As I mentioned in this post about YA novels of the 80s and 90s, I'm purging some childhood belongings in an effort to make room for all of the stuff we're not bringing with us to Boston. Among the myriad treasures unearthed in my closet was a box of cassettes. Some Beatles tapes, some cassingles, and buried at the bottom, a mixtape.
This tape was actually one of a trio--a tape of happy songs, a tape of sad songs, and this, the third, a tape of the best songs. The other two are long gone, probably left in friends' cars over the years. I made the mixtape in 9th grade, just a couple of years before I'd listen to my first burned CD and then, soon after, my first mp3 playlist. It's strange how the days of cassette tapes and mp3s rubbed up against each other so close.
My husband and I freely admit that we are stuck in the late 90s--a fact that we owe, perhaps, to the fact that we first met in 1995. Also stuck in the 90s is my beloved car, the Spruce Goose, who was born in 1998. Same as the mixtape. It has a tape player, of course, so I popped it in yesterday morning on my way to work.
The case with its handwritten track listing was long gone, but I had my suspicions about what I might find on the tape. I'm a creature of habit who still relishes many of my favorite albums from ten or fifteen years ago. But listening to my busted old car stereo playing a busted old tape, I felt myself floating on the hissing, popping, clicking reel. My 98 Avalon was a time machine to 1998.
do you hear that clicking?
This mixtape is a snapshot of my teenage life, but more than that, it's pretty good. Okay, mostly.
NOW THAT'S WHAT I CALLED MUSIC: VOLUME 1
Track 1: "Uncle John's Band" originally by The Grateful Dead, covered by the Indigo Girls
I once read an interview with Meshell Ndegeocello in Seventeen where she called "Eleanor Rigby" the most "musically perfect song" she had ever heard. I've never been able to get it out of my head. At the time, I decided that the most musically perfect song I could think of was the Indigo Girls covering "Uncle John's Band" and therefore it probably ought to be my favorite song.
Remember how I'm a creature of habit? I still name "Uncle John's Band" almost reflexively as my favorite song of all time (a distinction that's pretty absurd anyway). I wasn't surprised at all that it was first on the tape.
The track comes from Deadicated, an awesome Grateful Dead tribute album from 1991 that I stole from my dad based solely on the gnarly cover.
This album has it all--Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Jane's Addiction, and even a haunting rendition of "Friend of the Devil" by Lyle Lovett. I listened to this CD until I almost wore it out. Oddly enough, to this day I have never owned a Grateful Dead album and when it comes to their many zillions of songs, I basically only know "Touch of Gray," "Scarlet Begonias" (because Sublime covered it), and the songs off this album.
This is all heresy to Deadheads but quel dommage. Admittedly, some of the production and instrumentation of this album is pretty dated and maybe even a little hokey, but something about the way Amy and Emily harmonize on "Uncle John's Band" is so wholesome and American and reassuring. It calls to mind warm Southern summer afternoons--creekbeds and sunburns and fish fries. Even I type this I am bopping around and snapping. This song is a hell of a drug.
Track 2: "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles
I told you that Seventeen article made an impression on me.
Track 3: "Vox [extended remix]" by Sarah McLachlan
Sarah McLachlan was among my first musical loves from the moment Fran Blumenkopf gave my mom a copy of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy that we proceeded to listen to for several years straight. Sarah didn't really hit the public eye in a big way until 1997's aptly-named Surfacing, so for many years I considered her to be my special secret favorite artist who I had all to myself.
Basically the highlight of my whole life (at least, up until that point) was getting to actually meet Sarah when I won a contest in Seventeen* that sent my mother and I to the 1999 Lilith Fair in Denver--limo at the airport, swank hotel, plum seats, and a meet-and-greet on Sarah's tour bus.
*I did not realize until I started typing this how prominently Seventeen was going to figure. Hey, I guess that's what we read for fun before we had stuff like Amanda Bynes' Twitter.
wearing my very special angel necklace that I gave her--she wore it on stage that night.
