Today is a day. Today is a day like any other. In Pittsburgh, the sky is overcast with intermittent rain shows. The temperature hovers around 40 degrees. This is what happens in January. Sometimes it snows and wrongly convinces us all that January is not always gloomy in Western Pennsylvania.
A Writer’s Manifesto
Right now, just a few hours south, the inauguration of our 45th President of the United States ushers in an era that more closely approximates something out of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley or, well, Mike Judge — who perhaps most correctly predicted this day in the prescient documentary Idiocracy. Somewhere Three Doors Down is playing in celebration of something. That alone warrants concern.
But I’m not here to engage in any kind of political or ideological discussion. Not right now. This is more about how we react as artists. We’ve probably Tweeted and Re-Tweeted, shared Facebook posts, and even made some of our own. Is that the best use of our talents? Is that the best use of our creative energy?
In the time since the election, I’ve been wading through a swamp of disbelief. Guess what? There’s no drain in a swamp. A swamp just is. I’d love nothing more than to pull the plug on this shitshow. It’s not that easy. We can’t bury our head in the rising tide of muck and filth. And we can’t just hope it all dries up.
As artists, we cannot be sent into a tailspin of malaise. Use this anger and anxiety. Use this hatred and passion. CREATE. WRITE. PAINT. Do whatever it is that poets do. (I kid.) Use this to inspire yourself to pick up your pen and do what you love. What you set out to do. Exact change through your artistic contributions. Now for a writer’s manifesto, a personal statement about how I plan to endure.
So today, on January 20th, 2017 and for the foreseeable future, I vow to do the following:
Respect the Presidency but refuse to respect the man elected president. And for the record, I did not like George W. but I still respected him as a man that always intended to do right by his country.
I will not say his name. I will call him Captain Cuntmonkey or Senior Pendejo. Coming up with the most creatively derogatory names as a regular mental exercise.
I will not legitimize. Never legitimize. The man is a cartoon gerbil and should be treated as such. This is not normal.
When all this gets you down, write more.
Put something of yourself out in this world rather than retreat inward. Be bold. Allow yourself freedom from your inner critic. Trust your instincts. Surround yourself with good people and trust their instincts. Collaborate.
Join me in ushering in an era of personal accomplishment and creative entitlement. Our collective, creative renaissance begins today. This is our Resistance.
The 2nd Annual 30/007Hz First Watch Hertzie Nominations
According to my Letterboxd.com stats sheet, I watched 245 movies last year, give or a take a bunch of live tweets I forgot to log. 74.7% of those viewings were new to me. My first new watch of 2016 was Melvin and Howard, my final — Gods of Egypt.
Last year, inspired by my growing malaise during Hollywood award season, I started my own annual tradition. I created nominations and awards dedicated to any movie I watched during the past year. Any year, any genre. The First Annual Hertzie Awards became an Interweb sensation! All of approximately four people eagerly awaited the results, which I broadcast on Twitter during the actual Academy Awards. That big Hertzie victory for Slither (1973) really surprised the pundits and turned the tables on a number of sure-thing Hertzie pools.
I apparently had enough fun with my Oscars counterprogramming that I’m back for more in 2017. That said, I’m still rather tired of the hoopla and noise over films made largely to win awards. Also self-perceived and false-fronted bl-gging fame. I’m driven by all those things. And just like last year, let’s kick off the festivities with our very own Hertzie girl, Myrna Loy, looking divine, ready to read the 2nd Annual 30/007Hz Hertzie Award nominees.
I’m not going to come out and pick the records of 2016 that I most admired. When listening to music what good is “admiration”? I admire lots of records that don’t inspire me to toss them on the record player. What good is an intellectual exercise in choosing music that appeals strictly to your objective, rational thought? No. I’ve never been here to tell you which records you *should* listen to. I’m going to tell you the records that lived on my turntable and in my CD player — the ones I played ad infinitum, the ones I played without conscious requiring a conscious decision-making process.
