forgive me // give it to me
It’s been a while.
Long enough that if I were a person with any vices left I’d wager that you may not remember signing up for these inbox intrusions in the first place.
Long enough that I’ll take no offense if you - having assumed you’d not hear from me again - scroll down to the end of this and unsubscribe because, well, it really has been quite a while.
Long enough that you would be easily forgiven for not remembering who I am or what this even might be.
If that is the case for you - hello, my name is Monica and generally speaking, this is where I have in the past, and will, in theory again in the future, haphazardly share thoughts with you about what I’m listening to with the hopes that you might sometimes share your own back with me.
There are a lot of reasons I could point to for why it’s been nearly a year since I last subjected you to one of these emails. There were big, extraordinary ones - not so much in the sense of large, wonderful things and more in the sense of enormously disruptive things that I hope never become the norm. Things that I hope remain so outside of the ordinary that they remain things I never quite learn to cope well with, can never easily write through.
Many more reasons, most even, are entirely mundane. There was laundry to be done, dishes piling up, excuses to be made, and strangely enough, in fits and gasps, there was some semblance of life to be lived.
So why are we here again? There is admittedly still laundry to be done, dishes still piling up, and I haven’t (despite mounting evidence to the contrary) sworn off that semblance of life and living.
Mostly - because when I started writing this, the sun was out for the first time in what feels like ages and I wanted to be out in it but I had my wisdom teeth removed a few days ago (roughly thirteen years after I was supposed to) and am supposed to be taking it easy. And so I’m “writing” and not running around town rejoicing in the fact that the sun is out for the first time in what feels like ages and I am in significantly less pain than prescribed. If you are eyeing the unsubscribe button, or want to hit it but don’t want to hurt my feelings - blame my oral surgeon for doing their job well and putting the both of us in this position.
Somewhat - to see if I could. All of the words I’ve spit out here to this point probably amount to twice the total word count of all of the complete thoughts I’ve managed to string together in the last nine months. In that time, I wrote two poems. That’s all. That’s it. Those, those are not for you, though perhaps it would have been kinder to just drop those on you instead of whatever this is turning into.
Maybe more than sort of, to see if you’d care.
Also because the mental list of all of the things I’ve almost written about in recent months is becoming too long to carry around in my overtaxed brain, taking up precious brain cells normally devoted to more useful pursuits like storing the lyrics to every song I’ve heard more than three times in the last two decades of my life. I need to free up some space if I am to have any hope of committing all of this year’s already growing pile of favorite albums to memory.
So, for those of you unsure if you want to stick around, let me try and help your decision along a bit by sharing a long, but by no means exhaustive list of the things I almost wrote about, ultimately didn’t, but still might subject you to someday.
In no particular order, and with varying levels of detail:
Hearing Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” nearly every time I went to the grocery store during the height of the Delta variant’s rampage and always, always, always having it interrupted by an announcement about getting vaccinated in the in-store pharmacy and wondering if anything else could so perfectly encapsulate what the summer of 2021 felt like.
The absolute perfection that is Tracy K. Smith’s poem “Alternate Take: Levon Helm” and the whole pile of music-as-the-theme poems that I’ve been hoarding.
Every album I listened to while on a 2500 mile road trip in December. This would have largely doubled as a “Best Loved of 2021” list, with the noted exception that there also would have been a long detour about the fact that Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline probably is my favorite Dylan album, as patently uncool as that probably is, and that it being the thing that carried me through rush hour traffic in El Paso only cemented its status.
This also would have probably turned into a long and rambling thing about how Buck Meek’s Two Saviors is an album that has come to feel so much like a home that to play it anywhere, and also in the middle of nowhere, is to transform any and every place into a home.
The impact that forcing myself to dance by myself in my room when I feel like doing nothing even remotely like dancing, to remind myself that life doesn’t have to be serious all the time, has had on my listening habits. And how recently, luckily, that’s meant a lot of flailing around to the new Mitski.
The semi-related realization that most of the music I listen to most often is really not that great for trying to learn to roller skate to.