This is not a great song. Sarah hasn't quite learned how to ground her ethereal voice yet. The lyrics are the stuff of my own poetry circa 1998--tangled webs and velvet and yearning. I don't know what it is about this song, maybe the Latin title, but this endless song became my favorite song to listen to on repeat, sometimes for hours at a time. There's something so zen and soothing in that kind of repetition. I spent so many hours listening to this song that the main theme still feels like a security blanket to me.
Track 4: "I Will Survive" originally by Gloria Gaynor, covered by Cake
Cake's incredible Fashion Nugget album was introduced to me by none other than my dearest Lanier, whom loyal readers will know as my current Sunday dinner partner. Before there was Sunday dinner, there was Thursday night. We couldn't drive yet, so my mom would pick us up after school and take us for whatever adventures our afternoon held. We insisted that nothing but Fashion Nugget play in the car on Thursday afternoon. My mom's favorite song was "Nugget", which we found scandalous and hilarious and wonderful.
I'm a sucker for covers so I instead gravitated to "I Will Survive", the classic disco anthem originally recorded by Gloria Gaynor that tells the story of the rebirth and freedom that comes with lost love. Cake's cover, with John McCrea's almost spoken vocals and Vince DiFiore's soaring brass solos, recasts the original in a whole new way that's real and relatable and raw beside the glossy finish of the original disco instrumentals. Pop-Up Video or some other informative cable program taught me that Gloria Gaynor eventually went born-again and changed the lyrics to as long as I have Jesus' love I know I'll be alive when she performed it later on in her career. Sadly, the closest thing I can find to confirmation of this is a video of Jesus lip-synching to the disco original.
"I Will Survive" turned out to be the soundtrack to mine and Lanier's inevitable teenage heartbreaks. Because, as everyone knows, when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe them. Our breakup routine included chocolate ice cream, ritual destruction of relationship trinkets, and vigorous sing-alongs to "I Will Survive." Stuffed with ice cream, surrounded by love letter confetti and smashed ceramic doodads, dancing with your best friend, who has time to give a thought to that jerk who made you cry? Oh not I.
In our next installment, I'll bring you four tracks that give a fantastic a cross section of the best of late 90s through the eyes of a suburborural teenage girl.
If you just HAD to pick one favorite song, like at gunpoint, what would you say?
I really detest the term May-December relationship. It is evocative, but almost too evocative--the image of the May party as green and fresh beside the wizened, withering hull of their December partner is tad on the dramatic side for me.
I remember exactly where I first learned this irritating phrase--in a review of Richard Gere and Winona Ryder's regrettable romantic film Autumn in New York, a movie that features a terminally ill Ryder falling in love with silver fox Richard Gere.
I mean did you lose Ethan Hawke's number or something?
Autumn in New York is a pretty perfect example of what American society holds up as one of our few ideas of an appropriate intergenerational relationship--a tender but sexual relationship between an older man and a younger woman.
But what does our culture make of other types of intergenerational pairings?
Devout readers will remember that I have touched on this topic before when I blogged about my relationship with my hero Douglass Parkerin this post. I've also mentioned my beloved Gregory, a former tutee and dear friend of mine--May to my hoary old December. In fact, when I started thinking about it, I realized that my life is rife with friends outside of my age cohort--like my NaNoWriMo partners Jessica Alexander and Teri Osborn, for example--and that, in this day and age, my predilection for befriending people of all ages falls outside the usual parameters for interpersonal relationships.
Our culture seems to come pre-set with two acceptable settings for non-family intergenerational relationships: lover/lover and mentor/mentee. If you feel a special connection with someone of a different age, you have three options:
(1) fall in love, assuming both parties are of the age of consent, Demi and Ashton-style
(2) develop a patronizing relationship wherein the older person enriches the younger person's life with their abundant life-earned wisdom and the younger person infuses the older person with youthful energy, Karate Kid-style
(3) ignore it
Why can't a person of another generation just be my friend? Is the widespread abuse of children at the hands of adults the reason why it's weird for a twenty-something to call a teenager their friend? Is the rampant ageism in our culture the only thing to blame for the stigma against making friends who are much older? I really don't know. I've wondered these things my whole life.
