This made the rounds on Twitter earlier today, and it seemed like a fun thing to do. The challenge was to name four films that define you, in celebration of “the personal nature of cinema.” A worthy endeavor. It kind of evolved into people just posting four images or screencaps from their chosen movies, which is what I ended up doing too:
Pretty sure I’ve blabbed about each of these at some point on this blog, but here’s a summary.
Lost in Translation (2003)
The mood and music of Lost in Translation is basically my entire aesthetic. I love how Sofia Coppola captured the feeling of being anonymous in a big city, and the uncertainty of relationships caught in limbo, and the bittersweetness of not quite knowing what to do with your life. Also, Bill Murray is a national treasure.
Annie Hall (1977)
Liking Woody Allen movies is problematic these days, but that won’t stop me from considering Annie Hall one of the best films ever made. This movie assured me that being neurotic and awkward was ok, as long as I could find someone else equally neurotic and awkward to talk about it with (Annie Hall was one of the first things Alex and I bonded over when we met). Plus, it’s so packed with memorable scenes that I regularly forget that Paul Simon is in it, which is quite a feat.
Easy Rider (1969)
Easy Rider is the 1960s—my spirit decade—in movie form. It’s basically an extended road trip montage backed by an amazing soundtrack. And because the 60s weren’t all peace and love, it also gets pretty dark, a true period piece if ever there was one. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are great, but Jack Nicholson most definitely steals the show. I quote this film probably once a week at minimum.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
I was having a hard time choosing between this and a Chaplin/Keaton film, but went with Sunset Boulevard because it celebrates the silent era while also embodying the Hollywood of the 1950s, in all its noir splendor. And because glorifying the past is one of my favorite things to do. Me and Norma Desmond have a lot in common, as it turns out.
Putting this together made me realize that setting plays a huge role in all of my favorite movies. Tokyo, New York City, the American Southwest, Los Angeles…I have a personal connection with all of these places, and undoubtedly they are part of the reason I love each of these films so much.
For funsies, here are my runners-up:
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – This movie changed my life (or more accurately, the people in it changed my life). It was tough one to leave out of the top 4. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) – Sigh. Mr. Holland’s Opus will always hold a special place in my heart for starting me on my journey to band geekdom. Amadeus (1984) – I loooove the set design, and I looooove Mozart. Sherlock Jr. (1924) – Ahhh, so many good visual tricks in this one. This one doesn’t really define me in any way; I wanted to include a silent film as a reminder that movies were on a completely different (and in many ways, more creative) level in the 1910s and 1920s.
Last week we went to a super fun show at the Fox featuring Tune-Yards, Thao and The Get Down Stay Down, and Sudan Archives. (There was another opening act we missed and who I had a heck of a time finding online because the artist’s name is Siri…I’m 90% sure this is her, though.) Thought I would share some of the music with y’all, since it’s been floating around in my head ever since.
Sudan Archives is from Cincinnati and now based in LA. I can see why she’d be on the same bill as Tune-Yards; her performance was a mix of live vocals and violin over dope percussion loops. Here’s a taste:
Thao and The Get Down Stay Down is a San Francisco-based band who I’d heard but had never seen live (here’s a neat little introduction to frontwoman Thao Nguyen). After listening to a bit more of their stuff, I think I prefer some of the more recent/gritty songs, but chose this video from 2013 because it captures that fun point in time when both the old and new Bay Bridge existed:
Then there’s Tune-Yards a.k.a. tUnE-yArDs a.k.a. Merrill Garbus of Oakland, CA. The only other time I’d seen Tune-Yards was a free show in Stern Grove, a totally different—and equally awesome—experience. This show had fewer personnel: just Merrill, Nate Brenner, and a drummer (sorry I don’t know his name!!) and less live percussion, but way more visual pizzazz. I usually don’t care that much about stuff like staging and lighting design, but the light show kind of blew me away (a sample).
