEN YOU WERE DRUNK DON’T FORGET YOU’VE AGED OUT OF MOST OF YOUR DREAMS. I jolt awake and lay in bed, half conscious, sick with worry until dawn.
I did this thing last night where, desperate for a different choice to make, I sat down a good friend and asked him if I could just say my irrational fears at him. I figured at the very least, as I’m spiralling out, as I have been for weeks, if I start getting weird (weirder?) he’ll have some context for what’s going on. At the very least I can erase the meta-layer of anxiety where I think I need to pretend I’m not anxious. He said yes, because of course he did, because I’m not actually fooling anyone when I try to tamp down on this shit. He already knew everything I told him. I told him I’d probably wake up this morning convinced that I had been a burden and that he’d never speak to me again. Guess how I spent my day?
I do this thing where I prepare monologues, write letters I don’t send, speak to myself in the mirror about problems I made up on my own, then decide I can’t possibly say that. I don’t want to worry anyone, I don’t want anyone to feel inconvenienced by me, and this is clearly all my fault anyway. I don’t want to see the looks on people’s faces when I react too strongly or feel too much. But I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not making things so much worse by waiting to boil over. So basically what I’m saying is, I’m going to do this thing where I try to correct my overcorrection. I just figure there has to be has some middle ground between shrieking sixth grader and emotionally repressed 30 something. This area is under construction. Please excuse my dust.
Ok, team, I'm trying something a little new today.
Ordinarily the following is not something I would share, but I'm feeling both self indulgent and emotionally fragile, so here goes. I'm working on a new album - not sure exactly where I'm going with it yet. The inciting incident for the themes behind it was one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. I feeI it's important to say that I was not physically harmed during this incident in anyway, so please don't read my reticence to discuss it as trauma. I'm ok, mostly. But I don't talk about it much - when I do, people tend to say "Oh, but that'll be a really funny story someday". It's been a year and a half. Still not funny.
The lyric book I'm on right now - the one where this album will be assembled -was purchased right before my life fell to shit, as previously referenced in this blog. On the first page there's an address. It's for a hotel in London where I spent New Year's Eve 2016. New Years is my favorite holiday - that year I slept through it because the idea of being awake at that moment was ludicrous. It set the stage nicely for the year to come, to be honest.
I cant erase the address. It feels important to this record, somehow. So Friday night I as I was waiting to perform with my friend Chris's band in Queens I drank half an old fashioned and vomited out the emo trash at the bottom of this page. I'm sharing it here because I want this next album to be emo trash. I want it to reflect my actual fears and feelings, the opposite of the clever way I present my feelings in lyrics about things I've moved past. I want it to be tragic and immediate and overwhelming and horrifying and nauseating. Here's where I am so far:
Anyway. In the spirit of forcing my uptight self to be more emotionally transparent, FOR THE SAKE OF THE ALBUM, here is some unedited stream-of-consciousness about some Feelings I had the other day. Enjoy!
This book begins with an address where I went when I was displaced. When I had no where else to go. It was too clean, but his house was too dirty. His house was so cold. Every surface felt wet. I didn't sleep. I had no way to sleep. I slept through New Years in that tiny hotel room like a fucking coffin. I couldn't find the light switch. Where was all the good tv? They have great tv in England and I couldn't find it. I found a grocery store and got this shitty sandwich. I should have gone to dinner. I should have made him buy me dinner. I should never have come. His room mate was so nice to me. I'm sorry for the names I called him. Megan couldn't take me right away so I fixed it, I didn't stay. Why the fuck did he want me to stay? He wanted me to meet his mother. Who introduces some dumb bitch from overseas to their mother unless she matters? He begged me to see him again and then almost ditched me for a hangover. I'm glad he felt guilty. I hope he feels guilty about this til he dies. How in gods name does the universe want me to believe anyone ever again?
Guys. Guys. Guys. This is important.
