Speaking of Which

oscar-wildeA thought that ties into my post here Monday. From Oscar Wilde’s essay “The Soul of Man under Socialism”:

“The message of Christ to man was simply ‘Be thyself.’ That is the secret of Christ.

“When Jesus talks about the poor he simply means personalities, just as when he talks about the rich he simply means people who have not developed their personalities. Jesus moved in a community that allowed the accumulation of private property just as ours does, and the gospel that he preached was not that in such a community is is an advantage for a man to live on scanty, unwholesome food, to wear ragged, unwholesome clothes, to sleep in horrid, unwholesome dwellings, and a disadvantage for a man to live under healthy, pleasant and decent conditions. Such a view would have been wrong there and then, and would of course be still more wrong now and in England; for as man moves northwards the material necessities of life become of more vital importance, and our society is infinitely more complex, and displays far greater extremes of luxury and pauperism than any of the antique world.

“What Jesus meant was this. He said to man, ‘You have a wonderful personality. Develop it. Be your self. Don’t imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or possessing external things. Your perfection is inside of you. If only you could realize that, you would not want to be rich.

“‘Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try so to shape your life that external things will not harm you.'”

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My Queerness, My Male Privilege, and My Catholicism

Reflecting on a responsibility to myself I’ve failed to fully keep: living my full self candidly in all my communities.

Part of my reverence for Catholicism, my embrace of it as a worldview, has to do with the deep importance of the body in Catholic faith life. The standing and kneeling. The dousing with holy water and the heavy earthy reek of real frankincense and the real flowers wilting and the real bloody sweetness of the wine. The weak and emaciated body on the cross instructing us in God’s willing embrace and redemption of all that’s bodily: our physical infirmity, our historical contingency, our subjection to arrogant power, our radical weakness, our possibility of freely-chosen solidarity and our passage into death: death the darkest shadow of all those cast by this beautiful and bleeding creation, the shadow twinning all its light, and God passing through it. I revere communion as a foretaste of our unity, body and soul, with God. We know God in our bodies: our bodies are not a shell or a sinker dragging our featherweight spirits into temptation: they’re braided up with our souls.

This is important because, in my experience of sexuality as well as of spiritual ecstasy, I feel brought close to the edge of my finitude. Karl Rahner said once that humans are incomplete beings oriented toward completeness. In spirituality as in sexuality, I feel a deep intimation of a unity that I as an incomplete being won’t definitively achieve in life but I can sense, unbearably close, overpowering and out of reach.

I feel all this wisdom in Catholicism, so deeply that it breaks my heart how deeply dehumanizing church teachings are on queer sexuality (especially queer sexuality, I should say) and women’s reproductive freedom.

Friends who I love– friends who are radically open to God, friends doing the work on Earth I’d call kingdom-building, friends in touch with a profound awe at the mystery of our existence– can’t find a home in my faith community. Who could blame them, when Church teaching calls queer sexuality “intrinsically disordered” and Francis compares the spectrum theory of gender to nuclear weapons for how both harm “the order of creation“? My parish is blessed to be home to an open, affirming, and progressive community; our families look many different ways; our parishioners and pastors were deeply involved with the “Catholics for Marriage Equality” campaign; but the weight of the Church’s own teachings hangs over all of us and our work.

And I, for my part, have made my home in my parish while hedging on a deep part of myself: I’m a queer person in a loving partnership with a woman. I’m queer in my range of attractions, queer in my romance, queer in my relationship’s experience of and agreements around intimacy– a queer person who passes, often willingly, as straight in much of my faith community (plenty of other spaces too). I’ve passed by choice and habit and a deeply internalized fear of exposure: an invisible fear, a matter of adjusting my habits and managing others’ expectations, rather than fleeing or explicitly denying anything.

The consolations of this act of passing– fitting in and tending to others’ expectations– are bogus. Can I pretend my heart is hidden from God? (Thinking of Luke 12:3.) This choosing to pass is also a failure of responsibility to friends who can’t choose to pass: I let them stay other in the eyes of my faith community, even of prospective allies in my faith community. This consolation also can’t compare to the joy I feel when I truly acknowledge and welcome my whole extravagantly sissy, tender, outrageous self. There’s a simplicity in this acknowledgement that I’m taking a deep breath and embracing. I believe doing this will bring me more harmony with the embodied qualities of Catholic faith I love, and more courage in speaking up against the aspects of the Catholic understanding of the body that I resist.

