22.12.20

Weird Women Setting Off Fireworks in Winter: A Story of Listening to 'Pod' by the Breeders All the Time in 2020

(photo by Kevin Westenberg)

BY ELIZABETH BARKER

One of my favorite stories I've read this year is about how when Tanya Donelly decided to quit the Breeders, Kim Deal locked the two of them in the bathroom of a bar in Ohio to try to talk her out of it - and then by the time they came out the bar had closed for the night, they were locked in, they had to break themselves out and walk home on the highway. The only album Tanya made with the Breeders is Pod, which came out 30 years ago last May. Their original idea was to make it a dance record, because they loved dancing, but instead it turned out to be a rock album about bugs, schizophrenia, Sherlock Holmes, a sleepover. They recorded it in Edinburgh in the middle of winter and wore their pajamas all the time, like a never-ending pajama party, although Kim referred to it as "winter camp for a collection of losers." After the album came out they gave interviews at the cemetery in the Hollywood Hills and at a hotel in L.A. where they laid out by the pool, tanning, drinking straight bourbon in the middle of the day. They called themselves The Bangles from Hell, and in their cover story for Melody Maker the journalist calls them "mutant Shangri-Las." (Also in that cover story, Kim reveals that her favorite word is luscious, and that her parents had a rule that either she or Kelley had to always be wearing nail polish so they could tell the twins apart.) 

Apart from Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Pod is the album I've listened to most in quarantine. I never get sick of it, or even used to it: it always surprises me. Here are some things I love about it most:

i. I think part of the reason Pod sounds good in quarantine is the scale of it: it feels like being alone in a very dark room, but it also feels like an entire world. A lot of the time I wish it were more than an album; I wish it were a novel or a movie or a limited TV series on a prestige network, rated TV-MA. I would love eight hours of Pod-esque drama onscreen, something moody and racy and enchanted in a warped way, Girlfriends meets the Susan Seidelman-directed episodes of "Sex and the City" meets Faerie Tale Theatre. The plot could tie in little dramatizations of the songs on Pod, like the sleepover in "Iris," or how in "Glorious" they drink mushroom tea and play Scrabble and take a nap, or how "Fortunately Gone" is about a woman in Heaven waiting for her beloved to die so they can get back together again. And whenever I hear "Oh!" I get this scene in my head, a woman in a lavender leotard doing ballet in her bathroom, using the towel rack for a barre and occasionally taking a sip of a seafoam-colored health shake, slightly hungover on a Saturday afternoon but determined to bring some grace and refinement and dreamy asceticism to her day.

But really I don't care much about plot; all that matters is that the vibe is true to the psychic atmosphere of Pod, which is an album with the lyrics And in a kitchen in Kentucky, she thinks she's Peter Pan and Hay for a bed, with her on my head and When Iris sleeps over, what a book she'll write. I want a glacially-paced arthouse soap opera, populated by weird women like the Breeders circa Pod: women who never make a big show of being weird, who seem generally indifferent to the ways in which their weirdness imprints on those around them. Most of the time in movies, a woman's weirdness is something for the male protagonist to marvel at and be seduced by and to use as a means of exorcising his own dullness, rekindling his joie de vivre. I want a movie where it's just women being weird for each other, and it lights them up and fortifies them and gives them the courage to live in the full expression of their oddball tendencies. Like Maron told Lorde "Don't medicate your joy," I think it's kind of crucial not to hide the thing in you that makes you see the world different from everybody else. But in real life it can be so hard not to hide. It's good to have people around who won't let you, who will hold you accountable for having avoided becoming someone who's never not down for a bottomless-mimosa brunch, who won't allow you to squander or bury your very singular strangeness.

There's a part in Durga Chew-Bose's book Too Much and Not the Mood where she writes about "nook people," which is a term she and a friend invented in order to self-categorize. It goes on for pages and I want to type all of it here but this might be my favorite sentence:

Nook people fall asleep in their palms; are pacified by tucking their hands in the warm seam of two thighs; are rarely sure how they got good at anything; confront despair with a strong drink or by giving up for months, only writing first sentences or returning to a corrupted love; or converting their bed into a life raft, or wearing a thick cat-eye simply to walk to the store; or making innocent decisions like buying a shower radio to cure a bad day, or finding a friend who is folding her laundry and requesting that you sit on her floor while she pairs socks, or suggesting that you donate your bunch of brown bananas so that she might bake the bread.

There's some overlap between nook people and the type of women who inhabit the world that Pod puts in my head - nook people collect sea glass, drink wine from mugs, "confuse emotional truth with other varieties of truth" - but I'm mainly struck by the specificity, the notion of a whole flock of people embodying the same idiosyncrasies. The women in my Pod movie are kindred like that: they all live in grubby apartments that are sparsely furnished but lavishly cluttered, filled up with things like seashells and tarot decks and wicker-bottomed chianti bottles stuck with candlesticks, tequila bottles full of sand from faraway beaches, ashtrays stolen from Denny's and from a tiki bar in Vegas. There's a bong made out of a water gun shaped like a tropical fish, a tropical fish tank with no water but hunks of neon-pink coral and a figurine of a hot busty mermaid. On the walls there's that Jamaica Tourist Board poster from 1972, too many mirrors and mall-hippie tapestries, a picture of David Bowie ripped carelessly from a magazine and stuck to the plaster with a sticker from an apple. They're willfully messy women; every moment has the showy yet earnest chaos of Ally Sheedy dumping her bag onto the couch in the third act of The Breakfast Club, talking about how you never know when you may have to jam.

