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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an interview with emma swift

about bob dylan, creating in quarantine, and the problem with big streaming

hey hi hello, and welcome to a special edition of bed crumbs!!

today’s newsletter is not an essay (sorry) but an interview (you’re welcome) with one of my favorite independent artists, emma swift. i followed emma — the only songwriting swift i choose to recognize, thank you! — on twitter sometime around [checks notes] 2015 and have been a huge fan of her music ever since.

one of my favorite types of music is that of the “put a record on, turn off the lights, lie on the floor (cocktail or glass of wine optional), and make yourself sad on purpose” variety, and emma’s spin on the style of old school country greats absolutely fits into that category. her lyrics are emotional and incisive, and every note comes out saturated with heartbreak, disillusionment, and longing. in short: it’s extremely my shit.

emma’s latest release is the stunning blonde on the tracks, a collection of dylan covers filtered through her own unique lens. i’m a huge fan, and hopped on the phone with her last week to talk all about it, which you can read below.

okay thanks sorry love u bye,
carrie


Emma Swift wasn’t really setting out to release a quarantine record when she made Blonde on the Tracks. Actually, she wasn’t really in any hurry to release it at all. Recorded mostly in 2017, the Bob Dylan cover album was primarily meant to be an exercise to work through depression and writer’s block; when Swift’s own songs came back to her, she put it away. 

Two things changed that: The pandemic hit, and Swift needed something to keep her going. “I'm so used to a life where I'm on tour,” she explained from her Nashville home, “that if I didn't put the record out, by now, it would have been the longest period of unemployment that I've ever had in my adult life. So, it's totally been a sanity saver for me.” What’s more, Dylan began releasing new music, most notably “I Contain Multitudes,” inspiring a sense of urgency in Swift to record the first cover of the track — and release the shelved album. 

It’s been said of Emmylou Harris’s voice that “under every note seems to be a well of homesickness so deep you can’t see to the bottom of it,” a description that often bubbles up in the back of my mind whenever I listen to Swift. The Nashville by-way-of-Sydney native strikes that same nerve; she deals in rich, graceful longing and heartache of the slowed down, hushed and haunting variety, the kind of melancholy that seeps into your bloodstream with as little resistance and as much warmth as a shot of whiskey. It’s this wistfulness she brings to Bob Dylan’s catalogue, making each of the eight tracks — which cover his catalog from 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited to his latest release, this year’s Rough and Rowdy Ways — her own with lived-in reflection, as if they were experiences once had in another life on another plane. Under her tender stewardship, Dylan’s bite is softened on tracks like “Queen Jane Approximately,” with its jangly, Byrds-like arrangement and mellowed delivery; “I Contain Multitudes” takes on an old souled, meditative glow; and “You’re A Big Girl Now,” sung with a distinctly personal, female perspective, expands to elegiac depths.  

I caught up with Swift over the phone last week to talk about her gem of an album, out this week exclusively on Bandcamp, creating in the midst of a global pandemic, and the current state of streaming.

You’ve been working on this for a few years before deciding to release it now. How did that come about?

Yeah, I had kind of put it away and thought, “Oh, that was a nice exercise in singing some someone else's songs.” I did it and then I left it and started working on my own material, because it was recorded when I was pretty depressed, and once my depression lifted, I was able to write my own songs. Even though I write sad songs, I can't really write them in the moment of feeling grim; I have to have some kind of step back. So I started writing my own songs again and really threw myself into that project and I've been making this other record. But when the pandemic hit, I couldn't go into the studio anymore and I couldn't be near the band.

I had Blonde On The Tracks just sitting in my Dropbox and then Dylan started releasing new songs, and I think that kind of got me excited about Dylan again. He recorded “I Contain Multitudes,” which I put out then, as well; I just love that song. Music in this particular year, it’s one of the few things that feels right and comforting. I definitely felt inspired when Dylan put out [new] music — it was one of the few things that I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is great! 2020 is not a total waste of time!”

You turned around your cover so quickly. You were the first person to officially cover it, right?

Yeah. I think I was the first person to do it, which is so weird because I'm such a huge procrastinator. I'm generally pretty slow-moving, when you think about the rest of this record kind of being around for three years before I put it out. It's kind of wild, but it was that magic moment of seeing an opportunity and loving the song and going: “If I don't put this out, someone else is going to cover it before me.” It was like having a strange deadline. I've never recorded at home before this; I'm not a very technically proficient person. But I had bought a Zoom H6 recorder, and I've got a really basic microphone, so suddenly my lounge room became a studio and away we went.

Aside from recording yourself, how did the rest of that song build?