Speaking of which, I’m feeling more and more acutely the cost of being a man in an institution as foundationally sexist as the church. The Catholic church is the church of Mary, Ruth, Miriam, Julian of Norwich, St. Theresa, Flannery O’Connor, Sr. Mary Antona Ebo, Teresa Forcades i Vila OSB, Dorothy Day, Mairead Maguire, Milet Mendoza, Eleanor Josaitis, Sr. Helen Prejean: women on fire with the Spirit. But the Church’s name and might has also been, again and again, a means of controlling women throughout history, relegating them to a smaller humanity than men. The Church’s denial of the priesthood to women is offensive. It’s one of the distortions– like Augustine’s justification of forced conversions from, of all things, Christ’s parable of the great banquet– that come from rationalizing the arrangements of power in the societies where the Church had been invited to share that power.

The practice of church doctrines on sexual responsibility are, I believe, one aspect of this diminishment and devaluation of the female. Instantiated in everything from the Church’s extensive charitable work to its Sunday school, this doctrine falls punitively (and almost exclusively) on women, on the female body as a site of male power and control. For repeating the sin of Eve, a woman’s atonement will be acceptance of a child she may have no means to care for and no support in raising. In my stinging conscience, I’m aware of how my comfort as a man in a male-dominated institution has sometimes dulled my resolve to speak out about sexuality, female empowerment, and abortion to my Catholic spiritual siblings, and my resolve to show visible solidarity with others who do so.

I love Catholicism for the age and weathered grandeur and extravagant patchiness of its cultural and ecclesial life. It reflects many societies, many ways of knowing. The Church’s very human overelaboration– of ritual, artifice, decoration– doesn’t match the grandeur of God. But this overelaboration is, to me, a more beautiful sort of failed attempt than that of the hard-pew, bare-cross Presbyterianism I was raised in. I feel I belong in the Church. I write candidly about sexuality and institutional sexism here not out of a fantasy of reshaping the church to suit my experience, but because it feels poisonous to belie my conscience by omission. “He who acts against his conscience always does moral evil.” My resolution is to risk discomfort more in search of truer harmony and joy, and to give more labor and solidarity to those doing kingdom work in the church itself.

Thanks to A and G who urged me to find the courage to speak all this. Thanks to J for shining a light for me on women leaders, lay and religious, in the church.

 

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Reflection for Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan 1)

Here’s the reflection I gave at St. Mary’s on New Year’s Day for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. 

In the course of my week, I feel closest to worship between about 5:30 and 7 in the morning. When I can get myself out of bed for it, this is my quiet time—the time before I wake Finn up and start the process of getting him to preschool and myself to work. I spend that quiet hour and a half at my desk with a cup of coffee, a little lamp, three prayer candles, and a glow-in-the-dark statue of Mary that my friend Alex gave me when we were both baptized.

With the candles lit, I offer my prayers and fears and hopes and longings for the day or the week, read a Psalm, sometimes write a poem, sometimes reflect in my journal on a sentence or two from the gospel. Then I wake Finn up, and my day starts. I like to believe that the fruits of this silent time are everywhere in the rest of my day: I notice that I’m less crabby, neurotic, and exhausted by dinnertime if I’ve taken the silence of the morning to draw myself closer to God and just quiet down.

Mary’s power and receptivity, her prophetic gift and the holy dignity she brings to our human body, are at the heart of my understanding of my faith. I’m obsessed by the Magnificat, her prophecy at the beginning of Luke; I’ve been trying to memorize it line by line on my morning commute, and I’m about halfway through. The fire and timeless beauty of those words burn my heart.

But in today’s gospel, I’m drawn not to Mary’s words, but to her silence. “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” What is it, I wonder, that Mary is keeping in her heart? We hear that all who heard the shepherds were amazed: I can only believe that Mary, too, was dumbfounded at the confirmation of the visit of the angel, at the suggestion that this tiny, quiet person swaddled in her lap would make real her own prophecy. This silence of her reflection continues long after the astounded shepherds go back to their flocks. How can we know what sort of thoughts must be turning over in her? How can any of us fathom the impossible gift of Christ to the world?

Today in Numbers, we heard the blessing: “The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.” This blessing, it seems to me, is precisely what Mary assented to: the Lord shone upon her, in her “yes” to the angel, in taking on the bodily work of carrying the child of the Holy Spirit, in accepting a love and trust that will ultimately pierce her like a sword. And here it is, unbelievably, coming to pass nine months later.

