33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Fourteen – Black Tie, White Noise

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

An audio version of this column, complete with music, is available at our patreon for just $1 dollar a month!

Content Warning: this column deals with trauma, September 11th, 2001, and similar topics. All the heavy stuff is prologue to the column, so feel free to skip to the actual album review, starting with the fourth paragraph.
God is on top of it all
That’s all
We are we are we are

What’s the difference between a timeless legacy and a dated representation of the times? How do we decide what’s worth focusing on when we look back? It sure seems like a random and arbitrarily decided distinction. Sure, some are clearer than others. It’s easy to give credit for era-defining albums or days that live in infamy. Less noteworthy things, like one-hit wonders, are usually revisited as a nostalgia trip, not because they’re still relevant, whatever that means. Relevancy is such a nebulous concept and one that varies so much from person to person. Because of that, this column is going to be a little more divided than usual, focusing first on what’s on my mind leading up to putting this month’s album on repeat before diving into the album itself.

Just a few days ago, we passed the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in New York City. I’m not going to get into my personal connections and memories with the event here, as I think they’re much too complicated to have as a backdrop to a music column. But this year felt… different for me than it usually does. Yeah, every year I see a lot of “Never Forget” posts alongside edgy jokes belittling it, the usual internet discourse ranging from deeply personal to the shallowest callousness and every level of no/half/full-hearted messaging in between. I was surprised, though, to see a lot of people talking about how it’s been so long, why do we still make such a big deal out of it, that it’s no longer relevant enough to justify all this attention. And this year, I saw an elevated level of animosity, which is, frankly, what I’ve come to expect in 2019. Some using it as an example of true American sacrifice, the day we were shown just how at risk the life we had taken for granted was. Others using it as the starting point of the modern American imperial era kicked into effect by the Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Terrorists bill and the Bush Doctrine. Projecting it as the event that jingoists and fascists use to justify their politics. And while I don’t disagree with any of that, per se, I think there’s something deeply personal missing from that dichotomy, a focus on what parts of the event are still relevant and necessary to include in our thoughts on that horrible day.

I’m sure it’s because I’m a New Yorker, but I don’t think enough people give space for the trauma that it caused in so many of us. Yes, it is more important than ever to discuss the politics of the weeks, months, and years after that, especially now that people born after that day are now old enough to go fight in the wars that spun out of it. I was extremely lucky not to lose anyone that day, but knew plenty of people that did. When we look at such a catastrophic event as that day, we too often forget that the people affected are still affected and walk around with that weight every single day. First responders dealing with the mental (and physical) damage from being a part of it. People who were harassed, abused, and worse just because they looked like the people who did this. Children who were forced to confront so many things about the world, prematurely, that Tuesday morning. So many people lost something that day, and even though it’s been 18 years, not everyone’s found it yet. We all need to remember the real people that these macroscopic events touch, the micro reasons why 18 years isn’t nearly enough for these events to no longer be considered… relevant.

So what does that have to do with David Bowie? Aside from him playing “Heroes” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” at the Concert For New York benefit, not much on it’s face, actually. I was stuck thinking about the kinds of legacies that are left behind and how much weight we should give facets of more complex legacies. Whenever I’m stuck in a loop in my own head, thinking about some complicated or challenging feelings, there’s almost always a Bowie record that helps me focus. I think it’s because he reinvented himself so many times. Bowie is always relevant because he was always relevant. In the late 80s and early 90s, he was in a critical slump and a lot of people counted him out after he was unable to match his success of his early and mid 80s albums. But with 1993’s Black Tie, White Noise, he reintroduced himself and kickstarted one of my favorite eras of his career, his electronic house/industrial phase. Fresh off of his tenure in the band Tin Machine and beginning a marriage, this album serves as not only a revamp of what a David Bowie record sounded like, but a goodbye to the Bowie everyone already knew. From “You’ve Been Around:”

Where’s the pain in the violent night? I’m depressed by the grin.
I stay over many years. I should have thought of that.
For the love of the money. Like a black-hearted vile thing.
It’s the nature of being. It’s too many lonely nights
I can’t tell bad from wrong
I can’t pass you by, too exchanging
You’ve been around but you’ve changed me

The album has way more than just the lyrics to show the bridge between Bowie’s past and future. He considered it a blend of 60s pop melodies with 90s house music. Bowie brought back Nile Rodgers, his producer from Let’s Dance a decade prior, but made a conscious effort to distance himself from that sound. Bowie picks a few covers to include on this album, too, and those choices are very telling. He covers Morrisey’s 1992 track “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side,” which itself was heavily influenced by Bowie’s glam rock era, not least of all because it featured Mick Ronson, Bowie’s guitarist from 1970 to 1973, most famously on Ziggy Stardust. Bowie covers the contemporary song inspired by his classic style, once again merging the past and the present. There’s a very 1993 version of Cream’s 1966 single “I Feel Free,” featuring Mick himself. This was their first collaboration in 20 years, but tragically, Ronson passed away from cancer only 24 days after the album’s release. The inevitability of moving forward is clear on the record, no matter how familiar it may seem on paper. From “Miracle Goodnight:”

Don’t want to know the past, I want to know the real deal
I really don’t want to know that
The less we know, the better we feel
Morning star you’re beautiful, yellow diamond high
Spinning around my little room, miracle

Bowie, more so than any artist I listen to, always managed to stay relevant while staying familiar. He always sounded like Bowie, even when what that means is so hard to describe. His catalog serves as a long narrative, with twists, turns, and losses that I find really inspiring. Every few months I do a full listen of his discography, chronologically, and I have different takeaways every time. Sometimes I love the Berlin era most of all, sometimes his early work, this time his 90s stuff. It always helps me to get clarity on complex issues I have, knowing that it’s possible to consider the multitudes and learn more as you revisit the complexities. You don’t have to completely understand every phase and growth right away, whether it be from an artist’s work or your own traumas. Someone like Bowie, someone beautifully expressive and honest, helps to shed light on my darkest thoughts and keep me company in my loneliest memories.

It’s hard for me to imagine a time when people thought Bowie’s career was over. But like all timeless art, his time came again, and he was able to reinvent himself and cement his legacy as someone with countless aspects. As we look back through the art we love, the people we idolize, and the events that shaped us, it’s important to try to look at them with the nuance they deserve. It’s always more complicated than it seems on the surface and bullet points rarely capture the whole picture.

They’ll show us how to break the rules
But never how to make the rules
Reduce us down to witless punks
Fascist cries both black and white, who’s got the blood, who’s got the gun.
Putting on the black tie, cranking out the white noise

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A Year of Spider-Man and Living Emotionally

I’m a grown man, damn it.

I come from a long line of grown men. There are expectations to uphold. Clan Man’s family crest has one symbol, a stone, and written beneath in the most metal-looking font is “Non Clamabit”. 

We. Do. Not. Cry.

No one ever told me that. I saw, peripherally, the little league culture that ran future grown men through the necessary trials of Losing, of Bleeding, of Sucking it up. I saw the 90’s standup about grown men being like Easter Island heads, and the laughs that came from descriptions of emotional women. I don’t like sports and that stand up is before my time, so I’m not like those guys. But I also didn’t cry.

