Welcome to a newest edition of Abundant Living, the newsletter for the irresolute aesthete. As I’m waiting on some information/inspiration regarding a couple topics (get at me if you have strong feelings about either mod/goth culture of the mid/late-1990s and/or the Crimpshrine song, “Summertime”), and I don’t currently like music enough to do a new album roundup, we’re going to do something a little different this week.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with this newsletter, my twitter account, or me In Real Life, After My Third Jameson and Soda, knows that I have a number of opinions, strongly held, that don’t necessarily warrant an entire essay. Usually I either tweet these (perhaps not courtroom-ready) opinions out, get over/forget them, or shoehorn them into larger essays devoted to entirely different topics. But sometimes (like now) I have opinions that I can’t tweet. Maybe because I don’t feel like getting yelled at by all my cretinous friends or maybe I just don’t actually feel like having a conversation about the topic. I just want to speak my truth from On High, and there’s only so many “cool cool cool” faves I have in my daily arsenal. Out of these opinions that I don’t feel like tweeting, some get stuck in my craw. And some (most) are so trivial and ephemeral that to include them in a later essay would require more footnotes than coitus with David Eggers. (I realize that David Foster Wallace should be the go-to joke here, but I’ve never read him. Not bragging. I, for one, when I see a “red flag,” drape it over my grateful bones like a weighted blanket. Any other response is for cowards. But, still/anyway, I haven’t read him. Looks kind of long.)
With all that said, what we’re doing, in this special edition of Abundant Living, is something I’m calling “Hater Buffet/Simp Parade.” The use of slang words, “hater” and “simp,” two words from two different generations of youth, both usages embarrassingly incommensurate to my own upbringing, should make the steez obvious. The Hater Buffet section will be where I, rather than use the number for the grief counselor my sister sent me, like, two weeks ago, I instead will focus on petty grievances; dumb shit I’m inordinately mad about. Or somewhat put out about. Whether this is a fitting tribute to my grief at the loss of my mother is something my mother herself can discuss with me in person in heaven. I look forward to the conversation. Certainly more than I look forward to the conversation that will be had now that she’s looking down from her cloud, Family Circus style, privy to my online viewing habits. (Though, to be honest, I’d happily talk to my mom about that mess for as long as she liked, if it meant I got to talk to her again.)
The “Simp Parade” section will be things I like. It won’t be nearly as fun as the Hater Buffet. But you knew that. Let’s dive in!
Phoebe Bridgers Smashing Her Guitar On SNL If the indie musician Phoebe Bridgers ending her performance on Lorne Michaels’ interminable empire propaganda/sketch show was last weekend’s Storming of The Bastille, then the “discourse” that followed was the weekend’s Reign of Terror. I have no strong opinion about Bridgers in general (really). I think she’s a good lyricist (a great one compared to some of her contemporaries) who has written some very fine songs. I find the whole “Taylor Swift for girls with crumbs in their bed” framing pretty brutaI but don’t fault anyone for romanticizing whatever is handy. I’m glad people “feel seen” even if it’s for such low stake transgressions as eating in bed (or, if the double entendre is intentional, fucking dubious dudes). After all, sensitive, self-aggrandizingly messy souls can’t expect a world as vibrant as this one to squint to appreciate said soul’s more subtle virtues. And while, just like that of Vampire Weekend or Bon Iver, her music is not my style, I happily acknowledge that, like those other paragons of indie mature sophistication, Bridgers’ art gives joy to people, and that (at least like Ezra Koenig) she’s very funny on social media.
So it gives me no joy to double down on saying that her SNL guitar smashing was hella corny. And not because it followed a, pretty typical for SNL, muted performance and felt (and, it turns out, was) forced. I’m well aware of the potentially skeevy pitfalls of a middle aged man critiquing a young woman’s performance. I’m a longtime, inveterate SNL hater so her performance didn’t seem any worse than any other I’ve seen on that stage. But the fact remains that as a teen, I thought guitar smashing was hella corny when Nirvana did it. And, before that, my universal energy passing over my father’s loins thought guitar smashing was hella corny when The Who did it. Not because any of these artists were being inauthentic and not because I believe in a state redistribution of Fenders. Guitar smashing is, was, and always will be, corny just because it is. It’s a deeply uncool schtick. Like counting how many drinks you’ve had or loving the President of The United States.
