The year is 1981 and pop culture is exploding around the world — Raiders of the Lost Ark premieres, the wreckage of the Titanic is found, and Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales. The music industry is coming out of one of its worst slumps in decades, dealing with the backlash against disco music, and tucked away at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads record their first album as Tom Tom Club.
The album will become one of the most popular post-disco dance records of the ’80s and gross more than any of the four albums Talking Heads had released to that point. It incorporates international musical techniques and influences, giving the songs a flavor that expands the post-punk art rock sound Tina and Chris had established with Talking Heads, and sets the tone for the new directions that they would take in their musical careers.
While this album can definitely be dated to the early ’80s, we are in love with how it simultaneously sounds fresh and exciting to millennial ears. In this episode, we explore the sound combinations that make this album the joyous thing that it is, discuss its legacy and relevance, and speak about why Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz are two artists who inspire us big time.
(I try to love all of our episodes equally, but I think this one might be my absolute favorite and our best one yet, so check it out.)
Before Prince, Madonna, and Beyoncé were boldly owning race, gender, and sexuality in their music, there was Betty Davis: raw, explicit, and brazenly emancipated from everything expected of women in 1974.
At 16, Davis moved to New York, became a model and scenester, and fell into a crowd of friends and lovers that included Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Miles Davis (whom she later married — for a year). After her debut album underperformed, she took full creative control and produced her follow-up entirely on her own. The result was They Say I’m Different: a bold, unfiltered album that exposes the power of a woman confident with her gender, race, and sense of self.
In this episode, we discuss the impact of this album on society: how it fit into the time it was released, and how it has influenced artists today, both musically and politically.
We recorded this episode on Sunday, just hours before this year’s Grammys. We waited anxiously for Beyoncé’s masterpiece Lemonade to be deservedly rewarded. The album is a clear continuation of Betty’s legacy: aggressively independent, proudly black, profoundly female, and willing to take names of those who object; the words Betty growls on 1974’s “Don’t Call Her No Tramp” are echoed in Beyoncé’s howl on 2016’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”
It’s the kind of music that can scare people. Betty’s provocativeness led to her mainstream demise, but she laid the groundwork for women like Beyoncé who came after her. When we recorded this episode, we were excited for this to be a way to say “Look how far we’ve come.” Instead, the results of this year’s Grammy ceremony showed us that, 42 years later, this kind of music still scares people, and we still have a long way to go.
I’m writing this right now, just a few hours after Betsy Devos was confirmed as Education Secretary, sitting on a couch and eating free snacks at my challenging-but-cushy job at the company I’ve wanted to work at since I was about 13 years old. It’s a job I wouldn’t have without you. Really, I mean that. I had to start somewhere, and I wouldn’t be here today, a functioning baby-adult-still-trying-to-become-a-real-adult, without you.
You gave me standards I still hold myself to. When I wasn’t very good at something, you helped me get better. When I was good, you challenged me to try even harder. You made me feel extra special and extra loved and extra believed-in. You helped me grow. You helped make me who I am.
Everything that’s happened feels like such a slap in the face. It feels so personal. Maybe I’m extra emotional and shaken by it because I’ve never really gotten over what an amazing public education I had, how thankful I am for it, and how fearful I am that others won’t get that same experience.
So this is just a big, sincere, resounding, shout-from-the-rooftops thank you to every public school teacher I’ve ever had. You did right by me more than you needed to.
Thank you for every time you opened up your classroom doors at 6:30 a.m., every winter day you stayed until it was dark out, and every time you invited us to your homes to celebrate holidays, both real and invented by us kids. Thank you for taking on extra work, for grading around the clock, for the SAT prep you didn’t have to give us, for often investing not only your time, but your own money to make sure we had everything we needed to succeed.
Thank you for the little things, all of which I appreciated in some way at the time, but some of which I appreciate even more now that I’m semi-grown: The “if you liked this book, you should read…” suggestions. The extension on the papers I clearly bullshitted — “I know you can do better” — so I could try again. The college recommendation letters. The readings of stories and articles and essays I didn’t even write for your class, but wanted your thoughts on anyway. The encouraging and the advice giving and the occasional consoling. All those times you let me hang out with you during recess or lunch or study halls or after school while you wrapped up your work — I cut into your free time, and you never once turned me away.