Not never, I guess. I lost some relatives. I had some snaps when my hormones mixed with the obligations of teenage life. I twisted my ankle real bad once. But I kept it pretty tight. There are expectations to uphold.

My Enneagram is Chandler

I am a silly arty boy, so it’s always come out that way. Did I say come out? It was cleverly repressed that way. Class clowns keep the emotions at bay and penning short stories with other people crying means that you’ve written it down somewhere, so it counts. Check that box. And I love art. Damn, I do, it’s everything. But I took it in sideways, like a twisted robot, reconfiguring the information and translating it. A really moving death scene, a true filmic tragedy would get a raised eyebrow of respect from me. Ah, yes. That reads as very moving. But it didn’t get me, a grown man.

No one told me to do these things, the way you don’t need to be told about chlorine to have a head cold after a day at the pool. I was just swimming out here. Doing laps in our culture. Which is great, oh man, let me tell you. The misogyny, the racism, the repression, you know what, I’d better not tell you, just go take a women’s studies or black history class. The whole thing’s been a journey, sometimes devastating to think about. But the more I dug into my inner plumbing, the more certain bolts got loosened, though slowly. I was more open. This began to cause leaks.

It had to be art. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just watch soldiers coming home on YouTube like a Normal person, but I need to do this my way. The Star Wars way. People will get this. The Force Awakens pushed nostalgia buttons the way it was designed to. It made unflinching eye contact with us and hovered its finger over the play button on John Williams’ Force theme. “Oh, you wanted to just have a space adventure with your favorite toys? It would be a shame if someone… SLOW-PLAYED A FOURTH INTERVAL ON A FRENCH HORN THAT HAPPENED TO SCORE THE FIRST TIME YOU EVER EXPERIENCED IMAGINATION.”

“One of these days I’ll get off this rock, and tell my dad I love him.”

Uh oh. The fabled water works. Ok, a misting. Little leaks around the seams. Enough to keep supermarket lettuce fresh. THAT was weird, I said. Wonder if THAT ever happens again. It took time. Sure I was opening up, but there are expectations to uphold. Until my year of emotion.

See, my specific brand of art is getting so good lately. Yes, Hollywood is dying due to the superhero boom and endless reboots. Do I care? I mean, sure, a little. But NO! My stuff got so good! Star Wars has great acting and effects now! Superhero movies got funny and dazzling! Is a large part of that cold cash grabs, sure. But it’s getting me to a comfortable, open place. And then some things happened. Spider-Man things.

I slept on Spider-Man for too long. He was always in my life but I didn’t gravitate to him properly. And then very quickly between the Tom Holland portrayal, the animated Into the Spider-Verse, and some soul searching, I realized he was my favorite character from anything. I see myself all over that boy. Broke, earnest, funny to keep from being scared. And then when things happen to that boy…

Tag yourself. I’m Spider-Man.

Look, I’m just trying to say I was in no way ready for Peter Parker’s eulogy. It wasn’t fair to me, guys. Spider-Verse Doc Ock-punched me in all my vulnerable spots. To see a memorial service for Peter, a character I’d grown to love retroactively, and to see all the fans gathered around and told they all could be Spider-Man was just… uh oh. And they all put on the masks and the music picked up and, uh oh. Here we go.

And then since I was open to it, the rest of the film was a free for all. The film is an amazing love letter to vulnerability. It’s about a dad and son not being too weirded out to say they love each other. It’s about people not being too cool to say they failed, and badly. It’s super all about identity, and all the forms it takes. At one point, get this, a 40’s noir version of Spider-Man, who lives and sees in black and white and is voiced by Nicolas Cage, turns to his friends and says “I love you all.” No caveats. No macho distancing to make sure we’re not too gay. Friends being cool loving each other. Uh oh.

I cried a whole ton. 

A few months later, the Avengers finale came out, and we went to see what happened to the heroes that disappeared last movie. And yeah, all you smartasses that nailed it with “what’s the point, they’re all going to come back next movie,” nicely done, brilliant work. They came back, all these friends whose work means so much to me. In one glorious montage, heroes from all over the universe assemble to have each other’s backs. People from Africa, from Asgard, from space, Spider-Man… UH OH.

Oh no, no no no. That boy is back. And Tony wanted to save him so badly. And he’s back, and he’s gonna, I dunno, speak or something.

“Hey, Mr. Stark.” OHHH NOOOOO.

It’s actually all in his voice, which is not even from America. Remarkable.

It was too much. I won’t describe it, to preserve the little shame I have left. Just, water works. And if this wasn’t clear for some reason, I’m not sad. I couldn’t even describe any state I’m in, other than open. Just seeing earnest affection and commitment is doing some good in the world. There’s this weird old grouchy thing I keep hearing, “do we really need another Spider-Man movie?” Yes. Yes we do. Because they keep doing these things, and new angles on them. Showing the struggle of high school life, friendship, working hard when there’s no incentive to. Being vulnerable. Maybe we actually don’t need fifty James Bond movies.

It’s been a year, and I don’t think the emotion experiment is over. I’ve got some go-to cry button music playlists on Youtube. A cheesy Doctor Who monologue with one sliding tear got me this week. And the point isn’t just to feel something when consuming art, though it feels great. It’s about an entire openness in life. Taking blame, calling out my emotions as I see them. If for some reason you read this far and are still derisive about my softness, I’m not exactly sure what to tell you, other than to give it a shot. I’ve found that bottling up pain and keeping up appearances just hurts more on the inside, while being open to showing affection and being ok with being scared and wrong takes all the weight off your shoulders. It can start with little things. Don’t say “chopping onions.” It made me cry. Take it out for a spin, you never know. There may be a new standard to uphold.

 

I’m not crying, we are.

 

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33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Thirteen – The Wall

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

An audio version of this column, complete with music samples, is available at our patreon for just $1 dollar a month!

Just a content note, I’ll be talking about genocide, fascism, and political generalizations based on demographic trends, so you don’t have to yell at me if you’re “one of the good ones.”

 

Mother, did it need to be so high?

I spend a lot of time doing deep dives on music and I try to break open as much of what the songwriters are trying to say as I can, whether it be about themselves or the world around them. But it’s becoming more and more obvious that a lot of people don’t do that, even when they’ve been listening to these songs for decades and especially when they’re really popular. The more these songs are played out and diluted, the less real meaning they seem to have, like an album everyone seems to know, Pink Floyd’s 1979 album, The Wall.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of older generations lately, after starting to really delve into the solo career of Roger Waters, the bass player and main songwriter for Pink Floyd, primarily Is This The Life We Really Want?, his newest record. I was searching through some reviews for it and came across this one:

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If you know anything about Roger Waters, you already know more than “Steve S,” but if you don’t, he’s pretty consistently written political lyrics. Even before the Pink Floyd album I picked for this month’s column, you can clearly see his politics shine through in most of his post-Dark Side Of The Moon work, both solo and with Floyd. Here’s “Sheep” from their 1977 record, Animals.