My apparent belief that “Father John Misty is Haunting Me”. I actually have no real idea what this was going to be other than that it’s the title of a notes draft the body of which, for context, only reads “the thing about genius and spotify”. With any luck, his forthcoming album will shed some light on where my brain was going here.
The fact that I cried for varying reasons at every concert I went to in 2021, which was five times as many as 2020 (which is good), but roughly a ninth of the number I went to in 2019 (which is probably also good because there is no way I could ever drink enough water in my life to tolerate shedding 50+ concerts worth of tears in a single year.)
The fact that I don’t need to worry about ever actually being that hydrated because I can’t for the life of my get my brain back into the mode that is able to keep up with tour dates and ticket on-sales in time to remember shows are happening sooner than two hours after they end.
A response to the first of 2021’s shows - a trip with a friend to NYC for Bright Eyes (so of course tears were shed) that felt both like a triumphant return to life and a disorienting fall down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass. In hindsight, this might be the main thing I wish I’d forced myself to get down - the hasty notes in my phone app for this look like it could have been something like interesting if I’d had the follow-through. Sharing here with the hopes that someone will indulge my lazy side and tell me this was definitely better left unexplored:
7.31.21. bright eyes @ forest hills
clutching at his own oversized and swallowing t-shirt, both predator and prey, pacing stage like a hyena, all nerves, a prowling cat in cage
everything chaotic and coming undone // just projecting my own frayed tether?
tennis, bleachers, top hat and tails
the woo girls and the clash scholar
”grown ass piano man”
sound of music in the illusion of flickering lights
saxophones and thrown roses
encore animal, escorted off stage-
Finding unexpected and undiminishing joy in knowing that you can listen to something at the same time as someone else and have it be a shared experience even when the listening space itself cannot be shared.
Way, way, way too many words about all of the thoughts I have about Tom Petty sitting on an inexplicable wall shelf thing in the music video for “Yer So Bad” .
The disconcerting swirl of emotions that comes from being in the process of clawing my way through what will hopefully amount to my third year of sobriety and still being unable to shake my love of drinking songs; about the time spent wondering if that love will ever fade - what it means if it doesn’t, what it says if it does.
Phosphorescent’s cover of Willie Nelson’s “I Gotta Get Drunk” feels like a song I’ll never be able to let go of, Sarah Shook & The Disarmer’s “Fuck Up” serves as a good reminder of why I should, and Brooke Benson’s “All My Friends Are Drunk” has become both an anthem for keeping the bottle at bay and a song I can point to for why it’s sometimes still very hard to do.
My Thoughts on Playlists, in a convoluted four act structure:
Why I compulsively make playlists but still can’t help myself from railing against the fact that the playlist-as-default-listening mode seems to be hell bent on destroying the album listening experience.
Why I happily set aside all of my qualms about the playlistization of music when it comes to the joy of creating collaborative themed playlists. (Like this one about food, and gardens, and driving.) Thank you to many of you who have thrown songs my way for these exercises over the last year. It’s more appreciated than you likely know.
How collaborative playlist making makes me better than I am on my own, because left to my own devices I am likely to doom spiral and make a theme as innocent as “songs about going to the movies” into a real tearjerker of a playlist and a deeply emo essay draft that I share with you just to hopefully make you glad for getting this current version of a newsletter and not wherever this would have wound up if I’d seen it through.
My paranoia around all of my playlists vanishing into the ether someday and how this almost manifested itself into me making physical tapes of all of them. How it still may manifest itself this way if someone doesn’t save me from myself.
Otis Redding’s mesmerizing performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and more specifically, his very green suit.
The ways in which Taylor Swift’s chapterization / recontextualization of her catalog into small EPs has parallels with Julio Cortazar’s mind-bending novel Hopscotch and the author’s remixing of his own narrative to pull in additional information, shed new light on the story, etc.
This very nearly did become something I researched in earnest until I realized that:
There really is only an audience of one for this particularly niche content.
That entire audience is me.
I had already exhausted myself with the mental gymnastics of this exercise before even really having begun.