Pod women probably also dance like Allison in The Breakfast Club, and do their eye makeup the same, and there's never any Molly Ringwald to come along and priss it up. But instead of the long skirt and leggings and baggy sweater, their fashion sense communicates misfit in a more lighthearted and celebratory way - something like tearing the sleeves off an old Joe Beach or Joe Tennis shirt and wearing it over a bright crinkly peasant skirt, or going out in a new-wave-y white-vinyl raincoat when it's not even raining, or pairing dangly art-teacher earrings with a slouchy brown bomber jacket like Kim does in the "Safari" video. On occasion they embrace all-out frumpiness, a la Madonna at a Bryan Ferry concert in 1988. An ideal hair situation would be a high and fountainous pony, or the nest-like hairstyle that Christine Smallwood associates with women who "do not control their bodies from above like a ghost in a machine." I also mean the kind of woman who might accessorize by tucking a cocktail umbrella behind her ear, who ties a knee sock around her head in lieu of a sleep mask, whose idea of perfume is roll-on sandalwood oil or a Bath & Body Works deep cut like Velvet Sugar body spray. The kind of woman who's hoping for elegance but still wearing cutoffs - and, in cold weather, cutoffs with black tights. Pod is a very cutoffs-and-black-tights record to me, maybe above all else.


ii. If I were making a Pod movie I'd put the two lead women in scenarios like: slipping off to the bathroom together at a party or a bar, keeping up the conversation while one woman's peeing and her friend's fixing her lipstick in the mirror, and then shyly switching off; 
setting off firecrackers in an empty park covered in filthy snow, at some bullshit time of year like the third week of January; getting ready to go out on a Friday night and sharing a mirror and an eyeshadow palette and a bottle of beer, one woman attempting to tell the other an elaborate story over the roar of a blow dryer. (I love the intensity of concentration it takes for women to understand each other in that blow-drying moment, the exorbitantly serious "I got you" face the listener puts on for her friend: to me that is the look of love.) There'd be an almost pathological togetherness to their friendship, like how in college or high school there were those groups of girls who had a physical intimacy that verged on sexual but mostly telegraphed a sort of charmed clannishness, girls who were always lying around with their heads in each other's laps, who held hands or stroked each other's hair or kissed hello on the lips. Their closeness becomes a kind of glamour because it's so impenetrable. 

I think a big reason why I'm infatuated with Pod in 2020 is the making of it seems so romantic: when you go months and months without really ever seeing your friends, it's nice to think about Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly and Josephine Wiggs recording an album in their pajamas and then doing interviews where they brush their hair in the mirror together. In that book about the Pixies there's this sweet part where Tanya's talking about Kim and says: "I never had girlfriends like her in high school. She was my first 'I'm gonna braid your hair!' kind of friend. 'Let's paint our nails!' I'd never had that before." I love that they had a friendship that started with painting their nails and braiding each other's hair and then grew into making a record whose only logical cover art is a blurry faceless someone dancing in a belt made of eels. That's what can happen when you share the same fascinations and curiosities, and you're actually committed to seeing that through and making something wild out of it. You get so deep into your own groove together, everything feels possible.

iii. I like this quote from Steve Albini, who engineered Pod:

"There was a simultaneous charm to Kim's presentation to her music that's both childlike and giddy and also completely mature and kind of dirty. And I instantly liked that it had the sort of playful nature of children's music and it had this sort of girlish fascination with things that were pretty but it was also kind of horny."

I'm happy he used the word horny. People use "horny" all the time these days and it basically means nothing anymore, so now we need another word. Ideally I'd like "lusty" to mean what "lustful" means, but really it means "healthy and strong, full of vigor." The lusty I'm looking for has what horny used to have, which is a little bit of sickness to it. Horny is for people who think it's sweet when Mick Jagger sings "You can come all over me," or who feel seen when Peggy Olson has to go eat a ham sandwich and a big-ass cherry danish after Pete tells her his hunting fantasy. The last correct expression of horniness in mass culture was the rampant use of the peach emoji in Instagram content related to Timothée Chalamet. 

It's kinda hard to point to specific examples of horniness in the lyrics to Pod"Only in 3s" is about a threesome, and in that Melody Maker article Kim says that "Opened" is soft porn, and the first line to "When I Was a Painter" is "inside legs of corduroy I've been" - which feels like being a teenager and wearing corduroy pants during some slutty makeout sesh in the middle of the afternoon. But for the most part it's an ambient horniness, a low-key aura of wanting and lusting and dreaming of possibly forbidden scenarios, with none of the frustration usually associated with being horny. It's a hot-and-unbothered sort of desire, languid and hazy but more attuned to the tiny pleasures of the world, maybe akin to being turned-on in the grander/psychedelic sense. It's a lovely thing to be turned on, high on your hotness for someone or something, happily suspended in a dreamy state of wanting. I want way more songs made from that moment.

(Also also also, speaking of sex things, in 1992 Kurt Cobain wrote a list of the 10 albums that changed his life and Pod is #10 - he calls it "an epic that will never let you forget your ex-girlfriend." At one point he says: "'Doe,' the song about where a girl gives a boy head and he pats her on the head like a doe, is very funny. They're strong women, but it's not that obvious. They're not militant about it at all. You can sense they love men at the same time." The last couple sentences are a little early-'90s-basic but I don't care: I'll let Kurt get away with anything. According to Kim, "Doe" is about two teenagers with schizophrenia who are in love and on Thorazine and want to burn their town down, but I'm into Kurt's blowjob interpretation. I like the idea of a 23-year-old kid hearing that song and thinking "Hmm, blowjobs," and then bowing down to the art of it. It's cute cuz it's Kurt, who collects dolls and drinks Strawberry Quik and paints his fingernails antagonistic colors, wears multiple mood rings at the same time. I loved when he and Kim wore Christmas tree tinsel like fancy stoles on the cover of Melody Maker in December '93.)

iv. There's a part in Kristin Hersh's memoir Rat Girl where she describes the diet of each member of Throwing Muses in the mid-'80s, and says how Tanya Donelly eats "party food for very small parties: miniature boxes of petit fours, little jars of Vienna sausages, tiny pieces of toast." I wish every musician I've ever loved had kept a food diary for the duration of whichever era of their existence I'm most fascinated by, but I'd especially love to read a food diary kept by the Breeders during the making of Pod. Because that wish will likely never come true I'm just going to dream up a list of foods that have a very Pod-like vibe to them, including:

-McDonald's cherry pies, strawberry sundaes, hotcakes, small fry

-blackberry Hostess Fruit Pies

-a pail of Neapolitan ice cream

-a sloe gin fizz served in one of those curvy Coca-Cola glasses

-an oatmeal cookie dipped in a paper cup of black coffee

-Kraft macaroni & cheese eaten straight from the pot like Cliff Booth

-orange licorice (the soft/sweet kind from Australia)