An extra thank you to those who I have stayed in touch with still, nearly eight years after I graduated high school and moved on with my life. A small “I do miss you sometimes” to those I haven’t.
I don’t know what comes next, but I do know that I will fight it to the best of my ability. I will fight because you fought for me, and it’s about time more people fought for you.
All my love,
PS – One teacher may not even read this but GOD, I can feel his eyes rolling so hard at how tired this “open letter” format is (I agree) and I both adore him for that imagined reaction and thank him for the temporary comic relief it gave me.
Last Halloween, my best friend, Carly Jordan, had an idea: what if we turned all the time we spent analyzing every little thing about albums for fun and turn it into a podcast? Every other week, we’d discuss a different album and share our unconventional love of older music; we’d try to bridge a generation gap; we’d try to carry the torch.
After a few months of questioning if it was an appropriate time to release a music podcast, it’s here. In the coming months you’ll hear us talk about a variety of albums, from Betty Davis to Talking Heads to Big Star. But to start, we kicked off with our favorite (obviously) — this little known nugget from Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham from their days before Fleetwood Mac — because how could we not? Sneak a peak of each post below and be sure to follow (details below) for more.
Two years before joining Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had no idea what lay ahead of them. They were just two kids who wanted to make great music — and they just happened to be in love.
A cult favorite of Fleetwood Mac fans, this album is curiously still only available on vinyl. While bootlegs of the album can be streamed on YouTube, it has never been (officially) released on cassette, CD, or to streaming services like Spotify. This is perhaps part of the attraction to the album — this is music that doesn’t outright present itself; it must be found.
In this episode, we discuss why we both call this album our favorite of all time, what makes it unique, and why it still takes our breath away hundreds of listens later.
This past week has felt like some kind of bad dream.
I have nightmares like this sometimes. In them, I wake up to a text message or a Google alert that one of my biggest heroes, those few rare, celestial, magic people in my life, has died. Just as I’m about to lose it, I wake up for real. Sometimes a little sweaty and breathless, usually a bit disoriented, always frantically checking that it really was just a dream.
But this time, it was real.
Carrie Fisher was gone. It was real, and I didn’t get the news while in the safe cocoon of my own bed. It was a phone call from my best friend, followed by several texts from a slew of others, late in the morning on the Tuesday after Christmas. I tried to ignore them and keep running, but I just knew. I just knew, as I pulled my phone out of my pocket with shaky hands.
I crumpled to the ground and sat on the curb in the town I grew up in, a block from my high school, and began to sob uncontrollably.
I called my friend back. I don’t think I was coherent. I can’t remember what I even said. All I can remember is her calm, soothing voice on the other end as I blubbered and felt my nose begin to run. All I can remember is eventually standing back up and staggering home in a daze, gasping for breath, gulping at the cold air like I was drowning, trying desperately to swim to the edge of my sorrow.
Every time I think I’m there, I fall back under.
I’m trying to figure out why this hurts so much, why my heart physically aches sometimes, why I haven’t gone a day without crying. Mourning someone you never really knew in real life — as much as it feels like you did — feels strange. It makes me feel so different from everyone else. Why do I care so much? Is it because I had come to feel like Carrie was almost like some beloved aunt who I never got to see, but was always there with the right words to inspire me, to advise me, or just make me laugh, whether it was through a book or her Twitter account? Is it because Carrie helped me know myself better?
Maybe it’s because I saw so much of myself in Carrie, so much of her in myself: She was so self-aware, so self-deprecating and sometimes self-loathing, even when everyone around her was heaping on praise. She knew what it was like to be so inside your head that you can’t escape sometimes, how frustrating and exhausting and sometimes terrifying that can feel. I would underline passages in her books and send photos to friends. “See! This is me! This is exactly how I feel!”
She was irritated by so many things in this hostile world and made her opinion known at all times, without filter, without thinking about the consequences. It never failed to remind me of my tendency to do the same, how my mother has to constantly ask,“Carrie, is this the hill you want to die on?”
Carrie learned how to take everything that happened to her — being the child of two celebrities, reaching unexpected and perhaps overwhelming superstardom at 19, drug addiction, bipolar disorder, failed public relationships, aging, body image, and more — and spin it in her own favor. She learned how to draw upon her insecurities for inspiration, learned how to take Nora Ephron’s “everything is copy” motto and twist it. Everything is copy if you can make it funny, and trust — there is laughter to be found in even the most brutal situations.
