25.8.21

Everything I Know About Los Angeles

 

BY ELIZABETH BARKER

For my 18th anniversary of living in Los Angeles I made a big list of all the L.A. things that mean a lot to me: some are memories and some are observations and some is just trash talk; all are little love stories about this place whose real name is El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula. At one point the list was 77 items long, because of The Clash, and there was stuff about the candy selection at Laurel Canyon Country Store and Kim Gordon's Black Flag earrings and the time I celeb-spotted Miss Piggy and Kermit shooting a scene in front of the Wiltern - but in the end I decided to keep it to the essential. Also: I don't know who painted that painting up above (it's hanging at El Compadre in Echo Park), but I'm so taken with the streak of pink along the mountains and the hazy glow of all the headlights pointed south. Making the freeway beautiful is a delicate and crucial art.  

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1. The dining room with the happiest vibes in all of L.A. is at Patra in Echo Park, where my favorite menu items include the patty melt, chorizo & egg burrito, and cake cone of strawberry ice cream. I'd also like to thank Patra for teaching me that a diagonal cut fried-egg sandwich on toasted white bread with lettuce and mayo is one of the best things this life has to offer.

2. I first moved here around the time Brown Bunny came out, and for a while there was a giant billboard of the blowjob scene right outside Chateau Marmont. On the one hand it made me feel like Lili Taylor on Six Feet Under, the part where she tells Nate Fisher: "L.A. is such a godless place." On the other hand I thought it was so exciting to live somewhere godless. For my 20th L.A. anniversary I'm totally buying myself this beautiful Conrad Haberland painting:

















3. Forever grateful to Francesca Lia Block for writing about Oki Dog in the Weetzie books, so that now the sight of the swoopy/show-offy cursive on the Oki Dog menu makes everything a fairy tale:

4. Durga Chew-Bose has a line about how her favorite time of day is "when the waitress starts coming around with her tray of votive candles," which I think of anytime I'm walking down Echo Park Ave at dusk and there's multiple skater boys skating by with their just-purchased boxes of Little Caesars. That is my favorite time, more elegant and dazzling than ballet. 

5. People who say no one walks in L.A. have either never been to L.A. or don't understand their own city.

6. L.A. nature is my favorite nature because sometimes birds of paradise look like sucking a grape-flavored Super Blow Pop and drinking a Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi at the same time, with a tube of Vamp It Up Wet N Wild in the front pocket of your jeans. 


7. When you're walking around in the morning in spring, the jasmine smells just like Froot Loops.

8. I could never name the single most beautiful place in Los Angeles, but to me the bakery case at Canter's is easily top ten. I can never stop taking pictures of the banana cake with the cursive on top, the way none of us can ever stop taking pictures of sunsets. 

9. If the 10 Freeway westbound on a smoggy Friday night in late summer were a sound, it would be the creepy-snaky lead riff to "Kettle Whistle" by Jane's Addiction. And if L.A. were a boy, it would be baby Dave Navarro drinking a Slurpee & smoking a cigarette, his nails painted with chipped polish and a cool rip in the knee of his tights.


10. Two of the best days of my life were the time I went to Flea's house and the other time I went to Flea's house. It was March 2007 and the first visit was a Sunday afternoon and I spent a lot of the day on the beach, taking pictures of starfish and sea anemones. It was a breakthrough moment for me as far as becoming eternally obsessed with Malibu, and with sea anemones. You should go to El Matador at least once a year to hang out with the tidepools and caves.

11. It takes exactly the length of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus to drive Mulholland from Laurel Canyon to the 101. 

12. If you pull off Mulholland at that sightseeing spot a little west of Runyon, there's a cool view of the Hollywood Bowl and you can stand there and think of The Beatles in 1965, The Doors in 1968, the Go-Go's in 1982. The last time I went to the Bowl was for Lana Del Rey in fall 2019 and at one point I was in the bathroom and this girl went into a stall and then yelled: "I just got my period! LANA MADE ME BLEED." There was a big hullabaloo about how none of her friends had a tampon or change for the dispenser so then I went and bought her one, because that's just what you do. Later on there was the most glorious fireworks display during the encore performance of "Venice Bitch." 

13. RIP IN PARADISE HOUSE OF SPIRITS, my fave liquor store where I once bought a bottle of banana schnapps that I never pulled the trigger on. There was always a box of De La Rosa peanut mazapan by the register, and the neon was so legendary. It burned down the day we found out Lana Del Rey bought a house one street over from ours.


