Robyn [Hitchcock, Swift’s partner] and I played it in the lounge room, and we just landed on a take that we were happy with, which took a fair bit of work. That took about three or four days of more or less playing it non stop, because to me, at least, if you're singing someone else’s song, I don’t really want to be looking at the lyric sheet. You’ve got to be inside the song. You have to spend some time with it. So we played it non stop and recorded it and were happy with the version and I emailed it to my producer, Patrick Sansone. He only lives two miles away, but we haven't been hanging out, obviously, in this pandemic, but he’s got his basement studio with a pretty nice set-up. He has a mellotron and some bass guitars and keyboards, and he was able to build the rest of the track around the acoustic, folkie recording that I sent him.

It's incredible how music is being made remotely now without sounding like it was made remotely, at least to listeners like me who aren’t technically proficient enough to tell.

Yeah, I think it's really exciting because it's also a pretty cheap way to record. A friend of mine told me at the beginning of the pandemic, “Fionna Apple did that whole record on GarageBand.” And that kind of blew my mind because I listen to so many old school records like Rumours or Wildflowers and I'll think about the iconic recording studios those albums have been made in. There's a place for that, too, but we're in this moment of experimentation because we're all in our homes, and that can be fun.

On the note of forced experimentation, this also seems to be a hard or weird time to be making things at all as we collectively go through a traumatic experience. How are you handling creating in the midst of a pandemic?

I think that we are collectively grieving a world that is never going to be the same as it was before. The trauma that people are experiencing is real and valid and pervasive, and it's one of those strange moments in time where everyone is having in variation on this sadness. Everyone will go through tough moments in their life as a human being, but usually that's more on an individual case by case basis, like, your husband died or your mother has cancer or you were assaulted. Everybody has horrific individual moments, but right now we're having this collective what the fuck, and every response to that is different. To me, because I’ve experienced anxiety and depression in my life and I have found ways to cope with it, like therapy and meditation, in some ways, this experience might not be as bad for me as it is for some other people. I’ve got a few systems in place for when things turn to shit. Like, last year, I found this incredible therapist who is in L.A.; I don't live in LA, but I talk to her on the phone every two weeks. So we've had a correspondence relationship for the entire time that I've been working with her; it’s not like anything about my therapy sessions changed when this happened. I'm really grateful that I have had her, rather than the pandemic hitting and going, “Oh shit, I think I need help again.” 

I have been having a very creative time, but I also am aware that might not last, so I'm just kind of making art while I can. I do wonder: “Am I writing songs right now and putting out records because I'm afraid of death?” I definitely think that there is something in me that my more apocalyptic sub-personality is kind of thinking: “If not now, when? If I don't do this now, I might never make it.” That has given me some kind of creative momentum.

Right, there’s this sense of urgency to do something with this free time because, like you said, there's a fear that whatever spark you get might not last or strike again. I'm curious, too, going back to when you started this project and and using it as a tool of creative momentum to work through depression, what gave you the idea of recording Bob Dylan's songs in particular to cope with having a hard time writing yourself? 

I basically wanted to book some studio time to go into a recording studio and sing with a band and see what would happen, but I knew that my songs that I had been writing were pretty workman-like. They really weren't very good. I can be a little bit OCD, so it was definitely easier to just do the songs of one artist rather than, say, one Dylan song and a Bryan Ferry song and then a Talking Heads song. It made more sense to me to just do Bob Dylan songs. Also, I'm not just slip streaming his songs. He’d recorded Triplicate and he released the final of his great American Songbook records. So, he just made three albums, all on the one theme, so I was, “Yeah, Bob Dylan! That idea is cool!” Then I think one of the things that stopped me from putting it out, was, you know, I'm not the only person to release it a whole record of Bob Dylan songs. I put myself down a bit. I was like, “Oh, yeah, nice idea. I bet a zillion other people have done that. Good job. You learned a bit. Time to move on.” I can be very critical of my own ideas and my own things, especially when I'm not very happy in life. I had to work through some stuff in order to have the confidence to put it out. 

This is such an eclectic group of of his tracks. What led to the selection of those specific songs?

I really wanted to make selections of songs that resonated with me and my life so that I could see him with heart and your purpose. But I also really wanted to explore some of Dylan's songs that aren't covered so much. There's a bunch of different versions of “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Simple Twist of Fate.” “Sad Eyed Lady of the Low Lands,” to me, is the Dylan song that I go back to again and again. I'm just obsessed with it. But not that many people have recorded that because it's not very radio friendly, so I totally wanted to do that. And then there's songs like “The Man in Me,” which I definitely chose because I wanted to fuck with gender norms. I was very interested in not changing any of the pronouns on the record and singing things as that were. I'm really interested in exploring ideas of the masculine and the feminine within and trying to have an even balance of both of those energies for myself. Songs like “Going, Going Gone” and “You're a Big Girl Now,” though I didn't think about it at the time, I think were, within the context of me being clinically depressed, were a reflection of that period of my life. Like, “You’re a Big Girl Now,” when sung by a woman, it feels like — I've had times where I’ve woken up and I've had particular experiences, and then I've gone, “Oh, gosh, I am a grown up now. I am an adult.” I'm 38, and I don't think I really felt like an adult until I was maybe 35. I spent most of my twenties and early thirties feeling like a kid. 

