Wires and Waves Reads: Garrard Conley’s Boy Erased

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It feels a bit like cheating to declare a book a favorite after only reading it once, but that is what I am going to do. Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased resonated with me on multiple levels, and I am sure that it is one I will come back to often. Conley grew up in Arkansas in a very religious Baptist family. As a teenager, his father accepted a calling as a pastor.Everyday secular activities and attitudes were considered to be of the devil, so his parents took his homosexuality particularly hard. When Conley first goes off to college, he is relieved. He can and does read all the books he wants, even sharing his favorite, The Picture of Dorian Gray, with his mother, with whom he is very close. He makes friends who know nothing about his very religious upbringing, and they do normal things like discuss literature, watch movies, and explore their campus. Most importantly, however, he can start to digest and accept his homosexuality outside of the confines of his small town and conservative family. After he is sexually assaulted and the assailant outs him to his family, he is sent to Love in Action, a conversion therapy program. It is just as terrible as you might imagine. At this center, homosexuality is compared to awful things like pedophilia and diseases like alcoholism. Conley is encouraged to blame his homosexuality on his parents or grandparents, and he is forced to give up all wordly interests, including his love of literature and writing.

Conley’s story is not just a cautionary tale of conversion therapy, although it serves this purpose well. It also explores the concept of identity as a whole and what makes up a person. We are not just our families, our religion, our friends, or our interests. All of those things are integral and intertwined in making a person, and Conley explores those themes beautifully. We are also not what people say we are, but it takes a lot of courage to dig out from under those expectations and stereotypes to become who we actually are. This does not just apply to the counselors and his family, as Conley makes it clear that faith also defines him in some ways. Conley writes so poetically that it made the hard parts even harder and the more illuminating parts even more so. I also really loved Conley’s relationship with his mother, as it shows that good people sometimes make bad decisions because they are trying to fill others’ expectations as well. I recommend this book to all the people in the world. Amen.

Conor Oberst – Salutations

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It’s always hard for me to write about Conor Oberst albums because he’s my favorite songwriter (probably my personal GOAT). I’ve liked every single album (song, really) he’s ever released. So is it worth anybody’s time to read about his new album from my perspective, probably not, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Conor Oberst’s last album (Ruminations) was his most critically acclaimed album since I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. Ruminations is personal, heartbreaking and sparse. It’s a masterpiece of self reflection and a glimpse into the personal anguish Oberst suffered from health problems, false rape allegations, and insomnia. When I heard that these songs were being re-recorded with a full band along with 7 new songs, I was excited and also really confused. Why did these songs need to be re-recorded? Why release them again less than a year latter? But I’m conditioned to be excited over any new Conor Oberst release.

After listening to Salutations nearly nonstop since it’s release I’m less confused (but not entirely). The full band versions of the songs from Ruminations are well done. Musically, they sound better. Ruminations was haunting and Salutations makes the pill easier to swallow.

Maria Taylor’s angelic voice turns “Counting Sheep” into a lullaby instead of a suicide note. The lyrics are still heartbreaking, but the music and the backing vocals ease the pain of the song. Tachycardia comes to life with a full band. I always felt the last verse needed a full band to really drive home the idea the light bulb being lit for the first time at the World’s fair. The only song that loses just a little bit of it’s appeal is “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out”. It was a perfect ending to a great album and on Salutations it seems kind of lumped in without much thought.

The seven new songs belong on Salutations and probably wouldn’t’ have fit very well on Ruminations (The title track “Salutations” being the exception). “Napalm” is a rock country song that has Oberst sounding a lot like John Prine. My two favorite new songs are “Overdue” and “Anytime Soon”. Both sound like Mystic Valley Band B-sides.

Is Salutations a necessary album? Probably not. But it’s still a great album and an important addition to an already stellar discography. The enamored and admiring fan in me will probably place this album way too high on my end of the year list, but that’s fine with me. I’m a loyal fan and I don’t care who knows it.

Love,

Zach

Ryan Adams – Prisoner

I’m not going to write a lengthy review of Ryan Adams’ fantastic new album Prisoner, I’m just going to share some quick thoughts.

  1. Ryan Adams isn’t quite the songwriter that he used to be. I think he reached his poetic pinnacle at Cold Roses. The lyrics aren’t terrible, but there’s some cheesiness and cliche that aren’t found on some of his earlier albums.
  2. Musically, however, he’s the best he’s ever been and I think that’s what carries this  album. The alt country days are far behind him. This album is more an ode to The Replacements and Tom Petty than to Willie and Waylon.
  3. Everyone see’s this as a comeback album, but common the last album was nearly as good.
  4. This is a solid record by a prolific musician.
  5. Listen to it.
  6. These got shorter as my list grew.
  7. Love, Zach

Image result for ryan adams 2017

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Wires and Waves Reads

This blog post is part of a weeklong celebration of feminism started by Kelly Jensen.

