song for sharon

you heard of sad girl summer now get ready for seasonally depressed girl autumn

hey hi hello, long time no see

thanks for hanging around while bed crumbs was mia (not that anyone was beating down my door for a new one but i get upset with myself when i’m not consistently productive because i have high! functioning! anxiety!). i just submitted a 50 page research-heavy book proposal, so, like, that’s my excuse. (that no one asked for!)

anyway my brain is fried but i’m back at it again with another brain dump about a favorite old song i haven’t been able to stop listening to, big walk fall, and all this ongoing *gestures wildly* shit. who knows, it might be bad but at least it’s something wooooo what a promising preface for this okay here we go!!!

okay thanks sorry love u bye,

carrie


song for sharon

I missed back-to-school season this year. For the first time in nearly a decade, I encountered no eager and anxious 18 year olds filling enormous plastic bins with mini fridges and electric fans, saw no evidence that Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Animal House posters remain laughably, improbably, ubiquitous even after all these years, had no overly helpful RA incorrectly peg me as a freshman in passing and ask if I need any help. Back to school season in the city always thrills me a little. It’s an the influx of fresh faced energy. It’s the great yawning stretch as the city wakes up and readies to roar itself back to life after a long, languid summer. It’s the first event in a season of events. 

There was none of that this year, just another destabilizing absence in a year full of destabilizing absences. There will be many more to come.

I am old enough now to recognize the ways in which nostalgia begins to creep closer as each day passes slightly colder than the last. Fall is a time for temporary regressions: to back to school shopping; to Halloween, the one time a year adults are allowed to behave like children for a day; to Thanksgiving, sleeping in our childhood bedrooms; to unwrapping gifts Christmas morning. In between, the air chills. The sun sets at dinner time. Memories, in their amber glow, are warmth to cling to.

Fall is a time of homieness and homesickness. It is a time to press shoulder to shoulder at the bar when al fresco season ends. It is a time to find yourself in a warm room full of strangers and a time to find yourself staring from the street at the yellow light spilling out of open curtained apartments, at the silhouettes of bodies illuminated in the windows, at the built-in bookshelves and framed artwork, wondering what their lives are like. This year only half of this can be true. 

Joni Mitchell makes music for fall. You can disagree with me, but you would be wrong. It is only when the leaves begin to turn that I can bear to listen to her spin tales — of yearning, of regret, of lost loves and new infatuations, of dreams, of fierce independence — through her singular open chords and multi-syllable jammed verses. If Joni makes music for fall, then it must be said that she also makes music for times of despair. “I wouldn’t have pursued music but for trouble,” she once said. Of course she could never have anticipated the kind of trouble we’re in now — could anyone? — but she’s made an antidote for it. 

Hejira is an album full of trouble, abandoned tours and addiction, suicide and affairs; troubles run from by taking to the open highways of America and the troubles stumbled upon along the way. It’s an album of restlessness and of loneliness, full of dialogues with people never met or long forgotten. Hejira takes its title from the transliteration of the Arabic word “journey.” Mitchell is said to have chosen it while looking for a word that meant “running away with honor.”

As big walk summer transitions into big walk fall, with no car available, I soundtracked my long walks — the only way I know how to run away from this all, at least for a little — with “Song For Sharon” on repeat. (From here on out, I will refer to the song without quotes in the interest of not driving myself crazy in the process of writing this.) A sprawling, wistful epic that comes halfway through the album, Song For Sharon is both open letter and a travelogue, finding Joni high on coke and nostalgia in New York City, meandering from Staten Island to Greenwich Village to Central Park while having a one-sided conversation with her childhood friend that traverses its own geography, from Saskatchewan’s small towns to its sprawling green farms. This fall, it feels like so many of us are Joni, unable tor leave on any kind of real hejira and instead wandering the cold city alone and reminiscing about better times with others we are now missing. And there are so many people to miss: people who are both here and not; people who are both far and nearby; people we talk to everyday and people with whom we’ve long been out of touch, the fuzzy etchings of their faces suddenly appearing in our minds out of nowhere. Fall has always felt like the beginnings of a very long lonely season, but this year, with its forced, unending isolation, it is even lonelier. This year we are all singing our own songs for our own Sharons. 

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well i do accept the changes, at least better than i used to do

Nostalgia is a dangerous state to find yourself tangled within at any time, but especially now. These days I find myself longing for the “normal” days, but the “normal” days I long for are not the normal days, not really, rather the idealized special rarities. Before all this, I wasn’t an extroverted social butterfly. I didn’t really go out or date or travel all that much, not nearly to the extent my mind seems to think I did now that the occurrence of all these things is pretty much set to zero. Things weren’t really drastically better six months ago, but my mind is tricking me to believe it was.

Sometime this summer my therapist said I was one of her better-adjusted patients when it came to quarantine. I don’t know if she meant it as a compliment or praise; the unspoken backhandedness of it hung in the air. But it made me laugh for a moment, recalling how riddled with panic attacks I was at the beginning of this, how I feared that going outside at all was dangerous, as if the virus had just saturated the air completely. At a certain point, the benefits of not having to go through the exhausting daily slog — waking up at 5 a.m. and being on the go, not just doing my job but interacting with people in a place where appearance is everything while doing it, until I’d get home at 8 — seemed to outweigh the cons. I still have dips into the hellscape where all I can do is stare at the wall and cry, but maybe, for the most part, I had a better time adjusting to social distancing because I was never extremely social to begin with. Or maybe the grand, unending nature of this wore me down, too overwhelming in size and scope to face now. I’ll compartmentalize, save it all for later. 