With these covers, you remain really true to the original versions, but you make each your own. How do you find your way into a song you're covering and finding your own interpretation of it?

Well, mostly, I was just singing along with the record and see how it feels when I tried the song on. Sometimes the song doesn't fit. There are Dylan songs that I absolutely adore that I just didn't sing well, for whatever reason. I definitely chose his more personal sounding songs on this record. I didn't go for his narrative storytelling or protest songs. They’re definitely on the more emotional level, which is how I am as a songwriter and and how I am as a singer. I've got this really sad timbre to my voice, so it doesn't make sense for me to do “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” even though I like it and I love Traveling Wilburys. So it's kind of having an awareness of how my voice sounds and and sometimes it's just what would sound good to sing? I think you can hear when people don't feel the song they're covering. To me, one of the best covers of all time is Sinead O'Connor doing “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Her version of it is very, very like the Prince version. They're not that different. It's just that she brings this heartbreak to her performance, and that's what makes it special.

You've been so outspoken about the streaming industry and you're putting this record out on your own and withholding it from the big streaming platforms. What has that experience been like, eschewing the norm — even though we all know the norm is exploitive and problematic?

It’s being really challenging. It's been a huge learning experience. It was absolutely born out of necessity, rather than any advice that I was given. I think if the pandemic didn't exist, what I'm doing, in terms of walking away from streaming services, would be career suicide. They’re so insidious within the music industry. It's how you get tours — people go, “Oh, you got this many streams; you can open for Phoebe Bridgers or Nick Cave.” But with no touring around, the whole industry is ripe for changing and ripe for upheaval. It's funny because old white guys in the music business will tell me, “You really should stream for the exposure!” as though streaming has existed for the last 60 years of recorded music, and as though the music industry doesn't revolutionize itself all the time. So, on one level, it's been really hard, and then on another level, it's been really rewarding. I'm starting to see loads of musicians speak out about exploitation through these services because everybody is suddenly not on tour.

And, further, creating an industry that relies on people to go on tour all the time because streaming doesn't pay well enough — it's a really sinister way to keep women and primary careers out of the business. It's very, very hard to go on tour once you have kids, or if you have anybody that you have to look after. So while streaming exploits everyone, there’s also a whole feminist angle of streaming being particularly exploitative to women and primary carers. 

Absolutely. And like you said, people talk about streaming platforms as if they’re great for exposure, but you look at these playlists that they make for the purpose of discovery, it’s so…non-inclusive. You have a Best New Rock playlist or something like that with only, like, three women on it.

Right, and I think the other thing, too, is that this idea that people are going to discover your music is relying an awful lot on people to have an innate curiosity that I actually think most music consumers don't have. I used to laugh because there was the same Yo La Tango song on all of my Spotify playlists because the algorithm had just been like, “You like indie rock!” but they couldn't even feed me two Yo La Tango songs. I only ever got “Autumn Sweater.” And it's so, yes, this is a great song and this is a great band, but feed me something different. I don’t really expect or anticipate streaming services to change or pay a better rate. I think the only thing that artists can do is educate people on the ways in which streaming is not beneficial for music makers, which is deeply challenging because Spotify pays for shit for other people. Spotify paid for Lori McKenna to have a billboard downtown; Margo Price has an Amazon billboard. Lots of artists agree with the premise that streaming is exploitive, but they’re also in record label deals that mean that they could very well lose their deal if they speak out. It’s the worst. Musicians really need to unionize, but it's very, very hard to get millions of people who all have small businesses to band together.

Blonde on the Tracks is available to purchase on digital, vinyl, or cassette (just from my own experience, this sounds even more divine on vinyl, so!) August 14 on Bandcamp

Follow Emma on Twitter and Instagram for more.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


LINKS! LINKS! LINKS! will return in the next edition! until then:

friendly reminder that if you missed any previous emails, you can read the archive here.

my dms / replies / emails / calls and textses are always open. say hi.

subscribe and tell ur friends!

okay that's it that's the end thanks bye

paul simon's concert in central park

literally no one asked for this

hellO

I don’t have much of an intro for this one other than congrats to me for telling myself THIS would be the week, finally assignment-free, that I really sat down to make some headway on the book proposal I said I was going to finish months ago......and then promptly taking this unnecessary detour to write twenty-five hundred words about a Paul Simon concert simply because I felt like it. Some real clown shit happening right here, hope it was worth it!

