Tag Archives: music

Bush X – Lady Music III, 90s Edition

16 Mar

Because bushes. And X chromosomes. And 90s bands. Get it? No but DO YOU GET IT?

This is the third instalment of the women in music series that my friend Nathan and I are doing.

You can find part I here and part II here.

1. No Doubt – Just A Girl

Possibly every girl-of-a-certain-age’s first feminist anthem? Or at the very least, listening to this was perhaps the first time that many of us questioned society’s treatment of us, and the ways in which we saw ourselves. I mean, come on, these lyrics:

‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me 
Don’t let me out of your sight 
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite 
So don’t let me have any rights


2. Jale – Ali

From the days when Halifax was referred to as the Seattle of the east. Because of their music scene, not because they unleashed a chain of ubiquitous coffee shops on the world. Anyway, I had this Jale cd when I was fourteen and I thought it made me the coolest person ever because no one else in my school had ever heard of them. Yeah, I was a hipster before it was cool.

3. The Cranberries – Zombie

Everyone I went to school with thought this song was about the first world war (because of the reference to 1916 I guess?) but it turned out it was actually about Ireland’s Easter Rising. And then I made the mistake of asking my Irish grandfather about the Easter Rising and that ended about as well as you could imagine. So, thanks for that, Cranberries?

4. Hole – Olympia

This song taught me about the futility of trying to be an individual among a sea of people who are also trying to be individuals.

To wit:

When I went to school in Olympia
Everyone’ss the same
And so are you in Olympia
Everyone is the same
We look the same, we talk the same, yeah
We even fuck the same

Even non-conformists end up conforming to something.

Ah, the life lessons I have learned from Courtney Love.

5. The Cardigans – My Favourite Game

As a bitterly contrary teenager, I was determined not to like The Cardigans because they were popular, and I eschewed all things popular. I mean, they had a song – the song, really – on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Leonardo DiCaprio was in that movie. Obviously I couldn’t like them.

But then, damn them, they won me over with their sweet pop sensibilities and adorable voices. And then I realized that cardigans were, like, my favourite item of clothing ever. And I even learned to love Leo. So. Looks like a win for everyone involved.

6. Jewel – Morning Song

Ah, the song that introduced a generation of girls to Anaïs Nin.

I wish I could explain to you the look on the librarian’s face as my fourteen year old self checked out House of Incest.

7. Juliana Hatfield – Ugly



8. Sneaker Pimps – 6 Underground

This was the kind of band that 90s teenagers took enormous delight in, at least in part because when their parents asked who that sweet girl was that they were listening to, they could smugly answer, “The Sneaker Pimps.”

And then your parents would be like, “Excuse me, the sneaker whats?” you would be like, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME OR MY ART.”

The Sneaker Pimps. I mean, man. They don’t make band names like that anymore.

Their music was pretty great, too.

9. Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains

One of the great anthems of the depressed, disaffected youth.

Oh how my Prozac-popping teenage self loved these lyrics:

I’m only happy when it rains 
I feel good when things are going wrong 
I only listen to the sad, sad songs 
I’m only happy when it rains 

I only smile in the dark 
My only comfort is the night gone black 
I didn’t accidentally tell you that 
I’m only happy when it rains

I mean fuck yeah I only smiled in the dark! Fuckers.

10. The Breeders – Cannonball

I was ten when this song came out.

I believe it was the first time I’d ever heard of bongs and reggae.

Not to mention libertines.

Music is good for your vocabulary.

11. Lisa Loeb – Stay

I wish I could put every frigging song from Lisa Loeb’s Nine Stories on this list because goddamn I loved that stupid, shitty album. The lyrics were laughably terrible (at one point she sings, “your hair falls soft like animals,” and even my clueless 13 year old self knew that was embarrassingly bad), sonically she was pretty boring, but man did I ever love her. Part of it was that she was one of the first people to make Girls Who Wear Glasses cool and cute. And she loved cats! And was friends with Ethan Hawke! In New York City!! I mean, she was basically everything I wanted to be in life, except that I wanted to be able to write words that didn’t make pubescent girls cringe.

12. The Innocence Mission – Bright As Yellow

Is there a more quintessentially 90s movie than Empire Records? I mean, that is a rhetorical question because we all know that the answer is no. Empire Records is basically the entire decade summed up in a delightful 90 minute package about sticking it to the man and shaving your head. Not only that, but it introduced me to this delightful little song. I dare you to listen to it and not get even just a little bit teary-eyed with nostalgia. I MEAN COME ON REMEMBER WHEN THEY DANCED ON THE ROOF AT THE END? YOUR TWEEN SELF THOUGHT LIFE WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THAT. AND IT’S NOT. SO BOW DOWN AND WEEP.

13. Mazzy Star – Into Dust

Forget everything you think you know about this song. Forget about the terrible sex you had with your first boyfriend while it played on a loop. Forget about how your sixteen year old self put it on a mix cd she made after said boyfriend broke up with her and then listened to it until she couldn’t stand it anymore. Forget that it was used in that one episode of The O.C. where they go to Tijuana – coincidentally the episode where you realized Summer was adorable and hilarious and actually way too good for Seth Cohen. Forget every association you have with this song, close your eyes, and really listen to it as if you’re hearing it for the first song.

You guys, this song is basically perfect.