What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real
Meek and obedient, you follow the leader down well-trodden corridors
Into the valley of steel
What a surprise, a look of terminal shock in your eyes
Now things are really what they seem
No, this is no bad dream

The entire album is politically driven, from attacking capitalism, media censorship and “traditional values,” to blindly obeying a leader until you realize how far you’ve fallen. The issue we’re seeing today, though, is that so many people, especially when they’re privileged enough to be less affected by day-to-day policy fights, don’t realize they’ve fallen from their ideals at all. They think they’re on the right side of history, but if you were to supplant their opinions now relative to the oppressive power structures back just a few decades, they would almost certainly be the people calling Martin Luther King Jr. a dangerous radical and contributing to the almost two thirds disapproval rating that he had in 1966. They’d much rather just “keep politics out of it” and “talk about something else” instead of standing up for what’s right. King talked extensively about the dangers of these (white) moderates who sit on the sidelines in his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.”

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride towards freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season. 

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I’m bewildered by the present-day rejection of societal optimism and justice from the generations that viewed their elders as the evil traditionalists standing in the way of integration, civil rights, ending the imperialism of the cold war, alongside so many societal ills that have by no means disappeared. The hippies of the late 60s and the punks of the late 70s grew up and stopped caring about making the world a better place, choosing instead to stay complacent in favor of the status quo that now benefited them. Instead of internalizing the messages of their heroes and inspirations, they became the villains of their favorite stories. They act like children who don’t know better, whether it be by naïveté or ignorance, but refuse to honestly engage with the things that inspired them when they were young, learning all the wrong lessons, just like the generations they fought against.

Which brings me to The Wall.

It’s a rock opera, and like most narrative albums, the plot’s a bit murky, so I’m not going to get into the inspirations on which characters are based on what or the deep cuts behind it. But the main bullet points of the plot are:

A young boy’s father dies in a war.

Daddy’s flown across the ocean, leaving just a memory
A snapshot in the family album, Daddy what else did you leave for me?
Daddy, what’d you leave behind for me?
All in all, it was just a brick in the wall

The boy is left with his overprotective mother, who pushes him to isolate himself from the world around him. 

Hush now baby, don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
Mama’s gonna keep you right here, under her wing
She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing
Mama will keep baby, cozy and warm
Ooh babe, Of course mama’s help build the wall

His school teachers’ harassments and cruelties add to his anxiety; they, too, are stuck in cycles of abuse

When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers
Who would hurt the children anyway they could
By pouring their derision upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kid
But in the town it was well known, when they got home at night
Their fat and psychopathic wives would thrash them within inches of their lives

As he grows older, after a back and forth of infidelities, a divorce pushes him even further into emotional isolation. 

Day after day, love turns grey like the skin of a dying man
Night after night, we pretend it’s alright
But I have grown older, and you have grown colder 
And nothing is very much fun anymore

Despite that, he becomes a rock star, has to medicate to even function through his anxieties, and imagines a world where he’s a fascist leader, who scapegoats minorities with extermination. 

Waiting to put on a blackshirt, Waiting to weed out the weaklings
Waiting to smash in their windows and kick in their doors
Waiting for the final solution to strengthen the strain
Waiting to follow the worms, waiting to turn on the showers and fire the ovens
Waiting for the queers and the coons and the reds and the Jews
Waiting to follow the worms
Would you like to see Britannia rule again, my friend?
All you have to do is follow the worms

Realizing the monster that lurks inside him, he puts himself on trial within his own psyche and confronts the characters that pushed him to build up his walls.

Good morning, worm, your honor, the crown will plainly show
The prisoner who now stands before you was caught red handed
Showing feelings, showing feelings of an almost human nature

But in the end he is “sentenced” to let himself feel real emotions again, and tears down his defenses, exposing his vulnerabilities to the cruel world around him, while the album hints at the cycle starting all over again when it ends with a loop that connects it to the opening track.

Since my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear
I sentence you to be exposed before your peers
Tear down the wall!

The politics of the album aren’t explicitly clear until the latter half, but Waters is saying a lot throughout. Our protagonist, Pink, is constantly blaming everyone around him for his flaws. His father, his mother, his teacher, his wife, eventually blaming anyone “impure.” But throughout all of his projection, empty sadness, and blind rage, he only finds actual growth and solace when he does some, albeit dramatic, self-reflection. He puts himself on trial, not because he’s forced to, but because it’s the only way he can exorcise his demons. It’s not anyone’s fault but his. Sure, he had external struggles, but at the end of the day, he was just an asshole who was turning his daddy issues, mommy issues, issues with women, etc, but most of all his fears into a force to hurt people. Honest self reflection and confronting the internalized trauma, usually ingrained from childhood, are the only real ways we can grow and develop into the people we thought we’d grow into when we were kids.

The people that always look for blame around them, especially when directing it at the most vulnerable, instead of the systems that enable the real villains, should remember what it was like to be that scared kid watching the world change around them, whether it was in the 50s and 60s, or just yesterday. To imagine how the people that inspired them would look down at them now, with disgust, as they’ve gone from the victim of the trauma to the perpetrator. Maybe as an absent father, or an overprotective mother, or a cruel teacher, or maybe simply as a person who’s adding just another brick to the wall. But it’s a much better story if we tear down the walls in the end instead of building even taller ones for tomorrow’s children to have to smash through.

And when they’ve given you their all, some stagger and fall
After all, it’s not easy, banging your head against some mad bugger’s wall

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33 And 1/3 Under 45: The B-Sides – Carrie & Lowell

The B-sides is a spin-off column for albums chosen by patreon backers. If you would like to hear an audio version of this column (Mechanics) or suggest an album (Pilots) head here.

This album was selected by Will.

Spirit of my silence, I can hear you. But I’m afraid to be near you.
And I don’t know where to begin
And I don’t know where to begin

Folk music can be a real bummer. Indie folk? Forget about it. Sufjan Stevens? Well, I might as well grab some ice cream because I’ve been listening to his 2015 album, Carrie & Lowell, and it’s a doozy. I’ve only heard Sufjan’s earlier indie-folk stylings in passing, and years ago at that, so I had no idea what to expect when this album was picked for my first requested record. I’d heard he got really experimental with electronica music? Well, definitely not here because this is a real mellow acoustic album and, even with that, it has a lot of weight to it.

I should have known better, to see what I could see.
My black shroud, holding down my feelings
A pillar for my enemies
I should have wrote a letter, and grieve what I happen to grieve
My black shroud, I never trust my feelings
I waited for the remedy

When I was three, maybe four, she left us at the video store
Be my rest, be my fantasy

The album deals with some more complex looks at death than I was prepared for. Sufjan’s mother had just passed away and this record deals a lot with the difficulties he’s feeling, as she was not exactly the most… present kind of parent. But still, when someone’s gone, it has a sense of finality, regardless of whether we’re able to make our peace with them before they go. 