Anyway, I’m starting a search party for my missing sense of focus; please help if you can!  

okay thanks sorry love u bye,
carrie


SOME THOUGHTS I HAVE BEEN THINKING
there is a girl in new york city who calls herself the human trampoline

It’s an August night in 1991 — by all accounts a perfect summer night, the sky clear after threatening rain all day, the temperature hovering at a classic all-American 82º that refuses the sticky inclinations of most New York summer days — and Paul Simon is singing about Memphis, Tennessee to thousands of New Yorkers when suddenly they erupt in cheers so loud they nearly drown him out. Reports of just how large the sea of people packed tightly into Central Park’s Great Lawn that night vary; some estimated it to be as large as 750,000, while others placed the number at a more conservative 48,500 (the Lawn’s capacity, apparently). In their review of the show, the New York Times likened the crowd to “some vast teeming ant colony.” Whatever the size, when Paul Simon sings “there is a girl in New York City who calls herself the human trampoline” and they explode with hometown pride, their individual shouts and whoops and applause converging together, I am almost certain that that number is closer to the former than the latter. I am almost certain that I have never heard a sound so joyous. Tears are not the appropriate reaction to have to sound this happy, but when I hear it lately, that’s all that seem to come out.

When Paul Simon took the stage in Central Park that evening, he was two months away from turning 50 and despite his two previous best-selling albums — 1986’s Graceland and 1990’s The Rhythm of the Saints — offering plenty of meditations on growing older disguised as pop songs, old was the furthest thing from how Paul Simon looked. To the thunderous swell of the Brazilian drum corps Olodum playing the electrifying opening moments of “Obvious Child” — never more urgent, booming, and bursting at the seams with life — Simon strolled out with his guitar, wearing a purple tee shirt and blue blazer with what looks like some sort of Flat Stanley pinned to the lapel; he gave a small, boyish wave, and got right into singing a decidedly danceable song about middle aged life. The show just kept rolling from there, the set list stacked with such a perfect combination of past favorites and then-new releases — nearly all of which now, with nearly thirty years hindsight, comprise his greatest hits — that there seems to be no low point in programming, no moment when something new prompted a tepid response from an audience there to hear classics from the Simon and Garfunkel catalog or early solo cuts and little else. If you could own only one Paul Simon album, the double record from this night — aptly titled Paul Simon’s Concert in Central Park — is the one to place on your shelf. Most reports agree that a good time was had by all; only four arrests were made the entire evening. It’s as if it were, if not the perfect concert experience, pretty damn close. 

I wasn’t present for any of this; I was only a few months old when it happened. (Early in all this, I had the seemingly-brilliant idea to ignore my quarantine birthday and use this glitch in the timeline to start slyly shaving years off my age. I seem to have failed this endeavor quite quickly.) Bemoaning the feeling I was born at the wrong time, all I have ever had to cling to is a grainy YouTube video of the event. A little faded and soft around the edges like the 78 year old man Simon has now become, it is the perhaps third or fourth transfer of a VHS recording of the original live broadcast on HBO; every performer’s features blur to a point of just on this side of tolerable. I’ve watched this video countless times over the past decade, always wishing I could be there, but now more so than ever. 

Remember crowds? Remember touching? Remember singing along to music at the top of your lungs in public without a piece of cloth across your face? Where in previous summers Simon’s Concert in Central Park was a gleeful way to keep post-concert blues at bay between an otherwise packed schedule of shows, now it’s all I can do to not cry while listening to it, overwhelmed by the sense memory of standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers in one big, effervescent crowd. I would give anything to stuff my office desk drawers with every pair of jean shorts I own, to build out a secondary closet meant to be hastily scrambled into within the confines of a cold, cramped stall in the office bathroom like a sort of Clark Kent, trading my workplace identity for my after-hours one. I would give anything for one more evening spent sweaty and with a two drink buzz and simultaneously thirsty and needing to pee for three hours but holding both for later because there are only two circumstances in which I’m leaving my spot near the front of the stage: if the show is over or I’m carried out on a stretcher. I would give anything to be surrounded by thousands of different people brought together by this one specific thing. I would give anything to check out of the real world for a few hours, let go of any self-consciousness, and revel in the carefree euphoria of listening to music I love.

When I rewatch videos of the concert now, I no longer find its aged quality endearing. It’s just sad. I want so badly to be able to make out the features on the faces in the front row, to be able to leech a bit of their joy out from behind the computer screen. I want what they have, even if I can barely see it. 

*

Simon frontloads the concert with some of the most depressing of his then-newest songs: “She Moves On”, “The Boy in the Bubble”, “Train in the Distance.” Lyrically speaking, they’re real bummers, songs about divorce and disappointment and global despair, but well-received when fed to the audience sugarcoated in danceable beats or mellow soft rock. It’s hard to digest the lyrics, hard to have a bad time listening to them, when the music is so right. 

