K Recommends: “You Did It, You Did It” by Rahsaan Roland Kirk

 

I was sitting on the floor, floored, listening to Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s music via someone else’s record collection maybe 14 summers ago. I collected myself enough to grasp what I was hearing. This artist could play multiple wind instruments at the same time using a technique called “circular breathing.”

Kirk was blind. His execution and presentation — whether heard on LP or watched in a YouTube video — revealed his mastery of the senses despite sightlessness. In his music I saw futures take flight and people moving through time. His instrumental covers of classic soul tracks like “Ain’t No Sunshine” seemed to add birdsong, a flutter of nerves, and ways of howling out loss that were comparable to (yet vastly dissimilar from) Bill Withers’ original.

I enjoy his early albums as much as his later ones; his impressive style including traditional jazz foundations and avant-garde concept albums further down the line. I never tire of his ability to play a saxophone, a flute and a euphonium in the same phrase. He might add a touch of harmonica, too.

“You Did It, You Did It” is a fun example of his multi-talented capabilities. Instruments are played by mouth and nose. Guttural sounds emanate from Kirk himself. Sometimes it’s a faint whisper of lyrics on-the-spot. Other times a macaw cries out or the ecstatic warble of music’s hold. It is a wild, often humorous showcase of how a person can have one foot in jazz’s origins while using the rest of their body and brain to break into a whole new element.

It was astounding for me, someone who writes poetry and nonfiction, to grasp how one can find their “voice” musically but also instrumentally. His talent was so far beyond what we ever deserved. I like to pass his music along when I can. I hope this post will be a gateway for someone who grows more interested in Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s work and dizzying approach!

Music never stops being interesting. Just keep listening.

(Song recommendation by K Weber)

A Memoir Mixtapes Special Feature

Maybe I’ll Die Young Like Heroes Die by E. Kristin Anderson

To read this piece, click on one of the album covers below.

About the author:
E. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press), and Hysteria: Writing the female body (Sable Books, forthcoming).  Kristin is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including A Guide for the Practical Abductee (Red Bird Chapbooks), Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII(Grey Book Press), and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson.

Dan Recommends: “Hypnotize” by System of a Down

I can think of no better example from my personal history of the skewed way in which adolescents perceive time than the six months that passed between System of a Down’s Mezmerieze and Hypnotize. The former was one of those albums for me: a complete shift in not only my musical taste, but in my worldview. The time I spent awaiting part two was an absolute eternity.

When I finally listened on Christmas Day, I was not disappointed. Complete with blistering riffs, gut-punching percussion, and the menagerie of screams, growls, and sudden harmonies of Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian, the first three tracks of Hypnotize, the album, sated every expectation I’d built up during that interminable waiting.

But then came track four — “Hypnotize.” Beginning with a slight, almost docile riff, the song lingers in a gentle state before letting loose with a lyric that still grabs me by the throat: “Why don’t you ask the kids at Tiananmen Square, was fashion the reason why they were there?”

I was twelve. I had no idea what that meant. But Tankian’s voice commanded me, almost challenged me, to accept the weight of what he sang. The song’s refrain (“I’m just sitting in my car and waiting for my girl”) was a revelatory moment for me: here’s a fella waiting for his girlfriend while the horrors of the world occur around him. The horrors do, in fact, affect everyday people.

I can’t say hearing “Hypnotize,” or even listening to System of a Down at an impressionable time — a childhood in the shadows of September 11th, the invasion of Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay — are solely to blame for the bleeding heart politics that define my adult life. But of all the artistic influences, I can think of no other that still affect me like this.

It’s been almost fourteen years since Hypnotize, and System of a Down has not released any new music since. Compared to the six months between albums, I look now on the fourteen years — more than half my life — and wonder how the time passed so quickly. I can’t help but yearn for these familiar voices to come back and share how they’re feeling about the horrors of the world now.

(Song recommendation by D. R. Baker)

Brianna Recommends: “Handmade Heaven” by Marina

Image Credit: Fader

We grow into ourselves unevenly, uneasily.

I started listening to Marina —  then Marina and The Diamonds — when my best friend Ian introduced me to her music in high school. We were completely enchanted by her first two albums. They were jaded but tinged with the same glamour and fantasy that they poked holes in, Hollywood and beauty and gender expectations. In her second album Electra Heart, she tries on new identities and breathes nostalgia in the music, while tearing it apart in the lyrics. It was the perfect soundtrack for us at sixteen, the kind of cynically optimistic kids who were constantly trying to craft ourselves into teen movie characters.

Fast forward to now, Marina about to release her first album in three years; we are finishing up college and trying to craft the start of our adult lives. The first single off the album, “Handmade Heaven,” beautifully showcases a new chapter.