When I was three, and free to explore
I saw her face on the back of the door
Be my vest, be my fantasy

I should have known better, nothing can be changed
The past is still the past, the bridge to nowhere
I should’ve wrote a letter, explaining what I feel, that empty feeling

This album really made me think about my relationships with people and what it would be like if the current status quo was permanently set as the finale. The album is full of the kinds of solemn regrets that accompany them, but that in and of itself is not all that rare in folk music. The tone is really what sets Carrie & Lowell apart. Sufjan has this atmospheric and airy quality that draws you in and just kinda floats around your head for a while. Even when I wasn’t initially picking up the themes, the intent was clear. I generally gravitate towards much more full and upbeat folk, like The Decemberists, but I still found myself getting lost in the world he was painting, even when the song itself was deeply somber.

For my prayer has always been love, what did I do to deserve this?
With blood on my sleeve, Delilah, avenge my grief
How? God of Elijah

As fire to the sun, tell me what I have done.
How? Heart of a dragon?

One of the things that really stood out to me on this record was how specifically anecdotal Sufjan’s lyrics could be. A lot of folk comes across as “everyman” stories and universal truths, but here, Sufjan doesn’t steer away from specific locales and stories that help build his story as more personal, less universal and help build an irresistible ethos around his narrative.

Emerald Park, wonders never cease
The man who taught me to swim, he couldn’t quite say my first name
Like a father, he led community water on my head
And he called me “Subaru,” and now I want to be near you

Since I was old enough to speak, I’ve said it with alarm
Some part of me was lost in your sleeve where you hid your cigarettes
No, I’ll never forget. I just want to be near you.

Carrie & Lowell isn’t my usual style and I found myself drawn in a lot more to the lyrics than the more stripped down and slower musical stylings of the record. But sitting with them as I wrote really helped me internalize just how personal and poetic a lot of these songs are. After the first few listens, I didn’t expect to be so moved by the honesty that Sufjan shows about his relationship with not only his mother, but his stepfather who remains a very positive and important part of Sufjan’s life. The difficulties he went through, grieving someone who was not there for him, while still being supported by someone who’s life his mother chose to be a more active part of make Carrie & Lowell an album as complex as it is beautiful and one that’s definitely worth following along with as you get lost in the music.

So can we be friends sweetly, before the mystery ends?
I love you more than the world can contain in its lonely and ramshackle head
There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking I’m dead

I’m holding my breath, my tongue on your chest, what can be said of the heart?
If history speaks, the kiss on my cheek, where there remains but a mark
Beloved my John, so I’ll carry on, counting my cards down to one
And when I am dead, come visit my bed, my fossil is bright in the sun

So can we contend peacefully before my history ends?
Jesus, I need you, be near, come shield me from fossils that fall on my head
There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking, I’m dead

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33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Twelve – Stranger Songs

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

An audio version of this column, complete with music samples, is available at our patreon for just $1 dollar a month!

Welcome to the freak show

Brace yourself. I’ve never seen Stranger Things. I’ve never seen a whole lot of stuff, but Stranger Things is one of those rare cultural zeitgeist kinda things that everyone seems to really love. Sure, everyone was talking about Game Of Thrones, but half of the takes were about how trash it was. Everyone saw Avengers: Endgame, but there was still a lot of hate out there for it. I’ve never really heard anyone say anything negative about Stranger Things, though. I’ll watch it one of these days, I promise! But until then, I’ll gladly just cherish this rare thing where everyone I know all seems to be really into it and just bask in it. Which brings me to the new Ingrid Michaelson record, Stranger Songs.

As far as I can tell, this album isn’t officially affiliated with Stranger Things at all and is just heavily inspired by it. So, like I constantly do, Ingrid was just inspired by a piece of media and wrote a whole lot about how it made her feel, and thus, Stranger Songs was written. There’s something pure and beautiful about one of my biggest influences, just gushing about a TV show for 40 minutes through her music. (Ingrid’s been my favorite lyricist since high school and it’s only a matter of time before one of her early albums ends up in this column). It’s really cool to see someone whose work I so often project my feelings onto or to not feel so alone with, showcase the exact same thing for herself, even if I don’t get any of the references.

Welcome to the freak show, I got a place that we can go
Welcome to the freak show, I got a place nobody knows
Who wants to be normal anyway? What’s normal anyway?

The show seems to really hit some universal themes of love and rejection, themes that have always been prevalent in Ingrid’s work. It’s clear enough from the material itself, but right before the record came out, I saw her live for a “sneak peak” show and there was a lot of banter and explanation of why the show resonated with her so intensely. (As an aside, if you’ve never seen Ingrid, you really have to. She’s as hilarious as she is talented.) These universal themes shine through in songs like “Hate You.”

2 am, 3 am, then 4, I’ll never sleep, not like I did before
You’re the living nightmare that I always dream about
I can’t seem to live without you

I don’t hate you, I don’t hate you, I just hate how much I don’t hate you
God I want to, want to hate you, I just hate how much I don’t hate you

I don’t hate that you called our love bullshit when you were drunk that night
I don’t hate how much I love you, I don’t hate that I cry
And I don’t know why, oh why, oh why

Or in “Best Friend,” a song that captures the romantic tensions that become the focus of most coming of age stories, certainly mine.

Wide awake, I lay beside you
It’s in the middle of the night and I really want to
Wake you up, tell you my secret, that you’re the one I want

But I don’t want to mess this up, I don’t want to say too much
It always gets too real, when I tell them how I really feel

Here I go again, Falling in love with my best friend
Try to hold it in, but you’re making it hard, hard to pretend

And we don’t just fall in love with characters because they show our best traits. Like in “Jealous,” you can see Ingrid latching on to characters that fall into the same traps we all do. Universal flaws that we can never seem to get right.

Hurts bad seeing you out, knowing that you’re happy now
You’re laughing like the way we used to do
I feel it rising in me, I feel the tide pulling deep
I never knew I could be so mad at the one that I love, no

I do bad things when I’m jealous
I do bad things, I can’t help it, I can’t help it
It’s what you’re doing to me, ruining me, turning me upside down
Yeah, I do bad things when I’m jealous
And I’m jealous a lot

But more than anything, I think a good piece of pop culture can do a lot to break the norms and cause a paradigm shift in how we view societal status quos. Action and adventure stories have historically been a real boys’ club, and from all the recommendations I’ve gotten lately (I promise, I’ll watch it, I promise!), it seems like Stranger Things is opening up the genre and letting young girls be part of the adventure too, and that rules. Even if I haven’t seen it, or don’t need that as much as someone else might, I’m so damn glad it exists and will gladly pull up a chair and listen to someone tell me why it means the world to them. 

 

I’m done spinning ‘round and ‘round, planted my feet in the ground
I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m not afraid to get hurt

Head above the clouds, Mama, come look at me now
I’m not afraid of the world, I’m gonna fight like a girl

Running around with my long hair, tear in my dress and I don’t care
If you’re looking for something beautiful

I’m pretty sure that I’m all good, Walking away from you like I should
Washing it all away, I’m not just pretty
No, I’m pretty damn good.

