LIFE HARVESTER #5: Song Repetition, Marilou Is Everywhere, Queercore Documentary, “I’m Almost 40”

Literally feels like 2019 just started and somehow in like 4 months it’s gonna feel like 2019 is never gonna end. Time sure is whacky. I’m almost 40 and I still haven’t gotten used to it. Some big news in the world of Life Harvester is that I got a P.O. Box (send mail to Life Harvester / P.O. Box 82551 / Pittsburgh, PA 15218) which means you can now send me your records and books and zines if you want me to write about them! Also if anyone wants to send me a copy of Fifth Column’s All Time Queen of the World LP, I recently realized that I gave mine away.

    Does anyone know if it’s possible to change a podcast’s name without starting from scratch in iTunes? I wanna change the name of mine and I can’t figure out how. ANYWAY last month’s guest was Shani Banerjee, a true Pittsburgh freak, who I had a great conversation with about growing up in the Bengali community here, going to bars with her bluegrass dad, escaping an abusive relationship in another country, finding catharsis in punk and metal. I was already a big fan of her band Empty Beings, and it was great to have this in-depth convo. Shani is so smart and so deeply engaged with all the work she does. If you haven’t already listen to the episode here.

     I know this is the kind of activity that would drive a lot of people completely mad, but sometimes when I’m really feeling a song I just wanna hear it over and over again for hours. There’s something about the repetition, getting to know every moment, that I really love. There’s also an effect after a dozen or so listens and creeping into the 30s and 40s where the song stops existing at all and just becomes like, a complex mantra. Intricate melodies and rhythms can turn into a drone if you hear them enough times in a row. This can be a bit of a perilous endeavor, though, because you run the risk of turning something you love into something you hate, or even worse, something you’re just sick of. I did this in 2016 with “Boy Problems” by Carly Rae Jepsen and it was only last year that I was able to listen to it again. I should also note that this is an activity that is ONLY appropriate to do with headphones on or in your car. Like tapping your fingers on a table, whatever makes sense about it to you is absolute torture to those around you. Be considerate. Here are some songs that I have done this with recently:

      Aldous Harding, “The Barrel” This is an instance where the algorithm really fucking got me. I didn’t know the first thing about Aldous Harding, but I kept getting these social media ads for her newest record that were a clip from a video of her dancing kinda funny in front of a bunch of white satin sheets, dressed in a weird outfit of like, a really tall, white, straw Holy Mountainhat, a black turtleneck dress with a white Elizabethan collar, and white club kid platforms. The shots are often really close on her face and she shuffle and snaps super awkwardly, but in a way that’s like “does this person know this is funny or is she just a true freak and thinks she looks cool?” Spoiler alert, I’m pretty sure she knows it’s funny AND she’s a true freak. Anyway, I finally clicked on it and the song is deeply my shit. There’s like a fingerpicked vortex happening on an acoustic guitar, constantly looping back in on itself, accompanied by sparse instrumentation that comes and goes (the first piano melody that drops in reminds me of somethingI just can’t place, but if you can figure it out and let me know I’ll mail you a picture of my dog) ultimately opening up into a breezy hook before it all start back up again. The words “millennial Vashti Bunyan” come to mind, and I realize that sounds pejorative, but I promise it’s not. I’ve listened to this song probably like 100 actual times and I still have no idea what fucking barrel she’s talking about.

     Young M.A. “Thotiana” Remix I heard this before I heard the Blueface original, and frankly prefer it. I’ve never had old washed opinions about “real rap”—that’s not rap they just repeat the same word; what happened to all the real lyricists; etc—but I have to admit I just don’t get Blueface. That song popped because the beat and hook are sick, and so we got this remix. I love M.A. because she’s so New York. She seems hard as fuck but always looks like she’s having so much fun. The fact that she raps “when I see her pussy I see the Bahamas” and it doesn’t sound corny says a lot. Also add this to the list of songs better than “Oochie Wally” that reference “Oochie Wally,” joining Busta’s verse on the Lumidee “Never Leave You” remix“Saggy Denim” by Princess Nokia, and most recently “Hot Girl” by Megan Thee Stallion. I’m sure there are more. The hook is undeniable, but can we all acknowledge in 2019 that “Oochie Wally” is embarrassing and Nas sounds like a grade school virgin bragging to older kids that he has sex in the worst possible way? This Young M.A. song is tight, is the point, though be forewarned there’s some v unfortch slut shaming.