In the Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, instructs me with her prophecy of a world turned upside down—of God’s timeless fidelity and burning justice and disruption of all established hierarchies. But here in the second chapter of Luke, Mary, holding her astounding baby in her arms, instructs me not with her prophecy, but with her silence.

2016 was a devastating and heartbreaking year for me, and for many of us. As I enter 2017, I’m tending to my own grief. I’m looking for ways to make real the prophecy of the Magnificat—in serving the poor, in empowering those subject to state violence, in standing up for immigrants, in welcoming people persecuted for their faiths.

But in this first week of the year, I hope to also tend to my own silence. This silence can be my strength when I’m hopeless, and my rest when I’m overwhelmed. We live in a culture that values individual productivity, output, measureable results. So it’s easy for me to lose heart when I see the persistence of injustice and suffering and arrogant power. Is our work worth it, if we’re unable to cure the world of these things? But in silence, I feel the refreshment of knowing that it is God who is at work in our labor for justice, and God who completes what is out of our hands to complete. I hold Mary’s example in my heart as I keep time for awe and longing and gratitude for life, for the Spirit’s presence in both hardship and joy, for wondering—as I’m sure Mary must have wondered, on the first night of her son’s life—what this magnificent news of his birth could possibly mean.

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(2015 and) 2016: Albums

Following my posts from this morning, here are my favorite albums from this year. Here’s a playlist.

 

ALBUMS: “Afraid of the cops when I was outside, afraid of my friends when I was inside”

camp-copeCamp Cope, Camp Cope. Georgia Maq’s shame and desire and excruciating self-consciousness are painfully bright— you have to squint— and our witnessing of it would all be for nothing if the space of liberation her songs long for weren’t blasted out by the big jarring drums and melodic counterpoint of the bass and that jangly basic guitar. Makes me think of Defiance OH or Your Heart Breaks: the way good music creates in moments the better world it desires.

car-seat-headrestCar Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial. Not shame and desire on this one, but depression and falling-inward; a self-consciousness not excruciating but ironic, curious, and ultimately sort of redemptive. Will Toledo’s music is sad shit, but it’s never sluggish or stark. Teens of Denial attests to a rich imagination for arrangement: it’s rowdy and dynamic, decorated by horns and answering voices and a complex sense of construction (yes, you’ll listen to all eleven minutes of “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” without your mind wandering). You make music like this because you survive, and maybe part of the reason you survive is your musical imagination is your friend, or it represents the sustaining power of some buried self-belief and resistance under the sinking weight of your own biochemical hopelessness, or it’s a taunt that stirs some despondency in you into raging loud life.

chance-the-rapper-on-gma-aug-2016-billboard-1548Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book. Exuberance and hope. Faith and a little licking flame of anger. A gymnastic verbal gift. Open-heartedness and a sense of collective grief rather than a personal chip on the shoulder. “Giving Satan a swirlie.”

kaDr. Yen Lo, Days with Dr. Yen Lo. Modern life is war: Ka is part of a long hip-hop tradition (Genius, Rakim, the Poor Righteous Teachers) of solitary mystics cultivating secret learning and esoteric insight to actively resist, not elude, systemic oppression: “slave body, master mind.” Ka the drumless rapper: an FDNY fire captain by day deprogramming his listeners into mind-freedom out in Brownsville by night: murmuring on this record (a collaboration with producer Preservation) over cutups from The Manchurian Candidate like the last unbrainwashed POW. If you want his album, he’ll mail it to you himself, but be cool because he doesn’t make it to the post office every day.

grimesGrimes, Artangels. Claire Boucher’s songs are political but they aren’t built to rally around: her personae are solitary in their feminist rage, anti-capitalist dread, and declarations of freaky independence. But, as on Lemonade, you speak your truth right and other people hear themselves in your words and live bigger lives because of you. I could never get the hang of Grimes before, but here Boucher’s elastic sugar-high voice and the production– calling back with its breakbeats and bright guitars to Ray of Light and other late-90s “progressive” pop– makes me feel fifteen again.

kevingatesKevin Gates, Islah. In rap as in rock, plenty of smart people become stars by figuring out how to make enlarged retweetable cartoons of themselves, but Kevin Gates is Kevin Gates: an unapologetically complete and contradictory character, dangerous and tender, rough and sensuous, pitiless and lonely, supremely confident in the broadness of his talent. On Islah (named for his daughter), every, I mean every, song has hooked my ears; some unsettle me, others move me, and many stick in me as aphorisms I’ll be repeating until I hear another rap album this good.