Simon wrote “The Boy in the Bubble” — the track that immediately follows “The Obvious Child” — in 1986, depicting a fraught moment in humanity in which a Venn diagram of technology’s advancements intersection with technology’s harm was beginning to eek its way closer to just being a circle. “These are the days of miracle and wonder,” Simon sings, and when I was in my early twenties, I took those words too literally, with too much naive earnestness. Sure, I might be able to watch the world self destruct in real time on my iPhone, and sure, that same phone’s camera might share more things than it really should, but all I wanted to focus on was the miracle of being able to access information or document things with the tap of a finger in the first place. After all, I was young, and there was so much to know and so much fleeting youth to capture. Any time I listened to the song, it seemed to be on a steamy New York summer evening, always on the run to something, in that specific kind of mood where the possibilities for adventure felt infinite and awaiting me at my destination. It was easy to listen to Simon when he urged don’t cry, baby, don’t cry. Why would I want to?

But lately it’s been harder to find the miracle and wonder in all this. It’s hard to remember that those who once marveled at long distance calls are now in awe of Zoom’s ability to instantly connect us with anyone in the world via video when you’re staring back at the thumbnail of your reflection in the corner and willing the screen to not drain all your emotional energy. It’s hard to think medicine is magical when a vaccine seems not only so far away, but likely to end up at the mercy of monied interests, saved for the highest bidders rather than the most vulnerable. Has this generation thrown a hero up the pop charts who hasn’t been canceled yet? 

On the live version, Simon slows it down; the new pace blunts some of the recorded version’s cold, dance-y punch. The weight of the words seems to sink a little deeper, at least, it does when you just listen to the track on its own. On video, when the camera pans the audience, large chunks seem to be moving as one, rollicking back and forth in waves. They have what I once had, too, not long ago: the sort of disconnect from cynicism that makes it possible to dance so easily. 

*

The “Graceland” moment arrives a little over halfway through the show. By now, the early evening golden hour light has given way to darkness and I can imagine the air is thick with marijuana smoke and everyone is so in their groove that when the bassline begins to rip like a car engine revving, they are more than ready to hop in and go. “Graceland” is one Paul Simon’s most well-known songs, a track that, if not impossible to not like, then impossible to have gone through life never hearing. A post-breakup travelogue through the American south, it is at once a breakdown song and a breakthrough song. It is about the one thing we cannot seem to do right now, no matter how much we wish: running away from that which troubles us, hoping that, even if we don’t find enlightenment at the end of our pilgrimage, then at least some distraction will come our way on the open road.  

I can’t remember the first time I heard “Graceland.” A song so ubiquitous is bound to be heard for the first time over a tinny PA system in some fluorescent lit space like a grocery store or a CVS; I mean really heard and bowled over by it. I do remember, though, riding my bike home from the library one pre-teen summer afternoon with CD copies of Graceland and Concert in the Park, both of which I immediately took downstairs to my basement to rip on the family Dell. (Some of you were cool enough to pirate your music from Napster or Limewire; I was not allowed — and also not very cool — and thus spent many youthful afternoons manually flipping through CD racks at the public library as a form of music discovery.) A few summers later, when I upgraded my five speed for my mom’s minivan, “Graceland” was a stereo system staple. It stuck through the years, my understanding of its meaning evolving (all those allusions to Carrie Fisher!) but my love for it never wavering.

In recent years, though, I’ve revisited the song and the album often, always bracing myself to reckon with it (beyond the whole “yeah, breaking the boycott of Apartheid-era Africa was fucked up!” thing). I’ve braced myself to find Simon’s depiction of the women in his life problematic or his use of South African musicians more appropriation than appreciation. I’ve braced myself to be angry, or to be heartbroken, or to be confused over whether or not I had to reconsider my relationship with another musician’s work. So far, Graceland has managed to escape this fate, though I’m never so sure if it does so rightfully, or if I’m too attached to it by now to make the sacrifice.

*

I saw Paul Simon perform live for the first — and likely last — time in the summer of 2016 at Forest Hills Stadium, for what was to be both the Queens native’s triumphant homecoming after 46 years and his graceful final bow. (Like many artists before and likely many to come, Simon would play one more final final tour two years later.) The concert took place on the anniversary of the day I became a rent paying post-grad New York resident (a New York-versary I consider distinctly separate from the day I started at NYU) and here I was, celebrating the occasion alone in an old stone tennis stadium in Queens soaking wet under a cheap plastic poncho I had bought in a hurry at the Duane Reade in the Oculus that afternoon. Thunderstorms rattled through the area and a tornado watch was in effect, but even as the torrential downpours soaked the stage, the show refused to be canceled; they simply delayed the start time by an hour and waited for the sky to clear. Fifteen rows back, I passed time making small talk with an older couple sitting next to me; people love to talk to you when you’re one of the few lone millennials at any event targeted towards the senior demo. The woman was shocked to learn that I routinely went to concerts alone. “You don’t need to bring a friend to go to church,” I remember replying with a warm smile. The situation was nothing short of miserable; I was deliriously happy. 