Tune-Yards have a new album out called I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life. It’s taking me a while to get into the album itself, but I really enjoyed the songs when they were played live at the Fox. Here’s the most recent music video; it’s got some pretty sweet dance moves:
While we’re here showcasing righteous female singers, I’ll include a few more for your listening pleasure:
“Honeycomb” – Kadhja Bonet. Heard this one from A Song A Day and instantly fell in love. There’s a very timeless sound to Bonet’s voice. V good stuff.
I recently read a fascinating Longreads article by Julianne Aguilar about girls on the Internet in the early 2000s and found myself relating to it way more than I expected. Not just because I was a 12-year-old girl who had a DIY Geocities site, but because it made me remember how it felt to be part of that era, among a bunch of other kids who were just old enough to navigate the world wide web, trying to carve out their own space in uncharted digital territory.
We were the first generation to grow up using the Internet as a platform to express ourselves, which was honestly pretty awesome. And as Aguilar points out, we were also the first generation to confront harassment that could be totally anonymous and untraceable (to us, at least). It was a world that was totally separate from real life, but the interactions we had with strangers—good and bad—still affected us in real ways. Definitely not something I ever considered at the time, but super interesting to think about now.
In the article, Aguilar describes exactly the kind of website I had (and that every other preteen girl online seemed to have): “an About Me page, a page of lyrics…a page of jokes, graphics she’d made, dolls collected from around the ’90s Internet of Girls. A guestbook.” Oh man, I totally remember those digital dolls (I mean, “dollz”…here’s a relevant Reddit thread) and the little badges you could collect and put on your homepage. It was totally normal to go around and find guestbooks to sign, complimenting the owner’s website and asking them to check out your own. I still remember a very specific guestbook entry someone left on my site that said something to the effect of, “Fun website, but you might want to consider not auto-playing that MIDI of ‘Come on Over’ on every page.” Good call, stranger.
Aside from one or two real-life friends who I shared my site(s) with, most of the people I interacted with online were people I’d never met. And later on, when I started getting obsessed with certain bands, there were people from across the world who became like idols to me. There was Beth, who had the same tastes in music and an offbeat sense of humor that I tried unsuccessfully to emulate (sadly, I can’t remember the name of her site). Then there was Sabrina, who ran God Bless the Beatles (which still exists!) and frequently published new pages like “The Many Adventures of Paul Without A Shirt” and “The Heather Advice Skanktuary” (because we all hated Heather Mills). There were also girls my age who were really good at making Livejournal avatars in Photoshop, and devoted fanfic writers whose novellas I literally printed out from FanFiction.net and read in bed at night (it’s just now occurring to me how weird that is….but I didn’t have a laptop and I just really wanted to read my Beatlestories).
The article describes how young girls like these—who may have been totally average people in reality but found a certain celebrity status online—were inevitably harassed and bullied as a result of their popularity, even back then “when the Internet was small.” Aguilar talks about trying to track down one of her own personal idols from the early 2000s, a girl named Sara who may or may not have died in June 2017. It made me think about all those young writers and creatives I followed and looked up to, and where they might be today (I doubt I’ll ever know).
The tone of the article is pretty somber, but while reading, I couldn’t help but think about the flip side: what a cool world we created 20 years ago, where we all had our own personal corners of the Internet, and where fans of a particular band or TV show could meet other fans from across the world and be geeky together without feeling embarrassed about it. There are friends I met on Livejournal that I still keep in touch with today, yet have never met in person (all because we shared the same unabashed love for the Beatles). So I guess my response to the article is a more optimistic one…even though I encountered my fair share of nasty comments as a kid on the Internet circa 2000, I was lucky enough to find a niche that made me feel at home, and plenty of people who inspired me to keep writing about all the random silly things I liked, because they did it too.
I guess the same applies today, but on a much larger scale. My 12-year-old self would be delighted to know how many online mediums there are for feeding one’s fangirly emotions. YouTube is an endless rabbit hole of homemade compilation videos, Twitter is the perfect platform for unfiltered season finale reactions, and there’s a subreddit for every fandom imaginable. And don’t even get me started on Tumblr.