-a platter of potato chips drizzled with honey like at the Golden Tiki in Las Vegas

-the pastel-pink chocolate in the Russell Stover chocolate sampler

-a carafe of white wine & a stainless steel teapot of jasmine oolong tea, consumed simultaneously at an extremely basic Thai restaurant

-pineapple fried rice & moo-shi chicken & a flaming pupu platter & a round of mai tais at an underwater Chinese restaurant that's got lazy susans at every table and little silver pots of hot mustard + duck sauce, and looks something like Al Mahara in Dubai - only way less classy and with red velvet throne-like chairs, and also you can smoke cigarettes & the ashtrays are seashells

v. In an earlier version of this post I wrote about every song on Pod individually, and "Metal Man" was about not understanding Kim Deal's brain. With any musician you're obsessed with it's fun to try to figure out where the songs came from - like how you can look at David Bowie and go "Okay - cabaret, Little Richard, sci-fi, kabuki, the Beatles," and so on, and start to get at least a little bit of a sense of how the puzzle pieces come together. But I have no concept of what converged in Kim Deal's head to make her write anything on Pod or a song like "Cannonball," which sounds like a spaceship blasting off and pennies dropping into an ashtray and a grand rollerskating party, and then the chorus lyric is want you, koo-koo, cannonball. Kim was a high-school cheerleader and a lab technician and Pod is full of songs that are strange compact wonderlands that are sometimes quite ghastly ("Hellbound" is about a fetus that survives an abortion, for example). It's a different kind of dreamy compared to lots of other artists who make fantastical music - her sensibility seems uninformed by Kate Bush or fairy tales or 19th century gothic romance, there's nothing ethereal to her presentation. A lot of the music I love comes from the ether, or at least a presumed interaction with it, but Pod feels completely tethered to the physical world, to the actual earth and dirt and rock, like the album itself is wearing big clunky boots.

In that Melody Maker cover story on the Breeders, Kim talks about how "Oh!" is written from the POV of a bug being squashed and makes the point that "If you get stepped on, you bust and glow, not just live a good life." I love the poetry of "bust and glow" and I love the poetry of the line "Your soft belly bossing lows" and the thing that Kim does to her voice the second time she sings it, how it feels like breaking in two. "Oh!" starts off sounding like being quietly in love with the world, carefree and heavy-hearted at the same time, and then at the end it sounds like dying. I love Kim for revealing what it's about: songwriters are always saying how they don't like to talk about the meaning behind their lyrics because it might take away from the listener's interpretation, but knowing that "Oh!" is the story of a squashed bug seems so vital. It gives the narrative a sweetness and innocence that get tangled up with everything else inside the song (the nicely dazed feeling you get from the vocal and rhythm, like falling in love; the lazy ballet of the violin; an overall sensation of gently tumbling in summertime), and it feels so violent once that gets taken away. It makes it devastating, and pleasurable devastation is one of the most wonderful possible outcomes of any kind of art.

vi. In quarantine I've gotten really into gelatin art, especially Sharona Franklin, who makes jello sculptures filled with flowers, pills, hardware, syringes, toys, fruit, etc. Here's some of her work:





Some albums are snow globes or dioramas or maps or ornately frosted cakes, but to me Pod is a glorious jello sculpture. It's a trapped world full of charmed and ugly things, it's impossible and creepy and gorgeous in a garish way. You can't live inside it but you can look in and tap at the surface, and then watch it shimmy and wobble. Jello sculptures eventually decompose but Pod stays intact; Kim Deal's brain is an eternal mystery. There's nothing to do but be delighted these songs exist, then keep letting them mystify you forever.

31.12.19

Thing of the Year 2019

LJ'S THING OF THE YEAR: Ego Death & Kyrie 



The other day I was on the phone with a friend, talking about nothing relevant or interesting, and I said, “A year ago I was having an anorexia relapse, today I’m a fucking CrossFitter”— I don’t think there’s any better way to explain what a moving, wondrous year this has been.


On paper, I didn’t do a whole lot— in 2019, I took a breather from my usual preoccupation with work and career advancement, instead prioritizing the maintenance of a solid work/life balance, focusing on practical introspection and self-mastery.

Today, I feel settled inside myself for the very first time, like there is no disconnect between my brain, body and heart; they all move together easily, as one unit, and co-operate. Your body is a picture of your brain, I wrote late this summer, around the time when I started CrossFit, and by late December, I understand this better than I could have then. Every day I feel like a warrior, but am in no way compelled by the violence with which I’ve gotten used to inhabiting a body. What I like about you is that you’re not afraid to slow things down, one of the coaches at my gym told me, and I thought, “This is the first time in my life that sentence could have been true about me.” Time is our life to live inside, and this year, I used it wisely. 


**

The first four months of my year were basically bullshit. In March, the restaurant I’d been managing for a year closed down. That job had been my everything, and I struggled to define myself without it. Life snuck memorably sweet moments into that otherwise uncomfortable chunk of time— in January, in Los Angeles, I lounged in the sunshine with Liz’s roommate’s dog Josko, content in the knowledge that I had evaded Toronto’s worst snowstorm of the year. At work, Maggie and I cultivated a deranged obsession with the dead blues singer Fats Domino, and entertained ourselves by poring over our restaurant’s menu, speculating as to what Fats might order, giggling to death. Drinking golden-Oreo-flavoured, Meunier-driven Champagne in Portland with Laura at a staggeringly uncool patisserie that boasted one of the world’s best Champagne lists, page after page tucked into laminate sleeves, presented in an ugly plastic binder. The whole place seemed like something that could exist only in a dream. 


**

The summer was golden and glistening. Every morning I lay in my backyard for an entire hour, wearing a swimsuit, suntanning and listening to dub records on my phone. My bartender complained about the heat, and I said “Well, why don’t you just move into an igloo in the middle of an ice rink?” and then laughed so hard at my own insane joke. The Raptors won the NBA Finals, and we processed Kawhi’s leaving using dating/relationship metaphors, which were funny, and soothing.