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in this vigorous anonymity, a blank face at the window stares and stares and stares and stares and stares

Brain fog is real, but in between the misplaced glasses and questions of when and what I last ate and what day I need to pick up my laundry is the resurrection of old memories I forgot I even had. With more time on my hands and fewer moments to live in, I’ve started taking stock of my life. (Maybe this is also just what the final year of your twenties is like?) There are moments where I find myself thinking for a moment about the conventional things — a suburban home, a regular office job, a husband, children on purpose, home cooked meals every night, tailgates on weekends — I had long ago rejected in favor of a life more bohemian than those I had grown up with. I wanted to be in the city, surrounded by culture, living in a small rented apartment, writing and burning the candle at both ends, single by choice, doing whatever I want whenever I wanted to. The joke, of course, is that I am more of a creative slave to capitalism and I play it too safe to be a true bohemian (as Jo March once said, “Money is the means and the ends of my mercenary existence”), but still. Domesticity has never particularly interested me. I am happier this way, I know, and yet, lately it seems like I’m inundated by images of all these traditional things I don’t have and suddenly wondering what I’m doing “wrong” by not wanting them.

Like many people, the longer this stretches on, the higher my already embarrassingly excessive screentime climbs. The lives of people I grew up with, all those pursuing the road laid out plainly and predictably in front of them, are right there on social media for my prying eyes to devour with equal parts fascination and horror. Thinking about my hometown and my youth is about going back; for many of them, it’s all still right there, still present. What is there to be nostalgic for if you’ve never left something behind?

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I hate to be one of those “this song couldn’t be written now” people, but I really don’t know if it could, not really. It’d be different, let’s just say that. Song For Sharon is a collection of specific images communicated in real time to a person far away. There are those current — the long white dress in the window of a Staten Island storefront; the skyline of Manhattan from the ferry; the gypsy on Bleecker Street; the 29 skaters on Wollman Rink circling in singles and in pairs — and those from long ago — the North Dakota junction; the Maidstone weddings; the railroad tracks and playground swings; the little girl cowgirl jeans.

What is Instagram if not the same kind of visual open letter to people we have long been out of touch with? In photos and videos, throwback scans and shared posts and screenshots, we document the daily mundanities and the adventures and the warm, fuzzy memories alike. Instagram is where we thirst trap, but also where we experience trap, where we glamour trap, where we nostalgia trap — presenting a version of our lives sometimes meant for only a few people but seen by many, meant to communicate who we are and who we once were, meant to inspire jealousy and admiration and empathy and camaraderie all at once. On one recent walk while listening to the song, I thought of how Song For Sharon might be told now, in a series of Stories, opening with a shot of the churning Hudson waters from the bow of the ferry, “omw to buy a mandolin brb” overlaid in large sans serif font. It was then I realized how truly broken my brain has become. 

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It goes without saying, but I’ll do it anyway: every line of this song is perfect, a rich triumph of language. There’s a version of Song For Sharon I’ve found myself watching lately in my one-song obsession, one taken from a 1998 concert Painting With Words + Music. (Filmed in front of an intimate audience, staged as if they’re in a lounge complete with candlelit tables and cushy couches, it seems a lot like a direct rip of VH1’s Storytellers.) About two minutes in, Joni forgets the words. With all those songs over all those years (some 268 — that were recorded — per rough estimate), how could she not slip from time to time? She calls out to her audience to tell her the next verse and someone shouts out a hint: “I can keep my cool at poker!” She riffs on for a couple of bars, racking her brain, the look on her face asking “how does that one go again,” like her mind is a salad bowl stuffed to the point of overflowing with words. Then she continues with a wink and a smile, grabbing it out of thin air, almost entertained with her own quick recovery. I don’t know how to describe it as anything other charming and utterly endearing.

Watching it again, I find myself entranced by the way it plays with my perception of time, the space between Joni’s ‘70s heyday (I don’t want to say peak because she still made excellent records in the ‘90s, but her perceived height of popularity and subsequent legacy seem to stay frozen in the ‘70s) and the late ‘90s film seems to both collapse and expand. It seems to me implausible that she could have been 55 at the time of its filming, so much younger than I thought, too young to have lived so many lives. And yet her voice, by then worn and raspy from a lifelong smoking habit, serves as her tell. It’s a voice marked by the knowledge that comes from living through the years that would follow that song, good and bad. It all passes, of course it does, hejira or not. Twenty-two years from now (if we’re lucky and the world isn’t an apocalyptic hellscape and modern western democracy hasn’t entirely collapsed), we’ll probably need to be reminded of the way this went, too.


LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

WATCH
Sofia Coppola’s On The Rocks is out in theaters now if that’s something open near you slash you actually feel cool with……but it is otherwise coming to AppleTV+ next weekend. I am an impatient fool and spent maybe too much money to jump the gun and rent a New York Film Festival screener but, look, it was worth it. I just……I want you all to know that I would lie down in traffic for Bill Murray.

READ
Going Sohla - E. Alex Jung, New York.
I’m just going to leave this profile of the former Bon Appétit chef who left this summer and is now thriving here and not say anything else because I don’t want to get fired and/or sued.

LISTEN
Haunted Painting - Sad13
Deeply obsessed with pretty much anything Sadie Dupuis creates, whether it’s through her published poetry or Speedy Ortiz, and her latest album from her Sad13 solo project falls right in line. Full of vivid lyrics about mental health, misogyny, grief, and encroaching adulthood juxtaposed against layers of upbeat pop music, it’s (a) very good and (b) extremely my shit!

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