Did you know that Spotify is doing a Summer Rewind Playlist? Seriously, go look. It’s every song you ever listened to ON REPEAT during every summer since you sold out on your lofty ideals about how art has value and signed up for Spotify. It’s eye-opening! I have several thoughts! Several!
First: these songs are terrible. OK, not exclusively terrible - there are several really quality tunes on here. However, if I were attempting to impress someone with my musical knowledge I would not let them anywhere near this playlist. I wouldn’t be surprised if it employs an algorithm that specifically determines all of your Most Embarrassing Favs, plus one Janelle Monae song so you don't totally hate yourself. I refuse to believe that your list is any more refined than mine, by the way. Don’t sit there and try to tell me that your Summer Rewind Playlist is chock full of critical darlings. Summer is not for insightful lyrics and audacious chord progressions. Summer is for booze and sex and trouble, forever and ever amen. Please bear in mind that except for the booze I am not much known for partaking in these things. I am the most frightened of all the things all the time, which is what the booze is for. Summer is different though. Heat makes me want to make messes. It makes me feel fascinating.
Moving on. These songs are the wrong songs. There’s no way I listened to “You’ve Got The Love” more than “Drumming Song” - I was in love with a percussionist when that album came out. There’s no way I listened to “Dirty Love” more than “C’mon”. On my honor, I have never intentionally listened to the acoustic version of any pop punk song. Where’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”? Where’s all the Kasabian? And why isn’t “Hurricane J” by the Hold Steady on here? That song is about a listless waitress who can’t get her life together. I listen to it fucking constantly.
For better and for worse, these songs were given to me by my friends. Chris covered “Ready To Go” and insisted that I knew it, which I did not. I do now, but Chris’ version was my introduction. Michael appeared in a Ludo jukebox musical, in which he was very good, thank you very much. Haley introduced me to Mother Feather (literally - we’re in the music video for this song). Kayleigh’s drunken karaoke rendition of “Skyscraper” is not to be missed.
Most of all, I notice a theme at work here. These songs are about Powering Through. These are the songs that play under the trailers of come-back stories. These are the anthems of underdogs and fuckups. These are the songs that bring you back when you’ve hit rock bottom, the songs that you listen to when you are so drunk and downtrodden that you forget you hate Katy Perry. I am not going to throw up in this taxi. I’m gonna roooooooooooooooooar.
That feeling of possibility is what summer is all about for me. I’m from Minnesota, where winter frequently begins in September and lasts until the end of April. During the school year, I woke up before dawn to catch the bus and stayed after sunset with extracurriculars. Summer was the only time when I saw daylight and the only time when I wasn’t suffocating in parkas and boots. Summer meant warmth and light and freedom. When I was a kid, it was an escape from the bullies at school. When I was a teen, it was theater camp, two months out of twelve when I finally fit in. When I was in college it was a time to be myself, without pressure from the tiny, cliquey program where I got my degree. When I grew up and moved to New York, summer retained its mythic significance. The sun stays out late and the layers are shed. There are more hours in the day, and more possibilities within those hours.
Until last summer. 2016 was not kind to me - I traded off between selfish men and unemployment with a frequency I had previously never experienced. June started well enough, and I thought I had finally turned a corner, but when July came and I lost another job and another potential relationship crashed and burned I dropped deep. I slept in the air conditioning until late in the afternoon and watched the same YouTube videos on a loop. I ate trash and closed myself off from my friends. I got heavily into Pokemon Go because I needed some reason, any reason to leave the house. I stopped reaching for my guitar. I thought it would never get better. I thought I had ruined my life. The longer I went, the less I wanted. Summer always made me feel like everything was possible. Last summer it felt like nothing would ever happen to me again. I didn’t even want it to.