Rosy cheeks and lips, she talks but nobody listens
That’s just the way of the world, I gotta fight like a girl

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George Bernard Shaw and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Play

by guest author Lauren DeBlasi Jackson

 

Eliza, where the devil are my slippers? 

If you, like me, recognize the above quote from the musical My Fair Lady, it probably also fills you with a sudden, all consuming feminist rage, a mantra of ‘what the fuck what the fuck’ drumming along in your skull as you wonder at the sheer audacity of that line.

Here I am to tell you, in part, what the fuck, and it starts as it ends, with fans.

Some say that the internet has changed how creators and fans interact with a piece of work, and there are a million and one think pieces on the internet about “death of the author” and how much control a content creator has over their work once the information superhighway gets a hold of it, with plenty of criticism given to things like fan theories, art, and fic. But this didn’t start with the internet. It goes back, way back, and today we’re looking at a man who tried to fix a terrible play and got nothing but grief and a musical with the wrong ending for his trouble.

Taming of the Shrew is, unequivocally, my least favorite Shakespeare play. If you don’t know the plot, a man psychologically, emotionally, and physically abuses a woman for four acts to the uproarious laughter of the audience, and at the end she is forced to give an asstastic speech about how all wives should be obedient to their husbands and never cross them.

Frank TJ Mackey

Ie, this man’s favorite play

Enter my boy, George Bernard Shaw.

I’m sure he read the play long before he ever saw it in a theater, but when I picture his reaction, he’s always sitting in a row of seats by himself while the rest of the audience empties out around him, with a popped monocle and a silent, stupefied look on his face, much like me when I had to bear witness to the abomination that was Spiderman 3. He finally gets up, with purpose in his eyes, he goes home and churns out Pygmalion.

Pygmalion, a play in which a man psychologically, emotionally, and physically abuses a woman for four acts to the uproarious laughter of the audience, and then she makes a FANTASTIC speech about what a lunatic fuckup he is and walks out of his life forever.

Beautiful, right?

Welp, audiences hated it.

Taming of the Shrew

They hated it because the primary couple didn’t end up together at the end. They hated it because they watched a man torment a woman for two hours and collectively thought, “well, they belong together, why is she rejecting him?” and they hated it so much that when the play was staged the productions began changing the ending back to the Shrew ending, where the abuser and his victim live ‘happily ever after,’ and if that thought is as chilling to you as it was to me, congratulations, neither of us are monsters.

George Bernard Shaw, predictably, asked audiences what the fuck they thought they were doing, but it was out of his hands. The content was out there, and it no longer belonged only to him. He wrote a whole-ass essay about why Eliza and Higgins shouldn’t be together, explaining with the calmness of a kindergarten teacher that Higgins is a manipulative asshole, and although Eliza isn’t making the best choices, they are her choices, not his, and that’s the important part.

George Bernard Shaw

Artist’s representation of Shaw responding to fans

Fans couldn’t give a fuck, and it got worse.

Shaw died in 1950, and thank Christ he did, because in 1956 they took Pygmalion and made it into one of the most popular musicals of its time, My Fair Lady, where a man psychologically, emotionally, and physically abuses a woman for two acts while they sing about it, and at the end she comes back to him and he demands that she go find his slippers.

Even as a child watching the film, I was wondering what the fuck.

Well, it was written in the 1950s, and that’s what the fans wanted.

It was a fan of Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Pygmalion, fans of Shaw who changed the ending of Pygmalion, and it was fans of Pygmalion who wrote My Fair Lady and gave us that terrible, soul crushing final line. On and on the cycle goes with the single truth shining through: no matter the original intent, once a work is in the hands of the fans it takes on a life of its own that fits the norms and societal pressure of its time, and this has been going on forever. Twenty thousand years ago Kronk the storyteller probably got pissed when Krek the younger storyteller changed the ending of his ‘tale of the bear fight’ to make the bear more sympathetic because the younger generation was really into bears all of a sudden.

Kronky

Where am I going with all of this? I’m telling everyone, every creator, past, present, and future, that fans will never go away. They will always have a proprietary interest in the media they consume, and that interest will seep out as theories, as fanart, as fanfiction, as entire goddamn productions or novels that turn the premise of the work completely on its head, and there is nothing creators can do about it. I mean, Pygmalion is literally a modern day AU of Taming of the Shrew and still Shaw sought to control his fans response to it.

As for me, I’m holding out for the next iteration of My Fair Lady, one whose ending doesn’t fill me with the dread of casual 1950s sexism, and an ending line that elicits a laugh instead of a groan.

Higgins, where the devil are my slippers? 

 

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33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Eleven – The Con

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

An audio version of this column, complete with music samples, is available at our patreon for just $1 dollar a month!

And now we’re saying bye. I was nineteen, call me.

Nostalgia sure is something. We all feel it from time to time, but sometimes it’s just relentless. I get it real bad every year around June; I think it has to do with my job. I’m a home school tutor, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time in actual schools until finals time, when I go in and out every day, focusing on exams, trying to power through the last few weeks before summer break. Being surrounded by kids waiting for that last class, or, even worse, applying to colleges and planning orientations, certainly doesn’t help it. Or maybe it’s just the way June smells. Because damn, late spring just has that smell, doesn’t it?

But this year’s been a lot stronger. Both the feeling and probably the smell, too, at least based on my allergies. This is my first finals season since my wedding and there is a certain grown-up vibe that that carries along with it. I’m back in a band with one of my oldest collaborators, writing totally new material from a familiar place. And yes, it would be dishonest if I didn’t mention that Banjo-Kazooie coming to Smash Bros got me all misty eyed. But most of all, I’m now more than a decade out from going away to college for the first time and a recent trip to my campus to meet up with my roommate was pretty brutal on the old nostalgia heartstrings. And on the long, solo trip home, I decided to really lean into it with some Tegan And Sara, specifically their 2007 album, The Con.

I miss you now, I guess, like I should’ve missed you then.
My body moves like curtains waving in and out of wind, in and out of windows.
I can’t untangle what I feel and what would matter most.
I can’t close an eye, can’t close an eyelid.
Now there’s just no point in reaching out for me.
In the dark, I’m just no good at giving relief. In the dark, it won’t be easy to find relief

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with nostalgia. I’ve never really wallowed in it, like a lot of people do, and I’ve never really taken solace in reflecting on the “good old days” either. I’ve certainly had times in my life where I was left pining for something that was over, but I’ve always been pretty good at looking towards the future and the things that are either already great or that will be. When I look back at previous eras of my life, it’s usually more as a narrative and a way to contextualize why I am the way I am or feel the way I do, not really as a yearning for the way things were. A lot of that definitely has to do with how lucky and privileged I’ve been, but I still have to work at it from time to time, especially in today’s macro-climate with… everything that’s going on. Sometimes I do get caught in a loop of really falling back into my old habits or way of looking at the world, and I find revisiting some quirks I’ve demonstrated in previous relationships, whether it be romantic or friendly, that pushed those people away from me. Habits that I’m not proud of and would really love to exorcise completely. The more of my narrative people become a part of, the harder it is to keep those parts closed off. And walking through some buildings on campus for the first time in 7 years really started re-contextualizing a lot of those patterns. So it’s no wonder that on that trip back home, songs like “Back In Your Head” ended up on repeat.


