When I arrived in NYC in early October, the remnants of Hurricane Ian were still turning the city into a nasty soupy mess. I visited Eric Fischer at the Frying Pan pier complex a few days before our event there, and the wind and waves were violently shooting up through the dock. But on Oct. 6, the weather and party gods shined on us and gave us a completely perfect NY evening. Luckily Eric, who pretty much built much of the pier complex and has been involved with running and maintaining the ships for decades, is the hardest working person in showbiz and pushed me to try to hammer out every detail before the event. We had special gold wristbands, a fancy ‘chickfactor’ cocktail ready as a special for the event, and even a special vegan menu. Eric’s wife, Christina, procured our giant inflatable CF30 letters. Josh “Other Music” Madell helped me wrangle my least favorite part of setting up shows: PA and backline. Our sound person Mike Yesenosky usually works with the Magnetic Fields, so we were very lucky to have him tonight!
When Beatrix Madell, the 14-year-old who formed a band called Girl Scout Handbook for our CF30 NY party on the Frying Pan, asked her mom (longtime CF contributor Dawn Sutter Madell) what makes a song a chickfactor song, Dawn told her it would have to be a song “Gail likes.” But it’s clear that, between the folks who contribute to, read, support, and sell the zine and the folks who play at and attend our events, there is a community of like-minded folks out there that like similar tunes!
Girl Scout Handbook, a group of 12- to 14-year-olds from Brooklyn, took the stage right as fireworks were going off out in the Hudson River. Helicopters were swooping into the pier next to ours as well. GSH’s set was made up of covers chosen specifically for the event: The Zombies, Heavenly, the Spinanes, Lois, B&S and it was amazing! So great! They only practiced four times and already got written up in the New Yorker! Watching their proud parents watch them was so heart-warming. What a way to start the show!
Next up was DUMP, Brooklyn’s James McNew, who slayed the crowd with his solo set of classics from his repertoire and ace covers. The Jim Ruiz Set, as they often do, came all the way from the Twin Cities to make us swoon to their easy listening pop gems. And the Aluminum Group also flew in from Detroit and Chicago to show the world why it needs to listen to their fab new album. DJs Gaylord Fields and Stephin Merritt helped us keep things humming in between. Artist Kevin Alvir was offering quick portraits on demand, and the Aluminum Group brought a boutique’s worth of fun merch and handmade garlands. It was such a great night full of all kinds of people from different generations enjoying the venue, the music and each other’s company. Thanks to everyone who played, came to the event, and helped out (especially Eric and Christina, Josh and Dawn, and Y-Mike!)
1. Rochester, New York’s abandoned subway tunnels 2. Versus / Jawbox live performance at Le Poisson Rouge, July 21 — New York, NY 3. Katherine Small Gallery book shop — Somerville, Massachusetts 4. Death Records 5. Mickie’s Dairy Bar — Madison, Wisconsin 6. Garbage Plate at Schaller’s Drive-In — Rochester, New York 7. Gerard Unger — Life in Letters (book) 8. Folke Rabe — What?? (LP) 9. Theodore Shapiro — Severance (soundtrack album) 10. Severance (television program)
Ten Delightful Books of 2022 (or late 2021): Re-Sisters, Cosey Fanny Tutti Shy, Mary Rodgers This Time Tomorrow, Emma Straub Lookin’ for Lawrence, Lawrence The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, David Graeber and David Wengrow Instant: The Story of Polaroid, Christopher Bonanos A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders Essays Two, Lydia Davis Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918–1938 and 1938–1943
Cate Le Bon Bowery Ballroom 2/9 Kim Gordon Webster Hall 3/18/22 L’Rain BAM 3/30/22 Waxahatchee George’s Majestic Lounge 4/19/22 Linda Lindas Mercury Lounge 5/1/22 Sharon Van Etten Union Pool 5/7/22 Circuit Des Yeux Greenwood Cemetery 6/7/22 Phoebe Bridgers Prospect Park 6/15 Bikini Kill Pier 17 7/9/22 Soul Glo Knockdown Center 7/10/22 Wild Hearts tour Berkeley GreekTheatre 7/31/22 Porridge Radio Bowery Ballroom 9/24/22 Broken Social Scene (esp w Tracey Ullman and Meryl Streep) Webster Hall 10/17/22 Girl Scout Handbook/Dump/Jim Ruiz/Aluminum Group Chickfactor 30 Frying Pan 10/6/22 Nnamdi Baby’s Alright 10/30/22 Wet Leg Music Hall Of Williamsburg 12/17/22 Horsegirl/Yo La Tengo Bowery Ballroom 12/22/22
Nancy Novotny: Top Ten Reasons I Adored My Trip To Finland (Sept. 16-Oct. 2, 2022)
1. Seeing Richard Dawson & Circle perform (most of) their collaborative LP, Henki, live at a Psych Fest in Tampere. 2. Seeing Lau Nau perform live at an intimate venue in Helsinki. Also finally working up the courage to chat with her after the show. 3. Charity Shops & Flea Markets in Helsinki, Tampere, Rovaniemi & various small towns in Northern Finland. Holy crap, they’re great! 4. The Moomin Museum in Tampere. 5. My day trip to Tallinn, especially shopping for gorgeous/weird Soviet-era books and other treasures. And the Puppet Museum! 6. The beautiful, colorful autumn leaves. 7. Long drink! (Usually grapefruit soda & gin, sold in supermarkets & at bars. Helsinki Long Drink by the Helsinki Distilling Company was my clear favorite.) 8. Seeing reindeer along the road in Northern Finland. Also NOT seeing any reindeer roadkill. 9. Vintage shops in Helsinki. Special shouts out to Mekkomania (for vintage dresses by Marimekko, Vuokko, Pia & Paula, etc.), Lanterna Magica (for vintage photographs, ephemera & books), and Caratia (for vintage Finnish jewelry, especially mid-century silver and bronze design pieces). 10. Being able to watch Moomin cartoons on TV every night. Also seeing Moomin merch for sale literally everywhere.
Nancy is a musician, a karaoke queen, a DJ who does a show called Turtles Have Short Legs on XRAY FM, Portland, OR, and a CF contributor.
Nothing to do with 2022 I’m afraid… Top Ten Beatles Songs
1. Yes It Is 2. We Can Work It Out 3. Paperback Writer 4. Every Little Thing 5. Strawberry Fields Forever 6. Ticket To Ride 7. If I Needed Someone 8. There’s A Place 9. Fool On The Hill 10. Can’t Buy Me Love
Gail O’Hara (chickfactor / Enchanté Records)
Phone Voice, Cradle Tape Reds, Pinks & Purples, Summer at Land’s End & They Only Wanted Your Soul Horsegirl, Versions of Modern Performance Marisa Anderson, Still, Here Alvvays, Blue Rev Flinch, Enough Is Enough Aoife Nessa Frances, Protector Say Sue Me, The Last Thing Left Nina Nastasia, Riderless Horse Sinaïve, Super 45 t. Lande Hekt, House Without a View Jeanines, Don’t Wait for a Sign Artsick, Fingers Crossed Bill Callahan, YTI⅃AƎЯ Dot Dash, Madman in the Rain The Jazz Butcher (RIP), The Highest in the Land Seablite, “Breadcrumbs” The Umbrellas, “Write it in the Sky”
Old and fresh: Mimi Roman, First of the Brooklyn Cowgirls Joyce with Mauricio Maestro, Natureza Tia Blake & Her Folk Group, Folk Songs & Ballads Dotti Holmberg, Sometimes Happy Times Norma Tanega, I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964–1971
Sukhdev Sandhu (writer, professor, CF contributor!)
House of Edgertor. Every week a lifetime ago, when she was writing reviews for the Other Music newsletter, Robin Edgerton introduced me to treasure after treasure (Pauline Oliveros, Pascal Comelade, Tricatel and Millle Plateaux labels). Still a brilliant researcher and writer, these days she discovers glorious, distinctive apparel, sleuths its backstories, sometimes fixes minor blemishes. Then she offers it to the world. Really she’s a philanthropist.
Monorail Music. It’s 20 years old! Starting things – a club, a shop. a magazine – is easy. Plunging in, all hands together, the thrill of the news, our gang forever. Keeping things going is a lot harder. Holding on, moving forward, unchanging and changing at the same time. Glasgow’s Monorail does it – and how. As Stephen Pastel writes in a lovely ‘2022 Staff Favourites’ Risograph booklet, “Twenty down, twenty to come.”
Norwegian Seamen’s Church. It’s been there, on East 52nd Street in Manhattan, for years. Still, it feels like a secret. Spare, light-suffused, a place that feels like a retreat from the world. It offers free waffles with lingonberry jam. Free coffee too. The basement has an art gallery. Everyone who works there has an open face, the gift of easy friendship.
Kommuna Lux. My favourite music venue – KuBa (short for Kulturbahnhof) in Donaueschingen – is a cafe/ bar located on a railway platform in Germany’s Black Forest. Performances are often punctuated by the sound of incoming trains. This July, Kommuna Lux came to town to play what they called Klezmer, Odessa and Gangsta Folk. Think The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The all-age crowd, many of whom hadn’t been to a show in the last couple of years, didn’t – couldn’t – forget the terrible news headlines in the Ukraine. But they also whooped, jigged, knocked back Fürstenberg beer. That felt like its own kind of connection.
CARA. Its full name is the Center for Art, Research and Alliances; it’s on West 13th Street in Manhattan; it opened this summer. It has ceilings high enough to let you dream, light enough to think you may be floating, and Emmy Catedral who curates its public programs and is responsible for its dizzying bookshop, is a genius.
The Economist Christmas double issue. Page for page, it’s probably the best value magazine in the world. This year’s had articles on the myth of the holy cow, cricket’s increasing ascendancy over baseball, the future for the Baduy peoples in Kanekes (they’re a bit like the Amish of Indonesia), how the nitrogen cycle has shaped the world, a brilliant article on whether Tang poetry can survive translation. All that and a beautiful obituary of Daniel Brush, the private, almost hermet-like goldsmith in New York.
Sue Nixon, Homophone Dictionary. What a delightful book. Before she died at the age of 96 about three years ago, Sue Nixon, a former schoolteacher, decided to compile a book of homophones. She’d loved them all her life and had used them in class to teach her young pupils. They read like poems, lullabies, Molly Drake songs. According to her granddaughter Sarah, “Luckily the book was printed before she died: she was lying in bed, with her eyes closed but was able to hold a physical copy and commented on how thick and heavy it was.”
Air-India’s Maharaja: Advertising Gone Rogue. Air India had a mascot called ‘The Rogue’. He had a babu belly, a twangy moustache, and was endearing on the eye. He featured on any number of posters from 1946 through to the early 1970s – swapping turban for a beret and selling ‘naughty’ pictures of himself in Paris, dressed down as a Playgirl bunny in New York, donning monks’ garb in Rome. Poster House’s show devoted to Umesh Rao’s none-more charming creation was my favourite show of the year.