**

In 2019 I learned to respect my own boundaries, perhaps ruthlessly so. I felt freed from the pressure I’ve always put on myself to maintain friendships I’m disinterested in out of fear of karmic repercussions; I was, I’m afraid, a terrible friend this year. An unstable and incoherent texter-backer, deprioritizing my relationships to spend my time talking to my typewriter, and lifting heavy weights. A month or so ago, I drank three bottles of wine with a new friend and, over the course of doing so, remembered how to write, or rather, why to write. The next morning, I started writing, and haven’t stopped since. I couldn’t imagine anything making me happier than this: re-learning to write because I love it, not because I feel obliged.



**

On the morning of Christmas Eve, I did a workout at my gym. It was: one hundred weighted squats, fifty sit-ups, one hundred lunges, fifty push-ups, and one hundred kettlebell swings, each movement broken up by a set of single-unders, which is what we call skips, with a skipping rope. We were each allotted thirty minutes to complete the workout; this is the kind of thing I love best. Unbound by time, with no coach calling out Stop or Go, you are competing against nothing, no one, barely even yourself. Time, in these moments, disappears, and so do you: your own name, personality, relationships, family, holidays, work, anxiety, problems, everything. It’s all gone. You’re not Laura, you’re not a writer, nor a somm, just a heaving, sweating mass of cells, chanting numbers. “That was real Ego Death!” I realized later, delighted to have found it: “I’m a Lama, on a hill.” 


PS: Also this year I met the love my life, NBA basketball player Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets: 


PPS: I have literally never met him




Happy New Year & all the best vibes from Laura & Kyrie XOXOXOXOXO

LIZ'S THING OF THE YEAR: Dan Tana's linguini

-leaving Echo Park

-Brad Pitt pushing the luggage down the hallway at LAX


-the cheerleader-y gang-vocal part of "Wet" by Bibi Bourelly where all the girls shout GO THE FUCK OFF IF YOU'RE GONNA BE RICH ONE DAY



-here's a playlist of all my favorite songs that came out this year. It's mostly people I worked for

-eating linguini at Dan Tana's with my fave


-meeting Noel Gallagher  

-a roadside restaurant on the drive back from Georgia O'Keeffe's house where I ordered Frito pie and the waitress asked "Red chilis, green chilis, or Christmas?"

-Renée Elise Goldsberry's performance of Dee Dee in Original Cast Album: Co-Op


-all the bad skin in Her Smell

-"I wouldn't expect too much from that cat" 

-Las Vegas

-a note in my Notes app that says:

Bonnie Raitt
antique wooden cribbage deck
woven-plastic chaise lounge poolside
gypsy skirt + Clash t-shirt
nest hair
shrimp cocktail

-when Lana set off fireworks at the end of "Venice Beach" at the Bowl 

-the part in the "Summer Girl" video when Danielle sings into the New Beverly ticket booth microphone <3 <3 <3



JEN'S THING OF THE YEAR: Moomins, John Wick 3, etc.



20.12.19

Whip-Smart by Liz Phair is My Favorite Merry-Go-Round




BY ELIZABETH BARKER


A little while ago I found this absolute goldmine of a Geocities site, and read through 37 magazine/newspaper articles written about Liz Phair in the mid-'90s. I learned that Whip-Smart was nearly titled Jump Rope Songs, and that Liz quit smoking in part by eating green apples all the time. I found a thing where she talks about her first kiss ("In freshman year, I had to French-kiss, and it was totally disgusting. It took me a weekend to get over it"), and some dirt about going to summer camp with Julia Roberts ("She was tall and bossy and fun....We stopped speaking because she was always calling me collect, and it pissed me off. I'm like, 'What are you fucking calling me collect for? Your parents are rich enough'"). And I read beautiful Liz quotes like this one, from LA Weekly in '93: "I got exiled from the indie crowd because I have a lot of mainstream trappings, a lot of obnoxious tendencies for the sake of reacting against indieness, embracing Diet Coke and beaches and convertibles."

Another good thing I came across was this little bit from a Chicago Tribune article published right after Whip-Smart was released: 

The songs on Exile and Whip-Smart rarely embrace one emotion, their "raw honesty" seldom can be distilled into bumper-sticker platitudes. Instead, the overall mood is one of ambivalence and irresolution, each song like one view from a merry-go-round, the perspective ever-changing. 


I agree about Liz Phair being a person of emotional depth and complexity, but what I love most is the idea of Whip-Smart being a merry-go-round. I'm picturing some grandiose carousel, with lighted mirrors and oil paintings and a chariot, and the detailing on every horse's mane is like the baroque curlicues of some extravagantly frosted birthday cake. Whip-Smart is a very ornate album, with lots of goodies and treasures and prizes packed inside; I think you could listen forever and still keep noticing some little hidden gem you hadn't picked up on before. Here is everything I love about it right now:


i. CHOPSTICKS. "Chopsticks" is 110 words long and it's got more drama and intrigue than basically any novel I read this year. The part I want to zoom in on here is when she sings "It was 4 a.m. and the light was gray, like it always is in paperbacks." So much of why I love Whip-Smart has to do with light quality, with the way it lights up the inside of your brain. The light in "Chopsticks" is drab but for most of the album it's so bright and shiny; it even has the words "shiny old bauble."

A while back I had an idea about writing some big thing about the qualities of light I associate with my favorite music. Stuff like: "Murmur by R.E.M. sounds like golden-hour sunlight filtered through a jar of honey left on the windowsill of some rickety old house in the country, on a blessedly non-humid day in late August." But with Whip-Smart it would be hard to land on just one type of light. Sometimes the songs sound like spelling out your name with a burning sparkler, sometimes they're twinkle lights on a Christmas tree long after Christmas is over, sometimes they're the shine of a girl's lips when she's just put lipgloss on. Exile in Guyville sounds like a very dark room almost all the way through, but Whip-Smart feels like every type of light you could imagine, and that's why I love it best.

ii. SUPERNOVA. Freshman year of college my best friend was a poet and mostly listened to suburban-poet-girl music, like [REDACTED]*. My friend had attitude about Liz Phair; I remember her telling me the line "Your lips are sweet and slippery like a cherub's bare wet ass" was uncouth. When you're 17 and your best friend doesn't love the same songs as you, it makes you defensive, you want to prove you're right. Now that I'm way older than 17 I know for certain that Liz Phair is a supreme poet, with her lyrics about playing jacks and gilded grass, Beatle boots and platform shoes, Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Rapunzel as a boy, lions and tigers and panthers and snakes. Liz Phair changed my head about what you're allowed to make poems about, and the answer is: anything that fascinates you. Also I like poems best when they're about the physical experience of being alive.