She was bold and loud and even when she wasn’t actually confident, God, she did such a great job at faking it. She called bullshit as she saw it. She stopped apologizing for who she was. She took all of the punches and hit back, even when she was hurt. We owe her so much for that.
Of course, this hurts so deeply because it just seems so unjust. “Fuck a world that allows Carrie Fisher to die prematurely and for Donald Trump to be the fucking president,” one friend said the other day, and I sympathized. She had so much left to give, so many more one woman shows and memoirs and novels and emoji-laden tweets. It was too soon for her to leave. When I think about it like this, I get so angry that my heart races, that I want to yell at God or whoever it is that makes these decisions — Why her? Why now? What kind of cruel punishment is this? What did we do to deserve this?
But part of it hurts because I am very selfish. The world still needs Carrie Fisher, yes, but I still need Carrie Fisher. When I met her in November, we joked about having the same name and she signed my copy of The Princess Diarist dedicated to the “other, newer Carrie.” I may be the younger, newer Carrie, but she was the older, wiser, fewer-fucks-to-be-had Carrie. I’m nowhere near that, so I lived vicariously through her. I learned through her. Now she’s gone and I feel like I need her more than ever, more than I would typically care to admit.
“Our heroes are our lighthouses; they guide us safely home,” my friend Whitney wrote in an eloquent tribute. Carrie was one of my lighthouses, and over the past week, the world has felt a little bit darker and I have felt a little bit lost.
I’m sure that, in time, I’ll get better. It just might take me longer than others. I’ve been here once before, and the last time, I didn’t have friends like I have now, friends who understood, who felt the same way. I wasn’t confident enough to write my feelings and share them as raw as they were. But I still got better.
Carrie Fisher will always be in my life. I will continue to learn new things from her, to find new lines in books or interviews that resonate with me. A little bit of her will always live in my soul and come out every time I write, every time I call bullshit on something, every time I refuse to care what someone thinks. I can’t thank her anymore, but instead, I’ll be more critical of myself. Am I making Carrie proud?
AKA, an “in case you missed it” with my best pieces of 2016
2016, you were a real motherfucker. You took some of my favorite humans, you made me question the sanity of most Americans, and you ushered in the start of what could be the start of the United States of Autocracy. I’m pretty sure I’ve said “fuck” more this year than I have in my entire life, and I say “fuck” a lot.
All negative things aside, this year wasn’t a wash. I did cool things and nerdy things and adventurous things with my best friends. The deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey earlier in the year ushered in a year of my own version of carpe diem — love thy olds — and I went to as many concerts and readings and discussions with my favorite living legends as I could. I wrote a lot of things I’m really proud of, for here, for Inspirer, and for Quartz. Here’s the sizzle reel of highlights, in case you missed things.
Things I wrote and am proud of:
I wrote a defense of Carrie Fisher in the wake of the New York Post’s gross, misogynistic body shaming opinion piece (of garbage) — even though she didn’t need me to defend her because she clapped back in the best way, a way only she could pull off. Technically this was December 31, 2015, but it feels so much more important now.
I wrote about the death of iconic rock stars, and with it, the potential death of rock and roll. Fam, this was only January. I had no idea what we were in for this year, and, again, it feels so much more important now.
The New Republic then tried to come for old rock stars with something about an “aging rock star cliché,” to which I said “this isn’t a real thing.”
Nora Ephron and the documentary Everything Is Copy gave me next-level feels, so I wrote about the significance of idols and what it means to mourn celebrity heroes in my first piece for Inspirer.
Lemonade dropped and it blew everyone’s mind and I said I couldn’t possibly write about it because Beyoncé is one tough cookie to crack. Jokes, because the next day I realized I needed to write about its timely and necessary female empowerment themes.
Then I wrote a piece for Stevie Nicks’s birthday explaining how there really is no simple answer about why she’s my hero, about just how great her influenceon my life and career has been.