And as usual, I wouldn’t want to disappoint with a litany of selections cribbed from Pitchfork or NPR or god forbid Rolling Stone or SPIN. I will change the channel faster than you can say Car Seat Headrest. I didn’t toss on Solange or Beyonce when I needed a groove. I found both of those records to be pretty much just sorta overrated. And I was unable to really connect with David Bowie’s final album beyond a couple of gutpunch songs. Leonard Cohen’s climbing my favorites but I just haven’t spent enough time with it. I know. I know. Heresy. But it doesn’t just get a bye because it’s Leonard Cohen’s last record either.
Whenever we lose another celebrity the Interwebs assemble into two primary factions. 1. Those that mourn. 2. Those that begrudge the need to mourn. The latter faction shames the former for feeling sorrow in the wake of the celebrity death. “Celebrity” assumes that we had no real life connections to the deceased — that they were merely a face on the screen or a voice on the radio, merely a fictional personality.
I never knew Carrie Fisher. I never spoke to her at a press junket or a fan convention. Zero direct or indirect contact. But as long as there’s been a “me,” there’s been Princess Leia. Let’s start at the beginning. I was born in 1978, the year after the release of Star Wars. I saw the film at such an age that I do not recall any moment in my life that predates knowledge of the film.
I lay no special claim to the following statements, and I know for a fact that I am not alone.
Carrie Fisher was my first crush. Of course, I crushed on Princess Leia and the hair buns and the “into the garbage shoot, flyboy” confidence, the girl that led a rebellion and, lets be honest, the girl that wore the gold bikini. I was of a certain impressionable age. There was just no getting around it. I was and remain only human. Like many others, Leia was my earliest exposure to cinematic badass femininity.
Of course, as I grew older I distanced the Princess Leia character from the actress Carrie Fisher.
Princess Leia belonged to that unassailable, ideal part of my childhood. The part that worshipped all things Star Wars, watched the original trilogy movies on a loop, went as an Ewok one Halloween, made my mom design different Star Wars-themed birthday cakes each year, paused my VHS tape and counted the number of stormtroopers present when Darth Vader arrives on the Death Star and requested that many stormtrooper action figures for Christmas. I had Star Wars bed sheets and posters of all three movies over my bed. I received phone calls on my Darth Vader telephone. These memories cannot be taken from me. They remain pure, perfect nostalgia.
I came to see Carrie Fisher meanwhile as a beautiful, damaged, three-dimensional human. As I struggled with feelings of depression during my early 30’s, I looked to her — someone who’d lived with mental illness — as a figure of hope. Someone who knew what bottom felt like and spoke openly about her experiences, using her celebrity to bring awareness to an issue that remained, apparently, off-limits for dinner conversation. And she did so with wit and wisdom and brazen self-awareness. She’d experienced darkness and as a sort of self-satirist could make light of her troubles without undermining the struggles of anyone else. The world seemed healthier, more honest and more colorful with Carrie Fisher dishing stories about her addictions and the absurdities of her life in Hollywood as Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia and daughter of Hollywood royalty, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.
This week we all had to say goodbye to that voice, that wit, that beacon of hope. I have mourned her passing on social media and in the privacy of my home. For the first time in all of our years together, my wife suggested we watch Star Wars to celebrate Carrie, but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready to admit that she was really gone. Instead I cleaned the house and blared John Coltrane on vinyl. I wasn’t ready to recognize that the 19-year-old woman who’d catalyzed these films that I’d loved throughout my entire lifetime with the line “Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” was really gone.
No, I never met Carrie Fisher, but I have shed a few tears over her passing. I will mourn her as an actress. I will mourn her as a voice of reason amidst the madness of our self-obsessed modern culture. And I will mourn the passing of part of my ideal, unassailable youth — my now somewhat imperfect nostalgia. It sounds selfish — but that is our frame of reference for “Celebrity” — the ways in which they’ve touched our lives through their art. I will mourn because I feel sadness, and that’s the first step toward being better, no matter the scope or scale of that loss.
And now having just finished the first draft of this bl-g post, I’ve learned that Debbie Reynolds has also passed. And just like that– another radiant beacon of positivity has been extinguished. As fans of cinema we loved them both like family. I cannot imagine the feeling of loss within their real family.
