Thursday, March 19, 2015

What do you think of today's "angry young men"?


I can't stop listening to the Father John Misty (Josh Tillman) album, even as I become more and more convinced the guy's a minor asshole.

"The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt" is about an affair with annoying, silly person. During their time together she says a bunch of dumb shit, "hoovers" his drugs, and winds up "naked with her best friend in the tub."

I've always had a soft spot for a cranky crooner. And during your "angry young man" years, you leveled some pretty mean lyrics at silly people, many of them women who could sit alongside Tillman's conquest in her tub. So I was initially delighted with lyrics like, "She says like literally music is the air I breathe," or, "every insufferable convo features her patiently explaining the cosmos / of which she's in the middle," or the bit where she compares her own singing to Sarah Vaughan ("I hate that soulful affectation white girls put on / Why don't you move to the Delta?") HAH.

But the more I listen, the hollower it gets. I'm starting to wonder about her, and wonder why Tillman was bothered enough to write an entire song about her. She's just a kid, saying stuff she'll remember in her thirties with a shudder. What's *his* problem?

Even at your meanest, Elvis, you always seemed to be criticizing the institutions/culture that have created the subjects of your ire, more than the people themselves. The silly person was part of something biggerthe "doll revolution" that had inspired her to "tear off her own head." She doesn't escape blame entirely, but criticizing her is not the whole point.

Maybe it's not Tillman's whole point either, but it seems like most of it. And he really seems to enjoy making it. Maybe that's okaymaybe it's just a funny, catchy tunebut, for me, it comes with a side of ick.


UPDATE, weeks later:  I no longer feel the ick. What I've realized is that so much of the album is loving and devoted and almost sickly sweet (never an issue for you, Elvis), so in the context of the whole album, songs like this provide some balance. Together, the songs provide a portrait of an asshole falling in love, and this song is the "before" picture.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Do you have a night doula or some shit?

Hey Elvis,

I'm tired.

Maisie's head is filled with so much mucus she can't breathe, and when a person can't breathe, a person can't sleepespecially a person who is too young for NyQuil.

I haven't been this tired since the early days, the first six months that my memory has retained mostly as a series of 10-second clips:  her tiny wrinkly face, hiccuping; a white-noise app on an iPhone in an otherwise pitch-black room; her body shaking in my arms, screaming, fists at her face.

At six months we sleep-trained her, against the advice of the attachment-parenting books that had been our lifelinesand overnight, I felt like myself again. Sleep is a big deal, Elvis. I haven't taken it for granted since. Every night as I get under the covers, secure in the likelihood that I won't have to wake up until 6a.m., I can feel a half-smile flitting across my face.

But now the mucus has descended, and I'm back in the fog.

It's not the same, of course; I don't have to breastfeed for hours every night. And it was scarier then, because I didn't know what I was doing, and I didn't know if I could handle it. But physically it feels the same. Some mysterious extra-strength gravity is pulling at my limbs; my thoughts feel like they're wandering in the dark, groping desperately for their own logical conclusions. It was hard then and it's hard again, Elvis.

I rarely get jealous of wealth because I have what I need, and because the handful of truly wealthy people I know don't seem happy (cliche reasons, but good ones, no?). But I'm jealous of anyone who can afford a night nurse. That is the true meaning of fortunate, right there. I once saw an interview with Alanis Morissette wherein she sung the praises of attachment parenting, and then later I heard her "night nanny" was suing her for not paying her overtime, and that is some serious bullshit, Elvis. We'd all be attachment-parenting our faces off if we could afford night nannies.

Honk shoo.


Photo by me, 2013, peak-fog.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Do you tell your kids they're smart?


One of the many, many, many (too many) parenting theories that have besieged my consciousness via the internet and books and judgey mommy conversations is this:  if you want your kids to succeed, you should praise their effort, not their ability. ("Good job!" vs. "You're so smart!") I take every parenting theory with a massive grain of salt, but this one is growing on me.

As a lifelong "smart girl," I know it can be a bit of a burden. I've never liked doing things that might make me look dumb (which includes basically anything new) because it threatens my very identity.

I'm not blaming my failures on the fact that my parents told me I'm smart, because my parents are the best, and because that would be an embarrassingly first-world complaintand mostly because my "smart girl" identity was shaped by so many influences, including pop culture and teachers and friends and my own damn self. (Recent related epiphany: of the dozens of people from my MFA class who have published novels and memoirs and story collections, none are among the students who were most vocally praised as "talented" by our professors). But I would like to do what I can, anyway, to make sure Maisie feels free to explore and experiment and be dumb.

What do you think of this theory, Elvis? You seem like a man who sees himself as smart, but it certainly hasn't held you back at all. Maybe if a person has the "smart identity" but is actually really REALLY smart, like genius-level smart, they don't have to carry the baggage. In which case I don't have to worry about Maisie because she's obviously a genius.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Has your music ever been used in film/TV really, really well?