OK. I guess I can’t just settle on “it just is.” Not if I ever want to write for The Pitch again. And wasn’t it somewhat exciting when Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire. Or when Charles Mingus and/or Jerry Lee Lewis may or may not have destroyed their instruments? I mean, not to me. But maybe I’m just too delicate for passions that extend beyond the unraveling of Weezer’s sweater. Maybe I’m square enough to genuinely be nonplussed by wasteful destruction. But a lifetime of $8 honey lavender lattes and recreational drug use hardly speaks to any Puritanical thrift on my part. And really, as a proud defender of musicians existing within longstanding traditions, to the point of liking Interpol as much as I do The Chameleons, am I going to die on the hill of Being Mad Online on behalf of Guitar Center employees worldwide?
No. Of course not. The guitar smashing was fine, at least compared to global warming and every single thing Weezer did after the Blue Album (except “Hash Pipe”). As is so often the case, my grievance is not entirely with the crime, it’s with the law, the order, all the criminal intents and special victims that hullabaloo and endlessly dun DUN in the crime’s wake.
My brief pleasure in eye rolling at Phoebe Bridgers bopping a prop monitor on its noggin would have lasted the duration of a bowl of Honey Nut Chex if it hadn’t been prematurely disrupted by some Clintonista weirdo, with the tragicomic twitter handle of BrooklynDad_Defiant! (!), tweeting his displeasure at Ms. Bridgers’ performance, (saying “Why did this woman, Phoebe Bridgers, destroy her guitar on SNL? I mean, I didn't care much for the song either, but that seemed extra.”) Initially his replies were consistently his fellow #resisters agreeing. Unlike many such cases, usually a “Mitski Effect” where a random pleb with zero audience voices his dum dum opinion to minimal agreement and promptly gets curb stomped by the online intelligentsia, BrooklynDad_etc, has an actual following. The dude, who like many professional Reply Guys, made his bones in the Trump years dropping truth bombs such as “Hillary Clinton is much better at deal-making and real estate than you, @realDonaldTrump. She is renting space in your head for FREE,” has something like 500,000 followers. And his opinion, certainly in the condescending way it was expressed (referring to Bridgers as “this woman”), was grating. Even if I agreed with aspects of it. I agree with aspects of the Old Testament as well. Doesn’t mean I want to be a pillar of salt. And actually, I didn’t even agree with aspects of it. BrooklynDad_Defiant! called the guitar smashing “extra” and my irritation stemmed from how unextra it was. Unless we’re considering Green Day-esque pantomimes of rage to be “extra.” Which we are not. So BrooklynDad_Defiant! is no friend of mine, and I had and have no issue with his smug fucking around being immediately followed by a righteous finding of out.
That being said, the train quickly excluded itself from the narrative of the rails. The mild criticism of Bridgers, a semi-famous adult human being who had just performed on one of the remaining shared cultural touchstones in the modern world, became the focus of entire lifetimes of hurt. In a matter of minutes, a tweet ratio of 7.8 thousand, saw BrooklynDad_Defiant!’s relatively anodyne tweet as yet another monument to women not being permitted to express rage. Pre-planned rage. On Saturday Night Live. One #Resistance serial poster’s poorly put, dullard opinion became a sin eater stand-in for the music industry’s systemic, historic misogyny. Making Phoebe Bridgers, and her sparking monitor plant, a bizarre AOR/DIY Joan of Arc. The mild criticism soon withered (unless you were looking for it). The controversy, faced with the reality of unequal numbers between haters and stans, had to settle for being a discourse. I don’t begrudge my non-cis-male pals and peers their anger, ever, but by the time one of the not-Neil Young guys from CSN&Y weighed in (Islamophobic grump David Crosby calling the guitar smashing “pathetic,” to which Bridgers responded with a gendered insult), it seemed as though every Pinegrove profiling music site on earth had issued a fatwa against all stringed instruments, and every other Pick-Me male feminist from Greenpoint to Ridgewood had chimed in to stake a righteous claim of allyship. If I’m (slightly) exaggerating, it is only me being true to the larger zeitgeist.
Long story, barely truncated; the whole kerfuffle was enough to make me regret that The Who ever happened, even more than I already did. Which I didn’t think was possible.
Obviously, on one hand, if you use punctuation in your Twitter you probably never gave a moment’s shit about any of this. Conversely, caring about it appears to be Consequence of Sound’s entire business model for 2021.
