Aria

aria is a baby punk melusine living in the tennessee valley, a dog person both in the sense of loving every dog and only caring about sincere earnestness and unconditional love.

yes i hear we: a chattanooga punk fest diary

Do Ya Hear We Fest has been my most anticipated event of the year since the very first summer I stumbled into the punk scene in Chattanooga. All of our best local bands and the bands of friends in other cities, people who travel from all over the country, play over a span of 3 days at Sluggo’s and Ziggy’s (though some years the second venue has occasionally been other places, Ziggy’s is a conveniently located and spacious alternative, as well as a prime redneck karaoke destination). Everyone in town puts up everyone else, houses bursting with floor crashing friends/strangers/both, drinking until the sun rises. I learned early on to request the weekend off work plus the following Monday, a day which is reserved almost solely for suffering, and sometimes swimming, but mostly suffering. The whole thing is a tender mess of booze, friends (old and new), sweat, and music, and it’s my best and most treasured time. I’ve been to other small punk fests, and they’ve been fun, but none of them have ever had the big dysfunctional family feel of DYHW. There is no way I could cover all 30+ bands, but I kept a disjointed list of memorable moments in a nearly incoherent note on my phone, and that is going to serve as the template of my festival diary.

i friday

Homestrings opened the weekend; their vocalist Lou is among my favorite frontpeople, and I’ve nearly worn out my tape of her old band, so it was really exciting to see her all the way from California playing with local friends. I’m disappointed they’ll be a short lived thing, kind of like Concrete Bees who played the next day, whose drummer moved to Indiana and bassist is relocating to DC later this summer. The transience of punk bands is heartbreaking but makes for a unique approach to collective memory. Over time tapes and records dwindle in personal collections until they become rare treasures, like, “do you know anyone who has a copy of so-and-so’s old demo that I can dub?” It also makes for live shows to be a rare treat. One of Chattanooga’s most beloved bands, Hidden Spots, play rarely because their drummer lives, well, I’m not sure anyone knows, but not here. Possibly under a bridge demanding riddles from passers-by if we are judging by this horrific photograph I snapped during their set. Their shows are sporadic lately, so they’re all the more intense when they do play, because they’re a scene darling. But that wasn’t til Saturday.

Something else I love about Chattanooga punk is the omnipresence of women; our scene is notoriously not “PC,” known for being sometimes too wild, but there are always girls in bands, with no intentional effort to make that happen. They just are. I think about how remarkable that is all the time, but it really struck me watching Lou and Morgan and Megan open the festival, looking around at all the women dancing in front of the stage next to me. It’s not a struggle and it’s not an overtly feminist move; no one has to demand “girls to the front” to make it happen. They’re already up there. That’s really special to me.

The show moved along, sticking to a strict schedule. Early in the night our friend with a broken foot hovered at the edge of the crowd in a wheelchair. Yelling, “no one puts baby in a corner!” a friend wheeled her out front, the crowd clearing space for him to push her in frantic circles while she laughed. The band that was on, Dirty Kills, has a song that goes, “I just wanna get fucked up with you,” which someone named the theme song of fest, and nothing could be more accurate. Even with a broken foot, it’s the time to get fucked up with the ones you love.

Later, the Everymen armed the crowd with pool noodles and silly string, asking us to fight to the death. We obliged. After that mess, a few individuals braved sitting on the now beer-soaked floor for Anna Banana’s set, kind of a tradition for her, and a few of us sat on the stage. Her set is nearly a sing-a-long for a lot of us who have her records on constant rotation at home. “And while I try to drink the pain away, I still stay so thirsty,” rung out in stereo, sung emotively through her microphone and echoed by a hum of voices in the crowd. The energy ramped backed up with Divorce Horse, Arkansas wildasses always good for a super raucous time.

The next band was a favorite local of mine–even though they play all the time, I still get excited to see Basement Benders. They’re like a sampler of people cherry-picked from my favorite bands smashed together, writing songs about mental illness that make me wish there was a such thing as punk therapy. In “Voices” especially, I feel like Terry (of This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb fame) is singing from inside my own head.

Shellshag has closed out one of the nights of DYHW every year I’ve been, everyone crowded around their lit-up drum kit. I was just behind Shag, inches away from the signature sleigh bells strapped to her waist. The friend next to me reached out and gave them a tap, as if to add some sound of her own to the cacophony, a deafening chorus of, “fuck society! fuck sobriety! fuck….everybody!” rising from the throats of everyone in the room. At some point I caught sight of my 16 year old coworker bobbing in the crowd to my left, her head just barely level with the shoulders of most of the men standing there. I reached through the forest of sweaty limbs to pull her through and into the front to dance with us, her view unobscured. Solidarity is important, and even more important for me is helping teenage girls get the most out of punk shows, because they deserve it. Those experiences shape you; I would know.

*The last note in here just says, “dick moves,” and I can’t for the life of me figure out what that means. Someone gave me Fireball, passing back and forth a bottle far larger than I can believe they’d package that death syrup in, so we can easily settle on “it means you had too much Fireball and took bad notes.”

ii saturday

This is the day I was most hungover; I halfheartedly made a plate of eggs that got eaten by me and whoever else wanted them, and then we went to Waffle House because there isn’t one in St. Augustine where my houseguests hailed from. Someone hilariously got the world’s most disappointing cheese grits. Recuperating was slow but one perseveres because, what, are you gonna quit after day one? This was also the day that a number of the people staying with me were going to play, so admonitions of “don’t get too drunk too early” had some weight, at least for them. I think we tried not to, even though we ended up at a bar for some time.

I spent a lot of time going back and forth between Sluggo’s and my house (a good one minute trek across the street and through my backyard) to refill my bottle of whiskey punch, a huge vat of special house punch my roommate brewed up to share with our visitors. She came home from her job site in West Virginia just to go to the show that day, flowers in hand, knowing she’d have to leave on Sunday. That’s how crucial fest is, and how much she wanted to be here with us.

Big Kitty opened the show with their special brand of psych folk, a crowd favorite to tempt people to brave their hangovers and show up on time. I think it worked–the room filled in for their set, dance worthy country songs with a rock & roll setup. St. Augustine’s Early Disclaimers played next; I’ve seen them a few times, and their emotional alt rock recalls 90s influences and is without fault just fucking cool. They sold out of tapes. I got the last one Monday morning before they left, pried from the console of the SUV they’d rode up in; 2 of them had camped out in another yard, but set me up with their drummer and his friends to stay in my living room.

Sadly, the following band Concrete Bees are disbanding due to geography; I was ecstatic to see them cover “Vanilla Blue” at least one more time, my mom’s favorite song and by far my favorite local cover. During that song I tugged on my friend’s arm, hollering, “I never realized until I saw it that Eric Nelson covering Naked Raygun was all I ever wanted,” into his ear, to which he replied, “I know, and I can’t believe it hasn’t happened sooner.” Later that night I took a breather outside, feeling panicked about nothing, as happens in big crowds, and Eric sat down with me for a while. We talked about Chattanooga, about our little punk scene and the people here. We came to the conclusion that DYHW is more a state of mind than a specific time and place. The scene in Chattanooga evolved out of the magnetism of positivity; almost everyone is from somewhere else, and could live anywhere else, but they ended up here as though drawn together by their common desire for a certain kind of tender, intimate friendship, fostered by and celebrated in music and art. We’ve got something so special and unique, and when people come here they can feel it in their bones, especially if they’re like-minded. That’s what keeps people coming back to DYHW Fest, not just the music and the mountains, but the magic.