fatou-1Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni, Les Filles de Illighadad. Some of the Portland label Sahel Sounds’ collections of northwest African field recordings succumb to folkloricism: music whose interest is mostly that it’s “an enriching example of the diversity of” your topic, the best players you’d find in any dusty small-town courtyard presented in a geographic sweep. But these two Tuaregs, a guitar player and singer joined by drummers on the long single B-side track, make intricate and hypnotic music that keeps compelling my ears, played casually and recorded intimately.

carly-rae-jepsenCarly Rae Jepsen, EMOTION and EMOTION Side B. Seems like she’s turning her energy toward having fun with her (huge) cult instead of trying to compete with Taylor, Katy, etc., which I think is just fantastic. Hip critics called Emotion overly professional, but at a certain level you’ve got to trust that Jepsen’s hyper-developed sense of craft is one expression of artistic personality, not a concealment she needs to grow out of. Likewise her very particular taste in collaborators (turning down multiple songs from Max Martin to work with Devonte Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid). Her B-sides album is more idiosyncratic and giddily expert bangers: just what she wanted, and I bet a few million fans, too.

kelela-2Kelela, Hallucinogen EP. The blue-robot cover of this EP is the least human thing about it: my pleasure of replaying Hallucinogen is in the contrasts, the heat of Kelela’s hunger, regret, power, and dread over cool and spacious electronics, the wingbeat of her voice over the digital pulse and skitter. I bet the next record will be better– Kelela was first celebrated for her sound when she was still a maturing artist– but this EP is already a sign of sharpening artistic vision: the songs all sound like her, whether she’s got five collaborators or fifteen.

KING, We are KING. Natalie and I got to see Amber and Paris Strother and Anita Bass on their second pass this year through Seattle, and seeing KING live helped me untangle the production on their debut. Through my laptop speakers, I thought it was pretty but a little gauzy and samey; with it booming in my face, I could separate out the doubled voices, feel the edges of the big washes of old-fashioned synthesizer, and let the fuller-bodied bass rumble my body. Afterward I came back to the record with more open ears, loving the drama of KING’s sense of melody, letting the lyrics’ assurance and tenderness contribute to atmosphere rather than needing them to tell me a story.

knoxChris Knox, Seizure reissue. This is what it takes to be the godfather of a scene: a spiritual generosity that springs out of your own generative fluency— if I can do this, why don’t you give it a try?—; a real committed child-like eccentricity and an affinity for Beatles-y melodies; a cassette machine. Knox had been pouring his heart into New Zealand indie music for a decade when he released this solo album in ’89, playing everywhere, engineering everyone who needed it, and distributing his friends. I first met most of these songs thirteen years ago, when Cait played me Knox’s anthology Meat (comprising a weirdly partial selection of this record, its followup Croaker, and a few other tunes). I met them again on Stroke, the tribute assembled by his countless admirers, friends, and mentees in and out of New Zealand to pay his medical bills after he lost his speech and much of his mobility in a grand mal seizure five years ago. In that time, my love for them hasn’t faded in the slightest. I’ve never heard a song about sexism like “The Woman inside of Me”; “The Face of Fashion” and “Not Given Lightly” are love songs, real heart-widening miracles; when you tune your ears to their timbres, you’ll whistle along with “Wanna!!”

kaitlynaureliasmithKaitlyn Aurelia Smith, EARS. The sense of a huge damp respirating landscape, mossy stone and fir trees and water bluer than the sky, synthesizers creating an effect that feels pre-human: music whose rhythms reflect not an arc of bodily ecstasy but the minute motions of creeping roots and dripping rain. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the pride of Orcas Island.

speedy-ortiz-2-by-shervin-lainezSpeedy Ortiz, Foil Deer. It’s not always good news when poets are lyricists, but Sadie Dupuis’s arch, bitter, self-delighted, and swiftly-moving lyrics are a real joy, and her band’s music is awkward in a way I love, all jabbing elbows and tangled feet. I’ve always said I’m just not a child of 90s indie rock– Archers of Loaf are never gonna move me like the Replacements– but Speedy Ortiz makes me love that era’s mixture of spasmodic whiz-bang energy and delighted irony enough to make me wonder. Maybe I’m wrong!

