Welcome To My Bed

I Like My Rock Gritty, Plz&Thnks

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Groggy morning conversations at my place run the gamut: sometimes I sing Rihanna songs with a gob of toothpaste in my mouth, sometimes my dude has finally remembered a dream and wants to share, sometimes we just grunt at each other and pretend it's a conversation.  The other day, we kicked off our morning with the Bad Seeds cover of the song "Black Betty" and the listen sparked a conversation about who would be in the Justice League of aging rockstars.  Nick Cave--because he is already a cartoon character--was a given; Patti Smith, another we added to the list without a second thought.  Iggy Pop warranted a mention because he will never age beyond deeply tanned hide, and has survived living in Florida, so he's pretty much immortal.  David Bowie would be invited to meetings and promise to come, but he'd never actually show up since he hates flying so much.  Any member of the Beatles or Rolling Stones is disqualified from participation because they have become t-shirt icons at Wal-Mart and have thus lost most of their credibility.

I will be the first to admit that I thoroughly enjoy pop music.  I love to sing, and there are few things better to belt along to than an Alicia Keys or Lady Gaga single.  But I also like to feel bass in my lungs on the regular, and there just aren't big rock acts cracking the Billboard Hot 100 the way they used to.  There is an awful lot of Pink, though.  She has at least five songs in the rotation on the Boston pop playlist.  Recently, I took my mom to a Pink concert at Madison Square Garden and returned home for a Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds show on the following Sunday.  Pink has an attitude that's always read as rock and roll to me, even though she started out making R&B records about "real love."  There are songs on her most recent album I would love to hear on the radio.  The ones with guitars and sneering.  Not the one with the fun. frontman whose voice has made me cringe since he was in a band called The Format. In my perfect world, Pink and Nick Cave would duet instead, and pop radio would be far better for it.

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The radio is playing from 8 to 5 at my office job Monday through Friday, and any song they play that's termed as rock just depresses me.  I think, "If this is what rock music sounds like now, I am no longer a fan of rock music."  If you listen to pop radio with this level of frequency (I don't recommend it), you'll find a serious dearth of hot blooded rock music.  Plenty of Maroon 5 and the like, but nothing that hasn't been neutered before being broadcast.  Pop radio has been much of a rock and roll stronghold anytime in the past fifteen years or so, but a girl can dream, right?  In my perfect world, Ke$ha and Andrew WK would live on the same station playlist, and they'd be partying with Queens of the Stone Age and Ryan Adams and Nico Vega and Warpaint.  In my perfect world, Brand New would never have disbanded and Fall Out Boy would never have erred on the side of such sparkly production on their new album and the acts playing the TD Garden would still have guitars in them at least half of the time.  I wouldn't have to listen to the same fun. song every 45 minutes or hear the radio talking heads refer to them, in seriousness, as "rock."

There's an annual mini-festival in the Somerville square where I live called Deep Heaven.  A bunch of psych-rock bands play at two venues and you pay for a wristband to wander back and forth between shows.  As the city was settling down from a manhunt, I ended up at Deep Heaven to see some friends play, and their set was the best rock I've heard in a long time.  Hard, heavy, unpretentious.  Good sounds I could feel in my chest.  No anemic anthems for the disaffected bar crowd.  There weren't even any lyrics.  Just a wall of sound the be listened to and felt at once.

It's been a year since FNX went the way of the dodo, and nothing has stepped in to fill the gap.  I'm not worried about the state of rock and roll--I know there are bands out there doing it loud, rough, and right--but I am worried that the music we consume on a daily basis has become a lot like fast food.  There's a product that sells, and for some reason it is full of banjos and faux-earnest crooning.  The future of popular rock better not be Mumford & Sons.  Or fun.  Or any other such nonsense.  There's no heart there.  None of it bleeds.  There are no junior members of the Rock and Roll Justice League with label support and radio play fighting the good fight, and it's a damn shame.

Do you believe in Date Night?

The relationship controversy everybody is talking about lately has a lot more to do with the Supreme Court than methods of courtship, but I am a little horrified about something slightly less earth-shattering than whatever that pink equal sign thinks it's fixing.  My boss just teased me about the fact that tonight is my Date Night.  He says only married couples have date night.  When did this become true?

My attitudes towards dating are hardly conventional.  Have an awesome monogamous partner?  I'm proud of you.  Want to be non-exclusive?  Go for it.  Want to organize sex parties and tell me all about your wild shenanigans?  I'll give you a high five and remind you to use protection.  Want to write a whiny article about how your pink bedroom scares off the men-folk?  Okay, my leniency ends there.

