Monday, December 10, 2018

Always in Love

I read Jeff Tweedy's memoir, Let's Go So We Can Get Back, over Thanksgiving. It wasn't as strange as the year I read Chris Offutt's book My Father the Pornographer, a compelling, empathetic read, but as discussed last month, Let's Go So We Can Get Back has a stark cover that telegraphs a bit of what's inside. I used to bring a little pep to social situations. Now I just sneak away to read books about drug addiction and mood disorders.

Let's Go So We Can Get Back starts with an anecdote about a cat or, more specifically, a cat portrait. In other words, I wasn't sure it would be worth the read. Turns out, it was. 

In Petty, by Warren Zanes, Tom Petty says when he hears the album Southern Accents, he can taste the cocaine that went into it. Apparently it went from a deeply-felt, personal project to something finished carelessly by a producer who sort of ruined it.  For some reason, I think about that line - I can taste the cocaine - all the time, and I thought of it when Tweedy talked about making Summerteeth, the most painful Wilco album for him to listen to now.  I came of age to Summerteeth in my twenties, and the person I was then is so different from the person I am today (hellelujah) that I relate to that sentiment a lot.  

I don't want to get bogged down in an album-by-album analysis or an analysis of my past selves, for that matter, so I'll just say: I really enjoyed Let's Go.  If I weren't such a fan of Tweedy, I might not have enjoyed it, but I am and I did, and I appreciate why he wrote the book - so others might feel less alone with addiction.  The book covers standard biographical territory - who Tweedy's parents were, how he got started in music, etc., - and veers toward addiction and recovery in the second half, but it isn't exhaustive by any means and I'm sort of hoping he writes another.  There's certainly room for that.  

My favorite line comes from a passage where Tweedy talks about how he used to try out songs on his mom.  She was, he said, a tough audience - not because she was harsh, but because he knew if he choked up while singing something to her, then he had to keep it. He writes:

"That's what made me feel like I could be a songwriter. . . . It was realizing that I'm okay being vulnerable. . . . I wasn't the cool kid. I wasn't the strongest. I wasn't the one you could depend on if things went wrong. . . . I was the guy who could burst into tears in front of his peers and not care what they thought. I had a bone-crushing earnestness, a weaponized sincerity, and I was learning how to put all those feelings into songs."

It reminds me of something else in the book, something Rick Danko from The Band told him once: that when Tweedy sings he sounds desperate, and he should never try to sound any other way.

Let's Go So We Can Get Back chronicles the start of Uncle Tupelo, Tweedy's first band (which was almost named Black Shampoo!), and in a satisfying, graceful way discusses the dynamics of Tweedy's relationship with Jay Farrar, including how Farrar quit the band. It covers the beginning and end of guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett's time in Wilco, including how he and Tweedy were estranged at the time of Bennett's overdose in 2001. Basically, the book has a lot of what you want to hear and is thankfully devoid of boring exposition about concerts and technical play-by-plays. It goes into how Tweedy writes lyrics and how Wilco has recorded some of their crazy sounds, but what I like about is what I love about the band itself, which is the sincerity and devotion lurking behind it all.

Of the album Sky Blue Sky, Tweedy writes:

"I found myself actively avoiding my instinct to hide. In a lot of ways I can see it now as a fairly typical recovery-themed record. 'Either Way' is basically a rewording of the Serenity Prayer, for crying out loud." 

I was happy to hear that, because I've always found Sky Blue Sky full of comforting songs. I was in graduate school when it came out and weirdly stressed.  I played it over and over in my airy ranch house and sometimes practiced yoga to it in the kitchen. I still write to it today, and somewhere in the back of my mind is that time in my life, a time when my older brother once visited with his wife, and my whole family came to hear me and Tim read from our theses.  It's funny what sticks in your mind through the years. 