tribe-called-quest-a-51b910fd1d61dA Tribe Called Quest, We Got It from Here… Thanks 4 the Service. I was a teenager when my body was swept up by the sound of Low End Theory and an aspiring cool kid when I found Beats, Rhymes & Life and I loved them both and never expected I’d hear another, let alone one even more musically various, politically exact, lyrically virtuosic, whatever other overjoyed adverb-adjective pairs you wanna throw at this astounding thing.

kanyeKanye West, The Life of Pablo. I tried to hate this one and I just completely failed. Coming back to it on a car trip with my brother on a sad fucking day, I finally heard how each unpredictable production choice and every obnoxious or grace-starved lyric and off-the-wall musical element lean on each other and I put my head down on the glove compartment and surrendered to loving it. The Life of Pablo is full of loose ends and unfinished threads, but what unites it is a sense of shame and redemption: it’s religious as nothing he’s done since “Jesus Walks.” And throughout Pablo, there’s that unique genius of West’s, those reckless ingenious acts of musical balancing: cramming samples into “No More Parties in LA” until the song bursts like a torn quilt; tucking Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” into the last third of “Famous.”

bebey_francisRough Guide to African Rare Groove, Vol. 1. A serious damn party record: in less than an hour it hunts everywhere for pleasure, from buzzy solid-state Ethiopian funk to Tanzanian open-air dance music and a Malawian one that sounds like calypso with a drum machine, wrapping it all up with a Celestine Ukwu song that dissolves in soothing guitar and saxophone prettiness (the comedown tune?) and a really busted kooky Francis Bebey song (that’s him pictured) for your 4 a.m. seizures of inspiration.

Imaginational Anthem Vol. 8: the Private Press. This label, which specializes in rare guitar music, here does itself one better and shares an hour-plus of rarer-than-rare guitar music: Imaginational Anthem Vol. 8 consists of selections from three decades of privately printed LPs and 45s, by artists I’ve never remotely heard of: a world of one-offs, flashes of brilliance, prayers and musical tangents. My favorites are the stuff in the British-Isles line, but there are Delta- and Latin-inspired tunes, dabs of psychedelia and jazz, multi-tracked cascades; anything you could want, annotated with fondness and curiosity (“according to YouTube…”). A treasure.

urgent_jumpingUrgent Jumping: East African Musiki Wa Dansi Classics. From Stern’s, an East African dance music anthology that’s a little too overstuffed and (as above) folkloric/collector-y to really knock me out start to finish (as say African Pearls: Pont Sur le Congo or Golden Afrique Vol. 1 have): “twice as good if it were half as long,” as they say. But it’d be churlish of me to complain against the variety— benga, rumba, lilting Arabic-mode Zanzibarian tunes, and fuzzy soul alongside the sublime liftoff of the soukous tunes I’ll always like best. Favorites include L’Orchestre Grand Pisa’s “Oboti Kolisa,” L’Orch. Moja One’s “Dania ni Duara Pts. 1 & 2,” and Victoria Jazz Band’s “Anyanga.”

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(2015 and) 2016: Songs

Life is basically sad and hard as well as a sublime gift, a cliffdrop as well as a stargaze, and this year I tried to be less consumerist in my relationship to finding new music since why let capitalism pollute more in me than it already has. This was the year, of course, of groundshifting political cataclysm as well as death after death; it was also the year, for me, of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Anonymous 4’s medieval Marian hymn anthology The Lily and the Lamb, Captain Beefheart’s Doc at the Radar Station, Billie Holiday’s Solitude, Ornette Coleman, Atrium Musicae’s Al Andalus, Unwound, Incredible String Band’s Wee Tam, Augustus Pablo, Paul McCartney’s Run Devil Run, and finally getting the hang of Elvis through his Valentine Gift for You collection. So through it all I chose not to rush or cram; I listened, then, to less new stuff. Here’s what I loved best of what I did hear.

First, songs I loved this year (including songs from last year I got around to in the last twelves months) that I loved even if I didn’t love, or never heard, the rest of the albums they were from. Playlist here. Starred songs aren’t on Spotify.

Edit: In talking about a few of these songs I shared stories of folks’ experiences that weren’t mine to share. These have been cut.

Songs: “Doing my face with magic marker”

jeffrey_lewis

Adele, “Send My Love (to Your New Lover).” Seattle’s Top 40-ish, silly “hip hop and hits” station, KUBE, got amoeba’d into the even more Top 40 “Power 93,” where you can hear a lot of Justin Bieber and Juicy J and Taylor Swift and Drake and, it turns out, Adele, who I’ve never intentionally listened to, until this song made something more joyful out of a rainy drive home in a borrowed car with a cranky kid and groceries.