14. Indigo Girls – Romeo and Juliet

Hey remember when everyone told you that listening to the Indigo Girls would turn you into a lesbian? But then you did anyway, in secret, and then you had a sex dream about that one really hot blond girl in your biology class (who, by the way, is now a professional Marilyn Monroe impersonator) and you were pretty sure that it wasn’t because of the Indigo Girls but you could never actually be sure?

Anyway, here they are covering my favourite Dire Straits song which is just way too many things that I love all at once.


15. Bikini Kill – I Like Fucking

Because I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe

16. Sleater-Kinney – Call the Doctor

Hands down the best song to shout along to when you are drunk and fucked up with your girlfriends. Because they DO want to socialize you and purify it and GODDAMN IT YOU ARE NOT GOING TO STAND FOR THAT SHIT.

I know they were kinda problematic and for sure not inclusive enough but fuck I miss the Riot Grrrl movement. RIOTS NOT DIETS.

17. Liz Phair – Fuck and Run

You will never be as cool as Liz Phair. Neither will I. It’s probably for the best if we all just accept that reality right now.

I remember listening to this song when I was what, 12? And thinking about the future day when I would be bad-ass enough to have one night stands and all that shit. Cut to ten years later where my first “one night stand” winds up being with the dude I will someday marry.


18. Fiona Apple – Criminal

This is the song everyone loved to hate or, conversely, hated to love. It’s annoying as fuck but SO GODDAMN CATCHY.

Anyway, this song will probably now be in your head for the rest of forever, so you’re welcome I guess.

19. Tori Amos – Me and a Gun

Tori Amos was hands-down the most important musician for me during my formative years. I spent hours and hours and hours locked in my room blasting her music on my shitty old tape player, until my mother would tell me that no one wanted to hear my sad woman music anymore at which point I would sulkily plug in my headphones, lie down on my back and stare up at the fairies I’d attempted to paint on my venetian blinds.

Me and a Gun is one of the hardest fucking songs to listen to, but also one of the most important for me and, I suspect, quite a few other people. She is singing about her experience of being raped. She is singing this beautiful, acoustically stripped-down song about being raped after a show by a man who had been in the audience. She is singing about having a gun pointed at her and being forced to have sex. And her strength in this song is raw and empowering and beautiful. This is the song I want everyone who makes stupid Tori Amos jokes to listen to, because fuck man. This song. This song takes guts.

20. Natalie Merchant – My Skin

There was a time – like, most of my teenage years and my early twenties – when I truly thought that my body was this foul, ugly, untouchable thing. I was convinced that anyone who saw me with my clothes off would immediately lose their lunch. I hated everything about myself – my greasy skin, my crooked face, the way my stomach stuck out, the way I smelled, the hair that was all over my body, everything. Everything.

Whenever I would start dating someone, I would think that I’d somehow tricked them into it, or that they had incredibly low self-esteem or something. And I would spend the entire relationship waiting for them to figure out how disgusting I actually was. The first time anyone ever went down on me I tensed up and started crying because I felt so badly about my body. The poor guy (also a virgin) had no fucking clue what he’d done wrong, and I didn’t have the vocabulary or bravery to explain it to him. AWKWARD. Shortly after that he broke up with me, saying that things are changed. I was sure it was because my vagina was so repellent that he never wanted to be within a ten foot radius of it ever again. Man, being young is the fucking worst. Needless to say, being in my thirties and being comfortable in my skin and with my sexuality is pretty fucking rad and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Anyway. I basically I thought this song was about me.

21. Sixpence None The Richer – Kiss Me

This is, like, every smart, sentimental, Tennyson-reading teenager’s dream song. If Anne Shirley had been alive in the 90s and in a cute indie band, this is the song she would have written (except then the line would have been, “you wear those shoes I will wear that puff-sleeved dress”). This song is so twee and adorable that you feel like you should hate it, but PSYCH YOU DON’T.

There is no explaining why you love this song; you just do.

22. Natalie Imbruglia – Torn

Ah, the music video that made me cut off all my hair and realize that a cute bob looks really fucking good on me.

23. Brandy & Monica – The Boy Is Mine


24. TLC – No Scrubs

A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly
And is also known as a buster
Always talkin’ about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass

A scrub is basically a Nice Guy™ who wants to know why you are friendzoning him. Also he wears a fedora and loves Richard Dawkins. He is certain that he is somehow entitled to a relationship with you, based entirely on how awesome and special he is. As always, TLC are full of excellent advice: RUN, LADIES.

25. Bran Van 3000 – Drinking In LA

What the hell am I doing not drinking in LA at 31?


26. Lauryn Hill – Doo-Wop (That Thing)

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the best, most important albums to come out in the 90s or maybe ever.

Fuck I miss Lauryn Hill, you guys.

27. Queen Latifah – Living Single theme song

Nathan insisted we include this song.

Maybe just don’t ask why.

28. Elastica – Waking Up

I was, like, a HUGE Blur fan when I was in my early teens, so I was sort of contractually obligated to like Elastica. Because, you know, Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn were a thing.


29. Salt-N-Pepa – Shoop and Push It

When discussing which Salt-N-Pepa song to include, this conversation happened:

Me: which salt n pepa song?

Nathan: Are you fucking kidding me?

Me: … no?

Nathan: Shoop!

Nathan: Or Push It.

Nathan: Fuck!

Nathan: No, Shoop.

Nathan: …

Nathan: …

Nathan: I think.


Nathan: Well it is definitely between those two.

Nathan: I’m asking my sister her opinion.