Since Parquet Courts probably released six or seven records this year, it was only a matter of time before this Brooklyn “Americana punk” band found its way back onto the 30Hz countdown.
“Do You Need My Love” – Weyes Blood
The second Weyes Blood track on the Best of 2016 channels Dusty Springfield and Aimee Man and just makes me swoon. Natalie Mering shifts nimbly between vocal genres, even within the same song.
“Warning Call” – CHVRCHES
AHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH. And you thought because CHVRCHES didn’t release a record in 2016 I couldn’t put them on the countdown. IT AIN’T A 30Hz PARTY WITHOUT CHVRCHES. HEYYYY HOOOOO. Even their afterthought video game soundtrack songs own my universe.
“Time Moves Slowly” (feat. Samuel T. Herring) – BADBADNOTGOOD
Experimental jazz trio channels Isaac Hayes-era soul and groove. Instant chill that makes you feel at least three times cooler than you really are.
“Dust” – HAELOS
UK trio aims to update trip-hop for the 21st century. Whimsical Portishead, perhaps. Maybe the “ae” in their name aims to suggest general joviality.
“Blood On Me” – Sampha
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but these blurbs are growing increasingly lesser. 70 blurbs is approximately my breaking point for new thoughts. Most “Best of” lists would have a number of different writers tossing out blurbs. Divide and conquer. The staff at 30Hz numbers 2. I count my cat as an employee because he likes to sit on the keyboard when I write bl-g words. So now that I’ve padded the word count on this blurb to make it look more legitimate and change the brief / brief / brief cadence, I’ll tell you all I know about Sampha. He made guest appearances on every record in 2016 (no fibs), released this song and plans to release a debut full-length in 2017.
“Frankie Sinatra” – Avalanches
Was there a more anticipated release in 2016 that was met with more deafening indifference? Listen, I know we all wanted a world-changing record from Avalanches. After all, they made us wait 16 years for their follow up to the actual world-changing Since I Left You. Avalanches just needed us to listen to Wildflower with reasonable expectations. I first greeted this track with a little bit of side-eye. 16 years and this is all you’ve got? But the more that record played and the more Danny Brown’s unpredictable lyrical flow infiltrated my brain, the more essential “Frankie Sinatra” became. The only bad thing about Wildflower is that it isn’t Since I Left You — which remains *the* landmark record of sampling innovation.
“Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street
What’s special about this song? Well, let me return to a concept that I consider essential to pop-culture appreciation — the notion of synesthesia nostalgia. I first wrote about the connection between music and film as one of the first bl-g posts I published on this site. Back when I wrote and thought about things more deeply to purge demons and whatnot. “Drive It Like You Stole It” stands as a testament to that connection. John Carney’s film provided one of the few truly authentic feel good moments of my 2016 — and this soundtrack, in its pitch-perfect echoes of the 1980’s popular music that I adore — just makes me smile. Music should do that from time to time. Gleefully reveling in a kind of nostalgia as a way to escape the demons chasing you.
“Scattered Ashes (Song for Richard)” (feat. James Graham) – Minor Victories
I didn’t even add this song to the preliminary 2016 Hits list until late in the year. After one particular spin of the Minor Victories record I finally focused in on the vocals. “Is that James Graham?” I asked my 4yo. She said, “Yes!” without even hesitating. She likes to be agreeable when it has no bearing on her ability to have or not have dessert or go to the playground. James Graham, of course, is the lead singer for the Twilight Sad. Once I focused in on the “Scattered Ashes” vocal track, I was smitten. “Tell me what it’s all about / Shed tears for God’s rejected / Cut the cord, rewind the ending / Take my life back to the start” fronting an impenetrable wall of sound.
“River” – Bishop Briggs
Ballsy Scottish diva drops killer beats and befriends a gospel choir.
“Common Sense” – School ’94
Pop-friendly Swedish shoegaze. Nifty bassline and easy-breezy vocals from Alice Botéus. Perhaps a founding member of the Norwegian happy-time indie-rock movement along with the above-featured Sun Days and 2015 favorite Makthaverskan.