I just want to get back into your head.
I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray.
When I get a little scared, I run, run, run
When I jerk away from holding hands with you,
I know these habits hurt important parts of you.
Remember when I was sweet and unexplainable?
Nothing like this person, un-loveable

Or in “Hop A Plane”

I took the train back, back to where I came from.
I took it all alone, it’s been so long, I know.
Imagine me there my heart asleep with no air.
Begging ocean please, help me drown these memories.
You can’t just hop a plane and come visit me again.
I claim it’s in my head and I regret offering.
You take a second, take a year,
You took me out and took me in and told me all of this
And then you take a moment, take a year,
You helped me out, I listened in,
You taught me all of this and then….

And in the closer, “Call It Off”

Maybe I would have been something you’d be good at.
Maybe you would have been something I’d be good at.
But now we’ll never know.
I won’t be sad, but in case, I’ll go there everyday to make myself feel bad.
There’s a chance I’ll start to wonder if this was the thing to do.
I won’t be out long, but I still think it better if you take your time coming over here.
I think that’s for the best.

These themes make up a whole lot of this album. It mostly focuses on lost love, but through a nostalgic lens. I’m finally beyond pining for past love, but that doesn’t stop me from empathizing when an album pushes me back in that headspace. Especially an album like The Con because the soundscape of the record is so much more than that. The punchy guitars and dynamic drums help bolster Tegan & Sara’s trademark vocal styles to really drive home the dichotomy between the joy and pain that always accompanies these kinds of themes. Finding the balance between looking back fondly to learn from the past and wallowing in the exaggerated high points of yesterday is never easy. And this struggle is throughout the album, like on The Con‘s title track.

I listened in, yes I’m guilty of this, you should know this.
I broke down and wrote you back before you had a chance to.
Forget forgotten, I am moving past this, giving notice.
I have to go, yes, I know that feeling, know you’re leaving.
Calm down I’m calling you to say I’m capsized, erring on the edge of safe.
Calm down I’m calling back to say I’m home now and coming around
I’m coming around

Nobody likes to, but I really like to cry,
Nobody likes me, maybe if I cry.

 

But opening up and being honest about those flaws help show the growth we fight for. If we never had those times end, we’d be stuck in the monotony of an unchanging status quo and we’d never learn anything new. It’s important to acknowledge how we’ve changed and take pride in that. Openness about your personal struggles to overcome your flaws is the very embodiment of intimacy. The Con is a beautiful blueprint of pure intimate honesty. It opens with a wedding filled with pure self-reflective joy. It ends with a self-fulfilling breakup. But it’s not a linear progression. Like all of us, the record is a roller coaster of love and loss that never lets up its’ beauty for a second. And I hope none of us do, either.

I want to draw you a floorplan of my head and heart.
I want to give directions, helpful hints, what you’ll be looking for.
I know, I hold this loss in my heart forever. All eyes are on me now.

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33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Ten – In The End

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

An audio version of this column, complete with music samples, is available at our patreon for just $1 dollar a month!

Do you remember? Do you recall? Do you remember? ‘Cause I remember it all.
So over now. It’s so over now. So over now. It’s so over now.

I’ve been thinking about grief a lot lately. Way more than I should, that’s for sure. A lot of it centered around death, but not in a way that I’m used to. So if you don’t want to read any thoughts on death right now, feel free to hop out here.

I’ve always been pretty good at compartmentalizing the “celebrate their lives rather than mourn their deaths” kind of grieving and often end up being the first one to crack some dumb joke and try to make people smile again. Not that I don’t get depressed about it, too, that’s just not where I really find my grief. Mine usually comes more from the realization that the end of someone’s story is some random, arbitrary jumping off point, and knowing that I’ll never be ready for it.

Rolling on the grass, some things never last
Just stay for a while, we could have a blast
How can I go on without you now?
How can I live without you when you have become my everything?
Maybe we’ll have an accident.
You are my everything. The song that I might sing
You are my everything

I was thinking a lot about this even before I picked up the final Cranberries album, In The End, but this record certainly drove it home for me. I’ve had a passing fondness for The Cranberries for a long time, but nothing deeper than remembering how good “Zombies” was in 1994. But right around the time this album came out, the podcast Song Exploder had an episode about the opening track, “All Over Now” and I immediately ran out and bought a copy. If you’re not up to date with The Cranberries, the singer, Dolores O’Riordan, passed away very unexpectedly last year, while they were still working on demos for In The End. After sitting on it for a while, the remaining band members decided to return to the studio with Dolores’ vocal demos and finish the record in her honor. I’m not sure how somber the original demos were, but the album’s a heartbreaking goodbye to Dolores, but with a healthy dose of optimistic self-reflection that really helped me sort through a lot of the grief I’d been focusing on lately.

I wonder when I should give in, I wonder when I should begin to let go.
I feel I’m dwelling in the past. I know the time is moving fast. I want you to know.
I’m lost with you. I’m lost without you.
Bring In The Night

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and a lot of the older artists I grew up following are starting to pass away more frequently. Maybe I’m just melodramatic and looking for an escape from all of my anger at the world. There’s a lot of reasons I’ve fallen into this cycle lately, but I’d like to focus on some of the more trivial ones, especially since I don’t really feel that it’s my place to project and discuss other peoples’ losses or grief. Recently, my favorite comic book character was killed off in a pretty… I’ll say problematic way. But I realized that I was way more angry about the way the book discussed and further stigmatized trauma and mental illness than about the fanboy complaints I had and it didn’t affect me in any of the ways I expected it to. After thinking on it for a while, I started to really re-evaluate how I viewed death, both as a narrative device and then in my own life. Because real death, unlike in fiction, is so random, I think we too often put too much weight on it. It’s just a moment, same as any other moment, in a person’s story and I don’t think it’s fair to belittle all the other moments that made up their lives, just to focus on the one where they weren’t any longer. By putting all of our sadness and focus on that single moment, it reduces an entire person to one thing. A monolith of regrets, unexperiences, wasted potential, emptiness. And I hate that. No matter who it was, I can guarantee they were way more than that. A story’s end only stays with us when the story was good enough to get us there. Recently, while in a discussion with a friend, I asked “Have you ever watched someone die? Because I have, and it really fucking sucks.” But the better question will always be “Could you tell me more about them?” I’d really like to hear about that instead. “I’m sorry for your loss” focuses on the hole that’s left, not what used to fill it. In The End, ironically enough, perfectly captures the love and joy that has to happen before you get the sadness that comes with saying goodbye.

People we should decide in society,
Whether we should go, whether we should be free.
Where will we live, when will we die. 
People we should decide in society.
Thought that I got it. And then I lost it all.
I got it. I know that I got it. I did not lose it all.

It’s easy enough to remind yourself of these platitudes from time to time, but that’s not the entirety of it. What about the people that get left behind? The stories that don’t end there? That’s really where my dread has been focused lately. All the things you regret, the experiences you don’t get to share, the plans left unrealized, the emptiness. And even when you didn’t know them personally, that option to learn all those things about them is forever closed off. Death, even from a distance, affects all of us so greatly.