Then Nathan’s sister went rogue and said that Let’s Talk About Sex was the best Salt-N-Pepa song and we were like DAMN IT SHE’S RIGHT, TOO.
So we give you all three songs, because we just couldn’t choose:



30. Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2U



St. Jude’s Home For The Nasty (Lady Songs Part II)

10 Mar

You can find part one here

Title inspired by this Hark A Vagrant comic

26. Janet Jackson – Nasty

27. Solange – Losing You

28. M.I.A. – Pull Up The People

29. The Knife – Heartbeats

30. Poliça – Leading To Death

31. Charli XCX – You’re The One

32. The Organ – I’m Not Surprised

33. Friends – I’m His Girl

34. Worriers – Cruel Optimist

35. Anna Calvi – Blackout

36. Rilo Kiley – Wires and Wave

37. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps

38. Tegan and Sara – You Wouldn’t Like Me

39. Grimes – Rosa

40. Frankie Rose and the Outs – Little Brown Haired Girls

41. Eleanor Friedberger – My Mistakes

42. Zola Jesus – Lightsick

43. Florence + The Machine – You Got The Love

44. Daughter – Landfill

45. Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow

46. El Perro Del Mar – God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)

47. Alabama Shakes – Hold On

48. Neko Case – Man

49. Giant Drag – This Isn’t It

50. Lissie – Pursuit of Happiness (Kid Cudi cover)

Lady Songs Part I

9 Mar

Nathan and I were sending each other favourite songs this morning. This is a thing that we do fairly often – pretty much anytime one of us thinks of something the other should listen to, and then it’s impossible to avoid the rabbit hole that is Songs Nathan Knows – but today we were only sending songs with female vocalists, in honour of International Women’s Day.

And then I had a genius idea.


Me: Pleeeeeeaaaaasssse

Nathan: I think I can manage that, but we have to include an Against Me! song.

We were originally aiming for fifty songs, but we somehow ended up with nearly three times that number. So you get SIX DAYS worth of posts about lady music instead of just one. Aren’t you lucky?

But why songs sung by women? I mean, International Women’s Day aside, what’s the appeal?

Personally, I’ve always preferred female musicians, probably at least in part because it’s easier for me to sing along with them. I’m also far more likely to identify with what they’re singing about – I’m a sucker for a good song about struggling to get through tough times, or a weepy hymn to heartbreak, or an empowering lady anthem. There’s something else, though, about a woman’s voice that’s hard to articulate. It gets right down into you, and it’s hard to shake loose. Women’s voices have teeth.

Nearly all of my earliest musical memories are of female musicians. My father had an extensive record collection, and I found my first favourites there – singers like Tracy Chapman, Cyndi Lauper and Michelle Shocked. I memorized all the lyrics to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and my parents found it hilarious that I sang, “I wanna feel the heap with somebody,” instead of “I wanna feel the heat with somebody.” Listening to music meant time with my father, and it was an activity that he took very seriously. To this day, I can count on one hand the number of people who listen to music as thoughtfully and as deeply as he did – my grandfather is one of them, and Nathan is another. Even I’m not on this list because, as much as I love music, I don’t seem to have quite the same ability to become as thoroughly absorbed in a song as they do.

Listening to music with my father was a sort of transcendent experience. He always had a stick of incense burning while we listened, so my memories of these times are all wrapped up in a thick, sweet, smoky smell. His record player was in the basement, so it was always cool and dim, a perfect sonic atmosphere. I would watch reverently as my father placed the record on the turntable and carefully placed the needle. The two of us would sit in silence through the static hiss of the first few seconds, and then once the music came on we were immediately both lost in it. I think that listening to music was the closest my father, a lifelong atheist, ever came to having a religious experience.

Here are the first twenty five songs. Enjoy!

1. Haim – The Wire

2. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

3. Howling Bells – Low Happening

4. Torres – Moon & Back

5. Marnie Stern – Every Single Line Means Something

6. Le Tigre – Deceptacon

7. Blonge RedHead – Falling Man

8. Lykke Li – Sadness Is A Blessing

9. Yuna – I Wanna Go

10. Waxahatchee – Dixie Cups and Jars

11. Heartless Bastards – Mountain

12. Dum Dum Girls – Coming Down

13. St. Vincent – Save Me From What I Want

14. Russian Red – Cigarettes

15. London Grammar – Wasting My Young Years

16. Joan As Police Woman – How Come You’re Solid Gold

17. CHVRCHES – Recover

18. Bat For Lashes – Prescilla

19. Azure Ray – Scattered Like Leaves

20. Coeur De Pirate – Place de la République

21. Postiljonen – All That We Had Is Lost

22. Broadcast – Subject To The Ladder

23. Lianne La Havas – No Room For Doubt

24. EMA – California

25. Slow Club – Beginners


Pete Seeger, or How Teenagers Listen To Music

29 Jan

I’ve had a weirdly emotional reaction to Pete Seeger’s death. Like, way more intense than I would have imagined. I mean, he was 94, right? That’s a good run. A really good run. And I haven’t listened to his music in years and years. Maybe not really – not seriously, anyway – since I was a teenager, back in the days when I wore daisy chains in my long, ratty hair and fancied myself to be some sort of hippie. Later, I abandoned him when I grew what I thought was a more sophisticated taste in music; his stuff started to seem too plain, too openly earnest, too babyish.

Today, though, I’ve been listening to his songs non-stop, and nearly every single one of them has made my eyes well up. These days, I’m all about plain and openly earnest. I’ll take someone who really means what they’re singing over the clever kid with the hollow, dead-eyed lyrics any day.