As an only child, I learned to interact with adults at a very young age. My first intergenerational relationships were forged with my parents' friends and business associates when I was knee-high. On lazy summer days, I would often accompany my parents to the advertising agency where my parents worked--Dad as an account exec and partner, Mama as a copywriter--and wander the halls chatting with the employees. Richie and Phyllis and Pat and the whole BG crew went out of their way to treat me like a little grown-up, taking me for sushi lunches and asking my opinion on the latest creative pieces.
I was a little older when I met my parents' friend Kenna. I don't remember how I came to know Kenna but it only took meeting her once for me to come to believe that she had hung the moon.
1997, dinner before Gallagher show
Kenna was like magic to me. The kindest eyes, the sweetest laugh, and the best ideas. Kenna took me (and my dear friend Alex) to one of those pottery studios where you paint your own stuff back when they were brand new and no one had ever done it before. She took me shopping at the vintage stores in downtown Nashville and almost acquiesced when I begged her to buy me a vintage teeshirt embroidered to say I'M NOT FAT! I'M PREGNANT! She also took Alex and I to see 1970s comedian Gallagher, whom we had inexplicably come to adore over repeated late-night viewings of his specials on VH1.
...yeah I don't know
I always had lots of friends my own age, but what I loved about Kenna was that I could be completely myself around her. I could geek out over painting pottery and Gallagher and not worry about looking like a dork. Even as a teenager who supposedly Did Not Care What Other People Thought, her company was a tremendous relief. I'm speaking of Kenna in the past tense because it's been AGES since I've seen her, aside from a quick hello at my wedding. Hey Kenna, is Gallagher touring again?
My nontraditional friendship with Kenna blew the door open for me making friends of all ages. In high school, I participated in Missoula Children's Theater's touring show every year. MCT is an incredible program--a truck rolls into town on Monday and casts students aged 5-18 in a huge musical production that goes on the following Saturday.
One year, I was cast as Ma Munch in The Wiz of the West. My part came complete with a fetching pair of overalls, a four-line solo (if you need a new tonic / he's got snake oil to spare...), and a crew of elementary-school Munchkins. On the first night of rehearsals, I couldn't help but notice that one of the Munchkins, with her round cheeks, big glasses, and bouncy personality, seemed kind of familiar. She reminded me of me.
It turned out that I had a lot in common with Little Leigh Sauvageau, as I always called her. A fellow sibling-starved only child, she decided we were "twynnz" and used to write me adorable little notes addressed to MY TWYNN. After the show, her mom called me all the time to baby-sit Leigh. I didn't know how to tell her that she didn't have to pay me--I just genuinely enjoyed spending time with her daughter. We would rent movies and do art projects and just be silly until the wee smalls when her parents came home. We mostly lost touch after I went to college and her family moved away.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago. Leigh contacts me out of the blue to say she's going to be in Atlanta and would I like to see her?
clearly the intervening years have caused us to mellow and mature
I guess we were onto something back when I was December and she was May--Leigh and I are still like sisters. We had an incredible weekend of hanging around and talking nonstop.
And impossibly, perfectly, my little sister Leigh caught the bouquet at my wedding.
somewhere, Leigh's girlfriend Amanda is getting nervous
Leigh and I share something I long-ago dubbed the *snap*. It's something a select few people have, and you can recognize it instantly. It's like a live wire crackling behind your eyes. I think it has something to do with being creative and intuitive.
I saw Nadine Eckhardt's *snap* in a stack of hand-edited pages of the first draft of her autobiography "Duchess of Palms" when I was volunteering at UT Press in the editorial department. Nadine, I was told, was of the pre-computer generation and needed someone to key in her edits of her first draft. I was thrilled to get anything besides photocopying to do so I dove right in.
Nadine's book grabbed me on the first page and did not let me go, luring me through border towns and DC and the Austin of another era. After spending a frustrating twenty minutes half-heartedly keying in edits in between feverish bouts of reading, I finally switched my monitor off and just let myself read the manuscript, knowing I'd have to work double-time later to finish keying in the edits and not caring one bit. I fell in love with saucy Nadine and her incredible adventures with her famous husbands and LBJ and the elder Bushes and all manner of other glitterati. When I turned the edited files into Alison, the acquiring editor for the project, I fell all over myself raving about the book.
