Wow, okay, this week went by so fast and was stuffed with so much stuff that I feel like my body is frozen in a permanent tensed-up rage-reducing huddle over my computer. There’s a lot to get to, so my quick takes: Joe Biden is bad and unnecessary, Elizabeth Warren is the shit, celebrities suddenly coming after critics and declaring them jealous enemies is infuriating, Bruce Springsteen is still hot (I SAID IT), Kanye is sus, caftans AND Laura Ashley are cool again, Greta Thunberg is a goddamn hero, and the world is probably maybe definitely going to end.
Did I cover it all? No, not even close. I’m going to pour the most enormous glass of wine and let out the most enormous sigh tonight when I get home and I suggest anyone who is able to do the same. Cheers, my dudes. Tomorrow will surely bring new whiplash. In the meantime, here are some thoughts and some things I’ve been mulling over this week.
p.s. to all new subscriber hunnies: gmail imported all my contacts and i’m baby and don’t know how to undo that so if you’re like “wtf is this trash,” kindly smash the unsubscribe button yourself. It’s down at the bottom 👇
k thanks sorry bye
SOME THOUGHTS I HAVE BEEN THINKING
emmylou harris could run over me with a car and honestly it would be fine
It’s a dreary morning in Manhattan, the rain — alternating between steady downpour and lingering mist — casting the city in monochromatic shades of grey and covering the floor to ceiling windows of my office with fat droplets, some sticking to the glass, some streaming their way down. When I was little, I used to pick two raindrops snaking near one another and have them race in my head, not really caring which one won but being entertained by the imagined competition nonetheless. Did you ever do that?
Last night was equally somber, the day ending far chillier than it started, the air thick with the distinct scent of impending rain. I’m the kind of person who thinks certain music just goes with certain environments, that albums can be just as seasonal as clothes. It’s times like these I find myself reaching for Emmylou, specifically Wrecking Ball, feeling its haunting, atmospheric soundscape wash over me like a balm for any melancholy mood the weather brings out in me.
Emmylou Harris has the lived-in kind of voice that makes you feel safe and warm, but still a little inexplicably aching all at the same time. In a 2014 piece for Interview Magazine, author Stacey D’Erasmo described it as such that “under every note seems to be a well of homesickness so deep you can’t see to the bottom of it.” I find this description so stunningly perfect (and regret to say I will never be able to match, let alone top, it), an apt explanation for why even her songs that, though not explicitly sad, but still emblematic of the most difficult parts of our shared human experience can, at times, catch me off-guard, a little surprised and embarrassed to be blinking back threatening tears.
No more does this strike me than on the enthralling Wrecking Ball. Harris has always had an unmistakable voice, one that softens and thins at the edges to blunt the emotional devastation packed within the lyrics of her songs. (It’s what makes the way she delivers lines like “I got on this airplane just to fly” on “Boulder to Birmingham” all the more easy to hear, yet terrifically gut-punchy at the same time.) Pushing 50 by the time of Wrecking Ball’s recording, her voice’s weakening with age doesn’t diminish its impact. If anything, it heightens its weariness. There is an aspect of singing that is similar to acting; Emmylou didn’t write these songs, but she delivers them so convincingly that you believe she has lived through each and every one, and goddamn, she is tired. When she sometimes falters to finish a sentence in songs like “Goodbye” or “Going Back to Harlan,” letting a phrase die out gently, you believe that it’s a choice — not because the note lingers just out of reach (though it might), but because the feeling it elicits cannot be accessed too much or too often for fear of shattering one’s own heart.
All artists must evolve in some way or another, the stagnancy of creating the same thing over and over enough to deplete whatever talent and sanity one had at the start of their career. Often, particularly when attempted by musicians of a certain age, reinvention can come off as disingenuous, an attempt to remain relevant and sell more albums or concert tickets or garner higher stream counts. Such is not the case with Harris and Wrecking Ball, radical a change as it was at the time. The moment she had established herself as an elderstateswoman of country, they pushed her out, deeming her too old and too traditional for radio’s new beers-and-bros-centric sound.
Knowing she would never beat them, and not wanting to join them, she was free to do whatever she wanted, explore new directions, take chances and bravely dive head first into uncharted waters without nothing to lose. If the increasingly macho country radio didn’t want to play her, fuck ‘em. At least now they had a legitimate reason to not. This album wasn’t for them; it was for her — and it was decidedly not country. No, Wrecking Ball was something new and transformative. It was breathtakingly unique, yet familiar at the same time, the way sometimes you can travel to new places and have some lingering feeling of deja vu, some sensation that this felt like home — the same but different.