I guess I’ve always loved Pete Seeger; at the very least, I’ve been listening to his songs my entire life. When I was a little kid we sang “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” in Brownies and Girl Guides. When I was a bit older I liked “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “If I Had A Hammer”. As a pretentious teenager who loved all things indie and underground, I fell in love with “Guantanamera” after it was used in Don McKellar’s 1998 film Last Night.

Last Night takes place during the final six hours of the world, which is about to end in a very polite Canadian apocalypse. The movie follows various story lines of characters, their paths often crossing and re-crossing, trying to make their last moments significant (or not). Sandra Oh plays a woman who’s desperately trying to get home to her husband, having gone out to buy the guns that they’re going to kill each other with just before the end comes – a sort of fuck you to the current circumstances, a way of taking control of their own deaths. But she can’t get home, because people are rioting in the streets, so she winds up at the apartment of a man played by Don McKellar. She asks to kill (and be killed) in lieu of her husband, as a way of keeping her word to him even if she can’t be with him. He agrees. And so the movie ends with them on his patio, guns pressed against each others’ heads, waiting until the last possible moment to pull the trigger. “Guantanamera” plays in the background.

But instead of shooting each other, they lower their hands, lean in, and kiss. And that too is a form of resistance, a way of saying fuck you to their circumstances.

And then the sun flares into an obliterating white, and everything stops.

I can’t watch it without crying. Still. Sixteen years later.

That scene might have been my first lesson in the ways that protest and resistance can look so different from how we might imagine them. It also may have been the first time I really understood that just because you know that there’s no possible way out, you still need to go down fighting.

Those were things that I learned from Pete Seeger’s music, too.

When I was a teenager, all music held some sort of lesson. I listened to music differently back then, in a way that seems uncomfortable, maybe almost painful now. There was an intensity of focus, a dizzying, full-body absorption that is almost totally lacking now. I studied songs that I loved as if they were going to be on the final exam; I learned them backwards and forwards, parsed their lyrics for meaning (especially meaning that seemed to apply specifically to my life), wrote them out over and over in the margins of my schoolwork. I lived those songs in a way that I just don’t anymore. I’m not sure when this stopped – sometime in my early twenties, I would guess – and I miss it. But maybe you just can’t sit with that kind of emotional intensity forever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that kids – teenagers especially – listen to music. And it’s almost like at that age, we listen as a way of learning how to interpret the world around us. Pop songs are, for teenagers, a sort of crash-course in understanding major life events that they haven’t yet experienced. I’d heard hundreds of songs about heartbreak before I ever had my heart broken; I’d listened to songs about death, about war, about inequality and resistance and protest long before actually living through those things. I sang along with songs about love, about its joys and its frightening fragility, years before falling in love. And so maybe that’s where the intensity comes from – we’re studying these three minute lessons packed full of unknown and highly romanticized human experiences, wanting so badly to know just exactly how they will feel when they finally happen to us.

When I was a teenager, I thought every song was about me. Even the ones I didn’t understand.

Pete Seeger’s songs seemed to be about me, too. Or at least about the great things that I would do – stand up against injustice, lead the charge against the oppressors, save the world. I wanted to be the girl who walked up to the line of soldiers, their guns, cold and oiled and gleaming, pointed straight at her, calmly offering them a daisy. I wanted to be so unafraid, even though I couldn’t imagine a time when I wasn’t always afraid of something or other.


And maybe I am that girl now, just a little bit. And if that’s true, then it’s at least in part because of songs, like the songs of Pete Seeger, and theatre and art and literature and oratory that have stirred my stupid sluggish soul and made me believe that I could and should be doing something more than I am. Because that’s the magic of Seeger’s music – that it can create community where there was none before, move the crowd to action, and actually affect change.

Music, if properly wielded, can start a revolution.

And maybe tonight I’m listening again with that same intensity that I used to have. And maybe I’m learning all over again about subjects that I know nothing about; subjects that yesterday I might have thought I was some sort of expert in.

So thank you, Pete, for all the revolutions, big and small, that you are responsible for. Thank you for the big thoughts framed in simple rhymes and simple chords. Thank you for the music you gave to the labour rallies, the civil rights movement, the anti-war protests. Thank you for reminding us that sometimes the written word can be ten times as powerful than a punch or a kick or a bullet. Thank you especially for your earnestness, because these days what I want more than anything is to be earnest. Thank you.

I hope it’s warm and peaceful wherever you. I hope that it’s dark, and that you’re finally able to take your rest. You’ve more than earned it.

This machine surrounds hate - Pete Seeger's banjo-8x6

Maybe You Dance

3 Jun

I spend a lot of time thinking about intolerance and the various things that I do to combat it. I mean, that’s what a lot of this blog is supposed to be, right? I’m trying, in my own small way, to fight against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other isms and phobias that people, even nice people, even good people, throw at each other. And I think that I do an okay job for the most part, but it’s easy to fight this battle online, isn’t it? I mean, comparatively. Sure, the relative anonymity of the internet tends to bring out the absolute worst in people, and I’ve been told all kinds of awful things, some of which have hurt pretty badly. I’ve been told that I’m a waste of oxygen, that I should kill myself, and there have been a whole litany of comments, tweets and even entire blog posts by other people dedicated to what a terrible mother I am, and yeah, that sucks, but still.

Being a loudmouth who speaks out against hate on the internet very rarely results in physical violence.

Being a loudmouth who speaks out against hate in the real world is much more likely to result in broken bones, a smashed up face or even worse.