Paddington Railway Club. London’s black cab drivers deny it exists. But it does – and how.
Dovas, Cafe Giffi, Ronnells Antikvariat, Folkets Kebab, Herr Judit, Runstenen Wooden Horse Museum, Teater Tribunalen, Vintage Violence, Bacchus Antik, Cafe Tranan, Kurt Svensson Konsthandel, Kvarnen, Konstnarsbaren: Stockholm is such a lovely lovely city.
As always: Constantin Veis, ‘Memory-La’; Musette, ‘Datum’; Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, ‘Dr. Buzzard’s Original “Savannah” Band’; Swing Out Sister, ‘Breakout’. But also: Wechsel Garland & World Service, ‘The Isle’; F.S. Blumm, ‘Summer Kling’; Plantar, ‘Forest, Sea, Harmony’; Penguins & Martingales, ‘What Might Have Been’.
Thomas Andrew – a certain smile/My Vinyl Underground
Top 10 things I wish were (still) in Philly now that I’m back:
1. the Snow Fairies (Neal come home)
2. Lil baby’s ice cream (vegan strawberry pink peppercorn was my whole damn heart, they are very sorely missed)
3. Red Square Records (i mean they left pretty much months after I first arrived in 2001, but still)
4. Spaceboy records (I owe John and Chris from that shop so much for the person I am today)
5. All my new friends from Portland! (This is why visits exist)
6. Brian from Pizza Brain, the shop still exists but Brian was the heart. (He does make Washington state that much cooler now though.)
7. A Popfest (who knows what may come though)
8. The Hollywood Theater/Movie Madness (one of the hardest things to leave behind in Portland, I’m hopeful to find something similar out here)
9. More damn pinball (I was spoiled for Pinball in Portland. Nowhere can compare)
10. Lilys (I mean there are enough former members in town to fill a small neighborhood, but to have Kurt here playing music on the reg would make my damn heart/brain explode with joy)
Evelyn Hurley (Cotton Candy) This past year, I watched and rewatched some movies from the ’80s, here are my highlights!
Room With a View This movie came out when I was a freshman in high school, but I don’t think I actually saw it until it came out on video a few years later. I have to say, I really loved it then, and I really loved it again on this revisit! As a 14 year old, I think I imagined myself in the Helena Bonham Carter character role, but on this recent viewing I found myself absolutely smitten with the Judi Dench and Maggie Smith characters, who are absolute delights to watch! The movie is romance in action, and the scenery, plot, costumes, and acting are pure magic. Grade: A+++
Witness Another blockbuster from 1985, Witness was a movie I might have actually seen in the theater, and since Harrison Ford was such a huge movie star, I’m sure the theater must have been absolutely packed. On my rewatch, I was amazed at how really good the film is; the plot is thrilling, and the acting is top notch, especially the beautiful Kelly McGillis. The city elements of the story are scary, dark, and thrilling, which is in stark contrast with the Amish elements in this film, which are bright and clean. The noir twist in the film is riveting, but my favorite surprise are the quick scenes with Patti LuPone who plays Harrison Ford’s sister, she’s so great. Grade: A+
Broadcast News I never saw this movie when it came out in 1987, but I remember everyone loving it. The tv commercials for it were constantly showing, and I liked the scene where Joan Cusack nearly runs into the pulled out file drawer but ducks under just in time. Unfortunately, the movie is nothing like this clip, and in my opinion and in the opinion everyone who was watching it with me, it’s a terrible, terrible, movie. Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks epitomize the annoying characteristics of yuppies from the ’80s; self indulgent, self absorbed, and conceited. William Hurt is supposed to be a dummy who gets ahead in the broadcast world solely based on his looks, but in all honestly, he’s the only likable person in the movie, and seems pretty good at his job. I can’t tell you how it ended because we turned it off and absolutely wished we had never seen any of it. Grade: F-
Body Heat This 1981 film also stars William Hurt, but I actually finished this movie. It’s also another neo-noir film, staring Hurt and the amazing Kathleen Turner, and while it was very good it wasn’t as good as Witness. Grade: B
Here’s to 2023, and all the movies that we watch!
Rachel Blumberg (Arch Cape)
Top Ten Favorite Shows I Played in 2022 in no particular order:
1. Agnes Varda Forever live film score collaboration with Kathy Foster – Holocene, PDX 2. Field Drums with Lunchbox – The Golden Bull, Oakland, CA 3. Arch Cape at the Arts Week Residency, Sou’Wester, Seaview, WA 4. Califone with BCMC, Judson and Moore Distillery, Chicago, IL 5. Encouragement Friendship Band w/Anis Mogiani & Laura Gibson – Mississippi Studios, PDX 6. Tara Jane O’Neil at Family Reunion Summer Fest – Kelley Point Park, PDX 6. Califone with Little Mazarn – Mississippi Studios 7. Old Unconscious with Fronjentress – The Fixin’ To, PDX 8. Linsday Clark with Michael Hurley and Luke Wyland – The Old Church, PDX 9. Field Drums with Party Witch and Desir – Mississippi Studio, PDX 10. Califone – Vickers Theater, Three Oaks, Michigan
Top Ten Favorite Native Plants in 2022
1. Thimbleberry 2. Douglas Spirea 3. Douglas Aster 4.Huckleberry 5. Sword Fern 6. Piggyback Plant 7. Wild Ginger 8. Osoberry 9. Vine Maple 10. Snowberry
Top Ten Dogs I Petted in 2022
1. Stella Bean, my sweetest heart, rest in peace. 2. Bella, my sister’s dog 3. Sal, Sam Farrel’s dog 4. Caramel and Ace, Rob and Melissa Jones’s dogs 5. Rankin, Vanessa Renwick’s dog 6. Dylan, Sheri Hood’s dog 7. Gladys, Scotty McCaughey and Mary Winzig’s dog 8. Sparky and Zoey, my dad and Phillipa’s (his lady friend) dog 9. Dizzy, Janet Weiss’s dog, and Rooster, the dog she is fostering 10. Sugar, our neighbor’s dog
Top Ten Shows I saw in 2022, in no particular order, and I doubt I am remembering them all…
1. Belle and Sebastian, Roseland 2. Slumberland Showcase, The Doug Fir 3. Cate Le Bon, The Wonder Ballroom 4. Yo La Tengo, The Wonder Ballroom 5. Quasi, Pdx Pop Now Fest 6. Ural Thomas and The Pain, The Good Foot 7. Lonnie Holley, Hollywood Theater 8. Magnetic Fields, Aladdin Theater 9. Horsegirl, Polaris Hall 10. Pavement, Edgefield
Christina Riley / Artsick Chickfactor 30 NY and London Oakland Weekender 2022 Glasgow Breaks from social media Rock and Roll Vegan Donut bar in Monterey White Lotus season 2 on HBO Simon Guild guitar pedals Meditation Chickfactor 19 issue, and shirt designed by Jen Sbragia Buzzcocks tribute compilation cassette for Oakland Weekender 2022
BONUS: -Pop sockets for saving my phone from the swiper on a bike in London, haha!
Bridget St John my list: a collection of some of the meaningful/impactful/grateful and awe inspiring experiences of 2022
Nicola Walker – magnetic irresistible UK actor
The Split – I could make the whole list revolve around her and the other extraordinary actors she works with…
Colin Farrell & Jamie Lee Curtis Actors on Actors
Brady’s Irish Ground Coffee / Celtic Blend
Banshee’s of Inishereen
every Adirondack sunset
the caeser’s salad at Da Umberto in NYC
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard
WNYC – especially The Brian Lehrer Show & Fresh Air
Hampstead – with Brendan Gleeson & Diane
the daily, weekly, monthly endless resilience strength tenacity and spirit of the Ukrainian people
Jennifer O’Connor / musician, owner of Kiam Records and Main Street Beat Lizzo – Special (Atlantic) Flock – Flock (Strut) Mabe Fratti – Se Ve Desde Aqui (Tin Angel) Beach House – Once Twice Melody (Sub Pop) Megan Thee Stallion – Traumazine (300 Entertainment) They Hate Change – Finally, New (Jagjaguwar) Harry Styles – Harry’s House (Columbia) Cass McCombs – Heartland (Anti) Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen (Stones Throw) Madonna – Finally Enough Love (Rhino/Warner)
Daniel Handler’s favorite books this year: Kathryn Davis, Aurelia Aurelia Fadhil al-Azzawi, Fadhil al-Azzawi’s Beautiful Creatures Jakuta Alikavazovic translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Night as it Falls Chen Chen, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced An Emergency Fanny Howe, London-rose/beauty will save the world Hiromi Ito, translated by Jeffrey Angles, Wild Grass On the Riverbank Geoffrey Nutter, Giant Moth Perishes Carl Phillips, Then The War Keiler Roberts, The Joy of Quitting Peter Rock, Passersthrough Kathleen Scanlan, Kick The Latch
Jim Ruiz and Emily Ruiz from Jim Ruiz Set
9 T.V. series from the ’60s that got us through the pandemic and beyond. 1. Danger Man (a.k.a. Secret Agent Man) 2. Gidget 3. The Saint 4. Batman 5. Hawaii 5-0 6. Mission Impossible 7. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 8. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E 9. Mannix
Lyle Hysen (Bank Robber Music and Royal Arctic Institute)
Mike Baggetta / Jim Keltner / Mike Watt (Big Ego) Everywhen We Go Dezron Douglas – Atalaya (International Anthem) Hermanos Gutiérrez – El Bueno Y El Malo (Easy Eye Sound) Hammered Hulls – Careening (Dischord) Horse Lords- Comradely Objects (Rvng Intl). Julian Lage – View With A Room (Blue Note) Beth Orton – Weather Alive (Partisan) Jeff Parker – Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy (Eremite Records) Romero –Turn It On – (Cool Death) Stella – Up and away (Sub-Pop)
Travis Elborough In no particular order – I ended up listening to quite a few things on cassette this year, one consequence of spending 10 days in bed with Covid in April with only my walkman to hand for audio entertainment, and probably als0 vinyl pressing plant backlogs but here’s some stuff that hit my ears this year. – baker’s top 10 at 11
Artist/Album Loop – Sonacy Kemper Norton – Rife (cassette) Opal X – Twister (cassette) Telefis – a Dó (cassette) Blue Spectre – Silver Screen Cosey Fanni Tutti – Delia Derbyshire soundtrack album Andrew Poppy – Jelly Robyn Hitchcock – Shuttlemania (cassette and LP) The Advisory Circle – Full Circle Xopher Davidson – Lux Perpetua Nkisi – NDOMBALA (A Journey to Avebury)
Ed Mazzucco (Shelflife Records / Tears Run Rings) 1. Billow Observatory – Stareside 2. RxGibbs – Eternal 3. Motifs – Remember A Stranger 4. Life On Venus – Homewards 5. Martin Courtney – Magic Sign 6. Marine Eyes – Chamomile 7. Humdrum – Superbloom 8. Foliage – Can’t Go Anywhere 9. Jeanines – Don’t Wait For A Sign 10. Korine – Mt. Airy
Julie Underwood (CF contributor!) 1. Beyoncé – Renaissance 2. Wet Leg – Wet Leg 3. Alvvays – Blue Rev 4. Alex G – God Save The Animals 5. Angel Olsen – Big Time 6. The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field 7. Plains – I Walked With You A Ways 8. Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow 9. Sasami – Squeeze 10. Yard Act – The Overload
Kendall Meade (Mascott, CF contributor)
Songs on repeat 2022 “San Francisco” Bonny Doon “Problem With It” and “Abeline” Plains “Mistakes” Sharon Van Etten “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” Weyes Blood “Anti Hero” Taylor Swift “Daylight” Harry Styles
Beatrix Madell (Girl Scout Handbook) My top ten songs of all time from the members of Boygenius: 1) “Night Shift,” Lucy Dacus 2) “Chelsea,” Phoebe Bridgers 3) “I Know the End,” Phoebe Bridgers 4) “Hot and Heavy,” Lucy Dacus 5) “Waiting Room,” Phoebe Bridgers 6) “Timefighter,” Lucy Dacus 7) “Graceland Too,” Phoebe Bridgers 8) “Me and My Dog,” Boygenius 9) “Song in E,” Julien Baker 10) “Punisher,” Phoebe Bridgers
Some Stars of 2022 Both Welcome and Unwelcome
Excellent books that are also mysteries: The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran The Violin Conspiracy: a novel by Brendan Slocumb Vera Kelly: Lost and Found by Rosalie Knecht The Second Cut by Louise Welch The Verifiers by Jane Pek The Maid by Nita Prose Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia. P. Manansala The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill Confidence by Denise Mina
despair over Ukraine (et al)
Podsies: my ability to tolerate current news became I guess you’d say…refracted (?) i.e. bearable only by hearing it through other countries’ news like The Rest is Politics, or through the lens of a specific frame like the art world, The Week in Art or The Art Angle (scammers too). Gave esotericism a twirl with The Secret History of Western Esotericism, yikes, I do not have any idea what Earl Fountainelle was talking about much of the time, but interesting all the same. Also enjoyed for different moods and needs: Shedunnit, Art Law Podcast, The Witch Wave, The Read, Bad Gays, Don’t Ask Tig, The Bald and the Beautiful, My Favorite Murder.