Fast forward a year. I've snagged one of the two coveted UT Press Fellowships and have scored my dream job--working full-time in the Copyediting department for a year. Nadine's manuscript needs a managing editor. They give it to me. I am breathless.
Nadine lived in town and she came in to meet with us and show us some photos she was thinking of using in her book. I was immediately enchanted--Nadine is pretty, pint-sized, and absolutely the zestiest, liveliest person I know. Her photos were incredible. One--a photo of her as a teenager as the Duchess of Palms in her hometown of McAllen, Texas, framed by palm fronds--was so incredible that I snuck a photocopy of it later to tuck in the file in my desk labeled inspiration. She invited me to her house in South Austin to go over some edits.
looks like trouble
Nadine and I started coming up with lots of flimsy excuses for hours-long afternoon editorial meetings. We filled her lovely home up with gossip and laughter more times than I can count. And in the midst of our fun, I had a hand in creating a book that I am so incredibly proud of.
I miss Nadine so much ever since I left Texas, but we write letters--and now sometimes emails.
If you're interested in Duchess of Palms can buy it here or even read it on Google Books for free here. I can't say enough about how awesome it is.
* * *
Some friends change your whole world. They make you reimagine your life. They redecorate your brain.
Dr. T. Davina McClain came into my life at 3am one random night in high school. Always a little compulsive, I had kept myself up half the night emailing the heads of Classics departments around the country, asking questions about life in the program. I was just about to go to sleep when I noticed that someone had written me back already. Davina had written me a long, exuberant email about the program and all of the wonderful things that would await me should I come study with her in New Orleans. I was stunned. Who was this effervescent woman and why was she emailing me in the middle of the night?
When I went to visit New Orleans by myself that summer, Davina picked me up and treated me to a day in the Quarter--the French Market, bookstores, cafes. I knew I had found a home in that sweaty, foreign city.
It's hard to describe what Davina became to me. I was tight with a number of wonderful professors at Loyola--Paul, Karen, Kleist--but Davina was my Davina. My favorite professor, my advisor, and my mentor, she helped me plan for my graduate career from the moment I set foot on campus. She met with me outside of class endlessly to read Latin and Greek, and conducted independent studies with me even when she was on sabbatical. When it came time to apply to grad school, she steered me through the entire hellish process and helped me nab a Mellon Fellowship, admission to Cambridge, and even an interview for the Rhodes Scholarship. When I found the post office closed one deadline Friday and I called her in tears, she came and picked me up and drove me downtown to the post office that closes late. I went so far because she pushed me so hard--I wrote dozens and dozens of drafts of everything until they were perfect. Sometimes she'd just come over and hit "New Document".
But Karate Kid this ain't. Davina was my friend too. I spent weekends at her house, enjoying the humanity of a real home with home-cooked meals, curled up on the couch watching My So-Called Life and sobbing together. When Hurricane Lili threatened New Orleans in 2002, Davina packed me AND my boyfriend AND my cat (AND another of my beloved professors, Karen Rosenbecker) up and drove us to take refuge at her parents' home in Texas. We talked on the phone all the time for hours. She was something like my mother and my sister and my teacher and my friend.
After Nick proposed to me on New Year's Eve 2007/8, I knew right away that I wanted Davina to marry us, and I told her as much probably a little hastily just a few days later. Probably a little hastily since I hadn't discussed it with my fiance.
We spent a lot of time considering options for the ceremony but it all came back to Davina. She was ordained by Rosewood Ministries in Tennessee and she performed our beautiful marriage ceremony on May 16, 2009. She wrote her own sermon and everyone agreed that it was among the most moving and incredible wedding ceremonies they'd ever seen. I'll never forget it.
Davina is the director of Louisiana Scholar's College now and she is Mother Goose to dozens and dozens of gifted young students. I hope each and every one of them appreciates how lucky they are to spend a little time under her wing.
My dearest Davina is coming to visit me in Atlanta for the 4th of July weekend and I can't wait to tear it up with her. Just like Leigh and I have enjoyed the evolution of our friendship as the years have gone on, Davina and I enjoy a whole new kind of relationship now that my days as her student are over. I can't wait to burn the city down with my friend.