Afous D’Afous, “Tarhanine Tegla.” I knew this Sahara-wide hit only because of Sahel Sounds. C cried watching the music video for how it made her miss what she knows is her heart’s home.

Beyonce, “Sorry” and “Formation.” My two from Lemonade.

blood-orange-dev-hynes-west-drive-leadBlood Orange, “Best to You.” Dev Hynes, like few other male singer-songwriters besides Tricky, can write R&B for women singers that (in this one male listener’s opinion) centers their own emotions and their own consciousness– treats them, in other words, like subjects— instead of as props for male ego or furnishing for male fantasy. This was my favorite from Freetown Sound. Honorable mentions: “E.V.P.,” “But You.”

Jherek Bischoff, “Ca(s)siopeia.” The least filmic and for me most affecting from this record of ambient chamber music. Really this whole record stirs my heart when I put other things down and attend to its big visual gestures and eerie textures, but this is the song whose emotional effect was biggest for me.

Christine & the Queens, “Tilted.” 

Chromatics, “In Films.” The second pre-release single from a record by now more than a year delayed, one of those hooks where the doubled-keyboard-and-guitar has been compressed into one big heavy blur of sound and Ruth Radelet floats over the whole thing.

chrDIIV, “Dopamine.” Still trying to understand what to make of this self-mythologizing martyr wreck of an artist, but I get this one now. This song, trebly and echoey and delicate and nervous and sexless and circling back on itself, sounds like drugs to me.

Missy Elliott, “WTF (Where They From)” (ft. Pharrell). Finally got this one at Dance Church.

Ariana Grande, “Into You.” Whenever I listen to it, I wind up listening to it three times in a row. Max Martin’s clockwork sense of song construction complements Grande’s impeccable vocal control (which I find annoying on her plentiful dippier material) and I nod along until there I am lipsyncing. Honorable mention: “Greedy.”

*I.F.O., “Nibiru” (ft. Afrika Bambaataa)Afro-futurist old school party music building to a single hot-blooded climax/blastoff.

Janet Jackson, “No Sleeep” (ft. J Cole). Honorable mention: “Dammn Baby.”

youngthug-thefuturefmJulia Brown, “All Alone in Bed.” My favorite from the last album by Caroline White and the busy Sam Ray (also of Ricky Eat Acid) under this name. An Abundance of Strawberries feels a little historical— a “notes on the canon of bedroomy indie pop”-type record, with less ecstasy and sparkle than (say) Unrest or the Spinanes or Saturday Looks Good to Me— but this song’s unprepossessing lift and joy still moves me.

Junior Boys, “Over It.” I like how these guys, album by album, refine and tend to their sound in that studious, grownup way of studious, grownup bands; I like the move on Big Black Coat toward chilly, Detroit-ish techno, though the sound means that Jeremy Greenspan is more reserved about his desperation and mopeyness than on their earlier records.

Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts, “Back to Manhattan.” Sometimes a single emotional moment can contain a whole world; sometimes very gentle and gradual change is best at conveying a shock or unexpected loss (I won’t spoil this song’s).

Main Attrakionz, “My Story.” My favorite from a whole album of rapping over New Age!

Massive Attack, “The Spoils” (ft. Hope Sandoval). Now that Daddy G Marshall has rejoined Robert Del Naja, “bringing the black back to Massive Attack,” my hopes and longings for their next full-length are currently astronomical. This one, with Hope from Mazzy Star over a slow-moving hibernal melody, is my favorite from their stuff this year.

0002327945_10*Joanna Newsom, “Time, as a Symptom.” I wish I were different, but a decent chunk of Ys, half of Have One on Me, and most of Divers missed me completely. I connect with Newsom’s presence live, and her empathy means the preciousness of the music doesn’t feel self-absorbed, but only when the tune is perfect (“’81,” “Cosmia”) or she’s seized and shaken by her own poetry (“Sawdust and Diamonds”) do I love it on record. This one’s the latter. Dig the Finnegans Wake quote!

DeJ Loaf, “Hey There” (ft. Future). Liz! Remember driving across the California desert in our rented gas-monster listening to rap on satellite radio?

Frank Ocean, “White Ferrari.” I love the weird paradoxes of Frank Ocean’s music— luxury blues alongside sensory pleasure; gnawing loneliness alongside grownup reflection; musical asymmetry and refined, detailed production— but I wind up finding the albums too subtle and slippery when I take them as a whole. This tune, movement by movement (Cait pointed out the Beatles quote to me, and now we sing the title to each other during any odd pauses in conversation), is my fave from Blond. Honorable mention: “Self Control.”