      Honorable MentionsI don’t know if I have much to say about these songs, but I spent at least half a day this month listening to them on repeat: 2 Chainz ft. Gucci Mane “Good Drank” / Kranium “Nobody Has To Know” / Cold Beat “In Motion” / Davido “Fall” / Ms. Nina “Tu Sicaria”

    This book fucked me up. Full disclosure, the author, Sarah Elaine Smith, is a friend of mine and in a writing group with me here in Pittsburgh. I knew she was a writer when we initially met, but at the first meeting of the writing group she brought a short story that knocked all the rest of us on our asses and that’s when I realized she was a Real Writer. We traded books when she got her galleys and I sat on it for a minute just in case it wasn’t good, because that would be awkward, and then when I finally dug in I read it all in one go.
     Like many works of fiction I enjoy, Marilou Is Everywhere examines the consequences of sexism, racism, intergenerational trauma on the lives of women and girl, the way that violence can turn people cruel. It also imagines a world in which women are able to triumph—spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, sexually—despite the catastrophic obstacles they are forced to navigate. There are echoes of Cara Hoffman’s brilliant So Much Pretty in Marilou’s discussion of both the ways violence against women impacts the social world of small towns and the class conflict inherent in urban leftists resettling in established rural communities.
     I feel pretty confident in asserting that even if Sarah wasn’t my friend, I would have enjoyed this novel. I like fiction that makes me uncomfortable. I like fiction that addresses the ugly facts of the world but still seems to imagine that it can be better. I like fiction where violence (or the specter of violence) is present but not mesmerizing, not romantic. I like fiction that describes how teenage boredom and teenage desire fit hand in hand so neatly, how the claustrophobic powerlessness of youth can express itself as an urge to destroy. Sarah Elaine Smith is an immense talent who I’m proud to call a friend, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
     My favorite sentence: “I was reading the names of lipsticks in a catalog and imagining what I would like to do while wearing each one.”

      Queercore was a subgenre of punk, organized around shared or overlapping sexual identity, rather than musical similarity, with it’s roots in the punk scenes of Toronto, SF, and Olympia in the late-80s and early-90s. I can vividly remember sitting in my adolescent bedroom spinning Mukilteo Fairies’ Special Rites ep and The Third Sex s/t 7” back to back for hours; listening to the Outpunk Dance Party tape on my Walkman on the bus home from 8thgrade; reading the Chainsaw Records message board but being too scared to post. I was too young to be an active part of this scene, but have always felt a kinship with and connection to it, so when I heard about this documentary by Yony Leyser I was thrilled.  
     The thesis of this film is so fucking sick. Basically G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce, who coined the term homocore, which later morphed into queercore, say there was no gay punk scene, they just pretended there was in their fanzines and films and it struck a chord with people all over the country. “It felt like life or death to me,” Team Dresch’s Jody Bleyle recounts. “I felt like if I couldn’t find some dykes to play music with… I couldn’t imagine living. It was really simple: we said what we needed to hear and we did what we wanted to see.” This reminder that the simple power of yearning can manifest in such world-changing ways feels SO important to me. Sometimes you can just will the things you need into existence by just desiring them hard enough.
     There’s tons of interview footage with LaBruce, Jones, and Bleyle, as well as Lynne Breedlove, Justin Vivian Bond, and a ton more weirdos and deviants which is all such a joy to watch. Mykel Board, punk rock’s Milo Yianopolous, is in there a bunch, and that’s stupid because I thought we were all finally rid of his dumb ass opinions when he got fired from MRR.As far as I remember the only people of color in the film are still photos, not live interview subjects, and I wish that was different because it’s really important to highlight the impact and participation of non-white people in countercultural movements that have been previously historicized as White People Shit. Giving a platform to critiques by the POC who participated in those very same movements makes the conversation more nuanced, more productive, and frankly more interesting. The ending of the film is a little too feel good and tidy, but if you’ve read my book (don’t) you know I’m guilty of that same bullshit so who am I to judge? 
   At the end of the day whatever it’s shortcomings this movie is DEF worth renting for $2 on vimeo so you can see a bunch of cool queers who made it to middle age reminiscing about when they were young and also so you can remember you once owned a copy of All Time Queen of the World by Fifth Column with the hand colored cover that you got for like five bucks at Academy because barely anyone used discogs back then and also no one cared about Fifth Column and then you gave it to Sweet Tooth when you were Marie Kondoing your record collection because you thought he’d appreciate it more than you (which he did) and now you have to buy a new one.

