RIP Jessi Zazu of Those Darlins

Goodbye Jessi Zazu. 28. Fuck. Waaaaay too young for such a talent.

The first time I saw them, the plaintive notes of this song were the first thing they played, and the room was astonished in the best of ways.

I asked her for an interview & she asked me what I did, and when I said “gender studies” she said “oh, so you get it, i’m so sick of these perverted old men who want to ask about our sex lives.”

Yeah. I regret that I never made it happen but I went out of my way to see them a few times and she was always up for a chat. They did “White Light White Heat” in Madison the night that Lou died, and I am still grateful for that. And now she’s gone too.

rockerggrrrl, thank you. Your voice and your attitude brought this old lady a fuckton of joy.

Music: PWR BTTM

I can’t even with the news so here’s some music and cool lyrics. Sing along when the haters get you down.

[Verse 1]
There are men in every town who live to bring you down
Make themselves feel bigger making you feel small
My advice is to look incredible
As you make their lives regrettable by being your damn self
God, it’s so exhausting

[Chorus]
Curse that motherfucker who would spit upon another’s body
Who the hell gave you the right to tell me that I’m wrong
Curse every one of you who tells me that I cannot be who I want
Ain’t no fucking way you’ll fuck up my big beautiful day

[Verse 2]
There are men everywhere who cannot help but stare
When they see you ’cause they cannot understand
Within those men there are boys who have never had the choice
But to grow up and be scared to be your friend
Jesus Christ, let’s help them

[Chorus]
Curse that motherfucker who would spit upon another’s body
Who the hell gave you the right to tell me that I’m wrong
Curse every one of you who tells me that I cannot be who I want
Ain’t no fucking way you’ll fuck up my big beautiful day
My day

Music: The Traveling Suitcase

So I’ve gone to see a lot of my friends’ bands over the years, and mostly they were alright, but now I get to go see Traveling Suitcase, the band that just came back after one of the guys transitioned.

Here’s a piece from a local paper about their return:

“Among the reasons for newfound optimism in the band is Botterman, who came out as transgender during the hiatus. Those who followed the journey of the Traveling Suitcase since the band began in 2010 (and the current lineup came came together in 2013) might have caught that from the new material — hormone therapy has led to a new voice coming from behind the drum kit. It’s been a feeling-out process — some of the band’s old material likely won’t be making future setlists because Botterman said he simply can’t sing them anymore — but the transition, after first being part of why the future was in doubt, has now given the band new life.

“I’m excited this time around because I’m just happy,” he said. “I’m just genuinely there, rather than pretending to be somebody else. And I was doing that for a long time. … The music was real, obviously. That will always transcend. But I just feel happier personally and I’m excited because I think that when we are one with ourselves, when we are being honest and truthful to who we are, everything we do is a manifestation of that — everything just kind of ripples out.”

For Aleppo

There are times a tragedy is too great, the violence too unspeakable, for me to make any sense of it. There is none. So I retreat in the ways Catholicism taught me to, to be quiet and solitary and, simply, to challenge myself to feel more deeply, not less.

This song, the only kind of prayer I’ve ever felt in my bones, gets me there.

For all the souls who lost their lives in Aleppo yesterday, last week, in the past year.

More Music: #mile4 #MileofMusic

It’s that time of year in Appleton, when hundreds of musicians flood the town for the Mile of Music festival and there is music happening everywhere from 10am until 2am and beyond, along with an assortment of galleries showing art, public murals, and even our very own shoe shine boy.

It’s an amazing time to be here, although I do like to warn people visiting that Appleton is not like this year-round.

Still, it’s about as close to perfect as three days can get. Here’s a little from USA Today about it. Honestly, I can’t recommend it more.

Masculine Women! Feminine Men!

I’m teaching a fun tutorial on pre Stonewall LGBTQ identities, and this old favorite showed up in an article about the queer identities in the ‘pansy craze’ of the 1920s. (There’s a great little track called “B.D. Woman’s Blues” by Louise Bogan – the “B.D.” stands for bull-dagger, if you’re wondering.)

Guest Author Peter Jacobs on Bowie

My friend Peter Jacobs wrote this cool piece about Bowie. I thought I’d share it for anyone interested.

Six days ago, something happened that I never even considered, not once. Never, ever even thought about it. Something so sudden and so unexpected that it felt as though the moon had just cracked into pieces and floated into the Sun, while we all stared in awe, open-mouthed, gawking, and feeling very small and vulnerable indeed.

David Bowie, the incredible, amazing, inspirational, creative, ground-breaking David Bowie, died.