But here I am. A whole year later and while I still haven’t entirely regained the loudmouthed adolescent belting Sondheim with her bra straps hanging out of a tank top, she was never completely gone. Yes I’m in therapy. Yes I have a job now. No I have not recently sat sobbing quietly on my front porch at midnight because I didn’t want my roommates to hear. The phrase “I feel like myself again” feels trite and unearned, but I think it’s fair to say that this summer feels like Summer again. I want to make stuff and stay out late and drink fruity drinks in floaty dresses and talk to boys and play Kesha as loud as Kesha can get.
I’m back. I’m ready to go.
Is music really the food of love? What if you're not very hungry? Or what if you are hungry, but only for the breakdown from "Come On, Eileen", and only the Save Ferris version? Each week, I'll try to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify's Discover Weekly.
My playlist has drastically improved from last week, which can only mean one thing: The Robots have been reading my blog. If you tuned in for volume two, you might recall that I fell down a weird Spotify worm hole two weekends ago. Specifically, I spent a good four hours listening to Musicals About The Plight Of Teenagers. I started with Heathers, then remembered Spring Awakening, then remembered that Carrie has exactly one good song in it, then Putnam County Spelling Bee, then Footloose for Christ's sake, and finally Newsies. Anyway, that resulted in some pretty decent Spotify recommendations, so maybe I should embrace my torrid past as a Sentient Broadway Wikipedia Page more often.
"No Culture" - Mother Mother
Oh man, my notes on this one are a garbled mess. I wrote them in my Notes App like a proper Who and I don't even know what I was trying to say. Basically, this song instills in me a desire to dance around a nightclub circa 2006, an activity that I didn't much enjoy even when it was actually 2006 - I was 22 and such things were more or less expected. This song makes me feel the way "On Top" by The Killers once did, when I stomped the streets of Ridgewood and wrote sad songs about boys in a capella bands. Please, someone, let me fall unrequitedly in love with you so I can fully appreciate this glorious song. First round's on me.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify guessed my age based on the level of 90s music I listen to, serves me drunk sexy music that hearkens back to the era when they assume I was having lots of casual sex. JOKES ON YOU ROBOTS I BLOOMED MAD LATE.
"Daddy-Longlegs" - McCafferty
I love that chewy emo voice, the one they stole from Michael Stipe. The one where they savor every crunchy consonant and every mealy vowel, as if to say I AM SO MAD AND THE MAD WORDS TASTE SO GOOD. Why would anyone settle for a frail little amuse bouche resolution when seething, barely contained resentment is so very filling? I worked in restaurants for a very long time, people. Don't @ me.
Probably chosen for me because: My affection for emo has been well documented in this blog, I don't think we need to go over it again.
"Friendtopia" - Crazy Ex Girlfriend soundtrack
My intense jealousy over the career of Rachel Bloom keeps me from actively seeking out her work, which is shitty of me because everything I've seen from her is perfection. This song (a Spice Girls parody about literal world domination) made me laugh to the point of tears on the G train, a place where laughter happens so infrequently that my fellow commuters blinked at me in astonishment before slouching back into their blankets of regret. Anyway, this song is marvelous and I need to get over myself so I can watch her show without constantly thinking "Damn it, why didn't I think of this?"
Probably chosen for me because: The robots want me to grow as a person.
"Wobbly" - Ezra Furman
This one was my favorite for the week, because I've been feeling wobbly too Ezra! Like maybe I'm too old to achieve any of my life goals and I'll never be truly loved and have to settle for a man who sees me as a supporting character in his life rather than a fully-fledged human being and all my friends look like they're making progress and becoming brighter, clearer versions of themselves but I'm still the same bitter mess I was at 17 only I'm skinny now so people assume I can have things when I want them but every time I take a risk it blows up in my face so maybe I should just spend all my time comparison shopping for eyeshadows because at least there's a system to that - there are good products and bad products, and if you buy the correct ones you are perfect.
Probably chosen for me because: I'm so bad at holding it together that even my phone knows I'm a mess.
