I listened to too much Kanye West and now I feel like crap

Not to self-pity but last week I had to go down to a place I don’t like and sit through stuff I can’t stand. To get through this ordeal I played too much “Yeezus” and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” over and over again, top volume, Highway 101. Every time “Power” came on I hit repeat.  “Send It Up” – like five times. Now I’ve got to come down.

Sigh. I know I listen to a ton of rap – usually to help me blast through. It’s become indispensable to my job. Then, afterward, I’m like, wait a minute, I can’t believe I bought into all that Maybach machismo bull. In the real world, I don’t want to be around anything like that attitude. I hope my kids don’t listen to my playlists. Went to a women’s college, write books for children. I drive a Volvo! Only too late, it’s in my head. I’ve got several choice lyrics about Kanye’s anatomy/ego stuck on my inner soundtrack.

Help! I need a musical palate cleanser. Because right now I feel pissed at the world because it’s not mine.

Highlights of 2013

I’m a little behind in wrapping up 2013, but I’m still going to do it! Or at least try to make some notes about what stuck with me, mostly in the cultural realm. In terms of actual life 2013 was an incredible year — all about pushing through and turning corners — but it was very very difficult. I’m so glad it’s behind me.


Cover of DreamwoodGuys, I did it. I finally finished up my book, which got a new name (Dreamwood) and went through copy edits, and now I have galleys. Actual honest-to-God ARCs. All I can say to everyone is thank you. Everyone who has expressed any interest or been supportive, it just means the world. You know what? I had the idea for this book about 10 years ago. It was a tiny little nubbin of an idea and I wrote some stuff down on legal pads and noodled. And then I went through a whole saga. Seriously a saga. But who cares about that now? Because it’s done! Honest! It comes out in June.


I read fewer books than usual this year – about 25 – partly because I was so busy finishing up Dreamwood. Here are a few standouts, kids and adult books all mixed together:

A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul – easily my favorite book read in 2013. Wow.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan – This book has the most incredible voice. Willow is such an original, wonderful character, and her story had me wishing I could hug her.

Intuition, by C.J. Omololu – Ah, this book is fun. It’s a sequel that takes things to a new level, features one of the best love triangles I’ve read, and has you pondering the gift (or is it curse?) of being able to remember your past lives. I devoured it.

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin – more crazy vampire stuff on an epic scale by a really good writer. Increasingly you see lit fiction writers trying to write genre and they usually fail, which makes Justin Cronin all the more remarkable.

Canada, by Richard Ford – I was strangely taken by this. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I found myself thinking I preferred it even to The Sportswriter, even though it’s also ruminative to a fault.


This is the year I got way into Spotify. And I have to say, as a result, I’m listening to tons of music. Part of it is due to my day job, where I put the headphones on and try to laser focus. Here are my two most recent faves from 2013

Pusha T, My Name Is My Name – which was stripped down, minimal like Kanye’s Yeezus only not so overblown and without the lame lyrics (e.g., the infamous sweet and sour sauce line). This album had it all: hard, menacing (“King Push”), confessional storytelling (“Nosetalgia”), even the occasional dream (“Sweet Serenade”).

Deafheaven, Sunbather – Ha. Joke on me. Never thought I would listen to this kind of intense black metal but it’s amazing. It’s really hard to call out particular songs – but “Dreamhouse,” “Sunbather,” and “The Pecan Tree” are especially awesome.


Readers, I’m running out of steam on this blog post. Oh, I have so much to say about movies this year. But sadly not tonight. Before I go to bed here are my three favorites:

American Hustle

Spring Breakers

The Great Beauty

Happy 2014 to one and all!!!

A new source of musical happiness

After some recent purchases of some very hyped but ultimately disappointing music, I’ve found myself in love with music again, excited to be listening and it wasn’t even a purchase. I’m talking about Girl Talk’s All Day, which is a free download from Illegal Art.

The front cover for All Day

I’d listened to Girl Talk’s “Unstoppable” a few years ago after reading about him in Nylon? Paper? (one of those hip one-word magazines that is good for reading once or twice and then for the next ten years you will have a vague sense of recognition as people stagger out of the back rooms of NYC night clubs and into something resembling mainstream success) and it didn’t hook me. Then again, “Unstoppable” was obviously something best listened to while surrounded by thousands of ecstatic sweaty bodies all moving as one, instead of … in my kitchen doing dishes, where most of my music listening is done these days.