The Timeless had finally run out of Time.

If you knew of, but didn’t love, admire, and respect David Bowie, now might be the right time to reconsider. If you barely or never heard of him, discover him now. You won’t regret it.

If you did love him, you could probably express nearly everything I’m about to say, a million times better. I can only do what I can do, which might not be much, but I’m certainly going to try.

I owe it to him.

Bowie had an incalculable influence on me. He has been present in the general background radiation of my life for as long as I can remember, pretty much. I was just a kid in the 70s, Bowie’s greatest decade. I wasn’t old enough to fully appreciate that body of work at the time, but I’ve never stopped absorbing, re-experiencing and re-interpreting it ever since. Of course, he’s done excellent work since then as well, including his most recent music, right up to his very last, released just two days before he passed. Yet the 70s albums hold a special significance for many, myself included (so those of you considering diving into his oeuvre for the first time and are wondering where to start, start there).

It’s daunting to even begin to describe the difference Bowie made, and for that reason, I promised myself I would keep this as succinct as possible. Let’s see if I stick to that promise.

I have an uncle who was of the perfect age and inclination to be captivated by the arresting shock of Ziggy Stardust, in 1972.   The Starman himself invigorated a generation of misfit kids who didn’t even know they were waiting for something, they just recognized when that something had arrived.  By the time I came along, that initial fervor had subsided, perhaps, but my uncle was still a fan, and Bowie was still putting out fantastic music, all of which was at my fingertips.

My uncle didn’t just passively allow me to paw through his collection; he deliberately exposed me to it. Thank goodness. He’d show me albums, put them on, answer my questions, play my requests. I have memories of pouring over my uncle’s records and being endlessly enthralled by the covers, the lyrics, the sounds, the feelings, the inexplicability of it all. There were a lot of albums, but my attention always came back to David Bowie.

The earliest I can ever remember experiencing “edginess” was with Bowie. He was so unlike anything or anybody else I had ever encountered that he was scary. Just genuinely, challengingly scary. Not in a RUN AWAY kind of way, rather, What is going on here? Is something happening to him? Is he crazy? What makes him act like that? Why does he move like that? Where is this coming from? Why do I feel so strange?? Even the way the camera moved in his videos, the angles of the shots, even that was strange.

Remember, I was just a little kid, perhaps seven, eight. But I’d like to think, I believe he’d have had a similar effect on me even if I’d been twenty-five, at the time.

He was scary in a way that made you want more. Scary in a way that made you want to figure it all out, although you realized you might never figure it out. He truly seemed alien, so different, not from here. Not from anywhere I knew, that was for sure.

Bowie affected you in so many ways, provoking the same odd, unusual sensations whether you were listening to his music, looking at his picture, or watching him in a video. So complete, so whole, so thorough an entity he seemed, you ceased to be aware he was performing. He was just being.

It was nearly impossible to believe that anybody even remotely like that could exist. But he did exist! He existed with a vengeance, with a vibrancy, vitality, and passion unmatched by virtually anyone.

I found that, ever since then, since those early days, consciously or otherwise I would forevermore compare other musicians I encountered to that template of David Bowie. It wasn’t necessarily direct, specific, imitative, point-by-point comparison, such as “Does he sound like Bowie? Does she also remind me of a space alien?” Rather, it was more “Is this great? Original? Challenging? Creative, resonant, vivid, complete?” Does it drive me to discover more, see more, feel more, want more, expect more? Does this force me to reconsider what is possible, and frighten me a little in the process?

At the age of twelve, I was introduced to new wave and punk. We called it new wave then, or new music, college radio, I think the term “alternative” was even sometimes used all the way back then. It was like finding affirmation, confirmation. It was absolutely a life-changing experience. There was a spirit of fun, adventure, excitement, creativity, and playfulness that other contemporary radio stations utterly lacked, and yes, I had been searching. Searching with no idea whatsoever if I’d ever find what I was looking for, not even entirely aware what I was looking for. I wanted music that moved me, in mind as much or more as in body. Only later did I fully realize I was looking for something more than just music.

Finding this window onto an alternate universe was nothing short of revelatory. Over time, I came to learn many if not all of my new heroes were inspired in various measures by David Bowie. Interview after interview, they all said basically the same thing: There was before, and then there was after. Bowie had changed their lives. These artists, in turn, changed mine.

Naturally, few individuals ever achieve such heights. Bowie set the bar so incredibly high that surely only someone superhuman such as he could ever come close. At the same time, no matter your shortcomings, it also made you want to try.