Rihanna, “Needed Me.” Honorable mention: “Kiss It Better.”

0008025823_10Swet Shop Boys, “Zayn Malik.” Haven’t listened to the new full-length. Honorable mention: all of these guys’ recent singles are fantastic.

Tinashe, “Ghetto Boy.” The difference, I guess between an album and a mixtape-you-pay-for, like Tinashe’s Nightride, is expectation, I guess: “this till the next thing.” Tinashe is a great, weird, mystically-inclined R&B singer stuck treading water with poppy material (so-so features with Juicy J and Chris Brown) while her label looks around for a way to make her big; Nightride‘s neither as broad as Aquarius or as idiosyncratic as Amethyst, but I’ll take it till the next thing, especially this sublimely beautiful tune. Honorable mention: “Company.”

4d7453a830e4d3d16c5e20e803d863ccWaxahatchee, “Summer of Love.” Gabe finally got me to listen with open ears. Honorable mention: “Under a Rock.”

Wimps, “Old Guy.” I’m 33; my already huge forehead is growing into a widow’s peak; I fall asleep after three drinks; my sister-in-law had to explain to me what “turnt” meant; I’m the old guy at the party. Honorable mention: “Take It as It Comes.”

Young Thug, “RiRi.” JEFFERY was the first of these syrup-thick Auto Tune’d contemporary Atlanta rap records I could fathom. The loopy childish brutality of Thug’s lust and neediness are sometimes too much for me, but the guy has a sound out of which he can sculpt endless musical shapes and he sounds so happy doing it– like E-40. This one (maybe named, with fannish enthusiasm, because of that hook?) was my fave. Honorable mention: “Webbie.”

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Songs I Like #9: Dead Kennedys, “Moon Over Marin”

Our normal is another’s crisis: our tank of gas puts Tuvalu under water; our cheap tropical fruit grows in a rain of Guatemalan bullets. We— the we of the educated and decently-secure Global North– don’t experience this directly, not without a certain counter-socialized moral effort. But then, there will always be people who don’t notice that the world has ended. Marin: unthinkably expensive fixer-uppers, chilly moss-blanketed redwoods, virtuous grocery stores, sheer red rock, hideous traffic (since 50 years ago upscale neighbors turned down the chance to have the BART come) dotted with nonpolluting cars. It takes seeing another’s comfort sometimes for me to remember that my, like anyone’s, comfort is breathtakingly fragile, and is also a force that gives me meaning, a frame for life, a sense of what’s normal. “Moon over Marin” is a serious, stark tune, an outlier amid the laughing hysteria and vivid contempt of the Dead Kennedys’ Plastic Surgery Disasters. A solemn and comfortable last survivor– park ranger of the ruined shore? a last resident whom this life suits just fine?– walks their section of the oil-choked, poison-leaching beach in uniform and gasmask, then returns home for a sacramental cleanse in a “scalding wooden tub.” Above it, the clean bright unspoiled Moon is as permanent as our life, its tidiness and predictability and comfort, is transitory. We have more power than we realize.

 

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First Thoughts for My Beloved Community

I.

Concentrate on this feeling. The hopelessness, the feeling of entrapment, the thought of flight, the heart-tugging fear you feel looking at your children asleep and imagining the world they’ll grow up in. This is a feeling– and I’m addressing my urban white lefty community– that’s attended every election (every police shooting, every teargas canister, every widening of surveillance, every gotcha drone strike) for our Muslim neighbors, our black neighbors, our trans neighbors, our immigrant neighbors. Now we urban white lefties can feel it too. That fear.

Concentrate on it– really invite it, so you can recall it in your body when your own moment for showing up in solidarity comes. Or for more than a moment, when you’re making the countless small decisions that orient a life as a whole. We’re called to be bread for each other, to transform ourselves, to lift up and love the humanity of those whom this new president will almost certainly surveil, incarcerate, disenfranchise, assault, degrade, bomb, and torture.

II.

If this is your thing, pray, listen to meditative music, read something sacred (for me today it’s Psalm 73), remember that we’re held in a mystery that we can never master, carried in a movement and a love that’s bigger than us. That feeling of awe isn’t the same as passivity.

III.

Just as politicized organizers of color have been saying for decades, our white lefty cynicism and hopeless contempt won’t protect us, our inaction won’t protect us.