Yesterday’s gone. Yesterday’s gone. And I’m open, I’m open
Tomorrow will come, tomorrow will come.
Am I dreaming, dreaming?
I’m sorry I left you. I’m sorry, I love you.
I felt so much pain there. I went insane there

There was another school shooting last week and I was inundated, as we all so often are, by interviews and images of the children that were there. Yet again, we didn’t take the basic steps to prevent this. So focused on the inevitability of it, those with the power to stop it continue to fail us time and time again. But this time, I saw kids who had “trained” for this or wouldn’t “go down without a fight” and I can’t stop thinking about how horrible that is. It’s one thing to talk of all the ways we can deal with death and it’s another thing to see what effect the constant reminder has had. There’s a difference between grief and trauma. How do we walk the line between being prepared for it and expecting it? How do we give it the gravity it deserves without over-representing its’ importance in the narrative? I don’t think we can. I think we’ll always be shocked and broken by it. We just need to learn how to help each other cope. We should try to remember that everyone’s carrying some grief around with them every day and if we have the opportunity to lend even the smallest amount of strength to help them when they need it, someone will be there to return it when we’re the ones in need. We need to be able to go back in and revisit the good parts without being buried underneath the heartbreak of it all.

Sometimes I wake up in a bedroom, Sometimes I just stare into space
How big is this place? How big is this place?
‘Cause I’m feeling the pressure. You know I feel under pressure
When I’m feeling the pressure
You make me feel so much better

It would have been easier for Noel, Mike, and Fergal to just retire the Cranberries. It would have been easier to not listen to the tapes of Dolores’ incredible demos over and over again as they crafted this record behind her memory. But I’m immensely grateful they did and I’m certainly better off for hearing them one last time. I think there’s a beauty in that strength in the face of loss that we can all take some inspiration from.

Whatever makes you feel good, whatever makes you feel alive.
It doesn’t have to be the heartbreaker, the heartbreaker.
The soul taker.
Whenever you decide to run. Whenever you decide to fly.
Always be the heartbreaker, the heartbreaker.
The soul taker

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Much Ado About Misogyny: Shakespeare’s Worst Villain and the Role of Male Allies

by guest author, Lauren DeBlasi Jackson

My 11th grade English teacher beat books to death.

I don’t blame her for it. Now a teacher myself, I know she was paid peanuts for an almost ten-hour work day, she had to deal with smartass students and incompetent administrators and parents who kept wondering why their kiddo who kept showing up to class high as a kite was failing. I get it.

I also don’t really forgive her either. That class bullied me into believing that the only way to truly understand a book, to really “get it,” was to tie the story to a chair and torture the meaning out of it, like the students in the Billy Collins’ poem, “Introduction to Poetry.” We vivisected stories, carefully cataloging each instance of symbolism, characterization, allusion, allegory, like gruesome literary coroners.

So when people tell me they don’t like Shakespeare, I don’t roll my eyes and and tell them that they don’t understand true art. That kind of language is for pretentious assholes sitting in cafes behind a battered laptop, writing out some derivative script that they think is ‘like, really deep.” Instead, I usually do something along the lines of get really excited and ask them if they like “10 Things I Hate About You.” After we’re done gushing over the film I tell them it’s just Shakespeare (even though it’s based on the worst Shakespeare, I said he was great not unproblematic).

When I refer to Shakespeare here, I refer to over 150 sonnets and and 37 plays full of romance, murder, sex jokes, revenge, passion, ill conceived ways to finally get your kids to tell you they love you, the deconstruction and rejection of rape culture and toxic masculinity, and a bunch of bisexual disasters falling in love and fucking up their lives forever by marrying the wrong twin.

You don’t have to love Shakespeare.

But there’s more here for you than you think.

With that, let’s dive into one of my personal favorites, the comedy that delves into the pervasive destructiveness of misogyny, Much Ado About Nothing.

Enter Shakespeare’s worst antagonist: Don John.

If this doesn’t say “I’m the most obvious villain; why would anyone believe a fucking word I say,” I don’t know what does.

When I say the “worst,” it’s not because he’s particularly evil, or wily, or manipulative. No, Don John’s plans are the dumbest, most half-assed machinations to ever tread the Globe’s boards. The most popular incarnations of the character drive this home to the point of absurdity; if you want a good chuckle go check out the opening credits of the 1993 movie and look at Keanu Reeve’s face as he rides up that hill. Don John’s dialogue chews the scenery around it, telling the audience that he’d rather be “a canker in a hedge than a rose in [the prince’s] grace” and that he’s “but a plain-dealing villain” before they’ve known him ten minutes.

And yet, his plot still succeeds, because men don’t trust or believe women.

Let’s back up a tic, and go over Don John’s inane, half-baked plan to fuck with his brother, Don Pedro.

Don Pedro has a friend named Claudio, who is about to be married to a beautiful young maiden named Hero. This pisses Don John off for reasons that are best explained as “maybe jealousy?” followed by a hand wave or a quick shrug of the shoulders. So Don John and his servant, Borachio, cook up a scene where Borachio will seduce Hero’s maid in full view of Don Pedro and Claudio, with the aim of getting them to believe that he’s really seducing Hero, and that she’s been unchaste, and call off the whole wedding.

He doesn’t even have to go that far though, because Don Pedro and Claudio (whose dialogue, by the way, could be replaced in its entirety by high pitched whining and absolutely nothing about the play would change), true paragons of tact and restraint, are totally down to believe him before they’ve even seen the evidence, despite the fact that Don John tried to break up their friendship over Hero’s hand in marriage the day before.

But that’s okay, because the next day, Claudio talks to his fiancé about his concerns, they have a conversation, she says she doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and Don John is proven to be a liar and a fiend.

Nah, I’m just kidding, he buries his rage deep until he calls her a slut at the altar and  leaves her broken and senseless on the floor of the church. Her father buys into Don John’s garbage instantly with nothing but Claudio and the Prince’s word to go on and tries to beat her while her cousin, Beatrice, is screaming that Hero is innocent and no one is listening to her.

Not pictured: an open and healthy way to communicate with your partner about something that’s bothering you.

This scene, difficult and chaotic and even possibly triggering for some, is the culmination of three acts full of sexist jokes from each and every man in the play including Hero’s dad, Claudio, and the previously unmentioned Benedick. It is the obvious result when men treat women as objects to be idolized and thrown away, as things to be sought after, quested for, won in games played by the men around them.

Shakespeare lays out in black and white the consequences of unchecked misogyny, where even the dopiest, most short sighted plans can succeed in a culture that is up to its neck in sexist jokes and obsession over women’s sexual habits. Even the title of the play, Much Ado About Nothing, has been interpreted by some to mean, roughly, Freaking Out Over Vaginas.

So where does the play go from here? How does this whole thing get resolved?

By men learning to be better.