Speaking of back in the day, I finally saw the Whitney Houston documentary Whitney, and sort of held my breath through the whole thing. I don't think I ever understood that she drowned in a bathtub at the end of her life. I guess I just heard the word "overdose" and left it at that, but drowning due to an overdose is so much more gruesome to me, so much more of an Elvis way to go: alone, in a bathroom. The documentary made me sad, but more than anything, it made me feel the way I want every film to make me feel: which is more understanding of the whole story. The movie describes Whitney's origins in the neighborhoods of Newark, New Jersey, and breaks down her marriage to Bobby Brown who, the film states, was basically her two older brothers rolled into one person.  As the youngest child and only girl in my family, I could certainly relate to wanting that sort of comraderie in your life at all times.  The film also reveals Whitney's relationship with a woman and basically hypothesizes that her drug use stemmed back to childhood molestation, an event that scarred her psychologically and prevented her from living a life more true to herself.

There are so many jokes about Bobby Brown in our culture, many of them problematic, but holy cow, when I saw a young BB dance in Whitney, I felt like I could watch it on loop, forever.  I was too young when Bobby Brown got famous to understand him as a breakout artist from New Edition and later I wasn't paying enough attention to understand why he was in the news all the time, but now all I can think is, the man may have 99 problems, but dancing sure ain't one of them. 

Also, why don't we all have spandex with our last name down the side?  If you don't remember the video for Brown's hit song "Every Little Step," see minute 1:00 of this video and paralyze yourself for the day.

In other news, did we have to put a lock on the trash drawer after Ellis reached in, grabbed an apple core, and ran to the other room while happily eating it? Yes, we did.  And does Tim accuse me of playing Bon Iver every day while it snows and I'm home alone, sipping coffee, staring out the window? Why yes, he does and yes, I do.

Finally, I checked out a memoir called My Girls about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, written by Carrie's brother, Eddie Fisher, and it's pretty good.  I also watched Won't You Be My Neighbor, the Mr. Rogers documentary, which was beautiful because of the subject itself, but ultimately a little bit plain.  I also finally watched Unzipped, per my nod to Amelia's epic 2014 gift guide. May we all have mothers who believe in us like Isaac Mizrahi's mama believes in him! And may we all have Mr. Rogers sitting on our shoulders all day long, saying: Love your neighbor and love yourself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


While the title of this post could describe some of my autumn, I finally read Nora Ephron's novel of the same name, about being seven months pregnant and finding out your husband is cheating on you.

Heartburn is the first book I've read of Ephron's and now I understand what all the fuss is about.  While it's accurate to say that anyone with Ephron's hairstyle has me at hello, a hairstyle featured prominently on the whole back cover, the book was worth the wait/procrastination/whatever the word is for my stubborn refusal to read things until I'm good and ready.  However long it took me to get here, I'm a fan.

Except for one thing. At the start of the novel, Ephron refers to her husband's analyst, a Guatamalen woman, with all sorts of questionable names: Chiquita Banana, Central American shrinkette, Our Lady of the Castanets among them. I think it's supposed to be humorous, with all the ire pointed at her philandering husband (boy, that's becoming a real theme on this blog), but, I thought to myself every time I read one and flinched: what do all her fans have to say about these jokes now?  

So I have to say that. I was uncomfortable reading sometimes, as I often am when visiting past hits. Tommy Boy, for instance, is nearly unwatchable now because of all the sexism. Okay, that's not a great example. There's no Criterion Collection for Tommy Boy, I realize. But if there were, would it address the work's horrible - or intentional - blind spots?

Moving on! All my friends who turned me onto Heartburn are admitted foodies, and while I knew Ephron had something to do with food and food-writing, the unassuming way recipes are threaded through the text is genius. If you don't want to eat crispy potatoes after reading this book, your name is either Samantha and you don't appreciate the potato enough in any form outside of a french fry, or you are no friend of mine.

Finally, my notes for this book have the word brutal written after a bullet point about the ending. I couldn't remember why I wrote that, so I just re-read the ending and was covered head to toe in goose bumps. Now I remember why I wrote it, and boy does it stand. The ending is heartbreaking and, at the same time, so beautiful I wanted to turn around and start the whole book over again.