I can only imagine what Lana Del Rey (whose public image has yo-yo’d from her first SNL performance being universally reviled to her music/image being universally critically deified before, after a series of unforced errors/soul strirring-ly clueless public utterances, returning to a cozy place of universal revilement) was thinking while watching everything go down. Probably something along the lines of “you just wait, [gendered insult]. You just wait.”
Framing Britney Spears Not all my takes are contrarian. I thought this doc was fairly solid. My only issue is one shared by a lot of online commentators; the idea that nobody thought Spears treatment was garbage at the time is ahistorical. Besides Craig Fergussen’s lovely speech in her defense, there were plenty of feminists calling that shit out.
Even me in 1997, upon getting the promo CD of Spears’ debut album as a box unloader at The Strand Bookstore, saw the teenager on the cover, her shadowed crotch centered in a barely subtle upskirt shot, and thought, “dang. They are going to destroy this child.” And, my friends, at twenty-one I was hardly what one could reasonably consider a particularly “good” guy. And at the time, and in the decade that followed, tons of women saw through the fable that was being inflicted upon Britney Spears. Hell, even Southpark defended her (sort of). The NYT journalists acting like it was some sort of wholesale post-Lewinsky (which had occurred more than a couple years before) societal madness is a needlessly exculpatory-for-the-media dodge. Also those #FreeBritney podcasters weirded me the fuck out. Though I’m not sure I could articulate why. (There’s a reason these short bites ain’t full essays..)
Bruce Springsteen Jeep ad I didn’t see it. I don’t even own a TV. Just kidding. My TV is enormous. But I only use it to marathon watch Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. I don’t doubt the ad sucked. But my main gripe (and it’s a big one) is that, because of the ad’s centrist messaging, I am once again forced by a capricious universe to have Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey’s “The Middle” stuck in my head. I truly hate that song and I’ve already devoted roughly 99% of my life to having its slip ‘n’ slide inspidity play 24/7 in the garishly lit Walgreens of my mind. So, while I’m sure he’s a peach, fuck you, Bruce Springsteen. Good job on “Atlantic City” tho.
New The Hold Steady From what I’ve been told, the loveliest of people. Their piano player is an amazing essayist. That should be enough to stop me from my endless, pointless and petty, campaign against them. But I want to gender balance my shots at Phoebe Bridgers and, frankly, most the indie boy bands her age aren’t on my radar. So, the band that patented being “solid dudes, backed hard” will just have to take one for the team. Happy to say that The Hold Steady still sound like Planes Mistaken For Stars covering the Worst of The Silver Bullet Band, topped with the lyrics of “Living On A Prayer” interpreted by a sentient, John Fante-addled, road atlas. If there’s a more archetypal “empty gestures in the general direction of profundity” band on the planet, they’re probably signed to Sargent House so I don’t know about ‘em. But, hey, no accounting for taste!
New Weird Britain Look. I love The Quietus. I subscribe to it. Imagine subscribing to a non substack music site in Biden’s America. The Quietus, from its recommendations to its overall writing, is a jewel and worth whatever it is I pay. Fucking love it, I tell you.
That being said, The Quietus’ taste in rock music (with the notable exceptions of their correct appreciation for Sleaford Mods, Algiers, Hey Colossus, and a few others I’m forgetting) is often wild. While the site’s long standing editorial penchant for championing a small stable of art-grunge bands is endearing, and while I genuinely love that any site still champions a “scene,” I may have reached my bewildered limit with the New Weird Britain thing.
I should take care to accentuate the “bewildered” part. My emotion regarding “New Weird Britain” bands (at least the ones on the rock end; Black Midi, Squid, Black Country, New Road. I have no idea if the term itself applies to an actual scene or if it’s The Quietus’s attempt to make “fetch'' happen) is not hate. It’s genuine confusion. Do they not have jam bands in the UK? Do they not have jazz? Did no one tell them that the Touch & Go catalog is now up on Bandcamp? Most importantly, have they forgotten just how good The Fall actually were??? This collective settling for perfectly amiable, super bon bon, Berkeley School of Music, frippery just boggles the mind. I have the inkling of a theory that the same island-isolated-empire-in-decline misunderstanding of what makes rock music work, the ingrained societal misunderstanding that allowed for Manic Street Preachers’ popularity, is at play here. But maybe it’s just a repeat of ‘90s UK journalists deciding to make Suede happen. Difference there is that Suede fucking ruled.