A few of the aforementioned boys staying at my house played in the band Dildozer, and they were the absolute most fun set of the weekend. With songs like, “The Bad Boys of Rock and Roll Are Douchebags,” their front man heckled his peers and heckled the crowd, heckled everyone really, with a pop punk appropriate amount of smudged eyeliner and black nail polish. “This song goes out to everyone who’s bad at their job, which is all of you, because you all suck, especially Eliza,” he introduced a song, calling out the doorwoman of the other Sluggo’s in Pensacola. It was silly but above all there was a good heart to it, and they definitely had mine when PJ introduced the aforementioned song with a dedication to girls who don’t go to punk shows anymore because their ex boyfriends performed shitty songs about them. Dildozer gets it, and I’m really glad they slept on the giant beanbag in my living room.

The rest of the night is blurry; I know I spent a lot of time outside talking and talking. Somehow I ended up front for Purple 7, delightful Bloomington pop punk that’s hard not to dance to, then watched Street Eaters from the bar, then ended up right up front again for Hidden Spots. I caught sight of a friend who’s almost never at punk shows (least of all directly in front–more of a “arms crossed in the back” kind of guy) bracing himself against the stage, decided I had to be up there with him, and by some kind of whiskey magic I had pressed through the crowd at its apex of thickness and was right beside him, emphatically singing along and crying freely over a dedication to dead friends. “Everybody Get Together” was the tearjerker of the night for sure. The headliner was Sexy, a long broken up Pensacola band who a lot of people claimed to me were “only coming to fest” to see, which I knew was a lie, but a flattering lie. I once gave their CD to my younger brother in an attempt to get him to care about punk, and he didn’t, but my choice of CD should give you an idea of how universally likeable they are. Everyone loves Sexy. And they were great, even with a last-minute replacement drummer, the perfect end to an emotional and long, very long, day.

iii. sunday

It took a long time to assemble a crew into caravans, but Sunday was the day we determinedly made it to the creek. Packed with whole hillbilly families, Suck Creek teemed with everything Chattanooga has to offer–sun, crawdads, cool green creekwater to belly flop into, gorgeous mountain views, and redneck dads hollering about snakes. Mostly we just sat half-submerged on rocks, talking shit and getting sun. We got 40s on the way home, Florida visitors eagerly asking for brown paper bags instead of plastic so they could get the “full experience,” because they don’t sell 40 ounce beers in the Sunshine State.

Sunday’s show featured a change of venue; we went down the street a little further to Ziggy’s Underground, a bar behind the neighborhood liquor store. The promise of a secret opener again lured attendees there at 5, though the secret had been spilled on handouts that had been on the bar at Sluggo’s; cherished defunct Chattanooga band ADD/C (not to be confused with Australian AC/DC cover band by the same name) was heralded to be there, and they were, though their drummer Skyped in, a very punk approximation of a holograph. During the following set, Mudsex’s drummer proposed to his girlfriend in front of everyone, their union having just been sanctioned by the Supreme Court only days earlier. Maybe public engagements are kind of universal, but this seems like a pretty good example of the kind of tenderness I prize.

Full disclosure–on Sunday I piled up outdoor chair cushions on the patio and tried to take a nap outside, which mostly ended in me trying to drink beer while lying down (difficult) while people talked to me anyway. There have been a couple years I didn’t even make it to Sunday, so my presence was a miracle in itself. That’s my excuse for not seeing every band.

Ziggy’s was having some issues with power during the middle of the show; this culminated in Folk Killer’s set being periodically interrupted by breaker flips. Propelled by drums alone, they forwent powerless guitars, their isolated vocal harmonies highlighted by the mishap. It was really great, honestly. I ducked out of the room for Sandal Stomp, memories of last year’s swollen knee after a circle pit incident too fresh to risk any hardcore accidents.

I remember rounding people up, telling them, “you have to go inside for the Bohannons–they’re one of Chattanooga’s best,” and I meant it completely. Their heavy rock & roll puts me in a trance, totally fixated on the sound. My best endorsement of them came later, when I somehow ended up at a friend’s house a block away drinking rum and taking stupid selfies, when I said, “I still wouldn’t ever do it–but the Bohannon’s made me understand headbanging. Like, I get it now.”

I returned in time to catch the end of Pretty Pretty and all of Vacation. Vacation has one of my favorite records; their fuzzy, noisy pop is exactly the kind music I want to listen to, and wish more people were making. I was fading fast by the time they went on, just barely hanging on for Benny and the Jet Rodriguez, whose set I know was fun but I barely remember. But before the closing set by local favorites Future Virgins, someone was iPod DJing through the speakers and people (primarily me, trying to stay awake) were dancing around the mostly empty room. Someone put on “Shake It Off,” and a second wind kicked in. My friends Leah, Heather, and I danced around the room and on top of benches, shaking it off for an audience of practically no one; I think most people fled at the first sugarcoated hint of Taylor Swift. We stayed, though, and whoever was in control of the music was so entertained by our enthusiasm that they kept it on repeat, and we danced for two, then three, then four consecutive “Shake It Off”s until someone turned it to something else, a cue for everyone to flood the showspace again in anticipation of the final band of the festival.

Future Virgins were intense; again the crowd knew every word, screaming it back at them like we were trying to make sure even god could hear. My thighs pressed against the stage with the weight of the crowd behind me, and I could feel bruises forming, so I relinquished my claim on the front row and fell back into the squirming mass of sweaty punks. The temperature rises about 20 degrees when you let yourself be engulfed by the swell; it takes some kind of dedication to make it through a whole set, but I was up to the challenge. I had earned it–I made it to the very end.

I think the weekend can be summed up in one moment, when a friend I had made that weekend leaned into my ear to compensate for the speaker next to us and scream-whispered, “do you want to promise to be friends for a very long time?” to which I beamed and did promise, “YES.” And then we danced. And what more is there?

at least you got the notion that i care: nana grizol at sluggo’s north

The first time I saw Nana Grizol was at Plan-It-X Fest in 2012 in Bloomington, Indiana. After a pretty trying weekend of couch crashing and awkward run-ins at a no-booze-allowed venue, I was so excited for my friends from Chattanooga to arrive in their tour van inevitably packed with coolers of beer. They did eventually, and may god bless Hamm’s and house shows, am I right? The night before, though, I was stone cold sober and bouncing around the company of people I only knew from the internet, most of whom I’d never met before. Even though a lot of my friends were really enthusiastically into Nana Grizol, I had never given them more than a passing listen. In this setting, a warehouse venue packed with sweaty folk punks in all manner of cutoff shorts, the stage was swarmed for their set. Intimidated by the strength of the crowd, I stood in the back of the room, barely making out what was going on onstage. All I could really do was listen. While Theo Hilton sang about positivity and friendship in a way that felt like he was personally chastising me for being a reclusive bummer (even though I know I am well loved, it’s hard to believe all the time) tears streamed down my cheeks that I couldn’t wipe off fast enough to pretend it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t name the songs I heard that night if I tried, or the lyrics, just the way they made me feel. I felt reminded of how much warmth and love I had available to me, and I felt inspired to take advantage of it, if not also mildly scolded. I loved it.