Have you ever had a friend who was much older or much younger than you?
DISCLAIMER: This post is a little spoilery but trust me, it's not much more than what you learn in this extended trailer.
I am a semi-fanatical Sex and the City lover. The opening theme song is the soundtrack to my undergrad and grad school years, when I would often binge on episode after episode while cleaning my house or doing homework or while doing nothing at all. I started doing a rough calculation of how many hours I have spent watching the 94 half-hour episodes--all of which I have, of course, in a sweet hot pink box set--and the initial figures were so damning that I elected not to calculate any further.
So fanatical, in fact, is my love of this show, that I sobbed through probably 80% of the first movie in fangirlish delight when I saw it on opening night at Alamo Drafthouse with my long-suffering husband, starting with the moment in the opening credits when you first see Charlotte with her child at long last:
and peaking at the moment when Charlotte is telling Big to stay away from Carrie after he ruins the wedding.
break. my. heart.
SATC1 had a lot of problems, but it also had a lot of wonderful moments. If nothing else, it was really satisfying for the fans.
SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human--working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled c*nt like it's my job--and rapes it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car.
kind of says it all. The only word I could come up with for it was 'grotesque.' Wikipedia says grotesque is a "general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or bizarre, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks." EXACTLY.
Critics have by and large skewered this movie. It has a pitiful 18% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But I haven't read a single review yet that points out one particular flaw of this movie that really bugged me as a fan: many of the plot points are recycled from old episodes.
Naturally, the movie hits on some classic SATC tropes: Samantha is old and lusty, Miranda is overworked, Charlotte is jealous, Big is emotionally unavailable, Carrie is basically a horrible person who is absolutely impossible to please, etc. But SATC2 does more than refer to recurring themes from the show. It recycles storylines from the show, and worse, handles the storylines hamfistedly while they're at it.
Since I'm kind of a frustrated academic, I gathered some evidence to support my thesis.
CARRIE BRADSHAW HATES TAKEOUT AND YOU IF YOU EAT IT
In SATC2, Carrie just hates that her rich husband likes to get expensive gourmet takeout sometimes instead of going out to eat at an expensive gourmet restaurant. I knew I never liked that man.
As I watched Carrie berate Big over a paper sack of Japanese food that almost certainly cost more than I make in a day, I had a distinct sense of déjà vu. I was taken back to the good old days of Carrie and Aidan, Season 4, the days of Aidan stripping Carrie's floors and taking her to Suffern and being inexplicably saintly despite Carrie being, as usual, insufferably selfish. All That Glitters (s4e14) finds Aidan longing for a night in with his lover and the TV and a bucket of chicken, and Carrie longing for a hot night of grinding on shirtless men and her girlfriends (including pregnant Miranda) at a gay club.
When she comes home drunk and ready to get it get it, she's disgusted to find Aidan splayed out and glazed in KFC grease. She finds his request to rub his belly repulsive in the extreme.
Next to unctious, shirtless Aidan, swollen and comin down with the itis, Big looks absolutely portrait-worthy with his probably spotless black leather shoes on the gorgeous couch and tidy box of Japanese food on the table. You could kind of feel Carrie's pain when she's torn between a fun night out with her girlfriends and rubbing the belly of her beached, greasy boyfriend. But Carrie, seriously? After "eleventy decades of chasing his emotionally abusive jowls through the streets of Manhattan" you've finally landed Mr. Big, and now you're nagging him to death because he doesn't want take you out every single night of the week? That's crazy even for you, Carrie. And that's saying something.
At this point in the movie, the drunken audience in the theater started to get kind of restless and pissy. Carrie asks Big (rhetorically, of course) if she's a bitch wife who nags him all the time. One particularly disgruntled moviegoer shouted YES and the entire theater cheered.