I should mention that “New Weird Britain” also encompasses a number of genuinely weird freak ambient folk noise whatever acts that I have no problem whatsoever with. Conversely, the rock end of the scene was, I believe, spearheaded by Speedy Wunderground, which is run by Dan Carey, the man who produced the Natasha Khan/Toy Sexwitch album, the covers album that, perhaps misreading the song listings of the single compilation it used as its source material, notoriously claimed to be covering the beloved Iranian singer Ramesh but instead covered the lesser known Iranian singer Pooneh’s version of an arrangement, by Turkish psyche legend Baris Manco, of Neşet Ertaş’ “Gönül Dağı.” But, hey, one Iranian singer is as good as another (covering an extremely famous Turkish musician), right?
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees The inclusion of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the inaugural Hater’s Buffet can only serve to diminish the integrity of this new institution. The Buffet’s integrity, not the Hall’s. To “hate” the Hall of Fame is to both overstate the case and to simultaneously inhabit a state of redundancy. To hate something so pointless, so antithetical to it’s own ostensible reason for being, is to waste strong, hot, hateful breath better devoted to either institutions of more meaningful evil (like the CCP or GOP) or distractions of more interesting triviality (like the DNC or the “indie” music industry). At the same time, to take breath at all, assuming the sucked air eventually reaches the brain, is to hate the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Truly…
So, accepting the absurdity of giving a hoot about a yearly canonical reenactment of every rapacious cruelty and/or idiot-wind omission baked into Establishment Rock and Roll since its inception, I can’t deny that my impotent rage burns particularly brightly this year. Let’s set aside the potential inclusion of Foo Fighters, a band that exists solely as an advertisement for misremembering the 1990’s as an even blander mishmash of volume-divorced-from-intent and t-shirt-clad-deprivation-of-spirit than it was at the time. Let’s set aside the potential inclusion of Rage Against The Machine, a band that I possibly underrate but who I will never forgive for not being Inside Out. And let’s set aside the sheer ludicrousness of trying to confine the likes of Mary J. Blige and Kate Bush, two higher forms of light confined to Earth’s meager orbit only by gravity’s petty bullshit, within the same cosmology that allows for the inclusion of the sort of Boston spittoons who reached the height of their own human potential with “Love In An Elevator.” Let’s even set aside the fact that David Johansen undoubtedly would rather go get a nice cup of tea and sit on a Tompkins Square park bench then be required to drag his high heeled sneakers to Cleveland to perform with the ghosts of all his best friends.
I can set all that aside. In the same way I can set aside the knowledge of Cthulhu’s imminent rushing down. I do, after all, need to live in this town.
But I can not. I will not accept. The simply insane fact that Carol King, thirty-five years after it first started inducting members, wasn’t already in the bullshit institution. She wrote… I mean… FUCK. SHE WROTE ALMOST EVERTHING. At least everything not already written by Smokey Robinson. She at least wrote “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” That’s not just discovering the Earth is round. That’s setting the tectonic borders that make it a ball. Thirty-five fucking years. I’m mad Online and Off.
The only rational solution is to burn the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame down, salt the earth, and set a flatscreen grave marker that just runs the opening credits music number of the Drew Carey Show on infinite repeat. Let Cleveland Rock, forever, and to hell with the rest.
OK all this negativity is kind of making my stomach hurt. Before you get mad at me, please remember that I’m both a motherless son sad boi and a middle aged crank whose opinions are, at best, meant to be distractions from the doom that awaits us all., And also that yelling at me online is anti-Semitism probably.
Or whatever. Yell at me all you like. I’m a big boy. But let’s get to the Simp Parade while we’re all still friends and I’m still vaguely hireable.
Looking at You by Lollise This extended play is all (almost) over-driven synth hooks, flute sweetened dub-swooning, and crisp vocals that are so cool that they can only imply a terrible fire underneath. Lollies is an alumni of Akoya Afrobeat and the FELA! Band so a certain level of songcraft is to be expected. And here the Botswana Ex Pat In NYC takes whatever expansiveness may be associated (correctly or not) with the traditions she’s previously worked within and streamlines and sharpens that energy into a pulsating, razor-tight batch of Pop/Not Pop.