It’s been three years since then, and in that space of time I’ve become pretty familiar with their records. This time they played at my home bar, the one I just need to stumble through my backyard and across the street to get to. Sluggo’s North (sister Sluggo’s to the one in Pensacola) is where I spend the most of my time that is not inside my own house, which was a nice update of venue from “out of town somewhere I’ve never been where I’m not allowed to have a single alcohol.” The crowd was smaller and less intense, dense for the space but packed with people I know and love. I had some seasonal cider in my hands and my friend Angela in my ear going, “oh my god, I LOVE this!” So, ideal.

The matinee show went from starting at 6 to starting around, god, who knows, maybe 9. This was fine, in all honesty, because it gave me the flexibility to be an hour late and still have tons of time to catch up with friends. Nana Grizol is the kind of band that will draw out even the worst shut-ins, myself included, so there were a lot of people to see. By the time they went on, everyone was pleasantly buzzed and gleeful to be in good company, and already sweaty enough not to mind crowding together in front of the tiny stage. Hilton played barefoot between their impressive duo of drummers/trumpet players. The two of them traded off playing drums and brass, sometimes playing simultaneously. The band seemed so comfortable and happy onstage, drummers trading joyful looks while they concentrated on their concurrent beats, tuba player dancing and playing air guitar with his tuba between parts. The downside of being the sort of insistent person who wants to stand directly in front of the stage is that the sound is the worst there, so I couldn’t make out much of what Hilton was singing the same way I did from the back of the room in Indiana. It was a different experience. This time I already knew most of the words because I have the records, but I would have liked to have been able to be reminded live. This is mostly my own fault, drunk and dancing myself sore right in front of a monitor. It’s fine. No tears this time around. Instead of having an emotional breakdown by myself in an unfamiliar room, I was able to commune with people I love in mutual appreciation of music that was fun and meaningful. There were people to grab onto and wail, “I once had a lover, I don’t know if I’ll recover, but I know it was worth it.” And I know that was worth it.

I got a chance to tell Theo Hilton about my experience at PIX ‘12 while buying a tshirt after the Sluggo’s show, and when I went outside afterwards I was glowing from the experience so much that someone called me out. I was standing outside right outside the door, mind elsewhere, and a girl drew me back down to earth by exclaiming, “you look so happy right now!” I flushed, and the bassist of Nana Grizol who happened to be sitting behind her added, “you’re beaming!” I think I said something affirmative in response, but I don’t remember–I do know I covered my red face and blended into the crowd behind them in an attempt to disappear. I’m stuck on that word he used–beaming. Joy is so infectious, and the energy reverberating between the crowd and the band left me elated. When you’re so full of happiness that it feels like you’ve swallowed the sun and it’s escaping through all your pores, that’s how I feel after a really great show, and beaming is the best possible word for it. This was that kind of show. Here’s to many more nights of beaming.

becoming punk interlude: backyard punk

Every year when the trees start to bloom and the weather warms it heralds not just the return of spring but the beginning of a very important time–backyard punk season. All winter the wild punx hibernate, playing their raucous music sparingly in places with amenities such as “heat” and “roofs.” Last month I went to the first show of the year at Anarchtica, beloved punk house down the street from my own, conveniently located behind the combination liquor store and karaoke bar. Drinking honey whiskey from a pint bottle, I flounced into the Christmas-lit basement to see my friends’ band Concrete Bees open the show, and in between sound checking, their guitarist/vocalist greeted me with a hug which made me feel special. It’s the kind of place where little gestures like that can feel very big, very special. Many friends showed up over the next ten minutes or so and every enthusiastic beer-sloshing greeting felt like a hole opened in the ceiling beaming light onto our squeezy hugs and “I’m so glad you’re here!”s. Concrete Bees are my favorite new local band but their drummer is moving to Indiana so they were a short lived favorite; fortunately their guitarist & vocalist Eric Nelson does a lot of solo acoustic sets with their songs as well as more of his body of work, and they will reprise every once in a while to play shows as a band. They do a Naked Raygun cover that melts my heart, my mom’s favorite song, “Vanilla Blue.” The touring band on the bill was Sad Magick all the way from Arkansas (not far, I guess, but it seems much deeper south than Chattanooga), and their noisy pop punk is exactly the kind of music I like to see live. I’ve seen some of their band members (well, at least one) in another band that I really love, so I wasn’t surprised by how much I loved Sad Magick. Loud and dynamic, they switched out vocalists and instruments, the shitty lighting giving them an ominous backlit effect for music that was fast and weird, lots of wild keyboards and wailing.

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Sad Magick

I missed the last band because I was on the porch talking to a couple of friends; this is rude and maybe a faux pas to admit, but I’ve seen the band ~twenty times and will see them twenty more in my life, probably. They went last because everyone loves them, as they well should. Why I missed them is crucial, though; I was standing on the porch with two friends of mine that I rarely see except at shows like this one, talking animatedly about our families, having babies, and buying houses. We discussed our plans for the future and I excitedly showed one of them a picture of Harrison Ford that I thought looked identical to her boyfriend (who was, like a good showgoer, downstairs watching Tuff Tits–the video at the jump is topically perfect because before the song starts, Tom goes “this song goes out to all of y’all, we all love each other, we all–shoot.”). I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, or more accurately I was seeing a handful of people that I wasn’t seriously dating, but whatever my love life status I am always down to talk about babies and houses and weddings. Always! I’m not a serial monogamist but I am a deeply rooted person, and shamelessly devoted to my punk townie lifestyle. What’s unique to Chattanooga’s punk scene is a sense of permanence. Punk in other places can be kind of transient by nature; people bounce around cities, people burn out and leave, people grow out of it. Chattanooga is a place where people grow into punk instead. A lot of punks own property, houses, businesses. They have families. This is their home. In a way that makes it more of a community than a “scene,” about people as much as it is about the music they make. Shit, I’ve never been in a band but I’m still loved and supported by the same people whose cassette tapes I’ve worn out. In this way, music and friendship go hand-in-hand here; shows are opportunities to gather with your loved ones, and gatherings with your loved ones almost always become shows.

Anarchtica is special but it’s closer to a real venue, with its well-used basement accommodations where a rotation of local bands practice regularly. Backyard punk manifests in even more informal ways. Memorial Day weekend I went to a barbecue as is standard procedure, but there was an acoustic show to go along with the potluck. So while going to town on grilled veggies and vegan sausages with homemade relish and a whole host of southern fare (allow me to sing you the gospel of gouda grits!), we all sat cross legged on the ground like ravenous kindergarteners, serenaded by the aforementioned Eric Nelson, brothers Matt & Marty Bohannon, and folk/Americana veteran Bill Fox. All four are incredibly talented musicians that have more than likely been making music longer than I’ve been alive, so it feels wild to have seen them all together while I stuffed hot dogs in my face and idly tugged weeds out of the ground. The Bohannons as a full band are pretty heavy rock n’ roll, but alternating between a solo and  a two-piece, they sing country and folk with lyrics that range from silly to profound. I can barely do them justice with words of my own; I can only hope you’ll get to see them play sometime, because it’s actually criminal what lack of videos I could find online considering the length of their careers.