I will forever appreciate him for raising my standards, thereby enriching my life. It’s hard to settle for frozen fish sticks once you’ve had fresh lobster tails. Knowing there is something better, why accept the inferior? Why eat junk food when you could have nutrition?

Absorbing Bowie was like breathing pure, sweet air and feeling giddy from it, after previously and unwittingly sucking in smog. It was an overload of oxygen filtering through the brain and bloodstream, boiling away pollutants and causing an exhilarating sort of mental bends.

I do not mean to dismiss entirely the influence and inspiration of other artists, not by any means. The Beatles were in fact my very first intensely magical, mysterious music experience and I still cherish them beyond logic. When I was very little I would wake up some mornings, before anyone else in the house, just to have sole access to the turntable. I’d put on Beatles records with the volume set as low as possible so not to awaken anyone, and lie with my ear pressed against the speaker, devouring their sound and fusing it with my soul. Yet I was always aware the Beatles had already come and gone. In fact, they broke up within days of my birth. It mattered not, how fervently I desired for them to regroup. They were done. My love for the Beatles was always tinged with whatever sense of received nostalgia a seven year old could possibly feel, a longing for something just out of reach, unattainable no matter how immediate the experience was of dropping the needle on the record and listening, whenever I wanted.

Bowie, on the other hand, felt like now. Like mine. He was active, alive, intense, current. He was in the present, but was moving fast.

Looking back, almost as soon as I first felt the tremendous power of Bowie, I think I must have been seized by some kind of urgency, a form of desperation. I realized he, too, had already produced work dating back to before my existence, already passed through amazing phases that I had missed out on, and that whatever he was doing in the present would also soon slip away, out of my mental and emotional grasp. I also felt an indescribable envy that my uncle had seen him live, years before.

It seemed as if my eyes, my mind, my heart couldn’t possibly open wide enough to take in all the possibilities Bowie revealed and implied. I didn’t even have anywhere near the vocabulary, the tools, the concepts to describe what was happening inside me. I feel like I still barely do, all these decades later.

If we could say with words everything we felt, there’d be no need for music, would there?

I’m also very grateful I’m not using a manual typewriter, given the number of times I’ve already changed, deleted, edited, entirely re-written sections of this piece…. and how many more times I will before I consider it done.

It’s going to be difficult, I can tell, to decide when to consider this “done,” exactly. Five minutes after finishing, I’m sure I’ll have new thoughts, other memories, different feelings to fit in.

Of course it will be that way. That’s why I made that promise at the start, to do my very best to keep this as succinct as possible. Fortunately, I didn’t bet money on whether or not I’d keep that promise.

So let’s wrap it up then, shall we? Perhaps a simple ‘thank you’ will do.

Thank you, David Bowie. Thank you, David Jones. Thank you Thin White Duke, Ziggy, Cracked Actor, Man Who Sold the World, Lazarus…. thank you so much for everything. Too bad you didn’t turn out to be like that last namesake. I think the only person who wouldn’t have surprised me by coming back would have been you.

You didn’t turn out to be immortal like the Supermen of whom you sang. Honestly, it shakes me to my very core to know you’re actually, definitively gone.

So…in the end, you really were human after all.

Well you know what? I think that makes you even cooler.

Somehow, you’ve managed to become even more inspirational than you already were.

Look Up Here, I’m in Heaven

My wife told me this morning as she left for work & I still slept, and I fell back asleep, fell right into a dream where I was living in a tiny, crowded artists’ commune somewhere in the row houses of Pennsylvania on a steep slope where we had to hang the laundry to dry and there was this older man at the table with two different colored eyes and he made us promise we wouldn’t tell.

He is still & always will be at the table of every group of people imagining a more beautiful world.

 

 

 

 

Thanks from the weird kids, Mr. Bowie. We wouldn’t have had half a chance without you.

And these children that you spit on – as they try to change their worlds – are immune to your consultations – they’re quite aware of what they’re going through

His final video speaks volumes.

She’s The Woman I Married

There is something star-crossed about trans couples sometimes,” Boyd says when I meet up with her a few days later. “I was very much in love with my husband, and I will always miss being married to that person. The thing that helped me around it a little bit was realizing I was never married to him, I was married to somebody who looked like him and who I could project all that himness onto, but when I go back and look at our wedding photos, it’s like, ‘She was making such a valiant effort to look like a man, like a groom.’ I never married a guy, I married a woman.” – Helen Boyd

from New York magazine’s article “My Husband is Now My Wife” by Alex Morris, online today. 