Scottish Rite Masonic Museum, Salem Witch Board Museum (Ouija boards)
what is the word where you don’t want to mention anything for fear of forgetting something, i.e. some standout 2022 shows: id m theft able outdoor show in Elfland, Paulownia at Waterworks.
tried to figure out what to do about mortality
reading play aloud – The Mousetrap on a writing retreat – very fun, recommend
Desus and Mero breakup. All right, sad, but I console myself: a) performers-writers-artists need to grow and sometimes that means change b) think of all they gave us
finally watched Lord of the Rings for details of that experience read here
Brittney Griner WTF and thank god
if nothing else may I please recommend @archaeologyart on the instagrammo
Rob Pursey (The Catenary Wires, Skep Wax Records, Swansea Sound, Heavenly, etc.) After a long pandemic period of not going out I made a list of ten places I liked to visit and was very very happy to re-visit.
1. Rye Church Tower. You have to pay, but not very much, to climb up to the top of this beautiful old building. Narrow stone corridors, creaking wooden staircases, and then you climb a rickety ladder right next to the huge church bells – try to not to do this at midday – and then you’re out onto the tower roof through a trapezium-shaped wooden door. You get to admire the aerial view of this perfect hill-town and of the marshes and Dungeness in the distance. 2. The Betsey Trotwood, London. One of those venues that had to fight for survival during the pandemic. A warm, sanctuary of music. Always has friends in it. 3. Larkins Ale House, Cranbrook. A tiny purveyor of local ale. Very hospitable. On the first Sunday we went in, they asked if we wanted a free snack and handed over a plateful of them, like a free meal really. The beer is perfect. 4. Fairfield Church. A peculiar, isolated survivor on the Kent Marsh and now a place where we are able to put on Skep Arts events. No water, no electricity, no light. Beautifully basic. 5. The Oast, Rainham. Another lovely little venue where our friends at Careful Now Promotions somehow manage to book the best indie bands, every month. 6. The De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea. An art gallery, a cafe, a great record shop (Music’s Not Dead), all housed in one of the most beautiful Twentieth Century public buildings, right by the sea. 7. Nutmeg Cafe, Tenterden. Best local coffee, friendly staff, dangerous pastries. 8. The Ellen Terry Theatre, Smallhythe. Another place that became a Skep Arts venue this year. A thatched barn, converted into a theatre by a Suffragette group in the early Twentieth Century. I don’t think there is anywhere else like this in the world. 9. London Bridge Station. I am still awestruck by the roof and the pillars of this huge building. It’s worth going to London just to see it. 10. The Chinese Supermarket in Hastings. Everything you need is here – all kinds of noodles, of rice, of spices. And home-made bao buns in the steamer by the check-out.
Joe Brooker (Pines / Foxgloves / CF contributor) 2022 Top 10
1 / Close-Up I’d long known of Shoreditch’s Close-Up Film Centre, but only in 2022 did I actually pay for membership and start watching films here: Bergman’s Persona for the first time, Godard’s Le Mépris for at least the sixth, Spanish films of the 1970s, in the little cinema where film abruptly starts as a light in the darkness. I love the array of thousands of DVDs to browse any time. The place reminds me a little of the Poetry Café, which I once knew as another oasis of culture.
2 / Chloe Under-the-radar BBC drama about identity and imposture, memory and teen friendship, social climbing and social media, all refreshingly based in the West Country.
3 / Ride As a student in Norwich I missed seeing Ride though they played only a few hundred yards away from me. Now by contrast I travel a hundred miles back to Norwich to see them play their debut LP Nowhere. Some of the audience are younger than I was then. The music is marvellous and fresh, but above all I just love the idea of seeing Ride in Norwich.
4 / Bordando el manto terrestre In the vast last room of Tate Modern’s Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition I’m stunned to encounter Remedios Varo’s triptych of paintings Bordando el manto terrestre / Embroidering the Earth’s Crust (1961). I’ve read about this painting, looked at reproductions, so many times that I feel a rare awe before the original painting, with its size, texture and detail. In the same year, I might say something similar of Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère (1882), which I’m taken aback to find in the Courtauld.
5 / Isokon Building Hampstead is a storied place but not well known to this South Londoner. A friend shows me around it: mile after mile of avenues green with trees, well-preserved housing, modernist outliers. Down a side street, flowering suburbia like Tolkien’s Hobbiton, I see for the first time the art deco Lawn Road Flats, known as the Isokon Building. Cherished by the many lovers of modern architecture, it’s spectacular: pure white, curved, its stairwell magnificent; an ocean liner.
6 / Sandymount Strand James Joyce’s Ulysses was published in 1922, and set in Dublin on 16th June. On 16th June 2022, a Joycean friend leads me out to Sandymount Strand, to retrace the steps of Stephen Dedalus in the novel’s third episode, as evening falls instead of the book’s morning. Almost alone amid the vast space we step across wet mud, puddles, treacherous ground, as a calm dusk slowly dims all around us. Finally we must take off our shoes and socks to paddle across streams, maybe similar ones to those that Dedalus feared would sweep him away with the tide.
7 / The Magnetic Fields Touching down in West London they play Quickies and representatives from most of their other records; songs I think I’ve never heard live, like ‘Love Goes Home To Paris In The Spring’ and ‘It’s Only Time’. The encore yields ‘100,000 Fireflies’. I don’t recall them sounding better, and the set list offers what now feels like one standard after another, a great American songbook of its own.
8 / Ross Macdonald Ross Macdonald is like Raymond Chandler twenty years on: still droll and tough, but private eye Lew Archer tours a changing California with meditative sympathy as well as pugilistic ability. I find that I can read one of his novels in a day, if I do nothing else. I could tell you the titles, but to a degree the novels are happily interchangeable, intricate permutations of recurring features: Archer’s police contacts and helpers, wealthy clients, runaway girls and boys, seedy trailer-park characters or desk clerks. I feel that I could read them forever; there are eighteen, but perhaps a sophisticated artificial intelligence could generate many more. Archer’s narrative voice is laconic, often very humorous, but also every couple of pages flashes into descriptive fire, a margin of writerly excess.
9 / Helen Saunders at the Courtauld She was a modernist painter (1885-1963), associated with the Vorticist movement of the 1910s. Typically enough, the work of the era’s women artists often became obscured, and curators have lately sought to reclaim them from history: in Saunders’ case, culminating in this one-room gathering of her work at the Courtauld Gallery. The retrieval is worthwhile. Saunders’ lines and strokes are clear and bold. She seems to draw and paint with conviction and native talent. Some of her pictures are figurative, showing a mother and child, a house, a canal. Some are much more abstract, imagined patterns and designs, but often with some resemblance to a real-world object or experience. She would merit a larger exhibition, of whatever work has survived the decades of neglect.
10 / The Cure I have loved The Cure for decades, from a distance; never seen them, and often had the impression that my last chance to see them had already passed. But when their lengthy European tour reaches Wembley Arena, at last I’m in the crowd: unusually early, standing as near the front as I can, waiting through a tedious support band. Before a bright picture of the turning Earth, Robert Smith tiptoes on to the stage like a child, peering shyly at the audience. They play numerous ‘new songs that will soon be old songs’, as Smith repeatedly says. They play relatively deep album cuts; few hits in the first two hours. The music is unblemished, the voice strong. Along the way, ‘Pictures of You’, ‘A Night Like This’, the extraordinary ‘Push’ which amazed me when I discovered it on vinyl aged 17. The final encore of rapid-fire bright hits Smith calls his ‘Sunday night disco’. I haven’t felt quite this way about a concert in a long time. Outside, snow is falling.
10. Central Park, Manhattan. I pretty much only come here now to run races or see concerts, which is a shame, because it is such a gem. Whatever you might want to do, it is here. I ran the last 10 miles of the NYC marathon a week before I ran the marathon, and the energy inside the park and at the finish line area was like no other I have ever felt. It gave me a sense of belonging in a city of millions.
9. Grant Park, Chicago. Seriously Chicago, how lucky are you to have this incredible park right smack in the middle of the Loop. The Bean, Buckingham Fountain, and Millennium Park all inside…I’m sure that is just scratching the surface.
8. Al Buehler Cross Country Trail, Durham, NC. I don’t know if this is technically a park, but it’s Duke University’s cross country course loop around a golf course and it’s my favorite place to run in Durham. The trail is shaded and in certain months you are running on pine needles. Lots of bird watching and great mushroom viewing. A word of warning, watch out below, snakes have been spotted.