Eric Nelson actually played every show I will talk about here, which didn’t occur to me until I started writing about each one. He is the ubiquitous face of backyard punk in Chattanooga; he’s the man you call to play your barbecue, your basement show or your wedding. He and his wife are two of the most genuinely down-to-earth nice people I’ve ever met, to a point that it’s almost comical, like a sitcom gimmick. If you ask anyone who knows them, they’ve got a story or five about some incident of the Nelsons’ generosity and sweetness. What I love about what a positive person Eric is is that his songwriting reflects his sunny attitude, relentlessly hopeful and radiating warmth. I know when I’m feeling down I can always put on a Hidden Spots record to hear something uplifting from a friend. People relate that way to music all the time, because it’s hard to ask for reassurance from friends when you’re sad but it’s easy to put on a comforting album. I have both in one, not just in his music but so many others, and that’s priceless. With lyrics (thoughtfully modified for present children) like “unkindness is the effin enemy,” he narrated his way through how to be positive in a world that is difficult and dark sometimes by loving your friends, taking care of each other, and treating every day like it has the potential to be the best day of your life. During a song that goes, “I want more weddings / I’m so tired of funerals,” I started crying because I hadn’t realized until that moment that the last time I had been to a big gathering with many of the people present it had been a friend’s funeral the week before, and the next time I’d see a lot of them it would be a wedding the following week. His songs are so true to life in general but specifically our lives entwined, our lives in our little microcosm of a community, and that is so dear to me.

He got his wish for more weddings, because just five days later I saw him again playing at the reception of two friends. His set list for weddings is modified; less songs about survival, more songs about love. But his songwriting weaves together the two to leave them inextricable; one cannot have the former without the latter. Love is essential to survival.

It was a really fitting choice for those two friends to have other friends play music at their wedding reception. They got married at their pre-civil war era house in Wildwood, Georgia, out in the country in their sprawling front yard. After Eric, the rest of the musicians played country; Angela Rose and the Highway Kind and Blue River Hex took the stage (porch) for the rest of the evening, shifting from acoustic rock to more banjo and fiddle driven music, complete with a washtub bass for authenticity. Angela writes sweet, snappy country songs delivered with a Wyoming twang, and Blue River Hex has more of a bluegrass sound. Both are perfect for such an intimate setting, eating cupcakes and celebrating two people letting their love ground them. I snapped a terrible 15 second camera phone video of Angela’s cover of “Jolene” to send to [witchsong writer] Aly because I needed to share the experience with someone immediately; it wasn’t enough to wait to write about it. Angela Rose is witchsong material to a fault, and not just because of all her songs about breakin’ hearts. She’s the sort of friend I can sit and talk to for hours about how much we love Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift. She’s the girl in cowboy boots at a punk show who will gush with me about The Vampire Diaries, and I love that about her. Loving pop and country seems like it would be inherently anti-punk, but I think embracing the things you love without regard for coolness or social acceptability is exactly punk.

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Angela Rose & The Highway Kind

“Things which can be punk” is a wide net for me, but love, friendship, and tenderness are at the top of the list. Backyard punk encompasses all those things with its intimacy. Houses and yards feel like the most genuine setting for homegrown punk, more so than a bar or a music venue (not that I don’t adore our local dive bars–they’re special in their own ways). My first punk show in Chattanooga was at Anarchtica five years ago, and I think that I’ve retained a fondness for house shows for that reason. I saw a flyer for a show and had to ask a crust punk for directions; I rode my bike there after work in a hazy drizzle, introduced myself to a whole bunch of strangers, and smoked my first hand rolled cigarette. I was home, and I haven’t looked back since. Never before have I met people so kind and accepting, so full of love that they’re excited to bring new people into their fold so they can share in it too. It’s been an incredible experience to find out how music can beget community, and the ways a community can center itself around music. Now every spring I have a new kind of warmth to look forward to.

into the unknown with Allie X

I first heard Allie X when I saw this video of a girl masterfully riding a mechanical bull synced to the song “Bitch.” I had to find the song, and the artist, and consume everything I could find immediately. The song starts out with a bass beat and vocals with a subtle reverb, clear and simple and bouncy like a Peach Kelli Pop song, and then drops into full electropop distortion like you’ve just gone down the first hill of a rollercoaster into a world that is pulsing and full of glitter, lasers, and pepto bismol-pink bubbles. That’s how I imagine it, anyway.

When I took to the internet to find more about Allie X, the first thing I watched was her actual video for “Bitch.” It’s something like a suburban homage to Videodrome, camera following her around the grocery store under a filter that recalls the static distortion of a faulty VCR, interrupted with tiles featuring gyrating 3D graphics. The setting is artfully chosen, none of the pristine surroundings of a well-branded supermarket but something more like the dusty aisles of a Save-A-Lot, the kind of grocery store whose layout and infrastructure hasn’t changed in 20 years at least and won’t for 20 more. The fuzzy, distorted picture perfectly accompanies the reverby vocals; it feels like I’m watching a dusty 50c VHS from Goodwill and not watching it on a tablet exactly like someone in that 1995-esque setting might imagine a girl in 2015 watching a music video. That fucks me up, somehow. I know she’s doing it on purpose; even from this early on, I can see how carefully she honed this aesthetic, and I love it.

I have a cabinet full of VHS tapes and an old tube tv; I have no means of playing DVDs or even CDs in my home, only tapes and records. This isn’t as much a stylistic choice or commitment to analog as much as being a DIY baby with a desire not to (and financial inability to) own anything of monetary value while also being the kind of person who hoards things. It becomes a genre of its own, living in the 90s out of economic necessity, something you can make visually interesting and appealing, and I think artists have an intimate grasp on poverty aesthetics from an inside perspective most of the time. Allie X gets it. The “Bitch” video is a mouth full of red Koolaid, a bendy Simpson’s figurine that someone gnawed a hand off of, a stained daisy embroidered sundress, that feeling when you take off jelly sandals after wearing them all day.

I moved onto the video for “Catch.” It’s incredible in a way that’s completely different from how “Bitch” is incredible. It’s ultimate pop macabre. Instead of the primary colors of Bitch’s cassette tape world, “Catch” is all desaturated palette of taupe and beige and black with pops of bubblegum pink, piles of naked fleshy mannequin bodies, and cloaked figures exerting telekinesis over esoteric shapes. Her eyes are shaded as is her signature, but for this video affixed to her sunglasses are two bright pink dahlia-looking shapes like flowers blooming in her eye sockets. Not much later in the video we see an eyeball instead peering out of her mouth, replacing hidden body parts where they don’t belong, an image which cuts into a scene of her body merged with that of a cross sectioned educational mannequin, showing us exactly where all her parts go. The theme of body horror comes across strong in this video; that and her obsession with medical metaphors shows up frequently in her body of work, but the first impression in “Catch” hooked me. The images are disturbing, jerking back and forth as if caught on the frame, but the catchy song lilts forward with its cheery tone and passively threatening lyrics. Her delicate sounding voice doesn’t seem like it would match the sinister scenes, but the clarity of the video–clean lines, soft colors, and bright lighting–coalesces into this beautiful, frightening package, like the edge of a knife. I’m at goth Ikea and I’m here to buy a white end table and a stack of shimmering black cubes I’d like to arrange into a pyramid with my mind. Let me just find my wallet, it’s so hard to find the pockets in my cloak of eternity.