"Minnesota Strip/Song of a Child Prostitute" - Runaways OBC
I had heard of Runaways but never listened to the music, so I had no idea what kind of music it was. I didn't realize that this was a song from a musical right away when it started playing. This song is so gorgeous, and so strange, and so very sad. I'll need to listen through the rest of this show eventually, but I think I'll need to find a place to do so that is not the New York City Subway.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify saw my teenage musical marathon and went "Oh, you like show tunes about youths? HERE YOU GO."
They gave me a song by Car Seat Headrest, a band I love, with the vocals so low in the mix I can't hear the lyrics. They gave me a song from Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, but I refused to listen to it cause I'm seeing it in two weeks and I want to be surprised. They gave me a One Direction song that sounded like The Strokes.
There were a lot of solid contenders for blog material this week, and a lot of songs I really enjoyed. This playlist gets 4 out of 5 #SQUADGOALS! Next week, I'll be presenting the first of the blogs where I deliberately try to confuse the algorithm. I had to suffer through a lot of painful musical memories for you, so you'd God damn better well read it.
Can a person's favorite songs reveal their inner self? Can a woman whose room mate recently caught her drunk lip synching to the Jane Eyre OBC on Marcy Avenue at 2am truly be considered "cool" by any reasonable metric? Each week, I’ll attempt to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify’s Discover Weekly.
Week two was a bit one note, if you'll pardon the expression. I mean that somewhat literally - I got served a lot of drab, sing-songy melodies over slightly fuzzy guitars. You know when your coworker goes "Oh, you like music, have you heard of ********"? And then you listen to the debut album by ******** (not to be confused with !!!) and it sounds like the same car commercial ten times in a row but I guess they're playing Bonnaroo? This was a whole playlist of those. It's too early to give up on this concept though (and I just got my new playlist, and I have a LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT IT), so we'll struggle through with the standouts.
"Tell Me It's Ok" - Paramore
Guys, I like Paramore. I know, I'm supposed to spend all my time listening to Le Tigre or Nico or Patti Smith and goodness knows they're wonderful, but sometimes a guy is a dick or your boss is a dick or your friend is a dick and the only thing that helps is Hayley Williams, yelping over power chords. Paramore happened after I was out of high school, but the angst levels of their songs make me feel like theater camp never ended. I'd never heard this one before, and while it's no "crushcrushcrush" it's still been stuck in my head all week and I think that means the song is winning. Side bar: here's a Tumblr post from 2015 where Williams semi-renounces "Misery Business", a song with a great hook and truly objectionable lyrics.
Probably chosen for me because: I told you. I like Paramore.
"Number Crunching" - Ginger Snaps
Remember last week when I complained about how songs reminded me of other songs and I couldn't get over it? Well, this song reminds me of The 90s and I'm surprisingly cool with it. This sounds like Oasis wrote a song for the New Radicals and Beck stepped up to produce - that is the level of 90s in play here. It is an excellent song for sauntering down a street in a leather jacket - yes, I tried it. It does contain the lyric "I can't stand these hipster chicks," which I do not care for as a hipster or as a chick. However, my main issue with this song is that I've reached the age where new artists are being clearly influenced by the music of my youth, which to them is Classic Rock. All you little punks can get the hell of my damn lawn.
Probably chosen for me because: Chris keeps making me learn weird 90s covers to sing with his band. "You know this one," he always says. He's wrong. He's wrong every time. Except for "Glycerine", I knew that one.
For fuck's sake. I wrote down the band but not the song title. But I'm listening to their album now and I'm enjoying it, so let's just carry on with the introspection, shall we? At first listen I assumed Backwards Dancer were from approximately 2008, and I only missed them because that was the year I listened exclusively to Elliott Smith. I was surprised to learn that this band's self-titled album came out last month - perhaps this is the emo revival the fancy music blogs keep talking about? I had kind of assumed they were just trying to make Fetch happen, but ok.* Over the weekend I saw Two Star Motel, an excellent musical about a struggling band set in 2001, and between that and the humidity and the punks on my damn lawn I am more than ready to slam cheap beers in a crop top and be simultaneously sad/horny/sweaty. I suppose this means I am on board with the revival of emo.