The biggest difference in “Handmade Heaven” from Marina’s earlier work is a deep sense of earnestness and vulnerability. Gone is the ironic bite and the trying on of archetypes. It’s still undeniably a pop single, which it takes full advantage of with the grand thumping percussion and dreamy, polished melody. And yet, it feels deeply intimate. This is due largely to the heavy focus on natural imagery in the lyrics. Lines like “ But in this handmade heaven, it’s paradise / Bluebirds forever colour the sky / In this handmade heaven, we forget the time,” evoke the kind of peaceful introspection that comes from repose away from civilization. It’s not missing discontent, but there is an honesty and hope towards change. “ I carry along a feel of unease / I want to belong like the birds in the trees.”

When we talk about the ways we change and evolve as artists and as people, it sometimes seems to imply that the earlier version was incomplete or inadequate. But really, it’s all one part of a continued, ongoing story. The honesty and natural simplicity of Handmade Heaven build on the aversion to the shallow materialism of earlier albums. In turn, I owe so much of who I am, the friendships that mean the world to me, and the things I love to the person I was as a teenager.

We build on ourselves precariously, passionately.

(Song recommendation by Brianna Suazo)

Tiffany Recommends: “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh” by Bill Withers

Bill Withers is a consummate songwriter who has written several hits since the 1970s, including his number one single, “Lean on Me.” Saying that “Lean on Me” is a popular song would be an understatement. When the first few notes come on the radio you recognize it and most people (I want to believe) at the very least, can sing the chorus. But let me share the song that for me beats it.

I discovered on the album, Lean on Me, The Best of Bill Withers a song titled, “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh.” It is a love song that gets my shoulders bopping while pitting my heart. And it has that same effect on me every time I hear it. It starts off smooth and mellow, “Your love is like a chunk of gold…” then mimics the “hmm-hmm” you hear in another one of his hits, “Grandma’s Hands,” concluding with, “Hard to gain and hard to hold.” He also compares this love to a rose that is “soft to touch.”

The chorus is almost like a wail (I had to improvise the first time I heard it) as he implores, “Well and why must the same love that made me laugh, make me cry?” And though we all know that love is a complicated state to exist in, the simplicity of this line and the way it is delivered is the string that pulls you through the labyrinth. Just under four minutes, this is one song that I can play a few times on repeat as it manages to crush but also carries this odd lift that releases you.

(Song recommendation by Tiffany S.)

Kimberly Recommends: “Terrible Lie” by Nine Inch Nails

Sometimes it is hard for me to recommend songs for Memoir Mixtapes because I love so many songs! Like a lot of people, I love music and enjoy having music around me. While I drive, while I work, while I cook (I mean, try to cook) and while I write, I usually have music playing in the background.

Today I sat down and thought to myself, “What is the first song that comes to mind when you try to conjure up one that has seen you through several walks of life?”

And one popped into my head immediately — “Terrible Lie” by Nine Inch Nails.

I like a lot of NIN albums, but I’ve probably listened to Pretty Hate Machine a million and a half times. I sometimes skip the first song, “Head Like a Hole,” because I don’t care all that much for it (gasp, probably say many other NIN fans). Track 2 is Terrible Lie, and I fell in love with it the first time I heard it. It has weird industrial sounds in the beginning, plenty of Trent’s heartfelt yelling, and some cool synth work reminiscent of the 80’s. It’s dark, moody and oscillates between a simple drum beat behind lyrics in the verses and a smart combination synth sounds and vocals in the chorus. I just listened to it again to help me write this, and I felt the warm blanket of familiarity wrap around me as I relaxed into this song. A song I may have heard more times than any song in my life.

I first heard it in middle school, then confiscated my parent’s NIN CD so I could listen to it in my first car with a CD player. I listened to it throughout college and after college when I started the move toward adulthood with careers and stuff.

And I still listen to the CD today — and when the first measures of Terrible Lie come on (whether I skip Track 1 or not), I settle in for one of the best CD’s I’ve ever owned.

(Song recommendation by Kimberly Wolkens)

Allaire Recommends: “Hang On” by Weyes Blood

If you haven’t already listened, Weyes Blood (pronounced Wise Blood, after Flannery O’Connor’s novel of the same name) is the singer/songwriter who will ruin all other singer/songwriters for you. Her haunting voice and canny lyrics supply the best music has to offer: levity & heartbreak, ecstasy & pain, groove & syncopation. Her songs are so rich that it’s hard to listen to other music after feasting on one of her albums; there just aren’t many musicians who are able to capture such complexity with as sweet a sound.