So I’m sold. But who is Allie X? Wikipedia couldn’t tell me much. In interviews, she attributes the X in her name to the unknown, something ambiguous and evolving that she’s exploring through her music and art. It also somewhat explains why her identity is so much a mystery. Hardly any personal information about her is available on the internet, just the bare bones of an identity outside Allie X, and this shrouding of identity is very carefully executed on her part. Tight control over a pop star’s public image isn’t a new concept, but the blank slate of it is an interesting take on it. Her insistence on the emptiness of “X” for her and more importantly the people who consume her art to be able to project onto is something very unique in 2015 when privacy is mostly a myth. For a star on the rise, it’s a prudent decision that she’s made into an artistic one.

Katy Perry had a jump on her music in March 2014, tweeting that “Catch” was a spring jam just three days after it hit iTunes, but Allie X didn’t seem interested in capitalizing on the potential traction of KP’s millions-of-twitter-followers-spotlight-beam. In a Billboard interview the following month, she talked about her vision and her art and her rejection of the typical pop star formula. She told Billboard, “I’m not looking for some big advance or some ‘We’re gonna make you a star! We’re gonna get you on the radio!’ None of that interests me.” Even though she’s working with professional pop producers in LA, she doesn’t want major label interest; she’s focused on being an artist and creating a unique experience centered around her music. And she has.

She moved at her own pace, waiting a year to release the video for “Catch.” Some time during what could be perceived as a lull, she rolled out the “Bitch” video, billed as “Xhibit 1.” The description for the video reads, “Become an #Xhibitionist by publicly #Xposing the parts of your self that are normally kept hidden. Create a video, image, GIF or remix inspired by BITCH, tag it #bitchXart, and I will #Xhibit.” Her “xhibit” is actually a tumblr where fans can submit their own X related art, and “Bitch” was just the first part of that. She also has a personal tumblr where among the usual tumblr posts–reblogs of animals, selfies–she answers a lot of fan questions. There is a really interesting juxtaposition between her mysterious self-presentation and her accessibility in spite of it. From the multimedia collaborative art project between her and her fans to personally answering questions on tumblr, it feels like she’s unzipped pop and spread its contents out on the table to share with everyone. It’s not disingenuous pandering; this is part of her art. Even though we hardly know anything about her, our relationship to her is so profoundly intimate. Not only are we supposed to engage with her art, the engagement is part of the art. We are supposed to create with her, laterally. I feel like this is the pop that’s graduated from Gen X (oddly) into a millennial way of being. It’s modern not in content but in execution; at a point when social connectivity is at its absolute peak–children with smartphones who have access to unlimited information, instant communication with anyone anywhere on the planet, Twitter becoming a more reliable news source than any TV channel–there is so much potential to make use of modern mediums in creative ways to make art. Even pop.

The way Allie X has chosen to eschew the traditional single-EP-album format and most of the very structured ways pop artists navigate releasing their music and relating to the public strikes me as fairly punk. I wouldn’t call her a DIY artist, but she has that same ethos and I think that’s what draws me to what she does. She talks a lot about how major labels aren’t wholly necessary anymore, and she wants to strike out and do things her own way. As a result her newest release Collxtion I is less of an album and more of an experimental project, including all the aforementioned collaborative art that seems to be part of the ongoing, indefinite project of ‘X.’ Despite her experimental way of releasing and creating music, she doesn’t shy away from it being pop music. The seven songs on April’s release are straightforward synth-pop edging on radio pop, something like what I imagine a love child of CHVRCHES and Carly Rae Jepsen would sound like. It’s catchy and bright with a hard edge in her lyrics. Her allegories about addiction make me squirm in a way that other songs that use the frankly trite comparison of love to drugs don’t; she digs deeper, under the skin, for those. Over poppy electro beats, she sings about love and death and youth, then invites us in “Prime” to “be a beautiful monstrocity.” She’s my new favorite girlmonster, and I’m looking forward to following what I expect to be a very interesting career in pop music. If you need me, I’ll be singing “Hello” at the top of my lungs driving around Chattanooga for an indefinite period of time with my dog in the passenger seat.

i really really really really like you: a crush playlist

It’s been a really long time since I’ve had a real crush, not a slow heartbreak disguised as one, dressed up a lot like love but feeling more like being stuck in a bramble bush. When “I Really Like You” came out my main thought other than, “this is a perfect bubblegum pop song” was, “I want this; when can I have this?” It didn’t take long, I guess, so thanks Carjeps for summoning my perfect crush (I firmly believe this is what happened, please don’t tell me otherwise). I was inspired to make a whole playlist of my favorite crush songs, songs from this crush and from crushes past, crushes that ended in flames or crushes that just never went anywhere at all. These are songs that remind me of my favorite romcoms, slow dancing in someone else’s kitchen with no shoes on, and making out in old pickup trucks. I’m in it for everything, every feeling; I’m all about feelings, but these are some of the best feelings and I want to share them with you. These songs are for holding hands at an overlook somewhere or for blushing over a cute text message alone in your room. Have fun with them, and don’t ever let the wounds of love take away your memories of the glow of a crush. Let those happy glitter puffs of emotion stay in your heart forever, no regrets.

1. “I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen
2. “Hello” by Allie X
3. “This Kiss” by Faith Hill
4. “Eenie Meenie Minie Moe” by Peach Kelli Pop
5. “Outta My Mind” by The White Wires
6. “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
8. “She’s a Rainbow” by the Rolling Stones
9. “That Teenage Feeling” by Neko Case
10. “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads
11. “Something in the Way You Are” by Kimbra
12. “Androgynous” by the Replacements
13. “Love on Top” by Beyoncé
14. “Baby” by Ariel’s Pink Haunted Graffiti

lost looking up: waxahatchee’s “ivy tripp”

Waxahatchee albums make me feel self-conscious because there’s something embarrassing about identifying with and caring so much for something when it comes from the head of one woman. It feels intrusive. Katie Crutchfield is just one human being, isn’t she overwhelmed yet? Even though it’s not country and Crutchfield lives in Brooklyn, there is something distinct to the southeast about her music, her Alabama roots always present. Staring at the song titles, for me they form a mental image of the Tennessee River winding through a gorge, the crisp smell of fallen leaves on one of those clear days that the moon rises before the sun even sets. I’ve never been to Birmingham but it’s not very far away from where I live and I can’t imagine it looks very different. It certainly can’t act very different. I’m sure the boiled peanuts are the same. That’s just to say that her music feels like home, familiar and cozy; cozy not in the sense that your bedroom is but in the way the backyard of your parents’ house feels. Not yours, but still home.

Full disclosure, she’s possibly my favorite lyricist of all time, and every time she releases something new I think something along the lines of “ah, maybe this one will be different and won’t reduce me to tears on the bus,” but I’m always wrong. There is a certain way she describes personal hurts that’s so passive that it’s almost more painful to witness than melodrama–not numb, not unhopeful, either, just calmly observant to a degree of incisiveness. I want to call it modern. She’s not post-wounded, but post-post wounded, I think.

Post-​wounded women fuck men who don’t love them and then they feel mildly sad about it, or just blasé about it; they refuse to hurt about it or to admit they hurt about it—​or else they are endlessly self-​aware about it, if they do allow themselves this hurting.