(Ok, actually, a quick love letter to Tumblr:
When it comes to fansites, Tumblr is the closest equivalent I see to the websites of the early 2000s I used to frequent. In addition to being a mecca for amazing fan art, it’s produced a whole network of incredibly comprehensive fansites, most of which are created by teenagers and 20-somethings known only by their usernames. What’s also amazing is how *organized* these online fandoms can be. Like, it’s super normal for the content on a Star Trek site to be categorized by series, movie, character pairing, starship, etc. Or for there to be a tag for Mulder’s glasses on an X-Files blog, because of course I’m not the only one who giggles stupidly when Mulder wears glasses. In short, I love the dedication of these young fans/artists, and I also love that I’ve gotten to see some of them launch careers in illustration or graphic design after getting their start on Tumblr.)
These wonderful communities of strangers—who form friendships and support each other and constantly create new things to share with the world—are enough, in my opinion, to balance out the ugly. There will always be awful people saying awful things on the Internet, but as long as there’s also good stuff like this, it’ll be worth preserving, and protecting.
PS: I tried in vain to find my middle school-era websites but 1) I can’t even remember what they were called, and 2) even if I did, I’m sure they weren’t important enough for Wayback Machine to archive. But I did find a snapshot of my high school pet project, the VHS pit site, so I’ll leave you with that:
This past weekend we went to see two movies at our neighborhood theater, the first being Black Panther, of course. I’ll leave it to the reviewers to talk about the cultural impact; I’m just here to say I’m really really into the soundtrack (both Ludwig Göransson’s and Kendrick Lamar’s). So much talking drum! And mbira! I’m just waiting for this music to pop up in a drum corps show.
The second movie we saw was Paprika, a glorious piece of eye candy from 2006. I had no idea what to expect, but what I got was basically Inception in anime form (except way trippier. Also, Paprika came out four years before Inception). It’s late and I don’t have much to say except I’d highly recommend watching it if you get a chance. I’ll just leave the trailer here:
(I also loved the music from Paprika, although as you can see from the trailer, it sometimes creates a weird combination of catchy pop and disturbing imagery.)
For years I’ve been wanting to go to Joshua Tree National Park: 1) because it’s an amazing place, and 2) to pay tribute to country rock legend Gram Parsons.
I can’t remember when I first learned about Gram, but I’m pretty sure it was through one of the many Keith Richards interviews/memoirs I’ve read over the years, seeing as Gram and Keef were BFFs. As a result, Gram was a big influence on the Rolling Stones’ country-flavored stuff in the early 70s (some of the best music of all time, IMO).
A little history: Gram Parsons started off playing folk and rock guitar, but his real bag was country. After dropping out of Harvard, he went to LA and joined the Byrds in 1968, sticking around just long enough to tour a bit and make Sweetheart of the Rodeo (I’m not huge on the Byrds, but that album is one of my favorites). Then he and Chris Hillman went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers:
(Gram is the one in the hat and Nudie suit, hamming it up for the camera.)
After that, he spent some time hanging out with the Stones, living with Keith during the recording of Exile on Main Street, another one of my favorite albums of all time. It was around this time Gram heard Emmylou Harris perform in a club in DC, and invited her to sing on his first solo album, GP. He and Emmylou toured for a bit, but never really got much of a following. I’m devastated there are no good videos of them performing live, because their voices together were magical. Emmylou would go on to become a big star, but that’s getting ahead of the story a bit.
As any country rock outlaw would, Gram loved Joshua Tree (you can see the Burrito Bros. hanging out in the park in the video above). He went there alone, he went there with Keef, he went there whenever he could. In July 1973, when bandmate Clarence White was killed in an accident, Gram told his friend/manager Phil Kaufman that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered in Joshua Tree in the event of his death.