Thinking of the way Emmylou Harris did this, and ushered in a new era for a genre that often feels dated and slow to change, I can’t help but think of two other current artists from Nashville who did the same thing, with staggeringly different intentions and results.
In 2018, Kacey Musgraves was ambivalent about pigeonholing herself as Nashville’s smartass outsider, so she expanded and pushed the limits of what sounds modern country could encompass. The result of such risk taking was last year’s Golden Hour, a remarkable modern masterpiece that poses to change the game the same way Wrecking Ball did through radically embracing authenticity first, commerce second.
In 2014, Taylor Swift decided that pop music was more lucrative than country, so she rebranded away from her cowboy boots and twang for Jack Antonoff-produced synths and banal hooks. And when that wasn’t in anymore, she rebranded as edgy goth. Now that pop is cool again, she’s shifted back. That her newest release, the nauseating “Me!” (exclamation point included Jeb! style), feels more like the Kidz Bop kids took acid then projectile Funfetti vomited up a Target jingle speaks its intents clearly. The tea is that Taylor Swift, at the end of the day, is more savvy business woman than genuine artist, and despite having massive amounts of wealth, is no doubt looking for opportunities for more.
Questioning what music gets to be called authentic or legitimate — especially within a pop space — is a dangerous game to play, one that can easily become shaded with hints of misogyny and homophobia, but critics and artists alike have been at it for decades. And while it’s true that all art, regardless of genre or artist, can have its moments of both brilliance and banality, there’s a striking difference when the process becomes so translucent you can see the artist as more a factory worker or machine diligently making something intended to be popular and sellable at the right time and place rather than create art that feels true, regardless of commercial appeal.
It’s afternoon in Manhattan now, the sky brightening though the clouds still hang low, wrapping themselves around the Empire State Building in the distance. I have been listening to Emmylou Harris all day, in part to make up for the brain cells I lost listening to the 29-year-old Taylor Swift cloyingly insist that “you can’t sing awesome without ME!” But also in part to remind myself of what true growth and reinvention sounds like, to remind myself that, though the idea authenticity is blurry at best, artists — people — people — can change how they present themselves without changing who they are at their core. When it’s real, you can just feel it.
STUFF I LISTENED TO
Kashmere Stage Band - Kashmere Stage Band
This week in “Carrie you are literally becoming a parody of yourself,” lately I’ve been spinning on repeat… wait for it… a lost-then-found obscure band from the late ‘60s and ‘70s. I know, I know. I have a personal brand and, man, does Spotify love to play into it with my Discover Weekly playlist. This happens at least once a month, the most recent find being Kashmere Stage Band, and it’s just... perfect??? Inject this shit straight into my veins.
In 1967, a Houston-area high school music teacher went to an Otis Redding concert and was, appropriately, like “oh, this is tight" — then thought "I’m going to take this and turn it into something my students can do.” In the ensuing years, the band he created became a reigning champ at national band competitions and recorded eight studio albums of tight sweaty funk on par with bands like the JBs or the Mar-Kays. Friendly reminder again that they were IN HIGH SCHOOL.
By 1978, the band had broken up and slipped into obscurity, their albums lost, save for random samples from in-the-know DJs who revered their work. It wasn’t until 2006 that they saw their complete recordings re-released for the masses with this compilation, but man, are we lucky it has been given a second life.
STUFF I READ
The Jewish Trumpeter Who Entertained Nazis to Survive the Holocaust - Amanda Petrusich
I honestly do not possess the vocabulary to express what a remarkable writer I find Amanda Petrusich to be, and how astonishing this story — of how music can, truly, save a life — is. I’m still processing it.
STUFF I WATCHED
Okay to be fair, I am watching this tonight and preemptively recommending it. But! It is comprised of all things I love: a true story, grifter content, a literary wunderkind, a literary hoax, wigs!, cameos by celebrities who were involved in the real life event (hi, Courtney Love!), the option to stream it now OR see it in theaters, a continuation of the Dernaissance...
The scam has been given the film treatment before, in the 2016 documentary Author: The J.T. Leroy Story, but that felt a little dishonest and unreliable. And it also didn’t have Laura Dern. Anyway, if you’re not familiar with the hoax, at least read its Wikipedia page now. It’s one of my favorite scammer scandals of the past decade. I’m pumped.
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okay that's it that's the end thanks bye