But regardless of having an open mind towards the many styles of coupling, I've always been under the impression that dating involves actual dates.  Maybe the name fooled me; I am a huge proponent of direct language.  To my mind, dating somebody means you go on actual dates.  If you don't have some sporadic public activities, how can you learn and grow from new experiences with your beloved partner?  At the very least, orchestrate a communal meal every once in awhile and actually look at and talk to one another at the table sans smartphones.  It will be romantic, like it is when you get to spend one on one time with somebody you love.  This philosophy extends to platonic partners too.  I have date nights with my best friend on a near-weekly basis, and they are magical.  We eat giant sandwiches, watch Drag Race, and talk shit.  It is essential to our unbreakable bond to have this dedicated time.

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The same is true of my romantic partner.  We've been dating nearly three years--we count our anniversary as the night we first went out to dinner together one on one.  And even though we've been sharing an apartment for about a year, that doesn't mean that we are exempt from needing that dedicated one on one time that dates provide.  When we're around the house, we're working on our personal projects most of the time.  We both write, and after we get home from our day jobs, most of our time goes to towards generating new drafts and revising completed work for publication.  On nights when words don't take priority, there are poetry readings, drinks with friends, and plenty of social engagements that we attend both together and separately.  A busy week leaves little time for us to nestle into the couch and watch a marathon of The Wire.  Scheduling the occasional date night into the calendar of events is the best way to ensure we'll be fully present and engaged with one another for a chunk of time that no one else can touch.

Have you ever noticed that you have a different kind of conversation with a person when you are sitting across a table from them?  I don't know what it is about restaurants, but I am able to talk meaningfully about my goals there in a way I am completely incapable of on my couch.  I feel equally at home going off on tangents about Van Gogh's letters, whether or not I want an MFA (it changes daily) and what kinds of wild things I want to try cooking in the near future.  Sharing time with my somebody in a setting that honors that person's important role in my life is essential to maintaining affection, friendship, and a sense of closeness.

Who in a dating relationship doesn't want those things?  Who says married people are the only ones who need to do some preventive maintenance when it comes to their relationship?  It's not a sign that we need to reignite a spark; I think of dates as a kind of Olympic torch situation.  If you make sure your torch is carried in dedicated and determined hands, the flame won't go out in the first place.

To put it another way: my grandmother once countered my claim that I had a relationship with God in spite of avoiding mass with, "You can't have a relationship with somebody you never make time for."  She was right.  I'd be doing my partner and the three years we've spent supporting one another a disservice if I just expected past experience and momentum to bear us forward indefinitely.  And, duh, date night is an excuse to regularly make an appointment for fun.  You do believe in FUN don't you?  So how can you say you don't believe in date night?

Special Bitch Academy

Still, this story has the best possible ending, because I am telling it.

This was the moment when I had to pause in my hate-read of Elizabeth Wurtzel's recent article and take a deep, cleansing breath.  I'm not sure what I expected her to say that would make me anything besides annoyed or sad, but I went into the article hoping for the best.

When I was young, I had this mostly-inexplicable tendency to put successful women on a pedestal when I knew very little about them.  Wurtzel was one of these women.  She published Prozac Nation at 25, and I wanted to do that too; I wanted a successful book out by my mid-twenties.  I wanted to be played by Christina Ricci in the movie based on the book based on my life.  I wanted to be important enough to be a public storyteller.  I built these strangers up--they ranged from Shirley Manson of the band Garbage all the way to Margaret Atwood (the most repeated name on my older sister's bookshelf)--as idols simply because they were allowed to speak in public, and often.  This was in a time before a seconds-long web search could turn up the details of even the most obscure person's life.  Most of the power I gave these people was imagined.  But it felt real.

Wurtzel's book  Bitch  lived with these titles I spooned at night during college.

Wurtzel's book Bitch lived with these titles I spooned at night during college.

It still felt real when I was in school and reading for my thesis project.  I spent a long time winding my way through sections of the library, reading broadly and trying to find voices that resonated with me.  Wurtzel's book Bitch came onto my radar because of some list of essential feminist reading, but I was almost instantly discouraged by her hateful tone.  I made it through three chapters before realizing that I was internalizing all of the anger inherent to the text.  Granted, the book is supposed to be a history of difficult women, but instead of delighting in that history, there is very little substance beyond the anger Wurtzel has towards society for labeling these women difficult in the first place.  That anger is important, but another thing that's important when rewriting history is to make sure you produce a more dynamic picture than the one you are seeking to replace.  Instead of replacing a history written by men with something more complete, she simply swapped it out for another incomplete retelling.