I know you're probably too busy being a genius to watch TV, but just FYI, there's a show on FX called The Americans that uses music SO WELL. Set during the Cold War, they use 80's pop music to convey a sense of cold, scary urgencyand, more importantly, to underscore and elevate the emotional intensity, and complexity, of the characters' experiences. In the series opener, it was "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac, during an epic chase scene. Last week it was "Only You," by Yaz(oo).

Ideally you would stop right now, go watch that episode and the 2.5 seasons that preceded it, then come back and finish reading this post. But for efficiency's sake, I'll try to just summarize the scene during which "Only You" played (spoilers!!):

A KGB spy now living in the US and raising two American kids who don't know he's a spywho don't even know he and their mother are Russianhas recently discovered that the KGB plans to recruit his teenage daughter. Simultaneously, he's been assigned the task of seducing a different teenage girl, starry-eyed and full of daddy issues, for their cause. He hates it, but he does it, and he does it well: the starry-eyed girl falls for him. She plays him "Only You" as she snuggles up in the crook of his arm, glowing with the promise of romance and the hope that her life might finally feel as beautiful and important as this song. The spy keeps his arm around her because that's his job, but his face is set with misery and dread and a deep, rightous anger.

It killed me, Elvis.

I can't recall your songs ever being used so well to help tell another story. 200 Cigarettes was fun but silly; "She" in Notting Hill was gorgeous but saccharine. I know "Complicated Shadows" was in an episode of The Sopranos, but that seems kind of obvious. What am I missing? There's so much potential! Maybe The Americans has something big in store for "Peace in Our Time"...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Do you ever just veg?

Hi Elvis,

That's me in my happy place: on a couch, snuggling with my husband, with a wine-reddened face. 

I like to have fun. And I like to relax. 

I believe these to be the two main reasons I haven't written a novel, despite getting an extremely expensive MFA in Creative Writing and telling everyone I knew for basically a decade that I was "halfway finished with my book." (To be fair: this was true).

Dan has the same problem which makes us a bad match, in a way (and a great match, in another way--don't we look happy?).

But now that I've reached the midpoint of my thirties and have brought a human life into the world, I'm starting to get bummed out by how little I have to show for all this fun and relaxing. Not that I haven't been working hard; career-wise I've done all right. But I would like to be able to pull a book off the shelf to show my daughter my work, as my father did to me. I would like to show her how cool it is to create something from the scratch and then see it all the way through. 

But I also reeeeeeeeally want to sit with my husband on a couch and drink a glass of wine. Or a nice Belgian beer. Or a cocktail. 

Do you and Diana Krall ever curl up for some buzzy conversation and a Better Call Saul, after you've put the twins down? 

I doubt it. How could you produce so much work, if so? And I know you don't drink; I read somewhere that you "just stopped one day and didn't miss it," which, having survived nine months of pregnancy-enforced sobriety, is mind-blowing to me. You and Diana probably sit thigh-to-thigh on the piano bench and trade fours until it gets so brilliant, someone has to start recording.

Photo by Bridget Farmer

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Have you ever had to interact with Kanye West?

I'm just trying to imagine what that would be like.

Would you treat him like a grownup, like someone who doesn't refer to himself in the third person and would never tell a well-deserving Grammy winner they should give their award to someone else to "respect artistry" because WHO WOULD DO THAT?

I think you would, because you're a mature man, a father of three, and a wizened veteran of an ego-driven business. Or would the punk inside you, the one who wrote How to Be Dumb and so many other anthems of scorn, put him in his place?

Srsly tho. Go take your place in the modern museum of mistakes, dude.

(I don't know why I'm so upset about this. Morning Phase was just so pretty).

Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Do you have no insecurities about your work (or anything else?)

Hi Elvis,

The other night Dan and I watched “Lost Songs: The New Basement Tapes Continued,” the documentary about the making of the New Basement Tapes album (for which T-Bone Burnett assembled a supergroup to set music to a recently discovered trove of Bob Dylan lyrics). Aside from liking Marcus Mumford way more than we expected to, and pretty much crapping our pants at the beauty of that one Taylor Goldsmith song, our main takeaway was that being Elvis Costello looks really, really fun. 
Is it?

Everyone else in the group was clearly nervous. Even superstar Mumford; even general badass and giver-of-zero-fucks Jim James. They were trying to enjoy this awesome experience, but finishing a Bob Dylan song is a weighty challenge -- especially while being observed by a giant camera and “Elvis fucking Costello" (Mumford's words).

Elvis fucking Costello, of course, was not nervous. You were just genuinely jazzed by the task at hand, and stoked to see what the other musicians were doing. You strummed your guitar as they toiled, your hat perfectly crooked and your winter scarf permanently in place, even though it was indoors and LA. (Did they keep it cool for you, like they do for Letterman?)

While writing what turned out to be a pretty good song, Mumford went into a confidence spiral that I found extremely relatable. (It happens midway through every project I undertake, when I decide I have no talent, and no business even attempting to make something original). But you seemed completely baffled by his meltdown, as if the entire idea of insecurity had never even occurred to you.

Is this possible? And if so, my god, what is that like? It seems more liberating than anything I could imagine. Are decades of praise and adoration necessary to achieve this state, or is there maybe some kind of shortcut I could take?



Photo from