14. And RIP La Espiga, the bakery near my first L.A. apartment. There was a rooster who'd pace around out front and a massive industrial fan that'd blow crazy gusts of cake-scented air out onto the street. They made dulce de leche empanadas, and these chocolate-strawberry-vanilla cookies dusted in sugar. La Espiga taught me that Neapolitan isn't a flavor, it's a state of mind.


15. Before Echo Park Lake was cursed and the paddleboats turned into swans it used to one of my favorite places, especially on Sunday afternoons around dusk when the sky's hot-pink and makes the lake pink too. Bring back Mike D's paddleboats please!

16. Some of the best art in L.A. happens when fallen blossoms collide with crumpled-up trash that's aesthetically/vibrationally appealing. I've had this pic saved on my phone for so long; I want to make a zine again so it can be the cover:



17. So here's a tiny rant: my general take on everything is that if you don't love L.A., L.A. will never love you back. But I also love it when people recognize they're incapable of loving L.A., then gracefully remove themselves from the situation (like how on the new Lorde record she makes it clear she's done with Los Angeles - I love that journey for her; I want everyone to live their truth). What I'm not into is people who move here from certain other cities but still harbor a knee-jerk antipathy to Los Angeles, some presumption of being above it all, and then limit their experience to drinking at terminally boring wine bars and dining at what Max Silvestri refers to as "those weird fake-hip white-people sort-of-fancy-kind-of-not restaurants that we all go to and forget five seconds after."* I mean the people who say things like "I don't go west of La Brea" and mistake that for being so discerning and refined, or the type of person who takes a Milkfarm picnic basket to the Bowl to see a band they discovered on Morning Becomes Eclectic but then spends the whole night loudly talking about Silver Lake real estate. Lack of curiosity is toxic. 

Anyway - I like this line from the introduction Molly Lambert wrote for that Eve Babitz collection, I Used to Be Charming: "People still ask how we can stand to live in LA, although they tend to do it months before they themselves move here and decide they invented it." BOOM

(*From his "2 Dope Queens" episode; the bit starts at the 42:58 mark. I think a lot about the $200 pork chop)

18. I love when it's the draggiest gray all day and then the sun comes out right before dusk and gives you the most ravishing and emotionally manipulative magic hour you've ever seen.


But it's also nice when the gray hangs around for magic hour and everything's all muted and fuzzed. Now that I've been in L.A. all these years I'm starting to appreciate understated scenes like this one:

19. Sometimes I used to go up to Topanga to do work/writing at Cafe Mimosa and eavesdrop on all the Topanga weirdos. The muffins were tragic but the eavesdropping was so good, like this one time I was sitting next to a handsome man whose look was very "dandy surfer" and the dude said to his friend: "When I first sort of ran away from everything, I went to Venice Beach and fell in with this very cool cat, a gay English batik-maker." I think it's fun when people speak like quintessentially Californian space cadets. I think this tweet is pedestrian and uncouth.

20. I love this semi-recent video of Courtney Love talking about perfume, where she says the words "sexy croissant" and also: "I think we can be gothic and bookish at the same time - like a gothic slut, but also lost in a fantastic library full of thousand-year-old books, but also at the Chateau Marmont, and also right after really good sex, and also driving down the PCH."

21. Speaking of poetry: one time I was at The Iliad in North Hollywood and haphazardly pulled a 1988 issue of the Paris Review off the shelf and opened it to "The Bed" by Catherine Bowman, and now Catherine Bowman is my favorite poet. The Iliad is a wonderland.

22. Jacaranda + June gloom is also a kind of poem: 


23. Wait I have more to say about the walking thing (!!!!). If you're the type of person who walks in L.A., you can do that thing of waiting till close to sundown on a hot summer night, then walking down to the nearest taco truck listening to good hot-night music, then buying yourself a big icy cup of horchata for sipping on the way back. Somehow the first Pavement record works perfect for this.

24. If you've got a crush on someone a cute move is to go down to the arcade at Santa Monica Pier and play a few games of skee-ball and take a pic of your highest score and text it to the person. And then you give away all your tickets to some kid, and then go take pictures of the neon of the ferris wheel reflecting onto the ocean, or the waves & the smog & the beach people at night


25. When you come from somewhere else, hearing "Johny Hit & Run Paulene" in L.A. for the first time is another form of virginity-losing. 

