By 1972, British music had fully renewed itself on the American scene in the form of glam rock. David Bowie, Slade, and Roxy Music were all part of this musical landscape that Marc Bolan and his band T. Rex expanded and exemplified. Glitter, platform boots, sci-fi imagery, and ’50s rock n’ roll roots made this sub-genre exciting, fresh, and new to kids of the ’70s who may not have realized that this was the rock n’ roll of Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Richard — just amped up and fuzzed out for the new generation.
T. Rex’s album The Slider made full use of all of these elements to create a vibe that spoke to a new generation of rock fans. The album was the pinnacle of the dreamworld that Marc Bolan created, and it leaves us spellbound more than 40 years later. In this episode, we theorize over some extremely poetic lyrics, attempt to decode Bolan, introduce a new hashtag (#RespectTheSequence), and somehow, somehow connect T. Rex to DJ Khaled.
New York is one of those few rare places where you can read about a place in the city one minute — an old building where someone once lived, an abandoned music venue, a corner where that one special scene in a movie from decades ago was shot — then find yourself actually there the next. Buildings are not just buildings. Streets are not just streets. At least, not to some people. At least, not to me.
The Apthorp. Macdougal Street. 52 West 8th Street. 315 Bowery. The Hotel Chelsea. I could write you a long list if I wanted to, a list of places that are not just addresses and buildings and random New York streets. They’re places that mean something. They hold memories, even if they aren’t really mine. The place didn’t make the place; the people who came before me did.
On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself standing on a random sidewalk, perhaps insignificant to 80 percent of the world, still, closing my eyes, trying to cull memories that are built on second-hand information from my brain. And then I open them and stare at another luxury development and wonder where exactly it is I am doing and what exactly it is I’m doing there. I try to place the people back into the picture and start to wonder why it’s becoming more and more difficult to feel even a tiny bit of spark of inspiration, a tiny bit of understanding of what things were like before this very moment.
These are supposed to be haunted streets, haunted with our ancestors’ spirits, those living and dead, those related to us not by blood, but by spirit. The dreamers and artists and thinkers and poets. These are supposed to be haunted streets, but it’s getting harder to feel their spirits, harder to close my eyes and truly feel, harder to summon energy of a time I can’t help but think I’ve missed out on.
Joan Didion once wrote, “I am trying to place myself in history. I have been looking all my life for history and have yet to find it.” I came to New York to be a part of history. To revisit history. To make my own history. But history is quickly being renovated or torn down or overshadowed by high rise buildings that may sparkle in the sunset but still sit empty, homes to nothing more than investments, at the end of the day.
I wonder if anyone in the future will feel the same way I feel now. I wonder if the places that are significant to me now, the places that I will tell stories of, will mean anything years from now, or if they’ll all be whitewashed beyond recognition, the way CBGBs is now a men’s clothing store and the Palladium is now an NYU dorm and Pearl Paint now houses $16,000 a month condos. Will it still feel the same? Will anyone care?
The city giveth and the city taketh away. The only constant about New York is that it’s always changing. Maybe I sound very young and very romantic and very naive, but I know this. I have known this. I have known that, in so many ways, this city is better — I know that I should be grateful, that I should be acknowledging how wonderful it is that crime rate is down and I don’t have to push a dead hobo from my doorway when I leave for work in the morning or worry too too much about getting mugged on the subway — but I can’t help but wonder if better is always actually better. Or, if it is, who is it really better for?
This usually happens right around the time I notice how goddamn quiet it is, how homogenized things are beginning to look, how alone with my thoughts I am. I live in New York. Isn’t it supposed to be dirty? Isn’t it supposed to be loud? Aren’t I supposed to be making calls to 311 every other day, while knowing in the back of my mind that this is what I signed up for? Because, really, this is what I signed up for. I signed up for the scary and the tough and the gritty and the unpleasant and the bad that’s supposed to make the good all the sweeter in the end.
I still believe that New York is the greatest city in the world, still believe in its infinite possibilities. I wouldn’t have stayed here for as long as I have if I didn’t. But New York doesn’t feel like a city for the very young very often anymore. Is cleaning things up really making this city better? Do we need another brunch place that specializes in vegan avocado toast or a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks or, as I saw recently, scrawled on the window of what was once an Urban Outfitters (I know) whose doors had been shut to make way for new businesses,another fucking bank? Do we need another bucolic residential development or another new high rise that only a handful of people can afford to live in?
I’ve been searching for history, but it feels like it’s slipping away from me.
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?