#mileofmusic 3 Starts Today

I’m excited. This whole city becomes an entirely different place for four days – well, it really has for nearly the past month – so much music, so many more people, so much of everything. The 3rd Mile of Music has officially begun.

It’s a really great festival & I really really want to see more people come into town for it.

My picks? Artists I discovered previous years, like Charlie Parr and Swear & Shake and Pop Goes the Evil.

Groups I wanted to see last year but didn’t manage to: Bruiser Queen and The Noble Thiefs, for starters.

& Then all sorts of everything else. The best thing is just wandering down the Ave and wandering into places that music is wafting out of.

Help Holly Woodlawn

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.

Plucked her eyebrows on the way.

Shaved her legs and then he was a she.

She says, ‘Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side.’

– Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”

 

She’s fighting for her life in a hospital in LA and none other than Penny Arcade started a crowdfunding effort to allow Woodlawn to return home to die.

It achieved its goal of $50k already, but in case you want to be able to tell this trans elder she’s loved, this is your chance.

Mile 2, Day 2: #MileofMusic

Last year’s Mile of Music festival here in Appleton was such a huge success they’re doing it again and it started yesterday: I’ve already seen Charlie Parr (who knocked my socks off last year), Los Colognes (who reminded everyone of Dire Straits), Belle Adair (although I didn’t get to see their whole set) and some of Geri X, The Crowe Brothers, and Boom Forest.

Will be going to as much as I can today again: The Mutts most definitely, Swear and Shake (from Brooklyn!), Cereus Bright, Langhorne Slim, Bonesetters, Thriftones, Bruiser Queen, The Blakes, and maybe Pop Goes the Evil.

And no, I hadn’t heard of most of these bands, but I hadn’t heard of Those Darlins last year when I saw them and they became a permanent part of my music library.

“I Touch Myself” Becomes Breast Cancer PSA

The Divynyls’ Chrissy Amphlett died of breast cancer last year and she wanted her best known song to do some good. The song of female desire is now a song of self-care:

= why women rock, pt. 8010.

Trans as Adjective (really)

Really, a recent NPR music segment asked people to describe their life in 6 songs, and one of the people whose stories and choices they featured happens to be trans.

I love that there’s no other commentary besides the reflection on the part of the trans person who wrote, about the Beatles’ “Within You Without You” that “growing up transgender, it made me question my perception of reality (at age 12). And introduced me to Indian music.”

And that’s it, the only mention, with a lovely photo of her.

Journalists, this is how you do it, in case you’re wondering. A person’s trans identity should only be mentioned if it’s relevant to the trans person.

If I Had a Hammer…

… I’d want to use it just like Pete Seeger used his. In response to questions from HUAC (The House Unamerican Activities Committee), he said this:

“I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.”

He didn’t even plead the 5th, which he had the legal right to do and which many did.

I’ve never been a fan of folk music – I’m just not. But I’m awed and inspired by the lives of some of the remarkable men and women like Seeger who didn’t just sing about it – they lived it.

music.alt.xmas.cheer

Slicing Up Eyeballs Christmas Mix 2013 by Slicing Up Eyeballs on Mixcloud

Free Nelson Mandela

I’ve waited a bit to post this song & video because it’s so celebratory it didn’t seem quite right on the day of Mr. Mandela’s death, but now, maybe it’s time.

This song & video were recorded in 1985 and charted in the UK & was played heavily in Africa. It was most definitely a favorite of any ska fans, recorded as it was by “The Special AKA” – a group of people from The Specials and other ska bands of the time, bands who were intent not just on mixing musical styles but in making sure the bands themselves were diverse.

& It was always such a happy, inspiring, determined song.

It’s hard to explain what it was like the day I turned on the radio to hear some of my favorite DJs crying on the air with the good news that he had, in fact, finally been freed. They played it over & over & over again.

Along with this song by Jesus Jones, it’s one of the very few that really do put me right back in that time & place, but the two times, in some ways, so distinct: 1985 still awash in Reagan/Thatcher, & music was still great. By 1990 you could feel it was all changing: in some ways, “Right Here, Right Now” was the end of optimism, and the stage would soon be set for Nirvana & a much more cynical time. But first, of course, Mandela was freed, we’d optimistically elect Bill Clinton, and the Wall fell.

So in some senses, Mandela’s death after his years as South Africa’s president and as a world ambassador at the age of 95 is really unexpected — because in 1985, it seemed far more likely he would die in jail far short of his 95th birthday. The world is so much better off that he didn’t.

Godspeed Mr. Mandela.