And I’m not saying that online threats or mean comments aren’t scary, because they definitely are, but also when it all gets to be too overwhelming I can just shut off my computer and walk away. But raising my voice publicly, in the middle of, say, a crowded bar full of drunken bigots, doesn’t afford me that same luxury.

There was, in fact, a crowded bar full of drunken bigots last night. And maybe this is a fairly normal occurrence – what do I know, I’m in bed by ten most nights, and when I do go out it’s to one of the genteel pubs in my genteel neighbourhood. And probably these guys are really super nice guys in real life, not the kind of guys to yell “faggots!” at a bunch of guys just because their band isn’t playing whatever kind of music it is they want to hear. I mean, unless they’re out late at night and it’s someone’s birthday and they’re all drunk, belligerent and three seconds away from a brawl with any given person that they encounter on the cramped dance floor.

So what do you do? What exactly do you do if you’re in this bar, and you hear people yelling the word faggot, and you’re sure that saying something, anything will result in getting punched in the face? What do you do if that’s your friend, or at the very least the friend of your friend, on stage, playing his bespectacled, skinny jean-clad heart out? Seriously, what the fuck do you do?

If you’re me, apparently you sit there grimacing and whispering to the girl next to you, demanding to know where the fuck all these terrible drunk dudes came from. If you’re me, you hunker down in your seat, and hope they don’t come anywhere near you. If you’re me, you hope that if they do make their way over to you, they somehow manage to keep their hands to themselves.

If you’re me, you die a little inside when you think about how you’re totally not standing up for what you believe in, and you hate yourself for being a coward.

And if you’re my friend Nathan, you get up and dance.

You get up, you stand dead centre in front of the stage, and you fucking dance to the spastic beat of the music.

For reasons that I can’t fully articulate, what happened last night was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen. There was just something really lovely about seeing my friend standing there, trying to figure out how to move to the pseudo-eighties synthesizer amazingness coming from the stage. And as weird as this sounds, there was something both aggressive and earnestly affectionate about his body language as he danced – aggressive towards all the assholes behind him who were now demanding that the band play Wonderwall, and affectionate towards his friends onstage, who were trying their best to ignore what was going on. And Nathan just stood there, as steady and unmovable as a rock. And it was really, really nice.

And I got up and joined him, and so did a few other people, and the drunk assholes slowly backed off.

Afterwards, Nathan said to me, “I just didn’t want Drew to have to look out and have to see all those douchebags. I wanted there to be at least one friendly face out there.”

I’m glad he had the instinct to get up and dance, because I definitely didn’t. Maybe I only know how to fight with words, and when I feel like I can’t do that, I’m at a total loss. Or maybe I should be more willing to risk my personal safety for the stuff that I believe in. Regardless, I’m glad that he got up, because I think that it was the best thing that anyone could have done in that situation.

And, in the future, I really want to be able to remember that there are other ways of fighting intolerance besides my usual bag of tricks. Sometimes you can do it by standing there alone and, with great purpose and love, just fucking dancing like there’s no tomorrow.


The Saddest Songs

22 Jan

Here is a list of the saddest songs in the history of ever, according to my Facebook friends. I am recording it here for posterity and also as a handy reference for the next time I need to listen to sad music and cry forever (so, tomorrow, then).

So! Here we go, in no particular order. Well, in the order they appeared on my Facebook. That’s a type of order, I GUESS.