15.11.19

Thing of the Week: Narwhal the Puppy, Las Vegas, The Hollow Winter Hair of Deer

LJ'S THING OF THE WEEK: Narwhal the Puppy! And puppies in general



The other day I was talking to my friend on the phone, and he likened his general state of life-optimism to that of "a puppy seeing another puppy, who he didn't know was going to be there"- what a metaphor! Inside my head I imagined the two puppies- my brain immediately conjured up 1) a classic golden retriever pup, and then 2) a scrappier mutt pup, like an Australian Shepherd sort of vibe, although it doesn't have to be an Australian Shepherd- and I lost my fucking mind. Think about how cute that would be!!! How much the 2 puppies would freak out with adorable puppy excitement over the great surprise of seeing another puppy, one of their own, and then they'd kind of look back at you, their human, like, "Can you believe what great luck we're having?" and you'd just stand there, crying tears of joy.

I've always loved puppies- I mean, that's sort of a dumb sentence. Everyone loves puppies, except people who don't love puppies- I'm not going to sit here and say that people who don't love puppies are "evil" or "heartless" or whatever: we're all entitled to our own preferences. It's okay to not like dogs. I, personally, do not like birds. I am terrified of them. They ruin my life, every day, by existing. I have thrown up from disgust, looking at a pigeon, more than once. If I could have one wish, it would be for there to be no pigeons. That is my number one wish. I think about it so much. But I digress. 

My point is, I've always loved puppies, but in the past three months or so, I've started loving puppies more than I ever thought possible. I barf when I see pigeons, but I cry when I see puppies. Even just writing the word "puppy" over and over again is making me want to cry. It's such a cute word! Puppy is the perfect name for a puppy. PUPPY

The night before I found out about Narwhal, I ate the best chocolate bar I've ever eaten in my life. It was Italian, milk chocolate with pistachio crème in the middle. It was so smooth! I was like, "I feel like I'm some middle-aged rich dude taking a sports car for a test drive, like I finally understand what that experience is like, to be driving, like, a Maserati or whatever, and to just be like, exultant about the smoothness of the engine." And then my friends and I spent a very long time talking about the pros and cons of Beyoncé being with LeBron James vis a vis Jay-Z. Then I told them the "puppy seeing another puppy" thing, and I said, "Thinking about a puppy seeing another puppy is, like, up here," and I reached my hand up very high, "And then, just, puppies, generally, is right here," and I lowered my hand a tiny bit, and then I lowered my hand to the very lowest ground and said "And here's, like, the best sex of my life." 

Then I woke up in the morning, and found out about Narwhal, the puppy with a tail in the middle of his face. Fucking fuck YES Narwhal!!!!! Now the best thing I can imagine is Narwhal seeing another puppy that he didn't know was going to be there, and the other puppy also had some sort of charming and adorable deformity, and- I can't go on. This is too much. It is too wonderful to think about. Anyway, Narwhal fucking rules. I know it, you know it, Narwhal knows it. Check out this fake message some person wrote from Narwhal's perspective, which is just SO GOOD, if you imagine Narwhal actually wrote it, which clearly I am:


I love how it starts out with the overenthusiastic "It's me Narwhal!!"- I love how there's no comma between 'me' and 'Narwhal': puppies don't have time for grammar! But the farewell "Sleep tight, k thanks, Narwhally" is clearly the piece de resistance of the fake Narwhal message. The 'k thanks' is so gorgeously blasé! Classic Narwhal: he doesn't give a fuck. Then- twist ending!- he signs off as 'Narwhally': just testing out some new nickname options! It might stick, it might not: who cares? Not Narwhally! That's for goddamned sure. 

God. You wake up one morning, and you think the best thing that's going to happen to you all week is eating a pistachio chocolate bar, and then you find out that an adorable baby puppy from rural Missouri has a tail on his face. Life is a gift. 


LIZ'S THING OF THE WEEK: Las Vegas

Last week Sophie and I went to Vegas to see Madonna. The show was Thursday night & we left on Wednesday afternoon and stayed at The Cosmopolitan, where there's a Milk Bar and you can get CEREAL-MILK WHITE RUSSIANS TO GO, although we didn't actually do that. Our first Vegas thing was the Neon Museum, which has a collection of hundreds of old/unrestored neon signs from all over Vegas. The exhibition's outdoors and you just kind of wander around and check out the signs and take pix of all the groovy cursive. Here are some of my faves:



After the Neon Museum we went to the Peppermill and had Bloody Marys and fried pickles in the lounge, where there are red-velvet booths & opulent flower arrangements & chandeliers & disco-ball-tile ceilings & fire pits inside pools of glowing water & a million TV screens playing music videos. While we were there they played "Been Caught Stealing" and "Andres" by L7 and "Drive" by R.E.M., which is a very deep song to drink a nighttime Bloody Mary to.

For dinner we had French dips, served in this special way Sophie invented, with blue cheese crumbles tucked into the sandwich. My favorite Peppermill things are the fabulous napkins and the sugar shakers full of rock sugar in all different colors, like confetti. When Scott and I went to Vegas in July he asked the waitress for a napkin to take home as a memento and she gave us a whole nice stack and now I keep them on a bench in my room, next to my Lisa Frank tarot cards that Liina sent me.