Paul Simon didn’t play “Graceland” that night, the one gaping hole in an otherwise flawless setlist. And so as much as I like to think that night in Forest Hills was the closest I will ever get to my own Concert in Central Park, there’s still that crucial part left unfulfilled. I can know what it is like to see the electric shock of the opening notes of “You Can Call Me Al” force everyone who was sitting up until that moment to leap to their feet and start dancing — even the salty ones who had yelled at you for standing a few minutes before. I can know what it is like to watch as the sky suddenly cracks open the moment Simon leads the band into the chorus and the crowd simply dances even harder in the rain, their motions even bigger, rejoicing in the cosmic force of nature’s impeccable timing. I can know what it is like to pack in tightly with strangers at the foot of the stage, bruised and bleeding from falling while climbing over slippery metal folding chairs to get there, but anesthetized to the pain by the hymnal way our voices came together to fill in “The Boxer”’s lie la lies. I can know what it is like to stand in hushed reverence with 15,000 strangers making real “The Sound of Silence.”

But I will perhaps never know what it is like to capture that one glorious moment of recognition, of camaraderie, of hometown pride in a song that is not at all about our hometown, to feel like, in that moment, you or I or any one of us could be the human trampoline. And so I listen. And so I watch, again and again.


LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

WATCH
Babyteeth hive, where y’all at? Truly was not expecting this film to slap so hard — that cast! that script! that cinematography! that soundtrack! — but I’m glad it did. I still have a lot to catch up on, but this might be my favorite film of the year? (An aside: Hollywood, please, I just want Eliza Scanlen to have a beach scene where she is happy and thriving and not, uh, on her deathbed. I feel like that’s not asking for much.)

LISTEN
This season of You Must Remember This is just…*chefs kiss.* Karina Longworth’s attempt to tell the complete story of Polly Platt’s life and career, which for too long existed in the shadow of her ex-husband Peter Bogdanovich, is not just expertly crafted; it’s a necessary corrective to the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls narrative, exposing the ways in which Hollywood’s new ~progressive~ era was still not! great! for! women!

ICYMI

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thoughts you have on big walks through manhattan while listening to the new phoebe bridgers album

sad girl summer said "hot girl summer WHO?"

hey hi hello. have you done your part to demand justice for breonna taylor today? (i will wait.)

okay. hi. how are we all doing on our, uh, 100something day of quar? are you all as skeptical of reopening plans as i am? does it also fill your little rule following body with hot rage whenever you see someone out without a face covering? are you also on the “orders novelty masks” stage of this yet? are you remembering the hot girl summer of yesteryear and laughing because hot girl summer feels both like it happened a decade ago and like it can never happen again? then this is for you!

yes, folks, you heard that right! here i am showing up in your inboxes again with some real sad girl nonsense:

i should note as a disclaimer that i’m not actually a sad girl, i just contain a lot of sad girl energy. i am sorry to say, though, that i currently do not have the mental bandwidth to explain the difference to those confused by this because i also have a lot of dumb bitch energy* and you can find the definitions of both on the internet pretty easily. (*but also because i am so very tired from being woken up every. single. hour. from 12 to 4 a.m. for the past week by illegal fireworks that sound like explosions and are ABSOLUTELY sus and likely being funded by the cops as psychological warfare do NOT @ me, just read this long thread.)

anyway. gonna go for another big walk now even though it’s like 90º and i have plenty of other things i should be doing.

thanks sorry love u bye,
carrie


thoughts you have on big walks through manhattan while listening to the new phoebe bridgers album and wanting to cry

This is a strange summer.

This is a strange summer in a strange city, I say out loud, accidentally, more to myself than anyone else. I am walking around the reservoir in Central Park and thinking about that Eve Babitz essay, “Weird August,” the one she opens by talking about how oppressive the weather is in Los Angeles that August. “Ratty,” she called it. Ratty. I can visualize the word printed on the page of the copy of Black Swans I borrowed from a friend last summer then kept for myself after it became too waterlogged and warped and overly underlined in my possession to return in good conscience. I wonder what word Eve would use to describe the way things are now. 

What a strange summer, indeed, in a weird limbo between past and present, normal and distinctly not, reality and something altered. The liminal space of summers. The windows of the regal old buildings on Central Park West still glisten with the reservoir’s reflection; the sky is still often so blue it hurts your eyes; sweat beads are still forming small constellations across my back as I walk. The city’s ever present seasonal perfume of hot garbage and urine is still here — it must be, it has to be — but now a little harder to detect through my mask. I hear the trains are still fucked, but I wouldn’t know; I have not been on the subway in three months. My job has never been more flexible but my work ethic and focus seem to have all but disappeared. The city always feels a little emptier in the summer but now it’s really empty. Leaving has become not just a choice afforded to only the wealthy but a decision forced upon those who can no longer afford to stay. White millennials brunch maskless in the park, scattered through the Great Lawn on blankets in clusters that from far away look kind of like the cells of the virus causing nearby Mount Sinai ambulance sirens to wail. A viral tweet went around calling this strange summer — with its absence of rich people, tourists, and 50 hour work weeks — the best New York summer only for someone else to quote tweet it and call it — with its ongoing pandemic, police brutality at peaceful protests, and rampant unemployment — the worst. Is it possible for it to be both?