1. Wilco – Venus Stop The Train

2. Tori Amos – Icicle

3. Tori Amos – Northern Lad

4. Nine Inch Nails – 30 Ghosts

5. Godspell Cast – By My Side

6. Goo Goo Dolls – Iris

7. Elliott Smith – Waltz #2

8. Coldplay – The Scientist

9.  Ben Folds – Fred Jones

10. Jump Little Children – Cathedrals

11. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

12. Most things by Nick Cave

13. This Mortal Coil – You And Your Sister

14. Holly Golightly –  Tell Me Now So I Know

15. Samuel Barber – Adagio For Strings

16. Most things by Blue Rodeo

17. Ben Folds – Red Is Blue

18. Michael Jackson – Little Susie

19. Most things by Dashboard Confessional

20. Counting Crows – Long December

21. Nine Inch Nails – Hurt

22. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

23. Johnny Cash – Hurt

24. Pat Benatar – Hell Is For Children

25. Ugly Kid Joe – Cats In The Cradle

26. Moby – Wait For Me

27. Moby – Pale Horses

28. Holly Cole – Take Me Home

29. Holly Cole – Cry If You Want To

30. Holly Cole – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

31. Any version of Gloomy Sunday

32. Big Star – Give Me Another Chance

33. Bright Eyes – Shell Games

34. Lisa Germano – Wood Floors

35. Ani DiFranco – Both Hands

36. The National – Exile, Vilify

37. Johnny Mandel – Suicide Is Painless

38. Ani DiFranco – School Night

39. Maria Mena – Sorry

40. The Spill Canvas – All Hail The Heartbreaker

41. Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah

42. Joel Plaskett – Cry Together

43. Joel Plaskett – Blinding Light

44. Eric Clapton – Tears In Heaven

45. The Good Life – Album Of The Year

46. The Weepies – World Spins Madly On

47. Weezer – Only In Dreams

48. Death Cab For Cutie – I’ll Follow You Into The Dark

49. The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site

50. Hayden – Damn This Feelings

51. The White Stripes – We Are Going To Be Friends

52. The Beatles – I’ll Follow The Sun

53. Bill Withers – Better Off Dead

54. John Lennon – Mother

55. Kanye West – Runaway

56. Kanye West – Blame Game

57. El-P – The Overly Dramatic Truth

58. Tori Amos – Spark

59. Tori Amos – Playboy Mommy

60. Kimya Dawson – Walk Like Thunder

61. Homeboy Sandman – Angels With Dirty Faces

62. Kanye West & Jay-Z – Murder To Excellence

63. Kanye West & Jay-Z – To The Future

64. Ceschi – Shame

65. Ceschi – Half Mast

66. El Perro Del Mar – Party

67. Naughty By Nature – Ghetto Bastard (radio version: Everything’s Going To Be Alright

68. Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend

69. Lana Del Rey – Dark Paradise

70. Lana Del Rey – This Is What Makes Us Girls

71. Common Grackle – The Great Depression

72. Mary Cobham – Fire Song

73. The Kills – The Last Goodbye

74. Ani DiFranco – You Had Time

75. Pearl Jam – Last Kiss

76. Suzanne Vega – Luka

77. Tracy Chapman – Behind The Wall

78. Jewel – Adrian

79. Mariah Carey feat. Boyz II Men  – One Sweet Day (added sheepishly, it should probably be noted)

80. The entire album Lady In Satin by Billie Holiday

81. Blur – No Distance Left To Run

82. Rose Cousins – Go First

83. Amanda Palmer – The Bed Song

84. Amanda Palmer – Trout Heart Replica

85. Kathleen Edwards – House Full Of Empty Rooms

86. The Jane Austen Argument – Song For A Siren

87. Dan Mangan – Leaves, Trees, Forest

88. Tori Amos – Winter

89. Sage Francis – Bridle

90. Sage Francis – Crack Pipes

91. Tori Amos – Precious Things

92. Tori Amos – Crucify

93. Tori Amos – Putting The Damage On

94. Tori Amos – China

95. Tori Amos – Hey Jupiter

96. Tori Amos – Sugar

97. Tori Amos – Honey

98. Tori Amos – Jackie’s Strength

99. Hey Rosetta – Yer Fall

100. Sage Francis – It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The End Of Times

101. Sage Francis – Little Houdini

102. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Somewhere Over The Rainbow

103. James  – Out To Get You

104. Ben Folds Five – Brick

105. Bonnie Raitt – I Can’t Make You Love Me

106. Hawksley Workman – Oh You Delicate Heart

107. Hawksley Workman – Prettier Face

108. Harry Chapin – The Shortest Story

109. The Mountain Goats – Old College Try

110. Man Man – Whalebones

111. Metric – London Halflife

112. Christine Lavin – Errol Flynn

113. Damien Rice – The Animals Were Gone

114. Damien Rice – 9 Crimes

115. Thom Yorke – Black Swan

116. Evanescence – Missing

117. William Fitzsimmons – Heartless

118. Bon Jovi – These Days

119. Dave Matthews Band – Stay Or Leave

120. Feist – Let It Die

And there you have it – the saddest songs in the world, as suggested by my Facebook friends. Enjoy! And by that I mean, enjoy crying your eyes out alone in your dark room, I guess.


Spem In Alium

2 Oct

Sometimes, when I’m feeling really down, I listen to Tallis’ Spem In Alium, and it improves my life 100%. Like, my house could be on fire, and I’d be all, these harmonies are transcendent.

You may remember Thomas Tallis as the wispy queer composer dude from The Tudors.

He never brushed his hair, could barely form a coherent sentence, and spent most of his time staring dreamily off into the middle distance. Why, you might ask? Because music, that’s why.

Although there is no historical evidence that the real Tallis slept with men, I am happy to tell you that portraits of him (the earliest of which, to be fair, was painted 150 years after his death) make it appear as if he’d actually met a comb once or twice in his life. Which is good, because really – I know The Tudors is pretty much the least historically accurate show of all time, but do you really think Anne Boleyn would have let a dude like the one above hang around her court? NO. NO SHE WOULD NOT.

Probably not really what Tallis looked like, either. Just saying.

Tallis was at court during some pretty violent religious upheavals, and somehow managed to continue to be Catholic and keep his head. This is actually a pretty stunning achievement, considering the times.

The first monarch Tallis composed and performed for was Henry VIII, the king who created his own church so that he could have as many divorces as he wanted. Then there was Edward VI, who only lived until the age of 15 but was still really, really into the Anglican church. Next came Jane, who was queen for about five minutes, which means she probably didn’t have much time to stir up religious shit and/or commission songs. Then came Mary I, called Bloody Mary because she loved killing Protestants so much. Of course, I’m sure Mary was totally cool with Tallis and probably gave him a ton of fist-bumps, on account of how they were both Catholic.

Finally, there was Elizabeth I,  while Protestant, was pretty damn tolerant when it came to religion, at least when compared to her predecessors. I mean, sure, she passed an act saying that everyone in England had to go to an Anglican church once a week or else face a fine, but she wasn’t really killing Catholics, so that was a plus for Tallis.

Spem In Alium was composed during the reign of Elizabeth I, probably in 1570. It’s a forty-part motet performed by eight choirs of five members each (which means that you need 40 frigging people singing 40 totally different lines of music). But even though we know the approximate when of Spem In Alium, we’re still unsure as to the why.