And just as politicized organizers of color have been saying for decades, racism is a potent force in American politics. Concentrate on that feeling, the way that knowledge feels. Poor and working-class whites have felt the sting of exclusion from decades of urban neoliberal policymaking. Its fruits have been poverty, deindustrialization, wage stagnation, drug abuse, suicide. Now, given years of assiduous right-wing organizing; and given a candidate who ran as an outsider, who embraces a cult of action and victory, who’s too tough to brook civility, compromise, or dissent, who calls back a nationalist rhetoric of greatness to be reclaimed; these voters have embraced him.

And just as politicized organizers of color have been saying for decades, the “normal” of privileged folks is another’s crisis. It is easy to intellectually sympathize with those crushed by globalized capital (or for that matter by white supremacy, patriarchy, and empire) without really understanding in our bodies what it’s like to live in fear, uncertainty, powerlessness, and alienation. Trump harnessed those emotions among whites and is willing to weaponize them. Now urban white lefty folks, many of whom are insulated from the shocks of neoliberalism, suddenly feel the ground moving under us, too.

But I’m remembering too something Stokeley Carmichael said: “You can’t organize people if you don’t like them.” Urban white lefties, this is our call to do organizing with rural whites. They are not an implacable, homogenous enemy, but are, just as much as any community, a source of potentially liberatory energy: as a hotbed for labor organizing, as a community of potentially welcoming and justice-oriented Christians, as people who don’t want to see their homeland polluted to death.

And please remember, as I’m trying to remember, that most poor white people voted for nobody: disenfranchisement of those on the economic bottom has been as important to Republican power as gerrymandering and Citizens United. Categorical enlightened-white loathing of a fictitious single category of poor bigoted-white is poison.

IV.

It seems likely that, with majorities in both houses of Congress, the new president will have the means to push the Supreme Court back to its essentially reactionary/pro-Big Guy role of the pre-Marshall Court era; further restrict access to abortion; further militarize the police; surveil and detain Muslims and possibly radical Black organizers as well; significantly weaken programs like Medicaid and TANF; roll back all protections of the Voting Rights Act; enable industry capture of the EPA; embolden (with his violent rhetoric) racist cops, transphobic legislatures, and anti-immigrant bullies.

And that’s just domestically.

None of this requires an explicit authoritarian power grab– arresting opposition senators, shutting down media outlets, cultivating enemy lists– but who knows? In four years, will America look more like England or Poland does now? Or more like Argentina or the Philippines did in the 1980s?

Or, with Trump’s bluster matched by indiscipline and deep personal ugliness, he may simply get hammered by a change of political tide (in organized opposition and mainstream institutional resistance) in two years. But if that happens, it won’t be because we checked out, gave up in disgust, or stuck to our politically-liberal cities.

It’s time to organize.

V.

The next days, weeks, months will show how the Democrats react. There’s an actual possibility that they may have to shift toward being a multi-racial populist coalition party, with a fifty-state strategy, to survive. But they may take exactly the wrong lesson, blaming (say) Black Lives Matter and Sanders for daring to criticize the genteel East Coast neoliberal-moderate consensus that’s dominated the party for 20+ years; they may attempt to drag the party back toward some imagined “center.”

I don’t want to discount the simple power of reactionary sexist hatred in Clinton’s defeat. It’s also important to remember that— from her hawkishness to her association with her husband’s crime bill to her friendliness with Wall Street— many people found reasons to simply distrust her as a leader.

VI.

I’m no great fan of the liberal state. But the right-wing push toward hard partisanship, the exacerbation of inequality, and intentional dysfunction has served to drain any sense of comity, shared commitment, or common aspiration out of civic life.

I want to build the power of the people whom this president will seek to crush. At the same time, as much as any other anti-authoritarian, I want a country whose processes and politics encourage us to build relationships with one another; not just fight. I hope the rhetoric of those in resistance to Trump is about healing and solidarity as well as power.

VII.

Here are some things I’ve read and heard since Tuesday night that have grounded me and given me perspective.

Glenn Greenwald, “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit

Damon Young, “This is What White Supremacy Looks Like

Ruby Sales interviewed by Krista Tippett, “Where Does It Hurt?: the Spiritual Crisis of White America

Eric Posner, “Are There Limits to Trump’s Power?

Charles Mudede, “I Thought America Would Never Become a Zimbabwe. I Was Wrong.

Would love to know what’s done so for you.

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