26. Like Pee-wee married a bowl of fruit salad, I would like to marry the downtown branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

27. I haven't been to The Smell in 500 years and maybe I'll never go again, but I loved taking a break and going to the gay bar next door, El Jalisco, where they gave everyone little snack bowls full of Fritos doused in hot sauce. The day No Age shot the cover for Weirdo Rippers, a dude from the bar came out and gave us all free Jello shots at like 10 in the morning. I am a pigtailed brunette in the photo

28. Apart from hot-saucy Fritos and Jello shots, some of my favorite things I've ever eaten in L.A. include: spicy sea snails from Dan Sung Sa, laksa from the Singaporean place at Farmers Market, Canter's chocolate rugelach, papaya wings from Jitlada, everything else I've ever had from Jitlada, the Reese's donut at California Donuts, pineapple empanadas at Cuscatleca, fried chicken from the gas station, Zankou pickles, a foil takeout container of spaghetti & sausage from the real Pizza Buona, mole negro at Guelaguetza, sesame hash browns at Patrick's Roadhouse, a beer + a boat of french fries at Neptune's Net, white chocolate princess cake from Bottega Louie, and the incomparable beauty of a huge-ass coffee + chocolate coconut donut at Ms. Donut in Echo Park:


29. Really, sometimes all I need to make everything ok is a meal eaten from a coconut in a Thai restaurant in a strip mall. I deeply miss the Coconut Paradise at the no-longer-with-us Sib Song, where they'd stick a cocktail umbrella into the top of your coconut.


30. I also miss the original Scoops location (Heliotrope & Melrose) and the blackboard where you could write your flavor suggestions. The Apple Jacks suggestion is so inspired. What the hell kind of lunatic wants French bread gelato :/

31. Beyond having a favorite restaurant and donut shop and taco stand in Los Angeles, it's important to have a favorite freeway exit, incense vendor, pier, bougainvillea blob, star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. My favorite star is David Bowie's; I went for the first time the morning after he died, and someone had left him red peppers & milk.

32. Sometimes if I feel a little disenchanted, I remember the time my friend saw a deer run through the crosswalk in the middle of Hollywood, or the time another friend Insta'd a dude on horseback galloping full speed past a Taco Bell in the Valley: it always puts my head back on straight. And if you ever need a little thrill, I'd suggest driving down Lankershim a little after twilight and hanging around outside the motel with the horse on the roof. 













33. Along with Dave Navarro & his Slurpee, one person who fully embodies the spirit of L.A. for me is Christine McVie drinking a glass of white wine on the field at Dodger Stadium in the video for "Tusk":

34. Over the course of making this post I've started questioning why I'm such a manic proponent of walking in L.A., and I think it's got to do with the experience of deliberate and pleasurable solitude. People who moved here from New York are always giving you that line about how in New York you just walk down the street and run into a friend or somebody you've got the hots for, and then you duck into a bar and end up spending the whole night there and it's such wild serendipitous fun. Which truly sounds wonderful and always makes me envious, but that's not what walking in L.A. does for you. For the most part walking in L.A. means being on your own, and if you work it just right it can ease you into a state of heightened attention and sustained fascination. Your brain shuts off a little and you just zone out on the juxtaposition of neon and sky, the coconuts and churros and avocados and mangos for sale on the sidewalk, the crazy perfume of jasmine and gasoline and al pastor roasting on the big spit with the pineapple on top. It's a state in which it's spiritually incorrect to listen to a podcast, and I value that more and more all the time. I want my head full of flowers not takes.

35. My all-time fave song with L.A. in the title is "L.A. Mist" by The Sharp Ease. Lately my favorite L.A. music is "Heavy Metal" by Paris Texas, who are from Compton. Part of the reason it feels like L.A. is it never stops surprising me, I never get used to it, it always manages to rattle and delight me in equal measure.

36. This is a playlist of other songs that feel like Los Angeles to me. But it doesn't include the song that feels most like L.A.-like, which is Iggy Pop and David Bowie doing "Funtime" on The Dinah Shore Show in 1977. I love how it obliterates any of the slickness of the original and takes on this off-the-rails energy that's kind of dopey and galumphing but still so glamorous. It makes me want to write a story where at the beginning the main character says "Hey I feel lucky tonight, I'm gonna get stoned and run around" and absolutely means it.

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.