7. Madison Square Park, Manhattan. My office is right next to this park, for which I am thankful. The flowers are incredible all year round. I love to eat lunch on a bench and people watch and just catch my breath there on the way to or from work.
6. Palace Park, Oslo. Lovely park surrounding the Royal Palace in Oslo. There is a Sculpture Park within, with sculptures made by Norwegian children, for children, and specially chosen by the princess. They show the sketches the children made next to the finished sculptures, it’s wild.
5. Volkspark, Friedrichshain, Berlin. Magical little park near Mitte in Berlin with lots of sculptures + paths.
4. Camel’s Back Park + Reserve, Boise. The landscape is so different out west. These hills and trails were quite steep and dramatic. Great views of the town of Boise below.
3. Stadtpark, Hamburg. Urban Park with huge lake in the middle, lovely bridges, great running paths. Bonus points for lots of water fountains and public bathrooms.
2. Frognerparken, Oslo. Drop dead gorgeous park that within it resides, Vigeland Sculpture Park. Vigeland has more than 200 sculptures by Norwegian artist Gustav Vigeland. Some are grand in scale.
1. Prospect Park, Brooklyn. My backyard park. It’s not a stretch to say I spend hundreds of hours here a year: running, walking, seeing concerts, bird watching, eating + drinking, just cutting through. You can get lost there, but it’s manageable size. I’ve lived here so long now, that pretty much every time I go to “the park”, I’ll run into someone I know. It keeps me sane.
Favorite shows I saw in 2022
Spoon, Baby’s All Right Brooklyn 8/23/22
MJ Lenderman @ the Pour House Raleigh, NC 9/9/22
Destroyer, Greenspan, Hamburg Germany 9/22/22
Weird Nightmare, Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn July 28, 2022
Wait a minute; 2022 is over? Because of COVID and working from home since early 2020, I’ve lost all track of time, and don’t even remember what happened this year in music, cinema and other culture.
1) RETROSPECTION. I have a playlist entitled “What’s so Good About New Music?” and it’s full of my favorite songs that fit the sole criteria of being released prior to 1997.
2022 gave us some Super Deluxe box sets that were worthy as memory lane fodder, as well as a history lesson for younger people who wonder why us olds STILL fan-girl for Blondie.
These are my top 3 “investment” records:
Blondie – Against the Odds (1974-1982): I have been a fan since before I even heard their music. As a devotee of New York Rocker, I learned about all the NYC underground bands that helped create punk rock, and Blondie just jumped out as worth watching. Once I did hear them, they fulfilled all my niche pleasures: girl group sounds, surf guitar, B-movie kitsch themes, a pretty voice with a gritty band. Because they were always easy on the eyes and ears, and then had themselves a huge crossover hit with a disco-tinged single (“Heart of Glass”), it is easy to forget how trailblazing Blondie was since their career seemed to follow an organic progression. That would be overlooking the one thing that gives them their punk bonafides. They’ve always made the music they wanted to make. I have very little critical distance, as drummer Clem Burke has been a friend since the 70s, however, if you want to read an excellent take on this box set, I urge you to read Caryn Rose’s piece for Pitchfork.
The Beatles – RevolverIn 1966, Revolver was my favorite of all the phenomenal music released that year (AM radio played singles from Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde; The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds; Donovan’s Sunshine Superman; Nancy Sinatra’s Boots; The Byrds’ 5D). Yes, my 8-year-old mind was blown. I was born at the right time for all this music to mold me and in retrospect, it was a life-saver, as I grew up in a conservative bubble in the otherwise super liberal, hippie Southern California. The Beatles made listening to my own music at home with the parents easy. “Eleanor Rigby” is beautiful regardless of your musical taste, so no one looked askance when I played the hypnotic “Tomorrow Never Knows” on repeat.
I am not a fan of the Super Deluxe Box set for any artist. In the case of Blondie, it was partly an opportunity to replace beat-up vinyl records, purchased in real time, AND the book of memories and photos. And for The Beatles, it was also about The Book full of beautiful photos that includes the essay by Paul McCartney. Except for the “Paperback Writer” demos, I’m not interested in the progress of any given song. In fact, when The Beach Boys epic Pet Sounds Sessions were released 25 years ago, I refused to buy it because I am only interested in what Brian Wilson wanted to present in 1966. I feel like an album is a snapshot of its time, and a snapshot of the decisions of the time. Full stop.
Revolver gives us a few demos of “Yellow Submarine,” which started as a sad narrative and it boggles my mind how it ended up as a weird ditty. Least liked track in 1966, and in 2022. But “Paperback Writer” (and demos) is a revelation. Rumors in 1977 were that Glen Matlock was fired from the Sex Pistols because he was a Beatles fan. Great PR from Malcolm McLaren, trying to draw the line between the established and the upstart musicians BUT I think those Matlock compositions owe more than a passing nod to the rhythm tracks and structure of “Paperback Writer” and punk rock is the better for it! The 2022 Remix/Remaster disc is the one I listen to. And I flip through the book.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Live at the Fillmore 1997 Now THIS is the kind of box set I can get behind. It satisfies on many levels. For me, it is highly personal. The band played a 20-night stand at San Francisco’s Fillmore in January and February 1997, and I attended 17 shows. No two were alike, and the document that is this box set cements memories for me. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were the world’s very best bar band, whether they were covering The Kinks, JJ Cale, The Ventures, or going deep into their own (at that point) 20+ year career catalog. If you were going to invest a sizable chunk of cash for a box set, it pays for itself to have a piece of history, which thanks to recording technology is no longer a fugitive moment. Was I imagining Roger McGuinn joining the band and playing the weirdo Byrds b-side “Drug Store Truck Driving Man” ? No. They did and they recorded it! As a live music document, this set is in the pantheon with The Band’s The Last Waltz, The Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya Yas Out, Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison, The Who’s Live at Leeds and Jimi Hendrix Live at Monterey. No lie.
2) PATTI SMITH & CARYN ROSE – The poet who punked me, the woman whose own interests mirrored mine and tied a bow on it and gave me the first feeling of cultural inclusion—Patti Smith—has, 45 years later, once again taken a center stage position in my year, thanks to the writer, Caryn Rose. Released in the Spring of 2022, WHY PATTI SMITH MATTERS by Caryn Rose is the first book about the female artist written by a woman. In the book, Caryn eschews all the hackneyed linear biographical takes that have been published before and examines and contextualizes Patti’s WORK and WORK ETHIC, and unlocks the secret to Patti’s enduring career—the connection between performer and audience. In another essay, her review of A BOOK OF DAYS for VULTURE, Caryn again unpacks Patti’s abilities as a creator to illustrate why the poet is so good at social media, specifically Instagram. For those of us who have been following along, it is once again about WORK and WORK ETHIC and a direct connection with her audience. I am recommending both Caryn’s book on Patti, and Patti’s BOOK OF DAYS. If like me, you were influenced by Patti and her work, you will feel validated and vindicated for your own work ethic.
3) AMY RIGBY’S DIARY on Substack as Diary of Amy Rigby. I am thrilled that a woman of my generation writes so succinctly, emotionally, and realistically about being in this generation. Representation is everything.
4) SOLITUDE I am spending 8 days of my holiday break staying in a hotel, alone, scanning negatives and slides for my upcoming (and overdue) photo books. I am writing this from there too. I recommend self-sequestering/vacationing to all. It was absolutely dead here Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but not THE SHINING dead/slow and creepy. I’ve been in my PJ’s for a few days and have done quite a bit of work. The “Do Not Disturb” sign has been on the door since I arrived. I have the blackout curtains drawn, and there is no clock here. This is my idea of a productive work week.
5) BOB DYLAN I traveled all over from NYC (late 2021) and across the South this year to see him. At one show, I saw Beck reprimanded by security for daring to bring out his cel phone, and also saw a fella in my row at the Chattanooga show get ejected for same. I’ve been a fan since I first heard “Positively Fourth Street” lo-fi blaring from my purse-sized Toshiba transistor radio as I played hopscotch in my driveway when I got home from the first day of school (I was 7). I was drawn to the snotty tone as he sang “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend.” It was not like anything I had heard before. The personage he was complaining about in the song sounded like so many people about whom my father complained. My father was 20 years older than Dylan, and the lyric and its delivery illustrated better than any class lesson I ever had in poetry/literature about a writer making the personal universal. Bob was a young guy trying to get ahead in his career; my dad was an old guy at the top of his career, and me, a kid, also recognized this personality trait in people. Bob made me wise. And as an old geezer, he still entertains me.
chickfactor: Tell us about your childhood and teen years. What music sources were you finding back then? Jude Rogers: I was a big pop fan when I was really little, graduating to being a bit of an indie kid essentially at the exclusion of everything else for a while like a typical teenager, before I fell in love with all kinds of electronic music, back in love with pop, then in love with folk, et cetera et cetera. My first favorite band were R.E.M., who I talk about in very—what’s the word I’m looking for?—gushing teenage detail. From when I first bought Out of Time, that little trip to a huge Virgin Megastore and seeing this prized object on the shelves, and unfurling the concertina of liner notes, to my absolute love of Michael Stipe, I loved writing about that journey of fandom, when you’re watching videos and replaying them and listening to songs and the lyrics are just for you. How you’re sort of controlling that narrative in a way and the power that you have is really interesting, especially for teenage girls. You’re accessing other worlds and shaping your future along with that.
I found a lot of music through TV when I was a young kid, through Saturday morning British television and pop stars that would appear there for interviews, people like Adam Ant, George Michael, Neneh Cherry—who I found through Top of the Pops, the big British Top 40 chart show—and Kylie Minogue. I grew up in the ’80s, which was the time when the pop video became obviously gargantuan in its importance, its relevance, its budgets. Then in the ’90s, I fell forradio, which I write about with much love in my book too. Taping off the radio, especially taping cassettes off my friend Dan, whose Scottish sailor dad got a job parking ships in the United Arab Emirates, of all things, after he left the navy, and he’d bring us back dodgy pirate copies of PJ Harvey albums, Tori Amos albums, loads of stuff. I was quite into CDs in the mid-’90s too. Any way I could find music I’d find it. Oh, and buying 7-inches from Sullivans Record Shop in Gorseinon, the tiny town next to the village where I lived—it was my local tiny record shop, where I bought loads of singles and albums. I remember buying Come on, Feel the Lemonheads there and Elastica’s first album the week they came out and being very excited.
Tell us about the book. The book is out just in the US and published by Hachette. It came out in November in the U.S. It’s been out in the UK since April. Yeah, it’s got some really great press. Ann Powers loves it, hurray! And lots of other American people too, which is cool. It’s about how songs shape our lives in so many ways, taking me through the story of my life, from my first memory to the death of my father when I was five, through childhood, adolescence, crushes, falling in love, becoming a journalist, parenthood, grief and growing up—all soundtracked by songs. I speak to neuroscientists, psychologists, fandom experts and so many other people to find out why songs shape us so intrinsically, comforting us, enthralling us, propelling us back to the distant past, and into different future lives.