Unfortunately, Kaufman had to make good on that deal just a few months later. Gram overdosed at the Joshua Tree Inn on September 18, 1973. His body was taken to LAX to be flown back to New Orleans at his stepfather’s request, but in order to fulfill Gram’s wishes, Phil Kaufman and another buddy Michael Martin drunkenly stole the casket in a hearse and drove it out to Joshua Tree. They stopped at a rock formation off the main road, doused the casket in gasoline, threw in a match, then drove away.
How Kaufman and Martin were found by the police is a story in itself, but they were eventually arrested, released, and fined just a few hundred dollars for stealing the casket (not the body, because there weren’t any laws about that). The not-quite-cremated body of Gram Parsons was found by some campers and was eventually transported back to Louisiana, but fans have been going to Joshua Tree for decades to pay tribute at the place he loved most.
This past weekend, I finally made it to Joshua Tree. While driving to the park, we listened to GP as I told Alex the story of Gram’s death and botched cremation. I made us stop for a photo op outside the Joshua Tree Inn (the actual motel is fenced off, but guests can still stay in Room 8 where Gram died). I had vague understanding about a makeshift memorial in the park, but didn’t know where it was. A quick Google search before entering the park placed it at Cap Rock, the site where Kaufman and Martin unsuccessfully tried to cremate Gram’s body that night.
While I’m sure there are detailed instructions somewhere on how to find the memorial, all we had was the general location (Cap Rock wasn’t even on the park map we were given), so we hiked around a few different rock formations until Alex finally spotted it: an unassuming alcove in the shade of a big boulder, right next to the main road. On the underside of the boulder were some song lyrics written in charcoal, and on a nearby rock, someone had drawn a cross next to the initials GP. A handful of guitar picks and other trinkets were arranged on a little ledge above. It would be pretty easy to miss if we weren’t looking for it.
No one else was around, so we quietly snapped some pictures and went on our way. Park rangers periodically “clean up” the site, so I have no idea if this was a few days or months’ worth of tribute.
Classic eyes-closed Nikki
You can’t really tell, but there’s a human on top of that rock.
Approaching the GP memorial near Cap Rock
I actually don’t know what the “2 NL” means – anyone?
Alex puts back a fallen guitar pick.
Somewhere in my classic rock adventures I’ve become particularly fond of 60s/70s country rock, no doubt thanks to Gram, Keef, and Nez (who I recently saw in concert! another post on that later, maybe). Songs about the desert and the highway—even if they’re about loneliness and heartbreak—always bring back happy memories of childhood road trips through the Southwest. So basically what I’m saying is, Gram’s music holds a special place in my heart, and even though his flame burned out too soon, it’s nice to know his spirit is very much alive in Joshua Tree.
So, I’ve been really into The Crown lately…probably because it’s a welcome distraction from the hot mess that is the United States right now. Also I like looking at fancy interiors and rooms with impossibly high ceilings.
Previously, the only knowledge I had about the royal family was from many years of watching Beatles footage. There’s actually quite a bit of relevant material. First there was the Royal Variety show in 1963, where the Beatles played for the Queen Mother and John got cheeky:
Then there were multiple instances of the Beatles meeting Princess Margaret (“Priceless Margarine” in John’s words). Fun fact: she and Lord Snowdon both attended the premieres for A Hard Day’s Night and Help! (spoiler alert: the Princess doesn’t marry Peter Townsend).
Anyway, it’s been fun learning more about the monarchy and all its drama by way of a Netflix original series. Compared to American scandal, it’s all very dignified drama. Also, I’ve learned that I kind of have a crush on King George VI and I’m cool with that.
To end, here’s an adorable picture of Paul and the Queen:
Before I ramble about some of my favorite parts of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 17, I wanted to make sure I wrote down something that’s been on my mind:
Seeing as the worst mass shooting on American soil took place at an outdoor music festival just 5 days prior to HSB, I was more than a little paranoid about going to a large-scale, free concert in the park last weekend. I even packed a first aid kit in my bag and had a few fleeting concerns about how to use its contents without fainting, which is a bummer because no one should have to be fearful of going to a music show.