Probably chosen for me because: I listen to that one Say Anything song a thousand times a month. I gotta knock that off or this blog is going to get really boring really quick. I once had this obnoxious therapist look at me with solemn condescension and ask "Do you even want to be happy?" No one writes good songs about being happy, silly.
*"Make Fetch Happen" is a good name for an emo revival band.
"Make Out" - Julia Nunes
Ok, I take back what I just said about good songs and happiness. I forgot that this song made my list for the week. Sure, it dips into minor in a few places which gives it a lightly bittersweet quality, but overall this is just a perky little bop about wanting your person to stay home so you can kiss them some more. Also it starts with the lyric "I got shit to do/I know you do too" which I find impossibly endearing. This song is #RelationshipGoals for that small shameful part of me that wants to live forever in the first date montage from a rom com. That part of me is deeply opposed to the revival of emo, but we don't let her talk much.
Probably chosen for me because: There's also that small shameful part of me that sincerely likes the song "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz.
Again, forgot to write down the song title like a dick. But I used to almost know Anamanaguchi! My friend knew the guy in it I think, and she was really into this local 8 Bit scene, and then one of her other friends wanted to do a Broadway 8 Bit mashup and she said "Hey Hannah, you've got a musical theater degree you're not using, right?" and so that's how I got roped into singing a bunch of songs from Wicked at an 8 Bit show at I wanna say General Assembly (but probably back when it was still Galapagos) which was crazy fun and also very strange and it was when my leg was broken so I had this weird Robot Foot Boot Thing and I was dyeing my hair black at the time and for some reason opted to wear this truly awful sweater I used to have so there ARE pictures of this event somewhere but sweet Jesus I look bad in them and I'm roughly 95% sure that Anamanaguchi headlined that show. Anyway whichever Anamanaguchi tune made it onto my playlist last week was enjoyable, because I looked down at my phone to see who was playing and said "Hey! Anamanaguchi! I used to almost know them!"
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify went on my Facebook, found those awful pictures, and is musically sub-tweeting me.
Overall Rating: There were a couple of good songs outside of the ones I listed, but not many. I give this playlist 2 Panics out of 10 Discos.
This week I promise to take better notes. I have been considering actively fucking with the algorithm for the purposes of Journalism, and when you see what they gave me this week after a day-long rock musical binge you'll understand why.
Do Spotify’s army of robots know me better than I know myself? Can an affinity for late 90s musical theater flops and Carly Rae Jepsen really define who we are? What if you only listen to Death Cab For Cutie when you’re shitcanned? Each week, I’ll attempt to decide who I am, what I like, and why on earth I like it with the help of Spotify’s Discover Weekly.
I’ve wanted to start this series for a while now - the problem was Spotify’s suggestions for me are very hit or miss. This is probably because Spotify has somehow both diversified and limited the music I listen to. I save anything that sounds interesting and then once every few months go on a new music binge where I listen to all of it at one time. On the day-to-day, however, I listen to a lot of comforting garbage ("you can do that on Spotify, because you don’t have to pay for it" she said, feeling intense musician guilt). I also have a tendency to listen to the same song over and over again. Yes, I know, you do that too, but I don’t think you do it as much as I do. I’m actually frightened to start linking to my personal account here because I don’t want anyone to know just how many times I listen to “Alive With The Glory Of Love” by Say Anything in any given month. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good song, but it’s not 1547 times a month good.
I also really, really love the song “Expensive” by Tori Kelly - it makes me happy every time I hear it. You know what else I listen to a lot? The original London cast recording of American Psycho. You know what else? “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers. You know what else? Lorde’s new song. And Radiohead’s old songs. And Fall Out Boy. And Lizzo. And sometimes I get drunk and listen to my own music on Spotify like an asshole because it’s easier than pulling up the mp3s on my laptop. No wonder the robots are confused.