This is maybe a good place to tell you that I used to think Vegas was terrible but now I like it: before this summer I hadn't been since 2006, and now I've been three times this year alone. The July trip was for Scott's birthday and it was Fourth of July weekend and for his bday dinner we had the insane buffet at Caesar's Palace. We waited in line two hours & about halfway through Scott went to get me a glass of white wine from the casino bar and while he was gone there was a 7.2 earthquake, which flipped my wig. Also during that trip we went to a rock-and-roll pizza parlor in downtown Vegas & I had a slice of rattlesnake pizza: a revelation. And then we went back in August and ate steak at Nobu and crab fried rice at Lotus of Siam and I forget what else- a cone of vanilla from a Ben & Jerry's stand on the Strip? I fell hard for the botanical gardens at the Bellagio, which was done up in a La Dolce Vita theme and had all these beautiful humungo lemons. I hope they do Japan again sometime; so pretty


Anyway here is the video for "Been Caught Stealing" onscreen at the Peppermill Fireside Lounge. FRENCH DIP WITH BLUE CHEESE, GUYS:




The next day was Madonna Day and we had brunch at the Wicked Spoon. My fave brunch things were the bowls of Dum Dum lollipops & Atomic Fireballs at the dessert station, and the little Chinese-takeout containers of pineapple fried rice, and the glass carafe of mimosas they plunked down at our table. After brunch we went to the Canyon Ranch spa at the Venetian and I got a massage and then we sat in the Wave Room: this big dark dome-like cave with extremely plush chaise lounges all arranged in a circle, and you lie back on the chair in your robe and listen to ocean sounds and watch the ceiling, where there's a reflection of the little mini wave pool set up on the floor- so it feels like waves are breaking above you. If I ever become filthy-rich I'd like my house to have an aquarium very much like the Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium, and then on the level below that there's a Wave Room of my own, only with a glass ceiling so you can watch all the eels & stingrays & sea turtles float by. And instead of ocean sounds, it's just constantly playing Pod by the Breeders and also the Safari EP. Perfect.

That night we met Sophie's friend Dino at a strip-mall bar called The Golden Tiki which was a heavenly paradise. The ceiling's meant to look like the night sky and every few seconds there's fireworks or a shooting star or comet, and the jukebox played a surf-jazz version of "I Saw Her Standing There" and your drinks come lit on fire. I had a piña colada type thing and then a navy grog; for dinner we ate coconut shrimp & orange chicken tenders & crab rangoon & the crowning glory of the whole shebang: a platter of totally basic potato chips drizzled with honey, with a little bowl of sour-creamy dip at the center. The only way it could've been more wonderful would be if they'd served it in the chip-n-dip Pete Campbell got for his wedding. All night long I had Pete saying "You have your fingers in your ears?" stuck in my head and I loved it so much.



And then Madonna! The show was at Caesar's Palace and they made you lock up your phones in those stupid pouch things. Madonna came on an hour and a half late, aka 2.5 hours after the arrive-by time. It was kind of annoying. The crowd was not stoked. And then they got hostile, and started booing her. People said disgusting things & I hated them. I mean I know it's a drag to wait till midnight for the show to start, but what are you going to do? It's Madonna, you losers. And then she finally came on and started with "God Control" which I'd never heard but I like it, especially when she raps "Each new birth, it gives me hope/That's why I don't smoke that dope!" What a nerd. She was glorious & amazing, the show was a wow. At some point she went into the crowd and drank some dude's beer, and a few other times she talked about how much she loves beer now, ever since she moved to Portugal. I like the idea of Madonna thinking, "Isn't that so fascinating of me, that I drink beer sometimes?", and then making a big spectacle of it. Self-fascination is good. I'm on her side forever.

We got back to the hotel at a million o'clock and checked out in the morning and my last Vegas meal was a chicken sandwich at the airport Shake Shack, where they were playing Ex Hex: bonkers that Mary Timony is fast-food-famous now. I'm going to end with this Madonna pic I recently posted on the semi-new STRAWBERRY FIELDS WHATEVER INSTAGRAM which is really knocking it out of the park. Follow for many pix of Joni Mitchell & Serge Ibaka & sometimes paintings of soft-boiled eggs. 


JEN'S THING OF THE WEEK: The Hollow Winter Hair of Deer



Last weekend I went upstate to go to a Woodstock Farm Sanctuary Fundraiser with a meal prepared by one of my favorite chefs, dessert by my favorite baker, honoring my favorite vegan activist, Lauren Ornelas, and also honoring Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie, who I am obsessed with. I met Rob Zombie. This is all a bit too monumental to be a thing of the week. It's so major, right? Where to even begin? My thing is something I learned while I was upstate, freezing cold and wondering how deer keep warm in the winter. The answer is they grow a 'winter coat' which consists of hollow hair that insulates them and keeps them warm in up to (down to?) 30 degrees below freezing Fahrenheit. A winter coat of hollow hair! How elegant. They also bulk up for the winter, reduce movement, huddle together in forest fields and on south facing slopes. I'm most taken with the hollow hair, though. If you spend some time looking up deer's hollow hair on the internet you will find some hunting sites and images. In case you couldn't tell from the deeply vegan fundraiser I attended last weekend I am very much against this. Let the deer's winter coats keep them warm in peace! And then let them completely take over our world come the spring - we deserve it. 

25.9.19

The Strawberry Fields Whatever Diet: Everything We Ate for an Entire Week, by Laura Jane Faulds & Elizabeth Barker

Monday, September 9th

LJ: I woke up at 8 in the morning and it was chilly in my bedroom and, even indoors, you could feel the autumn in the air. I thought it was romantic.

I made myself a Bodum-ful of terrible coffee. I honestly make the worst coffee. It’s a real chore to force it down.

I am avoiding gluten right now because my stomach is fucked all the time and it seems like the thing to do. I also already don’t eat dairy, because I’m lactose-intolerant, so that’s fun.

For breakfast I ate two different gluten-free cereals mixed together: one was Nature’s Path vanilla poppyseed grain-free whatever, which is crunchy and seedy and wonderful, and the other one is kinda bullshit, I don’t know its name and never will. It’s nothing. I enjoyed this melange of breakfast cereals with my favourite brand of coconut milk yogurt, “Maison Riviera,” which is a ridiculous name for a dairy-free yogurt brand. It sounds like the name of a drag queen whose schtick is being a parody of a French person.

