Monday, August 16 2021

Deborah would have turned 58 on July 31st, which came on a Saturday this year. That morning, before we held a celebratory Zoom, I made a playlist of the songs we listened to together in 1990. It was a way to help me write a chapter for the memory book the boys and Van—Deborah’s boyfriend before we were married and husband after—are assembling. I’ve never made a playlist on the basis of something that happened, as opposed to some thematic commonality that made sense in the moment. This is not to suggest that I don’t love these songs, because I do. But this playlist is just a tally of what we listened to that year, together, and nothing else: songs playing on Hot 97 and a few things I bought. It’s sick as hell.

The key to understanding me? Not only am I basic, but I’m a dance music kid. Danceteria, Hotel Amazon, Madam Rosa’s, The World—these were my CBGB and Mudd Club. Dance and improvised music was my bedrock. I initially liked rap because it was part of dance music, and had to find a new way to love it when it abandoned that remit. The key to understanding Deborah? This is part of what I wrote:

Deborah and I bond about music from the start. She tells me about her time in the Eighties going to clubs with her DJ boyfriend, Van. She has seen many of my favorite bands in tiny clubs like Trax or Hurrah: Gang of Four, Pylon, Buzzcocks. She is an ex-lawyer when I meet her, though, and sometimes her tales of mayhem and debauchery sound not exactly false but surprising, given her strong emotional sobriety and taste for early bedtimes. On our first night together—chastely snuggled on a futon—we play each other songs, like birds inflating to make our feathers catch the light. I decide to test her limits and choose Big Black’s “Kerosene,” a song that is more noisy than almost any other noisy guitar song, but carefully paced, with lyrics that embody a particularly American kind of self-loathing and fear. It is the national anthem of the murderous and suicidal teen: “Never anything to do in this town, lived here my whole life.” She loves it. She plays a song from David Byrne’s Rei Momo, a song that 22-year-old Sasha is primed to dismiss, as Byrne is now officially corny, fallen. But I feel Deborah’s openness. I see her big liquid eyes and easy smile, her sweet little buck teeth, and I realize that I want to love things the way she loves them, without additional anxiety about where it might fit into the world, thinking only of where it fits inside her.

Asad Haider rarely wastes time on the trivial or abandons thoroughness for a jolt of peevishness. His new piece on Stuart Hall is a delight. It’s not just a map of one thinker, but also a story of how we learn how to think when we read, and how each reading affects every other reading.

The way he sees Hall illuminates Haider’s own writing and demonstrates how the most powerful thinkers always make thinking itself less comfortable: “Rather than a kind of absolute expression of domination, popular culture was, according to Hall, a process of generating meaning, which was implicated in power but could never be fully fixed by it. Announcing his provocative intentions at the outset, Hall singled out the ‘very common idea’ that ‘representation represents a meaning which is already there’—this was one of the ideas that he would ‘try to subvert.’” This is also an essay about a whole lot of people at once.

I recently hit the iCloud-storage ceiling of 100,000 songs. Nothing impressive about that: I had a job as a pop critic for eleven years. Every day, I fed CDs into my computer, which would then be spit out after the ripping. I rarely touched those CDs again and have never been sure of what exactly was in my music library. Well, now I know. I was on a call with Apple PR last week and mentioned this. Their response was basically LOL.

There are no points of overlap in my life with the MAGAtoni anti-vax zombies except for this: I believe the tech giants do not care about us. The MAGgy complaint is that one should be able to publicly assert that Cicely Tyson programmed COVID-19 into HBO Max before dying; mine is that I am paying my evil overlords more than enough every month to qualify for limitless cloud storage.

In the effort to reduce the library, I’ve been deleting entire discographies (sorry Jah Wobble) and listening to the whole thing alphabetically by song, pruning as I go. Listening alphabetically by song is the most chaotic way to experience your music collection. I recommend it. Here are some styles I am zapping:

• Wispy falsetto music, genre agnostic

• Anonymous electronic dance music, of which there is so much, even though I assumed there was an awful lot

• Strangely flaccid indie rock, which really bloomed in 2015

• The Arctic Monkeys beer commercial rock genre, which I don’t understand and blame entirely on Peaky Blinders

• Very spooky people who think they can sing

Would you like pure stabilization and transport? This gorgeous new pair of pieces by Neil Leonard were created as an installation for Hopkins Observatory, “the oldest working astronomical observatory in the United States.” That’s exactly what it sounds like.

If you do not already subscribe to Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files newsletter, I think this story about Nico (the real one) and Nick Drake (the memory of) will change your mind.

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