     Last October I was in New York and did some podcast interviews while I was there. When I sat down to edit them I realized that in multiple instances I had casually said “I’m 36 years old,” when in fact, I was still 35 and just turned 36 this past February. I’ve often played fast and loose with facts, but this is the first time I can recall where I didn’t seem to actually know my own age.
      Anyway, the other day I helped my friend Joey move and then afterwards he bought me a chicken parm. While we were eating I was describing some moment of consternation I had experienced, and as a way to emphasize what I was yammering about I said “AND I’M ALMOST 40!” My friend said “really?” and I was like “yeah, I mean, I’m 36, which is closer to 40 than anywhere else I’ve been.” This seemed to satisfy him even though it didn’t really make sense.
     The point is that ever since I broke the seal on “almost 40”ing, I can’t stop and lemme tell you something: I LOVE IT. Like when I’m at the dog park and I’m making small talk with someone and they ask me why I’m limping and I say I pulled a muscle at the kickboxing gym and then I say “I just started three weeks ago. What was I thinking? My body can’t handle this shit, I’m almost 40.” Or in an AA meeting, “I can count the number of years I’ve been brushing my teeth regularly on one hand, and I’m almost 40.” Etc. I like the simultaneous air of gravitas and self-deprecation it lends to things I say.

     A monthly advice segment, in which your questions are answered by me, an asshole. If you'd like to submit a question to ASK A SHMUCK, you can simply respond to this email.

Dear Shabby,
    What are pros/cons of getting a partner to move to a city for you?
-Bored With Cowards (Like Björk)

Dear BWC(LB),
     I’ve never gotten a partner to move for me, but I moved across the country to live with Becca. I was ready to pack the uhaul on our second date, but I lived in New York (where she was visiting), and she lived in Texas. We continued to see each other long distance, but after a little over three months I put most of my stuff in storage and the rest of it in the back of my station wagon and I sang along to “Oui” by Jeremih on repeat for 30 hours while I drove from NYC to ATX. 
     Though I’d never lived outside the New York metropolitan area, I spent a substantial amount of time travelling when I was younger and I assumed I knew how to acclimate to a new city. Turns out sleeping under the stairs at the punk house for three weeks as a single, wasted, twenty-something, borderline oogle is MUCH different than moving in with a monogamous partner as a sober thirty-two year old. For starters, the ambient friend-making that occurs while people are all going out trying to get laid is an immense social resource that I had never considered. Also, moving into an apartment with your girlfriend and her roommate is a lotdifferent than sleeping in the common space at a punk house because in the former case group hanging out is something that has to be planned and doesn’t happen organically. We all know the platitudes about making new friends in your 30s and while some of that is heteronormative bullshit, some of it is true! I’m just busier!
     I went into my first cross-country move a completely naïve fool and the reality of it hit me hard. My first year in Austin I had a really hard time adjusting. Despite the fact that I was ready to leave New York and had been daydreaming about it since before Becca and I started dating. Despite the fact that I was (and still am) madly in love with the person I moved for. Despite the fact that I was mentally healthier and had my shit more together than ever before in my life. Inevitably, there were moments where I was sad and lonely, and I started to resent Becca “making me move.” This wasn’t fair, but it happened, and the best defense against those feelings of resentment taking seed and festering was to remind myself that it was my decision. That it was something I really wanted. 
     And so that’s why I’m sticking on the word “getting” in this letter. “Getting someone to move” sounds like that person needs to be goaded, and that seems like a recipe for disaster to me. If I had moved to Texas with anything short of clear eyes and a full heart, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to weather that. 
     I think the pros are many: you get to see each other every day if you want, no more buying expensive plane tickets or taking lengthy bus rides. Just like making friends and socializing can feel different as you get older, being in a LDR in your 30s can sometimes feel like too much work. When Becca was reading this over for line edits (which she does every issue, praise be) she left me this note: “one important pro you leave out is the reason we decided for you to move so early in our relationship—that for Grown And Busies like ourselves, it's nearly impossible to figure out if you really want to be together in a long distance relationship. The ultimate pro is that you really get to be together and thus to see if the relationship works, which, of course, it may not.” 
     But in my estimation the main con—that if someone needs to be talked into making such a major decision the likelihood that they will grow to resent you if that decision doesn’t pan out the way they imagined increases exponentially—eclipses any of those.