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I am a feminist because I am a human. Many people mistakenly assume that a self-declared feminist is playing the victim. I do not see myself as a victim. I am not writing to defend feminism. I am writing to tell you what feminism means to me.

Being a feminist means developing empathy for all types of people because feminism should be for and about everybody (this is a very basic generalization of the concept of intersectional feminism). I am trying to do this by reading, listening to, and sharing perspectives of people who do not look like me. I typically try to read books that meet that qualification, as I think books are one of the best ways to learn about and develop empathy for other people.

I recently read Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give, and Thomas’ protagonist, Starr Carter, embodies both badassery and real feminism (that is: “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster)). Starr is a black teenager who leads two different lives. At home in Garden Heights, she can be herself. At her private school, she must be less “ghetto”; in effect, she must act white. After witnessing a cop kill her best friend Khalil– a young, black man– Starr’s dual personalities collide as her city protests. She is afraid that publicly announcing this fact will cost her some friendships; she is also afraid of being called out for abandoning her friends and her neighborhood.

Identity struggles are nothing new, particularly for teenagers. Starr’s struggles in particular are important due to the forced way in which she must confront them, as well as their relevancy to current events. Starr has a few school friends who grow tired of her “rants” on racism. In a conversation with one particular friend, Starr says she is tired of being expected to go along with her friend’s feminist agenda while being expected to keep her mouth closed about social justice.

If your feminism does not include people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, non-binary people, people who are disabled, and people of all religions, then who is it for? I was inspired by Starr’s activism and her reconciliation of herself with the lives of all the people she loves, even, and especially, people who make mistakes. The Hate U Give was a phenomenal book, and I recommend it to everyone.

Also, the other half of this ol’ blog, Zach, created a playlist featuring music by cool ladies.


 

Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life (Album Review)


We’re only two months into 2017 and no album release (in my opinion) has been bigger than Japandroids third album, Near To The Wild Heart of Life. There had to be serious pressure on the Vancouver, Canada duo to follow up not only the best rock album of 2012, but arguably the best pure rock album of the decade. If Celebration Rock was their magnum opus then Near To The Wild Heart of Life is their Tunnel Of Love.

The album starts with “Near To The Wild Heart of Life”, the perfect rock anthem to kick off the album. I wrote about how great this song is a few weeks ago. You can read it HERE.

The rest of the album takes a more subdued tone than it’s predecessor.  Celebration was 35 minutes of pure adrenaline; it rocked so hard you barely had time to catch your breath. In contrast Near To The Wild Heart of Life mellows out just a little bit. It still rocks, but not as hard and that’s not a bad thing.

However, there is one exception, “Arc of Bar”. This song (simply stated) rocks. There is a lightning-like synth glitching through the background, and at nearly seven and half minutes I wish it would go seven and a half more.

This is an album every lover of rock and roll needs in their life. Is this as good as Celebration Rock, no. But it’s the follow up we deserve.  I wish I could sing “No Known Drug” to my wife every night before we go to sleep. Every song is that good, actually. Listen to it now. 

-Zach

 

 

 

Words are good (Xtina Reads)

Hey, pals. It’s a little dusty around here. Actually, it’s a little smudgy. Anytime I try to get my computer out, Ben bangs on the keyboard like a sitcom character pretending to work when the boss comes by.

As always, I have been reading a lot lately. I am a little bit behind my goal, only because I have been reading more nonfiction books. The book I just read (Angela Davis’ Women, Race & Class) was the impetus for this blog post.

The world is a tumultuous and uncertain place always, but general human rights in our country seem to be dangling on a pretty thin thread as of late. People, I love you (even if I have social anxiety and hate going anywhere with people).

I think that fear drives most of the hatred certain people or groups harbor for other individuals or groups. When we get to know our neighbors, we are less likely to hate them. When we learn about another person’s struggles, they become more human and less of an abstract threat.

I am not very good at meeting people because, again, crowds of people intimidate me, but I do get to know a lot of different people at my job. I do like to read, though. I try to mostly read books written by people who do not look like me. I don’t pretend to be enlightened or anything, but the books have taught me many things. I love the books, guys. I encourage you to check out one, two, or all of the books on this list. Report back with a full book report. This can include a mixtape, a diorama, or a long-form essay.

Thank you and good night.

  1. Women, Race & Class– Angela Y. Davis
  2. Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay
  3. You Can’t Touch My Hair– Phoebe Robinson
  4. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel– Firoozeh Dumas
  5. The Underground Railroad– Colson Whitehead
  6. One Crazy Summer– Rita Williams-Garcia

Anticipation (By Carly Simon, but not really)

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I went on a run this morning. It’s what people do on New Years Day. Before my run I made playlist full of rock n roll music to pump me up because, lets just say it’s been a few months since I’ve exercised. The playlist was good, but as I reached mile two I hit a wall. My knees were weak, my legs were shaky, I was ready to quit. I was ready to walk. I was ready to throw in the towel.