There are two men who aren’t trying to beat the shit out of Hero for being made a victim by her fuckboi fiancé, and they are the friar who was supposed to perform the ceremony, and Benedick, who opens the play as a self-professed tyrant to women and closes it like he’s John Mulaney (“My wife is a bitch and I like her so much”).

The root of this drastic change? He witnesses the destructive power of the misogyny around him and he refuses to participate in it. He is horrified by Claudio’s behavior at the wedding, listens to Hero when she says she didn’t do anything and he believes her right away, even though he’s been palling around with the prince and Claudio for the entirety of the play. He even agrees to kill his friend for what he’s done, when he realizes that Claudio’s actions have not only ruined Hero’s life, but they have devastated Beatrice, the woman he loves.

Benedick goes to meet with Claudio and the Prince to announce his intention to duel, and these two douchebros, who at this point have been made to believe that Hero is dead and they couldn’t give two shits about it, try to get him to participate in their sexist jokes like they did before. Benedick, who way back in Act One was telling Claudio that one can buy women like jewels, instead tells them both to fuck right off, declaring “I will leave you now to your gossip-like humour: you break jests as braggarts do their blades, which God be thanked, hurt not.”

It is only after this interaction, where Benedick calls them out on their bullshit, that Claudio and Don Pedro begin to doubt their actions against Hero, and this then, is Shakespeare’s statement on the role of male allies in feminism.

Pictured: the only man who actually deserves a happy ending in this play.

There are thousands of Don John’s out there today. They’re the Matt Lauers, the Harvey Weinsteins, the Bill O’Reillys. They’re the men taking advantage of a world that’s stacked against women at every turn, that rely on a system of men protecting each other from the consequences of their sexual harrassment, from the consequences of destroying the lives and careers of the women around them. They’re the men shaming women from behind a computer screen, sharing revenge porn, screeching about forced diversity in popular movies, and they will not listen to women even if we, like Beatrice, are screaming in their faces.

Shakespeare knew four hundred years ago that women cannot stand against misogyny alone. Like Benedick, it is the job of male allies to listen to what women have to say, to shut down sexist comments from their fellow men, to not feed into the ‘ball and chain’ rhetoric, to stop protecting the men that try to ruin women’s lives. Much Ado About Nothing lays out the thesis that misogyny carries a toxicity that hurts everyone it comes into contact with, and the only way out of it is through a coordinated, concentrated effort from everyone on the gender spectrum.

 

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33 And 1/3 Under 45: Track Nine: Diamonds And Pearls

33 and ⅓ is a monthly music column by Ryan Lynch, exploring the records that keep him inspired in a cynical world.

Love say “Take my hand, it’ll be alright.

C’mon, save your soul tonight.”

I had a really hard time picking what album to cover this month and kept putting it off. But then I fell down an unexpected rabbit hole and ended up deep in early 90s Prince, which is a pretty great place to find yourself. It all started because our stupid president released his first campaign ad for 2020 and used some music from his favorite (probably) Christoper Nolan movie, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and had it almost immediately taken down by Warner Bros. for unauthorized use. He has a long history of using music for campaign things without permission, but that’s neither here nor there. So I ended up dipping back into the only Batman soundtrack that actually matters, Prince’s soundtrack for Batman (1989), and decided to just continue on through from there.

All hail, the new king in town
Young and old, gather ’round

Since I last wrote about Prince, I’ve gone through his entire catalog, and can sincerely say there’s not a single album with his name (or symbol) on it that I don’t love. But a run of albums that really stand out to me are the early-mid 90s, specifically 1991’s Diamonds And Pearls. It kicks off with this huge vocal-driven gospel track, “Thunder,” that immediately lets you know that you’re in Prince’s church now. Even though this record isn’t one of his universally beloved or top 5 albums, it’s a really fascinating era for Prince. It’s his first with a full band lineup since The Revolution disbanded five years earlier. This time, The New Power Generation brings a real 90s party vibe with them. Every song on the record shines with the quirky production, hip hop beats, and rap verses that immediately take you back to the early 90s. And the album itself perfectly captures that tone. Diamonds And Pearls is a whole lot of fun, but hidden under the party are some deeper undertones. Even with that, though, the vast majority of the album is just about sex and dancing. And there’s a whole lot of real 90s slang. You know I eat that kinda thing up. Who couldn’t love deep metaphors like “Mack Daddy In The House” and “clocking a freak in the low pro?” Plus, the cover (up top) has one of those sick holograms!

 

Yeah, we gettin’ funky in the house tonight.
Doin’ the jughead
Come on, get stupid, get stupid

But even moreso than the new music styles Prince was embracing, this era is interesting because Prince was kicking his feud with his label, Warner Bros, into high gear to get out of his contract. (For more on that: I highly recommend his 1996 triple album Emancipation, his first release after he finally succeeded.) This album explicitly lays out the struggle Prince is having after the dopey dance track, “Jughead,” in a perfect example of the dichotomy of this record.

What you need is a manager” “For what? Money minders are like parasites. They pose as wheelers and dealers for your rights. And most companies say that you need em! Not me! But I’ve kicked back, observed, and watched ’em bleed ’em. Artists young and old. Where’d this unwritten law come from anyway? That years after the contract, you should still be getting paid? Boy, I go broke and hit the skids before I take care of a rich sucker’s kids. Hell, A contract ain’t got no pension plan. Years after this, my kids are still gonna make the grand.”

Moments like this really stuck out to me when I realized I only initially grabbed Diamonds And Pearls because of some jackass trying to steal someone else’s music to fearmonger in a propaganda video. There’s a lot more here than just catchy songs like the title track, “Diamonds and Pearls,” or singles like “Cream,” and “Gett Off.” It’s more than Prince fully embracing the 90s sound. It really is a time capsule for 1991, both for Prince and for the world around him. Immediately after “Jughead,” comes “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” which seems like a sexy 90s slow jam, until…

Hey now, maybe we can find a good reason to send a child off to war.

So what if we’re controllin’ all the oil, is it worth the child dying for?

If long life is what we all live for, then long life will come to pass.

Anything is better than the picture of a child, in a cloud of gas.

And you think you got it bad.

It got me thinking about the context of the world in 1991.  This album came out in between what I would consider the two defining moments of George H. W. Bush’s presidency. The first Iraq war had been over for just over 7 months and that imagery was obviously still very present in the public’s eye. And just over the horizon, about a year later, the first President Bush was about to pardon most of the people involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, to finalize the cover up of one of the biggest presidential scandals in American history. And who was the Attorney General who pushed this gross misstep of justice? William Barr, of course! The man who wrote the “synopsis” of the Mueller report. So maybe this fun trip to the early 90s was a bit less of an escape than I thought it would be. Nostalgia can be a great tool to dip into and get away from it all for a bit, but I’ve been trying to remember that a lot of the bad parts about the times I fondly look back on are still here and have only gotten worse. But like everything, it’s more important than ever to contextualize the whole picture. We still found reasons to dance and fall in love in the 90s and we sure as hell will now, too. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

 

Don’t talk if it’s against the rules? Just walk away and be a fool?
That’s what they want you to do.

Strollin’, Strollin’ We could have fun just strollin’.

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