Instead, before heading to bed I searched "Is Ephron's novel Heartburn true" and read an online article corroborating that Heartburn is indeed a near-account of something that happened to her. But I learned something that blew my mind then: the offending husband was none other than Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter who covered the Watergate scandal.
They look perfect together, I don't know what you're talking about.
You guys!! Is my subconscious crazy or what?! How did I know to read the next book in my unofficial study of All the President's Men and everything I never knew I cared about in Washington politics?  Is life weird or WHAT?

That indulgence aside, I heard in an interview with Harry Goldblatt, Editor in Chief of Entertainment Weekly, that When Harry Met Sally is still one of his all-time favorite movies and I basically fist-pumped in the dark, with a sleeping, nuzzling Ellis next to me. When Harry Met Sally is in my top three movies, and since I wrote about Tommy Boy above, you might as well know that Wayne's World used to be in my top three, too. 

And Footloose. There. It's out. 

All jokes aside - if you're even still here (it wouldn't be the first time I lost someone at Footloose) Tim deserves public credit for watching Footloose with me a few weeks ago. We were trying to find a Tig Notaro special and, of all the pivots to make, right before we turned off the TV in failure, were offered the chance to watch Footloose. "Is this a sign?" said Tim, who had never seen it and knew I had watched it again and again in my youth. His verdict? You'll have to ask him. I was too busy declaring that certain songs were the best ones ("I Need a Hero") and others were gross mis-steps (Anything Sammy Hagar-related). I do know Tim was disturbed that the first kiss between the main characters happens just after the female lead is given a black eye by her ex-boyfriend, and while Tim is certainly right to be horrified from a feminist perspective, I was too busy wondering if I had to tell him that I once made my friend watch that scene in slow motion.

Aren't inner selves ridiculous?

Truthfully, I think an amazing essay, or at the very least, article, could be written about the overwhelming bromance in Footloose, and how gymnastics, dancing, and tight jeans combine in the character of Ren McCormack. Am I up for it? The night after we watched it I was, but now it's disappeared down the same hole I pour most of my ideas - a hole that Samantha, Ellis, and I peer down while eating peanut butter toast and granola bars on a daily basis. Tim and I did agree, however, that in retrospect the main character in Footloose is really the one played by John Lithgow.
I searched the phrase "angry dance scene footloose" looking for this

I watched a documentary called One Track Heart about a musician named Krishna Das, a kirtan singer I like, and I enjoyed it. I also checked out Jeff Tweedy's new book, a memoir about the bands he's started and played in, and while I've already lol'd a bunch of times, and I appreciate his humor and playfulness, I sort of wish the whole back-of-cover, celebrity treatment had been skipped for this one. There's really no way to rest this book in my house where I'm not startled when I come into the room. Which Tweedy would you rather have greet you, when you aren't thinking about him?

Orrrrrrrr this one?,h_630,c_limit/t-Jeff-Tweedy-Interview.jpg

Okay, that's not the actual photo from the back of the book, but it's got a similar mood except the real one is closer up and his head is cocked and it basically feels like he's creeping around a corner, sneaking up to say peek-a-boo. Point being, the cover is challenging my devotion to this artist, something I didn't know was possible. But I'll probably still read it.

Some of this post was written while Ellis stood next to my desk, crying with a runny nose. There were tissues everywhere and my desk looked like Sally's apartment the night Joe tells her he's marrying someone else.

For more Nora Ephron love, here's a piece about her excellent dialogue, and feel free to take a moment this Thanksgiving to reflect on the real origins of this holiday

Finally, a shout out to Amelia's 2014 gift guide featuring Meg Ryan in a classic sweatsuit.

P.S. Go here for another picture of Tim in a bathtub - not what you're thinking but for the best bearded man in a bathtub scene, please watch Kelly Reichardt's film Old Joy.