I always eat breakfast while doing the New York Times crossword. The Monday crossword is so easy a damn cat could do it.

I quit smoking and juuling and everything but I’m too lazy to go through nicotine withdrawal so I’m constantly popping nicotine lozenges. I guess I “eat” them. I think it’s very charming of me. I like thinking about the story of my life and flashing back to a picture of my nineteen-year-old self chain-smoking cigarettes, you would see it and think, “Oof, this girl is going to have to quit smoking one day; she’s not doing much to make that very easy on herself,” and then you’d cut to a scene of today me covertly shaking my blue plastic vial of Nicorette things over my palm in the middle of hanging out with someone, or at work, and you’d think, “Oh, wow, she did it. But she’s still that same person.”

I ate a stupid protein bar before going for a run. I impulse-bought a box of these “plant-based energy bars” in the flavour “nutbutter superfood with baobab” without having tasted one, and it turned out I didn’t like them, so it’s been a real hassle, getting through the box. But today I ate my last bar, which was a real victory. On the bar wrapper it says “Crashproof your day!”— ridiculous. I do not consider my day “crashproofed” because I absently fed myself that nothing piece of garbage.


In the afternoon I had therapy and engaged in my classic post-therapy ritual of going to Whole Foods and spending an absurd amount of money on a salad I’ve thrown together out of an assortment of non-complimentary ingredients from the salad bar. For no reason, today’s salad was moderately more composed than usual. I used arugula as the base and my major takeaway from eating that salad was that arugula is beautiful— so elegant, and very self-confident for a leaf. My cacophonous salad was disrespectful to arugula.

I was tired but had missed my coffee-drinking window for that day (I don't drink coffee after 3 PM) so I drank a lemon iced tea and then went to Pilot for a Cascara Tea, which is my new fav non-alc. Cascara Tea is also called Coffee Cherry Tea, which is a lovely word-order, and is made out of coffee bean skins. They have it on tap at Pilot and it’s kind of fizzy. Also tannic & floral & caramelly.

I got to work and ate a peach. I drank San Pellegrino all night. Near the end of service I ate another stupid all-natural protein bar: it wasn’t very good. What I liked about this protein bar was that its flavour name was Sticky Squirrel, and I am simply not the kind of non-idiot who could ever say no to a thing named Sticky Squirrel. The thing tasted mostly of molasses, a flavour I don’t love.

Before I left work I ate two mini saucisson secs, which are complimentary to my aesthetic. They are a food I would very much like to be seen eating.

I came home and drank a glass of chilled Beaujolais-Villages. I thought Beaujolais was going to be my thing for September but, mid-glass, I’m realizing I’m kind of over it now. 

LIZ: I woke up in the Valley! My boyfriend Scott lives in Lake Balboa and had already left for the day, to meet a friend for breakfast at Lovi's Deli in Calabasas. In a cute kickoff to Strawberry Fields Whatever Diet week, I rolled out of bed to a text from Scott sharing his breakfast order with me: coffee, Greek omelette, sesame bagel, fruit, and "some of my friend's giant blueberry muffin." I drank a glass of water & transcribed an interview with a riot grrrl-ish songwriter woman who told me the touchstones for her new album are "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle, "More Than a Feeling" by Boston, and "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton, all of which I deeply support.

I got myself together and went to get breakfast at a place in Van Nuys called Heart's Coffee Shop, which I found by Googling "old diners in the san fernando valley." Heart's was a ghost town and I sat at the counter. For my breakfast I ordered scrambled eggs & sausage links and asked for a biscuit instead of toast, but you're not allowed to get a plain old biscuit at Heart's- it's biscuits-and-gravy, or no biscuit at all. All I really wanted was to jab my butter knife into the crinkly little packet of Smucker's strawberry preserves and then slather it onto some halfway-decent hunk of biscuit. But I went along with the biscuits-and-gravy plan anyway, because what are you going to do? The biscuits came up first and they were incredibly overwhelming, two fat biscuit-islands in a big sea of gravy. I ate one and then my scrambled eggs & sausage, which were good and greasy and plump and slick. The coffee was weak and blah in that perfect diner-coffee way, I drank 5,000 cups of it.



As I ate I read that special Charles Manson issue of Life, an impulse purchase at CVS, as part of a half-baked plan to make my Strawberry Fields Whatever Diet vaguely Once Upon a Time in Hollywood-themed (spoiler: I FAILED). I'd hoped for Heart's to be a weird cozy time-travel-y experience, but there was some creepy undercurrent to the whole situation- which partly had to do with being the lone customer at a creaky old diner in the middle of nowhere, but is mostly my fault for reading murder magazines at breakfast. My bill came to $12.45 for a massive amount of food, and I paid up and went to a Starbucks in Sherman Oaks to do more work. At Starbucks I drank a grande iced coffee, with a splash of half & half.

Then I went home and finished a work thing and then I went to the gym, where I drank my bottle of lemon water and listened to Starcrawler and JPEGMAFIA and Plague Vendor and Vanilla Fudge- their "You Keep Me Hangin' On" cover, from the soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. After the gym I went to California Market, a humungo Korean grocery store near my apartment. In the seafood section they sell whole octopus and I almost bought one, mostly for the novelty of buying an octopus. But then I came to my senses, and got a bunch of veggies and lots of the little freshly packaged treats, like lotus root and radish kimchi and those yummers bean sprouts they give you as banchan. I went home and made a stir-fry thing with Chinese broccoli and baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms and tofu and red onions and some of the kimchi + bean sprouts tossed in. It was fine, a B+ at best. Did you read that thing Adam Platt wrote about Sweetgreen and how everyone in New York is a salad zombie? Sometimes I worry I'm a stir-fry zombie. One day my life will be lovelier and I'll learn to cook grand things like paella and arroz con pollo and coq au vin and carbonara, but for now I'm just slightly a cut above all those Sweetgreen weirdos.