Weyes Blood is scheduled to release her fourth studio album on April 5th, 2019. Titanic Rising will be her follow-up to Front Row Seat to Earth, released in 2016 to indie acclaim. She has already released two singles from her new album — “Andromeda” and “Everyday” — which deliver on the promise she codified in Front Row Seat to Earth. Weyes Blood is as talented a multi-instrumental musician and absurdist song writer as we’ve ever heard.

As with all singles, though, their thrill is quickly diminished after listening on loop for hours — let’s be honest, days — on end. So, after you’ve listened to her new singles so many times that you can’t stand to listen anymore (but also can’t stand to listen to anything else) dip back into her 2014 album, The Innocents, with the track “Hang On.” This highlight captures the best of Weyes Blood: her stirring voice, deeply emotional lyrics, and instrumental complexity that crescendos and breaks along with your heart. Despite being five years senior her new singles, this deep cut is equally as engaging as her newer material, while maintaining an identity unique to The Innocents.

April 5th can’t come soon enough. Until then, “Hang On.”

(Song recommendation by Allaire Rae Conte)

Erin Recommends: “1950” by King Princess

Scrolling through my news feed, I am certain that we are spiraling deeper into another circle of hell. Another hero falls to an inability to separate mentoring from his penis. Minions are stirred by a terrifying statement devised to incite fear into their feeble minds and deep seeded mommy issues.

Between despair and another cup of coffee I see an act of defiance from baby faced warriors. Volume up, I hear the voices of our future. Parkland survivors are pissed. They refuse the ridicule and scorn flung at them from pitchforked, poo tossing peasants who still believe their shadow is the work of Satan. These kids are fearless even reeling from PTSD.

This generation refuses to blindly accept the current regime. They understand that it is the old guard desperately clinging to power at the expense of civility. White men and their step-in line wives who willingly cross any line to gather soldiers in their war. The terrorists these young adults have trained for are active shooters, not from brown skinned countries but their hometowns.

Chronologically I am closer in age to those in charge than those voting in their first election. I have nieces and nephews who inhabit this space. They are wise and aware in ways I couldn’t have grasped at that time in my own life. They are far less naïve. Our life experiences are different, but my belief system and enduring passion intersects with theirs.

I have been listening to emerging artists and am awed by their self-awareness. They embrace the spectrum and range of sexual identities without shame. They reflect this back to their peers raised with the conservative rhetoric and religion of home schooling. This modeling, years of therapy and social media feeds will hopefully help them sort it all out.

Out and proud up and comers have followed artists like Frank Ocean, Brandi Carlile, Sam Smith, and Janelle Monaé, used their careers as a road map. Troye Sivan and Mikaela Strauss stand out as queer musicians who are establishing themselves.

Mikaela goes by the moniker of King Princess. She has undeniable swagger that she can back up with studied experience and talent. She has the work ethic, curiosity and willingness to perfect the craft and the natural gifts to deliver music we want to hear.

I am a sucker for a catchy pop tune. I can’t help it. King Princess pulled me in with her hit “1950”. The song was written as a nod to Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt. Mikaela was reading it around the time it came to her. It was hard for her to fathom a world where same-sex love had to be kept secret. My own experience tells me that the closet was the best and safest place even decades after that groundbreaking novel. This freedom Mikaela and her friends enjoy is still new and for some of us hard to trust. For her it is an historical reference.

This song though, I love it and the context of the closet as something in the past — something to pretend has me dancing around the room. My pride swells anew with the confidence of youth. I trust that there will be a changing of the guard.

On days when I feel the progress we’ve made is buried by dozers full of sand, blocked by giant barriers erected against change and diversity I listen to these voices. The sound of our future. I trust that they will not only dig us out, but they will topple the walls. The soundtrack will be badass and fronted by girls slinging guitars.

(Song recommendation by Erin L. Cork)

Memoir Mixtapes Vol.8, B-Sides

In the Cold Months by Alex DiFrancesco

To read this piece, click the album cover below.

About the author:
Alex DiFrancesco is a writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, and journalism who has published work in Tin House Online, The Washington Post, Pacific Standard, Entropy, The Millions,and more. They are a winner of Sundress Academy for the Arts’ OutSpoken Competition for LGBTQ+ work, and a Summer 2018 Firefly Farms Writing Residency participant. Their storytelling has appeared in The Fringe Festival, Life of the Law, and The Heart podcast. Their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their second novel All City (Seven Stories Press) are forthcoming in 2019.

Memoir Mixtapes Vol.8, B-Sides

Forevermore by Rachael Gay

To read this piece, click the album cover below.

About the author:
Rachael Gay is a poet and artist living in Fargo, North Dakota. Her work has appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic, Quail Bell, Rag Queens, Déraciné Magazine, Gramma Poetry, FreezeRay Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review and others.