New Year’s Eve rituals and how it’ll always be The Mountain Goat’s “This Year” for me, no matter how bleak that can be.
Friends who will make me dance in a field to something more appropriate for a New Year’s Eve celebration even when I’m getting tired and grumpy and ready to sleep and how I’m better, if less rested, for having them in my life.
Continuing to be skeptical about the motivations and calculations behind Spotify’s Wrapped, but not being nearly so bothered about it as I was last year. I assume this is called growing up and not giving up; if I’m wrong, please don’t correct me.
Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen’s deeply cathartic “coming out of hibernation and a pandemic and the general fog that sometimes lurks over the act of existing on a daily basis” anthem “Like I Used To”.
I mean, c’mon.
One of the ways I’ve thought I’d trick myself into writing again regularly was by setting the rule that if I listened to any song more than five times in a given day, I would have to write about it. This was the song I was stuck on about the time I invented (and then completely disregarded) this rule.
I still might try to implement the rule, even though doing so will likely mean things like essays about realizing too late that maybe my whole outlook on life was shaped by Jo Dee Messina’s career-launching hit single “Heads Carolina, Tails California” and not actually knowing what to do with that information.
We maybe don’t need to go there, and I maybe have too many rules in my life as it is, but I still very much love this song.
My not-ground-breaking theory that the best place to listen to something for the first time is flying down a highway at 80mph, and the more recently added nuance that the best place to hear something new in music you love deeply is going half that speed on purpose, down a narrow road in the middle of nowhere when you haven’t seen a single other car for a couple of hours but are sticking to the speed limit to convince yourself you’ve got nowhere you need rush to and nothing you need to do but listen.
The Beatles’ “Get Back” mega-documentary.
On being a person who sat alone on the floor in my living room to watch the trailer that was released for it in the winter of 2020 at least three times a day for weeks because it felt like a ray of light when there weren’t many.
On being a person who booked a fancier-than-I-deserve hotel room in a town that’s not my own almost exclusively for the purpose of grasping at the indulgent rockstar form of joy that was watching the bulk of the doc the weekend that it was released from a stupidly big hotel bed in a ridiculously comfortable hotel robe.
On being a person who might make an absurd annual tradition out of this very indulgent joy.
On being a person who loved all eight hours for all of the music related reasons the rest of the internet also loved it, but also because they seemed less like indulgent rockstars and more like people who just really understand the comfort of a constant supply of tea and toast.
The absurdly long list of albums that have been released since the last one of these that I didn’t get a chance to tell you about but hope you’ll lay down on the floor to listen to, or dance around your room to listen to, or drive down empty roads to listen to, or just generally find a way to enjoy. Preferably with a Beatles-level constant supply of tea and toast.
John Lennon in cowboy boots.
Paul McCartney in vests.
The very specific and perfect way that Britt Daniel’s voice strains to drag out the word “baby” at the 1:05 mark on Spoon’s cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” and how the fact that this cover exists at all makes me, a person who strains to drag out any sort of regular belief in much of anything, get very very close to believing that maybe, just maybe, the universe is looking out for me after all.
Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”, again, when my friend Piyali asked me to pitch her a “draft about a love song that annoyed tf out of u” as a way to try and get my brain unstuck and capable of writing again. And how that song being my answer is both a true response and one that feels like blasphemy now. How I don’t like to write about things I don’t like but I could write about it now because it’s carved a place in my heart given all the ways that it no longer annoys me because I have learned, with time, to be more open to dancing and to love and to being less bitter toward the people who can find the words easily because of the realization that I might be creeping my way toward becoming one of them.
Linda Ronstadt. Full stop. Nothing else beyond the fact that I feel like I am always on the verge of writing about Linda Ronstadt even though I could never get it right (and besides - Eve Babitz already, inevitably, did it best.)
If you made it this far, in this newsletter, but mostly in life, I’m glad you’re here and I hope you’ll share a thing or two you’ve listened to and loved in the last week, month, year, decade, lifetime.
Now and Always -