The post-post wounded are not ashamed of pain; they have learned what is fertile in a wound, learned to accept and describe those hurts as part of them, and learned how to nourish and harvest the fruit of what grows there. This is what I think Ivy Tripp is–the fruit of the wound. She nurtured her experiences until they grew into hardy wood and bore poison apples.

The album begins with “Breathless,” a fuzzy low-tempo song boasting, “I’m not trying to have it all,” some mediating statement that suggests temperance in the middle of a lamentation. It’s an oxymoron but it’s true, and those ironies of the heart are what Crutchfield is so talented at describing. It causes me to move through this album in casual discomfort, shifting my weight around while I wrestle mentally with, “god, I wish this wasn’t so fucking true.” The cavalier way she admits “I know that I feel more than you do” on “La Loose” stings fresh scrapes on my heart. “And I’ll try to preserve the routine. I don’t want to discuss what it means,” reminisces the ways I cling to the patterns I fall into with the people I’m close to, when they’ve clearly moved on from it. I don’t want to acknowledge that any change is happening between us–I just want things to stay exactly the way they were. They don’t. Relationships mutate and fade all the time, but instead of making peace with the natural course of them, I dig my heels in. “I selfishly want you here to stick to.”

It’s not all about longing; it never is. Crutchfield swings between yearning and the opposite of that. Not full-on rejection, but some soft repulsion like pressing two positive sides of a magnet together. The way she uses the same tone for both makes it feel less like vaulting from one extreme to the other and more like slipping between opposites that are more alike than not, as if the first and second person are switching out narration. “You’re less than me; I am nothing,” repeats the chorus of “>,” revealing that she can be as calm when being pointedly cruel as she is when recollecting her own pain. Both ends get the same treatment.

I like to listen to this album when I’m in transit, always on foot or on the bus. There’s something special about public transportation (which I would consider walking part of, since I do have to be in public), not that I would know anything about driving a car to work, but I feel like it’s an immersive experience that connects me to the city with all my senses. Certain songs I then connect to particular places, which I think can only happen outside of a car, in which everything seems fairly uniform unlike walking the terrain of a city. “Air” is walking across the Market Street Bridge, wind in my hair, the color blue–blue in the sky, blue of the bridge structure, murky blue of the river reflecting back the sky (I know the water is not really blue, but it tries the color on during the day like a sundress). The soaring vocals are appropriate for the name, and give me the sensation of a hook in my chest pulling me up, up, up, shoulders back, posture straightening and chest opening to the sky. It makes me want to throw my arms in the air–”and you weeeere patientlyyy giving me eeeeveryyy answer I would never need”–and sometimes when I am not feeling self-conscious about the judgment of passing cars I will, and other times I will just reach up under the guise of patting down flyaway hairs or fixing my ponytail as an excuse to put hands above shoulders.

Ivy Tripp is an album about inevitability and the helplessness of emotion, the way people collide with each other and bounce off in different trajectories. Desire fades. Feelings are finite. It sounds hopeless as hell, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. I get stuck on that one line in “Stale By Noon”–“I get lost looking up.” With her style of peaceful recollection, Crutchfield describes her path and the paths that intersect her’s without asking to be on another one. We all walk at our own pace our own way. The people who join us on this journey might have other places to go, and that’s fine. It’s not hopeless, and they’re not the last person who will stumble through the bushes onto your trail. The important thing is that you follow your heart and maybe follow the stars, maybe let yourself get lost looking up and see where it takes you.

hunger hurts: everything i never wanted to feel about “paper bag”

It seems like an impossible feat to write about Fiona Apple’s music because Fiona Apple’s music is writing. It speaks for itself. When I try to quote it, I want to distill the point in a line or two but I find myself copying line after line until I have the whole verse quivering under my cursor, blinking, waiting, “what are you gonna do with all this?” It refuses to be divided up to be conveniently analyzed, instead it’s an artful snarl of prose. I guess you’d call an intentional tangle a braid but it’s something more intricate and definitely uglier than that. She knots herself up to keep herself whole, and I’m impressed, because I keep making myself available to be disassembled and then wondering why people keep walking away with pieces of me.

So I need them all, these whole swaths of words, softly unfolding the way a flower blooms to show you its most vulnerable parts; it’s most beautiful then but also most fragile, taking great risk to perpetuate beauty. I feel more like that fern whose leaves recoil when you touch them and I want to be more like a lily, limply open like soft lolling tongues, brittle stamen exposed and poised to break at any harsh touch. They smell sickeningly sweet sometimes, and I respect that, the ability to make attraction into something overwhelming. Almost like the aching tenor of, “I want him so bad, oh it kills.”

A gifset of her performing “Paper Bag” passed my tumblr dashboard this morning while I ritually and mindlessly scrolled while buried under covers, wondering why I was awake before the sun and trying to stave off suicide fantasies. I felt like my skin had come unzipped and everything came tumbling out of me. Or rather, rattling, because I’m hollow with dried up emotions, clanging some dull clamor against my bones, empty stomach, shrunken and dehydrated from emotional anesthesia in the form of cheap beer. The captions read, Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills / Cause I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up / I got to fold cause these hands are too shaky to hold / Hunger hurts but starving, it works, when it costs too much to love…. And it does. The chorus really is the meat of the song, trembling and resigned “hunger hurts but starving works;” in her deep register it feels like it vibrates right through me. I can tell that’s the end of the song because she ad libs a little, shaking up the structure and adding “and it does.” That’s not in the album version but I like it, that little affirmation at the end. It’s not enough just to describe the pain but really do just plainly tell us that you need it. It does. It costs too much to love. I starve. I’m starving.

This song tells a story and it’s a story about her and it’s a story about me and it’s a story I find unsettling because it describes a very isolating experience, so going through it and then listening to someone else wail about it feels very much like she just crawled into my bed and whispered it in my ear. It’s too close for comfort. How does she know exactly how it went? The answer to that question isn’t one I want to hear because it requires recognizing that these things happen in patterns and that no really, men are the same, it’s not different this time, and it never will be. It is the sort of story you recall bitterly to each other over a gin cocktail sitting on the same side of a table in a dimly lit bar, a kind of solidarity I’m both grateful to have and regretful that my experiences begat it in the first place. I don’t want to be able to commiserate. But I’ll come dragging my feet to play audience to this song–let’s face it, on repeat, all day–with a martini and a grimace. Something about the jazzy lounge vibes call for olives.

The story goes like this.

I was staring at the sky, just looking for a star
To pray on, or wish on, or something like that
I was having a sweet fix of a daydream of a boy
Whose reality I knew, was a hopeless to be had
But then the dove of hope began its downward slope
And I believed for a moment that my chances
Were approaching to be grabbed
But as it came down near, so did a weary tear
I thought it was a bird, but it was just a paper bag

(more…)

blinding white light: seeing perfect pussy

The night I went to see Perfect Pussy I went alone, leaving straight from work for the venue in ragged clothes that doubled as maybe-cool but also fine to get dog slobber on. I like going to shows alone because it allows me to be selfish about the experience that I have–who I talk to, how much I drink, where I stand, when I leave becomes all dictated by my own desire and not negotiated with a friend or date. Sometimes when I really love a band, I find myself drawn to the stage as if by magnetic force, pulling me in to stand nose-to-amp, eyes raised (only slightly, since the dive bars I frequent are home to stages maybe one foot off the floor) to take in what feels like a holy experience just feet away from the performers, ears racking up damage by the second. Nothing is more of a drain on that full-hearted rush than the hulking presence of a boyfriend in the back of the room, arms crossed and uncomfortable without your presence to anchor them in that space. That’s not to say I don’t love to share; while the band played, I found myself looking sidelong to see the joy on my friends’ faces. I like to clasp onto arms, scream-whisper eagerly about how much I fucking love this! That communal pleasure vibrating through a crowd carried on sound waves is a kind of energy field I feel like I can only tap into individually. You can’t do a swan dive holding someone’s hand.