Tell us about the teenage brain on music (or your teenage brain on music). Which pop stars stayed with you and are you still fans of today? I talk about this in detail in my book with the amazing neuroscientist Catherine Loveday. I love the part where she talks about another neuroscientist who went into an fMRI scanner to see what happened to her brain when she had an orgasm—she made herself have an orgasm—and the same bits of the brain get activated when we listen to our favorite parts of music. I think that says a lot! We really respond to music in that way when we’re teenagers because our brain is developing at this incredible rate—and we still remember that intensity when we’re older. I can listen to Automatic for the People and I’m in some sort of mad, beautiful reverie still. I love it.
What is the essence of the relationship between musician and fan? It can be all kinds of things, but at its best it can be a love story, can’t it? You fall in love with a band or artist’s way of expressing themselves, their delivery, their lyrics, the way they craft music. It’s quite extraordinary. It’s not really with them as a person, it’s with this abstract but incredibly concrete thing that they have created. To share that with people is quite something. It’s funny having written a book and I’ve had lots of people at festivals come up to me and say, “God, I loved your book, it was great” and that’s wonderful, but it is weird thinking that people get really moved by something that you’ve made. What must that be like for a massive musician or somebody who’s engaged with a larger community of fans? And music works differently to words—it activates more parts of the brain and it encourages your sense of personal identity aside from your family, as well as your social sense when you’re interacting with others. Music is very strange and magical because our reaction to it is emotional and it’s profound and worth sharing. It’s the stuff of life for people. It’s intense. The essence of the relationship between music and fan, musician and fan, is intensity.
What is your favorite anecdote or quote from a scientist you interviewed in your book? Definitely the orgasm one, although I still love the experiment about “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the chapter about babies in utero and how some babies remembered specific versions of the song after they were born. For my UK launch party for the book back in April, the amazing DJ and musician Richard Norris—who I interview in the book elsewhere about music and healing and how music can comfort us in times of trauma—did this amazing mix of me reading a part of the book with versions of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the background. I also did a reading from the last chapter about “I Trawl the Megahertz” against an instrumental mix of the song that was structured the way that the rises and falls of the song could have met with my chapters. It was magical doing that. I really want to do that again. Richard and I are thinking we might record it actually, cause it just works so perfectly.
I had a relative with Alzheimer’s years ago who seemed to respond to music more than anything else. What did you learn about how music stimulates memory? I love the chapter about music in later life, in which my main interviewees are two of my best friends, for whom music and memory is hugely important. One is the wonderful writer Kat Lister, who wrote an amazing book called The Elements about being her first year being a widow. She was married to the wonderful music writer Pat Long, who many chickfactor readers will know from the NME and other places. Wonderful guy. I talked to her about music and funerals. Pat knew he was dying, he had cancer, and he chose the songs for his funeral. In that chapter I interviewed her along with my friend Jess George, one of my very best friends, who works in dementia care as an occupational therapist—she talked to me about her working experience of music and memory with her patients, how music is absolutely one of the last things to go from your mind. And I also talked to an amazing palliative care doctor called Mark Taubert, who in 2016 wrote this amazing letter to David Bowie after David Bowie’s death thanking Bowie for his album, Black Star, which stimulated conversations in his palliative care practice with patients. A song kind of gets timestamped really into a lot of other sensory information in our heads. My chapter about “Only You” performed by the Flying Pickets talks about this as well. I wanted to know how and why it is that when I hear that song, I don’t just remember my father, I remember the last time I saw my father, where we were, the doorway, our whole world—and I do a lot of digging into research and doing interviews to find out why.
How did you start out as a music writer? Who are some other folks you learned from along the way? Literally? I used to pick up the Top 40 charts from a shop called Woolworths in Llanelli, the small Welsh town nearest to where I grew up, where I used to work at the weekly newspaper on Saturday mornings. I was in my mid-teens and one of my tasks was to go to Woolworths, pick up the charts and type it up. So, if that counts as music writing, then there! Otherwise, it was through starting a fanzine when I was 24 with a friend of mine I had got to know through going to gigs—a guy called Matt Haynes, who I’m sure indie fans and chickfactor readers know. Matt was one of the cofounders of Sarah Records and later Shinkansen. I’d become a fan of a Shinkansen compilation, Lights on a Darkening Shore, not long after moving to London in my early 20s, met Matt at a gig at a merch table and started chatting about my new hometown. I was new to London and a bit obsessed with weird little secret stories about the city and he was born in London and knew lots of odd, geeky things. We thought, let’s make a fanzine about London (Smoke)—like a love-letter to it—and we did that in 2003, and it ran for years. I sent a copy to a music, film and books magazine called Word, where it was featured, then they asked me if I wanted to write for them, and six months later, in September 2003, I’d given up my horrible job, taken a pay cut of half my salary to go make tea, open envelopes, and hang around in the Word offices. I quickly got loads of reviewing work and started learning a bit more, but yeah, that’s how it started. I was with these amazing journalists, UK editors Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, who had been TV hosts in Britain of Live Aid and used to present a show called the Old Grey Whistle Test. They’re a really funny double act. There was an amazing guy called Andrew Harrison, still a really good friend, who is one of the best editors I’ve ever had. He was editor of the brilliant Select magazine in the UK in the mid-1990s, my period of reading it, and at Word he was my features editor. I couldn’t quite believe it. Paul Du Noyer, who I write a lot about in my book, was the reviews editor, an amazing quiet, clever, incredibly funny Liverpudlian who mentored me. Plus, lots of other great colleagues including the art director Bad Keith and ’70s Mike, the production editor. There were all these characters. It was amazing.
What are some funny stories from interviewing musicians or engaging with music you’re writing about or seeing live? Lady Gaga once danced over my lap in her pants, bra and leather jacket while filling my glass with whisky—this was backstage in the London O2 Arena in 2010, and she was previewing her new album to me and a few other broadsheet journalists like Caitlin Moran. The next day I was working as a lecturer, and the kids couldn’t believe where I’d been! When I interviewed Kylie Minogue, I asked her about her Welsh roots—I’m from Wales—and we ended up talking about her grandma who still lived in the Welsh valleys, and Kylie tried to say this incredibly long place name in Wales from North Wales, which I won’t say into the tape, but she did it brilliantly. That was funny. Then there was the whole meeting your heroes, not sleeping before the interview scenario that I had with Michael Stipe, my teenage hero. That’s chapter five of my book! Did it go horribly wrong? It didn’t go horribly wrong, but the buildup to it was absolutely terrifying. I loved writing about that. ¶ I didn’t write in the book about my crowdsurfing fingernail-down-the-arm injury that lasted for 10 years after seeing Sonic Youth at Reading 1996 but maybe that’s one for the US paperback!
Did you ever receive a mixtape from someone and spend hours deciphering its meaning?Of course. I’m a woman who grew up in the ’90s!
Was there a time when you had a demystification moment, where you saw a musician you admired turn out to be a not-great person? Do tell. This isn’t quite what you’re asking, but before I was a journalist, when I saw Michael Stipe live on a stage and he was a human being—which I also write about in the book—that was such a weird thing to me. It also didn’t help that this was R.E.M. in the Monster album phase, which did not fit in really with my love of the mysterious R.E.M. of Automatic for the People! Also my hero was being shared with lots of other people—but he’s mine!—and there were those people there just singing and not really listening … that was a weird demystification moment. Meeting people, I’ve been pleasantly surprised, to be honest, most of the time. I guess I haven’t met anybody who’s that unpleasant. Marianne Faithfull was as amazing as you’d hope she’d be, quite formidable, but also quite wonderful. Chrissie Hynde is somebody I thought was fantastic. I was a bit scared beforehand, but we got on really well and she did a painting of me! And at the end, she just took me into her little studio in her surprisingly modest home in a not particularly lovely part of London. And yeah, she did a painting of me, which is now on the side of my office behind some books because I don’t know what to do with it! My husband keeps saying I should have it like behind my desk like a big boss in a film—you know, like an oil painting of a tyrant! He’s joking, obviously. But it’ll probably end up, you know, in the loo, where it will have to be stared at people while they’re having some downtime!
I didn’t have a great time interviewing Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys, who wasn’t having a great day—so much so that I told him off. He clearly didn’t want to be interviewed—I was speaking to him for the NME—and the interview ended with me saying, “Alex, come on, you know, you didn’t have to do this interview.” I gave him a proper Welsh mum dressing down, told him off! But it’s probably not great being interviewed by 10,000 music journalists every day when you’re having a bad day, is it? I’m getting more sympathetic in my dotage.
You grew up when the internet was changing the way we interacted with music as fans. How do you see kids (your own?) now engaging in new ways that are completely different from your experience as a young fan? I sent my first e-mail when I was 18 and didn’t get an e-mail address until I was 20, so I’m probably in the last age group of Western people to have a childhood and adolescence without the internet. I’m fascinated by how kids engage in new ways with music today. My son is 8 1/2. I write about him a lot in my book. Being his mom made me think about music in lots of new ways and very much inspired writing this book in many respects. But he’s now at the age where he has his own playlist—it’s called “110% best ever songs,” which I love. And I’m just profoundly jealous that he can hear the radio and say “put this on my playlist” and instantly any piece of music from the past 50, 60, 70 years he can put on it. If you told me that when I was 8, it would have just been the most space age cosmic idea. His favorite song is “Come On, Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners—not encouraged by me although I do love that song—which he heard on the radio, and there’s stuff like Dr. Feelgood’s “Roxette” next to Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers”, Olivia Rodrigo and loads of modern pop. I’ve been quite enjoying getting into chart pop with him now. We now listen to Radio 1, the UK’s chart pop station. It’s been really fun. But yeah, just talking to him about the way I’d spend loads of money to get music when I was young makes me feel so ancient. CDs were like 15 pounds when I was at university. That’s where my student loans went! But kids still engage with music—just in a much more instant way. I know anecdotally from friends with older kids that many of them aren’t as tied to albums as we used to be. But if the world of music was at your fingertips, I’m not surprised!
What are the tools you use now to engage with or find new music? Apps or analog? I do a lot of rummaging around Bandcamp and SoundCloud to find stuff, which especially helps me write my folk music column for the Guardian. I also have friends who make playlists. My best friend Dan Cuthill, who I mentioned earlier, still has a playlist of new stuff that he updates all the time and I dip into that. My friend Kathryn who I mention in the Prefab Sprout chapter who does the same. And my friend Ian Wade, who I used to DJ with … you know, trusted friends are my guides. But reading The Guardian, Pitchfork, specialist sites like Tradfolk, blogs, listening to Radio 1 and Radio 6/BBC 6 Music over here is what I usually do. And Radio 3, which is classical and newer classical plus experimental as well.