Related posts you might like:

Sloane Crosley, Peter Carey, and more importantly, Birds

The Diarist and Me: A Love Song in Three Parts

More Jackie (Please Don't Judge) and Some Good Old Public Shaming

Happy Birthday, Ellis

Friday, October 12, 2018

More Jackie (Please Don't Judge) and Some Good Old Public Shaming

I picked up Parker Posey's memoir, You're On an Airplane, and boy was it light. To say it didn't meet expectations might suggest I had ones for it. Even so, I felt disappointed. I was annoyed by the concept - including witty asides to flight attendants, as if you really were stuck on an airplane with Parker Posey. More annoying were the irrelevant summaries of things like Ayurveda and Ashtanga yoga. I guess I had hoped for surprisingly elegant prose, or cool and subversive collages. Instead, the collages were pretty silly and Posey's stories about movies fell flat. She also glossed over accusations against Woody Allen, calling Dylan Farrow's open letter about being sexually assaulted by Allen "the news" that came out in the papers that day. But her account of working with Louis C.K. was fascinating, and I appreciated her documenting his pathos. (She never went into any accusations about him, either.) 

On a related note, perhaps, Tim brought home a book called So You've Been Publicly Shamed, about the modern-day stonings that occur on Twitter whenever someone missteps - grossly or subtly - in a public way. I picked up the book, meaning only to glance at it, and spent the next few hours reading. The writing was addictive, the topic was on point, and it got weird sometimes, in a good way. I recommend it.


I also checked out a book called Jackie Ethel Joan: Women of Camelot and stuck with it, despite my reservations about 1) going too far down a Kennedy rabbit hole and 2) the fascinating and jarring prose. I read it at the suggestion of a friend who read my last post about Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, a wonderful biography written by Barbara Leaming that now looks incredible, and feminist, and necessary, compared to Jackie Ethel Joan, which came out in 2000. Jackie Ethel Joan tracks the lives of three Kennedy wives - married to Jack, Bobby, and Ted, respectively - and what can I say? Despite its generous warmth, and its compassion while pulling back the curtain on the egregious infidelity all three wives endured at the hands of their philandering husbands, it just felt written by a man to me. 

One line in particular jarred me when I read it, about Joan Kennedy experiencing a miscarriage:

"Shortly after nightfall, Joan felt a sharp abdominal pain, the kind all pregnant women fear." 

It just felt weird reading that statement.  Like, how many times has he been pregnant? How many women did he poll before writing that?  As fraught as pregnancies can be (and were for the Kennedy women), and as much anxiety as I had about the impending births of my children, I don't think it's fair to say that's a universal fear for all women.  Maybe he meant for those who had miscarried before, as Joan had.
ANYWAY.  I feel guilty criticizing any book because writing one is no joke.  Hats off to all authors, period, the end. 

And, hats off to this guy, huh?  He knows what being a red panda is ALL ABOUT.  (The fans, obvi.) 

Speaking of authors I admire, Tim has a story out at Puerto Del Sol.  It's called Cakewalk, and its about small town festivals, New Age kooks, and a giant statue of Paul Bunyan.  **Insert Blue Ox emoji here.**  (He also has a story called Mars Renaissance: 8 Things a Man Should Know How to Do at New Limestone Review, which I just remembered when I put up that picture of the sign on the men's bathroom, naturally.)

I also checked out a book called The Children by Ann Leary, who wrote my favorite Modern Love column of all time, but I haven't gotten The Children yet. Leary wrote a book called The Good House, which I LOVED, and is incidentally the wife of the actor Denis Leary, who was good in the movie version of Jesus' Son. (Billy Crudup slayed in Jesus' Son, too, obviously, but I am still reeling from the fact that Crudup left his longtime partner Mary-Louise Parker ten years ago, when she was seven months pregnant. And for Claire Danes. YIKES.)

On the topic of celebrity gossip, I finally subscribed to Homophilia, a podcast by Matt McConkey and Dave Holmes, whose memoir Party of One I wrote about here and here after it blew my mind. Homophilia is funny, snappy, heartfelt, and full of pop culture, and I am into it lately. 

 Our littlest baby is walking now, and his cheerful shuffles around the house take my breath away. He says "Awwwwww" when he gives hugs, and he eats hotdogs way too often. He thinks my print of a crane should bark (and who's to say it shouldn't?) and we call him the Tax Man because if anyone in the room has a snack, he all but yells "pay up!" and motions for a bite. For now, I admire his confidence and, as Anthony Hopkins says of the Samuel character, the youngest brother in Legends of the Fall, "He certainly was the best of all of us." (Or something like that.)

Happy fall!  Get thee to the cider mill.