The one grainy phone photo I managed to snag.
The one grainy phone photo I managed to snag.

I sat on the back porch most of the night to avoid encounters with exes and the thick fog of cigarette smoke pressing on my asthmatic lungs. JJ’s is a relic from an age past; a loophole in state law allows patrons to smoke inside, and having watched people ash on the floor for as long as I’ve been going there and never having seen a mop appear–not even when people break bottles–I feel like the floors are, at this point, lacquered in congealed cigarette ash. Don’t get me wrong, though, I find that endearing. I drank a few beers and relished my freedom by bouncing from one cluster of friends to another, bound to no one in particular, following the natural course of conversations waxing and waning and people coming and going. I don’t remember when people started flooding inside for the headlining band, but I do remember reaching the front of the room and immediately shouldering my way to directly in front of the stage. I said “sorry” insincerely over my shoulder to a friend I had pushed by to stand in front of, and he said something like, “you do you, girl,” understanding my need to be as close as possible. I think people are used to that.

I went into this show bubbling over with optimism; I’ve never seen a friend describe one of Perfect Pussy’s shows with anything less than overt enthusiasm. I’ve listened to their album “Say Yes To Love” a lot. Their driving, relentless sound reminds me of all the 90s female-fronted hardcore comps my uncle has gifted me over the years, bleeding power and energy, and I was immediately hooked. There’s only so much salivating over old Ebullition releases a girl too young to have participated in that era of punk herself can do before wondering whether people are making music like that in a post-2003 world, and Perfect Pussy is. Not to say they’re some Spitboy carbon copy, but their sound is in that realm of hardcore that is feminist but post-Riot Grrrl, or in the case of a band like Spitboy, casually brushed shoulders with Riot Grrrl in the women’s restroom but hung with a different crowd. There’s an overlap, sure, but this genre is a different animal entirely, something tougher, scarier, with a heavier step, that pushes boundaries in both sound and gender. I think with a lot of bands like this you see their influences really heavily contributed to RG and the throwaway Bikini Kill comparison just because it’s punk and there’s a girl singing, like Punch or White Lung or whoever, when you can more directly trace their sound back to that nebulous period of feminist punk and hardcore that populated the late 90s and early aughts. Unfortunately the surviving Angelfire archives don’t do thorough justice to the time period and I don’t know as much as I wish I did. I will say, though, that Perfect Pussy revives that same energy and sound in an incredible way. The experimental/noise component to their music is what I would consider a 2015 version of Submission Hold’s free form jazz-flute breakdowns. Maybe I’m reaching for that one, or maybe it’s just that I prefer a table full of noise gear distorting sound to a wild flute solo.

The set itself was considerably more intense than listening to the album. You couldn’t understand any words their vocalist, Meredith Graves, was singing, but it didn’t matter because her stage presence put the room under a spell as if the way she moved and the dictionless, violent hum of her voice pitching up and down could tell us all we needed to know about the content of the song. Sometimes pained, sometimes exaltant, she rocked forward or shouted to the ceiling at intervals, singing as if it were extremely difficult to pry the words from her throat and performing for us was strenuous labor for her. This implied use of force to expel her vocals washed energy over the crowd, and I think I mostly stood there trance-like, maybe nodding or bouncing. I was awed, absorbing this huge wall of sound narrated wordlessly by the expressive, powerful Graves.

The music I can only think to describe as “loud,” primarily because I don’t know what I’m talking about, but also because that’s a compliment. It was more formulaic of a noise show than a punk show, the set seamlessly transitioning in such a way that you could rarely tell when or if they were switching from one song to the next, like a very well contained, intentional mess. The sound was insistent and raucous, as if pushing me forcefully down a rabbit hole until I reached the bottom and all that was left was feedback loops, shutting off one by one until eventually–silence. Their keyboardist had a setup splayed across a table reminiscent of what I’ve seen at many noise shows, an intimidating number of pedals and switchboards, none of which I can identify, resulting in a jumble of wires that made me feel, if anything, concerned about how he kept it all straight. I like that about noise, that there’s someone standing in front of a bunch of knobs and pedals pressing them with great intention, but how they generate the sounds are still a mystery to me. Given that, I think maybe knowing what I’m talking about would spoil it for me, like learning a magician’s tricks, and I’m better off as an ignorant spectator nodding along to deafening screeching because I like what’s happening and I don’t need to know why.

After their set I promptly got in the merch line to pick up a tape and a shirt, and once I had my prizes cradled in my arms and began to shuffle away through the crowd, I saw Meredith Graves standing in the shadows between the merch table and the stage. I leaned in and stumbled over some words, something like “y’all were great!” or “I’m a huge fan!” or both; the details are obscured because I experienced the phenomenon wherein you meet someone who is very important to you and your brain retains the emotional impression but not the actual details, which are replaced instead with blinding white light, like an encounter with an angel. It’s fine. I know I also told her I admire her writing and write for a music blog that features only non-male writers, something I’d thought she’d appreciate given tweets such as these.

What happened that is extremely important to me is that I apologized to her for the local end of the booking of the show. The bands that played with Perfect Pussy were unmatched in both style of music and in that there was not a single woman in either band. This isn’t a critique I would level at every situation of there being only one band with girls in it on a show, because if it were I would never be able to stop complaining. But when booking a headliner that is an overtly feminist and relatively famous touring band featuring multiple female members, it is at the very least polite to extend an invitation to play to a local band with women in it. There are a plethora of bands in Chattanooga whose sound approximates punk, hardcore, and noise in some way and in which incredibly talented women are writing and playing music. None were chosen for this show. It was weird. My investment in the booking is not just nitpicking–I want Chattanooga to be able to represent itself with its full potential as a destination to touring bands. If I were in a feminist hardcore band and played in a town where I was booked with only men playing totally different genres of music, I would have serious reservations about whether this was a city that was right for my hypothetical band, and if I wanted to go back or route my next tour elsewhere. There are endless tiny cities like ours in the South they could have chosen that they skipped this tour–Athens or Greenville to name a couple–and I want bands to want to play here. That means putting the right locals forward when it counts.

I told Graves a summary of this, that I thought the locals were poorly booked and that in spite of what she saw that night there are many women making great music in Chattanooga, and that I hoped they would come back around and be able to see one of them next time. She took my apology with no surprise and an amount of embarrassment, citing that they’d experienced the same issue in a lot of towns. She put the blame on herself, explaining that she’d been incredibly busy lately (no doubt working on her new record label, Honor Press) and didn’t have a hand in booking this go-round of tour. Next tour, she said, she’d be making an intentional effort to be playing with a more diverse group of bands. I certainly don’t blame her because it’s not up to a touring band to choose their supporting locals, but I do hope next tour she puts some pressure on for towns to put forward bands to match theirs, selfishly because those are the bands I prefer to see and less selfishly because structurally prioritizing the inclusion of women in music is important.