What are some reactions or stories you got from people who read your book and wanted to share their tales with you? I was very excited by getting responses from people saying, yes, I get this, I understand this! I’ll get the famous people out of the way first. Ian Rankin, the thriller writer, loved it and was very moved by my chapter when I talk about my miscarriage. That part seems to have affected a lot of people, especially when I talk about literally where it happened and how it started to happen when I was just about to interview Paul McCartney, the biggest interviewee of my life. And also there’s an actor over here and brilliant writer Ruth Jones. I don’t know if the show Gavin & Stacey has got any traction in the US but it was a massive sitcom here in the UK. She’s a brilliant screenwriter and has written lots of stuff for TV. She sent me a long message with all the things that the book reminded her of from her life, including a Kate Bush obsession in her early teens. That was wonderful.
I’ve also had lots of emails from people I’ve never known who’ve somehow found my address or sent me tweets. I had a man in his 70s, a retired head teacher who had read the book and didn’t know much of the music but was very moved by the experiences and identified with how music shaped his childhood and adolescence and adult years and later life, just from his different experience of being into classical music and different kinds of music. I found that very affecting. Also, recently I had an amazing message from somebody who had gone on holiday with some old friends. This was a bunch of people in their 60s and they all read and enjoyed my book and had made playlists for their holiday based on ideas from my book. And then they sent me the spreadsheet!
Tell us about some songs not in the book that you have strong feelings about. What I haven’t put in and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t put it in the paperback is a song called “The Scarecrow” by Mike Waterson, which is an amazing song from 1972. Mike was one of the Waterson family, this amazing British folk-singing family from the northeast of England who had these tough, stark voices and learned lots of songs from their grandmother who brought them up when they were little because their parents died when they were all quite small. “The Scarecrow” is from an album called Bright Phoebus, and it was written by Lal, but adapted by Mike. I’ve written a huge piece about the Watersons recently for the Quietus website, and I talk in detail about “The Scarecrow” there. I’ll leave you to read that! It’s such an amazing song.
Is there a song you can’t listen to ever again? I think I’ve got past that stage. There was a long period where I used to find “Fairytale of New York” very tough because it reminded me of a boy that I’d dumped at a bus station shortly before Christmas in 1998 who for a while thought I shouldn’t have dumped! And that song always took me back to him for a while. It doesn’t anymore. And obviously “Only You” by the Flying Pickets is a song that I have found difficult over the years because it takes me back to my last moments with my dad, which I talk about my book. My dad asked me, age 5, to find out—just before going to the hospital to have a hip operation—what was No. 1 and it had been “Only You.” Originally it was a song by Yazoo, who were called Yaz in the states (Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke), but it was covered by a Welsh band called the Flying Pickets. They had been No. 1 over Christmas 1983, then my dad went into hospital in early January. The No. 1 became “Pipes of Peace” by Paul McCartney, but I never had a chance to tell my dad because my dad died in hospital. And I used to find it very hard hearing “Only You,” especially as it was a Christmas No. 1, so a song that generally just pops up once a year at Christmas, and caught me unawares in quite a sudden, shocking way. I haven’t heard it yet this year.
What’s something that makes you jump up to dance? Recently, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston randomly came on the radio, and that is the ultimate, isn’t it? What a song! In my teens, I started to kind of sneer the things I’d liked when I was a bit younger – hating the high notes of Whitney Houston, and the melisma of Mariah Carey. Fantasy, that’s another one! What an idiot I was. I soon grew out of that. I love dancing to “Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, which I write about in the context of love songs in my book, that was the second song at my and my husband’s wedding party. Oh and “The Night” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is such a fantastic song to dance to with friends, although that’s an interesting song for me now because it reminds me of the first COVID lockdown in 2020—it’s the song that really got me through the early days of that. It makes me feel quite sad hearing it now, but hopefully that will pass.
If you were a song, what song would you be? Probably something ridiculous. You know, I would like to be “Heat Wave” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas or “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama or “Venus” by Shocking Blue, but I’d probably be something far less cool.
What is the best TV or movie soundtrack ever made? Twin Peaks, probably. I’m probably just saying that because Angela Badalamenti just died but that had a massive effect on me when I was 12. I watched that on a black and white television—a tiny television—in my room and didn’t see it in color until the DVD reissue. It was quite scary seeing scary Bob in black and white! But that music is so incredible. Other movie soundtracks…does West Side Story count? Probably not, but I’m having it! Those songs are so beautifully structured. I studied music at school until I was 18 and I’d love to look at the score and pick apart the movement of the melodies and harmonies.
What are some other music books you have loved in recent years? There’s so many. There’s been such an explosion. From this year, I really love Jarvis Cocker’s Good Pop Bad Pop and Cosey Fanni Tutti’s book, Re-Sisters, but there’s been so many more. PP Arnold’s book I found really interesting about growing up and becoming a backing singer for the Ikettes in the ’60s with a background of a terrible marriage. There’s a Pauline Oliveros reissue I adored too. In recent years, I’ve loved Tracey Thorn’s books, which are wonderful. One of hers that’s less talked about is Naked at the Albert Hall, which is a great book about singing. I loved Viv Albertine’s book like every right-minded person, but I’ve also started this year doing a podcast called Songbook, where I explore great music books with my guests and there’s all sorts in that. For example, I revisited Fred & Judy Vermorel’s Starlust with Brett Anderson, a book of filthy fan letters, which was lots of fun, especially as I’ve been a fan of Suede since my teens. I discovered a great slim academic book called The Folk by a guy called Ross Coles thanks to the brilliant broadcaster Zakia Sewell, and got Vashti Bunyan to read Marianne Faithfull’s memoir, and went to Shirley Collins’ house to talk about her old boyfriend Alan Lomax’s The Land Where the Blues Began. I often review books too. I love so many!
What are your plans for the book over here? Events? No events yet. But I would absolutely love to do stuff over the US at some point. If you want me out there, get me out there. I’ve got friends in LA and extended family in Colorado and New York. I’ll get a mattress on the floor, a sleeping bag. I’ll be out there.
What are five or ten records you cannot live without? The 12 tracks that make up my chapters of the book are my way of trying to do this, I guess, but there are some songs toward the end of it which I include which I’d missed out. In recent years there are songs like “You Forever” by Self Esteem, I can’t imagine living without that. She is so brilliant. I can’t imagine living without “Freedom” by Wham!, who I managed to sneak into Chapter 3. The ones that make up my book, though, I think it would be them, because they’re the ones I chose to tell my story and they’ve got even deeper meaning for me now. When you pick records about your life, like the Desert Island Discs radio show here in the UK, you don’t think just about the songs. You think about all the places those songs take you to, the people they take you to, the worlds wrapped up in that. So, I’d have to go with them. I think the 12 of my book are a pretty good soundtrack to my life.
Track 5 Drive – R.E.M. How Music Obsesses Us as Teenagers
I walked through Mayfair in London on a cold, sunny November afternoon, along the sides of grand, leafy squares, towards a man with whom I’d had a relationship since I was fourteen.
When I first saw him properly, he was gliding over a sea of hands, wearing a shirt, white and crumpled, open at the neck. I saw the pale skin at his throat and the wide, flattened plane of his stomach. His shorts casually revealed his thighs and his calves. His pale eyes, his perfect mouth, his gawky jaw, looked like they were all carved out of marble.
I watched him being passed around like a god then tossed in the air like a plaything.
We spent days together in my bedroom after that, my door closed, my heart open, him whispering feverish things into my little pierced ears. He told me I was wild. He told me I was his possession. I listened, determined to live my life as he told me to live it, full of joy and wonder. Every night, I imagined reaching out and seeing him fully formed at the end of my bed, reaching out his hand, holding it in mine, the two of us sinking through the sheets, the earth, the whole universe.
My heart felt too full that day in Mayfair, rising up from my chest, like it was almost in my throat, or raw and ripe in my mouth. I had barely slept for nerves. We were about to have twenty minutes together, just the two of us, in a hotel room, for the first time.
There’s something intrinsically unhealthy about falling in love with a much older man when you’re in secondary school. At that age, you’re vulnerable, but you also feel invincible. Your every response, psychological, physical, sexual, is on high alert. You’re bloodily, feverishly, desperately alive.
Mr Seaton, a history teacher at my comprehensive, had made the introductions. At wet break-times, my friends and I would beg to be allowed in his first-floor room at the back of the tower block. We loved Mr Seaton because he had a poster of Evan Dando on his cupboard door and he would play tapes while he tried to get on with his marking. One day, he played Automatic for the People. I pestered him to make me a copy until he did.
Over the summer holidays that year, I found myself at a strip-lit urban cathedral in Leicester while on holiday at my new uncle’s house. The name of the megastore glared at me in big, knowing red letters. Inside Virgin, I went to R and found a small, jewelled box with a picture on the front of a thick, golden sea; I felt something inside me unravelling as I took it up to the till, my other hand gripping onto my pocket money tightly, anticipating what these coins could possibly provide in exchange.
I got back to my uncle’s front room, closed the door, unwrapped Out of Time from its cellophane, and ceremonially slotted it into the Walkman I’d been bought a few Christmases earlier. Peter Buck’s guitar strings sounded like spiritual sirens. Mike Mills’ brilliant basslines held the songs upright and straightened my spine. Bill Berry’s drums were unshowy and subtle, always in service of the song. Michael Stipe sang of fantasies flailing around, lonely deeps and hollows, barefoot, naked, on a maddening loop. His voice unfolded me like the concertina of cassette liner notes I held in my hands.
In my mid-teens, I pored over liner notes like ancient scrolls, and I especially loved the liner notes to Out of Time. The mysterious artwork on the front, covered by a yellow R.E.M. logo, was shown in full inside: I found out years later it was called Yellow Seascape With Film and Wood Blocks, made in 1988–9 by American artists and identical twins Mike & Doug Starn. The original suggests two doors that you can open, so you can take the handles in your fingers and comfortably enter the water. They made me want to open them, experience full immersion.
Inside the concertina, there was also a photograph by the brothers, of a plant, taken in black-and-white like a daguerreotype. There were others of fecund fruit and flowers and a cat’s orange tail, struck by sunlight. There were also two cartoons, one featuring a man in a hat, looking like Michael, staring into the window of something that was called a sex theatre. The caption said: ‘These faded, backlit transparencies remind passersby of the live spectacle happening inside.’ I didn’t want to understand what it meant, but also I did.
My fandom wasn’t just about the delivery or the storytelling, I realised quickly: it was about something bigger, a band as a complete work of art. Not long after, I saw the video to their 1992 single ‘Drive’, filmed in stark black-and-white, the scene occasionally blasted by spotlights and lasers. Michael Stipe was crowd-surfing through a huge, pulsing audience, their hands raised to hold him, their fingers at full stretch, heated and hungry, their faces rapt. Sometimes, Michael looked numb, paralysed at the mercy of the mob. At others he looked ecstatic, his arms stretched out as if for a crucifix, blissfully accepting his fate.