Tuesday, September 10th

LJ: I woke up too early, very hungry, and ate my same breakfast as yesterday, only the vanilla poppyseed flavour granola has been swapped out for a caramel pecan from the same brand. Breakfast is pretty much the only meal I ever eat at home. What can I say? I'm just a fast-paced CrossFitting sommelier on the go. 




In the early afternoon I went to a white Burgundy tasting at Paris Paris. Krysta gave me a cup of filter coffee in a seventies floral mug: it was a perfect cup of coffee. But from a wine person perspective, drinking a cup of coffee right before a wine tasting is not the most sensible move. I swished like sixteen glasses of water around my mouth to fix my numbed-out coffee-tongue and it seemed to do the trick. I tasted a lot of wonderful wine and I spat it all out because I’m a champion and didn’t want to ruin myself for CrossFit later. We had a bunch of Meursault back vintages: one of them reminded me of soggy canned green beans, another was a vanilla cupcake. One of them tasted like the smell of walking into a chain Italian restaurant in the shopping mall closest to my house when I was a kid: “salty Parmesan rind,” I said aloud, so as not to be disrespectful.

The two wines that stuck with me most were a couple of cheapies: a 2016 Haute-Cotes de Beaune that tasted like hot smashed apple, made me think of the word ‘tawny’ and rust-coloured corduroy, going to this apple farm I used to go to on school trips as a child, in early October, a cup of Styrofoam cup of warm apple cider and the air smells like Hallowe’en. And a sweet, humble Bourgogne Aligote: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” is my joke about Aligote. It tasted like Yellow Raspberry Jelly.

I ate a piece of prosciutto at the wine tasting.

I took myself out for lunch at Fresh and wrote the words Yellow Raspberry Jelly down in my notebook and tweeted the words Yellow Raspberry Jelly. I read from a book by Julia Child and it felt a touch sacrilegious eating my yuppie health food while she wrote about “the winey brown promise of rosy dark meat,” and so on. But, you know, whatever. I am a wine writer who is also the sommelier at a French restaurant. There are a lot of people in the world who are doing a way shittier job of honoring Julia Child’s legacy than this guy.


I had a Goddess bowl, which was: steamed baby bok choy, swiss chard, kale & broccoli, house-made taberu rayu (I don’t know what this is. I copy and pasted this description from the Fresh website), ginger chili tempeh, pickled ginger (the pickled ginger I could have lived without, even though I love ginger, it was a bit much here), sunflower nori gomashio (idk), and tahini sauce, on brown rice. I dribbled hot sauce all over everything. It was perfect. I haven’t eaten proper dairy in so long, and the tahini sauce was like this illicit hit of creaminess. It was such a soft, sunny, warm, nourishing meal: it gave my poor, troubled stomach a hug.

I also had a Green Detox smoothie, which was blueberry, apple, lemon, ginger, coconut water, kale, spinach and banana. A+ use of ginger on this one.





In the afternoon I had a shot of apple cider vinegar to calm my nightmare stomach. I listened to the last two minutes of the Donovan song “Bert’s Blues” over and over again, and went to CrossFit, where I did Russian step-ups and kneeling overhead presses and ran 1 KM and did a Tabata thing of 6 rounds of overhead thrusts, weighted step-ups, and box jumps. Box jumps are my favourite. You squat down deep and your arms help lift you into a nice jump onto a wooden box. You stick your landing like a gymnast, squeeze your glutes, and swagger down off the box like you are a hot shit gangster chewing chewing tobacco. A thing I love about CrossFit is how often it forces you to jump. When you are a kid you jump all the time, but when you’re an adult you never really jump.


After CrossFit I had a peanut butter banana protein shake with almond milk: you buy them from the CrossFit gym, and they are amazing. Then I went over to my friend’s house and we drank some kooky cider and split a decadent bottle of Franciacorta, which tasted like cream soda and vanilla Juul pods. So much vanilla wine today.

He made us a peach and kale salad. I did not drink enough water.

LIZ: At home in the morning I drank two cups of coffee I made pour-over style, with the gooseneck kettle I bought after I moved into my new apartment. I worked and worked and then went to get food at Sqirl, using the Sqirl gift card Jen May got for me when she came to visit in July. Sqirl is a 100% Strawberry Fields Whatever-beloved institution; when LJ was here in January we got lunch at Sqirl like 2 hours after she landed, and guess who was sitting next to us? Sally Draper! The star of so many Strawberry Fields Whatever Mad Men recaps. On Tuesday I got the Crispy Disco, which was LJ's order on Sally Draper Sqirl Day: a beautiful dish of crispy brown rice and an over-easy egg and mint and cilantro and scallion and "lacto-fermented hot sauce"- and also supposedly avocado and sausage, except there was no avocado and sausage in mine, which didn't really hit me until the moment of typing this sentence? Whatever: it was perfect, punchy and tangy and textually wow. I held off on letting the egg yolk ooze all over the rice and when I finally did it was a real showstopper moment. To drink I got a Ginger Lemon Fizz and it was all fizzy and frothy and the ginger created a cool dust over the big chunky ice cubes. I also bought a piece of vegan coconut loaf to go.



Then I went to stupid Starbucks, the Atwater Village one, and did some work and drank a hot mint tea and a grapefruit Spindrift. At home I made myself the same stir-fry thing as Monday night, and had a cup of whatever bottle of Sauvignon Blanc happened to be in my fridge at the time. Later in the night I ate my slice of vegan coconut loaf, which had a cute little lineup of caramelized figs along the crust. I wanted to be madly in love with my vegan coconut loaf; I even ate it while reading The King's Daughter Who Could Never Get Enough Figs from Italo Calvino's Italian folk tales collection, in hopes of having some kind of life-changing fig-based revelation. Instead it was just a nice snack. The most exciting part of the whole scene was that my next-door neighbor- who always listens to everything psychotically loud, in a way that I relate to and heavily condone- was blasting the hell out of Norman Fucking Rockwell! all night long. I haven't properly listened to that album yet but it was a good way to absorb it for the first time: shamelessly blaring from the bedroom of someone I've never met, muffled and distorted by the ambient sounds of the L.A. night. I give it a 10.0.