One theory suggests that it was written in response to a challenge issued by the Duke of Norfolk. See, at the time, the Italian composers were doing some crazy shit using a million singers singing a million different melodies at the same time. In particular, people were pretty obsessed with Alessandro Striggio‘s Ecce Beatam Lucem, which was apparently written for either 40 or 60 separate voices. Of course, the English couldn’t tolerate an Italian besting them at anything, so Norfolk challenged English composers to write something similar but even better.

The main reference we have for this story is a letter by law student Thomas Wateridge, which says,

In Queen Elizabeth’s time yeere was a songe sen[t] into England of 30 parts (whence the Italians obteyned ye name to be called ye Apices of the world) wch beeinge songe mad[e] a heavenly Harmony. The Duke of — bearinge a great love to Musicke asked whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe, and Tallice beinge very skilfull was felt to try whether he would undertake ye matter, wch he did and made one of 40 partes wch was songe in the longe gallery at Arundell house, wch so farre surpassed ye other that the Duke, hearinge yt songe, tooke his chayne of Gold from his necke & putt yt about Tallice his necke and gave yt him.

Write an awesome song, get some sweet bling. Well played, Tallis, well played.

If this version of events is true, then it’s likely that Spem In Alium was first performed at Nonsuch Palace, which is maybe the best castle name ever?

Another popular theory suggests that Tallis wrote this forty-part motet in honour of Elizabeth’s fortieth birthday. Get it? Forty voices for forty years. So clever!

A third theory suggests that the Catholic Tallis wrote it to honour the SUPER CATHOLIC Mary I. After all, he did work for her at one point, so maybe he still had some fond feelings for her. Maybe he spent the entirety of Elizabeth’s reign (or the part of it he lived through, anyway) pining for good old Bloody Mary. Seems unlikely, though.

Whoever it was written for, Spem In Alium is one of the most beautiful, other-worldly pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s the kind of music that makes my heart beat a little faster because, I don’t know, it’s just so wonderful to live in a world where things like this are created. It’s the kind of music that makes me wonder how the hell man who lived in Tudor England could write something that would make a woman cry 450 years in the future? It’s the kind of music that, for the short time it’s playing, actually makes me wonder if we might live in the best of all possible worlds.

Latin text:

Spem in alium numquam habui praeter in te

Deus Israel
qui irasceris
et propitius eris
et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis
Domine Deus
Creator coeli et terra
respice humilitatem nostram

English text:

I have never put my hope in any other but in you
God of Israel
who will be angry
and yet become again gracious
and who forgives all the sins of suffering man
Lord God
Creator of Heaven and Earth
look upon our lowliness

I should also mention that while researching this post I discovered the 97% of men in Tudor England were named Thomas.

That Time I Wrote A Book And Couldn’t Get It Published (or, you’re all silently judging me right now, aren’t you?)

29 Sep

Did you know that I wrote a book? A novel, even?

Probably not. I haven’t told many people. I’m actually kind of embarrassed about it.

I wrote it back in 2008. One night, Matt and I went to see a Toronto Consort performance of medieval labyrinth music (I guess this is a thing) at Trinity St. Paul’s. It was February, or maybe March, and there was still snow on the ground. Inside the church was warm, cozy even, and the lighting and music were both conducive to drowsy daydreams. By the end of the concert I had the whole plot mapped out in my head, and spent the walk home explaining it to Matt, expanding and solidifying my ideas as I said them out loud.

It took about six months to write, and when I finished, I thought, Phew, the hard part is over.

I’d met a literary agent the year before who had read one of my short stories and liked it so much that she asked me to contact her if I ever wrote a novel. I foolishly thought I was totally set. I finished my first draft in August of 2008, and I was supposed to be going back to school that September, so I gave my little book a quick once over (too quick, I realize now) and sent her off the day before my classes started.

Of course, I ended up having a cycling accident a few days into classes, which effectively ended my educational plans for the next several months.

I decided to devote my suddenly copious amounts of spare time to getting my book published. I started contacting agents and publishers, and actually heard back from a few. A woman at a major Canadian literary agency asked me to send in the first few pages, and then wrote back and asked me to send the rest. A small publisher asked me to send the full manuscript. A few other agents asked for the first chapter, or writing samples.

In early 2009, I heard back from the small publisher. Unbelievably, they were interested in my book. I was so happy. So ecstatically, incredibly, terrified-of-the-other-shoe-dropping happy. Matt and I went out for dinner. I started telling people about my book. Matt’s parents sent him money to buy me flowers. When I met new people, I started introducing myself as a writer.

The publisher asked me to do a second, and then a third draft. They didn’t provide much direction, beyond some vague show-instead-of-tell type of instructions. I felt like I wasn’t doing a great job at editing, but figured if I just pushed through, everything would be fine.

I sent the publisher my third draft, and then in May emailed to follow up with them. They wrote back to say that they weren’t sure if they wanted to publish my book, but that they would let me know for sure in two weeks’ time. In the meantime, they said, I should continue to do rewrites and focus on showing instead of telling.

Three months later, in mid-September, the day after I returned from my honeymoon, I received the following email:

Hi Annabelle,

Sorry for the long stretch between emails. Your manuscript is being sent back to you with a bunch of edits. We can not accept it at this time but we hope that you will read over what we have done and try a new draft. I will be sending you a list of comments made by our editors and hopefully you will be able to put them to use. Thank you for your patience and hopefully we will hear from you again in the future.

The week after that, I received an email back from the original agent I’d contacted, the one who’d liked my short story so much, saying,

[This manuscript] has many of the elements needed for a successful piece of commercial fiction: an authentic-feeling setting—due here, in part, to the author’s attention to period dress and historic cooking; an intriguing premise; and a likeable heroine. However, what [this manuscript] lacks is strong, forward momentum in its narrative.  