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the years I spent feeling like I had been born in the wrong era and wishing I could time travel back to 1968 so I could live through something. Live through something, I say, and I think about Lady Bird complaining that the only thing interesting about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome. I’m a millennial; I’ve always been living through something: 9/11, Bush, the Iraq War, the Great Recession, Trump (a shortlist, of course). The only difference, I thought, was that back then living through something meant doing something about it, and all my generation seemed to do was sit back and watch the world collapse in front of us and shrug in resignation and maybe pop off a morbidly funny tweet or two. Live through something, I say, and I think about the time I told a much older friend that I wished I had a time machine and instead of the usual bullshit reply my other grown up friends usually give me about how wrong I was, about how I was born when I was supposed to be born, she said she wished I had one, too. Live through something, I say, and I think about my mom on the phone early on in the pandemic telling me that this would probably be the hardest thing I’d have to go through in my lifetime. The hardest thing I’d have to go through in my lifetime, as if my lifetime weren’t already stuffed full of hardest things, as if having to wear a mask and stay inside and wash my hands more often qualified as a hardest thing. God. I’m tired.

Earlier this month I spent a solid week clocking an average of four hours of sleep, scrolling through Twitter, watching my feed continuously refresh with videos of the NYPD beating people my age and charts of changing hospitalization rates and empty talking points from politicians until I’d glance at the clock and find myself shocked by the single digits signifying early morning staring back at me. 1968, with its morning papers and evening Cronkite broadcasts, feels quaint now. The news was bad, but at least they didn’t have to watch it all the time. 

These days I run less but run my mouth more, so I’ve taken up big walks: walks that hit double digit miles, walks that leave me just the right amount of sore and sweaty and sunburnt to feel like I’ve done something; walks that take my eyes away from my newsfeed; walks that air out my overactive brain; walks that keep me from calling an emotionally unavailable man in LA; walks that help me put off a bit longer starting the book proposal I told an agent I’d write in April; walks that keep me from self-destructively tweeting the slightest amount of criticism that has already gotten me in trouble twice about the very well-publicized ways in which my workplace is currently looking something like the Titanic after it snapped in half. I notice things I never noticed before: the specific spot on the Riverside Drive viaduct over 125th Street where you can smell the bacon cooking at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que below, the pair of Beaux-Arts mansions on 108th street, the brownstone backyards with clothes hanging out on a line to dry in the sun, the various homeless camps once active that now sit abandoned. I am very good at being by myself. I am even better at avoiding things.

It’s a Thursday in June and I am on one of those big walks snaking its way down Riverside Drive to wind up in Central Park. I have walked six miles already and will probably walk six more before the day is done and I am on my fifth consecutive hour of listening to the new Phoebe Bridgers album and when the title track, a tribute to Elliott Smith, starts to play again for the who knows what time, I want to cry. 

And it’s not that I want to cry because almost every Phoebe Bridgers song is guttingly sad and therefore almost always makes me want to cry, and it’s not because Phoebe Bridgers is singing about Elliott Smith, but because when she’s singing about her relationship with her dead idol, she’s singing about about me and and any one of my dead idols, too. Maybe she’s also singing about you and yours, the people who have made things that changed our lives, the people for whom our love is so great that it’s somehow become part of our identities — even if only as a dinner party conversation starter — despite the fact that we have never actually met and never will. 

When Phoebe ruminates on Smith’s life while walking through Los Angeles, I think about the younger version of myself who spent her earliest days in this city doing the same, chasing the ghosts of kindred spirits and personal deities. “I am trying to place myself in history,” Joan Didion once wrote. I underlined that sentence in South and West so many times I almost tore through the page. New York, to me, has always been a city of history in which to place myself, a city in which places are not just places, but containers of energy. Somehow, I thought, being in proximity to some tangible object was a way to conjure inspiration, a way to pay my respects. These structures — apartments lived in, bars frequented, studios worked at, organizations inspired, park benches dedicated to — are just tangentially related stand-ins for the real thing; they’re all we have, in some ways, to feel some sort of closeness with people we have never and will never be close to. 