I talked to a bunch of rad fucking women for Inspirer on a slew of topics like: growing as an artist (Greta Morgan), multiple sclerosis and the strength in owning your weaknesses (Jamie-Lynn Sigler), ‘70s Laurel Canyon rock (Shelly Colvin), diversity in entertainment (Lea DeLaria), comedy and growing into yourself (Jen Kirkman), ambition (Eva Longoria), and feminism (Pat Benatar). I juiced their mind grapes for as much advice and inspiration as I could and I learned so. much.
Kim dropped receipts about Taylor Swift and the public turned on her, which was honestly a moment I had been waiting for since 2006. Then Instagram started censoring negative comments on Taylor’s account (meanwhile Twitter was doing nothing while Leslie Jones fielded vicious, racist attacks). I said “oh hell no” and wrote about just how problematic that is in a piece for Inspirer, which was then picked up by Quartz.
Finally, I wrote two things about Carrie Fisher, whose legacy and impact on my life will last forever. First, days before her death, on the importance of recognizing her impact on culture as so much more than just being Princess Leia. Then, my thanks, or the best I could do in the still mournful and shocked state I am.
Things I did this year and concerts I went to that were awesome and I photographed but did not necessarily write about:
Tried the New York festival circuit by going to Governor’s Ball (highlights: Father John MistyandHaim) — before getting rained out — and covering Panorama (highlights: Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire, Grace Potter, Kurt Vile, and LCD Soundsystem). New York, I love you, but when it comes to festivals, your crowd scenes are kinda sorta bringing me down.
Was second row two nights in a row at Mudcrutch. Made direct contact with my hero Tom Petty. LOLed with Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench about my Stevie Nicks For President shirt. It was dope, to say the least.
Was second row two nights in a row for Jackson Browne. (Can you tell I have an addictive personality when it comes to concerts with my favorite olds?)
Danced in the rain at Paul Simon’s (potentially) final US show in his hometown before working my way to the pit for an incredible, haunting encore.
Endured a terrible, super lame Central Park crowd to see Ryan Adams.
Sang “Because the Night” with Patti Smith and a few hundred others who gathered in a Brooklyn synagogue to hear her discuss her devastatingly brilliant M Train.
Literally was the youngest person (with @canicallucandy) at a JD Souther concert. Candace wanted to die when someone recognized me from ~the internet.~
Went to a 120 person club to see Benmont Tench two days after the election and just hours after Leonard Cohen’s death was announced. Jackson Browne hung out with the audience, then came out at the end and they performed a tribute to Leonard and it was chills and tear-inducing and everything my heart needed on November 10.
Met one of my biggest lady heroes, Carrie Fisher. The first thing she said to me upon seeing my name on the post-it was: “You’re Carrie, too? Look at those gorgeous eyes. I would love to have grown up Carrie with those eyes.” Then she told me I must have good parents, based on their choice of name (I told her I’m named after my great-grandmother — “they’re not weirdo fans, don’t worry”), and dedicated my book to “the other, newer Carrie.” Thinking about it now makes me weep, but god, what a memory.
“Bend down,” she said. “Bend down so I can get over you.”
About a month ago, I found myself, by complete chance, at a book signing for Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist at the Strand. It was 30º and they made us wait outside for two hours. “The things I do for my heroes,” I complained.
We only spoke for a few minutes, but it was worth it. I told her Surrender the Pink was underrated, and one of my all time favorites. “It’s about Paul!” she whispered, but it came out as more of a shout and I laughed and nodded. I said all the things you want to tell your heroes: how I was a writer, too, how her style has influenced mine, especially her novels, even though I write non-fiction, how I just wanted to thank her for everything.
She stopped signing, looked up at me, and did this thing that not every older writer who I say that to does — because how many girls like me say they’re writers, but they just *aren’t*, you know? — and she may not have realized it, but it meant the world to me. She looked me dead in the eye, almost like how an animal can smell one of its own. She was a little amused, but mostly serious. She said a thousand pieces of advice in that one look before she earnestly told me to keep at it, to write what I want to write, and to never let anybody get in the way.
This loss hurts a lot. This hurts deeply, to the point where I haven’t said all I’d like to say, but I just can’t form the thoughts. Carrie Fisher is one of my few heroes. She made me laugh. She made me cry. She taught me to be brave and unapologetic. She taught me to tell anyone who didn’t like what I did to fuck off. She taught me how to write. She taught me so much more. To say I am devastated would be an understatement. Rest in piece, Carrie. Your influence will not be forgotten.