I returned the book to the library and have not read Wurtzel since.  Until, that is, this article showed up in my Twitter feed.  I was curious.  It's been years since Bitch; so had she moved past being so enraged at the world around her by now?  The image I had constructed of her was one she could never live up to; I had already dismantled it trying to read Bitch.  She is, after all, a person, not a deity.  And as any writer knows, everything you produce cannot be perfect.  But I held out hope that there was some place I might connect in the rambling essay.  As she sorted through the many unconnected reasons she is glad to be rid of 2012, I waited for some kind of clarity.  She didn't seem as angry anymore, which was positive.  But her anger seemed to have been replaced with a weary disdain, which is just as destructive.  Instead of reflection, there is inventory.  I'm not happy in the conventional way, or maybe at all, but kindly read on as I'm not yet through complaining.    What a dismal thing to celebrate in thousands of words in a major publication.

"Still, this story has the best possible ending, because I am telling it."  With an outlook like hers, there doesn't seem to be a best possible ending at all.  There isn't even a clear ending at all.  Anger doesn't die, it only transmutes into some other toxic thing.  My main complaint about Wurtzel is how angry she seems in her writing, but here I am being negative too.

I am angry.  I am angry at myself for admiring her before I knew her writing, most of all because when I see her by-line, I feel compelled to give her another chance.  I am angry for having such a visceral response to everything she wrote.  I cannot deny that she is talented.  But I can't abide writing so deeply narcissistic that the author deifies herself.  It's one thing if a fan makes you a god; it is quite another if you drink your own Kool Aid.  Anyone in the public eye for as long as she's been is bound to have some warp in their self-image, but it seems that she has a very consistent self-talk loop dedicated to affirming her decisions in the face of continued unhappiness.  There is one place that I agree with her--you don't have to live life by conventional wisdom in order to live fully.  But, at least from the picture her article provides of her life, she hasn't yet found a healthy alternative.

When Ageist Artists Attack!

I went to a tiny reading in Cambridge last weekend that ended up a round-robin situation with some saxophone players and a few poets trading off, sharing renditions and drafts.  Normally, I can make this kind of set-up work for me.  At readings, I am often the tag-along friend, rarely the featured performer.  An accidental salon-style round-robin lets me pull out my smartphone and jump into the mix without any of the pressure of preparing a set, worrying about merch, or feeling obligated to make small talk.  I can read my work and then recede into the background until my next turn.

CUPSI ’09 (college slam nationals), the last time I felt remotely close in age to my writing peers
CUPSI ’09 (college slam nationals), the last time I felt remotely close in age to my writing peers

During the salon, someone asked if I was applying to MFA programs; in response I mentioned my age and said I felt like I still had a good chunk of time before a graduate degree would feel like a priority for me.  This is my knee-jerk response to such questions.  I feel far too young to be on the graduate school path.  Mentioning my age is my way of arguing that point.  But the deflection tactic came back to bite me once we got to the bar.  One of the women I was with told me she was impressed my work was so mature for someone my age.  Now, sometimes backhanded compliments happen by accident.  But this one felt purposeful, dismissive.

I am thoroughly familiar with being the “baby” socially.  I had an early birthday in school and was always the youngest of my friends.  I had a full time job throughout college and graduated a semester early, so I was thrust into the “adult” world when I was barely 21.  My partner is 7 years my senior.  So the, “wait, you’re how old?” conversation has gotten a bit tiresome at this point.

The woman and I danced around this awkward spot in our conversation: she piled on qualifiers for her original statement while I answered shortly and tried to reorient the conversation in a less uncomfortable direction.

HER:  So, when did you start writing?

ME:  I mean, I’ve always written.  Do you mean “seriously” writing?  I guess in college, but I had kept notebooks very seriously for years before that…

HER:  It’s just so interesting, I mean, when I was your age my voice wasn’t nearly as…

UGH.  That’s the only thing it feels appropriate to say in this situation.  I refuse to apologize for my age, or the fact that I’ve made writing a very serious part of my life for at least a decade.  The biggest frustration that I have about this reoccurring conversation is that I could easily avoid it if I would just keep my stupid mouth shut.  That number is at once an excuse (just in case I disappoint) and a jibe (just in case I’m really awesome).  If I under-perform, I can blame it on being young.  If I exceed expectations, I can obliquely taunt those in nearby company with my wunderkind abilities.

Either way, I will never understand how age is at all proportional to talent, drive or craftsmanship.  I take my writing seriously, and have for quite some time.  I know what excites and interests me in my own writing and the writing of others.  Shouldn’t that be enough to make me a peer to any other writer?  Aren’t we all just lovers of words regardless of age, intention, or advanced degrees?  It seems so arbitrary to draw attention to what year I was born as it relates to what I’ve managed in my writing life.  Except, of course, if it’s making somebody older a little uncomfortable with where they stand in relation.