I cannot lie and say I don’t still do this from time to time, that I don’t sometimes walk by certain buildings or sit on certain park benches and mentally say hello to whatever sliver of spirit of persons since gone might reside there. As if I could conduct telepathy through architecture, as if I’m communing with ghosts I’ve never known, much as it feels like I do. Only once have I let a small “thank you” slip out loud, a whisper barely loud enough for my own ears to discern, but still immediately countered with my brain’s surprised internal dialogue: Wow, I don’t know why I just did that. Wow, that was weird. Wow, how embarrassing. Wow, well, wherever you are, I guess I hope you heard it.

The dead can’t talk back, and who knows if they can even hear, but it sure is easier this way. There’s less pressure to get it right, to say that one thing you’d rehearse over and over in your mind while waiting in line for someone you care about to sign an album or a book before moving on to the next. Like Phoebe sings, if we ever had the chance to talk to the real deal, we’d probably blow it.

And the joke, of course, is that our personal sacred spaces often hold no importance to others. I think this as I continue to play “Punisher” on a loop, sitting on a bench that is not my favorite one, the one I visit sporadically, but the one next to it. My hallowed space is occupied by an insufferable millennial on an insufferably loud business call discussing the insufferable millennial cookware brand for which she works. I always said that all I want when I die is a plaque dedicated bench in the park. Now, I can’t help but think if anyone with a Central Park bench had even the tiniest bit of their dead soul lingering there, it must really suck. Having to spend most of your time in the company of clueless assholes sounds pretty close to a description of hell.

This is a strange summer, and I am thinking about that poem about New York City summers I read in a copy of the New Yorker a few years ago and have thought about every summer since. “There will never be more of summer than there is now,” it starts. June is nearly over, the remaining days left of Good Summer almost used up. Any other year, Bad Summer would be just around the corner, but I can’t help but think Bad Summer is already here.

This summer holds none of the usual novelty of the season, none of the false promises all the bildungsromans and teen comedies in the world seek to make us believe. This summer will not be one full of infinite possibilities, of transformations, of reckless abandon and long, sweaty nights with strangers and adventures to faraway places (or, at least, just Rockaway Beach) or road trips in rented cars with the AC and music turned up too high. This summer just is. The air hangs heavier, thick with the listlessness which consumes us. I am missing all the things I never even did when summer was good, when summer was normal.

And I don’t know, maybe I’m full of shit here, but maybe that’s the whole point of this summer that is strange, yes, but neither good nor bad in entirety: to remind us of the things and the people we miss, both known and not. And maybe summer will never be normal again. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it needs to be something new instead.

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madeline kahn would have said acab

i said what i said

HELLO! This newsletter is brief and probably grossly self-promotional but you know what! Fuck it! The world is falling apart and I did not spend an entire month of my life in the midst of the wreckage working on this essay to not pimp it out when it was finally published.

That said:

Early in quarantine, I stayed awake until 4 a.m. one night watching Madeline Kahn videos on YouTube — because time isn't real and because I desperately needed to laugh — and stumbled upon her final film, this relatively obscure black-and-white indie from 1999 called Judy Berlin. It is so remarkably unlike anything else she's done; I fell in love with it instantly.

I went long (the longest I’ve ever gone…that’s been published in its entirety and not hacked down to like 1200 words) on Madeline Kahn, her oft-unappreciated dramatic range and the deep insecurities underneath her public persona, and her criminally under-seen final performance in Judy Berlin for Bright Wall/Dark Room.

I know there’s *gestures wildly* so much happening right now and asking people to take 10 minutes away from it all to think about something else is a lot, but this is one of my top 5 most important and special pieces I’ve ever done and I’m proud of it and want to share it! For one thing, after this week of shitty media news (that’s all I can say without getting fired and/or sued lol), it was a nice reminder that there are truly good, reader-supported outlets that not only let me with pieces like this — which would be rejected anywhere like Vanity Fair or something because there’s no ~current~ peg — but encourage me to do so. For another, this is exactly the kind of work I want to do forever: writing about people I love and admire, shining a light on their nuances and the ways their legacies have been ignored, forgotten, or, in Madeline’s case, flattened.

p.s. — if you read this and you like it, or if you’re like “oh shit an obscure Madeline Kahn film sounds interesting!” and you want to watch, Judy Berlin is, unfortunately, only available on random used DVDs on Amazon or eBay. But lucky for you! You have a hookup! Contact me (info below) and I will send you my digital copy!

p.p.s. — i hope y’all are still wearing face masks and washing your hands because even though things are opening up again coronavirus is still very much a thing; literally nothing has changed except the fact that hospitals now have a bed for you to die in! and also i hope y’all are contacting your representatives to defund and abolish the police and reallocate those resources back into your communities!!! :)

p.p.p.s. (is that what the next one is is?) — don’t be like this tool; madeline kahn was very progressive and absolutely would have said acab (but probably make the b stand for “bad” instead of “bastards” because she was exceedingly polite)

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okay that's it that's the end thanks sorry love you bye

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