Fortunately, for my inaugural week of this blog I got a pretty good mix. So let’s start with…
“FUU” - Dream Wife
This is my new anthem for ass kicking. Not that I kick a lot of ass, but this song makes me feel like I COULD PROBABLY IF I FELT LIKE IT. These women are UK based at the moment, but fingers crossed they make it to New York sometime soon. Also there's no lyrics for this song online and I'm dying to know what the last verse means, so if you speak Icelandic hit me up.
Probably chosen for me because: I listen to “Rebel Girl” whenever I’m trying to overcome social anxiety.
“Fountain of Youth” - Local Natives
I, like many the incorrigible narcissist in their early to mid 30s, sometimes see my life as if it were a tv show or movie. I am the protagonist (it’s my Head TV, I get to be in charge), and my friends and frenemies all have arcs that contribute to the major theme of...I don’t know, the harsh realities of adulthood or some shit. Anyway, this song sounds like it should be playing over the last few minutes of the final episode, as our heroes realize that under the Trump regime the world is no longer safe, for most people it never was, and that their previous feelings of hope and comfort were merely the illusions of arrogant youth. Still better than the final season of How I Met Your Mother.
Probably chosen for me because: I have a playlist saved on my phone that is almost entirely male-fronted indie rock bands from the mid-to-late oughts. I made it for my friends but I think I’m the only person who listens to it.
“Black Stars” - Xenia Rubinos
This song is absolutely gorgeous. I had never heard of Xenia Rubinos before and I'm so glad to have been introduced to her music. I was immediately struck by how unique and sparse the production is on this track, and even more so after reading what the artist herself had to say about the lyrics. This one was my favorite of the week, so good job, robots.
Probably chosen for me because: I’ve been actively trying to listen to fewer male-fronted indie rock bands from the mid-to-late oughts.
"Born Again" - Saint Motel
I am an absolute sucker for songs like this that pair snarky lyrics about the World At Large with jaunty, optimistic arrangements. This song had me at the first line: “There’s no need to be nervous, I’m not dangerous anymore." It bops and sways along for the first three minutes only to build to a choir at the end, because it’s poking fun at religion so of course it does. I’ll be checking out more from these guys as well, hopefully the rest of their songs are as delightful as this one.
Probably chosen for me because: I spent several months listening to I Love You Honeybear before I started to think that maybe Father John Misty is not making a meta commentary on fragile masculinity, but is actually just male and fragile.
“Intermission” - Emma Pollock
I saw Emma Pollock open for *I THINK* Rilo Kiley around 2007. I was both absolutely stunned by her music and super jealous that she was as good as she is and opening for *I THINK* Rilo Kiley. (Internalized misogyny is a rough gig, kids.) I spent a whole summer listening to her album Watch The Fireworks - my memory is a little foggy on this, but I may have bought my copy from her directly at the merch table. Just hearing her voice again filled me with this sort of bittersweet nostalgia. It makes me want to be 25 again and have picnics in Central Park and go to Yoga To The People and stay out all night and pine after terrible boys. Her voice sounds like believing in your future.
Probably chosen for me because: Spotify has been stalking my musical tastes since before Spotify existed; Spotify is clearly Skynet.
Honorable Mentions: “Boundary Road” - All Our Exes Live In Texas (like the Dixie Chicks and The Roches all smushed together!), “Child” - Ninet Tayeb (not Running Music so much as Running Away From Your Troubled Past Music)
OVERALL GRADE: Most of these songs were pretty enjoyable and sounded like Things I Would Like. I give this playlist two out of three Dream Wives.
That’s all for now, friends. Tune in next week for further adventures into whatever portion of my brain is responsible for my occasionally great, occasionally awful taste in music.
Note: I thought I would be able to link to last week's playlist before it recycled into a new playlist and I...could not. So I'll have a full playlist of all the tunes linked next week but for now you'll just have to search for them yourselves, you lazy jerks.