“Wardenclyffe” – S U R V I V E
Austin, Texas based analog electronic quartet has answered our pleas for a modern Goblin. (Maybe we didn’t necessary beg for a new Goblin, but a little revisionist history won’t hurt in this particular instance.) After contributing songs to The Guest (which in my mind were the best things about the movie), two members — Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein — produced the soundtrack to Stranger Things.
“Don’t Worry About Me” – Frances
Place yourself in a quiet room. Turn on “Don’t Worry About Me” and just sit.
“We the People…” – A Tribe Called Quest
Socially conscious, imminently relevant and a killer beat. This Tribe record will lead us through the fog of 2016 and beyond.
“Modern Act” – Cloud Nothings
More lo-fi guitar-driven pop rock from Cloud Nothings. I should dislike this track. The band exchanged a slight case of head-banging for a Top 40 hook… but goddamn its just so f’ing catchy and still boasts some exquisite scuzzy guitar work.
“Sister” – Angel Olsen
FINALLY! The Top 10. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief. Only a few more of these to go and then we can go our separate ways. Angel Olsen’s vocals on “Sister” transcend the rest of MY WOMAN… and I really really really like everything she’s ever done. This is a tempered, calculating Angel — using breath and silence to amplify the highs and provide extra depth where her fragile voice trails away, desperate, lonely, before building back up, hopeful, motivated. Cue guitar. Cue raucous jam. Check out her XMU Session live recording for this track if you can track it down.
“Life Itself” – Glass Animals
I’m in for a conga line. I tried to onomatopoeia the drum beat in this track; I just can’t. You try. Post your best Glass Animals onomatopoeia in the comments. Best one gets a free album download. Go. This is the reader participation segment.
“Hurts” – Emili Sandé
I’ve been trying to come up with a worthy title for Emili Sandé. Something like the Grande Dame of Gospel Hip-hopera. What do you think, sirs?
“Radio Kids” – Strand of Oaks
I’ve been to Goshen, Indiana so I feel comfortable suggesting that Tim Showalter is easily second best thing to ever come out of Goshen, Indiana. Howard Hawks also hails from the Elkhart County seat so I’m pretty sure he’s got the market cornered on most amazing Goshen export. This visceral, angsty rock track feels more War on Drugs than Strand of Oaks — but both bands are 30Hz countdown staples so no love lost here.
“Weak” – Wet
Listening to my 7yo perform Kelly Zutrau’s layered and repetitive echo-chamber vocals provides endless entertainment. A song of beautiful minimalism and subtle underlying synth.
“Burn the Witch” – Radiohead
I sometimes try to justify putting “Fake Plastic Trees” in my countdowns, at least this year I actually get to place a newly produced Radiohead song.
“Best to You” (feat. Empress Of) – Blood Orange
Rumor has it that Blood Orange (aka Devonté Hynes) thought this was a tossaway beat and didn’t know what the hell to do with it. He gave it to Empress Of (aka Lorely Rodriguez) and she came back with this vocal track. Reaction #1: Consider the fleeting and magical process by which artists create music — great music. How this track seems so natural, yet almost never came to pass. Reaction #2: Everyone needs better nicknames because Blood Orange and Empress Of are killing it.
“On Hold” – The xx
To me, Jamie xx is like the Wizard of Oz. I would love to sit in on a session to see how he works and creates. On the other hand, I don’t want to peek behind the curtain. He operates on an entirely different level than the rest of us mortals.
“Come Down” – Anderson .Paak
Speaking of beats. James Brown’s going to return from the dead to take this groovy-ass shit back.
“Hurt” – Låpsley
Not my typical choice for a #1. There’s no bombast. No melodramatic movements in four parts. Where’s the orchestra? Where’s the marching band? The toy instruments? “Hurt” is just the voice of British electronic singer/songwriter Holly Låpsley Fletcher and few ethereal electronic manipulation. But within apparent simplicity came bravado and depth and one of those choruses that makes you close your eyes and fancy yourself a tremendous chanteuse. “So if you’re gonna hurt me / why don’t you hurt me a little bit more / just dig a little deeper / just push a little harder than before.” In many ways these lines perfectly soundtrack our dumpster-fire year. Try harder, 2016, because you’re not going to break us.