We Were Always Alone by portrayal of guilt I’m not trying to derail narrative or diminish trauma out here, but all the reviews calling this album “oppressive” or “bleak” or whatever terms are commonly applied to guitar-centric misanthrope rock outfits are resolutely, if well intentioned-ly, incorrect. Even if the band and/or label agrees with them. None of those people are my dads and, sorry, this album is fun as HELL. You can’t have the horse gallop beat on your first song, write songs with actual dynamics and killer riffs over laser beam sound effects, sing those songs like The Blood Brothers never heard Bowie, and keep all the songs as short as all songs should be (but never are) and not expect me to have the sickest of times. I don’t care how many moody insterspacials you have. If you want to make a genuinely depressing record, get a worse drummer. This album is all bangers, party rock for the undeceived, start to finish. Fuck, dudes, on a scale of one-to-ten raised lighters, the last song/title track is practically “The Final Countdown.”
(Ideas of “fun” may differ.)
The Lady Upstairs by Halley Sutton Not music. A book. I know. I bought it after reading a review my dad wrote of it in The Washington Post. A slithering, vicious, classic noir jobber, with the femme fatalle as the hero (loosley speaking). If you need a music reference, think of the Greil Marcus essay on X’s Los Angeles. Mean, sexy people fucking up as meanly and sexily as possible, written by someone who knows how the human heart falters and has also clearly spent a lot of time in bars.
Europe Is Not My Centre; Europe Is On The Outskirts: A Visual Essay by Euphonic Rhythms A video made by the UK “social enterprise” for the 2019 Armand Hammer UK/EU tour. If you’re in the market for a lyrically edited celebration of Black cinema soundtracked by the best rappers on God’s green earth, you are in luck. Use it as a study guide, an affirmation and/or necessary corrective, a checklist of movies you need to explore, a means to pat yourself on the back for the movies you have seen, or just a singular piece of art working within and without both the music and source material. However you take it, it’s a grand piece.
Brainfreeze by Buggin’ The band is called “Buggin.” There’s a Beastie Boys cover (thus, thankfully, rendering the entire Rage Against The Machine discography redundant). Aaron from Jesus Piece/Nothing helped record it. Do I need to draw you a roadmap? Shit rules beyond reason. (and if you positively need more words, Tom Breihan did an excellent writeup of it over at Stereogum.)
“Blue Sky” by Serena Isioma Isioma’s whole The Leo Sun Sets album is real, real nice but this track, with its refrain of “I love to kiss a pretty bitch under a blue sky” over new age flourishes and a cold wave beat, is so effortlessly romantic that it should be the last song slow dance at every junior prom in America.
A Four Hour Cut of Justice League Amongst some admittedly pretty stiff competition, Zack Snyder is easily one of the worst Zacks. I find his movies literally (literally) unwatchable. And I say that as someone who both paid American dollars to subscribe to the DC Comics Roku channel and saw Deadpool 2 in the theatres. And I sure as heck didn’t sit through The Irishman. As far as movies go, my taste is negligible. But I have a line, and that line’s name is “the other Zack.” Probably preaching to the converted/indifferent here. But, my friends, I am EXCITED for the Zack Snyder Justice League Cut. It’s 240 minutes! That’s insane! That’s longer than it takes to conceive, carry to term, and raise a child, I think! That’s two whole episodes of 120 Minutes! I can’t flippin’ wait. It’s going to be like Armageddon, Sin City, and The Sorrow & The Pity all mixed together into a slurry of an endurance trial. I’m stoked. Someone plz pay me to write about it. I’ll do it for two dollars a minute of viewing. That means you basically get the piece for free.
Last Night I Dreamt That My Mother Was Still Alive Not only was she still alive, it was some strange Christmas morning scenario, my parents were still together (which seemed a tad disrespectful to both of their later, delightful, partners but what can you do), even (in an admittedly gratuitous touch) my sister’s childhood dog, “Candy” (or “Cookie,” as my dad would intentionally miscall her in order to make my sister cry) was there. There was a slight nightmarish quality when I said to my dad, “I thought she was..?” and he replied, “errrrr…” But the dream still ended with my mom hugging me. It was so nice. I woke up energized, crying, and a kind of happy. If we could bottle and sell the sweetness of that hug, we’d all be millionaires.
Thanks for reading! Please share and subscribe and focus on my better qualities!
PS. I did this fun interview for Brady Gerber’s excellent 7 For Seven newsletter. https://bradygerber.substack.com/p/7-for-seven-seven-questions-for-zachary Check it out!
PPS And if you missed my Sleaford Mods profile in The Washington Post, you should fix that. Their new album is wonderful and I’m extremely proud of how the profile came out.