It didn’t sink in with me initially that the lyrics to ‘Drive’ were inspired by the idea of young people being politically mobilised. It was a song directed at American youth: youth that felt whacked out by a presidential term of George Bush after two terms of Reagan; youth that were fed up with being told what to do and where to go. ‘Drive’ was even used in a campaign to make voter registration easier in America, a ‘drive’ that later succeeded under Bill Clinton. I was more interested in the emotions in Michael’s delivery than distant political machinations, in the way that he sang ‘hey kids’ like a mysterious invitation, like a breathy Pied Piper.
Years later, I’d find out that ‘Drive’ harked back to Michael Stipe’s youth. ‘Hey kids’ was a line lifted directly from one of his favourite songs as a teenager, David Essex’s peculiar, perfect dub-like 1973 debut, ‘Rock On’. Michael talked about the effects of its weirdness on him in 2017, in an interview with NPR in the US, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Automatic for the People. ‘[It] just blasted right into the core of my being as a thirteen- and fourteen-year-old, I think, and presented to me this kind of set-up for what Patti Smith, CBGBs, Television, the punk rock scene in New York in 1974 and ’75 would offer me. It was an entry into a universe that accepted me for who I was. I was already at that point where I realised that I was very different from all the kids around me . . . not eccentric, I never like that word.
But I was different.’ ‘Rock On’ provided him with a key to a new door. ‘A door that would open and never shut again.’
I used to watch ‘Drive’ on my own, on our video player, when I was meant to be doing my homework while my family were out. I had a baby brother now, James, a sweet, chatty toddler. Jon had just reached double figures and was getting into music too. Every Saturday, we’d sit and watch The Chart Show on ITV, taping songs that we liked, taping over others that hadn’t held our interest after a few weeks. Given our different ages, the results were usually a hysterical mish-mash of sounds and styles, my nascent interest in indie buffering around videos by Lionel Richie, KWS, Mr Blobby.
I didn’t want R.E.M. to be for my brothers’ eyes, though. R.E.M. were exclusively for me. I’d wait until my parents would go out with the boys, hearing the car reversing up the drive on the way to the supermarket, to my grandma’s, to Cubs, and I’d let the reels roll and sit motionless in front of the screen. Often, I would watch ‘Drive’ on repeat. It was a strange thing for me to keep watching, because I didn’t like crowds. I found them claustrophobic, frightening – but this was one into which I could safely fold myself, imagine as a launchpad to future experiences, to test out the thrill.
The arrangement of the song built in intensity slowly, giving it a mood which was also slyly erotic. Halfway through the video, the crowd are blasted by a fire hose. The other band members stand in front of them, grinning, their instruments soaking wet. It’s a knowing release.
The words Michael sang also added an element of flirtation into the mix. There is innuendo in the line ‘What if you try to get off?’ which I’m sure I didn’t get at fourteen. I know I felt the word that followed it, though, an old trick out of rock and roll’s playbook, one I already knew from songs by groups I’d loved a few years earlier, like Bros and New Kids On The Block. This time, the word carried a different weight in Michael’s mouth.
‘Baby,’ he called me.
My love of Michael Stipe came in that peculiar period between worshipping saccharine boy bands and my GCSEs, when the teenage brain and body feel like they’re aflame. Neuroscientist Catherine Loveday mentioned this stage of development when we spoke about our fathers. We often return to the music of our teenage years in tough times, she’d said, because this is when brains and bodies are developing at their quickest rate.
I Zoom her again, and she tells me this rapid development in adolescence is a relatively recent discovery in neuroscience. Twenty years ago, it was thought our brains stopped developing in mid-childhood. Now we know there are huge surges of development that come later, particularly in a network of structures colloquially known as the social brain. This includes the anterior cingulate cortex, a region important for understanding and empathising with people, and the fusiform face area, which helps us recognise faces and process the emotions they are exhibiting. As teenagers, we are drawn more to new faces and wanting to understand them, Loveday explains, even if they are just faces on a screen.
Parts of the brain’s subcortical structure are also developing and maturing. The amygdala attributes meaning to the emotions we are feeling, while the nucleus accumbens acts as the brain’s interface between our motivations and actions. Both have to communicate with the faraway prefrontal cortex, at the front of our brain, which is responsible for how we control our behaviour. ‘These subcortical parts are about generating emotion, really a kind of unconstrained emotion, if you like – while the prefrontal cortex helps us to regulate what those emotion centres are doing.’ Then Loveday introduces a theory in neuroscience called the mismatch hypothesis, which suggests that the prefrontal cortex can’t keep up with the pace of the subcortical surges.
Loveday refers to the work of Sarah-Jayne Blackmore, a neuroscientist who wrote Inventing Ourselves, a book looking at different systems of the teenage brain. Blackmore’s analogy is that the experience of having a teenage brain is like having a very fast car with lots of power, but no steering wheel: sensations of exhilaration and elation are everywhere, but without the tools to handle them properly, to rein oneself in.
The dopamine pathway that connects these subcortical areas to the prefrontal cortex is also developing quickly, speeding up the passage of feelings of pleasure. ‘This pathway is really important for feelings of reward and obsessions,’ Loveday says, ‘obsessive love, and that kind of thing, which gives you an appetite, an active drive, to seek novelty.’ The increased activation in this pathway is especially important in evolutionary terms: as they move towards adulthood, young people need to move away from their families to seek potential mates, and not have incestuous relationships. Another thing can also activate this pathway, Loveday says: ‘It has also been shown to be activated by music.’
I think of myself in my bedroom, kicked into life by the rushing sounds of bright guitars, Michael Stipe’s voice in my little speedy-head, telling me I’ve got to leave to find my way. The sensations back then were romantic and thrilling; I really felt like I loved him, that I wanted him to consume me completely.
Loveday then mentions another neuroscientist, Kim Lyall, who went into an fMRI scanner in 2011 to make herself orgasm, to see which parts of the brain were aroused. ‘It’s a study my students are always embarrassed by when I talk about it,’ she says, with a smile. ‘But when people have gone in MRI scanners to listen to their favourite songs, precisely the same areas are highly activated as Lyall’s.’ That dopamine pathway can also become triggered by people, so if you are experiencing that feeling in your brain while somebody is singing, then effectively they become associated with this kind of brain orgasm. There’s also oxytocin being released, which gives a person a feeling of attachment and connection – but it can also shut someone off from other people who aren’t in their blissful bubble. ‘So what’s going on in your mind is, wow, this piece of music is amazing, isn’t that person fantastic – the brain is reacting as if you were actually close to that person and possibly even having sex with them.’ She laughs. ‘And yes – it can be quite overwhelming for people.’
I watch ‘Drive’ again at forty-three. I see other details. I see Peter Buck smiling as he’s soaked, a fan’s hand on his shoulder. On a few occasions, Michael looks at a fan and their eyes lock for a moment. Once he looks straight at the camera and sings at us. At me. I think about how fans and artists feed each other and seduce each other.
I look up Peter Care online, a filmmaker born in Cornwall who has long lived in LA, who directed the video to ‘Drive’. His early work was experimental, with Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA and Killing Joke, before he bagged bigger jobs with Belinda Carlisle, Roy Orbison and Tina Turner. In 1991, he was working mainly in commercials, and had had enough; he called his friend Randy Skinner at Warner Brothers to see if she could give him something more meaningful. He tells me what happened next on the phone on a hot Californian afternoon, as I sink into the sofa on a warm British spring evening. ‘I just couldn’t do it any more – I said, I’ll work for free if needs be, for any little tiny band with no money. And she said, well, have you heard of R.E.M.? And I was like, what?’
Peter knew them well. He had loved their early videos, and they’d just released a slicker proposition on screen that went on to win six MTV Video Awards. The video to ‘Losing My Religion’ helped propel them into the mainstream and did so without surrendering the band’s commitment to weirdness. It referenced Caravaggio paintings, the art of Pierre et Gilles and a pivotal scene in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film The Sacrifice, in which people in a room run from left to right past the camera and a milk jug shatters to the floor.
Peter signed up.
His first job with R.E.M. was ‘Radio Song’, and his video played around with ideas of the band’s changing identity. The four members held up moving images of themselves, and were surrounded by others on TV screens; vintage film was mixed in that recalled their earlier, scratchier style.
Michael then invited Peter to lunch and asked if he’d be interested in making ‘the greatest crowd-surfing video of all time’. He wanted to go shirtless, he added, and leant across the table, opening his buttons to show he’d already shaved his chest. ‘He also wanted it to be out of sync,’ Peter says, ‘to look really off. “Peter – everything’s off!”’
But the director was unsure about the idea of the frontman going bare-chested. ‘And I’m surprised he didn’t tell me to go fuck myself, but I said, it’s going to look a bit like we’re doing an Iggy Pop, and I don’t think that’s right.’ He suggested Michael wear a white shirt instead, so the audience could see it getting wet. ‘I said with a white shirt, there’d be a romance to it, a bit like the white sheets in The Death of Marat.’ I look up this picture after our call: it’s a famous painting by Jacques-Louis David of the murder of a French Revolutionary leader. There was another painting Peter had in his head too, by French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault, called The Raft of the Medusa. ‘I said to Michael, it has a crowd with their hands up, a storm, water, and it’s painted to look like the night with the stormy clouds, but it has a humanity to it.’ The references were a bit over the top, he says, self-deprecatingly, ‘but drama is something we gravitate towards when we’re young, and Michael was up for it. And Michael was like, “OK! All right!”’
Peter’s crew shot for two nights at the Sepulveda Dam, a three-mile-long feat of engineering near Los Angeles, constructed after the great floods of 1938, which killed over a hundred people. A radio call for R.E.M. fans saw hundreds turn up each night. A low-budget Lenny Arm crane was used to hold a camera and film everyone from above; it was wound loosely, creating a juddering effect, intensifying the strangeness with which Michael’s hero-worship was being presented.
Peter did five more videos for R.E.M. after that, in which he explored the attention Michael received in more detail. In ‘Man on the Moon’, Michael looks like a movie star in a cowboy hat, doing Elvis impressions, jumping on trucks, confident and charismatic. In ‘What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?’, he’s suddenly reluctant: shot from the chin down, in rock star T-shirt and jeans. In ‘Electrolite’, he’s filmed upside-down with plastic toy reindeer, in roller-skates, then pretending to be interviewed, then singing, hamming up his lip-syncing.
Peter emails me a few weeks after our phone conversation to offer more thoughts on capturing the feelings of the crowd in the ‘Drive’ video. ‘I wanted the camera to focus on Michael like a fan would – all love, fascination, and no irony . . . I never thought the crowd were expressing adulation exactly. The people there were all big fans of R.E.M. of course, and Michael held them in the palm of his hand during the whole shoot. But like any mosh-pit, there was an energy beyond fandom, beyond what would normally be focused on the star on stage.’