Another rejection.

I felt like I was at a total loss. I didn’t know what to do. The hardest part was realizing that this whole thing was my own damn fault – I’d rushed to get it out before it was properly edited, because I just couldn’t be bothered to do it properly. Surely, I told myself, if it shows so much promise, if the characters are likeable and the setting feels authentic, there must be some way to fix momentum of the narrative?

Not only did I have to live with the fact that I’d sabotaged my own success, but I also had to deal with everyone that I’d told about my book. How’s the novel? they asked. When will it be published? Who’s the publisher? 

Embarrassed, I would stutter out that there was a delay, that I wouldn’t be going with the original publisher, that I was still shopping around.

Oh, they said, in a way that was totally loaded with meaning.

Even my mother, who knew the whole story, kept asking and asking about my book. Finally, I had to make her promise to never mention the damn book again until I was the one who brought it up.

It wasn’t just about the book itself; this novel was supposed to Show People. It was supposed to be a giant fuck you to all of the people who had looked down on me, or made fun of me, or just plain wouldn’t give me the time of day. I’d convinced myself that once my book was published, all of the people who didn’t invite me to their high school parties would be kicking themselves for not realizing earlier how awesome I was.

Now, it seemed I’d proven them right. I wasn’t awesome enough to come to their parties, and I definitely wasn’t awesome enough to publish a book. Double whammy!

I stopped writing after that. I felt weirdly guilty devoting my energy to new writing, when here was my poor old book, still waiting to be published. Starting something new seemed tantamount to cheating on her, even though I knew I should put her aside for a while and focus on something else.

I sent out a few more query letters, and a small publisher in Brooklyn asked me to send in my manuscript. So I sent her off again, and waited and waited and waited to hear back. I wasn’t worried, because waiting a billion years is basically standard in the publishing industry. Then, sometime last year, my book, in the same wrapping I’d sent her out in, came back to me.

They hadn’t even bothered to pick her up from the post office.

I often think of the writing process as being like pregnancy, except that you’re gestating a book instead of a baby. But what happens when you’re unable to give birth? What happens to all the time, thought and energy you’ve devoted to making your novel live? What is it that you’ve created, exactly? I mean, other than a stack of paper in a battered brown package that sits on your bookshelf and serves as a reminder of what a failure you are.

I don’t know what to do now. I’m not even sure if my book is any good. I avoid those files on my computer like the plague, and every time I accidentally catch site of one of them, I feel sad and ashamed.

I miss her, though. I think about her a lot. On good days, I tell myself that with a bit of effort, a bit of good old-fashioned elbow grease and some stick-to-itiveness on my part, I could get her out there. On bad days, seeing the name of one of my characters in a newspaper or hearing it in a movie makes me want to cry.

I’m sorry, little book. It’s my fault you’re languishing in my apartment instead of sitting pretty on a shelf at Indigo.

Starting this blog has been an attempt to get myself writing again. By and large it’s been a really positive experience. One of the things that I hated about writing my novel was that it was such a solitary activity – I sat in my dark bedroom and wrote, and the only one who ever read it was Matt. I was dying for feedback, but I felt bad about asking my friends to proofread for me. On top of that, I was terrified that they would hate it.

With blogging, on the other hand, I get instant feedback, most of it insanely great. People read what I write, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. But sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here; I wonder what good it does to write these posts.

And then I wonder if everything I do has to do something or be worth something, and then I wonder why I write at all, and then I kind of get caught up in this endless cycle of self-deprecating wondering.

I guess what I really want to say is:

I failed at something, and I’m not ashamed (much).

I wrote a novel, I poured my heart and soul into it, and it wasn’t good enough (but maybe it could be, someday).

I don’t know what to do now, but maybe someday I will figure it out (I hope).

And maybe someday my little book will find her spot on the shelf at a bookstore, or, even better, the shelf of someone I don’t even know.

Oh and by the way, in case you were wondering, this is what a manuscript looks like after it’s spent a year gathering dust in a Brooklyn post office:

Autumn Nostalgia Playlist

21 Sep

My friend Meredith posted on Facebook this morning about how she was listening to an autumn nostalgia playlist on some internet radio station. I was jealous for a second, because if anyone deserves an autumn playlist, it’s clearly me.

Then I said to myself, Self, you are a grown-ass woman – if you want an autumn nostalgia playlist, you will need to put on your big girl panties and make one. 

So I did.

And now I am sharing it with you.

You’re welcome, etc.

1. Wilco – How To Fight Loneliness

2. Dallas Green – Body In A Box

3. The Weakerthans – Left And Leaving

4. Ohbijou – The Woods

5. Woodpigeon – Home As A Romanticized Concept Where Everyone Loves You Always And Forever

6. Vienna Teng – Recessional

7. Joshua Radin – Winter

8. Avett Brothers – I And Love And You

9. First Aid Kit – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Fleet Foxes cover)

10. The Shins – New Slang

11. Weeping Tile – Handkerchiefs and Napkins

12. David Usher – F Train

13. Jenn Grant – Dreamer

14. Counting Crows – Raining In Baltimore

15. Cat Power – Metal Heart

16. Royal Wood – Juliet

17. Hayden – This Summer

18. Hawksley Workman – Autumn’s Here

19. Nico – These Days

20. Thrush Hermit – Before You Leave