SOMETIMES HAVING SERVANTS IS AN UNFORTUNATE BUT UNAVOIDABLE SIDE EFFECT OF BEING FABULOUS
The girls are thrilled upon arriving at their expensive suite in Abu Dhabi, but kind of weirded out when a bunch of turbaned men line up attentively and inform the quartet that each one of them has been assigned a personal manservant. The women must learn to negotiate all the tricky situations that come with having someone wait on you hand and foot. Or something.
They did an entire episode about this in Season 2 called The Caste System (e10). Remember? Samantha dates a rich dude who has a servant, Charlotte hooks up with a movie star, Miranda buys Steve an expensive suit, and Carrie just hates that Big brought her to a fancy party with extra-rich people?
In both SATC2 and The Caste System, the girls are uncomfortable with the machinations of the class system. For about a minute before they go back to being waited on hand and foot.
Even though neither iteration of this storyline wraps up in a way that even begins to reconcile the massive social issues they've raised, The Caste System at least attempts to offer multiple perspectives on living in a class-stratified society. We get to see the women both as the regal upper-class Manhattanites they are and, through Carrie's storyline, as people who don't quite qualify for the tippy-top of society. SATC2 doesn't give us anything beyond the fleeting, cringing guilt of rich white ladies who are being waited on.
SAMANTHA IS SHAMED FOR BEING A SEXUALLY LIBERATED WOMAN
On their trip to Abu Dhabi, only do the ladies have to deal with having a quartet of manservants, but they also have to negotiate the complex social mores of Muslim culture. While none of the four seem to excel at this particularly,
Modest isn't the first word that springs to mind
Samantha in particular struggles to comport herself properly. It's hard to stop grabbing the packages of virtual strangers on a dime, you know? I'm sure it will not come as a surprise to learn that Samantha ends up publicly shamed by the locals for being an Independent Woman who happens to carry condoms by the dozen and dress like a fourteen-year-old on a hot day.
Samantha is no stranger to this kind of unjust treatment. In Four Women and a Funeral (s2e5), Samantha philanthropically gropes a married man as she's fundraising for a nonprofit, and is subsequently blacklisted from Everywhere That Matters when the wife busts her and besmirches her reputation. In Are We Sluts? (s3e6), one of Samantha's one-night-stands lets a robber into her building, and the other residents ride her so hard about her promiscuous lifestyle that she moves to the Meatpacking District. (Har. Har.) And in Cover Girl, Carrie walks in on Samantha providing a valuable service to the Worldwide Express guy in her office, and for once even her good friend Carrie has to agree that she's taken her sexual openness a step too far.
When we see Samantha screeching I HAVE SEX! crazily at a group of elderly Muslim men in the street while wielding fistfuls of condoms, it's not just awful because we've seen it all before, again and again. It's offensive AND stale.
CARRIE LOSES AN ITEM WITH HER NAME ON IT WHILE SHE'S AWAY FROM NEW YORK. GET IT? IT'S A SYMBOL. FOR HER IDENTITY. WHICH SHE ALSO LOST. ARE YOU FOLLOWING?
Here's the big spoiler of this post. Are you ready?
Carrie loses her passport. And it's a problem for about 10 minutes until she finds it again exactly where she left it. Cool story, Carrie. I think I get the symbolism. You're far away in a foriegn country trying to figure out your ever-shifting love life and in the process you briefly lose your passport and therefore YOURSELF.
This is heavy stuff, Michael Patrick King. But you wrote this already, remember?
The final episodes of Sex and the City, where Carrie is in Paris with Baryshnikov? She loses her Carrie necklace when she's feeling all lost and sad and then, in the final episode, An American Girl in Paris: Part Deux (s6.2e8), she finds it again before she works up the nerve to break it off with Aleks.
The American Girl in Paris episodes are some of my favorite episodes of any television show ever. I've seen them dozens of times and still find myself breathless in anticipation of Big and Carrie finding one another. I still sob gratuitously through basically the whole thing. But Carrie's ordeal in SATC2 has really no tension and no stakes at all. Maybe she'll miss her first-class flight home that afternoon? How did this pass as the climax of a 2.5 hour movie? HOW DID THIS MOVIE HAPPEN AT ALL?
I am so utterly disappointed in my favorite franchise.
Cute jacket tho.
oh come on let's just talk about how dumb this movie was