To Peter in 1992, a mosh-pit ripe for crowd-surfing was more about the camaraderie within it, the shared experience it offered, and the job it had to do: ‘i.e., don’t drop the crowd-surfer,’ he says. But then in 2001 he went to a pop video convention and saw ‘Drive’ on an enormous cinema screen for the first time. ‘That was a revelation for me – magnified hugely, I saw faces in much more detail, their smiles, their anticipation in waiting for Michael to come their way . . . [they were] so much more powerful as a group of individuals.’
I used to imagine myself among them, my hands lifted up, as I sat on the living room carpet. From the vantage point of adulthood, I remember how isolating it felt back then being in my early teens. In the pre-internet age, I could only imagine being around people like those in the dam, all looking for a way to look up and grow up.
This excerpt has been published with the permission of the author. Buy your copy of the book hereor here.
“I’m sorry, I know I tell you this all the time, but…” Throughout my many decades as a fan of Low, I’ve barely missed an opportunity to tell Mimi Parker how much I love and admire her work. It’s just your basic, slightly embarrassing fangirl gushing, but I’ve never left a Low performance without all these emotions of awe and admiration pulsing through my veins. It’s like, I have to let it out. I have to tell her how much I love her.
Mimi had one of the most beautiful voices I will ever hear. Its radiance and resonance genuinely flood my heart with joy when I listen to her sing. I’ve tried to sing along with my Low cassettes (and later CDs, and later, streaming audio) in the car, and she’s simply unparalleled in her range, breath control, and just the emotion she can bring to one long sustained note.
Back in 2011, they stopped by KEXP (the radio station in Seattle where I work) for an in-studio session. I still remember creeping down the hallway to the performance space, and tucking away in the back of the engineering room to watch the broadcast (which you can watch here). When the “On Air” light turned off and they began to pack up their gear, I snuck into the room and, heart beating fast, approached Mimi.
“Ohmygod, your voice is so beautiful, ohmygod, I love the new songs so much, ohmygosh,” I breathlessly unleashed on her, wide-eyed and nervous. She was very sweet, and said thank you, and I scurried back to my desk, still shaking with excitement.
After that, I kept doing it. Telling her how awesome she is. The floodgates were open, and my emotions were too strong to close them back up again. Every in-studio session, post-concert opportunity, whatever.
“I’m sorry, I know I tell you this all the time, but ohmygod…” The last time I cornered her with praise was at last year’s Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows. The stars had aligned for Low to be able to open one of the eight nights. Their set was so beautiful. Even though I am definitely non-confrontational, I remember finding my courage to shush some jerks talking nearby during their set. Shut the hell up. Can’t you hear? Mimi Parker is singing right now. They opened with “Days Like These” and when Alan and Mimi’s voices chimed together for the first time on that song, it was like a solar eclipse, so blinding in its beauty.
At the end of the night, I turned to my dear friend Julia and said, “I have to tell her how much I love her. I just have to.”
Julia said she thought she saw her near the stage, so I took off upstairs to find Mimi. I spotted her in the corner. Her back was turned to me, but I saw her signature shoulder-length cascade of thick auburn curls. She was talking to someone else. I hesitated. Should I wait to cut in? I could feel those stupid butterflies in my stomach. I freaked out. I shuffled back downstairs and into the bathroom to catch my breath, when I ran back into Julia.
“Did you talk to her?”
“No,” I sighed, shoulders drooping as my nerves left me. “I couldn’t do it! I chicken’ed out!” And it was at that moment that Mimi stepped out from one of the bathroom stalls. Turned out, that wasn’t her upstairs at all, just someone else with equally lush locks (that we later learned was actually a wig; at that point, chemo had taken Mimi’s natural hair).
“Ohmygod, YOU are what I chicken’ed out about!” I blurted out as she stepped toward the sinks. ”I wanted to tell you how beautiful your set was, and how beautiful your voice is, and ohmygod…”
I was off and running. As always, she laughed, smiled, and was very sweet about it. “I’m sorry, I know I tell you this all the time…” I started to say, looking down at the floor in embarrassment. She laughed, and kindly replied, “You can always tell me again!” * * * I saw her a couple more times earlier this year, but that was the last time I really cornered her with my dorky effusive fangirl energy. And even though I cringe sometimes when I think of how awkward I would get around her, I’m also glad I got yet another chance to tell her how much her work meant to me. How dizzy with joy I get listening to Low. And how lucky the entire world was to have her in it. Was not supposed to make you cry I sang the words I meant I sang — Low, “Lullaby”
In honor of the forthcoming Heavenly reissues (Skep Wax will rerelease all the Heavenly LPs on vinyl soon: Heavenly vs Satan is available on pre-order now; Le Jardin de Heavenly will follow next April and the other two will come along at six month intervals)—in addition to the John Peel Sessions on Precious Recordings and the announcement of the band’s forthcoming gigs at Bush Hall in London in May 2023—we asked the band to think back to 30 years ago and tell us about their impressions of the U.S. in the olden days! The very first issue of chickfactor was handed out at a Heavenly / Lois gig in Sept. 1992; I reviewed their second album in SPIN around the same time, and we interviewed them in chickfactor zine (Amelia is on the cover of issue 2).
ROB PURSEY Going to America was overwhelming, partly because we were going to meet loads of people for the first time—people whose records we’d heard, but from a distance of 3500 miles. Two of the encounters I remember most vividly from that first Heavenly trip are Phoebe Summersquash (Small Factory) and Jeffrey Underhill (Honeybunch). Phoebe is one of the select band of people known as ‘girl drummers’. She was the most diminutive person in the band, she wore glasses and she smiled all the time, even while she beating the hell out of a drumkit. I loved that combination of effortless glee and thunderous noise. She was the living antidote to those theatrical drummers (and guitarists) who pretend to be working out in the gym, or summoning Satan, as if that was crucial to making a great sound.
Jeffrey Underhill, we met, I think, in Rhode Island. I don’t really remember the gig very well, but I was a big fan of Honeybunch. Their song ‘Mine Your Own Business’ was in my head all the time, and it still provides the soundtrack for my memories of our first trip to the US. Anyway, what I remember about Jeffrey was the fact that he showed up in a back alley in a really great old blue/green semi-beater of a car. I am a bit of a nut about old cars, and liked this one a lot. Me and Jeffrey didn’t talk much, I imagine we were both somewhat shy, but I do remember sitting on the bonnet thinking ‘this is the best car, and it belongs to the person who played the best song’.
The encounters with all these new people came to a head at the Chickfactor Party, where there was a whole community was assembling. I didn’t really know anyone there, of course, but I somehow felt like I could get to know and like all of them. We were a long way from the UK, but we felt at home. Part of the reason for this was that women were running the Chickfactor show, and these were wry, witty women. There was a lot of intellect behind Chickfactor, and a definite attitude, but there was a lot of humour too. The humour was a sign of confidence—there was nothing apologetic about it. That’s what being in Heavenly felt like. The women in our band were obviously in charge, but they wore it lightly. So New York, or at least this little indie corner of New York, felt more amenable to our band than a lot of places back in the UK. It was a good feeling.
CATHY ROGERS I’m not sure any of my memories are really separable. The synapses which connect Heavenly to America all sit in a viscous bath of coffee and the new kind of cool of the straight edge punks and the smell of wet trees driving through Oregon and Massachusetts and the swooning delight of being in the same venn diagram overlap as the really rioting riot grrrls and gigs not being gigs any more but shows and the sheer heat of new experiences and new loves. America just felt so great. It was like finding a version of us that was just so sure of itself. So certain. Walk around the town like you own it…everyone, all the time.
Compared with that overpowering sense of it all, specific memories feel a bit humble. The drive down from Olympia to play a show with a band who turned out to be Tiger Trap, Calvin saying, classic understatement, ‘I guess you might kinda like this band.’ Meeting them to play a show together in this kind of basement garage, them all wearing roller skates, us being powerless to resist charms on that level. For some reason, having a conversation with a bunch of people about our favourite foods and everyone out-doing each other for eccentricity, then Molly from Bratmobile saying ‘I just want to eat rice’ and that becoming one of those weird things that I think of literally every time I cook rice. The novelty, playing at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, of being fed really well before a show. Laughing over-hearing an old guy in the audience, saying – after a whole raft of indie bands – about Lois, ‘Finally someone who can actually sing’. Meeting Ted and Jodi for the first time and being so jealous that Pete was somehow already friends with them, then seeing Jodi’s band (with another girl with a rad American name like Brooklyn or Maddison, I’m pretty sure the band was called The Runways) and thinking these were the most sensational people I’d ever met. Being interviewed for this magazine called Chickfactor and hearing of another wait what cool girls are somehow allowed to be mainstream now magazine called Sassy and realising that culture was an actual thing and the world changes and feeling that we lived in some small backwater but we were so lucky because we were here, for now.
AMELIA FLETCHER – On our first US tour, Pete and I being dropped off by Small Factory in Hartford, Connecticut, in the middle of the night. We were near the place we were all staying with my parents, and figured we’d call a taxi to get us home. But it turned out that the place we stopped at had been robbed the week before, and we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by police cars. We were freaked out. It felt like an episode of Starsky and Hutch. Then, when asked where we were heading, we realised we couldn’t remember the address. Not at all suspicious! In the end, though, the police believed the daft English people and gave us a lift home in the police car.
– Meeting Claudia Gonson from Magnetic Fields at Chet’s Last Call in Boston. She asked if I had time to come and record a song for her and Stephin Merritt’s side project, the 6ths, the next day. I said why not. I had heard ‘100,000 Fireflies’ on the ‘One Last Kiss’ compilation and liked it a lot. I remember I sang ‘Hall of Mirrors’ in an especially breathy way, and Stephin commented that I came complete with my own reverb!
– Playing at the Fantagraphics Comics Warehouse in Seattle with Beat Happening and another band who I just remember as being very smelly! It was a great space, and I was excited because I was a big fan of ‘Love and Rockets’. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl both came, which seemed pretty thrilling too. We were easily thrilled!
– Arriving in Olympia at the start of a West Coast tour, meeting Bratmobile and Bikini Kill and discovering Riot Grrrl. There was a visceral buzz around the whole place, and we quickly got very excited about it too. We had always been a feminist band, but in a quiet sort of way. We didn’t really feel part of the UK feminist movement at the time. It was fighting for stuff that was no doubt important but didn’t seem relevant to our concerns. So it was thrilling and empowering to find people discussing the issues that really had affected us. And to discover a whole set of new bands who had found a way of being outspoken and angry but also huge fun. It had a big impact on us, musically and personally.
PETER MOMTCHILOFF I have opened the drawer in which I left my old memories of Heavenly in the USA. There is a lot there, but I can’t fit it together into any kind of story. My colleagues’ reminiscences do what I seem not to be able to. As a kind of coda, I do remember that we were brought down to earth by our first gig back in England after a West Coast tour, feeling rather pleased with ourselves. It was in a pub in Gillingham, to about five men and a dog. I don’t think they even turned the pub TV off while we played.