But All Day is pure pleasure, an endless mashup wave that puts you in an eternal present where you’re blissed out at what’s flowing over you but still thinking – after all you’ve got to name that tune before the next samples start. The mix of hook-y old favorites plus hip hop old and new is like a pop multivitamin – in one dose all your musical needs are covered.

For instance, I love rap but I find it hard to listen to for long. And I love 80s pop, but it’s bubble gum that quickly loses its flavor. As with any nostalgic genre, you want the hits, the highlights, but all pop hits and highlights are like too many empty calories. Thus the genius of Girl Talk, which darkens and weights the effervescence of familiar tunes by Cyndi Lauper and sweetens the relentlessness of Jay-Z and 50 Cent. Likewise, when encountered in a sea of samples, self-important music like U2’s can be appreciated for the very thing that makes it insufferable on its own – its almost embarrassing sense of conviction. And then there’s the free pass the mash up gives you to listen to stuff that’s exhilirating for a few seconds but would be despair-inducing for a whole song (e.g., Gucci Mane, whose “Making Love to the Money” gives you the general idea of his oeuvre).

Maybe it’s a symptom of my shortening attention span, but many of these songs – coming from all different corners of the pop universe – start to feel as if they’ve reached their ultimate destiny, an apotheosis of sorts, as a Girl Talk sample. Everything that rises must converge, I guess (to see the complexity involved, check out the real-time sample map at mashupbreakdown.com). At 70 minutes or so, All Day is just about too much, and I come off it feeling like I’ve listened to the musical equivalent of a tilt-a-whirl, everything blurring by in a bright happy smear. Nothing to do but stagger off and stand in line to get on again.

Music to write by

I’ve been doing some heavy, painful rewriting of a project that has me full of doubts, so I’m using music a lot as I work on it. But I can’t have just anything on, and even my favorite music will have me going off in the wrong direction. So when I’m stuck and need magic help to get instantly in the mood to write, I turn to one track and one track only. Arvo Part, Tabula Rasa – Silentium. I put it on auto repeat and play this into the ground.

Here, it only took me three hours of crawling around the back end of the wordpress plug-in directory to see if I could put up an audio sample of it on this blog.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I think it’s still easily buyable. And now, since I’m a media-uploading fiend, here’s what the cover looks like.

Cover image, Arvo Part, Tabula Rasa, Fratres, Symphony #3

Music and transit – Asilomar

I went to a conference this past weekend at Asilomar, which is on the Monterey Peninsula, moody and rainswept in February. Somewhere south of San Jose, hitting the radio again, I caught the second half of “Add It Up” by the Violent Femmes, and it sounded so exciting and stripped down and full of awkward rage and lust, it catapulted me immediately back to high school when, one day (skipping classes), some friends and I wandered over to the UofA student union and down, I think on the second level where the mailroom was, found the Femmes playing an acoustic set to a crowd of, like, three, looking all misfit, because instead of drums they had what looked like a plastic bucket or a metal pail, and Gano skinny, sweaty, eyes closed, was singing that shocking ohmymymymymyohmymotherrrr.

It was great to hear that song again after years, especially on 101 South, after driving by the exits of my working past – Fashion Island, San Antonio Road, Oregon Expressway – remembering long-gone commutes and carpools and speeding by them.

Later on, going for a run along the ocean view road, past a sandy golf course and exotic flowering succulents, I got the song stuck in my head again, (ohmymymymymyohmymotherrrr, I would love to love you lover). And it was great, running in the rain, skipping out on a part of the conference, being someplace new, and actually, staying up late and hanging out being a little bit high school. Though nothing’s ever like that again.

I’d gotten the idea stuck in my head that some tragedy had befallen the Femmes, something befitting that utter vulnerable rawness of the set I’d seen as a teenager skulking in the university student union. And when I got home and thought about writing this blog post I looked them up, thinking that maybe the guy had committed suicide or something. But no, what I found on Wikipedia was that the singer had sold rights to “Blister in the Sun” to Wendy’s for something to do with hamburgers!

How perfect is that? Somebody’s hallowed past is another person’s hamburger jingle. It reminded me to enjoy my memories but not get too choked up over them. And if I had to be honest, I’ll admit that the other song I had stuck in my head while I went running in Pacific Grove was the cheesy Flo Rida remix of Spin Me Round (You spin my head right round right round, when you go down). Nothing hallowed there – just radio randomness and a long drive in the rain.