But something inspiring happened. The most perfect rock n roll song I’ve ever heard traveled from my iPhone, through my headphones and into my ears, “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” by Japandroids. I felt like Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights) was giving me an inspirational speech as I finished up. I wanted to keep running, so I did. Japandroids rocked me though another half mile.

I’ve been planning for a while to write about how excited I am for their new album. Their last album, Celebration Rock, was hands down the best pure rock album of 2012 if not the best rock album in the last decade. Five years is a long time to wait, but if “Near To The Wild Heart Of Life” is any indication of the whole album then the wait will have been worth it.

The album (Also titled Near To The Wild Heart Of Life) comes out on January 27.

Other Notable albums coming out in January:

The XX – I See You: Jan. 13

Foxygen – Hang: Jan. 20

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound: Jan. 27

Xtina’s Favorite Books of 2016

I read 42 books this year! I am pretty proud of myself, considering I took a few very busy courses and had a constantly-moving toddler to wrangle. It helped that several professors required heavy reading. Below is a list of some of my favorite books I read this year. Some were published in 2016, and some were published in 1964. I’m not an ageist.

You can read my reviews here if you feel so inclined.

The Best Book that I was obsessed with as a kid but never actually read

Harriet the Spy- Louise Fitzhugh

The Best Book I read and then subsequently could not stop thinking about

The Mothers-Brit Bennett

The Best Book I read that made me fall in platonic book-love with the author

Modern Lovers– Emma Straub

The Best Book I read about Brooklyn that was written in prose

Another Brooklyn- Jacqueline Woodson

The Best Young Adult Book

I’ll Give You the Sun-Jandy Nelson

The Best Continent and Generation-Spanning Book I read

Homegoing- Yaa Gyasi

The Best Book I read that acted as a window into a situation I know very little about

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel– Firoozeh Dumas

The Best Book I read about undocumented immigration that should be required reading for anyone who forgets that undocumented immigrants are people

Gaby, Lost and Found- Angela Cervantes

The Best Book I re-read that blew my mind again

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-J.K. Rowling

The Best Book I re-read that reminded me that perfection is not real

The Giver – Lois Lowry

The Best Book I read that surprised me in a good way

Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda– Becky Albertalli

The Best Book about Grief

The Thing about Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

Xtina’s Musics of the year 2016

I listened to a lot of Chance the Rapper this year. Like, I maybe listened to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book more than I washed my hair, which isn’t hard to beat. You get my point. Ben, my son, really loves the first song, “All We Got.” 

I started the year off listening to a lot of hip hop, but I also listened to a lot of indie rock, whatever that is.  I didn’t spend a lot of time writing about any of it, but I assure you that I was listening to music. I promise you. Anyway, I have included a list of my favorite albums and my favorite songs. I typically forgo including songs on my best songs list from artists whose albums I included on my best albums list. However, I did have to include a few Chance songs because that is really all I listened to.

Happy listening!

Best Albums:

Conor Oberst- Ruminations

Chance the Rapper- Coloring Book

Car seat Headrest- Teens of Denial

Anthony Green- Pixie Queen

Frank Ocean- Blonde

Bon Iver- 22, a million

Pinegrove-Cardinal

Solange- A Seat at the Table

Mitski-Puberty 2

Best Songs:

Mitski- Best American Girl/Happy

Drake- Pop Style

Car seat Drunk drivers/killer whales & Fill in the Blank

Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam- When the Truth Is

The hotelier-Soft Animal

Kevin Devine- Instigator

A tribe called quest- We the People

Beyoncé- Sorry

Solange- Cranes in the Sky 

Chance the Rapper- All We Got 

Click here to listen

Zach’s Favorite Albums of 2016

I thought this would be the year I gave up on music, but I was wrong. I depended on music more than ever this year. For all the shit life throws at you there’s always a song to make you feel better. I want to thank the 13 artists listed below for getting me through this tumultuous year.

And now an open letter to 2016:

2016,

You can go do something to yourself that I can’t write on here because my parents might read this.

Even though you sucked, you put out some of the best rock n roll albums that I can remember in a very long time. You also gave me the most beautiful follow up to Channel Orange that I could have imagined. Oh! and Chance The Rapper; you gave us more of that guy. We all need more Chance in our life.

Sincerely,

Zach Gibson

  1. Blonde – Frank Ocean
  2. Ruminations – Conor Oberst
  3. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
  4. Cardinal – Pinegrove
  5. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
  6. Goodness – The Hotelier
  7. 22, A Million – Bon Iver
  8. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
  9. Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper
  10. A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings – Beach Slang
  11. Schmilco – Wilco
  12. The White Album – Weezer
  13. Introducing Karl Blau – Karl Blau