But thankfully, nothing awful happened, and in fact almost every artist I saw made some sort of comment about the feelings of peace/love/brotherhood/sisterhood floating around the festival throughout the weekend. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but there is something special about HSB that you don’t get at Outside Lands or any other festival. For one, it’s completely free and non-commercial—no corporate sponsorships, no “Heineken House,” no admission price. Attendees range from babies to baby boomers (and also lots of dogs), and everyone respects one another. There’s an immense amount of trust involved in letting 750,000 people walk into Golden Gate Park with unchecked coolers and backpacks, but if there’s any place you can pull it off, it’s here. So thanks, San Francisco, for once again proving that you’re a city of peace and love and (literal) harmony.
Now, with that out of the way, here are my highlights from the festival.
The War and Treaty
This Michigan-based couple were billed as a supporting act to Buddy Miller, but umm, they definitely stole the show. Their love for each other practically radiated off the stage during their set; it was wonderful. (Fun fact: Michael Trotter Jr. was a soldier in Iraq who wrote his first songs on a piano owned by Saddam Hussein.) They just released their first EP this summer, called Down to the River. Check ’em out playing the title track below (so much energy!!). I feel lucky to have seen them, and hope they come back to the Bay Area soon.
I never really got into The Black Keys, but while listening to HSB playlists in the past month, it was Dan Auerbach’s stuff I kept coming back to. Also, I really like his music videos – they’re so fun (and a little bizarre). See: “Shine on Me” and “Stand By My Girl”, both of which have a bit of a George Harrison/All Things Must Pass-era vibe to me.
So seeing Auerbach on Saturday evening was definitely a highlight. We were right up front (my dad has a friend who makes a point to stake out front-row spots at the beginning of each day) and it was awesome. I had no idea who the guys in Auerbach’s band were—none of them looked younger than 65—but turns out they’re kind of a big deal: Gene Chrisman drummed on “Respect,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” Dave Roe was the longtime bassist for Johnny Cash, Bobby Wood and Russ Pahl have played with some of the biggest names in music. Cool!
Here’s the video for the opening song Auerbach played at HSB, a nostalgic mini-movie complete with a John Prine cameo:
The Secret Sisters
I got to the festival early on Sunday to catch The Secret Sisters, and they did not disappoint. If you like First Aid Kit (another sisterly duo, whose performance on Friday I sadly missed), I would definitely recommend checking them out! They performed a whole bunch of lovely original songs (like this one) but the video I chose below is an a cappella version of a 1920s song, because I just loved their rendition so much.
Thank goodness I tagged along with my parents to this one, because I’ll probably never get to see Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, and Lucinda Williams (and Bob Weir!) on the same stage together ever again. Lampedusa is a group of musicians currently touring to raise awareness of the worldwide refugee crisis. My heart melted as soon as they started singing (appropriately) “Refugee” and continued to melt all the way through “Love Hurts,” “I Know You Rider,” and “Pilgrim”. Not to mention the Blue Angels were flying over our heads throughout their set, which made for some sweet pictures. Can’t find any high quality videos from the show, but here’s one of “I Know You Rider” which is fun because you can see me and my parents over on the left side near the front (Dad’s in a green shirt and big hat, mom’s in a white shirt, and I’m in red).
Also, can I just say how amazing Emmylou Harris is? She was the first act I ever saw at HSB, and one of my favorite singers. She continues to play the festival every year, and her voice is just pure magic.
Although Alex and I were about a football field’s length away from the stage during Randy Newman’s set, it was still great fun. Obligatory “You’ve Got A Friend” video (“That guy looks like Tom Hanks…”).
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile were good from what I heard, but by that point it was so packed at the Swan Stage that I couldn’t really get a solid look/hear. Ah well, maybe next time.
Same as above for John Prine; I really would’ve enjoyed being up close for his set, but the crowd was too much so unfortunately I just heard a few songs.
In previous years, I found HSB to be a bit overwhelming, but this year was so enjoyable that I’m really looking forward to the next one. Also, kudos to my parents for hanging out at the festival all weekend; if they can do it, I guess I can too. :p