After that carefully measured conversation I rushed over to a friend–I don’t remember who, blinding white light, blinding white light–and clasped her hands excitedly, “I met Meredith Graves! We talked!” The typical hysteria overtook me, fortunately out of sight of the band. I felt giddy and I wanted another beer. I was curled up in an armchair in the back of the room when a friend (one I made by way of her being my ex’s most recent ex, a very interesting way to align female energy in friendship) offered me a ride home so I didn’t have to walk over the river in the dark, drunk and holding my keys the way girls are supposed to do at night. Because at the end of the night, no matter how great it is to witness women being powerful onstage, it is a stage, and when the performance is over you go back to the disappointing reality of male-dominated space and the fear of walking home alone. Just with an extra sparkle of hope in the passenger’s seat of another really cool girl who has your back.

reality ruined my life

IMG_6410I have the words “I Would” tattooed on the back of my shoulder, written in my own hand originally transcribed on a scrap of paper meticulously scribbled with sharpie on a tattoo shop counter. I have a hard time explaining to people why. The easy explanation is that it was the first song I ever performed drag to–One Direction songs are the only songs I’ve ever done drag to, sometimes solo and sometimes with a group of friends as One Erection. (The joke is so easy it would be a waste not to make it.) “I Would” as a phrase says something about me as a performer and as a queer person, and as a song is contextually situated at the intersection of those two things. That’s the easy answer, but still a hard one to give because the casual querent is usually not someone I want to talk to about gender and performance, and I usually end up explaining basic things about drag rather than addressing the real metaphor at work. Which is fine, I guess–that is easier than explaining queer theory to someone on the back porch of a bar who is probably only asking because they think “I Would” is a sexually implicit entendre, and is going to be disappointed by the irony of how unsexy thinking about your sexuality can be.

The difficult answer is only difficult in that it’s loaded with self-involved introspective bullshit, so it feels both self-indulgent and overly personal to tease it out of where it feels nestled deep in my rib cage, a tangle of core self-truths that I find to be evident in the tone of a One Direction song about wanting what you can’t have because you feel like you deserve it more. That sounds so entitled, and it is, a little bit. But it’s not the situation that I care so much for, even though I can relate more than I wish I did. What’s important to me about it is the ability to identify yourself as the person who can give someone else all of those things. It’s the ability to pinpoint what you have to offer. That’s how I want to define myself to the people I’m close to, not by some checklist of niche interests and political ideologies and personality traits, but what I have to give to them. What do you bring to the table of this emotional potluck?

Would he say he’s in L-O-V-E?
Well if it was me then I would.
Would he hold you when you’re feeling low?
Baby you should know that I would.

There’s a theme in the universe of 1D songs where the subject is “I,” but is then fixated on an object of desire that is set up as someone wholly deserving, sometimes unattainable, definitely imperfect, but nevertheless ideal. They started out telling us that we don’t know we’re beautiful, and we’ve all cried about “Little Things,” it’s fine, this is a safe space, you don’t have to pretend. (And! And.) I don’t even want to start on “Through The Dark”–Kenzie already handled that. The narrative consistently emphasizes the worth of the person they’re singing about, in spite of anything, especially self-worth, and that comes through even when the narrator is just talking about himself. The complementary implication to “I would” is “you deserve,” and I haven’t heard it any other way.

With this song I feel I am both the first and second person. I’ve always been ultimately an empathetic and nurturing person. What I know I have the most of to give is love, effusive and unconditional love. I think I am most happy when I have someone to pour all that excess affection onto, and that’s something I’ve really struggled with in my mostly-intentional sabbatical from dating. Can I, or should I, hinge my happiness on loving someone else? “I Would” instead mounts my identity on my capacity for loving people–it just defines that potential as part of who I am. It doesn’t mean I am less-than without it, but that the ability to boil over with affection is latent, simmering until heat is applied. The narrator has his insecurities, relatably–I can’t compete with your boyfriend; He’s got 27 tattoos!–who hasn’t belabored their inadequacies that way? Yet he exhibits self confidence in his ability to love someone exactly the way they need. He vacillates between defeated insecurity and egotistical to a fault. Instead of asking, “well which is it?” I find myself nodding along like, yeah, hard same. This is also the song that brought us “reality ruined my life,” which is possibly my very favorite line in a One Direction song, or any song, ever. It encapsulates the futility of daydreams and the powerlessness of knowing you are good, truly good, core-good, but having to wait for someone else to recognize it in you. The narrator has already recognized it in the love interest, who’s the same person I imagine her to be in every song – me. That’s the point of the boy band as an institution – to write songs about me, but the 1D straw-girl is special in that she’s enchanting, desirable, and flawed, yet entirely worthy of four albums of adoration. I am totally content with being the girl in a little black dress who still has to squeeze into her jeans and is pretty when she cries. That’s me. I’m glad to know you would. I would, too.

someone else’s boyfriend: a playlist

Sometimes we all want what we can’t have. It happens. Other times the lines blur between can’t have, shouldn’t have, and do have. We make wreckage of our hearts and ourselves, slipping over boundaries and getting in over our heads. This playlist is for girls with messes they have to clean up in secret, heavy hearts with complicated desires, and crossed wires electrifying their emotions. This isn’t a playlist for the strictly moral. It’s for living in grey areas and getting your heart broken about it. So you kissed someone else’s boyfriend. Here’s something to grease your tears. It’s gonna be okay.

Charli XCX – “Need Ur Luv”
I need your love / I need it even when it hurts me

Marina & the Diamonds – “Starring Role”
It almost feels like a joke to play out the part / When you are not the starring role in someone else’s heart

Florence + The Machine – “No Light, No Light”
A revelation in the light of day / You can’t choose what stays and what fades away

Sia – “Elastic Heart”
Well, I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart / But your blade—it might be too sharp

Sky Ferreria – “Everything Is Embarrassing”
And now we’re hanging on by a heartbeat / You know I’m trying / I was always trying

Carly Rae Jepsen – “This Kiss”
We’re taking it way too far / But I don’t want it to end

Mr Little Jeans – “Good Mistake”
Let it fall apart / It’s a heavy load / For a tender heart

Purity Ring – “Stillness In Woe”
Don’t be afraid if it’s a little bit close / I built a kingdom of your throats / I’m seeing double

Fiona Apple – “Paper Bag”
Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills / Cause I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up

Caitlin Rose – “Tshirt”
All I want is you here / But I’m starting to fear / That you don’t give a damn for all of these catchpenny tears I’ve been crying

Patsy Cline – “Why Can’t He Be You”
He does all the things that you would never do / He loves me too, his love is true / Why can’t he be you

Madeline – “Sleeping Dogs”
Cry my eyes blind / Say, I wanna settle down / Bleeding hearts lie when they’re swollen and proud

Waxahatchee – “I Think I Love You”
I want you so bad it’s devouring me / And I think I love you / But you’ll never find out

Camera Obscura – “Careless Love”
Careless love, acting tough / For it wasn’t my style, I had enough / Oh, I don’t think that we can really be friends

Lana Del Rey – “Pretty When You Cry”
I’ll wait for you, babe / You don’t come through, babe / You never do, babe